In His Image–Does Yoda Have a Soul?

| 12-23-AD2013 | [15]

Bob Kurland - Yoda

“What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the path
s of the seas.” Psalm 8, v4-8.

Is there intelligent life on other worlds? This question was invariably asked when I was catechizing minimum security prisoners and adult pupils at “Science and the Church” classes. And if there is, do such beings have souls?

As far as Yoda, most people who have seen the Star Wars epics would probably answer “Yes, of course!” given that Yoda is a hero, cute, and knows how to manipulate the force to good ends, but then those considerations do not really take into account what the Church has to say about souls:

“The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual….Man, whole and entire is therefore willed by God…soul refers to the innermost aspect of man, that by which he is most specially in God’s image:  ’soul’ signifies the spiritual principle in man…it is because of the spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes  a living, human body;  spirit and body in man are not two natures united but rather their union forms a single nature.”  (Catechism of the Catholic Church, excerpted from paragraphs 362, 363, 365)

Now that is a complete statement, but it doesn’t make the properties of a soul explicit. What do these properties entail–belief in a deity? A moral/ethical code? Wonder about the meaning of it all? There is another quote, wrongly attributed to C.S. Lewis, but actually from the science-fiction author, Walter M. Miller, Jr. author of a Canticle for Leibowitz, that to me is a satisfactory statement (with properties still left undefined), in agreement with the Catechism:

“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

And as Brother Guy Consulagmo, a Vatican astronomer, put it when discussing alien life:

 ”Going back to the Middle Ages, the definition of a soul is to have intelligence, free will, freedom to love or not to love, freedom to make decisions…

Finally, here’s what C.S. Lewis has to say:

 ”By this (rational souls) I include not merely the faculty to abstract and calculate, but the apprehension of values, the power to mean by ‘good’ something more than ‘good for me’ or even ‘good for my species’.” (from Religion and Rocketry in The World’s Last Night)

Given that this issue is settled (?), let’s move on to the next question: do intelligent extraterrestial beings exist? Are we alone in the universe? The Church as an institution is also interested. In 2009 the Vatican held a week-long conference on the existence of extra-terrestial life. A number of scientific and religious issues were considered, but no consensus was reached. We think that alien life would be based on carbon-based biochemistry like that on Earth, but that assumption might not hold. If it does hold, then to make an estimate we’d need to know how many earth-like planets there are, and then make some estimates of how many of these would develop life, and the probability that such life would become intelligent. The Drake Equation gives such an estimate for the number of planets in our galaxy, the Milky Way, as between a thousand and hundred million (that’s quite a big error limit!). Many new discoveries of “earth-like” planets are reported: a recent estimate of such in our galaxy is a hundred billion, and a hundred sextillion in the universe. So then the critical links are the probability of life originating on an earth-like planet (or even non-earth like) and the probability of such life developing intelligence. Shown below are pictures (drawings, not scientific images) of the five most earthlike planets. We want to emphasize that the properties of these planets are inferred from astronomical data; no astronomical images of planets this small have been observed.

And then we have to consider the Fermi Paradox, “where is everybody?” if such life exists. Why is there no evidence of communication–radio, satellites, whatever–that science-fiction portrays in much detail? Or would intelligent life take other paths than technological? (I ignore flying saucer reports–those are legend and myth.)

Well, let’s brush the Fermi Paradox under the rug, and assume that somewhere over the rainbow, outside our solar system, intelligent life exists. Would such life necessarily have souls? And what is the attitude of the Church toward such beings? Would the Church have a mission to save them, as it did in the Americas and Asia? According to one of the Vatican Observatory astronomers, Brother Guy Consolmagno, the answer is yes. ”Any entity–no matter how many tentacles it has–has a soul.” The situation is complex and not to be explained simply by examining the properties of souls listed above. The most trenchant exposition has been given by C.S. Lewis in his essay, Religion and Rocketry. Here are the issues to be considered:

  • Do these aliens have a rational soul? Computers, no matter what their degree of artificial intelligence would not. (I’m reminded of an anecdote, probably apocryphal, about a world famous computer expert who was giving a seminar on artificial intelligence at an academic institution where I was teaching. Someone in the audience asked him, “Would you want your daughter to marry a computer?” Another voice shouted out immediately, “Why not–his wife did.”)
  • If these aliens have rational souls, are they fallen, or are they like Adam and Eve before the Fall, in a state of innocence and grace? If they are not fallen, would it be appropriate to send missionaries to them?
  • “If all of them (and surely all is a long shot) or any of them have fallen have they been denied Redemption by the Incarnation and Passion of Christ? For of course it is no very new idea that the eternal Son may, for all we know, have been incarnate in other worlds than earth and so saved other races than ours.” (quote from Rocketry and Religion) In the first book of his wonderful speculative fiction trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet Lewis considers such alien intelligent beings that have not fallen.
  • Lewis considers whether missionary activity to fallen species would be corrupting or  salvational, whether Christ could have appeared to other fallen species, or whether God might have given other forms of Redemption–read the essay from the link for a fuller exposition.

Have we answered the original question? No! But another quote from Religion and Rocketry is apposite:

“If I remember rightly, St. Augustine raised a question about the theological position of satyrs, monopods, and other semi-human creatures. He decided it could wait till we knew there were any. So can this.”

Finally, I’ll put my own position down–it’s exemplified in a fine science-fiction story (science-fiction is my fourth best theological resource, following Holy Scripture, St. Augustine, and St.Thomas Aquinas). A scientific couple embark on a search through the galaxy for life, any life. The search proves fruitless, the wife dies, but finally the husband realizes as he is about to die that he is not really alone; in a final epiphany he realizes the truth of Scripture, that the universe has been created by God, and man as the image of God, as in Psalm 8.

About the Author:

Retired, cranky, old physicist. Convert to Catholicism in 1995. Trying to show that there is no contradiction between what science tells us about the world and our Catholic faith. Intermittent blogs at Rational Catholic and adult education classes here to achieve this end. Extraordinary Minister of Communion volunteer to federal prison and hospital; lector, EOMC. Sometime player of bass clarinet, alto clarinet, clarinet, bass, tenor bowed psaltery for parish instrumental group and local folk group. And, finally, my motivation: “It is also necessary—may God grant it!—that in providing others with books to read I myself should make progress, and that in trying to answer their questions I myself should find what I am seeking. Therefore at the command of God our Lord and with his help, I have undertaken not so much to discourse with authority on matters known to me as to know them better by discoursing devoutly of them.” St. Augustine of Hippo, The Trinity I,8.
Science Filed in: Faith, Science
  • John Darrouzet

    Bob, thank you for another interesting post.

    Why do you suppose there is not more discussion of angels when this subject arises?

    • duhem

      Thanks for your comment John,…I’ve had problems posting a reply, but will say briefly that angels are not discussed in this context, because they are not mortal and not material; are angels pure souls?
      Bob Kurland

  • Matt

    This is so confused,the Catholic church seems to know with some certainty that we have souls (a nonsensical concept provided what we now know about neuroscience), but seems unaware of and incapable of commenting whether the Neanderthals had souls? Or at what point in human evolution did we become human? Let alone comment on whether intelligent species from other planets would be Catholics.

    Religion is man made, it’s a natural phenomena, nobody can successfully distinguish the difference between Thor and Yahweh, please don’t call this science.

    • duhem

      Matt, like many atheists (including Dawkins), you proclaim what science tells without a full knowledge of what science is all about. You might broaden your horizons by reading works by the neuroscientist (U. PA, neuroimaging specialist) Andrew Newberg (see, for example, “How God Changes our Brain…” and “Why God won’t go Away”.. And, to remove the delusion that mind is solely an epiphenomenon of a meat computer, the brain, you might read some of the works of David Chalmers and Andrew Nagel. But then, in my experience, atheists are not, for the most part, willing to broaden their horizons.
      Bob Kurland

    • Matt

      The reasons that this is not science is clear, it’s easy to find evidence, confirmation bias, when you start with the answer.

      There was a poll recently in the United States on religious knowledge and perhaps surprising to you but not to me, atheists came out on top. The claim that they’re not willing to broaden their horizons is nonsense. I hardly have to quote to you the number of royal society fellows in the UK and members of the national academy in the states that are atheists. (This same correlation is observed in declining significance all the way down through levels of education).

      The theist must ignore so much evidence and logic that falsifies their position, their claims while the atheist retains the only sensible position upon critical evaluation of reality, rather than what they wish to be the case.

      Even if there was good evidence for a deity (there isn’t), this gets you no closer to the Christian God than it does Zeus.

      I’ve read Newberg and yes, unsurprisingly those who speak in tongues brains’ fire off a little differently to the average atheist. This is neither unsettling nor an indictment on the broadness of the average atheist’s horizons.

      It’s interesting that Newberg himself studies other neurological disorders, we understand largely by brain disorders that consciousness, your very being is physically linked to the brain. There is absolutely no getting away from that and is inconsistent with any concept of soul or eternal consciousness –does a mentally ill person have a perfectly operational soul, some back up brain, an external hardrive experiencing life normally and patiently waiting for paradise? Everything cognitive neuroscience now tells us rubbishes the dualism that Chalmers is pushing.

      I haven’t heard of Nagel so thanks for the recommendation.

      I’m very interested to know in what regard atheists like Dawkins and myself lack a full knowledge of science?

    • duhem

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      Matt, I’m going to do my best to be
      kind and forego my usual cranky attitude, although I must say that I
      feel very much like Charlie Brown, confronted by Lucy’s
      non-sequiturs; my stomach hurts. Let’s take your points of attack one
      by one:

      “the reasons that this is not
      science”…who said the blog was about science or that science
      stated that aliens had souls? Science is theory supported by
      experimental verification… All of the above was clearly
      speculation. Even the “Drake Equation”, although it was couched
      in mathematical form, is not science, because there’s no possibility
      of experimental verification.

      Your poll (source?) is irrelevant.
      And it has nothing to do with you or other evangelical atheists I
      have encountered on Facebook being willing to read something that
      contradicts their atheistic faith, that is to broaden their
      horizons. What’s more, I imagine most of those atheists in the
      Royal Society who are atheists are in the soft, non-mathematical
      sciences. Here are two who are not: physicist John Polkinghorne
      (now an Anglican priest), physicist Freeman Dyson (see:
      And I’ll quote in my next blog all the Nobel Prize winners (hard
      scientists) who do believe in God. Moreover, even if 99% of all
      scientists were atheists, that wouldn’t prove a thing logically
      about the truth of the proposition that God exists, nor would it if
      99% believed in God. By the way, with regard to your proposition
      that those who believe in God are less intelligent or more poorly
      informed than atheists, did you know that home-schooled children
      (almost all of whom are from religious families) do much better on
      college entrance tests—SAT’s—and in college than non-home

      “The theist must ignore so much
      evidence and logic..” What evidence? What logic? If you want
      to delve into logic read St. Thomas Aquinas, the Five Ways, or, more
      recently Kurt Godel’s proof for the existence of God (if you can
      manage the math), Edward Feser or Peter Kreeft.

      “It is interesting that Newberg
      himself studies other (sic) neurological disorders…” is a
      logical non-sequitur that does make my stomach hurt. Have you read
      any of Newberg’s books? He does not classify religious faith as a
      neurological disorder….again an unsupported statement and one that
      is logically incoherent, an argument by analogy.

      “Everything cognitive
      neuroscience tells us rubbishes (sic) the dualism that Chalmers is
      pushing.” What is “everything”? Again a statement made as the
      Gospel truth (you’ll forgive the religious allusion) without
      supporting evidence.

      From the statements you make
      about neuroscience, I can only judge that you don’t have a
      scientific attitude, namely you are unaware of the limitations of
      science—that which can not be verified by theory/experiment is
      outside the domain of science. I won’t ask if you’re a working
      scientist but it would seem from your arguments that you are not.
      I would also judge from your remarks that you have not delved into
      the history or philosophy of science, but I may be mistaken. As
      far as Dawkins not being a good scientist, I can only judge by what
      he says about a belief in God. To claim that the existence of God
      can be disproved scientifically shows a fundamental ignorance of the
      limitations of science. Science can neither prove nor disprove the
      existence of God. My opinion of Dawkins failings as a scientist
      is shared by two stout non-believers (not evangelical atheists),
      Edward Wilson (see:
      and John Higgs (he of the Higgs

      As for showing Dawkins’ illogic
      generally and capacity for error, the Regius Professor Keith Ward
      has done an excellent job: “Why there is almost certainly a
      God—Doubting Dawkins”.

      If you’re willing to looking at a book
      that contradicts your atheistic faith, here’s one on quantum
      mechanics and mathematics: Mathematical
      Undecidability, Quantum
      and the Question of the Existence of God;
      difficult and profound articles about what Godel’s Theorem and
      quantum non-locality say about the existence of God

      Finally, I don’t wish to engage in a
      debate with one who seems to have a closed mind, and who makes
      statements that are presented as truth without evidence. I doubt
      whether I can convince you, and your arguments certainly haven’t
      convinced me. Accordingly, I’m not going to comment on any more
      replies until there’s some evidence that you have looked into works
      disagreeing with your atheistic belief, and can present reasoned
      arguments against them, rather than categorical statements of belief.

      Good luck in your quest for truth!

      Bob Kurland

      PS—the author is Thomas Nagel, not
      Andrew (his most recent book is “Mind and Cosmos”). His most
      famous article, confounding the materialistic view of Mind, was “What
      is it like to be a bat?”…sorry about the mistake… I’m old and
      almost to senility, if not quite there yet.

    • Matt

      So soon with the ad hominem Bob!

      This blog is in the science category. This blog
      is named does Yoda have a soul. I haven’t questioned the science of Drake or
      Fermi which is entirely hypothetical.

      You claim that ‘evangelical’ atheists need to
      broaden their horizons (ok, the the ad hominem actually started much earlier).
      You are completely unaware of my background, or my reading list yet you’re
      quite sure that I don’t read anything that disagrees with me? How can you know
      this? So the study and noticing that elite scientists are more likely to be
      atheists contradicts your conclusion about horizons.

      Soft non-mathematical sciences? It’s actually that those working in the
      biological sciences and requiring a working understanding of evolution are less
      likely to be theists. Evolution completely rubbishes all of the doctrines, with
      the evidence for it and logically –this planet is not designed for this species
      of ape.

      I never proposed that believers were less intelligent or poorly informed, you
      however, claimed the latter about atheists. So I’m confused what your point is
      here. You mention religious home schooling, are you claiming religion makes one
      more intelligent? It’s unclear what the point is here.

      “If you
      can manage the math”. Again, why the ad hominem? It’s such an interesting
      discussion and it’s such a shame when people feel the need to respond in this
      manner through lacking confidence in their position.

      Yes, theism is not consistent with evidence and (thereby) cannot be logically
      deduced either. Observing our having evolved alone is poor ontological evidence
      for the a priory Christian God. Regarding Godel in particular what’s consistent
      with science and reality and the assumptions of each axiom?

      I never claimed that Newberg argues from
      neurological disorders but there is a certain irony in the cognitive dissonance
      between his work, in part, showing consciousness to be physically linked to the
      brain (and yes studying the brain activities during religious experience) but brings
      him no closer than anyone else to seriously suggesting that there can be a
      soul. If some part of the brain is damage perhaps speech will be lost, the
      ability to remember faces, whatever. But a dualist must suggest that when the
      brain stem is severed altogether all that comes flooding back? Again, what if
      one is born mentally incapacitated.

      Cognitive neuroscience closes the gap all the
      time on the capacity for a soul. This wasn’t meant as an absolute.

      If ‘God’ is outside the remit of science which
      is the study of the physical universe then, again, you confine yourself to a
      deistic God…which is my point entirely. The Christian God, is by your
      definition unscientific.

      On Dawkins being a good scientist, you can only judge this by what he says
      about God. You’re going to have to go ahead and place the majority of major
      scientists in the ‘rubbish scientists’ camp too then. A Deistic God cannot be
      proven or disproven currently and Dawkins says again and again that there are
      any number of things he cannot disprove such as the flying spaghetti monster,
      this gets you no closer to Christianity being true. Again, even if deism was
      conceded this gets you no closer to the Abrahamic God than it does Zeus.

      Why mention Wilson, Higgs and Ward? The argument from authority is weaker than
      the ad hominem to be completely honest (and don’t for a minute pretend I’ve
      referred to Dawkins’ authority, it was you that brought him into this, I
      understand the arguments).

      Tell me, Bob, what does quantum non-locality say about the existence of God?* You
      rely upon a lot of other peoples arguments I’m beginning to suspect you’re like
      all the others in just referencing books which affirm you position which you
      have neither read or understand or cannot actually place seriously in your
      position. *I guess you believe in quantum telepathy by the same reasoning do

      A number of times you have referred to atheistic faith. Let’s
      be absolutely clear atheism is not a faith based position, atheists feel the
      same way you do about Zeus and Thor, it’s apologetic to refer to oneself as an
      agnostic, I don’t have to describe myself by my lack of credulity regarding UFO’s

      Don’t reply Bob, that’s absolutely no problem, I made the
      mistake of actually thinking you might have an interesting point being both a
      believer and being scientifically trained, some original well-argued points or
      at least an expressed understanding of the literature to which you refer. It’s
      no problem I’m rather busy with my current scientific career anyway.

    • Will

      Matt, it would seem you are the fly in the ointment here – given a
      propensity to troll for posts. Bob crafts a fine article for the believing community -
      and it would seem, you are on the outside looking in. It appears you do not like that view. Just open the door and let Him enter, or continue to keep it locked.

    • Matt

      I’m not the one making personal insults at every turn, rather trying to challenge a position yet I’m the troll?

      I’ve done the reading a much more yet I’m closed minded?

    • duhem

      Matt, “ad hominem” means “to the man”. I have not criticized you, your honesty, your intelligence, your writing style or syntax, because those are irrelevant to your arguments. You have made blanket statements (quoting roughly), e.g. “neuroscience shows there is no soul”, “neuroscience rubbishes Chalmers”, etc. without supporting links or evidence. You have impugned the intelligence of believers by claiming all scientists are atheists, (or the majority)–and whether this be true or not, it is logically irrelevant to the truth of the proposition that God exists, and by statements implying that the faithful are less intelligent or less informed than atheists (which are indeed “ad hominem” arguments). I’m not sure what you’re trying to achieve by posting in this forum, because you do not seem to have an open mind, willing to consider arguments that oppose your faith in atheism. By the way an open mind and skepticism of preconceived ideas is a characteristic of a good scientist. (and that last is an “ad hominem” remark). Your arguments are not sufficiently cogent to unconvert those of us who follow this column, but perhaps you are simply venting.. and if so..well, that’s one purpose achieved.
      We live in a generation that is poorly schooled in critical thinking, that is ignorant of the achievements of Western civilization, that knows little of the history of science or of philosophy, and it is this generation that purveyors of popular science (interpreted according to their own bias) like Dawkins is attempting to indoctrinate.
      I will pray for you that your mind may be opened to judge ideas without the bias of a thoughtless atheism.
      Bob Kurland

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  • Pat Payne

    Yoda doesn’t have a soul. Frank Oz has a soul :).

    Because someone had to say it…

    • duhem

      Who’s Frank Oz, or am I a couple of generations behind?
      Bob Kurland

    • Pat Payne

      Frank Oz is one of the “Muppeteers” (he was the voice of Miss Piggy, Fozzie the Bear and Gonzo on the original “Muppet Show”) and also performed as Yoda (both vocally and as the puppeteer) in all the “Star Wars” films.

    • duhem

      OH…thank you!