Evolution and the If of the Author

I distinctly remember the first time I encountered a science fiction story that clearly challenged my Christian worldview. I also remember how I reacted.

I remember the cover being much more exciting than this thing.

I was fairly young yet. The book was Tom Swift #4: The DNA Disaster. In the story, to my recollection (and reaffirmed by re-reading the back of the book), Tom creates a ray that can reverse or accelerate evolution. True to form, the device goes haywire and various things are devolved that aren’t supposed to be affected. Tom’s best friend Rick turns into a caveman and his pet bird transforms into a velociraptor.

At that age, I told my father most of the things I read and what I thought of them. I recall telling him, “In this world evolution is real.” I spoke of the fictional world of Tom Swift. I knew that God created the world in a week’s time, so evolution the way it talked in the book wasn’t real. But then again, the entire book was fiction, so what’s the big deal with one more thing? It made a fun story, and that’s where it remained: as a story.

As I’ve been considering the post Brandon put up about all the things to which Christians might object in science fiction, this recollection came to my mind: how a young boy responded to a negative science fiction trope.

I simply accepted it as the “if” of the story.

Every piece of fiction is speculative to some extent. What if this boy and this girl fell in love? What if terrorists held an office building hostage? What if the president made this choice and had this kind of personality? To slip into any story, though, the reader must accept the “if” that the author presents.

Every author writes with a certain set of assumptions. Some are very basic to the way language works and nearly every author will agree to these assumptions. Some might include agreed-upon rules of grammar and commonly-held idioms.

Nearly every writer will also carry his worldview with him, even when writing about others outside that worldview.

Once we slip past those assumptions, we get to the way the writer’s fictional world operates. Most worlds will assume gravity, for instance. But in the author’s playground, whatever he says happens, period. The reader must accept the “if” of the story before he can enjoy the “then.” The writer assumes evolution; if the reader fights that assumption, the book will either be incomprehensible or frustrating. (I found this problem with Michael Crichton’s The Lost World; I couldn’t accept his preaching about evolution, so the entire narrative became frustrating for me.)

Not to be confused with "Land of the Lost." Not a single version of that show is in any way like this book. They are all better than this book.

However, if the reader accepts that the entire story is a work of fiction, well, in this make-believe world evolution happened. And now that we have agreed upon an “if,” we can go on the rollercoaster ride of the “then.”

Does that mean we can read any kind of fiction? I would suggest caution, as even duly noted fiction has an effect on the way we think and believe. The assumptions of the writer might break the bonds of the fictional story and become the assumptions of the reader as well.

But perhaps… perhaps we don’t have to worry too much, if even a young boy can say, “Evolution is true in this world,” and acknowledge that it’s not true in the real world.

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