Over 4 years ago, I wrote an essay that caused me to seriously think about writing something like Johnny Came Home.
At the time, I was writing Øtherworld, a sci-fi tale with fantasy overtones. I was having a hard time finishing it, so I wrote this essay to sharpen my focus a bit. The idea was to define my over-all aim as what fellow author JC Lamont terms a “literary apologist.” I managed to do that, but the essay is more noteworthy for the brainstorming session it contains. This updated version of Faith-Based Sci-Fi As Exploratory Apologetic continues in that tradition.
Now by all accounts science fiction is a bit of a hard sell for the Christian book market. The reason for this is bound up in our eschatology, our beliefs about the End of All Things. End Times views within Christendom come a few clearly defined and argued categories. Most folks are familiar with the Darbyist view [pretribulational dispensationalist Rapturists] on which Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind series was based. If Christendom has an established sci-fi market, it is predominantly for this specific flavor of End Times fiction. And who can blame us? It’s exciting stuff. A small, desperate, but resolute band of believers beleaguered by the all-powerful AntiChrist, a megalomaniacal dictator in control of a fascist New World Order. The story has a powerful opening hook: the sudden disappearance of every Bible-believing Christian on the planet and climaxes in the bona fide War to End All Wars, the Armageddon, and the Triumphant Return of Christ. The setting and the Bible’s mention of martyrs and divine judgments make any half-decent effort a gripping read.
If the selective mass market offerings of Christian book chains are any indication, this is the only sort of exploratory apologetic we have. I remember browsing the local Christian bookstores, just bored out of my mind. With few exceptions, I was looking an endless sea of romance novels, marketed at women. I’m a guy, so I’m into science fiction, fantasy and action thrillers. I remember thinking, “Why should I be forced to get the stuff I actually enjoy reading from secular bookstores in novels written from a non- or even anti-Christian worldview?”
What about the stuff of traditional sci-fi? What about alien worlds? Aliens? Space travel? Artificial Intelligence? Where was the Christian exploration of these subjects? In essence, why couldn’t I read “Do Android Prayers Reach the Ears of God?” [in the tradition of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, the inspiration for the movie Blade Runner]?
Let me tell you some specific things I’d like to see addressed:
- How the Second Coming scenario would be affected by extraterrestrial colonies. What does the Rapture or the Second Coming look like from space? Let’s not make the mistake in our thinking that my grandfather’s generation commited when they boasted that God would not allow us to put a man on the moon because he hadn’t allowed man to finish the Tower of Babel. God didn’t allow man to finish the Tower because we had disobeyed His explicit command to inhabit the entire Earth; instead we were gathered in one place and God saw that disobedient mankind would be able to whatever evil they set their minds to if we remained united. It had nothing to do with some imaginary prohibition on reaching the heavens! The lesson of man reaching the moon [conspiarcy theories aside] is that we should never make the mistake that God will limit our horizons to keep our doctrines as simple as we’d like!In fact, that is the entire point of exploratory apologetics: to anticipate a Christian response to something we currently find implausible but which could come to pass in the future. My next point is a prime case-in-point.
- The possibility of non-sapient extraterrestrial lifeforms. I know that some special Creationists simply say that since the Bible is silent on life beyond this planet and since “extraterrestrial life is an evolutionary concept” [I think they’re referring to the idea that if the universe is billions of years old that some allege life elsewhere is almost inevitable. It’s not inevitable. Even if it did exist, our connecting with it is improbable], so there’s no such thing as extraterrestrial life. This is the sort of baseless dogma that has shot Christendom in the pants in the past. If the Bible is silent about a subject, it does not automagically [no, I didn’t mis-spell that] follow that it must not exist. An argument from silence is one of the weakest of all possible arguments. If it does exist and we have not considered that possibility, many will feel that our worldview has been invalidated because a few boneheads decided a priori that it was impossible based on negative evidence.It seems possible that the Revelation passage which speaks of Wormwood falling to earth and a subsequent invasion of locust creatures may speak of such non-sapient ETs. They come up out of a smoking pit [a crater] in the wake of Wormwood’s impact. Of course, it’s also possible that said locust creatures are indigenous to earth and are simply subterranean creatures we have not yet encountered set free by the blast. These are just speculations.Yet it should be noted that non-sapient ETs, even with intelligence on par with dolphins, apes or insects, pose no threat to any Bible doctrine. Genesis simply notes that God created creatures according to their kind, so we would expect xenomorphs to be classifiable by kinds. They would simply be subject to the same Fallen Universe we inhabit together.
- The possibility of sapient alien life. How would that jive with Biblical doctrine? I know that Jason Lisle has objected that sapient ETs would either need a Christ who died on their planet for them [which he correctly points out would violate the scripture that Christ died once for all… IF this passage applies not merely to men but to all sapient lifeforms! And that’s a stretch, guys.] or that these aliens would somehow need to accept the Terran Christ for salvation. I’m not sure his argument is valid. Since these aliens would not be of the bloodline of Adam it’s possible they would not ever need to be saved. One may object that moral choice would imply accountability. If sapient ETs are fallen and there is no way to ascertain this in advance, they would need a means of salvation. It does not follow that God will grace them with one, for an examination of Scripture makes it strongly suggestive that angels do not appear to have been offered redemption. If they do not have access to such salvation, their attitude toward mankind could only be hateful. If they do have access to salvation, would it be Christ? Or would they have a “schoolteacher” akin to the Mosaic Law and Judaic Temple system until we reach them with the Good News? [Didn’t think of that one, did you?] If they are not fallen, what would an encounter with them be like? Would they even want to contact us? This vein of thought offers some very interesting possibilities.
Peter R Stone has an interesting twist on this idea. In A Knight from Dein, some humans were transported to an alien world at the dispersion of Babel [so they were disperesed quite a bit further than other people groups!]. Their world is both fallen and unfallen [in sections] because God created two alien species there and set them up with a Garden of Eden type test: one fell and the other didn’t. There is no carnivory in the lush, unfallen lands and unsaved humans, etc, feel strong discomfort and conviction when they enter unfallen elven lands. Stone’s scenario doesn’t negate the universal effects of the Adamic Fall; it simply notes a localized exception caused by a unique local phenomenon. Think of it this way: gravity isn’t negated when a rocket leaves the planet. Rather, other forces overcome gravity at a local level, allowing gravity to be overcome for that rocket. Similarly, Christians are localized unfallen effects [sort of]; we’ve been redeemed, even if it will take new resurrected bodies and a new heaven & earth to allow us to enjoy/realize our redeemed state. Likewise, we still have a sin nature as Christians because we inherited what I call the “spiritual genetics” of the Fall. The mind of Christ and a fallen mind war inside our heads, much as the physical alien inhabitants of Stone’s world war with one another.
- Time travel. As I wrote in another essay, there are definite limitations when writing about time travel from a Biblical point of view. God knows what will happen, meaning that history is in a sense already written. That means that the idea of going back in time to kill Hitler will never be realized. You can’t step on a butterfly in the past and cause America to lose the Revolution. These things are already realized and therefore cannot be changed.
Any attempt to alter the timeline could result in something very much like what happened to Balaam, who intended to curse Israel when God had already blessed it. An angel would have slain him if it weren’t for the intervention of a beast of burden and a sudden look into the spiritual realm. Balaam ended up further blessing Israel. The point is that if we try to kill Hitler, we stand a good chance of being struck down by an invisible angel. Or maybe not. Balaam’s intended meddling had already been anticipated by God; if we’re able to act in the past or future, we can rest assured that history has already taken our meddling into account and came up with the result recorded in our history books despite our best efforts. The trilogy that follows Johnny Came Home will explore time travel.
- Superpowers! Most folks don’t realize that comic book heroes are science fiction. Most hero fiction at this point explains super beings with evolutionary appeals to the “next stage of human development.” There are lots of phenomenon and alleged human abilities that defy conventional explanation. How would we explain this in a biblical context? Oh, demonic possession is tempting. And I think it’s been done. It brings to mind the Biblical passage where Moses’ rod turned into a snake and the pharaoh’s magicians duplicated the feat. But if not divine or demonic intervention, how would we explain such phenomenon such as telepathy or levitation, if it ever developed? Would we capitulate to darwin, or do we have a viable alternative theory? Is this potential locked away in all mankind, prohibited lest our sin nature allow us to use this power for great harm? [See? Found a viable explanation that quickly] I think it’s worth exploring, which is precisely why I wrote Johnny Came Home!
- Artificial intelligence. What is the meaning of sapience? Will it occur inevitably with a sufficient [but as-yet-undefined] level of complexity as evolutionists suggest? Will artificial sapience ever be valid or will the programming only be very convincing, but never authentic? How will we draw that line? What social and religious issues would that raise? What about robot rights? Assuming true artificial sapience, will androids inherent our Fallen nature as adopted children subject to the same human moral flaws [by design!] and need salavation by Christ? Or would true sapience result in robotic lifeforms that are not fallen? How would THAT impact humanity? Would they share a networked groupmind or be individuals? In a Rapture scenario, would they gain a new body? [i.e. – would they share the promise with biological believers]. What if they had no body to begin with but we only had a virtual presence but true sapience nonetheless? This field of exploratory thought is rife with possibility, especially as our concept of a “robot” or android” has come to include biological machines.
Whether a mechanical man, a biological robot [simulacrum/android], a nanite cloud or a “living program” bound by the Internet, there is an as-yet-unexplored possible tie-in between Revelation 13:15 and artificial intelligence.
- Clones and created life forms. What if man creates life? Is this seen by the world as evidence for evolution or design? What if it too is sapient? What about clones? Do we have shared souls? No, that’s silly. It seems more valid to make them individuals, like twins. What religious or racial biases might this bring up? How would the Church respond? No, honestly. Could a sapient mutant or clone be a member of the clergy? What if said mutants or clones were genetically engineered to have “superpowers?” [Couldn’t resist!]
Interestingly enough, the US Supreme Court decided in the 1980 Diamond v. Chakrabarty case that a patent could be issued to a person who invents or discovers “any” new and useful “manufacture” or “composition of matter,” and that the fact that such manufacture is a living organism is alive is without legal consequence for the purposes of patent law. This interpretation of U.S.C. § 101 [which reads: “Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.”] to allow for patents on a living micro-organism could potentially open up the door for a “manufactured” slave race. A footnote of Diamond v. Chakrabarty notes that:
P. J. Federico, a principal draftsman of the 1952 recodification, in his testimony regarding that legislation:
“[U]nder section 101, a person may have invented a machine or a manufacture, which may include anything under the sun that is made by man. . . .”
Hearings on H.R. 3760 before Subcommittee No. 3 of the House Committee on the Judiciary, 82d Cong., 1st Sess., 37 (1951).
Anything under the sun made by man would certainly include non-naturally occuring lifeforms created via genetic manipulation. While patent law prohibits the patenting of naturally occuring minerals, organisms and natural laws, there is no such prohibition regarding genetic experimentation until such point as Congress enacts a law specifically dealing with living organisms.
As exploratory apologists, we’re faced with the question of how patentable [ownable] living machines might degrade the Biblical truth that we’re made in God’s image. Many evolutionists claim that all life is simply biological machinery and that intelligence and sapience is simply the result of sufficiently advanced complexity. Could a nanite cloud be considered
Of course, some will shrug and ask, why should we write about such things at all? Isn’t it a waste of time to write amusements and diversionary fictions. Don’t we have more important things to be on about? Like spreading the Gospel. And what does it really matter anyway?
I think Hank Hanegraaff’s reply to the question, “What made you write [The Last Disciple]?” is compelling:
“Fiction is a great truth-conveying medium. As Left Behind has become the vehicle for indoctrinating millions of believers into an end-time theology invented in the nineteenth century,” [aka Darbyism, or the Rapturist view]
Fiction, in general, is the perfect medium to make an argument. The more popular the novel, the more folks are exposed to the ideas and,as Hanegraaff put it, “indoctrinated.” They are at least more predisposed to accept the idea’s validity.
Science fiction has specific power to change the future. Many science fiction writers are considered futurists. Their imaginative exploration of possible futures has resulted in present-day technological inspiration. It has also coloured the wordlviews of those who read science fiction, which is predominantly written with Darwinist, humanist and even atheist assumptions.
But we can write faith-based sci-fi not only as anticipatory apologetic, but to provide the world with an intelligent alternative to humanist imagineering.
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