Discussion of yesterday’s mega-review of the ending of Battlestar Galactica included much focus on my negative view of the rule of a god as an intervening character in fiction. Many readers feel that the God of Galactica (Gog) did not so much control events as influence them. This suggests the following sidebar on religion:
Many religions struggle with the concept of a god that is so omniscient, it knows the future. This sometimes is described as being eternal, existing outside of time. The problem is the conflict between this, and free will. I find the two to be contradictory, especially when it comes to the concept found in many Christian sects that free will is most important with respect to your choice about whether to believe in god or not, or whether to be good or evil. The religions say you were created by god, who knew what choices you would make before creating you, but you are also punished for those choices. Even though, if asked, “can I choose another future than the one god knows I will choose, making him wrong?” they will say no.
However, the religious often do not see the same contradiction. We will not resolve this conflict here. I want to address the more direct question of a god who talks to people, and intervenes directly in the mortal world, as Gog does.
Gog appears in the minds of Baltar and many other characters. Gog also directly affects physical events, doing things like returning Starbuck in a new Viper.
Gog also appears to know the future. Gog gives many characters the “Opera House” vision, describing a scene that will take place in the CIC just before the climax of the battle with Cavil. Gog offers a number of other prophecies and is presumably the source of knowledge in the sacred scrolls. Gog arranges for a big confrontation over the “Temple of Five” at the exact time of a supernova. Gog in particular implants a song, whose opening notes, if turned into numbers, are the jump coordinates for a jump from the Colony battle scene to above our Moon. (It should be noted that jump coordinates, as used in the show are rapidly changing numbers which must be precisely calculated in real time based on the motion of ships, stars and planets. There are no fixed coordinates that take you to a specific place.)
One could speculate that Gog fakes all this. For example, perhaps Gog jumped the ship and the coordinates from the song were not relevant. This makes the plot surrounding the song a bit hard to understand. One could also speculate that Gog pushed characters to follow the Opera House script, making the prediction, and many others come true. This is not out of the question but is, one must agree, rather bizarre and perhaps even harder to understand.
Either way, however, this is a being of extreme power and intelligence. To Gog, humans are insignificant.
Whether we have free will or all is determined, I will contend that to any being of such intelligence, and in particular any being with knowledge of the future, there is no such thing as “influence.” Such a being would understand us so well as to know how we would react to any particular phrase or stimulus. Gog would not be surprised at what we do when it has an angel whisper a phrase into our heads.
Gog does not have Angel Six say things to Baltar to persuade him of things, or to see what he will do if those things are said. It’s hard to believe Gog doesn’t know Baltar (or the future itself) so well as to know exactly what Baltar will do in response to statements and visions. To suggest that Gog would be playing it to chance, having no idea what Baltar will choose seems ridiculous for a being that can write coordinates into a song 2,000 years in advance. Indeed, we have to suspect that Gog selected Baltar in advance knowing just how it would use him, and what the result would be. Gog presumably felt that the colonies’ top scientist would make the right tool for manipulating the fleet, and converting others to new philosophies. Similarly Gog did not choose Roslin, Sharon, Caprica and Starbuck by accident or without precise knowledge of what they would do when appropriately triggered.
As such there can be no influencing for Gog. Beings that an omniscient god speaks to can only be instruments who will do exactly what the god knows in advance they will do in response to the stimulus. The biblical notion from the book of Job that God would allow the Satan to “test” Job and his faith is a strange one. (Ditto the test of Abraham.) Of course God knows the result of his game with that Satan, and you would think the Satan would know that God knows. (That’s why this is a story, and not a history.)
We might consider this, roughly, with how you might manipulate your pet or your young child. You can always tell when a young child is lying, as though you can read their simple mind. For a while, you can trick them into doing things when you need to, though they learn quickly. Pets are easier. You can trick your pet into coming inside for a trip to the vet by pretending to call it for food. That trick will work frequently if not abused, though even the animals can learn.
Even better would be to consider the relationship between a programmer and a computer program. Like a god, you know the workings of the computer program completely. It is a deterministic machine to you. To other users it might seem to be unpredictable, but you will know inputs you can give it that will give specific responses. You can even create another copy of the program and test sample inputs to find out what they do, then use those inputs with confidence. While imperfect (we don’t yet recognize free will or consciousness in computer programs) this is the closest analogy to the relationship between an omnsicient god and its human creation.
So when Gog says a few choice words in Baltar’s ear, or has Angel-Six preach about its plan to Baltar, this is not some preacher trying to convert Baltar to the true religion. Gog knows just how Baltar will respond, and knows exactly when he will convert. Gog even knows where Baltar will stand holding Hera on the day the Opera House vision is realized. Baltar (as Gog knows) is too much of a scientist. He only truly converts when he learns that Caprica-Six can see his internal Angel too. Finally given objective evidence, he converts and negotiates the short peace with Cavil.
Of course, Gog knows that the peace with Cavil will be short. Gog has already planned jump coordinates, thousands of years ago, to be used after the peace goes south.
If you are going to have an interventionist god with omniscience or knowledge of the future, there can be no influencing or manipulation. The people manipulated by the god become instruments, not beings of free will. This is one of the reasons that having such a god as a character eliminates meaning from the actions of other characters.
From the Battlestar Galactica Analysis Blog