By David Dunér
The following is the second half of a journal article that was published in its entirety in Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 51:2 (June 2016), 450–479. We posted the first half of the article on April 4, 2022.
The possible existence of extraterrestrial life led in the eighteenth century to a heated debate on the unique status of the human being and of Christianity. Swedish natural philosopher and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg was one of those who discussed the new scientific worldview and its implications for theology.
Life in the Sidereal Heaven
So far, we can conclude that Swedenborg put a rather strong effort during the 1710s on trying to reconcile the teachings of the Bible with the observations and theories of contemporary natural philosophy. Turning to his major work from 1734, I will emphasize three propositions concerning the cosmology and cosmogony of the universe, all of which will turn up later as fundamental for his astrotheology and theological treatment of the question of inhabited planets elsewhere in universe: (1) the plurality of worlds; (2) the micro-macrocosmic analogy; and (3) the evolution of the solar system.
In Swedenborg’s work on the principles of natural things, Principia rerum naturalium (1734), he put forward an all-encompassing theory of the universe: how the world developed from the first mathematical points, through increasingly complex combinations of active and finite particles, and elementary particles of higher and higher order, to the creation of the solar system—from the spiral motions of microcosmic matter to the vortices of the macrocosm. If the least thing, he says, is perfectly geometrical, this also applies to the greatest. In the mechanical order of the world, human beings are between the smallest and the largest, for their senses register things that are equally far from nature’s two extremes. Humanity is amazed by both what it sees and what it does not see. Wherever we turn our eyes, we are struck with wonder, one extreme surprise above our senses, and the other beneath us. Since nature remains the same in the greatest and the least, from what we see and feel, we can arrive through reason and analysis at a knowledge of what we neither see nor feel (Swedenborg, Principia, 375 f.; trans., II, 229 f.).
The magnet and its sphere are an image of heaven, a world system in miniature. In the magnetic sphere, there are spiral gyrations, or vorticles; and in the same way, there are also spiral gyrations and vortices in the sidereal heavens. Around the earth, there is a whirl in spiral motion, where the earth is like a core, a child in the arms of its nurse. The spiral motion forms an ecliptic and poles with conical apertures through which elements can flow in and out, like a current in spirals from the South Pole to the North Pole. “Let the mind thus soar into the vast regions of the universe; and . . . enjoy the wonders of the heavens above.” The whole visible firmament is a single huge sphere. Beyond our solar system, the countless stars form vortices, just as our own sun does. However, Swedenborg adds, the firmament that we see is perhaps only one of an uncountable number of spheres or sidereal heavens in the finite universe; and between these universes, there may be connections, as between two magnetic spheres: “the whole visible sidereal heaven is perhaps but a point in respect to the universe.” There are probably countless immense spheres or heavens like ours. All of these spheres together, however, do not make up even a point in comparison with the Infinite—just as our visible firmament is merely a point in comparison with the finite universe. We ask ourselves, then, what is humankind?
After this physico-theological exclamation, Swedenborg turns to the plurality of worlds: “how many myriads of heavens may there not be! how many myriads of mundane systems!” Astronomers are totally misled in their calculations of the number of planets. In an argument for plenitude, Swedenborg concludes that there might exist life out there, a theory that resembles our contemporary arguments based on probability. The planets in the universe may have animal kingdoms like ours, but they need not be inhabited by exactly the same kinds of living creatures. The perfection of the world consists in its very variation, its mutability, and its ability to give rise to increasingly complex things. Descend into Tartarus and Pluto’s regions (in other words, into mines or caves) and you will not find one thing like any other. “Look abroad on the vegetable kingdom; how varied is it! how pleasing, how delightful because of this variety!” (Swedenborg, Principia, 381–383; trans., II, 240–243) Walk through groves and woods and see how everything is pregnant. If anything were missing, the world would not be as perfect as it is; there would be a missing piece in the order, a missing link in the chain. The perfection of the world is in proportion to the larger alternations, changes, and temporary properties that collaborate in shaping it. The world is more perfect and beautiful in its composite, connected things than it is in its simple, separate parts, and in its greater and freer motion than it is in a more limited motion. Around 1733 to 1734, Swedenborg noted that perfection, in accordance with Christian von Wolff’s Ontologia (1730), is unity in variation, or the diversity of the fluctuation of differences in unity (Swedenborg, Varia philosophica, 325; Wolff, Ontologia, §503).
In every world system, however, the principles of geometry and mechanics remain the same. The dissimilarities or variations consist merely of differences in series, degrees, proportions, and figures; but the mechanics can actually differ in different worlds, since the external circumstances diverge, with different proportions, events, and degrees. Swedenborg acknowledges that varying physical environments affect the bodily nature of living creatures. If air and ether, or something similar, were to be found in these worlds, they would not display the same tremulations, which means that we would therefore see and hear differently. Our sensory organs, which are adapted to our world, would perhaps not even be able to receive these undulations. Machines in a different world would be constructed according to other rules and be operational according to other mechanical forces. The very symbol of inventiveness, combining mechanics and mathematics, the ingenious Archimedes, who said that he could displace the world, would realize his limitations. Archimedes’s name had a special symbolic value. In the scientific journal Dædalus Hyperboreus, which Swedenborg edited, he assigned to Polhem this epithet when he called him “our Swedish Archimedes” (I, intro., cf. II, 25; VI, 1). If the ancient Archimedes were relocated to a different world, he would lower his voice at the realization that his genius and skill would be valueless, as if vanished, in a world with proportions and figures that are very different from what we find on our globe. The Infinite, God, can vary creation in infinitely many ways, and consequently, He can vary geometry and mechanics to infinity (Swedenborg, Principia, 384 f.; trans., II, 246 f.).
Macrocosm and Microcosm
In Swedenborg’s Principia, we find an analogical-metaphorical thinking (e.g., between the earth and the magnet; between the vortices of the solar system and the spiral motions of mathematical points). This metaphorical thinking constitutes his later-developed theory of correspondences, a theory that is fundamental for the theology of De telluribus.
In Swedenborg’s analogy between the earth and the magnet (Swedenborg, Principia, 376; trans., II, 231), he was inspired by William Gilbert’s De magnete (1600), to which he had referred frequently when writing his manuscript of the same name (Swedenborg, De magnete et diversis ejus qualitatibus [c. 1722–1729]). Gilbert regards the earth as a large magnet—or conversely, the magnet as a small earth. On the sure foundation of geometry, Gilbert argues, the ingenious mind can rise above the ether (Gilbert, De magnete; trans., xlviii). Since the sphere is the most perfect form, and the shape of our own globe, it is also the best form for experiments. Magnetic demonstrations should therefore be performed with a globular magnet. To this round stone Gilbert gives the name “Microgē” or “Terella”—that is, earthkin, or a little earth (Gilbert, De magnete; trans., 23 f., 66 f., 330–332). Gilbert’s is a typically analogical mode of thought, alternately understanding the earth and the magnet in terms of each other. The magnet has the same properties as does the globe, such as attraction, polarity, and orbital motion. The circular motion of the magnet shows that the whole of our earth is also moving in a daily circular motion. All the movements of the magnet are in harmony with and controlled by geometry and the shape of the earth. Gilbert takes his analogical thinking to extremes when he assumes that the whole world, the globes, and all the stars are alive, animated. If worms, ants, roaches, plants, and morels have souls, why should not the stars? Thales, of whom Aristotle speaks, says that the magnet is alive as a part of the living Mother Earth and her beloved offspring (Gilbert, De magnete; trans., 309–312). Swedenborg, too, had described the magnet as being animated according to Thales, but in a passage taken from Pliny (Swedenborg, De magnete et diversis ejus qualitatibus [c. 1722–1729, 237]).
Swedenborg’s comparison of the magnetic sphere to the sidereal heaven rests on the analogy between microcosm and macrocosm. It is not always possible to refer to any particular source, or to show a necessary dependence on a reading of other thinkers, such as Aristotle or Paracelsus. Swedenborg is, to a great extent, proceeding from the human ability to think in metaphors, a thinking that is in line with contemporary cognitive semantics, as represented by George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, and others (Lakoff & Johnson 1980; Lakoff 1990; Lakoff & Johnson 1999; Lakoff & Núñez 2000). Our basic concepts do not function beyond our everyday experiences. To conceptualize non-everyday phenomena or abstract thought requires conceptual metaphors. Metaphorical thinking, then, can mean understanding and experiencing something with the aid of something else; or it can mean that a structure in one domain is transferred to another, from a source (the sensorimotor domain) to a target (subjective experience), which simultaneously preserves the deductive structure. In philosophical analysis and scientific theory formation, metaphors play an important part. Philosophical and scientific texts are more or less, as in the case of Swedenborg, filled with conceptual metaphors, analogies, metonymies, similes, and comparisons (Crombie 1994; Spranzi 2004; Dunér 2013c). Scientific reasoning, in other words, largely uses metaphors as conceptual tools or as theoretical models of the external world.
The micro-macrocosmic idea can be understood as a type of metaphorical thinking, as a notion of infinite analogies, metaphors, and correspondences between different levels of existence. The classical expression of this agreement between large and small, or between above and below, could have been found by Swedenborg in a book that he owned entitled Die gantz neue eröffnete Pforte zu dem chymischen Kleinod (1728, 17). It is the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus: “that which is below is as that which is above, and that which is above is as that which is below.” The micro-macrocosmic idea is a metaphor that constantly generates new metaphors—for example, gold on earth (below) corresponds to the sun (above), and the sun (below) corresponds to God the Father (above), and so on. As in heaven, so on earth. However, the “world machine” became the central metaphor in the natural philosophy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; it was a basic metaphor that generated new metaphors (particularly spatial, visual, and orientational ones), thereby finding similarities between the artificial mechanics of human beings and the natural mechanics of God.
The Creation of the Solar System
Another difficulty for astrotheology is how to explain and reconcile the Mosaic creation myth with modern natural philosophy. In the beginning was chaos. Light and dark and hard and soft were buried together in a raw, disordered mass. From this chaotic mass, Swedenborg explains in Principia (388–390; trans., II, 254–257), everything issued like a child from the womb. Thought chooses the least difficult path, as a wanderer in the darkness gropes his way in the direction with the fewest obstacles and follows the path without seeing it. The wanderer touches different objects without knowing what they are, and he finally reaches his destination without knowing how he got there. In the same way, the ancient philosophers succeeded in reaching a rational stance on chaos. Aristophanes wrote about chaos and the black-winged night laying a windy egg (Ornithes, 691–695); Ovid spoke of a confused, formless chaos without life, without sea, and without earth or sky (Metamorphoseon, 1.5–9); and Moses agreed (“the earth was complete chaos, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” [Genesis 1:2]). I was there, says “Wisdom” in Proverbs 8:27, when God set a compass upon the face of the depth.
In our nearest macrocosmic vortex, our own solar system, the sun is the world egg, the seed from which the planets are born. This reminds us of Burnet’s theory of the world egg, but it might also be understood as a general metaphor that could be found in various ancient creation myths. The egg stands for something living, for vitality, for a symbolic beginning, for something that develops from a point to a full-grown body. It is a seed, an onion, a point. Creation takes a different course for Swedenborg. The planets are not extinguished stars that have been sucked into the vortex of the sun, as Descartes would propose. Instead, the sun gives birth to its satellites, bringing them forth in a successively arising and whirling movement. Swedenborg’s nebular hypothesis, as it has been claimed, thus anticipates the theory put forward more than two decades later by Kant and Pierre-Simon Laplace. The hypothesis could be questioned, though, since Swedenborg did not rest his explanation on Newtonian physics, as Kant and Laplace did. According to Swedenborg, the sun rests in the center, surrounded by particles that follow a vortical movement.
On the inside of the vortex, the elementary particles are compressed to finites of the fourth order. They increase in number, and they form a crust around the sun, which shuts out the sunlight. This crustaceous matter rotates around the sun, and because of the centrifugal force, it moves farther and farther away from the sun. The vortices of space are like those found in our own visible world, as, for example, when water whirls around a center and continues to do so even if the first impulse has ended. The crust continues its movement around the sun, not unlike effluvia circulating around a magnet. The huge crust and the enclosed sun are like an elementary particle with an active core and finite particles around it; they are like images of each other. In its outward journey in larger and larger circles, as a geometrical consequence, the crust becomes thinner and thinner and finally bursts. The debris left by the explosion falls in a belt that revolves around the sun in increasingly large circles, until it thins out and finally explodes once again. The blasted mass of matter sticks together and forms round globes, or spheres of matter, of the fourth-order finites—that is to say, the planets and satellites of the solar vortex.
The planets move away in spirals from the sun until they achieve balance with the solar vortex and enter their final circular orbit. For a long time, darkness covered the sun; heaven was in the shade, obscured by pitch-black clouds, with the rays imprisoned behind the crust. Each planet is like a large finite particle with the same movements; they differ only in degree and dimension. The parts resemble the whole and vice versa. On a large scale, one can see what happens on a small scale; in the visible part of the material world, what happens in the invisible part; in the whole machine, what happens in the model. If when nature “is invisible you seek her in the visible world, she will never disappoint you, but there present herself as visible before you. Thus will she never elude the eye, nor hide herself within mysterious shrines, but ever be most intimately present, and perpetually about and around both yourself and your senses” (Swedenborg, Principia, 397, 403, 412; trans., II, 273 f., 285, 301).
The earth lies naked and uniform in an azure, sky-blue tone. No air, no rosy light of dawn, no dew, or clouds exist through which Iris with her saffron wings can show her multicolored rainbows; no forests; no green, violet, or red shades over the fields; no shimmer of metals; not a living creature. Swedenborg’s natural philosophy is combined with mythology. The god Jupiter is the ether, and Juno is the air. Nature is reborn from herself as the phoenix rising from the ashes; she takes place in an eternal circle. From death comes life; from the funeral pyre comes resurrection. The earth itself also forms a vortex like a big magnet, wholly in harmony with the large solar vortex. Under the spiral journey, it was at first naked, but it was then covered with ether, then with air, and finally with water. A crust formed over the watery surface of the earth. It was an eternal spring. Years and days were shorter when the earth was closer to the sun and rotating at a greater speed. Likewise, the inhabitants of Mercury and of Venus counted more summers and years than we do. If the antediluvians were to appear to us, they would be astounded at our short springs and our long autumns and winters (Swedenborg, Principia, 410 f., 423, 440, 445, 447; trans., II, 300, 321, 347, 355, 358 f.).
The Worlds in Space
These natural philosophical assumptions and theories mentioned above must be kept in mind in order to fully understand the scientific-philosophical basis for Swedenborg’s theological assertion that there are inhabited planets elsewhere in the universe. After the publication of Principia, astronomy would never become for Swedenborg the subject of closer, theoretical study, but he would many times return to the vast universe, to the indefinite space, to the creation of our world, and to the inhabited planets of our solar system and beyond. The same year he published Principia, he also published a work on the Infinite, De infinito (1734). Here he talks about a finite universe, noting that it has limits and is immensely vast, but is not infinite—that only God could be infinite. In his poetic drama of creation in the Hexameron tradition, De cultu et amore Dei (1745), Swedenborg recapitulates the cosmogony from Principia, how the sun gives birth to the planets and how they move from the sun in spirals (Jonsson 2004).
In his explorations of the spiritual world, Swedenborg also discovered inhabited planets in our solar system and beyond. He travels in his dreams to the planets of the spiritual world through varying inner, mental states, which appear to him like journeys in space. The inhabited planets of the spiritual world “are not spatially remote as in the natural world, but only appear to be so, depending on the state of life of their spirits and inhabitants. By state of life I mean the state of their affections as regards love and faith” (De telluribus, n. 135). The encounters with these extraterrestrial spirits first appear in his Diarum spirituale (Spiritual Diary [also called Spiritual Experiences; see, for example, n. 460, 519]) from the late 1740s.
These extraterrestrial encounters changed his theological writing. After two weeks of conversation with spirits from Jupiter, in January of 1748, rather than referring to God as “God Messiah,” which is what he had done previously, Swedenborg began referring to God as “the Lord” (Bedford 2006, 334). In the volumes of his Arcana Coelestia (Secrets of Heaven) that were published in 1753, 1754, and 1756, he included his travel notes. In 1758, he finally compiled all of his notes into a book on the planets in our solar system and beyond, De telluribus in mundo nostro solari. Even in Swedenborg’s book on heaven and hell, De coelo et ejus mirabilibus, et de inferno, which he published that same year, the idea of the plurality of worlds appears.
In Arcana Coelestia, Swedenborg makes a grand claim, an anthropomorphic and teleological argument for inhabited worlds: “where a terrestrial body exists, so does the human being; for the human being is the end for the sake of which a terrestrial body exists, and the Supreme Being has created nothing without that end in view” (n. 9237). In De telluribus, he advances his theological arguments for the existence of extraterrestrials, in conversations with spirits, and for there being more than one world in the universe, which is based on the fact that the starry sky is so immense and contains countless stars, each one a sun with its own planetary system. However, the planets and stars have a more important purpose than merely to rotate and to shine. The planets visible to our eyes, Swedenborg says, can be plainly recognized as worlds—bodies made of earthly matter that reflect sunlight, mottled with dark patches like land masses on earth, revolving around the sun and rotating about their axes like our earth. “Can anyone knowing this and able to think rationally still claim that these are empty masses?” (De telluribus, n. 3) All of this immense structure serves the ultimate purpose of creation, which is “the establishment of a heavenly kingdom in which the Deity can dwell with angels and human beings” (De telluribus, n. 4).
The human race, Swedenborg says, “does not come from only one world, but from countless worlds” (De telluribus, n. 2). There is a certain anthropomorphism in his astrotheology. The extraterrestrials are no doubt humans, even though they can differ in proportion, anatomy, and mentality. He combines the idea of a plurality of worlds with his doctrine of the Universal Human, which is the idea that the whole of heaven is in the form of a single human being. The Mercurians relate to the memory of abstract ideas, and they surpass others in their knowledge of matters both within the solar system and in the starry sky beyond it (De telluribus, n. 11, 14). They travel through the universe and know about systems and worlds outside our solar system. The Mercurians said to Swedenborg “that the universe contains very many worlds inhabited by human beings” and that “they knew of the existence of more than several hundred thousand worlds in the universe” (De telluribus, n. 26). Some spirits from Mercury came to visit a certain spirit from earth, famous for his learning—namely, the philosopher Christian Wolff. However, they were not impressed. “They saw that what he said was not raised above the sense-impressions of the natural man, because in speaking he thought about his reputation.” Swedenborg also heard a conversation between two spirits, one of whom was Aristotle. To Swedenborg’s surprise, Aristotle spoke hoarsely, but sensibly, into his right ear. They discussed the science of analysis, and Swedenborg said to him “that a small boy could say more philosophically, analytically and logically in half an hour than Aristotle had been able to say in a book” (De telluribus, n. 38). Swedenborg probably had in mind Aristotle’s Prior and Posterior Analytics.
The spirits from Jupiter were much wiser than those from our world. They said that earthlings talk too much and think too little. And when Swedenborg wanted to tell them that we have wars, plundering, and murders in our world, “they turned their backs, and refused to listen” (De telluribus, n. 49). To them, earthlings were external persons, without much inward perception. However, the Martians, according to Swedenborg, are among the best spirits in our solar system; they are like celestial persons. The spirits from Saturn live in a world in which their nocturnal illumination comes from the great ring around their planet, as well as from its satellites, but rather than seeing a ring, they only see a whiteness in the sky. The spirits from Saturn “do not bother much about food and clothing,” because they all “know that they will live on after death.” For the same reason, “they do not bury the bodies of the dead, but throw them out, covering them with branches from the trees of the forest” (De telluribus, n. 61, 85, 100, 103 f.). The Venusians living on the side of their world facing our earth are fierce, almost like wild animals, and they take great pleasure in stealing and in eating what they have stolen. They are stupid giants (people of our world only come up to their navel) who do not ask about heaven or about everlasting life; instead, they just care about their lands and their flocks. As for the inhabitants of the moon, they are as tall as are seven-year-old boys, but they have stronger bodies (De telluribus, n. 108, 111).
That Swedenborg believes in the existence of humanoid lifeforms on the other planets in our solar system is not so surprising, if one were to reconsider the assumptions made by many other contemporary natural philosophers, such as Fontenelle, Huygens, and Kant. While there was some scientific evidence that could support a belief in extraterrestrial life, there was also scientific evidence that made it unlikely, which Michael Crowe shows in detail (Crowe, The Extraterrestrial Life Debate 1750–1900 ). Swedenborg did not bother with Newton’s inverse square law for gravitation, and henceforth he presumed the existence of humanoid lifeforms of comparatively similar size on planets of very different mass, such as Mercury and Jupiter. Perhaps more interesting is that he also avows that there are habitable planets orbiting other stars in our universe.
Swedenborg also tells about his conversations with spirits from five different extra-solar planets. He says that in the learned world, it is well known that each star is a sun, and therefore it follows that stars, like our sun, have their own planets. And these planets are peopled with humans, which is the purpose of God’s creation of the universe. However, they “are invisible to our eyes because of their immense distance, and because they shine only with light reflected from their own star, which again cannot reach us here.” Swedenborg then calculates the total number of human beings, or spirits, in the universe. “If there were a million worlds in the universe, and three hundred million human beings in each world, and two hundred generations in six thousand years, and if each human being or spirit were given a space of three cubic meters, the total number of people or spirits, if all added together, would still not occupy a thousandth part of the volume of this world, but perhaps the volume of one of the satellites of the planets Jupiter or Saturn” (De telluribus, n. 126). These calculations predate those of the Scottish church minister and science teacher Thomas Dick who in 1848 tried to estimate the number of inhabitants on the planets of our solar system by comparing their magnitude with the population of our globe (Dick 1848, 135 f.; see Crowe 1986). If the planets were populated as densely as is England, which is at a rate of 280 inhabitants per square mile, we find that Venus would have 53.5 billion people and that Jupiter, the most populated planet, would have 6,967 billion people. In total, including all the planets, satellites, and asteroids, along with the rings of Saturn, there would be 21,894 billion people in our solar system. According to Swedenborg, when compared with the infinite size of the Creator, the human race is small in size, a belief shared by the angels. He deduced that there would still be enough room for humans to live forever without filling up the uninhabited regions. The heaven surrounding our world is so small in comparison that “it would not equal one hundred millionth part of the uninhabited space” (De telluribus, n. 168).
After traveling through a great gap at the limits of our solar system, Swedenborg came to the first world in the starry sky.
Traveling to the second world in the starry sky took two days. That world contained meadows, flower gardens and woods with fruit-bearing trees, lakes with fish, blue-colored birds with golden feathers, and small animals with raised backs like camels in our world. The inhabitants did not live in houses; instead, they made roofs among the leaves in the woodlands to shelter themselves from rain and the heat of the sun (De telluribus, n. 138, 144). To the spirits from the third world in the starry sky, he said “that writings could be printed, so that whole groups of people could read and understand them.” And the spirits “were very surprised to hear of the existence of such a technique, which is wholly unknown elsewhere” (De telluribus, n. 155). On the fourth world in the starry sky—a small extra-solar planet with a circumference of 3,320 miles, a year consisting of 200 days, and a day with only 15 hours—he saw fields “which were turning white as the crop was almost ripe,” with seeds or grain resembling the grains of Chinese rice. He also saw “grassy plains with flowers . . ., as well as trees with fruits like pomegranates. There were shrubs which, though not vines, bore berries from which they prepared wine” (De telluribus, n. 166 f.). The inhabitants of the fifth world in the starry sky lived in low wooden constructions, walked about naked, and did not feel ashamed of their nakedness (De telluribus, n. 176). Because their year was equivalent to just seventy-five days on our earth, they lived in a perpetual spring and summertime where the fields blossom and the trees bear fruit all year long (De telluribus, n. 177). This seems to be in line with what Swedenborg had previously arrived at during the 1710s in his studies of the retardations of earth.
Swedenborg explains why the Lord chose to be born on our earth and not on another planet. The most important reason was for the sake of the Word, which could be written and circulated in our world, and thus could be preserved for all posterity. This was so because the art of writing has existed here since ancient times—first on tablets, then on parchment, later on paper, and finally in print, which could be more widely distributed. On our earth, the Word could be effectively circulated, since terrestrial humans are in contact with each other and are able to travel around to every part of the globe (De telluribus, n. 113–122). As Crowe has noticed, Swedenborg gives Christ’s communicative function primacy over his redemptive role (1986, 199 f.). On our earth, Swedenborg explained to spirits from the first world in the starry sky, there are remarkable sciences and arts that are unparalleled anywhere else in the universe,
With the aid of printing, people can pass on and store their thoughts and inventions for thousands of years, to future generations, to new creatures on earth. Among the immense numbers of stars and planets in the vast universe, there is only one globe where the art of writing is known. Only on that globe can be found sciences, mathematics, and philosophy. Earth is the most advanced technological civilization in the universe, and its inhabitants possess stunning communicative skills that are unknown elsewhere. That is why Jesus chose to be born there.
Conclusion: An Astrotheology of Plurality of Worlds
As a natural philosopher, Swedenborg pondered the history and evolution of the solar system from an entirely mechanistic viewpoint. However, he also tried to reconcile these astrodynamic theories with what were considered biblical truths; or, rather, he utilized certain statements in the Old Testament in order to give support to his rationalistic, mechanistic theories of nature. In his early astrodynamic attempts concerning the retardation of the earth, he asserted that these theories, besides being in line with contemporary Cartesian natural philosophy, could also explain why the antediluvians had such an extraordinary lifespan. In his prime work on the principles of natural things, Principia (1734), he put forward a nebular hypothesis of the evolution of our solar system. God became the prime mover. In the creation of the world, God implanted motion, or more exactly an effort (conatus) at motion, into the mathematical point (Swedenborg, Principia, 33; trans., I, 57). All that comes after that—matter, the solar system, the stars and planets—follows the inevitable geometrical, mechanical laws of nature; and Swedenborg finds it very likely that this immense universe could contain numerous habitable worlds other than ours.
Essentially, we find in Swedenborg’s theological writings the same arguments for a plurality of worlds: the argument from plenitude, that God cannot have left the stars and planets barren and lifeless; that there is a certain teleology embedded in nature, a purpose to fill the universe with life; and a physico-theology acclaiming the admirable works of the Creator. Even though his firm scientific standpoint, in line with the natural philosophy of his time, challenged some Christian dogmas, Swedenborg tried to reconcile them. He defended the idea of a prime mover, an infinite being that transcends the finite world of matter, and that there is only one Christ, a redeemer who chose to be born on our earth. In his De telluribus, we find teleological arguments, with an emphasis on the universality of the divine creation and Christianity, on the universality of God’s presence and purpose, and on anthropomorphic descriptions of extraterrestrial life. God’s salvation is not earth-specific; the Lord is the Redeemer of the entire universe. By reconciling the natural philosophy of his time, including the concept of the plurality of worlds, among others, with Christian dogmas, Swedenborg avoided such deistic conclusions as Jesus being merely mortal, while at the same time retaining his belief in that modern astronomical world-view that he seems to never have abandoned.
David Dunér is Professor of History of Science and Ideas at Lund University, Sweden. He is Principal Investigator of the research group Space Humanities at Lund University and leader of the scientific working group Historical, Philosophical, Societal and Ethical Issues in Astrobiology of the European Astrobiology Institute. He is author of the book The Natural Philosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg: A Study in the Conceptual Metaphors of the Mechanistic World-View (2013) and editor of the collection of papers The History and Philosophy of Astrobiology: Perspectives on Extraterrestrial Life and the Human Mind (2013).
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———. 1716–1718. Dædalus Hyperboreus: eller några nya mathematiska och physicaliska försök och anmerkningar: som wälborne herr assessor Polhammar och andre sinrike i Swerige hafwa giordt och nu tijd efter annan til almen nytta lemna I–VI. Uppsala & Skara; facsimile, In Kungliga vetenskaps societetens i Upsala tvåhundraårsminne, ed. Nils C. Dunér. Uppsala: Kungl. Vetenskaps-Societeten i Uppsala, 1910.
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———. 1734. Prodromus philosophiæ ratiocinantis de infinito et causa finali creationis: deque mechanismo operationis animæ et corporis. Dresden & Leipzig; trans. J. J. G. Wilkinson, Forerunner of a Reasoned Philosophy Concerning the Infinite, the Final Cause of Creation Also the Mechanism of the Operation of the Soul and Body, new ed. London: Swedenborg Society, 1992.
———. 1745. De cultu et amore Dei. London; trans. Alfred H. Stroh and Frank Sewall, The Worship and Love of God. West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1914.
———. 1749–1756. Arcana coelestia quæ in Scriptura Sacra seu Verbo Domini sunt detecta. London; trans. John E. Elliott, Arcana Caelestia: Principally a Revelation of the Inner or Spiritual Meaning of Genesis and Exodus. London: Swedenborg Society, 1983–1999; trans. Lisa Hyatt Cooper, Secrets of Heaven. 2 vols. West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2008–2012.
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———. 1758. De telluribus in mundo nostri solari, quæ vocantur planetæ. London; German trans. Friedrich Christoph Oetinger, Von den Erdcörpern der Planeten und des gestirnten Himmels Einwohnern, allwo von derselben Art zu denken, zu reden und zu handeln, von ihrer Regierungs-Form, Policey, Gottesdienst, Ehestand und überhaupt von ihrer Wohnung und Sitten, aus Erzählungen deselben Geister selbst durch Emanuel Schwedenborg Nachricht gegeben wird . . . Anspach, 1771; English trans. John Chadwick, The Worlds in Space. London: Swedenborg Society, 1997.
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