Sunday, January 18, 2009

Good God, Why the Ungodly Fear of God?

I got a treat a while back in my inbox. A man named John Smart invited me to join an online community, the Evo-Devo Universe (EDU). Mr. Smart had found the star larvae site and liked what he saw (or thought he did). He said he thought the ideas on the site complemented other ideas being developed in the community. I looked at Mr. Smart’s own site and the EDU site and got excited about hooking up with these brazen visionaries.

I can understand Mr. Smart’s interest in star larvae. Here’s an excerpt from EDU’s Project Page:

Problem. Recent developments in cosmology, evolutionary developmental biology, and complexity sciences are providing new but scattered ways to understand our universe in a broader, ‘meta-Darwinian’ framework in which selectionist evolutionary and replicative, hierarchical developmental processes appear to generate complexity at multiple scales.

Solution. These results and hypotheses need to be explored, criticized, analyzed and possibly integrated into an expanded conceptual framework, by an interdisciplinary scholarly research community, Evo Devo Universe (EDU).

Links to members’ sites on the EDU People page lead to lots of fascinating angles on evolution, information theory, cosmology and other topics.

I replied to Mr. Smart, maybe too provocatively. I started expounding on people who have creative insights but become overly preoccuppied with establishing scientific credentials. I wrote,

People I encounter who have an interest in speculative cosmology, or whatever we might call our endeavor, tend toward extremes of scientific rigidity or New Age wooliness. At least, that is my observation. I try to keep my thoughts on these matters somewhere in the middle. The scientific types tend to be preoccupied with establishing scientific credentials for their ideas. While I have bolstered my speculations with scientific references, where I am able, I have grown less concerned with receiving blessings from science. My project is philosophical, theological, political, psychological and has many other dimensions, including the scientific. I don't feel a compunction to position all other dimensions subordinate to the scientific. I think that humankind can be served by conceptual breakthroughs in philosophy, theology, etc., as much as by breakthroughs in science. (Of course science has a certain privileged veto power, and if any idea I propose is scientifically disproven, I will have to abandon or reformulate that idea.)

He wrote back, having looked deeper into the starlarvae site, and withdrew his offer to join the EDU community. The scope of the community’s research themes specifically excludes

Non-naturalistic orthogenesis or teleology, intelligent design, supernaturalism, and theology.

So, by weaving in theology, I disqualified from joining the club. On the site, I refer to the supernatural only dismissively or if I need to place an idea in a historical context. But I crossed the line. Mr. Smart was put off also by my dba, Advanced Theological Systems. I explained to him,

The name Advanced Theological Systems is perhaps a misguided lark, but it makes me chuckle. I worked for a while in the high-tech sector, and "Advanced [fill in the blank] Systems" became such a cliché of organizational nomenclature, I couldn't resist dropping in "theology" for the irony vis a vis sci/tech.

If I ever exorcise the theological threads from the site I'll approach you anew. I understand your apprehension. Somewhere in the blog I write about theophobia, which you might have a mild case of. It's a common affliction among many of my friends. And it unfortunately relinquishes God, with all his sociopolitical clout, to hands that I would rather not see wielding such clout.

The “Exorcise” comment referred to his offer to reconsider, if I ever scrubbed theology from the site, his invitation to join the EDU community.

It never occurred to me that the theological angle (and I’m not sure I could formulate precisely what it is) would be a showstopper. But I was fascinated. I asked him for permission to post our email exchange here on the blog, but he demurred, saying that he would have taken more care with his words if he’d been writing for a public audience. I think that’s fair, and I’m respecting his wishes.

Maybe I should quit being surprised by big thinkers who bristle before God. Poor God, so misunderstood.