Faith and the Scientific Imagination

( This piece was originally published (for pay) here in the Catholic Herald as Aliens need Christ’s redemption, too. Richard Dawkins on his website reprinted it without permission (and without paying me), and the comments boxes are filled with vitriol by folk who by their own admission did not read the article. Rather than having Mr. Dawkins maintain the only version on the web, I reprint it here to archive it.)

The Times reports that Father Jose Gabriel Funes, the Vatican’s chief astronomer, condones the idea that we have fellows among the stars, Little Green Men, so to speak, who are our brothers in Christ.

Fr Funes said that just as there existed a “multiplicity of creatures on Earth”, so there could exist “other beings created by God, including intelligent ones. We cannot place limits on God’s creative freedom.” St Francis of Assisi had described our fellow creatures on Earth as our brothers and sisters, “so why can we not also speak of our extra terrestrial brothers? They too would be part of Creation.” He said that aliens, like humans, would be able to benefit from the redemption offered by Jesus Christ and “the mercy of God”.

The newsmen regard this as news only because they are hypnotised by the concept that religion and science are antithetical, so to hear a Jesuit Vatican astronomer speculating about science fiction amuses and astounds them. This is merely a sad commentary on the ignorance of newsmen, who seem not to know the noble role the Jesuits have always played in the history of higher education, or what the role her handmaiden science fills in relation to the Church.

Nonetheless, this little article suggests several questions that lead us to interesting speculation.

How do intelligent aliens, souls on other worlds like Earth, fit into the Christian scheme of the universe? If aliens were discovered, would that pose a challenge to Christian teaching, or would the question be of no great novelty? Does the idea of extraterrestrial civilisation shock Christian theology?

In the Christian scheme of things, the mortality of man, and his hope of immortality, spring from specific acts of individual men; original sin springs from the disobedience of Adam, and redemption from the crucifixion of Christ. Once we introduce other worlds into the Christian scheme, inhabited not by angels but by created beings like men, what becomes of the acts of Adam, or of Christ? How can anything that was done on Earth, for good or ill, have any significance for any world but our own?

The discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life would call into question man’s uniqueness. It would ask how man is made in the image of God, if other men of other worlds are nothing like us in body or mind.

It would call into question the Fall. How would those on planet Vulcan or Tatooine (for example) be affected by the original sin of Adam on Earth? These are not the sons of Adam or the daughters of Eve. Why would they be mortal? The curse of Adam does not fall on them.

It would call into question the redemption. How would the crucifixion, taking place on Sol III, in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way, in any way help or affect the suffering of some intelligent hive-mind of wormy methane-breathing sea-creatures in a red-sunned world of a dwarf galaxy lost in the swarms of galaxies forming the Corona Borealis Supercluster, one billion light years away?

It would call into question the wisdom of the Great Commission to preach the Gospel to all creatures. A ray of light leaving our sun now, or a radio signal carrying the Gospel, will never reach that world of sea-worms until an immensity of aeons pass. One billion years ago – to give us an idea of the time scale – the first multicellular organisms appeared on Earth. The message could never arrive in time: no signal could be strong enough, across that impassable abyss of time and space, to be heard.

Science has shocked theology before: both the theory of Darwin and the findings of geology make a literal reading of the Fall of Man or the account of the Deluge of Noah problematic. The question of extraterrestrial intelligence is different. It is specifically a science fiction question, not a scientific one.

An average, well-read, modern men would be dumbfounded if it were discovered that we were alone in the universe.  And yet, so far, there is not one scintilla of evidence, not even an ambiguous scrap, to suggest life exists on any planet but our own. Ironically, the belief that we are not alone in the universe is such a firm article of faith with the average well-read modern man that even to envision an empty cosmos is nigh impossible for him. But it is an article of faith nonetheless. If the modern scientific account of how planets form and life begins were correct, we have every reason to believe the night sky would be ringing with the radio signals of hundreds and thousands and millions of technologically advanced civilisations. So far, we have heard not one peep.

Indeed, modern science has not yet discovered any extraterrestrial life at all, not even a mite or a microbe, despite the fact that there are several places where conditions ripe for life exist (such as the poles of Mars, the ice crevasses of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, the sunless seas of Io). Life should be abundant. So far, it is unique to Earth.

Science fiction is not science. Science fiction is the imaginative attempt to investigate (and, yes, to play with) the ideas suggested by the modern, scientific, Darwinian world-view. Science fiction is a game of the imagination: it asks us to extrapolate the wonders of a naturalistic universe.

There are no gods and no magic in a science fiction story properly so-called. Adding these elements makes it a fantasy, or, at least, a space opera or some other “soft” form of science fiction. Hard science fiction, the core of the genre, is naturalistic, and based on the Darwinian view of an evolving universe, ruled by chance, but explicable through reason.

The wary reader will note, in the midst of the rocky realism of science fiction naturalism, a continual echo of supernatural and transcendent themes: H G Wells asks us to imagine men like gods, brought to that noble state of being by scientific progress. Creatures of superior intelligence, either diabolical or angelic; resurrection and reincarnation; immortality (by machinery, by drugs, or by immortal curse); psychic unity with the world or the cosmos: all these are themes that appear with startling regularity amid what should be a naturalistic literature. Men are fascinated with notions of the divine and the magical, and we have perhaps a childish longing for the forgotten days in Eden, when all animals were our friends, and we could speak to them like brothers. Certainly tales of talking animals are popular with children, and placing the talking animals on other worlds, cat-man from Kzin, dragons from Pern, hawk-men and lion-men of Mongo, satisfies much the same longing.

Now, it is no condemnation of science fiction to say it is naturalistic. For that matter, detective stories and Westerns are naturalistic, or, at least, I can think of no whodunit solved through prayer and miracle, and I never read a Western where ghosts were banished by an exorcist armed with bell, book, and candle. What makes science fiction an oddity in naturalistic fiction is this frequent tendency to seek out supernatural themes.

Even the most iron-hearted sceptics in science fiction sometimes end up writing books filled with that yearning for the supernatural. In Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon, for example, the plot of the story is the quest for God: in the last days of the universe the gathered mind of all the cosmos, linking in telepathic unity, reach beyond the walls of time and space to seek the Creator. The God in this tale is a Darwinian one rather than a Christian one, an experimental artist with no love for His own creation, and He merely slaps the universe for its presumption in seeking Him.

Again, the Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein is a book meant to mock organised religion, but it contains so many religious concepts itself that certain readers took it quite seriously and attempted to organise the “Church of All Worlds” as described in the satirical tale. The God described here, again, is not the Christian God; it is something more egalitarian, solipsistic, and (once again) Darwinian, an enlightenment meant only for those smart enough to win the ruthless struggle for survival. But, nonetheless, it is still some notion of the divine being sought in these pages.

This is the kind of thing one never sees in a detective story (with the possible exception of The Man Who Was Thursday, by G. K. Chesterton – but he is an exceptional writer in every sense of the word).

Let me tell you why this topic fascinates me. I am a science fiction writer by trade, and, until recently, a lifelong atheist. This Easter I joined the Roman Catholic Church.

It is interesting, if somewhat disorienting, to contemplate the radical revolution of my thought and belief, to see what has changed and what has stayed the same. Those born in the faith, or who convert from a merely agnostic position, I think, cannot imagine the scope such a conversion entails. It is more akin to entering a new universe than merely coming upon a new continent. It is fascinating to see what stayed the same in my life, despite the glorious earthquake that turned my view of the world topsy-turvy.

Because I was hostile to religion, and believed, all too gullibly, every slander that could be voiced against it, I had convinced myself that religion was fundamentally irrational, an enemy of progress, and something fundamentally antithetical to the modern world-view in which all science fiction stories take place.

After my conversion, I found, to my chagrin and pleasant surprise, something nearly the opposite was the case. Of the great public figures the only one speaking in favour of the role of reason in modern life turns out to be the Pope. While modern philosophers idle away their time deconstructing the meaning of language, and telling us nothing means anything, St Thomas Aquinas in his magnificent Summa erects such a complex and complete logical argument that even the latest atheist book off the presses must confront and wrestle with the Thomistic arguments (usually, it must be said, to their discomfort). That is a powerful use of reason, if it commands a living and pertinent argument centuries after it was written.

Reason is not antithetical to religion. Reason, if anything, is the powerful ally of the Church, and grows dangerous to her when, like anything, it is abused, pulled out of its proper role.

The harmony of the teachings of religion and the findings of science – and I mean real science, not the implications that some writers attempt to take from it – I take to be too obvious to require any defence in this space. If Copernicus and Newton found no jar between natural philosophy and theology, neither can I. Catholics are not Evangelicals; for us, the findings of science increase our awe at the wisdom and power of God, and we know more of Him by studying His handiwork.

Science fiction, then, cannot challenge religion on any serious scientific grounds. But science fiction represents an emotional or thematic idea, a moral atmosphere, which reflects our imaginings about the naturalistic and scientific world-view. Science fiction cannot shock theology as science can, but it can shock the imagination.

Men can indeed lose their faith through a loss of imagination. Many are lost to the faith, merely because the modern and scientific view of the world leaves no room in their imagination for God. The heavens are filled with stars and nebulae, quasars and radio stars, gas giants and black holes, and roaring x-ray sources. Where are the saints and angels? Where are the pearly gates, the streets of gold, and the tree of life?

It is not a logical argument, but instead an inability to look behind the tapestry of facts and speculations making up the naturalistic and scientific image of the universe, its appalling size and emptiness, the appalling cruelty and waste of the random Darwinian process of evolution, and to see the Hand of God weaving that tapestry.

This question is not exactly new. The first mention in literature of rational but non-human beings occupying the stars appears in Book III of John Milton’s majestic Paradise Lost. In this scene, Lucifer is winging his way down through the firmament (the “first region” of creation) toward the unspoilt Earth, his prey, and on either side passes the stars. Of these stars, the poet says:

… without longer pause
Down right into the world’s first region throws
His flight precipitant, and winds with ease
Through the pure marble air his oblique way
Amongst innumerable stars, that shone
Stars distant, but nigh hand seemed other worlds;
Or other worlds they seemed, or happy isles,
Like those Hesperian gardens famed of old,
Fortunate fields, and groves, and flowery vales,
Thrice happy isles; but who dwelt happy there
He staid not to inquire…

Paradise Lost cannot rightly be called “science fiction”, but it shares with science fiction the sense of wonder at the intricacy of the cosmos, a concern for scientific accuracy – Milton was familiar with the most scholarly learning of his time – and a willingness to place scenes in unearthly settings. From Eden to Heaven to the flaming furnaces of Hell, to the wider tumult of chaos, or the splendours of the surface of the golden sun, the poet visits all these strange and imaginative locations with his pen.

Milton seems to have no difficulty with imagining the stars as other worlds, happy islands filled with life. The implication is that, had man not fallen, we might be in communion with them, rejoicing in our fellow created beings, and by gradual stages mount up to heaven. Presumably, these spirits, untouched by the crime of Adam, dwell still among the stars, unremoved from their original bliss, unfallen. Milton, at least, can introduce the concept of other inhibitors of other worlds without a jar to his Christian theme.

Yet some writers see this question of extraterrestrial intelligence as a severe challenge to Christianity, even fatal. Bertrand Russell, for example, in “The Theologian’s Nightmare” (from Fact and Fiction, 1961) has a pious man in a dream reach the afterworld only to discover, in despair, that the learned but alien librarians there can find no record of the Milky Way galaxy, much less the Solar System or the Earth – in the cosmic scheme of things, the Milky Way is simply too small to come to the notice of Heaven. The inconspicuous motes, called planets, circling one tiny sun out of billions are not of any note, nor are the parasitic mites occupying the surface of one of the smaller ones.

Russell proposes that the universe is so wide that man’s pretension that his life, his actions, or indeed his whole world occupies any significance must be dashed. We are less than one grain of sand on the shores of the blind and numberless stars. Herbert Spencer and H. G. Wells voice the same thought: modern science proves the cosmos is too big for man to be in the eye of God. Man is too small compared to the universe.

Other writers are not so worried. Russell’s conceit is dismissed with a smile by G. K. Chesterton, who remarks: “It is quite futile to argue that man is small compared to the cosmos; for man was always small compared to the nearest tree.” (Orthodoxy, 1908)

C. S. Lewis makes a parallel observation that there is nothing modern, nothing new, in the idea that man is small and the cosmos is large and unfriendly. Medieval man occupied a cosmos equally as large (and inhuman) as our own. Every astronomer since Ptolemy knew the ratio between the Earth and the sphere of the fixed star was “as a point to the heavens”, that is, a magnitude beyond measurement. The physical Earth, the unexplored dark forests and unimagined lands in the antipodes, Taprobane or Cathay, beyond uncharted leviathan-haunted seas, were as distant, as unreachable, to them, as the dark side of the Pluto is to us.

Finally, it must be noticed that Bertrand Russell did not include this idea in any of his serious arguments against religion. It is merely a bit of droll fantasy, to imagine a universe so large that even God is confounded by it, and cannot find His own handiwork. Theologically, the argument is rubbish. No matter how big the universe, God, omnipresent and omniscient, fills every part of it, aware of all things and upholding all things. God cannot make a universe so large that He gets lost inside it.

If the idea of a Creator wise enough to keep all His creation in mind is too difficult for the imagination of Bertrand Russell to picture, I wonder how he pictures something more prosaic, such as the force of gravity. Gravity issues from every object, large and small, from every atom in the universe, and its influence (although it diminishes with distance) never reaches nothing. Every particle, no matter how small or far away, touches every other.

I wonder why the modern mind finds no difficulty in imagining every atom in creation being influenced by the power of gravity, but somehow finds great difficulty imagining the all-knowing and ever-present Maker of those atoms numbering the hair on one’s head, or counting the planets in space, His own handiwork, and knowing the deeds of those who dwell on them.

As imaginative as they are, science fiction writers seem to be curiously cramped or one-sided in their imaginings. H. G. Wells, for example, pictures his sinister Martians as a highly-evolved and highly ruthless form of man. Since he imagined man’s brain to be his prime evolutionary advantage, Wells pictured his Martians as being composed entirely of brain, with other organs atrophied. These are creatures superior to man in intellect and wisdom. But there his imagination stops. He does not imagine, or does not care to imagine, that beings higher than man would be finer and nobler than man, in much the same way that men are capable of nobler sentiments than a dog, or a dog than a spider, a spider than a microbe. But there is no reason in science, or even in science fiction, to assume that more intelligence necessarily leads to less compassion.

C. S. Lewis had no difficulty in imagining quite a different race of Martians. The Hrossa, the Pfiltriggi, and the Sorns, are three distinct yet intelligent races, living in prelapsarian harmony and peace beneath the direct government and inspiration of the Eldil, angelic beings. Quite simply, his Martians are unfallen beings, and the Mars of Lewis is an Eden, occupied by holy beings, a sharp contrast to the grim and dying planet envisioned by Wells, occupied by creatures as cold and remorseless and deadly as the Darwinian struggle itself.

Which of the two conceptions is more realistic? Which is more imaginative? To be blunt, both are equally fantasy: Mars is a dead world, and the cosmic loneliness of the human race yearning for neighbours to share our universe cannot be answered by this cold, rust-covered, and lifeless globe. Which of the two races is more evolved, a higher race? That depends, I suppose, on what you imagine “highness” to be. I know which of the two I’d rather have come by for tea.

Armed with the conclusion, then, that it is a failure of the imagination, not a failure of theology, to find oneself unable to envision God standing behind the modern and scientific idea of visible universe, no matter how large or densely inhabited that universe might be, we now can venture a guess at how to answer the theological implications that intelligent alien life might pose.

The Magisterium of the Church has yet to rule on the theological implications of intelligent extraterrestrials. Perhaps they are wisely awaiting for alien intelligent life to be discovered first.

Nonetheless, we science fiction writers and amateur theologians, always willing to help the learned doctors of the church and to rush in where angels fear to tread, can make a few suggestions about how to answer the deep questions that First Contact with aliens might raise.

The first question concerns the uniqueness of man. If we are made in God’s image, what does that say about the men of other worlds, who may be nothing like us?

The first answer should be one of pure humility. We simply do not know what extraterrestrial life might be like. Science fiction writers, fine fellows that we are, still write in terms of our own earthly experience, and so we people our fictional worlds with men and animals somewhat like those we know. Houyhnhnms are merely horses, after all, and Vulcans merely Stoics. Truth is stranger than fiction, because we write fiction to suit ourselves, and truth is written for other purposes. Real aliens will be nothing we have foreseen.

If man is made in the image of God, and the Martians are nothing like us in body, mind or soul, humility will warn us that we do not know what the image of God truly is, because no man has seen God face to face. Any rational being, by virtue of his reason, even if his psychology is utterly non-human, would nonetheless contain a rational soul, and in this be like God. It would be rash indeed for a theologian to declare this alien race or that one is made in the image of God or is not: surely it were better to err on the side of charity, and to assume anything intelligent is worthy of the compassion we extend to fellow children of the living God.

The question of the special role of Adam in creation is one that only experience will answer. If the aliens we meet are the Sorns of C. S. Lewis, unfallen beings still living in original and Edenic bliss, the question of Adam and original sin is moot. If the aliens are the Martians of H. G. Wells, beings who sin and slay and suffer disease and die as we do, it would be an interesting anthropological question (or xenopological, if that is the word) to see if they have myths of an ancestral Golden Age, as appears in so many of the cultures of Earth. Other worlds may have other Adams who violated the terms of their bliss as we daily violate ours. Certainly nothing in Christian theology says creatures other than man might not fall from grace. The fall of Lucifer is an ancient reminder that created beings greater than man also can rebel against their Creator.

The question of the special role of Christ is a harder one: speculations that other worlds might have other Christs, or Aslans, or whatever, would seem to be ruled out by the Christian doctrine that Jesus is the only begotten son of God, the single way and the only door by which fallen man can come to the Father.

Here we can only speculate, but the speculations will be an old question in Church thought, not a new one. Since the days of St Paul, Christians have pondered the justice of God who allows whole generations of pagans, born on the bank of the Indus river, or in unexplored lands of the antipodes, beyond the edges of the maps, to live and die beyond where news of Christ might reach. These men committed no sin aside from the bad luck to be born in a land where no baptismal water has ever come.

Indeed, we need not indulge in any science fiction speculation about far worlds in distant superclusters thronged with uncounted galaxies. Here on Earth, as of the time of this writing, there are tribesmen living in a place called North Sentinel Island, whom no anthropologist has ever contacted. Once or twice when white men approached, they were driven back by spears and arrows. Nothing is known of the language, and almost nothing is known of the culture of the North Sentinel Island people. No one can speak with them. We have a few dropped tools of theirs; we have seen some of their longhouses at a distance. How can the Christian theologian answer the question about the hope of salvation for the men of North Sentinel Island? No drop of baptismal water has ever touched their brow; no crumb of the Eucharist has ever touched their lips.

No one who has studied the faith can be unaware of the several answers Christians make to this challenge. I need not repeat them here. I will only say that the same answer applies to the denizens of some world orbiting Arcturus, or some unnamed star lost in the Lesser Magellanic Cloud, as applies to the denizens of North Sentinel Island. If they are saved without knowledge of Christ, nonetheless they will be saved through Christ, by some provision unknown to us; if they do not know the Laws told to the Jews on Sinai, at least they know the Laws written in the hearts of all men, or of all rational beings.

Landing on far worlds and finding strange temples to strange gods with no hint of the Christian faith there likewise would not shock the Christian, no more than the Spaniards were shocked to find Incas who worshipped idols other than Christ. It may always be a theological question why God, in His wisdom, did not have Christ appear everywhere on the world at once, to every land and nation and family: but the lore we Christians have never displays anything like this in divine action. Moses sees a burning bush, no one else, and not when he is in Pharaoh’s court, but when he is herding sheep in a strange land. Gabriel appears to Mary, nowhere else, and announces the news that is the greatest the world can ever know or dream. Jesus appoints twelve men, no more, to be his apostles. If Earthlings are the only ones to carry the good news of the Gospels to the stars, how is that so different, really, than twelve poor men from Galilee carrying this same news to the empire, or missionaries from Europe carrying it to far hemispheres? Far whatever reason it seems to be God’s pleasure to increase his grace starting with the small and weak, planting but a single seed, and spreading the faith one loaf of bread, one cup of wine, at a time.

The final question that shocks the imagination of the Christian is the question of why the Incarnation happened on Earth, little Sol III, that dust mote circling an insignificant star in the fringes of an undistinguished galaxy in the unimportant Virgo cluster of galaxies. Why here? Why us? If there is to be but one Saviour born but one time into the all-engulfing endlessness of the material universe, why pick a small blue planet at the edge of nowhere like Earth?

An egalitarian spirit would like to answer that perhaps each world has a Christ of its own. But, strictly speaking, that will not serve, not if the doctrine is true that Jesus is the only begotten Son of the Father, and Mary His only mother. It would be difficult for Catholics to picture the Queen of Angels as a throng of women, crowded like the cantina scene in Star Wars, of the various alien mothers of the various Christs of countless worlds: the Martian Mary with her antennae next to the Mary of Archernar with her eyestalks, or the shapeless chlorine-breathing amoeba known as the Mary of M31 in Andromeda.

While we could entertain the notion of Christ, after his Ascension, appearing openly or in disguise on other worlds, in the shape of a Lion in Narnia, or under the name The Conciliator on Urth, nonetheless, if Christian doctrine is true, the Son was born but once, to one woman, and in one place.

Here we can see, once again, what seems to be a theological question is really a question of the poverty of imagination. It is hard to imagine in a cosmos so wide that God would incarnate in one small world. But this is really no harder than to imagine that in a world so wide, that God would incarnate in some humble dung-ridden stable in a cave in the poorest and remotest province of the Roman Empire, and that the herald angels would seek out, not the wise and great, not the senators of almighty Rome nor the philosophers of Athens nor even the learned Levites in Jerusalem, but a band of unwashed and unlettered shepherds from the hills, to announce the heavenly tidings. Why a little world like Earth on the ragged outskirts of the galaxy? Well, why a poor province like Judea, on the ragged outskirts of the empire?

It is no cause for pride if Earth should turn out to be the only world where the Incarnation took place. God often selects the younger son, the poor fisherman, the tax-collector, the harlot and the sinner, the weakest and humblest things in the world to do his almighty work. Earth may have been selected because she is the lowest world in the galaxy, the cosmic equivalent of a stinking stable.

In any case, imagining that God selected a lowly stable for His cradle is no harder and no different than imagining God selected a lowly world for His cradle; the difference is only in the magnitude of what one’s imagination can grasp.

Indeed, the larger and older the cosmos seems to get as modern science tells us more of its weird secrets, the larger and grander must, to the Christian imagination, seem the maker of all this glory.

The width of the cosmos, the age and majesty of worlds larger than Earth, and stars larger than Sol, the mind-numbing numberlessness of galaxies and clusters of galaxies and superclusters of clusters, the titanic immensities of time, the birth and death of young suns and old ones adumbrate, all these things, unfortunately, can be used by the agnostic imagination to paint our local and tribal gods with the colours of parochial absurdity; but by the same token, all these things can be used by the healthy Christian imagination as a type or shadow to contemplate the majesty, the infinity, and the immensity of a Supreme Being greater and more gracious than any imagination can reach.

69 Comments

  1. Comment by deiseach:

    “How would those on planet Vulcan or Tatooine (for example) be affected by the original sin of Adam on Earth?”

    And suddenly, reading these words, I was struck by the notion that Sarek is Moses the Lawgiver for Vulcan. So that then brings up the question are they still awaiting their particular Incarnation of the Messiah, or perhaps – with the example of Spock, son of Amanda Grayson of Earth, meaning that they are not so divided from us that they and we cannot have children together – they can be considered sons-of-Adam-by-adoption, and so Christ too is their Saviour if they will accept Him.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I think that the Primordial Vulcan of the planet Romulus, let us call his name Romulus, slew his brother Remus when Remus in mockery jumped over the ploughshare line Romulus was using to mark out the dimensions of the first city of that warlike world. Or maybe Romulus just hated the Remus stories from SONG OF THE SOUTH with Brer Rabbit.

      And, in retaliation, God, whom the Romulans call, um, Jupiterianus, exiled the Vulcan ancestors from their edenic garden of paradise.

      The Vulcans will indeed be saved, but the prophecy is that a son of Tir and Tinidril of the planet Venus, called Perelendra in the Old Numerean tongue, will travel to Vulcan and offer a sacrifice acceptable to the Lord.

  2. Comment by JoeCool:

    Glad to see this post once more. I remembered reading it when it first appeared on Catholic Herald, but was frustrated when I could no longer find it.

  3. Comment by joetexx:

    “Russell proposes that the universe is so wide that man’s pretension that his life, his actions, or indeed his whole world occupies any significance must be dashed. We are less than one grain of sand on the shores of the blind and numberless stars. Herbert Spencer and H G Wells voice the same thought: modern science proves the cosmos is too big for man to be in the eye of God. Man is too small compared to the universe.”

    And amid all the splendours of the World, its vast halls and spaces, and its wheeling fires, Ilúvatar chose a place for their habitation in the Deeps of Time and in the midst of the innumerable Stars.

    And this habitation might seem a little thing to those who consider only the majesty of the Ainur, and not their terrible sharpness — as who should take the whole field of Arda as the foundations of a pillar and so raise it until the cone of its summit were more bitter than a needle — or who consider only the immeasurable vastness of the World, which still the Ainur are shaping, and not the minute precision to which they shape all things therein.

    Tolkien, AINULINDALE

    • Comment by Mary:

      God showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, in the palm of my hand, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with my mind’s eye and thought, “What can this be?” An answer came, “It is all that is made.” I marveled that it could last, for I thought it might have crumbled to nothing, it was so small. And the answer came into my mind, “It lasts and ever shall because God loves it. And all things have being through the love of God.”

      • Comment by joetexx:

        Lady Julian? Or maybe Cloud of Unknowing. In any case, Salud.

      • Comment by Sean Michael:

        Dear Mr. Wright:

        We have no need to go to Lord Russell to discover how puny and insignificant mankind is compared to the glory, splendor, magnificence and sheer VASTNESS of the universe. Psalm 8.4-5 says: “When I see thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou haat established: what is man that thou art mindful of him or the son of man, that thou art concerned about him?” And yet verses 6 and 7 shows God refusing to be deterred by the “insignificance” of man: “And thou hast made him a little less than the Angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honor; thou hast given him power over the works of thy hands, thou hast placed all things under his;…”

        Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

  4. Comment by Ishmael Alighieri:

    “A few men came and picked up the fish. They appeared to be gratified, but there did not seem to be much softening to their hostile attitude. Again we approached the group. They all began shouting some incomprehensible words. We shouted back and gestured to indicate that we wanted to be friends. The tension did not ease.”

    The above is an account of an encounter between some anthropologists and the natives on North Sentinel Island, not, as it would be so easy to imagine, between some Christian intellectuals and New Atheists.

    (No anthropologists, Sentinelese, Christians or New Atheists were harmed in the making of this joke.)

  5. Comment by DGDDavidson:

    Marie George has a book with the awkward title of Christianity and Extraterrestrials?: A Catholic Perspective. She suggests therein, and claims she knows of no Catholic teaching expressly to the contrary, that it might be possible for the Son of God to unite his divine nature with more than one created nature, becoming human, Martian, Venutian, etc., without losing any of his previously acquired natures in the process, like the Christ of Ray Bradbury’s poem with the title I can’t remember. I thought that was a clever suggestion at the time, but your description of the great assembly of Marys makes it a lot less appealing.

    • Comment by Mary:

      I don’t think that theory is plausible.

      “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross (through him), whether those on earth or those in heaven.

      “For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”

      • Comment by DGDDavidson:

        I have no particular stake in the argument simply because we haven’t found any alien life, but I admit I’m not sure the verses you offer really answer George’s speculation. Yes, the Son is the only Son and reconciles all things to himself, but does that necessarily mean he reconciles all things to himself in his human nature but not in his T’lician nature nor his Shijainian nature nor his Cygnosticoi nature?

        Even Wright’s objection–a panoply of extraterrestrial Marys–appears to me to be an emotional appeal. A host of alien Marys is grotesque (especially when compared to the intentionally comical Star Wars cantina scene), but is it heretical? I think that’s beyond my poor ability to determine.

        • Comment by Mary:

          “We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God.”

          Also, how on earth would he manage his glorified bodies? Use them like the princess in Ozma of Oz used her heads, to take off and put on? In which case his humanity would be destroyed — our bodies are not suits of clothes.

      • Comment by The OFloinn:

        Thomas argued that the only-begotten thing applies to the Word, who was the fully actual object of God’s self-knowing. That is: Father as the subject of the intellect and Word as the object of the intellect. (No prize for figuring the subject and object of volition, or why the intellect is said to conceive while volition is said to proceed.) The term used, the monogenesis, was the term the Greeks used to refer to the universe, which surely must have startled them. Consider the sort of echoes in their minds on hearing that the Son is the monogenesis.

        But the upshot is that it places no logical limit on incarnations.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Ah, but God judges us by our hearts, and not by the color of the tendrils dangling from our portside nether face-clusters.

      I am sure that deep down, all you yahoos and humans and homonids are just like we houyhnhnms are, rational creatures made in the image of Pegasus and Sleipnir.

  6. Comment by lotdw:

    My favorite comment over at Dawkins’ site is comment 26 by bubbaj30:

    “I would laugh at this, but it just to retarded.”

    DGD – The Bradbury poem is called “Christus Apollo” and be found at:

    http://onefracturedfairytale.blogspot.com/2007/11/christus-apollo-by-ray-bradbury.html

  7. Comment by joetexx:

    Years ago I read a story in which Earth receives radio signals from an extrasolar planet its inhabitants call Akron. The entire Akronite species has adopted a violent religion requiring the complete extermination of all sentient beings who will not convert. They plan to come our way in a few centuries and want to give us a chance to join up before they have to kill us.

    Vatican theologians examine the transmitted Akronite teachings and conclude that though they have some small crumbs of truth, in general they are so cruel and immoral that they cannot claim any divine origin. On their advice Earth’s scientists beam back messages humbly requesting clarification on innocent and subtle points of Akronite doctrine.

    It works. Decades later transmissions reveal that the Akronites have broken into warring sects over thhe disputed points, and no longer pose a threat.

    • Comment by Sean Michael:

      Hi, joetexx:

      If my memory is correct, you were thinking of Poul Anderson’s story “The Word to Space.” While the Akronite cult was not as bad as you thought, it was pretty bad and had imposed a smothering dictatorship over the entire planet of Akron. “The Word to Space” had a Jesuit priest named Fr. Moriarty having the astronomers receiving the Akronite broadcast sending them questions which subtly undermined Akronitism. A delicious story!

      Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

      • Comment by joetexx:

        Sean Michael:

        Googling, I see you are correct though WTS was originally published under the psuedonym “Winston P. Sanders”.

        IIRC I first read it in an anthology of “Religion in SF” edited my Mayo Mohs, a religion editor of Time magazine back in the days of the pre Adamic sultans.

        Alas I could have sworn that I would have recognized Anderson’s writing if I found it in a seaborne bottle; at any time past age 13, when I sucessfully lobbied my English teacher to get Vault of the Ages into the junior high library.

        Sanders/Anderson did not resist some sly digs at Akron, OH, Rubber Capital of the World, as I recall.

        It seems you are an Anderson fan, an excellent thing in youth (and beyond; I assume you are young).
        Meself, I devoured every word he published til about the late ’80′s when I slacked off SF&F generally. I have never read some of the fiction you and Mr Wright have mentioned.

        I did follow PA in the fanzines, especially the lamented FOSFAX, where his LoC’s were always thoughtful and perceptive. He was far more politically disaffected in his later years than his mild public stance as ‘libertarian conservative’ would indicate.

        Well, he is in Heaven now, having, as I posit, skipped Vahalla and Purgatory.

        • Comment by Sean Michael:

          Hi, joetexx! Thanks for your note.

          Yes, I first read Poul Anderson’s “The Word to Space” in the Mayo Mohs collection long ago.

          VAULT OF AGES was fun reading! It can be read with pleasure by adults as well as teenagers.

          Young? I wish! I’ve been a fan of Poul Anderson since about 1968 or 1969. I’m now an aged and decrepit 56. (Smiles)

          It’s not too late for you to again take up reading Poul Anderson! Esp. the works he wrote in his late period, which I date from THE BOAT OF A MILLION YEARS.

          I’m especially interested by your comment on the essays Poul Anderson wrote for FOSFAX! I never knew, alas, of the fanzine columns he wrote while he was alive. I ardently hope somone will collect and republish his fanzine essays. And I already knew of his disdain for the Left from both his books and personal correspondence with myself.

          Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

          • Comment by joetexx:

            Lightly you wear your years, Mr Brooks; the manner of your writing is of eager and enthusiastic youth. I fear I am but lttle older than yourself.

            The problem with collecting or publishing Letters of Comment is in their very nature. A Poul Anderson LoC, for example, might easily contain references or replies to a dozen other LoCers published over several back issues, and to make sense of it one would have to include the other comments and issues; it could scarcely be specific to a single writer. One might, I suppose, do something like The Collected Letter Columns of Fosfax Fanzine 1990-2004, to single out the zine’s glory years. But it would require heavy editing and would be a labor of love. Better perhaps to assemble all an author’s writings online, where a trufan might access, search and read them, perhaps for a nominal registration fee.

            FOSFAX was notorious for thick issues consisting almost entirely of LoC’s on every subject under the sun – I recall Byzantine coinage, the history of the House of Hohenzollern, pandemic disease, and the usual spats on gun control, taxes, abortion, the desirabilty of rounding up all right wingers and shooting them as potential seditionists, etc. They also had excellent long reviews by Joseph Major coeditor to the irascible Tim Lane,; JM specialized in Heinein juveniles and Cold War espionage. Some of these are online, the only FOSFAX presence I can detect.

            I really miss it.

            • Comment by Sean Michael:

              Hi, joetexx! Thanks for responding.

              Ha! You were not the first person online to darkly suspect me of being younger than my actual, decrepit age! (Smiles) Which I admit I at first found rather puzzling because I never tried to hide my age. But, as you, the MANNER or mode which I used for “speaking” seems to be what makes some underrate my years.

              You made good comments about Poul Anderson’s “Letters of Comment” for FOSFAX. Those letters might be too ephemeral in many cases to justify the effort collecting. I did read in Greg Bear’s website (Poul Anderson’s son in law)from another commenter that he had written true essays for a different fanzine. THOSE would seem worth collecting and republishing.

              I did a little checking up on FOSFAX. It still seems to be active. Might be worth subscribing to for a year to see if I would like it.

              Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            Let me also strongly recommend HARVEST OF STARS and its sequels. In this book I think all the potential that Mr Anderson displays in his previous decades of work comes to flower, and he simply outperforms Gibson and Sterling and the other ‘cyberpunks’ of the 1980′s by showing what a transhuman future with much greater artistry and realism than they manage. In Arno Guthrie he does an homage to a Robert Heinlein-type curmudgeon character, in my opinion, better than Heinlein ever did.

            And his Lunarians are the best ‘elves of the realm perilous’ I have ever seen, anywhere, period. Better than Tolkien, who are too noble to be dangerous, and better than Shakespeare, who are too diminutive. The fact that they live on the Moon rather than in Aflheim should fool no-one: these are the way true sons of Oberon and Titania should be portrayed.

            • Comment by Sean Michael:

              Dear Mr. Wright:

              I absolutely agree with what you said about Poul Anderson’s HARVEST OF STARS and its sequels. And of how ELVISH the Lunarians were. The only difference in that genetically modified branch of the human race from “genuine” elves being that they were not immortal. In the HARVEST OF STARS books unmodified humans averaged 130 year lifespans while Lunarians averaged 140-50.

              Where I DO disagree with you is your comment that Tolkien’s elves “are too noble to be dangerous.” Not true! Reading THE SILMARILLION and THE CHILDREN OF HURIN shows how some elves could be cruel, ruthless, greedy, treacherous, prone to wrath, etc. The elves we see in THE LORD OF THE RINGS are what they became after being purged by sorrow and suffering.

              This persistent overlooking of a more accurate view of Tolkien’s elves goes back to both Tolkien’s inability to publish his “Silmarillion” alongside THE LORD OF THE RINGS in the 1950′s and to many readers finding THE SILMARILLION too archaic, remote, and “difficult” a book. So, many readers take the elves we see in LOTR as being always “normative” of how Tolkien thought of them, rather than (as it was)the END of a process of development.

              Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

              • Comment by John C Wright:

                I take your correction soberly, for you make a good point, and yet I will still point out the difference between, for example, the danger to humans (or, at least, to dwarfs and hobbits) when in THE HOBBIT the fourteen adventurers blunder into a glade where the elves are feasting, and enchantment immediately descends and casts them into darkness and slumber. These are dangerous and fickle and mercurial elves.

                The sons of Feanor, by way of contrast, certainly are as prone to wrath and bloodshed as any heroic son of Odin in Norse myth, but I do not see that element of mercurial and fickle peril, the peril of enchantment, present there.

                That is the kind of danger to which I referred. I think the Lunarians have it. I think the Sindarians don’t.

                • Comment by joetexx:

                  I must surely read Harvest of Stars. Had anyone previously told me that Anderson would write a cyber punk, transhuman novel, my visceral reaction would have been, “He should act his age. He cant possibly pull that off, and will only embarass everybody.”

                  I know PA could do very spooky elves, e.g. the catlike, passionless yet deadly fay who almost kidnap Holger in Three Hearts and Three Lions,which he wrote in his ’20′s. So I look forward to the Lunarians.

                  Tolkienian Elves: In Silmarillion he says that the Elves of the First Age were more like Men than they later became, as over the ages their spirit ‘consumes them from within’. The Feanorians certainly often remind me of the Nibelungen.

                  In the Hobbit the wood elves of Mirkwood are ‘more dangerous and less wise’ than their western kindred.

                  The Noldor of the First Age are in any case the least elvish of all elves, being city builders and horseriders like Men and avid smiths and craftsmen like Dwarves.

                  Since the survivors mostly clear out for the Blessed Realm, any elves left in Middle Earth are only going to get more elvish as time goes by, that is, less interested in mortals and less well-disposed towards them.

                • Comment by Mary:

                  Perhaps the term “dangerous” is the problem. Tolkien’s elves are not strongly embued with the traits of eerie, uncanny and — most of all — fey.

                  Much as I love Lord of the Rings, I think his elves were not a good influence. They are on the border of Faerie, and when ham-handed imitiators imitiated, they dragged them out of Faerie entirely.

                  • Comment by joetexx:

                    “Tolkien’s elves are not strongly embued with the traits of eerie, uncanny and — most of all — fey“.

                    The Mirkwood elves have something of this quality in the forest feast, though they turn prosaic close up – the wine steward and guard are the only elves in all JRRT’s works to get drunk.

                    Gildor’s company in the Shire and some of the scenes in Lorien have the ‘uncanny’ feel. But in general I think you are right. Reacting against gauzy winged fairies with sugar on top, JRRT made it all too easy to go in the opposite direction. I would rather hang out with grifters and hustlers in a Nevada honky tonk than most ‘elves’ in RPG’S.

                    The word fey is very interesting. Originally it meant something like “reckless and uncaring of danger because one has foreknowledge that one’s death is near “. It was used of a character called Ulf the Unwashed in one of the Anglo-Saxon lays; he is the kind of roughneck most of us would hardly use the word to describe. Lord Snow used it to describe the attitude of Dag Hammarskold, the martryed UN Secretary General, before his fatal plane crash in 1961.

                    IIRC Tolkien does use the word in this sense, eg of Fingolfin as he rides to his final duel with Morgoth at Angband.

                  • Comment by Manwe King of the Valar:

                    “Better than Tolkien, who are too noble to be dangerous…”

                    “Much as I love Lord of the Rings, I think his elves were not a good influence. They are on the border of Faerie, and when ham-handed imitiators imitiated, they dragged them out of Faerie entirely.”

                    I could not disagree with you guys more!
                    I love Tolkien’s elves! They were one of my favorite parts of his legendarium. I thought hit got them just right! And I think they were a very positve influence on fantasy, not a negative. As for the imitations…well you can’t expect everyone to get them right! Tolkien was Tolkien, his imitators are not, some are bound to mess things up. For example the elves in D&D, bad imitation IMHO, no thanks I’ll pass! However the elves of Warhammer are good imitations, and even their evil kin, the dark elves feel like Tolkien’s elves (just gone bad…very bad).

                    Granted you may say I’m biased (*cough*see my name*cough*), but when it comes to elfdom, I’m sticking with my man Tolkien!

                    All that said an done…I must check out this “Harvest of Stars” series you speak of!

                    • Comment by joetexx:

                      HAIL HIGH KING OF ARDA

                      I am very suspicious of star-struck elf-worship.

                      John Dolan of the Moscow expatriate netzine ruEXILE, an often funny and perceptive writer, wrote an extremely silly essay on Tolkien’s elves.

                      Mr Dolan was much taken with the otherwordly beauty of the elves, their noble splendor, their tragic destiny as they faded into the West… he went on in this vein at some length and it was clearly a terrible letdown for him when JRRT sank to writing about the grubby, nasty, wretched little Hobbits.

                      The Lewis who wrote Perelandra could have had words with Mr Dolan about the spiritual dangers of attraction to a high, noble, lonely destiny – but Dolan would not have listened – he absolutely despises Lewis, who, he writes, “… is often wrongly associated with Tolkien”. (friends for 4 decades, JRRT a major influence on CSL’s conversion & pallbearer at his funeral …oh never mind)

                      There is some – not much but some – excuse for this. JRRT was clearly madly in love with the Eldar; the higher elves who started out for the Blessed Realm or completed the journey and returned to Middle Earth. He never really writes about any other kind of elf. The wood elves are spear carriers – even their leaders are all Eldar. The Avari – the unwilling Dark Elves who refuse the journey – dont appear onstage in the published works at all.

                      His treatment of Galadriel is interesting in this context. Originally she was a lot more of a rebel – defiantly telling the Valar she has no desire to return when they say she must remain in Middle Earth after the First Age. Later he does his best to scrub up her tarnished reputation – she stays in Middle Earth Voluntarily to expatiate her wrongs – but he still makes her the most reluctant follower of Feanor – really desiring to return to Middle Earth only from the highest motives, not complicit in his actual crimes. But it doesnt quite work – for her later history to make sense at all, Galadriel must start out as a rebel and and exile along with all the rest.

                      I don’t really have any major quarrel with JRRT’S Elves; they are a magnificent literary creation. But I think his temptation to make them just a little too good to be true was always present, and got stronger as he grew older.

                    • Comment by Mary:

                      Disagree with me about what? I said nothing about whether Tolkien’s elves were good, merely about what sort of influence they were. And you agree with me there.

                • Comment by CPE Gaebler:

                  The “element of mercurial and fickle peril, the peril of enchantment” is one of the most defining traits of the fairy creatures in JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL, an excellent book which I cannot help recommending. I have not read HARVEST OF STARS and thus cannot compare them to the Lunarians, but JS&MN has the most fey-ness of any tome I’ve yet read.

              • Comment by Sean Michael:

                Dear Mr. Wright:

                Apologies for my delay responding and thanks for taking my “correction” so well.

                Yes, I agree that the Woodland elves Bilbo and Thorin and Co. blundered into in Mirkwood were very different in many ways from the High Elves we see in places like the Grey Havens and Rivendell. The relevant text in Chapter VIII of THE HOBBIT says:

                The feasting people were Wood elves, of course. These are not wicked folk.
                If they have a fault it is distrust of strangers. Though their magic was strong,
                even in those days they were wary. They differed from the High Elves of the West,
                and were more dangerous, and less wise. For most of them (together with their
                scattered relations in the hills and mountains) were descended from the ancient
                tribes that never went to Faerie in the West. There the Light-elves and the
                Deep-elves and the Sea-elves went and lived for ages, and grew fairer and wiser
                and more learned, and invented their magic and their cunning craft in the making
                of beautiful and marvellous things, before some came back into the Wide World. In
                the Wide World the Wood-elves lingered in the twilight of our Sun and Moon, but
                loved best the stars; and they wandered in the great forests that grew still in
                lands that are now lost. They dwelt most often by the edges of the woods, from
                which they could escape at times to hunt, or to ride and run over the open lands
                by moon-light or star-light; and after the coming of Men they took ever more and
                more to the gloaming and the dusk. Still elves they were and remain, and that is
                Good People.

                From this text, I can easily see why you described the Wood elves of Mirkwood as “dangerous and fickle and mercurial.” And these qualities were rooted in their distrust of strangers. What your own comments have done is highlight how, even in the late Third Age, not all elves were “too noble ot be dangerous.

                All the same, we should remember that even the Wood-elves were basically GOOD people. Remember how, after the destruction of Esgaroth by Smaug, the Elven-king immediately turned his army from their march to the Lonely Mountain to hasten to the help of the survivors once Bard’s messesngers had reached him.

                I do agree that Feanor, his sons, and their followers were too fierce and grim to be merely
                “fickle and mercurial.” And, yes, I can see how Anderson’s Lunarians could be rightly described as “dangerous and fickle and mercurial.” With enough exceptions to warn us not to take that general rule as ALWAYS being true. It does make me wonder if Anderson himself realized he was creating “elves” in his HARVEST OF STARS books.

                Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

                • Comment by Manwe King of the Valar:

                  For some reason I was not given the ability to reply to either Joetexx or Mary, so I’ll do it here.

                  Mary: you said “Disagree with me about what? I said nothing about whether Tolkien’s elves were good, merely about what sort of influence they were. And you agree with me there.”

                  I was disagreeing with you on your statement that you thought Tolkien’s elves were a bad influence. I think they are a good influence.

                  Joetexx: you said “I am very suspicious of star-struck elf-worship”

                  Does that describe me? I’m not sure myself! Hehe! I certainly do love his elves, but I don’t worship them. Of all my favorite races in fantasy, tolkien’s elf take the top spot! So star-struck…maybe, haha, I don’t know.

                  “The Lewis who wrote Perelandra could have had words with Mr Dolan about the spiritual dangers of attraction to a high, noble, lonely destiny”

                  Does a love of elves automatically equal an attraction to a ‘high, noble, lonely destiny’? And are there any spiritual dangers in an ‘attraction to a high, noble, lonely destiny’?

                  “JRRT was clearly madly in love with the Eldar”

                  Yes, I think it’s safe to say he was! Well maybe not ‘madly’ but certainly in love with.

                  “I don’t really have any major quarrel with JRRT’S Elves; they are a magnificent literary creation. But I think his temptation to make them just a little too good to be true was always present, and got stronger as he grew older”

                  I don’t know, some of his elves were really bad! But aren’t elves supposed to be ‘a little to good to be true’. Remember where he got his elves from, which was mostly norse myth. And in those myths, the elves, while lesser than the gods, were still greater than men.

                  • Comment by joetexx:

                    you said “I am very suspicious of star-struck elf-worship” Does that describe me?

                    Great Manwe:

                    I was using your remarks as an excuse to let fly at Mr Dolan’s essay which has irritated me for years.

                    Does a love of elves automatically equal an attraction to a ‘high, noble, lonely destiny’?

                    By no means, there are a lot of reasons to love ‘em.

                    Does a love of elves automatically equal an attraction to a ‘high, noble, lonely destiny’?

                    And are there any spiritual dangers in an ‘attraction to a high, noble, lonely destiny’?

                    Such an attraction is not necessarily evil, but is always dangerous. The Tirion library doubtless has a copy of Perelandra; check out the scenes where the demonic Weston tempts the Green Lady with exactly this line.

                    • Comment by Manwe King of the Valar:

                      “Great Manwe: I was using your remarks as an excuse to let fly at Mr Dolan’s essay which has irritated me for years.”

                      Hahaha! I can understand that. Why on this very site I did the same thing (but it was a television show rather than an essay that I was loosing my arrows on).

                      “Such an attraction is not necessarily evil, but is always dangerous. The Tirion library doubtless has a copy of Perelandra; check out the scenes where the demonic Weston tempts the Green Lady with exactly this line.”

                      I have the book, but have not read it yet. When I do, I will look for that scene.

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  I spoke with the author’s widow at a science fiction convention. She was flattered by my compliment to her husband’s invention of the Lunarians. My memory is that she confirmed that he meant them as updated elves, such as he had portrayed in his fantasy works — but in all honesty, I cannot bring her words to mind, so perhaps I misunderstood.

            • Comment by Pierce O.:

              Now I’m really happy I picked up a copy of Harvest of Stars at my library’s book sale last weekend. I remembered hearing good things about Anderson on this blog, and was trying to find Queen of Air & Darkness, but no dice. OTOH, I also found World of Null-A and Slan :)

              I’ll have to move it up on my reading list so I can weigh in on this debate of great geeky import.

              • Comment by Sean Michael:

                Hi, Pierce!

                And I hope you enjoy reading Poul Anderson’s HARVEST OF STARS. I admit, when I first read HARVEST and its sequels, the ideas and concepts Anderson used were so strange to me that I needed to reread all four of the books a second time before I could properly appreciate the MAGNIFICENCE of his achievement. If you look in the archives for Feb. 2011, you will find Mr. Wright’s own review of this book (I hope I got the year right!).

                And let us know, if you wish, what you thought of HARVEST OF STARS.

                Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

                • Comment by Pierce O.:

                  It will probably be a while. Right now I am following the Lords of Demonland up the slopes of Koshtra Belorn, accompanying Corwin of Amber on his journey to Avalon, and watching John Carter take off into the Barsoomian sky. I’ll try to finish one soon so I can add Harvest of Stars to the mix.

                  • Comment by Sean Michael:

                    Hi, Pierce!

                    No problem! Take your time reading HARVEST OF STARS. I too know too well what it’s like to books I plan to read all PILED UP on me! (Smiles)

                    Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

  8. Comment by Malcolm Smith:

    Actually, the same issues were addressed by C.S.Lewis in 1959 in an essay entitled, “Religion and Rocketry”. You can find it on http://scientificintegrity.blogspot.com/2010/04/religion-and-rocketry-by-cs-lewis.html. (I don’t suppose the poster paid Lewis’ heirs for that either.)

  9. Comment by jsbangs:

    Great article.

    Like DGDDavidson above, I wish to tentatively dispute the point that Christ could never have been incarnate in any species other than H. sapiens. The Christian doctrine is that Christ, the eternal Logos, is the only-begotten Son of the Father, and that He became incarnate through the Virgin Mary. It is not, I believe, a point of dogma that he never became incarnate anywhere else. In the case of humanity an additional incarnation is of course unnecessary, since as Irenaeus says all of human nature is divinized by its union with the divine nature in Christ. But extraterrestrial creatures which were not descended from Adam would not share the human nature, and if fallen, their distinct natures would also require redemption via incarnation. And I don’t believe that this conclusion threatens any other point of Christian dogma, though of course I could be wrong about that. (In fact, contemplation of this issue helped me to understand the Fifth Ecumenical Council, the most arcane and difficult of the church’s Councils for me.)

    I believe that there is a CS Lewis essay which advances precisely this point, though I can’t recall its name at the moment.

    Anyway, in reality I’m all but certain that we will never meet any kind of extraterrestrial life, and I consider it very plausible that there is not nor ever has been anything that we would recognize as life except on this planet.

  10. Comment by Steve Skojec (@SteveSkojec):

    SciFi writer John C. Wright on Faith and the Scientific Imagination. A brilliant essay: http://t.co/2ocdqdU

  11. Comment by Pierce O.:

    The Assembly of Marys problem could be solved if the other hnau in the universe do not reproduce sexually. Perhaps Jupiter is inhabited by literal gas giants that venerate the Great Storm from which occasionally step new giants when God decides to create another one. Jesus could incarnate as a Jovian without risk of dethroning Mary.

  12. Ping from Non-Human People | The American Catholic:

    [...] author John Wright recently republished an article he wrote about space Christians and their impact on Catholicism– prefaced with the sly warning that “The Magisterium of the [...]

  13. Comment by Tyrrell McAllister:

    B. Russell’s first name was Bertrand, not Bertram.

  14. Comment by Malcolm Smith:

    In Carl Sagan’s novel, Contact, a clergyman says, in effect: We don’t know what dispensation God has made with any alien race; we do know what he has done with us, and that won’t change.
    ‘Nuff said.

  15. Ping from Wright: Faith and the Scientific Imagination « The Deeps of Time:

    [...] Read here. Eco World Content From Across The Internet. Featured on EcoPressed Fossil Fuels Will North America be the new Middle East? [...]

  16. Comment by John Hutchins:

    NASA has determined that all aliens will be godless progressive liberals , ones that may preemptively destroy us for global warming and otherwise trashing our planet. I really wonder how they conducted a statistical survey of aliens to determine this (and how it got past any sort of real peer review). However, I am sure they objectively did real science to get this result.

  17. Comment by Michael the Lesser:

    Dear Mr. Wright,

    This has perhaps nothing to do with this post, but I don’t know of another means of contacting you.

    I recently read your conversion story as you posted last year and some of the comments that followed. I was intrigued that you expressed the conviction that Christianity was more mature and philosophical advanced than the Eastern religions.

    I have a friend, who is a Catholic convert, but struggles with letting go to of her attachment to Hinduism and specifically Hare Krishna.

    So, in what ways do you see that Christianity is more mature and philosophical advanced than Eastern religions.

    • Comment by Sean Michael:

      Hi, Michael “the lesser”!

      I too would be interested if Mr. Wright explained why he believes Christianity to be more mature and philosophically advanced than Buddhism or Hinduism. True, from the existence of such great minds produced by the Church as St. Augustine, Boethius, St. Thomas Aquinas, Jacques Maritain, etc., I already believe that to have been demonstrated.

      What puzzles me is how your friend can remained ATTACHED to Hinduism and Hare Krishna. Soberly examined, such Hindu beliefs as reincarnation and the caste system simply can’t stand up to sternly rigorous examination. To say nothing of how I consider Hinduism to be merely a morphing together of various pagan pantheons by successive waves of invaders of India.

      Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

    • Comment by Malcolm Smith:

      Well, with respect to Buddhism, there is a world of difference. Buddhism was devised when a man sat down under a tree and resolved not to rise from the site until he had solved the mystery of life, the universe, and everything. It is a religion based wholly on logic. But it has the weakness that it is only as valid as the weakest link in that chain of reasoning.
      On the other hand, Christianity, in common with all the other monotheistic religions of the Middle East, is a religion of revelation. In other words, it claims to be based on a message handed down from heaven, which human reason could never attain to, because it does not have the complete data. Of course, it is only right and proper that we should examine the claim (“If Christ has not been raised, then is our preaching in vain and your faith is in vain”: 1 Cor 15:14), but if the claim is correct, then we are obliged to accept it – even those aspects we do not understand. Indeed, one might suggest that a God which is fully capable of being understood would be too small to worship.
      The irony is, far too many people treat Christianity as if it were like Buddhism: something which human beings worked out on their own accord. They think that if they don’t understand it, it must be false.

      • Comment by joetexx:

        Mr Smith,

        I think it is a mistake to see Buddhism as solely, or even very much, a religion of logic. The Buddha sat under that tree, emptied his mind, and let Awakening come to him; he did not reason his way to it. Any monk worth his saffron robe would stare in consternation or pity at the notion that one could reach Awakening through a chain of logic however tightly linked.

        I use Awakening rather than Enlightenment because the former better translates the Sanskrit / Pali word bodhi. Enlightenment in Western usage has ineradicable associations with science, reason and logic, especially inductive logic, that simply do not exist in any Eastern tradition. I suspect Western scholars chose the latter term because a) light is a common symbol of bodhi in Buddhist art and b) they thought it flattering to both themselves and the Buddhists to use this term to describe the supreme Buddhist state.

        The Buddhists do not despise or reject logic or reason; you just can’t reach Awakening that way. They inherited from Hinduism, and expanded on, a whole body of literature on the syllogism, methods of reasoning and testing and validating arguments. These methods can be useful in observing and describing the various states from which the temporal, illusory self must be detached for Awakening to come, but make no mistake, one must detach from reason and intellect themselves, no less than from animal passions and worldly ambitions, to be Awakened. Christian, Jewish and Muslim mystics say the same thing, not at all surprisingly.

        I am attempting no syncretism here. I am actually somewhat hostile to Buddhism, and more so to Islam; where Christians disagree with them I think we are right. Our awakening is to the salvation offered by a personal God and Savior. But I do believe I have here given a fairly accurate account of Buddhist Awakening.

        To me a critical point is that Buddhists see Awakening as coming from OUTSIDE the temporal self; it is certainly not something that self can achieve on its own. In that sense Awakening is transcendent, like Christian revelation; though unlike revelation it is considered nontheistic or even, as in Zen, atheistic.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Yes. It wrote a reply here. http://www.scifiwright.com/2011/08/till-earth-and-sky-stand-presently-at-gods-great-judgment-seat/

      Please forgive the length but it does not even begin to cover the topic.

  18. Comment by Sean Michael:

    Dear Mr. Smith:

    You made some very valid points, IMO. Although I would call “pure” Buddhism simply a philosophy, not a religion. And, as you said, Buddhism logically fails when the weakest link in its chain of logic snaps.

    Yes, I agree the great monotheistic faiths, such as Judaism and Christianity (I do not include Islam), differs from the Far Eastern philosophies because of being based on divine revelation, not human reason. And St. Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 15.14 goes right to the heart of the matter. The Resurrection of Christ is the SUPREME proof of the truth of Christianity.

    I also agree that too many today treat Christianity as they do Buddhism: like a mere man made philosophy. Ignoring or denying it’s SUPERNATURAL origins and EFFECTS.

    Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

  19. Comment by The OFloinn:

    In The City of God, Chap. 16, Book 8, Augustine writes just as you would expect one of those religious nuts to write:

    Whether Certain Monstrous Races of Men are Derived from the Stock of Adam or Noah’s Sons.

    It is also asked whether we are to believe that certain monstrous races of men, spoken of in secular history, have sprung from Noah’s sons, or rather, I should say, from that one man from whom they themselves were descended. For it is reported that some have one eye in the middle of the forehead; some, feet turned backwards from the heel; some, a double sex, the right breast like a man, the left like a woman, and that they alternately beget and bring forth: others are said to have no mouth, and to breathe only through the nostrils; others are but a cubit high, and are therefore called by the Greeks “Pigmies.” They say that in some places the woman conceive in their fifth year, and do not live beyond their eighth. So, too, they tell of a race who have two feet but only one leg, and are of marvelous swiftness, though they do not bend the knee: they are called Skiopodes, because in the hot weather they lie down on their backs and shade themselves with their feet. Others are said to have no head, and their eyes in their shoulders; and other human or quasi-human races are depicted in mosaic in the harbor esplanade of Carthage, on the faith of histories of rarities. What shall I say of the Cynocephali, whose dog-like head and barking proclaim them beasts rather than men? But we are not bound to believe all we hear of these monstrosities. But whoever is anywhere born a man, that is, a rational, mortal animal, no matter what unusual appearance he presents in color, movement, sound, nor how peculiar he is in some power, part, or quality of his nature, no Christian can doubt that he springs from that one protoplast. We can distinguish the common human nature from that which is peculiar, and therefore wonderful.

    http://m-francis.livejournal.com/84248.html

    • Comment by Gian:

      Regarding the question of the uniqueness of the great work of God on earth, the speech of the Angels (eldil) at the conclusion of Perelandra illustrates the views of CS Lewis. He held that the duplication is not in the style of God but that does not mean that the story of Earth is the most significant than of other planets. From the vantage of each race, his story is the central drama of all creation.

  20. Comment by richardsday:

    I read Heinlein’s SISL once 40 years ago.
    Cannot remember much about it, except a few years later I ran across this:

    Leviticus 19:34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

    I was thankful that God was familiar with Heinlein’s work…Maybe it was Heinlein who was familiar with God’s work…

    In either case, I don’t think it was a coincidence.

    Richards

  21. Ping from 7 Quick Science Takes (9/9/11):

    [...] convert and Nebula nominee for his scifi writing.  When it first ran, the essay was titled “Aliens Need Christ’s Redemption, Too.”–2–From the ever-excellent blog Schneider on Security, a link to the following [...]

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