In this worldview series we have already introduced the idea of definitions, and the importance of going back to them. We had a look at some of the postulates that define physics, and mentioned the above possible postulate for biology. We contrasted postulates within empirical sciences with the axioms and postulates within mathematics, and above is a definition used in the development of Euclidian geometry. We will now have a look at a new definition, that of the word God. When talking about religious things, including beliefs in and about God, one very often forgets this step. And without a prior agreement of what one means with words, it is very hard to agree on the conclusions that one can and cannot draw regarding properties that these words might imply. Therefore, we will now spend almost an entire blog post to this topic. And the first thing to realize is that God is - without definitions - just a collection of three letters, i.e. an inherently meaningless word. We could therefore just as well set out to define the word ABHUG.
Before we start, let me just shortly explain why I think that this is a meaningful thing to bring up, in a worldview description that I claim to be compatible with science. As you will see below, my definition of the word God does not require me to use it, and I will - in fact - only seldom use it in the rest of these worldview texts. However, the word has been used extensively throughout history, and its existance and "loadedness", is blocking communication between big fractions within our society. I therefore want to show that it is possible to introduce the word in a way which does not require any "faith" of any sort, but that still can be compatible with the way the word has been used in most religious traditions. This particular blog is therefore along the same lines as the general goals of this series, since one of these general goals is to provide keys of translation between communities; both for religious people to embrace science as a friend and not as an enemy, and for atheists and materialists to be able to better understand the point of and knowledge contained in religious and spiritual texts, including those within yoga and meditation, diving into your own mind. In short, I hope that such an increased communication will allow more people to have access to more types of insights, available in more types of forums.
The definition I will use is quite short and simple:
God := everything that exists
Before I do anything else, I will just start by clarifying a little bit what this short definition actually means. Everything that exists surely includes all physical objects, i.e. the Universe and all its content. It does not, however, make any sort of requirements of how this Universe works, or what it consists of. Furthermore, "everything that exists" may also include other things than the physical Universe, if such things exists. For instance, there may be such a thing as a Heaven with angels in it - if they do exist, they are included as a part of God, and otherwise not. Similarly, there may have been a Supreme Being that started it all: if there was, that being is a part of this definition of God. And likewise, there may exist such a thing as psychic energy, pure consciousness, thoughts, etc - if these exist, they are included in this definition of God, and otherwise not. Here it is important to say that this definition also means that God also includes all perspectives of this everything. In other words, all the subjective experiences that e.g. we as humans have, the left-hand side of Wilber's quadrants, are, just like the right-hand side's physical objects, a part of what God entails, according to this definition. In summary, if a thing exists, it is included in what God is. According to this definition.
Immediate consequences of this definition
One of the main benefits of defining the word God in this fashion is that it is fully non-problematic at its onset. You may say that it is meaningless or useless to introduce such a word, but it is despite that not problematic or automatically illogical to do so. In other words, this definition does not imply any sort of belief, or the existance or truth of any other conditions, for the definition to be possible. Furthermore, the very charged question "Do you believe in God?" becomes, with this definition, completely harmless. With this definition, God is not something one believes or does not believe in, it is something one believes different things about. An important consequence of this is that religion and spirituality, which seeks to understand God more deeply, suddenly has the same objective as Science, which seeks to understand Reality better. This is important, because it illustrates that any true endeavor for truth cannot be in an unresolvable conflict with another such endeavor, and that they must all be looking for the same thing. They may be using different tools, and get temporarily different - perhaps even temporarily conflicting - results, but ultimately their end-results cannot be in conflict with each other. Finally, regarding the question of whether this is a meaningless definition, I would say that there are no real good alternative words, which already covers this definition. I above used the word "Reality" to describe what Science is trying to describe. But "Reality" would also need the same definition before it would be taken to mean the same thing as "God". In other words, some people would probably use the word "Reality" to only mean the study-object that physics deals with at the moment, and therefore pre-supposes that all things that exists are reproducible, measurable, indepenent of who observes it, etc. Such pre-suppositions may always be wrong, and such pre-suppositions are not a necessary part of the above definition of God.
This definition does not exclude the possibility of a personal conscious God
Many people and many traditions talk about a personal God, a God who is conscious, perhaps doing things, and perhaps even of a God who is incarnated in a physical body here in Earth. I therefore want to say that the above definition of God does not exclude the possibility of such occurances. However, before going into that, I want to say that we are now leaving the clear definitions ensuring the non-problematic existence of God, and are moving into an ever-evolving understandings about God (or "all-that-is" if you rather use that word). From now on, we are moving into various beliefs about God, or about Reality.
To understand how God defined in this way still could be a conscious being, we will have a look at the theories developed within Systems Theology, and at the upper and lower sides of Wilber's four quadrants.
This is Wilber's four quadrants revisited. In the previous blog, we learned about the right- and left-hand sides. Now we instead contrast the relationship between the lower half, which describes the components in a system, and the upper half, which describes the system level.
Systems theology is one of the recent attempts that has been made to create a worldview that combines religion, in this case Christianity, with modern science, in a conflict-free manner. It is a big theory, and I will now only touch upon a specific aspect of it: its multi-level aspect. This aspect comes from the observation that life, and the Universe, seems to be structured in a multi-level fashion. As I described in the previous blog, one such multi-level aspect concerns the electron and the proton which make up a hydrogen atom. The hydrogen atom is not only a proton and an electron close together, but rather a new "entity". In other words, new things (a coupling term) have appeared in the merging of the electron and the proton. Similarly, we do not experience ourselves as 1 billion cells, even though we in some objective sense seem to be precisely that. Both of those system-part couplings are examples of what Wilber talks about in the upper and lower halves of his four quadrants. The lower half corresponds to the parts (the electrons/protons in the hydrogen atom, or the cell in the body), and the upper half corresponds to the system level (the hydrogen atom and the body, respectively).
Let us now consider how such system-part couplings are connected. The system-level of the first example above, atoms, themselves form together into molecules, which forms together into cells, which were the parts in the cell-body example in the second example. However, this chain does not seem to end there. Physical bodies also form together into larger systems, social systems like the internet, and eco-systems; and these ultimately make up the Earth, which is a part of the solar system, which is a part of the galaxy, etc. In other words, if one considers the extension of this chain upwards, one will all the time encounter new types of existencies, new types of entities, which may potentially be consciously aware of their existance, in a sense that is more or less like our own awareness (one e.g. sometimes speak of the internet as an emerging global mind). If we now return to God in the definition above, we therefore see that this definition of God does not exclude the possibility of God as a conscious being: God is then simply the highest organism "up there" (which may be a never-ending process, but this is not a problem by itself). And just like I have various types of relationships and interactions with my organs and cells, such a God could therefore similarly be in various types of communication with its "cells", i.e. with us.
There are many traditions that claim that their founders are an incarnation of God, the Son of God, one with God, or something like that. In the culture, there are also many depictions of God in a particular form. In this video we see one them: from "Monty Python's and the Holy Grail".
What about the possibility of God appearing as personal incarnations?
We have now seen that the definition I have given does not exclude the possibility of a consciously aware God, which is doing things, interacting with us, etc. For sure, I do not claim that the above reasoning proves this conscious awarenessness - but it at least does not exclude the possibility. In fact, considering the seemingly multi-level aspect of Reality, it does not even seem like that far-fetched an idea. Let us now similarly see how the definition I have given also is not incompatible with the potential existance of "divine incarnations", i.e. with the existance of persons who can claim to be God - and be right in doing so...!
Again, we will do this by comparing with our own experience of life, and with the relation to our physical bodies. As I noted already above, our bodies are a collection of some billions of cells, which form together into organs, and then the whole body. Now, this body has the potential to somehow harbour awareness; we experience ourselves as consciously existing somehow within our bodies. However, many people would probably say that this conscious awareness is not situated in the whole body, but somewhere in the brain. Therefore, a part of our body is consciously aware of itself - but that self is actually also the whole body. To generalize: a part of a body can therefore be consciously aware of its existance (which it defines as the whole body), whereas other parts of the same body (e.g. the fingers) does not have that awareness. Or, a part of the whole can actually speak for the whole, because it somehow has reached a level of awareness that other parts have not reached. This does not mean that other parts aren't a part of that whole, it just means that those other parts are not aware of their global identity (the whole body), but only of their local identity (their existance e.g. as a cell, as a finger, or as an organ).
Now if one has already accepted the idea of "all-that-is" to be a conscious being, the above reasoning around our own bodies directly translates to the potential existence of divine incarnations. Those divine incarnations would then simply correspond to the brain in the above example: a part of "all-that-is" which has reached awareness of its global identity, and therefore can speak for the whole. Therefore, the above definition of God is not incompatible with a God a walks among us.
What about all the other definitions, God as Ultimate Love, etc?
With the above little examples given, I want to say that the dealings that we are doing now about things like consciousness, the relationship between consciousness and matter, and all such things will be defined and dealt with in much more detail in future texts. Here, I just want to give a first whirl of how just some simple reasonings can make one realize that concepts and definitions that seem completely incompatible with each other, may actually be compatible, and that there actually may be some logic to how things actually could be like various religions and spiritual traditions claim. At least to some extent. However, again: none of the above things regarding a consciously aware God, or the existance of divine incarnations, etc, are in any way proven by the above reasoning.
In the same spirit it is quite possible to play around with these concepts to also realize that the above definition of God is quite compatible with other views of God that also has been proposed throughout history. I will therefore here just end with one of these, which can be explained rather quickly: that the above definition of God actually could be argued to imply that God is Love.
To give any meaning to such a statement we first need to define the word Love (which I here capitalize, to make it separate from the everyday usage of the word). In this blog series, I will use the following definition:
Love := the feeling of being one
In other words, if you feel (increasing) Love for somebody, according to the this defition you then feel (increasingly) at one with that person. And similarly, if there is somebody you feel lack of Love for, you often say that you are estranged from them, i.e. as feeling quite separate from him/her. I therefore think that most people would say that this definition is sort of consistent with their own subjective experience of love (the normal usage of the word), so the definition is not taken out of the blue.
Let us now turn to the relationship between Love and God. God is, as defined above, the sum-total of everything. And, we realized above that it is not unconceivable that this sum-total is an aware being. Then this aware being feels, by definition, at one with everything. And, again by definition, this feeling is Love. Evenmore, this Love that God then feels must be of the most complete form, which one could call Ultimate Love, because the feeling is felt with respect to all things, with no things left outside.
To sum up, we have therefore in three different cases seen how the seemingly useless definition of God as the sum-total does not exclude the usage of the word God in other perhaps more traditional senses of the word: God as a conscious active communication being, God as incarnating in physical bodies, and God as Ultimate Love. However, I have all the time tried to emphasize that even though this definition of the word God makes the question of whether one can believe in God a non-issue - the answer is obviously yes - it still leaves the more important issue of what you believe *about* God as an open question. But this, in fact, in itself means that broad religion (as opposed to narrow religion, introduced in the previous blog) and science are doing the same thing: they may use different tools, but they are working towards the same goal, and their ultimate results can therefore not be in conflict.
Charles Dicken's in his study, as depicted by Samuel Hollyer, in 1875, taken from here
FURTHER READING & SCIENTIFIC CONTROVERSES OF THIS BLOG POST
As always I want to end by taking things beyond this blog: to further reading, and to the relationship between what I say here and with what science is saying on the same topics.
Regarding further reading, much of the same literature already given holds for all of these three blog posts. For instance, my old essay is a slightly longer version of these blog posts, which includes more references, and the book by Barbour is a much longer version, which also contains quite some details regarding Systems Theology. If you are not uncomfortable with a religious language, and are not that picky about always relating things to science, I could also recommend for instance the Conversations with God series, by Neale Donald Walsh (which should be read in English, the translations I have seen are horrible). Even though these books are, as is clear from the title, about a conversation with God, and written much within a Christian language, I know of also quite a few atheists and "non-believers" who appreciate those books quite a lot as well.
Regarding the relationship to what Science is saying, I have herein introduced two new definitions: about God and about Love. These are not connected to Science, i.e. not pre-existing within Science, but should nevertheless be scientifically non-controversial (you can always define words to mean whatever you want, as long as you are clear about what you do). Regarding the details I mentioned from Systems Theology, regarding the multi-level world we seem to live in, the picture is a little bit more mixed. The understanding of the hydrogen atom should be non-controversial, and is within the topic that I took my M.Sc. in, Theoretical Physics. Regarding the higher levels of organisations, in particular the relationship between cells within a body, and the whole body, this is in some sense exactly what I am doing research on right now, within the field of Systems Biology. However, even though this field is supposed to be about a multi-level understanding of life, today's research is still stuck with much more basic questions (e.g. regarding how to soundly use mathematical models to interpret data). Therefore, research within Systems Biology does not have that much to contribute with yet, which nevertheless also means that it does not strongly either oppose or support the existance of independent new biological levels, which are something different than the sum of the parts. I think that for that question, our own experience as humans living with a single consciousness despite our billions of cells is a much stronger evidence, when deciding how to make up ones mind. There are, on the other hand, some interesting and related research going on regarding quasi-formations, i.e. regarding systems that has not formed themselves fully into a new level, but which has a high organisational structure. Here E.O. Wilson and his research on ants could be mentioned; but his work on ants is outside of my own research field. There is also a a sub-society within Science that deals with the question whether it is scientifically meaningful to speak of the Earth as a single living organism (Gaia hypothesis). However, even though their work is being published in a scientific journal, there is far from any scientific consensus on the matter.
Research on ants is highly interesting, for several reasons. For one, it seems like the ant colony as a whole has a much higher intelligence than each individual ant; this touches upon the existance and potential for shared and global intelligence. Furthermore, such complex societal structures within nature can also teach us important things regarding how we can best structure our human societies. This illustrates how Science can change our understanding of the world, and how this understanding can have direct consequences for how we lead our lives. These links are the main reason I am doing this worldview series. Illustration by Milo Winter, taken from Wikipedia.