Science, Fiction, and Religion: An Intersection

September 11, 2015 § 1 Comment

“The more I study science, the more I believe in G-d.” –Albert Einstein

I’ve never considered myself a wholly religious individual. Drawn by the cultural gatherings, the plentiful food, and the good company of my temple community, I often found myself in synagogue, surrounded by others who believed in the power of one true G-d. This “Adonai” did not intersect with my mechanical and systematic understanding of the world around me. Everything had a cause and effect; science and mathematics were at the core of everything and could explain any given phenomenon.

For me, religion and science were always at odds. The Torah had moralizing stories that expressed inherent values, but they lacked fundamental explanations. To me, they seemed fake; they weren’t real. They were fictional.

One week, my Rabbi gave a sermon focusing the life of Abraham, the central character in the Book of Genesis. He discussed Abraham’s belief in a “central force of the cosmos,” which was combined of all other forces; this, many religious scholars postulated, was similar to the “theory of everything” (no, not the Academy Award-winning film—the actual, scientific theory).

I (surprise, surprise) had never heard of this theory or of this belief of the biblical figure, but a curiosity began to take hold. What, I wondered, is the real connection between this story and this theory of the universe.

And, based on extremely preliminary research and only a basic understanding of the scientific explanation, I found that my Rabbi’s thesis pretty much checked out. The theory of everything, though not actually solved yet, hinges on the idea that “all the fundamental physical forces in our universe” are connected. The casual, throwaway opinion of Abraham went beyond religious discourse; it encompassed the philosophical and scientific realms, as well. What I had thought to be simply dialogue by a character in an old story held more weight than I’d anticipated. Here was a real possible explanation for the way our universe works, in a text that many consider to be fictional. Regardless of individual beliefs, I had to think that this couldn’t have been a coincidence.

We use science to explain our world, and we use stories to process it. Fact and fiction, storytelling and reality, don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Maybe these religious texts, in a way, are like the entertaining tales of the science fiction genre. Perhaps the boundaries of what is considered “science fiction” can be loosened; after all, science permeates our stories as much as it does our lives. And in both classic sci-fi works and certain religious texts, we find similar things: the unexplained explained, stories rooted in humanity that branch into the unknown.

No, I wouldn’t say that my personal beliefs have shifted since this short-lived research endeavor. I do, however, find in myself a deeper and more pronounced appreciation regarding the interconnectedness of our world: both the literal connections (the “forces of the cosmos”) and the theoretical (scientific reality and fiction).

–JR

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§ One Response to Science, Fiction, and Religion: An Intersection

  • Thanks for the post — the interaction between science fiction and religion is certainly a vitally important one when considering the genre, especially given the seeming disconnect between the frequently staunch atheisms of the genre’s authors and the reverence with which these same authors treat religious belief in their fiction.

    The question of whether religious texts can be viewed as something of a distant relative to the science fiction genre is an interesting one; you’re certainly right to recognize the common purposes of these two types of texts. Both desperately aim to explicate the inexplicable, and, for all the death and destruction that permeate both, a work of either genre is an exercise in optimism — otherwise, why bother?

    However, if we expand ourselves out into the more amorphous questions asked by literary genres, I dare say we might find a way to link just about any two types of writing; when it comes down to it, the manual that comes with my remote control and my holy book of choice are both trying to teach me how best to use what I have been given, so I’m not quite willing to shelve Abraham and Asimov next to one another at the library!

    And, of course, I know full well that you weren’t suggesting such — although I would certainly wish to see such a shelf, even if it would necessitate the absence of all authors with names beginning in “Ac” through “Ar.” What you really suggest here, regardless of my previous jokes falsely suggesting otherwise, is the productivity of analyzing literature across even the most apparently disparate generic boundaries. Literature, by its nature, is intended to participate in a dialogue with both its audience and other literary works; therefore, expanding the number of literary narratives being exchanged within this dialogue can only result in the discourse being enriched with new perspectives.

    Maybe arbitrary shelving wouldn’t be too bad after all — in fact, it might just cause some inter-generic revelation. Thanks, JR, I’ll take your recommendation and go sit down with copies of both “Exodus” and “Exo-Man,” and I’ll almost certainly be better off for having done so.

    –Lucas Hilliard

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