Sunday, June 10, 2012

pseudo-religious awe

I saw Prometheus Saturday. Once again, I'm not going to review the movie, just express some thoughts on it. The premise of the movie is a search for the alien species that created of mankind. There are various religious conversations in the film which are (for a Hollywood movie) surprisingly sympathetic to religion, although they seem to be written by someone who does not really understand religious faith.

There is a lot of play made off of the fact that one of the characters is an intelligent robot who knows his creators (the humans) while the humans do not know who their creators are. For example, here is an example scene from memory:
human: I want to ask these aliens why they created us.
robot: Why did you humans create robots?
human: Because we could.
robot: If you meet your creators, and ask them that question, how will you feel if they give the same answer?
human: I wouldn't like it. But you're a robot. You don't even know what feelings are.
 Overall it leads to some entertaining interaction. I can't say I found it very deep, but that's partly because I reject many of the premises that they start with.

My biggest complaint about all of this was that the movie tried to capitalize on religious sentiment without the religious motivations. In particular, it tried to generate a feeling of reverence for the alien race that created the human race, or at least tried to make it plausible that some of the characters would feel that sort of reverence. I found it completely implausible. The reverence that Judaism and its descendent religions express for God is not just because God created the human race; it is because God created everything. God is something prior to anything in the created universe. By contrast, if the human race were created by an alien species, why would we think that they are therefore better than us? They are just another race of creatures like we are.

When humans create machinery to do physical tasks, do we assume that because humans created it, humans could do the tasks better? Can humans run faster than cars, fly higher than airplanes or add numbers more accurately than computers? Of course not. Very often, we create things specifically because we want them to do something better than us. So if alien beings create intelligent moral agents, why ever would we assume that the alien beings are superior in intelligence or superior as moral agents? It's a completely unmotivated assumption.

Or are we supposed to feel gratitude for them creating us? Why? They didn't create the human race to do me any favors. If I'm drowning and suddenly find a life jacket in the water which saves my life, should I be grateful to the person who threw the life jacket in the water two days ago because it in his way? Of course not. You don't feel grateful to someone just because some past action of their turned out by accident to be beneficial to you. You feel grateful because they did something specifically to help you.

The whole thing about holding some sort of reverence to an alien species just because they mixed up some junk in a test tube and it grew into Adam and Eve just strikes me as ... dumb.

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