Captain Kirk’s Dereliction of Duty or, Why Mr. Faust Has Found Himself Adrift Among the Aisles in the Church of Modern Science

By Nito Gnoci  

Science Fiction is the dominant genre in the world today, especially if we include science fiction’s annoying younger brother, the superhero industry.  Think of all those sci-fi movies and TV shows blessed by the most august and tiresome authority figures.  (Al Gore is a big Star Trek fan.)  

Science Fiction has also been derelict in its duty. 

Who does Science Fiction serve? Sci-Fi is a significant buttress propping up the established church of Scientism.  Sci-Fi flatters both rightist and leftist elites: square-jarred heroes battle alien savages along the outer space frontier while proclaiming anti-religious and anti-natalist platitudes. 

As an avid reader of the genre, I have come up with a list of the major shortcomings of the genre:  

1) Aliens: Sci-Fi stories often involve contact with numerous alien civilizations. In 1950 Enrico Fermi, in conversation with his colleagues at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, famously asked “Where is everybody?” (Meaning:  If alien civilizations exist why haven’t we heard from them?)  I don’t think the question has received a satisfactory answer.  It is unlikely other technologically advanced civilizations exist within our galaxy.  If they existed they would have already explored the galaxy, a process which takes only some hundreds of thousands of years, which is a mere moment in geologic time.    

2) Bad predictions: Sci-Fi often features time travel or routine intergalactic travel.? Instead of dubious scenarios that involve debating with Socrates or zooming to the Andromeda Galaxy for the weekend, Sci-Fi should focus on less speculative but still astonishing advances in medical, communication, and computer technology. Sci-Fi readies us for a future that will never come, and too often assumes the future will mirror the past, an assumption both unrealistic and unimaginative.  After all, what is the starship Enterprise but a British or American colonial gunboat?    

3) Genocide: What is it with science fiction and fantasies of mass extermination?  It’s troubling how often Sci-Fi's Superior Beings engage in mass murder. Super geniuses, often with great intentions and well thought out justifications, find it necessary to commit genocide – eliminate all those inferior superstitious childlike barbarians.   Influential authors like Olaf Stapledon (see Last and First Men) and Arthur C. Clarke (see Childhood’s End) seem sympathetic to this kind of mass extermination.   

4) Inadequate examination of the threat posed by technocracy: Does advanced technology concentrate power in technocratic elites?  What will happen to the masses as robotic technology progresses and they are no longer needed to man the factories and fight the wars of the plutocrats? Does scientism/materialism lead to dehumanization and despair?  If man is just a sack of chemicals, the random product of an indifferent universe, why should he possess dignity or rights?  Will a hedonistic society of abundance destroy itself?  What further drama will accompany the rise of Faustian man? 

 5) Women: Has Sci-Fi really thought about the status of women in a technologically advanced civilization? In the future will wombs be needed to procreate and will mammary glands be needed to nurture? If wombs and mammary glands are unnecessary isn’t the male body more functional? Will a technologically advanced society eliminate the female sex? ? 

6) Virtual reality: Sci-Fi’s materialists/atheists are more easily lost in the hyperreal house of mirrors known as modern skepticism.  Materialists lack access to or even awareness of a being who knows the absolute Truth.  If our universe is considered accidental and deficient man will be more inclined to find refuge in a virtual universe of his own making.  If man considers himself less than the Imago Dei he may feel incompetent to discern what’s lacking in a virtual world.  

So how about science fiction that prefers challenging our elites to groveling before them? Science fiction that doesn’t defer to the conventional unconventionalities of postmodernist philosopher Jean Baudrillard or cosmologist Carl Sagan?  Science fiction that isn’t misinformed by simple-minded positivism?  Science fiction that is more comprehensive when identifying the dangers we’ll face in the future?  Science fiction that is less “masculinist” (if I may coin a phrase)?  Science fiction that prepares us for a future that will actually come to pass?  

I'm sorry to disrupt services at the Church of Scientism, unsettling all those wizened IT billionaires and their minions worshipping like so many mantises with their broods, but it has to be done.   

 

[Ed. Note: The views expressed by the writers for "The Catholic Imagination and You" are not necessarily shared by CatholicFiciton.net.]


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13 Comments

Feb 11, 2015 Dan

Tall order, Sci-fi that deals with may come to pass, has an actually original story line, and dramatizes in a way that subtly turns readers to reconsider the things of God. Try The Pleistocene Redemption, 3rd ed in Kindle.

Feb 11, 2015 Jennifer Feuerbach

Did you read Sparrow? Or watch Babylon 5? The "Church of Scientism" is not an actual thing. I am very disappointed to see such a blog. The Catholic Church embraces science and has in fact used it to come out in favor of things such as global warning theories, against such "terrors" as untrue vaccine scares (which have been disproved by other scientific inquiry), and to give solid backup to modern miracles that it attributes to the Saints it is canonizing. If you consider yourself "Catholic" publishers, you should be wary of attacking it as a whole. Oh, my husband isn't an IT billionaire. He's a physicist who uses his hard work and knowledge to help people. We take science seriously in our family even as he attends Mass once a week. He's taken flack at work for believing in God. Would you do the same because he uses his God-given brain?

Feb 11, 2015 Norman Boutin

Well, I don't consider it science fiction, but my book, Empress Theresa, which I'm in the process of submitting for review does have an entity from space Theresa calls HAL. It's not from an alien civilization. It's a natural phenomenon, lifeless but existing indefinitely, made of dark matter which means it's not limited in size in power. Theresa learns to get control of it and this gives her limitless power. Eighteen year old Theresa is a good Catholic girl who must solve a long list of "impossible problems" using HAL as a tool. She succeeds. Here's a story about a young girl as heroine for a change. She is inspiring.

Feb 12, 2015 Matthew Bowman

What is your definition of an "avid reader"?

Feb 12, 2015 Elizabeth McCarthy

I love this article because it raises so many good points. As a side note, even if in the future science eliminates the need for a womb I do hope women will be kept around, you know for the sport of it. Anyway, I think an interesting science fiction novel to me would be a future world with Jesus as central commander. How cool would that be.

Feb 12, 2015 Declan Finn

You sir, are a fool. The ways in which you are a fool could fill an additional blog post. In fact, it has: http://apiusman.blogspot.com/2015/02/catholicfictionnet-and-dereliction-of.html Twice https://novelninja.wordpress.com/2015/02/12/why-im-no-longer-recommending-tuscany-press-to-authors/ Take your ignorant, ill-read, poorly cited concepts and stick them in your ear.

Feb 13, 2015 Manuel Alfonseca

I disagree with several things in this post: a) Sci-Fi is just a literary genre. It's not a person who serves and flatters others. The current abundance of atheistic Sci-Fi writers is not a feature of this genre, but of all of them. As every literary genre, Sci-Fi is just a mirror of the society where it is born. b) The possible existence of alien technological civilizations is currently unknown. My personal opinion about this is agnostic (we don't know whether they exist). But this does not bar them as a plot for sci-fi novels. After all, we are speaking about novels, not reality. c) Should *ALL* our sci-fi deal with "astonishing advances in medical, communication, and computer technology"? Of course, they are valid themes, but all the others should be banned? I don't think so. d) Genocide should be banned from sci-fi? Why? Are we sure we won't be subject to this temptation if we meet alien civilizations? I think this is a very important subject for sci-fi. In fact, I have used it in one of my own novels, "Under an orange sky," which can be found here, freely available, among seven others of my sci-fi/fantasy works: http://www.ii.uam.es/~alfonsec/formul.htm e) Critics 4, 5 and 6 I see just as interesting possible plots for future sci-fi novels, not as exclusive subject matters. I urge the author of this post to try his hands at them. But leave other authors their freedom to select their own plots, don't try to force them to follow your own agenda. Regards,

Feb 15, 2015 Henry

Is that why this site has no reviews of John C. Wright's works? He is an orthodox Catholic and a science fiction writer. Also, how did you miss "A Canticle for Leibowitz"? It's only the most famous sci-fi Catholic story.

Feb 17, 2015 Mike in KC, MO

A huge problem with the entire Star Trek universe is that it doesn't even address the GLARING problems presented in its own tech. It declares that 'poverty is extinct' and they have replicators that can make ANYTHING. The economic impact of such a thing would be STAGGERING, dwarfing just about anything else they do. But it's never mentioned.

Feb 17, 2015 Arnold Conrad

I am reminded of the terrible remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" where the supposedly far superior eco-loving aliens were willing and able to eliminate 7 billion sentient human beings to "save the planet." And the film presented it without a bit of irony, not one bit.

Mar 20, 2015 Nito Gnoci

I thank everyone for their comments. Jennifer Feuerbach: I fully agree with you, the Catholic Church embraces science. Fr. Stanley Jaki has pointed out that science was born of Christianity. I am criticizing Scientism not Science! Elizabeth McCarthy: Thanks! Declan Finn: I'll check out those criticisms. Manuel Alfonseca: I don't want to deprive authors of their freedom to select their own plots or force them to follow my agenda. Mike in KC: Great example of the glaring problems that render the Star Trek universe implausible. Arnold Conrad: Exactly. Those far superior eco-loving aliens seem okay with genocide. My comic book A God Replaced is coming out soon on YouTube. Sincerely, Nito Gnoci

Mar 28, 2015 Tony Breeden

Your premise is faulty, sir. Science fiction is not the dominant genre by any stretch of the imagination. Statistically, the Romance genre is sweeping the floor with all other fiction genres. In the e-book market alone, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thrillers and Nonfiction genres all out-sold Sci-fi/Fantasy in 2014. Those are just book sales statistics. Need we go on to movie & TV statistics? Your impression of the state of things does not match reality. Nor does sci-fi of necessity serve Scientism. This is a sweeping generalization that ignores that fact that much of Christian and even secular sci-fi actually serves to undermine Scientism. Scientism is, at its heart, the belief that science will discover all answers to all questions and should be taken as our ultimate authority. Chained to pure naturalism, Scientism is antithetical to pretty much all religion. Yet Christian authors have been writing sci-fi faithful to the Bible and church doctrine for as long as the genre has been recognized. Even secular authors often undermine Scientism, for Dystopian sci-fi alone stands as a direction contradiction of the claim that sci-fi serves Scientism. As for your cherry-picked examples, I will only say that these examples have almost nothing to do with your claim that sci-fi serves Scientism. If they are simply a list of sci-fi's shortcomings, I must gently submit that there is much in sci-fi you have not yet read. I myself wrote a book that deals with a dystopian universe where people escape their realworld lives by VR... until someone creates a live-action version of the universe's most popular game on a terraformed alien world. The reason I moved the premise of Luckbane to a live-action MMRPG is because Piers Anthony [you know, the Ogre, best-selling, award winning sci-fi author...] had, as I discovered before a bit of pre-outlining market research] already written Kill-O-Byte and explored the possible dangers of VR pretty admirably [and well before the Matrix, I might add]. Besides, your list of problems is arguably subjective. If anything, #4 has been overdone [Terminator; I, Robot; Matrix; etcetcetc]. In a couple of cases, you seem to have conflated Scientism with Secular Humanism [which holds Scientism as one of its pillars, but is not therefore synonymous]. Bottom line: Sci-fi serves to explore possible futures via an entertaining story. It does not necessarily serve Scientism. It is not the dominant genre. Your list of "shortcomings" is subjective, actually addressed by works you have not considered or as in the case of #4 actually exist in direct inverse of your claim.

Mar 29, 2015 Nito Gnoci

To Tony Breeden: Can you provide movie & TV statistics that the sci-fi genre is less popular than the romance genre? I focused on mainstream, establishment sci-fi. I discussed what sci-fi means to the average person. I am not saying there aren’t relatively unknown, wonderful authors who don’t worship at the church of Scientism. There is a lot of dystopian sci-fi, but I think the standard critique of technological utopianism is inadequate. It is naïve to believe that sci-fi only exists to tell an entertaining story. Sci-fi also serves the powers that be.

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