I have shared on my blog more than once a challenge that I was given a while ago, or better, a thought experiment I was encouraged to carry out, namely, to ask myself “What would it take to make you lose your faith?”
For the purpose of this scenario, I was allowed to have a time and space machine, and so could go anywhere in the universe and anytime in history.
You can click through to read more about my thoughts back when I first reflected on the question. Suffice it to say that, if I went back to first century Palestine and saw Jesus kicking a puppy, that would change my beliefs. But what I discovered in exploring this thought experiment was that my faith is something that is not merely this or that religious belief. If my beliefs changed enough, I might stop calling my faith Christian. But a loss of faith for me would involve something rather different, namely the removal of the conviction that life is meaningful, that there is a purpose and significance to existence. And so the thought experiment was important to me, precisely as a way of getting to the point of recognizing that distinction.
I’ve taken to mentioning this thought experiment in my freshman seminar class “Faith, Doubt, and Reason” because it is a useful exercise in reflecting on those issues. And today, one of the students in my class responded to the thought experiment in a manner that I considered profound and insightful.
The students suggested that, in addition to having the possibility of traveling through time and space to first century Palestine to witness the life and activity of Jesus (his choice of destination), he would also want something else: the opportunity to forget the faith that he already has, which would expect Jesus to be impressive and believable. He would want the opportunity to find out whether, when confronted with Jesus as he really was, and himself having no prior commitment to him, he would respond positively and come to faith in him.
I thought that was insightful, and thus wanted to share it here on the blog. Of course, Doctor Who fans can guess what is coming. Using the Chameleon Arch featured in the Doctor Who episodes “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood,” or any number of other examples of sci-fi technology (think Total Recall), it would be possible to do just that (in the realm of fiction, of course).
Another student wondered whether she would have the faith that she currently does if she had been born in a different time and context. There too, with a time machine and cloning, we could arrange for another version of herself to grow up in a different setting and see what happens.
And so, as I mentioned in class, one reason why I love science fiction, and exploring the intersection of sci-fi, philosophy, and religion, is precisely because it allows us to explore these sorts of scenarios. Science fiction thought experiments are among the best ways of exploring really fundamental questions about things like our faith and what makes us human.
What science fiction technology would you use to explore your faith, and to reflect on what, if anything, might cause you to lose your faith, or change your beliefs, or come to faith? Where and when would you go, and how might what you saw there change things for you?