I would be remiss if I did not talk about this particular aspect of religion, the belief in a vague, indeterminate source of creation – and, honestly, I have, numerous times in the past, but always while dealing with something more specific. It deserves its own dedicated post, which will be many times more specific and detailed than the topic itself has ever been, so let’s delve into the question, But how about a vague and indefinite creative force?
My guess is that some variation of this belief is held by a large percentage of religious folk – or at least, held in part, and we’re going to come back to this shortly. It encompasses deism and weak theism, and can supposedly incorporate not just any particular religion, but all of them. Thus, the conflicts between various religions, the contradictory supreme authorities, and all such difficulties are resolved, so it seems, by the idea that none of them are quite true, but have the right underlying idea. Often enough, the idea itself is vague and subject to a lot of interpretation. The common denominator is usually a creative force or being that is responsible for “starting it all.” Other ideas, such as something or someone with a plan, or something/someone who wants humans to accomplish… something… come up from time to time, and what we start getting into is each person’s individual concept of what this force/being might be. Suffice to say there’s no chance of answering the millions of these and I’m not going to try.
The point I’ve made before is, so what? Such a vague definition doesn’t really support religion at all. We’re talking a truly huge gap between some ill-defined starting point and whether masturbation is a sin or what should be eaten on Fridays, much less whether children should be taught evolution and whether or not I can consider myself good, and worthy of some afterlife reward. There is, in fact, no connection to anything at all, without further distinctions, so it’s not support for any behavior – or if you like, it’s support for any behavior whatsoever. Both are equally worthless.
Which is where the “in part” fragment above comes in. Because even complete and abiding belief in a vague creative force provides nothing upon which to build or support an ideology – something else is necessary on top of that, but this deficit is never recognized, most likely because it doesn’t actually exist. Pretty much every time the argument for vague creation comes up, it’s to dodge all of the flaws in the specific, organized religions that people actually believe in. If some concept of creation or supernaturality can escape the flaws in logic, then perhaps religion is not completely corrupt – you know: they’re not wrong wrong. And of course, it works very well with the much-abused concept that you can’t prove it doesn’t exist. In this way, belief and faith are considered salvaged from total failure, even though the vague creation idea doesn’t actually support them. I always thought religion was supposed to provide something for humans, and not just serve as partial credit for a wild guess, but maybe I was wrong about that. Well, not completely wrong…
We can ask what there is to actually support the idea of this vague force, why the concept even exists in the first place, since obviously scripture can’t be used. And there are two primary answers to this. The first is, so much of the world is religious, so even though there are countless variations all over the world, changing throughout history, they remain evidence of something, the one commonality among all of them. This has been expressed as a sensus divinitatis, a proposed ‘sense’ of the human body to recognize the divine. Which is a bit like saying that humans all over the world strive for more money, so this is our ability to sense Scrooge McDuck. C’mon, how else could you explain this?
It’s a sense, so this means it has some survival value to us, right? And we would be able to tell when this vague creative force is not around? That’s what a sense is, right? I’m willing to bet the immediate answer to this is that the creative force is always around us, so it never shuts off – which calls into question how you could consider it a sense, but also means we are proposing more properties for this creative force without any evidence of such. And we must assume that atheists don’t have it, is that correct? What about those of us who once believed? Does it go away, like after an accident? Funny, mine seemed to go away the more I thought about how little sense (a ha ha) it made. Perhaps it’s something you grow out of…
The second primary answer to why we are to believe in this vague force is the hoary old argument that everything has to come from something. Except the creative force of course. I’ve covered this feeble argument before, but basically, who says everything has to start somewhere? Demonstrate the creation of matter, in any way that you like. No, the Big Bang was not the creation of anything (look it up if you need to) – matter and energy remain here no matter what, just changing form or transferring to another location. The only thing that starts, to be perfectly honest, is consciousness, the collection of memories of living things, even as the matter that supports it comes from someplace else, not even bothering to carry this consciousness with it. It’s an exceptionally short-term function, unable to even pass along to offspring, but because it’s a distinct property of our lives, we feel it applies to everything.
This same bias in perspective may be what leads us to think that nothing is a default state, leading to the “why is there something rather than nothing” questions and so on. Or it could simply be that for a few thousand years we’ve been hearing the same old creation stories and have had the concept drilled into us. No matter what (god I’m on fire,) matter and energy can be found every place we look, and we have a firm understanding of the vast majority of its behavior, so assumptions about a necessary beginning come only from ignorance of this.
Now we come to the even more vague deities, the ones that are “all of everything,” or natural laws, or life essence itself, and all such claims – often characterized by the misuse of terms, e.g., Deepak Chopra’s perversion of the word, “quantum.” Most of these are so vague that one can only derive a value from them by enjoying the sound of them – sentence structure without internal relation. Seriously, god is nature? What does that even mean? I thought god was supernature? But without any properties or effects, these remain just words. You might as well say god is matter, or god is the space within atoms, or god is bacteria; what does this change, and why should anyone find this important?
Given that establishing either evidence for or a source of such concepts is exceptionally unlikely, we’re forced to conclude that what someone is working from here is simply feelings of spirituality – perhaps after other concepts of gods either failed to stand up under examination or were in some way dissatisfying. I realize I’m at risk of playing armchair psychologist, but if this isn’t addressed, the vague spiritualist will happily proclaim that those know-it-all atheists didn’t disprove their special version of god, as if there was such a thing as a burden of disproof – apparently, the default “nothing” state doesn’t apply to creative forces. Go figure. Regardless, if we have no properties and no explanatory power from such concepts, where else could it stem from except for self-indulgence? Even an overactive imagination isn’t going to provoke someone towards belief – that only occurs in mental illness.
‘Spirituality’ is an ill-defined concept in itself, mostly just covering feelings of awe from someone already inclined to seek a religious experience. The same feelings are easy to provoke in any number of ways, including meeting celebrities and being under the influence of drugs, but apparently these don’t count. Supposedly, if we feel awe when looking out over a majestic landscape, or when contemplating the interaction of life within the ecosystem, that’s our ability to recognize this evidence of creation. Aside from the fact that we have very good reasons for appreciating a fertile, habitable locale as opposed to an abandoned lot, it strikes me as far more awesome that such things arose through simple physical laws rather than being planned. Moreover, the idea is supposed to be that everything – including criminally-inclined and destructive humans with all of our pollution, including viruses, including species that eat other species alive from the inside – would have to be created too, so where are the spiritual feelings over those? And if anyone is accepting the entire universe as it is, well, fine – this is no different than accepting it without such creative influences. When both states – a creative force and the total lack thereof – fit the evidence without issues, how do we suggest that creative properties even exist, and why?
I keep coming back to this, but it’s key: there must be something that the idea of a vague creative force provides to us for it to have any value or point whatsoever. If we assume that creation is a ground state of being, akin to a physical law, so what? It’s not a law that we can use to either manipulate anything (like all other physical laws) or even predict; it is a definition without a purpose, like saying that I smacked you upside the head because porfodooti, porfodooti being the necessity of smacking you. Making up properties isn’t an accomplishment; young children do it all the time. What it invariably amounts to is, “argument for vague creative whatsit; therefore, I’m privileged.” Nobody ever argues for such a concept as if it’s a simple fact, like saying there’s a discarded cup on the street. It has some importance to them, in some way – most often, I think you’ll find, in a way that they know they can’t support with a rational argument, so they resort to a vague indefinite thing that can’t be disproven and consider that a win. They are convincing themselves that this curious force doesn’t need any properties yet still provides for their desire, whatever it might be.
The argument also comes up, surprisingly frequently, that we don’t know everything, so we can’t say that a vague creative force, or a monster in a Scottish lake, doesn’t exist. Both parts of these are purposefully misleading, however. No one that I have ever heard of in my life makes any claim of omniscience, or even close to it, while yes, actually, we can claim such things don’t exist, based on the very simple fact that we have no definitive evidence of them existing. That’s how our entire sensory system works, how our memory and learning processes work – everything is evidence based. Anything else is imagination, which is distinctly different, not just from the ‘reality’ standpoint but even distinguished quite well in our minds. Imagination occasionally plays a part in insight and theoretical science, but only insofar as it points us in a direction to look for evidence; without that evidence, it’s a dead end.
Even that is going off on an existential tangent to treat the idea with rigor, because it doesn’t matter at all. Anyone proposing any concept or trait has the burden of proof, the necessity of showing how their proposal is valid, applicable, and relevant. Plenty of things exist that we are unaware of, I’m sure – and the reason we remain unaware of them is because they have no affect on our lives. We can use our imaginations to propose a literally infinite number of possibilities, just like we can imagine plenty of fairy tale plots and whole new words (I’m still fond of ‘porfodooti.’) What about a vague destructive force? Shouldn’t that follow as well? And has anyone stopped to consider the logical necessity of a force for humor? It’s universal among humans and even some other mammal species, so it must have meeeaning. A significant percentage of the species on this planet reproduce sexually, so there must be a vague fucking force. Seriously, I can do this all day.
That hints at another interesting aspect of such arguments. To continue with that example, there are useful, beneficial traits of sexual reproduction (as opposed to asexual reproduction like bacteria,) and it’s easy to be ignorant of such traits. But to, first, assume that this ignorance is shared by everyone, and second to believe this opens the door for any explanation that can be imagined, is not exactly a path to solid results – yet it happens all the time. “How did it all start?” is a valid enough question, while often laden with assumptions that there must have been nothing before. Yet this doesn’t automatically permit, or even suggest, any kind of creation. If that’s the specific answer that we’re seeking, then it’s easy to believe it’s a logical, perhaps even inarguable, solution. Proceeding without such a personal bias, however, has been what has produced the vast amount of info that we do have regarding the formation of the universe, none of which points in any way towards a creative force.
And there’s one more aspect that demonstrates the bias inherent in such arguments, because even the assumption of such a force does not support the idea, pretty much universally held, that such a force is beneficent – it could just as easily be openly hostile to us, or manipulative, or any of an infinite number of other possibilities, with ‘indifferent,’ ‘oblivious,’ and ‘completely without any emotion or intention whatsoever’ having more than a little logical support as well. Again, hardly the stuff to build an ideology around. I’m fully on board with the idea that something provoked the expansion that we call the ‘big bang’ – but intentionally? There remains nothing to support that, and only personal reasons to believe it over the stunning amount of evidence that the universe is governed by simple physical laws. No one prays to gravity, or even expresses a belief in such – it just is. To go any further than that requires some emotional desire for it to be different, and that’s just self-indulgence.