Midi-Chlorians and Cognitive Science of Religion

Midi-Chlorians. I know a lot of people who hate the introduction of midi-chlorians in the Star Wars cannon in The Phantom Menace. There’s that famous scene where Qui-Gon Jinn takes Anakin’s count:

Qui-Gon: I need a midi-chlorian count.
Obi-Wan: The readings are off the chart. Over 20,000. Even Master Yoda doesn’t have a midi-chlorian count that high.
Qui-Gon: No Jedi has.

In case you don’t remember what midi-chlorians are, they are microscopic organisms that inhabit the cells of all creatures, and they are especially high in those who are force-sensitive. Now some people complained that the midi-chlorians de-mystified the force, it turned the Force into a “natural” phenomenon, explainable by science. After all, those with more mid-chlorians are more attuned to the force than those who aren’t. So obviously one’s “force powers” are caused by the presence of midi-chlorians. This is the wrong way to think about the relationship between midi-chlorians and force sensitivity. An analogy that is helpful to see why comes from the relationship between Cognitive Science of Religion and the existence of God.

Cognitive Science of Religion

According to Cognitive Science of Religion our cognitive structures have evolved in such a way that they are correlated to religious experience. For example, a number of cognitive scientists of religion have pointed out that from an early age children are cognitively predisposed to assign agency to non-agential objects or attribute God-like powers to their parents. Even more famously some cognitive scientists of religion have shown that certain parts of the brain correspond to religious experiences. Thus, some make the move saying that these natural phenomenon are the cause of religious beliefs and experiences. Theologians and philosophers have rightly critiqued this view explaining that if we take out emobdiedness seriously we would expect physical correlates to religious experiences. Thus, CSR doesn’t prove or disprove the existence of God. It doesn’t do either. All CSR says is that there are physical correlates to these experiences – whether these experiences are real or not.

I think the same could be said about midi-chlorians. Midi-chlorians don’t naturalize the Force. If the creatures of the galaxy really are embodied then we would expect physical correlates to the Force. Just like humans have cognitive structures that correlate to religious experiences, we would expect midi-chlorian structures that correspond to experiences of the force.

All that to say… Midi-Chlorians don’t naturalize the force or prove the force is real in the Star Wars universe. The presence of midi-Chlorians doesn’t settle that kind of question. That is actually a question for the philosophers to think about not the Midi-Chlorian Scientists of Religion.

So stop complaining about midi-chlorians.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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