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Jan 6, 2010

Religion and Science Fiction

In his novel Contact, Carl Sagan explored the idea that religion and science are two ways by which humans try to understand the universe. Sagan's protagonist, Eleanor Arroway, is a scientist, but she finds herself in an awkward position. She has a strange experience through which she makes contact with aliens, but she returns to Earth with no objective evidence to support her claim that she actually visited with aliens who live "out there", somewhere near the center of the galaxy. She wants to share her "revelation" with others, but can she really expect them to accept her word on faith alone?

The story in Contact continues and gets even stranger when Dr. Arroway, acting on clues provided by the aliens, finds scientific proof that the universe was designed by an intelligent creator. The story strongly suggests that it is human destiny to travel into interstellar space, attain god-like engineering powers and possibly create new universes. Sagan's novel provides a great illustration of two kinds of belief: 1) belief built on faith and 2) belief that is built on objective evidence.

Sagan recently appeared on a list of science fiction authors gathered together under the title, "Beware of Science Fiction". David Cloud warns us: "Science fiction is intimately associated with Darwinian evolution". Mr. Cloud labels Sagan as "one of the high priests of atheistic evolution" and warns, "evolution IS the pre-eminent science fiction". And, in case there is any doubt, we are told that: "Sci-fi arose ... as a product of an evolutionary worldview that denies the Almighty Creator." That is, the "God of the Bible".

Second on that list of science fiction authors is Isaac Asimov. One of the famous stories by Asimov is The Last Question, in which the ultimate creation of humanity is a vast artificial Mind that has evolved from its human beginnings and then exists into the far future until a time when the last stars are growing cold. Finally, that Mind simply says, "LET THERE BE LIGHT!", and a new universe comes into being.

Is it in some way wrong or dangerous or blasphemous for science fiction authors to say that they are aware of no objective evidence for the "God of the Bible" and turn to writing stories about an imagined future in which man might evolve to have god-like powers? Is there a problem if some creation myth composed by Sagan or Asimov or some other science fiction writer seems to be more likely than the creation stories found in the Bible? Must the faithful be warned not to read science fiction lest they be led astray?

The science fiction novel "The Start of Eternity" is a collaboratively written story (still under construction) that involves some explicitly religious plot elements. In particular, the story involves Neanderthals and other extinct varieties of humans and explores the idea that there are many forms of religious thought other than just those favored by Christian Fundamentalists.

The Start of Eternity is a sequel to Asimov's time travel novel, "The End of Eternity", but it is set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe where aliens have been keeping watch over Earth for millions of years and guiding the evolution of humans from our primate ancestors. Is it blasphemous for a science fiction writer to speculatively write about the religious lives of humans who lived tens of thousands of years ago, including our distant evolutionary ancestors? If we "did not evolve from any lower form of life" then I guess The Start of Eternity must be blasphemy from the point of view of Christian Fundamentalists. Please add me to your list, Mr. Cloud.

Related reading: THE BIBLE AS SCIENCE FICTION, Pete Soderman: "I'm not godless, the universe is godless - I'm merely aware of it!", Steven Gould: "Let’s Agree to Disagree", Russell Blackford: "Godless science fiction"

Related video: Let there be light.....


Image: Euler's identity scarification by Cory Doctorow.

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