|image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons / (c) Patrick Hoesly|
I was pleasantly surprised this week to discover that C. S. Lewis actually wrote about that topic in an essay entitled "Religion and Rocketry." That essay is included in a book called The World's Last Night: And Other Essays.
Lewis possessed a keen mind, and he produced works across the spectrum of literature. He wrote children's fantasy (The Chronicles of Narnia) and science fiction (The Space Trilogy), but he also wrote about grief (A Grief Observed and The Problem of Pain) and apologetics (Mere Christianity and Miracles).
Here's a summary of what he said about God, faith, and aliens (found on pages 83-92 in The World's Last Night: And Other Essays):
Through the years, Lewis heard two specific, yet different, appeals of science against religion. First, he heard that the universe is hostile. Life is a terrestrial abnormality, so obviously the Christian idea of a Creator who cares about creatures is "absurd" (p. 83). Second, he heard that the universe is hospitable to life, so obviously the "parochial" Christian idea that any man is important to God is "absurd" (p. 83).
But neither claim settled the matter of science versus religion: "When the popular hubbub has subsided and the novelty has been chewed over by real theologians, real scientists and real philosophers, both sides find themselves pretty much where they were before" (p. 84).
Both sides remain unmoved. Evidence is presented and, for the most part, it just reinforces beliefs that are already held. I suppose that if we ever find life on other planets the same thing will be true.
According to Lewis, the supposed threat of finding ourselves as but one among possibly millions of species that are scattered through millions of spheres in millions of miles of outer space is contained in a question: "How can we, without absurd arrogance, believe ourselves to have been uniquely favored?" (p. 84).
I'm not sure that Lewis has named the threat correctly here, but that's what he believed the issue to be.
He believed that that threat would only be legitimate if we knew the answers to 5 other questions.
Here are the questions he poses and the answers he provides:
1) Are there animals anywhere except on earth? (p. 85).
Plant life is one thing. Conscious life is another. Right now we don't know if there is. And we don't even know if we'll ever know.
2) Supposing there were, do any of these animals have spiritual sense? (p. 85).
If no, then it is obvious that our species should be treated than theirs: "We teach our sons to read but not our dogs. The dogs prefer bones" (p. 85). And even if we met these extra-terrestrial animals, the answer to this question wouldn't be easy to decide. In all human beings there exists, however atrophied, a spiritual sense. But it might not be that way with other beings.
3) If there are species, and they are rational species with a spiritual sense, are any or all of them - like us - fallen? (p. 86).
God's activity on behalf of humanity implies not our merit or excellence, but our demerit and depravity: "No creature that deserved Redemption would need to be redeemed" (p. 86). Perhaps the beings we encounter would not have fallen so far as humanity has.
4) If all of them or any of them have fallen, have they been denied Redemption by Christ? (p. 86).
If they exist (which is still hypothetical at this point), perhaps Christ has already been incarnate their world and provided salvation to them. Or perhaps, of all other created species it is only we who fell.
5) If we knew the answers to questions 1-3, and if we knew that redemption had not yet reached them, might it be that "Redemption, starting with us, is to work from us and through us [to them]?" (p. 88).
Yes: "Those who are, or can become His sons, are our real brothers even if they have shells or tusks. It is spiritual, not biological, kinship that counts" (p. 91).
But suppose all of these assumptions about finding aliens and life on other planets turns out to be true. Lewis answers that "Christians and their opponents again and again expect that some new discovery will either turn matters of faith into matters of knowledge or else reduce them to patent absurdities. But it has never happened" (p. 92).
God's existence - or lack of it - cannot be finally proven or disproven. C. S. Lewis knew this to be true.
It is an act of faith to believe what you cannot see: "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see" (Hebrews 11:1 NLT).
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