Sunday, 29 September 2013

Aliens And Souls

In Poul Anderson's The Merman's Children, merfolk are rational beings without souls because this novel is a historical fantasy based on medieval Catholicism.

In Anderson's The High Crusade, space-traveling medieval Christians convert aliens to the Faith and take this as proof that these beings do have souls.

In Anderson's Planet Of No Return (London, 1971), Thornton, a Dissenter, wondering whether to kill the alien "Rorvan," thinks:

"...the Rorvan were not human; the Noachian dominies doubted that any aliens even had souls, and in all events they were surely heathen..." (p. 82)

(To kill mere heathens would be a lesser evil, of course.) This is another example of Poul Anderson considering every possibility or, at least in this case, allowing his characters to consider them. I was indoctrinated in the belief that intellect and will were the two faculties of an immaterial soul. Therefore, by definition, any animal capable of thought and volition has a soul so the dominies must have some other definition of "soul."


"...some sick corner of [Thornton] laughed and said that maybe the Almighty was tired of man, maybe these were his new chosen people who would scourge a sinful humanity out of creation and down into hell." (p. 85)

Thornton himself recognizes this speculation as "sick" but, nevertheless, it shows how his mind works. We know that he does see God as punishing populations by visiting wars upon them. God "tired of man" at the Flood. It is possible that a bad experience in space would send a deranged Thornton back to the Solar System preaching that God has now chosen the Rorvan and disowned humanity.

Later again, Thornton, grateful that the Rorvan have not killed but rescued him:

"...was now brooding over the theological problem of whether or not they had souls; he felt they did, but how to prove it?" (p. 88)

Convert them to Reformism? He needs to establish communication with the Rorvan in order to find out what they believe, if indeed their inner processes include what we call "belief," then to compare the Rorvan beliefs/ideas/opinions/theories with human worldviews. Instead, he merely speculates within the limits of his own preconceptions. Fortunately, he is the only Dissenter on the expedition.

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