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Worlds Without End Blog

First Things on Science & Religion in Sci-Fi Posted at 5:11 AM by Jonathan McDonald


First ThingsRobert R. Chase has a long and interesting article about the ambivalence of science fiction writers when it comes to depicting religion in their novels. He discusses such authors as Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Robert J. Sawyer and Gene Wolfe, among others.

An excerpt:

Last year, the blog SF Signal asked writers to weigh in on the question of whether science fiction is antithetical to religion. Fifteen writers took up the challenge. Their outlooks ranged from the sharp-edged atheism of James Morrow to the enthusiastic Christianity of the convert John C. Wright. Readers—and, no doubt, the editors—expected loud anathemas, biting sarcasm, and lordly sneers. Instead, to their surprise and disappointment, a polite consensus emerged: No, the two are not antithetical.

The reasons were varied. Some referenced the many religious science-fiction books and authors as proof that science fiction and religion cannot be antithetical. The atheists, for the most part, recognized that religious belief is a general human characteristic that is not likely to go away, Arthur C. Clarke to the contrary, and that writers thus must be willing to take it seriously to describe characters realistically.

Read "Science Friction" at First Things


jwbjerk   |   15 Apr 2010 @ 18:18

It’s pretty clear to me that sci-fi, especially classic sci-fi has an over-all anti-religious bent. But i agree with the article, sci-fi doesn’t have to be anti-religious or religion free. To the writers already listed, i’d add Orson Scott Card, who has incorporated religious themes and ideas deeply into many of his books. Some of the best sci-fi works deal with religious questions, and other sci-fi works have hurt their plausibility by the over-aggressive deletion of religion from many imagined future societies.

Pierre   |   15 Apr 2010 @ 20:49

Excellent article. Thanks for sharing. I also tend to agree with the author though I prefer novels which relate more to human values in their stories rather than some distorted religious theme.

Wintermute   |   16 Apr 2010 @ 22:25

Piggy-backing off of Pierre’s point perhaps "human values" are inseparable from "religious theme" or if people don’t like the word "religious" then let’s use "transcending". Up to this point in our evolution it seems to me that we humans need something greater than ourselves to believe in. Without some greater aspiration people become bored with navel gazing. Even if they are atheistic they will take up some cause. So I am not surprised that the consensus that emerged was that they are not antithetical, since sci-fi is about human values in futuristic settings and part of those values is the desire to believe in something transcendental.

Pierre   |   17 Apr 2010 @ 10:36

A discussion on politics or religion is as many opinions as there are people. They both have a common modus operandi though: Power. It is so best acknowledged in the Dune series which spans millenia and corroborated from our own history over centuries, as a probable warning from Frank Herbert’s classic tale, among others. To pursue the image of Wintermute, Paul and Leto do transcend this power and carry it, somewhat successfully, to a higher level of existence, to the consternation of the "religious" Bene Gesserit.

htaccess   |   18 Apr 2010 @ 20:27

Not sure how he could miss behold the man ….

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