A Hross from C.S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet
As a Catholic who enjoys reading and writing science fiction, one dilemma I've had to consider is theologically, is the existence of non-human sentient beings possible? At first blush, it may seem problematic because there is no mention of life outside of Earth in the Bible or traditional theology. There is the fact that Jesus Christ (not only God, but a human being) is the saviour for the entire universe -- so where would that leave non-human sentient creatures? It is interesting to consider how they might fit into God's Plan and how we might explain same to nonbelievers or fellow Catholics who might be shaken (some could think the existence of "aliens" means that evolution is true, or that Adam and Eve did not exist, &c.).
I've discussed this topic a number of times with fellow Catholics and there seem to be a few lines of thought. The first question is whether they are ensoulled creatures or not?
One line of thought is that if sentient creatures had souls, then God would have to have a different salvation plan for them than for humans, since they would not be descendents of Adam. They could be more like angels (not fallen) or I suppose they could be fallen and in need of redemption but this raises further issues as Christ is the redeemer of all yet how can he redeem non-human creatures who are not descendents of Adam? That said I'm not aware of any explicit teaching that excluded the possibility of races with immortal souls who are not descended from Adam with an alternate path of redemption.
There is also the option of creatures with immortal souls who never sinned and therefore, like angels, are not in need of redemption. This appears to be what C.S. Lewis portrayed in his Space Trilogy.
I tend to prefer two "simpler" solutions:
- That non-human sentient life could not be ensouled life. I personally find it "risky" to posit creatures with immortal souls who are not redeemed by Christ. But what constitutes ensouled life? The soul is rational but this could be a necessary but not a sufficient condition for ensoulment. My view is that, to be ensouled, one must be infused with the faculty to know and love God (even if that faculty, like the rational one, is never actuated by the development of some individuals). It is clear to me that rationality itself does not equal ensoulement because some apes, parrots, mynah birds, and porpoises are supposedly self-aware but not ensouled and not able to comprehend the concept of God. I think it could therefore be possible to have highly intelligent, sentient, even civilized and technologically advanced beings than nevertheless have no souls. I think an excellent speculative example of this are the "Moties" in the novel, The Mote in God's Eye. While the question is never answered in the novel, it is my opinion that the aliens encountered by humans in the book (the "Moties") are indeed soul-less creatures because they really have no ability to choose between right and wrong -- everything they do in the novel is dictated by their biological imperatives.
- That apparently non-human sentient life is actually human. There are a myriad of ways that this can be worked around. Perhaps Ante-Deluvian humans had developed space travel before the Great Flood, and some escaped the Great Deluge? In which case they would be Star Trek style "aliens" who look completely human. For stranger looking creatures, genetic engineering could create creatures who look alien but have human souls -- like the eponymous character in my short story "Chimera" (who could easily be considered an E.T. if encountered on another planet).