Michael Dowd on God


Here is a post from Michael Dowd's blog:

The crux of the problem, as I see it, is the failure of millions of people, religious and non-religious alike, to distinguish meaningful metaphor from measurable reality. God as a subjectively meaningful interpretation simply cannot be argued against. God is always a legitimate interpretation. But God is NOT (and never has been) an actual, physical Being, as science and common sense define reality. (Those who would attempt to argue that God is a REAL Father or King, but just in an unnatural, otherworldly sense are left in the bizarre position of claiming that God, the Creator of the Universe, is less real than the Universe, as I discuss here.)

HERE IS A WAY OUT OF THIS IMPASSE: Whenever you hear the word ‘God', think ‘Reality'. "I have faith in God" can be translated "I trust Reality". "God is Lord" means "Reality rules". Throughout the world, God has never been less than a mythic personification of Reality as a Whole, Ultimate Reality, or what today some call "the Universe". If we fail to recognize this, we miss everything. ALL images and characterizations of God are meaningful interpretations of Reality As It Really Is. When we forget this, we will inevitably trivialize God, belittle science, and desecrate nature.
Many believers and atheists alike define God as a being among other beings, spiritual in nature but still a being, who also happens to be super-powerful and possessing infinite resources. But God is not a being. God does not belong to the same ontological category as you and I. As soon as you stop thinking of God as a being then much of the debate between atheism and faith ceases to make any sense. This gets back to Tillich's conception of God as Being Itself. If you instead think of God as the foundational interpretation of reality at its deepest and most fundamental level, the whole question of "proving" a supernatural being's existence becomes moot.


PrickliestPear said...

I appreciate what Michael Dowd is saying here, but to identify God with "reality" or "the universe" is simply to argue in favour of pantheism, which is hardly "a way out of this impasse."

This is quite different from Tillich's notion of God as "Being itself," because for Tillich God remains transcendent of existence.

Mystical Seeker said...

It's funny, but I didn't really think what he was saying was pantheistic the first time I read it, but upon re-reading that passage you may be right. My first impulse was to project my own panentheism onto what he wrote.

I tend to think of pantheism as identifying God with the physical universe, but panentheism would say that God is all of the physical universe plus something more. In this latter sense, God would be identified with all that is real, since there can be no reality other than that which is in God. But I don't know that this is what Michael Dowd is saying.

Michael Dowd said...

Thanks for your post, Mystical Seeker. You and PrickliestPear may both enjoy my book, "Thank God for Evolution", especially Part 2: "Reality is Speaking". PrickliestPear, you'll find that it's not pantheistic at all.

"Pantheism", as a concept, came into existence in 1705, long before we had an evolutionary understanding of emergence.

I'm a creatheist, as I discuss in some detail in chapters 4, 6 , and 7 of my book. I've posted a few recent blog posts along these lines in the latest issue of The Evolutionary Times: http://evolutionarytimes.org/

Co-evolutionary blessings,

~ Michael

CT said...

But we don't need another word for reality or the Universe. When we talk about reality we are talking about what we see and experience. When we talk of the Universe we talk of the material - the planets, starts, life forms and everything in that Universe.

I can't see why we have any need to then redefine those 'objects' as 'God'.

In fact there is a good reason not to - it confuses the matter. If I talk about the Universe then most people understand I am referring to the material reality we know about (mainly through science). If I replace that term with 'God' there is a significant likelihood that the listener will immediately conjure up different thoughts and images. They will assume supernatural being, external being, etc. That's the meaning that the word God has taken on.

So why not dispense with that term and just call the Universe 'the Universe' and call reality 'reality'. I cant see what we've gained apart from creating a new definition of God that cant be disproved.

Can anyone explain how redefining the word God to this new definition alters how I look at life or how I behave ?(apart from having more respect for the environment because it's part of the Universe, which is, in turn, God).

Mystical Seeker said...

CT, pantheism equates God with the physical universe, which to me is just redefining your terms with nothing added, and that is one reason why I am not a fan of pantheism. As a panentheist, however, I think that God is more than just the physical universe.

God is never a provable proposition. You either find the concept useful or you don't. My analogy is that you either enjoy poetry or you don't. I don't tell other people that they have to believe in God, but for some of us, it represents the metaphysical framework that gives meaning and depth to the physical universe and our lives within it.

CT said...

OK - I'll accept that.
So God isn't something or some being that exists or doesn't exist. God is more like a concept or framework that helps us understand our world. And for some the concept doesn't add much value to their understanding of life while for some it does.

Is that what you are saying ?

PS. Thanks for your musings. You have obviously thought long and hard about these issues and continue to do so.

Mystical Seeker said...

CT, I think you've pretty much summed up my way of looking at it. I would add that it it isn't that I think I am just playing make believe when I posit this sort of framework. It is for me a working hypothesis that tries to capture something that is in some sense real for me. But I also don't think that it can ever be anything more than a working hypothesis. That is why I am also a religious pluralist. I think that a lot of different religions in the world are trying to capture something of a deeper explanation for the world, the whys that lie behind it, and I respect the fact that my working hypothesis might be coming at it from a different angle than someone else's.

John Shuck said...

I appreciate this discussion and am thrilled to see you blogging again!

I am curious about the word metaphysical. I think it was Joseph Campbell who said metaphysics is the same as depth psychology.

I wonder if he is right or if it is more than that?

Cynthia said...

I keep coming back to this quote:

"We keep thinking of deity as a kind of fact, somewhere; God as a fact. God is simply our own notion of something that is symbolic of transcendence and mystery. The mystery is what's important."
--Joseph Campbell

Seancho said...

Interesting discussion, thanks.

I agree, if you tell me that God exists I would require some sort of proof or justification. But what if we say that God does not exist but is in fact, as Tillich says, existence itself? Or even 'awareness' since awareness and existence seem somehow to imply each other?

In all times and places there have been certain people who have reported the experience of transcending a sense of themselves as 'beings', existing in the world by realizing themselves to be 'being' or 'awareness' itself, pure and undifferentiated.

What if we use the word 'God' simply to remind ourselves of the fact of existence, and that we are aware of that existence?

So sure, speaking like this, in the realm of language, God would then simply be a sound we make, or an unprovable, possibly useful, concept.

But useful for what? Why bother saying God? (or Tao, or Buddha or whatever) Because we exist! And we are aware.

These primary facts cannot be grasped by language, or reason, due to the fact that language and reason always exist in awareness. Language and reason are dependent on awareness.

While using language, we forget the most primary experience there is: we are.

It is that direct apprehension of being, taking place outside of language, before language can even make a sound, or reason can formulate a proposition, that draws me to it.

What happens when awareness knows itself as awareness? Sometimes I say 'God.'

Starry Nites said...

Another point about panentheism (in contrast to pantheism): panentheism can be described metaphorically by the relationship between a brain and the mind. One could say, metaphorically, that pantheists equate God with the universe (brain), whereas panentheists would say God includes the universe (brain) but becomes greater than the sum of its parts (i.e., the mind).

clifnev said...