Can Science Fiction Fill the Religious Void?

The latest Rebel Wisdom features a thought-provoking interview with writer Damien Walter. Science fiction, says Walter, can replace “society’s central source of meaning,” which has traditionally been religion. As Walter puts it: “Science fiction is essentially the attempt of science… to create a mythos for itself. Because science damaged the previous mythos, the Christian mythos, for most of Western society.”

It’s a fascinating idea, one that every writer can relate to. I believe literature is inherently spiritual, exploring and ruminating on our connections to others and the universe. Anyone who wrestles their thoughts onto paper has a view of the world they yearn to share. Science alone, I realized long ago, is no substitute for a well-rounded world view. However, it can not only inspire great stories, but also deepen and broaden our perspective.

After all, ideas have consequences. A valid philosophy of life must begin with an accurate understanding of human nature. Look at the horrors spawned by the ideologies of the last century, all based on noble-sounding assumptions which turned out in practice to be false. Writers, I think, have a duty to diagnose, advise, and heal while we entertain.

The unspoken component of that duty is to constantly revise and strengthen our world view. As E. O. Wilson tells us, science can give the humanities “more solidly grounded answers” to life’s mysteries. And boy, does this society need grounding. That’s why I’ve long been fascinated by science fiction.

23 thoughts on “Can Science Fiction Fill the Religious Void?”

  1. Dear Mike,

    Thank you for giving Edward O Wilson a big nod near the end of your excellent post.

    I concur with you regarding the edificatory roles that science fiction literatures and films can play in contemporary societies. For example, I really like some of Philip K Dick’s advanced and thought-provoking ideas in his books. The issues and implications of “The Machine” are very multifaceted and complex. In a very palpable way, the movie “Blade Runner” has posted some sobering questions and possible scenarios.

    In turbo-charging our vision and dream of the cybernatically enhanced existence in the near future, there are many things to ponder. For example, I would like to consider not only sensory enhancement but also the quality and longevity of lives, and not just human lives. Each year, so many trees are logged and made into Christmas trees for decoration, and so many fresh flowers are cut only to fade within days or weeks. I simply resort to decorating, once and for all and as best as I can, a small artificial tree, which I keep using year after year. For the same reason, I have a lot of life-like artificial plants, flowers and leaves indoors and they could last for decades as opposed to having real flowers lasting just a few days. Could we have perpetually living artificial plants and animals so that some of us don’t have to bid farewell to short-lived pets and plants as they age and pass away?

    Similarly, I really wish that I could have some “artificial” but sentient humans or robots too, something like Commander Data, the Bicentennial Man, Rachel in Blade Runner, or other advanced automata as seen in Sci-Fi movies, as long as they are free of the usual human frailties, follies, deceptions and irrationality, if not immortality. Alternatively, some benign, benevolent and understanding extra-terrestrials could be even more desirable, and could present the chance and means for intergalactic or even interuniverse travel, thus ending, transforming and transcending my meagre earth-bound, dust-to-dust ephemeral existence.

    In addition, I am interested in the intersections of art and science, of public and private spaces, of the cultural and the technological. Whilst I agree that technology offers enormous unexplored potential allowing emerging artists to express themselves in unprecedented ways, I do have certain concerns and caveats regarding science “reproducing” reality and artists representing it. In some of my posts, I have endeavoured to give a very good inkling of the kind of society that humans might be heading towards. Looking into the future, here is an entry in my sociology, philosophical anthropology and cultural history journal entitled “🎧 Facing the Noise & Music: Playgrounds for Biophobic Citizens 🏗🌁🗼“, published at

    https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/facing-the-noise-music-playgrounds-for-biophobic-citizens/

    Pushing forward another 50 years or (much) less, we could indeed end up in the scenario as described in my said post. I am keen and curious about what you will make of my said post, and welcome your wisdom and thoughts there regarding any matters raised by my said post.

    Yours sincerely,
    SoundEagle

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Dear Mike,

        That “[o]nly people can make art” is no longer true, as multipronged and multidisciplinary investigations and developments of AI, deep learning, expert systems and so on have already produced sophisticated art and musical compositions.

        Yours sincerely,
        SoundEagle

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The idea that Sci-Fi offers meaning to life, is interesting and something I can get behind. I think a lot of recent Marvel movies teeter on that line, and with what you’ve written here, I’m willing to bet that it offers this kind of (false) comfort for people.

    I hope this doesn’t read as if I’m religious. I’m not, but I can see how a growing non-religious population would look to something else, like Sci-Fi in these times.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Storytelling is spiritual. The stories of Genesis and creation stories from other cultures supply meaning for us. When I first watched STAR WARS I was hooked. Science fiction – like fairytales – open doors within us and we connect to our emotions that are so powerful. Thank you for this post.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Elizabeth,

      I totally agree. People who laugh at the mysticism and shaky science in Star Wars can’t see the forest for the trees. Lucas re-introduced new generations to the heroic myth, and we’re the richer for it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting that you present this concept of science fiction replacing religion the same week that I see Wired mag suggesting that technology will create a natural surrounding where beings can hike and play (in the Metaverse) to replace actual nature. I would not bet on either of those propositions … but then I never expected that Starbucks could be more than a few dozen locations in Seattle. Many wish for a particular thing to be ”the next Big Thing.” Do not be forlorn when others do not share the vision. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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