Imagine, if you will, that it is proven to you that a personal deity exists. Not that inherently self-contradictory omnimax God, or even a universal creator; rather, an extremely old and vastly powerful being who came into existence after the Big Bang (how long after doesn’t matter) and who decided, a few billion years back, to manipulate in the solar system so as to create terrestrial planets, and eventually chose to nudge conditions the third rock from the sun so as to enable tool-using, articulate, nearly hairless apes to evolve.
This Deity makes no pretense to omnipotence or omniscience. Volcanoes and earthquakes happen because the laws of plate tectonics require it; hurricanes and tornadoes, because of the laws of meteorology; murder and rape because of the requirements of evolutionary psychology. But her personal power is involved in making life on Earthh possible on a century-to-century basis; humanity will probably go extinct a thousand years or so after she dies. And this Deity does, in fact, care what happens to humans, and often seeks to guide us down better moral paths. Though the Deity usually acts subtly, through human agents, it’s within her power to be blatant; there were times during World War II, for instance, when she was quite tempted to strafe Berlin with lightning bolts, but ultimately left it in mortal hands (with the occasional nudge at crucial moments).
You meet this Deity, and by some means or other, he or she convinces you of his bona fides. The Deity informs you that, oh, an anti-matter meteor is streaking our way. The Deity can stop it but not alone; she needs the assistance of a mortal agent, and she’s chosen you. If you do what she asks, she says, you will certainly be killed. She could do it her ownself, but at the cost of much of her own power, thus accelerating her own inevitable death by a million years or so.
Does the Deity have the right to ask this of you? Has she any claim to sovereignty or moral authority?
Let’s just agree to stick with this diety being a female, shall we?
Your question surprised me, because the diety in question isn’t asking me to accept her as having a moral authority or claim to sovereignty. She’s asking me to die to prolong her life, which could (in theory) save gazillions of human lives by prolonging the survival of our species that much longer. In this case I would be morally obligated to sacrifice my life for the sake of humanity; forgetting the chick diety entirely.
Of course, I have a weak morality and a strong selfish self-preservation instinct. I’d almost certainly suggest that she find somebody else to be her vehicle; there has to be somebody equally capable with more altruism or less to live for.
Putting aside the meteor, the entity has no inherent right to claim moral superiority - but she could possibly make a semi-decent argument for having a reasonably superior morality due to having refrained from storming in and enslaving humanity or something. Of course she’d have to explain why we were better off with her not stepping in and stopping the ills of the world; the closer to omnimax she is the more the problem of evil applies to her, and from the sounds of it she’d powerful enough that she has a lot to explain away.
She has no claim to soverignty just for being powerful. Er, unless she uses that power to enslave us and set herself up as the peak of government; in that case she has the dictatorial authority of declared soverignty as the head of the new government.
The biggest question I have to ask is what’s the difference between this deity and a person from a sufficiently advanced society? She appears to be vulnerable to thermodynamics, and mortal, for example.
On the face she could of sounds like an Aztec sun god. The Aztec believed they had to make human sacrifices so life would continue. Those gods lacked infinite power as well or they wouldn’t have needed human sacrifices.
Hers are a more voluntary and quite a bit less, however. Still, why couldn’t she just drop a small bit of normal matter into the asteroid? That ought to change it’s course. Hell the electron-positron reaction of her lightening bolts she didn’t use in WWII should suffice to change it’s course.
How much different is this case than a person from an advanced civilization ask a person from a primitive one to risk his life to say, divert a lava stream that would run over his village? Besides asking if she maybe could find someone about to die of cancer or something, the moral suasion here comes from her asking me to save those I am related to. If she was asking me to save her people, it might be another story.
Any moral authority she would have would come from her giving me convincing and advanced solutions to moral questions. “Because I said so” gives her no authority at all. Sovereignty might come from power, but not morality. Of course she could run for President (and forge a birth certificate or be covered by the grandmother clause) but she’d probably lose when she said she was in Jerusalem for the crucifixion and Jesus was dead, I gawrantee.
For one thing, there’s no way I’d consider her a “deity.” She may be a very advanced life-form . . . which actually I’d have more respect for than if she really were a deity.
And I’d look into the possibility of negotiating with her: possibly participating to the point of being injured but not killed . . . and her life might be shortened by only half a million years.
And I also question the idea that we can’t survive long after her demise. I’m too much of a Humanist to accept that.
But if I really had to sacrifice myself to save humanity, I would. I’ve already been here over 64 years and have some chronic health problems. So it’s not like I’d be sacrificing the best years of my life.
Why is she not a deity? She created humankind, after all. Her origins are not hugely different from, say, Zeus or Wotan, neither of whom were transcedendent.
Most mythological gods aren’t. Her biggest difference from those two is that she shows no interest in being worshipped.
As much right as any fellow sentient being does, I think. I’m not sure “right” is the appropriate word here - she has the *ability *to ask me, and the will, surely that’s all that’s required?
Nope. Didn’t ask to be born, don’t owe her jack. I might sacrifice myself anyway, but not on her authority, just my humanism. Or I might reason that since she is a purely materialistic entity, she’s not irreplaceable.
First of all, if all humanity is at stake, I have a moral obligation to save humanity at the cost of my own life. Even if that means that Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Rupert Holmes and Rupert Murdoch continue polluting the airwaves. Deity/advanced being or not. Although it is hard to imagine a gravity tractor not doing a sufficient job on an anti-matter asteroid if used with sufficient time in advance. But I’ll run with your hypothetical.
Does the Entity have the moral authority or claim to sovereignty. Not as you have postulated it. Not as I would feel obliged to recognize it. Why. And this is why your question is interesting. This entity is indirectly our creator. But it does not intervene in our affairs, does not participate in any way other than this planet ending potentiality and does not ask for any recognition or veneration. But in view of the fact that this Entity is not the creator of everything and is mortal, she isn’t a deity in my opinion, but more like Q from Next Gen.
Which gets us to your point, which is oh so much more subtle than our other evangelical atheists’ efforts:
So why, if my real Almighty Creator is infinitely more powerful and wise do I recognize moral authority of His/Her minions on earth who have had no direct communication for lo these long millenia? And my answer is that I pick and choose. Fortunately, I am not a Roman Catholic or Tony Cardinal Scalia would accuse me of being a Cafeteria Catholic. I pick and choose what seems right to me in what the creed is. Loving and caring for the other screw-ups in this life boat, in the face of a harsh and cold universe, and in spite and despite everything is the compelling Sisyphusian response and venerating as Deity the guy who came up with the idea and equating Him/Her with the idea and attaching the emotion of caring love to the idea as if it were one and the same is the each our individual choice to add to the creation something good that would be sad to withhold.
So I am compelled to love everyone, including my enemies, to the best of my abilities regardless of whether any Entity or Deity as described exists, but I credit the guy who came up with the idea, because to do otherwise would be plagiarism, and that would be wrong. Don’t wanna screw around with DRM, or have Joe Rogan going postal on my ass for lifting some other guy’s shtick without proper attribution.