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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Is the Universe Intelligently Designed?

"Man is certainly stark mad; he cannot make a flea, and yet he will be making gods by the dozens." -Montaigne

"A one-planet deity has for me little appeal." -Harlow Shapley
Perhaps I am missing something in my lack of formal training in theology. I am not provincial enough to be considered a homespun philosopher. Yet, it appears to me that the Great Debate over "Intelligent Design" is in reality a non-issue.

In the first place, I do not see the harm in teaching children that billions of people in numerous cultures around the globe for thousands of years have believed in a god or goddess of some sort or another. In fact, I consider such a teaching to be crucial to a proper understanding of life on Earth. I would also teach that the concept of God is rejected by many people as well, and that still others may never even consider it. Further, I would emphasize that the concept of God has widely varied throughout the world and over time, with gods and goddesses of all variety being believed in and beseeched in numerous manners. And I would point out that, despite the irrational and megalomaniacal fanaticism that says otherwise, no one culture, civilization, people or individual has possessed the entire truth or the "correct" religious belief.

In other words, the claim that Christianity, for example, is "God's ultimate truth" is wrong. Period. Nor are Islam or Judaism. With Buddhism and Hinduism there is usually not such fanaticism in the first place - although it has been there on occasion enough to leave bloody trails from these two faiths as well. I do not believe that atheism is wholly correct either, which brings me back to my point that the furor over the idea of Intelligent Design seems to be a waste of time.

Maybe I am naive in my refusal to see anything complicated about the issue of Intelligent Design, from whatever perspective, whether pro or con. I see no need for a complex Gnostic-like explanation for existence, with levels and beings of all manner beyond our mundane dimensions. I do not find it necessary to explain the universe in terms of an overarching God in command of invisible legions of angels, archangels, devils and demons. Nor do I find that entertaining such notions - or, gadzooks! even believing in them for some period of time - is going to destroy my mind. In reality, contemplating such notions as the myriad imaginary friends and foes humans have come up with over the millennia can be fun, amusing and, at times, soothing. And the opposite - to wit, the disbelief or lack of belief in such theological things - can be extremely liberating mentally and emotionally. Disbelief certainly should not be viewed as "evil" or "diabolical," nor is it appropriate to abuse unbelievers because of it. Frankly, I see no harm in knowing about all of these concepts - or in teaching all of them to our children. To me, it's all art, a vast canvas filled with a riotous explosion of color. Indeed, the no-god side of reality could be perceived as artless, drab, dreary or gray. Or, it could reveal the more subtle and exotic colors of nature.
My own mind is not conflicted by the acceptance that the human mind in general has the capacity to be theistic, monotheistic, polytheistic, pantheistic, henotheistic and atheistic all at the same time. I am not at all bothered by my insight into or acknowledgement of that all-encompassing concept. Au contraire, I find it extraordinarily liberating, thrilling in fact, to simply accept it and not to agonize over whether or not there is a God, or Intelligent Designer behind the design. Perhaps my own thinking could best be described as Taoist, if a intelligent designer label my mind must wear. This understanding, or recognition of this wide-ranging concept, thus frees my mind from the debate as to whether or not there is an intelligent designer. Not only do I believe, but I know, that there is one. But this intelligent designer to me is not a person, i.e., a "god" or "goddess." It is simply a mechanism inherent in the design itself, such as the DNA of a cell.

Does DNA have a personality? Not according to the strict scientific definition. Does personality exist in the cosmos? Certainly, but that fact does not mean there is a giant "man" somewhere "out there" who is designing, creating and orchestrating the whole of creation. The fact is that there are animate and inanimate objects in the universe, and the totality incorporates all of them. The cosmos, then, contains personality and no personality. In like kind, any intelligent designer, such as DNA, cannot and never will be a "person," other than as it is within us, as persons. In this regard, we are, in a sense, self-willed. Again, the intelligent designer is simply inherent in the design itself.

Even if we were to call this inherent intelligent designer "God," it would still not be a person, giant or otherwise, because "God" by the very definition of the word is all-encompassing, and that means "he" would possess a mechanical nature in addition to a myriad of personalities and colors that we could ascribe to "him." Being the totality, "God" would also be of both genders, as well as neutral. In other words, "God" cannot be real in the sense believed by most people because by the very definition of the word a truly honest and profound assessment would need to see every characteristic conceivable by the human mind, including all types of personalities, as well as the total lack thereof. Thus, "God" is not a person but is all persons, not a reality but all realities. And, there is also No God.

Godisnowhere

Whether you see "God is now here" or "God is nowhere," or both, is entirely up to you. It all depends on the perspective you are free to choose in any given moment. And to have the choice in that perspective - to believe or not to believe - is the ultimate liberation.

There is a Buddhist tale in which a fervent believer approaches the great sage and says, "Speak to me of God, O Great One, as I have always known that He exists." Buddha looks at the acolyte and curtly replies, "God is not." The believer, horrified, runs quickly away, and word shortly spreads that Buddha is an atheist. An atheist excitedly comes to Buddha and says, "O Wise One, I have heard that you do not believe in God. I have always known that God does not exist." Buddha sharply retorts, "God is." Likewise, the disappointed atheist scurries away. Buddha's disciples approach him, confused, and ask why he has told the one that God is not and the other that God is. Buddha then replies, "Both had only one side of the coin and needed to see the whole."

"Neti, neti" - Neither this nor that.

To me, the bottom line on the issue of Intelligent Design is not whether or not there is a designer. As far as I'm concerned, there is, but it can be purely mechanical and need not have a personality. The question to my mind is, is the universe intelligently designed? Or is it rather kooky? Chaotic? A gigantic - nay, infinite - mess that we puny humans must sort out and attach order to? In the end, will it really matter whether or not we deem any designer to have a personality? The Earth could be destroyed tomorrow by a lurking meteor, and none of it will have mattered. All the bickering and battling over these concepts will have been for naught. It seems superbly more sensible just to accept that these concepts exist within the human mind - all of them that have ever been conceived - and to move on gracefully and peacefully from there.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Right on, Achayra --- right on!

Anonymous said...

Well said, AS. Design implies something acting on something else where, what's more likely is intelligence just being intelligent; not fixing the world, but being it, continually unfolding.

Dr. W. Sumner Davis said...

I love that.."continually unfolding."

In other words "I have no bloody idea so I use terms like "unfolding." Jesus himself said "be in the world but not of the world." If so, does this mean religious people are having an out of body experience? Or are they simply just out of their minds?

Julia said...

Acharya,

I've enjoyed your website for many years and am delighted with the new blog! The joy of living is in exploration and questioning, for scientific inquiry has revealed far more wonders than prophets and sages of old could ever have imagined. It's the sense of awe and wonderment that is the summit of sacredness, as it seems to me.

Eric said...

Intelligent design? Yes, certainly – us, humans! We made the Universe.

You just have to understand that the Universe does not exist “out there” but within. It is the product of our own, collective, thought. The structure and form of the Universe today fits, exactly, our current best theories as to how life could possibly have evolved out of nothing. The probability of our own existence as physical beings is so extraordinarily slim that we needed billions upon billions of stars and an order of magnitude more planets to explain it.

Do I know what I am talking about? Not really, I am no expert but I am taking a guess at the future based on the past. In the past people believed that the Earth was flat and, consequently, if a ship strayed too far west, it would never return. Until, that is, logic and wisdom formed the Earth into a sphere. In the future we will find our current wisdom similarly mistaken. My guess, based on a rudimentary understanding of quantum physics, is that our Universe, life and experience is but clay of the mind.

That said, I cannot accept the existence of aliens. We can’t create anything higher than ourselves. They are just the modern-day equivalent of ghosts and fairies.

We are life, us – the father and mother of all things.

God is not a being outside of us. God is Truth. What we experience as reality, with all its beauty and horror, is our dim perception and understanding of Truth within.

If the Truth be known then I think that we still have a long way to go.

skullnboner said...

The Way of the Cow! How are we to get those cows to eat the banana leaves in Western society, much less the great mobs of people in more primitive societies. I think the "developed" societies have to clean their own trash first, then put the kai-bosh on the leaders of the developing worlds withdrawing any support for their regimes. But that is just a fantasy at this point. I hope fate proves me wrong on that, cause that or "faith with works" is all we have to see things change for the better.

Anonymous said...

"Intelligent design? Yes, certainly – us, humans! We made the Universe." , now that is the height of arrogance. Can anybody make a more half assed statement?
An infinitesimal drop in spacetime claims to be the creator of something incomprehensibly larger and more complex than itself.
If the universe has existed for 1 year, humans have existed for less than a few seconds.
You're right when you wonder whether you know what you're talking about!

Acharya S said...

Leave it to a Godder to make an ad hominem attack.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know how and why you used the word Godder. My name is Godder and I am getting confused now.

Anonymous said...

Can you imagine a universe so cold,dead, and meaningless as one without an ultimate purpose?If not,then hear this,purpose is a principle of intelligent design.Since there is no denying, the universe is in a state of becoming,filled with evolving life, then there is no doubt it has purpose, therefore a designer.

Anonymous said...

Achayra,
I suggest you watch an Internet video sbout plasma cosmology called "Thunderbolts of the Gods" at http://video.google.com.au/videoplay?docid=4773590301316220374.

It shows there is a creative force that appears to guide the evolution of matter and biology throughout the universe. It is an electromagnetic force that opposes the force of entropy. This force is not a god, of course, but it does involve itself with creation and evolution.
All the best!
Keep up your good work!

Subbiah Yadalam said...

Ah....simply brilliant and liberating. Shudder to realize how much time we are wasting on these issues. Its all so pointless and we are so insignificant.

David Yanez said...

I agree that children should be exposed to all theories regarding the concept of God and religion and spirituality, but distinctions should be emphasized regarding the methods of science, philosophy, and spiritual beliefs. If left on their own creationists will not teach creationism as an unproven theory, but as truth, and would teach evolution as unproven theory rather than a proven scientific theory. If we could count on creationists to teach our children correctly then there would not be such a fuss on behalf of Atheists. Atheists have no objection with teaching children that science does not have all the answers, but they also must be taught that the theists and the spiritual do not have the answers either. Spirituality according to Joseph Campbell is a search for the same basic, unknown force
from which everything came, within which everything currently exists, and into which everything will eventually return. This elemental force is ultimately “unknowable”.
By this definition that makes all of us Spiritual, including atheists. Encouraging our children to look for answers to the unknown is crucial, while also teaching them to be skeptical of established beliefs whether spiritual or scientific. Teaching children to be open minded is key and that is the problem with most religions in that they are not open minded. The question for everyone including atheists isn’t whether there is a God or designer or not, the question should be “Can we search for the answers in both a rational and an intuitive approach and be content just the same not to find the answers?”