Culture Intelligent Design Religion Science Science fiction

Why do we think technological progress is inevitable?

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War-of-the-worlds-tripod.jpg
Alien tripod by Alvim Corréa, 1906 French edition of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”

A historian asks:

Science Fiction Lacks Religiosity, But Why?

Consider science fiction which, like all genres, has its own share of standard tropes and themes. One of the main themes in science fiction is the status of technology, and you’ll notice a frequent assumption that technology will constantly grow more and more sophisticated over time; more precisely, the assumption is about a certain idea of progression…

When people encounter alien cultures in science fiction, they’re usually on some sort of a spectrum of more or less technologically––and, therefore, intellectually––sophisticated. It’s very common, in these situations, that more primitive cultures have “religion” while more advanced cultures have dispensed with it. There’s no inherent reason that intellectual sophistication and religion should be mutually exclusive, but much of the time in science fiction, they are.

We see it, for example, in Star Trek. Less sophisticated cultures have more primitive beliefs about the universe, and as they get more sophisticated, they discard those beliefs. The assumption underneath that is that religion is just an inferior or more crude form of science, and that the primary reason we don’t believe in Zeus anymore is that we now know where lightning really comes from.

Far from being more than a little insulting to the remarkable sophistication of the belief systems of ancient peoples, we now get to the heart of the matter: there is, at the bottom of our faith in technological progress, the assumption that science is the best (or the only real) source for truth. Is this a good assumption? Well, it turns out that the root of this assumption is a failure to make a clear distinction between different types of knowledge.Zachary Porcu, “How Upending Its Hidden Assumptions Can Deepen Your Read Of Science Fiction” at The Federalist

Historically, plateaus and declines in technological development have been quite common. There is no “must” about it. And the role of religion is varied.

We may be looking at an incipient decline today, as educators indulge in a war on science in the classroom. One obvious cause of decline would be the lack of people with the skills or inclination to carry science forward and de-emphasizing correct answers in favour of feelings is one way of helping bring that about.

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See also: Mediaeval science fiction? Yes, and why not?

and

Would backwards time travel unravel spacetime?

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