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Saturday, May 12, 2007

And God created Gliesians

Part Two - Divine Images

Observation has shown recently that only 20.5 light years away there is a planet 1.5 times the diameter of earth with 5 times its mass orbiting much closer in to a cooler star. On account of its close, tight orbit, although its year is only 13 days, the surface temperature should be remarkably earthlike. This appears to be a rocky world so we might surmise the presence of surface water without which life (as we know it) seems improbable. Have we at last found another earth? Well, hardly. There are a lot of "ifs" and "maybes" here but this is probably the best candidate yet for an earth-like planet in our galactic neighbourhood.

Now, just suppose that this planet did have life, even (stretching the probabilities) intelligent life. How would Christian theology respond to such a situation? Doubtless there would be some "creationist" Christians who would deny any significance to such a "find." For them humans and humans alone are made in the divine image.

I suspect that Orthodox Christians would have a much more open and inclusive theological approach ... or at least I hope so. We are approaching the feast of the Ascension of Christ. Orthodoxy believes that in this ineffable event Christ took our humanity into the heart of God where it acquired the deification by grace that Christ had by nature. The compatibility of God and humanity is presupposed by this teaching but why should such compatibility be limited to humanity? Whatever the divine image is in humans it is clear from the Scriptures that we are made in God's image not God in ours. There is every reason to suppose, therefore, that if Gliesians exist, God made them, loves them and takes them to himself. God's character and actions are not quixotic but have all the dependability that his love confers upon them. I suspect that the Divine Logos will have had many incarnations on many different worlds ... or at least I am not constrained by my faith necessarily to think otherwise.

I will leave the last word with Alice Meynell in her wonderful poem, "Christ of the Universe."

With this ambiguous earth
His dealings have been told us. These abide:
The signal to a maid, the human birth,
The lesson, and the young Man crucified.

But not a star of all
The innumerable host of stars has heard
How He administered this terrestrial ball.
Our race have kept their Lord's entrusted Word.

Of His earth-visiting feet
None knows the secret, cherished, perilous,
The terrible, shamefast, frightened, whispered, sweet,
Heart-shattering secret of His way with us.

No planet knows that this
Our wayside planet, carrying land and wave,
Love and life multiplied, and pain and bliss,
Bears, as chief treasure, one forsaken grave.

Nor, in our little day,
May His devices with the heavens he guessed,
His pilgrimage to thread the Milky Way,
Or His bestowals there, be manifest.

But, in the eternities,
Doubtless we shall compare together, hear
A million alien gospels, in what guise
He trod the Pleiades, the Lyre, the Bear.

Oh be prepared, my soul!
To read the inconceivable, to scan
The infinite forms of God those stars unroll
When, in our turn, we show to them a Man.


David Darling said...

Over the next couple of decades, if trends in extrasolar planet detection continue, we'll almost certainly discover many more small, rocky planets orbiting within the "habitable zones" (where surface water can exist) of their central stars. It would be rather remarkable if some of these Earthlike worlds didn't harbour some kind of life. The big question is how often intelligent life arises.

Not having any particular religious affiliation and being a fully paid-up member of Darwin's evolutionary club (though not anti-religious like Dawkins), I have no problem in supposing that complex and intelligent life of multifarious kinds has sprung up throughout the cosmos. In fact, I'm rather relieved not to have to worry about any theological implications if and when we do find that we're not alone!

I'm glad to hear that Orthodoxy is broad-minded enough to allow the possibility of sentient Gliesians. If such beings exist, I wonder what their answers to life, the universe, and everything might be?

And another thought, in the Christian view, must there be a resurrection on every world where high (say human or greater) intelligence arises? How would Christianity react to the discovery of an advanced species that had no historical record of such an event?

Father Gregory said...

As another fully paid up Darwinian I couldn't possibly accept any religion that didn't have an inclusive and holistic attitude towards truth ... wherever it may be found.

As to Gliesian metaphysical "calculations" ... 42 of course! How could it be anything else? :-)

What follows will be speculation but fully consistent with Orthodox Church (uppercase "O") theology.

"Resurrection" in Orthodox theology is the conquest of death. Now there are, in our tradition, legitimate differences of interpretation as to the precise mode of death-destroying life (which needn't detain us here) but common to all is a strong physical component.

An ex-Christian atheist asked me recently on his discussion board what would happen to my faith if someone discovered (verifiably) the bones of Christ. I replied that I would cease to be a Christian immediately and would then go and find a "proper job."

So, from our point of view the resurrection isn't just vital to the integrity of Christianity but is also an integral part of God's design for the WHOLE of creation ... Gliesians included. This is because although Christ is our (I mean according to a Christian understanding) means of achieving resurrection the personal subject of this change is not the human Jesus but the Person of the divine Logos (or "Word.") Christ's full and unequivocal humanity is resurrected but it is the Logos (with the Spirit) who are the primary agents, being (with the Father), God.

This means that the resurrection could (and certainly, in my view would) take place on other worlds in Gliesian rather than Christ-ian forms.

As I said, the precise manner of resurrection itself is not as important as the fact that it involves physicality, literally a new creation.

One way I have of envisioning this is to suppose a transformed bodily consciousness ... one vast and in some senses determinative evolutionary leap ... except that the primary agent here is God rather than random mutations.

Or so think I.

Yvonne said...

Fascinating discussion... so would the Orthodox Church seek converts among the Gliesians (assuming that they already had a religion)? I know that Orthodox missiology is much more affirming of indigenous traditions than other missiologies.

Delighted to read that you "couldn't possibly accept any religion that didn't have an inclusive and holistic attitude towards truth".

You mentioned The Sparrow in another comment (an excellent book) - I wonder if any missiological encounter with other species would have a similar outcome?

Around 1994, there was a news item that the Vatican (in a reversal of its attitude to Galileo) had built a telescope to seek out new life and evangelize it; the comment by Pagans was "prepare for an influx of aliens into the Pagan Federation" (on the grounds that we wouldn't try to convert them).

This is a very interesting blog, keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful article!

I invite everyone to explore news now from Gliesians of this article's referenced planet...

Http:// :)

-- Robert

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