XPLODED, splayed, sparkled, and spun; crashed, disintegrated, dissolved, and flowed; swirled, congealed, multiplied, and grew; wiggled, swam, crawled, and ran; climbed, grazed, stood, and talked; farmed, mined, traded, and ruled; explored, surveyed, conquered, and built; theorized, and searched the skies; had a dream and walked the Moon.
Naturalism supplants supernaturalism. When religion and science disagree the boffins are vindicated, a major factor in the decline of faith’s force in human affairs, concurrent with an increase in the power of fossils.
But while scientists are determining the how of things we’re wondering the why of things— why are we here, why is there anything at all. The old spiritual mysteries continue to be probed, now with the skepticism appropriate for an age of gourmet piety.
Prior to the Renaissance, scientific progress was meager and tardigrade; clerics could feel secure. Telescopes and microscopes had yet to be invented, and most fossils were still safely buried.
Then it happened. A number of fossils were smuggled out of museums and turned loose on the world. They were quickly joined by others. Soon fossils were on the rampage, invading churches, smashing pews, and burning hymnals.
It required the valiant effort of hundreds of paleontologists with display cases to round them up and arrange them in their proper order. But by then the groundwork was already in place for a natural understanding of our origins. It was the Age of Reason.
Today ratiocinative process based on observation of things ranging from galaxies to DNA still seems the most reliable basis from which to extrapolate faith. Eternity is the big game, and natural philosophy— compatible with and even inspired by science— the winning ticket. (Be sure to play next week when the jackpot will be $10,000,000!)
Belief systems can be judged by how well they anticipate, not belabor, progress. We no more need outmoded faith than ox-carts. While some truths are timeless (for example ox-carts and pickup trucks both have wheels) the more open spiritual environments tend also to be the more enlightened.
On the other hand we can’t allow craving for currentness, any more than acknowledgment of our limitations, to prevent us from revisiting ancient but still basic questions, specifically those inquiring as to the existence and attributes of deity—
Meaning (by attributes) the concrete and real difference a claimed divine presence makes in our lives, particularly in lieu of the reduced need for deity to explain either the world or why anyone would think a Nigerian needs help from a stranger in transferring millions of dollars to another country.
Whether acknowledging it or not, many who even occasionally attend religious services are sublimated by uneasiness, due if nothing else to the bipolarity of divine intangibility versus the obvious tangibility of the pews, pulpit, preacher, offering plate, and wealth they are asked to deposit therein— leading them to wonder:
Is religion but a symptom of despair? Is it just something to do on weekends? Are the potlucks going to keep getting better?
Disenchantment with traditional deity is exacerbated by the street smarts with which we, for survival in the midst of increasing complexity, must imbue ourselves. We’re asked to believe in what, from our increasingly naturalistic world-view, seems more like a cosmic superbeing capable of filling all needs, including:
God-of-the-Gaps— those portions, ever dwindling, of the known world that science hasn’t yet explained;
God-of-the-Gap— granting whatever we pray for, even if it’s already on sale at the mall; and
God-of-the-Gasps— sundry astounding miracles performed at key moments for the desired affect.
This entity must be always available for psychiatric work on demand via prayer or meditation, and to dramatically change our lives on a periodic basis.
Finally the toughest yet. When we die not only is this megaforce to be relied on to sustain us for eternity as conscious beings, but to help us finally get over that one singles outing when we bowled such a low score that everyone started talking in whispers.
It’s argued that belief in deity is properly irrational— faith seeking understanding rather than the other way around. But irrationality can exacerbate superstition, which can be harmful. Even positive yearning when unguided courts over-expectancy, if not unpreparedness.
In nearly everyone’s life there comes a time of skepticism, of wondering whether the idea of deity developed as the result of a desire to fill as many needs as possible in order to maximize income, religion becoming just another racket evolved over centuries, like Ponzi or telemarketing— leading many to prematurely give up on the whole enterprise.
Even the faithful worry about fallout on sincere practitioners from a few shysters— amateur magicians passing themselves off as mentalists, mentalists passing themselves off as faith healers, faith healers passing themselves off as miracle workers, miracle workers passing themselves off as prophets, and prophets shagging dollars for bus tickets.
It’s been called a dead issue:
(1) There never was a Being— Supreme, Mid-Grade, or Regular;
(2) We’ve outgrown the need for an imagined one; and
(3) Despite all the good, with so many evils having been done in God’s name there’s no need to find or invent deity, contemporary theology little more than an attempt to make palatable philosophical concepts essentially atheistic by cloaking them with words like God or ultimate reality rather than risking rejection with honest declarations of doubt.
Our search for an essence of being must include the question of whether or not such a firmament, if ascertainable, is worthy to be described as deity— much less God— if nothing else for intellectual defense against the most frighteningly well-intentioned proselytizers.
Sense of a source beyond today’s science becomes compelling when we’re consistently presented with individuals who’ve demonstrably tapped strengths they deny chance of having been able to obtain entirely from within, for the success of accomplishments ranging from conquering an addiction, creating a masterpiece, or cleaning out the garage.
A nation whose soldiers believe that God is on their side have an edge over one that doesn’t. While a placebo effect could be attributed, such a result whatever the cause is more substantive than any metaphysical argument. It may be that effects produced via faith in a mighty deity can’t be equaled by any other means, including steroids.
Even if there’s no divine presence apart from belief, unyielding faith in the existence of such a presence may— due to placebo, or a greater feeling of purpose— yet precipitate outcomes surpassing those resulting from only conceding possibility of deity— which may in turn exceed outcomes from outright rejection.
Of course we’re starting out well beyond the primitive, anthropomorphic concept of the brain-in-the-sky, a deity having human-like consciousness out there or up there, this being counterintuitive, limiting— even idolatrous. God doesn’t have to be a person or even like a person to be personal.
Although we require spatiotemporal localization for our human conception of being, deity if existent permeates in a way entirely different from what we normally think of as entity— more in the manner of say truth, beauty, or goodness.
While it’s been argued that belief in the super power of any deity does more harm than good, since it implies a corresponding decrease, relatively speaking, in our capabilities— we being otherwise the supreme entities (of any which we’re presently aware) in the universe, deriving extra confidence and strength from the security of that knowledge—
Is any deity, real or conceived, necessary for us to be humbled by our limitations, since our own imaginations are easily capable of recognizing that we could, in theory at least, be much stronger— longer-lived, healthier, wiser, etc.— particularly in light of how fast our own machines are overtaking us in terms of intellectual and other powers?