Friday, September 7, 2007

The God of Contact


Let's face it, uber-atheist Carl Sagan's only novel contains a god.

There's nothing wrong with exploring this idea in a work of fiction; look at the Bible. And as much as the fundies of the world want it to be, this doesn't make him a true believer in his heart of hearts. It's not an admission of anything except that he wanted to consider how such a being, if she/he/it exists, might reveal themselves to us. It's a thought experiment, nothing more.

But the good scientist must also ask the obvious question... Where did god come from? In Contact, Carl Sagan, more the writer than the scientist, finds an answer. Between 'god always existed' and 'god never existed' is a vast middle ground that is ripe with story potential.

Some religions produce works of surpassing beauty. Contact, as an origin myth of it's own, can be one of them.

At first glance, the god of Contact seems more a god of Einstein in that he's the disinterested, non-interfering initiator of the universe. He set up the parameters, the perimeters and the speed limits. And then he said... so long, see you later. But Sagan added an element of true revelation to his story. Before god took off for parts unknown, he left a clear, unambiguous sign of himself; an artist's signature. He hid it in the very simplest form in nature, the circle, where it waited to be discovered. God knew that someday someone would be here to find it. Or maybe he didn't know. Maybe he's preforming an experiment of his own.

This entity, whatever he is, must reside completely outside the substrate of the universe as we know it, in a place where the most ubiquitous forms in what we call 'nature' are constructs. We can't imagine such a place. But to paraphrase Sagan, why should we expect our experience to have any relevance in this area. Our senses evolved in here, not out there. We just need to recognize the signature as a unique, nonrandom sign of intelligence. And to do that all we need is a moderately large brain and an imagination; the clear tools of our future upward mobility.

The god of Contact poses some interesting questions. Sagan stated in the book that the circle is not merely a signature, but the beginning of a message from the same extra-universal being. So I ask... if he can communicate with us, may we someday be able to communicate with him?

The Vegans sent a message down to us. In doing so they pointed the way up to a higher level of being. They gave us access to the larger universe, and a way out of our selfish fatalism. The entity who wrote the message in pi did something similar to the Vegans it seems to me. He sent a message down to them pointing the way up and out of the universe into an even higher level of reality. So as information flows down, evolution simultaneously flows up.

This is a form of revelation of the teacher.

Truth is sometimes best revealed through a veil of lies. If humans can evolve up to the level of the Vegans, and then up again to the level of the pi-being, do we not then become that which created us? In this fictional universe, do we create ourselves every time we contemplate the circle?

Through paradox one can make two mutually exclusive statements and have them mean exactly the same thing:

1) God created us, we are his children. He exists in our past.
2) We will create god, he is our child. He exists in our future.

When discussing religion I think the only useful way to approach god is to embrace paradox; but only as art, never as science. The truth is our existence is not owed to paradox. This god is no more real than any of the others.

Carl Sagan wrote a work of fiction. In fiction he could roam the universe and imprint whatever conjectures he wished upon it. His manuscript was submitted to a publisher for sale to the public for the purposes of entertainment. It was not submitted to a scientific journal for peer review. In Contact, Sagan could answer the question of where god came from in a very circular way. He combined both western and eastern religious motifs with a very original flare.

If Sagan had written a subtitle for his book it might well read...

'Contact: Or, God Willed Himself Into Being, And This is How He Did It.'

1 comment:

Alonzo said...

Very well put. I have thought about the very same things as well. When physicists work the math in examining the creation of the universe, they reach a point when they say "Then a miracle happened here". There may be some questions that will never be answered in our existence. I am often awed by some things I see in the world, the intricacy and detail and symbiosis and often ponder the same questions that humans have done since the dawn of man. However, I am not ready or willing to throw science out the window because something can't be explained by our brains. I can try to teach my cat algebra all day long but she will never understand it. Perhaps we are not designed to grasp the inner workings.Not yet anyway.