A Theology of Space Travel 1.2

In the 17th century, a Bishop of the Church of England named John Wilkins wrote a book with the wordy title: A Discovery of a New World, or, A Discourse Tending to prove, that tis Probable there may be another Habitable World in the Moon.

Yes, some people back then thought that the moon was habitable, and even inhabited. This probably led to the early Mormon prophecies of preaching the restored Gospel on the Moon or the Sun. Wilkins advocated the position of an inhabited moon. In the process he listed some possible objections from the Scripture and Tradition of the Church, as follows:

But the position (say some) is directly against Scripture, for
I. Moses tells us of one World, and his History of the Creation had been very Imperfect, if God had made another.
2. Saint John speaking of Gods works, says, he made the World in the singular Number, and therefore there is but one: tis the argument of Aquinas, and he thinks that none will oppose it, but such who with Democritus esteem some blind Chance, and not any wise Providence to be the Framer of all things.
3. The Opinion of more Worlds has in Ancient times been accounted a Heresy, and Baronius affirms, that for this very reason Virgilius was cast out of his Bishopric, and Excommunicated from the Church.
4. A Fourth Argument there is urged by Aquinas; if there be more Worlds than one, then they must either be of the same, or of a divers Nature; but they are not of the same kind; for this were needless, and would argue an improvidence, since one would have no more perfection than the other; not of divers kinds, for then one of them could not be called the World or Universe, since it did not contain Universal perfection. I have cited this Argument because it is so much stood upon by Julius Caesar la Galla, one that has purposely wrote a Treatise against this Opinion which I now deliver;

He refutes these objections as follows:

Unto the two first it may be answered, that the Negative Authority of Scripture, is not prevalent in those things which are not the Fundamentals of Religion.
[…]

But you’ll reply, though it do not necessarily conclude, yet tis probable, if there had been another world, we should have had some notice of it in Scripture.
I answer, tis as probable that the Scripture should have informed us of the Planets, they being very remarkable parts of the Creation; and yet neither Moses, nor Job, nor the Psalms, (the places most frequent in Astronomical Observations) nor any other Scripture mention any of them, but the Sun and Moon. Because the difference betwixt them and the other Stars, was known only to those who were Learned Men, and had skill in Astronomy.

His main point related to Scripture is that silence does not prove something doesn’t exist.

[…] the silence of Scripture, concerning any other World, is not Sufficient Argument to prove that there is none.

He also notes a Jesuit argument that the authority of the Church Fathers does not apply in this case, because they did not address the subject:

Mersennus a late Jesuit, proposing the question, whether or no the opinion of more Worlds than one, be Heretical and against the Faith? He answers it Negatively, because it does not Contradict any express place of Scripture, or Determination of the Church. And though (saith he) it seems to be a rash opinion, as being against the consent of the Fathers; yet, if this controversy be chiefly philosophical, then their authorities are not of such weight. Unto this it may be added, that the consent of the Fathers is prevalent only in such points as were first controverted amongst them, and then generally decided one way, and not in such other particulars as never fell under their examination and dispute.

Bishop Wilkins seems to essentially say that if Scripture and the Fathers have not authoritatively address the subject, it is fair game. I will provide a couple of sources that Wilkins referred to in my next post.

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