Tuesday, December 27, 2011
I am going to challenge your notions here, and take issue with some of what you have proposed. Before I do that (for I intend to be unrelenting in my logic), let me congratulate you on the lucidness and clarity of your illustrations and explanations.
I will firstly suggest that your theological model lacks any accounting for the developing theological theories of Pandeism and Panendeism (my interest being, obviously, primarily in Pandeism, the belief that our Creator chose to become wholly immanent).
Secondly, I contend that the presumption that our Creator is 'infinite' or 'all-powerful' is fundamentally flawed; it is a pure and raw assumption without backing in applicable logic. For a sufficiently powerful entity would be so immeasurable to man that its finiteness would fall outside our ability to perceive it. And yet there is no reason that anything need be infinite; the Creator of our Universe need only possess sufficient power to create our Universe, and by definition nothing within our Universe can serve to demonstrate otherwise. No infinitudes are required of a prime mover or a first cause. The only arguments claimed to support infinitudes are appeals to inherent senses (which as I have now pointed out, would be unable to distinguish the incomprehensibly vast from the truly infinite), scriptural accounts (which I will shortly demonstrate to be corrupted by interpretation through the limitations of these senses), and the ontological argument (which errantly proposes that an unnecessary infinite capacity is somehow simply 'better' than a perfectly sufficient finite capacity, and does not purport to prove what can not be conceived).
Thirdly, I contend that the belief that our Creator is 'personal' and 'transcendent' are simply projections of human vanity, and are fully accounted for by a pandeistic model wherein mans beliefs regarding metaphysical interactions, whether from the Christian or the Hindu, the Muslim, the Wiccan, the Jew, or whatever else, are simply miscomprehensions of what is incomprehensible (what you yourself acknowledge to be 'unknowable') which is mind of our Creator. Pandeism proposes that we need assume no more than an underlying unconscious nonintervening mind, for no limited human mind would be able to tell the difference between that an an actively intervening Creator. What we 'intuitively know' about our Creator is inherently incorrect, for our Creator exceeds our comprehension, our ability to 'know' anything beyond what we may logically deduce from First Principles.
Part of our experience of existence is our ability to reason and discover new explanatory models, a capacity which lends itself to an ever-growing field of ideas about the ultimate, in turn supporting the proposition that we are not meant to all believe the same thing, but are designed to produce (and in some sense adhere) to our entire Universe of beliefs -- as though our Creator is not concerned that we move towards a single belief, but contrarily that we move towards a wider and wider range of them (which Pandeism accounts for by explaining that our Creator is sharing in our variety of experiences, and has created us with the inherent characteristic of generating ever more diverse experiences).
Fourthly, as to the transcendent figure, if we are all part of the immanence of our Creator, then any one of us may have the ability to be the 'bridge' between the immanent and the transcendent; Jesus, but the Buddha as well, and perhaps Gandhi, Mohammad, the Oracles of Ancient Greece, and many other meditative and spiritual figures, to varying degrees. The possibility of a 'bridge' necessitates the possibility of any number of 'bridges' because the capacity of our Creator to become any one thing is subsumed within its capacity to become all things (to suppose otherwise is to impose an unnecessary limitation on the power of our Creator). An interesting proposition following from your own contention that the bridge can only exist in one person at one time is that nothing would prevent such a 'bridge' from occuring as different persons at different times (and, indeed, the major figures of every religious tradition have appeared at different times -- with Buddhism specifically entailing that there can only be one avatar, one example of such being, at a time, though this mantle may be passed, and though one exists in every generation).
(As an aside, your statement that 'every religion, every human being has this intuition that God is both transcendant and immanent' is flatly false, and a quite cloistered view. Buddhism is a religion which achieves amazing profundity with no such thought. And there are people who have never had any notion of a transcendent/immanent deity, examples being prolific amongst the ancient polytheists.)
And, getting back to the fourth point, the poverty of insisting upon just one 'bridge' is exposed by the very proposition that if YOU had been born in Iran or Japan or India or Israel or Utah, you would likely today be studying under a very different professor of religion and pointing with equal faith and certitude towards a different figure or set of figures. This discrepancy is ONLY fully accounted for by a system in which all such religious 'truths' arise from a single underlying source, one which can not reasonably be claimed to be intentionally communicating contradictory scriptures and revelations to people of different geographies, nor can be claimed to have allowed some superpowered evil spirit into the world to author all the 'false' ones (and yet imbue them with the fundamental notions of an immanent/transcendent Creator, and the idea that we ought to be good to one another).
Which, lastly, brings us round again to Pandeism, the proposition that the coherently reconcilable elements of both Pantheism and Deism are true, that our Creator was initially a transcendent being but chose to become a fully immanent being (for the limited time for which our Universe persists in its present form) so as to experience the myriad nuances of our limited existence. So I'd like you to put together a vid accounting for the propositions of Pandeism I've set forth here. Blessings!!
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Evil deeds may seem to have no good end, but to a Creator wishing to experience existence in the form of a Universe filled with beings experiencing many different things, evil deeds -- and responses to them -- may be very instructive indeed!! If our Creator initially exists alone, and has no experience of fear or suffering, or relations with other entities at all to inform it of what these are like, it is logical to suppose that it becomes the Creation with no initial sense of what interactions ought to be deemed discreditable. We must realize, naturally, that virtually any sensible understanding of evil requires at least one sentient being and at least one other being, for a man who is alone in existence except for a pebble can not particularly do 'evil' to that unfeeling pebble. And perhaps it is we who, by rejecting our own inherent divinity and (often more importantly) the divinity of all around us, bring upon ourselves the consequences of evil -- suffering, and the fear or anger or sadness caused by suffering.
We must first distinguish here is rejection of an innate characteristic itself from rejection of knowledge of such an innate characteristic. Consider gravity. A knowledgeable person accepts that gravity exists and holds us to the surface of our planet, and exists as a central force such that those who stand on the opposite side of the planet are not hanging upside-down there, but simply standing just as we are. But suppose an opposer, an 'antigravitationist' were to come along and reject gravity, to deny that it exists, to deny that it is inherent to his own existence as a being having mass, and to deny even that he will fall and will ultimately suffer and cause suffering were he to walk off a high ledge over a dense crowd. Rejecting gravity does not change the behaviour of gravity, it simply changes the behaviour of its denier, making it more likely that he make ignorant decisions leading to bad ends.
And what of the validity of our perspectives? If we are each of us but a fragment of our Creator, why are not all perspectives equally valid, why do we not devolve into moral relativism? The answer is that being fragments of our Creator is not by itself enough to prevent our being ignorant fragments. Consider the conviction shared by the vast majority of humans that it is morally reprehensible to sadistically torture a newborn baby. There may be some few sick minds which are attracted, rather than repulsed, by such a notion. But that attraction necessarily proceeds from some level of ignorance of the suffering which they would inflict, or an inability to appreciate it. Or, going back to gravity, the antigravitationist who jumps from the ledge out of lack of belief may simply be acting out of ignorance of the certitude of gravity. And yet, it would be wrong on that basis to claim that such fractional views mean 'humanity' does not know about gravity. This would be little different from accrediting to a random teaspoon of you brain cells the quality of being 'you' and holding your knowledge and your views. And so, simply being fragments of our Creator does not give us the perspective of our Creator, for the true perspective of our Creator would be one which incorporates all knowledge generated to that point, and would be ignorant of no fact (even as we as fragments are inherently ignorant of many).
But a solution lies in the law of averages, and in the continuous advancement of knowledge. Firstly I will reiterate the reason our Creator may be supposed to not inherently know 'right' from 'wrong' or 'good' from 'evil' so far as those term applies to interactions between limited beings, for before the existence of ourselves and reflective beings like us, our Creator can know only its own existence as a being without such limitations. But it would necessarily be existing alone as well; and so it logically follows that the most efficient means by which such an entity may come to know what it is to exist as a limited being amongst limited beings is to experience existence in a Universe designed to bring about such beings. And that proposition is sufficient to parsimoniously account for the very existence of our Universe and everything in it.
Okay, but still, where does that leave us with right and wrong, good and evil? If our Creator is as ignorant as we are, does that remove our responsibilities to seek a moral compass and live by it? Well I contend not, and here is why: We find in our existence circumstances which we as individuals understand to be wrong, to be evil, and we find others who agree with us as to these matters. These understandings derive from human experience, ultimately I would suggest from the experience of suffering and beliefs as to its causes. A child learns early that touching the fire causes suffering. It is 'wrong' for him to touch the fire (and he may even believe the fire itself to be 'evil' at this point). The child would learn this if brought up amongst people of the most remote tribe, who had never heard of any deity. And at some point he is given to learn that others will experience the same suffering from the same cause, and if he possesses empathy (which is simply a form of knowledge), he will feel it is wrong to force others to touch the fire.
And as these sorts of understandings are built upon by more and more people, they become codified. Their origins lost in history, they are themselves accredited to the direct intervention of our Creator (or to comparable beings). Naturally, some of these beliefs arise by happenstance or coincidence, out of the same ignorance that once led men to believe the world to be flat. A person who sees a black cat and shortly thereafter becomes ill may draw a false correlation between the events, and if the idea is spread into the culture, others who become ill will suddenly take notice of black cats which happen to exist in their environment, and the mistaken correlation -- the proposition that black cats are 'evil' -- will becomes codified.
But just as belief in a flat Earth gave way to knowledge first of its roundness, then of its subtle oblateness, scientific inquiry and logical examination ought to eventually dispel those elements steeped in ignorance, leaving behind a progressively more accurate picture of what it is which we do which tends to cause suffering, and to alleviate it. And so it seems that knowledge of good and evil, derived from experience of suffering and codified by breadth of acceptance amongst men, will be winnowed by the advance of knowledge toward condemnation of the true causes of suffering. Simply put, we continue to learn that what is good is what objectively minimizes suffering and brings happiness, and that what is evil is what objectively increases suffering and reduces happiness. The ability for knowledge to be shared amongst members of our species means that we will, on average, holistically tend towards a greater understanding and appreciation of these elements, and to act accordingly. And our Creator -- being inherent within us -- will learn as we learn, will indeed have already learned as we have learned, adding every bit of human knowledge to its complete compilation of the knowledge of a Universe which is of it.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
What is it that we, as pandeists, mean exactly when we claim that 'Pandeism fully accounts'?
That Pandeism is meticulous as to the miraculous and provides profundity as to prophecy; that it is a revolution in revelation; and a vision as to oracles. To give the quick summation, the theological model of Pandeism combines the coherently reconcilable elements of Pantheism with Deism, attempting to answer open questions left by each with aspects of the other -- concluding that experience demonstrates elements of both are likely correct, that our Creator did set forth our Universe, but that it did not "leave it" but instead completely became the energy of which all things are made and the unconscious governing dynamics by which all things are able to operate.
This pandeistic model accounts for the state of our Universe with the fewest assumptions required of any theological model. Derivable from First Principles, the whole of the set of assumptions necessary for Pandeism are:
- that ours may be a Created Universe, and if this is so, then our Creator necessarily possesses these characteristics:
- sufficient power to set forth the forces of which our Universe is
- sufficent intelligence to set forth the governing dynamics guiding those
forces into the states which we observe
- rationality, for ours is a rational Universe, consistent in the application
of those governing dynamics
- a rational motivation to create such a Universe as ours.
- sufficient power to set forth the forces of which our Universe is
Pandeism fully accounts for every claimed miracle, revelation, scripture, prophecy, vision, dream, oracle, sign, egrigor, spiritual activity, spiritual emotion, etc, and it does so for all faiths. For if any of these occur at all, then they are simply explicable as manifestations of the power of our Creator unconsciously underlying our Universe, as unwittingly misread through the biased minds of human observers.
Imagine for a moment, if you were able to travel back in time to a much earlier point in human history, and were there able to show a select handful of pre-civilisation homosapiens perhaps a ten-minute vid of vital images which accurately laid out the history of our Universe and our planet only to that point. Understanding that you would not be able to communicate anything with them verbally for lack of a common language, how do you imagine they would interpret what they saw? The Big Bang, the massive cycles of starbirth and stardeath necessary to generate heavy elements which permit the existence of our world at all. The violent geological activities, periods of evolution, the strange eras of prehistoric beasts which necessarily preceded human existence, even the seemingly sudden leaps in human technology (from nothing to the lever, wheel, inclined plane, fire, axes, and such) -- if the primitives with whom you shared these images then felt the need to relay that vision to others, using what limited language and symbology as was then available to them, would they not couch it as a series of miracles, creditable to the intervention of inscrutable metaphysical forces such as a deity?
And yet, if our Creator because our Universe, if we are of our Creator in this fragmentary sense, wafting on the winds of its unconscious sustainment despite our illusion of concreteness, then all of our religious visions represent such manifestations, glimpses of the commonalities well known within the unconscious mind of the metaphysical progenitor of which we are so stunningly a part. Our world glitters about us with the promise of a similar oneness of being, a potential to be whatever world we wish it to be -- if we wish it.
Under the pandeistic model it need not be assumed that our Creator is a conscious and active deity who chooses to act or not act, and is opposed by some evil entity -- presumed to have been created by it as well, either errantly or as part of some complicated scheme for which additional levels of excuses and assumptions must be made. For our Creator need not continue to interfere in our Universe, judge or condemn, send seeming conflicting messages to prophets of various faiths, nor need it to create or permit any other spiritual forces to contend with man. Pandeism avoids the traditional response to the multiplicity of claimed miracles, revelations, prophecies, and so forth supporting irreconcilable differences of faith, which has been the invocation of the agency of evil spirits. Such assumption is itself deeply irrational, for it is simply impossible for there to be an evil spirit from whom 'miraculous' results emanate for the affirmance of other faiths. All laws of nature, and the laws of physics among them, these are necessarily the laws of our Creator, and all things are bound by them except (and only except) as allowed by the power of our Creator; put otherwise, even were we to impose upon our Creator the additionally assumed characteristics of consciousness and a need to intervene, our Creator would nonetheless be the force sustaining our Universe. It would be impossible for anybody, any entity, to violate the laws of physics except by using such Creator's own power to do so. And if there is proposed to be a conscious Creator, this simply means that nothing miraculous may occur except as done by that Creator.
In the pandeistic model, our Creator unconsciously underlies existence, and so what miracles occur (if anything is not susceptible to naturalistic explanation) do so because that power is manifested by the fragments of our Creator which constitute all of existence. And, as importantly, no good and wise Creator would grant free reign to an entity sufficiently powerful as to undermine the ability of other entities to make informed decisions, if reward or punishment hinged upon such decisions. If so powerful an entity were deemed to exist, it would immediately render fatally suspect any widely held belief, as any one of us could have lived our entire existence in an illusion generated by it to secure our falsity of beliefs. If an 'evil spirit' exists at all, and is so successful as to be responsible for all the religions with which one disagree (though others adhere tightly to them) then it is overwhelmingly likely it is equally responsible for that last faith with which one does agree. And, in fact, whatever the 'truth' is, would then most likely reside only in a minor and obscure and generally ignored or even reviled group, whose few members display impeccable morality.
Another benefit of the pandeistic model is that it equally accounts for all scientific discovery -- all that is discovered by science as to how our Universe operates simply is an uncovering of the governing dynamics set in motion by the Creator in the moment of creating/becoming of our Universe. If science reveals our Universe to be billions of years old, it is so, and is because the rational goal sought by our Creator was one which required our Universe gestating through billions of years of natural development to give birth to its desired set of information. If science reveals our descent from a Universal Common Ancestor, it is so, and is because our Creator set forth a Universe capable of giving rise to sufficiently complex life through a simple process of evolution by natural selection.
And, lastly, this model contains a remarkable powerful basis for morality, as it proposes that all things are part of our Creator, and that our Creator experiences through us the consequences of our actions. We ought therefore to be motivated to act in ways which avoid causing suffering and harm, because in so doing we would simply be inflicting these things on our own Creator -- and, in a way, upon ourselves. And indeed, such raises the Golden Rule from good advice to universal law, for that which we do unto others, we may thusly veritably do unto ourselves!!
And so, because the pandeistic model fully accounts for all of the proof generally presented in support of both faith and science, it is presumably true against any theological system which requires additional assumptions to account for the same proof -- and especially against any system which fails to fully account for contradictory beliefs and the manifestations of the miraculous claimed to support those beliefs, and for contradictory scientific discoveries.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
But speculation about an illusory Universe raises the question, how can we know our experience of our Universe to be real? Now, there are precisely two possibilities about the reality of our Universe as it presents itself to us. Either it is absolutely real, or it is not, for if any part of our perception of our Universe is an illusion, an impenetrable deception, then the acknowledged presence of unreality means that nothing may be logically taken as real. But we will backtrack for a moment here and concede that even if our perception of our Universe is simply an illusion being imposed upon us, it is what is being presented to us to be taken as real, and so ought to be treated as real. But absent affirmative proof of an illusory capacity of our Universe, we have no reason to assume it to be anything but real in any event.
We have two sources of information. Our senses, and our logical and mathematical contemplations. It is dubious to suggest that we may draw conclusions based on our senses alone, in part because we suffer from grave problems of scale. There are events vital to our understanding of our existence occurring at scales far too great and too small to be perceptible by man, and it must be confessed that assumptions about our Universe which fail to observe a proper awareness of these can be dismiss in the first instance. So far as our current capacity to observe informs us, we humans are approximately 43% of the way from the largest scale of observation -- that of our entire visible Universe -- to the smallest, that being the subquark.
But I submit that investigation of the nature of our Universe reveals it to be the product of an act of design.
We are able to observe that we human beings are made out of a collection of interacting organs, that these organs are made out of cells, and that these cells are made out of molecules -- and indeed every tangible thing which we are able to observe or interact with is similarly made out of molecules; and these molecules have particular properties reflective of the atoms of which they are themselves made, and there is no molecule in our Universe but one made from atoms. And we are further able to observe that there are many kinds of atoms, almost all of which are created by stellar fusion and spat out of dying stars but that these kinds adhere to a strict set of rules -- which are in turn dictated by their composition of subatomic particles, and so forth down past the level of those subquarks we mentioned before.
It is a remarkable thing that at each level of substance, the material at issue is able to self-organize in accordance without the governing dynamics of our Universe (things such as the strength of gravity and the speed of light and the combination of attractive and repulsive forces between protons and electrons. I'll not belabor here the fineness of calculation needed to permit subatomic particles to form lint atoms, which form stars spitting out heavy atoms in their death throes, heavy atoms forming the complex self-replicating molecules of life, and eventually intelligent life, and eventually something even beyond that. But even this is not what I rest the proposition of design upon; for not only is our Universe fundamentally complex enough to generate this level of complexity; it is at the same time fundamentally simple enough for intelligent beings to figure out that these forces are what is at play, and to use them to invent things like light bulbs and calculators and computers and masseurs particle colliders.
I'll give one very specific example. We have determined by observing the light signatures of distant galaxies that our Universe is expanding at a rate consistent with origin in a single explosive expansion from a singularity having occurred approximately 13.72 billion years ago. We have observed as well that there exists a microwave background radiation in our Universe indicative of the same origin. But given sufficient time those galaxies will recede beyond detectibility and that microwave background radiation will evaporate entirely; were we not fortunate enough to develop the tools by which to measure these things before they became undetectable to us, we would neve know or have any reason to imagine the age of our Universe -- suggesting that our Universe was designed to essentially inform us of its age and origin.
And we have only in the past few years acquired the ability to confirm the long-suspected existence of habitable worlds within the conceivable range of our technological reach. These worlds call to us for exploration and colonisation, perhaps an entire galaxy able to be made man's.
Now, having established a reasonable basis for believing ours to be a Created Universe, we turn to the characteristics of our Creator. There are THREE which are absolutely necessary: it must have sufficient power to supply and control the incomprehensible energy of our Universe; it must have sufficient intelligence to design the governing dynamics which result in that energy taking the increasingly complex material forms observed; and it must have sufficient rationality to create a Universe which operates rationally, building itself towards these evident ends.
And let me be absolutely clear here, if a theological model exists by which these three assumptions suffice to account for all of the observations man is able to make, then no other assumptions may logically be added, no matter how strongly they might serve our sense of importance. This is as simple a proposition as stating that footprints in the sand most likely reveal that a person walked there. If a person capable of walking sufficiently explains what is observed, then there is no basis for assuming that the leaver of the footprints was able to fly as well, or that it possessed any particular set of loves or hates.
And here we come to the theological theory of Pandeism. A Creator with sufficient power and intelligence to create by becoming, and rationally motivated to do so by the desire to obtain the experiential knowledge of existing as our Universe, a Universe inevitably containing intelligent life which travels amongst the many habitable worlds provided for it.
Now, the acid test, the sixty four million dollar question. Is there anything in our Universe which can not be accounted for by this model? Theists tend to point to their respective scriptures and the events described in them, to reports of faith affirming miracles or visions or the like, and to emotional appeals begging that absent an intervening deity, wrongs will not be punished. But because there are many contradictory accounts of this sort, and because the are and have been many millions of people who are isolated from ever hearing about any given theistic path, additional assumptions must be piled on to explain this, usually involving the additional creation of contingent evil spirits, or of past or future lives, or of varying degrees of life after death.
But if the assumptions underlying the pandeistic model are correct, then we are all fragments of an incomprehensibly powerful and intelligent Creator, and so all of the things which theists point to -- scripture, miracles, revelations, prophecies, spiritual emotions, visions, dreams, egrigori, efficacious prayer, all of these, are simply expressions of the power of our Creator as touched by and filtered by our limited (if sometimes spiritually talented) human minds. I don't doubt that theists tire of having this pointed out to them as much as I tire of explaining it, but the principle remains that every theistic explanation inherently requires fatally more assumptions to account for the same proof (and most leave substantial proof unaccounted for altogether).
Thursday, September 22, 2011
But this attack is inapplicable to Pandeism, for which our Creator has always lain precedent to a meta-explanation of all things discoverable by science. Pandeism is not an instance of a theory being posited to explain what was left after earlier explanations were rendered obsolete. For the pandeistic model finds its roots in the Emanationism known to the ancient Greeks, which preceded even monotheism as a theological model. Under this model, our Universe, our physical experience of existence with all of the phenomena it contains, was posited to have emanated wholesale from a divine being, without that entity having any concern for the nature of the emanation, possibly without our Universe being significant enough a byproduct of its existence for any notice of it to be taken at all. But, fundamental to this proposition is the requirement that all of the physical phenomena of our Universe, the thunder and lightning, the diseases and the seasons and the sunrises, were simply that -- phenomena of our Universe, somehow built into its fragmentary fabric, but in no way requiring resort to the intervention of a deity as an explanation.
This may be visualised by picturing our existence as a big circle. The 'God of the Gaps' argument contends that the whole of the circle was once filled in by religion, making the circle, let's say, a big red spot. Then, scientific explanations came along and erased a chunk of the redness here and another chunk there, until all that is left are a few blots of red here and there within the circle -- and, naturally, the red outline of it. The outline is the bit that can never be erased, because no matter how complete an explanation science is able to offer, there is always that one preceding question of why do we exist in circumstances where the effective scientific explanation, whatever it is, is able to operate. Suppose we agree with Stephen Hawking, that the law of gravity makes it possible for our Universe to expand itself into existence; why, then does such a law of gravity exist at all? Is it simply a brute fact, or is it the mechanism of a Creator at work?
And so, to the pandeist, the role of God is not 'shrinking' if the gaps being filled by science were not the original gaps at all, but later erroneous religious constructs. The pandeistic model supposes that all that originally existed was that thin red outline; people later came along with myth and superstition and filled the whole thing in red, bit by bit, imagining an intervening deity as the answer to every question occurring within that circle. And then science came along and simply erased those errors, never coming close to erasing the boundary itself.
And, indeed, to the pandeist, the scientist is engaged in the most worthwhile endeavour, for he uncovers the mechanism by which our Creator has set forth our Universe, and so discerns more precisely the size and shape of that boundary line, that last level of explanation which may never be resolved simply by scientific investigation. And so science, in erasing the ancient gaps, points us reverently towards the Mind of our Creator and provides us with the best tools for comprehending the purpose and destiny of a pandeistic Universe.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
It is well observed that people tend to join the faith hewed to by their parents and most prevalent in their geographic setting. And it is fair to contend that most people who have been brought up in a particular religious tradition, and have been brought up reading the scriptures of that tradition, have not done much in the way of reading the scriptures of other religions. The vast majority of Muslims have never read the Bhagavad-Gita or the Book of Mormon; most Christians have not read the Book of Mormon, the Qu'ran, or any part of the Vedas; most Hindus have never perused the Old Testament. And indeed we may go one further than that and observe that many, if not most, adherents to any one scriptural faith have never fully and thoroughly read their own scripture, and have instead tended to rely upon their religious leaders to convey what meaning ought to be gleaned from it.
But contrariwise, I have personally known Muslims who read the the Bible, Old Testament or New, and at the end of the day expressed the sentimentation that it was an interesting book, but was in error while the Qu'ran was not so. And I have known Jews who read the New Testament and came to the same conclusion. And I have known Hindus who read both Qu'ran and Bible and found both to be errant accounts. And, naturally, I have known Christians who read the Qu'ran, the Book of Mormon, some of the multitudinous Vedas, or other scriptures, and have found all the other works to be in error, with only their Bible being true (and indeed only their particular translation being true). The common denominator amongst all of these was this: people who were born and raised into a particular tradition were inclined to believe that the superior scripture was whichever one there parents or peers had told them about. To this I will add that I have met in my time a small selection of religious converts; those who converted from Christianity to Islam or to Judaism or to Mormonism or to Wicca, as well as from Islam to Christianity, or from Mormonism to Christianity. The proportion of people who have changed faiths in this manner is small overall, and dwarfed by the number who have converted from theistic faiths to nontheistic traditions -- to Deism and Pantheism and Pandeism, and, naturally, to Atheism and generic incarnations of Agnosticism.
But this process seems counterintuitive, for if there is indeed one 'true' scripture, if one empirically stands above the rest, then honest promoters of that one ought to be able to convince honest and studious representatives of all other faiths of the truth of that one scripture. And it is inconceivable that faith traditions with millions of adherants ought not to have substantial numbers of the honest and the studious. And, those studious representatives being converted to the veracity of the one true scripture, the rest of their cobelievers ought quickly to fall into the same belief. For every scripture assigns consequences to the continued teaching of falsity, so if the most dedicated of Muslim Imams were to be convinced by logical explanation of the text that Tibetan Buddhism were true -- and that he would suffer a poor reincarnation and be distanced from Nirvana by continuing to lead others into Islam -- then rational thinking would offer no choice but to convert to that strain of Buddhism, and explain as much to his followers (no matter the consequences to himself of breaking with his previous practice).
But the vast majority of people in the world have rejected each of the scriptures and interpretations of them. Billions of people have rejected Hinduism, billions have rejected Islam, billions have rejected Christianity as a whole and billions more have rejected each of its individual branches, billions have rejected Sikhism. Now it is true that billions, perhaps billions more, have rejected nontheistic faith traditions such as Buddhism and Atheism and Pandeism, but these traditions have never claimed to have God-written books which muct be taken as true on pain of eternal torment. Buddhism for example simply has the observations of a man, the Buddha, self-proclaimed as nothing more than a man who reached a state of understanding. Buddhism teaches that all the scriptural religions in which men believe are simply part of the web of desires which humans erect to justify their continued wallowing in the suffering of want. Atheism and frequently Deism account for scripture-based religions in reductionist terms, as purely psychological and sociological phenomena. Pandeism accounts for scriptural religions as being, for the lion's share, manifestations of man's efforts to comprehend the incomprehensibility of the underlying, unconscious mind of our Creator.
And it is true as well that Buddhism, for example, has the writings of the Buddha, and other traditions have particularly revered writings such as Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason is to Deists. But by definition none of the non-scriptural traditions have or allow for a scripture, a written volume contending to have been inscribed or inspired directly by an intervening deity. And so we reach the crux of the argument, which is that amongst those who believe it possible for their deity to have had an intervening hand in the writing of a book, and who believe that the occurrence of this intervention is evident in but a single one of the many, many books for which this claim is made, then the truth of this assertedly evident intervention would come through the acceptance by most all scripture believers of the one scripture which was 'true,' and of the one most 'true' interpretation (and, even version or edition of that scripture, if more than one exists).
What is left:
Naturally, it is always conceivable that some small number of especially gullible types will be drawn into belief within a cult having a wholly implausible scripture. And so, it can not be required that a single work be recognized by the entirety of the theistic population, as people may reject a scriptural account for irrational reasons (irrespective of whether a rational person might reject such an account anyway). But once we get into faiths having hundreds of thousands or millions of followers, the equivalence of scripture evens out. For such population cannot be maintained without having followers within them who are free to make whatever inquiries they wish into the saliency of the scripture at issue, and inevitably having amongst that selection some whose perception and intellect tower above the average both within that faith and for humanity in general.
Nor is this itself an argument that no scripture is or can be true. It is instead simply an observation, that if one scripture were true, and were rationally demonstrable to be so, then all rational believers in the saliency-at-all of scripture ought to quickly come to acknowledge its truth -- and to do so before those who do not even believe in scripture may be expected to do so. And even if this truth were one only spiritually perceptible, if there were one scripture which was true in that sense it ought to be perceptable in so fair and honest a way that honest and studious persons of a spiritual bent coming from any background would conclude it to be more true than that to which they had heretofore adhered.
It is certainly possible to discuss generic -- that is, nonscriptural -- questions as to asserted proofs of God, even absent an acceptible universality of scripture. The Cosmological Argument and the apparent fine tuning of our Universe, the experience of the ethereal as reported by the mystics, all of these are debateable as proofs of divine creation even if no holy book has any word of truth in it. But if those already believing in the saliency of scripture are unable even to convince one another of the final correctness of one amongst that multitude, then no scripture yet written can be claimed to be the one to which nontheists must accord consideration as having a sufficiently persuasive effect to merit really any drop of nontheistic consideration whatsoever.
'if there is a God who is good and wise and merciful,'
and proceeds from these premises (though it might be claimed that the third premise is itself but a natural extension of the first two, and possibly that the second follows from the first, and so all we need propose is a God who is wise; but even so). The fundamental consequence which we have agreed upon ('we' being people of varying faiths, including Christians, Pandeists, and Atheists, able to discuss such consequences without needing to determine whether any such deity exists at all) is that if there is a God who is wise and good and merciful, then:
those who try to do good will not be punished for their beliefs alone -- no matter what they do or do not believe.
This, naturally, is a disconcerting conclusion to members of religious faiths who remain stern in their belief that their god punishes people based on belief, with those believers rather incredibly divided even further amongst themselves, between those who believe their god punishes incorrect belief but requires good deeds as well for rewards to be bestowed, and those who believe their god punishes belief alone, deeds be damned (although it must be amended to the latter point that such believers tend to believe as well that proper beliefs will compel good deeds even if those deeds are no measure of salvation).
One such colleague, herself nominally a Christian, rejects the existence of Hell (or a Hell having anyone in it) on this basis. Against those who insist that disbelief in Hell equates to disbelief in her god, she formulates her reponse thusly:
If you were a parent, and your child whom you dearly loved failed to believe what you wished them to believe, how long would you allow that beloved child to be set afire and burned for that crime? And if your child tried to do good but fell short, how long would you allow your beloved child to be set afire and burned as punishment for falling short? And however long you believe you would, are you more loving, or less loving than a perfectly loving God? Are you more merciful, or less merciful than a perfectly merciful God?
One conceptual premise of this proposition is that a God who is wise in the sense of God-level wisdom would be wise enough to know what were the personal limitations which each and every person strove to overcome in life, what were their reasons for adopting and adhering to whatever belief system, and were those reasons defensible given their specific circumstances. Such an enquiry would be beyond mere human evaluators, and would require the fallback to deontological shortcuts, propositions of unbending systems of rules the violation of which reflexively resulted in an assigned punishment. The premise that justice requires bureaucratic slavishness to a small and certain set of rules, with a small and certain set of exceptions, is a product of limitedness. For an unlimited being -- or even one whose limitations still allow it sufficient capacity to consider every facet which might reasonably influence a determination of a 'just' outcome, the enquiry as to what is just becomes one with the enquiry as to what is merciful. Every possible basis for bestowal of mercy becomes known and apparent.
Now, there remain some still, who in contravening this argument point to their local interpretations of scriptures which, although deeming their God to indeed be merciful (and not simply merciful, but absolute in mercy) still would have their God be merciless to 'nonbelievers' in the name of 'justice.' But it can not be contended that God, by being 'just,' is thereby dimished in wisdom, or somehow thereby moves along the line from being good towards being evil. And, as well, for every scripture yet written, there are thousands of potential interpretations. And so the question then simply shifts to whether the human interpreter, insisting upon the more merciless of interpretations, has interpreted those words more mercifully than a perfectly and absolutely merciful God would be able to. And since there are entire movements within each religion proposing that in an infinitude of mercy, the worst that a non-believer would suffer would be complete nonexistence -- and with these movements themselves having millions of solemn and sober adherents, we may be well assured that the initial proposition bears logical weight, and may be well-taken as an article of faith. That is, that if there is a God who is wise and good and merciful, then those who try to do good will not be punished for their beliefs alone -- no matter what they do or do not believe.
Saturday, September 03, 2011
Its legality was recognized, and its relative duties regulated by our Saviour, when upon Earth; that it was established in wisdom, and has been wisely continued through all ages, and handed down to us in mercy; and that the relation of master and servant harmonizes strictly with the best interests of the inferior or African race in particular, in securing to him that protection and support which his native imbecility of intellect disqualifies him from securing for himself.
Other priests may disagree, but this Priest tells us, "the mere fact of being a slaveholder will not, in our humble judgment, debar a man from an entrance into that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." And, Priest thence direly warned that "the existence of free blacks in any community, whether free or slave, is universally admitted to be an evil of no minor consideration. Their removal, therefore, is a matter deeply affecting the interests and well-being of both races."
Priest's book runs to over 500 pages of thoroughly documented and parsed out passages from Old Testament and New, classing American-style race-based slavery not simply as a non-sinful institution, but a positively blessed undertaking brought into being by God directly and carried forth with the promise of God's blessing and certain reward to the slaveowner. The work ends with a thorough condemnation of abolitionists as thieves and fomenters of discord, in other words classing them as sinners whose very agitation for abolition has earned them eternal hellfire. Priest's book ends with pages upon pages of endorsements from various compatriots of the day, praising the correctness of his analysis. Thousands of copies were sought and obtained throughout the American South, to be held up as examples of the proof that God undoubtedly loved slavery and the slavemaster, and condemned opponents of slavery. And this was one of hundreds, if not thousands, of works written by scores of literate and well-versed Christian leaders arriving at the same conclusion.
But naturally, though this be the majority view, there were contradictory works written by Christian leaders as well, though of a different geography. Those mostly Northern voices arrived at quite opposite conclusions, citing chapter and verse to condemn slavery as a sin in the harshest terms, agitating for the liberation of the slaves, and in some instances (though hardly with uniform universality) praising those who would liberate slaves from their owners. And, verily, some of the very authors of abolitionist Biblical readings were no doubt themselves amongst the breakers of chains and the hiders of fugitive slaves.
So here we have a stark divide -- for if Priest and his ilk are correct, than slavery was never any sin but was instead God's own blessed work on Earth. And so the slaveholder who bought slaves on the block, steadfastly worked them every day of his life, whipped them when they were disobedient or chafed for freedom, and died without a drop of remorse for all this, will be rewarded with a clear passage to Heaven; but, those who broke chains and hid fugitives were thieves, who stole slaves which were the property of that or any other slaveowner. And those who stole were scum in the eyes of God, unforgiven, condemned to eternal Hell. And indeed, those who authored tracts condemning slavery were equally hated by God, and equally condemned.
But on the other hand, if it is the abolitionist clerics who are correct, it is then the unrepenting slaveowners who have sinned, and who are spurned by God and descend to the eternal fires of Hell along with those who advocated for slavery as God's word and will. Meanwhile, those who liberated slaves have so earned passage to Heaven, in the view of the abolitionists.
So, as between them, and assuming no other arguably sinful concerns are at issue, who now burns in Hell? Those who owned slaves and believed it rightful to do so? Or those who schemed to free slaves from their masters and believed it rightful to do so? Naturally, in modernity the politically correct answer is surely to put the slaveowners in Hell, and credit instead of condemning the abolitionists.
Now there are, it must be confessed, two other possibilities. One being that both the slaveowner and the slave liberator burn for their respective deeds, just as he steals from a thief becomes a thief as well without absolving the original thief of their thiefdom, and he who murders a murderer is a murderer still; the other being that the whole conceit is a matter of myth, and so neither one is condemned as a matter of course for their part in the grand charade.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Believers may be inclined to express as much certainty in the power of the artifacts of their own faiths as they are in the faith itself -- possibly even after the historical validity of a particular item claimed as such an artifact has been debunked. Presumably a correlary of this, though not one which I've seen much expressed, is a similarly active disbelief in the miraculous powers attributed to artifacts from competing and doctrinally exclusive religions. But in any event, there are two most curious thing about these artifacts, one being the seemingly haphazard incidence of their existence at all, and the other being the quizzically limited physical field of their effectiveness.
As to the first thing, why is it that every spot on the ground once stood upon by the Buddha, or Mohammad, or some especially pious Pope stood is not miraculous in its qualities? For the assertions of miraculous points of contact suggest that it is contact itself which makes holy that point, and so it remains to be explained why only some such points, and not all, have this characteristic. One would think that if a spot on the ground absorbed healing powers due to the passage there of a venerated figure, that all of the other spots which marked the path of this figure as it approached and then departed from that sacred spot ought to be, if not imbued with the same capacity, detectably holier than spots where the figure never tread. And so with every vessel drunk from by them and every article worn by them. Amongst the qualities oft attributed to such relics is that of staying power, of continuing to exist in much the same state for centuries onward from their sacredness-imbuing moment of use.
As to the second thing, why, if a thing is miraculous in itself, that its miraculous power is limited to affecting those who come to a close physical proximity to it? After all, there is a certain presupposition at play that metaphysical powers are not limited in the way in which forces which are simply physical are physically limited. Why are those with faith so strong as to believe indelibly in the power of the artifact of their religion unaffected by that power unless they draw within some proximity to it? Why is a person in Australia who believes in the healing power of a blessed stone in India not healed by that belief alone, but only by travelling to the site of the stone? Mohammad and Jesus and the Buddha all stood, or so it is reported, on the planet Earth; and so why is not 'the planet Earth' imbued with miraculous healing powers which present themselves to all who touch it? Were all of these figures so limited in their inherent power as to be unable to affect a physical reach beyond a few feet, to affect an object bigger than what might be conveniently carried about?
The obvious solution is, indeed, that if relics believed to have such limited range and power do possess any supernatural power at all, then such power is the product of supernatural forces themselves possessed of limited range and power. Naturally, those having especial fealty to any faith will insist on the infinitudes of power available to their favored deity, but will have at the ready any number of excuses as to why their deity only ever behaves entirely consistently with an entity of limited power. But such an explanation does nothing to satisfy the objection that other entities claiming the same essentially exclusive power share approximately equal or comparable limitations in the effective range of the relics with which they are associated. And, at last, it must be recalled that their are theological models -- pandeism leading them, but other ideations of pantheism and deism and panpsychism as well -- which account for all such phenomena occurring within all such faiths as notions of a single underlying power from which miraculous results are drawn, unwitting, from man's own predispositions.
Monday, August 29, 2011
So let us consider the relative 'naturalness' of these and other things commonly found in the human pattern.
Homosexuality, first and foremost, is fairly well recorded in the, ahem, annals of history. Naturally, to the degree that ancient expressions of condemnation of it exists, this can only mean that the practice then existed to be condemned. Ancient accounts do not, by contrast, condemn internet addiction because there was no such thing at the time. But, turning our focus to nature itself there are, it is now well recorded, hundreds of animal species in addition to humans who are happy to provide an example of how to gay up the jungle (or the woods, or the icy Antarctic floes). So, though opponents of the freedom of those who would engage in homosexual acts deem the predisposition toward same-sex-attraction to be a matter of choice, nature itself instructs that this is a natural choice to make.
Vegetarianism is indeed a far less 'natural' practice, man being an omnivore by nature (and prehistorically quite a big bug-eating insectivore on top of that). But this observation lays out the crux of another question: is there anything wrong with doing things in a way which is contrary to the practice in nature? Here is starker item of comparison. Suppose a lost teenage boy from a different city came wandering onto your property, looking for something to eat. What would you do? Well, going back to the ways of our prehistoric forebears, you'd kill him. Or, at least, you'd try, try to drive him off with sticks and stones, and if he persisted in loitering in your neighbourhood, to make a more level effort to end his life. Nature is violent. However peaceful it may appear in the moment of a quiet glen or solemn wood, it is filled at every moment with the predator aiming to kill, and the prey animal avoiding sudden death, and with competitors from the same species contending over turf and resources, often with deadly results. Other animals may even kill competitors to punish them for their own attacks against the territory of the killers, even to make an example of them before their peers. True though it is that man has a broader range of reasons for killing, and methods of so doing, man is as well the only animal for which members of a tight-knit social group will contend to prevent one of their own from engagin in violence against a stranger. And, though many animals are vegetarians by dint of their biology only permitting the digestion of plant matter, man remains the only animal fully capable of eating and digesting meat which will naetheless choose to refrain from eating meat when it is available, plentiful, even. For man is the only animal possessing ethical purposes, and so, the only one which acts against its own nature in defiance of his biological compulsions.
Now let us look at clothes wearing, and its natural converse, nudism. Wearing clothes, it may not seriously be denied, is highly unnatural. True, there are creatures like crabs and turtles who are oft anthropomorphised as treating their shells like clothing, or as externalities wherein they make their home. And there are indeed some small number of exotic species, mostly kinds of crabs biologically alien to us, who assemble for themselves a carapace incorporating bits of material from their environment, instead of grown from their bodies. And yet humans in most (though assuredly not all) cultures around the world have adopted the practice of draping themselves with cuts of cloth situated for the coverage of uncomfortably exposed body parts. This is to a degree an expression of the evolutionary process, for man came to be man on African plains where bodily hair for warmth could be disposed of, and so did the bareness of human skin evolve. But then man spread out in a way that few other large animals ever do. And in so doing, man encountered climates which demanded cover against the cold, and indeed it was man's intellect, man's ability to defy nature even, which enabled the spread of the species to prevail even into arctic climes. Clothedness, then, was never any thing which originated in response to some imagined wrongful character of nakedness. To be sure, every human being is still born unclothed, though perhaps the prudes will someday imagine up a way to clothe the baby in the womb, so it is delivered with its naughty bits inoffensively covered. And even the most prudish, even the ones who have campaigned in the past to require zoos to put pants of chimpanzees, unashamedly experience at least some moments of nakedness in their homes, unless they are so pathological in their objection to nudity that they bathe, shower, sleep, and have sex all while clothed (or that they do none of these things).
A few other modern mores venture into the exceedingly unnatural. Monogamy, and its corollary legalistic expression, marriage. Precious few species of animals out there really do mate exclusively, or for life, and man in his natural state is decidedly not amongst them. Eating food which is cooked (no matter whether flora or fauna)? No beast of the wild does so except by some bizarre circumstance following a forest fire or volcanic eruption. Abortion? Animals experiencing scarcity while pregnant will give up their unborn rather than have it born into hunger which can not be fed -- though this is an unchosen process more akin to miscarriage than to the human activity of abortion, though that practice in humans may well be an expression of the same natural instinct. But the practice of going to a clinic for a late-term procedure to exact revenge against the wayward father of the fetus, that seems a more unnatural thing. In sum, there are a great many things which fall within not only the permissions, but even the expectations of our society which are deeply unnatural. But before anyone comes to condemn any behaviour for being unnatural, for God's sake, they ought to take their damned pants off!!
Monday, August 15, 2011
It was British religionist William Paley, who perhaps most famously enunciated this contention when he wrote in his Natural Theology:
In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there.
Naturally, there remains (if you will pardon another pun) some grit in the gears of this argument -- for it seems to suppose that the pocket watch itself sprung fully-formed from the mind of man, needing and having neither antecedent technology nor a chain of ancestry for the men who invented it (and observe that the pocket watch is the technology of choice for this illustration because, naturally, the evolution of the wristwatch was yet incipient). In Paley's day, then, startling a conception as it may be, the pocket watch likely represented the very height of peacetime portable technological advancement -- and, indeed, more modern variations of the argument have substituted things such as 747 airliners and cellular phones (both of which by no small coincidence necessarily have time-keeping devices built into them). And yet, the very first 'pocket watch,' assembled at some early point in the 1510s, was necessarily made from some simple parts which had been made for only passingly similar purpose, or even for some other purposes entirely, but which were loosely and handily adapted for use in making that first pocket watch. Nor would it be correct to assume that the very first attempt to make a pocket watch was a complete success; surely it may have worked well enough to draw a few oohs and aahs, but as surely it was a primitive thing when put next to its more advanced descendents.
In fact, the earliest handily portable timekeeping devices which might be called 'pocket watches,' born in the early Sixteenth Century, were relatively heavy brass boxes several inches across, with a single hand -- an hour hand. Mechanisms able to accurately reflect smaller increments had not yet evolved. And even that hour hand didn't rightly tell the hours, typically tending to be off by several of them per day. Metal grillwork, instead of glass, covered the face, and the whole thing was combined by tapered pins and wedges, as screws usable for this purpose had not yet evolved either. Though they needed twice-daily winding to be kept running at all, they were as a practical matter useless as timekeeping devices, impossibly inaccurate and inconsistent. Their use was strictly ornamental, as baubles for show.
But the passage of time and generations of watchmakers developing new innovations, incorporating some and discarding others as obsolete or unhelpful, brought about a gradual and continual advance. Smaller and smaller gears shrank the whole of the thing; more finely tuned springs improved accuracy until it became feasible to add another hand to count off minutes. Lighter and more durable materials were found or innovated, the grillwork was replaced with a glass face. Eventually -- in the far future even from Paley's perspective -- inventions were added ranging from the second hand and a little window displaying the date, to the quartz crystal to keep time, to the watch battery and the digital display.
But were we to come upon even an Eighteenth Century pocket watch on the heath, though we might in an instant recognize it as the product of an intelligent craftsman's hand, we would in the same instant be as well assured that the watch was not produced by a person who had himself never studied watchmaking or some analogous art, nor seen or interacted with a pocket watch. Nor would we credibly assume that the only possible explanation for the existence of the pocket watch on the heath was that it was plopped into existence from nothing by an all-powerful genie who happens, for the sake of arbitrariness, to impose punishment on all people who eat grapes and wine in the same meal, or who have sex with others of a disfavored tribe.
Nor would we be justified in imagining any capacities for the watchmaker other than that he was physically and mentally up to the task of making this one watch, and -- possibly most intriguingly for this analogy -- that he had been taught the particulars of how to make that watch by someone initially more learned on the subject than himself, though the advance of knowledge necessitates that with the passage of generations, some future craftsman would indeed exceed their teachers and improve the craft itself. And so, if a pocket watch implies a watchmaker, it at the same time implies a string of predecessors to the watchmaker, each of whom taught the next and likely improved on the craft itself.
Nor, again, does the finding of the watch demonstrate that the ability to manufacture pocket watches has existed with man, the designer, since time immemorial. Even the hundred most able and intelligent men amongst the Ancients of Greece or Rome or the Dynasties of China would have been unable to build such a device. To the contrary, man began with no way to estimate time but for the following of the sun and moon, first with eyes alone, then with sundials and other stationary devices which caught and distributed their shadows. Then came hourglasses, water clocks, and candle clocks (which measured time by the stable melting time of candles of certain lengths), and finally, only after metallurgy and the consequent discovery of the spring, the true clockwork-mechanism time-telling devices. And even these took countless models, countless small improvements, occasional combinations of innovations, to go from nothing to the modern clock over a few thousand years -- an eyeblink in the vaster geological time scales over which the biological form of evolution occurs.
So, when someone proposes finding a pocketwatch on the heath and wonders how it got there, the accurate response is that it came from ancestors which sprang by unbidden coincidence from the elements, and evolved.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Observe that, though the speed of light is an absolute limit, faster-than-light expansion is permissible in physics because it does not describe the speed at which anything actually 'travels,' the increasing distance between galaxies resulting from the increasing size of space itself, and not anything happening 'in' space. And so, concluded the paper, astronomers coming to the fore a few trillion years in the future would find no signal that a Big Bang had ever happened, either through telltale Cosmic Microwave Background, or through the chemical signature of our Universe pointing to such an event, or even through the observation of cosmic expansion visible in the continuing movement of all galaxies (or galactic clusters) away from every other.
In fact, once expansion of our Universe overtakes the speed of light, and the last light emitted leading up to that moment passes by the reaches of our world, all of our Universe from beyond our own galactic neighbourhood will disappear. Undetectable, it will be as though it never was. And the astronomer born in such a time will have no reason to imagine that anything ever did exist beyond the borders of our own galaxy (and perhaps one or two close companion galaxies tied to a common centre of mass, though it is predictable that in sufficient time, all galaxies locally attracted in this manner will collide and merge into one). They will live in what the authors describe as an 'Island Universe,' wherein they shall forever remain "It's the End of the World as We Know It|fundamentally incapable of determining the true nature of the universe, including the existence of the highly dominant vacuum energy, When we have reached the end of time and light|the existence of the CMB, and the primordial origin of light elements."
An Element of the Pandeistic:
Now, though Krauss is an outspoken critic of the idea of Intelligent Design (and perhaps rightfully so in respect to the ham-handed wholesale-plopped down life forms model of that theory), let us consider this circumstance in the light of the pandeistic model. Pandeism propose that ours is a created Universe, and that Creator became our Universe -- and, naturally, not just any sort of Universe, but one possessed of careful balances of fundamental constants, governing dynamics designed to bring about complexity. Such complexity would, in turn, eventually yield self-replicating molecular structures -- the building blocks of life itself. And life, once brought into existence, seems to find a way to continue in existence, including adapting copying errors -- mutations -- to its advantage by promoting those which are advantageous, a process which is inclined to bring about more and more intelligent beings.
But another aspect of our Universe which would be of vital importance to such a designer would be the capacity of intelligent life to go beyond this slow and steady natural process, and instead use that intelligence to 'crack the codes' of our Universe. Intelligence, once achieved, must be usable to figure out how and why electrons and atoms and DNA ribbons work as they do, and to use that knowledge to self accelerate. By this, we mean that intelligent life ought to be able to accomplish things like building machines capable of performing quick and massive calculations, and crafting substances capable of fighting disease. Eventually, such knowledge will rise to the point where the calculating devices may be integrated directly into our brains, and where the new disease fighting methods will be addended directly into our immune systems, possibly even through DNA modifications permanently affixing them to our species. But, more than that, Pandeism predicts that we ought to be able to crack the code of the origin of our Universe, to come into possession of the ability to detect the proofs of its age and state before those become obscured from perception by time and space.
Now then, it is possible to conceive a Universe wherein certain chemical reactions necessary to our evolution progress three-hundred times slower than our experience; in such a Universe, intelligent life might arise in four trillion years, instead of the 13.5 billion years which passed before this happened (that we know of) on Earth. A civilization arising in that era would see no signs that our Universe had a singular point of origin, a particular age, or even that it existed at all outside of our galaxy and perhaps one or two others positioned nearby. Atheism offers no explanation of why this ought not to be the case; and for theistic faiths, our current circumstance is positively anathema to such a Universe. For the theist who believes in a special and wholesale Creation of life on Earth especially, out of all the Universe -- and in young earth creationist
|a Creation of a relatively recent duration -- there is simply no reason that the nature of our Universe ought to be able to contradict their theistic account. There is no reason that massive stellar gravitational wells ought to have bent and tugged the light of stars billions of years distant into our view, no reason for us to be able to observe cosmic background radiation or distant stars midway through multi-billion year stages of development. Indeed, no reason at all for us to not exist in an 'Island Universe.'
I grant that, in light of this it remains conceivable that at some past point, perhaps mere millions of years after its birth, our Universe was at the centre of other companions, other Universes which quickly faded from our ability to detect or even contemplate them. Such other entities may have become invisible to us in the same way that the galaxies we current observe might become invisible to cosmologists of a far-distant future. But if so, then at least our capacity to gauge the ultimately transient nature of our own cosmic observations ought to inform us of the possibilities to be modelled, if not actually observed. And it remains with us, in our generations of advancement yet to come, to leave such signals as may be found by far flung future inhabitants of our galaxy, informing them of that which they are no longer able to observe. Indeed, such ought to be the responsibility of intelligent life arising in any galaxy, once this potentiality comes within the grasp of their knowledge. And so, in addition to the fortuitous circumstances of properties of matter and energy which suggest our Universe to be one designed to bring about life through a random-wandering billions-of-years process, we may now add temporal fortuity. For ours is a Universe wherein the capacity of intelligent life to gauge its own cosmic pedigree indeed balances upon the edge of a knife, thanks to the speed of evolution so far outstripping the speed of expansion of our Universe.
For those who are interested, here is an hour+ lecture by Krauss (minus two minutes of introduction delivered by Richard Dawkins), intriguingly outlining his entire cosmological schema from beginning to end....
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
And so, the Transdeist and Pandeist paths begin in a very similar place, with the search for this spiritual truth founded in concepts or logic and reason, a premise which rejects brute and inconsistent revelation as necessarily explanatory of anything. But from there Transdeism and Pandeism diverge; where the pandeistic model proposes to discern the set of most probable metaphysical explanations, the Transdeist replies, "not so fast, for there are all of these spiritual traditions out there, and experiences to be had and learned from in every one." Meditation, divination, reading of palms and tarot cards, wrapping of rosary beads, pilgrimaging to Mecca or Machu Piccu or the Blarney Stone, all may offer an experience through which someone may learn a spiritual truth of our Universe. Even those religious or spiritual traditions which mislead provide some value in sharing the experience of the 'how' of their misleading ways. And so the Transdeist sets out on a more experientialist path, knowing that there is not time enough in a lifetime to parse through every opportunity out there, and yet content that the answer lies not in the "having tried" but in the "going forth to try."
This is not to suggest that Pandeism decries experientialist methodology; but simply that Pandeism places its highest valuation on logically-derived conclusions of probability, and makes a calculated discounting of spiritual experiences based on the known manipulability and tendency toward error inherent in so ungovernable a thing as the human mind. The question the Pandeist asks, in contradistinction, may be refined to this: are personal experiences proof of anything? Pandeism places its premium on sifting those things which pure logic shows to fall within one of the six logical states, necessary or unnecessary, probable or improbable, possible or impossible. To the Transdeist, the experience of the mystical or the inexplicable is evidence that something mystical or inexplicable exists to be explored, and the focus turns to that exploration. To the Pandeist, the same experience simply shows that such an explanation is possible, and that an accounting for it is necessary, whether that accounting be through mundane explanations such as the purely psychological; or through the explanation of the standard pandeistic model (wherein our Creator has wholly become the Creation, and the mind of man uncomprehendingly might experience the unconscious mind of the Creator underlying all things).
Although Transdeism has only been coined as a term of philosophical discourse in the past few decades (as opposed to Pandeism, coined for this purpose in 1787 and since used regularly, if sporadically), it is a much older idea to propose that following mystical or spiritual paths may yield spiritual truths not involving an intervening deity. But just as Pandeism rejects the panentheistic -en- of Panendeism as unnecessary to account for what is observed (for our Universe may be the result of a Creator's becoming without need of any part of our Creator continuing to exist as distinct from the post-Creation Universe), so does Pandeism reject the proposition that any more meaning may necessarily be derived from the Transdeistic search for mystical experiences than from the more mundane, non-mystical experiences of the everyday adventurer. On the other hand, the Pandeist may have other motivations to experience such things, such as the sheer joy of sharing experiences with the Creator of whom we are part, so perhaps at the end of the road, what matters most is what we have done, and not why we have done it.
Friday, July 15, 2011
It all began in 1972, with the then-22 year old musician seeking to step out of the shadow of Ray Charles, whom he had been cast by the music industry as a younger version of, partly for his sound and undeniable talent as both a pianist and a singer, but mostly for his coincidental blindness. In a jam session with Jeff Beck for the production of what would eventually be Stevie's starmaking album, Talking Book, Beck came out with a novel drumbeat, immediately inspiring Stevie's writing of a bass part, to be played on his "funky, dirty, stinky, nasty instrument" -- the clavinet. Other musical elements followed, the rise and fall of the trumpets trumpeting notes, sometimes stairstepping, sometimes flowing close to free jazz until all come winding together in a chaotically, beautifully layered ending.
Here is an original studio-recording version:
And here's a later, faster version:
The song launches itself with what has become one of the most iconic bass lines known to music, a variation of a conventional run up and down the pentatonic scale made wild by the interspersing of ghost notes between the scale notes. This is shortly joined by a small but potent section of brass instruments. And then Stevie starts singing, tearing into lyrics, "Very supersititous, writing's on the wall," which give the song meaning above and beyond the greatness of the music itself. Now, Stevie could've taken this masterfully funkalicious tune and turned out a song with lyrics on most any subject, for example those most ubiquitous themes of the genre, love, sex, and just plain partying. But he instead chose superstition as the theme, excoriating by name irrational belief in such fanciful flights as bad luck from walking under a ladder ('ladder's 'bout to fall'), triskadekaphobia ('thirteen month old baby'), and breaking of mirrors ('broke the looking glass'), the last event being followed by 'seven years of bad luck, the good things in your past'.
This overall sentimentation is then most powerfully reflected in the repeated refrain:
When you believe in thingsAn almost primal singing scream is arced by double-tracking over the words, 'then you suffer,' almost a lamentation of suffering on its own. In the next verse, he interestingly includes 'wash your face and hands,' though not typically a superstition, certainly something done to a superstitious degree by some, especially germaphobes and the OCD-stricken. This line may be read to suggest a biblical reference as well, as does the earlier line 'the writing's on the wall. After another refrain comes something else which seems telling about the song as a whole; mixed in amongst all the other beliefs dismissed for their harmful nonsensically, in the spot where the falling ladder stood in the first verse, is the comment, 'devil's on his way'-- the inescapable implication being, the devil is simply yet another silly superstition, a falsity as with all the rest.
That you dont understand,
Then you suffer,
Superstition aint the way
In an interview on the release of the album, Stevie waxed lyrical in speaking of the superstition decried in the lyrics: "The worst thing is, the more you believe in it, the more bad things happen to you. You're so afraid that something terrible is going to come up, that you are much more vulnerable."
Superstition is the funkiest song on the album, indeed the only one which aims for funkaliciousness. It took a while for the ambition of the song to sink into the music market, with the song reaching the Pop and R&B number one spots some three months after its release. And it is the only song directed toward a seemingly antireligious theme. Now, I won't pretend to have any inkling of Stevie being anything but a traditional theist. He had earlier recorded gospel numbers as well, and has had no dearth of references to theistic beliefs in later songs. And it may well be that Stevie was excluding his own beliefs from the condemned categorization, possibly even considering the superstitions addressed as counterclaims to his religion.But whether he intended or not, this song tells a good part of the story for those who have broken the bounds of theism altogether and leapt into the sea of other possibilities.
It may be that other listeners don't get this out of the song, we humans being adept at reading the validation of our own desires into the things we see and hear and feel. And, most assuredly, it is the music as a whole, rather than the message, which made this song the hit which it was and is. But even as the song contains one of the funkiest baseline/horn combos ever belted out, it unquestionably conveys one message vital to the philosophy of freethought: the irrational belief in superstitious leads to suffering of the funkiest kind.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Falling within the latter vein,of late, are particular series of parables in Hindu scripture which tell of Vishnu--the ultimate expression of the divine essence, the meta entity within which our whole Universe is wrapped--revealing himself to man in particular forms, known as avataras, arriving in a particular progression. Those forms, it is noted by followers, were those particularly appropriate to the situation in which he appeared (appearing, for example, as a fish to warn of the coming flood, and as a turtle to assist in salvaging what remained after the flood). But more than that, it is posited, a remarkable correlation is to be found between the mythical recounting of the progression of those forms and what is now understood by scientific examination to be the order through which evolution by natural selection has brought to pass the variety of life on Earth.
The ten incarnations accepted by most authorities on the Hindu scripture are:
. Matsya . -- which begins as a very tiny fish, but grows to be a great fish, filling the ocean
.. Kurma .. -- a tortoise
... Varaha ... -- a boar
.... Narsimha .... -- a "hybrid" half-man and half-lion
..... Vamana ...... -- a Dwarf
...... Parasurama ...... -- Rama, the hero with an axe
....... Rama ....... -- the princely hero of the Ramayana epic
........ Krishna ........ -- the divine teacher of the Gita
......... Buddha ......... -- the enlightened founder of Buddhism
.......... Kalki .......... -- which is yet to come....
We begin, then, with Matsya. Matsya comes to warn the faithful Dravidian king Manu that a flood is coming which will drown all life on Earth. When he first appears, he is the tiniest of minnows, whom Manu is able to fit in a jar; but soon Matsya outgrows the jar, and then the tub in which he is next placed, and then even the river, and finally the whole ocean. Then the fish reveals itself to be Vishnu, and instructs the king of the coming flood, and of the need to save all manner of medicinal herbs and other valuable seeds. It is noteworthy that the flood thus described is not claimed to have come from Matsya (or Vishnu), and not to be a punishment directed against man; it is simply a natural occurrence which man is being warned of. Representations of Matsya tend to depict a four-armed upper torso of a man protruding from the mouth of a great fish, but the myth makes it clear that Matsya was the fish itself. And in support of the evolutionary biological argument, it is claimed that Matsya's piscine nature represents the oceanic origin of all life on Earth.
Kurma, the huge tortoise, is the form Vishnu takes after the flood has passed, in some accounts it arrives right afterwards to assist in the rebuilding of civilization, but in most it comes in a different era to deal with a different ocean; as an amphibious animal it is capable of retrieving the gods' elixir of immortality which had been carried by the flood to the ocean's deepest reaches. Restoring it to the demigods of the day, it enables them to defeat various evil demons who had stripped them of their powers. Kurma is claimed, then, to represent the transition from fish to reptiles (though a true amphibian in between would have been a better tell of this). Not long after, the demon Hiranyaksha appears, steals the Vedas, and plunges the Earth itself to the depths of the 'cosmic ocean.' Vishnu reappears in his third avatara, Varaha, the giant Boar. After a thousand-year battle, Vahara prevails and carries the Earth up from the depths between his tusks, in order to return it to its rightful place in our Universe. The boar, then, is claimed to represent the next transition, from reptile to mammal.
Narsimha, the "half-man, half-lion," to my mind, brings forth the image of an animal with some feature which would make one think of a man, and some which would make one think of a lion: the baboon. There are many species of baboon, and amongst them, the Guinea Baboon is known in particular for the lion-like mane of the adult male. It is observed to walk at times on all fours, and other times to stand and take a few steps on its hind legs, and to manipulate things in a markedly human-like fashion with its dexterous primate hands. This is, it must be confessed, a bit of a stretch to accommodate the scriptural narrative into an evolutionary narrative, but at the same time there is no actual half-man half-lion in existence to work into it scientifically. In the myth, Vishnu appears in this 'half-man, half-lion' form to defeat Hiranyakashipu, a demon who had been granted immunity from enemies when indoors and out, when on the ground or in the sky, during the day and in the night, and from both manufactured weapons and living hands. Narimha defeated Hiranyakashipu by seizing him in a doorway (neither inside nor out), at twilight (neither day nor night), holding him on his thigh (not on the ground, nor in the sky), and disemboweling him with his lion-like nails (neither living hands, nor man-made weapons).
That last beast is the last 'beast,' all the rest of Vishnu's incarnations being recognizably human. As to Vamana, the "dwarf," this raises the image of "Lucy," the famously diminutive specimen of species Australopithecus afarensis, a short-statured link in the chain of human evolution. The remainder of the incarnations are human, though arguably representative of progressive stages of human evolution, or, alternately, of the evolution of human civilizations, if not both. Parasurama, Rama, and Krishna are most easily analogized as simply being humans advancing across different levels of civilization and enlightenment. Parasurama, notably, is 'Rama with an ax,' and is oft depicted as swarthed in a beardly beard, conceivably, then, a hairier 'primitive man' version of Rama. And though the inclusion of the Buddha amongst these incarnations is claimed by some as cynically indicating some co-option of religious symbolism by the Hindu majority, it confesses at the same time a universality of recognition of the Buddha as a force for goodness and instruction toward right conduct. But observe as well that in a smaller number of traditions, a brother of Krishna named Balarama, described as well as an enlightened teacher, is included in place of Buddha; this view is most often criticized from the view that Krishna and Balarama lived at the same time, while all other avatara live in distinct and nonoverlapping eras.
And at last there is Kalki, riding a white horse, bringing with him the immolation of our Universe entire, in a blinding white light -- stepping out of the evolutionary fold, this is claimed by some to presage the physics dictating the end of our Universe itself, either by a Big Crunch (possibly leading to a new cycle), or heat death, or some comparably cataclysmic coming.
And through all this it must be remembered that there are precious few 'fundamentalist' or 'literalist' Hindus, who would claim all the tales told above to be literal truths instead of symbolic depictions, making it more palatable to assume that stages of evolution by natural selection were indeed being showcases here. Indeed, some nineteenth century Hindu thinkers thought Charles Darwin had himself taken an unacknowledged cue from Hinduism, an error fueled by J. B. S. Haldane, an English scientist of the same field, who connected the ideas after the fact. But that claim would have been inestimably strengthened by more and more explicitly intermediary incarnations invoking animals which would fill fossil record gaps. Perhaps if Vishnu had earlier appeared as a great crustacean? Or an improbably large bacterium? But still, were one looking for a revelational theistic faith whose scripture was most immediately analogisable to the scientific evidence available, the evolutionary progression of the avatara of Vishu offers as qualified a candidate as any.