What makes good science fiction

What makes good science fiction?

If I finish reading a good book, then continue to think about it later, that is an interesting book. If the book prompts me to read other books by different others, that is an even better book.

I read the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy by Robert J Sawyer. In the 3rd book Hybrids, after enjoying the previous 2, the author mentions some research by neuroscientists on the origins of god belief. The Neanderthals in the book were atheist. I then read one of the books mentioned Why God Won’t go Away by Andrew Newberg.

I then read Calculating God by Robert J Sawyer. The story mentions Rocks of Ages by Stephen Jay Gould, which I read as well. Rocks of Ages analyses the Scopes trial and mentions:

A Civic Biology Presented in Problems by George William Hunter – the book the Scopes Trial was about. I have read parts of it, in the same way that Christians read the Bible.

Headquarters Nights by William Lyman Kellog – reading, almost done

The Science of Power by Benjamin Kidd – reading

Neanderthal Parallax –> NeuroTheology – I didn’t know there was such a thing before this book.

Calculating God –> Rocks of Ages –> Scopes Trial –> Headquarters Nights, The Science of Power and A Civic Biology which has gotten me interested in the moral conundrum – Science vs. Morality which is Religion for many.

Theoretically, sci-fi fantasy could do the same thing, but, it doesn’t seem to happen.So, I rarely read fantasy stories.


Moral conundrum

If it were demonstrated that accepting evolution made a person less moral, should you accept it anyway? Should you use the consequences of a belief as a reason to accept or reject it?

There were movements called Social Darwinism and Eugenics that arrived at what, to me, are unsavory consequences.

That seems to be the moral dilemna faced by fundamentalist Christians as well.

What happens as the evidence for evolution mounts?

My observation is that those who oppose evolution by natural selection have little to no understanding of it. I would assume that someone simply told them to reject it.

Agnostics and atheists can’t be excused so easily.


Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer

I decided to read the book before reading the reviews. I had already read the Neanderthal Parralax, and decided to trust the author to not disapoint me. He delivered.

In the book, an alien craft lands at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada.
‘The alien sidled up to the blue-blazered security officer— Raghubir, a grizzled but genial Sikh who’d been with the ROM forever— and said, in perfect English, “Excuse me. I would like to see a paleontologist.”’ (Kindle Locations 108-109).

In the book, The Day the Earth Stood Still by Harry Bates, Klaatu is killed by the Americans; in the Robert Wise movie, he was shot but not killed, though killed later. Also shot in the recent remake. This Canadian version of first contact was much more interesting. Strangely, the Canadians did not behave like Americans! Sawyer is Canadian, a different perspective. If you have any familiarity with Canada, it was a refreshing change.

The aliens had evidence for the existence of a god, a prime mover of the universe. The aliens stated the finely tuned universe arguments and the irredicible complexity argument, with our atheist paleontologist making counter arguments.

It was a rather interesting book, with particular relevance to myself. Obviously, you will keep in mind that an agnostic is recommending the book, and the fact that it is science fiction, note the word fiction.

There is a section at the end of the book – Book Group Discussion Questions. If I get enough people reading it, we will have a book discussion as well.


Is Stalin atheism gone bad

I think that it is correct to point to Stalin as an example of atheism gone bad. In the same vein, you could say that Harry S Truman was responsible for the deaths of many people when he gave the go ahead to drop the nuclear weapons on Japan, or Bomber Harris targeting cities in Germany during WW II (the Dresden fire storm as an example).
The issue will come down to whether religion or lack of religion influences individual behavior, the question of causality. Did Stalin behave very badly because he was atheist, or did he behave very badly, which was then described as atheist? Stalin was raised Catholic as was Adolf Hitler. Is it early upbringing or what happens later? Stalin didn’t act alone, nor did Hitler, Tojo or Bomber Harris.
When Chruchill and Roosevelt were unwilling to open the Western Front in Europe, how many Soviets died as a result? Stalin kept demanding the second front, which might have saved many Soviet lives. Did Churchill and Roosevelt delay in order to weaken the Soviet Union after the war?
Is, not acting, bad/evil?
Truman is a case, where one man made a decision, which directly killed around 160,000 people. Even he did not act entirely alone. Scientists such as J Robert Oppenheimer argued for a demonstration of the new weapon. Others argued that the death toll from invading the home islands would be enormous. Truman made the decision and ‘slept like a baby’ afterward. Was he athiest?
Maybe good people will be good on their own and bad people will be bad on their own. Does religion make a difference? Do people just choose labels to justify what they would do anyway?

Heresy. The chilling effects of removing the separation of church and state.

Heresy. The chilling effects of removing the separation of church and state.

The thing that got me interested in the origins of science was the book: The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution by James Hannam. It was John Milam’s idea and John did the presentation, but there were unexpected consequences. Hannam kept mentioning heresy – see below – Why Was it so difficult to disagree during the Dark Ages in Europe. I got interested in the subject of science in Europe and read a fair number of books on the subject. I was basically looking for a non-Christian explanation of the origins of science, then expanded to the history of the European Dark Ages and then, Greek Science, Arabic Science, Chinese Science and more generally, the Byzantine empire. I got interested in the history of the Christian church in Europe and the Byzantine Empire.
I just finished The Byzantine Empire by Charles William Chadwick Oman and Rocks of Ages by Stephen Jay Gould.


Being tried for Christian Heresy has been around since 200 or 300 CE. That was when they first gained some secular power, and being convicted was more serious than a slap on the wrist.

In the earlier periods the sentence thus is simply a condemnation as a heretic, accompanied by excommunication, or it merely states that the offender is no longer considered as subject to the jurisdiction of the Church. Sometimes there is the addition that he is abandoned to secular judgment—“relaxed,” according to the terrible euphemism which assumed that he was simply discharged from custody. When the formulas had become more perfected there is frequently the explanatory remark that the Church has nothing left to do to him for his demerits; and the relinquishment to the secular arm is accompanied with the significant addition “debita animadversione puniendum”—that he is to be duly punished by it. The adjuration that this punishment, in accordance with the canonical sanctions, shall not imperil life or limb, or shall not cause death or effusion of blood, does not appear in the earlier sentences, and was not universal even at a later period.
Lea, Henry Charles (2012-05-11). A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages (Complete – Volume 1, 2 and 3) (Kindle Locations 9511-9518). . Kindle Edition.

The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution by James Hannam

A History of the the Inquisition of the Middle Ages by Henry Charles Lea

Malleus Maleficarum: The Hammer of Witches by James Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer – translation from Latin by Montague Summers.

for more:
The Spanish Inquisition

My website:
http://www.davesskepticalblog.com – where you are now

Select the category Religion or Books and you will find the following posts by myself:
Why Was it so difficult to disagree during the Dark Ages in Europe

Witches – Malleus Maleficarum

I’m back

I am back from my most recent trip. I had very little Internet access during the trip, so, I have fallen behind with the photos. I should get caught up in the next few days.
Also, I am looking for an apartment.

Survey results from 2014Jun

Survey results from 2014Jun survey

Thank you, friends, for responding to my survey. Note the word ‘friends’. There were only a few responders that I don’t know personally, though, I probably recognize their faces. Say ‘hi’ the next time you see me.

Skip down a few posts to see the original survey.

There were 18 replies. Several friends told me that they won’t do the survey. I suppose that is a result in itself. Answering questionaires is a standard part of getting a degree in psychology. Not all questions were answered by all people. Here are the results of this survey:

   Yes  No
Dance  7  10
Meditation  3  15
Military – Yes  4  
   Feel part of Group  2  2
Military – No    
   Group experience  10  4
Transcendent exp  2  14
Coin Flip – correct ans 50/50  17  1 – not sure how to interpret
Spend hours alone  17  none
Read books – added ? too late  3  1
Read Sci-Fi  9  5
Religion  6  12

Occupy – soft/engineer, mgmt, professional, scientific, varied
Doesn’t answer surveys – 2
Willing to answer, but too late 1

Just for comparison, here is how I (DaveN) answered the questions:
Dance – No
Meditation – No
Group experience – No
Transcend – No
Coin flip – 50/50 is the correct answer
Spend hours alone – Yes
Read books – Yes
Read Sci-fi – Yes
Religion – No
Job – engineering/technical

Notice how similar the results are. That is called sampling bias. My friends answered the survey, and surprise, they answered similarly to how I answered. There were several friends who didn’t respond to my survey, but, answered my questions. I tested my questions on Iggy, who gave nearly identical responses to my own, but didn’t answer my survey. Several other friends answered my questions verbally, but didn’t fill in my survey. One friend that I have known for more than 30 years, said that he didn’t answer surveys, so that is an answer in itself. Several other friends have answered my questions but not taken the survey, with rather similar results.

Every person who answered my survey said ‘yes’ to Spend hours alone. I had 4 people who had or still are in the military. Religion 6 yes, 11 no. So, some of my friends have religion to varying degrees.

I was surprised by the dance question. I can dance, but I don’t enjoy doing it for hours, only as something that I would like to be able to do. I have tried meditation more than once, including from a Buddhist monk, but I couldn’t really get into it.

The survey was prompted by my recent reading interests in the sources of morality, the evolution of sociality, and the evolution of religious behavior.

I tried to develop a short list of questions.

I read Hybrids, which mentioned Newberg. Newberg mentioned Ehrenreich. This has been an interest of mine for some time. For instance, I read Wilson’s Sociobiology a long time ago (30 years?). I have also been reading books related to the rise of science; my book group has discussed several books in the area.

Related Books – not in order of enjoyment:

Hybrids (Neanderthal Parallax – book 3) by Robert J. Sawyer. This is the science fiction story that prompted me to develop this survey. The storyline of the book involves actual research, which prompted me to read Newberg.

Dancing in the streets: A history of collective Joy by Barbara Ehrenreich.
She speaks of ecstatic ritual, which covers several of the questions.

Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief by Andrew Newberg Md, Eugene G. D’Aquila, Vince Rouse … This book goes into the areas of the brain involved in religious belief. This is where I got the meditation, coin flip and transcendence questions. They mention Ehrenreich’s dancing book, which prompted me to read it.

Primates and Philosophers: How morality evolved by Franz de Waal, Macedo et al – cute little monkeys and chimpanzees

Stories from the Twilight Zone by Rod Serling – Sci-Fi – The Fever is a story about a man and a slot machine.

The Tell Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human by VS Ramachandran – discusses mirror neurons among other things.

Answers for Aristotle: How science and philosophy can lead us to a more meaningful … by Massimo Pigliucci

Sense and Goodness without God by Richard Carrier – philosopher

Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain by Antonio Damasio – neuroscience

Frankenstein by Mary Wollstoncroft Shelley – what makes us human?

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt – why do we make choices the way we do? I also saw him, recently, on a TED talk. The topic was approaching catastrophes.

The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason by Charles Freeman – historical account of the rise of European Christianity and the fall of thinking, before the European Renaissance. This is a history of Europe and the Middle East only.

History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science by John William Draper. A historical account covering the same general areas as The Closing of the Western Mind.

Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality – motor neurons etc. She presents it from the philosoper’s perspective
Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain. – No soul there.
by Patricia S. Churchland – philosopher

Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality by Darrel Ray (who puts on some great picnics) – Not that closely related, but, I like the book and the picnics. Sex is natural, and religion can really mess it up.

The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (approx 1871) by Charles Darwin – haven’t read this one yet, but I keep reading references to it. Free on Kindle.

Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not by Robert N. McCauley – science is not intuitive, but religion is. It takes effort to actually understand quantum mechanics, while imputing agency to random events is something that humans do quite easily.

The Trouble with Science by Robin Dunbar – “One of the most alarming manifestations of this ambivalence toward science …” loc. 77 ‘Only when our rules of thumb no longer work, do we engage in the often difficult business of empirical science.’ loc 1437 Includes British and American attitudes toward science and tries to analyze why.

The Social Conquest of Earth by Edward O. Wilson – eusociality, Wilson is an entomologist. In recent years, he has used his knowledge of social insects to look at primates and humans. His early work was SocioBiology, which upset quite a few people, since it impinges on the issues discussed in this survey.

The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance and Empower the Mind by Michio Kaku

The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence by Carl Sagan

If you want to comment on the survey, use the comment button, just below this post. This is a mediated site, so, it may take a while to see your comment posted.


Preliminary survey results

I sent out about 58 personal emails. So, far, I have come to the conclusion that the results are tending to be similar i.e. biased. Not surprising. The selecting factor, is that the personal emails were sent to my friends. Thank you, my friends.

So, I have posted on P&P and Skeptics, larger groups. Many are friends, some, I don’t even know. This should provide a better spread, though I suspect that most of the answers will be roughly the same.

I will merge all of the results together.


Please fill in my survey

Please fill in my survey and in a week or so, I will tell you the results and why I am asking these questions.

Please copy paste the form and mail it to me at davidneises@yahoo.com or leave a copy/pasted message as a comment to this post.

Do you dance for hours? i.e. dance all night, really love dancing etc.

Do you meditate regularly?

If you have been in the military?
When you were marching, did you feel like you were part of a group, after a while? Really felt like you were part of a team.
Have you been a member of a choir or some other group, band etc?

Have you had any transcendent experiences, such as Near Death, out of body, visitations ?

If I flip a coin, get tails, flip a coin, get tails 20 times in a row, always tails. What will I get on the next fair coin toss?

Do you enjoy gambling? Slot machines especially. Do you have a system?

I can be alone for hours?

Do you enjoy reading science fiction?

Are you:
Very religious?
Somewhat religious?
Neither here nor there?
Definitely not religious?

What sort of work do you / did you do?
Hospitality (waiter, etc)
Professional such as doctor or lawyer

I should be able to get back with results in a week or less. Hopefully, I will get enough returns for meaningfull results.

I will post the results, along with explanation in about a week.

The camground next to Chaco Canyon, 2014May01

The camground next to Chaco Canyon, 2014May01
My van is down there somewhere. Looks kinda small.  Oh! There's my van
My van is down there somewhere. Looks kinda small. Oh! There’s my van
In perspective  Walking on the trail on the mesa above the campground
In perspective. Walking on the trail on the mesa above the campground
Going for a walk - looking NW  Fajada Butte from overlook
Going for a walk – looking NW. Fajada Butte from overlook
Fajada Butte  Looking down
Fajada Butte. Looking down
The trail  Going back to the campground
The trail. Going back to the campground
Home  My spot
Home. My spot
Looking northwest
Looking northwest