When Science Fiction Meets Religion

I’m a fantasy writer. I get a paycheck (however indirectly) to sit around and think about what ifs. Speculative fiction, I suppose, since I just branched out and wrote my first science fiction book. I’m also a believing Mormon, which influences the way I view the world and the universe. Not in a “The earth is only 6,000 years old” or an “Evolution is a lie” sort of way. I believe truth is truth. Like with varying models of physics, I believe that just because there’s an apparent conflict between two models doesn’t mean one of them is wrong. It could mean that one or both are incomplete.

So there are times when all that “what if” thinking I do intersects with science and religion. Today is one of those times. My friend Dan Wells is fond of retweeting a lot of cool and crazy things on Twitter. Today, he posted a link to an article that questions the odds that we’re all living in a simulation, Matrix-style. (Conclusion: unable to tell.) And this coincided with a separate train of thought I’ve been having over the last while.

We’ve come far enough in our understanding of science that it’s now possible to conceive of a scientific explanation for God. Whether it’s a science fiction universe where a being stepped in and created and designed life or a complex computer simulation created by a higher being, it’s not an enormous stretch of the imagination to see that it might be possible.

Of course, as soon as you mention science fiction and religion, the knee jerk response is to go to Scientology, which I’d like to avoid today. And I’d also like to start all this out with a disclaimer that religion (to me) isn’t about all of what I’m about to go into. It’s about living good lives and trying to improve ourselves, when you get right down to it. But like I said, I think about a lot of different things, so here we go.

Imagine a situation where a scientist had to describe a situation to someone with no real knowledge of science. That explanation might come off looking an awful lot like religion. What if the scientist’s understanding was way beyond our current knowledge? The same result. Replace the word “scientist” with “God,” and is it any different? (And yes, I realize I’ve wandered off into the “God is an alien” territory, and I didn’t really mean to go there, and I don’t believe that, but something more along the lines of “If scientists were to observe God, the likely conclusion they’d make would be “God is an alien.” Sigh. That doesn’t sound much better, does it? This is what I get when I try to cram complex thinks into simple blog posts . . . )

Interestingly (to me), Mormon theology has room in it for this sort of thinking. Let’s talk about relativity for a moment: the idea that time and space are connected, and that speeds influence the way we experience time. (I’m drastically oversimplifying, obviously.) In D&C 130:4, we read “Is not the reckoning of God’s time, angel’s time, prophet’s time, and man’s time, according to the planet on which they reside?” I find it utterly fascinating that in 1843, Joseph Smith wrote that bit about time being relative. Maybe the theory predates Einstein by a good deal, and I’m just not aware of it.

Another example: Mormon theology teaches that God lives outside of time, or rather that “past, present, and future are continually before the Lord.” (D&C 130:7) This has been a concept that I’ve thought a great deal about. I don’t pretend to be able to understand it, but the concept appeals to me. (It makes sense, as well, that there would be things God says or describes that just don’t make sense to people with a smaller understanding.)

I’m far from the first Mormon to have these sort of thoughts. (For an interesting read, check out this article by Kent Nielsen a religion professor at BYU, published in a church magazine (The New Era) in 1971. It talks at length about church doctrine and how it relates to beings on other planets.) Some have noted that there seems to be a high number of Mormon fantasy/science fiction writers out there. (Brandon Sanderson, Stephanie Meyer, Orson Scott Card, Dan Wells, David Wolverton/Farland, Shannon Hale, Brandon Mull, James Dashner, etc.) I do believe some of it could be due to the fact that our doctrine embraces some of these concepts. (Not that it’s core doctrine, mind you. But it’s there.)

Anyway. This post isn’t meant to say that LDS doctrine explains all of science, or that science is always wrong when it goes up against church teachings. It’s just a snippet of my thought process. I don’t think science knows everything (and any good scientist would agree), and I don’t believe prophets have a complete understanding of all science either, or even a good understanding, necessarily. (They don’t need to in order to do what they’re supposed to do.)

The basic thought is this: science could explain a lot of what religion’s been teaching all along. And I personally believe that when we all finally know everything there is to know about science and religion, we’ll see that they were both right all along. It was our understanding that was off.

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