Saturday, 13 September 2008

for a given value of...

The Rev Dr Incitatus writes:
I think Stephen's new approach is better, in which he simply asks whether it's worth worshipping God, rather than trying to address whether God exists at all. The former question is far more straightforward, independent of the ambiguity of the term "God", and thus amenable to empirical assessment, imho: clearly, it really isn't terribly important to worship him, because it makes no tangible difference to the lives of people whether they do or do not.
Whether it's worth worshipping depends on what you mean by "God" and what you mean by "worship".

If by worship you mean "assign ultimate worth to" (as opposed to the opposite end of the worship spectrum, "abase yourself before") then worship is something we all do when we decide on our values. We do it when we fall in love, stand enraptured before the beauty of Nature or are awed by the exciting knowledge about to be revealed by the Large Hadron Collider.

If by "God" (I prefer the gender-neutral term "Divine") you mean the wonder and mystery of being alive, the beauty of the white Moon among the stars, the magnificence of galaxies, and the beauty of Nature, then yes, it's worth worshipping (in the sense of assigning ultimate worth to). It's also worth communing with, meditating on, writing poetry about, and exploring empirically. But is there any point trying to reclaim the words "god" or "divine" to mean all that? Not, in my opinion, if you mean something supernatural, ontologically transcendent, and of pure essence. I think the term Tao describes it much better; it means the way, and thus implies constant movement and change, and it is immanent in the universe, or even an emergent property of it. If the divine/deities/genii loci is/are (as I propose) the emergent consciousness of complex systems, why shouldn't the Universe have consciousness? (Teehee, I said this to a major proponent of emergent complexity; I think he was a bit horrified that I was using his theory like that - but I reminded him that I was only proposing a hypothesis, at which he was somewhat mollified.) There's no particular reason why walking bags mostly made of water suspended from a calciferous internal structure should have consciousness, so why not other complex systems?

If by "God" you mean the alleged authoritarian in the sky with the big stick, then the answer is definitely no, especially if the worship is of the self-abasement variety.

2 comments:

Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"There's no particular reason why walking bags mostly made of water suspended from a calciferous internal structure should have consciousness, so why not other complex systems?"

Agreed. It's a v. tricky hypothesis to test, because we are somewhat limited by our v. narrow view of what consciousness is. Are plants conscious? Can we empirically determine this either way? Perhaps in time we will, but until then I think the safest position is to assume they do have a consciousness of sorts. Indeed, that anything that moves or changes state is at the very least a module in a conscious ecosystem; whether a neuron in a brain, an ant in a hive, or a galaxy in the cosmos.

"If by "God" you mean the alleged authoritarian in the sky with the big stick, then the answer is definitely no, especially if the worship is of the self-abasement variety."

In the context of the discussion I was engaged in, this was the definition I was focusing on. The discussion mainly being between our bunch of recalcitrant atheists and a group of Christian apologists.

I find your definition to be much more appealing, primarily because it compliments rather than challenges the naturalist view and demonstrates that crusty old materialists like myself need not be completely devoid of the potential for spiritual awakening. Tao, Logos, The Force, Dirk Gently's Interconnectedness of All Things, however one might describe it, I think The Divine is best described as that which binds all things. Not a arbiter of any objective moral principle, but simply what is. Something to be worshipped or thanked not because it demands it, or because it will even acknowledge it, but simply because in the mind of the person doing the thanking or the worshipping, a certain peace and understanding is obtained in the process of such reflection.

Yvonne said...

Hi Incitatus,

Of course atheists can have spirituality, especially if they are naturalists or humanists.

On Dawkins' scale of theism to atheism, I'm about a 6 (90% atheist) these days - but it doesn't stop me being a Pagan.