Monday, August 5, 2013

God's Professed Power

Here’s a question for theists: Is God’s power fundamentally beyond understanding?

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clark wrote “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” To a cave man, an iPad would appear magical. To us, an alien hologram would appear magical. Neither are magic, but both are so beyond the understanding of the viewer that any realistic explanation is out of reach. According to many theists God’s miracles are also not magic, but not because they are within our understanding. Rather it’s because they define magic as either illusions or fiction. I can’t disagree. Magic is either illusions or fiction, so I will continue to call God’s work magic until I have good reason to believe otherwise.

For the sake of this inquiry, lets say there is a God and that he can and occasionally does perform acts beyond our understanding. The key word here is our understanding. We know enough to land crap on Mars and clone donkeys, which is awesome, but we don’t yet have a “Theory of Everything.” Could some future, smarter version of humanity understand how God parted seas and raised the dead? If so, shouldn’t you, as a Christian who believes this stuff, be trying to figure it out? Not only would success validate your beliefs, it would likely make you rich and famous. Yes, it’s a long-shot that you would indeed succeed, but it is certainly a more worthwhile venture to “know the mind of God” as Einstein put it than to tell God what He already knows via prayer.

Conversely, if it is impossible for us to ever understand the process of miracles no matter how intelligent we become, why is that so? What property is it that category of knowledge possesses that no other information has? I know it’s a strange question, but it’s a valid one that applies to anything claimed to be supernatural.

I have a theory.* Since religion relies on faith, doctrine was invented to provide a learning barrier about the primary topic of the religion itself--God. This effectively squelches the pursuit of intellectual curiosity. If knowledge of God was discovered, then faith in God is extinguished; faith in God is needed for heaven, so knowledge of God removes the possibility of religion’s promised reward. Ignorance is bliss, and, as implied by most religions, necessary. The intended function of doctrine that makes understanding God and His power either impossible or damning is to discourage followers from trying to understand it. Truth seekers become science deniers while churches maintain their flock and bank accounts.

*The above is a theory in the colloquial sense and not by the scientific definition. It’s actually appropriate to say this is “just a theory,” but if you do so, please provide one of your own.

8 comments:

  1. Good post, there is a reason why the Catholic Church enthralled people for over a millennium. People are trapped by doctrine if they can't question without displaying lack of faith.

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  2. Right on. By definition God is beyond our limited human capacity for understanding, and this become the primary mental shield to block out ideas. That part of the Bible makes no sense?... Must be beyond my understanding because, *God*. There are other parts of religious teachings that apply a similar logic. Jesus claimed that following him was "taking the narrow road", as oppose to the wide easy road. In other words, if you're suffering that's good, which means you can justify about anything.

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  3. Hm, I don't know. Isn't the most likely variant of a god just (the operator of) a large-scale simulator?

    If so, although the simulation would normally work according to its built-in rules, there's no mystery in how the operator can reach in and cause 'miracles'.

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    1. That's an interesting theory, although there's no reason to believe it's more probable than any other.

      There's also no way to know the intent or expectations of such an operator given our defined ignorance of how such a simulator would work. It's pretty unlikely any of today's religions have stumbled on the answers by using literal translations of creation myths and early philosophical/speculative literature.

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    2. Baughn, I actually wrote this post on the simulation hypothesis as good material for a religion.

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  4. then faith in God is distinguished;

    the above phrase also scans if distinguished == extinguished

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    1. Scans better, in fact! (That's the word I meant, thanks. Changed it.)

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  5. Doctrine is a huge stumbling block for science, as it is these stupid ideas which are causing potentially life saving therapies from been acquired. It is even worse the Catholic Church has a branch in the Vatican which promotes stem cell research only on adult stem cells when research seems to be pointing towards embryonic. BTW The point is not to argue for stem cells, just showing what doctrine can do.

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