Looking back temporally from where we as a species stand today, we can identify at least three significant starting points or origins in our universe: the origins of the physical, the origins of life, and the origins of mind (consciousness). The origin of the physical universe, in this present iteration, encompasses all matter and energy. The origin of life encompasses only those domains where life actually emerges. The origin of mind and consciousness extends only to the domain of thought—the noosphere, which may in fact encompass only our planet. Hence, with each new origin, with each new emergence, the features become less universal and far more local. The human creations of philosophy, politics, piety, and ethics belong to the realm of human thought, the noosphere. The concept of God is likewise an emergent property of the noosphere (Morowitz, p. 134). The emergence of mind, the emergence of consciousness, the emergence of the noosphere are the emergence of God.
Samuel Alexander, Jewish philosopher and influence on Alfred North Whitehead, stated in 1918,
As actual, God does not possess the quality of deity but is the universe as tending toward that quality… Thus there is no infinite being with the quality of deity; but there is an actual infinite, the whole universe, with a nisus toward deity; and this is the God of the religious consciousness, though that consciousness habitually forecasts the divinity of its object as actually realized in an individual form (1920).
God hence is not a realized being, one that possesses independent personality and volition; rather, God is a naturalistically emergent property of the universe, specifically of the noosphere. And, only insofar that human consciousness exists does God (or do gods and goddesses) exist. Deity is dependent on and co-existent with the noosphere. This is what theologian Phillip Clayton calls radically emergent theism in which “God” is concomitant with human consciousness, is a quality that the universe comes to have increasingly over time, dwells in the noosphere, and is the universe expressing self awareness (2008, p. 95; 2004, p. 90).
Theology as Anthropology
Theology then, it should be pointed out, is not the study of an ethereal being. Theology is a form of anthropology. As humans are the biosphere’s master symbol makers, the study of theology is the study of ideas, symbols, and arch-types that are variously expressed in human culture(s). But, it ought to be asked, does the God of the noosphere influence humanity? The answer is most certainly yes. Though God only exists in the human mind, God concepts (memeplexes) assert tremendous influences on human thinking and culture in top-down causation. There can be no question that God is the inspiration behind many of the most incredible human accomplishments—both the good and the bad. Hence, God is active in history as an idea, a variously expressed memeplex that influences the direction individuals, groups, and nations.
Worshipping the Divine
Allow me to close this post with the following words from Morowitz (2004):
Ethics, morality, and religion have their home in the noosphere. Since the mind has volitional properties, some aspects of the local universe are under our influence. Prayer may be directed inward to our volitional selves, or public prayer may be directed to the public noosphere. We may stand in awe of the God of immanance; we may struggle to understand the mind of the God of emergence; and we may put our bodies on the line to fulfill the potential of the God of transdencence for the world of humans. … But transcendence shows no evidence of going beyond the human mind… Transcendence is the divine in us. To choose good, not evil, is our responsibility (pps 134-136).
This last quote touches on the properties of the divine and human religiosity that remain meaningful for me as a non-theist. When I say a prayer, it is not being offered up to a capable potentate ready to respond to my request and grant me my wishes. I worship “God” not as a miracle-maker; I revel in “God” as an outgrowth of culture and community. I take on a “God-perspective” as a powerful means to otherness, to see myself from a third-person set of eyes. This “God” though is utterly naturalistic, an emergent product of the universe and the human symbol-making capacity. I may be playing with fire, but fire, if this metaphor works, was a major step in hominid evolution.
Alexander, Samuel. Space, Time, and Deity: the Gifford Lectures. London: Macmillan, 1920.
Clayton, Phillip. Adventures in Spirit: God, World, and Divine Action. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008.
Clayton, Phillip. “Panentheism in Metaphysical and Scientific Perspective” in In Whom We Live and Move and Have our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God’s Presence in a Scientific World. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004
Morowitz, Harold J. “The Trinitarian World of Neo-Panentheism: on Panentheism and Epistemology” in In Whom We Live and Move and Have our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God’s Presence in a Scientific World. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004