Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Science Fiction as Adam's Apple

The Human Words of God speak of the Creation in terms that could be understood by the men of old. There is no talk of galaxies or genes, for such terms would have confused them greatly! But must we therefore take as scientific fact the story that the world was created in six days, thus making a nonsense of observable data? God cannot be held to the narrowness of literal and materialistic interpretations, nor measured by Human measurements, for His days are eons, and a thousand ages of our time are like an evening to Him. Unlike some other religions, we have never felt it served a higher purpose to lie to children about geology.

~ Of the Creation, And of the Naming of the Animals. Spoken by Adam One, founder and leader of God's Gardeners. (The Year of the Flood: A Novel by Margaret Atwood, 2009)

Over the past week an ignorant attack on science fiction by David Cloud of the Fundamental Baptist Information Service has been making its way across the SF blogosphere. I started to write a detailed post about what was wrong with Cloud's reasoning, but once you get past the major underlying problem - that he rejects post-18th century science while claiming that he doesn't -  the rest is mostly trivia.

For example, the 5 dead authors Cloud lists (Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Vonegut, Sagan, Roddenberry) do not represent all science fiction authors, who come from many different religious backgrounds and sometimes write religious-themed science fiction.   There's even a whole blog devoted to religion in science fiction which is a great resource for people who are actually interested in the subject.

Cloud also puzzlingly calls astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan a "prominent evolutionary scientist".  I suspect that Cloud is using the term "evolution" to mean "science that conflicts with my world view" (i.e., all modern science),  which then makes a certain kind of sense to consider an astronomer an "evolutionary scientist" and to claim that science fiction is all based on an "evolutionary worldview".  Perhaps that's common usage among Cloud's target audience, and he simply doesn't care that it makes it appear that he is too lazy to look up basic facts to the rest of us. Or he really thinks that all science is evolution (??). 

Anyway, beyond my amusement that someone out there seems to believe that most science fiction arose from and is based on evolutionary biology, I actually find myself agreeing with Cloud's basic premise. No, not that evolution is false. Rather that science fiction often gives the appearance of simple entertainment while insidiously promoting a scientific world view.

In most science fictional universes it's assumed that the Earth and the stars are billions of years old, that species - including man - can change over time and be changed by scientists, that our exploration of astronomy and physics and chemistry will eventually carry us to the stars,  that there are other wolds that also carry life. Even when the science in SF is inaccurate or scientists are portrayed as evil or immoral, the underlying assumption is that science works.  I can well imagine science fiction inspiring in a curious reader (or watcher) a lifelong interest in the natural world or even lead to a career as a scientist.

Add to the mix of entertaining stories and scientific worldview the irreligiousness (or non-Christian religious beliefs) of many SF characters, and it's easy to imagine science fiction leading impressionable minds astray from Cloud's version of Christianity.

And that's not a bad thing at all.

(link via Steven Gould)

Image: Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster propaganda


  1. I suspect that the issue with Cloud is that for modern day fundamentalists "evolution" means something very different from what it meant in Darwin's day.

    Many of Darwin's Christian opponents would have been perfectly happy with the universe being billions of years old, as long as they could still say it was created by God. What upset them was the idea that humans were descended from apes, rather than created fully formed by God.

    The modern day fundamentalist, however, goes much further. They insist on clinging to the idea that the Earth, and the rest of the universe, was created around 6,000 years ago. Anything that suggests otherwise classes as "evolution", and therefore all cosmologists are "evolutionists" by default.

  2. Interesting coincidence! I recently wrote about the other side of the coin again (after doing so earlier with The Double Helix). This addresses your important point about the strong link between science and SF:

    Science Fiction Goes MacDonald’s: Less Taste, More Gristle

  3. I was thinking about Cloud's use of the term "evolutionary scientist". If you use the term evolution for astrophysical processes, Sagan belongs to that category: like all scientists whose views are dictated by fact, Sagan agreed with the models of stellar evolution and with the Big Bang description of the universe, instead of Hoyle's completely discredited Steady State.

  4. You're right, it's not a bad thing at all. I've always held that if you're going to be religious, at least be rational.

    Cherly: I never understand why people were so threatened by the idea of being descended from apes. It seems to me that with the kind of lazy thinking Cloud and others of his ilk go by, you'd expect them to simple go "oh, well evolution is real, but God still did it." Some do that, but inevitably the push against reality is absurd, and often littered with lies beyond imagining (you should try explaining to a young Creationist why evolution and the Big Bang are not the same thing...it's impossible).

    Athena: That's the problem for a lot of Creationists. They can't separate evolution as a biological process from the use of the term "evolution" to explain cosmological changes. They think it's all the same thing simply because we use the same term for both.

  5. maverick000102:40 AM

    I always read this kind of things when it`s too late.


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