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What We Know About Battlestar Galactica

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The final season of Battlestar Galactica has begun and the teaser commercials have posed the question: who is the 5th secret Cylon? While this will be the focus of the final ten BSG episodes, there are a number of other questions the series has presented that may not be resolved by the final curtain.

1. Why do Cylons’ spines glow red when they make love?

It would seem that such an obvious sexual tell would be counterproductive for a cadre of seductive simulacrums. In all the years of sexual subversion, did no human ever wonder why their incredibly attractive partners insisted on the missionary position?

We do know that Cylons like sex as much as the next automaton and that they are genetically compatible with humans. They claim to experience “love,” and they purport, at times, to having free will. One can only conclude that the glowing red spine was a feature meant to be included only in Christmas Cylons, but someone slipped in production.

2. How did Cylons develop monotheism?

BSG humans are portrayed as generally secular and polytheistic. Neither Greek nor Hebrew, but rather both and more, human BSG characters sport names or appellations like "Adama," "Apollo," "D'Anna" and for the coffee worshippers amongst us "Starbuck." Their twelve colonial worlds correspond to the twelve signs of the zodiac. They say things like "Thank the Gods" and "Gods help us."

The robotic Cylons are monotheistic, fanatical, and proselytizing. Despite their claim that their one god is “love,” or perhaps because of it, they bring about the destruction of the twelve human colonies, killing billions of people, and then zealously pursue the few survivors. There is one chilling scene from the first season when the Cylon attack is imminent and Number Six bends over a carriage to kill an infant. It is unclear whether this is an act of mercy or a preemptive strike.

The odd thing is that the Cylons, being robots, have already achieved eternal life. They literally cannot be killed. Or rather, we see them continually dying and then being reborn. Their reincarnation factory vessels are called “resurrection ships.” A reborn Cylon is not just of the same type or a clone, it is a recreation of the dead individual Cylon, downloaded from the original with memories and emotions intact. In other words, one of the core motivators of many of Earth’s religions is already an integral part of Cylon existence. The only exception to the rule is if a Cylon dies out of range of a resurrection ship. Then they truly die.

If, in spite of being formed in the image of their creators, Cylons reject polytheism, how did they stumble across monotheism?

There is a school of cultural evolutionary thought that suggests that a pre-existing condition to the adoption of monotheism is a phonetic alphabet and some degree of literacy. In a 1977 Issue of ETC.: The Journal of General Semantics, in an article titled "Alphabet, Mother of Invention," Marshall McLuhan (yes, that Marshall McLuhan) and Robert K. Logan speculate on the possible origin of monotheism:

Western thought patterns are highly abstract, compared with Eastern. There developed in the West, and only in the West, a group of innovations that constitute the basis of Western thought. These include (in addition to the alphabet) codified law, monotheism, abstract science, formal logic, and individualism. All of these innovations, including the alphabet, arose within the very narrow geographic zone between the Tigris-Euphrates river system and the Aegean Sea, and within the very narrow time frame between 2000 B.C. and 500 B.C. We do not consider this to be an accident. While not suggesting a direct causal connection between the alphabet and the other innovations, we would claim, however, that the phonetic alphabet played a particularly dynamic role within this constellation of events and provided the ground or framework for the mutual development of these innovations.

While the final verdict on this Media Ecological interpretation of religious thought is still out, there surely is some confusion over how the artificial intelligence products of the pantheistic human culture of BSG could arrive at the notion of one God. Religious robots, while intriguing, remain a problem, especially self-ordained monotheistic robots.

Computer processing, as we understand it, requires at least binary notation, which would imply a minimum of two gods. I believe that the depiction of Cylons as monotheistic in the absence of human mortality or alphabetic literacy can only be seen as a true leap of faith on the part of BSG's creators.

3. Why didn’t the Cylons make their “skin jobs” better than they are?

Humanoid Cylons are stronger, arguably smarter, and definitely sexier than their human counterparts. However, given the range of possibilities presented by human/android genetics, one wonders why the Cylons didn’t do more?

About Bob

  • Matt

    I’d take binary to mean one God. As in 0 represents nothing, or no power running through a circuit or bit of information, and 1 as full power, or “everything” (there being only 2 states it can be in). Therefore it would be a choice between the void and God. So they would be monotheistic, or at least have those 2 choices. To them 0 would not be a logical coice as it’s nothing, and clearly the Universe is not nothing, and more than 1 god would also not be logical, as there can only be 2 binary states as described above, so 1 God it is. Maybe. This assumes they run on a binary system though.