As I have noted here before, I am a sucker for quirky little books about faith in the modern world. I am intrigued by unique approaches to thinking about faith in a culture in many ways dominated by science and a materialistic world view (or at least the dominant elite culture). Allegorical novellas, thought experiments, fictional dialogs, you name it, I am prone to giving them a try (For previous examples see here, here, and here.
I stumbled upon just such a book while browsing at Half Price Books the other day: The Religion War by Scott Adams. The Religion War is a follow up to God’s Debris which I happened to already own. I vaguely recall reading God’s Debris but I decided to re-read it in order to have it fresh in my mind for the sequel. Both books are fictional “thought experiments” by the creator of the Dilbert cartoon series aimed at challenging the readers thinking about the world.
God’s Debris is more a dialog than an actual story. A young deliveryman delivers a package to an elderly gentleman in San Fransisco and out of curiosity starts up a conversation. Soon it becomes clear that this isn’t just your ordinary lonely old man but a potentially life changing mentor. The rest of the book is just their conversation. The old man proceeds to explain the meaning of life and the key to the universe.
If you don’t want to read “spoilers” stop reading, if you can’t wait to find out the answers click below.
I am not sure I can accurately capture all of the convoluted theories and explanations Adams offers, but I think I can get the basics. It is important to keep in mind that the purpose of the book is to get you thinking not to present a holistic and consistent explanation of the universe. Nevertheless, the old man sets out an explanation that posits that the universe is “God’s Debris” (hence the title). Here are the basics:
– The human brain is a delusion generator. It creates plausible and useful illusions so that we can function in a universe that contains more information than we can handle.
– This leads us to see ourselves as the center of the universe and describe God in our terms and with our motivations, etc.
– An omnipotent and omniscient God would have none of the flaws or weaknesses of humans and therefore none of their needs or motivations.
– The one challenge for God would be his own destruction.
– God is a combination of the most basic elements of the universe and probability.
– The creation of the universe was God exploding and it/he is now in the process of reassembling itself.
Along the way the old man offers opinions and advice about a bevy of subjects ranging from quantum physics, evolution, and gravity to light, psychic phenomenon, and how men and women relate to each other.
How much you enjoy this little experiment is, to a great degree, dependent on your attitude and background. I thought one of the reviewers at Amazon captured it best:
Although the theory itself could probably be torn to shreds by an undergraduate philosophy class, the purpose is to get the reader to recognize the folly of thinking that we know the answers and to open themselves to the possibility that everything we think we know (religion and science) is a wrong, albeit useful construct – and in fact that we humans are intellectually incapable of fathoming reality.
If you ponder metaphysics/spirituality a lot then you might not find that this book breaks any new ground for you – given that you are already open to thinking strange thoughts.
If you’re an unflinching religious zealot you’ll find the book somewhat sacrilegious and, unwittingly proving his point, you’ll either pray for him or send him an email informing him that he’s going to hell.
If you’re a sober, stuffy scientific sort you’ll pick the specifics of the theory apart with righteous and snooty “I’m smarter than you” arrogance and in doing so, miss the whole point of the book.
But, if you enjoy mental exercises and realize that sacred cows make the best steaks, then you’ll enjoy mulling over the ideas discussed in this book.
I enjoyed it for the most part but didn’t find it particularly creative or insightful. But since it is only 132 pages long and didn’t require a great deal of commitment on my part I wasn’t that disappointed. I will leave that for the sequel.