The Paragon of Animals

Posted by Anti Citizen One on May 31st, 2007

He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man Samuel Johnson

I am going to argue that we share many characteristics with primates and if we try to understand ethics in humans, we should consider if it would apply to our (distant) cousins.

Humans share a common ancestor with various other primates*. Our genetic design is 99% shared with the chimpanzee genome and 97% with the rhesus monkey. Our brains are relatively large compared to our body size, especially compared to other primates. I don’t mean to imply that a human has a directly scaled design from our common primate common ancestor (we don’t), but it has many similarities.

You have made your way from worm to human, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now a human is still more ape than any ape. NSZ, Nietzsche

Our common ancestor with primates live around 85 (or 65?) million years ago. Humans seem to have be around for 100,000 years. We are distant cousins in a literal sense from all primates. (In fact we are probably related to all living things! but that is a broader topic.) A thought experiment which was proposed by someone but annoyingly I can’t locate the source (Dawkins?) went: Imagine if a species between us and Chimpanzee survived? Perhaps a tribe of Neandertals was discovered… What then? Would they be given human (homo sapien) rights?

Many ethics systems have the rule “do not kill” (Exodus 20:12, Quran 5:32). But where do we draw the species line? On 4th cousins perhaps? 🙂 There is often no guidelines. Should we draw it at the species line?

Most textbooks define a species as all the individual organisms of a natural population that generally interbreed at maturity in the wild and whose interbreeding produces fertile offspring Wikipedia

The definition of species (which is itself a complex matter) would seem to be an arbitrary standard! The rule could be restated as “do not kill any creature that can interbreed with you”. Nice 🙂 I think we do need a point we can kill things for food (I am personally an omnivore) but I hope to highlight this ambiguity. (Animal murder is touched upon in the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

Looking at our behavior, we have many behaviors in common and additional skills primates can learn from humans. Examples:
Currency, Gambling, Prostitution(!)
Spoken Language (Listening and limited speaking), Sign language
Altruism, tendancy for social conformity, capacity for self-awareness, tool use (or was that just a movie?! lol no it’s real).

(In one study, there was evidence found that even fruit flies have free will – which I find slightly questionable since we cannot say if free will exists!)

Humans do have more mental functions in some areas than other primates. Large brains can handle increased social group sizes which some think is the driving factor for big brains. Arguably, we have a complex culture with highly abstract concepts. We have language with lots of words. (which I am beginning to think is non-central to ethics/truth/good/evil.. more on this when I can develop the idea – if I dare) We have philosophy, which other animals don’t seem to have(?).

A thought popped into my head: if anyone thinks a chimp is not developed enough to understand truth, ethics, culture – can they provide evidence that humans have a significant advantage over a chimp to grasp these things?….. I don’t think so 🙂 Is understanding linear with “brain size”?

Remember, there is no reason to think we have stopped evolving. Incidentally, it is sometimes addressed in sci-fi (2001, B5, X-Men). Wacky Nietzsche embraces this and declares it “the meaning of the earth” – although he was focusing on ethical evolution not eugenics. In some ways, we are taking the reins of evolution with use of medicine (which alters evolutionary pressure) and offspring genetic screening.

What is the ape to a man? A laughing-stock, a thing of shame. And just so shall a man be to the Superman: a laughing-stock, a thing of shame. NSZ, Nietzsche

To sum up I ask:
1) Does ethics apply to chimps as well as us? Are they moral beings with good actions and evil actions?
2) Can we kill other animals who are all in fact literally our cousins? (Do I have to become a vegetarian – or are they distant relatives? *checks science book* D’oh! looks like we murdered that carrot!)
3) Does our brain development over other primates give us a significantly improved understanding of anything?
4) What will replace homo sapien? What will our species be condemned for?

*Note: this discussion assumes we have descended from a common single celled ancestor. The mechanism (often thought of as natural selection by Darwinists) is not necessarily assumed.

Further thoughts on alien philosophy

Posted by on May 30th, 2007

Have meditated further on this matter, two areas of enquiry immediately sprang to mind.
i) Is there any basis for human rights after first contact has been made with an equally or possibly superior intellectual alien species? My thoughts are there can only be three directions

(a) the abandonment of rights for contractarian altruism (call it duty if you like)(do unto others as you’d have done unto yourself),

(b) the development of graded rights with sentient beings at the top followed by ‘lesser’ animals, plants, minor organisms,

(c) the rights emancipation of all organic life systems (almost a Gaia philosophy), celebrating our mutual molecular relationship (Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return).

ii)  What about philosophy for non-organic life forms? I was thinking along the lines of Bladerunner and the writings of Isaac Asimov on Robotics. Surely the more advanced artifically intelligent life forms we seek to develop will have the capacity to take that first step in philosophy and enquire? I defer to your knowledge on this matter but I’m sure that there are already AI systems in development or in existence that are able to process the one word enquiries who, where, what, how, why?

The conclusion that my meditation brought me to was that speculating on alien philosophy is an important development in the field of philosophy, for one thing it can do is lead us to develop a greater understanding of our own philosophical systems. Perhaps as I said in an earlier post, Science Fiction is a branch of philosophy.

Babylon 5: Part 2 (Christianity)

Posted by Anti Citizen One on May 30th, 2007

Impact of Alien Contact on Human Religion


In 2156, contact with alien civilizations had a mixed response from Earth religions. Some rose to the challenge, some fractured into new sects and several new religions were formed. Note: The series B5 is based in 2258 and after. The Catholic mission on the station aims to discover “learning all the names of God from our non-human brothers”. I imagine that discovery of alien life would put to rest the 7 day creation story in Genesis except for the most fundamentalist Christians (about 46% of Americans believe in strict creationism in 2006).

One of the new human religions featured in Babylon 5 is Foundationism – I will discuss this separately in a later posting. Unlike human history and religious first contacts, there is no mention in B5 of alien evangelism or humans attempting to convert aliens.

The impact of alien contact might be quiet unsettling. We can look back at historic first contacts from Earth:

“Similar stories abound among coastal peoples, from the Chinook at the mouth of the Columbia River to the Algonquians of Manhattan Island.” … “The people went to the water’s edge with tobacco and white deerskins to greet the newcomers. The French in turn fired their guns, which were immediately seen as thunderbirds.” Memories of Contact

In one episode there is the core of a Christian sermon discussing tolerance and alien life:

“Every day, here and at home, we are warned about the enemy. But who is the enemy? Is it the alien? Well, we are all alien to one another. Is it the one who believes differently than we do? No, not at all, my friends. The enemy is fear. The enemy is ignorance. The enemy is the one who tells you that you must hate that which is different. Because, in the end, that hate will turn on you. And that same hate will destroy you.” Rev. Dexter, And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place

Passing through Gethsemane: Christian Belief in B5

I don’t want to spoil this single episode so I will talk generally about it. The crucification of Jesus is referenced several times. Several very interesting questions are raised:

For serious crimes, is total character rehabilitation (in the story an artificial “mind wipe”) a viable alternative to the death penalty? “Where does revenge end and justice begin?”
Can a victim forgive the sinner? “Forgive them for they know not what they do” Luke 23:34
Can a 3rd party forgive a sinner?
Would a Christian have the courage to stay in the Garden of Gethsemane knowing the consequences? ‘Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”‘ Matthew 26:33
Can God forgive sins the sinner has forgotten? Can you seek atonement and justice for your own sins? Can you be “forced” to atone by rehabilitation (or mind wipe)?

The TV show leaves the issue of justice open to interpretation.

“We won’t tell you what to think about an issue, because I don’t have an answer myself…but if it made you stop and consider this stuff, and decide for yourself where you fall in the discussion, then it’s done its job.” JMS

On the matter of forgiveness, it seems more straight forward, settling on “forgiveness is a hard thing, but something ever to strive for” but the writer commented:

‘…I have lost people. Too many people. Lost them to chance, violence, brutality beyond belief; I’ve seen all the senseless, ignoble acts of “god’s noblest creature.” And I am incapable of forgiving.’ JMS

That’s it for the time being. There is one more area of Christianity in B5 to cover but I need to rewatch the episode (Deconstruction of Falling Stars). The next posting will be on one of the fictional religions in B5.

Anti Citizen One

Tractacus Philosophicus-Extraterrestrialis

Posted by on May 30th, 2007

My last post on alien philosophy systems (of which I was very content for a while) proposed that much like human philosophy the search for wisdom would have to be concerned with logical definitions of truth. And, having established a system of verification and falsifiability (analytic/synthetic truths, falsehoods) an alien philosopher could then enquire about the world around them. Because the world around them could be radically different from ours, and because the alien life-form itself itself could be radically different from humanity, I then posited that despite a common ancestry rooted in logic, alien metaphysics, ethics and epistemology would likely develop in a wholly different manner. One of my examples was the concept of ‘marriage/bachelorhood’ in an asexual species. Another was the concept of ‘self’ in an assimilative collective social consciousness.

I similarly posited that alien science, although built on the same mathematical logico-rational foundations as our own physics, would probably develop on a different course. Perhaps a non decimal system of counting and calculating? Perhaps the measurement of distance using colour intensity? Alas our conceptual and language barriers prohibit us from really envisaging such a different numeric concept.

However, with all the above I made one huge, easily made and comfortable assertion. That the building blocks of logic and mathematics as we know them within our space-time dimension are correct. By which I mean, I ignored the possibilities of multiple universes and alternative dimensions.

In the event of multiple universes I can propose the following, paradoxical statement of human and alien philosophy. We can know such things as analytic truths things that are universally true of themselves, but their universality is subjectively conditioned and restricted to our universe alone and are not necessarily nor universally true in any alternate universe.

Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End tells the story of mans first encounter with extraterrestrial life. A fleet of immense ships hover over the earths major cities for a number of generations, constantly in contact with the earth, they are aware of the existence of the ‘Overlords’ but human eyes never see them. Eventually the Overlords come down to earth and reveal themselves, their reason for seclusion becomes obvious, they have the form and likeness of  demonic beings that resemble those from human mythology. They are asked if they had visited earth before, hence explaining the ‘devil’ as a cultural memory passed down through the generations. They respond: “It was not precisely a memory. You have already had proof that time is more complex than your science ever imagined. For that memory was not of the past, but of the future.

The Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl was said in some mythologies to have departed his people, but to have promised his return on the day of Ce-acatl, in the year of 1 reed. In 1519 the Spanish explorer Cortez landed at Veracruz, and it is said fulfilled the prophecy with unerring accuracy. Similarly in Mayan mythology the deity Kulkulcan was said to have prophesied his return in the eighth year of Katun 13 Ahau, in that year (1527) Francisco de Montejo landed on the Yucatan peninsular to begin the slaughter of the Indians. In June 1971 Manuel Elizalde Jr led an expedition on Mindanao, in the Philippines, to discover the isolated Stone Age tribe of the Tasaday. They were expecting his arrival, as he had been prophesied by their ancestors.

Short of believing that people have the powers of prophecy, or that the ‘great white gods’ of the Aztec and Mayans really were personified in the Conquistadors, we must look elsewhere for an explanation. One of them is the concept of the hyperhistorical sphere and retrocasuality.  These theories argue for the effect preceding the cause. In other words for the direction of time to point in a different direction to that with which we are familiar. Furthermore speculation persists about the flexibility or curving nature of time and the existence of superliminal Tachyon particles.

A theory of retrocausality could hypothesize that the Spanish were the cause of the Aztec and Mayan legends that preceded their arrival. Explanations vary, but usually settle upon subconscious mental activity, a theory that nicely fits in with Jung’s archetypes and the collective unconscious.

Now aside from alien philosophy, although relevant eventually, the theory of the hyperhistorical sphere and  retrocausality also has implications for human religious beliefs. Those which throughout history have been attributed as being miraculous occurrences or visions, could perhaps better be understood as explicable intrusions of other-dimensional beings into our space and time. This isn’t as ridiculous as it may at first sound, nor is it purely theoretical. With this proposition the archetypes are not merely culturally inherited metaphors or symbols but real living entities existing both in the mental sphere of the collective unconscious and in the real physical world. Psychology and some radical psychiatrists categorise these as psychoid experiences.

A psychoid experience is neither ‘real’ in the ordinary sense of the word, nor is it mere hallucination, it is considered to be a hybrid of the two, combining elements of the mental life and the physical world. Now before we get too sceptical a note from renowned psychiatrist Stanislav Grof “This would, of course, make these experiences (psychoid experiences) extremely difficult to study by traditional scientific methods, which depend on sharp distinctions between real and unreal or material and psychological events.” Grof concludes that to study such phenomena one would need to combine an examination of physical evidence in sync with psychological perspectives interpreted with an open mind to new consciousness research techniques and radical hypothetical physics (such as retrocasuality).

Let me then return to alien philosophy by considering our response to the serious study of UFO phenomena. One thing can be said about such research, irrespective of whether such phenomena are real, it is confronted with investigative difficulties that our present state of knowledge is unable to solve. 

Firstly we do know that it is very unlikely that intelligent life (capable of interplanetary travel) exists within our solar system. Therefore any such planetary based extraterrestrial life must come from beyond our star system. In order for that alien life-form to travel to earth they would have to travel extraordinary distances. This would require a technological knowledge far superior to our own.

Such interstellar travel requires that:

i) Travelling at sub-luminal speeds the life form must have enough life sustaining resources to complete the journey. Exceptions to this rules are a system of stasis controlled by powerful computers. Or a type of life-form that has a completely different (slower?) metabolism to our own.

ii)  Alternatively alien science may have engineered space vehicles capable of achieving transluminal travel.

iii) Also alien science may have engineered a means of travelling outside of the dimensions of space and time and travel through hyper-space.

iv)  They could also of course come from a completely different dimension and universe altogether and have mastered the science of inter-dimensional travel. Not travelling merely through space and time but across dimensions, entering into our world, or our dimensional reality in seemingly extraordinary fashions. Lets say as an example, entering the physical world through a subconscious portal. In other words, through what we call a psychoid experience.

Let us consider all of the above, and particular the last possibility. An alien species that was in possession of this sort of technology, would in all likelihood also be in possession of other kinds of technology, the likes of which we couldn’t even begin to imagine. They could possess consciousness influencing technology that worked on both the individual and the transpersonal plane. If all this were true, our experience of such lifeforms, in possession of such technology, would be akin to that of fantasy, visionary, hallucinatory, or even psychotic experiences. Let’s take one further step, what if, for whatever reason, this inter-dimensional life-form, in possession of such technology was capable of exploiting human research creating confusion and thereby disbelief?

Stanislav Grof explores these possibilities in his book The Holotropic Mind. He comes to the following conclusion. If extraterrestrial life exists, particular inter-dimensional lifeforms, that are capable of travelling to earth as a product of an advanced technology (as yet) beyond our understanding, then we are confronted with a seeming convergence of two paradoxically opposed viewpoints. The Rational finally meets the Irrational.

Interplanetary travel, of the kind we have spoken of, would represent the greatest achievement and triumph of rationality and science. Yet the lifeforms we would encounter and the reality-phenomena of their dimension or technology and thought processes would be so unusual, that we could easily equate them with the world of the magical or mythical. The reality-phenomena of such lifeforms could far exceed, in weirdness and irrationality, even the prerational thought processes of primitive human culture, the creative imagination of artists and the hallucinations of those that we have labelled and condemned as insane.

The conclusions of my first post, and the universality of analytic truth even in alien philosophy, holds true if the alien life form exists within our dimension.

But if the alien life-form from within our dimension has mastered transluminal travel, has found and can manipulate hyperspace, or can even perform inter-dimensional travel, then it’s philosophy may have transcended or altered the boundaries of logic and truth and taken on a Post-Rational character distinctly of its own.

And if the alien life-form exists in a different dimension, then irrespective of whether it has mastered inter-dimensional travel, it is possible to assume that their philosophy could be anything from: rational, pre-rational, post-rational and maybe even non-rational.

What can be said then is that we therefore could not conceive of an alien philosophy that was capable of developing such scientific and technological insights into the universe(s) all the while we define our boundaries with rationalism.

But lets not worry, the purposes of such speculations are not an attempt at becoming some sort of interstellar Wittgenstein. The field of philosophicus-extraterrestrialis is ripe for the harvest, so long as we know our starting point is enquiry and logic within this universe and dimension and our end point is inter-dimensional post-rationalism, that still leaves us all the fun in-between bits, such as reproductive ethics in asexual alien society, and knowledge of the self within a consciousness collective. I look forward to us working on such things in the future.

If It Feels Good to Be Good…

Posted by Anti Citizen One on May 30th, 2007

If It Feels Good to Be Good, It Might Be Only Natural (Washington Post)

The results were showing that when the volunteers placed the interests of others before their own, the generosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex. Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.

The Philosophies of Alien Species

Posted by on May 29th, 2007

Following your first post on the religious and philisophical beliefs in Sci-Fi series Babylon 5 and my follow up on Star Trek. I got thinking about the fundamental basics of alien or extraterrestrial philosophy. One of my old Tutors who eventually became the head of my faculty was a big fan of what he called interplanetary theology, however he never gave me permission to ‘professionally’ research the matter. But here’s a few thoughts I managed this afternoon.

The basic building block of philosophy must be enquiry. The simple one word questions, who, where, what, how, why? Now some philosophers disagree on where the starting point is, basic metaphysics: what exists? Logic: what is reason? Epistemology: what can I know? and Ethics: how should I live?

I guess anyone can start their philosophical enquiry using any of the above. For example by asking ‘how should I live?’ the philosopher who starts with ethics will begin to ask secondary questions, such as what is good? where does good come from? Both of these questions cover aspects of metaphysics, logic and epistemology.

Personally I believe that logic is the starting point in philosophy, one has to be able to define what is reasonable and rational and what is not. Through logic we can start to identify such things as ‘truths’ and analyse what sort of truth any particular statement is.

I think Wittgenstein got the basic elements of logic correct in the Tractacus in particular that language can be a geometric projection of facts, about which we have thoughts or picture ideas. (I shan’t expand, takes far too long).

So thinking about an Alien philosophy I assume they must have some form of linguistic expression (perhaps not, maybe only telepathic processes) through which they project and communicate their thought enquiries. And that for the accurate transmission of facts, to factual picture ideas, to the expression of those ideas, there must be some form of logical system probably identical to ours. An analytic truth such as ‘all bachelors are unmarried’ must be the same throughout the universe, otherwise it is not an analytical truth.

But herein lies a problem, quite aside from the possibility that an alien culture may have no concept of marriage or bachelorhood, but only instinct driven promiscuity, what if this alien culture was asexual and had no need for social interaction in order to bring about reproduction? Or what if the culture in question through technological advances (?) had divorced reproduction from the sexual act, much like a Barbarella scenario?

So it occured to me that at the level of primary enquiry (which shapes the direction in which the Philosophy goes), quite apart from logic (which is essential in establishing a demarcation for what is true and what is false), philosophical enquiry is dependant upon a posteriori/empirical/experience based knowledge. Note that I am not denying the existence of a priori (before the fact) truths, but I do concede that in the primary stages of philosophical development, it is enquiry about the experienced that is the main driving force.

In simpler terms this means that alien philosophy, although bound by the same logical boundaries and laws as human philosophy, is dependent upon environmental factors. If the sentient life form of one of our alien cultures was plant based, with no animal species in existence, what then would their notion of ‘life’ be. More importantly if an alien life form was physically immortal (measurable only insofar as no-one has ever known anyone else to die) how would this effect the development of their metaphysics and ethics? What if the alien life form had no physical form, or what if the life form wasn’t social, or more interestingly was a singular entity all alone on the planet. Better still what if the life form (borg-like) was a collective individuality, not one but many, “And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.” Mark 5:9

I think the same environmental factors would contribute to the development of alien sciences as well. Considering that the basic mathematical building blocks (analytical truths) of the universe would be the same, we can assume that if they were as similarly developed as humanity they would reach the same conclusions, calculations and knowledge concerning gravity for example, that we have. However if the environmental factors of this alien world were so different to ours, it is fair to assume that the method or route by which they reached these same conclusions would differ enourmously. Without Newton sitting beneath a ripening apple tree, what would lead this alien philosopher of natural sciences to speculate about gravity? On a desert world, would it be the aerodynamics of sand particles in a sandstorm that inspired such enquiry? And what about the potentially inconvenient factor that this alien star system is composed of a binary star, few gas giants and numerous moons?

All interesting stuff, and I could go on speculating, but for now I shan’t as I eagerly await your next post on B5. But lets continue speculating on these matters, for even if we do not achieve the academic heights we may dream of here on earth, it is possible that at some time in the future, possibly posthumously, possibly via a spirit medium, or through a clone, physical or holographic, our speculations may lead us to be awarded the alien nobel prize equivalent in some far off star system as yet unheard of.

Religion in Star Trek

Posted by on May 29th, 2007

Have found this site which outlines the occasional references to religion in Star Trek.

What is interesting is that in a handful of episodes references are made to religion, or religious rituals (incuding on earth i.e. Mass at St.Peters Square, Hindu Festival of Light) that suggests religious practise still exists.
The overall general message from Star Trek is either anti-religious or an attack on primitive spirituality. It is interesting to consider that the joint Military/Scientific remit of Star Fleet perhaps encourages its members towards a more agnostic/atheist/secular view (with regards to just how many differing religions and alien races they encounter). Which by no means proposes that the human race (non-starfleet) has rejected religion, it’s just that it has little part to play in starfleet (perhaps?)

Religious references in Star Trek and its spin off series would seem to belong to two eras.
The Roddenberry era which is explicitly secular and which only properly engages with religion as an alien concept. This would cover TOS, the Movies and TNG.
The post-Roddenberry era which engages with religion in more of a style of toleration of many beliefs (just like your B5 reference). This would seem to account for the greater number of direct religious references found in DS9, VOY and ENT.

I would attempt to classify religious references in Star Trek using the following scale.
1 Explicitly Anti-Religious (Primitive Belief versus Scientism) Im not a God I’m just more technologically advanced than you are
2 Implicitly Anti-Religious (The Prime Directive and the Federation/Star Fleet superiority complex) It’s not our place to interfere with the spiritual/scientific/intellectual development of an alien race
3 Secular Tolerance (Prime Directive and the Spirit of Exploration and Comparative Species Studies)  Ben Sisko in DS9 when told by his son Jake that belief in gods is stupid: “My point is it’s a matter of interpretation. It may not be what you believe, but that doesn’t make it wrong. If you start to think that way, you’ll be acting just like Vedek Winn. Only from the other side. We can’t afford to be that way, Jake. We’d lose everything we’ve worked for here.
4 Positive Tolerance (The study of comparitive species and total open-mindedness, Existential experimentation) The possible interpretation that a spiritual experience is more than a biochemical process or spiritual roleplaying The Doctor as Physical and Spiritual physician (see Voy S6 E17 Spirit Folk)

Strangely, having not read the entirety of the Star Trek Religion page that I linked to I have discovered that the pages author also attempts to make some classifications, which roughly follow the path I have.

It would seem that there are 3 trends,

i) Gene Roddenberry secular/atheist the triumph of science over religion. Ignore religion and present Humanity as a united species.

ii) Brannon Braga secular/agnostic lets keep religion out of star trek and questioning whether science fiction should concern itself with religion in the same way other literary genres do. Perhaps dabble with religion in terms of spirituality, historical analysis and broad generalisations.

iii) DS9/Voyager trend, a tolerance of ‘true’ religion, not concerned with ‘truth’ claims but a comparitive study of spiritual experience.

I think TOS and TNG are explicitly exploratory series and are very pro-star fleet so the prime directive and scientific methodology take precedence. The Movies (which some consider an aberration) have a spiritual tendency but should be considered seperately from the rest of the canon as a movie allows more time to explore and use the symbols and metaphors of religion and spirituality than a tv episode would. DS9 and VOY are less exploratory series and the emphasis on star fleet is somewhat diminished. DS9 explores other cultures in the outpost/frontier context. And VOY is beyond the Federation and so is part of a broader cultural frontier/pioneer context.

I was suprised at how religious/spiritual the latter series have become. And I would disagree with the Braga trend that religion is a theme that the SF genre ought not explore. In fact I have the tendency to argue that the SF genre allows us to project ideas beyond the limitations of human language. In fact along that line rather than talk about religion as a facet in SF, is it possible we ought perhaps to be talking about SF as a method of theology/philosophy?

The Onion: Supreme Court Reaches Landmark ‘It Depends’ Ruling

Posted by Anti Citizen One on May 29th, 2007

Supreme Court Reaches Landmark ‘It Depends’ Ruling

WASHINGTON, DC—In a landmark 8-1 decision, an uncharacteristically subdued Supreme Court ruled “it depends” in the case of Panetti v. Quarterman, leaving the issue of executing the mentally ill completely open-ended.

(I am hopefully not completely clogging the blog with random stuff but this is so appropriate.)

Religion and Belief Systems in Babylon 5: Part 1

Posted by Anti Citizen One on May 29th, 2007

Babylon 5 was a 5 year science fiction drama in the mid 1990s. The series, mainly written by one man (abbreviated on the internet to JMS), had recurring themes of order vs. chaos, war vs. piece, religion, morality, crime and punishment, addition, and the difference one person can make to the world. Although the series creator is an aethist, it would be hard to tell from watching the show. He stated:

“To totally ignore that part of the human equation would be as false and wrong-headed as ignoring the fact that people get mad, or passionate, or strive for better lives.” JMS

Contrast this to Star Trek, where the creator, Gene Roddenberry, was anti-religious and many of the story lines (from the original series) had alien religions as allegories of real religions. None(?) of the crew are religious in the original series? Someone care to enlighten me?

For most people, religion is nothing more than a substitute for a malfunctioning brain. Gene Roddenberry

I wanted to outline the major religions and belief systems (some are fictional) of the Babylon 5 (B5) story. I should mention when I refer to dates in the future (but also in the past tense) I am talking about the fictional Babylon 5 timeline. For past dates i.e. 2007 and previous, I am talking about real* history. (* Don’t even think the phrase “language games“!!! lol)

Overview of Religious Beliefs

Major characters:
Stephen Franklin – Foundationist (fictional/pantheonist)
Susan Ivanova – Jewish (non practicing)
Michael Garibaldi – agnostic (raised Catholic)
Londo Mollari – atheist (but often shown as a Centari religion follower and note the tragic villain is of the same belief as JMS!)
G’Kar – follower of the fictional prophet G’Quan (spritual/seeking enlightenment) (G’Kar eventually surpases G’Quan, in popularity anyway)
Kosh – unknown but involves “the Vorlon and Shadow Questions” discussed later
Vir Cotto and his race – Centari religion (fictional/polytheistic/”rather Bacchanallian”)
Delenn – senior leader in the religious cast of Minbari (Pantheonist/believer in prophets/reincarnation/ritualistic)
Lennier and his race (Minbari) – Minbari (Pantheonist/believer in prophets/reincarnation/ritualistic)
Update Feb 2008 Elizabeth Lochley – Christian, occasional church goer.

Major highest ranking humans – these are special cases since their views could change the whole nature of the TV show:
John Sheridan – believes in “a little of everything”/”cast adrift without compass on an ocean of ecclesiastical possibilities”. He previously had a brief obsession with the Dali Lama.
Jeffrey Sinclair – unconfirmed (raised by Jesuit Monks) (note: watch War Without End Part 2 for a twist) Quote: “We find meaning where we can.”

Minor characters:
Brother Theo – Catholic monk
Cartagia – believes he will become a god
Catherine Sakai – buddhist
Mr Morden – unknown but involves “the Vorlon and Shadow Questions” discussed later
Ta’lon – self described as “not very spiritual”

Depiction of Human Religion in B5


Early in series 1, Earth central puts on a week of cultural religious activities to show case tolerance on B5. Each alien race hosts a ceremony from their “dominant belief system”. We see two ceremonies on screen with no hint in that episode that the aliens have had disagreement on which belief is their dominant belief.

‘And Sinclair [as the human commander of B5] is put in the difficult position of being asked to show what Earth’s dominant belief system is. The solution to which is, I think, kinda cool.’ JMS

He simply leads the ambassadors to a line of human religious representatives and greets each in turn. The camera pulls back to show 40+ priests, monks and preachers waiting in line.

‘that it’s a way of saying, “Our dominant belief is that ALL beliefs are respected.”‘ JMS

JMS’s attitude is perhaps an echo of Spinoza.

I have laboured carefully, not to mock, lament, or execrate human actions, but to understand them. Spinoza

I interpreted this situation by alien species internal religious conflict is low at that time (compared to humans) but I found JMS partly contracted this view and things are not “black and white”.

“Actually, many of the alien races do *not* have monolithic religious beliefs. it’s mentioned that there are many different bliefs among Narns, G’Quon and G’Lan being the two larger systems.” JMS

I have more to post on Christianity in B5, so until next time,

Anti Citizen One

Pascals wager and the quest for Eudamonia 6

Posted by on May 28th, 2007

Nicely put. In fact I think you summed up what I was pushing at, or trying to express, in a much more understandable fashion. But more on that in a moment.

Pascals wager is as you have put it incompatible with the teachings of Christianity, however doubley so because of the assumptions that Pascal is making. He is attempting to propose a rational theorem of belief but he bases his assumptions on scriptures which belong to a different language sphere (myth/metaphor/symbol) from rational argument/logic/empirical facts. However ignoring the fact that belief in God for the purpose of some sort of cosmic life insurance policy is the lowest moral motivation for belief, Pascals wager is compatible if the assumptions were rationally justifiable and/or demonstrable. Which belonging to the sphere of myth they cannot wholly be.

I agree with Dr Giles Fraser in his assesment of what the Christian ‘challenge’ really is. But I would go further.

i) to paraphrase ‘they shall know you are Christians by your actions’

ii) There is one fundamental commandment ‘to love God and your neighbour’… as one German theologian (whose name escapes me) once said if it is the case that God loves you then he loves your neighbour also. If you do not know God, or have turned your back from God, does this mean you no longer love him? Not so, for if you love your neighbour as God loves your neighbour then you too are showing your love for God. Justification by good works.

iii) Leo Tolstoy in his Gospel in brief Jesus says ‘You do not believe in me because you do not follow me.’ This is meant as an existentialist statement, belief in Jesus/God does not require an affirmation or statement as such it requires actions to follow him or in other words to do good. Use as a metaphor for this the good thief crucified alongside Christ.

This then is where I think we reach a synthesis. As you said I was emphasising the ethical nature of belief, that it should be judged not on its merits of eternal reward but by actions in the here and now. The quest for Eudamonia. I was also pushing towards the idea (which you posited much more simply than I did) that “in the case of belief/no God, would it be infinitely bad (in terms of payout in Pascal’s Wager) to waste the one and only Earthly life we have?”

My conclusion is that belief when there is no God would be infinately bad if it constituted a wasted earthly finite life. But that it need not necessarily be so, belief when there is no God does not infer a wasted life, unless we start building those assumptions again. My example was of belief in a no-children-allowed-God that involved a radical rejection of a part of human life. If such a God did exist and you were infinetely rewarded for your sacrifice so be it, but if such a God did not exist then your life was not lived to the full.

Because Pascal loads his wager with assumptions we are unfortunately quick to follow these assumptions or to reject the basis of the wager (Gods existence or not) on similar assumptions.

A good and fulfilling Christian life can be lead that would not involve a huge negation of lifes possibilities that could lead one to be full of post-mortal existential regret 🙂 if God did not exist. Likewise an atheist can lead a fulfilling life, can achieve Eudamonia, without ever believing. And if there is a God it is perfectly reasonable to assume (only because Pascal is full of assumptions) that upon arrival at the ‘pearly gates’ the atheist is met by Peter who says, ‘you know what you lead a good life, and although you did not accept any metaphysical belief in God you lived a thoroughly decent life and thus fulfil the essential criteria for entry.’

It is from my perspective simply unnacceptable to reach the same conclusions that Calvin did, regarding predestination and the ‘elect’. To posit that someone who lived a saintly life (i.e. Mother Theresa) is hellbound whilst someone who subjected his fellow man to a living hell (i.e. Hitler) could be heavenbound is distasteful. Now the assumption that I am making, namely that good works count for something, would suggest that I am as guilty of false or nonsensical assumptions as Pascal is, after all if I make these assumptions by which barometer am I measuring ‘goodness’ by God’s? Am I not then inferring that God is good, that He wills the good, and that the good is rewarded? I am not, but only because I am taking an existentialist position. The barometer that I am taking is that of Jesus, the scriptural figure. You do not believe in me because you do not follow me. The good person is not the person who believes because they can or because they have chosen to, but the person who lives a good life. Jesus to doubting Thomas said you believe because you can see, blessed is he who believes who does not see. And he added to his fundamental commandment love your neighbour as yourself, if this was achievable on a universal worldwide (utopian?) scale, this then would be the realisation of Eudamonia. And if the basis for this ‘ethic’ was belief, then irrespective of the metaphysical realities (or non-realities) then a fulfilling life could be lived as indeed it could without the proposition of belief.

I am suggesting here that there can be no such thing as a bad religious action. Insofar as a ‘true’ religious action must always be ordered to the good, and the barometer that I have chosen to measure the good by is love your neighbour as yourself. Unless you were a psychotic masochist with poor self-esteem (thereby exempting you from free ethical behaviour) then I would think that loving your neighbour as yourself is always a good way to act.

Anyway I have rambled on for too long, and I think you are right this discussion could expand beyond Pascal. Maybe one for the future? But I think we are broadly in agreement. An interesting note/thought to finish with, although scripture is myth, i.e. it is not the language of science, are not certain scriptural commands such as ‘do unto others as you would have done unto yourself’ actually rather rational behavioural imperatives?