Sup fam. Just transferred to CU from ol’ Berkeley, and the academic year has begun. Also I just had a major project fail, so Danny boi is feeling a little directionless at the moment. Well, that’s not quite true, but nonetheless, I though it might be time to shake off some cobwebs and blog about some things that have been bouncing around the ol’ nogerino.
I’d like to present a theory on why some notion of “God” or perhaps some other hyper-powerful supernatural creature could potentially come into existence. So in other words, I’d like to discuss why God might exist. Specifically, how God might have come into existence.
I think the best way to do this is to first talk about the human experience, and particularly, humanity’s understanding of the divine. Additionally, I’d like to talk about why humanity’s collective cultural belief systems or “religions” do provide a pretty substantial benefit to the population.
In most of the religions that I’ve encountered, one common thread is the establishment of an intellectual framework focused on several archetypical ideals. These ideals take many different forms for the different religious systems. Sometimes these ideals are encapsulated in a divine figure, like “God,” or perhaps many gods. Other times these ideals take the form of a particular way of life.
I think Christianity is a particularly good example of this, simply because how explicitly this construction takes place in the Bible. Specifically, the figure of God in the Bible is taken to be perfectly good, perfectly just, and of infinite wisdom. Alternatively, you also have Satan, who is typically presented as the perfect embodiment of evil.
Another particularly interesting aspect of the Biblical God that many people I’ve met find particularly compelling is the fact that God also purports to never change. In other words, God is taken to be the archetypical representation of everything “good” now and forever more.
Now admittedly, I’m certainly less familiar with other religious systems than I am with Christianity. That being said, based on what I have learned and experienced, the different religious systems typically provide a similar type of utility to their practitioners.
And what is that? The utility that stems from knowledge on how to live.
Now, with that said, different religious systems certainly provide different ways of giving this information. Typically, this information is imparted through stories, or myths. Greek myths, for example, present situations in which humans interact with one another, and with the gods. At first glance, someone living in modern times might dismiss these tales as primitive and useless. But that’s certainly not the case.
Even though we humans don’t interact with Zeus and Athena on a regular basis (or at least I don’t. If you do, give me a yodel), these stories certainly provide a particular utility. And what is that? Well, Zeus, Athena and the other gods of the Greek pantheon are representations of different archetypes. Athena, for example, is the embodiment of wisdom, whereas Zeus represents the all-powerful ruler (among other things, of course).
The Greek myths therefore tell stories about humans interacting and negotiating with these archetypical representations of different aspects of reality. More often than not, the human characters in these stories suffer tragic fates because they interacted poorly with the gods.
So sure, you can dismiss these stories as fairytales, but you’d be missing the functional value of these myths. Specifically, myths encode information about how to live and interact with reality. And the myths that have the highest probability of lasting throughout the eons are the ones that people repeat. And why would people repeat a myth? Likely because some aspect of the myth rings true within their personal context.
Therefore, it naturally follows (by means of some sketchy logic) that the myths that have survived the millennia are the ones that encode useful information about how to interact with reality.
I should also mention that this is typically the utility provided by any story, regardless of its association with a religious system. Good stories are incredibly useful to us humans because they implicitly reaffirm our existing knowledge base regarding information on how to live. This is a can of worms I probably shouldn’t open right now, so I’ll just move right along.
Ok, so I hope I’ve established that myths and stories are one vehicle religions use to encode information about how to live. But there are certainly other means by which religions encode this information. For example, the Tao Te Ching, basically goes right ahead and makes explicit assertions about reality, and how Taoists ought to act. The 10 Commandments are another example of this, in which explicit instructions are given about how to behave.
That being said, the most interesting way (within the context of this post) that religions provide knowledge about how to live is by providing an embodiment of perfection and encouraging practitioners to emulate this figure. I’ve already mentioned that this is how God is presented in the Bible, for example.
A common phrase you’ll hear in Christian circles is that Christians are constantly trying to be “more like Him.” Him being God, of course. To extrapolate this a bit, Christians are therefore attempting to emulate their perception of perfection and the embodiment of “good.”
Now, I think it would behoove us to take a step back for a quick second here. How do Christians know that what they are pursuing is actually “good?” What even is “good?” And does this apply to people who don’t practice that particular belief system?
Ok, before we move on, just know that I’m going to make some pretty broad statements here that might not be fully correct. Even though that’s the case, I think the point of my arguments is going to be clear, so don’t get bogged down in the gray areas and edge cases.
I think I’ll start with a discussion of the nature of “good.” I think we all intuitively think of “good” as describing actions that provide sustainable benefit both to ourselves and our community. You likely have a different definition of “good,” but I think you probably can agree in part with this definition.
And what sorts of actions actually benefit the individual and our community? Well, this is a tricky question. Even though this isn’t a complete answer, I think “good” actions promote the stability of humanity with the context of a reality that constantly threatens our existence. Typically, this either manifests in someone solving a problem, or empowering a group of people to solve their own problems. This arguably describes the impetus behind technological development and provides some degree of moral argument for increased technological development. But that’s another rabbit hole that I don’t want to go down right now.
Ok, now that I’ve established a relatively concrete definition of “good,” now let’s talk about whether the objective that Christians pursue is actually “good.”
I’ve established that “good” actions actually have a tangible benefit to humans within the context of survival. Not only that, but most people have a reasonable sense of what is or isn’t “good” because their experience has shown them what sorts of behaviors actually benefit the individual and the community.
With that said, Christianity actually provides a pretty good framework for determining what is or isn’t “good.” Why? Because it creates a context for people to converse and argue about what actually is good, and what isn’t.
To see why this is the case, here’s a toy example. Let’s say Dante and Virginia both believe in God. They also believe that God is perfectly “good.” Now let’s say Virginia makes the following assertion: “God wants us to kill evil people, because evil people harm others.” Dante might then respond: “Wait, no. That’s not true. God wants us to love evil people and try to help them see the errors in their own ways.”
Now, regardless of who’s actually right, this is an example of people arguing about the nature of God, given their mutual belief that God is “good,” and given their own personal perceptions of “good.” And this has been happening all throughout history.
So who wins, Dante or Virginia? Well it isn’t totally clear. However, let’s say that the pair agrees to disagree, and both follow their own belief regarding the nature of God. Statistically speaking, one of those two beliefs will actually provide a greater degree of utility to humanity on average, and therefore will likely have a higher likelihood of being passed on to the next generation.
It’s literally survival of the fittest, but with world views (almost sounds like Stable Entities…). Now, obviously reality isn’t a statistically perfect system, but these conclusions imply that over the course of time, Christians should trend closer to a more accurate belief of what is actually “good,” or what actually provides humans with the greatest degree of utility.
Ok, so with that said, though not actually perfect (IMHO) the Christian pursuit of knowledge of perfect “good” naturally should lead to a better knowledge of what’s actually “good.” And for that reason, I’d argue that people who don’t believe in Christianity certainly shouldn’t dismiss the teachings of Christianity outright. Even though there may be inefficiencies, the process of refining Christianity has been a multi-millennium project, and the results of that project should be given their time of day.
But what’s interesting about all this is that not only do Christians naturally attempt to discern the nature of “good,” but to the best of their abilities, they also attempt to become “more like God.” (That is, of course, if the Christian is behaving optimally within the context of the Christian belief system).
Now what’s particularly interesting to me is that technology has been developing at an exponential rate. In simplistic sense, technology gives us better tools for enacting our desires and visions for reality. To put this in different language, the power that humanities posses over reality has been increasing at an exponential rate.
To put it really simplistically, humans are getting much, much better at doing the things they want to do.
Now then, this power is and will lead to increased instability, as individuals have greater potential to harm entire populations. If humans are to survive, we need to figure out what sorts of actions actually benefit both the individual and the community.
In other words, we need to figure out what’s actually “good.”
Now then, the people who subscribe to religious systems arguably have a head start in this pursuit, because they benefit from thousands/millions of years of encoded information regarding the nature of “good” (i.e., what sorts of actions actually lead to beneficial outcomes).
What’s particularly interesting is that if humanity is able to survive the instability of increasing power, then it will literally become more and more like God, in the Christian sense, i.e., a manifestation of perfect “good.”
If exponential improvements continue to occur and humanity survives them, at a certain point, humanity will be indistinguishable from God, in the Christian sense. Omnipotent, due to the limitless improvements in technology. Omniscient, given the limitless potential for technologies that synthesize representations of reality. Omnipresent, given the (almost) limitless potential improvements in transportation technologies.
Not only that, but such an Entity would almost necessarily be “good” because the power granted that Entity combined with evil actions could literally destroy sizeable aspects of reality. That’s a weak argument, but I think you see the point.
Ok, so this line of reasoning introduces a mechanism by which a God-like entity may come into being. However, this begs the question: what if this already happened? If that’s the case, then God might actually already exist.
Ok, let me flesh this out a bit more. A good deal of this argument has leaned on a notion “good,” and presented why humans might want to try to be more and more “good.”
However, I’d argue that “good” isn’t necessarily a human construction. Earlier I spoke of “good” describing actions that promote the dynamic stability of an Entity. Which means that if we de-anthropomorphize “good,” it can basically apply to any system.
Now then, humans can be described as Entities that are capable of formulating internal representations of reality and acting in accordance with those representations (i.e., intelligence). Though certainly an advanced system, I’d certainly argue that most Entities within reality could benefit from some mechanism like that, which is to say that there’s no reason to firmly believe that intelligence is a uniquely human phenomenon. I imagine that it’s incredibly rare, but certainly not impossible.
With that said, any creature capable of formulating internal representations has a high incentive to determine what is “good” (in the more global sense) and pursue those sorts of actions. And given the exponential nature of technological improvements, moving from mortal to God-like might occur much faster than we’ve might imagine.
Basically, what I’m trying to assert is that according to the reasoning presented in this post, there’s a mechanism that allows for the creation of God-like entities that behave in reasonable correspondence with our own human belief systems. Which is fairly remarkable, I’d say.