Every Thought Captive to Messiah


Is There Life on Other Planets? A Review of C. S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet

In C. S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet (1938), the main character, Ransom, a philologist, is drugged and kidnapped by Devine, an old schoolmate, and Weston, a great physicist, and transported in a spaceship from Earth to Malacandra, which we later learn is Mars. Once arrived to Malacandra, Ransom escapes Weston and Devine, wanders the landscape, and is rescued by a hross named Hyoi, who leads him to a village of the hrossa. Ransom is guest with the hrossa for several months, begins to learn their language, and discovers there are two other intelligent species on Malacandra: the pfifltriggi and the seroni. The hrossa excel at poetry, the pfifltriggi are skilled craftsmen, and the sorn possess scientific and philosophical knowledge. Neither of the three species are masters of the others. Instead they are all ruled by Oyarsa, an angel-like figure. According to the Malacandrans, the universe was created by a godlike entity called Maleldil. Also present on Malacandra are eldila, invisible angel-like spirits.

After some time, Ransom is called before Oyarsa at Meldilorn, and he begins to journey towards him. On the way he meets Augray, a sorn. From the seroni, Ransom learns each planet has its own Oyarsa, and these Oyarsas communicate with one another. Finally, Ransom reaches the Oyarsa of Malacandra. Oyarsa explains to Ransom that Earth is known to the Malacandrans as Thulcandra, “the silent planet.” Thulcandra has been isolated from the heavenly community ever since a rebellious Oyarsa was imprisoned there by Maleldil following a great war.

Then Devine and Weston appear before Oyarsa to stand trial for their killing of three hrossa. During the trial, Weston brags humanity will colonise planet after planet to ensure the continuity of the human race. Devine, for his part, is exposed as a greedy gold-seeker. Finally, Oyarsa banishes Weston and Devine from Malacandra and order them back to Thulcandra. Ransom, offered the choice to stay, decides to travel back with them. Lewis hints there may a sequel. Out of the Silent Planet was indeed followed by Perelandra (1943) and That Hideous Strength (1945). Together these three novels make up C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy.

From a biblical worldview, there are two interesting questions raised by Lewis’s book. First, does the biblical worldview permit there to be intelligent, sentient, unfallen creatures on other planets? Second, did the fall of humanity in Genesis 3 cause the fall of the entire universe or just the fall of planet Earth?

First, let’s consider whether there might be intelligent, sentient creatures on other planets. The Bible neither affirms or denies the existence of creatures on other planets. Of course it does affirm there are myriads of angels who pervade the heavens (Revelation 5:11). The “host of heaven” is a common biblical phrase (1 Kings 22:19; Nehemiah 9:6), and angels are often associated with stars (Revelation 1:20). We cannot rule out the possibility that alongside angels, physical creatures inhabit other planets.

Could these physical creatures be divine image bearers like us? Could these creatures be assigned stewardship responsibility for their respective planets? This seems to be possible. God likes hierarchy, and it seems characteristic of God that each star would be governed by an angel and some planets would be stewarded by intelligent creatures, made in God’s image.

Regrettably, Lewis does not state whether the three intelligent species of Malacandrans bear the image of Maleldil. Further, Oyarsa, not the three species, seems to hold dominion over Malacandra. This differs from Genesis, where human beings are given dominion responsibility over planet Earth. Maybe Lewis intends for us to believe the Oyarsa of Thulcandra, Lucifer, lost dominion over Earth due to his rebellion, and that man was Lucifer’s replacement.

Are the Malacandrans unfallen and in harmony with Maleldil? It seems so, and yet they die, even before the corrupt human beings Weston and Devine invade their peaceful planet. This pre-fall natural death idea contradicts the biblical view that death is unnatural and a result of the fall. Neither is there a clear concept of resurrection on Malacandra, which seems strange given the importance of resurrection to the biblical worldview. Compare Aslan’s resurrection in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

Let’s proceed to our second question. Did the fall of humanity cause the fall of the entire universe or just the fall of planet Earth?  Clearly the fall of humanity caused the fall of creation (Genesis 3:17; Romans 8:22), but how much of creation?

The law of entropy, so fundamental to physics, suggests the entire universe, not just planet Earth, is fallen, as it proceeds from order to disorder and the Big Freeze. Perhaps the fall of humanity on the tiny, insignificant planet Earth, was of such huge importance that the entropy and the second law of thermodynamics became a reality. In other words, the very laws of physics that govern the universe may have shifted significantly as a result of humanity’s fall. It boggles the mind to think so.

If there is life on other planets, as Lewis suggests, perhaps that life was directly impacted by humanity’s fall.

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” - Romans 8:22

According to the biblical worldview, planet Earth is the cosmic battlefield between good and evil. What happens here has universal significance in the truest sense. The Word became flesh on Thulcandra, not on Malacandra.  Of all the planets in the universe, planet Earth is hallowed ground because it is where the incarnate God-man lived, died, and rose again.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory….” - John 1:14

All eyes of the universe gaze in wonder and fascination at the spectacle of human history on planet Earth. There is a certain mystery about Earth and its inhabitants.

“…[S]o that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” - Ephesians 3:10

“It was revealed to [the Old Testament prophets] that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” - 1 Peter 1:12

Perhaps Lewis will offer an answer to these two questions in the next two books of the trilogy, which I thoroughly intend to read.

- Jeff Coleman


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