C.S. Lewis, Religion, Rocketry, and Other Worlds

UnknownIn his essay “Religion and Rocketry”—originally published in 1958 as “Will we Lose God in Outer Space?”—C.S. Lewis raises the question of alien life in a world created by God. What if life was discovered on other planets? What would such a discovering mean for Christianity? Would such a discovery be the basis for a new attack on Christianity? Or seized by the faithful as the basis for a new defense?

Lewis thinks that if there is a threat, the threat is directed toward the doctrine of the Incarnation, the belief that God took on the nature of a man and came down from heaven to earth for the salvation of mankind. As Lewis puts it:[1]

Why for us men more than others? If we find ourselves to be but one among a million races, scattered through a million spheres, how can we, without absurd arrogance, believe ourselves to have been uniquely favored?

Lewis thinks the question could become formidable if we could ever know the answer to five other questions. The five questions, as stated by Lewis, are as follows:

1. Are there animals anywhere except on earth?

Then (when Lewis wrote) and now, we do not know, nor do we know whether we shall ever know.

2. Supposing there were, have any of these animals what we call “rational souls”?

In other words, are there any animals significantly like persons—possessing an intellect and a will as well as the ability to make moral judgments? Why does this matter? As Lewis puts it, “There would be no sense in offering to a creature, however clever or amiable, a gift which that creature was by its nature incapable either of desiring or of receiving.”[2]

3. If there are species, and rational species, other than man, are any or all of them, like us, fallen?

Lewis sees no reason to think that all rational species, if there be any, are necessarily fallen, broken, or alienated from their creator.

4. If all of them (and surely all is a long shot) or any of them have fallen have they been denied Redemption by the Incarnation and Passion of Christ?

For all we know, argues Lewis, the eternal Son may have been incarnated in other worlds than earth and saved other races than ours. Here we see the connection between Lewis’ fictional writing, especially The Chronicles of Narnia and his Space Trilogy, and his theological speculation. Finally, the biggest question (in Lewis’ mind):

5. If we know (which we don’t) that answers to 1, 2, and 3—and, further, if we knew that Redemption by an Incarnation and Passion had been denied to creatures in need of it—is it certain that this is the only mode of Redemption that is possible?

Lewis thinks this last questions moves beyond the merely unknown. It is, rather, unknowable to us unless God should reveal such truth to us. Lewis reasons that (for all we know) spiritual and physical conditions might differ widely in different worlds. There might be different sorts and degrees of fallenness. But, if so, then it is not unreasonable to suppose that different diseases require different remedies. In anticipation of my immediate objection, Lewis raises the issue of Romans 8. According to Romans 8:19-23, the whole creation is longing and waiting to be delivered from some kind of slavery, and that deliverance will only occur when Christians, the sons of God, fully enter that sonship and exercise our “glorious freedom.”  Lewis wonders, “It may be that Redemption, starting with us, is to work from us and through us.”[3] Perhaps this is what Lewis had in mind when he made the sons of Adam the kings and queens of Narnia and Aslan’s agents of redemption and restoration for Narnia.

Lewis’ overall point is this. If it turns out that there are such creatures and if it turns out that there are other worlds with fallen creatures (I wonder what Lewis would say of the multiverse today?) it represents no insurmountable problem for Christianity. Unless, which he doubts, there are fallen creatures that will not be redeemed in the mode we know, or any other mode. Given the goodness of God, that supposition is unlikely.

At any rate, it is fun to think about. What do you think? Would alien rational souls represent a threat to the Christian faith, or a new defense of it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] C.S. Lewis, “Religion and Rocketry,” in The World’s Last Night And Other Essays (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1987), 84.

[2] Ibid., 85.

[3] Ibid., 88.

2 Responses to C.S. Lewis, Religion, Rocketry, and Other Worlds

  1. Bill says:

    Thanks for this article Paul. As a relatively new Christian, one of the questions I’ve recently been pondering is the question of life on other planets and how that might affect the foundation of Christianity. I started thinking about this question when I read an article about the Mars rover and someone saying they were looking into the possibility that Mars may have harbored life at one time.

    What Mr. Lewis wrote makes perfect sense to me. If there is, or was, life on other planets who are we to claim we are the only chosen ones? I think for me that was the stumbling block. As a minuscule spec of dust in this massive universe it can be hard to think about or even imagine that other life forms might exist outside this protective cocoon we call earth. But since God created the universe then he would have created everything in it. It seems his loving nature would preclude any of his creations as “the chosen ones”.

    Again – great article and thank you for helping me in my walk.

    Peace,
    Bill

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