Tuesday, December 16, 2008

God, Faith and the Science Fiction Method

I think I can say now that I am a skeptic. I've been growing into that role since last July, but now I think I can say that I am and it's what is driving my Crisis in Faith.

I have always been a critical thinker. I prefer that and that term better because "skeptic" is more a lifestyle and critical thinking is more a process. Skeptic comes with a bag of preconceived notions (both internal and external) while critical thinking doesn't. Critical thinking is perceived as assertive to skepticism's aggressiveness. You ARE a skeptic, but you DO critical thinking.

This gets right into how I developed a Crisis in Faith.

When you write fiction you have something called a "Suspension of Disbelief."

For instance, look at any Muppet show you KNOW that it is all just people's hands inside of Styrofoam, but you suspend your disbelief because you want it to be a pig, a frog, a rat; you want the pig and the frog to be in love; you want the animals and things to all be able to talk; you want there to be legs below the waists; you want to partake of the story.

I use movie examples because they are so illustrative.

Another example would be the Blues Brothers. You know that Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi are not brothers, or orphans, or even Blues musicians. You know that the bluesmobile can't jump that bridge, or jump the Nazi car backwards, but you want to enjoy the movie.

Dan Ackroyd had originally written a big explanation as to how the bluesmobile could do such miraculous things, but the director, John Landis told him, you don't need that, the car does what it does because we say it does. There is suspension of disbelief, Ackroyd didn't think it was strong enough to not lose the audience when the car did strange things, but Landis knew it was.

You see, suspension of disbelief can be spoiled. You see this most often when an expert watches a movie in their field or reads a book in their field. They point out that hand grenades don't work that way, or the Sergeant wouldn't tell the Lieutenant what to do, or cops don't talk that way, or it doesn't look like that in a fire. The experts have lost their suspension of disbelief.

Belief in God is like this to a skeptic or critical thinker. Critical thinking and skepticism require you to ask for scientific evidence for things. There is none and can be none when dealing with an omnipotent, omniscient being. Those skeptics that are not atheists keep their belief of God compartmentalized. They know there can be no proof so they don't ask for it in this one particular case. They have suspended their disbelief so that they can participate in their belief of God.

That's the way I feel, or at least that was the way I felt. I don't think I had examined my own belief system this critically before, but now looking back I realize that this is how I looked at Faith. Now it seems that I have learned too much and it has spoiled the suspension of disbelief.

There is a thing in Science Fiction thing that takes suspension of disbelief one step further. In hard Sci Fi you cannot break any existing Laws or Theories. You may present new ones in the space between the old ones, but you cannot break the existing ones.

For example, the speed of light is immutable. You cannot travel faster than the speed of light, nothing can. So, how do you do star travel within a human lifetime? It happens all the time. There is nothing in science that says for certain that there is no "hyperspace." Current scientific theories suggest many different dimensions, some of which may touch every point in our universe, but are themselves vastly much smaller than our universe. If you could go to that universe; travel within it and then return to our universe you could be taking a shortcut. Science cannot show that this is impossible; therefore you can use this in your stories.

You cannot have people travel faster than light just by going faster or building a bigger engine. You cannot have people defy the laws of gravity, or thermodynamics etc. You cannot have insects grow bigger than people and still have them walk around.

Similarly, if there is a scientific law or theory that is broken by Faith in God, it doesn't work. Belief in God cannot go against what we already know; God must be beyond our current knowledge.

For instance, I have absolutely no belief that Noah took two of every animal aboard the ark. Could an omnipotent God have put those animals in a boat so big that they could have held them? Sure, omnipotence makes everything possible, but I don’t know anyone (outside a few fervent fundamentalist Christians who believe that the Bible is literal and absolutely correct) who believes that to be a literal story.

If you break a scientific law or theory you automatically ruin suspension of disbelief in Science Fiction. If miracles break scientific laws then they could not have happened. If the existence of God breaks scientific laws then God cannot exist. At least that is what would spoil your Belief if you were a skeptic.

Right now I'm sitting on my couch with my wife. We are watching a movie and something happens to ruin my suspension of disbelief. I complain to my wife that the movie is ruined. She says, "don't analyze it so much, just enjoy the movie."

I want to enjoy the "Movie." How do I get that back? Is it like the splotches of ink that if you look at them a certain way become a drawing of a face? Can you make it look like splotches of ink after you see the face? I hope so.


Eric Wilner said...

But... if miracles don't break scientific laws, then what's the point of them? If they're merely highly improbable events (perhaps involving a nice fresh cup of really hot tea), do they count as miracles?
This ties in with the question of how to differentiate among the deity, a deity, and some spoiled rich kid from Betelgeuse. (I've been pondering that one on and off since college, and haven't come up with a good answer that doesn't involve a time machine and the grandfather of all paradoxes.)
I'm pretty good at suspending my disbelief, as long as no one's trying to sell me anything - thus, I can enjoy the works of Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Doc Smith, and such... though George Lucas is a bit of a stretch, mainly because there's so much stuff that, even in the context of the story, just doesn't make sense. When the storyteller's world becomes internally inconsistent (or just lacks an underlying model), I start getting distracted.
Now, if someone's spinning a yarn to tell me how to spend my money or live my life, my skepticism comes to the fore, which is why (organized/public) religion and politics give me a headache. And, so many times, in business or politics, I hear patently counterfactual assertions being used as the basis for policy, argh!

Inner Prop said...

A very VERY belated thank you for your comment. I don't know how I missed it when it was posted, but I was reviewing my posts about faith and saw it.

Would you describe yourself as spiritual and not religious?

I am currently of the opinion that if there ever were any miracles there was only one, the miracle that brought the universe into existence.