Heroes, Angels and Monsters

Last night’s episode of Heroes raised a lot of interesting subjects with its God-talk. First, there was Angela Petrelli mentioning that those who were involved in the attempt to give abilities artificially were “attempting to be better than God”.

The whole notion of “playing God” is double edged, but one rarely hears talk of trying to “outdo God”. On the one hand, this series suggests that evolution in its divine beneficence endowed some people with remarkable, god-like abilities. On the other hand, it did not give them to everyone, and sometimes the abilities seemed more like a curse. On the one hand, nature contains the potential for technology, genetic modification and other human advances. On the other hand, until we discovered ways to intervene through science, humans suffered at the mercy of nature. There is a definite ambiguity in our relationship to the rest of the natural world, of which we are a part. But the discovery of evolution confirms the Gnostic hunch that we are not the direct creations of a supreme deity, but cobbled together by a tinkerer, who turns out to be inferior in some ways to the Demiurge of the Gnostics. This can be liberating when it comes to thinking about science. We can certainly try to outdo nature, without feeling the need to assume that the natural order is created directly by God in its present form with the commandment or that we leave it as we found it.
Heroes also explored the nature of religious experience in a world in which beings with supernatural powers roam the earth. Nathan Petrelli has been having visions, and was convinced (and may still be) that he is doing God’s work. But in fact these visions are being given to him (and to the speedster) by someone else with an ability, Matt Parkman’s father. This was a key part of the dilemma Descartes wrestled with, namely that in a world populated by angels and demons, the latter could well deceive someone in to thinking the world is other than it is. Religious experience, in the context of a world populated by malevolent as well as benevolent spiritual beings, cannot guarantee the truth of religious beliefs any more than science or history can.

If Heroes doesn’t get you to grasp the nature of this problem, you can always try the Bible. Take a look at 1 Kings 22:23

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14247799389009268470 James Pate

    I like the fact that you point out a problem with theistic evolution: it makes God out to be a tinkerer. Theistic evolution may be the way to go–I don’t know. But I think that a lot of people say “God used evolution” without really thinking about the implications of that–it’s like they’re trying to find a way out of evolution’s challenges to the faith.One book I’d like to look at some time is Finding Darwin’s God, by Kenneth Miller. He simply points out that life is messy, so we shouldn’t dismiss God’s role in evolution just because evolution involves survival of the fittest. That reminds me of how one professor of mine characterized God’s speeches to Job–God points out some of the weirdness of nature to convey that he does some strange things! So Job shouldn’t necessarily expect to find things working according to his sense of justice.In any case, I’d be interested in reading how you wrestle with the origins issue. I know you have problems with creationism, but I wonder how you find a way to believe in God and evolution at the same time.

  • http://blogs-r.us/bioblog/ gillt

    I’m afraid it’s more than that James. Evolution isn’t a little messy, rather, evolution is exactly what you would expect things to look like if there wasn’t a benevolent or even malevolent god behind it. “Survival of the fittest”, a much abused phrase, is also a relative term. Depending on the species, what’s fit now will be unfit in 5 years, 5,000 years or 5 million years. So pushing god back to the point of life’s origins–or whatever ambiguous place of refuge you prefer–shows that science progresses while god belief regresses.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    James, the short answer is that I have had a religious experience that has shaped my view of existence. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. So the two are simply there as part of my worldview. The challenge is to fit them together, and presumably that’s what you’re getting at. I don’t have a simple answer (although the next chapter of Ward’s book is on this topic, so I’ll be revisiting it in a post of its own soon), but evolution doesn’t make believing in God any harder. The struggle for survival that is a key factor in evolution is there anyway, and can be difficult to reconcile with a benevolent God. If anything, evolution makes things at least slightly easier, since viewing the process as the only way to bring about free sentient beings like ourselves might give the process meaning and value.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09539170598198122642 Chris

    >>Religious experience, in the context of a world populated by malevolent as well as benevolent spiritual beings, cannot guarantee the truth of religious beliefs any more than science or history can.Aptly stated!