The other day the New York Times published a profile of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, one of the leading voices arguing against religion in general and creationism in particular. Since Dawkins is one of the foremost proponents of evolution in the world, I was a bit taken aback by something he said at the end of the profile.
Dawkins told reporter Michael Powell that he is intrigued by physicist Freeman Dyson’s speculation that in the course of evolution human beings might evolve into super-powered, sentient energy. Powell asked whether these beings would be godlike. Dawkins replied:
“Certainly. It’s highly plausible that in the universe there are God-like creatures. [But it’s] very important to understand that these Gods came into being by an explicable scientific progression of incremental evolution.”
Though I am sure Prof. Dawkins did not mean it this way, the implications of this (obviously unproven) speculation are startling. If there are godlike super-beings in the universe, how can we discount the possibility that these godlike beings did not stream down from the stars millions of years ago to light the fires of the primordial soup—that, essentially, they did not set the evolutionary train in motion? Would it be possible to prove, therefore, that creationism is untrue if there is the possibility that aliens we would interpret as gods actually exist and are, theoretically, so advanced that their handiwork would be invisible to us since they would use scientific methods to achieve creationist ends? These bolts of conscious energy may not have rocket ships, but ancient astronauts they would still be.
Such speculation also raises intriguing questions about religion. How different is the idea of self-evolved energy-based consciousness from the theology of the Orphics, recorded in the opening passage of the Orphic Argonautica?
"Truly, above all I disclosed the stern inevitability of ancient Chaos, and Time, who in his boundless coils, produced Aether, and the twofold, beautiful, and noble Eros, whom the younger men call Phanes, celebrated parent of eternal Night, because he himself first manifested." (My own translation; cf. Hesiod, Theogony, 116ff.)
Here, as with these bolts of energy, the gods self-manifest from chaos and time, the product of natural forces. Dawkins further says that he doubts his imagined gods would be immortal, but neither were the ancient gods always immortal, or eternal. The universe had many chief gods: Uranus, Cronus, and Zeus for the Greeks; Anu, Kumrabi, and Teshub for the Hittites; etc. All were born—they were therefore not eternal since there had been a time when they did not exist—nor did they have a hand in the natural, chaotic formation of the universe. The gods of other cultures could and did die—Baldur among the Norse springs to mind. Indeed, the whole Norse pantheon was expected to one day die.
The point here is, of course, not to claim that the ancient gods were real, or that ancient texts have anything more than a coincidental relationship to modern cosmological speculation. But that speculation, I think, is very little different from the impulse than led ancient humans to populate the heavens with powerful but temporal gods. Instead, we now imagine our own consciousness, or alien consciousness, “evolving” into “godlike” creatures. But this is simply the religious impulse redirected into science fiction, like the UFOs that serve the purpose of angels, dressed up a bit more expensively in the clothes of elite theory. So the new gods are aliens, so etherealized that they might as well be deities. Well, H. P. Lovecraft imagined that scenario back in the 1920s with Yog-Sothoth and Nyarlathotep, powerful, willful gods who were nevertheless the product of natural forces generated by the random acts of chaos at the center of the universe, cloaked under the name Azathoth. Cthulhu and his ilk were aliens who came from the stars and were worshipped as gods.
Dawkins has done more than nearly anyone to dismiss the idea of the monotheistic, supernatural God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. However, he apparently has left the door open to “the gods” in every practical sense, so long as we pretend their magic powers are based on quantum mechanics rather than soma and ambrosia—and as long as we place them so far out in the stars that they might just as well not exist. But if they are nearly gods, what exactly would keep earth free from their influence and power? Did Richard Dawkins really just suggest something like Yog-Sothoth could be real?
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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