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I was quite looking forward to the ‘Future of God’ debate which Rick mentioned in today’s news. The publicity has been ongoing for the past couple of weeks, and it promised to be a good event. Michael Shermer can be intensely annoying, but he does speak well, Sam Harris has some very intelligent things to say and debates in a very precise manner, and though I hear a lot about Deepak Chopra, I’ve never really seen or heard him in action (I am not familiar at all with Jean Houston). And the topic is a fascinating one.

But the show’s potential certainly wasn’t realised – in actual fact, it was quite a mess. Certainly, one of the most annoying aspects was the sloppy moderating which allowed Chopra to rudely interrupt Shermer and Harris continually, despite using up plenty of time himself when talking. But the real issue I think was that the question – ‘Does God have a future?’ – was ambiguous. Was it asking whether humans would need the concept of god to live happily in future? Or perhaps it was referring specifically to the Abrahamic God of Judaism/Christianity/Islam? Or did it mean to suggest that science and rational thought was possibly on the brink of disproving the idea of God itself, regardless of whether people need the concept to live happily.

Shermer and Harris certainly latched on to the Abrahamic God idea, while Chopra stuck to quantum New Age psycho-babble – which all led to a very disjointed ‘debate’ in which everyone was simply throwing forward their own ideas, playing to their section of the crowd, and not actually answering each other (or even the original question). A little humour certainly helped make it more bearable, and some good points made (mostly by Harris and Houston to my mind) – but in short, I’d probably like the time back again.

The closest that the debate came to answering the question, I think, came from Chopra and Houston, in recognizing that the concept of ‘God’ is undergoing a distinct change at the moment (a point which both Chopra and Houston made a little more eloquently in pre-debate articles). For example, Houston:

The complexity of the present world is shattering expectations in every arena, most especially, in the geography of the soul. Lost as we all are, we can understand why some retreat into fundamentalisms that provide archaic certainties, holding houses of containment before the onrush of new realities. Others wander in a spiritual void, overwhelmed by the loss of all pattern, looking to material accomplishments to replace the loss of essence. Still others flee into “replacement strategies”– psychotherapy, drugs, sex, growth seminars, travel. In each case, mind and body are at the end of their tether, swung out into vertigo over the abyss of Being. And yet the yearning for personal experience of the divine reality has never been greater.

To summarise my own feelings on the question(s): I feel that Abrahamic god has a limited future (though that might be measured in tens or hundreds of years). My opinion is that the majority of humans (though not all) require some sort of God concept in order to cope with both day-to-day hardships and also existential angst. And I think that science is unlikely to ever be able to disprove the concept of God (though I should be careful to note that in saying that, I am not saying that ‘God’ therefore exists).

That is: the concept of God has a future. The Abrahamic God conjured from literal Bible interpretation does not. Your thoughts?