In Should We Worship a God-like AI?, we explored why even an Artificial Intelligence with unimaginable power and abilities that most people on Earth would categorize as “God-like” would still not be worthy of worship.
But this brings up an interesting problem:
What, then, could possibly be truly “worthy” of worship?
If an entity with all the popular calling cards of an actual god didn’t deserve our conscious adoration and reverence, because they were material in nature and bound by the constraints of time, why would anyone want to take the next step of worshiping anything? What else is there that is immaterial and outside of time?
I’m glad you asked. 😉
What is the purpose of worship? There are thousands of articles on the internet tackling this issue, and many acknowledge that humans seem to have an innate need to show gratitude, to revere something. It satisfies a desire to connect to something beyond ourselves, as humans are primarily relational beings.
Any time spent expressing adoration, gratitude, or reverence toward something in an effort to establish a connection should be directed toward something that can actually connect. Otherwise, worship just gives good feelings to the worshiper. While pursuing good feelings is not a bad aim for our activities per se, it seems pointless and even wasteful in this context. We as humans do plenty of things that are enjoyable, and sure, worshiping an inanimate object or an abstract concept like love might feel good or give a sense of doing something noble or purposeful. But if the only benefit to worship is a fleeting, superficial feeling, it’s not worth doing at all since there are so many other options available to us that are just as or more effective toward that end.
No, the heart of worship is the seeking of connection with something beyond ourselves that deserves our adoration, respect, and reverence. Why try to connect to something that cannot connect back? We must therefore seek an object of worship that is personal and relational, something that has a will capable of choosing to connect back to us.
What’s in it for Me?
So we’re back to deciding what is worthy of worship, now with the caveat that we ought to worship something that satisfies our innate desire to express gratitude and adoration toward things while also being a relational entity. This rules out anything that cannot develop a one-on-one relationship with you. Remember, we are seeking the best candidate for worship. You can have a relationship with a person (father, friend, colleague), and they can do things to deserve our gratitude and adoration, but are they really the ultimate source of all the things for which we ought to be grateful?
Let’s say your mom gives you a car (or truck). What kind is it? What color? What’s the gas mileage on it? Can it tow a 24′ trailer for my band program on certain Saturdays in the Fall (call me)?
Should you express adoration and reverence toward your mom? Of course! (And if you are, by chance, an entitled brat who doesn’t feel the need to be grateful, that doesn’t change the fact that you ought* (see below) to be! :-P)
What about the guy at the car factory who put the car together? Or the salesperson who sold your mom the car?
This leads us to an endless list of people who we could have relationships with, and to whom we should offer our adoration and gratitude for what they’ve done for us. But then, shouldn’t we also be grateful to those people’s parents for even having them, which made our current car-receiving situation possible? That also means that we have a chain of ancestors worthy of our gratitude that goes back to the beginning of humankind!
What about all the materials that make up that car? Is there an ultimate source for all the minerals, metals, and fibers that went into that car to whom or to which we ought to show our gratitude?
And what about the laws of physics and nature that allow us to experience and enjoy your car? What is the source of the friction that allows you to sit in the seat, the gravity which keeps your car on the road, the phenomena of the wind that tousles your luxurious hair (or tickles your bald head)?
And what about the very ideas that made that car possible? Is there an ultimate source for the optimal design of the body of the car, the mathematical concepts that made the engineering of the car possible, or the aesthetically pleasing nature of the body of the car itself (I’m imagining a Porsche in this scenario, but yours could be a Mitsubishi Expo that you got… I don’t know your mom’s financial situation)?
And this is just the car! What about your toothbrush!? And bug spray? And cupcakes?What about your children that you love so much? What about beautiful sunsets? All of these things have ultimate causes that we ought to show gratitude toward.
It seems that, ultimately, anything worthy of worship would be something that is the rightful recipient of all gratitude, assuming there’s a single source.
Transcendence is Key
If nothing material aside from the universe itself is worth worshiping, since it’s all going to die a slow Entropy Death anyway, then a materialist might say that there is indeed nothing that is worth worshiping aside from perhaps the universe itself (since they believe by definition that that is all there is to reality). However, we just discussed that a big inanimate object like the universe, regardless of its scope and grandeur, cannot connect with us since it does not have a will, and therefore worship of the universe itself is wasteful and without benefit other than how it makes us feel.
And, as we discussed in the previous AI God article, anything bound by time cannot be worthy of worship because anything bound by time must have had a beginning (as most physicists and philosophers believe), and therefore owes its existence to a prior cause or source.
So, if we’re looking to worship the best possible candidate for our worship, we must look outside the material universe and outside of time.
This would include abstract objects (if you’re a Realist) like the “real” number 2. But these things don’t have a will or capacity for relationship, so even if they did actually exist somewhere, they’re not worth worshiping.
The Missing Piece
The final aspect that makes or breaks the worthiness of a being to be worshiped by humans is whether they are Good or not. If it is truly Good in its nature, by any true and reasonable definition of the word “Good,” then they could be a candidate for worship.
If I discovered a being that was outside of space and time that had a will and could choose to have a relationship with me, but it didn’t have my best interests at heart (or those of my family)… I don’t care how much it would cost me, I would not choose to worship that being. Even if it had just one evil thought, tendency, or desire in all of its eternal history, it would not be the maximal candidate for worship, and would therefore not be worthy.
You might argue that this is an arbitrary standard of worthiness, that Goodness is not a necessary prerequisite, but I disagree. If this worship by definition is to direct gratitude and reverence toward something with the intent to establish a connection, then why would any person in their right mind want to connect with a being that was not Good?
Let’s use the example of the Christian God. If I wasn’t sure based on the promises that He’s made in the Bible and the example of the work of Jesus on the cross, I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable worshiping Him. Yet I am convinced this won’t happen based on the evidence that I’ve been presented over the years, and I feel 100% confident in worshiping YHWH because I am 100% convinced He is Good.
Conversely, this is a huge reason why even if I was somehow convinced Islam represented the objective truth of reality, I still don’t think I’d choose to worship Allah. Why? The Qur’an openly states that Allah is the best at makr, or deception (3:54, 7:99, 8:30). Also, Allah doesn’t love me right now since I’m not a Muslim (3:31-32, 30:43-45). There’s a lot more, but however you slice it, Allah’s just not for me. I don’t personally think he’s worthy of worship, at least how he is presented in the Qur’an.
This brings us to a list of characteristics that are prerequisites for being worthy of worship. This being/entity must:
- Be Objectively Good
- Transcend space
- Transcend time
- Be an appropriate recipient of (ie, they truly deserve) gratefulness, reverence, and adoration
- Be capable and willing to enter into a relationship with the worshiper
Kind of a weird resume, huh? Or maybe a cosmic personal ad! 🙂
The fourth point is just another way of saying that this entity, in order to truly be worthy of our worship, must have been the ultimate causal source for our existence and the agent through which our existence was brought about. If you had one without the other, we wouldn’t have a maximal candidate for our worship (I can have ideas all day long, but if I don’t act upon them, what a waste of creativity! Additionally, if I am omnipotent but have no creative capacity or will, what good am I?).
The only entity I can think of that fits each criterion is the Judeo-Christian God, YHWH (or one with identical characteristics, like perhaps Shang Di and Y’wa). Ahura Mazda (Zoroastrianism) isn’t omnipotent, so he wouldn’t fall in this category. However, this article is not meant to somehow prove that He actually exists… that’s a totally different question for another article.
What I AM saying is this:
If the being who meets these criteria does not exist, then no other being, thing, idea, or concept is truly worthy of your worship either, so don’t waste your time. But if this being does exist, and I have good reasons to believe He does, then He is the maximal candidate for your worship, and you should totally start worshiping Him today!
God bless!! 🙂
*Some of you might take issue with me saying that we ought to do anything, that moral obligations don’t actually exist and that morality is a social construct brought about over time through natural selection (I’m looking at you, atheists!). This is a HUGE can of worms I won’t open here, but if you’re interested in what I mean by objective morality, click here for a video produced by Dr. William Lane Craig on the topic, and here for a longer philosophical discussion on various aspects of the Moral Argument for God’s Existence.
**Picture is from HisLightMedia! I got this one from his Flickr account. Check it out!
***For a discussion on why an AI God would not be worthy of worship, see my previous post, Should we Worship an AI God?
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