pinball machine God

Belief in deity is obviously a complicated thing. You could pick any two aspects of belief and make a pretty diagram, kind of like I have on the right, which depicts the magnitude and method of divine involvement.

The two dichotomies are familiar: Atheism versus the broad sense of Theism, and Deism vs. the narrow sense of Theism.  The reason I want to present the dichotomies this way is so that I can propose a new analogy: the pinball machine God.

Deists love their watchmaker God analogy.  This lovely little world is created with awesome science, and the awesomeness of science proves that God is.  Some deists might edge up the side of the side of the triangle a little.

On the other hand, narrow-definition theists might be offended at the puppeteer analogy.  They'd also probably be offended that I classified Deism as having the same magnitude of involvement.  But look at it this way: you construct and elaborate timing mechanism, flick the switch to place your bomb via an intelligent robot you designed, and then go out and get a cup of coffee, return a library book, and sit at a cafe overlooking a famous river of your choice.  As you're hailing the waiter for the check, the bomb explodes a hundred miles off, destroying your evil arch-nemesis' secret lab.

OR, you fight a half dozen lackeys at the lab yourself, using your super-awesome martial arts moves, place the bomb by hand, light it with a match, and run out, just in time to feel the heat of the explosion on your back as you roll safely onto the grass.

Either way, you still blew up the place; it's just an issue of method.

And even though it doesn't really matter which method God uses, I'd now like to explain my idea of a pinball machine God, which sits pretty close to the center of the triangle.  God constructs this elaborate machine for us: the pinball machine we call Earth.  There are an uncountably many number of targets, bumpers, balls, and flippers.  Maybe we're the balls, but God is certainly the player.  The coin is inserted, and God mutters under her breath: let there be light.  And the machine comes to life.

See, the the pinball machine world, there's a lot of factors.  Every ball starts with a unique trajectory, maybe some special dents and scuffs too, or perhaps they pick them up on the way.  Maybe they have different masses, radii, and densities.  They bounce around making and missing targets, ricocheting off of bumpers and running into each other.  An then, every once in a while: fwip!  They're hit by a flipper.  Maybe some balls are flipped all the time, and maybe some balls are basically never flipped.

The core of the analogy is this: it may be that God constructs the world and influences it certain ways, but that there's a good amount of randomness inherent in the system.  Random here doesn't mean that God doesn't know about or account for problems or peculiarities, but that God can't do too much about it anymore because that's intentionally the way he built the game.  Part of the joy in creation, I'd imagine, is watching something flourish on it's own.  Flourish?  Okay, maybe God the Gardener would have been a better analogy...


Digbijoy Nath said...

Interesting read !
By the way, how did God come in to existence ? :)

ajbc said...

Per Mormon theology, God was once like man, and it's "turtles all the way down," so to speak.

I think that a premise of believers, in general, is that we can't fully understand God's existence or origins; at best, we can attempt to understand behavior.

Aaron Toponce said...

This analogy doesn't hold. You're asserting that there exists a continuum between theism and atheism, or deism and atheism. Instead it's discrete; existence is a discrete binary function. How can god both exist (regardless in whether or not said god is involved with humanity) and not exist? I guess there is a Schrödinger's God, where God both exists and does not exist simultaneously? :)

A continuum can exist between deism and theism, however. This is where your "pinball god" would exist, in that this god is using elements of quantum randomness and chaotic processes to let the world and universe move forward as it will. Every once in a while, this god flips the ball back into the game.

ajbc said...

You're right that the existence of God is binary. I was referring to the belief in the existence of God, which is a continuum--all the '-isms' refer to the belief of individuals, not the underlying truth. For example, whether or not a given individual is a theist does not change whether not God exists or not. So an individual can mostly believe that there is a God, while leaving some room open that there is not, or vice versa.

Aaron Toponce said...

Hmm. I'm not sure I'm following. Either you believe $DEITY exists or you don't. I'm not following how that's a continuum. It's seems very discretely binary. Either:

1. You believe $DEITY exists, and claim to know it (gnostic belief).
2. You believe $DEITY exists, but do not claim to know it (agnostic belief).
3. You do not believe in $DEITY, and claim to know it (gnostic atheism).
4. You do not believe in $DEITY, but do not claim to know it (agnostic atheism).

In other words, you could make a quadrant of theism/atheism crossed with gnosticism/agonsticism.

Now, within the belief itself, I agree its continuous (deism <-> theism <-> pantheism). But I don't see how you can straddle the line between belief and unbelief.

I put this together while thinking on this (which led me to your post). I think it more accurately describes belief in $DEITY.

ajbc said...

It's called cognitive dissonance, and I know you can believe two contradicting things from personal experience. I believe it's possible that God exists. But I also believe that it's possible that God does not exist. I hope that God exists, but that's not the same as belief. The spectrum comes from how strongly you lean towards one idea over the other.

Similarly, there is a spectrum of how much one is willing to claim. Do I claim to have had experiences that point toward a deity existing? Yes. Do I claim to know with certainty that God exists? No. Those experiences could easily have been a product of my religious upbringing. So I cannot clearly claim knowledge, but I do feel the need to claim partial evidence.

Which box do I belong in?

This is a good discussion; thank you for it.

Aaron Toponce said...

Cognitive dissonance is a fair point, actually.

I go through this mental exercise a lot. I'll start with the Zermelo–Fraenkel axioms (axioms of extensionality, empty set, etc) and build up from there (1+1=2, the derivative of x^2=2x, etc.). I'll convince myself that I can build all of mathematics without the help of $DEITY. Afterwards, I work on building all of physics, then chemistry, then biology, then psychology, etc. I can convince myself that I can build all of the sciences without the help of $DEITY. So clearly, I'm an atheist.

But the next day, I'll think about the conversion of inorganic matter to organic (abiogenesis). I'll look at the current and past models (I need Wikipedia here), and try to work through how an atheist (such as I was just last paragraph) can work through these theories. By the end of the day, science just can't answer the question about the origin of life. They can't answer it, because that answer must be $DEITY. So clearly, I'm a theist.

So, now that I'm a theist, what form of theism do I take? I'm an exmormon (if you couldn't figure out from my Reddit post), and I tend to follow the path of pure deism. That is, I believe $DEITY created all natural laws and things, and let it go. We are free agents in a free world. There is no divine intervention; no answering of prayers, no blessings nor cursings, no miracles. $DEITY doesn't "allow bad things to happen to good people" any more than $DEITY allows good things to happen to good people.

Basically, I get your cognitive dissonance argument, because I go back and forth between atheism and deism a lot. I really struggle with it, and probably will for the rest of my life.