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Tom Flynn - Science Fiction and Atheism
Posted: 26 December 2008 05:03 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Tom Flynn is the Editor of Free Inquiry magazine. A journalist, novelist, entertainer, and folklorist, Flynn is the author of numerous articles for Free Inquiry, many addressing church-state issues, as well as the best-selling The Trouble With Christmas, about which he has made hundreds of radio and TV appearances in his role as the curmudgeonly “anti-Claus.” He is also the author of the critically acclaimed anti-religious black comedy science fiction novels, Galactic Rapture and Nothing Sacred. His latest work, The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief, is a comprehensive reference work on the history, beliefs, and thinking of America’s fastest growing minority: those who live without religion.

In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Tom Flynn discusses the trouble he has with Christmas. He also explores the relationship of atheism and skepticism with science fiction. He talks about the connection that many of the leading figures in science fiction have had with the Center for Inquiry over the years. He surveys influential atheist and humanistic writers in science fiction including H.G. Wells, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, Douglas Adams, Phillip Pullman, and Kurt Vonnegut, among many others. He discusses the secular humanism in Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek franchise, and an interesting connection an episode had with Scientology. He details Orson Scott Card’s relationship with secular humanism. He talks about the influence of Robert Heinlein’s earlier works on the development of his own religious skepticism. He discusses the similarities of Scientology and Mormonism with science fiction. He examines the intersection of sci fi and religious satire, as in the works of James Morrow and Bo Fowler. And he explains his own foray into science fiction, with his critically acclaimed books Galactic Rapture and Nothing Sacred.

http://www.pointofinquiry.org

[ Edited: 26 December 2008 05:21 PM by Thomas Donnelly ]
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Posted: 26 December 2008 11:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Regarding atheistic science fiction writers, H. Beam Piper seems unjustly neglected, though much of his work has recently come back into print. In one of his stories about travel between different time lines referred to as Paratime, he writes that the advanced society that had mastered this technology had “forgotten all the taboos and terminologies of supernaturalistic religion and sex-inhibition.” A character has to explain to his boss about the dating system on one such time line (approximately like ours) by saying it measures “Elapsed years since the birth of some religious leader.” Otherwise the existence and message of this “religious leader” remained a matter of indifference to the Paratimers who lack religious beliefs.

Piper also wrote an independent future history where Christianity has apparently fallen into desuetude. In a novel set about a thousand years from now, a character recovering from gunshot wounds (no ray guns in this future!) vaguely recalls a story about Jesus’ execution, but not as an article of a current faith: “He was crucified, and crowned with a crown of thorns. Who had they done that to? Somebody long ago, on Terra.”

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"There was a time before reason and science when my ancestors believed in all manner of nonsense." Narim on Stargate SG-1.

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Posted: 27 December 2008 06:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I’m going to plug an author that Tom may not have been aware of- Brain Aldiss. I came across a collection of some of his stories, “New Arrivals, Old Encounters.” One of the stories is called “Amen and Out,” set in the 22nd century, in which gods have been replaced by battery-operated shrines and communicators. I started reading it,a nd it’s really funny!

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Posted: 27 December 2008 07:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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One peculiar twist is J. Michael Straczynski the creator of Babylon 5.  He says he is an atheist but creates a series whose central theme depends on reincarnation.  GO FIGURE!

But in one episode about the religious traditions of various sentient species Commander Sinclair has to come up with something to represent Earth.  He creates a line of people of different beliefs and puts an atheist first in line.

But this is episode #2:

http://www.joost.com/1750039/t/Babylon-5-Soul-Hunter-Season-1-Ep-3#id=1750039

Atheists are weird.  LOL

psik

[ Edited: 27 December 2008 07:55 PM by psikeyhackr ]
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Posted: 29 December 2008 10:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Is it possible to get a list of all the books referenced in this podcast in a text format?  i mean, instead of just listening to it and transcribing it yourself maybe we could have a SciFi Atheism/secular List.

i’m especially interested to know which episodes of Star Trek are the ones with explicit secular themes.  I am not that interested in the space soap opera drama stuff, and not every episode has philosophically interesting themes.  Such a list would really be helpful.

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Posted: 29 December 2008 11:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I smiled when he mentioned Gene and Star Trek, but what I didn’t know was the guy of B5 is an atheist.  I love B5 too, esp the Minbari.  I thought this podcast was exceptionally entertaining.  Thanks DJ.  smile  Yes, a list of the books mentioned would be nice too.

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“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 30 December 2008 12:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Mriana - 29 December 2008 11:58 PM

  I thought this podcast was exceptionally entertaining.  Thanks DJ. 

I agree 100% with Mriana—thanks D.J. for the idea.
I agree with Tom Flynn that S.F. (and maybe fiction in general)  is sort of a non-aggressive way to carry out a questioning of our assumptions—this may go way back to Greek theatre as well—

To add to what was a great list {thanks},
Ian M. Banks is a favorite S.F. writer of mine—his [  Culture ] S.F. novels take place in a future where the dominant cultutre is atheistic, “anarchist, socialistic, and utopian”.  He plays out examples of how rational cultures interact with crazy religion-dominated ones such as the [ Iridians]

The Idirans are a deeply religious people and believe in a single, rational God who wants a better existence for his creation. Everything in life has its place and it is desirable to bring about order by putting things into their right places. This belief developed while they were struggling for survival in the harsh and chaotic conditions of their home world. Idirans also believe that they are the only beings with immortal souls - as other species do not even possess biological immortality, they see no reason to assume they would possess the spiritual kind. In this way, they treat all other sentient races as similar to very intelligent pets.

By the time of the later novels, the Idirans have become ‘Culturized’ to some degree, with some having joined Culture ships crews.

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Posted: 30 December 2008 02:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I agree with Flynn that for a substantial number of people, in spite of the commercialization, the emphasis is on Jesus.  Pretty much every family we know made a birthday cake for Jesus for their Christmas feast.  If you google “Jesus birthday cake” you’ll get hundreds of thousands of results.  Maybe it’s more of a midwest thing, as I never heard of it in California when I was growing up.

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Posted: 30 December 2008 02:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Thomas Donnelly - 26 December 2008 05:03 PM

... the critically acclaimed anti-religious black comedy science fiction novels, Galactic Rapture ......

....the similarities of Scientology and Mormonism with science fiction….

I will order Galactic Rapture from Amazon—thanks—here is a detailed review: http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/nonfiction/galacticrapture.htm

Agree with it or not, Flynn is presenting us with, through his satire, some extremely fundamental questions about ourselves and the axioms of our social structures, questions which we normally do our best to evade. To take just a single example, it is generally assumed by atheists that the beliefs of others are sacrosanct: that it is a fundamental right of every human being to believe in the religion of his or her choice; that religion is a personal matter, not to be tampered with by others. (Ironically, of course, the religios who maintain this most stoutly are also those who zealously massacre the principle at every step in their sometimes violent attempts to forcibly convert others to their own scheme of faith.)

Thanks also for having Tom review Mormonism and explaining how is a “living” example of how a religion can jump into being and grow in spite of a general feeling that it’s hokum—and that the fervor of the members of the church do not prove its truth.

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Posted: 31 December 2008 01:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Don’t foerget Gore Vidal - “His Live from Golgotha” is amazing.

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Posted: 31 December 2008 07:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Sorry. I did not have my reading glasses on last time. I meant his “Live from Golgotha” by Gore Vidal, a time travellling TV extravaganza

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Posted: 01 January 2009 10:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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As with most cfi podcasts, this one was quite worthwhile regardless of where you hang your hat.  As a long time Sci-Fi reader, I view it as so much thought provoking escape from reality while the best in the classic sense explores the range of possibilities beyond what we currently “know”.  That said, it is kind of like religion in that there is really a lot of junk you have to sort through to pick up any actual pearls.

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Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful. - Seneca (ca. 4 BC –AD 65)

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Posted: 01 January 2009 11:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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gray1 - 01 January 2009 10:17 AM

As with most cfi podcasts, this one was quite worthwhile regardless of where you hang your hat.  As a long time Sci-Fi reader, I view it as so much thought provoking escape from reality while the best in the classic sense explores the range of possibilities beyond what we currently “know”.  That said, it is kind of like religion in that there is really a lot of junk you have to sort through to pick up any actual pearls.

Welcome to the forum as the “first new member of 2009” (?)
—- there is an “introduce yourself”  thread
Here is an example from yesterday….
http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/5248/

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Posted: 02 January 2009 01:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Doctor Who and Russell T Davies!

Just thought I’d add this a no-one seems to have mentioned it. I’ll forgive you as Doctor Who isn’t widely known in the US. The British Doctor Who sci-fi series (1963-1988) always championed science and critical thinking over superstition, but this alliance with atheism has become more prominent with it’s 2005-onwards revival under Russell T Davies. Davies is an outspoken atheist whose non-sci-fi TV work has dealt with these issues before (UK ITV, 2003 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Second_Coming_(TV))).

There are numerous small satires on religion in the new series (Davies has come under fire from some evangelicals for his use of Christian imagery - especially when the Doctor appears as God) and the 2008 series finale featured a cameo by Richard Dawkins.

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Posted: 06 January 2009 09:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Just a plug for Joss Whedon and Firefly as another example of outstanding atheist SF. Great podcast!

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Posted: 06 January 2009 08:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I apologize if this showed up elsewhere already - this my first CFI post and I’m not sure whether I got it in the right place on the first try (I may have sent it directly to a Tom)

Another wonderful episode.  Thanks to all involved. 

With regard to the references made to Mormonism, let me recommend two books that present non-polemical, unvarnished, and compelling historical research on the origins of the Book of Mormon and the early evolution of that religion under direction of Joseph Smith. These are:

1. An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins (2002) by Grant Palmer and

2. Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Revised 1998) by D. Michael Quinn. 

Both writers were life-long members of the LDS Church when they wrote these books and remain sympathetic to the Mormon Church despite being “disfellowshipped” (Palmer) and excommunicated (Quinn). In his Introduction Quinn maintains his “‘testimony’ of Jesus and Joseph Smith as a prophet . . .”  Indeed, it is apparent that the work of both writers were motivated by consciences struggling with discrepancies between the official Church version of history and the what they determined to be incontrovertible evidence of the real story. 

I went away wondering how anyone could maintain their faith in that religion after coming to terms with what these authors report.  Still, I couldn’t help but maintain a certain sympathy, and even a tinge of admiration, for the early church figures, especially Joseph Smith, who I can no longer caricature as a simple con-man.  There is a depth to what happened in that strange corner of 19th century America, which carries through to the present. It is a mystery that needs to be probed and understood - not dismissed too readily as simple foolishness, despite how ridiculous the claims of the Mormon church appear to a rational outsider.

[ Edited: 06 January 2009 08:44 PM by ek ]
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