“You can have faith in science and the wisdom of men, or you can have faith in what God has said. I choose God.”
Welcome to the Bordermarches series, where I hope to introduce the fantasy world and the story I am writing. I provided a brief introduction, but now I want to talk about what makes this different from all the other fantasy books out there vying for your limited reading time.
More than anything else, frustration at that sentiment above inspired me to make a change to the world.
A long-time friend on FaceBook had been posting a variety of arguments about evolution, questioning the science behind it. I can understand some skepticism and the desire for “proof.” It’s natural to want to see evidence before accepting someone’s claim about a subject like the origins of life.
But the idea that science and faith are incompatible or diametrically opposed bothers me.
Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Neil deGrasse Tyson explaining how science actually works.
I dislike the black-and-white idea that says I can either accept a particular literal interpretation of Scripture, or I can reject God by accepting the work of the scientific community in various areas. I really dislike the thought that “There is no in-between.”
And the fact is, I often hear this point of view expressed in the Christian community. So that made exploring science and faith even more interesting to me.
My friend and I talked at length about this supposed dichotomy, and always the argument came down to “If you believe science, you’re rejecting God’s Word. If you believe God’s Word, then you have to reject science that doesn’t line up with God’s Word.”
In what sort of world is science a problem?
The “theocracy” angle is the natural first answer. I could certainly set up an extreme religious government opposed to technology and progress. But I didn’t want to go that route. It just seems too easy… or like I’m pandering too much to my atheist and agnostic friends who are even more frustrated than me by American refusal to accept what science teaches us.
Even though I do not intend to use this sort of storyline, I can still employ it on an individual level. Surely there are some religious leaders or people in power who might say:
“Thoughts are like arrows; dangerous if not guided by a skilled hand and a disciplined mind.”
I could try for “science running amok” and have some villain or evil government using technology to accomplish twisted goals. But that is the opposite end of the spectrum, playing to my religious friends who question what science tells us based on how it may affect beliefs we hold dear. This held no interest for me, either, though I can certainly use this on an individual level as well.
Science is a tool for discovering the world around us. Not only that, but pure science gives us a logical and orderly way to record and accumulate knowledge about the workings of… well, everything. Those discoveries inspire inventions which change our lives and drive progress as a civilization. We build on the lessons learned over generations before us.
I have always pictured a world whose pure scientific technological development is right on the cusp of gunpowder. Sure, there are “magic” devices and artifacts of power that defy the norm. But the common person is limited to mostly medieval technology prior to the widespread use of gunpowder to wage war.
I never thought about why that should be the limit, other than “that seems to be the case in the settings I’m familiar with,” and “that works for a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.” (Keep in mind, this was originally developed because I was trying to write a campaign for a tabletop RPG group.)
I also never considered this an imposed limit. It was just where this world was at on the technology development tree in my head. (Yes, I’m picturing the tree from Civilization II, and the little pop-up message announcing that ‘The Bordermarches has discovered Gunpowder!”)
The thought hit me: What if a pattern had emerged over thousands of years and dozens of civilizations? What if those peoples and nations who continually sought scientific advancement met in every case with a terrible and inexplicable calamity?
Put yourself there in this world. You’re a simple farmer in a small mountain village. You feed the miners who dig up the ore that the smiths in the cities need.
You know that the city of Athoni several leagues to the east has an advanced education system. In their schools, students experiment with all sorts of natural materials, recording their observations and discovering new ways to mix various elements together to create powerful compounds.
They have doctors who have pierced the veil of flesh to reveal the inner workings of the human body. They have looked on the matters of the Divine, and now they claim we are not much different from the animals we hunt. You should see the drawings they have made.
These doctors believe that they can find medicinal uses for some of the compounds created from plants and minerals. They expect that with the right compounds, they can heal various ailments and wounds even better than the healers who minister by the power of the Divine. The order of healers, the Devoted, are not happy about this development at all. But the Lord of Athoni favors the path of learning, and refuses to stop the doctors’ progress.
They promise amazing discoveries and world-changing advances within your lifetime, and even though you’re just a farmer, you’re curious to see what comes of all of this.
Then one day, the ground shakes like a leaf in a gale. The skies darken. Word eventually comes from the east. Travelers report that Athoni is gone. Everything and everyone in the city have completely vanished, and all that remains is a scorched crater. There is no explanation.
After over two millennia of this, as several civilizations and population centers disappear or are destroyed with no explanation, people would make the connection.
You start messing with science, bad things happen.
“Maybe there were a bunch of freak accidents. Maybe science is dangerous like that.”
“No, maybe it was the wrath of the Divine instead. We weren’t meant to know these things, and so we get punished when we push too far.”
“No, maybe those people destroyed themselves; perhaps it wasn’t an accident at all. You know how twisted scientists are…”
At the very least, I want pure science to be a taboo of sorts, frowned upon and whispered about when no one is looking. To some of the people in the Bordermarches, it will be a heinous and self-serving evil. “How could you put your pursuits ahead of the safety and welfare of the city around you?” To others, it will be viewed as deviant and repulsive. And to a select few, it will be thought of as a legitimate approach to unlocking the mysteries of the world around us.
Given the above, any experimentation or methodical study must meet the approval of the Sages of the Academy–remember, that arrow needs a hand to guide it.
Perhaps this is the sort of world some want, where a religious order ultimately decides what science is permitted and what is not, what science is in accordance with the will of the Divine and what does not conform.
But the Sages do this not to enforce a religious view or prevent their religion from being disproven. They know that there are craters and ruins around the world, a testament to what happens when a society goes too far and learns too much. Learn from history, or you will repeat it.
Their fear is not that their precious beliefs will be shattered, but that their society will be.
So… enough of the fear-mongering. That’s a rough, mostly spoiler-free synopsis of how science is viewed in the world of the Bordermarches.
Next up, what would a fantasy novel be without some element of magic?