Monthly Archives: March 2017

March 30 – So, With All This, Who or What is God? – Part 3

Today’s Post

Last week we took a look at the characteristics of Immutability, Divinity and Omnipotentiality ascribed to God by traditional Christianity, and showed how these characteristics are addressed in our approach to ‘The Secular Side of God’.

This week we will continue this thread, addressing the characteristics of Omniscience, Chance, Transcendence and Immanence.


   This traditional teaching asserts that God is ‘all-knowing’.  It presents another conundrum: If God knows everything in advance, how is it possible for humans to have free will?  If he doesn’t know everything, and we do have free will, how can he be God?

Our secular point of view does not understand God as a ‘person’ but rather as the ‘agent of person-ness’ which effects the appearance of the ‘person’ as a result of an evolution which proceeds by way of increasingly complex entities over time.  As we have seen earlier, rerunning the “tape of evolution”, as Stephen J. Gould has famously asserted, would not necessarily result in the human person as we know ourselves.  But what Gould fails to recognize is that such a rerun of the ‘tape of evolution’ would still proceed along the same ‘axis of evolution’, with the same potential for increasing complexity.  Continuing this billions of year thread, it would necessarily result in entities of such complexity as to become conscious of their consciousness.

Our secular point of view points to a future which is open to us as human persons as our personal and collective evolution continues along this same axis.  As we saw with the clinical observations of Carl Rogers, cooperation with our legacy natures. the kernels of our persons, will always lead to our enrichment, our personal continuation of the ‘axis of evolution’.

Chance and Necessity

This brings up another perennial argument: that of the role of chance in evolution.  As Einstein has famously said, “God does not play dice with the universe.’  Although this quote was aimed at the indeterminacy of the theory of Quantum Physics, it has been used to support the theory of determinism promoted by Creationists:  God intended the specific creation of humans.  Therefore, the question is asked, “If God intended humans, how can chance, with which we’re all intimately acquainted, play a part?”

Teilhard’s answer to this conundrum is that if evolution is to continue, it must continue along the 13 billion year thread of increasing complexity.  Therefore such an observable phenomenon as increase in complexity will occur despite random events.

The Cretaceous–Tertiary (K–T) extinction some sixty-five million years ago is a prime example of the continuation of complexification despite chance events. The K-T extinction ended the long (one hundred fifty million year) primacy of reptilian animals.  While there are several theories of the cause of the event, the most prominent asserts that the Earth suffered an impact by a very large asteroid, causing a giant cloud that ushered in a ‘global winter’ which the reptiles, being cold-blooded, could not survive.

Archeological evidence clearly shows that the evolution of the dinosaur had resulted in a gradual enlargement of the brain cavity:  evidence of the ‘thread of evolution’ as it rose through the reptilian entities.  With their extinction, and the resulting enlargement of available ecological niches, the prevalent theory suggests that with the extinction of the dinosaurs the way was cleared for a rebound of evolution of mammals.  As we know, the rise of complexity (measured in increase of the brain cavity as previously seen in the dinosaurs) then re-continued in the mammals.

The asteroid collision was clearly a random, chance event, but not such as to derail the rise of complexity at the heart of cosmic evolution.

Transcendence and Immanence

   One traditional Christian characterization of God is that he is both transcendent and immanent.  This characteristic has spurred much thinking since evolving Christianity, with its dualistic branches, understood God as both ‘supernatural’ (“timeless, immutable, incorporeal”- Augustine) and as deeply intimate with the ‘human person’ (“God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God in him”- John).  How is it possible to be both?

Jonathan Sacks, addressing the branch of belief which understands God as ‘supernatural’, cites the Christian theology of ‘atonement’.  He sees it as the theory that Jesus had to die to reconcile such a distant (supernatural) God to his immanent (natural) creation.  As Richard Rohr puts it:

“The substitutionary atonement “theory” (and that’s all it is) seems to imply that the Eternal Christ’s epiphany in Jesus is a mere afterthought when the first plan did not work out.”

  This development of Christian theology stands in opposition to John’s statement about the nature of God:

“God is Love and he who abides in God abides in God and God in him.”

   John provides the basis for overcoming all the dichotomies that were to rise as Christian theology developed under the influence of Plato and Aristotle.  He makes no complete distinction between the presence of God in the human and the presence of “God as he is in himself”.

Gregory Baum sees Blondel’s understanding of the complete immanence of God as:

“It is impossible to conceptualize God as a being, even as a supreme being, facing us.  Since God has entered into the definition of man, it would be an error to think of God as a being apart from man and superior to him.”

   So, putting both God and man into the context of evolution permits an integrated understanding of both characteristics.  God, understood as the basis of the sum total of the manifold principles of universal evolution, is indeed transcendent, in that God himself is the underlying principle,  but the play of these principles as experienced by us in our continued evolution is completely immanent.

The Next Post

Next week we will continue our process of reinterpretation by taking a look at the ‘Perennial Philosophy’, which sees the core approach to human existence as common to all religious thought.

March 16 – So, With All This, Who or What is God? – Part 1

March 16 – So, With All This, Who or What is God? – Part 1

Today’s Post

Last week we recapped how, using the methods of science, we have identified a God which can be understood in a ‘secular sense’, requiring no adherence to religious precepts, but is yet as close to us as we are to ourselves.  Such a God satisfies the requirements of science as expressed by the eminent atheist thinker, Professor Richard Dawkins as:

“The first cause …  which eventually raised the world as we know it into its present complex existence.”

   without recourse to

“all the baggage that the word ‘God’ carries in the minds of most religious believers”.

   This week we will begin the final phase of this blog, ‘Reinterpreting Religion’, by addressing how traditional Christian concepts of God can be reinterpreted in the light of such a secular approach.

God as the Ground of Being

Conventional Western religion, expressed in the form of Christianity, has evolved the concept of God from Jewish expression to that most explicitly framed in the Western Scholastic tradition.  Thomas Aquinas is most associated with this theology in his association of Greek thinking with traditional Church teaching.  His ‘Summa Theologica” developed a ‘metaphysics’ which explained reality as an association between the divine (God) and his creation, blending scripture, Greek reasoning and faith.

As discussed in the ten posts beginning in September, 2015 (, Western religious thought has always reflected what Jonathan Sacks refers to as ‘dualism’.  Dualism sees all the major expressions of religious thought as having evolved along two parallel paths.  On one path, creation is ‘good’, creation (including humans) is destined for ‘one-ness’ with its creator, humans are reflections of the divine (‘in His image’), and God is ‘father’.  On the other, creation is flawed, separated from its creator (requiring divine sacrifice to reconnect), humans are sinful at their core, and God is vengeful.  This dualism, evident in the Basic Jewish texts (the Christian ‘Old Testament’) spills over into Christianity, with its tension between such concepts as ‘love’ and ‘justice’, ‘damnation’ and ‘salvation’, ‘natural’ and ’supernatural’, ‘this life’ and ‘the next’.

Once Rome capitalized on Christianity’s universal nature as a tool for social unity as Rome became an increasingly diverse empire, Christianity quickly became more legalistic than fraternal.  Its dogmatic statements and rules for attaining salvation increasingly replaced Jesus’ teaching of ‘the law of love’.  The pastoral ‘Jesus’ of the synoptic gospels was supplanted by the ‘universal Christ’ of John.

Sacks sees the dualism that could be found in Jewish beliefs becoming more pronounced in Christianity, as this universal expression began to incorporate elements of Greek philosophy.  As he sees it, “Christendom drew its philosophy, science and art from Greece, its religion from Israel”, thus exacerbating the dualism that had its roots in Jewish teachings.

Our concept of the ‘secular’ God is quite obviously quite different from this conventional and traditional view.  Here are three examples:

   God is not ‘a person’.  In Teilhard’s view, God is the basis for person since he is the sum total of all the universal forces by which the universe evolves from a formless block of energy to the highly articulated multifaceted reality that we see around us, including ourselves.  As science has showed us, evolution ‘ramifies’: the products of evolution branch out at each step of the universe as it rises from its initial cloud of energy through a few granules of matter which become several subatomic particles which become hundreds of atoms, then tens of thousands of molecules then an uncounted myriad of cells.   One of the threads of this tens of billions of years of becoming is that which eventually leads to ‘the person’.  Since that evolution produced the entity that we refer to as ‘the person’, person therefore is seen as one of many evolved characteristics.  As Blondel sees it

“God is not a super-person, not even three super-persons. That God is person reveals that man is related to the deepest dimension of his life in a personal and never-to-be reified way.”

Our secular perspective, therefore, reinterprets God from being ‘a person’ to the much more profound understanding of God as the personal facet of the ground of being.

   God is not ‘supernatural’, if the term refers to something that exists outside, above and apart from nature.  In Teilhard’s view, the action of God (the agent of complexity) is so woven into the action of evolution as to be ‘co-substantial’ with it.  As Blondel says, there is no position that we can take which sees God as ‘there’ and we as ‘here’, since we require the evolutive action of God within us to be able to make the statement.  As we have seen over the last several weeks, our very growth as persons requires us to find that spark of ‘person’ that exists in us all, that we did not create, and which is given to us ‘gratuiously’, unearned, and finding this spark is the first step to finding God.

   Finding God is the simple realization that what differentiates us from any other product of evolution is that humans have to become aware of what it is that got us where we are, and how to cooperate with it, if we are to progress further.

   God is, in a very real, tangible and unsentimental way, ‘love’.  Once love is shorn of its emotional and sentimental aspect, it can be seen as the play of universal, integrative energy as it has manifested itself in the human person.  Just as entities at every stage of evolution have capitalized on integrative energy to unite in such a way as to effect a more complex entity, so can humans capitalize the energy of love in the same way to increase their individual complexity, to grow.

   Such a God as we have come to in our search thus far, while being understood so differently in many ways from our legacy Western beliefs, is not necessarily antithetical to the beliefs themselves.  As we shall see in the remaining posts of this blog, they can be reviewed for their relevance to human life and as such ‘reinterpreted’.

The Next Post

Next week we will continue this process of reinterpretation by taking a look at some of Western religious teachings on God in the light of our secular approach.

March 2 – Searching for the “Secular Side of God” Where Have We Got To So Far?


As readers will notice, the last edition, intended for March 16, was posted on February 16, by mistake. This week’s post will return to the correct order.  Many apologies.

Today’s Post

For the last several weeks we have been addressing the discovery of God through recognition of the thread of universal evolution as it rises in us.  We saw how this thread not only manifests itself in our capacity for personal growth and development (as articulated by Carl Rogers), but how, as we learn to trust in it, to be open to it, we can decide to cooperate with it.  As we have seen, this connection to the kernel of person with which we were born is effectively our connection to God.  Last week we saw how cooperating with this energy of becoming can be understood as ‘loving God’.

This week we will review how we got here, from Teilhard’s insight into the basic forces of evolution, through Science’s articulation of these forces, and finally to Psychology’s emerging understanding of the basic human enterprises of growth, relationship and maturity.

Teilhard’s Evolutionary Insight

The idea that evolution proceeds through the increase in complexity over time is not new.  Many thinkers, both scientific and religious, have remarked upon the increasing complexity of matter as it becomes more complex over time.  Science’s discoveries have given substance to this observation by articulating the processes described in the ‘Standard Model’, which describes how matter has emerged from the pure energy of the ‘Big Bang’ to the highly complex molecular structures which were the building blocks of the cell.  The theory of evolution as ‘natural selection’ has become better understood with the discovery of the gene and how it continues to lift the complexity of living things, even to the advent of the human person.

With all this, however, science has so far been unable to pin down the underlying mechanism of rising complexity.  Richard Dawkins bemoans the fact that we do not understand this mechanism as it plays out in the long first phase of evolution, from the Big Bang to the first cell, but believes that eventually this principle will become better understood:

“The first cause that we seek must have been the simple basis for a self-bootstrapping crane which eventually raised the world as we know it into its present complex existence.”

   He fails, however, to acknowledge that this ‘simple basis’ which ‘raises the world’ nevertheless must consist of a principle of evolutionary uplift that unifies the three great eras of evolution: pre-life, life, conscious life, and that it therefore continues to be active in human evolution.  ‘Simple’, perhaps, as he asserts.  ‘Profound’, however, without doubt.

This is, of course, Teilhard’s great contribution to this conundrum: the recognition that evolution proceeds through increased complexity, and therefore any complete understanding of reality must acknowledge that, as products of evolution, we humans are subject to it.

From Evolutionary Insight to Finding God

Teilhard’s insight into evolution, taken at a universal level, leads us to understand that this great uplift which “raised the world as we know into its present complex existence” is the same principle which is active in our individual lives.  It works along with (and is fundamental to) the great energies of the universe: atomic and molecular forces as well as those seen in Natural Selection.  Taken as whole they are manifestations of a single ‘ground of being’.

In keeping with our secular approach to God, these great energies would seem to have nothing to do with the anthropomorphic God so prevalent in the West (and so abhorrent to Dawkins).  Unlike Dawkins, however, we will go on to see how those traditional Western religious concepts, once reinterpreted in the light of our secular approach, are remarkably compatible with it.

Teilhard moves us on to the task of ‘finding God’.  As we saw in “Relating to God (Sept 6-October 27), he describes meditation as the search for actions of this principle of existence as they appear in ourselves.  This search, as he describes it, depends on no prior belief other than that resulting from a clearheaded grasp of evolution as it raises the complexity of reality.  He describes a search for a ‘Secular God’, which is nonetheless the most concrete agent of humanity within us.

Finding God Through Finding Ourselves: Psychology as Secular Meditation

   We saw how the evolution of scientific empirical thinking inevitably led to addressing the human person, and how this approach has evolved from Freud to current day existential psychologists.

All the great theorists of this period believed that there was a basis, a fundamental ‘ground’ for the human person which, if understood, could be managed to improve life.  Very few took Western religious teachings as a source for inquiry into this kernel of the person.  Indeed, many of them felt that traditional religious teachings could be antithetical to authentic human growth.   Thus, assumptions about the nature of this kernel varied widely.

It wasn’t until the early twentieth century that psychiatrists, using empirical data as a basis, began to objectively see this nature as basically ‘positive’, and therefore trustworthy.  The psychological journey slowly evolved from ‘analysis and diagnostics’ to a ‘guided inner search’.

And as Teilhard points out, an inner search for ourselves will always lead us to God.  Teilhard expresses this statement of belief as:

“Those who spread their sails in the right way to the winds of the earth will always find themselves born by a current towards the open seas.”

Summing Up ‘Connecting to God’

Adding to our steps from the January 5 post:

-After identifying God as an agent of evolution,

by which things increase in complexity over time,

through which the process of evolution is possible,

from the big bang to the human,

as products of evolution: even in our lives,

with which we can come in contact

by searching for the kernel of ourselves

using the emerging insights of science

understanding love as the energy which unites and completes us

we now understand that finding ourselves is not only finding God,

but loving  God

The Next Post

We have, using the methods of science, identified a God which can be understood in a ‘secular sense’, requiring no adherence to religious precepts, but is yet as close to us as we are to ourselves.  Such a God satisfies the requirements of science as expressed by the eminent atheist thinker, Professor Richard Dawkins as:

“The first cause …  which eventually raised the world as we know it into its present complex existence.”

   without recourse to

“all the baggage that the word ‘God’ carries in the minds of most religious believers”.

   Next week we will begin our process of ‘reinterpretation’ with a look at how Teilhard’s perspective offers an opportunity to look at God from a new, ‘secular’ perspective.