When looking up at Jupiter recently, it occurred to me that the effect of the night sky on humanity hasn’t changed much in thousands of years. We can imagine the awe and wonder with which ancient people would have looked at the sky. They could watch and track the movements of the sun and stars and planets, but they didn’t know the size or scope of the universe. They didn’t know that stars were huge balls of burning hydrogen, or that the “wandering stars” were planets just like the Earth, or that the stars they could see were just a tiny fraction of those that really existed. They were awed by the unknowable nature of the heavens, its unreachable otherness, and it made them contemplate their mortality and place in the world. More than anything else in nature, it made them contemplate God.
Then came Isaac Newton. In a phenomenal leap of understanding, Newton realized that the parabolic motion of a thrown rock on Earth is the same motion as that of a moon or planet in orbit, following the same basic equations. In other words, the heavens were not a different realm, made of different materials (quintessence!) and following different rules. The heavens were the same as the Earth. They were an extension of the same material world, made of the same stuff and following the same rules. In was an astonishing and culture-changing realization that opened the door to much of the materialism and atheism that characterizes modern scientific thought. It was as if Newton had discovered that heaven–and therefore God–didn’t actually exist.
When we look at the sky now, even as children, we tend to play a game of galactic one-upsmanship. Wow, look at Jupiter, we think. It’s really big. You could fit more than a thousand Earths inside it. But that’s nothing compared to the size of the sun! You could fit more than a million Earths inside that baby. Yeah, but our sun isn’t even really that big. The biggest star found so far could fit more than a thousand copies of our sun inside it. And our solar system is puny compared to the size of our galaxy, which is so big it takes light a hundred thousand years to cross it. But our galaxy is just one of at least 100 billion galaxies in the universe! And on and on we go.
What’s the result of all this contemplation? We realize that we can barely comprehend the size of our own planet, never mind the universe, which is so vast we can’t even keep the numbers in our head. And so modern man, just as much as ancient man, is prompted to consider his own mortality and place in the world when gazing at the sky. Far from conquering the universe with our knowledge, we’ve merely discovered how much smaller we are than we ever thought, and how much more there is to reality. Even more so than ancient man, we’re awed when we see the bright speck of Jupiter, because we know what it means. And so, despite Newton, we find God in the sky after all.
For this month only, the ebook of my debut novel TERMINAL MIND is available for only 99 cents. Terminal Mind won the Philip K. Dick Award in 2009 for the best paperback science fiction novel of the year. It usually sells for $4.99, so if you haven’t read it yet, this is a rare opportunity to get it for a song.
Why do this? Aren’t I losing money? The reason for this unprecedented sale is. of course, to spread the word about my newest book, QUINTESSENCE. The biggest reason for a reader to buy a new book is because they liked the author’s last one. This sale is an inexpensive way for someone to take a risk on a new author and decide they like what I write. So, if you’ve already read Terminal Mind, please let others know about this deal! Particularly those who might enjoy my work, but may have never heard of me.
TERMINAL MIND takes place in a world of technological miracles: buildings can be grown in hours, communication flashes through light beams, and flesh can be molded to any whim. The story is about a boy whose mind has been sliced into the worldwide computer network–an organic network integrated into people’s very brains. Aware of nothing outside of his virtual existence, he’s a slave to a man who wields tremendous power through him, able to see through the eyes of almost anyone he chooses and steal their secrets. The result is a race between those who would use the child to dominate, and those who would see him destroyed… and the child’s mother, racing to find him, for whom both options are unthinkable.
Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show magazine called it “high-intensity human drama set in a thoroughly imagined and highly plausible future.” I hope you’ll check it out!
I recently read a lengthy and fascinating review of the book Mind and Cosmos by Thomas Nagel. Nagel is an atheist philosopher who objects to the idea that Darwinism can explain everything about what it means to be human. I’m not sure how much I agree with him (and I haven’t read the book), but the review prompted some interesting thoughts.
The theory of evolution has been remarkably successful in explaining the diversity of the world’s species in the world. It has provided answers to many questions about why mammals look the way they do–why we have four limbs, hair, teeth, bones, why our facial nerves attach the way they do, etc. We can trace the history of genetics through the tree of animal ancestry. But does that mean everything about humanity can be explained by natural selection? Nagel doesn’t think so. He argues that certain aspects of the human mind, like consciousness, intentionality, meaning, value, and a moral sense, can’t reasonably be explained by their survival value alone.
Normally, I’m leery of an approach that divides up the natural world into two categories: things that science can explain on one side, and things that are caused by the intervention of God on the other. With that view, the more that is explained by science, the less we can say comes from God. As I’ve written elsewhere, I don’t think those two categories are mutually exclusive. The natural processes that science describes are processes created and maintained by God. What is fascinating about Nagel’s suggestion, though, is that he points out that many people believe in Darwinism as a faith rather than a science. That is, they believe that every aspect of what it means to be human must be explained by natural selection, regardless of a lack of evidence. They think that because Darwinism has been successful in explaining many things, that it necessarily must be the only explanation for everything. Guilt, therefore, or jealousy, or the ability to appreciate poetry, must have been bred into the human race by the process of evolution. Nagel compares this belief to a man with a metal detector who, after great success identifying various metal items, concludes that paper and plastic must not exist, since his metal detector was unable to detect them.
Could consciousness have arisen through genetic variation? Could symbolic language have provided a survival value to early hominids? Possibly. I don’t know. What I do know is that there is more to a human being than genetics. A human is physically an animal, but we are more than just the physical. A person has a soul, a spiritual component that transcends the physical. Besides being clearly taught in the Bible, this is a truth that has been recognized by philosophers for millenia. Exactly how our physical and spiritual aspects interact (or how to draw a line between them) has never been easy to define, but I think Nagel is quite right to point out the problem. Out of fear of being branded as religious (or a desire to reject the idea of God), many Darwinists have resorted to a materialism that is a kind of faith in itself: that if something is outside the realm of science, it must therefore not exist.
On Thursday, April 18, at 7:00, I will be appearing at the Valley Forge Barnes and Noble to read an excerpt from Quintessence and sign copies. (Isn’t that cool? It’s like I’m a real author or something.) If you live in the area, stop by! There will be no pressure to buy anything; feel free to come to listen to me read or just to say hi.
In the wake of the launch of Quintessence, a number of bloggers have been kind enough to interview me. If you wonder what they asked and how I replied, read on! As I mentioned earlier, Fantasy Literature asked me some insightful questions about some of the themes in the book. My Bookish Ways focused on literary inspirations and book recommendations. Fantastical Imaginations wondered what actors I would choose to play the main characters in the unlikely event that Quintessence was made into a movie, and Rebecca Roland asked questions about my experience of being a writer. Finally, John Scalzi (author of the wildly successful Old Man’s War series, which is being made into a movie) asked me what he asks every author: what was the Big Idea that prompted you to write this book?
Popcorn Reads posted a superlative review of Quintessence. Here was their conclusion:
Along with characters written with a lot of depth, the voyage, the fantastical creatures, and the land at the edge of the world are what make Quintessence sing off the page. It’s one of those action-adventure novels that grabs you and will not let go, and I loved every nail-biting, heart-stopping moment of it! It is sci-fi/fantasy at its best and I highly recommend it!
I don’t know if good reviews actually sell any more books, but they sure make me happy!
I take a special interest in the Philip K. Dick awards, since I was a winner in 2009 and a judge in 2011. The award is given to the best paperback original science fiction novel published in the United States. This year’s winner was just announced: the book is LOST EVERYTHING by Brian Francis Slattery. Nice to see a fellow Tor author take home the prize!
Here is the book’s description:
In the not-distant-enough future, a man takes a boat trip up the Susquehanna River with his most trusted friend, intent on reuniting with his son. But the man is pursued by an army, and his own harrowing past; and the familiar American landscape has been savaged by war and climate change until it is nearly unrecognizable. Lost Everything is a stunning novel about family and faith, what we are afraid may come to be, and how to wring hope from hopelessness.
Check it out!