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Book Review by Rich Heffern
National Catholic Reporter
Robert Heinlein's science fiction classic Orphans of the Sky is the story of an enormous "multigeneration" starship, five miles long and thousands of feet wide, outfitted for a long voyage to Far Centaurus, a distant place in our galaxy.
Three or four generations into the voyage, the inhabitants, after a long-ago mutiny, have forgotten that they live on a ship and that it's supposed to go somewhere. For them, the ship's windowless interior is their entire universe, and even the idea that something might exist "outside" the ship is so foreign a concept that most can't imagine it. Their lives revolve around the necessities of eating, mating and feeding the matter converter, controlled by a high priesthood of "scientists," themselves ignorant of where they actually are.
When the story's protagonist, Hugh Hoyland, a young man with ambitions of becoming a scientist, is forcibly thrown into the company of mutants who occupy the upper decks, he has his eyes opened to what the ship truly is when the two-headed leader takes him to the bridge to look out the window at the stars. Hugh starts a battle to educate all the inhabitants and put the ship back on track, but first he is jailed and accused of heresy.
It's a plot premise that has been revisited many times in science fiction.
And it's an apt parable for religious views in America today.
A 2008 CBS poll showed most Americans do not accept the theory of evolution. Instead, 51 percent of Americans say God created humans in their present form in a day.
A Creation Museum opened in northern Kentucky last year, costing $27 million to build and sitting on 49 acres. The nonprofit ministry that built the museum, Answers in Genesis, claims the universe was created in six 24-hour days a mere 6,000 years ago, and that "fact" serves as the blueprint for the museum. Founder Kenneth Ham said, "The conclusions of modern science are not to be trusted, as they are biased by the fickle reasoning of humans and a modern antagonism toward faith."
On the other end of the war between science and religion, three recently published books take as their starting point the story modern science tells us about how the universe formed and how we humans emerged from it. The authors take present-day science accounts seriously, moving from them into areas of religious speculation.
In the Hugh Hoyland tradition, all three join the battle to put the human community back on track.
NCR interviewed the three authors of these books (see below). Listen to these podcasts on NCRcafe.org.
ANCESTRAL GRACE: MEETING GOD IN OUR HUMAN STORY
By Diarmuid O'Murchu
Orbis Books, 288 pages
WHEN GOD IS GONE, EVERTHING IS HOLY: THE MAKE OF A RELIGIOUS NATURALIST
By Chet Raymo
Sorin Books, 160 pages
THANK GOD FOR EVOLUTION: HOW THE MARRIAGE OF SCIENCE AND RELIGION WILL TRANSFORM YOUR LIFE AND OUR WORLD
By Michael Dowd
Viking, 413 pages