Hugh Nibley is a sort of philosophical rock star among true blue Mormons. I stumbled across an article he wrote concerning Science Fiction and Mormonism. If you can tolerate reading it, I highly encourage you to do so. 99% of what he talks about is pure speculation and hypothesis, but you can tell he tries to keep it based off of true Mormon doctrine.
One of the interesting things I love about Science Fiction is that the really good stuff is no different than a good thought experiment, also known as Gedanken. Einstein seems to be the one who perfected the art of Gedanken in the physics community, so we allow him the honor of giving it a name from his native German language. Einstein’s most famous paper on special relativity is in fact a thought experiment, different only from good Science Fiction in that he takes some time to calculate some things and he doesn’t worry about the plot at all.
A thought experiment I like to play is to take an idea, allow it to age for several thousand years, and see where it leads us. This thought experiment, as Hugh Nibley explains, is found in many, many works of Science Fiction. Unfortunately for scientists and philosophers, the end result is always bleak.
For instance, let’s say we continue down the path of perfecting the human species, eliminating all war, all hunger, all sickness, disease, even death. We build a perfect society, based on scientific principles, where all the bad things we don’t like are completely gone. What then? There ends up being no purpose to life at all. There are not a few works of science fiction where the immortal race of pure scientists are intent on ending their lives, not because they have turned evil, but because they have become bored.
This pattern is repeated if you take the idea of mechanization to its full potential. With all human activity automated by machines, what purpose do humans have? It’s entirely imaginable that society would carry on without humans, a machine without a soul or purpose or meaning. The society of machines, each fulfilling their role in perfect harmony, would be as dead as the pyramids of Egypt, a monument to a once-great race of men who no longer exist.
Of course, there is the problem of war. If we fight war to protect ourselves, do we extrapolate that to waging an eternal war against all enemies in perpetuity? Is that the purpose of life, to kill and to destroy so that we can continue to live? Many authors have explored this idea, and most have come to the same conclusion: That’s not what we’re all about either.
Hugh Nibley makes the point that all of the stories Science Fiction has invented are not new at all. Replace the names and props, and you can have ancient stories from scripture. The scriptures, of course, answer these questions by introducing the concept of God and a grander purpose.
What’s interesting is that Science Fiction is no longer as exciting as it used to be. We used to enjoy stories of man’s conquest of nature and man’s struggle against evil, but nowadays I think most Science Fiction authors have realized that there has to be some greater purpose to it all, otherwise, it’s pointless and boring.
What’s happened is Science Fiction is simply fiction without religion. Religion is the purpose, it is the point. Religion is what truly excites men’s souls and gives us meaning and direction.
Hugh Nibley then goes on to read some ancient stories, whether true or not we simply don’t know at this time, but changing the language so that it is more modern and could easily pass as a good piece of Science Fiction. Abraham, for instance, is said to have been taken through time and space to meet God himself. The majesty and power of God is so overwhelming that neither his companion nor him want to enter even the outermost portion of God’s dwelling place, which to them is so full of power and energy that it would appear to be suicide even to begin the journey towards the center. Once they do enter God’s realm, they are overwhelmed with emotion to worship the Creator and Father of time and space.
Another story hints at how the earth was created, and what role it plays. It talks about angels moving matter from one part of space to another, separating the wanted from the unwanted using gravity, heat and pressure. The earth itself is a crucible, a sort of proving ground, and we are no different from the matter the angels continually shovel down or bring out.
Another story talks about a devil who hijacked a convoy of plant and animal life destined for their intended worlds. An angel, armed with God’s wrath and glory, is able to reclaim the plants and animals, and put them in their correct sphere.
Another story tells of the devils and his angels sitting outside of the conversation, unable to understand God’s will and purpose. To them, it appears random, but to God’s angels, there is order and purpose. Their short-lived victories are all vanity compared to God’s overwhelming purpose.
Hugh Nibley hints at the materialism that Mormonism embraces. Spirits are made of the same matter stuff as the mortal realm in which we live. (I should talk about the rumors of super symmetry and it’s probable direct link to this spirit realm one day.) God is made out of matter, just like we are, and so there is no parallel, spiritual realm. Things are merely hidden from us because of God’s plan. The heavens are really full of angels moving to and fro, each on assignment from God himself.
He also talks about what it takes to make God’s kingdom come, and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. He talks about some ancient tales (again, true or no we cannot tell today) describing how God’s organization works, and how every culture on earth which has lasted more than a few years has tried to recreate the same on earth.
I think the Atheists have it all backward; God is not absent, he is there. When you rule God out, then all purpose and meaning vanishes.
Ultimately, what we believe is what we will be. If we put our trust in our intellects and write off the revelations God has given us, are we surprised when we end up no better than the material world around us—without purpose? If we put our trust into God’s hands, doesn’t that take that same, lifeless material and make it into something with grand design and purpose, even giving it the attributes of life itself?
The best Science Fiction is a Gedanken. And the best Gedanken of all is to ponder on the meaning of life, the attributes and nature of God, and the true nature of the world around us. Perhaps one day Science Fiction will be married to Religion in the same way Religion is married to so many other aspects of our lives, and enriches them with color and beauty and purpose.