Friday, August 16, 2013

A Pandeist responds to John Oakes' "response to Pandeism"

From time to time, people do come along and write things like this "response to Pandeism" put forth by noted Christian apologist John Oakes. And, well, such things as these, I must answer.

Defining the Problem:

Oakes begins his "response" complimentarily, at least, offering that "Pandeism is an interesting philosophy," and observing that "it is not a religion, but a philosophical/worldview perspective." Additionally he qualifies at several points that he is "far from an expert on this philosophy" and has done "little research" on it. As to his critique proper, Oakes actually begins by launching a volley against Pantheism, describing its premise that "God fills up the universe and the universe is, essentially God", but noting as well that "if God is, essentially, the universe, then the universe cannot have been created." But, Oakes continues:

This is a big problem for pantheism, because science tells us that the universe is not eternal, neither can it be eternal. The universe was created about 13.5 billion years ago out of nothing. It is not an oscillating universe. The second Law of thermodynamics tells us that the universe cannot be eternal. Where does this leave the thinking pantheist? Classical pantheism cannot be supported in view of clear cosmological evidence. Pandeism comes to the rescue.

Now, this is an interesting critique coming from a Christian apologist, in that it inherently throws out the timeframe of the Creation story of the Judeochristian Scripture (a sore point for fundamentalists, who require the story of the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve with the apple to set up the notion of original sin). In so doing Oakes at least hypothetically ought to be allowing for a Creator who has set forth a wholly evolutionary Universe (verily, as Pandeism does). But Oakes eschews this logical step; instead he retreats to his premises and simply describes Pandeism as an "ad hoc and a weak marriage" of deism and pantheism:

The marriage seems to be, as it appears, at first glance, to be self-contradictory. The deist believes in a Creator who created the universe but who is not personally invested in the universe. This Creator does not intervene in the universe. The Creator is not personal but rather impersonal and, obviously, distant. An impersonal universe is certainly consistent with pantheism, but pantheism has an eternal, uncreated universe. The pandeist proposes that there was an impersonal Creator who, after the creation, allowed himself to be absorbed into the Universe. To the outsider, this seems like a patch-up to save pantheism in a world in which creation is clearly implied by the data. What is the nature of this Creator? How can the Creator become the creation? This is hard to explain.

Part of Oakes' problem may lie in his fundamental misstatement of what Pandeism is. For he is hardly the first to mistakenly claim that the pandeistic Creator "after the creation, allowed himself to be absorbed into the Universe" when in fact Pandeism makes no claim of absorption into an already-created Universe, but of the quite distinct act of Creation itself being the singular act of our Creator wholly becoming the Creation itself.

It worth asking, as well, if "creation is clearly implied by the data," ought we not to dispose of all belief systems which fail to follow what is implied by the data? Ought we not dismiss all faiths inconsistent with a Universe "created about 13.5 billion years ago"? And if we are to follow what is implied by the data, ought we not to build our theological model by first examining all available scientific date, and then extrapolating from that the set of logically consistent theological models?

As to Oakes' difficulty with the notion of a Creator able to become its Creation, perhaps this ought to be 'hard to explain' to an atheist, but one would think that a theist would readily acknowledge that their Creator had the power to do such a thing. Indeed, a Creator creating from its own substance, and not needing to exercise an additional power of ex nihilo Creation, is the simplest kind of Creation which can be. If it is indeed "hard to explain" such a thing, then it must be an especially weak and incapable Creator which Oakes would take in place of one which has the power to have set forth our Universe pandeistically.

Argumentum ad populum:

Oakes is additionally quick to raise an argumentum ad populum, contending that "this esoteric philosophy is not held to by any world religion," and to note his knowing of "no influential philosophers or teachers who have publicly called them selves pandeists." As to these propositions, I can only suggest that Oakes make a more searching reading of the Bhagavad Gita. Though Oakes seems content to pigeonhole Eastern faiths generally as pantheistic instead of pandeistic, it is immediately apparent in a full reading of that seminal work, and in others along its same lines, that many strains of Hinduism and other Eastern religious philosophies envision a Creator-deity who has in fact become our Universe, and revels in the sharing of the experiences of lives arising within it.

In fact, many faiths have scriptural passages which may be so interpreted. And, many have sects or scholars which have expressed such interpretations quite explicitly (though perhaps Oakes was looking for somebody to declare "I am a Pandeist," as though the name of the theory invoked some special significance). We need not stand on such ceremony in philosophy -- Benedict Spinoza is universally acknowledged as one of the originators of Pantheism, though he never uttered that word because it had not yet been coined when he set forth his ideas.

An Anthropic Critique:

Back to the critique, Oakes states that "this philosophy was created purely from human thinking in order to solve a perceived rational problem with both deism and pantheism." Yes, but so is all religion. So is theological thought generally. And indeed, so is Oakes' Christianity, and every other theism. But theistic faiths cannot fathom the human capacity for inventing religions except to have faith that their own is true and to propose as to all others that deity-made evil spirits have broken loose and run amuck amongst us dispensing theological falsehoods. And yet Pandeism fully accounts for theistic faiths without making any such contorted assumptions.

It is the honest forms of theology which admit that they are products of human reflection, that there is no reliable proof for a universally true revelation or scripture, and that what theological truth there is must be what can be gleaned and extrapolated from a logical, reasoned, scientific examination of our Universe itself. And Deism and Pandeism happen to accord with scientific knowledge without needing to mutilate facts to meet ancient accounts, nor to posit a deceiver deity who makes things appear other than as they are, or makes and sets upon us superpowered evil spirits capable of effecting this deception by proxy.

A Straw Man in the Mirror:

Oakes closes with the assessment that Pandeism is "self-contradictory," and "a patch-up, created to solve a logical problem, rather than based on any evidence for the truth of the philosophy." But, again, he has early on disclaimed actual knowledge of Pandeism, or study of it, and so apparently speaks in ignorance of what proof is claimed to support Pandeism, and indeed of what Pandeism actually is all about. At the least, he makes no effort to summarize this proof and address it with specificity.

And so, the contradiction that Oakes believes he finds in Pandeism is a straw man born from Oakes' own misunderstanding of what Pandeism actually contends. It is not the sort of contradiction embodied in the claim of an all-powerful, all-benevolent intervening deity who nonetheless watches placidly while children are tortured to death and wars are fought by competing claimants to its name, for Pandeism makes no such claims, and bears no such contradiction.

And, lastly, as to Pandeism being "a patch-up," such evaluation mischaracterizes a genuine reconciliation of coherently compatible elements of systems as to which each is partially explanatory. One might as well call any modern computer "a patch-up," because it combines various pieces of technology initially invented for different reasons into a whole more useful than any one of the things for which such technology was first developed. Perhaps a better example of a 'patch-up' would be a religion built on bits and pieces stolen from other, more ancient mythological traditions -- a flood myth here, a virgin birth there, any number of returns from death elsewhere.

A Closing Suggestion:

Oakes' conclusions need not be further addressed, because his premises are simply entirely wrong. His conclusions simply cannot be reached. I would only suggest to Oakes that, in the future, if he deigns to take on such a topic as Pandeism, he ought to actually study it enough to know what claims are made by it, and what the history of it is, before proposing reasons for which to dismiss it. And, naturally, he ought to take care that what criticisms he gives are not those which are more powerfully directed at the beliefs which he would uphold in the place of his target.

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