– Does God exist?
– That depends on what you mean by ”God”, and what you mean by ”exists”. But having said that: Yes.
This is the answer that cyber philosophers Alexander Bard and Jan Söderqvist give in their new book Syntheism– Creating God in the Internet Age, which was launched at the Frankfurt Book Fair yesterday.
Bard & Söderqvist argue that it is not only possible to create a new god and a new world view for our times. They also feel that it is absolutely necessary to do so, in order to help us understand our increasingly complex civilization, and save the world from ecological collapse. Syntheism is a philosophical view with political implications.
They write [p. 50]:
Syntheism is the religion that the Internet created. The dedicated political struggle for a free and open Internet is based on the blind faith that the network has a sacred potential for humanity. The Internet is thereby transformed from a technological into a theological phenomenon. The Internet is the God of a new age, and furthermore extremely appropriate for an age characterised by an unlimited faith in the possibilities of creativity. Thus, the Internet a god that even those who regard themselves atheists can devote themselves to. Syntheologically, we say that the Internet is a manifestation of Syntheos, the new god that we humans are creating rather than the old god which, according to our ancestors, is said to have created us once upon a time in a distant past.
This is a quite different god from the God of Abraham, the great bearded patriarch that Christians, Muslims, and religious Jews worship. The Abrahamic god is supposed to have existed before the Universe, and to have created it by laying down eternal laws. The Syntheist god is a not preexisting Creator, but an emergent phenomenon that appears within a creative and ever-changing universe.
One of the stated goals of Syntheism is to unite atheism and theism, science and religion. To achieve this, it must present a god that is believable and reasonable to modern, educated people. It should not contradict science in areas where science can speak with authority. But it must add spirituality to the mechanistic world view that seems to suggest that the universe is just a giant billiard table, where particles bounce around aimlessly according to deterministic and eternal natural laws.
The Syntheist god is the swarm. God is created in the meeting between people who believe, and nowhere else. The Internet can be seen as an incarnation of god, not because it connects billions of computers, but because it connects billions of people. ”God is no longer a patriarchal creator of worlds from the past, or a longed-for savior on a white horse, but the de facto name of the collective utopian vision of the collective itself in the future,” Bard & Söderqvist write.
Today, 3 billion people are connected to each other on the Internet. This is a completely new thing in the history of mankind. People have been connected to each other before, but never so many so closely and so immediately. The Internet is quite clearly the biggest thing that has happened to mankind since the printing press, probably even bigger.
The printing press resulted, after a few hundred years, in the agrarian feudal system of the Middle Ages being replaced by the modern industrial society. The accompanying change in the generally accepted philosophical paradigm, the common world view, was just as dramatic. The monotheistic ideal was a static and unchanging world with a (conveniently inaccessible) God at the top, and the king and local elite as his divinely authorized representatives down on Earth. The industrial age replaced this paradigm with a new one, with the individual at the center, and with God relegated to the land of fairy tales for the feeble-minded.
Individualism brought many improvements compared to the previous paradigm of feudalism and monotheism, but it also brought new problems that now need to be addressed. Bard & Söderqvist see the individualistic paradigm, where nature is seen as just an external object to be conquered and used, as a root cause driving us towards over-exploitation of planet Earth’s limited resources. Thus, they see a new paradigm to replace the individualism of the industrial age not only as inevitable, because of the fundamental changes to society that the Internet is bringing along, but also as desperately, urgently needed, in order to save us from ecological collapse.
Although Syntheism – Creating God in the Internet Age deals with the subject of God, it is a philosophical book rather than a religious one. Much of the focus is on showing how the syntheist ideas relate to the ideas of other philosophers, and how syntheism fits into the general framework of western philosophy. There are many names of philosophers, living and dead, and there are quite a lot of unusual words that have a specific meaning within the realm of philosophy. This is not a book that you read casually on the beach.
But it is not an inaccessible book, even if you are not familiar with all the philosophers referenced. Both the various philosopher’s ideas, and the words they have used to describe them, are usually explained as they are introduced in the book. And if you find some particular philosophical argument hard to follow without more background, just continue to the next one. There are many interesting ideas presented in this book, so even if you just pick up on the ones you like the most, you will get plenty of food for thought.
It is indisputable that we are entering a new age in the history of mankind, the information age. And we can already feel quite confident that this will lead to society developing and adopting a new metaphysical paradigm, to fit with the new reality of global hyperconnectivity. The people and the societies who first figure out what this new paradigm will be, and how to adopt to it, will be the winners of the information age. I believe Syntheism – Creating God in the Internet Age will prove a very valuable resource for anybody interested in taking part in this metaphysical quest.