Science fiction and the spiritual world view

Asara asked me a good question about science fiction and spiritual phenomena in a previous post, and it actually made me think about another topic – In all of my readings, the world views presented in SF rarely allow for the existence of the spiritual, with the exception of Stephen Lawhead and C.S. Lewis (neither are well known for their SF work). In my experience, mixing in a spiritual world with the prevalent SF atheist world view makes for a strange and interesting story, which is in some ways uncomfortable but in other ways is exciting and mind-bending. Mind bending is a good way to describe it because reading them caused me to have to corrode that “invisible divide” in my brain between science and spirituality that Sam Harris talks about in The End of Faith. Has anyone read any good science fiction that crosses these boundaries? What has been your experience reading them? Is anyone else very sensitive, like I am, to world views in fantasy and science fiction, especially when it conflicts with your world view?

    4 Responses to “Science fiction and the spiritual world view”

    1. Asara

      Jonathan, this is an interesting topic. I know you’re asking about books, but the first thing I thought of was the tv series Battlestar Galactica. The original producer was Mormon and he incorporated some interesting religious elements into the plot. I found it especially interesting that the Cylons (robots) believe in gods.

      The second thing I thought of, which was much more significant to me in my own search for truth, was a portion of, I think, one of the novels in Orson Scott Card’s Ender series. I can’t remember the exact details, but it had to do with a girl and her grandfather who believed that they were obeying the gods by performing compulsive acts like tracing wood grains on the floor. Later, the grandfather found out that another organization, in order to control the planet, had actually caused them and some others of their planet to have a form of OCD and made them believe it was because they had a special gift from the gods. The grandfather accepted this fact and no longer believed in the gods, but the girl continued to believe that it was the gods who compelled her to perform such acts. She claimed that the acts of the gods could always also be explained in human understanding, like having OCD, but that that didn’t negate the fact that it was still a gift from the gods.

      When I read this, I was already struggling with the general ideas of belief and faith, but I still considered myself Mormon. Reading this solidified, for me, the idea that there really is no way to prove (or disprove) not only the existence of god, but also any other belief system. If you’re smart enough, you can justify any system of belief once you decide on it. But then how does one originally decide on a belief system?

      At the time I read this, I was disturbed by the fact that the ways I justified my own belief system was so similar to the way the girl justified hers. I tried to figure out what the difference was between her belief and my then belief in Mormonism. If there is no way to prove or disprove a position, where does the basis for belief lie? Does it lie solely in upbringing? Does it lie solely in family traditions? At the time, I came to the conclusion that the difference was that I had prophets and leaders who still believed. If I recall correctly, her grandfather was the religious leader of the planet in some sense. I justified my own belief at the time with the assurance that the Mormon prophet would never lose his faith so easily.

      I don’t know if I’m making sense or if I’m remembering this excerpt correctly, but I remember that when I read it, I thought it held a lot of meaning and depth. It is probably relevant that Orson Scott Card is also Mormon.

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    2. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      Orson Scott Card’s Ender series is awesome — but i can’t really say that because I only read the first one in the series. A good friend of mine got the rest of the series for me for Christmas last year, but I still haven’t read them. You are right about movies! My next door neighbor mentioned Serendipity had a spiritual world view associated with it, and I remember seeing the movie, which brought up some awesome philosophical issues regarding free will and good behavior, a topic that I am currently struggling with greatly.

      I also thought about the movie Bicentennial Man with Robin Williams. I hated the movie tremendously, and everyone else that saw it couldn’t see anything wrong with it. I guess I am REALLY sensitive to world views presented in movies. The movie basically promoted the idea that what makes a human is nothing more than something a smart person could eventually make, which I passionately disagree with now and back then – I have always thought that the essence of a person has nothing to do with their 3-dimensional exterior (as I have argued in past posts… won’t drag that up here 🙂 but something supernatural.

      I’ll finish the comment later… sorry be right back. Company just came!

      Ok… I’m back. Anyway, another area you are talking about has been one that has been most consuming my interest. Of all the things I hate most about Reformed Theology, it is the fact that God supposedly allows people to be born in all kinds of cultures and religious backgrounds, but never lifts a finger to help them know Him, he only helps the chosen, who 80% of the time come from ‘Christian’ backgrounds or cultures. I’ve had to throw out a lot of my long held beliefs about theology to root out any mixture of this thinking. I am now thinking along different lines – that God does not determine your eternal destiny based on your good or bad behavior, but on how you respond with the revelation that you were given (real divinely inspired glimpses of God) Some people have a lot, some people only get a little. How you respond to those glimpses of the revelation – move towards them or ignore them, determine your eternal destiny. I need to explain this a lot better, and I think I will do so in an upcoming post. I really need to argue with myself in writing about it. 🙂

      One of the key things I’ve learned (from C.S. Lewis and others) Is that there is no one correct religion – they all have at least some truth to them, and also have some crap. The idea is to find the one that has the most truth and the least crap.

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    3. John Remy

      Asara, you make perfect sense. I’ve had a variety of strong political and religious views over the years, and I’ve been able to justify each position with strong rational and emotional defenses. I’m currently more of relativist.

      Jonathan, perhaps another method is to pick and choose the truth, and reject the crap? Also, I hated film version of Bicentennial Man, but for different reasons than you. Asimov’s original novella is one of the most moving pieces of SF I’ve ever read. He explores the humanity of the robot in a way the movie was unable to. Even when I believed in a soul, I was pretty sure that intelligent, feeling beings were capable of having them. I considered myself primarily a biological machine, and so much of what makes us who we are is definitely physical–consider personality and character transformations by people who suffer head injuries, strokes, clinical depression and hormonal imbalances. Anyhow, my favorite SF is that which intrudes on the realm of theology. 🙂

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    4. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      Ok – finally back from Thanksgiving now and writing again after a nice break (and close to burnout).

      Ironically, I never read Asimov’s book behind the movie Bicentennial Man… I probably should. Even though the reasoning that robots can have a soul is a belief I am very antagonistic towards 🙂 (no surprise there) I still really liked I, Robot and all of the Foundation Series books because they had robot characters. I guess it is because Asimov never seemed to push the idea that they had a soul like the movie did. When reading his books, I was always fascinated by the human / robot interactions in society and the complexities of artificial intelligence existing in the midst of humanity. You said that you love to read books that combine the scientific and the spiritual – do you recommend any – maybe a top 2?

      John – I do agree with you that many things do influence our character, outlook on life, perceptions, etc. But it seems to me that the things you listed are all environmental influences external to a person. I even consider my brain and its many dysfunction possibilities, whether trauma-induced or chemical, external to the ‘real’ me. I don’t always trust my emotions either because they can be influenced by environment (or chemical) factors. Of course, this should come as no surprise either 🙂

      Out of curiosity, have you ever heard of that experiment where a person is injected with curarie (that fun chemical that stops all neurotransmitter activity), but they still perceive (sights and sounds)? Weird. I learned about that experiment in Psych 101 in college but never was able to find the reference again. It points to the ability of perception, awareness, and thought without brain or nerve activity. A dangerous experiment for sure. I would have dismissed it long ago as an urban legend, except it was from the head of the Psych department at Carnegie Mellon U. It was by a group of folks who were against the direction that B.F. Skinner was taking the discipline, towards a belief that a human being is just a complex organic robot and nothing more. It might have been disproven, but I have never heard about it or anything refuting it or supporting it since.

      Its great to hear from both of you! It’s good to have fellow Sci-Fi fans around. It’s interesting to see our varied impressions on the books we read – I always appreciate hearing other perspectives that are different then my own. I have very few friends (currently 1) who enjoy Sci-Fi and who I can talk to about it without their eyes glazing over in seconds.

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