Monday, 15 June 2009

Did Darwin Kill God?

For as long as there has been recorded history, there have been gods. Some gods go back into pre-history, carried on through tribal cultures such as the Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime myths, and among other things gods in some form are pretty much a constant in any society around the world. In western civilisation, but one deity has been the central figure of explanation and that deity was born out of the desert sands of Israel and over time evolved into a universal figure. What we call God is the beacon of anti-reason atheists have sought to defeat in the memeosphere. Nietzsche pronounced "God is dead" in 1882, but the question remains as to who killed God, if God is even dead at all that is.

Der tolle Mensch
It should be quite obvious that I feel God is indeed dead. There was once a time where God was alive, but was killed as better explanations came into place. Believers who cling to God seem akin to either Weekend At Bernies where God's death is being hidden for fear of the perceived consequences, or of a gorilla refusing to give up on a dead child. Maybe God's ghost is haunting us, or the apparitions of God are still being seen by those unaware of God's death.

What is apologetics but the admission of God's death? Even to the most casual observer, it appears that God is missing and has been for a long time. Gone are the days when his direct presence was known, no more fighting alongside armies or unleashing plagues to protect his 'chosen' people. Some still feel the presence of God, that fleeting touch where the senses fail. Might as well say that aliens are molesting our minds (indeed some do), relatively it's a far more credible hypothesis. Which of course is not saying much at all. When push comes to shove, there is nothing that a believer can point to as a sign of life for God. Quoting from the bible is reading God's obituary, a relic of the past that shows that one time God was alive.

God was very much alive through the childhood of our intellectual ascent. Before being able to ask the grander questions regarding reality, God served to guide us through the dark ages; a place holder for the knowledge that was to come as our species grew up. Indeed, God was alive the same way Tyler Durden was in Fight Club: A reflection of ourselves, of what we truly desire to be and to feel in control over what seems to be a situation we cannot get out of. We created God in our own image, the scanner we used to view God was but a mirror. God is indeed dead.

Confessing a murder
It seems almost human to want to put significance into one idea, or more specifically one person, that changed the course of human events. In the case of the casting off of God, it's only human to want to know what moment caused the paradigm shift in the way we view reality. The theory of evolution stands as a potential candidate, especially seeing how much the idea is so strongly opposed in certain circles. It is but one explanation in the scientific literature, but one that touches a very important element of who we are and how we came to be. It seems the prime candidate, but...

...even when the idea first came out, it was accepted in some religious circles. Many theists today support evolution at least in some capacity, even if many still think that God plays a role in the process. Evidentially one can be a believer and a supporter of evolution. But is this but a gorilla holding a dead baby? I would argue that it is no more a God-killer than germ theory or any other scientific theory. Evolution could very well be God's way of giving upgrades (as Francis Collins humorously put it on The Colbert Report).

This idea would predate Darwin if indeed science is the killer of God. It would go back to the likes of Kepler and Galileo, the two who put mathematics to observation to confirm the Copernican model of heliocentrism. Galileo stands out because of the trial for heresy, whereby the Catholic Church made the stand that the word of God and not the findings of man are what matters. If science killed God, then it was the 17th century priests and not the 19th century aspiring clergyman who made the first incision. One by one the pillars of God have fallen to scientific knowledge, and the theist has been forced to retreat to a position where God is but a breaker of supersymmetry and a crafter of protocells.

If only the Church had listened to Augustine of Hippo back in the 5th century, one who separated biblical and scientific knowledge. The conflict between faith and modern scientific thought only highlights the pettiness of belief among the faithful. But to this kind of revelation came Hume, and his scepticism forever did away with the ability to know based on anecdotes; that no evidence would ever be sufficient to qualify a miracle. But God could have survived further, being the creator of consciousness.

To those who wish it be true that Darwin killed God, there simply is no need to say so. His theory is wide-reaching in consequence, but it was but one of many blows to the special creator that God once was. Laplace in early 19th century was able to do away with God, long before Darwin came on the scene. In his famous reply to Napoleon as to why he left out God from his work on the universe
'Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.' (I had no need for that hypothesis)


Jared said...

Nietzsche says "We have killed him." The full quote is: "God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him."

So the question of who killed God is pretty well solved: we did.

"How did we kill God?" would be a more appropriate question, and this may come more from the examination of ourselves than the world around us. The various myths of religions were reflections of the thoughts, histories, and behaviors of our ancestors. It is more a reflection of ourselves. We desire to, like the gods, control or understand the world around us. It is this lack of control or understanding which gave rise to gods, and the discovery of additional means to control the world around us and understand it will ultimately be the subtle knife which cuts, so effortlessly, through the mist of gods.

Danny said...

One by one the pillars of God have fallen to scientific knowledge,

Which ones have fallen to scientific knowledge?

Kel said...

Sorry I haven't gotten to this question earlier, I've been meaning to but I've been neglecting this blog in recent weeks in order to recharge.

In response to your question, it goes back to what God was classically ascribed to do in the natural world (and still is by many). That thousands of years ago, it was the weather: floods, lightning, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. God controlled everything, he even had angels push the sun across the sky.

Then along came the enlightenment, and suddenly the forces moved on their own. Newton even though talked about the motion of the planets as being upon forces that only a creator could have made the planets themselves. Life was hand-crafted by God until Darwin came to demonstrate otherwise.

Even now, there are many who posit God with the most basic steps, the breaking of supersymmetry (the anthropic principle) or formation of the protocell from which all life began.

The scientific revolution was notable because it took a naturalistic approach to what we see in reality. It meant that people looked to nature itself to find answers as opposed to consulting priests and the holy books. The significance of the Galileo trial at least in my mind is that the Catholic Church hurt itself by putting the answers from the divine ahead of those generated from the natural world. As we can clearly see, the natural world has won out.

What I meant by that statement is that there's really nothing left for theism anymore. We are performing miracles that couldn't even be comprehended 200 years ago, let alone 2000. We call this science and it is common place to us. The computer and global communications network would be indistinguishable from magic to them, I'm talking to you from Australia with this information stored in a manner that is replicated any time the window is loaded. It's amazing stuff! The transistor is a marvel of human achievement.

So what is there left for a theist God? I mentioned this in the last comment, the best really is that God has become some sort of anthropic deist, transcendent in nature to the point of being discarded as unnecessary.