Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Science and the sacred

One of the revolutions in the West that a Western sacred way would have to face head on is the explosion of the physical sciences, especially in the completely hegemonic theory of evolution and the jaw-dropping vision of the 14.7 billion year old universe.

One of my critiques of Christianity is that while its major branches have accepted evolution as the likely mode of creation, they have not sufficiently contemplated what such a mode might indicate about the character of the Creator. The current scientific view is much more congruent with, say, the Kabbalistic deity of Isaac Luria, which his violent rhythms of contraction and expansion and serial creations and destructions of worlds prior to this one than to the serene classical deity of Plotinus, Aquinas or even the Book of Genesis. The creator in the Book of Job, basically amoral and unapologetically awesome, might be a better model, too.


The classical deity --perfect, impassible, omniscient, omnipotent, eternally uncaused, simple-- has always rubbed up against the personally quirky but intensively involved Biblical God. So the problem is not a new one. But the psychological gap between the classical One as the maker of a universe of increasingly dumbfounding size and complexity --both outward and inward-- and a God whose obsession is with one species on a speck of dust in the outlying neighborhoods of a one-in-a-hundred-billion-plus galaxies...well, that puts another spin on it.

One advantage that the classical God has here is that for Him, size and distance are of absolutely no consequence whatever. Our mammalian and primate radar for size and height, etc. are completely human. An anthropomorphic deity --which most of us have to imagine, after all-- might seem to be either too far away (the clockmaker fallacy of deism) or too trivial (the projected human fallacy of Engels). The orthodox doctrine of the incarnation of God in a human, for all its complexity --or perhaps because of it-- is a brilliant and unique mythos. My personal temptation is to try to smooth out all the rough edges.

This is an old Western problem: our minds are capable of imagining perfections that make our minds seem irrelevant. And yet we live, not in the infinite, but one foot in front of the other on this planet, and for Greek-taught post-Christians, while a god too like us invites disinterest,  a god too perfectly distant from us leaves us cold.
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6 comments:

-A said...

Too many Christians think in terms of a personal god. Many claim to speak to God but, God's voice is destructive to human beings. Catholicism teaches that we are in a massive world which in fact does not revolve around us. Statements to the contrary are more like permission to survive and look out for our own best interests. Evolution might indicate a cold Creator but, what could be more fair than the strong and mighty having command over the world and directing our species? Strength and might are more than just sinews, they are also understanding and awareness of your surroundings. I could be ignorant of pertinent scripture on this assessment but, that is just how I see it now. God might love us and might have made us in His image but when you love something, you want it strong.

-A

Anonymous said...

Too personal, and God becomes a psychotically possessive father or a bland Mr. Rogers. Too impersonal, and God becomes indistinguishable from the laws of the universe. What, then, is the middle ground?

Perhaps instead of a "personal" God, the solution is an "invested" God? A God who willed the creation of humans, but prefers to let humans discern Him on their own? God-as-scientist, in essence?

Have you given thought to the possibility of intermediary divine beings between ourselves and Gods, beings that as direct governors of the universe? That could help to bridge the gap between Christianity's monotheism and the tradition of European polytheism.

-Sean

DrAndroSF said...

My natural inclination is a kind of henotheism: assertion of an utterly transcendant divinity who expresses himself throught the created universe and whom humans very variously encounter through the response of the race's soul with the world...a bit like the heresy of modalism, where the God or Gods that human relate to are fragments of the absolutely transcendant Origin that we can hardly know...So althought the Divine expresses itself variously in different gods, we related to one of those modes as ours...

This does not require the wooly notion that all religions really teach the same thing. They don't. Or that they are all equally true, valid, etc. They're not.

-A said...

Well, I like what the two of you are saying but if there is a God, I think it absolutely must operate through the cruelty of the material world that He created. I do not really see very much that is unjust. I see a great deal of correlation between the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and what is happening by way of interracial rape in the amalgamated West. It pisses me off and I feel gravity from the events but, it is what it is. It is inevitable and could be construed as the natural consequence of the act of amalgamation, translated as punishment for hubris. The victims likely did not deserve it but, did the children who occupied a long vacated Israel do anything wrong when they were slaughtered by the returning Jews? It is what it is.

I do also make room for more spiritual and mystical ideas but, I do not really know how to label them or how to navigate them. I just do not think that any spiritual force has some kind of humanly explainable justification for material events. I am not entirely firm on my metaphysics. It is what is most subject to change in my opinions but, it is what it is. I do like what the both of you have to say though. It sounds both nice and realistic. I rarely get that combination anymore.

To clarify, the very centricity of the Divine itself is deeply embedded within all things. It is up to the human being himself to tap into it and commune with it. There is some truth to notions of self-revolving realities in the strictest of internal senses. You are the source of your you-ness. Even if it is something attached to something greater. After all, what about you isn't attached to something bigger than yourself. I also do not necessarily believe that there is a plane higher than the material but there are planes that could be misinterpreted that way. I view the material world as the final product of the spiritual but, I do not view the material to be perfect. Hence evolution. I do not know about an afterlife but, my hypothesese are bleak.

-A

Jack said...

analogy of being.

DrAndroSF said...

I remain pretty Catholic in some of my instincts, so yes, the analogia entis is my natural way of thinking about this, although I doubt a serious philosopher --which I once sort of aspired to be (my PhD is in philosophical theology, Aquinas and Heidegger)-- would give me the time of day.

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