Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Return: Concerning Aliens and Assumptions

If you were a fan of The X-Files, you should like The Return
by Austin Boyd with its conspiracies, clones and cults. I'm still finishing the book today, so I will post a review of the work tomorrow. However, I would like to use this column to address a question of interest to Christian Science Fiction writers and readers. That question is: "What about Aliens?" In Boyd's novel the assumption is that the Biblical answer is that they do not exist. The only "aliens" that are seen are fake ones and, unlike the venerable X-Files assumption the government is hiding the evidence that aliens do NOT exist. I find that to be a nice twist on the classic conspiracy theory. One Christian in the book is told to (and this is a paraphrase) "Take your nose out of your Bible" and realize that aliens do exist.

However, is that really the Biblical answer? Honestly, to argue that Biblical Christianity requires non-belief in extraterrestrial life is not justified. Having said that, though, arguing for extraterrestrial life based on scripture alone is equally unjustified. Personally, I feel (compared to having absolute knowledge) that extraterrestrial life is likely. Considering that God populated his own universe with angels, seraphim and cherubim along with creatures so strange that the prophets and the beloved apostle struggled to even describe them coupled with the fact that he put thousands of diverse species of both plant and animal on earth, that is unlikely he left the millions of planets circling billions of stars as dead rocks. However, I would not claim Biblical imprimatur on that statement. I would be presuming to know the nature of God to say with certainty that the Biblical answer is that God created life elsewhere.

Obviously, our stories are fictional and we create an imaginary truth when we write. We don't need to know that there are aliens to use them in our stories. Neither do we need to know that there are NOT aliens to posit that in a story. Indeed, many classic science-fiction writers including luminaries such as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke wrote novels in which the only sentient beings in the universe were humans. But they also wrote stories including aliens. That's fine. It's fiction. It's make believe. It's a story. The assumptions don't matter when they are merely assumptions brought in from the "realities" of the imaginary world the author creates. However, when those assumptions are presented as being Biblical
something significant happens, particularly when the story is intended for a Christian audience. The author then says, "This is not just the reality of my story, but this is the reality of the world outside my story, and you should believe it because it comes from the Word of God. Any other belief is wrong and possibly heretical." That may not be the intent of the author, but it is certainly the message that comes through.

Many Christian theologians throughout the years have admitted of the possibilities of extraterrestrial intelligence. One of the most prominent was C.S. Lewis. In his essay, "Religion and Rocketry" written in 1958 (from The World's Last Night and other Essays) he points to the hypocrisy of the critics of Christianity. At a time when they generally denied any assumption of life in the universe outside our own planet, it was used as a proof that life had to be accidental because it was such a longshot that it only occurred once. However, when the possibility of inhabited worlds elsewhere in the universe began to be taken seriously, the argument shifted to an attack on the Christian's "belief" that he is the center of the universe. To quote Lewis:

The supposed threat is clearly directed against the doctrine of the Incarnation, the belief that God of God "for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was…made man." 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. I admit that the question could become formidable.

He says, though, that it only becomes "formidable" when we know the answers to five questions:

  1. "Are there animals anywhere except on Earth?"
  2. "Supposing there were, have any of these animals what we call 'rational souls'?" By this Lewis means being sentient and possessing a spiritual awareness.
  3. "If there are species, and rational species, other than man, are any or all of them, like us, fallen." Lewis suggests that possibly the reason for the vast distances between stars and planets is to prevent the fallen creatures from corrupting the unfallen ones, and even to prevent technologically developed species from exploiting developing ones anticipating "The Prime Directive" of the Star Trek universe by a decade.
  4. "If all of then (and surely all is a long shot) or any of them have fallen, have they been denied redemption" through the passion of Christ?
  5. "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, of course, is responding to non-Christian critics in this essay, however some of this also applies to Christians considering the possibility of extraterrestrial life. We cannot know on the basis of scripture alone that we are alone in the universe. Again using a quotation from Lewis, "Aslan only tells one his own story." The Bible is first the story of the Jewish people and secondly that of the church. It is not even the story of the whole earth, just of it's redemption. It's like the arguments about whether women should wear make-up, kids should watch TV or families go to the movies in the 30's-60's. None of this is actually covered in scripture, but they were classed as "sins" by many churches and denominations based on interpretations of scriptures and, to be honest, the personal prejudices of the leaders of those churches.

This brings us to a crucial issue when writing. Our personal prejudices can and should affect the story. That's what makes it our individual vision of the world which we share with others. It is the writer's unique voice being heard. However, our voice should be silenced when we purport to speak for God and imply a Biblical justification for something that the Bible itself is silent about.

None of this is to say that extraterrestrial intelligence exists. Nor did I address any of the scientific evidence for or opposed to the concept. Honesty, the state of our science today compared to the vastness of the universe makes it unlikely for us to have a definitive scientific answer to this question for a very long time, if ever. I am merely addressing the assumption that the Bible indicates that we are alone in the universe, and that is not a valid assumption.

My mother passed away this year, but she had great wisdom in the things of God. She would say, "Don't put a question mark, where God put a period." I would add to that though, "Don't put a period, where God has put a question mark!"

I'll writer more about the book tomorrow. In spite of this tangential comment, I'm enjoying it.

In the meantime why not check out the comments of these other bloggers on this month's blog tour

Trish Anderson
Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Amy Browning
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Lisa Cromwell
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
D. G. D. Davidson
Janey DeMeo
Merrie Destefano or Alien Dream
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Linda Gilmore
Beth Goddard
Marcus Goodyear
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Sherrie Hibbs
Christopher Hopper
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Dawn King
Tina Kulesa
Rachel Marks
Karen McSpadden
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
Lyn Perry
Deena Peterson
Cheryl Russel
Chawna Schroeder
Mirtika Schultz
James Somers
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise


Blogger Brandon Barr said...

Hi Terri,

As always, you bring an intelligent argument to the table. I'm very thankful that you're a part of the lost genre guild email digest because you bring (among a few others) the wisdom of a college professor to the realm of Christian speculative fiction.
Keep up the great dialog.

September 18, 2007 at 2:04 PM  
Blogger Becky said...

Terri, all three of your posts are so thoughtful. I especially appreciate the perspective of a knowledgeable science fiction person.

I was surprised at this statement, however: In Boyd's novel the assumption is that the Biblical answer is that they do not exist. Granted, I haven't finished the last book either, but in the second book, I think, one of John Wells' colleagues finds water and believes there is also life, if only at the molecular level. I think I have that right. I know for sure that possibility was left open. The samples were destroyed before they could be studied on earth.

One of the questions I've had about The Return is why didn't the next teams go back to the location where she'd found water. Maybe they did. The second book had a map showing where the different places and, in relationship, the base was located. I think that would have been especially helpful in the third book and looked for it, hoping.

Anyway, lots of good material in these three posts, Terri.


September 19, 2007 at 8:01 PM  
Blogger Grace Bridges said...

This is a great article and I agree with you wholeheartedly. With C.S. Lewis we're certainly in good company...

September 20, 2007 at 12:47 AM  

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