I’ve recently been reading some sci-fi books by Neal Asher. His set of polity novels is set in the far future when mankind has access to the stars, when science and technology have moved incredibly further forward. They have built AI’s – huge, powerful artificial intelligences who now oversee humanity with justice and fairness, generally bringing peace.
Technology has moved ahead and the wonders and building blocks of the universe are well understood. Massive energies are harnessed as needed, organs and limbs are regrown, cellular reconstruction is commonplace and performed by machines. Brain content may be dumped into storage as a backup and, if the body is killed, imprinted in a new host and the person lives again. This host may not even be a biological body, but may be a robotic frame.
In some ways this sounds like a utopia, anything is possible thanks to the application of knowledge and technology. This is not the case, though. There are still limitations as to what can happen – still physical laws that have to be dealt with. There is still learning going on as the universe is not fully understood.
Also, there is still good versus evil, freedom versus captivity. Good guys trying to save humanity against desperate odds from very evil opposition who want to crush them. Good stories. Usually the problems occur outside or on the edge of the polity, where human populations do not want the constraints of these just and fair AIs to be ruling over them. They want to be free to do what they want and be master of their own destinies. In practice, though, those places usually descend into oppressive, horrible, regimes.
I must say that Neal tells a good story. He has invented a universe in which the battle between good and evil is very tense and even with all the technology and intelligence at its disposal still has to overcome the problems of not knowing what is going to come next and different political factions.
So why am I writing about science fiction? I’ve just read a book called “The Technician” which describes events on a planet called Masada. A planet ruled by a group called the Theocracy. A church which has rolled up a whole set of other religions into one. The Theocracy, however, ruled by dogma and fear. The religious rulers lived off planet in space habitats. Those not part of the church hierarchy down on the planet surface were exploited mercilessly. Torture and executions were common, even within the hierarchy. The theocracy is very evil by any definition, yet pretends to be God’s representatives. The believers are taken in by it and do awful things in the name of their faith. Of course, our heroes are battling against these forces of repression to bring freedom.
In the course of the book, there are many statements about faith in God. The AIs do not care about faith one way or another. If humans want to believe in a God that doesn’t exist, so long as they are not hurting others because of it, let them. Consider the following excerpt that sets the stage for chapter 9, purporting to come from some form of future encyclopaedia:
When resurrection and actual corporeal immortality are real facts of life, the threats and promises of old-style organised religions become laughable. When education is taken out of the hands of the doctrinaires, religion is castrated at its source. With knowledge and experience able to bypass the senses and loaded directly to the Human mind, the standard level of Human intelligence rises, and religion wilts under its inspection, for religion thrives on ignorance. But when religion crawls away from the light of reasoned inspection it sheds its damaged skin and returns with something thicker and more durable. When science explains the universe, and gets everything right, century after century, one would think that religion should turn into the quaint pursuit of the intentionally deluded, or be a matter for historians. However, the virus that is religion is a difficult one to kill. Over the years it has mutated and adapted to changes in its environment. It turns holy writ into allegory, turns true stories into parables, styles angels as metaphors, admits to embarrassment at demons. It tries to downplay its gods and concentrate on the good it perceives in itself, like the comfort it offers to the faithful, for surely comfort can be found in the knowledge that if you infringe on arbitrary rules written down thousands of years ago you will burn in hell forever.
This is not just a future charge against religion. It is a set of accusations that is thrown at religion today with increasing frequency. It boils down to a few points:
- Science will provide all the answers.
- Religion requires ignorance to be successful.
- Religions are willing to change their beliefs and ethics to stay relevant to the society in which it lives.
- Ancient writings are arbitrary and serve no meaningful purpose.
- The rest of you are going to hell!
We also see faulty communication between religion-ists and science-ists. The science-ists mock religions that constrain the actions of its adherents and the religion-ists condemn them to hell for their lack of faith. Sadly these attitudes widen the cultural gap and make it more difficult to gain understanding of what it’s really all about.
I want to briefly provide some thoughts on these points. These will not be exhaustive discussions as that would make the post just too long. I may address some more in future posts.
Science provides all the answers
Science is a wonderful thing. We learn so much about the world through its application and our lives are massively more comfortable as a result. Considering the recent phenomenal increases in knowledge, there are many who like to take it to its logical conclusion and assume that eventually we will learn everything, having all the answers.
Science, however, only answers questions that are asked of it. And when investigating the material world does a good job. What it does not do is answer questions of the soul. Is there a reason for me to be here, alive, now? Where did I come from? Will I continue after I die? Indeed, science has no tools or equipment that can probe into those questions. All I have seen from the vocal non-religious scientists is that you came from no-where, you are here by random chance and when you die, that’s it. The end. Any sensations of spiritual experience is a result of delusion or faulty body apparatus. This is labelled realism.
There are still religious scientists and their faith is the same as any other person’s faith – based on personal subjective experience. As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
We cannot see the workings of God through technological equipment or understand God by philosophy as these things are spiritually discerned. To get answers to our soul questions, we need to be ready to accept the help and promptings that God is willing to give us.
One more point. Just remember that we have so much more to learn. The books of space travel etc. are just fiction and a contemplation of one way the universe might work. It may be that we discover interesting things that give a very different picture once we start moving further along that path.
Religion requires ignorance to be successful.
I think the answer to this point lies in what you want to get out of religion. If, as in the dark ages, you want to use religion as a means of political control, then you do indeed need the people to be kept in ignorance.
If you are wanting to learn to become like God, then knowledge becomes vital. God already knows everything and he wants us to be like him. So we had better start learning. The Mormon prophet Brigham Young said
The gospel of Jesus Christ embraces all truth.
All truth is for the salvation of the children of men—for the benefit and learning—for their furtherance in the principles of divine knowledge; and divine knowledge is any matter of fact—truth; and all truth pertains to divinity
Mormons we are encouraged to find and accept all truth. We are cautioned, however, to be sure that something is actually truth and to be careful of our judgement of what that truth means.
A couple of examples. Before Galileo, science taught the “fact” that the earth was the centre of the solar system. We have since found out that that is not truth. Sometimes science does go down wrong paths. Did this mean that God did not exist? No. It did mean that the established church had got it wrong, though.
Evolution is now taught as the means by which mankind came to be. My son is doing post-graduate biology at university and he tells me that there is compelling evidence for this. Does this mean that God does not exist? No. As a Christian, I believe that God created the earth and the inhabitants thereof, but I don’t know how he did it. God may have used evolution as a means of preparing the world (dinosaurs included) up to the point when his sons and daughters are allowed to come here. In fact this view makes the idea of evolution more sensible to me as I’ve always had trouble with evolution tending to becoming more and more complex. This seems to fly in the face of Newton’s second law, in which everything tends towards entropy – to being less energetic and less organised.
Religions are willing to change their beliefs and ethics as the cultures they are in change.
All organisations change in some measure to reflect the cultures in which they live – we are all products of our respective cultures after all. It is only natural that new ideas and structures are put in place to deal with new circumstances.
There are some things that should not change. Christians teach that we are sinful and need to be redeemed from our sins. This happens through the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made in Gethsemane and on the cross. This is core doctrine. If a church or leaders of a church were to provide alternative explanations for the virgin birth or the resurrection of Christ to make it scientifically more acceptable, this would indeed be changing, not the administrative structure, but the very foundation of the church. We need to discern what is core and what is not.
A big cultural challenge today, in our individualist society is the view that we should not be constrained from doing anything that we like, provided that we cause no immediate harm to others. If two consenting adults of any sex choose to have casual sex why shouldn’t they? Commandments have changed before so why not change this one too. Christians now eat pork, for example.
In response to this, I put the commandment into context of our purpose being on earth. I’ve written about that purpose here. How does the commandment help us fulfil our potential? If, as I wrote, we are developing to become like God, who is honest, loyal, loving and married, we need to follow His example. Sexual experience outside of traditional marriage will stop our eternal progress in that direction.
Ancient writings are arbitrary.
I’ve talked about scripture quite a lot, here is an example. It’s not really just about the writings being ancient as Plato’s philosophical writings still exert influence on our society today. The problem is that the scriptures purport to be God’s wishes to man and thus require something specific from us.
That means we need to be a lot more certain of their veracity before we want to accept them with grateful hearts. As with other things, there are competing “scriptures” wanting out attention and we need to find out which is right. My article discusses how we can do this.
The rest of you are going to hell!
There is sometimes a feeling that it’s either heaven or hell. Have we been fortunate enough to find Jesus and be saved, or are we going to be thrust down to something awful like Dante’s hell? Indeed most of Christianity subscribe to the view that it’s either heaven or hell. I mentioned above how science-ists and religion-ists get at each other and this is more of the same.
As we think about it, if that were the case, there’s a lot of lost souls going down. Not all of these deserve it, either. What about those who sincerely do their best to follow God as they understand him? What about those Pentecostals, Catholics or Muslims or Hindus who dedicate their lives to serving God and bettering the lives of those around them? Would Ghandi get to “heaven”?
Christians know that we need to accept Christ to get to heaven and so the answer must sadly be “No Ghandi, I’m sorry but you’re doing down.” As indeed we would have to say to all those people who have lived and never even heard of Christ.
Fortunately, this answer is the result of only partial knowledge of our Heavenly Father’s great plan for us. He is, after all, our Father and wants to save all His children. He wants us to show though our lives that we choose him. I’ll write more on this plan in another post, but right now let me just say that everyone – even the dead will have an opportunity to choose and accept Jesus’ saving grace. Then, their lives will be examined according to the desires of their hearts and an appropriate reward given. The apostle Paul alludes to this when talking about the degrees of heavenly glory being as the stars, moon and sun.
I expect to see a lot more people there than just Mormons. But I expect that we will all be wanting to love God together and to bless the lives of those around us.
I hope to see you there too.