I think from first principles. I can translate every aspect of my experience – including the messy, emotional, human bits – into physics and mathematics. What follows is my faith.
I believe that I am a locus of conscious experience, in which appear shadows of a massive mathematical structure that contains all possible states of all possible physical worlds. This mathematical structure is a subset of Truth, with a capital ‘T’. I suspect that the only difference between any of us is our location in this structure (or, rather, which portions of the structure currently appear inside of us). The laws of physics are merely a space of addresses; these laws describe the boundary of a region of the mathematical structure you and I catch glimpses of. Systems with different laws of physics describe different regions, with different boundaries.
To say that “God is all powerful” ends up placing limits on both God and the Truth. There is no limit to either. To say that “God is all powerful” is to say that God can rearrange the pieces on the chessboard however She likes. This belief implies that God has desires, which are temporarily violated, until God fixes the situation. I don’t believe in the idea of a personal deity, but if I did, I’d have to reject the idea “God is all powerful.” Not as false, but as not even false – as poorly framed.
The phrase “God is ever-present” is far more useful. Rather than say “God can set the state of the world-game to any state he so desires,” it makes more sense to say that “all possible states of this world-game contain inherent properties that both emit and absorb love.” The notion of a loving, caring God then becomes something like a boundary condition which applies to this word. I suspect that this boundary condition applies to all possible systems that support qualia, not just our physical reality.
I do not believe God has a plan for me. This belief would imply God has mental states, models reality, and weighs some outcomes more than others. I don’t think mentation is something God does. I believe God is an anthropization of certain aspects of Truth, and that all configurations of physical reality exist in the structure of Truth.
The Islamic Mystic Rumi said, “… you shouldn’t say: God is in my heart /, but: I am in God’s heart.”
Likewise, I do not believe truth exists in my mind, but rather, I exist in truth. ‘Mark Neyer’ is just as inevitable as hydrogen atoms and the number 3; these and all phenomena anywhere, are all inevitable results that stem from the existence of Truth, which includes within it the level 4 multiverse.
Believing that all configurations of all possible worlds exists inside Truth means that I believe, wherever and whoever and whatever I am, that there are actions I can take which increase the total amount of love that has ever been experienced. Rather than asking “what is God’s plan for me”, I ask “what can I do to improve this situation?” I believe that, wherever, whoever, and whatever I am, if I move in a manner which increases love, that I am moving along a gradient which points towards many better futures. When a theist prays “God, I am open to whatever plan you have for me, just tell me what you want”, I believe they are executing a search, isomorphic to mine, across the space of possible goal vectors.
A theist might say that God is pure love. I would say that objective, inevitable, universal Truth contains a natural gradient which points in a loving direction. Over the short term, systems can travel through Truth in many ways that go against the gradient. I suspect that all paths beyond a certain length must follow the gradient, because the systems that don’t love themselves cannot survive and reproduce. Systems which don’t love their environments choke on pollution.
It’s not that I am moving ‘closer’ to God, or ‘further’ from God, because God, the Truth, is always present. I believe that the act of loving – of understanding something which is not me, and acting for that thing’s benefit – maximizes the number of possible future states accessible to the system I currently inhabit. That action vector – the one which maximizes possible future outcomes – points along the gradient which I believe was anthropomorphized and described as “God’s Will”
All of us believe thunder is real, even if we don’t think it’s caused by an ethereal person. I believe the idea of a ‘divine, all loving, all powerful creator’ while not literally accurate, points in the direction of something real, and this direction, The Good, points towards the richest, most lively possible futures.
I think the arc of the universe bends towards justice. I do not believe this because I think there is some massive, all-powerful agent interfering with the state of the world. I believe the universe bends towards justice because justice is the direction that maximizes possible future states. There are far, far more possible ways to describe a just universe than there are to describe a cold, cruel universe. A civilization that spans galaxies, for example, is only plausible were it rooted in a culture that could hold itself together sufficiently to dream big, and execute those implausibly large dreams, even at steep empirical cost with no immediate returns.
Religion built the pyramids. I suspect that a first principles faith, or something like it, might be necessary to explore the stars.
It is impossible to imagine large, sophisticated, complex economies in a world without courts, individual rights, and the rule of law. Systems that are just and fair allow far more possible outcomes than those which are cruel and short-sighted. That is why I believe good will always triumph, over long enough time frames. Good scales better. Good doesn’t even have to beat evil, it simply has to endure while evil tears itself apart. I do not believe might makes right; I believe right makes might, and that healthy, fair, just, good societies outcompete those where not all lives are valued, and rights exists only at the whims of the powerful. These societies, to me, are like a body ruled by the head, which scorns and ignores the needs of the body. This ignorance might work for a few decades, but eventually the body will wither and the head will go with it.
I don’t believe that God, Truth, wants me to do anything. I don’t think Truth has desires; it simply is. I believe that the courses of action which maximize possible future histories for the world are the courses which allow me, and those I love, and those I know, to grow and develop and flourish. Saving lives, helping sick people heal, curing disease, building wealth, and understanding the universe allow us to reach ever-more distant accessible states. Freeing captors increases the states accessible to the captor-capture system. These actions are consistent with our human intuition about goodness, and they all point along the mathematical gradient that maximizes the number of future states our world can access.
There are many, many, many possible futures for earth, the vast majority of which lie beyond the immediate horizon. The vast majority of these possible futures require us to have the earth in a healthy and viable state, with humanity flourishing. Otherwise, we could not reach those futures.
I do not believe I am loved by some distant, abstract, all powerful being. I do believe that my future descendants will be much more powerful and capable than I am. I believe that their knowledge of history will cause them to reflect positively on most of us alive today – suffering from our ignorance and desires, and yet striving for their betterment. I believe that our distant descendants will express gratitude for the small choices we can make today, which enrich and nourish their lives. I believe this because I live in a world made richer and nourished by the sacrifices and loving choices of my ancestors. Knowing this truth, I therefore think of, and give thanks to, my ancestors.
It isn’t that I believe some arbiter, powerful and wise and loving, set rules and boundary conditions which prevent evil from flourishing. I see evil as being the left hand struggling against the right, a system unable to understand its own unity, and thus holding itself back without realizing it. Foolishness, rather than being punished by a divine judge, is merely a greedy algorithm stuck in a local maximum. Evil, rather than merely transgressing the will of some ethereal being, is an affront to the truth itself. It’s a contradiction, an unstable nucleus with a half life.
I don’t believe God created rights, and that humans are endowed with these rights. I believe that systems which lack the concept of rights will end up destroying themselves. Absent love for less powerful agents, the most powerful agents will destroy vital elements elements of the system that supports and nourishes them. If we do not love all of our hard and soft dependencies, we do not truly love ourselves. I suspect only sustainable systems of agency are those which value all of their own internal layers, at all levels.
My conception of good is not, therefore, commands or dictates from some authoritative being. My conception of good is something which arises, naturally, from Truth, in the same manner that the integers do: inevitably and universally.
There is a way to get from ‘is’ to ‘ought’. To do so, we must acknowledge that all statements of what “is” contained implied statements about what could be. What “ought” to be is simply the natural ordering which arises from considering all the possible ways things could be. In other words, if you believe the multiverse has a directional gradient, then this gradient points towards maximizing accessible future states. Most of the multiverse lies in the many possible futures, not the one actual past. Our choices can be aligned with this gradient, to the extent that we do our best to grow and develop ourselves and our world. This is my first principles definition of the Good. This is my faith.