Riker's Mailbox

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


It's time to start 'playing God'.

Any sufficiently radical scientific study engenders passionate outcries from the religious: "We must stop playing God before it's too late!" 'Playing God' to them is inherently bad; my guess is because of its violation of some deadly sin or another. Pride, vanity, hubris. Whatever it is... we can't puff ourselves up and presume to know what we're doing. We can't take God's place. We're violating natural order.

Nevermind that all technology 'violates natural order' once we separate 'the advent of technology' from 'that which occurs naturally'*. By this rationale, every time a monkey picks up a stick to scratch his back, he's playing god. If you don't subscribe to the aforementioned line of reasoning, perhaps you might consider that advancing our technology is simply a byproduct of our intelligent nature?

It wasn't until our technology began yielding godlike capabilities that the religious got squeamish about it all. The displacement between humanity and deity has been reduced to a stone's throw. In some aspects, we've exceeded him. God needed 40 days of rain to wipe out the population of the earth. We could do it in a drastically more populated world with a few 40 megaton blasts... in a few minutes, no less. I'm not proud of that fact, but it's a relevant point to make.

Removing all religious stigma from the term, scientists 'playing god' is no less benign than children 'playing house'. Nobody accuses the child of tempting wrath and parental retribution. If anything, it shows a desire on the child's part to want to grow up, to be as mature as his parents; it is a better endeavor than playing 'bank robbers'.

'Playing God' should be an aspiration of ours, not a warning to us. We, like the children playing house, are practicing and preparing ourselves for a future when we will be in charge. With godlike capabilities, we can practice benevolence on a global scale. We can take responsibility for those who need our care. We can make the world a better place.

We've finally reached the level of scientific maturity that we can start doing something about it.

We're finally ready to start playing god.

* - And my whole point here is that the advent of technology should be thought of as something that occurs naturally.


  1. A great post Riker. You've summarised my thoughts on this matter in a way that I'd have struggled to do so myself.

    BTW - have lurked on your RSS feed for some time now, and am an admirer of your blog.

    So, hi ;)

  2. I see you have the Richard Dawkins A.

    Not believing in God is a bit simplistic though. Whilst I actually agree with most of what you say, I want to look at where our concept of 'God' came from. Why do we insist on worshipping anything. If an entity requires me to bow down to it, I am more than suspicious, and wish to leave that to others.

    I've just started a blog: http://hiddenknowledge.net where I want to examine all sorts of religions. You see if you're not careful atheism can become a religion too.

    Carol Webb...

  3. jamon -

    Thanks for the kind words! In my book, flattery will get you everywhere. I took a quick look around your blog as well, and like what I see! Left you a comment on one of your older posts. Looking forward to come good commentary in the future :)

    carol -

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'll be very interested in reading your blog; perhaps I can contribute some... I, like you, have a very keen academic interest in religion, and have done a lot of studying in my spare time over the last few years. I have a few pet hypotheses about the urge to believe, and would be glad to expound on them for you.

    In direct response to your comment - this is why I use very precise language when discussing these topics. 'Atheism' is simplistic by definition; it indicates nothing more than a lack of belief in the existence of deities.

    'Atheist' is an adjective that describes a shared aspect of many "non-simplistic" belief systems: Rationalism, Naturalism, Secular Humanism, Nihilism, Deism/Pantheism (depending on how flexible you are with their definitions), among others.

    I think when you say 'atheism can become a religion too' you're actually referring to a more complicated belief structure that happens to be atheistic, but has more significant attributes that would be better suited to defining what that system is.

    This is actually a big problem... one I spend a lot of time fighting: the irrational 'religionistic' worldviews that are grouped under the blanket term 'atheism' when they shouldn't be.

    Ill-informed people might adopt a dogmatic worldview that holds atheism as a core value and call it 'atheism'... but it's the dogma that makes it religious, not the atheism.

  4. Many people call Buddhism a religion when really it is a philosophy of being that owes nothing to a creator god. Because they hold reincarnation to be true, I guess that lays them open to the religious accusation. I happen to believe in reincarnation and I call myself a Pantheist. Dawkins says Pantheism is sexed-up atheism...
    More on this at cennaddotcom.
    An interesting site, Riker.

  5. aileni -

    Thanks for your comments! I too am disappointed that the eastern spiritualities are often lumped together with the acerbic representatives of ethical theism.

    Personally, I think most atheists would agree they're as pantheist as you are (when the word is taken to mean "someone who feels awe and reverence when confronting the magnificence of the universe as we can understand it today"). It's just that we don't like to bother with the word 'theism' since it still conveys the idea of 'dude in a cloud with a beard'. Pantheism literally means "everything is god," and in that case, there's no distinction made... so we atheists just go with "everything is awesome."

    I can understand the draw of pantheism as a label, since to the majority, 'anytheist' is still better than 'atheist'.