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An Inexhaustive, Scatterbrained Post on Atheism and Science Fiction

Only non-believers believe in atoms.

I’ve thought before that, sociologically speaking, people look to attribute God’s qualities to other phenomena, like the universe, politics, aesthetics/art, or science. People much smarter than me have undoubtedly come across this before, like Voltaire when he said that if God didn’t exist it would be necessary to invent him.

I like that quote because it can stoke paranoid atheist fervor and gets religious people who are too stupid to entertain hypotheticals in a huffy, but the ingenious thing is that it’s an assertion, not an opinion. If someone doesn’t believe in God, then either because of our sensus divinitatis or because of humanity has been culturally entrenched with religious belief, the non-believer has to find the qualities of the divine we “sense” epistemically and apply them to something else. It’s not just a new morality from the demise of Christianity that Nietzsche described that we can reconstruct. It can be everything else.

The archetypal elements of all religions—flawed human existence, salvation, eternal life, a transcendant being—leak out and find their way into the cracks of some other construct. The more religion-minded of us might apply it to the atheism of Buddhism while the more secularized of us have an array of choices, one them being scientism.

Idolizing unscientific phenomena—even the morality found in natural law, if it impedes advancement—is mortal sin, religion is the devil, the apotheosis of the human soul (the Judeo-Christian soul or the classical Greek version, it’s sometimes hard to tell) is reached through arcane hypercomputerization, academics are the priests and the classroom is the temple. The paradox of induction, the dilemma of direct and indirect realism, for starters, which are written into the scientific method are articles of faith for scientists.

Just read Clarke’s Odyessey series, or Ghost in the Shell, Asimov, Disch, Ellison, Heinlein, Wells. I haven’t touched all of those but what I have so far is very telling.

For further, more organized, reading:
Atheism and Science Fiction at the Science Fiction Observer
Science fiction author asks, why are atheists who write space operas supposed to know best whether God exists? at Uncommon Descent
Does reading science fiction predispose people to atheism? at Wintery Knight
Why Reading Fiction Should Matter to Atheists at Friendly Atheist
Richard Dawkins Is Killing SF! at Jack of Ravens

Atom doodle by tonybaize.

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More on Alien Invasions, Moron Alien Invasions

Almost a year ago I posted about the typical alien invasion scenario one sees in sci-fi books and films, and how those scenarios were unlikely versus possible non-coercive interactions. In a Stefan Molyneux speech I was listening to the other day I was surprised to hear him mention it, though it was only as an aside. Below, he starts in on it at the 0:28:02 mark.

The thinking is sound but I actually think he is a little bit off. If the aliens do have interstellar travel their government could still have some presence on arrival because their state could just appropriate (steal) the privately-developed technology. I don’t think that a state-controlled ship would necessarily instigate war but the likelihood is far greater than if it was commerce-controlled.

It’s pretty simple. Assuming the aliens have a similar psychology and preferences as we do, violence isn’t just going happen because Civilization A meets Civilization B. Think of it this way: if you’re anything like me—and let’s hope you’re not—you simply don’t go about destroying weaker things you come across, just because you come across them, and we don’t go stealing property that isn’t ours. It just doesn’t happen, or happens very rarely, and even without the state there will be repercussions. If I come across Widget A and I believe it will sate a preference of mine, coercive methods of acquiring Widget A are going to be at the bottom of the list for many reasons.

Of course, the paradox here is powerful: fiction is inherently about the unusual, with science fiction more so, and if we are expecting a sci-fi scenario to play out in real life all we have to rely on are our expectations, which have been conditioned by sci-fi itself. If we’re relying on that we’re going to expect what’s not likely to happen at all.

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I Used To Write Her

Merry Christmas, work in progress. You've been bad.

Like someone else in a similar position recently posted, I’ve decided to suspend A Season Underneath indefinitely. The reasons are legion, but the biggest is that I am on my fourth rewrite and it doesn’t seem to be getting a whole lot better. The chapters are just sort of there, with no real story to bite down on. I can’t imagine anyone really liking it, but that might be because I’ve been looking at it for a while now.

I actually don’t mind doing this. The first draft was an elephant gun misfiring at a mosquito. Awful-awful. After a few rewrites most people would have moved on to something else but I kept at it, so I am where I am now because of undue persistence.

It’s a common thing to not have one’s first manuscript published because your first (and sometimes subsequent) book are too horrendous for exhibition. Even established short story writers can’t/won’t bother with their first novel because it’s a beast many tentacles to hack off and a greenhorn novelist doesn’t have an intellectual axe big enough to handle it. They finish it but it sits somewhere on a shelf or hard drive somewhere while the second novel, if the writer hasn’t offed themselves yet to get it done, gets more traction with agents.

So with that I’m starting a new manuscript with the nickname Retardo Montalbán (please, PC language police, find a more worthy cause). It will be soft/social sci-fi, alternate history, not really dystopian, with a sort of Luddite-libertarian feel…no damnable vampire love triangles, wizards, fairy tale characters in real life, hyperdrive shunts, or anything occurring in the year 1,000,000,000 AD. It’s a story with people who do and think things and set things into motion, not a bestiary of gimmicks.

So, birth/death, a new year, and all that jazz. Krampus will be pleased with me.

Photo by riptheskull.

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Read This Post While Listening to Wagner’s Valkyrie Joint

Hit the triangle, then continue reading.

I have three stories in the works that are not quite short story-length but they are longer than standard flash fiction fare. One of them involves murdering a monarchal retainer, the other talks about murdering a monarchal retainer, and the last involves an orbiting driving range in space. All three of them have the gentle appeal of social/soft science fiction and it was very intentional. I don’t really know what the intent was but it happened and now I’m stuck with it. Eventually I will stick all of you with it like a poorly-carved spear. It may be a little painful but it will assuredly be confusing.

Press stop.

If you were wondering what the deal is with the music: I thought it might make a “hey, I’m talking about doing things and not showing you my doings” type of post more attractive than just a bland update. Dicky’s string ‘n’ brass bombast can make a blurry photo of dried possum roadkill seem earth-shattering so it would probably work for me.

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Book Review: Nascence

currently: jus floatin here wit sum letters u kno hehe

Nascence is a compilation e-book of short stories by Tobias Buckell, who is perhaps best known for his installment in the Halo universe series of books. But this is not just any compilation – they are all unpublished stories that were rejected for publication. What also sets the e-book apart is Buckell’s autobiographical notes and his explanations behind the reason for their unpublished state.

The stories in themselves aren’t unreadable, really, but those who are at least a little experienced in fiction writing, particularly sci-fi and fantasy (and maybe even some who are not), may notice the unprofessional flubs that dot, and often are strewn generously in every paragraph, across a writer’s early work. This is not a subjective, preferential criticism coming from me — Buckell freely admits where his publication-killing mistakes sat with each story.

Still, as with any accomplished writer, there are hints from their amateur days of pockets of greatness, and these don’t pass by unnoticed. In “The Arbiter” there’s an outline of complex socio-political intrigue, and in “Closed Cycles” — a story that Buckell says is a conglomeration of “all of [his mistakes], at once, in a story” — there are some scenes and turns of dialogue that I found interesting.

This is an e-book more for aspiring sci-fi and fantasy writers more than casual fans of the genre or of Buckell himself. The real value seems to sit with Buckell’s frankness about the struggle with his craft, even as his career began to blossom. The retrospection isn’t something well-known writers tend to expose, either from the threat of deflating their reputation to simple sheer embarrassment (the account of his first experience being “published” and having crudely-drawn genitalia accompany his story makes for a good chuckle). I know little about writing this genre but there is great weight placed on different things, like believable world-building, that other genres do not need or emphasize as much. Buckell provides a good introduction into what the task is for a beginning sci-fi author.

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Fear God, Honor the King, Then Show Him Your Plasma Rifle

The Mises website ran a piece today on libertarian science fiction, by pipe-lover Jeff Riggenbach. He mentions four sci-fi authors who weren’t libertarian but came across as friendly to the ideas in some way or another: Anthony Burgess, Philip K. Dick, G. William Domhoff, and Carroll Quigley (I was half-hoping to see a mention of Matthew Alexander, but we’re dealing with established heavyweights here). I haven’t read anything by these authors — no, even not A Clockwork Orange, yet — but I’d like to see how they poise, unknowingly, libertarian ideals in their fictional universe.

Libertarian Christians, somewhat coincidentally, has a lengthy read on the philosophy of Mises. So says Edmund Opitz, in a rather bold assertion (italics mine):

Classical liberalism, in other words, is the secular projection of Christian philosophy. The American Dream, as Jacques Maritain put it, kept “alive, in human history, a fraternal recognition of the dignity of man—in other words, the terrestrial hope of man (expressed) in the Gospel.” The thing called “liberalism” today, bears no resemblance whatsoever to classical liberalism; it has nothing in common with the Whiggism of Adam Smith or the liberalism of Ludwig von Mises.

Forming a strong link between classical liberalism with Christian thought is a big chunk of poli-theology. Not that I really disagree with Opitz, but the idea of rejecting the state (to some degree) is a hat too rebellion-heavy for some Christians to wear — especially those of us in “safer” nations, where citizens more observably autonomous, and the atrocious effects of the power the state holds is either well-hidden or simply felt in other countries.

Science fiction lends itself easily to libertarian ideas because the authors needs to conjure up droves of little “what if” scenarios that stretch what we already know about the observable universe. It involves a lot of deeper inductive thinking that libertarians, and particularly Misean libertarians, need to employ when answering critics: we’ve never really had, say, a bonafide anarcho-capitalist “state”, so they’d have to cobble together how things could and would work out, sans civitas. much in the same way sci-fi writers need the “what ifs” with the universe.

Libertarian and sci-fi meet more literally (heh) with dystopian sci-fi, where monopolies on power, taken to extremes, consistently spell out bad news for the world. It seems that at the heart of every dystopian future comes at the hands of the steroidal state, while the hero breaks free from the totalitarianism with some form of freedom. I don’t think it’s necessarily a consciously-made connection made by the authors; I’m sure some sci-fi writers have been huge Commies (Wells comes to mind), or some other devious form of state-adoring ideology. Though, just makes intuitive sense that the entity poised to bring about a dystopia would be the only one that has the monopoly on sanctioned, coercive power.

Okay, so what does Christianity-laced libertarianism have to do with science fiction? If I may be as tentatively bold as Opitz, I would say that a Christian who isn’t ultimately, “at the end of the day”, a libertarian, has some serious flaws in their belief system. I say this because a Christian absolutely must choose God over the state, if faced with the choice — and we must eventually make that choice. It’s God or something else, something lesser, and He’s made it clear that there’s no wiggle room. This is the obvious end of things given the central doctrines of Christianity, but I understand some (most?) Christians, while here on earth, have been socialized with the love of the state and don’t see worldly governments the way libertarians do, so I don’t regard this idea as heavyweight: I hold it in my hand but I don’t close my fist around it.

So, the fiction part: I, armed only with a surface knowledge of sci-fi, haven’t come across any books with a story that links the Christianity part with the libertarian part. At least, to a thorough extent, but it strikes me as a wonderful foundation for a story. There may be something out there, but I have not come across it, and this high-level idea is a story germ for a novel of mine that is quickly growing. I just hope that this idea eventually ends up in a much more capable author’s hands than mine.

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E.T. Is Phoning Home and Ordering a Tactical Nuke Strike on Your School

Moviefone made note last year of the coming invasion of films about coming invasion of aliens. I’ve noticed it, too, and I don’t need to actively watch TV to pick up on the trailers — all I need to hear in the background as I maniacally type away is scary music, military lingo bandied about, and some futuristic flight noises and explosions.

Though novels are probably a better vehicle than actiony sci-fi movies to delve into the details (probably), I like to determine why aliens would bother invading earth. It’s very unlikely, given a few safe assumptions and a dash or two of inductive logic, that aliens would bother invading earth — assuming aliens exist (one of the aforementioned assumptions).

First, we’re going to assume that the aliens that would pose a threat to earth are technologically advanced enough to travel here safely and mount a considerable attack. It does no good to consider aliens in a primitive state since all they can really do is curse at us from their depressing boneyard of a planet.

If they have the technology and resources enough to invade earth, it’s not likely that they would do so for a number of reasons. They would probably not do it out of self defense because we would not pose that much of a military or biological threat, especially when we’re more or less stuck here. If it’s for our resources, they have two strikes against them: one is that we most likely would not have the resources they are looking for if they are so advanced (it would have to be something we currently don’t know about), and it’s far far far less costly and more beneficial in many ways for the aliens to voluntarily exchange with us. If they get Element X and we get some of their technology, we both benefit and the aliens get a better rep for future transactions.

Unless the aliens were given their military and transportive technology by another race, it’s safe to assume that they place a high value on cooperation and material advancement (I’m not one to think that because they have weapons it means they are warlike). So unless they have an extremely provincial disposition it makes sense that they would want to make peaceful contact with us, and they would know the best way to go about it without triggering a self-preservation response out of us — because, let’s face it, some of us are going to freak right-the-heck out and become dangerous if they make contact.

This also means that, if they value the material sciences enough to develop advanced traveling technology and enough of a sense of adventure to be so distant from home, that they would want to learn from our planet. If we don’t have much to offer in terms of technology, we would be an anthropological curiosity in the very least.

There’s left only two reasonable scenarios where we are invaded: if they are warlike by their nature to the degree that they are willing to spend so much time and resources in destroying entire planets of living things for no other reason — or if they were coerced to invade us, either by their own government (sorry, there’s my libertarianism again) or they are being used by another, master alien race as slaves (expendable resources, more or less) to invade for their benefit.

I tend to the think the second half of the latter scenario to be more likely, because I think they would have less and less need for such a strong government; their technology would mitigate their need for centralized, monopolized power. The slave-invader scenario works better, especially if the master race gifted the unfortunate, less-advanced proxies the technology (an idea I mentioned a few paragraphs before) and were faced with an ultimatum to invade us or be exterminated.

Email me with your ideas on this; I’d like to hear them. If you do, put “welcome ta earf” in the subject line, even though Will Smith clearly pronounced the “th”.

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