Divine Sentience

Volitional or Passive, Neither or Both

Sentience involves more than mere reaction to stimuli, it involves awareness of existence, but once aware, the sentient entity may be either passive, a voyeur of sorts, or volitional, in the latter case evolving a will and a desire to impose it. Humans are generally sentient in a range between passive and volitional but what about the divine, either as a singularity or as a class of entities? Assuming divinity in fact exists.

Historically humans have perceived their divinities as exaggeratedly volitional, neurotically so. If demiurges (creators), willing to destroy their creations if their will is not respected or to permit their mortal existence subject to eternal torture if their volition is impeded. At the same time, most modern traditions chose to believe the oxymoronic concept that divinities are benevolent and respect free will, although punishing its “erroneous exercise.

But what about the fundamental premise? Does divinity exist? Can it exist?

Most purported atheists I have known, including my sons, premise their position on the absence of conclusive scientific evidence in favor of the existence of divinity, but the absence of evidence, using scientific methodology cannot be conclusive proof of contrary premises. They too must be subject to identical rigorousity. The difference between an atheist and an agnostic is based on that realization: atheism is a positive belief in the nonexistence of divinity while agnosticism is the acknowledgment that neither position can be proven scientifically, leaving all options open.

Given the foregoing, it seems equally possible, perhaps even equally probable, that divinity exists or does not exist while, at the same time, absolutely certain that one of the two postures is absolutely correct and the other absolutely wrong. An objective analytical starting point might be whether or not there are operative conditions based on conventions of which we are already aware that might give rise to sentience more complex than ours; that is, not just more advanced but qualitatively different, with inherent power over our own existence and actions, much in the way that we, as complex entities composed of quarks and protons and neutrons and electrons and molecules and cells and organs, exercise some measure of both passive and volitional control over such elements.

That raises issues concerning corporeality. First, what is corporeality, can it be non-physical involving a state of existence of which we are not currently aware, perhaps, if a variant of physics’ string theories (e.g., M theory) is accurate, some form of other dimensional existence (as intuited by many ancient religions, e.g., Hinduism and Neoplatonism and their planes of existence)? If not, then can corporeality be non-biological? And again, if not, then can corporeality be a complex of independent biological entities. While all are possible, the latter clearly exists as all multi cell biological entities involve varying complexities and interactions of independent biological entities, some of which are social rather than unitary in nature, especially but not limited to in the insect world (e.g., bees, ants, termites, etc.). Ironically and fascinatingly, the evolution of Richard Dawkins’ meme theories permit inference of both non-corporeal intelligence and life and the possibility of social rather than individual sentience, ironic given Dawkins posture as perhaps the world’s leading atheist philosopher.

A second series of critical questions involves the issue of whether sentience requires corporeality. Again, evolution of Dawkins meme theory provides interesting insights. It posits that culture (e.g., philosophies, religions, fads, etc.) is comprised of numerous memes interacting in a manner analogous to the manner in which biological genes function and shares many attributes of biological entities, acting as though it were volitionally sentient, protecting itself, mutating and growing, but in a corporeal sense similar to that found in insect colonies where each individual biological complex is used to store colonial data which in turn, directs the collective. In a sense, insect collectives are governed by collective volitional sentience and thus, under a fundamental perspective of what constitutes a divinity, may be considered to be ruled by non-eternal, non-omnipotent, non-omniscient, non-omnipresent, non-omnibenevolent local gods.

If it works for insects, mightn’t it work for humans too? Does it?

It certainly does not necessarily posit a singular, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, eternal and omnipresent divinity and our experience makes that specific combination of attributes unlikely. Too much evil exists for an omnibenevolent entity which is also omniscient to have created it, or being omnipotent, to tolerate it. But if rather than a demiurge it was an evolutionary creation and is still imperfect and evolving, with more volitional power than we have but far short of omnipotent, well, … that could be. Thus, divinity outside the scope of that conglomeration of factors seems not only possible, but given evolution’s apparent strive for more complex sentience (us, for example), even somewhat probable.

The main question seems to be whether, assuming divinity exists, it is a passive voyeur or an egomaniacal volitionist. The answer might be either but more probably somewhere in between and most probably, evolving from one extreme towards the other. Two religious theories posit variants of the foregoing and are found as elements of various ancient and current religions, pantheism and panentheism. Both posit a corporeal divinity where the corpus is everything that exists. The former would seem to be more passive, perhaps even without real sentience, and the latter more volitional with obvious sentience. However, in neither case would the resulting divinity need any of the attributes of singularity, omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, eternity and omnipresence. In fact, such theories could support a hierarchy of such entities, the higher level entities incorporating lower levels in a hierarchical structure. The essence of these concepts is that the subjects of divinity would be essential and inherent components of the divinity rather than separate independent entities.

Of course, the foregoing does not in any way disprove any other theories of divinity, from atheism to belief in a single supreme being. Nor does it prove the existence of any form of divinity.

It merely demonstrates more probable possibilities.

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved

Guillermo Calvo
Guillermo Calvo

Former chair, Political Science, Government and International Relations Programs at the Universidad Autonoma de Manizales.  My university degrees are in political science, law, international legal studies and translation studies.

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Divine Sentience