As a general rule, I tend to think of myself as an atheist so when I read the title of Harry Stottle’s article “Talking to God...” I felt myself bristle slightly. After entering early adulthood and escaping my Christian upbringing, words like “God” started to carry a somewhat negative connotation for me. However, the author’s immediate usage of a little mild profanity coupled with his acknowledgement of the reader’s inevitable doubt put me at ease and encouraged me to read on.
Halfway through my first time reading this article I found that I had my torso inclined toward the computer screen a little more than usual while reading the words aloud to myself. I often do this when I am reading something my brain registers as meaningful or substantial. It’s the mental equivalent of carefully savoring a particularly delicious bite of food rather than letting it slip down your gullet, unchewed. And much like the feeling one gets after enjoying a tasty meal, after reading Harry Stottle’s “Talking to God...” I wanted more. So I read it again. And again. And with each subsequent read, I became increasingly aware of the recurring themes of communication and knowledge and the pivotal roles they will play in humanity’s evolution (or extinction) as a species.
But let me back up. Harry Stottle, the author of this article, alleges that while minding his own business on a train ride home God, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, approaches him and asks if he can sit in the seat adjacent to his. Unaware and seemingly indifferent to who the casually-clad stranger really is, Stottle tells God to “Help [him]self”. God takes a seat, and to Stottle’s dismay, God immediately asks him if he can ask him a question. Anyone who has used mass transit as a mode of travel knows this can be the point of no return; the moment when you may have to put that book down, pull those earbuds out, and indulge an inquisitive stranger’s poking and prodding into your personal life. In Stottle’s case, this stranger was a particularly curious one who didn’t bother with the typical introductory niceties and instead went right for the gut by asking:
“Why don’t you believe in God?”
At this point, I am almost ready to stop reading Stottle’s article, fearing that I may have unwittingly stumbled upon religious propaganda dressed up as philosophical dialogue. Maybe I’ll read just few more paragraphs, just to see how crazy this gets, I think to myself. And it was with that attitude of mild contempt that I continued to read. But as I neared the last line of the article I was genuinely surprised to find that I wasn’t boiling over with indignant outrage or rolling my eyes at what I expected to be the rantings of an overly-religious madman. Instead, I was quite intrigued and my mind was more awake than it had been in months. What the hell did I just read?
Like I said, I had to read it several times before I felt like I could compose a coherent opinion about it. During one of the re-reads I noticed Stottle clinging to the need to find a rational explanation for what was happening to him. His approach to problem-solving is one that is clearly rooted in a tidy planter box lined with logic and reason, ready to explain the unexplainable as is made evident by his attempt to seek out the truth by “eliminating the impossible”. But the ultimate “impossible” is sitting next to him, speaking to him, even, so eliminating it isn’t really an option. So Stottle says he’s forced to accept the possibility that the guy is who he claims to be...and I felt similarly forced to accept the possibility of Stottle’s claim of having had an honest-to-god conversation with God. And so with that suspension of the rigid confines of disbelief Stottle talks to God and both Stottle and I begin to entertain ideas to which we may have never otherwise given any thought.
During the course of Stottle and God’s conversation, the concepts of communication and knowledge are both implicitly and explicitly featured. Communication, the act of transmitting and sharing information, is one of the chief facets of human life. And just as we as a species have evolved, so have our modes of communication. Stottle, after giving his unnecessary yet ethically-solicited consent experiences a telepathic connection with God. While communicating telepathically God alludes to having the ability to do what could be described as “cosmic three-way calling” multiplied by a couple million. Was the telepathic connection God’s way of demonstrating to Stottle what human communication could be? A little sneak-peak, perhaps, of the ultimate hands-free smartphone? Maybe. God mentions the pleasure that arises from communication between two separate beings but takes it one step further by explaining that“…[o]nce you’ve reached [his] level, [you] tend to cease to be billions of separate entities and become one ecstatic whole.” And isn’t that the ultimate goal of communicating; becoming of one mind to reach true and irrevocable understanding?
God and Stottle also discuss the nature of knowledge and the influence it can have on the survival of an entire species. According to the article, knowledge divides Earth’s living creatures into two categories: Adapters and Manipulators. Adapters adapt perfectly to their environment whereas Manipulators (surprise!) manipulate theirs. Humans clearly fit into the Manipulator category and just like communication has co-evolved with humanity, so too, have the ways in which humans seek out and process knowledge. God says to Stottle that humanity’s “desire to dominate fuels a search for knowledge” that is initially “selfish and destructive” but leads to “the development of an intellectual self awareness, [and] a form of higher consciousness.” Once they’ve dominated (manipulated) their whole environment, Manipulators’ urge to dominate turns onto themselves. But according to God this cannibalistic tendency “is vital to promote the leap from biological to technological evolution.” God seems bent on conveying to Stottle the significance of understanding the dualistic nature of knowledge: Yes, it’s clear that knowledge and how it is used with either make or break humanity. But it seems that to really make the evolutionary jump, every human must not only understand the aforementioned concept but also learn that no knowledge is really “safe”, that everything that has the power to save also has the power to destroy. God goes on to tell Stottle that, if all goes well, each individual human will one day possess knowledge capable of destroying the entire human race but for humanity to continue on it’s evolutionary path everyone must choose to not misuse this knowledge. It’s as if every human must learn how to hold an egg in their hand tight enough to keep it safe without crushing it. It would be so easy to apply just a little more pressure and watch the yolk of humanity dribble through your fingers but, as God says to Stottle, “[y]our ability to survive these urges is a crucial test of your fitness to survive later stages.”
So if humanity really is on the evolutionary path towards finding that “egg” of knowledge humans have become “interesting” but until they can prove that they acknowledge their ability to completely obliterate the egg but refrain from doing so, they cannot yet consider themselves “important” on the scale of cosmic evolution. Whether you believe Stottle’s account to be true or just regard it as a fascinating piece of fiction, after reading it you can’t avoid feeling desirous of earning the distinction of becoming cosmically important.