Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pandeism and the Knowledge of Good and Evil

I have in the past addressed the question of Pandeism and the problem of good and evil. Here, I extend that analysis to the question of human knowledge of good and evil. How, especially, can we know what is good or evil if we discern a theological model which supposes our Creator to have entered into the Creation without knowing what is good or evil. Indeed, while curing such a lack of knowledge handily answers both the question of why our Creator created at all, and why evil is able to exist in a created Universe, some find that the absence of rules set down from above leaves disconcertingly open the question of what is or is not morally wrong. And yet, whether we are able to attribute such knowledge to an original metaphysical directive or no, it seems absurd to suggest that we do not in fact know what is good and what is evil, and especially to suggest that absent directions from a higher power, we would be unable to distinguish the most beauteous good actions from the most grotesquely evil actions.

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.


Sverige said...

The seeker of the Ultimate Reality, Ian Baringer is quite scary and borderline insane for the methods that he used to have a glimpse of the other side. Do you watch Supernatural? Dean did the same insane procedure (sort of) so he can communicate with Death. But anyway, I was really excited to find out what is going to happen next, and if Angela will support this idea.

Knuje said...

I must confess, I do not watch the show -- but I think perhaps we ought not imagine it to be feasible to glimpse the other side through 'scary' means -- calm and meditation seems to be what gets one farthest along that path!!