Medieval SciFi

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Another TOF Spot reblog; there are more coming, too.

ET in the Middle Ages

It has long been held that the medievals would have been terrified of aliens, regarded them as “demons,” and otherwise persecuted them in their religious ignorance and fanaticism, while we wise moderns would recognize them as intelligent and equivalent to humans, deserving of the same consideration as humans. The latter is a self-flattering mythos, but likely no more true than the former.

Short version:

The common trope of those idiot religious haters declaring Tolkien-style elves, or Mr. Spock, to be a nonperson is…not theologically supported.

Humans are humans, so it’s possible, but it ain’t the Church’s fault!

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29 Comments

  1. “It has long been held that the medievals would have been terrified of aliens, regarded them as ‘demons’…..”

    Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End” (which I avidly read and re-read as a young teenager – Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein were my great trinity if I may borrow a phrase) has an interesting perspective on that. It was made into a mini-series:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Childhood%27s_End_(miniseries)

    The Overlord Karellen was quite the fearsome sight:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEVV7s73B_8

    I never did like Clarke’s secular humanist view of the world.

  2. For a moment I thought this was about sci fi set in the Middle Ages. I have always loved Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_High_Crusade

    “Hearken, Brother Parvus,” said Sir Roger. “I’m weary of this whining about our own ignorance and feebleness. We’re not ignorant of the True Faith, are we? Somewhat more to the point, maybe, while the engines of war may change through the centuries, rivalry and intrigue look no subtler out here than at home. Just because we use a different sort of weapons, we aren’t savages.”

  3. Donald– He does mention his own Middle Ages sci fi, but the reason that I enjoyed The High Crusade is exactly that the religious folks weren’t cardboard idiots!
    There you have a highly religious fellow, who is a knight, who worse is a Crusader, and…he’s a person. Worse, he’s an extremely HUMAN person, with predictable results.

    All the other short stories, movies, books– if someone was religious, they were going to be hateful and/or stupid to the aliens, who would “obviously” not have souls. (There’s a reason Brother Guy is so popular!)

    I first ran into it with the “Chariots of the Gods” type books, and as I’ve mentioned before my Catholic education was quite lacking in things like theology….

    LQC-
    From what I remember of Childhood’s End, I got a heavy vibe of “ha, take THAT!” author intervention in world design, and the story didn’t grab me well enough to get on the re-read list anyways. I can get quite enough of the “look, look, I haz science, let’s insult stupid religion” for free. 😉

  4. God became Man.
    Man, who had fallen from grace was in need of a Savior. God Saves.
    It’s possible then, that God might have created other corporeal beings such as us, this race of beings may have fallen or may have not. If this race of beings were to have discovered sufficient science for space travel, they would have either not have fallen or would have fallen then having been redeemed by their own Savior. You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free extends to all truth including scientific truth, and darkness extends to all things opposite as well.
    God Saves.

    It follows then, that if an alien race of beings were to come to Earth, they would immediately rush to Eucharistic Adoration; to be with the same Loving God.
    It also follows that if a race of alien beings or a single alien being were to appear on Earth and did not rush to Eucharistic Adoration, these could only be demons or a demon.
    And it seems to me that if the Devil were to deceive the world and have the world follow him today, appearing as an alien being would be the easiest means.

  5. “It follows then, that if an alien race of beings were to come to Earth, they would immediately rush to Eucharistic Adoration; to be with the same Loving God.”
    Does Man?
    Maybe we get the atheist alien, Maybe he is already here lost in a crowd of atheists of his own making.

  6. Agreed, Don. I finally got a copy of the High Crusade from Half Priced Books awhile back and LOVED reading it. It reminded me a lot of GalaxyQuest and that’s high praise considering how much I love that movie.

    The punchline brings a tear to my eye too.

  7. t follows then, that if an alien race of beings were to come to Earth, they would immediately rush to Eucharistic Adoration; to be with the same Loving God.
    It also follows that if a race of alien beings or a single alien being were to appear on Earth and did not rush to Eucharistic Adoration, these could only be demons or a demon.

    Why on earth would aliens be more likely to do that than humans?
    Incidentally, demons are not corporeal, at least not by default; they would be extremely unlikely to show up in a space ship or by other technological means.

  8. Thanks, Nate. From what I have read, Clarke became more and more atheist as he grew older and forbade any religious commemoration at his funeral. Additionally, he had admitted to being inspired by Olaf Stapledon whose works I have also read. I was always fascinated by the writings of both men in weird sort of way, how they could seem so plausible and be so wrongheadedly wrong. And yes, as John C Wright’s post on Childhood’s End asserts, Clark was really attacking Christianity. Fathom this: if Christianity is so obviously wrong, then why did Clarke spend so much time trying to belittle it in his novels? The same for Heinlein whose novels I have read and re-read repeatedly. If Christianity is a myth, all wrong, then why spend so much time with it – unless you really know that it’s right and you can’t stand that fact because it pricks your conscience. Well, Stapledon, Clarke and Heinlein are all three dead. They now know how wrong they were.

    To Foxfier,you are correct, demons have no need to use technology. But to deceive humans they might, although from current conditions across the world they don’t need to since humans love being deceived so much.

    BTW, as John C Wright points out, maybe the great gulf between the stars and the limit of light speed exist to protect “them” from “us” as much as it might be to protect “us” from “them.” If we bypass light speed using wormholes or space warps or whatever, then I could be proven wrong. And if aliens are smart enough to have already done that, then chances are they are smart enough to avoid us. God has placed no limits on man’s ambition, pride and stupidity. But He has placed limits on our intelligence and power – we’re neither omniscient nor omnipotent.

  9. LCQ-
    Sure, demons like to deceive us. That doesn’t mean that aliens that show up and aren’t instantly, incredibly and obviously Catholic are demons; given the way deception works, I’d actually be a bit more suspicious of someone who showed up and was instantly Super Catholic, on the logic that the aliens are most likely to be people.
    *********
    Amusingly enough, given how much I like scifi, I’m no more a “believer” in aliens than in fairies– even if I’m probably more willing to believe fairies are possible than the average bear. 😉 Maybe a better example would be (true) artificial intelligence– self-aware computers.
    I won’t rule them out, but I am for sure not going to jump to that conclusion even with a nice little nudge!

  10. Foxfier, I think that the fine tuning of the universe makes it unlikely that there is sentient life elsewhere (assuming that we qualify as sentient – ha! ha!). But God is life itself and intelligence supreme, so if there are extraterrestrial intelligences, I would not be surprised.

  11. That’s a good way to put it: “I would not be surprised.”
    I don’t expect any of the three, but if given reasonable evidence for any of them, I wouldn’t be standing there going “NO! It can not be!”

  12. Thank you LQC. Exactly. I have to think true alien beings would be wise enough and more.
    But if the anti-christ were to appear on earth, I really do think that he would probably use a scheme like pretending to be an alien being, to deceive as many as he could, gain world power, following, ect., ect..

  13. That video – A Small Talent for War – in the 2017 post, Donald, is quite thought-provoking. Nevertheless, I think the fine tuning of the universe makes life elsewhere improbable (not impossible, though). Dr. Stephen Barr (a theoretical particle physicist at the Bartol Research Institute of the University of Delaware, and a devout Catholic) examines both sides of the issue:

    https://www.firstthings.com/article/2001/06/anthropic-coincidences

  14. The key takeaway from the original post referenced by Foxfier is that the medieval imagination didn’t need space aliens because our world, as they understood it, was fantastic enough.

  15. Fathom this: if Christianity is so obviously wrong, then why did Clarke spend so much time trying to belittle it in his novels? The same for Heinlein whose novels I have read and re-read repeatedly. If Christianity is a myth, all wrong, then why spend so much time with it – unless you really know that it’s right and you can’t stand that fact because it pricks your conscience. Well, Stapledon, Clarke and Heinlein are all three dead. They now know how wrong they were.

    @LCQ – I wouldn’t discount how much cultural impact has on the writer. Just like I don’t seem to find much ranting from oriental writers about Christianity (well… it’s complicated if you take into anime & games from Japan), the Chinese and Japanese and other atheists probably put a similar amount of time into attacking Buddahism or Hinduism or whatever religion has the cultural force there. I don’t know for sure since I’ve barely dived into their storytelling over there but that’s how I would place my bets on a study’s results.

    I think it is entirely possible that alien races would be malign, or the way they assess right and wrong would be unfathomable to us.

    @Don – That’s why I have a fondness for CS Lewis’ the Space Trilogy as in there he supposes that we are the malign alien race who see right and wrong differently from the Martians and Venusians (who are unfallen races). It’s a twist I enjoy.

    @Foxfier-

    I’d actually be a bit more suspicious of someone who showed up and was instantly Super Catholic, on the logic that the aliens are most likely to be people.

    I’ve been thinking about how to do that story. There’s always the scifi story of aliens coming to man because they need something (something about our bodies, or the way we make war, etc). I’ve wondered how it might go if aliens came to us for religion. I always find it interesting that with all the messages the angels deliver in the Bible, there’s never a recording of them delivering the gospel. Instead it’s always other people that God has deliver the news to those searching.

    So what if an alien Cornelius was sent to earth to find the human Peter… Hmmm… if all of humanity became the galactic equivalent of Jews could be the hook. Though I need to finish John C Wright’s “Count to…” series first because I suspect that may be where he’s going with it.

    (yeah, the two extremes of scifi appeal to me – either humanity are the monsters of the universe – or the hope of it)

    Amusingly enough, given how much I like scifi, I’m no more a “believer” in aliens than in fairies– even if I’m probably more willing to believe fairies are possible than the average bear. 😉

    I had to laugh because one of my favorite episode’s of Supernatural is one where they reveal that “alien” abductions are actually the Fae still kidnapping people, just covering it up in a new, modern-day approved way. So maybe both are right. 😉

  16. Nate, have you seen the “humans are space orcs” and “humans make friends/pets out of anything” threads that float around the image sharing sites?
    They’re FUN.
    This guy seems to have found a bunch of them.

  17. “I think it is entirely possible that alien races would be malign, or the way they assess right and wrong would be unfathomable to us.”

    Sorry, Disagree. Just at the speed of light is a constant in this Universe, so too the Ten Commandments. Truth is truth. It’ll make no difference what planet you’re from, or visit.

  18. “Truth is truth. It’ll make no difference what planet you’re from, or visit.”

    All of human history refutes this. I believe in the Truth of Christ, but myriad of cultures and civilizations here on Earth do not, just as extraterrestrial civilizations almost certainly would not, at least at first. More to the point, the Ten Commandments may only have relevance among humans. CS Lewis posited that God may arrange salvation for extraterrestrials in other ways.

  19. I would expect natural law to function for aliens as well–those aspects of truth that can be reasoned to, they’d reach, same way they can go from 2+2 and get 4.
    A really interesting study on natural law can be found by ready Terry Pratchett; not only is he a hoot and a half, but he had this habit of coming around to the correct conclusion from completely the wrong side.

    I don’t see why an alien on a different planet would be in a different state, salvation-wise, than a first century American Indian. There’s no reasonable way for them to have access to the revealed truth, but they do have the ‘written on our hearts’ type truth.

  20. “All of human history refutes this. I believe in the Truth of Christ, but myriad of cultures and civilizations here on Earth do not, just as extraterrestrial civilizations almost certainly would not, at least at first. ”

    There are matters of truth and matters of taste. Thou shall not lie, steal and murder are cross cultural on earth, found in almost all cultures as truth. There is no reason to doubt that the sin of lying and murder do not exist through out the Universe, everywhere and at any time a sin. Perhaps waiting to be revealed as sin,, but still a sin.
    The Devil, the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning, together with his angels were cast down from Heaven (eternity) into this World/Universe of space and time.
    And there is no escape. If time travel were possible the most brilliant creature that God ever created would have found a way.
    As Einstein postulated “The arrow of time goes forward”.
    There will be no “next time”.
    I think as incredible as it may sound, with the exception of the angels, we are alone. The entire Universe was created for Man. Ah, if Adam hadn’t fumbled the ball we’d be traveling the stars.

  21. If time travel were possible the most brilliant creature that God ever created would have found a way.

    Or will have found a way.

    (We were never taught any of names for tenses beyond past, current and future, but the linguistic gymnastics about time travel amuse me in a thank-goodness-I-don’t-have-to-keep-it-straight way.)

  22. A really interesting study on natural law can be found by ready Terry Pratchett; not only is he a hoot and a half, but he had this habit of coming around to the correct conclusion from completely the wrong side.

    That sounds interesting. Write a blogpost going into this in more detail. I’d like more concrete examples!

    I don’t see why an alien on a different planet would be in a different state, salvation-wise, than a first century American Indian. There’s no reasonable way for them to have access to the revealed truth, but they do have the ‘written on our hearts’ type truth.

    Because that assumes that all things created must be fallen. At least with the First Americans we know that they too were from Adam and suffered his curse. But I see no reason to suppose that every created being had to fall – not without supposing a cruel god who sets up failure.

  23. *laughs* Would that I had the time! Usually when I’m reading Pratchett these days, I’m half dead and have enough time to muse “I should write this down” and then I’m out.
    Pretty much anything with Vimes in it is good, though.

    At least with the First Americans we know that they too were from Adam and suffered his curse. But I see no reason to suppose that every created being had to fall – not without supposing a cruel god who sets up failure.

    Ah, but the rest of creation fell when Adam did.

    That’s the theology angle on why I’m not expecting aliens or elves or any mortal non-humans-including-all-human-cousins, by the way. It doesn’t seem fair. I’m just not willing to bind God to what emotively feels fair to me. ^.^

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