Read the speaker’s notes and find the presentation at the end of the post.
The Representation of Science and Religion in Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
Cat’s Cradle is a science fiction novel written by American writer Kurt Vonnegut. From first sight, the book is based upon the description of an imagined society with its own laws, customs, social order, and problems. Nevertheless, Cat’s Cradle puts emphasis on the problems of American society and explores issues related to science, technology, and religion. The author pays attention to the immorality and indifference of a society obsessed with science. Cat’s Cradle is the interaction of two opposite concepts, utopia and dystopia, as far as the book represents the image of the utopian world and the tough reality hidden between the lines. Therefore, the author’s investigation of scientific and religious issues in the context of the aftermath of people’s carelessness forms the central core of the book.
The topic of science plays a fundamental role in Cat’s Cradle. It is noteworthy to claim that the author contrasts the brilliance and inhumanity of science. On the one hand, science is the source of new knowledge and discoveries aimed to facilitate and improve the life of society. The genius of science is akin to magic, as far as saying “science is magic that works” (Vonnegut). According to such a perspective, science provides a unique opportunity for humanity to apply knowledge to develop society. Vonnegut claims that new knowledge is the most precious thing in the world as long as it increases the truth, and “the more truth we have to work with, the richer we become” (Vonnegut). Nevertheless, the main problem represented in the book is the careless attitude of scientists and society to the application of knowledge. Hence, humanity tends to ignore the problems caused by science and technology.
Cat’s Cradle represents the concept of “science for the sake of science” based upon cynicism and the indifference of society. The scientists in the book are deprived of such human feelings and traits as love, sympathy, and morality. In the case of Hoenikker, the scientist who invented the atom bomb has no moral responsibility for the thousands of those who died after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The scientists did not realize the dark side of science, inasmuch as they created a weapon aimed to bring death and destruction. Newton Hoenikker mentioned a situation during the bomb testing which fully described the inhumanity. The matter is that one of the scientists claimed that science has now known sin, but Felix Hoenikker simply wondered what the sin implied. Therefore, human feelings were unfamiliar to the father of the atom bomb as well as the consciousness of danger of such an invention for society.
One more important fact to mention is the indifference of scientists to the aftermath of deadly inventions that claimed many innocent lives. The only thing that worried the father of the atom bomb was solving the puzzles provided by nature. Thus, Hoenikker was spending his last days in the cottage outside the Ilium playing with the loop of string from the book about the end of the world. His son mentioned that the book was not interesting for the scientist except the string. Hence, this scene is a portrayal of the careless attitude towards people’s lives and the immorality of science, as scientists have literally played with the lives of people the same as Hoenikker did with the string.
The ice-nine is one more portrayal of the disastrous nature of science. The matter is that Hoenikker invented it in order to solve one of nature’s puzzles worthy of his attention. The main quality of the ice-nine was to freeze everything in a particular area. Hoenikker decided to create such a substance for the Marines to deal with mud. In spite of the fictional benefit of the ice-nine, such an invention was able to kill life on Earth. Thus, the scientist had not realized the danger of the ice-nine for humanity and took into account just the ability to solve the problem. This substance also appeared in the second part of the book, which told the story of Hoenikker’s children. In fact, they kept the invention of their father and then used it for achieving their own goals. Hence, ice-nine is the portrayal of people’s indifference and careless attitude towards the dangerous consequences of science.
One more significant issue raised in Cat’s Cradle is the problem of religion. In the fictional world created by Vonnegut, Bokononism is the central religion practiced by the majority of characters. According to Bokonon’s beliefs, religion is nothing but “foma,” which implies the untruth. Thus, everyone who believes in the lie can live a happy, healthy, and kind life. It is possible to assume that religion is the antithesis to science, as far as science represents the truth. From first sight, the significance of religion is blurred in the book as far as it represents a set of fictional and untruthful beliefs and concepts that contradict the truth. Otherwise, the author makes the readers think about the importance of the existence of religion even if it is the incarnation of foma. As was mentioned, scientists are lacking morality and the feeling of responsibility. They are not aware of such concepts as sin, love, and sympathy. Thus, being aware of the truth, scientists and their inventions are dangerous for society due to the conscious indifference and denial of responsibility. What is more, the absence of morality leads to destruction and death. Therefore, religion became the instrument of hope for people when truth was terrible and dangerous for society.
To sum up, the author has raised several issues related to science, technology, and religion in Cat’s Cradle. Vonnegut has drawn a connection to the important problems of society through the depiction of the imagined world. Hence, the central problems of the fictional world involve the indifference and immorality of people obsessed with science, and who denied the importance of responsibility for people’s lives. As for religion, there is the contrast of beliefs as a harmless untruth, but which acts as the only instrument that brings hope for people terrified by the truth.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Cat’s Cradle. Penguin, 1999.