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Science and Science Fiction

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In the early 19th century it was still maintained by many that the Moon must be inhabited, or else God’s work would be wasted. Thomas Dick carried this idea to its absurd but logical conclusion in his nonfiction theological work entitled Celestial Scenery(1838). First, he noted that the rings of Saturn contain an area of more than thirty million square miles.

“It is not likely,” he went on, “that the Creator would leave a space equal to nearly six hundred times the habitable parts of our globe, as a desolate waste, without nay tribes of either sensitive or intelligent existence…. “1872

By the mid-nineteenth century this view remained virtually unchanged. Father Angelo Secehi, a Jesuit astronomer, asserted of the planets: “These worlds are bound to be populated by creatures capable of recognizing, honoring and loving their Creator.”1905

But as the last century drew to a close, the English poetess Alice Meynell (1849-1922) sounded in verse what was to become the less-chauvinistic modern perspective:

Doubtless we shall compare together, hear
A million alien Gospels…
O, be prepared, my soul!
To read the inevitable, to scan
The million forms of God those stars unroll
When, in our turn, we show to them a Man.702

This idea that ETs will have their own religions and their own gods has replaced “waste” as the central topic of exotheological debate.

Scientific speculations were often grossly unreliable and misleading, as evidenced by the “Moon Hoax” fiasco. In July of 1822 a German astronomer by the name of Franz von Paula Guithuisen had first reported observing a great walled city on the Moon, near the crater Schröter on the lunar equator. This caused quite a flap, and the stage was set.

The famous British astronomer Sir John Herschel (1792-1871) traveled to the Royal Observatory at Capetown, South Africa in 1834 to commence a full sky survey of the Southern hemisphere. The project was well known throughout the educated world at the time and, added to Gruithuisen’s wild claims, may explain the widespread acceptance of Richard Adams Locke’s concocted front page story on Sir Herschel’s “amazing discovery” of inhabitants on the Moon.

Published in The New York Sun during the first week of September, 1835, the report (called “Great Astronomical Discoveries”) claimed that Herschel had turned a powerful new telescope towards the Moon and had observed life there, including forests, bison-like animals, blue unicorns and finally, winged men and women:

We counted three parties of these creatures, of twelve, nine, and fifteen in each, walking erect towards a small wood near the base of the eastern precipices. Certainly they were like human beings, for their wings had now disappeared, and their attitude in walking was both erect and dignified.1872

The entire first reprinting of 20,000 copies was completely sold out on the day of publication.

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