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The question How could Noah fit all those animals into the Ark? was closed as off-topic. I don't understand why. It's asking for an explanation of a plot detail in a work that surely qualifies as speculative fiction. I don't see why we should discriminate against certain works on the basis that they have given rise to a religion.

I could understand if this question was considered non-constructive: it's asking something that is well known not to have an answer, and it is likely to be argumentative because of the religious connection (hell, we're arguing about it already). But I would like to understand why 3 or more people voted it as off-topic.


Data point: How tall was Goliath? was closed as off-topic by three users, then migrated to Biblical Hermeneutics.

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    I think it would be worth creating a "are questions about real-world religion on topic" meta post (once there's a consensus here) that summarises (in a tidy and easy to follow way) whatever the consensus is, and faq tag it. – Tony Meyer Dec 16 '11 at 9:29
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    We have had questions about Greek mythology before. Should we also close those? – PearsonArtPhoto Dec 16 '11 at 21:05
  • I voted to close as not constructive. I think... – OghmaOsiris Dec 17 '11 at 4:54
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I'm trying to assume good faith, but this really seems like an ill-conceived commentary about religion.

this is not a site for Bible scholars, this is a site for SF aficionados.

That's right, it's not a site for Bible scholars, so why would questions about the Bible be on topic?

  • If I'm a conspiracy theorist, can I treat the Warren Commission report as speculative fiction, and therefore ask on-topic questions here?
  • What about Darwin's On the Origin of Species, if I'm a creationist?
  • Or how about Einstein's work, if I'm an anti relativity crank?

I think we'd all agree these are off-topic here on the basis that they're labeling works as fiction to promote a personal bias about said works' topics.

If someone is actually interested in understanding the Bible and Noah's flood (or the accuracy thereof), we have at least two (if not four) sites that have experts on the subject:

In fact, they have all dealt with issues related to the flood with respect to the original work and to those who believe:

When we have so many sites on the network that deal with religious issues, I don't know where SciFi.SE fits into Stack Exchange's expertise on Biblical matters other than to say "haha the Bible is a fraud lol! So brave!"

That is, to label the Old Testament or the Bible as fantasy or science fiction is patently offensive to Jews and Christians; and the implication that all religious works should also be considered as such is offensive to even more groups.

And we went almost a full year without this ever coming up or anyone thinking this was remotely appropriate. Now that the site has graduated, is this how we want to use our new place on the network: to offend countless people by labeling their principal guiding work fantasy or science fiction?

I know I don't. Let's avoid making genre judgements about the veracity of at least a billion people's religious beliefs and leave questions of faith and the Bible to the sites that are equipped to handle them with respect, context, and expertise.

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    It does seem that the only intention of asking the question is specifically to offend religious people. Especially if you look at one of the used tags: magic. – Goran Jovic Dec 16 '11 at 10:08
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    I find this post offensive to non-Christians. You mean if I don't believe in the literal truth of a work that someone believes (in the religious sense) to be true, then I cannot “handle [it] with respect, context and expertise”? – user56 Dec 16 '11 at 14:34
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    @Gilles - Goran's specific argument trumps any general philosophical ideas in this case. That post was clearly intended as a troll as the tag showed. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 16 '11 at 15:25
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    Is there a Greek Mythology site I can have my Immortals questions migrated to? – user1027 Dec 16 '11 at 15:35
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    @Keen It's still in the commitment phase, although my argument is that there are several sites on the network better equipped to deal with questions about it and that labeling the Bible as fantasy/science-fiction is offensive to a gigantic section of the world population. If there was a serious case that SFF.SE is just unfortunate naming and Bible scholars really do only use this site for handling Biblical questions, then we should really be changing our name. – user366 Dec 16 '11 at 19:30
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    @Gilles No, I'm saying treating the Bible as a work of fantasy or science fiction (and as Goran points out, tagging it magic) is demonstrable proof SFF.SE can't handle it with respect, and that we have three separate sites created after SFF.SE dedicated to Biblical questions is a strong indicator nobody seriously thinks SFF.SE has the expertise. – user366 Dec 16 '11 at 19:34
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    @MarkTrapp SFF.SE obviously doesn't have the expertise to treat this question as a religious question. But it is not a religious question, unless you posit that any question involving the Bible is a religious question. And that position cannot be shared by people who do not consider a biblical religion to be the absolute point of reference. – user56 Dec 17 '11 at 16:37
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    @Gilles I have no religious beliefs relating to the Bible, and do not consider it to be anything other than a collection of stories supporting a mythology that I do not share, yet I consider any question involving the Bible to be a religious question, much like I consider any question involving the Quran to be a religious question, even though I have never read it and do not hold it to be in any way personally sacred, so I disagree with your premise "And that position cannot be shared by people who do not consider a biblical religion to be the absolute point of reference." – Beofett Dec 18 '11 at 1:19
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Even if we ignore the potentially offensive aspect of that question, it is still offtopic simply because The Bible is not a work of either science fiction, fantasy or speculative fiction. It is a religious book.

There is a huge difference and the criterion is not how plausible it is. What makes the difference is the intention of the original author of the work. Authors of a religious book presumably believe that what they write is true and their readers are also supposed to believe it unconditionally.

On the other hand, a science fiction author intentionally imagines a story and knows that the story isn't real. Also, when we read the story we do temporarily suspend our disbelief but we all (hopefully) know for the whole time that the story is made up.

Science fiction isn't fiction because it isn't real. It is fiction because it is intended not to be real and to be accepted as not real.

If we were to consider including everything not real (or at least not proven real) where would it end? Would questions about world mythologies be on-topic? How about 20th century utopian ideologies? Are their manifestos works of fiction? How about not yet proven scientific theories?

P.S. If there was an actual SF story reinterpreting Noah's flood written by, say, Ray Bradbury, and were the question about the plausibility of the event within the universe of that story then it would be on topic. In this case it just isn't.

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    +1 for the distinction between religious books vs. fiction. – Beofett Dec 16 '11 at 13:51
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    Whether the authors of Genesis believed it to be true is debated by scholars. Why should we adopt one position? Are we allowed to discuss the flood in the epic of Gilgamesh? – user56 Dec 16 '11 at 14:38
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    @Gilles: My point is: religious books are either real world truths or real world lies, depending on your position as a believer or an atheist. But they are not works of fiction. Even if authors of Genesis never believed what they wrote, contemporary religious books are published and approved by religious organizations whose official stance is that those books contain absolute truth and followers are expected to believe that. – Goran Jovic Dec 16 '11 at 14:53
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    @Gilles: Gilgamesh is not really the best example - How can we possibly know the exact message that epic was supposed to convey? Not all tablets are saved, the epic we read is just a reconstruction. We really don't know if it was a religious/mythological text, an over exaggerated praise for the king or really a work of fiction. – Goran Jovic Dec 16 '11 at 14:59
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    @GoranJovic How does that differ from Genesis? We don't know whether the text was meant as a religious text, as a philosophical parable, as a fantasy story with a message, as a fantasy story without a message, as a retelling of earlier stories that may have had a different intended meaning… – user56 Dec 17 '11 at 16:34
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    @Gilles: Did the OP ask about some earlier edition Genesis? No, he asked specifically about Genesis 6. That implies the latest edition in use. And we do know what kind of a book that is. Even if we don't know if Gilgamesh is a work of fiction we sure know Genesis (as we know it) is not. – Goran Jovic Dec 17 '11 at 17:08
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    @Gilles: Also, I do think that purely mythological stories should not be on topic here exactly because the line is blurry. Unless, of course, they merely serve as an inspiration for a modern work of fiction like Stargate or Ilium. But, that deserves a discussion on its own. – Goran Jovic Dec 17 '11 at 17:14
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    @Gilles: Being too easy on what is and what isn't fiction can open Pandora's box. If that happens, don't complain if someone asks about The Communist Manifesto or Iraqi WMDs. From our perspective, we don't know if the first one was supposed to be a prequel to 1984 and the second one a script for a Steven Seagal movie. – Goran Jovic Dec 17 '11 at 17:23
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We don't have to accept every type of science fiction / fantasy question as on topic.

Pros:

  • Our "is it science fiction or fantasy" genre decision is basically "it's in the eye of the beholder". Treating "is it fiction" the same way is consistent.
  • I could see how an argument could be made that expertise in fantasy would be of use in analysing religious work. For example, a fantasy author would, presumably, need to come up with a believable method (which could be 'magic', of course) of fitting animals on an arc if they one in their work. Users here could refer to those other works to answer such questions.

Cons:

  • The questions will inevitably lead to conflict and/or require very careful control to avoid conflict. Either there will be debate about whether the work can be considered fiction, or that debate will have to be forbidden and that enforced.
  • If you want to know more about plot/character/setting, then that's something a religious expert would give a better answer to, if you want to know more about historical/societal background, that's something that a historian or religious expert would better answer, "fandom" questions are clearly better suited for a religious expert, story identification questions are more likely to get a correct answer from religious experts, and it's hard to see how reading order questions apply. Those are the types of question that the FAQ indicates are particularly on-topic.
  • It's hard to see how finding an answer to a question like this through a search engine would then lead the user to become more engaged with the site.
  • As Mark Trapp pointed out, if "is it fiction" is left very open, that potentially opens the floodgates to any number of questions about topics that very few people would consider fiction.
  • The rather useless "it was magic" (including the will of God as "magic") answer could be validly applied to many questions like this. Any question (about religious texts or not) where there is essentially no chance of providing in-universe (here in-faith) or extra-universe (e.g. scholarly religious work) references tends to generate poor answers (ones filled with speculation without backup, discussion, and "by magic").

Overall, I don't see how these questions will add value to the site.

(Real-world religion does play a part in many science fiction / fantasy stories. I think questions that are asking about religion within that context are certainly on-topic).

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Many people agreed with @OghmaOsiris that it should be asked at Christianity. As @Fabian pointed out, it's been asked on Christianity already.

Another option is Skeptics.

But Sci-Fi or Fantasy? No. No serious Bible scholar that I am aware of would agree that the Bible was intended to be a work of science-fiction.

Personally, I think Scientology comes closer, but I wouldn't ask about that here either.

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    A question with the same words, asked on Christianity, would have a different meaning. On Christianity, the question would be asking about religious interpretations in different Christian denominations. On Science Fiction & Fantasy, the question is asking about a plot point in the Old Testament. Skeptics would provide again a different point of view, relating the literary fiction to a possible true event. And yet another site where the same words could be asked is Biblical Hermeneutics, with yet another meaning (purely textual interpretations). – user56 Dec 16 '11 at 7:57
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    “No serious Bible scholar that I am aware of would agree that the Bible was intended to be a work of science-fiction.”: this is not a site for Bible scholars, this is a site for SF aficionados. It's natural for us to treat the Bible as a work of fiction, and I don't see why the authors' intent would enter into it (SF didn't exist as a genre back then anyway). – user56 Dec 16 '11 at 7:58
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    @Gilles: No, we are not Biblical scholars, but that's the point: We're not experts, yet experts who know much more than we know on this topic speak with an authority we don't have. We accept the judgement of experts in physics and other fields in SF&F, so ignoring what experts say in this area would be done without grounds. – Tango Dec 16 '11 at 9:50
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    @Gilles: See my answer. It refers to why Bible is not a work of fiction. – Goran Jovic Dec 16 '11 at 10:41

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