God's Grand Game: Divine Sovereignty and the Cosmic Playground Paperback – March 18, 2019
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About the Author
Colborne is a first-class graduate of the University of Westminster and holds a PG Cert in Philosophy and Religion from the University of London. He has spent much of his adult life immersing himself in the spiritual practices of a diverse range of faith groups, from Hinduism and Buddhism to the New Age movement, as well as various denominations of Christianity.
Some of Colborne's most popular books include the spiritual memoir The Philosophy of a Mad Man, the theological essay An Almighty Predicament: A Discourse on the Arguments For and Against Christianity, and the groundbreaking philosophical work God's Grand Game: Divine Sovereignty and the Cosmic Playground. He also runs the popular philosophy blog Perfect Chaos, which has a readership of over 6000 subscribers.
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The theory is not entirely new. It has within it a theological idea called "occasionalism" which holds that everything that happens is "occasioned", that is made to happen, by God, personally and directly. Colborne also folds in an 18th Century idealism popularized by George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne in the first half of the 1700s. In Berkeley's idealism, every perception we have of the physical world is put into our mind's by God. Nothing of the physical world exists independently of God's keeping it before (or in) our mind's directly. This includes also all our thoughts, beliefs, desires, and so on. Everything we call consciousness is put there, moment by moment, by God himself. Colborne is not an idealist (if God wants a mind-independent world he can create one), but the way his theory comes out it doesn't really make any difference. Is the tree we both see in front of us really there or does God put it into both our heads? Given his radical occasionalism we cannot tell the difference.
Colborne begins reasonably enough. God must be infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and possessed of unconstrained free will save for the creation of logical impossibilities (like square circles). He affirms what is called the "doctrine of divine conservation" which means that God must, at every moment, uphold all of universe reality. Put simply, if God blinked, there would be nothing and not something! Colborne errs in assuming that divine conservation entails occasionalism. He goes from "God could do everything that happens" (true) to "God does do everything that happens" (false) and on to "God must do everything that happens". In this last move, Colburne declares free will impossible, like a square circle, completely forgetting that since God is infinitely free, he can uphold, and he can permit or allow, without actually doing everything. God can be the upholder without being the only doer in the universe. Who are the other doers? Well among others perhaps, at least us!
The evil in the theology really gets going here. To Colborne, nothing anyone does has anything to do with any freedom they think they have. He denies he is a pantheist, but his idea amounts to pantheism. Everything is God and God is everything, not merely in the sense that God everywhere upholds it all, but that he is personally doing it all. If I save a child from drowning, really God did it. If I murder you, really God did it. No matter what, good or bad (Colborne denies God is a source of the moral direction -- a pointer to the true, beautiful, and good), physical, or mental (all of your thoughts, pains, pleasures) are really God playing at being a you. Colborne recognizes that human beings appear to themselves to be free willed agents, particularly in the moral domain. We cannot freely fly, but we can choose that which we perceive as more (or less) true, beautiful, or good. Indeed there seems to be no bounds on our moral freedom. But all of this is illusion according to Colborne. God is a deceiver by his lights, itself a violation of the principle of God's consistency and unity! I have never used the term blasphemy in a review, I don't even believe in the concept, but I think it might fit this book.
After driving at all of these conclusions based on his fundamental mistake (failing to see that while God could do everything, his freedom permits him not to have to do everything), Colborne offers us an analysis of various world religions pointing out that we didn't invent any of them, they are all God literally "playing around", and yes, even contradicting himself! But in a final chapter, he suggests that his idea, it's all only God, would be a sound basis for inter-faith dialogue. But that inter-faith dialogue has any value at all presupposes free will which Colborne denies exists. If we talk, it is only God talking to himself. If we kill one another, it is only God messing around with his puppet soldiers. God's whim either way, nothing more.
Unless you are just curious about Colborne's extreme and morally vacuous theological idea, I cannot really recommend this book!
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So Colborne introduces himself first and his story was not an easy one to read. In his contemporary life, he has discovered a type of stasis, however, with illnesses inherent to him, he proclaims this may be taken away at any time. Such is the will of God.
It is also important to me that you do not mistake Steven for a man of blind faith, who have never known anything else. From reading his blog alone you would know this, and in his introduction, he explains his deep interest with all things spiritual since his teens.
In Part 1 we are introduced to the nature of God. Which can be summoned up by His omnipresence. He states his case quite clearly through the lens of scientific endeavours:
“Even scientists, who are very successful in describing how things happen, generally agree that they cannot say why things happen.”
The argument here for Colborne is linked with the philosophical paradigm of determinism. God is all there is, we are a part of God, however, he exists outside of us. Therefore he is all-powerful and knows how our lives will play out.
In Part 2 we are guided through the human experience, in which Colborne is certain is curated by God. Why he is certain of this is simple. We are used to experiencing things in a certain way, through a certain set of laws.
When something outside of these perceptions happened, rather than chalking them down to anomalies or mistakes, Colborne assures the reader that this is through the desire of God. It is because God is a higher being, that we cannot experience everything he does. In certain cases, he allows us a small window into his nature. Colborne asks that rather than dismiss these anomalous experiences we should accept them as God’s outer life.
Scientist have grappled for centuries with the concept of ‘thought’. Where does ‘thought’ come from? How does it arise? Now with modern science researchers have pinpointed the moment the brain sends the signals to, for example, move an arm. They have not, however, pinpointed the decision or the why.
Colborne makes it quite simple, this is God’s will. He is managing our every movement.
“If we consider the nature of God, particularly His attribute of omnipresence, it makes sense that He is controlling our conscious experiences because His being permeates every atom in existence and every cell of our bodies.”
For someone who has studied anthropology and humankind so closely, I cannot help but agree with Colborne to an extent. Although humans have spread ourselves across the planet, we have things that are so unique to us as a species that it appears wherever we are. The concept of God is universal and in favour of Colborne’s argument, this may be God’s own way of showing himself to us.
In our modern world, the war between science and religion has gotten us nowhere. I have often been an advocate for the inter-disciplinary cooperation of scientists and theologians. For many centuries now, scientists have been doing the work philosophers in ancient Greece once had the pleasure of.
Now more than ever we need to listen to, and read about experiences had by human beings such as Steven Colborne. In my opinion, his belief in God is not a dirty secret or an unfortunate quirk. There are many people I love who both believe in God and many who do not. With all the varieties in between.
There is no denying that Colborne has done his homework, and he entertains the philosophies of those who would be considered his opposite. In Part 4 he discusses the American Philosopher Sam Harris, who is a prominent figure surrounding materialism and free will. Harris believes that all we are is physical, and this matter is calling the shots. Whereas of course, Colborne argues this is nonsensical. How can inanimate matter create the diverse realms of thought that humans enjoy?
“How something that is purely material could create awareness of the kind that human beings experience is an area of ceaseless confusion for neuroscientists.”
There is also the espousal of the major world religions, (not discounting the thousands of others he would not have had time to mention). Colborne is not dismissing your version of God. His simple truth is this. God is omnipresent and God is our creator (at birth and each and every moment of our lives).
Colborne wants what I think is lacking in the Christian faiths (among others) of the day. A modern church were a scientific debate is not only welcomed but part of the general practice of religion. A church of God which has thrown off the shackles of the cruelness of human doctrines, and allow only love to flow. An inter-faith dialogue, a safe place for everyone, in which to look at God from all unique perspectives and experiences of the human condition.
There is room for everyone in the debate so I would ask for the comments to be respectful, and I implore you to read this book. There is more benefit here than you realise.