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God - Part One

Posted by Baldur on Thursday, January 25 2018 at 09:34:21AM
In reply to God posted by Baldur on Thursday, January 25 2018 at 09:17:27AM

I don't often speak comprehensively of my beliefs because they are both simple and complex, orthodox and heretical, coherent with an appearance of self-contradiction, clear yet murky, and it takes a while to communicate all these ideas yet many people will still not be able to understand me. In short, enough to please and offend everyone, but a bit too much for small talk.

So where to begin?

I'm not even sure. But I guess I have to start somewhere.

So let me begin by saying that God is an emergent phenomenon.

An emergent phenomenon is what happens when a result is greater than the sum of its parts.

God is, perhaps, an emergent phenomenon of humanity - or perhaps of humans and aliens, or humans and future humans, or some combination thereof.

This actually fits in neatly with Christian scripture, though few have considered it and most Christians would consider it heretical. I refer specifically to four related ideas from the New Testament:

  • The Church is the bride of Christ, and Christ is the head of the church.
  • In marriage, two (or more) become one flesh.
  • The Church is the body of Christ.
  • Wherever two or three gather in God's name, God is present.

The result seems plain to me, but most would consider it heretical because they have been taught to be humble, and they would consider it most unhumble to claim to be God - yet that is what the Scriptures reveal - that the Church is God. I would say that denying membership in God would be a well-intentioned but false humility. Humility is accepting God's role for you.

In this sense, I would mostly agree with Balto's comment in this thread: "God is everyone and everything, and yet no one and no thing." I would rather say that God is all the elect, yet none of the elect - because there are clearly those who are antagonistic to God. I am not a universalist - I do not believe that all will be saved. I believe that there may be multiple paths to God, but I also believe that there are many more paths to destruction. Perhaps most will be saved, because the paths to salvation have more traffic, but some will choose the more numerous yet (perhaps) less crowded paths to destruction. The Church may include not just humans but sufficiently intelligent animals or aliens. I don't know. It could be eternal, including those who have died and those yet to be born. According to the scriptures God is outside of time, so that would be no barrier to unity.

Now when Paul wrote about the Church as the Body of Christ, he did so using the terms that people would understand at that time (itself a feature of religion that we should keep in mind: speaking to people in the language that they can understand). He wrote of one as the ear, others as feet and hands, and so forth - but today we understand that the human body is made up of trillions of individual and specialized cells. Let us see how that knowledge refines our understanding of the Church as the Body of Christ:

Among these trillions of cells, individual cells are constantly dying and being replaced by new cells that are being created. Everyone reading this remembers a childhood that happened to another person: All the cells that you consisted of at that time have died and been replaced. Yet You remain. That is because You are an emergent phenomenon of those trillions of cells.

In fact, right now some of your skin cells have not only died but are flaking off from your skin - and yet you hold no funerals for them, no memorial services. In fact, you seldom even notice their deaths.

Of course, each human being is far more than the sum of their individual cells. We are each an emergent phenomenon of the cells of our body, worth far more as a whole than as parts, and far more powerful and wise than the sum of our parts. To use another metaphor, our brains produce a network effect - with each additional neuron our value grows exponentially. As such - and especially because we are each self-aware and important to the others around us - each of us is more important to God than the individual cells of our body are to us, but at the same time God is as much greater than any individual person as each person is greater than any individual cell.

And so we see with human societies. A small, isolated tribe is very limited in its capabilities. It can do far more than any individual in the tribe, but it is still very limited in what technologies it can produce. It will probably be a stone age tribe; perhaps if it was formerly part of a larger group and is ideally situated, it might be able to maintain as much as iron age sophistication. But it is unlikely to have much more than that. It simply won't have enough people to do more, to be more. But we live in a much greater society - a global civilization with billions of individuals working together for the common good through the medium of trade. Of course those transactions do not always go smoothly, but neither do the cells within our own bodies. That is why we fear disease - when some cells go bad - and why we have immune systems that usually are able to protect us from those cells that go bad. At the local level there is often trouble, but at the global level most people are able to get by.

But imagine for a moment that humanity expands, and perhaps (or perhaps not) joins with advanced alien races throughout the universe - and in time a vast civilization is produced with not a few billion, but with trillions, quadrillions, quintillions, or more individuals. If such a civilization finds a way to master time, there would be few limits on it. The chief limit would be that they could not change their own history - they could not do anything that would prevent their own development. And in fact, this is the chief limit placed on the God of the Bible: that God must be true to Himself. Here is where we have to consider time travel paradoxes, in which case I defer to Heinlein's insight: that any interventions made in the future have already happened and are part of our present. We don't have to worry about going back in time and killing an ancestor before they produced a child because it didn't happen - and if we try to do that we will somehow fail. An alternative is that any such intervention would simply create a different timeline and a different universe in a multiverse. One curious thing about mastery of time is that it would allow both God to create Man, and for Man to create God.

[Incidentally, we have also just resolved "the problem of evil". God must be true to Himself, and God cannot change those things that were necessary for the creation of God. It is largely trying to overcome evil that pushed individuals to work collectively for the greater good, and so our descendants and future selves must allow those past evils that made us who we are and will be, and that made God who God is. In the future those evils can be mitigated and their ill effects erased, but they cannot be eradicated from the past. Cf. "Wikihistory" by Desmond Warzel.]

Now, this would still allow interventions that would not negatively affect the future. If agents from the future have found a way to interact with us without being detected, they might have a way to preserve our minds before we die, to be resurrected in a perfected body at a future date; they might sometimes relieve pain or fear; they might go back to a time before humanity to genetically engineer our minds in useful ways for the above purpose. One curious fact is that many people, when they are dying, report that they are surrounded by people - even when they are alone. The dying often feel people sitting on either side of them. Oftentimes they identify these people as friends or family that have already died. If this is an evolutionary mechanism, it is a strange one. I cannot imagine how it would have evolved naturally. If it is an intervention from an alien species or from future humans, it demonstrates a concern for every individual that should be reassuring. However, it should also be noted that some people who are dying are not comforted. A few are tormented and believe that the people around them mean them harm. I do not know what to think about this: perhaps they have a bad conscience? Perhaps they fear justice?

If God is loving, God must also be just. Those who have harmed others for no good reason, and who have shown no remorse and no desire to change or to make things right, would not be welcomed in an eternal civilization. Why would they? Won't future humanity love their own neighbors enough, not to want to introduce into their midst the psychopathic criminals of ages past?

In fact, given enough time and the mastery of time, we can even presume that such a civilization would be, effectively, capable of being everywhere that was needed, capable of knowing everything that needed to be known, and as powerful as it practically ever needed to be. In short, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent - the traits traditionally assigned to God. Yes, we could quibble about whether they were technically all of these things, but if you are a future person trying to reassure your distant ancestors that things are going to be alright, and urging them in the direction necessary for humanity to survive and thrive, and knowing that they are a relatively unsophisticated people and won't be able to understand the details, are you going to give them a philosophical discussion or just tell them what they practically need to know?

As Paul wrote, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

[In this thread, walkinginthepark wrote: "Light is a packet and a wave, actually it's likely neither but saying that isn't helpful while modelling it as packets and waves is incredibly useful." This is the same idea, about scripture being useful rather than literally true and precise but beyond the capacity of the hearers to understand.]

The other part of this, which has received and deserves much attention but which I will not go into extensively here, precisely because it is so well covered elsewhere, is the idea of Love. I will simply point out that Love is the binding agent that makes the emergent phenomenon of God possible. Love is what connects people to create a greater whole; Love crosses generations and makes at least a few of us consider the impacts of our actions on untold numbers of humans (and perhaps aliens and artificial intelligences) not yet born - and, if future humanity discovers a way to traverse time, it will be Love which brings them back to find a way to offer salvation and eternal life to all such individuals capable of receiving it. Of course, through God as emergent phenomenon we have eternal life anyway - after a fashion - but with mastery of time our descendants may be able to offer eternal life as individuals as well, for those who want it. (Cf. the movie "Interstellar", 2014, for some related ideas.)

(continued in Part Two)

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