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The Extraterrestrial Life Debate, Antiquity to 1915

A Source Book

Edited with commentary by Michael J. Crowe

Publication Year: 2008

This book presents key documents from the pre-1915 history of the extraterrestrial life debate. Introductions and commentaries accompany each source document, some of which are published here for the first time or in a new translation. Authors included are Aristotle, Lucretius, Aquinas, Nicholas of Cusa, Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Fontenelle, Huygens, Newton, Pope, Voltaire, Kant, Paine, Chalmers, Darwin, Wallace, Dostoevski, Lowell, and Antoniadi, among others. Michael J. Crowe has compiled an extensive bibliography not available in other sources. These materials reveal that the extraterrestrial life debate, rather than being a relatively modern phenomenon, has extended throughout nearly all Western history and has involved many of its leading intellectuals. The readings also demonstrate that belief in extraterrestrial life has had major effects on science and society, and that metaphysical and religious views have permeated the debate throughout much of its history.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Front Matter

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FIGURES

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pp. xi-xii

TABLES

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pp. xiii-xiv

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PREFACE

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pp. xv-xxii

Do extraterrestrials exist? This book does not set forth an answer to that interesting question, nor was this the goal for which these materials were assembled. Nonetheless, the book may shed a little light on the question and on some who have sought to answer it. One claim that is suggested in these materials is that, whether or not extraterrestrials exist, they have long since invaded the Earth. ...

PART ONE. ANTIQUITY TO NEWTON

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1. THE DEBATE IN ANTIQUITY

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pp. 3-13

When in Western thought did the debate over the existence of extraterrestrial intelligent life commence? Classical scholars date that development from Greek antiquity, in particular, from the fifth century BCE, when Leucippus and Democritus advocated the existence of such beings.1 Although only fragments from their writings ...

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2. FROM AUGUSTINE TO THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY

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pp. 14-34

In its first half dozen centuries CE, the dynamic new religion known as Christianity came into contact with the impressive and sophisticated systems of thought worked out by the Greeks and Romans. One of these points of contact was the question of a plurality of worlds. The reaction of the early Christian thinkers to the idea ...

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3. FROM COPERNICUS TO BRUNO

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pp. 35-50

What factors between 1500 and about 1750 transformed the idea of extraterrestrial life from being a radical notion accepted by few to being a doctrine taught in college classrooms, championed by preachers, and celebrated by poets? Scholars have offered two contrasting explanations. Some suggest that astronomical developments, ...

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4. GALILEO, KEPLER, DESCARTES, AND PASCAL

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pp. 51-71

When around 1608 Galileo Galilei turned the newly invented telescope to the heavens, he made a number of sensational discoveries, which he published in 1610 in his Sidereus nuncius (Starry Messenger). Among the discoveries reported in that book are: (1) that the Moon has mountains and seas, (2) that Jupiter is orbited by four ...

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5. FONTENELLE AND HUYGENS

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pp. 72-108

Two books published toward the end of the seventeenth century greatly stimulated interest in and probably acceptance of extraterrestrials. The authors of these books, which are the focus of this chapter, were Fontenelle and Huygens. The earlier book appeared in 1686, when Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle published his Entretiens sur ...

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6. NEWTON, BENTLEY, AND DERHAM

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pp. 109-126

Although Isaac Newton never published a sustained discussion of the question of extraterrestrial life, his published writings as well as his letters and manuscripts reveal his interest in this issue. Moreover, because of Newton’s eminence as the most gifted scientist of the scientific revolution period, his contemporaries carefully scrutinized ...

PART TWO. THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

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7. ASTRONOMERS AND EXTRATERRESTRIALS

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pp. 129-181

The interactions between the science of astronomy and ideas of extraterrestrial life have been numerous and complex. It is certainly true that developments in astronomy have deeply influenced ideas of extraterrestrial life. But it is also true that biological, physical, metaphysical, and theological beliefs have had an impact on our ...

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8. EXTRATERRESTRIALS AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT

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pp. 182-230

What was the Enlightenment? Franklin L. Baumer described it by stating that “The Enlightenment. . . , as Ernst Troeltsch and many others were later to say, was the hinge on which the European nations turned from the Middle Ages to ‘modern’ times, marking the passage from a supernaturalistic-mystical-authoritative to a ...

PART THREE. FROM 1800 TO 1860

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9. INTENSIFICATION OF THE DEBATE AFTER 1800

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pp. 233-296

Thomas Paine was far from being the only author who saw the doctrine of a plurality of worlds as creating serious difficulties for Christianity. The Gothic novelist Horace Walpole, fourth lord of Orford (1717–1798), stated: “Fontenelle’s Dialogues on a Plurality of Worlds, first rendered me an Infidel. Christianity, and a plurality of ...

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10. BEFORE THE WHEWELL DEBATE

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pp. 297-332

John Herschel, the only son of William Herschel, attained, like his father, great eminence in astronomy. Moreover, John’s accomplishments in mathematics, physics, photography, philosophy of science, and other areas led to his being seen by his contemporaries as the leading British scientist of the mid-nineteenth century. In the ...

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11. WHEWELL’S OF THE PLURALITYOF WORLDS AND RESPONSES

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pp. 333-366

In late 1853, Rev. William Whewell (1794–1866), who by then had become distinguished as Master of Trinity College, the most famous of the colleges of Cambridge University, published anonymously a book entitled Of the Plurality of Worlds: An Essay, in which he shocked his contemporaries by calling into question the tradi-...

PART FOUR. FROM 1860 TO 1915

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12. NEW APPROACHES TO AN ANCIENT QUESTION

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pp. 369-437

This chapter focuses on four authors: Charles Darwin, Richard Proctor, Camille Flammarion, and Alfred Russel Wallace. One of its recurring themes concerns evolution and extraterrestrials. Significant as the publication in 1859 of Darwin’s Origin of Species was, it is important to realize that evolutionary views broadly considered ...

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13. THE LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY

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pp. 438-469

Tyndall’s scientific writings extended to numerous areas and well equipped him to serve as superintendent of the Royal Institution, a leading London scientific center. Tyndall was also a popular writer. One historian commented concerning Tyndall’s famous presidential address at the 1874 Belfast meeting of the British Asso-...

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14. THE CONTROVERSY OVER THE CANALS OF MARS

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pp. 470-517

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, a dramatic situation was developing. Astronomers had by then come to believe that few if any of the other planets in our solar system can, at least at present, support intelligent life. A possible exception was Mars, which is nearly the size of our Earth and moves in an orbit not greatly ...

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CONCLUSION

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pp. 518-521

The question whether or not extraterrestrial intelligent beings exist remained unanswered in 1915——and remains unanswered today. Or perhaps a more accurate statement would be that over the last twenty-five hundred years, humans have supplied an abundance of answers to this question, but a paucity of direct evidence in ...

APPENDIX. The History of Ideas of Extraterrestrial Life Research Program

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pp. 522-524

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

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pp. 526-541

PERMISSIONS

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pp. 542-543

INDEX

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pp. 544-554


E-ISBN-13: 9780268076795
E-ISBN-10: 0268076790
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268023683
Print-ISBN-10: 0268023689

Page Count: 576
Illustrations: Images removed; no digital rights.
Publication Year: 2008