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Date: Mon, 22 Apr 2002 10:00:59 -0500
From: James Jordan 
Subject: (urth) Smart Robots

>hartshorn wrote:
> >I won't comment on the Pharasees/Saducsees debate, but I will note one
>other thing about Wolfe.   Apparently machines - computer, Taloses, 
>Solders and chems - are themselves to be redemeed, and become children of God.

Roy wrote:

>First of all, redeemed from what, exactly? Original Sin? For a Christian who
>subscribes to that doctrine (as all, I assume, must; otherwise what need of
>a "Savior"?), that's a rather queer notion. I mean, the progeny of Eve, even
>unto the nth generation, cut off from the Tree of Life and cursed to live by
>the sweat of their brows, are all doomed by the nature of their flesh--the
>perils and temptations and foibles attendant upon it--to live out their
>lives as best they may, then to die. After death they are to be judged, and
>rewarded or punished eternally, according to how well they acquitted
>themselves while alive and in the flesh. That flesh is subject, by
>definition, directly to Lust and Gluttony and, indirectly, to others of the
>Deadly Sins. It is very hard, if not impossible, to "sin" in any way that is
>not reducible, ultimately, to the animal nature of the species.

(rest of good points skipped)

         In defense of Wolfe, he has said (in the my old interview with 
him) that he does not take the Genesis account literally. (And, it's really 
the sin of Adam, not Eve. Adam stood by silently and put Eve up to tasting 
the fruit to see what would happen. He ate it when she failed to die 
immediately. He was the first Male Chauvinist Pig in history, but hardly 
the last. Thus, in the Bible it is always the sin of Adam, not the sin of 
Eve, that corrupted humanity. But back to the main topic:)
         This, of course, makes it hard for Wolfe to explain the origin of 
sin. He's not going to want to fall back on some kind of evolutionary 
notion that human "sin" has some kind of "animal" and "pre-rational" past 
as its root. So, for him the origin of sin has to be some kind of mystery.
         Cordwainer Smith also has "redeemed" underpeople-animals and 
robots, but in his case this is tied to his view of language as an aspect 
of the Word of God. Any creature that rises to the ability to use language 
creatively has risen to the point where he/she comes into contact with the 
Divinity. For him, the image of God is tied closely to language, and thus 
when animals and robots learn to speak for themselves (not just what has 
been programmed in), they acquire the image of God also. He could then have 
said, if he had chosen to do so, that such creatures are "adopted" into 
humanity, thus receiving both the blessings (language) and curses (sin) of 
humanity, and also thus being able to receive redemption from the Word 
Incarnate. I think there is enough indication in Smith's works to make a 
case for this model.
         But I don't see this kind of reflection in Wolfe. I think he's 
just using an SF-trope, and we have to give him permission. It's really no 
different from allowing for time travel, faster than light space travel 
(assuming an Einsteinian universe), etc.
         The same kind of theological problem arises from intelligent alien 
species -- which in almost all SF are just human beings in different 
shapes. Christians writing SF either need to have no aliens, or else their 
aliens need to be sinless -- or at least to have fallen as a result of 
someone other than Adam. But then, if they are redeemed, you wind up with 
an incarnation of the Son and His death over and over on planet after 
planet -- and this creates many more theological problems that I won't bore 
you all with.
         My way of taking Wolfe on this is that he is writing fiction, and 
using some SF tropes in a non-realistic, symbolic way. If he's projecting a 
"real possibility for the future," then all the problems you mentioned 
arise. If he's using this mingling of personalities, and intelligent 
robots, as ways of speaking about the human condition, then there is really 
no problem. It's fiction, after all. Intelligent robots are just symbols 
for "other kinds" of people. Mingling of personalities is a way of 
expressing the way people share a common life and bear one another's 
burdens; and also the way Christ lives in us and we in Him, and in each 
other. Etc.
         I tend to divide SF into three types: the Science type, the 
Fiction (literary) type, and the Adventure type. The Science type moves 
toward projecting some kind of real future. The Adventure type just wants 
to amuse us with a good yarn, and does not care about faster then light 
spaceships or that his aliens are just like human beings. The Fiction type 
uses SF tropes for literary purposes. Jack Vance is a good example of this. 
He was asked at the Orlando World Con a few years back why he has so few 
robots and computers. His answer was that such things did nothing for him 
as a writer. If in the future robots and computers do everything, then the 
kind of things he want to write about become uninteresting and pointless. 
He affirmed that he was not trying to write some kind of "real" future 
fantasy. I think we can agree that Wolfe is mostly also of this second type 
of SF. He's enough of a hard scientist to put lots of hard science thinking 
into his writing, but ultimately he's writing Fiction about human beings.




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