Thursday, September 13, 2007

Creationist Science Fiction: Michael Coleman, The Cure. Orchard Books: London, Australia, 2007

Up until now my nomination for "most poisonous book in my collection" would have been The Girl Who Owned a City by O.T. Nelson, a libertarian fantasy from 1975 which is utterly dishonest in its ideological plotting ie it twists notions of intellectual property ownership to justify the redevelopment of feudalism.

I have a new nomination, The Cure, by Michael Coleman. The only Creationist Science Fiction novel I've ever read.

Michael Coleman is a Catholic (he says so on his website and it is clearly part of his general sales pitch so I don't feel awkward mentioning it here). The purpose of the book is to preach belief in G-d and I don't actually object to that. What made my stomach curdle was the way in which he did it. Michael Coleman is of the "aetheists can't be moral" brigade, a position I find repellent even when expressed by people (such as Jasmin Alibhai Brown) whom I otherwise respect.

As it's relevant to this discussion let's put my cards on the table: I am a lapsed Jew, who joined the Religious Society of Friends in 1992. I believe in G-d. My G-d exists in the spaces between us. I can feel it. I have no need to worry about whether G-d is compatible with science or evolution, because for me, any argument seems to reduce G-d to "like us" and surely that is the point. G-d is not like us.

Ok, on to the book but with lots of diversions in square brackets where I "reacted".. It's the far future and it seems a bit backward which is rather odd, because this is a pro-science, secular society. This is the first indication of "stacked decks" because the implication is that a pro-science society without religion will stagnate. Yeah. Really.

But it is a society in which "Blesseds" are regularly created, and our hero, Raul, rather objects to the making of celebrities Blessed. He argues that there are now far too many and they are soon forgotten.

Aside: I wasn't at all sure whether this was an attack on celebrity culture or not. Given the rate at which the Catholic Church now makes saints, either it's pot-calling-kettle, or Coleman is attacking the Church as well,

Back to the book. Raul gets done for blasphemy for smashing a statue of the latest blessed his sister wants to send money on. [again: an attack on celebrity or on the Catholic Church's tradition of selling tchotckes of Christ and Mary? I don't know).

Raul and his sister Amry have been living in a refuge for abandoned children. For some reason this is made out to be a bad thing but although the regime is harsh, it doesn't seem cruel--and sorry to keep harping on this but it *will* be relevant, it's not as if the Church homes currently have such a wonderful reputation.

One thing about Raul: we hear his locker has been searched, and in it he keeps the instruments of science such as a telescope. Again, this is relevant.

So, the two kids end up on an island asylum where, through their "therapy" we learn about the world.

Three hundred years before there was a rebellion against superstition and religion. Darwin was set up as Our Saviour from Superstition, and all the religions were dismantled. Anyone who still believes in God is an unbeliever. The Writings, the book of this society, is a combination of science, and stories used as metaphors from various religious books. All the moral teachings are identical with the major religions (although this society is a lot more merciful with thieves than many religious societies have been).

Ok, so far I'm not too bothered. But then we get to the other kids in therapy and why they are there, and this is where Coleman begins to stack the deck in some very unpleasant ways:

Sarih (female) is probably borderline autistic in that although she is obsessed with numbers, she doesn't like large numbers so can't really be called a savant. When they are discussing the likelihood of life on other planets, one of the therapists explains that the numbers of planets are too big to think easily about, as are the number of mutations which created humans.

Sarih responds: "How big? If it is too big then it becomes an impossible." (102) And through this thought she comes to the conclusion that "Science tells lies. The Writings tell Science. The Writings tell lies." (112). Sarih uses the probability theory derived from dice to "prove" that mutations can't work as a means of development.

"What is easier?... To turn a frog into a bird or to throw forty sixes? Sixes of course. But if sixes can't be done in time how can mutations? Scence lies! There must have been a Creator-God!" (114)

Doron does explain, "Nature throws its dice more than once a second." but somehow this is less convincing, and as Sarih will be lobotomised, her maths skills taken away to make her happy, the impression left is of someone silenced to lock up "the truth".

Another child, Jack, is clearly being "therapied" for his empathy with animals which is somehow "unsecular" [because gosh, there are no atheist vegetarians, and some religious people don't think the Bible gives them mastery over animals]. Micha receives a lecture that "We are not special. Humans are highly developed animals, that is all. We are not special in any way--not even in this puny world, let alone in the universe." (103) but this is again undermined by the passion of Jack and Micah and the firm belief of Emily in the afterlife.

I'll skip ahead now to the next stacking of decks. Raul discovers the journal of a monk who had dwelt in the building they are in when it was still a monastery and realizes that some of the history he has been given isn't true. Well gosh. Apparently they got a few dates wrong. Raul's discovery of this journal inspires him to go looking for the Brother who he finds, and who insists that his "real" name is Paul and the name has been messed with by the Republic (Arym is "really" Mary). Raul uses this inspiration to deny the catechism of the Republic , gets lobotomized, dies, and inspires Arym to go out in the world having abandoned her "faith" in the Secular Society and having acquired Raul's belief that humans are here for a purpose and that God exists.

I could have handled an argument that "people tend to ritualize and make faith out of anything" but that's not what's going on here.

So to summarise:
Scientific society will stagnate intellectually without God.
Scientific societies will lose all interest in actual, you know, science.
The belief that humans are no more important than animals will lead to the death of empathy.
Probability theory can disprove the evidence of evolution and prove the existence of God.
That telescope in your closet is there to look on the works of God and and wonder.


Blogger Ken said...

To be specific, this sounds like Intelligent Design SF. This is more insidious than what most people think of as 'creationism', i.e. 'creation science', Young Earth and Flood Geology. The stuff about science and morality withering in a society based on philosophical naturalism is standard ID ideology.

4:57 AM  
Blogger Veronica said...

It strikes me that this writer really hasn't a clue what science is. Like far too many of his narrow-minded brethren, he can't actually grasp the concept of atheism, or even of a way of knowing that is not religious, so he portrays science as...a religion. Scientific thought doesn't hinge upon deified writings that cannot be questioned--that's a religious point of view. Scientific thought, when applied rigorously, requires that all conclusions be verified, replicated, and accord with empirical evidence.

One could go on. I will just mention in passing how irritated I get with the "atheists can't be moral" nonsense. I suppose I will have to call my mother, my stepfather, my grandfather, my uncle, and my late grandparents (oops, I can't) and let them all know that we are inherently immoral. Because current events and the past few thousand years of human history so clearly demonstrates the inherent moral superiority of those who believe.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Izzy said...

I think that this is a very clever and interesting book.
I don't think that the author was impling that atheists were all immoral, I think he was just exploring an idea of science ruling society with a very strict regime and absolutely no influence of religion.

I also think that society and it's laws are based around religion, look at the first set of laws ever recorded for us, the 10 commandments, even atheists are involved with religion in some way, I think.

I also think that religion doesn't cause wars, maybe sometimes those who interpret religious materials wrongly start the wars. Anyway there are lots of other factors of war, e.g, politics.

This is entirely a work of fiction, and isn't accusing anyone or any group of people of anything, and it should just be enjoyed.

9:51 AM  

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