God and the Type 5 Civilization

Posted on 2013 June 27

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I’m agnostic about gods. Maybe there is one (or many); maybe not. How should I know? I’m just one guy tootling along on Planet Earth. Perhaps there’s a being who has complete control over the universe, who can shape or destroy it at will, and who can interfere with events as needed. So far I haven’t witnessed anything like that. But I certainly haven’t seen everything. And hey, it could happen.

In 1964, astronomer Nikolai Kardashev proposed a scale to classify civilizations by how advanced they had become as spacefaring societies. A Type 1 civilization would have complete control over the resources of its own planet. A Type 2 would have gotten its mitts around every resource in its solar system; Type 3s could command entire galaxies. Commentators have suggested adding a Type 0, for newbies like us, and Type 4 for societies that rule an entire universe. But wait, there’s more! The Kardashev Scale can also account for a Type 5 civilization that holds the reins to multiple universes.

Would there be a difference, to us humans, between a Type 4 or Type 5 civilization and a god? As sci-fi superstar Arthur C. Clarke put it, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” We’d regard representatives from a Type 5 civilization as angels, and their leader as God Himself. However, such a society would probably hide from the likes of us — or simply ignore us — until we matured enough to comprehend what they had to offer. (No sense handing the car keys to a toddler.) In that case, God would remain hidden until we were ready for Him. Or Her.

As our technological prowess grows, there may come a time in the distant future when we discover we can control vast tracts of our own univese. At that point, will we run smack into another, alien civilization that decides to punish us for daring to interfere with its prerogatives? Perhaps the Ten Commandments were engraved by a super-advanced class of beings … and the first Commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”, stands as a warning not to imitate them.

How long would it take for an intelligent species to develop from hunter-gatherers into universe-swallowing gods? Thousands of years? Millions? Billions? Astrophysicist Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson suggests that our technology — immensely advanced over that of chimpanzees, despite our DNA differing from chimps by a mere one percent — might itself be dwarfed by a civilization whose members differ from us in mental complexity by only one percent. We’d be “blithering idiots in their presence.” So these godlike possibilities could be close at hand — at least, for smart aliens.

Time will tell. Meanwhile, I’m agnostic.

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UPDATE: Forty billion planets support life in our galaxy?

UPDATE: Where are all those alien civilizations, anyway?

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