Nature is the latest living GodRichard Treadgold | October 7, 2012
I’ll keep this simple, to avoid ecclesiastical clashes. Last thing I want is a fight to break out between science and religion. Oh, wait …
First, a reader, Rob Taylor, said:
So, in denier fairyland, this all balances out, somehow? Let’s see – crippling drought in one place, horrendous floods in another simply shows that all is hunky-dory?
Then I said:
“Who could approve of them, you twit? But this is Mother Nature. This is God’s will. There’s nothing new here – not for thousands of years. This is life. This is how it goes.”
Another reader, Nick, said:
“this is Mother Nature. This is God’s will” – is that really what you believe? I had been conducting these discussions on the assumption everyone accepted that science rather than divine intervention could explain the weather. Please correct me if my assumption is false. Does anyone else here think that any changes in the climate are “Gods will”?
My meaning here was perverted and then Nick hijacked it. However, together they raise an arguable point about our relationship with our surroundings, so let me explain. Rob made out that we can prevent these natural disasters. His mistake was in believing that we have sufficient influence on the weather to ameliorate droughts and floods. It’s a nutty idea and we don’t.
He further implied that climate sceptics think disasters are peachy, which is simply insulting. To explain the pointlessness of any disapproval of natural disasters, I attributed the events to “Mother Nature”, “God’s will”, “life” and said there’s “nothing new.”
I deliberately chose several descriptions, but they were ALL OF THE SAME THING. To most people one description probably means more than another, so using several should round up everyone. I meant, of course, that natural disasters are entirely natural.
Once, not so long ago, everyone more or less accepted that everything was created and controlled by a single God. When even the most intelligent people wanted to refer to the living forces responsible for the universe, they said “God” and everyone understood what they meant. It worked then, but things have changed.
For us, the word “God” means something completely different and it doesn’t identify reality. The trouble is, reality still exists. It’s real, it’s living, we still talk about it, so what are we to call it? The modern term is Mother Nature, or Nature, often just “the environment.” It embodies spiritual and moral implications – in fact, it means exactly the same as “God” but without the promise of a heavenly afterlife. Mother Nature apparently asks us to be content with a heaven only on earth, with death to follow (but our DNA will go on, hurrah).
My meaning was unambiguous: the weather is caused by events beyond our control. Call it Nature or call it God or call it life – it’s still beyond our control. Now Nick has rather stupidly suggested I’m saying that divine intervention “explains” the weather.
I’m not saying that. But I thank him for bringing it up, because Mother Nature needs a little explaining. As I said, it used to be that everyone accepted the existence of a transcendent, unseen force in natural and human affairs. Nobody believes that now.
Oh, except that everyone believes in Mother Nature, and that’s the same subtle, non-physical token for natural reality as “God”. But she’s merely the latest in a long line of gods and goddesses that describe and explain events. The Maoris have their own pantheon, which has grown in acceptability among our officials, because it’s difficult to deny the pleas of a minority without being accused of hostility. Now, few of our buildings or bridges are begun or completed without the blessing of Maori gods.
But here’s my main point: the forces and influences represented by the gods do mostly exist, and those forces can be and are described by science – there’s no conflict between them.
If the gods are real in any sense of the term, they are not hostile to science, in fact they encompass it, and nowhere (so far) are they known to break scientific law or principle. They are entirely amicable towards objective knowledge and remain comically bewildered by our persistent refusal to see the connection between the seen and the unseen. For example, the idea that the Big Bang should have had no cause is brutally unscientific.
To my understanding there can be no conflict between science and spirituality, though there might be false versions of both. So, to return to the statement that sparked these comments:
science rather than divine intervention [can] explain the weather
That’s true, though one does not exclude the other. For a scientific understanding doesn’t prohibit the belief that a god lies behind the winds, the waves, the sun or any other force of nature — so long as that doesn’t prevent a cool, objective examination of reality. Much as, say, a god might bring to the table.
Now I hope nobody else attempts to derail our conversations on climate into ecclesiastical disputes off the topic.