Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What We Talk About When We Talk About God

There's a sequel to my previous evolution post in the pipeline, but while it's percolating in the remote reaches of my small brain, I thought it might be good to define some of the more volatile words I've tossing around with reckless abandon. This so-called "god" fellow I keep referencing is the first one I'd like to talk about.

Calvino: Yes, let's do talk about that. I can't help but notice that little collection of bon mots at the end about life and god that you blithely tossed in at the end of your post without comment. You always do that.

The Stoat: Do what?

Calvino: Bring up huge, sweeping issues at the very end of your posts and then never actually ever address them.

The Stoat: Oh, that.

Calvino: ...Well...?

The Stoat: You can't expect me to just spoon-feed you everything. You have to reason it out for yourself. I never said I would just give you the answers.

Calvino: Yes, you did. Repeatedly.

The Stoat: Ah. Yes, yes I did. Me. Okay then.

I was raised in a Catholic household, and try as I might I have a pretty negative view of said religion in general, so among other things the word "god" has a lot of pretty unshakeable connotations for me. On the other hand, I married a Jew and it is so far my experience that Jews are incredibly warm and caring people, and their deity is theoretically the same guy, so it's possible that my inborn biases need a little examination.

Suffice it to say I'm not talking about the anthropomorphic deity when I use the word "god." To me a rational view of the universe doesn't support an omniscient omnipotent bearded super-being intervening with greater purpose in every human life. I say this knowing there are people out there who have had life experiences that they feel directly contradict this point of view, and to them I can only say that I believe that they truly have had these experiences. I think there's room for the seemingly contradictory realities, it just depends on the model of the universe/reality/whatever one applies.

These days when I use the word god I'm generally thinking of a pretty ill-formed concept, something about the collective conscious or unconscious, something about the underlying governing principals of physics and cosmological constants and whatever it is that makes atoms form and makes those atoms form proteins and those proteins to form mechanisms whose chief goal is to survive long enough to reproduce themselves and, if there's time along the way after they've eaten and fucked, also to learn about themselves and the universe they're in. That's what god is in my model of the universe and metaphysics. I'm not saying it's a good model--it violates Ockham's Razor insofar as the model where god is a guy with a white beard is a lot simpler. And, for that matter, the model of collective-unconscious-god model has just as many testable hypotheses as white-beard-god model. That is to say, none.

These days I like to tell myself that the primary feature of the mental-chunkings with which I come to grips with all that I observe is that I know fuck-all, my model could be utterly wrong and should not be clung to in the face of contradictory evidence--otherwise one winds up with Intelligent Design or Neo-Conservatism. At the same time, well, I've just out of hand rejected Intelligent Design and Neo-Conservatism--models of the world that seem to me (and lots of other highly rational people) utterly contrary to all that is reasonable and good, but which other apparently rational people find to fit perfectly with what they observe to be the workings of the world. It's supremely difficult to put aside ones bias, especially when, as my wife points out, Neo-Conservativism is just really bad narrative.

Calvino: That was...deep.

The Stoat: Thanks. Do you take my meaning?

Calvino: Not a bit of it.


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