Charles Birch and God

  (27 December 07)
  by

Helen Mason drew the attention of the Sofia-talk group to an ABC/RN interview with Charles Birch broadcast last Wednesday. Thanks Helen!

In this interview Charles Birch (a nonagenarian Australian biologist who won the Templeton Prizer)gives some explanation of his concept of God that is not intervening in the world in any way but one that is "persuasive" of love etc. in the world. He also considers all entities to be subjective rather than objective as is typical of science. This means that consciousness occurs/is spread throughout the Universe.

Charles Birch was also interviewed in 2002 by Rachel Kohn and again puts these ideas forward. They are worth considering. Perhaps a reader will respond to this post telling me (and others) what Birch is trying to say. I don't understand really. 

22 comments

There is clear evidence that the new "bible" is being written by scientists as the world becomes more secularised and reason needs to direct life more so than a faith that is still held hostage to the old creedal religions that really are no longer relevant today because we have a totally different world view, one that is explained and made credible by scientific thought.

The new gospellers are men like Charles Birch and others who are even more radical.Birch is still a committed Christian but one who isnt afraid to challenge the old faiths.

The new God is not a Creator. He is all that has ever been,is and can ever be. Therefore he is an evolutionary God who is really a process, a verb rather than a noun, always coming into Being.
In God there is neither beginning nor end. These are human terms born out of our terminally derived situation. Hence there is no death, but a transformation.
God does not intervene in history which is again a human term as an expression of our finitude.
God neither blesses us nor punishes us;we manage to do that ourselves.
We are like molecules in the "body" of God except that these molecules in some form or another are always there.

Posted by robert halsey

Birch 1

What we are looking at here are attempts to seek consolation for our existence in the world, and for our being in a contingent universe.

Here is a list of such attempts:
1. Everything is Energy.
2. Everything is Stardust.
3. Everything is Subjective.
4. Everything is Conscious.
5. Everything is God.

Points 1 & 2 (Everything is Energy/Stardust) are ‘fair comment’. If not of the status of a scientific theory, then perhaps a hypothesis with a high probability of being correct. It is an attempt at an impersonal identification with everything. If immortality is one of your needs, then this may work for you.

Point 3 (Everything is Subjective) borders on the metaphysical. It is a negation of the usual distinction that I (the subject) am in the world (the object). It blurs the distinction between me and the ‘other’. Therefore: I am the other. The other is me. Hence, the world is me. It is an attempt at a personal identification with everything. If you believe it, it works.

With Point 4 (Everything is Conscious) we enter the realm of the Supernatural. We are faced with a belief that consciousness is independent of the brain. That every iota of existence is conscious. This belief is an attempt to console ourselves that although it is the loss of consciousness of ourselves (and our loved ones) which constitutes the hurt of death, nevertheless, that consciousness is still there within the dust we become.

Point 5 (Everything is God). Paradoxically, by saying that ‘God is everything’, God becomes nothing. God becomes redundant. The symbol ‘God’ empties out. He is no longer a metaphorical personification. His personhood is negated.

Nevertheless, on the other hand, it could be argued that although His personhood is negated, it is replaced by Points 1, 2, 3 & 4. ‘God’ becomes a symbol of Energy, Stardust, Subjectivity and Consciousness. But not personhood.

* * * *
I am reminded of the reaction of some audience members at the SoFiA Conference and the Progressive Christian Networks when Michael Morwood has delivered his message that ‘God is the Universe’.
These audience members, coming from a Theistic background, have plaintively queried, “But who do we pray to?”
It is the impersonality of the Non-Theistic conception of God with which they find it so hard to cope.


Posted by David Miller

Eric Stevenson from the 'Spong in Oz Group' comments:

Thankyou for your provocative analysis. I personally
would like to take something from all 5 attempts, but
before I do so, there is at least another reason for
searching. It is to try and do the impossible, to
describe the source of my feelings of the numinous
which are very real to me. My feelings are the only
reality I can claim. Beyond them I am in the realm of
the Mystery. I don't think I need consolation. But
because I am a rational life form, I try to make sense
of those feelings.

Regarding 1 and 2 I am happy to have an impersonal
identification with everything, remembering that out
of that originally inanimate and energy infused
matter, life and consciousness and compassion came
into being.

I think the same can be said for 4 with certain
reservations. Birch starts with protons as the lowest
form of purposive consciousness. With my limited
scientific knowledge, it is enough to accept that
there are degrees of consciousness, sufficient to have
brought about an expanding cosmos. The dust that we
become when we die goes on to become part of that
wondrous development of which I am a part.

This brings me to 3. I am learning to live with an
impersonal Mystery. What makes it more difficult for
me however is my western way of logical thought. In
order to make number three work, I don't just have
simply to believe that everything is subjective. I
have also to accept the normality of paradoxical
thinking, i.e. that the universality of the Mystery is
not depleted by being totally within me while it is at
the same time in the totality of the cosmos!!

Regarding 5, I think the word "god" has been so
saturated with images of personhood by orthodox
religion that it is not a good symbol to use for 1-4,
all of which are beyond personality. As your friend
Don Cupitt says, let us give it a rest. The problem
is finding a common symbol which we can use to learn
from each other about it.

Eric Stevenson.

Posted by David Miller

Eric, this statement of yours leapt out at me:

“I have also to accept the normality of paradoxical
thinking, i.e. that the universality of the Mystery is
not depleted by being totally within me while it is at
the same time in the totality of the cosmos!!”

From my point of view, there is no paradox.
If ‘Everything is Mystery’, then so are we. We too are Mystery.
If ‘Everything is Subjective’, then so are we.
If ‘Everything is God’, then so are we.

Usually this idea is put across as, ‘the God within’, or ‘God is within’, or ‘the inner God’. But this leads to a devastatingly simple question: Within what? What is God within? If God is within me, then what am I?

Eastern thought tends to answer this question with the word, ‘Illusion’. Other than the ‘God Within’ (your true self), the rest of your being is illusion. And so is the material world. All illusion.

I am intrigued by the answer of the Ancient Gnostic Christians to this question of the God Within: You are the filth within which God is trapped. You have God incarcerated. You, body and soul, are God’s jailer. You, the world and the Cosmos have God in bondage.

If, hypothetically, the Roman Emperors had ‘bought-out’ the Gnostics and made them the winning faction of the Church, then their beliefs would have been normalcy, and theirs would have been the Theism with which we would now be wrestling.


Posted by David Miller

Here is a response by Stephen Crittenden, on ABC Radio National's 'Religion & Ethics' Guestbook, to my comments on Charles Birch:
"David, I don't know that Charles Birch is seeking 'consolation' for his existence. As far as I can tell his ideas developed as a scientific hypothesis to explain how consciousness evolved out of non-conscious matter. His ideas do indeed belong to the realm of metaphysics but he is adamant that he does not believe in the supernatural or the miraculous (which is why he presents such a challenge to atheists). If I may say so, your reasoning at Pt 3 is flawed: you have subjectivity, I have subjectivity, but you are not confused that I am you. In relation to Point 5, yes, Birch is saying that God is not a person.

Perhaps I should have asked him whether it has ever occured to him that what he is doing is making Evolution itself into God."
Stephen Crittenden 5/02/2008


Posted by David Miller

David,you are one of the closest I can get to in these matters.I can accept most of what you say to Eric, but I'd like to address an issue of immanence with which you struggle...as we all do,really. You asked threeimportant questions towards the end. Let me put it in perspective.

"Usually this idea is put across, 'the God within' or 'God is within' or 'the inner God'.But this leads to the devastatingly simple question 'Within what? What is God within?if within me then what am I?'

Couldn't it be that just as God is all around us he wouldhave to also be within because otherwise it would make no semse to have Godd all around everything EXCEPT the inner persons? Gos would have to also be all-pervasive. There is nothing anywhere and everywhere where God isnt present.He suffuses everything;nothing is without him. There are no God-free vacuums.

It really doesnt matter what will happen when this planetary system implodes as it will and it is well on its way there.We'll be where we always were and will always be, part of the constantly and impersonally evolving God of which all the 400+ million planets are but a small part.
Christians believe that Jesus the son of God was there in and with God before the earth was created. So were you. Why stop short in naming just one man? It's just that God is NOT a/the Creator of anything.Simply because he is everything.Everything exists as it has existed in Him. What is your reaction to this line of probability?

Robert

Posted by robert halsey

Robert,
I had you in mind when I penned my response to the Charles Birch interview. It is you whom I see as seeking consolation for your mortality. Perhaps that is why Stephen Crittenden was puzzled by my reference to 'consolation'.
However, before I give a considered response to your request for my "reaction to this line of probability", here is a comment on the ABC Radio National, Religion & Ethics website's 'Have Your Say' section, from Alfred Arena of Somerville, Victoria:


I realise that we have to come out of our preconceived ideas (our brain-washedness) to come to terms with re-adjusting our ideas about God in the light of our modern scientific age. However, in the process of demythologising our ideas of God and the Scripture - topics discussed in 'The Spirit of Things' with John Shelby Spong, etc. The language seems too fluid and the central idea of a personal God begins to evaporate. Even David Miller from the Atheist Society in Melbourne, commenting on the interview with Charles Birch, seems to cash in on these avant-garde Christian ideas ( The Religion Report). Spong is what I call a complex theologian and articulates his views with skillful insight and although I am challenged by what he has to say - our Judeo/Christian myths need to be unpacked with even greater skill because for many, religion is simply being placed into the 'hard basket'.
Alfred Arena, 3 February 2008



Posted by David Miller

David, You are quite correct in saying that the non-theistic interpretation of God is very hard to handle.Is this a good reason to throw in the towelwith a declaration"Too hard to worry about.Atheism is easier.There are no problems here." That's quite right. But for many like me the search goes on.For you there is no search. You've already found the answer by default.
You founded The Existential Society. The angst of the lonely lufe, the torment of the Void has no real meaning for you.Where is the existential element you endorse?

I wish I could be in Melbourne to listen to your talks on Existentialism.Does Kierkegaard ever come into them?

Robert

Posted by robert halsey

David Miller comments – 26 May 2008:

Existentialism has a variety of definitions. The Existentialist Society’s Introductory Statement expresses it this way:

“Existentialism is an ‘umbrella’ term covering diverse, and often conflicting, schools of thought. Consequently we are not agreed on who or what is an Existentialist. We simply agree to disagree.”

Immediately following the Second World War, when Existentialism became a popular fad, a substantial percentage of the philosophers, authors and playwrights who had been labelled as Existentialists denied the label. Every philosophy, belief-system or viewpoint that could not be easily pigeon-holed got the tag: Existentialist. Deny it as they might, the world took no notice.
So Existentialism was left with a collection of varying schools of thought that could not be accommodated under one definition.

On the other hand, there are those who contend that Existentialism concerns itself with the individual, emphasises individual responsibility and dislikes systems where the individual is a mere ‘cog in the machine’. Are the foregoing to be found in the thought of all those philosophers, authors and playwrights labelled as Existentialists? You will have to check and decide for yourself.

One type of popular definition states: “Existentialism is the search for authentic existence”. That can translate into: One should be the author of one’s own existence. Which translates into: One should make up one’s own mind as to what one believes, and then act on it. This may sound like a ‘motherhood’ statement, but please do not attempt it in those countries in our world today where making up one’s own mind, about which religious or political adherence you will choose, might be life threatening. However, the extremists within this variety of Existentialism would say that if you do not act on your beliefs then you are not an Existentialist.

Nevertheless, a milder form of the same quandary faces us regarding many of our decisions within our day to day lives. Whatever we decide to do, it may meet with the disapproval of our family, our relatives, our friends, our community, etc. It could be something as mundane as the colour or length of one’s hair. Or what clothes we wear. Or, of a more intimate nature, whether we marry a person of the ‘wrong’ class, age, nationality, religion, colour or race. We need to decide whether to ‘do our own thing’ or, on the other hand, to conform. Is ‘doing our own thing’ worth the price? Are we willing to accept the disapproval, the loss of regard, the withdrawal of love, the rejection, etc? In my case, I stick my neck out on issues that are important to me, and on the others, I conform. On some issues I am willing to pay the price.

But, where the ‘angst’ comes in, is in not knowing whether one has made the right decision. Will I still be willing to pay the price further down the track, when the intensity of my enthusiasm has subsided, or circumstances have changed, and I realise that I have made a wrong choice? It may then be too late.


Posted by David Miller

Sad news: Charles Birch passed away on Saturday 19 December, 2009. He was 91. He had been unwell since a fall he had in Novemeber, 2009. A leading light on science and religion has now left us.


Posted by John Nicholls

I like dirt in my mouth

Posted by Dacvid miller

[url=http://www.emu-boots.org/ugg-bailey-button-boots-c-27.html] UGG Bailey Button Triplet Boots [/url] are all time favorite [url=http://www.emu-boots.org/ugg-bailey-button-boots-c-27.html] women's bailey button triplet boots [/url] footwear favored by many people worldwide for their versatility and looks chic.Many prefer these [url=http://www.emu-boots.org/ugg-ashur-tall-boots-c-31.html] sheepskin Ashur Boots sale [/url] shoes to be stylish and comfort features that charms, [url=http://www.emu-boots.org/ugg-classic-mini-boots-c-20.html] sheepskin mini boots [/url], [url=http://www.emu-boots.org/ugg-classic-short-boots-c-23.html] women's short boots [/url], [url=http://www.emu-boots.org/ugg-classic-tall-boots-c-24.html] ugg classic tall fancy [/url] and [url=http://www.emu-boots.org/ugg-roseberry-boots-c-28.html] sheepskin Roseberry Boots [/url] as well as eases your feet with utmost convenience. Earlier, people used to wear [url=http://www.emu-boots.org/ugg-nightfall-boots-c-18.html] discount sheepskin Nightfall Boots [/url] to keep feet warm in cold weather but now are time for modern people prefer to get a great [url=http://www.emu-boots.org/ugg-nightfall-boots-c-18.html] sheepskin Knightsbridge Boots [/url] look.

Posted by Ugg Classic Metallic Boots

pandora jewelry have also bought out pandora bracelets that can have pandora charms put onto them.cheap pandora charms are very interesting. pandora beads have amazing aspect. Manufacturers of pandora necklaces and pandora bead began to export particular items. Plenty of people gathering pandora bracelet beads and some also gathers pandora charm bracelets. The charm bracelet pandora also have pandora earrings and gorgeous pandora rings. Love life love pandora bracelet. cheap pandora beads give you more help. People love pandora charm best.

Posted by pandora charms

Turquoise, amber, cat’s vision, copper, along with wood will be pandora bracelets great highlights for healthy, down-to-earth women.Modern, contemporary patterns are perfect for that working girl. pandora jewellery uk If jane is always onto the most current fashion movements, check out the latest jewelry styles. pandora sale A tiny bit of homework into what celebrities usually are wearing offers insight into the best way a trendy and trendy piece when buying jewellery for her. pandora charm Go expressive. Nothing will always make her gush for just a personalized bit of jewelry. pandora charms uk Charm bracelets are every one of the rage and provide the benefit of as being a basis regarding future merchandise. pandora charms sale An personalized pendant is likely to be cherished.

Posted by pandora charms

Happiness is a Discount Christian Louboutin Shoes kind of anticipation, is a Cheap Louboutin Shoes kind of heart feeling. As long as we try to find, are felt in the heart, you'll find happiness is Christian Louboutin Shoes all around us, only that happiness is Christian Louboutin often we overlook. People are Discount Louboutin Shoes living tired, just to too much. Body tired not terrible, terrible is http://www.christianlouboutinshoeszone.com/ heart tired.

Posted by Christian Louboutin

In order to find Discount Christian Louboutin Shoes happiness, we will make Christian Louboutin On Sale some promise. But when really to do the time, they found Christian Louboutin Discount Shoes that some promise is Discount Louboutin hypocritical lies. But fine think is the Cheap Louboutin Shoes hypocrisy and kind of happiness lies let us full of http://reallouboutinszone.com/ hope and confidence.

Posted by Discount Christian Louboutin Shoes

People, really is Discount Louboutin an elusive creatures, the Christian Louboutin Shoes most understand yourself forever only Christian Louboutin On Sale yourself. Life can not smooth Cheap Louboutin Shoes sailing, happy is a Discounted Christian Louboutin Shoes day, worry or a Discounted Christian Louboutin Shoes On Sale day. Why not let oneself happily live a http://www.discountedlouboutins.com/ day?

Posted by Discounted Christian Louboutin Shoes

People's desire is Discount Louis Vuitton Speedy endless, everyone in the Purse pursuit of a Hermes bags Outlet high quality of life, everyone want Discount Hermes handbags to get Louis Vuitton Monogram what you want, everybody in http://www.brandhandbags-online.com/ their goals, the Louis Vuitton Speedy busy day, struggle, get Louis Vuitton purses , happy time, not Cheap Louis Vuitton handbags, long lament.

Posted by Cheap Louis Vuitton handbags

Happiness is a Discount Christian Louboutin Shoes kind of anticipation, is a Cheap Louboutin Shoes kind of heart feeling. As long as we try to find, are felt in the heart, you'll find happiness is Christian Louboutin Shoes all around us, only that happiness is Christian Louboutin often we overlook. People are Discount Louboutin Shoes living tired, just to too much. Body tired not terrible, terrible is http://www.christianlouboutinshoeszone.com/ heart tired.

Posted by Christian Louboutin

In order to find Discount Christian Louboutin Shoes happiness, we will make Christian Louboutin On Sale some promise. But when really to do the time, they found Christian Louboutin Discount Shoes that some promise is Discount Louboutin hypocritical lies. But fine think is the Cheap Louboutin Shoes hypocrisy and kind of happiness lies let us full of http://reallouboutinszone.com/ hope and confidence.

Posted by Discount Christian Louboutin Shoes

People, really is Discount Louboutin an elusive creatures, the Christian Louboutin Shoes most understand yourself forever only Christian Louboutin On Sale yourself. Life can not smooth Cheap Louboutin Shoes sailing, happy is a Discounted Christian Louboutin Shoes day, worry or a Discounted Christian Louboutin Shoes On Sale day. Why not let oneself happily live a http://www.discountedlouboutins.com/ day?

Posted by Discounted Christian Louboutin Shoes

People's desire is Discount Louis Vuitton Speedy endless, everyone in the Purse pursuit of a Hermes bags Outlet high quality of life, everyone want Discount Hermes handbags to get Louis Vuitton Monogram what you want, everybody in http://www.brandhandbags-online.com/ their goals, the Louis Vuitton Speedy busy day, struggle, get Louis Vuitton purses , happy time, not Cheap Louis Vuitton handbags, long lament.

Posted by Cheap Louis Vuitton handbags

Leave your own comment...

Name:
Email:
Comment:
Security Code:


Search Site

Contact Us!

14 Richardson St
Lane Cove
NSW   2066
AUSTRALIA

sofnetwork@gmail.com

www.sof-in-australia.org