Some people say that science fiction is just fantasy with spaceships. Others would say that fantasy is about plausible impossible worlds, whereas sci-fi centers on possible, albeit improbable worlds. But is sci-fi something that Christians actually need? We’ll explore that today!
- Sci-fi is a shared universe inhabited by God’s gift of common grace.
- Sci-fi explores the genius and madness of humanity, revealing our need for God.
- The church, therefore, should terraform the strange worlds of sci-fi for God’s glory.
- By design, sci-fi takes us to worlds beyond our comfort zones, so these stories may strike some as heretical.
- In sci-fi, you can fall into black holes of atheistic nihilism, humanism, materialistic utopianism, or many other unbiblical -isms.
- In some sci-fi (such as Star Trek), the most fantastical element is its imagining of a future world devoid of human religion.
“The genre [of science fiction] draws us to its own views of redemption. Carl Sagan recognized the grip that the future, space, and the extraterrestrial hold on the post-Christian Western imagination. Spiritual seekers, then, get some answers and a taste of transcendence without the moral accountability or costly interpersonal commitments of church.”
1. Sci-fi is a shared universe inhabited by common grace
“We’re living in a science fictional era, thanks to all the incredible technological and scientific discoveries we’ve made. In some sense, science fiction has ‘come true.’ This means science fiction is uniquely qualified to comment on the era we’re living in, and is the only pop culture that accurately reflects the world around us. Science fiction is for anybody who wants to imagine how the world will be, or could be, different.”
Science-fiction belongs to everyone.
- First off, sci-fi is no longer a fringe genre.
- The top grossing films and books include lots of sci-fi.
- You don’t have to know the “golden era” or “masters” of sci-fi, because it’s about the future.
- Sci-fi is not always a pure genre but often a flavor or ingredient of other stories.
Sci-fi leads to real-world innovations.
- Science, technology, and tools were God’s idea (Genesis 1:28).
- The spirit of innovation comes from the Lord: Bezalel (Exodus 31).
- These innovations benefit people everywhere, like rain on the good and wicked.
Martin Cooper can recall the moment when he was at a break in his lab watching the episode of Star Trek when Kirk used his Communicator to call for help for an injured Spock, which later inspired him to invent the mobile phone.
The inventor of the MP3 [Karlheinz Brandenburg] can look back to the episode of Star Trek The Next Generation where Data was playing music from his computer and conceived of the idea of the digital music file. The series Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager pioneered the graphic art of the “okudagram” (named after scenic art supervisor Michael Okuda), the GUI interface in the LCARS operating system, later used in the PADD, (Personal Access Display Device), the hand-held computer interface that foresaw the design and touch functionality of Apple’s iPad and iPad mini.
Science fiction has always been the genesis of our greatest technological triumphs. The idea for land ironclads, first written about by H.G. Wells, were adapted by Winston Churchill into the first tank in military history. The idea of military aeroplanes was first written about by A.A. Milne, of Winnie the Pooh fame. The concept of atomic bombs is another idea that was first generated by H.G. Wells.
—Michael Venables, “Captain Kirk’s Call to Spock,” Forbes.com, April 3, 2013
Sci-fi leads us to wonder at God’s creation.
- Carl Sagan leads us to wonder at the cosmos.
- Even though Sagan denies our Creator, we still see and hear God’s glory.
Sci-fi stretches our imagination into new frontiers.
“The thing with science fiction that’s different than other genres is that it’s always about the idea. The idea, in science fiction, is the real leading man or leading lady. And I like that because I’m a big fan of ideas. You always learn from ideas, even the crazy ones.”
—Seth Shostak, SETI director
2. Sci-fi explores the genius and madness of humanity, revealing our need for God
“Science and technology belong to Christians as much as anyone, so why not the fiction that delves into their uses and effects?”
—novelist Kerry Nietz
Good sci-fi is not about the technology itself, but man’s attachment to it.
- The best science fiction is always a commentary on human nature.
- Ray Bradbury said that he writes sci-fi to prevent the future.
- Michael Crichton explored how scientists can do great things but also great evil.
“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
—Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) in Jurassic Park (1993)
Sci-fi can work like a reverse inspirational story.
- The first novel to be considered science fiction is Frankenstein.
- This showed the idea of humanity playing God by creating man, which didn’t work out so well.
- Classic books like Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World excel at showing us the disaster that follows when Christianity is abolished.
- Science fiction movies like The Terminator challenge us to think about all the trust we place in technology.
- War of the Worlds (the Stephen Spielberg film version with Tom Cruise) humbles us by dropping an unbeatable foe onto humanity, one who is only vanquished by literally (and yet cleverly) divine intervention.
- These stories all point to a God-shaped hole in our hearts
3. That’s why the Church should terraform the strange worlds of sci-fi for God’s glory.
Here’s what we mean by the word “terraform.”
- We don’t mean simply the same as “colonize.”
- Rather, our approach to sci-fi should be similar to how we do church.
- Our goal should be to encourage life where its potential already exists.
- For more, see our episode about terraforming the church to enjoy better fantastical stories.
Sci-fi invites spiritual conversations, often ironically.
- For example, the film 2012 destroys Christian landmarks, but borrows from Noah’s account.
- In 2012, political leaders want the laborers to be left behind, and the story rebukes them. From where do these values come?
- Dystopian sci-fi in particular shows the ultimate results of individual lives and entire communities that live apart from God.
Sci-fi often (and counterintuitively) dethrones its own idols.
“I have no idea why I’m obsessed with science fiction TV and movies. I don’t know why I have that rather unusual desire. I wish I could tell you that something caused this in me, but I have no idea why.”
—Peter Boghossian, philosophy professor
- For example, the film Contact explores how materialism isn’t everything, and maybe we need faith after all.
- The film also directly acknowledges that even the monumental discovery of alien civilizations still would not answer our deepest questions.
- Other elements, such as the Borg (from Star Trek: The Next Generation) smash the idol of self-improvement through technology.
- These negative images of idols give us a wide-open door to demonstrate the gospel’s supremacy.
- Thanks to the imaginations of science fiction, we have opportunities to build “federations” with our neighbors.
Science fiction might forecast the future New Heavens and New Earth.
- Sci-fi is not just a means for doing more science, thus fulfilling our Creator’s Cultural Mandate (Gen. 1:28).
- Sci-fi is also not just a means for doing better evangelism, thus fulfilling our Savior’s Great Commission (Matt. 28).
- Instead, sci-fi also helps us to imagine our eternity, when Jesus rules redeemed creation, and we can do amazing exploration and make amazing technologies for his glory.
David Wright wrote about episode 51 and the Fiction’s Chief End series:
This episode and #50 were both just awesome. I really, really enjoyed the thoughts and insights. This is such a great podcast. Keep up the excellent work.
Brittany wrote about episode 51:
So, I sent this podcast to my pastor (who happens to be my brother-in-law) and asked him when he’d last read anything but non-fiction. He’s a huge book lover, or he was in his life before him and his wife had tiny children and started church planting. He said it’s been YEARS since he’s read any fiction!
Next on Fantastical Truth
Just the other week, actors from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, decades later, enjoined the ongoing effort to expose Joss Whedon’s on-set abuses. Meanwhile, after another mob offensive, actress Gina Carano gets fired from The Mandalorian, then instantly she joins a conservative group that’s now making movies. When actors are fired from fantastic shows and directors get shunned for on-set scandals, what’s a Christian fan to think? We will explore how Christians might enjoy great stories while reckoning with this very real “cancel culture,” yet still identifying the idols that hide behind the scenes.
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