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Book review: Astrobiology and Christian Doctrine: Exploring the implications of life in the universe by Andrew Davison

by
25 August 2023

What if the Word dwelt among alien life forms, Keith Ward wonders

THIS is a book about the repercussions for Christian theology of the possibility of life on other planets. It may seem surprising that there are such repercussions. The author convincingly shows that it is an important question whether the idea of the Trinity could exist among beings in galaxies far from ours, whether humans could be the centre of God’s attention in such an immense universe, whether there could be other incarnations of Christ on other worlds, and, when the universe will exist for billions of years, whether Christians can really still look for the speedy return of Christ in glory.

In a very readable, informative, and, indeed, theologically exciting book, the author deals with such questions as these. He shows how theologians have always been interested in the place of Christ, not just on earth, but in the whole universe, and that Christ has always been considered as involved in the creation and goal of “all things in heaven and earth”. We now know that the universe is far older and bigger than was thought until recently; so it really is important to see how events on a small planet can be significant for the history of the whole universe.

He sets out very well the possible positions that theologians have taken, or might take, in these issues. His own view is that a Trinitarian view of God would probably be held by alien intelligences, since it is, if true, a universal truth. He thinks that there could be incarnations of Christ in non-human forms on any other worlds there might be, and that there is a non-anthropomorphic view of created intelligences’, not just humans’, being made in the image of God. His discussions involve profound theological discussions of the Trinity, the incarnation, human nature, and the possible meaning and goal of creation. These discussions are of great importance, whether or not there is life on other worlds, and discussing them in the context of our modern scientific worldview gives them a relevance and impact that is refreshingly new.

The author’s general conclusion is that a recognisable form of Christian orthodox belief integrates well with the latest cosmological science, and that the only thing that needs a fair amount of revision is the belief, still often found, that we live in the “last days” of the created world. But our knowledge that there are billions of galaxies, stars, and possibly inhabited planets is rather a testament to the awesome power and grandeur of God than an objection to God’s existence.

It is important that Christians should be aware of the findings of modern science about the nature of our universe, and that they should see how faith in creation, redemption, and the ultimate fulfilment of creation in Christ coheres with these findings. This book is a magnificently fair, informative, trustworthy, and mind-expanding work of theology, surely a modern classic in the field.


Canon Keith Ward is Emeritus Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford.

 

Astrobiology and Christian Doctrine: Exploring the implications of life in the universe
Andrew Davison
Cambridge University Press £30
(978-1-009-30315-6)
Church Times Bookshop £27

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