Rational Religion

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Why the Universe (I expect) Is Not God.


Some persons - otherwise inclined to believe in a Rational Religion - might wish to invest the Universe with more metaphysics than I believe warranted.


A few years ago a scientific thinker named Lynn Margulies pulled together a number of philosophical notions - hers and other people's - into the concept of Gaia.


Gaia, taking the name of an ancient Earth Goddess, is most simply explained by imagining that all Life on earth - since all we have found so far seems to be extraordinarily genetically  "related" - is part of a single entity.


As I understand her thesis, Dr. Margulies was trying to illustrate the inseparable interconnectedness of all living things and her message was an environmental one; i.e., that we mess with the rest of the organic world at our peril, because there is at present no way to tell what effect cutting down a rain forest or damming a salmon river [or eliminating smallpox??--My note] may have on the future of all life, including our own.


Unfortunately Gaia was one of those ideas which took on an impetus of its own and escaped from its creator.  It was a powerful metaphor, too closely aligned with a lot of the metaphysical claptrap of a dozen "naturalistic" religions and easily incorporated into the belief systems and lifestyles of a lot of people who weren't willing, or able, to undertake the intellectual discipline which Dr. Margulies brought to her original thesis. 


Gaia was invested, by these New Believers, with an anthropomorphic personality and a purpose; and thereby reborn as a conventional deity.  Dr. Margulies and her scientific compatriots have had to waste a lot of time and energy explaining to their fellow-professionals that, No, they did not intend to imply that the biosphere has a soul and a unifying intelligence.


So, with my concept of the Universe, itself, as First Cause.


Although it is not a particularly profound notion, and I have not called it anything as imaginatively compelling (or as inviting of mythological comparison) as Gaia, I recognize an intellectual danger in simply identifying a perhaps infinite and certainly bewilderingly complex physical universe in all-inclusive and easily graspable terms.


Some people may be misled into thinking they have been provided with a definition of deity upon which they can build a whole edifice of new metaphysics, without bothering to do any of the tedious, head-busting research that trying to understand the Universe demands.


I cannot state categorically that the vastness of the Universe is not, upon some unimaginable scale, unified into Gaia-like interdependence.  After all there do seem to be physical laws which function everywhere we are as yet able to look and there is a Periodic Table of Elements into which everything we have ever found seems to "fit." 


As Gaia springs from the fact that all life, from the simplest virus to us, is based in deoxyribonucleic acid and its ability to replicate itself; so the Universe may be the self-unifying entity that physicists for the past couple thousand years at least have been trying to demonstrate that it is.


But there is absolutely no evidence that either of these concepts has anything to do with human beings, beyond the fact that they constitute the environment in which we have to live.  (And, of course, the fact that we have invented the concepts.)


We are aware of the biosphere and of the Universe, at least in superficial terms, because they are all around us and we cannot avoid them.


To imagine that they are also aware of us, and take us into any sort of consideration, are two leaps so vast that either of them is - for me - akin to physically stepping from Earth onto a planet in a neighboring galaxy, without bothering to do the necessary research and development to get there.


I can imagine it, because my imagination is unrestrained by reality.   I cannot describe the mechanism because I have leaped over all such mundane details as propulsive forces and the speed of light.  And of course I will have to make up such specifics as what my new environment is like.   It will have to be like something I already know, because my imagination, though not restrained by reality, is constrained by my prior mental constructs.   It has to build on something that is already in my brain.


This is the construction technique of all metaphysics.   As with all metaphysics its intellectual distance from - and access to - testable reality determines its relevance to my physical existence. 


I may imagine my unfettered sojourn in the next galaxy, and I may feature traveling to Mars.


At my age either adventure is extremely unlikely, but one of them is several orders of magnitude closer to possibility.


And this is what we deal with in Rational Religion; the relative distance to known and demonstrable physical realities.  The closer we stick to those, the more securely we are centered in our own personal universes.  


It is for this reason that no thinking Rational Religionist is likely to stray off into the concept of The Universe as a deity.  It's just too long a step.