Wednesday, July 14, 2010

ApolloCon 2010: Scientific Advancement vs. Social Stigma

"For as long as there has been science, there has been the bleeding edge -- progress at odds with social norms. Centuries ago, no one believed the earth rotated around the sun. For years, the concept of 'zero' was a religious heresy. Today society balks at the thought of cloning and artificial intelligence. How do we balance our cultural identity and values with our ingrained curiosity and desire for progress?"

Those are rich questions, but most of this panel was spent lamenting that "nobody" is thinking through the ethics of scientific advancement. As an example of ethically dubious bioengineering, Teddy Harvia brought up the cactus people from China Mieville's "Perdido Street Station". Then again, he admits that "authors often write not to be realistic, but to make a statement". He was also shocked by a relationship between the human protagonist and a bug-like creature in "Perdido Street Station".

"I'm not racial," Teddy Harvia said, "but..."

"But you are prejudiced against cockroaches", said Kimberly Frost.

Kimberly Frost, Teddy Harvia, and Alexis Glynn Latner

Kimberly Frost, Teddy Harvia, and Alexis Glynn Latner in the "Scientific Advancement vs. Social Stigma" panel. Find more pictures from ApolloCon 2010 in my photo gallery.

Moderator Kimberly Frost asked: does literature has a role in creating acceptance of the world that science is creating? Unfortunately, this question did not get much traction with the panelists.

It is often not literature but religion that most people expect to help them make sense of scientific and societal changes. In my experience, even in the SF and fantasy fandom many people still don't question the cliche that religion, or, more generally, "spirituality" should provide ethical safeguards for scientific research. So it was encouraging to see that some of the panelists were skeptical of religion's role. Only one panelist, Lou Antonelli, defended Christianity. His observation is that more and more religious people think we shouldn't mess with the planet, because "God gave it to us". That's hopeful news, but I wasn't sure how much I could trust his objectivity, since he said in the same breath that Christians and religious people in general are being mocked in today's "atheistic" environment. Since the purpose of this blog is not politics, I'll just say my view of this is very different.

Some other panelists also disagreed with the notion that Christianity is persecuted in the West. Teddy Harvia pointed out that Christians' claims that "Harry Potter" books attacked religion were wrong, since the books take a completely neutral stance towards religion.

On a marginally related topic, one panelist gave an insightful answer on why many non-Christians don't like when people offer to pray for them. She was in the hospital with her daughter who, like her, was a pagan, and a very nice Catholic chaplain came in and wanted to pray for them. The two of them agreed, but felt the way a Christian would feel if a voodoo priest came in and started waving chicken bones.

Mel. White and Lou Antonelli

Mel. White and Lou Antonelli in the "Scientific Advancement vs. Social Stigma" panel. Find more pictures from ApolloCon 2010 in my photo gallery.

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