Sunday, December 31, 2006

The post-evolution God

I have a belief about creationists. It comes from a lifetime of listening to arguments against evolution that don’t work. It’s even obvious they don’t work if you know the subject well. I used to try to teach creationists what I know about something like thermodynamics, having been a physicist, but it was frustrating. For one, there are all these counterarguments creationists have become used to saying in response to how they misuse thermodynamics or whatever else they claim prohibits evolution. Then if I do make headway, creationists just shift to a different argument, one equally flawed, unless they move all the way to some metaphysics that invalidates science, which no one does. So anyone trying to prove that arguments against evolution don’t work has an immense task to counter every bit of nonsense that has been said against evolution. Yet nonsense it is. It’s obvious, if you know the subject. What is this?

Eventually it hit me. Opposition to evolution is not about the arguments. Those are just ammunition. The real reason people oppose evolution, at least the people I’ve met, is that they want God to micromanage their own lives. They don’t want a God who lets nature take its course, either because He chooses to or because He is powerless to do otherwise.

I understand that. Maybe that was the fundamental desire behind religion, to get help with an uncertain life. So of course God was the master of nature, even its creator, who could change whatever we wanted changed, if we were good enough, if we sacrificed enough, if we were obedient enough, if we knew the right magic. People don’t want to give that up. Even some liberals believe in a God who micromanages the physical world, only in a liberal way. Other liberals believe in God as an impersonal resource for love or magic. Other liberals come close to how atheists see God, as a better part of us, if atheists are feeling charitable about how to put that.

I’m a liberal. I’m also an empiricist. So it’s easy for me to believe that God is whoever and whatever God is, not what anyone says He is. I was resigned that there was no personal God until I started praying out of desperation in my thirties. Then God showed up! I wanted Him to fix things, to turn time back if necessary, if He would, if He could. He can’t. He tells me that now, when I can hear Him more easily. The possibilities were much broader when I was coming to know God better.

How many people ever know God better? Many people work on knowing a theology better, whether that’s something traditional or more modern. But how do you know God? Even now, the atheists could be right and the God of my understanding be something entirely within my mind. There’s no way I made God up. He reflects something real even if He is only in my mind. He is emphatic that that is not the case, though. There is more. There is a spiritual side to the universe, a nonphysical side. I’ve experienced it, the direction, strength, and comfort that come from something not available to me rationally. God says He is the source of this. Who am I to argue?

When God isn’t the God people want, they argue. Even accepting the truth of evolution people can argue that God micromanages evolution, as Francis Collins does. I’m not sure if that’s a trend for the future. I think people eventually do have to face that God doesn’t control nature even a little bit. Then what? Do they give up on God, or do they accept whoever and whatever God is?

It is a very different God who acts through spirit, whatever that is, and one’s mind, rather than through anything physical. It’s not just those who hate evolution who resist a purely spiritual God. Many want God to be everywhere in the physical universe, as much in us as anywhere else. It would save time looking for Him. But if finding God were much easier, I suspect our culture would be much better and loving than it is by now.

God is whoever and whatever God is, but my experiences of God narrow that for me. I write about that all the time, how the God of my understanding is different from what others present as God. I was once loathe to say my God is a different God than the God of the Bible or some other theology. That makes for such an obvious counterattack that I’m not Christian. But I met Christ. I’m not sure if the most efficient way to God is through Christ or around Him. I think I’ve tried both, but maybe it was all the former. God knows. What human beings pretend to know is much less important.

The truth of evolution does cut off a lot of religion from having any meaning. A physics professor I once had used to pile up articles about different theories in his area of physics. Then some experiment would come along and invalidate an entire stack of papers on one theory. So into the garbage they went. People are not so flexible about religion, but that is what is what would be reasonable. God is whoever and whatever God is, but unless I’ve missed something, He has nothing to do with nature, not now, maybe not ever. People would want some confirmation before believing that. So ask God. Few people will. They don’t want to know.

Some people are so disinclined to ask God for direction, they’d rather be atheist if they can’t believe traditional theology. One could say that is a result of evolution being true. I suppose it is. Maybe it will be the largest result. But there is an opportunity for something else. Between the God-shaped void that even evolutionary psychologists find within us and a physical world that needs no God, there is a conflict about how we should live. Just living naturally is one solution. Finding that there is a reliable supernatural is another, one in which I just close my eyes and God is always there. Then there’s a whole lot of fantasy people can live in. So far the post-evolution world is mostly that last one, where even people who have a belief in evolution maintain some fantasy along with that. I don’t think that’s stable. I think that’s a transitional state of culture. Eventually I think people can live naturally or with a God for whom evolution makes sense. Nothing else is real. If so, nothing else is real even now, and all this religious fantasy is just a different way of living naturally than those who live without any semblance of God.

God has to be a God for whom evolution makes sense. About that I have many questions. Was He waiting for intelligent life? Does life give Him something? Does He give something to life? God says His answers are no, yes, and yes. A complete context for answers like that takes more time.


elbogz said...

I found more value in reading Proverbs 26:11, than I ever got from arguing with a creationist. It was amazing that a woman that had never graduated from high school was trying to argue with me about the 2nd law of thermodynamics, and a preacher that only went to a 2 year bible college was trying to argue about geology and a man that found God in prison was trying to argue about all the dinosaurs on the ark.

I spent the better part of the year listening to an apologetics program on the radio for my drive home. It dawned on me that if I kept listening, with in month’s I would talk myself out of believing in God. When you try to understand the bible, like a historian trying to understand the battle of Gettysburg, or a scientist trying to understand fossils in sandstone, thinking there is some clean answer to it all, you find yourself even more confused. There is no geologic proof of Noah’s flood. If there is, it is hidden from us. There is no archeology proof of the Exodus from Egypt. If there is, it’s hidden from us. When people point to rocks or to DNA or to a monkey and say “LOOK PROOF OF GOD!” (or) LOOK PROOF THERE IS NO GOD!” neither are right.

I believe in God, because I met God. That experience was as real to me was as hitting my thumb with a hammer. Could it be as Dawkins said, an illusion? Was it just a couple of neurons firing off and creating a warm fuzzy? I will probably never know in this world. Every part of my being met God. So, if it was an illusion, it was a damn good one.

Thinking about it, cause me to reflect on the question, “What if the is no God?” I tried a day without God. It wasn’t a scientific study. I was mad at my life and said, well, God, if this is the life you have for me then ***censored***. But I really missed, as you say, Who and Whatever God is. There was a fictional book written, which I can’t remember the title, about finding the bones of Jesus, meaning, he had never risen from the dead. The book when on to discuss how it would effect one’s life. I think if someone handed me overwhelming proof there was no God, I would go on praying and believing, because, life is better with the warm fuzzies, than it is without.

For me, God only works when it is me, prayer, and bible. When you mix in science or theology or rituals, or geology or the age of the earth or any apologetics, I talk myself out of a belief in God. The intellectual in me asks to many unanswered questions.

DavidD said...

I knew a man through Al-Anon around 1995. He did a good program even though he was an atheist. Meanwhile I found the 12 steps more important than anything I've ever done to actually use my faith as a Christian, rather than have it be something intellectual.

This atheist told me that he thought the communication and relationship involved in 12 steps or any other good religion was with a "God" who was just a better part of oneself. I knew at the time I could live with that. I would do everything I do to have God in my life if that were true.

That's definitely one end of the spectrum in my mind when I say "whoever and whatever God is". The other end is hard to define. I suppose it could be a traditional Creator, maybe of the sort Francis Collins sees, but I can't imagine why God couldn't have made this world better, if that's who He is.

So I don't worry about giving up on God since I'm satisfied there is a God, even if this atheist is right that God is just something psychological. If that's all God is, it's fine with me. If God is much more than that, fine. Maybe someone in his or her certainty deserves a bigger pat on the back than I do for knowing I can accept a range of possibilities. I used to say I don't mind wearing a dunce cap in heaven if that's what I deserve, but I don't hear a way to certainty that isn't filled with pride and idolatries so I don't expect a dunce cap. What is Proverbs 26:11 if we're all fools?

I experience God speaking to me in words, and I don't do better than this. If there is a better way I am open and willing whenever such a way comes along. Someone who says that's not good enough has a lot to prove to say he or she speaks for God.