Drabblecast 227 – The Star

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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by strawman » Tue Jan 24, 2012 3:06 am

I'm all for conservation. In fact, I'm working on a project that could result in the recycling of a half billion pounds of hdpe per year. But where there is zero cost benefit analysis, and virtually no accountability for money being awarded to failed companies run by big political donors, like daisies on a grave, it's pretty on the surface, but criminally corrupt beneath.
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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by ROU Killing Time » Tue Jan 24, 2012 4:24 am

Danger Will Robinson, the ship is veering off course and is about to plunge into that star over yonder...
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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by tbaker2500 » Tue Jan 24, 2012 5:56 am

If you're talking about Solendra of whatever they were called, that was downright criminal.
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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by Unblinking » Wed Jan 25, 2012 3:51 pm

strawman wrote:There's a difference between understanding his actions and understanding his motives. His actions would be the set-up of physical laws, right? So understanding them is science. Who done that, and why, is the metaphysical part.
I guess that depends on what you consider to be God's actions. Rather than just setting up the physical laws and pushing the first domino, this story implies (at least to me) that He has more control than that, in order to get that star to explode at the precise time. If he can affect anything anytime, I don't assume that I can understand what actions He was actually responsible for, even in this myopic view of this particular timeline, let alone whether those actions have meaning or purpose.

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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by Scattercat » Sat Jan 28, 2012 4:17 pm

Really, it's the Problem of Evil. If God is:

1) Omniscient, or all-knowing, and thus has perfect knowledge and/or exists outside of time,
2) Omnipotent, or all-powerful, able to create and manipulate time, space, and matter with perfect accuracy,
3) Benevolent, or intending good things toward the universe and the beings within it,

then the fact that evil still exists suggests that God also does not exist, or at least that God is not completely omniscient, omnipotent, or benevolent. This is one of the oldest pieces of philosophical wrangling around, and frankly it remains unresolved for most people. Those who confront it and maintain their faith tend to adopt either, "We just can't understand the reasons behind an infinite being's actions," or they go all Candide and insist that the crap-pile we have IS the absolute best possible outcome that could have been.

In this story, the confluence of events suggests to the narrator that God purposely detonated the star at the right time (or designed the universe knowing that the star would go nova at the right time) in order to send a specific message to a specific group of humans on Earth. The star going nova obliterated what appeared to be a perfectly innocent alien race. The narrator thus suffers a crisis of faith, since the God that he believed in would not have destroyed a whole race of intelligent beings solely to serve an anthropocentric point. He is left with either a God who did not realize that the aliens were there, a God who was unable to undo the chain of events leading to the nova after it was set in motion, or a God who is callous and cruel enough to destroy the aliens because they are irrelevant to his plan to murder a Jewish carpenter.

Or that the universe really is just random, and the human brain - being honed through myriad evolutionary steps to be both a superb pattern-finding machine and prone to false positives - has seen a pattern where none existed and called it God.

Frankly, and on a personal level, that last option is a heck of a lot more comforting to me than the idea of an idiot-child God or a callous and cruel Deity. I'd be willing to express sympathy for an impotent God, but I wouldn't be much inclined to worship such a being. Maybe give Him a hug.

I agree with Strawman that the narrator isn't really a very strong-in-faith Jesuit. Mostly they tend to go with "Mysterious Ways" and leave it at that.

More broadly (more broad than God? eh, you know what I mean), the story is also about anthropocentrism. Humans have a tendency to assume that it's all about us, which is why it was such a struggle for scientists to establish that the Earth orbited the Sun rather than vice-versa. The discovery that Earth is kind of way out in the boonies, galaxy-wise, didn't really meet with much more applause. In "The Star," we see such an idea taken to an extreme, in which a whole solar system and an entire alien race gets wiped out, and the humans decide that it was all just to send a special message to a tiny subsection of their population. Clarke could probably have done something similar with astrology, although that particular belief system doesn't have a central narrative hinged on a supernova.

I'm actually rather pleased with the way my drabble interfaced with the story, since when I was writing it, I consciously had in mind two different readings, depending on who you think is closer to correct, the web-bots or the programmer.

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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by strawman » Sat Jan 28, 2012 5:35 pm

I like your analysis, Scattercat.

Seems like humans have anthropocentrism in their DNA, and a long history of being misguided by it.
I am curious about the fact that the universe, by sheer odds, should be full of intelligent life, but so far---only silence.
Also, the age-old question of free will, rather than God, being the cause of evil. That question comes up in Genesis, which I find encouraging. God asks Adam, "Why did you disobey?" and Adam's answer is to blame God. "This woman YOU gave me made me do it." So true, (as any woman can tell you). This would be the priest's point of view.

Clarke's angle is to separate the question of evil from free will, the priest's experience, leaving him only with your 3 alternatives to choose from. Could the apparently innocent civilization have sinned, with a subsequent supernova as a kind of Noah's Flood? No. The irony of the supernova being the Star in the Christmas narrative shows that's not the question Clarke is posing. He seems to stipulate that the civilization A) has free will, B) is nevertheless innocent, that C1) the supernova cannot be a chance accident (because it was apparently designed to guide the Wise Men), or C2)that it MUST be a chance accident that was misread by astrologers, which somehow resulted in a major religion...

This is a legitimate way to come up with a concept for a good story. Clarke is a bit heavy-handed in selecting a priest to lead the expedition, but he really has no choice. Without the priest, he loses the free-will/evil context, as well as the Follow-the-Star irony.

Seems to me there's two angles to Anthropocentrism, and The Star would parallel the angle that Adam took, in which God is sort of mankind's alter-ego.

That explains the Old-Man-with-the-Flowing-White-Beard imagery.
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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by tbaker2500 » Sat Jan 28, 2012 8:22 pm

Good analyseses'.

It hadn't occurred to me that he was separating free will out of the equation. Makes for a tougher argument.
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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by ROU Killing Time » Sat Jan 28, 2012 9:13 pm

The problem with coming up with an accurate definition of God has a lot to do with the difficult in defining what is , by definition, indefinable.
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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by Scattercat » Sat Jan 28, 2012 9:49 pm

@Strawman

One should be careful to separate out the *narrator* from Clarke. The Jesuit priest has difficulty with the idea of the supernova precisely *because* his belief system previously rested upon the idea of an omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent God. If he had believed in, say, a Deistic watchmaker-God of the sort most of the US's founding fathers favored, then he might not have had so much of a problem with it. ("God just set everything up and no longer intervenes in the universe directly.") That, of course, would be a weakening of the "omnipotent" angle; a God that cannot intervene directly in the universe is not all-powerful. (It could also be a weakening of God's benevolence, if he *will not* intervene. It's the difference between letting your two-year-old fall off of a six-inch stool so s/he learns to be careful and letting your two-year-old fall off of a third-story balcony because it would be their own fault for climbing on the railing to begin with.)

Anyway, the point is that Clarke is positing what effect it might have on a person of faith to have their faith confirmed in a truly terrible way. It's an interesting thought, and an interesting story, but one must be careful in ascribing sentiments to the author directly based on the story.

---

On a side note, the whole idea of Noah's flood is, to me, a strong argument against worshipping anyone who is a big enough asshole to pull off such a stunt. I don't really see where it's appropriate to kill someone just because they're immoral, nor do I believe that you can have an entire species so egregious that they all deserve killing. Saying that "free will" caused the deaths of Noah's flood is about equivalent to saying that some rape victim "was asking for it" by walking down a street late at night. The God in Noah's story presumably also had free will, and therefore could have decided NOT to murder millions of people; even granting every presupposition about the wickedness of those people, God is still equally responsible for the deaths, at minimum. The only way that "free will" could excuse such an incident to me would be if, I dunno, the aliens in this story had been using their sun as a power source and drained it to the point that it went supernova.

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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by ROU Killing Time » Sat Jan 28, 2012 10:57 pm

Free-will and the sun-draining scenario doesn't really meet your criteria either, SC. What about the infants or unborn when the sun went nova? Where was their free-will contributing to the problem?

Strawman, the "old man in flowing robes" of course touches on another age-old trope in the theological discussion, namely the "who made who?" question of "did God create man, or vice-versa?"

Does any of this have an impact on my own feelings? Not really, except to support my feelings that the concept or personhood or existence of God isn't provable.

I see an ironic parallel between fundamentalist views and Bertrand Russell's attempt to create a mathematical fortress that was unassailable to the forces of paradox, only to have that dream shattered by Kurt Gödel who proved, once and for all, that some propositions are true but are inherently unprovable.
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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by strawman » Sun Jan 29, 2012 12:20 am

ROU Killing Time wrote:Free-will and the sun-draining scenario doesn't really meet your criteria either, SC. What about the infants or unborn when the sun went nova? Where was their free-will contributing to the problem?
Free will causing evil is not related to the suffering of innocents. The idea is that all suffer the consequences of some having chosen evil.
ROU Killing Time wrote:Strawman, the "old man in flowing robes" of course touches on another age-old trope in the theological discussion, namely the "who made who?" question of "did God create man, or vice-versa?"
The ultimate in anthropocentrism, but not demonstrably an "age-old trope". I'd like to see examples that predate the so-called Age of "Enlightenment". After all, it has taken many centuries to arrive at my generation, which was named after Me! I would call that Hyperanthropocentrism on Steroids. Shirley MacLaine has declared herself God. We've come a long way from conceiving of God as "Father".
ROU Killing Time wrote:Kurt Gödel who proved, once and for all, that some propositions are true but are inherently unprovable.
Interesting. Let's discuss this one over a bottle of wine. Or three.
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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by strawman » Sun Jan 29, 2012 12:49 am

Scattercat wrote: ("God just set everything up and no longer intervenes in the universe directly.") That, of course, would be a weakening of the "omnipotent" angle; a God that cannot intervene directly in the universe is not all-powerful. (It could also be a weakening of God's benevolence, if he *will not* intervene. It's the difference between letting your two-year-old fall off of a six-inch stool so s/he learns to be careful and letting your two-year-old fall off of a third-story balcony because it would be their own fault for climbing on the railing to begin with.)
That's an innaccurate representation of the issue. It need not "reduce" omnipotence or benevolence that God would permit free will... if, with that permission, man becomes responsible for the consequences of his choices, either good or bad. And if this life does not end with death, (a thing which only God is in a position to know), then the context of both earthly suffering and joy is seen in an entirely different, temporary perspective.

So if God exists, we are in no position to judge him. But if we are responsible for the consequences of our choices, and God is just, we should insist on judgement.

I agree with you about Noah's flood. I don't doubt it is a parable about that necessity of judgement that arose out of a 5000 year old discussion around a campfire in the desert (the DC forum equivalent of the time). I believe after reflecting on it for a couple thousand years, someone decided that if God were to be just, then the only hope for people being judged for the consequences of their choices would be that god would be merciful.

The tone of the stories does seem to change considerably in that direction, leaving us to consider whether it was more likely that god suffered a psychotic break, or that Jesus knew him better than the rest of us.
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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by ROU Killing Time » Sun Jan 29, 2012 4:50 am

strawman wrote:
ROU Killing Time wrote:Kurt Gödel who proved, once and for all, that some propositions are true but are inherently unprovable.
Interesting. Let's discuss this one over a bottle of wine. Or three.
I just finished "I Am A Strange Loop" by Douglas Hofstadter which is written for an even broader audience than "Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid."
He walks through Gödel in a way that's reasonably understandable for reasonably intelligent people.
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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by Scattercat » Sun Jan 29, 2012 8:59 am

strawman wrote:That's an innaccurate representation of the issue. It need not "reduce" omnipotence or benevolence that God would permit free will... if, with that permission, man becomes responsible for the consequences of his choices, either good or bad. And if this life does not end with death, (a thing which only God is in a position to know), then the context of both earthly suffering and joy is seen in an entirely different, temporary perspective.
Personally, I'd say it's less than perfectly benevolent to wipe out an entire race because of an arbitrary set of guidelines that weren't made clear to everyone. If the aliens drain the sun and it goes nova, then they've caused their deaths. (I'd say a decent person would still want to help them, but it's fair to point out that they brought it on themselves.) If the star goes nova without particular warning because God wanted a pretty light, that's major asshole territory by most peoples' common sense ratings, I'd think. If God picks those aliens to die because, I dunno, they were having premarital sex, there's so little connection between their actions and the results that claiming it was the result of "free will" feels thin. To me, anyway.

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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by ROU Killing Time » Sun Jan 29, 2012 9:05 am

Scattercat wrote:
strawman wrote:That's an innaccurate representation of the issue. It need not "reduce" omnipotence or benevolence that God would permit free will... if, with that permission, man becomes responsible for the consequences of his choices, either good or bad. And if this life does not end with death, (a thing which only God is in a position to know), then the context of both earthly suffering and joy is seen in an entirely different, temporary perspective.
Personally, I'd say it's less than perfectly benevolent to wipe out an entire race because of an arbitrary set of guidelines that weren't made clear to everyone. If the aliens drain the sun and it goes nova, then they've caused their deaths. (I'd say a decent person would still want to help them, but it's fair to point out that they brought it on themselves.) If the star goes nova without particular warning because God wanted a pretty light, that's major asshole territory by most peoples' common sense ratings, I'd think. If God picks those aliens to die because, I dunno, they were having premarital sex, there's so little connection between their actions and the results that claiming it was the result of "free will" feels thin. To me, anyway.
Or it could be that star's die for the same reason that you and I and everyone else must die. To make room for the next generation. Why do I hear Elton John singing Tim Rice lyrics in the background...
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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by ROU Killing Time » Sun Jan 29, 2012 10:05 am

I just realized that last comment was me going all Candide on everyone, wasn't it?
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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by strawman » Sun Jan 29, 2012 2:52 pm

Scattercat wrote:Personally, I'd say it's less than perfectly benevolent to wipe out an entire race because of an arbitrary set of guidelines that weren't made clear to everyone. If the aliens drain the sun and it goes nova, then they've caused their deaths. (I'd say a decent person would still want to help them, but it's fair to point out that they brought it on themselves.) If the star goes nova without particular warning because God wanted a pretty light, that's major asshole territory by most peoples' common sense ratings, I'd think. If God picks those aliens to die because, I dunno, they were having premarital sex, there's so little connection between their actions and the results that claiming it was the result of "free will" feels thin. To me, anyway.
I'm a bit more sympathetic to the Jesuit's perspective, while you seem to be looking at it from Clarke's point of view. I doubt Clarke and his strawman would have come to a common understanding. The thing about inventing a character is that they don't usually change your mind about things. Clarke is god; characters and plot are his dominion; and he writes on stone tablets with his finger, in the universe he created.

Can he create a universe in which God is cruel? Sure. But his "hook" is to create a universe in which the "sign" of the coming of mercy and redemption is actually the precise opposite.

As Nosferatu would say: "Well played, Lord Clarke. Well played".
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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by ROU Killing Time » Sun Jan 29, 2012 7:56 pm

strawman wrote: Can he create a universe in which God is cruel? Sure. But his "hook" is to create a universe in which the "sign" of the coming of mercy and redemption is actually the precise opposite.
Does this not parallel the sign of the coming and mercy and redemption being the brutal torture and execution of the one man who did not deserve it?
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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by strawman » Sun Jan 29, 2012 9:05 pm

ROU Killing Time wrote:
strawman wrote: Can he create a universe in which God is cruel? Sure. But his "hook" is to create a universe in which the "sign" of the coming of mercy and redemption is actually the precise opposite.
Does this not parallel the sign of the coming and mercy and redemption being the brutal torture and execution of the one man who did not deserve it?
Precisely. That's why Clarke's hook is particularly cruel.
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Re: Drabblecast 227 – The Star

Post by Mikes » Mon Jan 30, 2012 1:13 am

Without jumping into the whole 'is there a god and what is it if there' debate (because I don't care if there is so long as those mormons keep turning up to clean my house), I'm just going to say it's episodes like this that make me shake my friends and reletives until they agree to give short fiction pod casts a try.

It blew me away, it really nothing. Nothing in this episode was below awesome.

I haven't gotten into Clarke's work. Not through want, I just haven't read them yet, so the ending was a real surprise to me.
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