For similar statements four centuries ago, the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno was immolated in
Bruno was ahead of him time. By 1698, when the astronomer Christiaan Huygens published his book Cosmotheoros, further entitled The celestial worlds discover'd: or, conjectures concerning the inhabitants, plants and productions of the worlds in the planets, belief in alien civilizations was becoming commonplace. Educated people in the Enlightenment realized that the universe was so incomprehensibly large that human beings could not possibly be alone.
So Ben Franklin theorized in his Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion that the cosmos must contain a ‘chorus of worlds’ populated by a multitude of beings, some inferior and others superior to our own. Could all these stars and satellites have been created by a single deity?
The new view of the heavens was stretching traditional notions of divinity in strange, unexpected directions. John Adams asked if the deity who created the immensity of “
“What are we to think of the Christian system of faith,” Tom Paine wondered, “that forms itself upon the idea of only one world?” The notion that the Almighty, “who had millions of worlds equally dependent on his protection, should quit the care of all the rest, and come to die in our world, because, they say, one man and one woman had eaten an apple” appeared to Paine a “solitary and strange conceit.”
Astronomers now guess there are millions of billions of planets scattered across the universe. The Founders in their day realized that the old story of salvation—God taking human form to visit the third rock from the sun—could not be literally true in a cosmos teeming with extraterrestrial life. Theology would never be the same.