Friday, September 02, 2005

What would James White Think?




I've felt angry and disturbed at the prospect of the teaching of "intelligent design" (creationism under another name) creeping into the US schools system. Perhaps the word 'evolution' will be banned in US schools in a few decades time. I'm sure the Taliban would approve.

I can't help think of the late science fiction writer James White. He wrote truly good books - not only were they well-written , but the characters within them tried to do good. Imagine Star Wars without Darth Vader, or Star Trek without the Borg? Well , James White created "Sector General", a vast space station hospital full of medics and technicians of dozens of different alien species, all trying to save lives.

When I say 'alien species' . these weren't just variations on the humanoid form, as in Star Trek. White had a fertile imagination. There were nurses that looked like giant caterpillars covered in beautiful, twitching grey fur, patients as shy as mice but with the size and natural weaponry of sea monsters, surgeons resembling flightless birds who used beaks instead of hands.

White frequently explained the evolutionary origin of these creatures so it's pretty obvious that he accepted the scientific evidence. But he was also a Catholic, and in one of his books "The Genocidal Healer" he looked at the possibility of religious belief in a vast universe filled with sentient beings.

One character says:

"My knowledge of the subject is incomplete , but among the majority of the intelligent species it is said that this omnipotent and immaterial being has manifested itself in physical form. The physiological classifications vary to suit the environments of the planets concerned, but in all cases it manifests itself as a teacher and lawgiver who suffers death at the hands of those who cannot at first accept its teachings. But these teachings, in a short time or long, form the philosophical foundation of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation between individuals of the species which eventually lead to the formation of a planetary and interstellar civilsation...

At one stage some of the hospital staff become concerned that after curing one patient (the one in the cover illustation above), he would return to his home planet and become a teacher and lawgiver himself....

James White knew that if a God does exist, he presides over a universe unimaginably vast and exciting. He would probably pity those so suspicious of science that they can't accept evolution.

PS White also wrote my favourite anti-war story, "Tableau"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting read. Kenneth Miller's (non-fiction) books are also good for uniting Darwin with Catholicism.

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