As science and technology progress, general skepticism in the argument for an intelligent, divine creator steadily increases. Now, there is a strong belief in the idea of a “God of the Gaps” perspective, which positions the idea of God as having been created to fill in the gaps in our knowledge base that the science and philosophy of the day couldn’t explain. For example, before human science had progressed to be able to come up with the discoveries of heliocentrism, evolution, molecular chemistry, the theories of gravity and of relativity, and the like, it is perfectly comprehensible for humans to have viewed the world around them – which appeared to be at the center of the universe, littered with inexplicably complex life and formed in such a precisely intricate way that it needed to have been designed – as if it were created by some supreme being, an Intelligent Designer. Now that science has evolved to have filled in those gaps in our knowledge base, the ideological need for a “god” or intelligent designer to explain how the universe works is reduced by extension. Now, science faces fewer obstacles than ever in its crash course to smashing every assumption made by metaphysical reasoning, and confidence in its ability to explain everything is expanding at a now ridiculously steep exponential rate.
But at the same time as obliterating the logical foundations for the existence of a god, scientific enquiry is also establishing new philosophical conundrums which give rise to further justifications for the concept of intelligent design. For, as science “fills in the knowledge gaps” that the idea of God plugged up as a theoretical short-cut, it gets ever closer towards becoming God itself. Think about it, as science comes closer to explaining everything that is knowable, would it not then become feasible for humans to apply all their impressive knowledge into practice and do the things we once thought were only within the technical auspices of a deity? If humans manufactured the idea of God to explain what they couldn’t understand, then it makes sense that humans could become godlike simply by trying to learn everything that we can. It has been the goal of religious thinkers all throughout history to understand or “touch the face of” God; now, thanks to science, that dream is becoming more and more possible.
Today, we have the ability to accomplish an awe-inspiring amount of tasks. After having inadvertently manipulated the evolutionary pathways of multiple species through husbandry and animal rearing for thousands of years (we had a much better grasp of how evolution worked well before Darwin and Wallace’s discovery than we give ourselves credit for) through what we now understand as artificial variation, today we have the ability to modify and even create or clone organisms genetically. We are now manipulating and engineering the building blocks of existence – first molecules and atoms, and now quantum particles – to fashion structures and processes that can benefit us. We have even come up with logical and proven explanations of how we humans – the most complex life-forms we have ever come across – behave and interact and why we do so. Now, we are journeying into our subconsciouses and minds through fields such as neurobiology and cognitive science which may enable us to comprehend the very idea of “the soul”. If this is the kind of stuff we can already do, imagine what we can do in 1,000 years. Or even in the next century, seeing as we’re progressing at almighty rapid rates already. Think about how life was when we were kids, or cast your mind to how it would have been just a generation ago, or even at the turn of last century, or perhaps even before the Industrial Revolution. These would all seem like majorly divergent worlds, each drastically more technologically and scientifically advanced than the last; this is a testament to how we have now entered into the slipstream of knowledge advancement thanks to scientific enquiry.
Already there are concerns from many conservatives and religious people that we shouldn’t be “playing God”, when it comes to new scientific areas such as stem cell research, abortion, genetic modification, artificial intelligence and so on. So this isn’t a new concept. But the opposition to all of this development reveals a continuing reluctance to outstrip our archaic stop-gap epistemological and moral toolkit that we’ve established through theism and religion. We have grown an affinity with the concept of God because it also has a performative function; it offers us comfort, structure and meaning in a whole universe (or more…) of unknowns (see my previous work on God as an existential Leviathan). It makes sense out of the universal chaos out there. But what we don’t understand or appreciate is that we can work at shining a light through all this cognitive darkness and eventually achieve a state of “godness” ourselves that will offer the same comfort and meaning as has the simple idea of one god that can cover all our knowledge gaps for us. We need to be brave and confront the unknowns, and not just sit back and let a loose idea like God do it for us.
So what do I mean by saying “we can achieve godness”? Well, in short it is the faculty of omniscience, with the hope of achieving omnipotence. This should be viewed as the complete perfection of science (knowledge) and technology (practical application).
And we have already developed the capacity to create and sustain life. We can design, create and modify life and the world around us. We can create new universes through virtual worlds and new beings such as robots, clones and computers. We have learnt how to manufacture new chemical elements and materials, and are even in the process of emulating the initial conditions of the universe to understand how to create it. We are beginning to hypothesise about experimenting with concepts such as time travel, parallel universes, black holes and space travel. And, if one day we found another race of cognisant life forms, we could even teach them our advanced knowledge and show them how to achieve the same level of consciousness as us (and imbue in them “souls”, as God did us; perhaps God was Himself an advanced alien race who we would like – and have made it our goal – to return to).
But, equally, we have already developed the capacity to destroy. We have split the atom – which makes up a thread in the fabric of existence – to wreck massive destruction. We have developed technologies that pollute and have the potential to destroy life around us. We have made it our right to control and destroy plantlife and animals, deeming ourselves to be the highest, most intelligent life here on earth, knowing what is best for the planet. We consider ourselves “custodians of the earth”, the caretakers of the planet with the power to determine what has a right to live and prosper and what needs to be cut out (take bacteria, viruses, invasive species – all which can be considered the equivalent of biological evil forces, or “demons” even). This should be the greatest hallmark of something that wants to be godlike; that it willfully makes it its prerogative to control and dominate life around it, whilst justifying it on the basis that it knows what’s best for the world. We are to the earth what God is to us. We are already playing God.
Perhaps we came up with the idea of God to aspire to become it. Or, perhaps we came up with it to justify what we’re already doing here on earth. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt we have convinced ourselves that we are made in the image of God. Maybe, just maybe, God is just the ideal, perfect representation of humanity. We aspire to reach our perfect state – and touch the face of God on ourselves. Well, before we can reach that omniscient position, we need to learn as much as we can. And it is science that can get us there, not religion. Religion only keeps us from reaching God, it only gives us glimpses.