Life on the Moon
by Alfred Acton II
Is there life on the moon? Could the Writings ever be wrong? How do New Church people who believe that religion must make sense resolve problems arising when science and revelation clash?
As we know, Swedenborg reports seeing spirits from the moon. His sight of these spirits included about a five-minute span in his thirty years of experience in the other world. On the other hand, we have been to the moon and seen no observable life there. What is more, our best account from science is that there is no atmosphere on the moon, no water on the moon, no food on the moon, and so no life as we know it on the moon.
Are these two statements, one from revelation and one from science, in contradiction? First note that Swedenborg himself, in the Principia, accepts the reality of life on other planets. Presumably he means the moon as well. But such life will necessarily vary as to form. The atmospheres around a planet which will necessarily be different on different planets will cause this variety. He concludes, "If, however, in these [other] earths we could suppose the existence of an animal kingdom of the same kind as our own, then we must also suppose it subject to the same contingencies, changes, modes and series, through which it must pass to arrive at the same perfection; but since we cannot presume that, in these respects, all other worlds are absolutely similar to our own, so we cannot presume them to be inhabited by a precisely similar race of living creatures" (Principia, vol. II, chapter III, "On the Diversities of Worlds," introductory remarks). In other words, Swedenborg never expected life as we know it to exist on any planet beyond our own, and this because of the nature of the atmospheres surrounding the planet.
Swedenborg was also well aware that there was no atmosphere like ours on the moon. He knew there was no water or food as we know it there. Instead he postulates some other kind of atmosphere which would be distinct from the kinds of atmospheres we know, and so some very different life form. In the Spiritual Diary 1670, for example, Swedenborg reports that life on another moon is similar to life on our moon. These spirits have body forms which are so ethereal that they do not wish it to be said that they have a body. Swedenborg adds, "But whether they may not have been from one of the satellites of Jupiter, which, like [our] moon, are surrounded by a different kind of atmosphere, and thus that these spirits are a different kind of creatures in such a little world, and possessed of another kind of bodies, I am not sure, though they intimated to me something of the kind; for as I could not have an idea of any sort of men except such as live on earths surrounded by atmospheres, therefore, although ignorant of the positive fact, yet I would not decidedly reject the supposition, for corporeal forms are governed entirely by the state of the atmospheres, and many other things pertaining to the earths in which they dwell."
At present both science and revelation say there is no life as we know it on the moon. In other words, both science and revelation agree in this fundamental observation. The difference is that revelation says that life other than life as we know it does exist there.
Extra-terrestrial life, in the other world, appeared to Swedenborg as quite similar to life on our planet. A man from the moon was seen by Swedenborg wearing a little cap, a fairly distinctive ordinary Swedish type cap called a moppa. Another man from a distant planet in the starry heavens was seen wearing a felt cap. Sheep were seen on Jupiter, etc. Does such a vision necessarily imply felt or ordinary Swedish caps in outer space? I don't think so. When considering things seen in the other world we must use the rules of sight that apply there. We know that things are seen in that world as though they were made of material substance because that is the way things appear.
Here on earth we develop an alphabet of time and space which allows us to see the things in the other world in a time-space contiguum. So, if this principle applies to extra-terrestrial life, the people seen by Swedenborg need not look the least bit like their physical frame as it appears on their own planet. "Little green men" could appear as earth people to us in the spiritual world. In fact, Swedenborg once saw people who looked like apes, but learned that when they lived on earth they did not look at all like apes. They were people living on islands with no religion (see SS 116).
It is probable that what Swedenborg saw when viewing moon people was a correspondential representation of the loves which moon spirits had made their own in the contiguum of our time-space world. In other words, we don't need to look for felt caps or sheep in outer space, or people in bodies similar to our own, albeit rumbling from the abdomen, drinking water and eating food.
Do science and revelation clash?
As far as I can see, at least on the subject of moon people, there is no conflict between what the Writings say and what science says. Nor should there be such conflict. Both the evidence of our senses and the evidence of revelation must in some way agree. If they seem to disagree, several possibilities exist. Either our understanding of revelation is wrong, or our understanding of the scientific data is wrong, or our understanding of both is wrong. The data itself is not wrong. Only our interpretation of it can err. As New Church people we accept two foundations of truth: the physical world which God created and revelation which God authored (see SD 5709). (In this context I refer you to an article published in the New Philosophy entitled " Paradigms of Revelation ." The article outlines various ways to look at the "facts" of revelation.)
Should we then try to resolve the issue concerning life on the moon? If we do, I believe we must recognize that our data is very incomplete. Also if we make the effort, are we really trying to apologize for revelation, somehow believing that we must defend the Lord rather than the reverse? For my part, I prefer not to accept any particular theory which tries to resolve this issue both because of the incompleteness of our data and because of my own particular paradigm.
However, it is interesting to note the different theories that have been put forth by New Church people at different times. I have collected ten such theories and I will list and discuss each in brief. Perhaps in reading them you may find one that rings true, but as I said, personally I prefer to wait and see.
Here are the theories:
A. The Nobody's Home Theory. According to this theory people once lived on the moon but they all died out. This theory usually assumes that life as we know it was there. It posits that water and air were once there, and so sustained life. Problems with this theory include the fact that the moon is a younger body or at least a contemporary body with this planet. The theory assumes then an evolution of life and a loss of that life all prior in time to the beginnings of human life on this planet. Also science has demonstrated that the reason there are no atmospheres like ours on the moon is that as a body it is too small to exert a sufficient gravitational force to hold atmospheres. If size is the reason, could it ever have done so? The Writings further note in The Last Judgment 9 & 10 and the Apocalypse Explained 726:7 that spirits are around the planet of their origin. Should life on a planet die out, those spirits would be moved to another planet. Since Swedenborg, in describing his encounter with spirits from the moon, speaks of inhabitants on the moon apparently living in the present, it seems difficult to have those inhabitants really being inhabitants of another planet.
B. The Misidentification Theory. This theory accepts all that is said about the moon, but says that when angels told Swedenborg that the people were from our moon, they were wrong-it really was some other moon. The context of the passages concerning life on the moon seems to make a problem for this idea. For example, when Swedenborg, in the Diary 1670, talks about spirits from another moon, he simply says "like spirits on moon," with the context clearly identifying our moon. It is true that there is no definite article in the Latin, and that to the best of my knowledge Swedenborg never says "our" moon versus some other moon, however context seems to work against misidentification. Further problems with the misidentification theory involve a serious question about the nature of revelation. If angels informed Swedenborg wrongly in this matter, in what other areas were they wrong?
C. The Futuristic Theory. This theory states that since there is no time in heaven, people from the moon could have lived there after the time of Swedenborg. People from our earth or some other planet may some day inhabit the moon, and these people may be the people with whom Swedenborg spoke. The problem with this theory is that although there is no time and space as we normally think of them in the spiritual world, there is also no future. The future as such is infinite and uncreate, and people of the future are equally non-finite. No person exists until he has been born in time and space. To think of future people as already existing seems inconsistent with this general principle.
D. The Hollow Moon Theory. According to this theory the Writings imply that people are not living on the surface of the moon but inside the moon. Since there is no atmosphere on the moon, moon people must be below the surface where there can be support for life as we know it. Unfortunately, as far as I know, science seems to tell us that the moon is a solid globe, not hollow, which makes a problem for this theory. Also, it is a real stretch to assume the Latin "in" should be translated "inside" in this context. There is no evidence that Swedenborg would have intended any such meaning.
E. The Little People Theory. Moon people are extremely tiny, smaller than ants, and so, although they're there we just haven't seen them yet. A variation of this theory is the Hiding People Theory, which indicates that although people were on the moon when we got there, they hid from us and so we did not see them. Later, perhaps, we will. Both these theories would have problems in accounting for no evidence of life as we know it.
F. The Wrong Place Theory. This theory states that although life does exist on the moon, our knowledge of the surface of the moon is very scanty in that we landed in one particular place. Would we, if we landed in the Sahara Desert, find life forms? People are there but we have not discovered them yet. The answer to the question, "Would we know about life if we landed in the desert?" is, Yes. There is a great abundance of life as we know it in the desert. Life as we know it is not present in any of the materials that we brought back from the moon, which makes for a problem with this theory and the Little People Theory.
G. The Gaseous Men Theory. Following on the suggestion of Diary 1670 that people on another moon live in another kind of body, this theory states that people on our moon live in another kind of body, a body of gas, invisible to our sight. The problem with this theory is that in a world with very little gravitational pull; gas would have a still greater problem in staying together as a body than it would here on earth. We would need a new set of laws of physics if we were to postulate gaseous men. The Principia, noted above, suggests that such a new set of laws is untenable, but that doesn't rule out the theory.
H. The Spiritual Sense Theory. This theory states that the facts of science in the Writings are not different from the facts of science in Genesis. They both use the ideas in the mind of a man to convey spiritual truth. They both are temporal and are not given as revelation. We must use the doctrine of representatives, significatives, and correspondences if we are to understand the truth given in these "stories" about moon people. This theory has no quarrel with the general truth given in Earths in the Universe concerning life elsewhere in the universe, any more than it would quarrel with the general theory of Genesis 1 that the Lord created heaven and earth. But it does not concern itself as to the details or particulars given in the book Earths in the Universe. The particulars can be wrong, although the general is clearly true. The theory explains the general statement of the Writings that planets exist for life by noting that many seeds on earth do not produce life even though they all have been created for life. Abundance insures the existence of life. Planets can be dead and still not contradict the general thesis that they exist for life. The problem with this theory is that if we begin rejecting "facts" of revelation, where do we stop? Are we not becoming the judge of truth instead of letting truth judge us? Should we reject the virgin birth? the existence of ether? What rules should apply to keep us from making revelation in our image instead of the reverse? (Again I refer you to my New Philosophy article.)
I. The Flat Earth Theory. This theory, following on the concept of "flatlands," postulates a two-dimensional world on the moon. Since people on the moon are living on a two-dimensional world, they are invisible to us three-dimensional people. This theory seems to contradict the necessity for time and space in creation. We must be fixed in time and space in order to live to eternity. Two dimensions do not "fix."
J. The Generals OK but Particulars Wrong Theory. As the name implies, this theory says that the general truth is right as long as it is not contradicted by science. This theory goes on to note that the particulars are wrong. Swedenborg's mind as a vehicle for these truths could well be faulty; after all, he was only a man and limited to 18th-century thought. His writings are his, not the Word of God, because they are his writings and not God's; they can be as wrong as the writings of any other mortal. Of course he did have some very interesting insights into "spirituality" which can help us. The theory discards the concept of Divine Revelation in favor of human reason. Its eclectic nature in effect makes God in man's image, although in a very different fashion than the one described in the "Spiritual Sense" theory.
I have already stated my own preference to "wait and see," but perhaps one of the theories above may have real appeal to the reader, or perhaps some reader will suggest yet another, more appealing theory. What to me is important is that we recognize both foundations of truth, and have the humility to accept the premise that it's our understanding of either or both sources which is in error.