September 03, 2009
The Church of the Slacker God
In the previous two posts that dealt with what accommodationists believe (here and here), I examined Robert Wright's attempt to resurrect a theology that will likely only appeal to that minuscule group of intellectuals who want to preserve their scientific credibility (which belief in an interventionist deity absolutely destroys) while at the same time satisfy their inexplicable need to think that there is some powerful supernatural entity out there, even if that entity does absolutely nothing. Biologist Jerry Coyne, in response to a similar attempt at accommodationism by philosopher H. E. Baber, has accurately dubbed this entity a 'slacker God', akin to someone who has immense talent and abilities and resources, yet chooses to live the life of a bum.
So we should really think of 'accommodationists' as 'worshippers in The Church of the Slacker God.'
But this raises the question of why intellectuals like Wright and Baber so desperately want to belong to such a church, which frankly does not seem to offer much to its parishioners. After all, it rules out answers to prayers, miracles, heaven, and all the other goodies that entice believers to join the more mainstream churches, even though those goodies never actually materialize. How much mileage can you get out of the mere contemplation of 'ultimate beauty, power, and glory', as Baber suggests. Is it likely that Catholics would have shelled out the billions of dollars that enables the Pope to live in luxury if the Catholic Church had merely promised in return little more than a Zen-like experience?
Why do religious intellectuals like Baber and Wright feel the need to find reasons to believe in the existence of such a slacker god? Cynics have suggested that the lucrative Templeton prize that is given to those who try to reconcile science and religion is a powerful incentive to gloss over the unbridgeable chasm that separates the two worldsviews. At least that is what Jesus and Mo think.
But obviously only a very, very few are in the running for such a prize. While the total membership in the Church of the Slacker God cannot be that large (after all, how many religious people would find such a noninterventionist god appealing?) it is not vanishingly small either. But since the members are usually high-level intellectuals with access to a mass media sympathetic to their point of view, they can command a high public profile out of proportion to their numbers.
But the Church of the Slacker God, like all churches, has to deal with heretics. In this case the heretics are those who think that their god is not quite the slacker that people like Wright and Baber envisage. Some heretics like biologist Kenneth Miller, author of the book Finding Darwin's God, try to find ways for the Slacker God to intervene in the world without being detected. The favorite vehicle for this is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Such heretics share the strange belief that god needs and wants to act in the world and yet does not want to be detected doing so, and thus has to go to extraordinary lengths to hide his actions by creating laws that enable him to surreptitiously intervene.
Why does god go to all that trouble, you ask? Pose that question to believers and you will receive the favorite cop-out answer given whenever believers are posed the question of why their god behaves in such weird ways: God acts this way for reasons that our puny human minds cannot comprehend at least at this stage in time and so the reasons must remain mysterious until he thinks we are ready to receive this knowledge. There is no real answer that can be given to this except to point out that they seem to have extraordinarily detailed knowledge of the reasons for god's behavior even while they claim that god wants us to remain ignorant.
But there are even greater heretics like mathematician John Lennox, physicist John Polkinghorne, biologist Francis Collins, and author C. S. Lewis, all of whom start out by claiming fidelity to the doctrines of The Church of the Slacker God, but then abruptly switch and say they believe, among other things, that god resurrected Jesus from the dead, thus destroying his slacker cred.
What is interesting is that all the Western followers of the Slacker God seem to get their beliefs about god ultimately from the Bible, a book that unquestionably was written by people a long time ago who had their own agenda and were not at all followers of the Slacker God. What these intellectuals have done, following theologian Rudolf Bultmann, is de-mythologize the Bible, steadily stripping away every magical element that makes their god a god. But once that process is complete, instead of conceding that there is nothing left, they give the remaining emptiness the name of god and claim existence for it, a classic reification error.
William Jennings Bryan, who prosecuted John Scopes in the famous 'Monkey Trial' of 1925, was much more tough-minded than modern day accommodationists. He knew where this process of demythologizing would end and he was having none of it.
If a man accepts Darwinism, or evolution applied to man, and is consistent, he rejects the miracle and the supernatural as impossible…If he is consistent, he will go through the Old Testament step by step and cut out all the miracles and all the supernatural. He will then take up the New Testament and cut out all the supernatural - the virgin birth of Christ, His miracles and His resurrection, leaving the Bible a story book without binding authority upon the conscience of man. (God and Evolution, New York Times, February 26, 1922, p. 84, emphasis added)
His conclusion? "Evolution naturally leads to agnosticism and, if continued, finally to atheism."
It is fashionable now to reject Bryan as a fundamentalist anti-science zealot, even a stupid buffoon. But Bryan was smart enough to realize that once one accepted the theory of evolution, one ought to follow its implications through to their logical end. Since he did not like the atheistic conclusion he arrived at, his solution was to reject the premise, which was the theory of evolution itself.
By contrast, the members of The Church of the Slacker God, and even its heretics, say they embrace the theory of evolution by natural selection and all that that follows from it, but shrink from accepting the ultimate conclusion they arrive at that god is superfluous and thus can be rejected with no loss. Seeing no other way out of this impasse, they tack on an ad hoc ending, simply asserting that they believe in god anyway. They lack the logical consistency of Bryan.
But why bother to do all this? Why is it that even the Slacker God is so appealing to people like Wright and Baber? Perhaps they think that even though this entity has never done anything apart from creating the universe and its laws right at the beginning, it has the potential to do something, and they find that thought somehow comforting.
POST SCRIPT: Who are you calling a slacker?
In this Mr. Deity clip that I have shown earlier, God and Jesus explain to their assistant Larry the real reason they stopped intervening in the world.