Thursday, 20 June 2013
Not 42 - God/Not God - the "problem" of belief.
Let's leave aside for now the increasingly sterile arguments between the so-called "New Atheists" and the Defenders of the Faith - each side seems to feel that the other is making a category error.
Let's leave aside the anthropomorphic God of many religions, as shown above.
Let's look, instead, at the limitations imposed on us by thinking that there could be a finally satisfying answer, which could be arrived at to convince all the uncommitted and uncertain people (most of us in the UK, I'd guess.) "Yes, there is a God." "No there isn't a God." More either/or, more polarisation.
Bring together, if you will, the emergent properties of complex systems, and the unpredictability of same.
The universe (just this one, never mind all the others we are told may exist) is vastly, unknowably complex. Relatively tiny changes in one area could well produce unpredictable results down the line. We (humans) are a tiny part of this vastly complex system, and it moves through us as we move through it. We are not separate from it,we are part of it.
All the time we know more and more about the systems that make up the universe, but perhaps it is never finally knowable, because never finally predictable.
If all the systems that comprise the universe are, as it were, looked at together, can we predict, can we know, the whole?
The East Asian traditions of Taoism and Zen Buddhism intuit that there is a Way, a state of being, that is at one with the universe, literally indescribable, and with us all the time if we can live in it. It is not knowable by reason. The Way that can be spoken of is not the true, eternal Way.
Western science seems (I think...) to be telling us that complex dynamic systems are unpredictable, and that you can't, at the next level up, define, determine or predict the emergent properties of such systems. (Water both is and isn't one atom of hydrogen and two of oxygen...)
Perhaps the sense of God that so many people have is an emergent property of all the systems of the universe, something that since we are part of it we can intuit, but not analyse or describe. It's the Whole Damn Thing at maximum emergence.
It doesn't matter if we call it God, or not. We humanise it and symbolise it because we think that makes it approachable. I prefer the East Asian Way, you prefer the GodMan who rolled away the stone - it really shouldn't matter so much.
That's not to say all religions are the same. Not all cultures are the same - and organisations are complex and dynamic. Could anyone have predicted, from the early work of the Prophet, that a Muslim would shoot a Muslim girl in the head because she said it was a good idea to go to school? That Christians across 17th century Europe would slaughter each other because some did and some didn't belief that a piece of bread turned into the flesh of Christ?
But it seems to me that the whole argument about belief is often a waste of time. There both can and cannot be a God.
Let's grow up and live with uncertainty. Keats called in "negative capability," the ability to hold in the mind two contradictory things at the same time.
Zen masters threw koans at their students to break the chains of either/or thinking. I'm also trying to use my tiny half-baked bit of scientific understanding to reach the same place.