Looking for help for a University Paper

Religion plays a large part in the lives of most people. What role, if any, does religion play in science fiction?

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Looking for help for a University Paper

Postby Malcontent » Thu May 26, 2011 11:04 pm

Hey folks,

I am currently taking a university class on the anthropology of religion, and as part of that I am considering writing a paper on the use of religious mythology in science fiction -- especially the BSG remake. That is, of course, if I can come up with enough 'academically credible' and 'scholarly' sources to provide adequate grist for the mill. (Typical undergrad course...I'm not allowed to do original research or posit a thesis of my own, but that doesn't really matter.) Anyone have any ideas or suggestions for titles/journal items that might help?

Please let me know if you have any suggestions.

Thanks.

Alex
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Re: Looking for help for a University Paper

Postby admin » Fri May 27, 2011 6:57 am

Google will give you more sources than you can ever use, but here are a few you should not miss. Reviews will give you the commentary you need.

Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandria, and That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis.
A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter Miller
A Case of Conscience by James Blish
"The Last Question" by Isaac Asimov
"The Nine Billion Names of God" and "The Star" by Arthur Clarke
Job by Robert Heinlein
Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
American Gods by Neil Gaiman

The religious beliefs of sf writers range from the complete atheism of Isaac Asimov to the Roman Catholicism of Gene Wolfe. It seems to me that most sf writers who are religious tend to be either Roman Catholics or Orthodox Jews. Orson Scott Card is a Mormon.

The treatment of religion in media sf has been particularly purile. Battlestar Galactica, for example, allows miracles by both major religions, one of which must be false. In the 1950s, most sf films that show advanced alien civilizations have their human character claim that humanity is greater than they because our God is greater than theirs.

Star Trek is probably best in its treatment of religion, in showing a future in which enlightened humanity has no religion, but is respectful of all religions.
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Re: Looking for help for a University Paper

Postby Malcontent » Fri May 27, 2011 11:26 am

Thanks. This is really helpful. I especially like your comments about BSG, although I will debate the comment about both God/s performing miracles...there is no evidence to suggest that it's not the same deity or set of deities doing them all. Only the individual adherents actually award credit for them and that's just the typically emic view you would expect. I've found a couple of interesting titles about the topic, including "Cylons in America," but that book was published in 2008, so it predates Season 4, which really dove into the use of religious myth in the series.

Anyhow...any suggestions for non-fiction titles on the subject? Especially anything with the putrid air of academic pomposity?

Thanks again.

/A
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Re: Looking for help for a University Paper

Postby Third Foundationer » Fri May 27, 2011 9:15 pm

Admin listed some fantastic sources. I agree with them wholeheartedly.

The only one I'd add, and this is kind of a stretch, is Babylon 5.

--3rdF
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Re: Looking for help for a University Paper

Postby Brightonian » Sat May 28, 2011 5:57 am

I'd add Philip K DIck's Divine Invasion; and, if you've got steady nerves, his VALIS.
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Re: Looking for help for a University Paper

Postby Brightonian » Sat May 28, 2011 6:00 am

Malcontent wrote:(Typical undergrad course...I'm not allowed to do original research or posit a thesis of my own
This worries me, as someone who teaches undergraduate courses - is this a typical attitude for (I assume) American universities?
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Re: Looking for help for a University Paper

Postby admin » Sat May 28, 2011 6:55 am

One of my favorite stories about American vs. British education. An American student went to Oxford. After handing in his first paper, he was called in to discuss the paper over a glass of sherry. "This paper is totally unacceptable," he was told. "It's your opinion. You are here to learn the ideas of the great men over the ages. Until you learn them, your own opinion is worthless."
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Re: Looking for help for a University Paper

Postby Brightonian » Sat May 28, 2011 2:51 pm

Ah well I wouldn't know about that, I went to Cambridge :wink:
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Re: Looking for help for a University Paper

Postby Malcontent » Sat May 28, 2011 4:21 pm

Brightonian wrote:Ah well I wouldn't know about that, I went to Cambridge :wink:


LMAO!

In all fairness though, I am being a bit snotty about it. I've returned to school part time to upgrade my education -- I have the Cdn equivalent of an Associate's degree, which is a two year chit -- after working for many years. Since returning a couple of years ago I have been able to write numerous papers positing an original (or at least personal) argument (Deckard is NOT a replicant, Moses was the first terrorist in the modern sense of the word, the green island represented a fourth unnamed religion in Martel's Life of Pi, etc.) but each one had to be supported by "credible academic sources" including journals (for this topic Science Fiction Film and Television is one such, but has nothing really on point for me) and academic books. Since I am really trying to limit myself to the BSG reboot (addressing "religion in SF as reflection of common religious mythologies dished out with culturally palatable window dressing" through a Durkheimian lens ) might be a good thesis topic, but a little ambitious for a 3K word paper), which has examples of numerous faith-based mythologies all intertwined throughout the plot making it a tremendous example of Joseph Campbell's basic philosophy (I am trying to do more than merely apply Cambpell) as Ron Moore, et al, have made an obvious and concerted effort to pull as many faith-based heartstrings as possible, but that is the starting point.

Hmmm...wondering how many more parenthetical subclauses I can squeeze into this. At what point does it go from lazy to artsy?

/M
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Re: Looking for help for a University Paper

Postby admin » Sun May 29, 2011 7:02 am

Deckard is not a replicant?!?

Is ?!? a legitimate punctuation mark? It should be!
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Re: Looking for help for a University Paper

Postby Malcontent » Sun May 29, 2011 3:37 pm

I agree...it should be a legit punctuation mark. :-)

And yes, Deckard is human. Ridley Scott may not like it, but if Deckard is a replicant then the story has no artistic merit. I truly believe that the "let's make Deckard a replicant" idea came to Scott half way through filming and he was just too narcissistic to quash it as he should have. He wanted to be clever and to this day thinks he was. He is wrong and IMHO he has damaged the legacy of the film with his self indulgence. He may be a brilliant director, but he is also a pompous ass in severe need of a self editor (since he won't listen to anyone else). Rather than spend the next half hour rewriting my reasoning, I'll just cut and paste my essay. Sorry if this comes across as lazy but at least it will be thorough.

Note: None of my formatting copied over from Word so I added some. None of the footnotes survived either, so I deleted them but I left the Works Consulted so you would have an idea of what sources I used.


More human than human
Exploring the nature of humanity in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner

By Alex Anderson

“Living and unliving things are exchanging properties...”
Philip K. Dick

Science Fiction has always been the playground of the predictors. By its very nature the genre gives its audience glimpses of the future, snapshots of possibility; what may happen and how that may impact society. At the heart of this is not only how technology may alter our lives as humans – the impact of the so-called ‘novum’ – but how it may alter our humanity itself and what it means to be human. Indeed, it is not unreasonable to suggest that Science Fiction has always been focussed on the nature of humanity; we see this recurring theme right from the seminal works of Mary Shelley and E.T. Hoffmann through Frank Herbert and Harlan Ellison to the most recent works of Dan Simmons and Charles Stross . This paper will examine the nature of humanity as depicted in Ridley Scott’s future noir film Blade Runner. Specifically, we will consider the differences between the human and replicant characters and how the film uses those differences to deliver a moral about how people live their lives in the contemporary world. We will also consider the question of slavery and compare the servile positions of not only the replicants in Blade Runner who were built to be slaves, but also the human characters. Finally we will consider the question of the protagonist’s humanity – for Rick Deckard has to be a human (regardless of Scott’s stated intent) and yet he seems to be less human than the synthetics he hunts and kills until the film’s climax when he has his great epiphany and overcomes the oppressively stifling confluence of environment, circumstance and obligation. Ultimately, Scott and his screenwriters use the replicants the same way Shelley used her monster – they hold them up as mirrors for us to look in and assess ourselves in comparison. Do we possess the emotional qualities, such as empathy, that qualify us as humans in a world where that means something slightly different everyday? Do we love? Do we choose to love? More importantly, do we control our lives, seizing what we want and living every moment to it’s fullest and fighting against transience and entropy every second or do we ride the eddies of life as they carry us along like flotsam?

Blade Runner hit screens on June 25th, 1982 and flopped badly . Ostensibly an action film about a morally ambiguous detective/bounty hunter, Deckard, who is strong armed into hunting down and killing a group of escaped replicants the film is actually an art film, presenting a deep philosophical message against a vividly-presented bleak, dystopic landscape that didn’t sit well with audiences in the year of Steven Spielberg’s happy-happy-joy-joy feel good extravaganza ET: The Extra Terrestrial. E.T. wasn’t the only bad news in the competitive landscape. Blade Runner opened at #2 on its release weekend with a $6 million take on 1295 screens . E.T. was #1 taking in $13.3 million on it’s third weekend, the Clint Eastwood vehicle Firefox was #3, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan was #4 and Rocky 3 rounded out the top five. 1982 also saw the releases of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Poltergeist, Porky’s, Conan the Barbarian and The Road Warrior. Eventually Blade Runner would take in a global total of about $33 million, just barely eclipsing its production budget of $28 million and making a modest profit for its investors . However, it can easily be argued that the noir-ish aspects that made it unpopular with a general theatre-going audience are what make it artistically important and led to its commercial success in the home entertainment market.

At the heart of those noir-ish aspects, and of central concern in Blade Runner, is the question of who is human and who isn’t. At the beginning of the film a replicant is defined as “a biologically produced synthetic human with paraphysical capabilities.” This immediately puts the replicants in their societal place in the eyes of the viewer replicants are machines – synthetics created for a purpose, like toasters. They are slaves and no human gives any thought to their feelings. After all, toasters don’t have feelings. This position is emphasized by Rick Deckard when he goes to the Tyrell building to meet Dr. Eldon Tyrell and says to Rachael, who he will eventually discover is a replicant herself, “Replicants are like any other machine. They are either a benefit or a hazard. If they are a benefit it’s not my problem.” It is clear: replicants are not people. This becomes complicated by the fact that replicants have been designed to be all but indistinguishable from authentic humans. In fact, they are so lifelike they can only be discerned from humans by administering an involved emotional test (called Voight-Kamf) that picks out subtle differences in emotional responses to a set of questions. Replicants are so hard to tell apart from humans that a safety feature has been installed to keep them from getting out of line and becoming too big a problem: they only live four years.

There was significant disagreement between Scott and Philip K. Dick, author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the novel upon which Blade Runner is based, about the empathetic nature of replicants. Dick himself detailed this disagreement to Paul Sammon in early 1982:

“To me, the replicants are deplorable. They are cruel, they are cold, they are heartless. They have no empathy, which is how the Voight-Kampff [sic] test catches them out, and don't care about what happens to other creatures. They are essentially less-than-human entities. Ridley, on the other hand, said he regarded them as supermen who couldn't fly. He said they were smarter, stronger, and had faster reflexes than humans. "Golly!" That's all I could think of to reply to that one. I mean, Ridley's attitude was quite a divergence from my original point of view, since the theme of my book is that Deckard is dehumanized through tracking down the androids. (Sammon 285)”

Although Scott had total control over the movie, he was reliant on a script adapted from the Dick novel by Hampton Fancher , who tried to remain faithful to the original source material . It is reasonable to suggest that this ideological conflict is the source for at least some of the ambiguity, confusion and inconsistency about the differences between humans and non-humans. For example, despite the apparent weakness exploited by the Voight-Kamf test, Scott clearly depicts replicants as emotional beings; they feel things, especially fear which is referred to several times in the film, and love, which is demonstrated by Roy Batty’s anguish over the deaths of his friends and companions. If they are capable of such emotions then the Voight-Kamf test, which detects a replicant’s inability to feel such things, would fail. It would seem that despite Deckard’s comments to Rachael, the replicants are not “like any other machine” at all. Moreover, like any living thing they want to continue living. Indeed, they have come to Earth to appeal to their creator, Tyrell, to alter them and allow them to live longer than their allotted four years.

There are other suggestions and clues about the differences between humans and replicants: All the replicants are identified and referred to by their first names while all the humans are identified only by their surnames – suggesting that only the synthetic people have individual personalities. The synthetics all seem to have a glow behind the eyes – even the Owl in Tyrell’s office – possibly intended to appear as the blank, empty space where the soul would be in an authentic human. Replicants collect memories in the form of photographs. These photographs give the replicants a meaningful kind of history. They are real even while the people collecting them are fake. None of the humans engage in this collecting of prosthetic identity. Rachael, who has had a set of memories implanted and doesn’t herself know she is a replicant, also has a photograph – evidence to her that the memories that have been implanted in her brain are real. Once she learns what she is and that she can’t trust her memories, Rachael is lost and seeks some kind of personal identity. She plays the piano but comments “I didn't know if I could play. I remember lessons. I don't know if it's me or Tyrell's niece.” Deckard tells her she “plays beautifully” implying that the memories are hers regardless of their source. She is the one playing the piano in Deckard’s apartment, not Tyrell’s niece. Regardless of Deckard’s acceptance, this calls into question the whole notion of personal identity, and injects everything with a healthy dose of paranoia. If you can’t trust your memories, who are you?

In Blade Runner the replicants are described by Tyrell as “more human than human.” They are Scott’s supermen; stronger, faster, smarter. They think, they feel, they desire and they evolve . Ultimately they want to live and to be free and this desire, or the associated fear of death, drives them to break the bonds of their servitude, hijack a planetary shuttle and escape to Earth where they hope to infiltrate the Tyrell Corporation and meet Tyrell – their God – in the hope that he can grant them a stay of execution. These are all exceedingly human attributes, attributes and goals an empathetic audience can’t help but sympathise and identify with.

Meanwhile, the masses of humanity on the streets are cold and impersonal and the human Blade Runner, Deckard, is almost an automaton. He doesn’t like his job, had already quit once, but apart from some rather anaemic claims to his old boss Bryant about “being quit when I came in here and twice as quit now” he doesn’t fight against being conscripted into the job. This passage – what Joseph Campbell would refer to as the refusal of the call – is very important as it demonstrates Deckard’s lack of dominion and plays into a slavery theme that runs throughout the movie. This refusal of the call element is an important device in story creation and especially in regard to the development and evolution of the protagonist. Consider Star Wars . Obi Wan Kenobi tells Luke Skywalker “you must learn the ways of the Force too…if you are to come with me to Alderaan.” This may be the kind of invitation Luke has dreamed off all his life, but he balks, saying he has responsibilities and must stay on Tatooine. Kenobi accepts this refusal, which reinforces Luke’s autonomy and individuality. He can choose his own fate and has normal control over it. Rick Deckard never has this control; never has a choice and never really fights to attain it. It isn’t until the end of the film, the final confrontation between Batty and Deckard that the latter’s eyes are opened to his state.

“Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave,” says Batty, as much as telling the human that they are brothers in servitude. Shortly after this Batty saves Deckard’s life, further showing him that individuals who have dominion over themselves have the ability to choose life. With his death Batty literally shows Deckard how to live. Deckard heeds the lesson, returns to his apartment to find Rachael and they run away. Deckard, in choosing love and life with Rachael over his work dealing death as an assassin, has rediscovered his humanity . It is the ultimate comment on the nature of humanity in the film.

Deckard’s own humanity has been the subject of intense debate – an issue that was renewed and intensified with the release of the Director’s Cut of the film which restored a memory sequence in which Deckard pictures a unicorn running through the woods. Key members of the cast and crew have come out on either side of the debate. For example, Harrison Ford has strong feelings that Deckard should be human, saying, “Whenever I got the feeling that Ridley was putting something in to make Deckard into a replicant I went to talk to him and urged him not to do that. It was my notion that the audience needed a human being; someone they can relate to. ”

For his part, Scott insists that Deckard is a replicant: “(I put the unicorn in there so) at the end of the film I’d have something remarkable which I could illustrate, which is this unicorn … how would anyone else know what was in his head other than someone who knew what was in his file, what had been implanted in his brain? You can’t be any clearer than that. If you don’t get it, you’re a moron.” Dick disagrees, and the Deckard of the novel is very much a human being. Meanwhile, the original screenwriter kept faith with the source material. Hampton Fancher says he didn’t write Deckard as a replicant and adds “I don’t think anything should show that Deckard is a replicant. It’s the question that’s interesting. The answer is stupid. ” Unfortunately, stupid or not, the answer is critical to the artistic value of the film. If the story is about one unloving soulless thing hunting and killing other soulless things then there is very little moral conflict and no real question for the audience. Discounting what the so-called “experts” say and going by the film itself, we see numerous clues and hints throughout the story that lean in both directions.

Deckard is a replicant:
• Rachael asked Deckard, "Have you taken the test yourself?" This question is never answered.
• The tell-tale glow in the eyes used to identify replicants for the audience appears in Deckard’s eyes when he tells Rachael he wouldn't go after her, "but someone would."
• Deckard is a slave to his circumstances, having no real dominion – just as the replicants are slaves in the off-world colonies.
• Deckard has an extensive collection of photographs in his apartment – although this is anything but conclusive as most people have this in their homes.
• After Batty dies, Gaff tells Deckard, "You've done a man's job, sir!" This could be a hint that Deckard is not a man.
• As Scott has stated, Deckard dreams of a unicorn. At the end of the film, he finds an origami unicorn left by Gaff, suggesting that Gaff knows Deckard's memories, something that would only be possible if those memories were implanted.

Deckard is an authentic human:
• Deckard is referred to only by his last name, as other human characters are.
• Deckard is a comparative weakling, a fact at direct odds with the superman-like capabilities of all the other replicants in the movie. In fact, Deckard is nearly killed in his encounters with Zhora, Leon and Roy Batty. The only replicant he manages to “retire” without the intervention of chance or mercy is Pris, the pleasure model, and he comes out of that encounter much the worse for wear. (Note: Rachael isn’t seen to have any superhuman capabilities either, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there and since she isn’t placed in any direct physical jeopardy as Deckard is we don’t see anything tested. However, she does manage to shoot straight when saving Deckard from Leon, or perhaps she has been enhanced for playing piano.)
• Replicants are not permitted to reside on Earth. Not only does Deckard live on the planet, at the beginning of the film he is free, having quit his job as a Blade Runner.
• If the police were using replicants as Blade Runners you would think there would be some kind of connection between the department and Tyrell Corp. None is apparent.
• Batty says to Deckard: “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave.” This seems to be a major educational moment in the film. Batty blasts away the cobwebs of any professional detatchment Deckard may have for his quarry, making sure Deckard understands what the life of the replicants is like. When Batty grabs his arm, saving him from plummeting to his death he says, “Ah, Kinship.” This emphasises the point, as Deckard is dangling above an abyss completely reliant on Batty for his life. If Deckard was a replicant he would understand that they have feelings and possibly empathise with them.
• Leon calls Deckard “little man” and Batty includes him in “you people,” clearly marking him as a member of the human collective.

The weight of these pros and cons seems to nearly balance out, leaving the door open for personal preference and interpretation. However, there is a compelling reason to believe Deckard is human that doesn’t come directly from the script. If you agree with the portrayal of replicants as more than human and the almost automaton-like Deckard as Blade Runner a slave, then he HAS to be human. Otherwise there is no juxtaposition of characteristics, no less human than human and thus no point to the story: no moral. As mentioned above, it’s just one robot slaughtering a bunch of other robots. Frank Darabout, director of the Shawshank Redemption, agrees:

“The story only really works if Deckard is human. (If he’s a replicant) the whole theme of the movie, which is very sophisticated, unravels. The theme of the movie being the journey of a man rediscovering his humanity. He goes through all this moral confusion and comes out the other end of it a real human being again. There’s a very strong thematic point being made and if Deckard is a replicant it’s like (rude noise) all that is gone. So I completely reject that.”

It isn’t that Deckard isn’t human so much as that he has to be a human who has been dehumanized. By his dystopic surroundings, by his distasteful job, the humanity has been eroded and sucked out of him. Thus the film suggests that our own humanity is fleeting; that we have to embrace it everyday – to renew our vows to live every moment we have rather than drift through life like automata, carried along by the currents of fate without engaging in what they present to us or taking the tiller ourselves. Tyrell puts it to Batty succinctly: “Revel in your time.”

Blade Runner shows us through the juxtaposition of human and non-human characters that life must be lived. Death can come at any time for anyone , so every moment must be seized to the fullest and every ounce of quality wrung from it. Deckard learns this lesson from Roy Batty, a non-human who fights almost to the last breath for every second of life, admonishes Deckard to do the same , and then makes the ultimate about face, saving Deckard’s life so he can pass along his memories, fighting transience and insignificance. He says, “I’ve seen things, you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain... Time to die.” The message seems clear enough: ‘My memories are real. I am real. When I die, something ineffable dies with me.’ It is this transience that the audience identifies with most strongly. This is the mirror the makers of Blade Runner hold up to us. We all die. We all take our memories with us. It is how we live that matters, how we relate to each other. Blade Runner is ultimately a spiritual film. It’s a cautionary tale that shows what we can become, what we can do to each other. Don’t be the automaton Deckard from the beginning of the film who shoots a naked woman in the back as she runs away. “Revel in your time” and embrace love and life like the Deckard at the end of the film who runs away with Rachael.


Works Consulted
Scott, Ridley, Blade Runner, Warner Bros., 1982 / Blade Runner: The Final Cut, 2007
Dick, Philip K. Blade Runner. 1968 (as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). New York: Ballantine, 1982.
Sammon, Paul M. Future Noir: The Making of BLADE RUNNER. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.
de Lauzirika, Charles, Dangerous Days: The Making of Blade Runner, 2007.
de Lauzirika, Charles, Deck-A-Rep: The True Nature of Rick Deckard, 2007
Ellison, Harlan, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, initially published in IF: Worlds of Science Fiction, March 1967
Shelley, Mary (1818) Frankenstein (Penguin Books, 1992, London)
Stross, Charles, Accelerando, The Berkley Publishing Group, 2003
Simmons, Dan, Ilium, Gollancz, 2003, London
The Numbers – Box office data, movie stars, idle speculation -- http://www.the-numbers.com/charts/weekl ... 820625.php Accessed 2010-06-18
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (Princeton University Press, 1968,: New World Library, Novato, California)
Reflections in a Silver Eye: Lens and Mirror in "Blade Runner" Author(s): Vernon Shetley and Alissa Ferguson Source: Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Mar., 2001), pp. 66-76 Published by: SF-TH Inc Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4240951 Accessed: 27/05/2010 11:40
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Re: Looking for help for a University Paper

Postby Brightonian » Mon May 30, 2011 2:29 am

Deckard may not be, but Sean Young totally is: just look at these photos: http://www.boingboing.net/2011/05/27/blade-runner-behind-.html
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Re: Looking for help for a University Paper

Postby slaven41 » Tue May 31, 2011 9:18 am

admin wrote:One of my favorite stories about American vs. British education. An American student went to Oxford. After handing in his first paper, he was called in to discuss the paper over a glass of sherry. "This paper is totally unacceptable," he was told. "It's your opinion. You are here to learn the ideas of the great men over the ages. Until you learn them, your own opinion is worthless."

I teach physics. Any student who has his own opinion is wrong. :-)

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"It's only Neutron. We call him that because he's so positive." --from This Island Earth
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Re: Looking for help for a University Paper

Postby admin » Wed Jun 01, 2011 6:46 am

I teach math, and tried to explain to my Tea Party cousin why a tv weatherman is not a scientist. The issue of the use of math in science came up, and she announced, "I know better. You mathematicians and scientists pretend that all those little x's and y's mean something, but they're just mumbo jumbo. A tv weatherman really understands the weather."
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Re: Looking for help for a University Paper

Postby Malcontent » Wed Jun 01, 2011 9:29 am

Makes me wonder if weathermen are seen by some people as some kind of new shaman. Maybe they take peyote, do a dance and come up with a forecast? "It's magical!" Of course arguments like that make me wonder if the Tea Party is a big proponent of Intelligent Design. "I believe it, so it's true. Empiricism be damned."
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