Monday, April 16, 2012
In Search Of Truth, The Fun And The Fault Of "What If"
The phrase "what if" is the birth of every great idea in sci-fi and fantasy. For as long as stories have been told, it has sparked new thought in the storyteller's mind.
An accepted truth provides the foundation, and then "what if" is introduced to turn that foundation around or explore it from a new angle. Although the probability of a given "what if" is important for telling more realistic stories, many sci-fi and fantasy stories throw probability and plausibility out the window and simply enjoy seeing where the wildest "what ifs" will take them.
Some of the fiction I most enjoy sets realism aside in many respects and commits to the craziest "what ifs" the storytellers can think of. This is the magic and excitement of "what if" and the realm in which it best realizes its full potential.
However in a search for the truth about any given thing, "what if" can only be helpful as a starting point for an investigation, rather than an end point at which we determine what we believe. Unfortunately I've run into some fellow fans of sci-fi and fantasy that give "what if" more power than they should, and I sometimes do it myself in ways that are harmful.
For example, a year or two ago I was talking to a sci-fi fan about the Old Testament. He said something to the effect of, "Couldn't those 'chariots of fire' referred to in the Old Testament actually be alien spacecraft instead of angels? Maybe all angels are really just aliens."
In another conversation with a fan of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, someone said "I think vampires could be real. I mean all of these stories we've developed could be based on SOME kind of truth."
Sometimes when I'm overtired and emotionally vulnerable, irrational thoughts (not based on any particular reasoning) will briefly enter my mind such as, "What if everything I believe about God and the Bible is full of crap? What if Christians are just deluding themselves?"
The problem with all of these thoughts is that they are based on "what ifs" and not logic, reason or cross-referenced evidence and sound arguments.
The idea that the angels describes in the Bible could be aliens completely ignores the context of the accounts in which they appear and also assumes that the eye-witnesses were simpletons that couldn't find more accurate ways to describe what they were seeing.
The idea that vampires may actually be real ignores any potential search for the historically verifiable origins of the concept of vampires and makes massive assumptions about where storytellers of the past gained inspiration for their ideas.
The thought that I may be deluding myself regarding the existence of God and veracity of the Bible ignores the wealth of reliable evidence I've sorted through over the years (and continue to sort through), including the historical evidence and reliability of the Biblical record (ESPECIALLY when compared to every other text of antiquity and any and all alternative religious texts).
As creative types and fans of wildly imaginative fiction, there comes a time when we need to draw a line between what could POSSIBLY be true, and what is most LIKELY to be true, basing our current beliefs on the latter.
There are a lot of things that are "possible". In fact just about anything stated in a logically coherent form IS "possible". But "what if" and "possible" are insufficient as guides to truth. "Probable" and "plausible", though still leaving a percentage of doubt, are much more reliable tools in a quest for the truth.