Thursday, March 31, 2011

Existential relevancy, and other theological lies

I have of late noticed the same lengthy theological exhortation being posted in forums and discussion sites all over the internet, as if with each posting it was a new and spontaneous pronouncement -- it begins by posing the question (or pretending to answer the question, posed by someone else), "With all of the different religions, how can I know which one is correct?" The tract then launches into what would seem to be, actually, a promising discussion, insisting, "How do we arrive at the truth about God? We use a systematic methodology that is designed to separate truth from error by using various tests for truth, with the end result being a set of right conclusions." It therefrom deigns to outline characteristics which a theological model must possess to pass the sort of scientific muster contemplated by the tract.

So the piece begins by setting forth that a "true" faith must evince

1. Logical consistency—the claims of a belief system must logically cohere to each other and not contradict in any way. As an example, the end goal of Buddhism is to rid oneself of all desires. Yet, one must have a desire to rid oneself of all desires, which is a contradictory and illogical principle.

Now it is surely true that that which is determinable to be true must be logically consistent, for that is itself one of the chief ways we are able to test truth -- all else ultimately falls to gibberish, belief for the sake of believing something no matter how irrationally held. How sad then that this author misunderstands or chooses to misrepresent Buddhism in so doing, for any person knowledgeable enough to speak competently on the subject would know that the goal of Buddhism is to rid oneself of only those desires which stand in the way of enlightenment!! Naturally, it is not to rid oneself of the desire for enlightenment itself, though in the end the enlightened soul, having achieved this final thing, is indeed shed of all desires.

Let us consider a comparable misrepresentation which could be made against the deity popularly presented by the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism). That deity is claimed to command its adherents to rid themselves of sin. But disobedience to this deity is a sin, and since it is claimed to be an all-knowing Creator which knew all of the outcomes each of us would come to even before we were born -- including all expressions of the sinfulness with which we were made -- then attempting to change the outcome which such Creator has foreseen for us is a form of disobedience, and so we sin by seeking to rid ourselves of sin. Whether ignorant or deceitful, precisely such an error made as to Buddhism bodes ill for any wisdom coming from this source. But we continue.

And so the tract goes

2. Empirical adequacy—is there evidence to support the belief system (whether the evidence is rational, externally evidential, etc.)? Naturally, it is only right to want proof for important claims being made so the assertions can be verified. For example, Mormons teach that Jesus lived in North America. Yet there is absolutely no proof, archaeological or otherwise, to support such a claim.

Again, the author identifies, in empirical adequacy, a necessary element in at least measuring the probability of a possible truth. But again our author ignorantly or for malicious purpose misstates the teachings of an example faith. Mormons, as it happens, do not teach that Jesus "lived" in North America, but rather that Jesus simply appeared for a time before the people living in the unidentified settlement described by their scripture. While it is true that Mormons traditionally assign such a geographic identity to this settlement, empirically it may as easily have been South America or Australia or Indonesia, and so far as the message of the scripture is concerned the location is irrelevant. And, as to our tract author's exemplar objection, wherever it is that Jesus may have appeared, it is an absurd stretch to suppose that men would find archeological evidence of the transitory appearance of one such as Jesus in this settlement, where there is no more determinative archeological evidence of Jesus' presence in the Middle East, where it is claimed he was born, traveled, and was buried.

But thus far, we have been presented with rational requirements of a religious truth; it is only the examples presented which have been in error. So the truly shocking error, the one which even runs against and overcomes the first two points (which, at the least, identify true elements of a logical examination) is

3. Existential relevancy—the belief system must conform to reality as we know it, and it must make a meaningful difference in the life of the adherent. Deism, for example, claims that God just threw the spinning world into the Universe and does not interact with those who live on it. How does such a belief impact someone in a day-to-day manner? In short, it does not.

This is a lie. A clumsily hidden one, for it begins with the reasonable observation that "the belief system must conform to reality as we know it," which verily simply repeats the "empirical adequacy" standard enunciated above it, and has naught to do with "relevancy." But as for the rest, it presents the wishful thinking fallacy in its most naked and adulterous form, and so it vitiates the whole of the lengthy and tedious argument to follow. Our Universe and all of its contents may be logically and empirically explained by a theological model which makes no "meaningful difference in the life of the adherent." To contend otherwise reveals a rather vain self-serving bias (unsurprisingly the most well-reported--and hardest to shake--of the cognitive biases, as it feeds directly into the very defensive human ego). Any further contentions based on such a deeply flawed supposition must be rationally disqualified, for this proposition contends, in sum, that a God is not allowed to exist unless it exists for our sake, to get on its knees and service our spiritual desires.

Now, as with the other examples, the author fails to understand Deism, or simply lies about it as well for reasons so fundamental that it would take another essay of this length to explain just how wrong it is. But as a beginning, Deism proposes that our Universe was set forth by mechanisms capable of bringing about all we now observe without need for intervention beyond the moment of Creation. It is true that classical Deism has been criticized for not encompassing an explanation of why such a Creator would create, but this critique is answered by variations such as Pandeism and Panendeism, which account for this by incorporating concepts from Pantheism, discerning a Creator who becomes our Universe to experience existence through the lives of the beings which come to inhabit it. But though this understanding and its implications indeed is attested to provide a meaningful difference in the life of Pandeists, this is the pure meaningfulness of a truth perceived absent the need for the deity to serve human interests. Nevertheless, whatever sense of satisfaction may be derived from a deistic or pandeistic model, these factors have no bearing on whether a theological model is rational.

Unlike the objectivity inherent in logical consistency and empirical evidence, "meaningfulness" is a bucket of mush, utterly subjective, immeasurable and unquantifiable. If meaningfulness must be universal, then it disqualifies all visions of God, for there is no vision for which some portion of persons will find that that enunciation is simply not meaningful to them. Naturally, it is conceivable that some person adhering to some faith (or knowing of none, even) might find that no theological model makes a "meaningful difference" for them unless it justifies abhorrent behavior--in which event, this proposition essentially forces the God it envisions to be the justifier of such.

And it is for this reason that the assertion of this element as a necessary, or even as a reasonable part of the enquiry is, in no uncertain terms, a lie. As for the religion which the unknown author of this deceitful propaganda piece purports to to boil out of its nest of lies and fallacies--well, I will spare it the shameful association with a hit piece like this, though some faiths are, obviously, absolved of suspicion by the very fact of the attacks slung against them in the essay. But, I will comment that any faith whose followers so naturally fall into reliance upon fallacies to sell itself ought not to be given much serious standing in the quest for truth.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pandeism: How Powerful Is Your Creator?

Let us propose, to begin with, that our Universe is the product of a conscious act of Creation.

If you believe that ours is a created Universe, then there is only one question to ask.

Is the Creator in which you believe powerful enough to set forth the Universe as we experience it -- in every particular -- while needing do nothing more than set forth the energy of this Universe and the governing dynamics which control the behavior of that energy?
Is it powerful enough to initiate a Universe where everything which we experience comes to pass -- stars, planets, the origin of life, the rise of complex ecosystems, the rise of intelligent life, machinery, technology, and social institutions (including religious institutions, writings, and beliefs) -- by doing no more than simply initially causing this Creation?

Is it powerful enough to bring about our complete experience of our world without needing to interfere again, other than through the moment of Creation?

**** If the Creator in which you believe is not this powerful, then it is definitionally inferior in power to one which is. ****

Now, you may claim that it has such power, but that you nonetheless believe it has continued to intervene....

But if it was powerful enough to bring about our Universe in every particular without intervening... that would include bringing about the appearance of intervention where there is none.

And you may claim to believe your Creator has told you otherwise....

But if it was powerful enough to bring about our Universe in every particular.... that would include bringing about your belief that you have been told things -- even when you have not.

And you may claim to believe your Creator would not mislead you....

But every faith has its own holy books and sacred traditions. And though these contradict and conflict with one another, most of their adherents share the conviction that theirs is the only truth, and that their Creator would not mislead them.

But if our Creator was powerful enough to bring about our Universe in every particular, without intervening in any way after the very moment of Creation.... that would include bringing about both your belief, and the set of everyone else's competing beliefs, that you would not be mislead.

But then, there is another model of the Creator, that which is discerned by the theological theories of Deism, and subsets of this, such as Pandeism....

The deistic/pandeistic Creator is not only powerful enough to bring about our Universe in every particular --including the existence of intelligent life and all of our beliefs and traditions--through nothing more than a singular, perhaps transformative moment of Creation....

Deism generally, and Pandeism especially, are the models in which it has actually done this.

And this accounts for our Universe in every particular, including all beliefs to the contrary.

Naturally, it may yet be denied that this theological model is sufficient to provide an adequate accounting for every aspect of our Universe....

The denier need only confess that their God lacks the power to set forth our Universe in such a manner, and some other model will become necessary.


An abbreviated version of this proposition -- but with some nifty background images and killer homemade background music -- may be viewed on the YouTube PanDeism Channel....

A fellow noder proposes that the "use of the word 'after' excludes any creator for whom time has no meaning".... He continues:
A worm on a cylinder can only move freely in two dimensions - forward/backward on the cylinder, or around it. Were the worm sentient, the concept of a third dimension through which it could move freely would be a difficult concept to grasp. Likewise it is with us - we live in a universe with nine spatial dimensions and one time dimension, but consciously experience only four and can freely move through only three, thus our understanding of time and power over it is severely limited. A creator bound by the same constraints as us would indeed be 'tinkering' with his universe ex post facto, but a creator for which all events happen in simultaneity (for which time is not a meaningful construct) would not be tinkering ex post facto - there is no ex post facto! To this creator, there would be no past or future, just now.
I would, naturally, hope that any entity capable of Creating our Universe would know the meaning of "time," and would understand (and be capable of operating congruent to) things occurring in time, including all human experience. But more to the point of this discussion, suppose I were to claim our Creator to be powerful enough to set forth a Creation which appears exactly as ours down to every particular, while doing no more than setting forth governing dynamics, irrespective of whether the Creator occupies our "passage of time," and so, irrespective of whether anything appears to occur "after" anything else. Surely the proposition that things need not occur "in time" does not then require that things which do occur "in time" require the intervention of a Universe-Creator, else we would be required to give equal credence to every claim of revelation or divine intervention for a thousand contradictory belief systems!! But, a sufficiently powerful Creator could naetheless set forth a Universe wherein, with no interference by that Creator in the governing dynamics set forth in the moment of Creation, intelligent beings come about who have my fellow noder's thought that their Creator might be one for whom time has no meaning, even if it does!!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

God is a pretty girl across the bar who smiles and waves in your direction; and you think she is waving at you

You know how sometimes you're sitting in the middle of the bar.... and you notice a pretty girl who's looking your way -- and she's smiling at you, maybe even coyly waving? And you think, "wow, this girl is actually coming on to me!!" But then, just as you're about to get up to go talk to her, you realize that she was looking and smiling and waving at someone else, someone way behind you, the whole damn time -- she's never actually even noticed you!! She was (and remains) blissfully unaware and unconcerned with your very existence, and you, well you were simply so caught up in that moment, in the secret desire to be the target of that affection, that you were primed to believe that it was you she was looking at.

Now imagine you were at a table in middle of the bar with some buddies, and you all thought the pretty girl was looking in the direction of your table. You'd surely mention that amongst yourselves, give to one another affirmation and encouragement that you were collectively the targets of her observational affection -- your reassurance suggesting, if not outright declaring, how very worthy you are to be the subjects of this pretty girl's interest. And if one amongst your group were to have doubts, the rest of you might collectively try to talk him down from them.

Well now.... write that sentiment larger and consider the possibility that that's how certain amongst the theistic faiths, especially the believers in an interventionist personal deity, are about believing that they are the target of divine attention, all of the time. Like the man in the middle, they sense a divine presence underlying our Universe and immediately imagine that it's looking, smiling, waving right at them!! Joyously they erect the conceit that their Creator wants to be with them, and fulfill various of their scenarios for receiving happiness. And these people unknowingly looked beyond, they get together in groups to reassure each other that such is the case, that it is really they who are the targets of an unbound supply of love and attention. And they inspire the most self-certain amongst them to put on the haughtiness of faux authority and lecture to all the others that this is indeed the case. And wherever someone suggests otherwise, they try to convince, and failing that, denounce.

But who are we, who possibly feel the presence without even the capacity to gauge the gaze, to claim to be the target of what we perceive, wish, desire gutturally? Who, indeed, are we even to note the eyes of the pretty girl at the other end of the bar, and before ever hearing a word from her, to instantly assure ourselves that her gaze and her smile and her wave signify no less than her compelling wish to bestow undying love upon the subject of those motions? And, naturally, that it is we alone to whom they might be aimed?