My Mormon friend informs me scholars at BYU have a pet theory that Kierkegaard was directly influenced by Mormonism. Kierkegaard’s one reference to the nascent faith (quoted in the footnote below from this book) makes this doubtful. Still, I am intrigued by the suggestion that Mormon theology was influenced by the invention of the train and telegraph. In what ways have modern understandings of God and divinity been influenced by contemporary technological advances?
Scientology was obviously influenced by 20th century debates in psychiatry, the space race, and the Douglas DC-8 jet airliner, but otherwise I think Kierkegaard’s prediction that technological progress would fuel retrograde and mechanistic metaphors for God had it backwards. Technology and basic science have pushed in favor of more and more abstract conceptions of God, as more and more of the workings of the universe come under human control and are found to obey naturalistic laws. In that sense, the idealists, rationalists and pantheists like Hegel, Schelling and Spinoza used metaphors for God that were way ahead of their time.
Computer science, in particular, has led (or will lead) to more computation or cybernetic metaphors of God. “God is information.” Or perhaps, “God / spirit is the intentionality underwriting otherwise hollow and derivative computational processes.” Or something like that.
It reminds me of an argument I concocted on the spot in a philosophy of religion elective I took several years back. We read Aquinas’ “Quinque viae” aka his five proofs of God’s existence. The professor, a militant atheist and functionalist, lectured for awhile about internal contradictions and tautology. And while I was and still am a strong atheist, I found his arguments ungenerous, and worse, boorish. So I raised my hand.
Professor, I said, You should note that Aquinas begins with the Argument from Motion:“Whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another,” and “Motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality.” This establishes God’s fundamental connection to entropy.
Then, in his Argument from Degree: “As fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.”
The idea of maximum heat is literally a thermodynamic metaphor. God is like absolute zero, the baseline which makes heat measurement possible. In terms of entropy, this implies God is a zero entropy state: a state of pure and total order and useful potentiality.
Consider what we know from physics: The universe began as a singularity and entropy, which is to say disorder, has been increasing ever since. Is it a stretch to relate this inextricable progression from order to disorder with the Christian metaphor of being fallen and separated from God? Is the punishment for original sin not that mortal beings must eventually age and die, that is, to be subject to the whims of entropy? And is the “heat death” of the universe not well captured in the metaphor of hell as state of uniform disorder and chaos?
Consider next how information theory has updated our understanding of these physical truths. Entropy, through the lens of statistical mechanics, refers to uncertainty about the state of a given system. A low entropy system requires less information to be fully described with certainty. A single particle, for example, can be described by its position and velocity with certainty in a way that a chaotic system cannot.
Let’s go back to the initial state of the universe, which began in a singularity of infinitesimal size, contained in an equally infinitesimal amount of space and time. This is not directly observed. Rather, it’s postulated by extrapolating backwards along the arrow of time until the universe’s entropy is asymptotically nil. That is, where the information required to describe the state of the entire universe and everything in it approaches zero, with the degree of certainty approaching one.
This asymptotic, zero entropy state is in dimensionless space, and, in informational terms, contains literally all the “knowledge” of how the universe will subsequently unfold. In other words, it is omniscient and omnipresent. And moreover, since it contains infinite potentiality, it is a state capable of creating its own momentum, to be the unmoved mover.
I lowered my hand, and returned the floor to the incredulous professor, who scoffed.
Of course, I agree. But isn’t there more virtue in creatively exploring positions you don’t actually hold, rather than contorting obviously bad arguments into an even worse light?
Either way, the information entropic “proof” of God (i.e. the sixth proof) seems to me to be also asymptotic in its degree of abstraction. Is a more abstract metaphor for God possible? If not, then maybe it does have an ontological reality. I have no doubt Aquinas would agree. And perhaps Kierkegaard would agree, too, given his faith in God despite the undeniable disorder of things.