Sunday, June 24, 2012

Pandeism and the world of Star Wars

A long, long time ago....
in a galaxy far, far away....

The Star Wars Universe is characterized by the central role of the Jedi, an essentially religious order which corresponds to a metaphysical characteristic of that world -- The Force. And what is The Force? Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke Skywalker of it being "an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together." But in practice it appears that The Force is not restricted to living things even, at least insofar as Force-user seem undiminished in their application of its power in deep space and on planets lifeless but for their own presence (such as the volcanic world of Mustafar where a younger Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker duel amidst torrents of lava).

And what is it that The Force enables for those able to access it? Well, a series of relatively minor miracles, to be sure. Most prominently shown are the levitation of objects of varying size (up to an entire spacecraft as done by the venerable Yoda), and comparable telekinetic acts including choking from a distance, especially enjoyed by Darth Vader; feats of augmented strength, endurance, and dexterity; the emission (by those on 'the dark side' of 'Force lightning' -- bolts of energy that electrify their target; controlling the minds of others, if those minds are weak and impressionable; and sensing distant events both distant and nearby but hidden. Possibly the most remarkable application of The Force is in the ability of certain of its users to reportedly either raise the dead, or defeat death itself, continuing to exist after death as conscious and communicative beings (if incorporeal ones) -- visible at least to other wielders of this power.

Now, one interesting thing about The Force is that, much like the magical talent on display in the Harry Potter series, access to it (formally called being 'Force-sensitive') seems limited to those with a genetic predisposition, an accident of birth perhaps, but one which is clearly inheritable. Parents who are 'strong in The Force' will be likely to have children with the same propensity. One who had not inherited this knack would not be able to use the Force for levitation and mind control and such, no matter how strongly they believed in it; just as the few regular humans in Harry Potter's world who actually know about the magic are not themselves able to wield wands and cast spells.

Interestingly as well, although the Jedi are unquestionably shown to exist and to exercise remarkable abilities, they are not infrequently dismissed as quasi-mythic -- even to their faces!! This is best illustrated in the earliest film, where we see Obi-Wan training Luke as they travel in the Millennium Falcon; Luke is attempting to block blasts from a hovering training robot:
Obi-Wan: Remember, a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him.
Luke: You mean it controls your actions?
Obi-Wan: Partially, but it also obeys your commands.
Han Solo: (laughing as Luke is blasted by the training robot) Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.
Luke: You don't believe in the Force, do you?
Han Solo: Kid, I've flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I've seen a lot of strange stuff, but I've never seen anything to make me believe there's one all-powerful Force controlling everything. There's no mystical energy field that controls my destiny. Anyway, it's all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.
Obi-Wan then places a blast helmet on Luke, covering Luke's eyes. Despite misgivings, Luke follows Obi-Wan's instructions to 'stretch out with his feelings', and then succeeds in blocking several blasts from the training robot. Han Solo's response, when confronted by the reality before him, is to call it luck -- to which Obi-Wan insists, "there is no such thing as luck."

Han Solo presents perhaps the most interesting theological perspective, for he begins this journey as a true atheist, with no faith in 'hokey religions' or a 'mystical energy field.' And yet, we are shown throughout the course of the series that such an energy field -- the Force -- does indeed exist!! At the same time, despite the actual presence of one spiritual truth, it is shown that some adhere to religiosity reflecting false superstition, as with the Ewoks worshiping C3PO as a deity (notably even before Luke Skywalker supplies the physics-defying display which cements this impression).

But for all of the wonders accessible through The Force, the Universe of Star Wars offers no explanation as to why this phenomenon exists. The extended universe of novels and other materials includes some reference to an ancient 'discovery' of The Force, but offer no explication of its origin. This has been left in a sense to critics who have attacked the stories as supplanting theistic religions with a form of Pantheism, the idea that 'God' is the Universe itself. And, despite the occasional condemnation of this notion from theists, a fairly significant number of people have responded to census requests by identifying themselves as 'Jedi.'

But here we find the world of Star Wars to operate consistently with a pandeistic Universe. Look at the things going on here. First, despite the fuzziness of the technology in use, there is unquestionably a consistently governing physics. Comparable to Star Trek once the metaphysical element is put aside, the distribution of life forms observed on various planets is consistent with each such planet's life developing through a process of evolution by natural selection. This process has led to intelligent life arising on numerous worlds, such that interactions between civilizations generate a rich array of experiences, as predicted by the presumption in the most popular formulation of Pandeism, wherein our Universe is designed to provide such experiences to the Creator which has become it.

And, the governing dynamics of the Star Wars Universe are sufficiently decipherable that people therein have been able to develop technology and move towards transhumanism, with lost and damaged body parts being replaceable with mechanical substitutes. At the same time, true artificial intelligence exists. And, on top of all of this, there is the recognition of an underlying energy suffusing the Universe, one which certain people by happenstance can tap into to perform seemingly miraculous physical feats, divine prophecies, and so influence others towards belief in the quasitheological import of these abilities. Despite the leveling of the accusation of Pantheism against the authors of Star Wars, there is no element in that fictional Universe suggesting it to be an temporally static (or even an uncreated) Universe. In having a present pantheistic aspect, it is thusly entirely consistent with a pandeistic Universe wherein the Creator has becomes the Creation so that it might experience things like the breathtaking adventures of Jedi Knights swashbuckling their way around the galaxy and defeating the forces of evil.

Lastly, given the possibility that physics may vary by slight degrees in different parts of our Universe, and given that the story related in the Star Wars saga is claimed to have happened "a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away," it is impossible to declare absolutely that the events thus depicted are indeed fictional at all. Indeed, their putative author, George Lucas might well have been unconsciously capturing and relating historical facts preserved and transmitted to his thoughts through some unknown mechanism of the fabric of a pandeistic Universe. Not that this is proposed as a likely explanation of anything, and certainly not as an aspect of the theory of Pandeism itself -- but simply as a diversion of thought, and one of the myriad fascinating possibilities our Universe presents to us.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Man's place in a pandeistic Universe

One of the complaints leveled against Pandeism by theists is that it does not provide for a sufficiently 'special place' for man. There is, after all, an idea in many faiths which intensely appeals to man's sense of self-importance that our Universe owes us a religious truth which makes us feel good about ourselves, even if it must in so doing counter science and render false the proof provided by our senses. Indeed, in many faith systems the presence of such a central place for man is a selling point, so much so that these religions can only bitterly and grudgingly release notions such as the Earth sitting at the center of our Universe, much less sitting at the center of our Solar System with the Sun and planets making perfect circles around it.

For those keen to make the error of confusing Pandeism with mere Pantheism, it is supposed as well that since our Creator has become our Universe, and exists within all things in our Universe, from the hearts of stars and interstellar clouds of gas to bacteria and fungi, that man is no more important in the pandeistic scheme than a tree or a rock of comparable size. This perceived circumstance is only magnified by the absence in Pandeism of a theological need to deny man's descent from more primitive life forms through evolution by natural selection, taken by many religions as another insult to the central importance of man in our Universe. But in fact, the very nature of our Universe reveals these concerns to be simply a misapprehension.

As has been noted before, our Universe has been set forth with a number of characteristics which would only make sense in the context of intelligent life coming to exist and being able to observe them, and to advance itself through them. The existence of temporal fortuity of our observable Universe, for example, is something which only makes sense in the context of observers capable of comprehending the age of our Universe and its implications for their existence within it. The habitability of planets conceptually within our technological reach similarly indicates not simply that life ought to arise within our Universe, but that such life will develop the capacity for interstellar travel resulting in interaction between inhabitants originating in different worlds (and, indeed, that such travel must be physically possible within the constraints of our governing dynamics).

And so it becomes apparent that our Universe may well be designed to suit the origination of intelligent life. Not 'man' necessarily, but certainly 'man' as an example, and so something more than incidentally. And in Pandeism this makes sense because our Creator has become our Universe for precisely the purpose of experiencing existence through it. It is doubly important to make this distinction clear, for it is the subject of frequent confusion and occasional obfuscation -- Pandeism does not propose, as some misunderstand, that our Creator set forth our Universe with the expectation that some other intelligent life would arise especially, with man being an unintended side effect of the Creation of that other form. Instead, Pandeism proposes that our Creator set forth a Universe with governing dynamics of matter and energy which were attuned to intelligent life arising somewhere, and possibly in many places. We simply happen to be one example of such life, and so while the nature of a pandeistic Universe is one where our Creator can not have known exactly what would come about where, man is precisely the sort of thing which is intended to come about through the correct operation of those governing dynamics.

And why is man more important than trees and rocks? Because the entire existence of our Universe would serve no better purpose than to inform our Creator of what it is to exist as something other than itself, and in that capacity, thinking, self-reflective beings such as ourselves are indeed generators of a far greater range of perspective than anything, living or dead, which does less in the realm of contemplation. But it not be imagined that we are, as the older religions would like to imagine, a finished product. We are not at the end of our evolutionary journey, but at the beginning, and what an ending such a beginning promises to bring to those able to grasp hold of it!!

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Pandeism and the world of Star Trek

Does the world of Star Trek operate consistently with the theological model of Pandeism? Well, any longtime watcher of Star Trek will have observed the general lack of religiosity expressed by the main characters of that series, its heroes, the starship sojourning personnel of the United Federation of Planets. This is often observable as well with various of the other spacefaring species whom the Federation types contend with. This flows from the convictions of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, who believed that there would in the future be no room in human society for what he perceived as the divisive peculiarities of religious systems. According to one of Roddenberry's closest collaborators, Brannon Braga:
In Gene Roddenberry's imagining of the future, religion is completely gone. Not a single human being on Earth believes in any of the nonsense that has plagued our civilization for thousands of years. This was an important part of Roddenberry's mythology. He, himself, was a secular humanist and made it well-known to writers of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation that religion and superstition and mystical thinking were not to be part of his universe. On Roddenberry's future Earth, everyone is an atheist. And that world is the better for it.
Even after Roddenberry's death, the perpetuators of his work more or less held to that principle. Ronald D. Moore, Another collaborator, wrote, "Gene felt very strongly that all of our contemporary Earth religions would be gone by the 23rd century, and while few of us around here actually share that opinion, we feel that we should leave this part of the Trek universe alone."

Expressions of religious belief in Star Trek:

Commentary on theistic manifestations of religiousness in fact is largely confined to two types of beings shown in the shows and (to a much lesser extent) in the flicks.

First, there are the ignorant, non-spacegoing civilizations. These peoples are religious simply because of their primitive gullibility and impressionability, and this is highlighted by the fact that such planetbound primitives are as likely as not to attribute godhood or a like level of worshipfulness toward any wayward Earth-human astronaut who crashlands in their vicinity. Though not necessarily focused on the fickleness of faith, in "A Piece of the Action" an entire world models its behavior on 1920s gangsters based on a book left behind by Earthers who went missing on that planet a century ago. The book is explicitly considered "holy" by the tommy-gun-toting terrestrials. Another episode, "Patterns of Force," sees a visiting Starfleet professor able to convince an entire planet to emulate the Nazi model (though he meant only to capture the efficiency of that system, its proponents end up recreating the genocidal aspects as well). Indeed, wherever a group of primitives is shown to worship a godlike source of power, or even a powerful being claiming to be a god, it is always shown to be something scientifically explcable and disposable.

This leads into the second, for there are as well various superpowerful beings who often masquerade as deities. In "Who Mourns For Adonais," the Greek God Apollo shows up and, in addition to displaying his various powers of growing to a massive size, grasping an entire starship in his projected grip, and shooting lightning bolts from his fingertips, reveals that the ancient myths were true in a manner of speaking -- for he and his kind visited Earth centuries before and inspired humanity to its belief in gods. Notably, Captain Kirk hints at a continuing monotheism, declaring to Apollo, "Mankind has no need for gods. We find the one quite adequate." But although a deity from a now extinct religion is used here, the implication is inescapable that the miraculous powers inspiring modern religions may similarly have been simply the mundane abilities of advanced extraterrestrials. And, beyond Apollo Star Trek featured other entities such as the superpowerful Organians, Trelane (aka "The Squire of Gothos"), the Q continuum, and the entity claiming to be 'God' in "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" (but who apparently needs a starship to escape the planet he occupies). Trelane and the Q (especially given fan speculation and even an official novel marking Trelane as a wayward Q) certainly seem to have more than sufficient power to pull off every miracle ever reported on Earth -- even the creation of Earth itself -- reinforcing the possibility that the 'old' religious beliefs of man are simply the toyings of superevolved alien beings.

There are exceptions to these patterns of belief, if roughly hewn. The Klingons are shown in the later series to have a complex religious structure, including belief in an afterlife for heroes, something similar to the Norse idea of Valhalla. Much of the "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" series involved the intrigues of Bajoran religion, which was driven by the presence of an intergalactic wormhole near Bajoran space, which humans considered an anomaly and Bajorans accredited with prophecy-fulfilling theological significance. There are, as well, nontheistic manifestations of religion and religion-like thinking. Vulcans, who are most strongly characterized by their adherence to logic, are shown to have system of ritual and symbolism which is described by outsiders as 'Vulcan mysticism,' and which entails some portion of their population being engaged in clearly priestlike and monk like rules. And, there appear some symbolic vestiges, at least, of the old Earth beliefs. In the closing scenes of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" Montgomery Scott pounds out "Amazing Grace" -- traditionally a Christian hymn -- on the bagpipes to mourn the death of Spock. Occasional episodes showed presumptively Hindu female personnel adorned with the bindhi on the forehead, traditionally a symbol of that faith. But both of these examples might simply be secular carryovers from traditions no longer carrying religious import, as with the modern giving of candy on Halloween.

Metaphysical phenomena in Star Trek:

But the question here need not rely upon what is believed by denizens of the world of Star Trek. For as has been noted before, many things are or have been believed in human history which are necessarily untrue, oftimes simply absurd. Star Trek is somewhat extraordinary even relative to other science fiction series (which are often simply about action going on with cool technology and alien races) in that Star Trek is fundamentally about an intense pursuit of knowledge itself. The very reason we've ventured forth to the stars there is to learn scientific truths (which, it has been observed before, are compatible with a pandeistic Universe). But within the Star Trek world there are phenomena at play which do seem to require a metaphysical explanation. Beings of pure energy exist. Amongst several races in this Universe, fairly physics-defying exhibitions of telepathy -- instantaneous, and faster than light across vast distances -- are displayed. Between the second and third films, it is revealed that Spock was able to transfer his entire personality and body of knowledge into McCoy's brain with a few seconds of face-touching mind meld action. And in these instances, the Universe of Star Trek operates consistently with the principles of a pandeistic Universe.

Indeed, Pandeism would go far to explain the characteristics of the world of Star Trek. Earthly monotheisms do not do so well in this regard, for they tend to claim universality, even as the world of Star Trek is one with many civilizations far removed from Earth which have consequently never received the revelations which would be expected from an involved universal deity. But Pandeism especially predicts that there ought to be many intelligent civilizations, and that they would find some way to technologically overcome the distance between the stars so as to be able to interact, and generate the infinite potential of diversity of experiences to be found in such interactions -- the experiences for which our Creator is theorized to have set forth our Universe. Even the most godlike beings of Star Trek's reality -- beings which would have no difficulty convincing population such as the ancient Earth civilizations to worship them as the 'all-powerful' deities of our religious traditions -- are not gods in any divine metaphysical sense, but are simply very advanced products of the same sort of process of evolution and technological advancement as has brought man to his present point. And it is indeed within the expectations of Pandeism that our Universe promises to bring us however much further.