Thursday, April 8, 2010

AFTERWORD By the Way, What Is God?This Got Me

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.

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