God Particle, Panentheism, Creator-Faith

Questions are being bandied about concerning the discovery of the “God Particle” and its potential relation to theistic faith.  I would like to state that this doesn’t affect my God-definition, because I am a panentheist (not to be confused with pantheist), and the God-image which I conceive is neither a creator nor an intervener. “God” in my view is a transcendent being utterly unconnected to the creation and/or existence of the material universe – and therefore cannot be praised for the world’s goodness, nor blamed for its evils.

Following Fred Hoyle’s idea, stated in his sci-fi novel, The Black Cloud, I speculate that the notion of a divine creator may be derived from the making of artifacts by human beings, that is:  since we are born into a world of pre-made “stuff”;  and since we ourselves make or “create” artifacts; therefore our surrounding world of pre-made stuff must, by implication, be the artifact of a divine maker. At least that’s how I think the creator idea may have evolved in ancient times.

While I am glad whenever science discovers new data like the “God Particle” about the world and/or about the universe’s origins, this has no real impact on my God-conception, for the following reasons.

The issue as a religious proposition really only affects those who think of God as a creator. As already mentioned, I believe that God is real, but is not now, never was, and never will be, a creator or an intervener, so the issue does not impact my god-beliefs. If a particle or some other physical thing or process, for example, is proven to be the “glue” that binds all things together, this only means that those who formerly assigned this “binding function” to a creator are further marginalized, forced to watch as their “creator” is edged out of the cosmic big picture by one more increment of scientific knowledge. If memory serves, it was Julian Huxley who said, “operationally, God is becoming more and more to resemble the last fading smile of a cosmic Cheshire Cat”.

Those who insist that a deity created the universe are risking the God of the Gaps gambit. More and more it looks as if the universe is, or is the result of, eternally extant quantum fluctuations. If that is the case, then we have met the creator, and “He” turns out to be a kind of eternally extant quantum field behavior, not some kind of sentient entity.

The picture gets much worse, however, if we ever actually do discover a creator, and that creator turns out to be a sentient deity. In view of the utter indifference of the universe to sentient life and to human needs, the creator – if such a deity exists – must be by turns indifferent, hostile, capricious, insane, cruel, and/or incompetent – Tennessee Williams’ “senile delinquent”.

I would much rather believe that the creator – if one exists – is quantum fluctuation than that it is a deity. Human suffering is far more explicable by invocation of mindless, indifferent quantum forces, than it is by invocation of a compassionate but apparently impotent creator-deity. The naturalistic creation story, though spiritually comfortless, is far more theologically sensible, and it accounts for much more, than the supernaturalist creation story.

That is, we would expect that the universe would be indifferent to, and unaware of, the fate of all the sentient beings who live within it. In that case, we would simply accept, and expect, the fact that we must suffer and die, with no hint of concern from the material universe.

But, if we posit a compassionate creator-intervener, then we would expect that “His” universe would be sensitively responsive to our physical and emotional welfare, our plans, our dreams. However, since this is so obviously not the case, the “Creator-Faithful” must jump through hoops and perform intellectual acrobatics, in order to somehow justifiy “God’s universe’s” non-friendly treatment of sentient beings.

Hence, for me, it is much easier and less frought with intellectual difficulty, to conceive of God as a non-creating, non-intervening transcendent entity, rather than as a “compassionate Creator” who has made such a botch of “His” creation that “He” can only repair it by all-too-infrequent, wildly inconsistent, and logically problematic interventions.

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3 thoughts on “God Particle, Panentheism, Creator-Faith

  1. John

    You are quite right in pointing out the profound difficulties of an interventionist and omnipotent deity in light of the problem of theodicy. They are clearly irreconcilable. However, one challenge that your position faces – in light of the understandable desire to completely disconnect the ultimate reality from a deeply flawed material world – is explaining the relationship between them. One senses an almost Gnostic dualism in this approach which is certainly one way of dealing with this quandary. Nevertheless, if your worldview is grounded in Mahayana Buddhism, then a dualism of this kind is not tenable.

    The classic Mahayana scripture. ‘The Awakening of Faith’, offers another resolution. The ultimate reality – the Dharma Body – presents itself in two aspects. Firstly, in its absolute and formless aspect of ‘Suchness’, it is the ground of all being and the source of all manifested existence. The latter, i.e. the transitory and unsatisfactory world of samsara, is the Dharma Body in its conditioned aspect as this realm of birth-and-death. In other words, it’s all the one reality revealing itself in different modes or levels of manifestation (and any manifestation involves imperfection as it is only an incomplete and fractured reflection of its source). This view, then, can be reconciled with the cardinal Mahayana doctrine of the non-duality (not identity) of Nirvana and Samsara.

    This does not mean that the Dharma Body creates the world – far from it. It does, however, suggest that the finite and impermanent realm of samsara is dependent on an infinite and eternal ultimate reality that transcends it. Seeing as this process of manifestation or emanation is not ‘willed’ in any way, it cannot be viewed as ‘creation’ in the conventional sense. Nevertheless, one arises from the other but in an impersonal and spontaneous manner as it is in the nature of an infinite reality to take on limitless but imperfect forms. This still addresses the problem of theodicy but ensures the ‘oneness’ (to use a vague but nevertheless helpful designation) of reality while admitting degrees of that reality at the same time. That is, it guarantees both the ‘immanence’ in addition to the ‘transcendence’ of the all-pervading Dharma Body.

    From the perspective of the Pure Land tradition, Amida Buddha clearly does not have a cosmological function – this is reserved for the Dharma Body alone. As the compassionate aspect of the ultimate reality, Amida Buddha’s role is purely salvific. Buddhas in other schools – such as Mahavairocana (‘Great Sun’) in the Shingon tradition – do possess the function of being the source of all reality as this Buddha, for example, is explicitly identified with the Dharma Body which is not the case with Amida who represents, exclusively, the compassion and wisdom (as opposed to the cosmic) aspect of the Absolute.

  2. rennyo01 Post author

    John, thanks so much for your deep, thoughtful comment. Yes, Amida Buddha, as infinite wisdom and compassion is my personal solution, derived from Shin, for the creator-theodicy problem. Also thank you for all the information about the Dharma Body and Buddhist cosmology – it is as much appreciated as it is engrossing 🙂

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