The Silly Debate Over God's Existence


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Few things are more absurd than the current debate over the existence of God.  Prior to an evolutionary worldview, such debates made sense.  In an evolutionary context, however—in light of what Ursula Goodenough and Terry Deacon call "The Sacred Emergence of Nature"—such arguments are outdated at best.  (I discuss this at length in chapters 4-7 of my book, Thank God for Evolution, the section titled "Reality is Speaking".) Here's how I begin Chapter 7, titled "What Do We Mean by the Word 'God'"?

Do you believe in life?

What an absurd question!  It doesn’t matter whether we “believe in” life.  Life is all around us, and in us.  We’re part of it.  Life is, period.  What anyone says about life, however, is another story, and may invite belief or disbelief.  If I say, “Life is wonderful,” or “Life is brutal,” or “Life is unimportant—it’s what happens after death that really matters,” you may or may not believe me, depending on your own experience and worldview.  What we say about life—its nature, its purpose, its meaning—along with the metaphors we choose to describe it—is wide open for discussion and debate.  But the reality of life is indisputable.  This is exactly the way that God is understood by many who hold the perspective of the Great Story—that is, when human, Earth, and cosmic history are woven into a holy narrative.  Our common creation story offers a refreshingly intimate, scientifically compelling, and theologically inspiring vision of God that can provide common ground for both skeptics and religious believers.  For peoples alive today, any understanding of “God” that does not at least mean “Ultimate Reality” or “the Wholeness of Reality” (measurable and nonmeasurable) is, I suggest, a trivialized, inadequate notion of the divine.

The crux of the problem, as I see it, is the failure of millions of people, religious and non-religious alike, to distinguish meaningful metaphor from measurable reality.  God as a subjectively meaningful interpretation simply cannot be argued against.  God is always a legitimate interpretation.  But God is NOT (and never has been) an actual, physical Being, as science and common sense define reality.  (Those who would attempt to argue that God is a REAL Father or King, but just in an unnatural, otherworldly sense are left in the bizarre position of claiming that God, the Creator of the Universe, is less real than the Universe, as I discuss here.)

HERE IS A WAY OUT OF THIS IMPASSE:  Whenever you hear the word ‘God', think ‘Reality'.  "I have faith in God" can be translated "I trust Reality".  "God is Lord" means "Reality rules".  Throughout the world, God has never been less than a mythic personification of Reality as a Whole, Ultimate Reality, or what today some call "the Universe".  If we fail to recognize this, we miss everything.  ALL images and characterizations of God are meaningful interpretations of Reality As It Really Is.  When we forget this, we will inevitably trivialize God, belittle science, and desecrate nature.  As renowned systems thinker Gregory Bateson has said,


Richard Dawkins: Rock Star in Oklahoma


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 UPDATE: In September 2006, Michael Dowd posted a half hour PODCAST on this topic, titled "The New Atheists as God's Prophets"

 Yesterday (6 March 2009), Connie and I drove 90 minutes from our host's home in Stillwater, Oklahoma to the campus of Oklahoma University, just south of Oklahoma City, where a landmark event would be taking place that evening: a presentation by Richard Dawkins.  (Click HERE to see a video of the introduction to his presentation.)  Professor Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist of the highest rank—but he is also well known for rankling religious conservatives.  He is the author of the best-selling and controversial book, The God Delusion, and he has become perhaps the best known of "the new atheists."

My wife, Connie Barlow (whose science books have featured evolution), has known Richard Dawkins for years.  I've not yet met Richard in person but we've exchanged email on several occasions and he graciously allowed me to reprint a letter that he wrote to his (at the time 10-year-old) daughter as Appendix A in my book, Thank God for Evolution.  Connie and I made the long drive not just to hear Richard speak but to witness a rather unique phenomenon: a scientist/atheist whose presence on a college campus in the reddest of red states had a "rock star" feel to it—and had prompted a state legislator to introduce a resolution "expressing disapproval of the actions of the University of Oklahoma to indoctrinate students in the theory of evolution; opposing the invitation to Richard Dawkins to speak on campus."


Tom Atlee: A Brand New Thing Under the Sun


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I recently sent an email to a few close friends and colleagues mentioning that I'm feeling led of late to focus attention, in my public presentations and interviews, on A) how the lack of an evolutionary worldview led to the current global integrity crisis, and B) how an evolutionary wordlview can help us move forward in healthy ways. Specifically, I asked, "If you were able to speak your own heart and mind to the world on this subject, what would you say?  What would be the main points you'd make (or would like me to make)?  What soundbytes or talking points would you suggest I include in my presentations and interviews?"

The following is what my dear friend, Tom Atlee, one of the world's leading voices in the field of collective intelligence, emailed me this morning.

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As a civilization we face challenges to our usual ways of doing things, our social, economic, and political systems -- all our systems, and even our cultural stories and technologies.  50, 100, 250 years from now, there is no way that we will look anything like we do today.  No way.  We are going to be radically different, one way or another. Some of those possibilities are truly thrilling, such as creating a truly sustainable, just, wise, enjoyable civilization for the first time on earth.  Other possibilities are downright terrifying.  For example, by continuing on our current path we could push climate change so far, we could make the climate so hot, cold, and/or wildly variable that Earth became unlivable for most complex life forms, including ourselves.Whatever else we believe or know or do or don't do to address the crises of our times, there are three overarching fundamental realities that will shape what happens for us humans in the next 50-250 years -- and ALL of them have to do with evolution.  Here are the fundamental realities of our times, which are fundamental realities of life: 


Christian Naturalism


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I am a Christian naturalist, not a supernaturalist.  I do not deny the possibility of what some may call 'supernatural', but my focus and locus of inspiration is found in this cosmos and in this life. My understanding of the divine and experience of the gospel relate to this very real universe, not merely to a mythic unnatural realm.  I do not value what is unnatural over what is natural. Indeed, the core concepts of my faith tradition—sin, salvation, the kingdom of God, heaven and hell, Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life—are real for me in a this-world, undeniable way (and in a way that non-Christians and the non-religous can appreciate too), as I discuss in several chapters in my book, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World

The idea of an eternal life-after-death without pain or struggle, yet with awareness of the everlasting torment of others (those who did not believe as I did), I consider hell, not heaven.

I no longer merely believe in God.  Thanks to the worldwide self-correcting scientific enterprise, I now know that facts are God's native tongue.  Evidence reveals God's nature, God's ways, and God's guidance far more accurately than could have possibly been revealed to the biblical writers.  This is in no way a dissing of scripture.  It is, however, honoring God as a truly divine communicator and lifting up scientific discoveries as revelatory.  Few things are more unflattering than imagining that God spoke more clearly to goat herders and fisherman in the distant past, through dreams and intuitions, than God does today through cumulative evidence discerned by the global community of scientists. 

In an evolutionary context, theism is trivialized if it is thought to be solely, or even primarily, about otherworldly matters and unnatural entities. 

Christian naturalism is an evo-theistic, or creatheistic, perspective that transcends and includes traditional notions of God that made sense when people assumed the earth was flat and the universe revolved around us.  Like Evolutionary Christianity, it doesn't reject the possibility of a supernatural realm.  But it does focus on, and primarily value, what is natural and unquestionably real.  And the fact that such a science-based way of reframing and celebrating the core insights of religion has been endorsed by 6 Nobel laureates and other leading scientists, as well as by religious leaders across the spectrum, suggests to me that Christian Naturalism has a glorious future.

ALSO SEE:

The Unnaturalist Fallacy
Imaginary gods vs. Reality/God: Part 1 and Part 2
God is NOT a Supernatural Terrorist
How and Why I'm a Pentecostal Evangelical
Traditional Religion's God Problem
Evolution as Meaningful, Inspiring Fact
The Great Blasphemy?


Creatheism: Evolutionary Emergence Ends the Theism-Atheism Debate


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The tired old theism vs. atheism debate makes no sense in a world of evolutionary emergence.  "Theism", "atheism", "pantheism" and "deism", are all belief-based worldviews that came into being long before an evidential, knowledge-based view of Reality was available.  In an evolutionary context, these god-isms (at least as traditionally formulated)  are outdated, misleading, and unnecessarily divisive.  Now that we measurably know how our world was created, over billions of years, and now that we also know why metaphorical images of Reality are not only natural but inevitable, we can move beyond such dead-end debates and get on with the Great Work of cooperating on behalf of a thriving future for all.  As I discuss at length in Part II of Thank God for Evolution, "Reality is Speaking" (chapters 4-7), the "creatheistic" worldview offered by the Epic of Evolution transcends and includes these pre-evolutionary distinctions by honoring the gifts and limitations of each, while showing how a sacred, deep-time view of emergence utterly transforms the conversation.  I'll write more about this in future blog posts.


God is NOT a Supernatural Terrorist


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(The following is cross-posted on Rev. Matt Tittle's Houston Chronicle "Keep the Faith" blog, where it has generated a lively discussion.)

Tragically and unnecessarily, millions are turning their backs on organized religion altogether because of what I call 'the supernatural terrorist fallacy'—the idea that God is an actual, unnatural Supreme Being with a vengeful human-like personality, and that the Bible accurately reflects God's thoughts, words, and deeds.  Ironically, such a literal reading of sacred scripture may be the single greatest factor fueling the epidemic of atheism sweeping America today.

The supernatural terrorist fallacy is the false belief that writings thousands of years old reveal God's unchanging character.  As the new atheists are all too happy to point out, if this is true then God must be considered the ultimate terrorist.  As Michael Earl painfully details in his "Bible Stories Your Parents Never Taught You" and "The Ultimate Terrorist" audio programs, in passage after passage in the Hebrew scriptures, in the early Christian scriptures, and in the Qur'an, God is said to employ the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to inculcate fear, intended to coerce or intimate..., which is how the U.S. Department of Defense defines terrorism.  We all know this is not true, of course.  God is NOT a supernatural terrorist.  But because many passages in scripture clearly portray God in just such an unflattering light, I predict that the rising tide of atheism will continue unabated so long as we religious folk trivialize God by interpreting our religious texts literally.

When we read about "supernatural" utterances or acts in the Bible, we should always remember to apply the evening news test.

THE EVENING NEWS TEST

Whenever any story, any culture, or any scriptural passage claims "God said this" or "God did that," what follows is necessarily what some person or group of people felt or thought or wished or wanted God to say or do, often as justification after the fact.  These subjectively meaningful claims are never objective, measurable reality.  In other words, had CNN or ABC News been there to record the moment of revelation, there would have been nothing out of the ordinary (nothing miraculous) to show on the evening news—nothing other than what was coming out of someone's mouth, or pen, or whatever folks wrote with back then.  If we fail to understand this, we belittle God and will surely miss what God is revealing and doing today.  And we mock God if we argue that He communicated more clearly to goat hearders and fisherman in the distant past, through dreams and intuitions, than He does today through measurable, cumulative evidence.

IS THIS REALLY THE GOSPEL—GOD'S 'GREAT NEWS' FOR ALL OF HUMANITY?


The Gospel According to Science: The Path of Integrity is Now Obvious


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The gospel according to science—the saving good news from an evolutionary perspective—is this:

A deep-time worldview makes coming into integrity, or "getting right with God", individually and collectively, practically a no-brainer.

This is really good news because integrity is everything; it's the only thing that truly matters. At this time in history, focusing on anything other than right relationship at and with all nested levels, from the personal to the planetary, is a distraction.


Best 2007-2008 Blog Posts & Interviews


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One of the delightful challenges that Connie and I face in our Great Story-telling ministry is trying to speak meaningfully to a wide variety of religious and non-religous groups. What follows are what I and others consider to be my best blog posts written during the past year and a half (since I began blogging), and the best interviews with me or us.


Metaphorical gods vs. Reality/God: Part 2


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The universe is real, not imaginary. We all know this. How is it, then, that in recent centuries and for many believers and nonbelievers alike, God as the Creator of the Universe has become less real than the Universe?

What I mean by "real" is precisely as a dictionary would define it—that is, "existing or occurring as fact; actual rather than imaginary, ideal, or fictitious." Here is another definition of real, drawn from the same webpage (dictionary.com): "being an actual thing; having objective existence; not imaginary." Thus my question: Is God today less real than the Universe?

In my previous blog post I offered that there is a radical and vital difference between objectively real answers to big-picture questions and anything we might subjectively say about how these issues impinge upon our lives—that is, how we interpret the meaning(s) of factual discoveries. Big-picture questions that seek factual and interpretive understandings would include: 'How did we get here?' 'How were we made?' 'Who is my brother, my sister, my neighbor?' 'Tell me about my ancestors?' 'Why is there death?' 'What can I trust?' 'What should I care about?' 'Where do I find hope and guidance?'

Below are 18 ways to begin thinking through this core distinction between what is objectively true and subjectively meaningful—applied to the questions and perspectives through which we make meaning of the world and find purpose, value, guidance, comfort, trust, and a satisfying sense of place and mission.


Metaphorical gods vs. Reality/God: Part 1


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I recently received an email from a woman who came to one of my programs, purchased some of our materials, and later had a few of her family members listen to a recording of a sermon of mine. She wrote:

"I wonder if you can answer a question. I had my son and at another time my son-in-law listen to your presentation and they came to the same conclusion: they both said that you reduced God down to a metaphor. Can you tell me that is not so?"

My response: Yes, this is not so! But the fact that two young men had pretty much the same reaction to my sermon suggests to me that either,

  • A.  I'm not very good yet at assisting people in distinguishing imaginary gods from the real Creator, or
  • B.  We as a species have a long way to go before we truly get the difference between trivial and realistic notions of the divine.

My hunch is that both of these are the case.

To make matters even more interesting...