Saturday, October 24, 2009

The God of the Philosophers

Many people, when asked to identify the attributes of God, will identify characteristics such as God being omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, infinite, eternal, and perfect along moral or emotional lines, such as having perfect mercy or perfect lovingness. But what is the basis for such contentions? These characteristics were conjured up by philosophers in the early middle ages, and the entity that is described by them is therefore called (drumroll please) the God of the Philosophers. There are only three possible sources of information from which such a determination might be made, none of which is without flaws.

First there is the nature of the Universe itself. It is vast, full of energy, and its laws of physics bear some indicia of having been designed for the specific purpose of bringing about intelligent life. Second, there are claims of information imparted to men by a god. Third, there is pure logic, and logical extrapolation from mathematical truths.

Regarding the first possible basis, let us examine the Universe. It is large, but it now appears quite certain that it is not infinitely large, nor is it infinitely complex. It is not eternal, having begun at a specified time in the past. While any entity responsible for creating the Universe would have to be very powerful and very intelligent, there is simply no requirement that such an entity have more power or intellect than the immense, but decidedly finite, bare minimum required for such a creation. Scientists on several fronts now theorize that humans may even develop the technology to create a new baby Universe that expands and unfolds according to laws of physics calculated by its human creators. To know that the creation of a new Universe may fall within the hands of a small group of humans on this planet, which occupies a pinprick in the whole of the Universe, puts in perspective the lack of omnipotence and infinitude necessary for the creator.

As for the second possible basis, there is no reason for any assertions of revelation to be believed on their face. All revelations come through the voice or hand of man, and men may be mistaken, misled, delusional, or merely dishonest. Even if some higher power exists, and a person were to correctly believe that they had received a communication from such a higher power, that person would have no way to gauge the characteristics of the source of the message beyond merely blindly trusting claims that it made. Although many holy books recount miracles said to have been performed by such higher powers, no witness is borne to any such miracle that would require the performer to be infinite in any sense, or more powerful even than many comic book heroes. Indeed, the accounts set forth in most holy texts are vague, sometimes self-contradictory, and in any event allegorical to an indeterminate degree. So it is not absolutely set forth in such texts that the creator described therein is the same entity described by the philosophers.

A higher power need not even be conscious. The power of the mind responsible for the creation of the Universe may be such that any person coming in contact with it would feel that they were experiencing conscious revelation, even though they were only touching an unconscious mind.

Finally, we come to the proof afforded by mathematics and logic. The most common logical arguments in favor of the existence of God, such as the cosmological argument for a prime mover or a necessary being, do not require that entity to be infinite, eternal, or omniscient. Some have attempted to craft arguments having a superficial veneer of logic and proposing that, for example the ontological argument, essentially that a perfect God can be imagined into existence. However, no such argument has withstood close logical scrutiny, if for no other reason than the ability of different minds to simultaneously conceive of imaginary beings with infinite power but contradictory characteristics such as perfect disinterest and perfect interest. No logical or mathematical formulation has yet been put forth which requires any degree of infinitude be held by a creator, nor can mathematics or logical extrapolation assign any emotional or moral characteristics to such a creator.

The only determination that logic can provide is that, because it created something at all, the creator was not so inherently perfect as to be able to continue its existence without engaging in an act of creation.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Wishful thinking on Pandeism and Barack Obama

Second-tier "social conservative" political blogger Mark Finkelstein recently wrote a blog where he suggested (more or less) that Barack Obama's "true faith" is Pandeism.... I say more or less, since it becomes quickly obvious that Finkelstein really has no idea what correct definition of Pandeism is.... the blog critiques a New York Times column by Gail Collins, which is why it is titled "Happy Pan-Deism Day From Gail Collins".... Collins, so Finkelstein observes, noted the coincidence of Easter and Passover falling in the same week (hardly a surprise since the crucifixion itself was timed from Passover), and quotes the observation from Collins that "Americans with less religious inclinations can look forward to the upcoming Earth Day celebrations, when the president is planning to do something as yet unannounced, but undoubtedly special, and Arbor Day, when rumor has it that he will not just plant a tree, but personally reforest a large swath of the nation of Mali".... following from this Finkelstein relates that "environmentalism has essentially become a religion, and Earth Day effectively a religious holiday. Yesterday's pan-deists, who worshiped trees and brooks, have become members of various environmental groups doing much the same thing.  People like Al Gore others, and perhaps the reforesting Obama, have become their latter day shamans."

So, in short, what Finkelstein is saying is that Obama (and Al Gore, and other environmental group members) are pandeists -- and based on his political pedigree, it's pretty clear he means that as an insult (his next comment is "These are the same people who tend to demand the strict separation of church and state. Yet they would have teachers indoctrinate children in their modern-day Church of Gaia in our public schools").... This is irksome on a number of levels.... first off, Finkelstein gets it wrong on several fronts, reducing the reasoned and logic-derived belief that the Creator became the Universe entire to 'worshipping trees and brooks' -- which is in fact doubly wrong.... for one thing, pandeists do not "worship" anything; if we are all part of the Deus, then is useless to worship because the deus is unconscious and wouldn't respond to worship even if it was conscious; and since we are the Deus too, we'd only be worshipping ourselves, which is silly.... and second of all, what we do express a spiritual sentiment of awe towards is not limited to things in Earth's nature, but to the entire Universe, and the delicate balance of physical laws and forces that underlie the greatness of the whole of it.... and yes, we do appreciate trees and brooks, they are often lovely things, and the world would be worse off for their absence from it!! I imagine Finkelstein picturing pandeists joyously dancing naked around a campfire in ceremonies intended to invoke some ancient pagan gods (perhaps even that Greek god, Pan).... well I can assure you, when we do joyously dance naked around a campfire, it's for the inherent fun of it, not to invoke any sort of mythical being, whether the mythology is Greek or Christian.

Now Obama, naturally, is no pandeist.... I seriously doubt Al Gore is either.... it would be great if either of them was, despite my own political differences with both of them, since that would perhaps influence their thinking more in my direction, and more importantly that would bring some much deserved public attention (and no doubt some support) to a belief system that has long been discussed mostly by philosophy professors (and in Germany at that!!), and even among them, often only at the highest levels of the discipline.... I can't tell you how many times someone has described their belief system to me and made clear that Pandeism was what they in fact have long believed without ever knowing it had a name and a community behind it.... more likely, there has never been a pandeist in any high political office -- sure, many among the founding fathers were Deists, the scientific knowledge that justifies Pandeism had not yet been developed and Deism and Pantheism were thought to be philosophies at odds with one another....

Worst of all, and more so than the obvious misconceptions, is the tone which suggests that Finkelstein intends to insult Obama by call him a Pandeist, as though this is some contemptible faith to hold.... I find this odd coming from someone who begins his blog by speaking of the Seder that he will be attending -- after all, why does Finkelstein choose to reject the "divinity of Christ" which marks the mindset of most who share his political orientation? Does he not find the idea of God sending his own son to be sacrificed to absolve mankind of sin (but only those who accept said divinity story) to be equally silly? Does he agree with Ann Coulter's assessment of Christians as 'perfect' and Jews as 'needing to be perfected'? I see now how annoyed Muslims must get when Internet chatter labels Obama a secret Muslim, as though that faith by itself is a shameful thing to belong to.... unreasonable, perhaps -- but shameful? No more than being a Christian, at any rate.... ;)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pandeism Fish's roasted fruit recipe

Pandeism Fish's roasted fruit recipe

So lately I've been working on roasted fruit recipes, and my friends have been very complimentary, so I thought I'd share the most successful formula on the Internet for all to enjoy.


two peaches (or plums)
two apples (or pears)
two tablespoons of raisins
a tablespoon of butter
a teaspoon each of honey and maple syrup
a pinch or two of cinnamon or powdered sugar (or both)
four scoops of vanilla ice cream

1) heat oven to 400 degrees
2) poke holes in the peach and apple skins at half-inch intervals or so with a fork - this keeps the skin from getting peely -- or just skin the fruit if you want, but leaving the skin on makes for a nice mix of textures3) slice the peaches and apples into eight even slices, removing the cores or pits
4) grease an eight inch roasting pan (I usually use Pam, because its handy) and lay the peach and apple slices in the pan
5) sprinkle the fruit with the pinch of cinnamon or powdered suger (I use both), and add the tablespoon of butter
6) Put the pan in the oven for ten minutes
7) While the pan is in the oven, soak the raisins in hot water (tap water will do), after a few minutes, drain the water and you can also sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon on the raisins
8) at the ten minute mark, take the pan out to stir and turn the fruit
9) at this point, add the raisins to the mix, and pour in those teaspoons of honey and maple syrup
10) return to the oven to cook for ten more minutes
11) remove from the oven and dollop over the ice cream with a spoon (best to use a wooden serving spoon)
12) make sure to pour the juices from the pan onto the ice cream too -- the butter, honey, and maple syrup mix in the pan with the fruit juices and make a great sauce

Serves four, and that's all there is to it!!