Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What does It want?

The It that I am referring to Is God. Many people claim to know what God wants. They say they know what It wants us to do and why It created the Universe and hence either directly or indirectly created life and humanity. Others claim that there is no way we can know God's purposes. And others like me think we don't know but can make some plausible speculations and can rule out some possibilities.

For the sake of this discussion I will assume that there is a God. I regard the existence of God as an open question. It think It exists but I am not sure.

What answers are plausible depends on what attributes one believes that God has. Is It omnipotent? Is It omniscient? Is It benevolent? Is It transcendent? Is It immanent? Is It temporal? Is it a person?

In various SF stories the speculation has been made that a sufficiently advanced civilization might be able to create a universe. Even if this is true it suffers from the same problem as panaspermia - the speculation that life came to Earth from somewhere outside the Solar System. It just transfers the problem elsewhere but does not answer it.

Polytheism and God acting through subordinate entities such as angels simply adds complexity without providing any additional explanatory power over monotheism. Thus I regard a single god as a more useful and productive hypothesis.

The gods of ancient religions are ancient despots writ large. Over time in the Mediterranean and the Middle East there was a tendency to magnify the chief god at the expense of the others. This eventually led to monotheism with the other gods reduced to something intermediate between God and man.

But the god of the Abrahamic religions still shows His origin. He shows some of the traits of a human despot, easily offended, desirous of praise, arbitrary in some sects and religions. Since his worshipers are trying to praise Him there is a strong temptation to see Him as omnipotent and omniscient and to apply as many attributes to God as they can. There is a tendency to see God as having human emotions.

But does this all make sense? Does God have to be someone that we can entreat? Does Its goals have to be ones that require us it interact with It in the here and now? Could they be ones that we fulfill in the ordinary course of our lives? Could they be ones that Humanity will fulfill in some future time when our understanding of It and the Universe is greater.

Like many others I do not believe that God can be omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent. At least one of these has to go, maybe all of them. I do not believe it is omnipotent and I wonder whether benevolence may be an inapplicable concept.

As far as we can tell time and space had a beginning. Thus God has to be, at least in part, outside space and time. That is I believe it makes more sense to regard God as transcendent.

Do we have a watchmaker God who created the Universe then left it alone or do we have a God who underpins and maintains the existence of the Universe? The latter feels more likely since it is easier to imagine the possible motives of such a God. This does not necessarily imply an interventionist God. An immanent God does not have to be a puppet master. Thus I believe that the immanence of God is more likely than not. It is certainly hard to see God as omniscient if It is not immanent.

Can we regard God as good and can God be the source of morality? There is a bit of a tension between these two propositions. To see God as good, goodness has to exist independent of God. Some people see morality as being whatever God commands. Like most people I would describe this position as the abandonment of morality. I do not believe that God can make an act right or wrong by an arbitrary edict. If God is the source of morality then I believe it can only be though determining the nature of the universe and through morality being a consequence of this. If God is good then morality has to be binding on It and hence it cannot be simply a result of God's commands. An alternative possibility is that God is neither good nor evil. That good and evil only exist within the universe and are terms that do not apply to God.

If God is outside space and time then any attribute that is the result of a process cannot be applied to God. Life, consciousness and emotions are all processes. Thus I believe that they are terms that cannot be applied to God. Thus one can reasonably claim that humanity has attributes that God does not. If God is transcendent then I do not think It can be described as a person in the sense that you or I are. Perhaps It is the ordering and/or originating thing behind the Universe (Force? Principle? Any word I use is almost certain to be wrong.)

What I can be certain of is that God's purposes do not depend on our believing that God exists. If they did It would have given us unequivocal proof of its existence. It hasn't. Supposed religious revelations are weak evidence indeed. Thus it cannot be a desire for praise.

Does It want company or something to love? This only makes sense if God is a person in the sense that we are.

Its purposes have to be either ones that the Universe, life and humanity accomplish in the normal course of their existence or they are ones that will be fulfilled in the future. Or both. The first seems more likely to me.

If God is not temporal then for some reason it wanted (needed?) something temporal to exist and needed something to experience that creation in time. Why, we don't know but that much seems certain if God exists. I don't think we can say anything more.


rcs said...

Occam's razor seems to apply here. You do a lot of rationalization to justify a belief in "It" (God). When the most simple explanation which covers the evidence is that there is no god (as the term is commonly understood). That is if you exclude the use of magic (mystical or supernatural) which while simpler than the laws of physics are not acceptable to those of us who attempt to scientifically inquire into the "truth". Again please reference rcsphilosophy.blogspot.com/

Lloyd Flack said...

I agree that if hypothesising the existence of God gives no additional explanatory power then it should be rejected. However I think that does help explain some things more satisfactorily than the alternatives.

Scientifically the existence or non existence of God is a proposition where we are at the hypothesis generation stage. We caanot yet test this hypothesis and I don't think we will bw able to in our lifetimes. But I think we will be able to eventually.

At the moment for me it is hunch and subjective impression. The Universe feels designed and a God of sorts feels like a better explaination than the many worlds conjecture.

However I do believe that we can reject the God of the Prophets and that was the focus of this post and the previous one about rvealation.