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Foundation (Foundation, #1)
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2012 Reads > FOUND: Science and Religion in the Foundation and Other Sci-Fi

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Matt Estabrook I've just read Foundation and, by chance, followed it up with Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz. What a remarkable--accidental--pairing.

Both tell centuries-long tales about the efforts of religious orders modeled on the Roman Catholic church during late antiquity, to preserve human knowledge in the wake of civilization's decline, in the hopes that it will fuel civilization's next ascent.

But the books' treatments of religion differ radically.

In Asimov's world, the Foundation has no real religious conviction. Foundation men (they are all men, as I recall) pose as holy men, but it is a ruse. Religion is just a cynical tool for controlling weak minds and limiting the spread of scientific knowledge, to protect the Foundation's power.

In Miller's world, the monks have no power to preserve. They are naive (at least in the earlier vignettes), but utterly sincere, and see themselves as servants to humanity, willing to share the fruits of their knowledge in the hopes that civilization will advance. This despite their recognition that humanity is flawed, and that advancement of science may lead--again and again--to society's self-destruction.

I found the latter more compelling, not necessarily on the merits, but rather because Asimov's characterizations were so spare compared to Miller's, I never sympathized with the cynical Foundation leaders nearly as much as Miller's well-drawn monks.

What do you think of the way that Asimov uses religion in the Foundation? Is it convincing or compelling? Wise or foolish? Interesting or banal?

And are there other books (like Miller's) that present other viewpoints that might be of interest?


message 2: by Anne (new)

Anne | 336 comments Matt wrote: "I've just read Foundation and, by chance, followed it up with Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz. What a remarkable--accidental--pairing.

Both tell centuries-long tales about the efforts of..."


From wiki:
The Decline of the West (German: Der Untergang des Abendlandes), or The Downfall of the Occident, is a two-volume work by Oswald Spengler, the first volume of which was published in the summer of 1918. Spengler revised this volume in 1922 and published the second volume, subtitled Perspectives of World History, in 1923.

The book introduces itself as a 'Copernican overturning' and rejects the Euro-centric view of history, especially the division of history into the linear "ancient-medieval-modern" rubric.[1] According to Spengler the meaningful units for history are not epochs but whole cultures which evolve as organisms. He acknowledges eight high cultures: Babylonian, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Mexican (Mayan/Aztec), Classical (Greek/Roman), Arabian, Western or "European-American". Cultures have a limited lifespan of some thousand years. The final stage of each culture is, in his word use, a 'civilization'.

The book also presents the idea of Muslims, Jews and Christians, as well as their Persian and Semitic forebears, being Magian; Mediterranean cultures of the antiquity such as Ancient Greece and Rome being Apollonian; and the modern Westerners being Faustian.

According to the theory, the Western world is actually ending and we are witnessing the last season - "winter time" - of the Faustian civilization. In Spengler's depiction Western Man is a proud but tragic figure, for, while he strives and creates, he secretly knows the actual goal will never be reached.

...

Spengler is neither wholly pro-religion nor anti-religion, but he does differentiate between manifestations of religion that appear within a civilization's developmental cycle. He sees each culture as having an initial religious identity, which eventually results in a reformation-like period, followed by a period of rationalism, and finally entering a period of second religiousness that correlates with decline. Intellectual creativeness of a Culture's Late period begins after the reformation, usually ushering in new freedoms in science.

and so on...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Decl...

Spengler has a time chart in his work which is eerily accurate -- remember he was writing in 1918 - 1922 or so. Eveytime I pull the volumes off my shelf it strikes me anew at how much he had right. Even this coming election in the US. Asimov was very familiar with this work as it was considered highly controversial back then.


Kenny | 31 comments Dune delves heavily into the power of religion to drive change. In dune someone who doesn't really adhere to or believe in the religion itself uses the cult mentality of the fremen to eventually scatter the human race in a way that will ensure mankinds.

I feel like the overall goal of asimov's religion on foundation is the same and seems to be a common thread In a lot of classic sci fi.


message 4: by Anne (new)

Anne | 336 comments Matt asks:
What do you think of the way that Asimov uses religion in the Foundation? Is it convincing or compelling? Wise or foolish? Interesting or banal?

Convincing since just a few days ago the Democrats got manipulated into adding god back into their platform and the zionist wish for Jerusalem to be the capitol of Israel. What a kerfuffle.

Asimov himself was an atheist and humanist and rationalist.


Mark | 64 comments Asimov was an atheist; Miller was very religious ... their respective attitudes are not surprising.

What might be interesting would be authors writing about the other extreme ...


Alan Bollinger | 5 comments The root of the tech-priest is in the European dark ages. He himself said the fall of the Roman empire as his inspiration. During the dark ages the only group who were able to preserve the knowledge of the past was the priesthood. There is a great documentary on the subject on netflix right now, Dark Ages.


message 7: by Anne (new)

Anne | 336 comments The "Dark Ages" were only dark in Europe because of the priests and their stupid Inquisitions/Crusades, superstitions and lack of medical knowledge. The Protestant Reformation began the climb out of darkness. The Arabic and Moorish lands had thriving universities and hospitals...They collected and translated the old Greek documents and expanded upon them ... one of the ways of getting to heaven was to teach others so it was the Muslim Golden Age.


Alan Bollinger | 5 comments True enough, Anne, but in western Europe there was a complete break down of education and technology in contrast to the eastern empire which continue on with education and technology of the old empire. In the east and muslim golden ages continued, where as the west, other than the priesthood, lost even basic education.


Timm Woods (kexizzoc) | 43 comments Anne wrote: "Matt wrote: "I've just read Foundation and, by chance, followed it up with Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz. What a remarkable--accidental--pairing.

Both tell centuries-long tales about t..."


Anne, thanks for the links. This is VERY interesting stuff. Any chance you have a link to that time chart?


message 10: by Anne (last edited Sep 11, 2012 01:00AM) (new)

Anne | 336 comments I never thought of looking online for Spengler's charts but wouldn't you know wiki has some of them :)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spengler...

Good ole encyclopedists.

BTW, Hitler wanted to appoint Spengler as his historian. Spengler refused because he didn't agree with the ideology. That took a lot of courage at the time.


Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments NMC wrote: "It actually never struck me that Asimov was an atheist, but I imagine it's true. I know he wrote about the Bible, but I'm not sure what exactly he wrote about it."

You can find some of his thoughts here. Also:

I tend to ignore religion in my own stories altogether, except when I absolutely have to have it...and, whenever I bring in a religious motif, that religion is bound to be seem vaguely Christian because that is the only religion I know anything about, even though it is not mine. An unsympathetic reader might think that I am "burlesquing" Christianity, but I am not. The too, it is impossible to write science fiction and really ignore religion.
Gold: The Final Science Fiction Collection, pp. 297-302



message 12: by Joe Informatico (last edited Sep 11, 2012 07:40AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments Alan wrote: "True enough, Anne, but in western Europe there was a complete break down of education and technology in contrast to the eastern empire which continue on with education and technology of the old emp..."

The importance of medieval monasteries in "preserving" the Greco-Roman classics is extremely exaggerated in popular conceptions of European history. Both Asimov and Miller seem to have bought into this assumption in their respective future Dark Ages stories.

In actuality, the transmission of the classics to medieval Europe is due almost entirely to Islamic scholarship. There were numerous methods, including the conquest and reconquest of Spain and Sicily giving European Christian scholars access to Arabic learning, European scholars such as Fibonacci and Abelard travelling to Muslim lands and learning from their scholars, and the Crusades.

The monasteries'--and later theological universities'--contribution to the process may have been training scholars with the skills and mindset to translate and learn the knowledge, but preservation? Not so much. Irish monasteries were a bit of an exception, but still nowhere near as important as Arabic learning.


message 13: by Anne (new)

Anne | 336 comments Joe wrote: "Alan wrote: "True enough, Anne, but in western Europe there was a complete break down of education and technology in contrast to the eastern empire which continue on with education and technology o..."

I've only seen one tome (German and VERY thorough) on daVinci that gives details of his travels in the East. It seems that people of the West find it awkward that daVinci signed a Muslim confession of faith required of those who worked on the mosque in cairo being built at the time. A pity they deny it because daVinci's work there is interesting. Then he went on to Syria... and sketched the water wheels. The Pope didn't like him much when he returned to Italy - luckily the French King was more tolerant.


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