by Joel Heck
What did Lewis think of the possibility of discovering life on other planets? What implications might such a discovery have for Christian theology? Originally published in the Christian Herald and entitled “Will We Lose God in Outer Space,” Lewis’s essay on the subject was first published in 1958 and later became titled “Religion and Rocketry.” (1) The essay was written in partial response to the writings of Professor Fred B. Hoyle, the Cambridge astronomer and founder of the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge.
In 1958, Hoyle was Plumian professor of astronomy at Cambridge and engaged in thestudy of the structure and evolution of the stars. Even though he coined the phrase “Big Bang,” Hoyle rejected the ‘big bang’ theory of the origin of the universe in favor of the steady state theory, which claimed that the universe has always looked as it does now. Martin Ryle, however, held to the big bang theory for the creation of the universe in a moment, the theory that eventually held sway.(2)
Some of Hoyle’s writings, including science fiction and plays, popularized astronomy.(3) Christopher H. Derrick of Geoffrey Bles publishers, presumably in 1963 and before Lewis’s death, wrote a proposal for a book that was to include “Religion and Rocketry,” stating that “This essay seems to have been written in rebuttal of an argument which is only likely to be brought forward by a rather silly minority (though an academically distinguished one)…”(4) Hoyle would have been part of that academically distinguished, but silly, minority.
Lewis also mentioned Professor Hoyle (1915–2001) in his essay “The Seeing Eye” (1963). In “The Seeing Eye,” Lewis challenged the conclusion of the Russian cosmonauts, who concluded that there was no God, since they did not find Him in outer space. In that same essay, Lewis claimed that Hoyle and many others were saying that life must have originated in many, many times and places, given the vast size of the universe. He was referring to a series of broadcast talks that Hoyle had given in 1950, later published as The Nature of the Universe, a series of talks that argued against a Christian view of origins and the uniqueness of the Christian faith. Later, in 1977, Hoyle championed the ancient theory of panspermia, supported these days by Richard Dawkins, that life on earth originated with the importation of living cells from space.
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