Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mossy God

Einstein and Newton found God in Nature and saw science as a bridge between the human and the divine mind. (To Einstein, in a metaphorical way.) To both, to adore Nature, to study it scientifically, was a devotional act. I find it difficult to criticize this position, whatever your beliefs are. (Although I’m sure some commentators from both sides will…) Religions appear, change in time, and eventually disappear. It’s all a matter of time scale. But as long as we exist as a species, our intimate relationship—and codependency—with Nature will remain. To me at least, it’s quite clear what I should be worshipping.


I hear this sort of sentiment all the time, and I still really don't know what it even means. Most invocations of "nature" as some sort of higher ideal or guiding principle are either examples of romanticism or tautological nonsense. As always, Nietzsche said it best:

You want to live “according to nature”? Oh you noble Stoics, what deceptive words these are! Imagine a being like nature, wasteful beyond measure, indifferent beyond measure, without purpose and consideration, without mercy and fairness, fertile and desolate and uncertain at the same time; imagine indifference itself as a power—how could you live according to this indifference? Living—is that not precisely wanting to be other than this nature? Is not living estimating, preferring, being unjust, being limited, wanting to be different? And supposing your imperative “live according to nature” meant at bottom as much as “live according to life”—how could you not do that? Why make a principle of what you yourselves are and must be?— In truth, the matter is altogether different: while you pretend rapturously to read the canon of your law in nature, you want something opposite, you strange actors and self-deceivers! Your pride wants to impose and incorporate your morality, your ideal onto nature, even onto nature, you demand that it be nature “according to the Stoa,” and you would like all existence to exist only after your own image—as an immense eternal glorification and universalization of Stoicism!

Seriously. You all do realize that it's not all sunsets and mountain vistas and tranquil oceans, right? Nature itself is one of the strongest arguments against any anthropomorphic notion of a god, with most lifeforms existing to be eaten as individuals before going extinct as a species. Like the man said, the sheer wastefulness, the indifference, the immense cruelty that would be psychopathic if there were any agency behind it -- what exactly is there to worship in that? What sort of universal principle (or mind) do you think you're gaining insight into by studying it? And how does this supposedly transcend the divide between science and religion when countless scientists and laymen are content to study nature without a need to mysticize or glorify it?

You can find inspirational examples of beauty, harmony and order in all sorts of things -- music, for example. But if you're talking about any sort of religion or worship deserving of the term, very few non-intellectuals are going to be interested in pantheism, Deism, Gnosis, or any other vague, abstract principle. They want a God that loves them back (or at least claims to). They want the Sistine-Chapel-finger-pointin'-motherfucker. This just seems like a weak attempt to redefine an attitude of devoted scientific inquiry as "religious", nothing more than semantics.