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Evolving Gods and Richard Dawkins
Lincoln Cannon   Sep 23, 2012   Lincoln Metacannon  

I’ve repeatedly found inspiration in Richard Dawkins, despite an important difference between us: he’s a devout atheist, and I’m a devout theist.

He argues cogently that complex life must have simpler antecedents, and he vigorously attacks contrary theist positions. I agree with him. Interestingly, however, to illustrate the strength of his position, he sometimes appeals to the possibility of precisely the kind of God in which I put my trust: evolving Gods.

Here’s an example of Dawkins appealing to the possibility of evolving Gods, from his most (in)famous book, “The God Delusion”:

“Whether we ever get to know them or not, there are very probably alien civilizations that are superhuman, to the point of being god-like in ways that exceed anything a theologian could possibly imagine. Their technical achievements would seem as supernatural to us as ours would seem to a Dark Age peasant transported to the twenty-first century. Imagine his response to a laptop computer, a mobile telephone, a hydrogen bomb or a jumbo jet. As Arthur C Clarke put it, in his Third Law: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ The miracles wrought by our technology would have seemed to the ancients no less remarkable than the tales of Moses parting the waters, or Jesus walking upon them. The aliens of our SETI signal would be to us like gods ... In what sense, then, would the most advanced SETI aliens not be gods? In what sense would they be superhuman but not supernatural? In a very important sense, which goes to the heart of this book. The crucial difference between gods and god-like extraterrestrials lies not in their properties but in their provenance. Entities that are complex enough to be intelligent are products of an evolutionary process. No matter how god-like they may seem when we encounter them, they didn’t start that way. Science-fiction authors ... have even suggested (and I cannot think how to disprove it) that we live in a computer simulation, set up by some vastly superior civilization. But the simulators themselves would have to come from somewhere. The laws of probability forbid all notions of their spontaneously appearing without simpler antecedents. They probably owe their existence to a (perhaps unfamiliar) version of Darwinian evolution …”

Here’s another example of Dawkins appealing to the possibility of evolving Gods, in a recording from a speaking engagement with the American Atheists (the title of the video is simply incorrect):

Richard Dawkins debunks the Deistic God of Transhumanism and the Simulation Argument from Juan Carlos Kuri Pinto on Vimeo.

As these examples illustrate, Dawkins, one of the world’s greatest evolutionary biologists, acknowledges the possibility of evolving Gods. He calls them “god-like extraterrestrials” because he assumes, as do many theists, that evolving beings cannot qualify as Gods. I don’t share their assumption. To the contrary, the only God I’ve ever cared about, reflecting the God my parents taught me about when I was a child, is a changing and progressing God, exemplifying our own potential as changing and progressing beings. Moreover, even if non-evolving god-like beings were to exist (which I reject, along with Dawkins) then I wouldn’t assent to their Godhood. Wilford Woodruff, an early Mormon prophet, expressed the sentiment well:

“If there was a point where man in his progression could not proceed any further, the very idea would throw a gloom over every intelligent and reflecting mind. God himself is increasing and progressing in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so, worlds without end. It is just so with us.”

Gods evolve, worlds without end, and it is just so with us. In fact, that’s precisely the point: this is primarily about us. God always has been and is at least a posthuman projection: humanity evolving beyond itself, with increasing intentionality.

Lincoln Cannon is a technologist and philosopher, and leading advocate of technological evolution and postsecular religion. He is a founder, board member, and former president of the Mormon Transhumanist Association. He is a founder and advisor of the Christian Transhumanist Association. And he formulated the New God Argument, a logical argument for faith in God that is popular among religious Transhumanists.



COMMENTS

What in particular do you disagree with Dawkins on?

Hi SHaGGz. I disagree with Dawkins’ antireligiosity. I share his observation that religion has provoked the worst human actions, but we part ways when he overlooks that religion has also provoked the best human actions. Religion is powerful, and it can be used for good or evil, like all powerful tools.

My question pertained more to ontology.
I think he does recognize that religion has done some good, it’s just that, on balance it does more harm than good, and there are better ways to achieve what good religion does without the attendant baggage.

SHaGGGz, he and I may not have any major ontological disagreements. I do, though, disagree with the idea that we can attain the goods of religion without religion. We can attain those goods without fundamentalism, and even without presecular religion, but religion in function has always been about more than fundamentalism and presecularism. To encompass all that has been described as religion, both contemporarily and historically, we must understand religion more broadly and postsecularly: any communal practice that provokes a strenuous mood, whether for good or evil. Check out the link at the end of my article for more thoughts on this.

Then in what sense are you not an atheist? You seem to be distorting the definition of religion far beyond its commonly-accepted meaning. Are we engaging in religion right now?

SHaGGGz, I trust in posthumanity, our future of radical flourishing in creativity and compassion, and I trust we’ll not be the first or only to attain such empowerment. I recognize in nearly all (if not all) God hypotheses an extent to which such trust in posthumanity is manifest, and I value and try to build on those commonalities. I’m theist, even if not all theists share my views. On the other hand, I don’t find it insulting to be considered an atheist, even if I disagree with that characterization. Note, though, that I’m far from the only person who recognizes that we’ve poorly understood the function of religion. We have some categories to break, so perhaps there I do have an ontological disagreement with Dawkins: he’s stuck with fundamentalists’ definitions of “God” and “religion”, and I reject them.

Since Dawkins accepts the possibility of “Simulation hypothesis” for explanation/creation of this Universe, humans, and all other life, then the only remaining question is regarding what we term these entities, and Dawkins’ position really is closer to agnostic and he should admit it, despite his derision of “fence sitters”, there really is no shame?

For atheists the argument against the term God usually involves an aged patriarchal image with a booming voice and white beard, (Abrahamic) - well whoop-dee-doo!

Despite what term you prefer to apply to the above possibility, and be it God, Gods, or Posthuman, can we permit theists to give praise to this “source of creation” and use the term God?

What else then is there to argue over?

Omnipresence, Omniscience, Omnipotence? Hmm.. ?

Personally I prefer Omnipresent “Potential”

Om!

Just to clarify, my position as agnostic stands as, I believe the “Potential” for creation exists and will always endure, despite of the fate of this Universe, (ie. This “Potential” is all encompassing residing both within and without this Universe, and perpetually endures).

Yet I also keep an open mind as to the possibility this Universe was created/triggered purposefully by entities unknown?

CygnusX1, thanks for commenting. I know that feeling!

I totally agree with Lincoln. I find Dawkins’ ideas very sensible, but his “militant atheist” followers terminally boring.

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