What a surprise it is to find in Taleb the ends of certain of my thoughts. On the plane over here to snowy Cleveland I had a couple brainstorms. Here is the killer question that occupies me for the moment.
First of all, let me give you Taleb's take on religion which is squarely in line with mine. He asserts that religious people deal better with incomplete information. And he also suggests that those who are normalized by non-religious rationality tend to be overconfident. I think his term is 'empistemic arrogance' which is squarely Conservative as in Oakeshott.
So the question that popped into my head some 36,000 feet over the midwestern US was "What is sufficiently divine?" As soon as I thought it, Martin Amis' 'The Janitor on Mars' came to mind. There is much I do not recall about the story and will not do it justice in my brief description, but the salient bits are as follows.
A robot lives several dozen miles beneath the surface of Mars and comes to the surface to speak to Earth. The Martians who built that robot were essentially wiped out in a war with an advanced civilization from beyond the Solar System hundreds of millions of years ago. Earth itself was considered a backwater, rather like the growth on a discarded sandwich, and in all of human evolution it has not developed to the level of intelligence of this robot, which is itself only a planet janitor. The janitor is surly and dismissive of human science and technology and answers all of the great scientific mysteries in his boredom, but to no avail because Earth is doomed to be destroyed as part of some bargain made by the loss of Mars millions of years before. There is nothing the human race can do in its appeal to this robot to secure its survival - the robot is merely following the orders of its creator, who themselves were destroyed by an even greater civilization.
Is such a robot sufficiently divine to be considered God? If it can singlehandedly save the Earth from destruction or destroy it, what obligation would humanity have to figure out how to get it to be merciful? If the robot promised to build a warp-drive transport that would take a continent's fill of human scum to some other bog in the heavens, how many virgins would you sacrifice?
The point of this argument is that it is only rational to consider the destruction of mankind to determine mankind's moral obligation to itself. The ultimate value of life and meaning on Earth is best determined in light of such thought experiments. I think that Taleb would argue that this is what religion has been doing, or attempting to do since its invention.
In that respect, it is a fair suggestion to say that man is the only creature that thinks about God and then consequently re-evaluates the meaning of his own life. It doesn't matter whether that God is 'God' or a robot janitor on Mars which is only some idiot fraction of the powers that be in our own galaxy. It matters that it is sufficiently divine such that in contemplation of it's powers and intentions we must consider the fate of our species.
Next time somebody tells you global warming isn't a religion, you have a new answer.
That irresistible dig is not my point however. My point is that intelligent people are making incredible excuses and evading that which established religion is in order to create yet another religion in the guise of not-religion. They are hamstrung by the fact that their god must be provable. They are trying to invent something non-divine which will justify their frameworks as proper for estimating the mankind's moral obligation to itself.
Their answer will inevitably be war.