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How we need science fiction

As an information technology worker I can assure you that my field completely lacks a sense of metaphor. Technology is amazing and advancing, but there's just nothing more there. We never have a sense of wonder when working with computer systems. More than that, science and technology tend to be destructive of our traditional metaphors (e.g., we can no longer say that Jesus is "light from light", since we now know that light is comprised of photons).

So here is part of why I appreciate science fiction so much, especially when it deals with artificial intelligence and related topics: it injects the metaphor back into technology. It helps us to find something deeper to ponder in the technology surrounding us. And it helps us to consider the trade-offs of technology by pushing the current trends to their limits. As a result, I find the dismissal of sci-fi as "genre fiction" by literary critics to be silly and short-sighted.

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Category: books Tags: sci-fi

The Theodicy of Worthing

Orson Scott Card's The Worthing Saga is an excellent read. I bought the novel on a lark with some gift card money, and I don't regret it. Card's storytelling has got me itching to beginEnder's Game, among others. One of my favorite features of the Worthing story is that it fits well with my hobby horse, sci-fi and theology.

The story of Jason Worthing is at its core a theodicy. In place of God are men with advanced technology and enhanced genetic abilities, but the question of evil is the same. If someone could prevent pain, why wouldn't they? Card makes a decent argument regarding the problem of evil through the story. I'm not sure it would convince anyone to change their minds on the matter, though I can't say for sure. As for judging the quality of theodicy, I'm not sure where to start. It works for me, but I come at it with a biased perspective. However, I can say that I think science fiction (or literature in general) is a much better medium for theodicy than theological treatise.

The theodicy is not particularly well disguised, nor do I think it is intended to be. The intent is clear from fairly early on in the novel. But it doesn't get in the way. The story and characters are compelling enough in their own right so that some readers might even miss the greater theme yet enjoy the collection nonetheless.

Like all good sci-fi, The Worthing Saga uses scientific or futuristic metaphors to tell a good story. The scientific aspects are really fascinating, and there is a lot of room to spin off and tell more good stories from the premise. Indeed, the last 150 pages or so are actually short stories which are not directly related to the Worthing plot. Card does an excellent job engaging the imagination, and making you want to read more, or perhaps even write your own.

Another fascinating aspect of this book is its apparent compatibility with Mormon cosmology. Card is a Mormon, so as I was reading I kept an eye out for references to his religion. If you are familiar with LDS theology (though perhaps I am ignorant), gods are very much like men with advanced technology and enhanced abilities. So the story fits well with the fundamentals of Mormonism. I must confess, I think it would be pretty fun to be a Mormon theologian. Maybe I'll look up some LDS theology and have a read.

Read this book. And keep an eye for other good science fiction.

How Theology is like Science Fiction

My recent post LeGuin on Theology garnered the following response from a friend:

You're equating theology with science fiction?

Well, that's not what I was getting at with that post. But come to think of it, theology is like science fiction. A further interaction with the same LeGuin introduction can help us understand why.

In reading a novel, any novel, we have to know perfectly well that the whole thing is nonsense, and then, while reading believe every word of it.

Perhaps Christians and non-christians can agree that "God became man" is nonsensical, at least when it comes to human rationality. That is, the story of Jesus' incarnation, baptism, temptation, ministry, passion, death, and resurrection is impossible, humanly speaking. Yet we believe it, because we trust in God.

Words can thus be used paradoxically because they have, along with a semiotic usage, a symbolic or metaphoric usage. . . . All fiction is metaphor. Science fiction is metaphor. What sets it apart from older forms of fiction seems to be its use of new metaphors . . .

Theology is metaphor. That is not to say that it is not true. Quite the contrary, theology as metaphor is supremely true. Rather, theology is necessarily metaphor because "no one has seen God at any time." However, God has sent his Logos to be the living metaphor between himself and humanity. The incarnation was a new metaphor, a means by which God had never before revealed himself. So theology is like science fiction not in that it is fiction, but in that it uses special metaphors to communicate God to man.

LeGuin on theology

From the introduction to Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness:

The artist deals with what cannot be said in words. The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words.  The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.

If you replace the concept of fiction with the concept of theology, LeGuin (an atheist) has unwittingly given a fairly eloquent definition of the task of theology. The introduction itself is a rather fascinating treatise on science fiction, and the novel is an excellent read.

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Category: quotes Tags: sci-fi

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