Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Variant of Clark's Third Law


Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, page 235, observed that cargo cults were an example of Arthur C. Clark's third law, which is that: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
It seems that [...] the islanders were bowled over by the wondrous possessions of the white immigrants to their islands [...] The islanders noticed that the white people who enjoyed these wonders never made them themselves. When articles needed repairing they were sent away, and new ones kept arriving as 'cargo' in ships or, later, planes. No white man was ever seen to make or repair anything, nor indeed did they do anything that could be recognized as useful work of any kind (sitting behind a desk shuffling papers was obviously some kind of religious devotion). Evidently, then, the 'cargo' must be of supernatural origin.
The islanders' culture included belief in the supernatural, but did not include much technology, and so they developed a cargo cult. But our culture includes knowledge of technology, and disbelief in miracles. So, if aliens arrived from another planet, we would be more likely to explain what they were capable of doing in terms of their superior technology. Clark's third law has not been true for a while now.

And what if the aliens had also developed superior social structures to ours? Who knows what such things might actually be like. We all have our political views, which we take to be true, but science has shown how different the truth can be from our expectations. So, such alien explorers might, just possibly, be saintly missionaries, who could perform miracles. Of course, Dawkins would hardly believe that to be possible; but he should not forget Clark's first law, which is that: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

I suppose that we would try to explain such miracles in terms of the aliens' superior technology, as though it was now true that: Any sufficiently advanced spirituality is indistinguishable from technology. Some evidence for that variant of Clark's third law is von Däniken's infamous Chariots of the Gods: Was God an Astronaut?

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