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Friday, July 29, 2005 - 12:05amSanction this postReply
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On page 37 of the July/August 2005 issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, Carl Sagan's widow Ann Druyan writes in an essay titled "The Great Turning Away" about the apparent reversion to a new dark age:

My hunch is that we are living during the twilight of the magical thinking phase of human history. Lest you think this is mere faith, I offer some evidence: Consider all the futures depicted in science fiction that you have ever seen or read; whether of life on this world or any other. How many of them imagine a future in which the dominant religious traditions and beliefs of the present survive? Remember: This is the output of countless independent imaginations of every conceivable point of view. Yet, when we imagine the future, the gods of our childhood are long gone.


I have to admit that I find this observation intriguing, though it also sounds like a grasping at straws. Unless you count the underlying (and exhausted) "hero's journey" myth as a form of religion, it does seem as if science fiction has reached a more or less secular-humanistic consensus about the future.

That aside, however, I would like something more substantial than certain individuals' published or filmed fantasy lives as a basis for hope for a more rational world.



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Friday, July 29, 2005 - 5:34amSanction this postReply
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Do the best-selling Left Behind novels based on the Book of Revelations count as futuristic stories?  What about the movie Beneath the Planet of the Apes in which the mutated humans worshipped the nuclear missile?  There was also Brother Theo on Babylon 5 who took residence on the station to study the religions of alien races.

I think Ann Druyan engaged in selective induction from the world of futuristic science fiction and fantasy.




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Post 2

Friday, July 29, 2005 - 2:27pmSanction this postReply
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Do the best-selling Left Behind novels based on the Book of Revelations count as futuristic stories?
quote
I would say they don't.  Their premise is that the Rapture and the rest of the sequence of events foretold in Revelations start right now.




Post 3

Friday, July 29, 2005 - 9:00pmSanction this postReply
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I think Druyan is ignorant of all the works on the future of the world and the culture of the world ie not just the West. Christianity, Islam are worldviews that are growing, and not subsiding, both religions have futuristic writings where ultimately all adhere to God's will.

Both also have a strong tradition in pursuing reason. It was Muslim scholarship that brought Aristotle to the West, the medieval tradition of scholasticism was incredibly rationalistic, significantly more so than the secular post modern continental philosophy that exists today and pervades everything including hollywood.

Also, movies like Star Wars, the Matrix hardly projected secularistic futures.

Madeleine




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Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 6:45amSanction this postReply
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Madeleine Flannagan wrote: "Also, movies like Star Wars, the Matrix hardly projected secularistic futures." 

Don't forget Dune.  However, I think that the exceptions prove the rule.  Generally, science fiction as a culture is based on the rational-empiricism that is contrary to faith and force.  It is, after all, science fiction.  As a genre it has been lumped lately with horror and fantasy.  However, they are distinct, just as a western is not "historical fiction" and a murder mystery set in ancient Rome is a murder mystery and not "historical fiction." The "steam punk" story Difference Engine (Bruce Sterling and William Gibson) is science fiction, not historical fiction.  Science fiction has rules of its own.  Like all artistic schools, the rules are interpretable.  (When was Beethoven "romantic" and did Shostakovich really write a "Classical" Symphony?)  Science fiction has several broad definitions.  This is the one I like:  Science fiction shows the effect on people of a new invention.

Like all "dictionary definitions" it is limited and limiting and invites discussion.  It does explain why science fiction is inherently secular -- even when it is "religious." 

The essential conflict between reason and religion was first -- if not best -- explained in Sophocles's Oedipous Tyrannos.  We call that Oedipus Rex, but he did not call it Oedipus Baslieos.  The point of the story was the illegitimate and unnatural hereditary claim of Oedipus to the kingship of Thebes and the tension between that fact and the fact that he came to Thebes as a tyrant: a self-made ruler who earned his right to rule.  (We use the word "tyrant" in a modern sense that it did not have 2500 years ago.)  In Oedipus, there are three points of view: Iocrastra is a fatalist; Tiresias speaks for the gods, of course; Oedipus is rational man.  This thread continued in Western literature, was revitalized in the Renaissance, and continues today.  The other views -- predominantly in the West, the Jewish traditions -- may be independent of this, historically, but also have been assimilated into the Western cultural tradition. 

The best example I can cite for the non-western religious tradition in science fiction is Philip K. Dick's Man in the High Castle. The viewpoint character is a mid-level Japanese diplomat in San Franciso whose encounter with unexpected violence reflects the global violence in a world where the Axis won World War II.  The best example I can cite for the western -- and therefore secular -- religious tradition in science fiction is Cordwainer Smith's "Instrumentality" stories because his all-ruling and yet humanly fallible Instrumentality of Mankind was a reflection of his Anglican Church beliefs.

If you read science fiction.  You probably have your own examples. They stand out as exceptions. For all of its many roots in fantastic voyages by Greeks and Romans, science fiction was born specifically in the industrial era in the works of Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle and H. G. Wells.  (Conan Doyle, of course, also invented another product of capitalism: the private detective story.) If you want to savor the culture that created science fiction, read engineering and science magazines from the 1880s and 1890s.  (You may need a big city or university engineering library to find them.)  New elements were being announced... experimental television existed ... new astronomcal bodies were revealed ... our galaxy was suddenly not the Universe... the atom was comprised of particles ... Leewenhoek's "animicules" were the origins of disease and the creators of wine... Gigantic bridges, tremendous railways, rapid steamships, and even submarines and flying machines... all of that at more...

I believe that eschatology comes too easily to Objectivists.  Our primary document is the story of a man who shuts off the motor of the world. The negative "sense of life" in Atlas Shrugged contrasts with the ascension that defines The Fountainhead. The so-called "Dark Ages" of European history were a peculiar interpretation by historians seeking to define their own time.  In contast, always interested in the history that supports numismatics, I was happy to find Merchants and Moneymen: The Commercial Revolution 100-1500 by Joseph Geis. The book opens with the story of a trader going from Italy to Constantinople -- in the so-called "Dark Ages."  Previous and current banknotes of Iraq have honored Abu Ali Mohamed ibn al-Hasan Ign al-Haytham (also: ibn al-Haitam, also: Alhazen, or Alhazan), lived 965-1039, a physicist and mathematician.  His relatioship to "Islam" is probably no more firm than Newton's to "Christianity."  It is true that Cambridge of 1000 AD was not the place to do good physics.  If you want to avoid the darkness, you must follow the sun.

Science fiction is a world of heroes whose success comes from intelligence. At MIT in the Spring of 1968, I heard Isaac Asimov say, "Ayn Rand stinks."  That was a hard blow to those of us who enjoyed the Foundation Trilogy with its merchant princes.  They were right in line with Heinlein's D. D. Harriman, "the man who sold the Moon."  Heinlein also wrote "religious" science fiction.  In Fifth Column religion was a ruse for an underground that was fighting a conqueror.  In Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein explored less definable ideas. 

Religion is something that people "do."  It would be odd if nothing religious appeared in science fiction.  By the same standard, it is perhaps inconsistent within Objectivism to speak of the human "spirit" or the "spirit of Ayn Rand."  There may be something truthful in the emotional expression that whatever drives Howard Roark to create is not reducible to quantum wave fields. On the other hand, Objectivism and science fiction share the assumption that whatever that may be, it is knowable.

(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 7/30, 6:47am)




Post 5

Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 7:18amSanction this postReply
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Mark Plus wrote: "I would like something more substantial than certain individuals' published or filmed fantasy lives as a basis for hope for a more rational world."
As Ann Druyan pointed out, however, this is an uncontrolled consensus of thinkers who accept a rational-empirical framework and whose ideas found and find wide markets. The belief that we can know the future and can and should control it is one of the foundations of science fiction as a genre.  When seeking the "success" of what we call "Objectivist ideas" we grasp at straws while ships go by.
Luke Setzer wrote: "I think Ann Druyan engaged in selective induction from the world of futuristic science fiction and fantasy."
I think that she was entirely correct.  It is one thing for certain beings have a religion as they have a language, it is another thing entirely to write a novel based on religion.
Steve Klein says that the Left Behind novels don't count as futuristic stories.  "Their premise is that the Rapture and the rest of the sequence of events foretold in Revelations start right now."
It is possible to mix genres. I once saw a vampire movie set in the Old West. (The sheriff killed him with a silver bullet.)  But it was really set in the 1960s because the vampire was suffering from massive alienation and was resigned to his fate. I think that was the scariest part.  And I agree that the premise of the Rapture is not "futurism" but "now-ism."  Of course, that then reflects on Carl Sagan's Contact.  Future or present?  Much science fiction takes place in the present. Here we are and then this new thing happens.  Left Behind is not science fiction because neither the problems nor the solution are technical, i.e, rational-empirical.
Madeleine Flannagan wrote: "Also, movies like Star Wars, the Matrix hardly projected secularistic futures."
I disagree. While "religion" is a factor in both, I think that the two views of religion are different and neither one is religious in a truly mystical sense. In Star Wars, the Force does have the essential elements of religion.  In the Matrix, religion is a construct or a presentation.  You mean the fact that Neo is "the One" and I agree that this is Morpheus's "religious" explanation of who or what he is seeking.  Again, though, it is a construct. 

Seen from another perspective, I do agree that those are examples of "religion" in science fiction.  While mainstream science fiction is rational and empirical and technical and so on, there are works that while science fiction are none of those things.  The so-called "Dangerous Visions" era of the 1960s and 1970s brought irrational, anti-rational, subjective, non-empirical, plotless science fiction, now called "speculative fiction."  Kate Wilhelm is perhaps still the focus for much of that. 

On other hand, we have the Dancing Zen Cats of Physics who prove that nothing is real and that multiple universes intersect our subjective expectations of reality, or whatever.  That does not show that physics is irrational. 




Post 6

Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 7:57amSanction this postReply
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Hmmm, ya'll went 5 posts talking about secularism in science fiction and didn't once talk about Star Trek :)

Funny thing about Brother Theo, if you remember the story right, they initially didn't want anything to do with him and the only time religion was brought up was around him.

Mr. Marotta, thanks for regonizing that alternate history IS science fiction, I hate it when people miss that step. I didn't really like 'man in the high castle' it was too long winded. But I wonder if Stirling 'Draka' series would fit under your criteria?





Post 7

Sunday, July 31, 2005 - 5:54amSanction this postReply
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Clarence Hardy wrote: "Hmmm, ya'll went 5 posts talking about secularism in science fiction and didn't once talk about Star Trek."

Well, yes, that would be one of the essential examples.  A succinct biography of Roddenberry (1921-1991) appears in the Internet Movie Database here: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0734472/bio   Note that he and Majel Barret were married in a Shinto ceremony because Roddenberry had no religion -- which is perhaps odd for a man who had so many scrapes with death... or perhaps not.

In the Old Star Trek, Spock is elevated in the eyes of the viewer by his habit of "meditating."  There are other ceremonies, a wedding, I think, but the trappings are all abstract and unidentifiable.  The one glaring counter example is "Bread and Circuses" a story set on an alternate Rome planet where slaves worship "the Son." (the homynyms sun/son are a red herring).  This episode is attributed to Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon.

In the ST:NG series, religion might get a few nods, but it is not until DS9 that religion gets a front seat with the Bajorans, their P'a and Kai, and all that.  Through this, though, I see the underlying assumption that whatever "we" regard as "God" or "god" etc., is merely contact with beings like us, but different.  They might perceive time as we perceive space, but they are not truly supernatural, only alternately natural, still subject to the laws of physics, etc., though obviously understanding and therefore commanding more of that than we do. These are very natural gods.

Below and through all of this, a deeper and broader assumption, is the very secular idea that we control our own destinies. 




Post 8

Monday, August 8, 2005 - 6:05pmSanction this postReply
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Clarence Hardy writes,

Hmmm, ya'll went 5 posts talking about secularism in science fiction and didn't once talk about Star Trek :)


Not to mention Stargate SG-1, which has taken a definite naturalistic view of religious belief all along. How many "gods" do Richard Dean Anderson and his Canadian co-stars have to slay before the audience catches on? Indeed, after the alien pseudo-deity named Baal entered the story, I half expected to hear some reference to his ancient competition with Yahweh.



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Monday, August 8, 2005 - 11:42pmSanction this postReply
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How many "gods" do Richard Dean Anderson and his Canadian co-stars have to slay before the audience catches on?
They've given up on the subtlety in the latest season.  The new enemy is plain old blind-faith religion.  They even have some discussions about whether very powerful beings within nature count as gods.  Gotta give them credit for that.  Although, now that MacGyver is gone I don't know how they'll ever live up to the previous seasons.

Sarah





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