Sunday, May 18, 2008

Just a slob like one of us...

A few days ago on Althouse, the topic of God sprang from a post about whether Einstein was an atheist or not. I'm doubtless flattering myself here, but when I read Einstein on God, I'm usually seeing in what he writes a reflection of how I feel on the topic.

When someone asks me, "Do you believe in God?" I generally have to reply with "What do you mean by God". Althouse regular cum gadfly Revenant calls me to task by saying:

The most accurate definition of "God" is the one most widely accepted by people.
My problem with that is that I don't think people sit down and agree on said definition widely. Er, widely sit down and agree. What I mean is, have you ever asked someone what that is? The definition of "God" is rather incomplete and mismatched person-to-person, which is probably where 90% of the arguments come from.

As a contrast, we could talk about god-with-a-small-g. We could define "god" pretty easily as a being with an innate and significantly greater power over natural events. Greek, Nordic and Egyptian mythologies, for example, are populated by gods that, as terrible as they are, are also very limited in scope. Human, even. With frailties and mortality. These gods directly impacted people and performed specific duties.

Now we can argue very precisely about "gods" in general, or any specific "god", such as Thor. Or, say, Helios by noting that no one has seen his chariot pulling the sun.

I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that "gods", if they ever existed, are hiding pretty well now.

Now, there is a dictionary definition for "God", of course:

A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions.

But, oh, what arguments you can find in that simple definition. Omnipotent? What about free will? A lot of religions argue that he can't mess with free will. (And, by the way, can't and won't are the same for the purposes of this discussion.)

Ruler of the universe? Yes, there are some who believe that God rules the universe like a king rules his kingdom, but last I checked he's issued no taxation decrees. No bans against trans-fats. No suspensions of gravity on holidays. Yes, there are commandments and prophets and all that, but really, in a lot of the big theologies, this universe is a virtual sandbox, and God doesn't get to the ruling part till after we leave it.

"God", "angels" or "ghosts" are used to explain many things people don't understand. (And who's to say that those explanations aren't correct? If I were God, an angel or a ghost, I probably wouldn't take kindly to microscopes.) There's nothing to rule out the possibility of a "god", either, coming out of hiding to paint a face on a tortilla or make a statue weep blood. (Are the supernatural beings all just practical jokers? Maybe. Gotta be boring being dead.)

Anyway, if you take that ruling part out, and you're left with some guy (heh) who knows everything. And some would say he doesn't know everything--since with free will, that might be problematic--but that he watches everything.

This is probably the biggest bone of contention I have with discussing the matter. A God who is but does not do--you know, what are we talking about? And when the question arises, it's usually not someone who, like Einstein, was looking out at the universe and wondering, but someone who's really asking "Do you agree with my dogma?" No, I don't, but please don't kill me.

Well, okay, let's forget about what He does or doesn't do, but focus on origination. God is the Creator. That works pretty well. We could say He created the universe and all of us as well . That would be a pretty good definition of God.

We could, of course, totally complicate the topic and say God created neither us nor the universe, but that we create the universe with our shared perception of it, and we have no clue about what's going on in reality, an idea that hearkens to Plato and the Hindu concept of maya, but let's assume that, even there, if we're all playing some massive game of D&D, there's a meta-Dungeon Master, and He created the basement we're playing in, and the Doritos we're eating. But we won't.
The problem with that, to my mind, is that, well, we're here. The universe is here. Something created the universe (or so it seems) and something created us (unless we were always here).

Would the being that did that be a being that we could, in any sense, understand? Maybe. Maybe he's just a slob like one of us, only super-powered. But maybe the awareness and power comes from a different sort of consciousness altogether. Even the people who are fond of envisioning God as a giant old white-bearded man in flowing robes maintain that we can't fathom the mind or the workings of God.
There's another issue, regarding the word "exist". Years ago I read a website by an atheist who had a FAQ that read "How do you know God doesn't exist?" and his answer was "God told me that he doesn't exist." He had an explanation of how he had come to talk to God, but there was a certain sense there.

God, if he created the universe, isn't really of the universe. He doesn't exist as you and I exist. Or he might, in the form of an avatar, but He, Himself, doesn't occupy a space or time within the universe. In that sense, he doesn't exist. (How about them apples? If God created the universe, he doesn't exist. Heh.)

On the other hand, what if God is the universe? He doesn't exist; he is existence. We see him in f=ma and E=MC2. Or at least part of him. In that sense, every scientist is studying God.

And that I believe in.

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