Study Guide

A Canticle for Leibowitz Science

By Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Science

Like religion, scientific knowledge is one of the Forces of Good that oppose the violent aspects of human nature in A Canticle. And also like religion, knowledge doesn't really succeed in this battle. It's not that science is depicted as a bad thing in the book. Far from it. Particularly in Fiat Homo, science represents an invaluable resource to humanity, and its near-total loss is a tragic event. But scientific knowledge alone, the novel seems to argue, will never be enough. Science without a guiding light—perhaps religious morality—will unwittingly lend a hand to our primitive impulses. Like war. This argument stands in stark contrast to the majority of science fiction written during Miller's time. In Asimov's Foundation, for example, science is the de facto savior of the human race. Here, science is a powerful tool, but one that can be used to destroy as well as to create. Oh boy.

Questions About Science

  1. Dom Paulo and Thon Taddeo have different opinions on who should have the power of scientific knowledge. Which character do you agree with and why? Feel free to agree with neither or both, but do explain why, please.
  2. Brother Kornhoer and Brother Armbruster argue over the placement of the arc lamp. How does their argument speak to the relationship between religion and science? Who do you agree with? Why?
  3. Where in the novel do you see science serving humanity negatively? Where do you see it serving humanity positively? What do you think science's purpose is in our society, according to the novel?
  4. Why do you suppose there are no science-minded characters in Fiat Homo?

Chew on This

Brother Kornhoer is A Canticle's critique of the archetypal science fiction scientist. He's not so quick to use his invention to change the world (though it totally will).

Hannegan's plan to use diseased cows to destroy Mad Bear's tribe is a play on chemical warfare, the first subtle hints of science's destructive capabilities in the novel.