The Great Chain

The Great Chain

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Insulting Idolatry of Theism

While I reject the idea that the Universe is governed by some supremely powerful entity who exercises sovereignty over the cosmos and intervenes in the daily lives of humble monkeys inhabiting a tiny planet at the ass end of nowhere, I fully recognize the reality that the Universe is governed by a vast number of physical properties and principles. The critical difference between ascribing the wonder and complexity of the Universe to the machinations of a deity and the interplay between a physical properties and principles is that unlike a deity, the physical properties and principles of causation can be understood, described, analyzed and tested. They can be independently verified. They can be scrutinized and if they fail, they can be modified or rejected and a new principle can eventually take its place. The physical properties and principles of organization that govern existence are no less marvelous because they are not acts of consciousness or acts of authorship.

The systems that arise to facilitate and arise in opposition to these physical principles are not robbed of their elegance and grace simply because they are not acts of conscious authorship. Why would one ever choose to ascribe the wonder and grace and beauty of the seamlessly interlocking systems that govern existence to an unknowable entity whose very existence cannot be verified, when richer and fuller explanations lie all around us. What is the point? Why would one ever choose Faith in something unknown, unknowable or against the weight of the evidence when far more profound and elegant and verifiable explanations exist?

The systems that exist all around us, that permeate our entire existence do not depend on conscious authorship to function. They do not require the existence of any deity for either their existence, or their continued functionality. Indeed, there is only ONE point at which God represents an entirely plausible answer to the question 'Why.' The only moment at which 'God' is as good an answer as the empirical physical properties and principles of organization that we understand today is at the instant of the Big Bang. I have no problem stating that God is an entirely plausible explanation for what caused the Big Bang. I don't personally subscribe to it, but recognize that it is perfectly intellectually defensible, primarily because we simply do not and cannot know. Everything after that point, however, everything after 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000001 seconds or so is far, far, far better explained by the physical properties and principles of organization science has been revealing over the centuries.

From the accretion of matter through gravitation and the gravitational collapse of that matter into individual galaxies and stars, from the formation of heavy elements through stellar nucleosynthesis, to the collapse of massive stars and their violent supernovae explosions seeding the galaxy with those same heavy elements, from the formation of small rocky planets with the remnants of long dead stars, to volcanism and plate tectonics, from geology and hydrology, from the formation of amino acids through energetic carbon chemistry, to the first faint glimmers of self-replicating molecules, all of these processes, leading to the formation of life and the eventual rise of intelligence and self-awareness, are better explained by the physical properties of time space and matter and the principles of organization than any manner of conscious authorship or God could ever hope to be.

Not only are we capable of a more complete understanding that is capable of replication and accurate prediction, but that true understanding is far more meaningful than reliance on the intervention of some manner of invisible interplanetary Santa Clause. The process that undergird the Universe and enable the flourishing of life are not diminished in their grace, elegance or beauty by virtue of the fact that they are not the result of some kind of cosmically intelligent design. Indeed, the utter lack of intelligence guiding the formation of these incredibly intricate and complex systems merely reinforces how marvelous our Universe actually is. The physical properties of time space and matter and the principle of organization do not require intelligence to function, they merely compel matter and energy to interact in specific ways under specific conditions. The sum total of these interactions, however, is a system that is far greater than the sum of its constituent parts. And when these innumerable processes interact and influence one another, they are a wonder to behold.

We are on the cusp of understanding so much about the Universe, of understanding so much about the exact mechanisms by which life unfolds, by which our planet regulates itself, by which biospheres create conditions which allows the continual proliferation of life, by which energy and matter and time and space are created.

That understanding is the lifeblood of our species. It is our greatest achievement. Our most precious possession. Understanding and recognizing and appreciating the true marvel of complexity that is our world and our Universe is our greatest gift. No other species can appreciate the complex interplay of mathematics, physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology that has given rise to this planet and its incredible richness. No other species can appreciate, let alone understand the fabulous complexity of the systems that govern its existence and set its place in the cosmos. We are blessed with a true understanding of the wider world and the intricate machinations that allow it to function.

We have no need to bask in that wondrous complexity and merely call it God. To do so cheapens the entire experience. Indeed, to do so is nothing but primitive idolatry. In the book of Exodus, the Bible describes a confrontation between Moses and the Jewish people that perfectly illustrates this situation. God had decreed that man should not create any graven image to worship Him. Despite this prohibition, while Moses was away, the Jewish people created a golden calf to represent their God so that they could have something to worship. When Moses returned, he was filled with righteous fury. How dare they create an object to encompass something as vast and powerful and amazing as the One True God. Despite the fact that it was an attempt to worship the exact same thing, it was an affront to the very concept of God to distill Him down to a graven image.

By the same token, taking the staggering intricacy encompassed by the interlocking systems that govern our existence and attempting to distill them down to simply an expression of 'God' is an affront to the glorious reality that exists all around us. No God described in any book, or dreamed in the mind of any man could ever come close to describing the true nature of our world and the cosmos – to do so is to do nothing more than create an idol by distilling a far greater reality down to a single concept. Indeed, so ingrained has Faith in these sacred texts become that many practitioners of the Abrahamaic creeds seem to worship the Book itself. This is idolatry in its purest form.

The principles of organization that dominate our existence are numerous and pervasive and the ways in which they interact are cause for celebration and reverence. We owe our entire existence to processes that operate out of sight and mind, both far above and far below our level of existential existence. We owe it to ourselves and our progeny to understand these processes as they truly are, to understand these processes for what they are. For to understand them is to understand ourselves, how we got here, how we can better our lives and our planet and how we can find our place in the cosmos. Ultimately, in understanding these processes, we may even eventually enable our species to transcend our level of existential association and achieve transcendence for this planet and for ourselves.

1 comment:

  1. JEFF!!!! This is AWESOME!!!!!!!! I absolutely LOVE the point you make about idolatry and how we've reduced this vastness and complexity to some man made idol, 'golden calf' so to speak....i love how you put this: "Indeed, so ingrained has Faith in these Sacred texts become that many practitioners of the Abrahamaic creeds seem to worship the book itself" ..DUMBASSES!!!! that is just MAN MADE RELIGION, small and fear based.... what if we let go of our need to control this Bigness and let this Beauty and Awesomeness speak to us AS IT IS and not as someonELSE says it should be!!! It is IN US!!! Thanks again for sharing Jeff... You are GENIUS in the way you express your thoughts, knowledge and Truth, it's breathtaking really. ~Madison