Meta-reinventing the sacred, yet again

Michelle and Jeremy and I went to a talk entitled Sacred Science at Caltech last night put on by the The Skeptics Society, it was part of Suart Kauffman’s book tour for Reinventing the Sacred. It was okay, but it could have been great. If you’re interested, he gave essentially the same talk at Beyond Belief in December (41 minutes long).

His purpose seemed to be to outline a semi-formal proof that atheistic humans are justified in reinventing the sacred for themselves as something which is wholly naturalistic, and that doing so has great value. I agree, but I’ve agreed for years. I guess some atheists haven’t yet come to this conclusion. This is the same conversation that we ended up in at Amy’s Salon a couple of months ago, and I’m always like “Yes, YES already, so let’s just get on with reinventing it, instead of continuing to try and convince ourselves that we should do it. It’s a meta conversation. We’re talking about talking about what we think should be revered. Are we afraid that we won’t be able to come to any kind of common ground, and that just having the conversation will somehow splinter us into even smaller non-theistic sects?

I don’t think this is true. I think that the billion plus people who self-identify as non-theists when loaded words like “atheist” are avoided in the question are in large part a non-entity (religiously) because we have refused to define what we hold sacred as naturalists, and to build the ritualistic communities that humans need around those things.

I did like Kauffman’s identification of the Universe’s grotesquely non-repeating nature as the white space within which wonderment arises. In this Universe, only a vanishingly small fraction of all the possible proteins will ever come into existence. The Universe itself is almost acting as a degeneracy splitter: saying some things are better than others. There are vast spaces of perfectly plausible autocatalytic systems that will never arise, and a few that will, and it is this emergent, persistent, complexity, that he has decided to call God. A natural god. He argues that it is actually worthwhile to use the “god word”, and I think for the first time I might consider it. He points out (as does Jack Miles in his books God: A Biography and Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God) that God’s character has certainly evolved over time, and across cultures. We are just as entitled as any supernaturalist to use the word, and it may be worthwhile to do so, because it is a powerful symbol ingrained in our civilization, and because it may facilitate the emergence of commonalities between theists and non-theists. Plenty of people mean different things by “God” already. Adding one new definition won’t really increase the confusion that much more. For people who want to get along, those differences are not an impediment, and those who want to have a conflict will always be able to find a justification.

Kauffman is, like E.O. Wilson in The Creation, and unlike Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, willing to compromise on the metaphysics – or rather, to live together with people who subscribe to a different set of metaphysics – so long as we can build a common civilization together in this world. And he believes that it is imperative that we do so.

I think I agree. I just wish we could somehow get the actual conversation started.

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