-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
The evolution of religious beliefs, as people try and cope with scientific evidence, has taken some strange paths. By the 18th century, the concept of a heliocentric solar systems, wherein the Earth is one of several planets, was becoming impossible to deny. The scientists and theologians of the day, pondered the question: Would God really have bothered to create empty worlds?
Unrestrained by evidence, the human imagination is given free rein and the human ego has no problem determining the motivations of an omniscient being. The answer of many was an emphatic “no,” and so cosmic pluralism, the notion that all worlds are inhabited, even the Sun, was born. Actually, more like resurrected from ancient Greek philosophers.
Cosmic pluralism was not some theory held by a fringe group. Some of the great astronomers and thinkers of the day were supporters. Sir William Herschel, discoverer of Uranus, believed in it wholeheartedly, as did other legendary thinkers like John Locke and Benjamin Franklin.
Sir David Brewster, a 19th century Scottish physicist and astronomer, pointed out that telescopes would never be able to see the Moon closely enough to be certain that any Moon people (called lunatics) didn’t live there. The similarities among the planets and their motions led Brewster to make the teleological argument:
We trace throughout all the heavenly bodies the same uniformity of plan, is it possible to resist the influence an uniformity of purpose; so that if we find a number of spheres linked together by the same bond, and governed by the same laws of matter, we are entitled to conclude that the end for which one of these was constituted, must be the great general end of all,—to become a home of rational and God-glorifying creatures.
The quaint absurdity of cosmic pluralism can be found today in SETI. The search for artificial electromagnetic radiation from a distant planet is a fool’s errand. The loss of power as electromagnetic waves propagate through space, as the distance squared, would make any incident waves so weak as to be indistinguishable from the background noise. There is also the problem of technology synchronization. How long will we continue to communicate via electromagnetic means, 1000 years, 10,000 years? The transmitting and receiving civilizations would have to be physically close and have their technologies synchronized or one civilization would be using electromagnetic means while the other has moved on to something more advanced.
It is somehow comforting to imagine other beings concerned about ourselves. Maybe we never outgrow the psychological need for parents.