Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Are God and the Universe the Same Thing?

A few months ago, Zaius Nation published an interesting post on Easter. He wrote:
I have my own own unique opinion of god. I think that mankind made a fundamental error when he created a differentiation between the words "god" and "universe". All of man's confusion on the subject of religion could be cleared up if we removed the bias that the usage of two different words for the same subject has caused. If there was only one word for god and the universe, then nobody would argue about it.
I tend to agree. Religion and science are human products. Both are attempts to figure out what the heck this whole thing is about. Religion uses human inventions of imagination, stories, etc. and science uses human inventions of reason and fact.

I am not quite happy with the term atheism to describe my viewpoint. I think religious stories can tell us something about ourselves and our place in the universe. On the other hand various theisms that elevate the concept of god above or beyond the universe seem like guessing at best and at worst foster a "we know a little bit more" than those scientists. "Our reality is more real."

If God and the Universe are two terms for the same thing, then maybe we can work together.

While I don't call myself an atheist (although I appreciate those who do) I think of myself these days (and it could change tomorrow) as a sexy pantheist.

The Universe is a big enough reality for me and God is my sexy term for it.


  1. What do you mean by "universe?" Are you describing the spacetime in which we find ourselves, or does your concept of universe go beyond that? Many cosmologists argue for what they call a "multiverse," in which all potential forms of being are articulated. Some thoughts on the implications of that for theology can be found here.

  2. Spinoza came up with this idea back in the seventeenth century. Which also got him accused of atheism.

  3. Beloved Spear: I don't know what I mean by Universe. Whatever cosmologists are saying is fine for me. Thanks for the link!

    Christine: Bright guy and a bummer. I know folks don't like my version of God. They want something more real or objective than what I have to offer.

  4. This sounds a bit like a conversation I had with my son yesterday and my Bible Study group this morning on Spong's essay in The Future of the Christian Tradition. What language do we use for g-d when our 21st century world has transformed as much as it has. If g-d is the "life force" of the universe, as Spong describes, then it isn't too hard to say that g-d is also the love and transcendence we experience as we touch the numinous. I think that this is one of the only places we can go as we do away with the "great granddaddy in the sky" conceptions of g-d that seemed to work in pre-modern cosmologies, but just doesn't work any longer. This language would also make us focus our religious lives more intently on the here and now, rather than the sweet by and by.

  5. John, I would guess you are familiar with the work of Don Cupitt, the Anglican "atheist (now ex-)priest." It sounds like you are both essentially on the same page. Combine his thought (especially on language creating our world) with what I just read about "Biocentrism" and the world being created in our heads, and you have a whole new meaning to "the kingdom of God is within you."

    In any case, the "Sky God" is certainly dead and gone, though in practice Christianity continues to treat him/her/it as being alive and well.

  6. "sexy pantheist". Thanks for starting my day with a laugh. Other than that, it's too early for this discussion.

  7. I'm not too sure why "great granddaddy in the sky" is considered pre-scientific, but "life force of the universe" is not. Life is a particular process we only know about on earth; it might be elsewhere, but we don't know. There is certainly no genuinely scientific theory of a universal life force, though we might of course posit one out of our own reverence for life.

    By the same token, I don't think our ancestors, when they talked to God, imagined they were talking about some universe or multiverse, in our sense. Again, anyone may, I suppose, pray to or have faith in the universe, but I doubt that that's what our predecessors have really been up to.

  8. Willy Mac--I agree, thanks!

    Doug--Yes, I do appreciate the work of Don Cupitt.

    Sara--If I can start someone's day with a laugh, I have served my purpose!

    Rick--I would agree that we are in a different place than our predecessors.

  9. The problem with this is that the universe is chaotic and destined to become a place unobservable by anything within it. So to accept the universe as being one with god is to accept the eventual impotency of god.

    I believe it is more scientific and interesting to ask if god exists within or without of the universe and god's role in the strangely perfect rules that give some order to the chaos of the universe as it slowly disappears into complete randomness.

    Recently I have been contemplating the idea of god being a Boltzmann brain in a bouncing universe who evolved in a past universe that, because of the eternal nature of a bouncing universe, was fortuitously just right for chaos to be temporarily avoided. Maybe this brain-god became so powerful during that time of temporary order that it gained the ability to live through the contraction and bounce and is able to impose order at every rebirth of the universe. Such a being, although of the universe, not apart from it, would be worthy of the title "God."

    Of course, I'm only playing here. Like everybody else, I have no idea whatsoever of what god actually is.

  10. No more vacations and Star Trek for The Mad One.

  11. I'm hoping this becomes the first comment on a blog to be turned into a major Hollywood blockbuster :)

  12. I am very familiar with this as a lot of new age/eastern religion types like to use this terminology. And certainly I believe that God lies in and under everything in Creation and when we do violence to creation we do violence to God (or crucify Jesus again in another symbol that I like). Having said that, I also like to think of God as simultaneously unbound and beyond time and space (which is the definition of the universe, that which is bound by time and space). So the answer is obviously yes and no (or perhaps as often the case of God both-and). In other words, I don't know but the more expansive the better.

  13. Mad Priest - I think that would make a great movie, but I have a feeling that no matter how you write it, Arthur Dent, a bowl of petunias and Zaphod Beeblebrox would end up in it as well.

    Hi ho.

  14. "Hitchhikers Guide" is the only scripture I hold to be completely inerrant.

  15. I’m slowly coming to the same conclusion. As I was watching a Stephen Hawkins documentary, whose sole purpose it was to prove that God dose not exist, I was stunned to see that these genius scientists couldn’t see the elephant in the room. They basically said that God is the creator, and then they said that the universe created itself, and then they said that we were created from the universe. I thought it was obvious, but they couldn’t see it that if the universe created itself and us and God is the creator, then that would make the universe God.
    Next I thought, if I as a created being have thought, emotion, and power, then the universe must have thought, emotion, and power, because if it doesn’t then it would make me greater than my creator. I also thought that since thought, emotion, and power are pretty much abstract and we can’t really see them directly, then the same must go for the universe. Since thought, emotion, and power pretty much make up our personalities, then the universe must have a personality too. In that case, I can’t call it an impersonal term like universe, but instead I must us a more personal term such as God. I could go on but I think I’ve made my point. Basically, God does exist. I know Pantheists are often labeled as atheist, but I don’t think anything could be farther from the truth. In fact, in a lot of ways I think many of them have a better grasp on the reality of God than anyone else.