The day that this country ceases to be free from irreligion, it will cease to be free for religion.
—Robert H. Jackson
IF A BELIEVER were to answer the title question, his immediate reply would be, "Well, of course!" If an unbeliever were to answer it, his response would be, "Of course not!" If an agnostic were to answer, his reply would be, "Well, uh… maybe." These are all replies that one would expect from the conventional views of the subject.
But what if a fourth category existed? What if the three conventional positions weren't the only ways to look at the issue of divinity? Myself, I'm not sure that they are the only ways. For instance, I've mentioned a few times on this website the old saw about advanced cultures. A culture that's advanced enough can appear god-like to a less advanced civilization. Even an individual representative of an advanced culture, with enough technology at his beck and call, could appear to be a god. This has happened. For example, when the Europeans explored the New World, the natives mistook them for gods, at least initially. After all, these strange beings were able to spit fire (guns) and meld with creatures (horses) in order to fight on four legs at great speed and power. Quite divine.
However, to make the argument relevant to modern times, one has to take things considerably beyond what the native Americans experienced. This is where one must get into ultra-high technology—and simultaneously consider the question of what is God or a divine being, whatever one chooses to call him.
It's interesting that when one tunes in on theological seminars these days, few scholars accept the orthodox notions of God. They don't think of him as all-powerful, all-knowing, or all-present. The evolving consensus is that omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence (including eternal life) are self-contradictory—and that even gods cannot violate the laws of logic. (That in itself is a big change from 50 years ago.) For instance, say that God were to commit suicide. If he were all-powerful, he could do that. Or could he? If he could, he'd not be eternal, and yet by his nature he's supposed to be unable to die. Not to belabor the point, but you run into a lot of weird logical loops if you try to reconcile traditional notions of God with even the most basic principles of reason. That's why the thinking these days among theologians is that while God is, indeed, an amazing being—if he exists, and that, too, is vigorously debated—he actually cannot be all-powerful, all-knowing, or all-present (including eternal, i.e., all-present through not just space, but time). In other words, there are certain rules that even God must follow.
If that is the case—again, for the sake of argument—then it opens up new possibilities for discussion about God or gods. In our current society, we've reached a stage where mankind's technological advancement is accelerating at a geometric rate. For millennia, man's progress was slower than a snail's movement up a hill of molasses. Suddenly it's at Mach 3 and before we know it, it will hit Warp Drive. With the impending melding of computers and humans—there's been some crude experimentation already—and with computing power accelerating as fast as it is, it won't be long before an ordinary man becomes god-like in many respects. For example, if you could have an Internet chip implanted in your brain, for classical purposes of the divine you would be all-knowing. The world's media and libraries and any on-line access points would, in practice, be part of your mind. Even 20 years ago, such an astounding possibility would have been reserved to the realm of God or gods or wild science-fantasy. True, it would not be omniscience in the strict sense of the word. However, in relative terms, in terms of what once would have been considered supernatural, you'd have the nearest equivalent.
Or take another godly quality: immortality. With genetic engineering, medicine, nutrition, and nanotechnology advancing as they are, indefinite lifespans are almost within man's grasp. As I've mentioned before here, some life-extension experts tell me that there are people alive today who've already achieved indefinite lifespans. It's coming for the bulk of the population, too. Maybe not this decade or the next, but soon. Believe it or not, a few researchers are convinced that most of the people alive today will be alive and healthy hundreds and perhaps thousands of years from now. Of course it would not be true immortality. But it would be the practical equivalent—godly by older standards. Ray Kurzweil and others believe that genetic engineering and nano-engineering will merge soon—probably in this century—to allow the downloading of the human mind into nearly indestructible machines. If so, what would that mean? Basically it would mean another kind of godly immortality.
And power? What about the expansion of human power over nature? The kind of power that man has over his physical environment is growing at an incredible pace. Some scientists at Cal-Tech and elsewhere believe real subspace or hyperspace drives are on the horizon. If they come to pass, man will walk the stars in ways once reserved for the divine. In field after field, man's power and abilities are leaping into what would formerly have been considered possible only to supernatural creatures.
Think about it. If these things are happening, or about to happen, what of the possibility that other civilizations have already accomplished them—and far more? If our powers today are verging on godlike, what about a civilization a hundred years older than us? A thousand? A million? Would we view such a civilization as godly? What happens when the advance of technology soars to levels once describable only as divine? What does that tell us about our ideas of God, gods, and the supernatural? What will it do to the ideas of worship and religion? What concepts will we be forced to rethink? How will our moral and intellectual lives be changed? If no true gods make the rules, will that undermine or strengthen our culture? How will civilization change? And finally, will the concept of God exist a hundred or a thousand or a million years from now? As we grow more godlike by classical standards, will the "real" God or gods walk around the corner one day and say, "Hi, glad you finally made it! Welcome to the next stage of evolution! What took you so long?"
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