Sunday, January 27, 2008

Alien Technology - 3. Theology Part II: continuance?

image credit:
"The Hive" ©
As mentioned in part I, as the mind evolves to take in concepts of mathematical laws, quantum physics (the last two necessary for the ability to become a technological society), and faraway stars and galaxies, as well as a deeper awareness of death, does a need for philosophy naturally arise? And from philosophy, theology?

However, saying that theology may be prevalent among advanced beings does not answer 1) how that theology would differ, and 2) if theology is something that stays.

Let's address 2) first. That is a tough question - some would like to think we can evolve past theology, others would say it is impossible, and others would further state that it would evolve itself (whatever that means). At least for our present minds, it is hard to see how a sentient life would not think about death, and what is after death. Maybe some would be convinced that there is nothing after it, but unless they belong to a hive mind, incapable of complete individual thought, chances are that from time to time some abstract thinking individual would question that. In a sense, atheism is as much a theology as Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Agnosticism, or any number of other theologies.

Anyway, if an alien race has no theology, then there would be no theological influence on their technology. That does not mean they wouldn't have a ethical system (bad, good) of some sort that would influence the development, regulation and use of technology. Would even an amoral race have to figure out some sort of ethical system to have a functioning society, even if it is a system based purely on physical survival?

At first, the answer seems to be "yes," but with further thought, I wonder if that is certain. A species that knows it is amoral, knows that each of its members will be selfish, untrustworthy, may be able to still exist - each member would know not to trust the other at all and would have to develop ways of creating temporary alliances that benefit each member enough to engage in the alliance, with full knowledge that the alliance will end as soon as the benefit diminishes, or a better alliance can be formed with another. We have plenty of such examples in our own history, and in our own dealings with each other (watch Survivor and Biggest Loser on TV to see examples).

What is the benefit of morality? The benefit is one that helps the species as a whole survive -where members sacrifice self for the survival of others, for the survival of mates, children, society. Some say, though, if the one making the sacrifice believes in an afterlife, where their efforts will be rewarded, then their act is at the fundamental level still a selfish act. It is just one that looks to the afterlife as more important than the present life.

Of course, if people put too little importance to the present life, then the future of the species becomes endangered - sacrificing self for the afterlife in a way that harms the present world doesn't make much sense for the longevity of the species. And such a sentient race may not last long.

Which is why some feel that theology may not be helpful in the long run. At least one that doesn't care much for present life. And why maybe some sentient life would evolve "past" theology.

But, I can't help but return to the beginning - if abstract thought is the eventual result of evolving intelligence, not having a theology seems contradictory - theology/philosophy specifically deals with abstract thinking. Even a species who may be philosophical without a need to attach a God to it, would, at times, philosophize about a possible God, even if, for them, such thinking is fantastic philosophy.

Maybe such a race would evolve on a planet that experienced more than its "fair share" of catastrophes - say a planet in a system without a Jupiter sized planet to sweep away many of the dangerous meteors (some estimate that without Jupiter, with additional help from Saturn, that the Earth would've been hit 1,000 times more often by meteors), or a planet without a large moon or fast axial spin to keep it from having a large wobbling tilt (and thus prevent the planet from having extreme weather conditions in short cycles) - such a planet could not only give rise to a very resilient species of sentient beings, but also one that was very skeptical of any caring to the universe. At first, maybe they would be even more fierce in theological belief - more desperate to appease the divine. But as catastrophe after catastrophe hitting and wiping out large numbers randomly, without care to prayer or action or belief - maybe a race of agnostics or atheists would rise instead.

Of course, would God allow a sentient race not know that God exist? Ah, we'll save that for another post!

For now, let's return to the issue of theology and technology. How does theology affect technology, in Part III.


Anonymous said...

Abstract thinking, even about big questions, does not mean believing in personal deities. It is possible to study natural phenomena, learn laws of nature from them and extrapolate the history and future even of the universe, without believing in any kind of personal deity.

Mr. David Michael Merchant said...

This is all fun speculation, but yes, you are correct - I have no problem believing that there can be alien sentient beings who just do not have a belief system in a deity.

Martin J Sallberg said...

Animals in general are altruistic in conflictless situations. It is only in conflict situations they are egoistic. The only reason why ethologists debunked the old theory of harmonious mutual aid in nature was because of examples of interest conflict, and every situation must be judged separately. The unique thing about human morality is thus not care for others (no animal is simply indifferent to others) but naive dupeness. It is well documented that apes are soberly sceptic and not susceptible to charisma or any simple equivalent of indoctrination. Human naivityn is due to the fact that cavemen successfully avoided competition for almost two million years, allowing evolution to let "genetic memory" of being duped fade away. When global overpopulation caused competition and thus stratification (look at animals and see that pecking orders are all about first right to scarce resources) about 7000 years ago, some started exploiting that naivity to seize power, creating the lie of a struggle between good and evil to fool others to see their own will as evil. That creates a evolutionary pressure favouring non-dupes, which will eventually result in the extinction of dupeness and "de-creolization" back into protolanguage as there is neither any true honesty nor any dupes to fool. Unless, of course, we colonize space and end overpopulation that way. This means it is extremely unlikely to find aliens with anything like the present-day human concept of a struggle between good and evil within.