Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The God Option

This post (building on this previous one) explores the theism/atheism landscape assuming one adopts the worldview I’ve been developing in this blog: a worldview of expanded naturalism which posits first-person purposeful experience as a fundamental component of the unfolding sequence of events in the world.

To summarize, in this worldview the traditional forms of both theism and atheism are no longer tenable. Revised forms of theism and atheism would both remain options. However, they are options which are much closer in spirit than in the traditional dichotomy.

Given a commitment to naturalism, there can be no omnipotent transcendent deity who reserves the right to supernaturally intervene in our world. However, most atheists (who understandably reject this notion of God) subscribe to a false worldview in thinking the universe is a machine made of inert matter moving without purpose in space and time. I’ve argued that such a worldview cannot account for first-person experience and is inconsistent with modern (quantum) physics to boot.

The new perspective sees our world as an evolving network of systems whose interactions intrinsically feature first-person purposeful experience. We humans are especially complex and developed systems which are integrated into the network. I think it follows that one can characterize our experience as one of participating in the larger experience of this world.

Now, the idea that the world as a whole is the subject of first-person experience is provocative. Could one use the name God to refer to the experiencing world-entity in this picture? I think you could. It would be a limited God, who is immanent in the process of the world’s evolution, rather than transcending it. But this God is a being much larger than us and our integration into the world could be thought of as our relation with this God. This take on things leads one to an updated version of pantheism.

An atheist option would be to call the larger experiencing world-entity something like “Nature”. One might think it is too limited and impersonal a concept to merit calling it God. Alternatively, one could accept the fundamental status of first person experience as a feature of things in the world and yet reject the idea I posited above of a world-entity which as the sum of these parts has any kind of its own coherent experience.

So, assuming acceptance of this expanded naturalism, the theism and atheism options still exist. However, which ever option you choose, one accepts that we humans are an integrated part of a world which naturally manifests life, consciousness, and purpose, but is devoid of supernatural interventions.

(Coming next: what about God's role as creator?)


Anonymous said...

Nice post. Especially glad that you mentioned that atheism is, in principle, perfectly compatible with a panexperientialist metaphysics.

FYI, Nietzsche has a really nice argument against materialism. I have a post on it here.

Steve said...

Right: it does seem like a panexperientialist metaphysics can do alot of good work on philosophical problems, but it doesn't provide any knock-down arguments for or against the existence of God or gods. This is where the process philosopher/theologists who follow Whitehead lose me, for instance, even though the "secular" parts of their arguments hold up well.