Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Is Theology Compatible with Science, Progress and Sci-Fi?

Yes, that was David Brin's famous "Name The Beasts" riff, which I have given in numerous talks and speeches, but which was never posted online, till now.

What God Wants From Us?

In the spirit of the season, I've been getting mail asking that I offer something theological - even pastoral - for the end of the year.  (Indeed, to denote completion of a dismal decade that I first labeled the "naughty oughts.")
Perhaps theology seems a bit of a reach for an astrophysicist and science fiction author.  Or, perhaps, those professions uniquely qualify me? In any event, I'll oblige by posting two excerpts from my novels.

The first one is from EARTH (1989), a book that is getting a lot of attention today, for having predicted massive dumps of military and diplomatic secrets in the early 21st century, rattling governments powerless to keep up with amateur cunning and changing values.  (Sound familiar?)  But the excerpt that I chose for today is about a completely different matter. It portrays an argument between two theologians in the year 2038.

(Oh, note that EARTH (now in 20+ languages and a Hugo nominee) pre-dated the World Wide Web, yet was credited with predicting its blogs, tweets and hyperlinks... though my address may seem clunky compared to today's "dot" URLs. Well, you can't get everything right!)

I'll follow with this "theological" excerpt with another one, from my new novel in progress, entitled EXISTENCE.

========= begin excerpt from EARTH: p207-208 =========

 Query by T.M. --  “Monseigneur, according to the bible, what was the very first injunction laid by the Lord upon our first ancestor?”
Reply by Msgr. Bruhuni --  “By first ancestor I assume you mean Adam.  Do you refer to the charge to be fruitful and multiply?

T.M. --  “That's the first command mentioned, in Genesis 1.  But Genesis 1 is just a summary of the more detailed story in Genesis 2.  Anyway, to “multiply” can't have been first chronologically. That could only happen after Eve appeared, after sex was discovered through sin, and after mankind lost immortality of the flesh!

Msgr.B. -- “I see your point.  In that case, I'd say the command not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. It was by breaking that injunction that Adam fell.”

T.M. --  “But that's still only a negative commandment... “don't do that.”   Wasn't there something else? Something Adam was asked actively to do?

NAME-THE-BEASTS-GENESIS    “Consider. Every heavenly intervention mentioned in the Bible, from Genesis onward, can be seen as a palliative measure, to help mend a fallen race of obdurate sinners.  But what of the original mission for which we were made?  Have we no clue what our purpose was to have been if we hadn't sinned at all? Why we were created in the first place?”

Msgr. B. -- “Our purpose was to glorify the Lord.”

T.M. -- “As a good Catholic, I agree.  But how was Adam to glorify?  By singing praises?  The Heavenly hosts were already doing that, and even a parrot can make unctuous noises.  No, the evidence is right there in Genesis. Adam was told to do something very specific, something before the fall, before Eve, before even being told not to eat the fruit!”

Msgr. B. -- “Let me scan and refresh my ... ah.  I think I see what you refer to. The paragraph in which the Lord has Adam name all the beasts. Is that it? But that's a minor thing. Nobody considers it important.”

 T.M. -- “Not important?  The very first request by the Creator of His creation?  The only request that has nothing to do with the repair work of mortality, or rescue from sin? Would such a thing have been mentioned so prominently if the Lord were merely idly curious?”

Msgr. B. -- “Please, I see others queued for questions. Your point is?”

T.M. -- “Only this -- our original purpose clearly was to glorify God by going forth, comprehending, and naming the Creator's works.  Therefore, aren't zoologists crawling through the jungle, struggling to name endangered species before they go extinct, doing holy labor?

    “Or take even those camera-bearing probes we have sent to other planets.... What is the first thing we do when awe-inspiring vistas of some faraway moon are transmitted back by our little robot envoys?  Why, we reverently  name the craters, valleys, and other strange beasts discovered out there.

    “So you see it's impossible for the End of Days to come, as your group predicts, til we succeed in our mission or utterly fail.  Either we'll complete the preservation and description of this Earth, and go forth to name everything else in God's Universe, or we'll prove ourselves unworthy by spoiling what we started with -- this, our first garden. Either way, the verdict's not in yet!”

Msgr. B. -- “I ... really don't know how to answer this.  Not in real time.  At minimum you've drawn an intriguing sophistry to delight your fellow Franciscans. And those neo-Gaian Jesuits, if they haven't thought of it already.

    “ Perhaps you'll allow me time to send out my own ferrets and contemplate?  I'll get back to you next week, same time, same access code.”_

========= end of excerpt from EARTH: p 207-208 =========

Next - and finally - let me post here an excerpt from EXISTENCE (in progress). In this scene, an astronaut contemplates the tsunami of mail and requests he has received, since becoming famous for discovering a verified alien artifact  in Earth orbit, bringing it home, and awakening the virtual emissaries or simulated beings residing inside.  While he and the object are in quarantine, he deals with fan mail and entreaties, including one of a theological nature.

======begin excerpt from EXISTENCE =======

Even putting aside unsolicited requests -- if Gerald pondered only those from groups he had joined -- the list was too long to cope with... that is, unless the aliens offered some fantastic new way he might copy himself. Now that would be useful interstellar tech!

For example, what should he do about the Church of Gaia: Jesus-Lover Branch? They wanted Gerald to offer an online sermon, for next Sunday’s prayoff against the CoG: Pure-Mother Branch. Some fresh new insights could help tip the current standings.

ExistenceHCThey especially wanted to know -- as the human being who had closest contact with the artifact entities -- did he feel that any of those alien species still knew a state of grace? Like Adam and Eve, before they bit the apple?

Or, if not -- if they had fallen, just like Man -- then did each of their homeworlds also receive an emissary of deliverance -- their own race-savior -- the way one had been sent to Earth? If some of them said yes, then how similar were their stories to the New Testaments?

Lastly, if the answer to all of these questions turned out to be no... then what did Gerald think about the notion -- spreading rapidly among some Christians -- that humanity must awaken to a new obligation? A burden and proud duty to go forth and spread the Word?

 In other words, now that we know they are out there -- so many trillions of souls who wallow in unenlightened darkness -- is it now our solemn mission to head out, delivering Good News to the stars?

Well, at least it was a more forward-looking dogma than his parents’ greedy fantasy -- fixating on some gruesome apocalypse from the Book of Revelations. Even as a boy, he could see that those unctuous, “loving” prayers for an impending end-time were kind of sick, incorporating a nasty shaedenfreude --. hand-rubbing relish -- as they savored what fiery armageddon would do to all those benighted folks out there who happened to recite the wrong incantations.

And yet, he found equally unappealing the righteous atheism of some classmates at Carnegie-Mellon, so contemptuous of anyone seeking “purpose” behind it all. In restive silence, Gerald had wondered, was there an interpretation of God and Jesus that might be compatible with the spectacular universe revealed by science? Not one a measly six thousand years old, of course, but congruent with a cosmos that had endured almost fourteen billion years, so far, and containing quadrillions of stars?

At least this new zealotry -- the notion of sending missionaries forth across the light-years -- had a positive spin. Even if those proposing it had little concept of the sheer scale involved, the fantastic impossibility of sampling more than a corner of one galaxy. At minimum, it was ambitious, imaginative, forward-looking, and pondered the potential of using technology for good.

Still, a public sermon? Gerald’s stomach churned.

He turned down the CoG-JeLoB folk politely, promising to ask the artifact entities about such matters, when the moment seemed opportune.

For all I know, this kind of thing is what they meant by “Join us.”

Perhaps it’s “enlist in our religion -- or roast in hell.”

It could even be, “adhere to our dogmas -- or face an interstellar crusade.”

I can’t wait to find out.

===  end excerpt from EXISTENCE=====

Here's hoping these passages inspire a smile or two, some new thoughts? And above all, one of the most sacred things that human beings can do -- polite, curiosity-driven argument!

Joy unto all.


David Brin said...

Arlen Specter takes a swipe at the tea party before rapping two Supreme Court justices he supported --


ZarPaulus said...

I know of one creationist who tried to reconcile a 6000-year old earth with a 14 billion year old universe using relativity. Course he was still ignoring all the geological evidence.

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin, you just inspired me to read "Earth" which I've had kicking around in my bookshelf for several months now. I also think I'll be buying Existence when it comes out in e-book format (which, from what I understand (in reading the blogs of a contemporary fantasy writer), actually garners writers a somewhat larger profit than print sales).

I also read the section from Earth to my Catholic friend who is that special breed of religious person who believes in her faith... but also has a strong foundation in the sciences (thanks to her dad, who is also very religious but very scientific as well). She was enthralled at the idea of Mankind the Namer (which actually is a concept that Madeleine L'Engle touched upon in "A Wind in the Door" with the Ecthroi (or however you spell that) being Unnamers and the means of fighting them being to Name them... and thus give them a place in Existence).

I'll have to use that on my other religious friend, whom I've had several disagreements with concerning religion; he believes in Hell and that the End Times will occur... while I disagree strongly (and also half-joke that I believe in the Universal Spiritual Recycling Program - also known as reincarnation) as I've a strong love for reality and creation and don't want it to end on some whim.

Thank you for sharing those segments with us.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Carl M. said...

I have lost the link, but a few months back I read a Jewish page which was of the opinion that the men and women created on the 6th day were not Adam and Eve; Adam and Eve were created later.

This fits with the fossil record. Human skeletons go back quite a while but agriculture does begin around Eden and the archeological date isn't terribly different from the Biblical account.

As for multiplying, the command was to specific people at a time of low population. Fecundity was listed as a blessing later as well, also in a background of low population density.

But interestingly, the law laid down for the conquest of Canaan had built in population control. Land was divided up equally by family. The family which multiplied rapidly had many people per square mile, requiring many to get a job for others. The family which did not multiply could lease out excess land.

Biblical Law was anticipated the moral hazards of Henry George's solution to the ground rent problem.

Tony Fisk said...

On first reading Earth twenty(!) years ago, I thought Brin had jumped the shark. In hindsight, I don't think he jumped high enough! See what you think.

"But how was Adam to glorify? By singing praises? The Heavenly hosts were already doing that, and even a parrot* can make unctuous noises."

Erm.. 'breaking' news on what singing the Hallejujah chorus can get you (by Earth-style amateur flash mob, no less!!)

The Beast naming riff inspired me to reconsider the nature of that doleful tool of oppression 'original sin' in terms of blind obedience, but that's another story ...

(and all just sophistry from creeping secular humanists!)

*I had forgotten the parrot! Did Alex the African Grey ever learn to count?

I'll be stuck on an island in the Coral Sea when that Colbert program comes out (helping my daughter count the turtles.. and the elephants, and...)

Kim McDodge said...

Oh, oh. How I adore this work.

This is going to sound really off the wall, and is but there is a logic to this that is impeccable. Let me start with the work of Campbell and Jung and their true believers....
Contrary to accepted dogma - Star Wars, etc... there has been great good thinking done in these psychological realms for the past 3 decades by a very sharp German who has gone contrary to all the fuzzy thinking that Doc Brin has been countering and fighting all this time, with Life Eaters, his constant criticism. Wolfgang Giegerich has roundly and thoroughly taken True Belief to the wall within his own field standing alone against the hoards of undifferentiated writers, showing, cutting thru unreflected anthropocentrism, mythological morass.

First, he had the courage to spend a good part of his work as a psychologist staying with the most important image of our time, the Atomic Bomb, 2 volumes in German tracing the path of it through the age of monotheism from the time and story of the Golden Calf, when God split setting the trajectory to 1945 when this religion of Incarnation blew and we shifted from being encased like children in Nature to being ruled by law in the artifice which has used us for crafting technology into the pod now that we and nature are now encased. This is asking us to grow up and accept our roles in a trans parent society! ;\, much like the Life Eaters, once more. Go, Brin.

Then he traces the development of the bomb thru christanity to the point that the church got us literate, but went off on its corrupt power trip, and the trajectory morphed into the Enlightenment and Science. He uses Hegel's thinking to bring us to a new level of differentiation of opinion and real thought. He goes with the uncomfortable and very much interesting stance of Jung's that we do not have soul, but that the Soul has us and that we are in it exploring, collecting data and sublating nature to its will - like birds and horses being sublated into airplanes and autos.

Luckily, we do have now a four volume collection of his works:


The one that gets into the meat of the matter is vol 2, Technology and the Soul. He slides around theology and scientism and much other quicksand to stay not to literal and offers some very far out mature psycological thought in process. One thread is that the scientific framework is all we have left and we will have to hold that frame thru mess after mess......


Jonathan S. said...

She was enthralled at the idea of Mankind the Namer (which actually is a concept that Madeleine L'Engle touched upon in "A Wind in the Door" with the Ecthroi (or however you spell that) being Unnamers and the means of fighting them being to Name them... and thus give them a place in Existence).

Which in turn puts me in mind of Diane Duane's Young Wizards series of juvenile fantasy novels. The wizards in her stories worked their magic through a language that so thoroughly described something, the words used and the item described were intertwined. It was very important to get the names right, because if you changed the name, you'd change the referent. (In one of the stories, the heroine managed to free Satan from his fate of fighting Armageddon and falling, by changing the last few syllables of his name during a spell, thus giving him the freedom to one day turn back to the light...)

nowhedo: the usual reason given for boycotting the new "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" movie.

ipad accessories said...

She was enthralled at the idea of Mankind the Namer (which actually is a concept that Madeleine L'Engle touched upon in "A Wind in the Door" with the Ecthroi (or however you spell that) being Unnamers and the means of fighting them being to Name them... and thus give them a place in Existence).

Tom Crowl said...

Just for fun...

Like Schrödinger's Cat who is either dead or alive in that box:

God either exists or not...

However, unlike a cat... God has no boundaries (as generally conceived) in either time or space.

God's box must by definition be the entire universe, past, present and future.

Now opening that box is quite a trick.

First off...

opening that box (or any box for that matter) requires some consciousness, some identity with a will (decision = an idea + an action) to open the box.

And for the act to have any meaning at all, that will must be independent from God... (able to make decisions independently of the truth or falsity of God's existence).

So then Science, Reason, the Enlightenment, etc... are the ways we open this box.

And the desire to understand the universe and explore its possibilities can be seen as very much a search for God!

While to abandon that search... (like so many of the fundamentalist Right) is to actually abandon the free will they assume God has bestowed upon them.

Its actually a cowardly and extremely egotistical act. It's an abandonment of responsibility.

They will say that I have forgotten the essential need for faith!

I would disagree. It is faith that's required to make great effort without knowing the result.

The faith often referred to by the anti-science crowd is something a bit more complicated.

It's called Cognitive Dissonance

God's existence is uncertain. We must open the box.

joselitus_maximus said...

"... And yet, he found equally unappealing the righteous atheism of some classmates at Carnegie-Mellon, so contemptuous of anyone seeking “purpose” behind it all..."

If human life has a "purpose" it follows that there are humans that are "better" at it, whatever it may be.
Hence, if you believe that human live has a purpose, it means YOU BELIEVE THERE ARE PEOPLE THAT ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS.
It kills me that no one cares about this, no one never talks about it.
The laws of science work for everyone.
"God" chooses or set rules for who is "better".
"...contemptuous of anyone seeking “purpose”..."?
Kinda hard to be accepting of a belief that you (an atheist) is an inferior.

joselitus_maximus said...

I meant that ANY belief or philosophy that life has ANY purpose at all, means that there are people that are "better" than others.
Went a bit on a tangent up there, in the end.
I'll admit I'm a little biased on religions, since they try to legislate THEIR beliefs into regulating MY life.

JuhnDonn said...

Not sure about all this God stuff but as for existence, I figure we're all standing wave patterns; little more than a brief rainbow that is bright and pretty for a moment and then gone. Just so, our unique chemical-electrical patterns are around long enough to look back at the stars and then we're gone. Still being eyeballs made out of star dust is pretty cool. Am glad I have dogs that require me to go out every night and so I look up and wonder every night.

For naming power, LeGuin had a bit about that in her Earth Sea novels. Really like those a lot more than the Harry Potter stuff.

Unknown said...

Your description of Existence reminds me of a short story about a Chinese diver. Are some of the same themes picked up in the novel?

Lorraine said...

So, do you really think our future will feature separate religions for guys and gals?

I suspect the word 'purpose' has been tarnished by Rick Warren, much as the word 'family' by political Christianity in general, and 'people' by the Communists.

Graeme said...

I have not read Earth, but its near future, so where does the religion that uses Catholic titles for clergy, but thinks that "sex was discovered through sin" emerge in that time? Some sort of revival of puritanism? Does not seem likely

Graeme said...

Reading more carefully I see they are supposed to be Catholics? Apart from that comment not really fitting, the whole End of Days stuff is American Evangelical rather than a Catholic idea.

It may not matter to the story, but it does not ring true either.

@Tony Fisk, original sin has been proved true: evolution favours some traits that are evil, therefore we are born with some evil in us.

Robert Hagedorn said...

Do a search: The First Scandal Adam and Eve.

David Brin said...

On the topic of gerrymandering, see

"There is no legal area with greater partisan impact than congressional redistricting. Given the stakes, it's really just a question of how far Republicans will extend themselves for partisan gain in the forthcoming redrawing. Because of Republican control of the Justice Department in all of the prior reapportionment years dating back to Nixon, the DOJ hasn't taken an active role in challenging redistricting plans since the early 1960s, when John F. Kennedy was in the White House. Would Obama have the stomach to follow JFK's example? It’s a good question we may get an answer to next year."

See my older essay:

Now that California voters have ended their own gerrymandering, period, there is a moral high ground from which Obama could wage such an assault.


Yes Matt the chinese reclamation diver is also in EXISTENCE...

Graeme, sorry, but it was the Catholics who inflicted the Book of Revelations on us all, plus the idea of Original Sin that is passed on across the generations, even unto innocent babies. Plus the direct association of that sin with sexuality.

In practice, the modern Catholic church has downplayed several of these doctrines, compare to some protestant fundamentalist groups. Certainly the Pope seems much less eager to rail about imminent end times than - say - Sarah Palin's pastor in Wassila. But these are still doctrines, nevertheless.

Sean Strange said...

I enjoyed the excerpt from Existence, it sounds promising. I’ve often thought that the project of exploring space is essentially religious in nature, in that it requires us to build things with no immediate payoff for the sake of our highest ideals. Apollo, the Space Telescope, etc. are basically the pyramids and cathedrals of scientific civilization. But it’s interesting to think that it might be the religious missionaries and evangelists who drive space exploration; that’s an angle I haven’t seen explored in SF very often. Imagine the religious response to the discovery of extraterrestrial life; they’d probably be the group most eager to go out and let the ET’s in on the “good news”. Given that secular scientists don’t seem to be very good at inspiring the masses of humanity with a “comic-religious feeling” (as Einstein called it), we might have to settle for traditional religious feeling if we want to motivate people to ever get off this rock.

Sean Strange said...

Arrgh, of course I meant "cosmic religious feeling" :)

Ian said...

Just want to pop in this unrelated science story: a new design for solar cells can extract energy from EM radiation at IR frequencies as well as in the visual spectrum, opening up the prospect of solar cells that could operate all night (at reduced output).


Tim H. said...

On the openning question, yes, but only through compartmentalization. Humility helps also, remembering that theologians are human and fail to understand perfectly.

Acacia H. said...

Here's something that will undoubtedly tickle Dr. Brin's fancy: a peer reviewed article published in a prestigious scientific journal... that was written by eight-year-olds (who were working under the light supervision of an adult neurosurgeon). The article published was about training bees utilizing colors that helped determine color spectrums with bee vision ranges. Personally? Considering all the fears about the loss of scientific interest in children and the like? Perhaps we should start looking into what the teachers of these children did, and work to start replicating it with our own youth. Because teaching children to love science at a young age... and to do research... that is damn impressive. As is a bunch of kids getting published in a peer-reviewed journal. ^^

Rob H.

Ilithi Dragon said...

That is just fricking awesome. I say this kind of thing needs to be done in all schools. Perhaps not always a peer-reviewed journal publication, but the same kind of project with serious scientific study...

Hmmm... Imagine if we could get children, with light supervision, to do many of the tiny-steps projects that are so fundamental to science... Fostering an understanding of and interest in science at a young age, while also vastly increasing the work force available to scientists, at least for some tasks...

David Brin said...

Starship Sofa is a site dedicated to podcasting readings of great stories.
Here are links to a few of my own stories that anyone can listen-to. (They helped Starship Sofa win a Hugo Award!)

Crystal Spheres: http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/media.libsyn.com/media/starshipsofa/David_Brin_-_Spheres.mp3

Temptation Pt1: http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/media.libsyn.com/media/starshipsofa/StarShipSofa_Aural_Delights_No_57_Geoff_Ryman_David_Brin_Special.mp3

Temptation Pt2: http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/media.libsyn.com/media/starshipsofa/StarShipSofa_Aural_Delights_No_58_Ian_Watson.mp3

Temptation Pt3: http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/media.libsyn.com/media/starshipsofa/StarShipSofa_Aural_Delights_No_59_Gregory_Frost.mp3

Toujours Voir: http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/media.libsyn.com/media/starshipsofa/Jeff_Vandermeer_Secret_Life.mp3

You can find other podcasts of mine at: http://www.davidbrin.com/downloads.htm

And some stories to download for reading at:

David Brin said...

Okay trying again

Starship Sofa is a site dedicated to podcasting readings of great stories.
Here are links to a few of my own stories that anyone can listen-to. (They helped Starship Sofa win a Hugo Award!)

Crystal Spheres: http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/

Temptation Pt1: http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/

Temptation Pt2: http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/

Temptation Pt3: http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/media.libsyn.com/media/starshipsofa/StarShipSofa_Aural_Delights_No_59_Gregory_Frost.mp3

Toujours Voir: http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/media.libsyn.com/media/starshipsofa/Jeff_Vandermeer_Secret_Life.mp3

You can find other podcasts of mine at: http://www.davidbrin.com/downloads.htm

And some stories to download for reading at:

Anonymous said...

I think of the sin of Eve to be the birth of the Ego and self contemplation as a discontinuous being...You see, in order to even contemplate the question of the serpent, she would have to think of herself as a separate discontinuous being from God. If God kept a secret about good and evil from her He must be separate from her. This self exile from nature is the corruption. It is the great chasm of death. Before the ego, they walked hand in hand with God in the garden. After they wore fig leaves to protect the Ego. Not due to vanity but having to do with self preservation of the self and obscenity of the taboo associated with reproduction as it relates to a bond of continuity with a mate. We all seek continuity without dieing. Reproduction and violence are shadows of continuity interpreted by the Ego. We all have a longing for God or we feel a need for continuity while maintaining a sense of self preservation and the Ego.

Chimeradave said...

"Earth" is our Modern Science Fiction read for January at the Classic Science Fiction Message Board.


Mr. Brin, it would really be amazing if you stopped by or maybe answered a couple of our questions as they came up?

David Brin said...

Chimeradave.... go ahead and have the group send me a couple of questions at:

Have fun!

rewinn said...

Perhaps the (ostensibly) fictional Gerard would find comfort in Bishop Spong's "Jesus for the Non-Religious", an explication of an Original Intent Christianity that simply rejects the supernatural.

The Bishop explains it better than me, but basically, supernaturalist accretions helped Christianity outcompete rival faiths, at the cost of making personal, supernatural profittaking ("salvation") more important than the core value of what we might today call a universality of personhood irrespective of divine favor. The restoration of the latter to the core of Christianity would resolve a number of issues with aliens.

Of course, most Christian organizations (certainly my own Roman Catholic Church) would react with horror at Spong's notions (for reasons that may not be immediately obvious to the non-churched; for example, the modern [post-Jesus] emphasis on Adam's Fall derives from the need of the priestly class to justify its existence by means of urging the necessity of a sacrifice which requires a priestly class to execute.

Perhaps First Contact will give rise to a new Martin Luther?)

Abilard said...

Could Christianity and other religions adapt after first contact? If one assumes that religions are as most present themselves, revelations of unchanging truth, then the question can seem alarming, placing in jeopardy one of the core institutions of human societies since the beginning of our knowledge of such. Yet religions are not often as presented.

Tonight and tomorrow my mostly atheist family will be celebrating Christmas, or Christ's Mass, for you non-Catholic non-Mass-Celebrating Protestant heathens out there. Heathen is the point though, isn't it? After all, the Italian branch of my ancestors has been giving gifts at Christmas for 3000 years, which is interesting given that Jesus supposedly lived about 2000 years ago. The holiday, then called the Saturnalia, is older than Jesus, Christ's Mass, or the gaudy Protestant Christmas.

Religions evolve.

Acacia H. said...

Interestingly enough, a number of science fiction stories allow for Christianity and religion to survive First Contact. And then there are some that destroy it, such as Childhood's End, which was a rather nihilistic look at the destruction of mankind's independence and uniqueness as a species, when you get down to it. Personally, I prefer the stories in settings such as Mass Effect in which religion survives... but remains a quiet personal aspect of someone's life. (One interesting aspect of ME was that you learned of one character's being religious through dialogue with her and then the game allows you a multitude of responses concerning your own religious beliefs.)

Rob H.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Anyone remember James Blish's A Case of Conscience? It tackled a number of those questions, such as whether an alien race might have avoided the Fall, or need to be 'saved', etc. and how representatives of our various faiths might interact with them. Now I have to dig my copy out of storage, just to be properly fortified for this discussion! I can remember off the top of my head a number of sci-fibooks and stories taking a look at religion and how it might apply as we proceed out into the universe.


reefrofu: the icky foam that sometimes appears in a spontaneous generation experiment

nobody111 said...

rewinn...Are you saying that Bishop means that the reason Christians don't believe in "the force" or universal personhood without divine favor was an accidental issue of needing to compete with other religions for control?

David Brin said...

STory I'd love to write someday. A saintly Mother Teresa type who is told she is destined for heaven realizes how selfish it all boils down-to...

...and deliberately commits the mortal sin of suicide in order to go to hell and minister to the souls there.

Rob said...

There you go again, touching on Mormonism. :-)

nobody111 said...

David...That sounds like an interesting Mother Theresa story. If Anonymous (about 10 posts up) is right then the human sin that prevents anyone to go to heaven would be a refusal to give up an egocentric notion of the discontinuitios self and therefore not want to re-connect/merge with the creator. So when she got to hell she would find only other purely disconnected souls with no desire to connect with God, the force, mother nature or others. She could not interact with them and she would find that she commited suicide for nothing. That would be hell.

David Brin said...

I never said her plan would turn out well for her. I simply contend that by the described cosmology that she was taught, her action would be both impudent (questioning God's will) and profoundly more morally generous and good than any other saint.

Tim H. said...

Heinlein's afterlife was patterned after Mark Twain's, Niven & Pournelle's after Dante. I'd be interested in your take, but don't spoil the surprise.

David Brin said...

My feelings about afterlife ar 1 part angry atheism, 1 part blithe and cheerfully "What Me Worry?" agnosticism, 1 part a quasi Mormon belief that skill and hard work will please a master Çreator... for which he will reward you with MORE skill, responsibility and hard work...

...and about 3 parts Jewish attitudes that the afterlife may happen, but it is rather irrelevant to this life and the supreme importance of THIS world, rather than the next.

Ah, but you want my fictive afterlife? Have a look at:

rewinn said...

@Nadia - I should not try to condense Bishop Spong's description of early Christians, except this: their idea of universal personhood is NOT some mystical "Force" thingy or indeed supernatural at all, but rather a change away from classical Judaism's restriction of divine favor to one particular "people set apart" "Chosen by God". Early Christians believed that divine favor (whatever THAT may be) was equally available to all, regardless of tribe, family or nation. This was a radical notion for the time and place, although some Buddists tell me Jesus not the 1st to think of it.

@Dr. Brin - Doesn't your "Mother Theresa's Hypothetical Journey" echo the split in Buddism on whether you should concentrate on perfecting yourself (and personally escape the Wheel of Suffering) or on helping others perfect themselves (keeping yourself on the Wheel in order to help others escape)? The large number of doctrinal disagreements arising from this (king-like bodhisatva vs. boatman-like bodhisatva vs. shepherd-like bodhisatva!!!) might provide fuel for an almost endless cycle of fiction. The Greater Vehicle does some more noble than a focus on personal transcendence, but history reminds us that even the noblest of paladins and crusades can go astray.

nobody111 said...

@rewinn @David,
Thats interesting what you say about the Buddism arguments. I guess if you were "Awakened" to whatever was the truth to salvation you would not want others to stay alseep. But If I awakened on a burning ship I would try to help up to the point I had to catch the life raft. I don't see a scrifical analogy here with Mother Theresa. Such as running out of time or there being only 1 more seat on the life raft because God is infinite and has a plan etc. I would have to read the book and see how it turns out. So many ways you could go with that story.