Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Why Do We Need Religion if there is G-d?

What is G-d and what is religion? Without even trying to answer this question, it's clear that G-d and religion are not synonyms, for there are many religions, and we if operate under the assumption that there is only G-d, then religion and G-d can't be the same thing.

The direction of this relatively short essay will lead us away from the practical aspects of religion, such as particular beliefs, practices, etc., and will attempt to deal with some of the "basics" or universal and transcendent aspects of G-d. In other words, there are aspects of G-d that have nothing to do with the religion you practice and have everything to do with the fact that you believe in G-d. Later on in the essay, the direction will steer back to the particulars and finite aspects of religion, Judaism and Christianity in this case, and how G-d's essential nature is related to those religions.

Josh Greenberger, author of "Human Intelligence Gone Ape," postulates about the origin of the universe that, "It's almost as if there was no way for our universe to have come into existence." To summarize Greenberger's line of reasoning, if we try to pinpoint the first moments of our universe's existence by asking "what was before us, and what was before that, and what was before that?," a relatively common philosophical question, we either have to conclude that there was a first thing of which before there was nothing, or we have to say that there was no beginning and that existence is (and has always been) infinite. In other words, a child may ask, "Who are my parents? Who are thir parents? Who are their parents?" A child can ask this over and over again until reaching the first humans. You can ask the same question with regards to everything and eventually the search would trace back to the first thing in existence. The pursuits of science are also in love with this question, and so science ends up dealing with the possibility that the universe has an unexplained beginning from something before it, or that there was an actual point in time in which the universe came into existence from nothing.

However, the structures that science accepts to be true, many of them found through investigation of the universe, demand that each thing was created through the process of something else. For example, an orange came from a tree, the tree came from a seed, the seed came from organic matter, the organic matter came from... you get the point.

Science has a hard time answering how every single thing has a previous cause running forever backwards into eternity, for it is not capable of answering from material itself came. It also grapples with the question as to how something can come into existence when just before it there was nothing.

For example, the fields of science that investigate the origin of our universe (astronomy, astrophysics, quantum physics, chemistry, etc...) for the most part accept the occurrence of the Big Bang, a huge explosion of matter at the beginning of time, creating time itself, in which the entire materials of the present universe were flung out from one spot. Science is a noble pursuit, I truly do believe, and it fascinates me, but the Big Bang is an unproven theory. It's also as far back "chronologically" as science can go in explaining our origins. If that is true, the first possibility is that the giant sphere of material that eventually exploded was always there, but if it was always there, it means that something must have caused for it to physically exist. The other possibility is that it did not exist and then it existed; these are questions with which science, studying physical forces, grapples. As of yet, there are no tight scientific answers to these questions, only theories. That in and of itself is not bad, for the pursuit of knowledge is noble and necessary, but perhaps we are close to realizing that science studies forces that challenge our assumptions about the nature of just what exactly is physical.

The other entertained possibility is that there was nothing and then there was something. According to Greenberger, there is a theory (which is not so popular) stating that spontaneous creation is responsible for the creation of the universe, that indeed, from a scientific standpoint, the universe came from nothing.

According to Greenberger, "this notion is supported by the claim that sub-atomic particles have been observed appearing from nowhere." (91) However, Greenberger sites two problems with this theory, a) it's possible that the machine was simply not able to perceive things that were actually there, so when it suddenly perceived them, you came to the conclusion that there must have been nothing there before, and b) the "concept of nothing implies complete and total nonexistence, no energy, no matter, no gravity waves, no magnetic fields, absolutely devoid of any substance whatsoever. Such a state would have no force, drive, 'motivation,' or power to produce anything." (91) Therefore, an experiment showing that something appeared from nothing actually shows that there was something there, just that it was not (yet) perceivable.

Without mixing science and theology with each other, if we ponder on these scientific issues (of an infinite universe or of a universe that came from nothing), we come to a realization that perhaps the universe has no physical origins, and that's what Greenberger means when he says, "It's almost as if there was no way for our universe to have come into existence." The existence of G-d, then, would be a valid (scientific) theory postulating the origin of the universe, for it's at least a plausible explanation for the existence of the universe that answers some of the scientific qualms. "And it's this very fact that should move the concept of G-d away from the domain of philosophy and more toward reality. After such mind boggling concepts as black holes, exploding universes, anti matter, elusive subatomic particles, warped time, and curved space, G-d should hardly seem all that philosophical." (86) The existence of these "phenomena, as speculative as they are, are given a status of legitimacy"; why does science not allow for the thought that perhaps the universe has a non-physical origin? (85) It's not really that unscientific, and it is definitely not unscientific to consider it.

I have to quote from Greenberger here, because he is a bit more eloquent than me:

"Well, maybe that's the answer -- there was no physical way for our universe to have come into existence. The laws of nature, giving every indication that our entire universe is comprised of elements of finite potential, point in the direction of something of an infinite nature as the source of our physical universe. This source may not necessarily be easy to comprehend. Nevertheless, in light of the impossibility of sources to which we can relate on a physical level, this source, as incomprehensible as it may seem, must be the only rational explanation, our universe must have come into existence through 'something' which did not itself have to come from anywhere. Whats more, this is not the 'best' or the 'most probable explanation,' this appears to be the only truly plausible explanation; the being which created our universe must be a being of eternity. For without this, we are left with explanations which cannot be verified or substantiated by science or logic." (88)


Up to this point, we have only been talking about the scientific reality that whatever created the universe is likely infinite.


Getting into the Theological Mechanics


At this point in time, the essay will take a slight turn. I started off by attempting to explore some of the basics of G-d, which have nothing to do with the particulars of any religion and yet seem to be related to all of them - now I'll talk a bit about how G-d's Essential Nature as Creator of the universe is related to the particulars of religion (Judaism and Christianity in this case).

Judaism and Christianity believe that G-d is Infinite and Infinitely Wise, being the Creator of all that is. So far, the scientific sojourn into the origins of the universe aligns with these Jewish and Christian beliefs. But when we begin getting into G-d's Essential Form, from a scientific perspective, there are certain necessary attributes that a universal Creator must have.

For example, Greenberger states, detached from theological assumptions, the necessity of this Being's Nature:


"Finally, common sense will tell you that to bring a universe such as ours into existence, this being would have to possess powers beyond our imagination and intelligence beyond our conception, and this being could not possibly be bound or limited in any way by the laws of nature which govern our universe. Then, after putting these logical deductions together, you should arrive at a startling conclusion -- the concept which is G-d." (89)


He also says:

"Just as nothing in our universe can exist without time or space, so can nothing exist without having been born, formed, created, etc. But when you talk about G-d, the concept of 'birth' is not applicable. When we talk about a Being which brought everything that exists into existence, we're obviously talking about an Ultimate Source to which we were logically led to for want of any other possible explanation. Which means that what we've actually done is reached the "end" -- there simply cannot be a source beyond this. As a result, the concepts of 'origin' and 'birth' cease to exist at this point and are only products of His Creation, and He can obviously not be bound by them. If He were bound by such things, He could not possibly be the source of all that exists; something would have to have existed before Him, and we'd be back to square one. So when we talk about G-d,we're talking about that 'Final Source,' an Original Source, or an Ultimate Existence, before Whom nothing else could possibly have existed. The concept of G-d, therefore, implies an Existence unlike any other existence; an Existence to Whom the terms 'beginning' and 'end' simply do not apply; an Existence from Whom every other existence must have originated..." (90)

Judaism and Christianity believe in the existence of the One G-d, and suffice it to say that those of them reading the information contained in this post will most likely find the basic statements about G-d to be irrefutable truths. Let us look how the aforementioned statements possibly correlate with the first commandment in the Torah. In it, G-d says that He cannot be expressed in the form of anything (Exodus 20:4-5, Exodus 20:19-20). For those who do not have Exodus handy, it says, "You shall not make yourself a carved image nor any likeness of that which is in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the water beneath the earth. You shall not prostate yourself to them nor worship them, for I am Hashem, your G-d -- a jealous G-d...," and in 19-20 He says, "'You have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven. You shall not make [images of what is] with Me; gods of silver and gods of gold shall you not make for yourselves.'" In this commandment, G-d departs the secret of His Essence to the Jewish and Gentile nations, that He has no physical, tangible, form.

Judaism

If, scientifically speaking, as Greenberger mentioned, "...this being could not possibly be bound or limited in any way the laws of nature which govern our universe" is true, then the scientific truth of a Beginner coincides with His instructions in the first commandment. In other words, the first commandment captures and unites all that is Divinely and scientifically true about G-d, i.e., the truths that make themselves apparent in both the spiritual and the physical world. It is possible that this is the "jist" of the first commandment?

The commandment says not to "make yourself a carved image nor any likeness of that which is in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the water beneath the earth." It is likely that this was a reference to making idols in animal shapes, which was a popular practice among polytheists, but the commandment, years ahead of its time, states not to make "any likeness of that which is... on the earth below." Human beings walk around on the earth below as well, and if someone were to make an idol of a human being versus that of an animal, and bowed to it, it would still be idolatry. If a person believes that Divinity can be physically imagined, or looks in a certain way, even if he makes no physical representations of Divinity (I can't imagine what those would accurately be), he has created a form for himself in his mind and has created a spiritual connection to that form; herein lies the basis of the prohibition in the first commandment.


Christianity

Jesus' having an existence bound by physicality and time violates the notion of a G-d unlimited by space and time, His creations. That Jesus was born in a certain place and at a certain time indicate that he is bound by place and time. That he has to walk in order to be in a different place means that he is bound within the world in which he walks. That he must turn his head to see what is behind him suggest that he is a finite being. Anything existing within the universe it created cannot be its creator, and so anything or anyone bound by G-d's creations cannot be G-d, Who is not limited to earth. We know the date (time) and place (space) of Jesus' birth, both of which indicate that he was a created being, but if he was a created being, he cannot be eternal, and therefore not G-d.

Therefore, anything or anyone that had a starting (or finishing) point cannot be G-d. As Greenberger stated with respect to the Nature of a Universal Creator, the "... concepts of 'origin' and 'birth' cease to exist at this point and are only products of His Creation, and He can obviously not be bound by them." This would be a violation of the first commandment.

A common response might be, "True, G-d is not limited to earth, but He chose to place that limitation upon Himself." I have heard that statement before and I can see the logic in it, but it's not that G-d can't do what He wants, because He can, but it's that the world as He created it cannot contain Him and continue to exist. Why particularly G-d created the world in such a manner is a different topic, but I'll gladly discuss it if anybody wants to. For G-d to place Himself in the world would be like using a thousand-volt battery in a one-volt appliance - the appliance (the world) would be totally incompatible with the battery (G-d) or would be destroyed. Another metaphor would be like putting a thousand pound weight onto a paper towel hoping that it wouldn't rip. Now imagine an infinitely heavy weight placed upon a finite paper towel - the two cannot meet. The only way that one could place a thousand pound weight on a paper towel would be to cut off a small enough piece of the original weight and to place it on the towel. But if one did that, then he truly did not perform the miraculous act of placing the entire weight on the towel, he just placed a small piece on it, and the small piece is not synonymous with the weight itself. Further, what is every human being on the earth other than a microcosm of G-d, a small piece of the weight, for does Genesis not say that "G-d created Man in His Image, male and female He created them?" In a matter of speaking, when G-d made Man (humanity), He placed a part of His Essence into the human body of every single person, He placed Himself in flesh.

The flesh of Jesus, i.e., his body, if taken literally to be G-d, cannot be so because it was damaged during his crucifixion and eventually ceased to function, i.e., died. If G-d made Himself flesh, the body would have been invincible. Of course, one could argue that on top of deciding to limit Himself into the form of a man, He also allowed the body which somehow encapsulated Him to be mortal. This is somewhat like creating an argument for something based on lack of evidence. For example, if I tell you that someone stole my car, you could tell me that you didn't see my car in my yard on the day it was stolen. Then I could say that I actually parked my car at my friend's house that day and that it was stolen from there. When you called my friend to validate that I had placed my car there that day, he told you that he was at the store down the street and couldn't verify it. There would be no way to verify from the information at hand that my car was indeed stolen, and indeed, it would be a bit foolish to believe that it was. Likewise, there is no evidence that Jesus was G-d, for he looked like a man, spoke like a man, acted like a man, was born like man, reacted to injury like a man, and died like any other man were he crucified. Therefore, anything or anyone that had a starting or finishing point cannot be G-d. "Just as nothing in our universe can exist without time or space, so can nothing exist without having been born, formed, created, etc," it's an indication that time and space are necessary for a thing to be created or born.

Keep in mind that it is my usage of Greenberger's statements that are theological; his are deliberately unrelated to any particular religious theology. If they seem to align, it might be because the nature of the universe as created by G-d was made in concordance with His commandments.

These are not just theological or philosophical issues, which are relegated to the realm of thought and have limited, little, or no practical application; if G-d is real, these are imminent factors in understanding Him. G-d cannot be born or die, He doesn't have human biological functions, His Voice doesn't have a particular frequency, His body doesn't have a particular height, build, or a certain swing to his walk, and His eyes don't have a certain color. These things would all be relevant if G-d exists within the realm of His Creation, by which He is unbound, yet the moment He appears within His Creation, He is bound by His Creation. Remember, in Exodus 19, G-d says, "'You have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven." G-d is in heaven, not on earth, and therefore we should not imagine that He has the likeness of anything that is on earth, for that would be a violation of His True Self and a clear misunderstanding on our part.

To use a metaphor, let us imagine a computer whiz who has built a computer, created a sophisticated program to run it, invented his own software based on the program, for the computer, and created a video game with characters. Now let us imagine that he wanted to place himself into the video game that he created, among his characters. He could create a program, applicable to the design of the software, that would be able to contain him within it. For it to be able to contain him, it must be complex enough to contain him. For example, if you wanted to put yourself into a bag, it must be as big you and no smaller. However, he cannot fit his true essence onto a program that the computer can handle, for he is far more advanced than the computer. Put in another way, the computer cannot process the breadth, complexity, and sophistication of his information, and so he cannot place himself inside it. So instead of placing himself into the computer, he would create a program of himself that is on the level of the computer's sophistication and that can exist inside it and therefore he can base the information contained inside this program off of himself. However, it can never truly capture his essence in all its complexity, for the computer would not be able to handle it and it would fry its circuitry. Indeed, there is neither a program nor circuitry that would be able to handle the complexity of its maker, for if so, he would have created a creation equal to him, and if that is so, he would have duplicated, or created himself. If he duplicated himself, there would be two of him, and two things cannot be equal if one has created the other. In other words, one is the creator and the other is the created. and so having the status of creator and created makes them not equal to each other. So he would have to settle for an ultra-reduced version of himself that the computer can handle, not containing in the least all of his information, and it is this program that he places into the computer. The characters in the game interact with the character-shaped program, but since it is on their level of sophistication, it is not an equal or synonymous with its maker.

Relating this to G-d, "If He were bound by such things, He could not possibly be the source of all that exists; something would have to have existed before Him, and we'd be back to square one."

The concluding answer to the original question, "Why do we need religion if there is G-d?" is that He has aligned His Infinite Nature and Knowledge with finite particulars, specially designed in order for humans to come into closer contact with Him and to do His Will. Just what G-d's Will is also different according to Jewish and Christian theology, but another topic.

Peace, Yaniv...

1 comment:

... said...

An intelligently written article; thanks for posting it.