I was on this panel at the con yesterday, and while we were all civil and polite, I think my fellow panelists, and a few members of the audience, were left feeling a bit peevish. It was the “What Does God Need With a Starship?” panel, and here’s the description.
From the Christ-like figure of Superman to the metaphysical adventures of the Enterprise, fantasy and science fiction have long explored religious and philosophical questions. What is it about SFF that touches our spirituality?
It was fun. I was the odd person out of the group, I think, because I disagree with everything.
The first question came from the moderator, and it played right into my hands, because it was the first thing I would have asked: what the heck is this “spirituality” thing? We got a couple of answers from the other panelists: one was that spirituality is a container for their “love of all people”, which is a wonderful thing to feel, but I had to point out that that’s humanism. God and the supernatural are redundant there. Another answer was that it was a feeling of “connectedness to all things” — well, great. Except that this universe is the domain of science, not religion.
I also pointed out that religion has a tendency to steal credit: there is a lot of good science fiction that explores philosophy and ethics, and that religious people like to turn around and claim that that is “religion”: nope. It’s philosophy and ethics. That you assume all discussion of morality is grounded in god-belief doesn’t make it so.
The other panelists had their revenge, though, and there was a long bit where they were cooing over those wonderful Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, an author I thoroughly detest, and because I’m obnoxious but not that obnoxious I had to chew on my tongue for a while. I did at least state that the open allusions to Christian mythology were not a feature, they were a bug, and they interfered with my ability to trust anything in the books. Crappy fictional plot holes are not rescued by coupling them to crappy religious plot holes.
One discussion that was unresolved but was interesting was the role of science fiction in demythologizing religion — how it could act as a gateway for people with a religious upbringing to explore new ideas and possibly adopt a less restrictive faith. I then learned that there is a whole genre of Christian science fiction which is supposed to go the other way: it draws in secular people and plants the seeds of faith. I’d never even heard of the latter category — I guess CS Lewis did some of that, but he’s the only one I know of — so I don’t think it was very successful, in my case.
I am not done being annoying, though. My next panel today is “Our Place in Space” at 2:00.
What are the dreams and practicalities of colonizing space? How might humanity reach beyond our planet? We’ll discuss the science of human spaceflight in reality and fiction.
My position is that we humans will not be colonizing space, ever. We might build robots that will, though.