Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Science Playing God

Readings for Wednesday, July 11:

MacWilliams, "Science Playing God," in Religion in Science Fiction (80-94)
   In this essay MacWilliams analyzes two key texts- Frankenstein and The Island of Dr. Moreau- and shows how they helped to initiate the common theme of "Science Playing God."  Read this text carefully, and think about other media that you've read or watched that plays on this theme.   If you aren't familiar with the texts that MacWilliams discusses, consult Wikipedia.  How do we think of science differently today than during the 1800s?

Chiang, "Catching Crumbs From the Table"
   This short science fiction story was published in a scientific journal, of all places.  It imagines what an article in that journal might look like in the future, summarizing the history of scientific research and technology.  Pay close attention to how computers and machines are treated in this future society.

Fulda, "Godshift"
    Nancy Fulda is a contemporary writer whose short stories are just starting to win some important awards.  "Godshift" is a riff on the classic Science-Gone-Wild motif, but it uses contemporary physics as its setting.  Have fun with this story, and think about its theological implications. What is Fulda saying about God here?

Finally, we'll be reading Brown's "Answer" in class tomorrow.  No need to read it in advance, but bring your syllabus with you to class so you'll have it in front of you.

Comment below with responses to these three readings!


  1. I found 'Godshift' to be the most intriguing reading for today. After reading it I also thought back to the Science Playing God article and how that spoke of scientists in the Sci Fi stories to have a sort of 'god complex'. I think Pierre definitely recognized the incredible power he had but instead of realizing how much harm it could do, he could only focus on how much power it gave him and what he could do with that.

  2. I enjoyed the Godshift article. I found the combination of string theory and God to be entertaining. If religion is going to combine with science it's possibly going to have to answer complicated questions. These answers can only be found through exploration of new ideas.
    Although I don't fully comprehend how metahuman science is even possible, I'm interested to see where the people pioneering this are headed. If we can expand our mental knowledge through the use of computers, I'm interested to see how this will effect society. I can only hope it would better society, but I hate commercials and If people start putting commercials in our heads I'll go crazy.

    Michael McCarthy

  3. Chiang's short story was very interesting and disturbing to me. I say disturbing because I can actually see this being a possible future (in a sense). For in a way we are already doing this. If you change the Metahumans to our generation and new technology, and the regular humans into the old generation and old tech, its almost identical. For we have simply looked over the old ways of communicating and doing things in our daily lives cause we have conquered such simple task. technology has shaped this current generation, which is why parents try to stem them away from it as much as possible so they dont lose their child, a battle some are currently losing.

  4. I, and I'm apparently not alone, found Godshift to be the most interesting of the readings we were assigned. As I began thinking about the content of the story, the more incredible it seemed to be. The idea of God, not necessarily as an arbitrary creator and master of all things, but as an inter-dimensional being with potentially limited abilities or methods of functioning? in the story, Pierre's primary thought seems to be that by altering the nature of the universe, by allowing understanding of the multiple dimensions and the observance of such, is that the fundamental nature of 'God' is completely and irrevocably changed, thus leading to the aberrations in his experimenting. An alternative occurs to me, wherein God is in fact a... powerful inter-dimensional being, who, on a foray into our own existence, created us, interacting with our species briefly before moving on, allowing stories of his presence to be passed down and changed. This raises hundreds of possible alternatives for history, both secular and religious, as we know it to be changed. Suppose Jesus Christ is another of these 'beings' and some event at the change of the century alerted him to our presence, leading to his travel here? Supposing in the story that our reaching the level of technology required to interact with different dimensions is actually the... not the awakening of god, but an alarm of sorts, bringing his attention, and his actions, onto our beings. A very thought provoking, very interesting piece.

  5. The commonality of the two stories is intriguing for me. In both cases, the Metahumans with the god-like power, and the presence of God himself, are in a state of becoming SLAVES to humanity. The Metahumans will probably no longer be created after they've become "Science-Machines" for humanity's use.

    In Godshift, the story ends as Lefevre is about to becomes God's keeper through his mastery of science. He will be able to summon and command God, making him a God himself.

    In both cases, God becomes an INSTRUMENT rather than an individual capable of self-determination.