Saturday 10th September, 3.30-5.30pm
See the visions of religion contributed by our audience members at this event.
Panelist Steven French interviewed by BBC Arabic (dubbed!).
John Stanley Bell Lecture Theatre (JSB): Richmond Building
Free, but you need to book.
Should science fiction be kept secular? Can science fiction stories help us to understand tensions between science and religion? Join us for a panel discussion with a science fiction author, a philosopher of science, fanfiction author and medieval historian. We invite you to contribute questions, comments, and your own ideas about religion in the future – or in a galaxy far, far away.
Steven French – Philosopher of Science at Leeds
How Science Fiction Needs to Take Religion Seriously (If Its Going to Support a Healthy Secular Humanist Lifestyle!) There is a long-held distinction that attributes religious themes to fantasy and leaves the secular to science fiction. This underpins claims that the role of science fiction is to present and support the ‘scientific understanding’ of the world and that by doing so, it will squeeze out religion. However, both the distinction and such claims are simplistic, as so often are the presentations of both science and religion within the literature. Science fiction is capable of giving us a compelling vision of a secular humanist future but only if it takes both science and religion seriously.
Chris Beckett – author of The Holy Machine and winner of the Edge Hill Short Fiction Award (2009)
Religion tries to answer questions about our relationship with the world, and this relationship is also SF’s special area. In all forms of fiction, imaginary characters are invented as a means of exploring relationships between human beings, but in science fiction the world itself is invented, and is really an additional character to which the other characters relate. The protagonist of The Holy Machine crosses the border into s society dominated by fundamentalist religion from a society which insists on an equally fundamentalist kind of atheism. My forthcoming novel Dark Eden takes place on a planet where an entire human community is descended from a man and a woman stranded there generations previously, retelling the story of their origins over and over, and gradually turning it into a kind of religion as they try and make sense of their exile.
Una McCormack – author of Star Trek and Doctor Who novels
Both Star Trek and Doctor Who traditionally characterized religion as antithetical to their secular humanist agenda. Computers posing as gods, aliens masquerading as demons – the Enterprise or the Doctor would appear from the sky to expose such frauds and prove the natural basis of these apparently supernatural phenomena. But in later versions, both shows moved towards more nuanced reflections upon religious belief. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine took seriously the professed faith of numerous characters in their ‘Prophets’, while, in the hands of show-runner (and atheist) Russell T Davies, Doctor Who adopted religious imagery more freely than ever before, positioning the Doctor as Messiah in order to question our belief in scientific gurus as much as religious prophets. In accepting the possibility that there may be more in this universe than we have dreamt of, both programmes began to ask broader questions about the nature of faith and the experience of the numinous, while maintaining a confident (if critical) trust in their own secular humanism.
Shana Worthen – Historian of Medieval Technology, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
When a given religion is an intrinsic part of an author’s worldview, it often informs the way that author wrote works we might today recognize as science fiction. Both are ways of accounting for why the world works as it does. Early science fictional narratives, from Lucian of Samosata’s second-century moon journey to Mary Shelley’s early nineteenth-century Frankenstein, explore worlds informed simultaneously by the science and religion of their respective days. These works uses their authors’ contemporary understanding of the way the world works in order to experiment with vaguely plausible ways in which humans might experience what had previously been the provenance primarily of religious explanation, whether through physics, biology, or other fields of natural philosophy.