Students at Milestone were lucky enough to attend a talk by Dr. Andrew Davison, Cambridge University’s Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and Natural Sciences, who gave a concise and interesting account of exobiological research investigating the likelihood of extreterrestial life and its implications for Christian theology.
Dr. Andrew Davison presented various methods to estimate the scale at which habitable planets might be found in the observable universe, arriving at the number of around 16 billion billion Earth-like planets orbiting Sun-like stars. He also called our attention to a broad range of sources in Christian theology demonstrating that religious thinkers pondered the possibility of extraterrestial life as early as the 13th century, i.e. Saint Thomas Aquina’s Summa Theologiae. As later Nicholas of Cusa wrote in his book De docta ignorant (On Learned Ignorance) in 1439-40: “Life, as it exists on Earth in the form of men, animals and plants, is to be found, let us suppose in a high form in the solar and stellar regions. Rather than think that so many stars and parts of the heavens are uninhabited and that this earth of ours alone is peopled – and that with beings perhaps of an inferior type – we will suppose that in every region there are inhabitants, differing in nature by rank and all owing their origin to God, who is the center and circumference of all stellar regions.”
Then Dr. Davison addressed the question whether incarnation of God as described in the Bible has possibly happened in other places in different times and whether this is reconcilable with Christian Theology. He found that avenues for this as a possibility were certainly already present in important parts of the Christian tradition. Only, perhaps, in respect of the ‘last things’ was exobiology a challenge to Christian orthodoxy: the divinely caused end of the universe – calling time on creation – is not so easily seen as a moment in human history if civilisations are to be found distributed across space, and therefore across time.
The intellectually stimulating talk ended with a brief summary of life in an Oxford or Cambridge college where Dr. Davison emphasised the fundamental values of this kind of education: personal, discussion and debate-driven, multidisciplinary and critical approach. This was well-represented in his talk and serves as a cornerstone of Milestone’s program – in an attempt to draw on the greatest tradition of British education.