Friday, April 20, 2007

God, the theory and the practice....   posted by Razib @ 4/20/2007 11:52:00 PM

In the comments the unicorn-riding TGGP says:
When I was religious I didn't have a problem with evolution, because my idea of God was omniscient enough to arrange a deterministic universe in such a manner so as to produce the results He wanted without having to get up off His Holy Couch very often to get stuff done. I suppose it doesn't make much sense for an omnipotent God to be so lazy, but that's just what I figured I would do in His position.

Though theists in the Abrahamic tradition do generally avow a belief in god who is omniscient & omnipotent (among other characteristics), outside of the constraints of time & space, psychological & anthropological research tends to converge upon the consensus that the human working cognitive conceptualization of "god" doesn't include these traits. Unscripted narrations where god is integrated into human affairs always imply a model of the deity bounded by time & space & partaking of the same banal universe as believers, though exhibiting powers and perceptions of far greater magnitude than that of mortals.1 This makes sense when one considers that the human mind itself has constraints in terms of how it can model the universe, and a god which transcends the universe is simply beyond gestalt comprehension. An analogy might be that one can believe in higher spatial dimensions than the three we perceive as a matter of logic, but a intuitive conceptualization of higher dimensionality spaces is beyond the grasp of the human mind.2

In any case, the cognitive reality that humans have in their mind the concept of a limited god, despite their sincere professions of belief in a transcendent one, seems to make theistic evolution somewhat more understandable as a natural response to the facts of the universe.3 If the implicit internal models of gods have within them constraints imposed by natural processes then a deity who utilizes such processes easily drops out of the chain of inferences. This does not speak to the theological plausibility of such a god (i.e., working from first principles in regards to the nature of god as a being with traits x, y, z, etc.), but human beliefs and thoughts are not internally consistent.

1 - Participants in the studies of which I'm referring to are prompted to generate novel stories where the gods in which they believe in operate upon the universe over which they have dominion. Working backward from the characteristics of these stories, that is, working up the chain of implied inferences invariably leads researchers to conclude that the conceptualization of the god within these narrations contradicts an omniscient & omnipotent being outside of the universe. This model is consistent to the cross-cultural universality of particular times, places and objects being propitious and sacred to the gods, even though said gods are often notionally unbounded from time & space.

2 -To be clear, the anthropomorphic gods of yore remain ascendant within the human cognitive substrate, no matter the historical fact of their intellectual defeat at the hands of philosophical theism. Humans now believe in the god of the philosophers, but they imagine the god of the ancestors. I contend that many of the "paradoxical" behaviors of theists in response to tragedies or successes and the character of their relationship with the gods whom they avow to believe in can be explained by this "double truth," the disjunction between the philosophical & the cognitive deity.

3 - This does not speak to the validity of theological arguments for theistic evolution, rather, it only suggests that the reason the concept might "make sense" to a large number of theists is because follows from their implicit god-concept.

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