A few years ago, while I was still director of the Honors Program at Southwestern Adventist University, I agreed to team teach an Honors Seminar with my friend, Dr. Renard Doneskey. We had already successfully taught a scriptwriting class, and had a ball doing it. This new endeavor was entitled “Christianity and Science Fiction.” It wasn’t our intention to tell how Christianity was right and science fiction was wrong, or how good Christians didn’t read science fiction. Instead we wanted to see examples in literature and the movies where the two of them overlapped, both in positive and negative ways.
At their core, Christianity and science fiction have the same goal: to explain our place in the universe. Who we are, where we came from, where we are going. Ideally, Christianity does it from a faith perspective, while science fiction does it from a science (duh!) perspective. However, most scientists and writers who write hard science fiction base their perspective from an evolutionary or a secular humanist philosophy. It made for some interesting discussion, especially since some of the more conservative Christians in the class thought they could get through it without reading the assigned pieces of science fiction! The other challenge was getting students used to using only Bible and Spirit of Prophecy writings out of their comfort zones and actually quote from some secular sources to support their Christian ideals.
We started out the class by having the students read the classic “Nine Billion Names of God,” written by Arthur C. Clark. The story is of a mainframe computer company that is hired by a monastery high in the Himalayas to install their latest computer. The monks there tell them that for centuries, their task has been to write out the nine billion possible names for God. When God’s true name is finally written out, the world will end. The story is told from the perspective of the technicians who install the computer. As they head back down the hill on the backs on donkeys, one estimates that the computer will have completed the task as they are speaking. And they look up to see the stars above their heads winking out, one at a time.
We look at a variety of science fiction stories after that, finishing with an episode of “Stargate: SG1” in which the crew inadvertently causes the sun of a planet to begin failing because of their travel to that planet. The people of that planet believe that their God will take care of them, and refuse to evacuate the planet. In the meantime, the SG1 crew negotiates with high level race of aliens to assist them, who refuse to. In the end, the planet is rescued, but it is left for the audience to decide whether it is science or the race’s faith that has saved them.
In an age where we depend on science and technology for not only the conveniences around us, but for explanations of why things happen, it is important that we who are Christians have a proper perspective on science. When science gives us an explanation for something that on the surface seems to contradict what we believe as Christians, we shouldn’t be in a hurry to choose one or the other. Rather than there being a lack of faith in Christianity on our part, or a lack of scientific understanding, sometime it is simply a matter of rephrasing and reshifting our viewpoint. Case in point: I watched my parents get into an argument one time because my mother referred to the stars falling in Revelation, and my father (ever the contrary scientist) said it was impossible for stars to fall; that they were fixed bodies out in space. I stepped in to explain that the stars weren’t really falling; it was a matter of viewing a meteorite shower. It happened, but one couldn’t use a literal translation of the Bible.
I look at writing in science fiction as an opportunity to talk about issues in society and life that affect us both fr0m a scientific and from a spiritual viewpoint. My latest effort is entitled “The Kiss of Night,” and follows the spread of a virus across the United States as it makes everyone fall asleep. Metaphorically, I am talking about our attitudes about death by using something we all experience: sleep. We are comfortable falling asleep at night because experience has taught us that we will wake up in the morning. But what if that confidence, that faith, was shaken? What if there was reason to believe that you might not wake up? In that case, we become less willing to fall asleep. For those of us who believe that death is simply like sleep until we are resurrected, the parallels are obvious. And it gives me an opportunity to talk about other related issues.
Another science fiction piece I have in mind is called “The Well of Souls,” and is based on the premise that a scientist has found a way to map and collect all the experiences and knowledge within the human mind. In essence, what he does is trap the mind of a human within a computer database. When he uses holographic imagery to represent the person, it soon becomes confusing to the mind trapped in the computer whether it is the real person or not. The story raises the question: if we know that what we are is saved in a computer somewhere, do we really need to worry about life after death. And later the story asks the question: does another person have the right to capture our essence for his or her own purposes and use it, literally making us a slave?
That’s what I am exploring with my writing these days. As always, I welcome your comments.