Friday, 3 July 2015

Bridge-building with an Emergent God?

John Shuck provides these six ideas that describe the "emergent God" thesis.
  • God is an emergent reality.
  • God did not exist before human beings existed.   
  • God emerged from the human mind and cultural evolution
  • New realities emerge from simpler components.  "No atom of my body is alive yet I am alive."
  • God is the emergent reality of humankind's aspirations to be something more than we are.
  • Thus God is real.  (As real as you and me, the economy and democracy). 
I've highlighted the propositions that I think are most provocative. These are not exactly new ideas, but they've certainly not had much of an airing in general debate. Of the six, numbers 2 and 3 wouldn't get a lot of argument from most atheists. The more monochrome among them (i.e. those more combative and uncompromising) may however bridle at this sort of redefinition, but in essence these ideas have the potential to form a kind of bridge that embraces spiritual values (on one bank of the river) with a thoroughly secular world-view (on the other bank). God is, according to this perspective, a human construct, but one that can direct us in positive directions.

The six points are drawn from a book by Nancy Ellen Abrams who has recently been interviewed on John's podcast Religion for Life. It's worth a listen.


  1. In a sense, isn't this a paraphrase for the question "If a tree falls in the middle of a remote forest, and nobody was there to hear it, did it actually make sound?"

    The Baha'i, probably amongst other religions, have always taught that mankind is the first and only "God-conscious" life-form. And, then there are pantheism, and panentheism, beliefs that God is in every part of the creation, or made all of these things from elements of Himself.


  2. This has the modern flavor of quantum mechanics - the universe is not there unless someone observes it. But I think "invent your own god" is ancient in origin and practice. It is odd that Abrams speaks of creating a concept of god that does not violate science and then makes an unscientific statement. She states that there an be no god because everything started simple and evolved into complexity. Hence, at the origin there can be no complex god. But the current scientific consensus is that the universe started with all of it complexity in place at the instant of the Big Bang. Evolution pertains to flora and fauna on this planet and assumes an already existing infrastructure. We do not see stars and galaxies undergoing mutation, competition and natural selection. We see instead an already well-defined universe expanding.

    Using her statement and working backwards, the ultimate form of simplicity is nothing. But let us assume that there was something at the beginning. It exists and that is all. There are no principles of chemistry and physics. There are no principles of anything. How would evolution which is dependent on complex conditions even be initiated? The little bit of whatever that mysteriously "decided" to come into existence would simply remain unchanged forever.

    Another underlying question: why does the human mind have the capacity to conceive of God? Abrams "needed" a god but precursor to that need is that she had the mind to conceive of god. My cat doesn't know anything about god. Early hominids gave no indication of awareness of god. What evolutionary advantage would there be in the capacity to conceive of god? In the complex quest for survival, god just makes things yet more complicated. Believing in god and developing a religion militates against survival. Natural selection would have eliminated all the poor souls who somehow had the idea of god pop into their minds. Yet, at this time, the vast majority of people believe in a god or gods of some sort. I have heard 90 percent and 95 percent. But, more telling, everyone with normative faculties is able to conceive of the idea of god. Even atheists know what they do not believe in.

    What she claims ill fits evolution. If man wanted to be more than what he is, why would he, if he had the sentience, want to invent a god? Would he not instead deny such a subordinating concept and develop a humanistic focus? The evolutionary advantage is with the latter.

    HWA was a good example of someone who egocentrically invented a god to fit his needs, much as Abrams. I know of no other religion that believes in the exact god that HWA devised.

    -- Neo

  3. Evolution created the conscious mind; Darwinism has withstood the test of time; even Jews, Xtians, Muslims are coming onboard.