God as a Watchmaker or a Shepherd

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God as a Watchmaker or a Shepherd

Postby mitchellmckain » Tue Dec 01, 2015 6:33 pm

I have been thinking about the implications of a God who creates the self-organizing process of life versus a Watchmaker designer God.

What is the impact of these different ideas of God on Christian thought. For example, Christians often speak as if life is all according to some divine plan -- with God having mapped out everything about how we should live our lives correctly. That fits well with the designer God but with the other kind of God not so much. Self-organization suggests that our choices will alter things significantly. Most things in real life require an adaptable approach recognizing the differences between people. The one size fits all approach doesn't work very well especially in the raising and education of children, because they are not the same at all. This doesn't mean that anything goes or that there are no moral absolutes. But it does mean the applications of those moral absolutes may vary a lot with the circumstances of the choices made not only by individuals but by different cultures.

A lot of time the moral guidelines our society implements has to take into account what people choose. For example, I think society could really do a lot better in many areas if there were no alcoholic beverages. It really does make sense. This is probably what drove those who instituted prohibition. It didn't work because people chose to drink in spite of these problems. Thus we had to back off on that and instead just do the best we can with the fallout. (It is also possible, without alcohol we would be dealing with a different set of problems -- who knows?) The point is, the right way to live is not something which can be abstracted from the choices we make, which is why I think the God who creates life as a process of self-organization is not one which maps out our lives in stone with only one right way to do everything.

This difference can explain a lot of the absurdities in the frequent cultural clashes which Christians have had with each new generation. Isn't kind of funny how nearly every Christian generation has demonized the music, dances or clothes of the next generation? Could this be because their Watchmaker concept of God leads them to think that goodness in life is something set in stone for all time?
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Re: God as a Watchmaker or a Shepherd

Postby tirtlegrrl » Wed Dec 02, 2015 8:47 am

mitchellmckain wrote:I have been thinking about the implications of a God who creates the self-organizing process of life versus a Watchmaker designer God.

What is the impact of these different ideas of God on Christian thought. For example, Christians often speak as if life is all according to some divine plan -- with God having mapped out everything about how we should live our lives correctly. That fits well with the designer God but with the other kind of God not so much. Self-organization suggests that our choices will alter things significantly. Most things in real life require an adaptable approach recognizing the differences between people. The one size fits all approach doesn't work very well especially in the raising and education of children, because they are not the same at all. This doesn't mean that anything goes or that there are no moral absolutes. But it does mean the applications of those moral absolutes may vary a lot with the circumstances of the choices made not only by individuals but by different cultures.

A lot of time the moral guidelines our society implements has to take into account what people choose. For example, I think society could really do a lot better in many areas if there were no alcoholic beverages. It really does make sense. This is probably what drove those who instituted prohibition. It didn't work because people chose to drink in spite of these problems. Thus we had to back off on that and instead just do the best we can with the fallout. (It is also possible, without alcohol we would be dealing with a different set of problems -- who knows?) The point is, the right way to live is not something which can be abstracted from the choices we make, which is why I think the God who creates life as a process of self-organization is not one which maps out our lives in stone with only one right way to do everything.

This difference can explain a lot of the absurdities in the frequent cultural clashes which Christians have had with each new generation. Isn't kind of funny how nearly every Christian generation has demonized the music, dances or clothes of the next generation? Could this be because their Watchmaker concept of God leads them to think that goodness in life is something set in stone for all time?
Here's a related trope--the Bible is a "blueprint for life"; a "user's manual". Just use the right hermeneutic and out pop answers to every question you could possibly have about life.
"I think it was, 'Blessed are the cheesemakers.'" -Monty Python's Life of Brian
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Re: God as a Watchmaker or a Shepherd

Postby Aaron » Wed Dec 02, 2015 8:20 pm

I experience both the sovereignty of God in my life and also the sense that I am making my own choices. This may be hard to reconcile (I do not know how to do it) but it is my experience. I believe it is also Biblical.
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Re: God as a Watchmaker or a Shepherd

Postby Aaron » Wed Dec 02, 2015 8:26 pm

tirtlegrrl wrote: Here's a related trope--the Bible is a "blueprint for life"; a "user's manual". Just use the right hermeneutic and out pop answers to every question you could possibly have about life.

I know you were being sarcastic, but I have just came out of a new experience which wasn't entirely pleasant, but which of all places a verse in Leviticus which had stuck in my mind a week or so before everything happened came to life for me. I have to say the Bible is my guide, God is alive and he uses his word to speak to me and I don't know where I would be right now with all that's happened had I not been in His word and had the Holy Spirit not shown me what he did in Leviticus.
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Re: God as a Watchmaker or a Shepherd

Postby tirtlegrrl » Thu Dec 03, 2015 3:27 am

Aaron wrote:
tirtlegrrl wrote: Here's a related trope--the Bible is a "blueprint for life"; a "user's manual". Just use the right hermeneutic and out pop answers to every question you could possibly have about life.

I know you were being sarcastic, but I have just came out of a new experience which wasn't entirely pleasant, but which of all places a verse in Leviticus which had stuck in my mind a week or so before everything happened came to life for me. I have to say the Bible is my guide, God is alive and he uses his word to speak to me and I don't know where I would be right now with all that's happened had I not been in His word and had the Holy Spirit not shown me what he did in Leviticus.


Sure, and I'm not saying that can't or doesn't happen, though of course I would be more inclined to credit luck and your own psychology, and I also would bet that this kind of experience isn't limited to encounters with the Bible.
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Re: God as a Watchmaker or a Shepherd

Postby Chapabel » Thu Dec 03, 2015 8:39 am

Aaron wrote:I experience both the sovereignty of God in my life and also the sense that I am making my own choices. This may be hard to reconcile (I do not know how to do it) but it is my experience. I believe it is also Biblical.

I believe it may have been CS Lewis, or perhaps another Christian writer, I'm not sure, but the writer described it this way: Imaging you are on a cruise ship. While on the ship you are at liberty to do what you want within limits (you can't go onto the bridge or the engine room, etc...)You can eat, sleep, go to the pool, pretty much whatever you want. The captain makes sure you arrive at your correct destination and at the correct time. Now, the condition you arrive at the port depends on the choices you made while on the ship (hungover, bloated or refreshed). Life is like this. We make our own choices, but God is still the captain directing the ship. He makes sure we dock at every port on our itinerary, but we are responsible for our own personal condition.
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Re: God as a Watchmaker or a Shepherd

Postby mitchellmckain » Thu Dec 03, 2015 12:25 pm

Chapabel wrote:I believe it may have been CS Lewis, or perhaps another Christian writer, I'm not sure, but the writer described it this way: Imaging you are on a cruise ship. While on the ship you are at liberty to do what you want within limits (you can't go onto the bridge or the engine room, etc...)You can eat, sleep, go to the pool, pretty much whatever you want. The captain makes sure you arrive at your correct destination and at the correct time. Now, the condition you arrive at the port depends on the choices you made while on the ship (hungover, bloated or refreshed). Life is like this. We make our own choices, but God is still the captain directing the ship. He makes sure we dock at every port on our itinerary, but we are responsible for our own personal condition.

I like this analogy a lot which would not be surprising if CS Lewis is the originator. Google only finds Plato's use of this analogy to the governing of a state and another person using the analogy without reference to where he got it from, though there are hints in places it has something to do with Arminianism.

Whatever free will we have, it is certainly rather confined. I have also pointed out that our free will is also far from absolute. The ship analogy describes the ideal. The truth in many cases, is that sin has caused people to barricade themselves in their cabin. Or perhaps there are even those who throw themselves overboard thinking it will give them greater freedom when the reality is just opposite. The ocean is too vast for them to get anywhere much before they sink into the cold darkness.

I think the analogy also applies to evolution. The nature of life as a self-organizing process may in principle imply limitless possibilities. In reality it is rather a fragile victim of circumstance. I find it quite believable that the guidance of a shepherd is crucial to keep the process going forward towards learning new capabilities.
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Re: God as a Watchmaker or a Shepherd

Postby Rian » Thu Dec 03, 2015 12:57 pm

I like that analogy, too. I think we have (and the Bible supports this) a large and very significant amount of free will, but not 100% in terms of doing harmful things (I'm guessing there's no limit on doing what is right and good, since this is in line with God's will).

Another way to look at free will vs. God's sovereignty is this: as a parent, I know my children well, and can tell you what they will do in quite a few situations, even though I'm just an observer and am not forcing them to act the way they do. However, I'm not 100% accurate, because of my imperfect abilities. I think it's a natural extrapolation that God, with his characteristics, can know perfectly what we will do, even though he's not making us do it.

And while we're sharing analogies, I think of the free will in Heaven issue like this: there are things that I CAN do, but also CAN'T do - IOW, I can physically do, but can't actually do because it's so against all who I am. For example, I can physically take a knife and stab my children to death, but I cannot do that, even after a long and frustrating day :D because it's against my character. I think that's something like how we can have free will in Heaven, yet not sin - that quality in us is perfected.
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Re: God as a Watchmaker or a Shepherd

Postby sayak » Thu Dec 03, 2015 1:10 pm

I think my key disagreement with both ideas is the idea of a teleology or intention governing (however directly or indirectly) the future of the universe. My limited observation of the universe seems to show that it is mindbogglingly rich in diverse phenomena that exist in riotous abandon simply because they can exist and not very rich in goals or intentions (apart from the limited goals found within the human society. If a conscious power is indeed behind this structure, its far more probable that its attitude is more like an extremely gifted child who is creating one interesting thing after the other and saying "wheeee!" . :-D
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Re: God as a Watchmaker or a Shepherd

Postby Rian » Thu Dec 03, 2015 2:09 pm

I think that's a better picture of God than many ...
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Re: God as a Watchmaker or a Shepherd

Postby mitchellmckain » Thu Dec 03, 2015 2:23 pm

sayak wrote:I think my key disagreement with both ideas is the idea of a teleology or intention governing (however directly or indirectly) the future of the universe. My limited observation of the universe seems to show that it is mindbogglingly rich in diverse phenomena that exist in riotous abandon simply because they can exist and not very rich in goals or intentions (apart from the limited goals found within the human society. If a conscious power is indeed behind this structure, its far more probable that its attitude is more like an extremely gifted child who is creating one interesting thing after the other and saying "wheeee!" . :-D


Your conclusion only applies to the Watchmaker designer version of God. The God who creates life as a self-organizing process is all about letting things go in every direction as find out what works -- He designs the laws of nature to promote that diversity because diversity is his intention. I am well aware that the diversity is far beyond what is traditionally known as life to include the things in the sky like stars. But all this shows is that the laws of nature are predisposed to support diversity which goes right along with idea of God as a creator of self-organizing processes of which life is only a particular example.

I cannot help but think your rather constrained ideas of teleology to something simplistic is a result of your predisposition against it rather than any kind of fair analysis. Ok, so you don't like the idea of the universe being the result of any intention whatsoever and prefer it all to be completely the result of an accident. Why such an extreme? Why cannot it not be mixture of both intention AND accident? Your insistence on completely accidental seems as reasonable to me as the insistence by some of the religious in favor of total planned sovereignty by a controlling deity.

My only guess is that you cannot imagine anyone with the capacity for control having a preference for freedom and diversity, otherwise why the bias? What do you imagine yourself doing if you were in the position of creator? Do you like the freedom and diversity of the universe or would you really as you seem to imply prefer something much simpler and controlled?
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Re: God as a Watchmaker or a Shepherd

Postby sayak » Thu Dec 03, 2015 7:17 pm

I would create something and say "wheee!". :wink:

Since I am an atheist, I consider the universe (multiverse, meta-reality... whatever) to be self-existent.

Does teleology mean intention or purpose? i think these two things are different. Purpose means the thing has been created for something while intention means it has been created through a conscious decision to do so. It remains possible that the universe is created by an intention (a will to create interesting things out of pure desire to bring novelty and diversity etc. in actuality...like a painter or a song-writer...or say making a baby), but it seems far fetched to me that it was created for a purpose (i.e. to fulfill some ends or some plan etc.). I think your shepherd analogy still assumes that the creation has a purpose, and this I find unlikely, even if it was created by intentioned being(s).
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Re: God as a Watchmaker or a Shepherd

Postby mitchellmckain » Fri Dec 04, 2015 2:21 am

sayak wrote:I would create something and say "wheee!". :wink:

Since I am an atheist, I consider the universe (multiverse, meta-reality... whatever) to be self-existent.

Does teleology mean intention or purpose? i think these two things are different. Purpose means the thing has been created for something while intention means it has been created through a conscious decision to do so.

As usual the English language is not so precise. "Purpose" is often defined as intention and is given as a synonym of "intention."

sayak wrote: It remains possible that the universe is created by an intention (a will to create interesting things out of pure desire to bring novelty and diversity etc. in actuality...like a painter or a song-writer...or say making a baby), but it seems far fetched to me that it was created for a purpose (i.e. to fulfill some ends or some plan etc.). I think your shepherd analogy still assumes that the creation has a purpose, and this I find unlikely, even if it was created by intentioned being(s).

As usual an analogy only intends similarities in some respects not all respects. In this case the contrast between the creation of the non-living by design and the creation by participation in the life of a living thing... as in a watcher maker versus a farmer, shepherd, teacher or parent. Yes farmers, shepherd and teachers don't work for nothing, it is how they make their living. But when we are talking about God that would be absurd. I have made it clear many times the difference between a tool made for an end and the creation of life which logically and morally would be for an end in itself because the addition of life doesn't serve the interest of making a tool -- not for the best of all toolmakers. It makes no sense to make tools which can decide for themselves what their purpose is.

I certainly did not think the word "teleology" excluded the possibility of creation for an end in itself in the way of an artist or parent. If you remember, I have quite often said that the universe plays the role of womb, so "making a baby" is indeed pretty much the way I look at it.
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Re: God as a Watchmaker or a Shepherd

Postby Stacie Cook » Sat Dec 05, 2015 8:19 pm

Love the analogies. Thank you for sharing.
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Re: God as a Watchmaker or a Shepherd

Postby mitchellmckain » Sun Dec 06, 2015 1:11 am

As far as the the ship analogy goes, however, the question is just how big is the ship. I think many passengers have restricted themselves to one area of the ship and then imagine this to be all there is. Others know better, such as, the ship wouldn't even move without crew and operations these self-absorbed passengers close their eyes to. Not only that but there could be whole decks of other passengers they never meet.
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