Author Response: Faith, Science, and The Proximian

4 Aug

After I raised some objections in a review to what I see as an incongruous blending of biblical literalism in his science fiction novel The Proximian, I wanted to make sure author Dennis Phillips had a hearing too.  He felt strongly enough to leave a very generous comment on my review, and I felt strongly enough to re-publish my review of atheist Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation. But not everyone scrolls down to read the comments, so here’s Mr. Phillips’s response to an admittedly critical reception of The Proximian from the Scattering:

Thank you, Isabela for taking time to review my work, and thank you for your kind comments. You mentioned in an email to me that you are an athiest. As such, I understand that you would be biased with regard to any blending of religion in science.

You seem to believe there is some disconnect between faith and science. I do not. You seem to believe that if someone is true to science, that they cannot be religious, which is why you wrote “I find it difficult to believe that an astrophysicist like Carl Sage could accept Creationism.” Yet many like him have and do. I can no more prove the existence of God, than you can disprove it. In the end, a belief in God, like a belief in the theory of evolution, must be a matter of faith.

Many thanks again and best wishes for a successful future,

Dennis Phillips, author, The Proximian

And here’s my comment in reply:

I’d hate to get into a theological argument in a comment thread, but one thing you said in particular stuck out to me as rather off– “A belief in God, like a belief in the theory of evolution, must be a matter of faith.”

Absolutely not!

Tim Minchin said it best: “Science adjusts its views based on what’s been observed. Faith is denial of observation so that belief can be preserved.”

In regard to the “absence of evidence” vs. “evidence of absence” argument, here’s briefly what I have to say:

Observation and experimentation is the basis of science, and these pillars allow not only for dialogue but the opportunity for other scientists and researchers to disprove a hypothesis–and so get closer to the truth (knowing something is wrong is just as valuable as knowing which answer is right). The fact that one cannot, as you mentioned, disprove the existence of God only serves to highlight the very real disconnect between faith and science: that’s completely the opposite of the scientific ethos.

Sam Harris’s short “Letter to a Christian Nation” would be a great resource for anyone wishing to better understand atheism.

– Isabela Morales

Well, the debate isn’t going to be solved in the comment thread of a second-tier science fiction review blog, but I hope that gives readers a more rounded-out view of author Dennis Phillips’s philosophy and reasons for including some Genesis apocrypha in his novel.  The stakes, as he let me know, are high:

One of us is wrong. We can’t both be right. And if I’m wrong, when I die, I’ve lost nothing; but if you’re wrong, then some day, when you die, you’ve lost everything.



2 Responses to “Author Response: Faith, Science, and The Proximian

  1. Dennis Phillips August 5, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

    I cannot help but like you Isabela.

    You did start me thinking though, and I have removed the “Genesis” dialogue you quoted from Carl’s hypersleep meeting with Noyes from my working copy of the story. I amended it to indicate that the Proximians originated on earth (without saying how) and that they left to escape it’s destruction 4,000 years ago. I talk about a great geological upheaval, and the collapse of the canopy, but I don’t go into the whole creation thing. I eliminated direct references to Noah, but I kept the idea of a world-wide flood. I intend to republish after a few more edits. I do think it makes for a better story, not being so in-your-face offensive to folks who might not see life from my perspective, but leaving in some food for thought.

    Thanks again, and keep up the good work.

    • thescattering August 5, 2010 at 8:34 pm #

      Well you know, it’s a much more interesting story when the loyal opposition turns out to be likeable.

      Those changes sound like a fantastic idea! I think that makes the narrative much more accessible to people of different theological and philosophical stripes–the mythology of a cataclysmic flood, after all, can be found in as diverse sources as the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh and the Hindu story of Manu, among others.

      I’m definitely looking forward to the re-published version of the novel.

      — Isabela

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