Reason


One of the joys of teaching literature as a Christian is in finding the Biblical, spiritual truths expressed in the works of secular writers.  The stories of science fiction writer Isaac Asimov are a case in point.  Asimov, the son of Jewish immigrants, was a professor of biochemistry with a doctorate in the same; a prolific author of both scientific texts and science fiction, as well as many other works of many different genres; a humanist, a rationalist, and an atheist.  But he pursued truth all of his life, and so he was bound to come across it.  Because, as all fans of science fiction know, “The Truth is Out There!”

The short story I was recently reading to my Freshman Literature class was called “Reason” from Asimov’s “I, Robot” collection.  In this story, the premise was that Earth and its colonies on Mars depended upon energy beamed from collection stations near the sun to survive. While two humans manned each station, most of the work was done by robots.  It was a lonely post, though, and so a new, improved robot was developed to take over for the humans so that the station could be fully automated.  The story opens with this new robot, called QT, questioning its makers’ claim to have built him.

“For you to have made me seems improbable,” QT says.  “Call it intuition.  That’s all it is so far.  But I intend to reason it out.  A chain of valid reasoning can end only with the determination of truth.”

No amount of evidence from the humans can move the robot from its certainty that what it sees and experiences are all that exist.  QT has never seen Earth—therefore, Earth is a fantasy.  It has never seen other humans—therefore, the two humans it knows are the only ones in the universe.  It considers the humans to be inferior, rendering it impossible that they were capable of creating anything as complex as a robot.  Eventually, QT chooses the most powerful thing on the Station—its entire world– and deduces that it must be the Creator.  Its chosen Higher Power, ironically, is the Energy Converter the robots had been created to service.  QT begins teaching the other, lesser robots its newly-found religion, and they all begin to worship “The Master”, as they call the Converter.  The humans are put aside into a locked room where they can’t interfere in the new world order.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what the robots believe.  Their worship of the Energy Converter means that they actually do their jobs extremely well, fortunately for the billions of humans dependent upon it for their lives.  And so they are left to their false beliefs and the humans leave them and go home—although QT is convinced that The Master has deemed them as no long useful, and has absorbed them into the wastes of space.

Why am I telling this amusing story?  Obviously, Asimov’s point is that religious fanatics are intractably devoted to their beliefs regardless of any evidence to the contrary.  But here’s the bit that grabbed my attention and made me want to share it with my class. One of the humans makes this observation:

“[QT] believes only in reason, and there’s one trouble with that . . . . You can prove anything you want by coldly logical reason—if you pick the proper postulates.  We have ours, and QT has his.”

In my mind, this one quotation turns the entire story on its head.  All belief systems depend on a foundational assumption.  The Christian postulate is that Christ and the Scripture are the bedrocks of truth.  A humanist, a rationalist, a secular scientist, on the other hand, assumes that the human brain’s ability to interpret our own scientific observations is a firm foundation for truth.  He also assumes that our observations of the world are complete enough to draw valid conclusions, ignoring the rather obvious fact that we are finite and cannot even know whether we know everything we need to know to discover the truth (if you can follow me).

Now look at QT.  He uses the positronic brain which the humans have installed in his human-made skull to decide that his intellectual abilities outstrip those of his makers.  He believes that the eyes and other senses they built into him are so superior to theirs that he is more capable of determining truth than they are.

I do realize that secularists are not (perhaps) consciously looking their Maker in the eye and denouncing him as inferior to their intellectual abilities.  But that is basically what they are doing, isn’t it?  We humans use the brains God gave us to try to prove Him non-existent, or at least, irrelevant.

That sounds like true Science Fiction to me.

 

 

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