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Friday, September 18, 2009

This one is for you, Ken.

Regular readers of the blog may be familiar with Ken Houghton who has, of late, been a frequent commenter on my series about Left Behind. In any case, Ken and I have been bumping into each other for several years on the old intertubes and over time I have come to know that his partner, Shira, is among other things a writer of science fiction.* Given these facts, I thought both Ken and Shira might be interested in one of my latest finds.

Many of you are probably already familiar with Answers in Genesis, the "ministry" of Ken Ham that claims that everything we need to know about life is contained in the bible. Of late, AiG** has been getting attention for its propaganda showpiece, the Creation Museum, but before ground was even broken for that trainwreck, there was Answers magazine. It's difficult to describe Answers concisely, so I'll fall back on dramatic oversimplification and say it's like the glitz of Scientific American with the journalistic integrity of the Weekly World News.

Anyway, way back in 2001 Answers magazine ran an article that is, in a word, hilarious. This article purports to provide a biblical perspective on... wait for it... science fiction. No, I'm not kidding at all:

Interest in science fiction has grown dramatically in recent decades. While science fiction has predicted many beneficial technologies, the genre is permeated with unrealism, humanism, occultism, New Age philosophy and Eastern mysticism. Furthermore, science fiction is firmly rooted in Darwinism and presents a distorted view of reality.


The Creation Museum presents humans as living at the same time as dinosaurs, and they accuse sci-fi of having a "distorted view of reality"? I have never seen a pot make such claims about the blackness of a kettle. In fairness they do observe that sci-fi can have a prophetic quality to it*** and in this role isn't such a bad thing. Otherwise, however, they generally hate science fiction for a number of amusing reasons.

Regrettably, however, too much of science fiction depicts phenomena or technologies that could never exist. Franz Rottensteiner acknowledges that ‘the “science” of science fiction is often indistinguishable from magic. For example, animals becoming half-human (or vice versa), contradicts everything scientists know about the limits of genetic variation. The creation of mass/energy from nothing, or its annihilation (e.g. by a mere laser blast), violates the First Law of Thermodynamics, one of the best proven laws of science. And the notion that dead matter can transform itself into a living organism (spontaneous generation) has never been observed and flatly contradicts the Laws of Biogenesis (that life always comes from life).


Ah, yes, AiG is a bastion of scientific credibility. How could I ever forget? Oddly, I wonder what sci-fi they're reading, because I never thought "laser blasts" annihilated matter, I just thought it converted a solid into a gaseous form. And that "Law of Biogenesis" thing is a bit of an over statement since most scientists view it as meaning that modern organisms can't emerge from non-living materials. It says nothing about earlier, more primitive life. Nevertheless, AiG will grasp at whatever straws it has to in order to fight off the dreaded evolution.

In any case, if you want to nitpick the article, help yourself. I'm not going to indulge simply because it's so damned childish. It whines incessantly about how science fiction pushes an unrealistic viewpoint while simultaneously claiming that T-Rex lived happily with a man created by an invisible super-being and a woman fashioned out of a rib six thousand years ago. My irony meter can only take so much before it completely overloads, and I fear this article is just too much for it.

No, what I want to do is make a point. AiG spends a lot of time and energy denigrating sci-fi as a genre, which appears surprising at first. Why not use this medium as another way to push your viewpoint? Indeed, C.S. Lewis would be surprised by AiG's position given that his Space Trilogy is often regarded as science fiction.**** Yet, I think I understand AiG's position here, and it has nothing to do with unrealistic fiction and everything to do with the future. See, if there's one unifying theme to most sci-fi, it's that mankind has a future of some sort and that our actions help to determine what it will be. That seems a little trite, but I think it's a profound element: science fiction is a genre of ideas, of wondering. It's about speculating on the types of worlds we could build, about the type of world we have built, and using these speculations as a mirror for viewing ourselves. Moreover, even the darkest sci-fi dystopia almost always carries a message of hope: just because the future could be this way, doesn't mean the future has to be this way. At its heart, sci-fi is a celebration of possibility.

And you see, this is very threatening to AiG because their entire view of the world centers around there being no possibilities or future for mankind. In their view our future is already written in the bible. Our fate is known. The only choices we have that matter are our individual choices to either be saved or be damned. Our collective decisions- for example to explore space or combat global warming- are irrelevant because, in the end, we'll never get the chance to do either. The apocalypse will come before then and those of us who are saved will spend all eternity doing... well... nothing, really. And this is an issue that even extant evangelical sci-fi has a difficult time evading. In Shane Johnson's novel Ice, for example, astronauts discover an ancient complex on the moon. Yet, this story ends up as a retelling of the story of Noah's Ark, with one astronaut somehow experiencing this ancient set of events through the use of ancient technology. In the end, the ancient complex was built by pre-flood (and very wicked) humans, and the sci-fi setup is nothing more than a frame. And while you can call this story sci-fi, the simple truth is that it only drives home the point that from the evangelical perspective all the important stories have already been told.

People sometimes ask me how I can be happy as an atheist, and I think the answer has something to do with science fiction. In sci-fi, many things are possible and the future is, as Shakespeare said, an undiscovered country. Thus, from my view, I am living in the middle, or hopefully first few, chapters of the story of humanity. I like to think that our future is open, our story is not written, and have hope that what I do now will help in some small way to assure that we achieve greatness in the future. From an evangelical perspective, however, all the important events have already taken place save one, and its outcome is known. From that view, when it comes to the story of humanity we are living in the epilogue.

And that's why AiG hates sci-fi: because sci-fi offers hope and a future, whereas AiG's brand of Christianity***** offers neither.


* Correct me if I'm wrong on any of the details, Ken. I'm not exactly stalking you and my memory is less than perfect.

** I enjoy that Answers in Genesis shares an acronym with another disastrous failure.

*** Because if there's one thing AiG f-ing loves, it's prophecy.

**** Personally, I think the fantasy label more applicable, but that's just me.

***** Note that I am not making these claims about Christianity in general, but rather about AiG's strain in particular.

As a concluding note: Yes, this whole post is a dramatic over simplication. What can I say? It's friday.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Ken Houghton said...

Details are correct; no correction needed.

"...the journalistic integrity of the Weekly World News."

I note for the record that the WWN, when it was still publishing in print at least, often used sf writer/reviewer Tom Easton as a source. (Tom generally gave them bromides; "that would be a really interesting application" or "there are people working on similar things.")

"See, if there's one unifying theme to most sci-fi, it's that mankind has a future of some sort and that our actions help to determine what it will be....At its heart, sci-fi is a celebration of possibility."

Exactly. Which will delay The Rapture. It's a good oversimplification, and rather nice explanation of dystopic fiction.

Friday, September 18, 2009 4:58:00 PM  
Blogger scripto said...

I think AIG has copped to the billions of light years of space but they still have a problem with any time deeper than 10 thousand years. That still seems like a lot of wasted space created just for little ole us.
I grok what you're saying about science fiction. My fall from grace had a lot more to do with fantasy and science fiction than science itself. At least, that's all I was reading when I started having those "hey, wait a second..." moments about the church.

Saturday, September 19, 2009 12:18:00 PM  

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