Monday, January 09, 2006

A Science of the Divine?

In an intriguing article, Stephen Kosslyn proposes as his most "dangerous" idea the proposal that God is both real and accessible to science:


Here's an idea that many academics may find unsettling and dangerous: God exists. And here's another idea that many religious people may find unsettling and dangerous: God is not supernatural, but rather part of the natural order.

Simply stating these ideas in the same breath invites them to scrape against each other, and sparks begin to fly. To avoid such conflict, Stephen Jay Gould famously argued that we should separate religion and science, treating them as distinct "magisteria." But science leads many of us to try to understand all that we encounter with a single, grand and glorious overarching framework. In this spirit, let me try to suggest one way in which the idea of a "supreme being" can fit into a scientific worldview. I offer the following not to advocate the ideas, but rather simply to illustrate one (certainly not the only) way that the concept of God can be approached scientifically.

1.0. First, here's the specific conception of God I want to explore: God is a "supreme being" that transcends space and time, permeates our world but also stands outside of it, and can intervene in our daily lives (partly in response to prayer).

To begin a science of the divine, we will need a workable concept of what a God/Goddess is, and to clear away some theological misunderstandings that have pitted science and religion against each other. Then we will need to ask what sort of tools and methodologies are available to would-be theologists [1] who seek to validate or falsify the existence of Deity/-ies and study/experience them to a greater degree, if It/They exist.

Here on Intelligent Universe, I have made initial explorations of two different concepts of "god," the "memetic" and the "cosmic." These two categories are not necessarily exhaustive, but they do seem to cover the two main types of gods found in human religions.

A "memetic god" exists as a "software persona" dwelling in a community of human hosts. It may be thought of as a human personality that has learned how to transmit itself from one human to another. Memetic gods think, act, and feel in recognizably human ways, and have human psychological needs and in some religions, physical needs to be met through sacrifices. An M-god can be recognized by its need for worshippers, and the importance to it of mechanisms for transferring it to other hosts, such as statues, oral traditions (myths), Scriptures, and so on.

A "cosmic" god is more abstract; inconceivably vast, "beyond human understanding," non-anthropomorphic, and linked either to the Cosmos or to some even greater "reality" that transcends Universe--or even renders it an illusion by comparison.

"Cosmic" gods are either impersonal, or their personalities consist of things such as “pure Awareness” “perfect Love” or other capitalized attributes that do not correspond exactly to their human counterparts. Examples of “cosmic” gods include the god of Deism, Brahmin from Hinduism, the god of Pantheism, Paul Tillich’s “Ground of Being,” and the “Cosmic” or “Christ Consciousness” of the New Age movement.

The gods of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) seem to be a hybrid of the two, combining super-cosmic scale and assertions of non-anthropomorphic nature [2] with decidedly human motivations and needs, such as their urgent need to be obeyed and praised by their human subjects, exhibited in demands and behaviors that exactly mirror those of human kings and dictators.

Another approach to the subject of gods is the idea that accelerating advancement of technology will make it possible for humans to create godlike levels of intelligence, immortality, and power for themselves [3]. This is a whole new spin on the cliché that “if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.” [4]

From this beginning, it may be possible to construct a genuine science of the divine. By “science,” I mean “a systematic effort to set in order the facts of experience,” which is not necessarily limited to the activities of people in lab coats with beakers and blackboards covered with equations, or the acceptance of caricatured assumptions such as “everything is the result of pointless, random collisions of material particles.” Forthcoming discussion will appear in the Comments section.

NOTES:

1. I use the term "theologist" to denote someone who studies gods in the same way a "biologist" studies life. In contrast, a "theologian" is someone whose job is to defend some particular orthodoxy against all comers. A "Christian theologian" cannot study the gods of ancient Egypt objectively any more than a "Muslim theologian" can objectively examine the Christian concept of God. A theologist is not bound this way, any more than a biologist is bound to consider only mammals as "true" life and all others (e.g. insects, fish, birds, plants) as "false" life.

2. Example: “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,’” declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” --Isaiah 55:8-9

3. See Ray Kurzweil’s book, The Singularity is Near.

4. And Her.

21 Comments:

Blogger P.T. Galt said...

In his book Atheism: The Case Against God George H. Smith cogently argues that religious believers have failed to provide a rational, non-contradictory concept of "God," and that this essentially rules out theism as a sensible belief, since theists apparently do not know *what* it is they're talking about when they utter the word "god."

He goes on to critique the concept of the "supernatural":

"In addition, the entire notion of a supernatural being is incomprehensible. The theist wishes us to conceive of a being exempt from natural law--a being that does not fall within the domain of scientific explanation--but no theist has ever explained how we can conceive of existence other than "natural" existence. 'Natural existence' is a redundancy; we have no familiarity with 'unnatural' existence, or even a vague notion of what such existence would be like."

Smith's attack on theistic appeals to "the supernatural" and claims that G/god is "unknowable" to man (at least to some degree) seems to me quite powerful and persuasive. The first is claimed to be a category of existence that violates the nature of existence (e.g. it is "unlimited," etc.), while the second reduces to a claim to know the unknowable in some undefinable way.

However, our major religions were all developed in ancient times (and with them, our ideas of “the divine”). Within the context of knowledge available, it would have been very easy for the ancients to point out a “supernatural” entity that everyone could see, and to define, in a seemingly self-evident way, what was “unknowable.”

“The term ‘supernatural’ has metaphysical connotations, because it emphasizes the nature of a god in relation to the rest of existence. ‘Super’ in this context, means ‘above’ or ‘beyond’ the natural universe—so a supernatural being is one that exists, in some sense, beyond the realm of the natural universe.” [1]

Herein lies the clue to decoding the concept of “supernatural.” If you were to go to an ancient Egyptian priest and tell him, “I am an atheist. I challenge you to define ‘god’ and provide evidence that one exists” he’d look at you as if you were crazy, and then point to the sun. The Egyptian priest would know that the “laws of nature” (or in Egyptian terms, “Ma’at”) decreed that objects fall when dropped. Even when shooting an arrow at the sky from a bow, the arrow will fall back to Earth. Furthermore, fires go out unless provided with a constant supply of fuel.

But every day, the sun “rises” with no detectable means of propulsion and hovers in the sky, indifferent to the “natural law” that things must fall to Earth, and burns with a non-flickering light that produces no smoke, and apparently needs no fuel. Likewise, the moon, stars, and planets all defy “natural law” (as understood at the time) not only in their seeming “immunity to gravity,” but also in their ceaseless motion. Any ancient person knew that keeping a chariot or wagon going required continual effort from horses or oxen, and that an object pushed (such as a wagon or a stone sphere) may roll for a little while, but it will come to a stop.

The celestial bodies, on the other hand, seemed to obey entirely different ‘rules.’ They could hover magically in the sky, and continue ‘round and ‘round without slowing, forever.

Even certain terrestrial substances seemed to obey different rules than “normal” things. If you keep emptying jars of flour on the floor, you’ll pile up flour on the floor. But light continually pours down from the sun every day, without piling up light on the ground. Divide a pile of flour and you get two smaller piles of flour. Divide a fire, and you can get two fires larger than the original. Furthermore, while everything else falls to Earth, fire reaches for the sky. It moves of its own accord like a living thing, it produces light, and it is also intangible—you can sweep your hand through a flame without hitting anything. Then there is air. Clearly, something is there—it can be felt—but it is invisible and very difficult to “get ahold of.” It is no wonder that light, fire, and air are all closely linked to the concept of “spirit” in ancient writings.

Speaking of “spirit,” there was the mystery of what happened to “Grandma” when Grandma died. Obviously, there’s a great difference between “Grandma” and the corpse of Grandma. Since everything else in ancient experience seemed to be made of some kind of “stuff,” it made perfect sense to assume the existence of some kind of “Grandma-stuff” that contained her mind, emotions, memories, values, will, power to act, etc.—all those things that were no longer present in the corpse. This “stuff” was obviously invisible and intangible, but daily experience offered examples of “stuff” that possessed similar properties—light, fire, and air.

If you factor in such things as “out of body experiences” or mystical experiences of “other presences” or “oneness with the universe,” belief in some sort of “person-stuff” that could leave the body was rational, within the context of ancient knowledge. The modern skeptic confronted with these things can either A) provide a neurological explanation backed with experiments, or, if the mystery remains, B) argue that future scientists will be able to explain it with superior knowledge and instrumentation, at least in principle, and that it is impossible to claim that the mystery is “unknowable” to science. How could the believer “know” that?

The ancients, on the other hand, did not have the concept of advancing technology or human knowledge. Their creation myths described the defining technologies of their civilizations (fire, agriculture, metalworking, the domestication of animals, architecture, etc.) as originating in the mists of primordial time, arriving as a package with the universe itself. Even the gods are described as using things like swords, chariots, etc..

If you went and asked an ancient Hebrew what the far side of the Moon looked like, he could tell you with a straight face that it is unknowable. You can’t get there in a chariot or a trireme, and even birds cannot fly that high, so only a supernatural being—one existing “above” the Earth and its physical rules—could know. The notion that, sometime in the future, men will be able to build “space probes” that can go and look would be more incomprehensible to him than his concept of “God.”

At the time of the Renaissance, it became apparent that human knowledge and technology was increasing. New inventions like gunpowder and the printing press were revolutionizing society, while new tools like the telescope and calculus made it possible to observe the heavens and the earth in ways not possible before.

The Copernican Revolution revealed that Earth was itself a heavenly body, moving in the heavens just like the other planets, not sitting motionless at the bottom of the cosmic totem pole. Newton’s theory of gravity showed that the Earth and the other celestial bodies were all obeying the same physical rules.

At this point, theologians had a choice. They could turn the new tools and methodology of science to the “study of god(s)” (which is what “theology” is supposed to mean), accepting that what was once unknowable might eventually become known, or they could cling to the “supernatural” and “unknowable” nature of god. Unfortunately, “theology” has never been an actual science that set out to study gods the way “biology” sets out to study life. Theologians began with the premise that everything that need be known about their gods was already present in sacred “revealed” texts, and all that remained was to defend the interpretation generated by the priestly hierarchy.

However, with our radically expanded (and expanding) concept of "the natural," it is possible that we may discover that "gods" "spirit" and other hitherto vague, undefined, and irrationally-modeled subjects do in fact exist in our Universe. It is at least possible to begin the inquiry without the obfuscation of a concept of "the supernatural" that would have made no more sense to the ancients than it does to us today.

NOTES:

1. Atheism: The Case Against God, p. 37

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Martin Ciupa said...

Through rationality and our experience of the the natural world, our knowledge expands all the time, and what we think we "know" today will change. This is true (and good and beautifull!).

However I suspect ultimately we will always find that we can create rational and internally logically consistent worldviews for either Atheism or Theism. We will not be able to conclusively decide which is "rationally the most correct".

My feeling is that applying rationality ALONE will leave you precisely on the fence of Agnosticsim. You have to satisfied with that (some are). Or choose one or other through a leap of faith as Soren Kierkegaard might say. What characterises such leaps is the absolute uncertainty that underlies it. Faith is by definition that which cannot be proven or disproven.

If rationality ALONE is insufficent, are there modes of reasoning beyond that to guide our leap? I believe the answer is yes. We in our day to day lives are guided in our decisions by our Emotions, Traditions (memetic perhaps) and perhaps Supernatural spiritual insights (either in the traditonal Theist formulation of say a Holy Spirt, or the Jungian concept of the collective unconscious).

When a person says he has personal experience of God through these faculties as a whole, who are we to deny the validity of the personal experience of another? Do we have the right to set the rules that only allow natural experience in a reductionist argument be allowed?

I think folks like George H Smith set the rules of the game before the argument commences, so that their case is made a piori so to speak.

Philosphically speaking we have come to a post modern impasse. It simply wont do anymore to make never ending noise by arguing the toss over "Belief in God" from rational and reductionist arguments alone.

As it is said in The Gospel of Mark 12:30-31 we are asked to Love God with all our mind, heart, body (tradition) and soul, and by implication seek truth with all these faculties.

As a reference to the above position I draw your attention to "The Twilight of Atheism" by Alister McGrath

5:44 AM  
Blogger P.T. Galt said...

Martin said:

"However I suspect ultimately we will always find that we can create rational and internally logically consistent worldviews for either Atheism or Theism. We will not be able to conclusively decide which is 'rationally the most correct.'"

I agree with you on this. So long as we limit ourselves to internally consistent "logical" belief systems (a Rationalistic approach) it is impossible to compare any two worldviews and determine which (if either) is the more accurate.

However, if we include external consistency--that is, consistency with external reality as the ultimate measuring-stick to compare validity of belief systems, it becomes possible to determine at some point which model is more accurate.

For example, both the Copernican and Ptolmaic models of the Solar System were internally logically consistent, and both could be used with comparable efficacy for "practical astronomy," that is, predicting solar eclipses, creating a calendar and so forth.

The debate as to which one corresponded with the shape and nature of the actual solar system continued for decades, with major modifications made to both theories (Kepler's elliptical orbits and Newton's theory of gravity on the heliocentric side, Tycho Brahe's "geo-heliocentric" model on the other).

It wasn't until the early 1700's that the heliocentric model was decicively proven. At that time, telescopes powerful enough to measure stellar parallax (a relative movement of nearby stars observable as Earth goes from one end of its orbit to the other) were brought to the task.

Thus, the scientific method provides the only known way to compare competing mental models ("beliefs") concerning the nature of existence and (eventually) reach a conclusion about which (if either) is the more accurate.

Martin said:

"Or choose one or other through a leap of faith as Soren Kierkegaard might say. What characterises such leaps is the absolute uncertainty that underlies it. Faith is by definition that which cannot be proven or disproven."

No disagreement there. That is, in fact, the core problem with "leaps of faith." Once you take a "leap of faith" there is no way to prove or disprove that you have landed in the right spot.

Why should you land in Christianity instead of Islam? If Christianity, why Roman Catholicism instead of among the Southern Baptists or Mormons? If Islam, how do you know you shoud end up a Sufi, instead of Shia or Sunni or Wahhabi? Etc.

Now, if religious people themselves accepted your view that a leap of faith results in a belief that is "absolutely uncertain," there would be no problem. Choice of religion would be just as subjective, cultural, etc.--and hence, as harmless and tolerable to all--as the choice to wear a kaffiyah and robe vs. a business suit.

However, religions--the Abrahamic ones in particular--claim an absolute certainty that theirs, and only theirs is True. The person whose "leap of faith" lands in a different religion, or who decides to take no leap at all, is not merely making a different yet equally uncertain choice, but absolutely wrong not merely intellectually, but morally, and thus can rightly be punished (in this world or the next) for their wickedness.

In short: so long as religions claim absolute certainty for their propositions rather than absolutely unverifiable and unfalsifiable uncertainty, they have a burden of proof. If they fail to prove the certain accuracy of their propositions, that claim of certainty may (and should) be rightfully rejected as false.

Martin said:

"If rationality ALONE is insufficent, are there modes of reasoning beyond that to guide our leap?"

Three premises here that need to be validated before we need even consider making a "leap:"

1) That rationality ALONE is insufficient.

2) That rationality plus some other tool(s) of validation, such as empirical experiment and the scientific method are also insufficient to provide an accurate model of reality.

3) That a "leap of faith" can provide an accurate understanding of reality.

I'll agree with you on one, since I hold to "rationality plus empirical validation." We have already seen that faith cannot provide an accurate understanding of reality. If it could, it would ipso facto be subject to validation or disproof. IOW, it would be possible to tell the difference between an accurate leap of faith and an inaccurate one.

Martin said:

"When a person says he has personal experience of God through these faculties as a whole, who are we to deny the validity of the personal experience of another?"

This is a two-edged sword. What if someone has a "personal experience" of Isis? Who are we to deny the validity of her personal experience? Yet, one of the main hallmarks of Christianity throughout its entire history has been to "deny the validity" of everyone else's experiences of their gods and goddesses.

The Bible even mandates capital punishment for those who choose a leap of faith that leads to "personal experiences" of other deities.

What would you say to someone whose personal experiences and "leap of faith" lead them to a religion other than your own?

Martin wrote:

"As it is said in The Gospel of Mark 12:30-31 we are asked to Love God with all our mind, heart, body (tradition) and soul, and by implication seek truth with all these faculties."

This contradicts everything you've said so far. First, Jesus doesn't "ask" us to "love God" (a very specific god, mind you) with all our faculties. It is stated in the imperative, and clearly defined by Jesus as the greatest Commandment What if my leap of faith and personal experiences of Goddess lead me to accept the Wiccan Rede instead of the Gospel of Mark?

Since at least some other religions (e.g. Islam) contain comparable (and incomaptible) commands to accept and worship their model of God (Gods, Goddesses), and threaten horrific punishments for making the wrong "leap of faith," it becomes absolutely necessary to validate or falsify religious claims.

There is only one method I know of for comparing alternative beliefs about reality that can determine which if either is closer to the mark: the scientific method, or "rationality plus experimentation/observation under protocols designed to counteract the human tendancy toward error and bias." Note that this does not specify that some particular paradigm (such as "reductionism") must be accepted a priori.

7:09 AM  
Anonymous Martin Ciupa said...

There is not any contradiction to my view, as long as you assume that a "Leap Of Faith" will be adequetly supported by a God of Love who wants us to find his Truth.

Rationality alone will not do this, this is something discussed in much of 19th to 20th Century Philosphy tradition at length, hence why I am offering you a post modern perspective that the Leap of Faith will be possible if you open yourself up to reasoning modes (that you clearly are uncomfortable with), e.g., reasoning with your heart/emotions as well as respecting tradition. And finally looking to finding guiding sense through a spirtual connection.

These comments are morphing into another stream of discussion on your blog regarding memetics. So I'll stop this one for now.

Good luck!

11:20 PM  
Blogger P.T. Galt said...

Martin wrote:

"There is not any contradiction to my view, as long as you assume that a "Leap Of Faith" will be adequetly supported by a God of Love who wants us to find his Truth."

Don't we all know what happens when you "assume?" :)

Question: Do post-modern Christians hold that Christianity is the only true religion?

Question: If yes, are believers in other religions (Wicca, Islam, Hinduism, etc.) punished in some way for not accepting Christianity?

Question: If yes, why does your God of Love not "support" their leaps of faith?

"Rationality alone will not do this, this is something discussed in much of 19th to 20th Century Philosphy tradition at length, hence why I am offering you a post modern perspective that the Leap of Faith will be possible if you open yourself up to reasoning modes (that you clearly are uncomfortable with), e.g., reasoning with your heart/emotions as well as respecting tradition. And finally looking to finding guiding sense through a spirtual connection."

"Reasoning" with your heart/emotions is a contradiction in terms. As you have made great pains to point out, the epistemology you favor is distinctly non-rational. Therefore it makes no sense to call it "reasoning."

Believing whatever feels "good" or "right," or whatever is accepted by the tradition you choose to respect is fine as long as there are no consequences for being wrong. Or perhaps, no "wrong," i.e. there is no such thing as reality, and a magic talisman is as good a cure for appendicitis as surgery.

However, in terms of spirituality, some traditions--yours among them--make exclusive claims to being "the" right one, with horrifying, and eternal consequences for making the wrong Leap of Faith.

Perhaps Po-Mo Christians reject such exclusivity claims and concede that Buddhism is just as "right" in spiritual terms as Christianity, in the same way a cheeseburger is just as "right" for filling a stomach as pizza. IOW, religion becomes a matter of preference, rather than a matter of right or wrong.

But if it is not a matter of picking which one (or ones) among a smorgasboard of equally valid options feels right and offers the strongest "spiritual connection" then one must have a working BS detector.

Whatever "following the heart" and a "spiritual connection" may offer, one thing they demonstrably cannot do when taken at face value is differentiate fact from error. This is proven by the dizzying array of different religions, and mutually-antagonistic sects within religions.

It does seem that mystical practitioners (those who cultivate altered states of consciousness) generate/discover beliefs that cross-map with each other, at least to some extent. A Gnostic Christian, Kabbalistic Jew, and a Sufi Muslim seem to have more in common with each other (and with, say, a Hindu yogi or a Buddhist monk) than any does with the more "fundamentalist" branch of his/her religion.

I see no reason why scientific methodology such as experimentation, documentation of results, repetition by other experimenters, etc. cannot be employed in the area of mystical experience, "spiritual connections," and so forth.

The experiences and emotions themselves may be non-rational (just as eyesight is non-rational), but reason can be employed to identify and integrate the perceptions one recieves--again, just as it is employed in the case of other raw sense data and data from scientific instruments.

12:25 AM  
Anonymous Martin Ciupa said...

You ask me some specific questions and have some major misunderstandings/errors to be cleared up…

Misunderstanding/Error: You make a remark about faith and assumption. But an act of faith is a form of assumption, an assumption that one is willing to make to get to a point of meaning and truth that could not be made otherwise.

Question: Do post-modern Christians hold that Christianity is the only true religion?
Answer: There is no doctrine that holds all post moderns together almost by definition. However for many they would say Christianity is simply true for them, and more so than other traditions. There can be and should be inter faith dialog to seek better common understandings, over time traditions may evolve.

Question: If yes, are believers in other religions (Wicca, Islam, Hinduism, etc.) punished in some way for not accepting Christianity?
Answer: My answer above was a personal one, that Christianity is true for me. But I also believe it would be good for you, though there should be no coercion in religion I believe that people of good faith are not unjustly treated in their judgement in Salvation (God is just). Many main stream Christian denominations (though not all) are inclusive in their position in Salvation, e.g., Roman Catholicism post 2nd Vatican Council is inclusive of Judaism and Islam for example, and respects other traditions. For me it is not so much as what denomination or tradition you belong to that counts, rather it is having an “active faith” – whereby you believe first and then as a consequence live a righteous life doing what is good selflessly.

Question: If yes, why does your God of Love not "support" their leaps of faith?
Answers: He does if one genuinely searches with all your faculties engaged. For me, I arrived at Christianity because on consideration of my reasons of; tradition, heart, spirit and mind it was “true”.

Misunderstanding/Error: You say …"Reasoning" with your heart/emotions is a contradiction in terms. As you have made great pains to point out, the epistemology you favor is distinctly non-rational. Therefore it makes no sense to call it "reasoning." BUT A) you have completely missed my point if you say mu worldview is non-rational, I include rationality as core PART of my reasoning, though it is not the ONLY aspect of reason. B) By the way that is how humans reason all the time (including you). For example there has been much research in stroke patients who when have damage in emotional balancing areas of their intelligence have real difficulty in coming to choice over alternatives. Rationality is not enough to reason an answer. SUMMARY: You fall into the trap of declaring – a piori – that rationality is the only reasoning mode. It is not. This is now a well established position and you are arguing against the mainstream understanding of current philosophical understanding. I suggest you give it up, but you will probably have to overcome an emotional reaction to do so, you are clearly clinging, IMO.

Misunderstanding/Error: You say … “However, in terms of spirituality, some traditions--yours among them--make exclusive claims to being "the" right one, with horrifying, and eternal consequences for making the wrong Leap of Faith”. BUT As I have cleared up for you this exclusivity is NOT my position. Actually it is your good self that is making an exclusive position that rationality ALONE is and must be applied to reasoning in exclusion to other modes. You know Robespierre in the Terror of the French Revolution built Temples of Reason (literally). Atheists in the 20th century in Communist Soviet Union and PR China not to mention Nazi Germany had millions killed and persecuted for their personal worldviews that did not comply with their exclusive positions. I refer you to the Harvard University Press “ Black Book of Communism” for you to see just how terrible humans can be when acting on “rationality alone”.

Misunderstanding/Error: You say …Perhaps Po-Mo Christians reject such exclusivity claims and concede that Buddhism is just as "right" in spiritual terms as Christianity, in the same way a cheeseburger is just as "right" for filling a stomach as pizza. IOW, religion becomes a matter of preference, rather than a matter of right or wrong. BUT you have a misunderstanding of my position is that I am “Pluralist”, I am not. I am merely “Inclusive” (you seem to be “Exclusive” to my worldview). We are all responsible for what we as individuals believe in. It all comes down to a personal choice. I have differences of opinion with other worldviews. I am happy to discuss them on the basis of reciprocal respect and tolerance, i.e., Inter Faith dialog.

In conclusion… Rationality and the Scientific method are incredibly useful and crucial faculties in our reasoning. But you are simply wrong and out of touch with your humanity if you place it on a pedestal by itself in isolation to your other God given reasoning faculties. Ask yourself these questions.

a) Do I actually live my live in pure Objectivity and Rationality all the time?
b) Has any person ever been able to do so?
c) Am I not also part of the Cybernetic complex of mixed Objectivity/Subjectivity, i.e., I am I am part of the reality I am reasoning about?
d) Is it therefore actually possible?
e) Should I not therefore give up this dialog and have a cup of tea? (sorry that was a question for me)

11:14 PM  
Blogger P.T. Galt said...

Martin, I'm going to begin by refusing to engage in psychologizing you, saying you're "clining," in denial, had traumatc experiences in potty-training and the like, and address your claims on the merits. Perhaps you can respond in kind.

Martin wrote:

"For me it is not so much as what denomination or tradition you belong to that counts, rather it is having an “active faith” – whereby you believe first and then as a consequence live a righteous life doing what is good selflessly."

Question: What about someone who does good, but without any "active faith" in the supernatural? E.g. Albert Schweizer or Richard Dawkins?

Question: Do you believe in a "Hell" that anyone will confront in an afterlife? If so, what is it, and who goes there?

11:21 PM  
Blogger P.T. Galt said...

Martin wrote:

"For example there has been much research in stroke patients who when have damage in emotional balancing areas of their intelligence have real difficulty in coming to choice over alternatives. Rationality is not enough to reason an answer. SUMMARY: You fall into the trap of declaring – a piori – that rationality is the only reasoning mode. It is not."

Yes, I have read about that research, and have no quarrel with it. Here is an interesting article discussing the tension and interaction between rationality and emotions along those lines.

That emotions are a crucial part of decision-making does not make emotions or "leaps of faith" into a distinct "reasoning mode." Say a person has difficulty making a decision, and decides to flip a coin. Does coin-flipping suddenly become a "reasoning mode" with equal validity to the scientific method, or mathematics?

Analogy: It isn't possible to ride a bike without walking. You have to walk at some point before getting on the bike, and at some point afterwards, and sometimes you have to dismount and carry the bike over obstacles (e.g. in mountainbiking).

Does that make going on a hike a "bicycling mode?" No. If we're going to call an activity "bicycling," it ought to be mostly to do with riding a bike.

Likewise, if we are going to set out to gain knowledge or make decisions by using Tarot cards, a pendulum, or a crystal ball, clarity--if not simple honesty--requires that we call these methods something other than "reasoning."

Like "divination" or "scrying." Even if those methods work as well as calculus, they're not "reasoning." If they are effective for the purpose you're using them for, it can be rational to use them, but they are still epistemologically distinct from "reasoning." Same for "leaps of faith."

"Reason-ing" should be concerned primarily with the excercise of reason (look at the word again), even if emotions are involved in giving the final "push" to make a decision or accept a conclusion.

Please understand that I'm not "clinging" to some imaginary Vulcan concept of "logic." "Leaps of faith," reading entrails, oracular pronouncements, emotions taken as primary, etc. are not "reasoning" even if they work. They are alternative epistemologies. If we go around calling any possible method of reaching a conclusion or a decision "reasoning," the word loses its meaning by inflation. I'd rather we attempt to communicate in well-defined terms than end up speaking in Tongues at each other.

Furthermore, I am not arguing for "reason only." That gave us epicycles and "perfectly circular" planetary orbits. I am arguing for the scientific method as the only demonstrably effective b.s. detector.

Emotions do not qualify. Name any belief or conclusion with which you passionately disagree. The emotions of its advocates support it.

"Leaps of faith" do not qualify. I estimate a high probability that you thoroughly reject fundamentalist Islam. But if strapping explosives to oneself or driving an airplane into a building convinced you're going to an afterlife with 72 virgins isn't a "leap of faith," what is?

Summary: There are all kinds of ways to arrive at "certainty" that whatever one believes in is true. There is only one way I know of to demonstrate, even to oneself, that a belief/theory one "likes" emotionally, etc. is wrong: the scientific method. It is the only demonstrably effective error-correction method I know of. I see no reason not to apply this method in "spiritual" matters as well as "non-spiritual" (if there's even a difference).

12:06 AM  
Anonymous Martin Ciupa said...

I am pleased you did not rise to my provocation (apologies if it was heavy handed). It was designed to put you in touch with your emotions. We address our perceptions of reality often through an external framework, and our emotions are part of its foundations. Moving on…

Question: What about someone who does good, but without any "active faith" in the supernatural? E.g. Albert Schweizer or Richard Dawkins?

Answer: My personal opinion is that folks who do good, are good. A God that is just, will not in my opinion punish them because they could not make a leap of faith for honest and sincere reasons. But their “supernatural reward” may not be the same for those that do. See my answer to your other question below for more on this.

But before I leave this question let me comment on those who are aggressive in their denial of other folks worldviews, because some you mention (e.g., Dawkins) certainly appear so. Folks that attack the deep held beliefs of others either physically or verbally, take their freedom of speech sometimes to far. They damage and hurt people, and that is not a freedom that is so easy to defend. This has been done by some Religious Fundamentalists agreed, but also by some Fundamentalist Atheists who would like to “cure” Theists of their “disease”, which sounds equally totalitarian to my worldview. It has been tried by Communists and Fascists alike in the 20th century. I refer you the Blackbook of Communism from Harvard University Press.

Memetics has recently been offered up as an “explanation” of the persistency of religious belief similar to a computer virus, or chain email. Inviting a consideration that the host would be better off “running” with the virus removed. I think this is a potential dangerous allusion, in the hands of some it could justify persecution. I accept that Memetics has some explanatory power but it is as easy to see it in the same light as post modern theists see Genetics, i.e., as a providential mechanism within the immanent purposed creation of God. It is not the Atheists “silver bullet”.


Question: Do you believe in a "Hell" that anyone will confront in an afterlife? If so, what is it, and who goes there?

Answer: Having an “active faith”, enables your good works to be genuine and deep set, and not just good conscious manners. They become part of your unconscious reality. It takes something special to “love your enemies”, to seek reconciliation rather than retaliation. Faith may enable something that otherwise would not be “switched-on” in your being and its relationship to God and your neighbor. An active spiritual after-life may simply require active faith here and now.

We all “look through a glass darkly” in our speculations on what an after-life may be like. For one well thought out view by a 20th Century Christian take a look at C S Lewis “The Great Divorce”. It will address many of your concerns I feel.

As for who will be there, well perhaps the first will be last and the last will be first, I am not the judge for this. I believe however in a God who manifests Justice, and what happens will therefore be justified.


Could you please respond in kind, and answer questions a-d in my previous response?

12:21 AM  
Blogger P.T. Galt said...

Martin wrote:

"You know Robespierre in the Terror of the French Revolution built Temples of Reason (literally). Atheists in the 20th century in Communist Soviet Union and PR China not to mention Nazi Germany had millions killed and persecuted for their personal worldviews that did not comply with their exclusive positions. I refer you to the Harvard University Press 'Black Book of Communism' for you to see just how terrible humans can be when acting on 'rationality alone'."

Let me try to follow your argument:

1) No one makes conclusions by reason alone...unless they're Eeeeeevil people like the guillotine operators in the French Revolution, the Nazis, or Joseph Stalin.

Golly, if the Reign of Terror, the Holocaust, and the Gulag Archipelago are actually rational things to do, (rather than irrational things done by people falsely claiming the mantle of rationality for their actions) I'm surprised you'd sully your 'leap-of-faith' epistemology by calling it a 'reasoning mode!'

I mean, seriously, you want people to think you're one of those rational Nazi types?!

All three of those particular atrocity-factories arose from a secular religion: the worship of the State in place of God (read Hegel).

Can atheists do evil things? Of course! "Atheism" is merely the absence of belief in a god. By itself, it says nothing about what an atheist does believe. "A-Santa Clausists" aren't immune to evil either.

12:22 AM  
Blogger P.T. Galt said...

Martin wrote:

Ask yourself these questions.

a) Do I actually live my live in pure Objectivity and Rationality all the time?

Nope. That's why I need a working B.S. detector.


b) Has any person ever been able to do so?

Nope. That's why we all need a working B.S. detector.

c) Am I not also part of the Cybernetic complex of mixed Objectivity/Subjectivity, i.e., I am I am part of the reality I am reasoning about?

Yes. That is why a working B.S. detector will be a method that interfaces directly with the reality I'm reasoning about rather than relying on me (or anyone else) to be Perfectly Objective and Infallible.

d) Is it therefore actually possible?

Let's see:

There are innumerable possible arrangements of matter that could be created within the space taken up by the computer you're typing on.

The vast majority of those matter-arrangements will not result in a working computer.

Taking a "leap of faith" that a pretty quartz crystal works as a computer doesn't make it so. Likewise for all of the other matter-arrangements that do not result in a working computer.

By a long process of applying the scientific method, discovering the principles of electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, digital logic, semiconductive materials, etc. etc., certain individuals have demonstrably produced working computers.

These working computers operate the same way regardless of one's "faith" or "lack of faith" in them.

You and I are communicating by means of these working computers.

Conclusion: Yes, it is possible.

e) Should I not therefore give up this dialog and have a cup of tea? (sorry that was a question for me)

Yes, you should give up. >mischievous grin<

12:39 AM  
Blogger P.T. Galt said...

Here is a thought-provoking questionnaire that invites us to examine our "conclusion-adopting" methods. It's fun, and well worth doing, IMO:

http://davidbrin.com/questionnaire.html

12:49 AM  
Anonymous Martin Ciupa said...

You interpret my position incorrectly, and you answers to my questions are veeeeeeeery illuminating…

You say … "No one makes conclusions by reason alone...unless they're Eeeeeevil people like the guillotine operators in the French Revolution, the Nazis, or Joseph Stalin."
BUT that is not my point. I merely make the point that some people have used “rationality & objectivity alone” as a convenient and respectable means for their personal ends. This can result in good or evil.
Dropping moral standards (since rationality and objectivity have a hard time accepting such) can and has lead to the horrors of the past. It’s time to learn from history.
I say ... we need to be careful in claiming rationality and objectivity ALONE can bring about better, fairer and more just societies. This is because following this worldview ultimately leaves statements about ethics and morals relative. We’ll be touching on this later in your answers to my questions I posed.
I believe we (in addition to rational reasoning mode) need to engage other reasoning faculties that we possess, but have neglected, i.e., respect for the “Body” of our tradition (whilst understanding that it memeticaly evolves), the use of our emotional intelligence and feelings (“Heart” if you will), as well as being prepared to make a leap of faith to arrive at absolute values, that do exist in a transcendent understanding of the relationship of God and our personal being in this immanent universe (“Soul/Spirit”).
Many folks baulk at this leap. They appear to be possessed by an article of 18th century “enlightenment” faith that tells them this is reckless and must be treated as anathema. However it is our humanity that calls us to seek meaning that this leap will provide, meaning that ultimately will not be possible otherwise.
I’ve really been trying hard to articulate this point, many times now in several strings of your blog. If you really can’t see what I am driving at, I think its perhaps time for us both to move on, and have that cup of tea I mentioned.
However before we make that call it's worthwhile to look at your answers to the questions I posed since they are very illuminating to this point…

When asked “Do I actually live my live in pure Objectivity and Rationality all the time?”
You say: “Nope. That's why I need a working B.S. detector.”
Comment: The 1st part is the answer to the question (none of us live with Pure Objectivity and Rationality – we are simply not built that way), the 2nd part is redundant here as we all need to be prepared to apply common sense and reason to make choices. Afterall is what is B.S. yesterday (e.g., instantaneous action at a distance) often the common accepted wisdom of today (i.e., non locality of Bells Theorem in Quantum Mechanics)?

1/ When asked “Has any person ever been able to do so?”
You say: “Nope. That's why we all need a working B.S. detector.” Comment: Same comments as question above apply. No man has in the history of man has been able to, unless you posit that pure rationality and objectivity would be a faculty of God. But for this to be with a man you would have to have a God-man incarnated, a seriously unique proposition. This God-man would have not only the rationality and objectivity of God, but also the humanity of heart, body and soul. Such a person of course exists within the tradition of Christianity; they are called to imitate him.

2/ When asked “Am I not also part of the Cybernetic complex of mixed Objectivity/Subjectivity, i.e., I am part of the reality I am reasoning about?”
You say “Yes. That is why a working B.S. detector will be a method that interfaces directly with the reality I'm reasoning about rather than relying on me (or anyone else) to be Perfectly Objective and Infallible.”
Comment: So you propose that something external to the limits of man’s reason can augment mans reason (and this is to be trusted), is that not phenomenological B.S? Is not the external apparatus also limited by the same Cybernetic limitations, or is it supernatural?

3/ When asked “Is it therefore actually possible?”
You say “…Conclusion: Yes, it is possible.”
Comment: I think you have just made a leap of faith! Are you not trying to “have your cake and eat it”. Actually you have created with your B.S. detector a transcendent and objective value judgment system. It has become your God!


4/ When asked “Should I not therefore give up this dialog and have a cup of tea? (sorry that was a question for me)”
You say “Yes, you should give up. >mischievous grin<”
Comment: Let’s both take a timeout to reflect on all these words we have written and have a cup of tea. Douglas Adams of “The Hitchhikers to the Galaxy” tells us it’s a good Brownian motion generator. Maybe we can use it in your B.S. detector ;-)

10:01 PM  
Anonymous Martin Ciupa said...

(quoted from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams)

The principle of generating small amounts of finite improbability by simply hooking the logic circuits of a Bambleweeny 57 Sub- Meson Brain to an atomic vector plotter suspended in a strong Brownian Motion producer (say a nice hot cup of tea) were of course well understood - and such generators were often used to break the ice at parties by making all the molecules in the hostess's undergarments leap simultaneously one foot to the left, in accordance with the Theory of Indeterminacy.

Many respectable physicists said that they weren't going to stand for this - partly because it was a debasement of science, but mostly because they didn't get invited to those sort of parties.

1:46 AM  
Blogger P.T. Galt said...

LOL!

"What did he say?"

"I don't know...I think he said 'Blessed are the Cheesemakers.'

"Well what's so special about cheesemakers?"

"Oh, come on! You're not supposed to take it literally!

---Monty Python's Life of Brian

2:49 PM  
Blogger P.T. Galt said...

Martin wrote:

"I think you have just made a leap of faith! Are you not trying to “have your cake and eat it”. Actually you have created with your B.S. detector a transcendent and objective value judgment system. It has become your God!"

Yeah. Uh-huh. Accepting the demonstrable fact that you and I are communicating via computers created as a result of applying the scientific method is in the same category as believing that snakes and donkeys can talk, and a guy walked on water 2000 years ago. Right. Any conclusion, no matter how reached, is a "leap of faith."

Since you stretch the definition of "leap of faith" to include objective demonstration (you are using a computer, aren't you?) in the same conceptual "basket" as faith in voodoo or that Allah grants His martyrs a Heavenly paradise with 72 nubile virgins, everything becomes entirely subjective.

There is no way to start with incompatible "leaps of faith" and determine which (if either) is accurate. Faith, by definition, is not subject to evidence.

I do not agree that accepting the validity of Newton's Laws, or Maxwell's equations is a "leap of faith" on a par with Christianity, unless they're taken dogmatically in the same way religious beliefs are.

Given the degree of objective demonstration, I can choose to accept them conditionally, until further objective demonstration requires their modification. That is, as principles that are very likely to be accurately understood generalized operating principles of Universe. Subsequent scientific discoveries may provide a more accurate model (e.g. Relativity in comparison to classical mechanics).

But Relativity is still only a model. I don't have to believe in it as a leap of faith. I can accept it conditionally, as long as it's the best working model, until a better model is discovered. Given the current incompatability between Relativity theory and quantum mechanics, it's pretty likely that a new, more accurate model will be discovered eventually.

Faith, in contrast, believes in something, without regard to evidence. Since you believe by faith, absolutely nothing, no fact or number of facts can persuade you to believe otherwise. If you die, and Odin throws you to the wolves instead of letting you into Valhalla, you could still find some way to believe that Christianity is true.

Faith is inherently non-falsifiable. If you debated a Christian fundamentalist who rejects your post-modern interfaith dialogues, etc. as a sinful rejection of the inerrant authority of Scripture, there would be no way the two of you could ever determine which of you was closer to being correct.

You could argue for centuries--in fact, Christians have argued with each other for centuries, over various propositions of faith, and are no closer to resolving the issue now than when the Apostle Paul was drawing breath.

Predestination, or free will? Apostolic Succession (Catholicism) or Sola Scriptura (Protestantism)? Is God a Trinity (non-Arian Christianity), or an undivided One (Islam, Judaism, Arian Christianity)? Etc.

Faith will never solve these issues because it can't. It provides no method of error-detection. To the contrary, it rejects the very possibility of error. Rejecting a proposition of faith only happens when you "lose your faith." Until then, the believer can evade any possible fact, as your style of argumentation clearly demonstrates.

Does the Bible contain a great deal of viciousness done in God's name and at his expressed command? Just wave it off and say, "people made mistakes, we know better now." Then quote the parts of the Bible you do like in support of your contention that the Christian God is the epitome of morality.

And then claim that by this method you've discovered an objective morality! Nice trick!

4:07 PM  
Blogger P.T. Galt said...

Do we need "beliefs" at all?

4:49 PM  
Anonymous Martin Ciupa said...

It’s time for us to bring our dialog to a close I feel. To help in this respect let me try to summarize our differences as I see it, an offer a concluding statement that we might be able to agree on…

SUMMARY: We have arrived in summary at a position where we agree that any information we have on the actual reality of the universe, from our position of an observer, is subjective. And that rationality is incomplete when dealing with human beliefs. We are aware of the support for this worldview from a perspective taken the latest developments in Physics. As well as in the tradition in 19th - 20th Century Philosophy from Kierkegaard to Wittgenstein, clarifying the errors of earlier “enlightenment” philosophical traditions. These insights are part of what we can call the post modern worldview.

BUT: Notwithstanding this agreement we have an issue between us. The issue is… “how best can we move on from these limitations to nevertheless get at “truth” about questions that are important to us humans”.

YOUR POSITION: You declare your preference for the exclusive application of the “rationality + scientific method”, for shorthand, allow me to call this reasoning by “Logos” alone.

MY POSITION: Whereas I say we need to be prepared to also engage with other human reasoning faculties; such as applying emotional intelligence (“heart”), embodied intelligence - both genetic and memetic (“body”) and finally leaps of faith (“soul/spirit”). These latter non-Logos reasoning modes are not rational and they are subjective, the truths they arrive at we can call “Mythos” for shorthand.

POSSIBLE RESOLUTION: Given the above what I offer you is an alternative perspective that the mythos methods are not necessarily irrational. They can be “arational” (i.e., non-rational, but not irrational). We do NOT a piori define arational reason = irrational reason. As such they are legitimate reasoning modes.

Take a look at this website to see a fair layout of the “competing” worldviews in the “faith and reason” debate.

http://www.dbu.edu/naugle/pdf/2301_handouts/faith_and_reason.pdf

The worldview I offer above answers the critical questions you’ll find in section C4 a/b of this document. In this context the worldview is that of an “Integrated Critical Rationalism & Critical Fideism”

Only by admitting other modes of reason than rationality can we find the truth we need, it will however be limited as a personal and subjective mythos choice, albeit enlightened by the rigorous application of logos.

CONCLUSION: Therefore let me attempt at offering a concluding statement that we can (hopefully) agree to…

“Our common perspective is that we must by all means exhaustively apply the reasoning method of Logos to arrive at the truth that it can offer. But once arriving at its limits, we are humble enough to acknowledge that we will not “breach the gap” of arising issues of subjectivity and meaning. At this point we can EITHER halt our search for meaning, OR if we wish to further move forward we must be prepared to use our Mythos reasoning modes such as we are personally able to manifest them. Such meaning arrived at will be by necessity personal and subjective, but it will be as fully reasoned as we are able.”

Is this OK for you?

1:50 AM  
Anonymous Martin Ciupa said...

BTW - I read with interest the link you provided to “The problems with beliefs”. This is a worldview of “Scientism”, a worldview developed in the late 19th and early 20th century. It’s still trotted out a lot these days by Scientists who perhaps are not up to date with the work done in the mid to late 20th century philosophers such as Wittgenstein and Anscombe …

The problem ultimately with Scientism it is the self-annihilating view that only scientific claims are meaningful, which is not a scientific claim (it is an a piori “value” judgement) and hence, if true, not meaningful. Thus, scientism is either false or meaningless.

This view was discussed in detail by Ludwig Wittgenstein in his “Tractatus Logico-philosophicus”. See …

http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/w/wittgens.htm

Wittgenstein was concerned in part over man’s ability to be morally good, and he had apparently great respect for sincere religious conviction, but he also said, that "the tendency of all men who ever tried to write or talk Ethics or Religion was to run against the boundaries of language". Wittgenstein apparently believed in mystical truths that somehow cannot be expressed meaningfully (with rationality and language, i.e., the Logos I was talking about earlier) but that are of the utmost importance to man, i.e., to our Mythos.

Wittgenstein’s re-formulation of Logical Positivism into Logical Atomism was a key contribution here. Anscombe a student of Wittgenstein gives her personal insight in “Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Mind”…

“For years, I would spend time, in cafés, for example, staring at objects saying to myself: "I see a packet. But what do I really see? How can I say that I see here anything more than a yellow expanse?" ... I always hated phenomenalism and felt trapped by it. I couldn't see my way out of it but I didn't believe it. It was no good pointing to difficulties about it, things which Russell found wrong with it, for example. The strength, the central nerve of it remained alive and raged achingly. It was only in Wittgenstein's classes in 1944 that I saw the nerve being extracted, the central thought I have got this, and I define "yellow" (say) as this being effectively attacked..”

As I say one has to deal with personal and subjective definitions for us to build a language that expresses our personal beliefs with truth & meaning, whilst understanding its inherent limitations.

Hope this helps.

9:03 PM  
Anonymous Martin Ciupa said...

I forgot to mention above though one conclusion from the article you referred me to. Which is logical, but does not ultimately satisfy me personally.

Which is from a Scientism aspect we can choose not to have any Beliefs. We can assert that only probabilitie statements exist. Though we must accept this self-referentially and understand consequentially that our axioms of science are also only probability statements. Including this statement. Everything is thus rendered subjective and meaningless.

It is what you get to in my conclusion statement that I offered a posting or two ago, where you can choose to not persue truth and meaning any further once you hit the inevitable road block limits of useing the Logos method alone. So even if for you it is an acceptable conclusion (!). I trust we can still agree to that conclusion statement which I restate for ease of reference here ...

“Our common perspective is that we must by all means exhaustively apply the reasoning method of Logos to arrive at the truth that it can offer. But once arriving at its limits, we are humble enough to acknowledge that we will not “breach the gap” of arising issues of subjectivity and meaning. At this point we can EITHER halt our search for meaning, OR if we wish to further move forward we must be prepared to use our Mythos reasoning modes such as we are personally able to manifest them. Such meaning arrived at will be by necessity personal and subjective, but it will be as fully reasoned as we are able.”

2:19 AM  
Blogger D J Wray said...

Your Intelligent Universe concept is one that should appeal to a wide range of people. Another website explores the idea that there is a separate intelligent universe, meaning that our environment consists of 2 universes: the "known" universe and an intelligent universe, which, as the theory goes, was created by God.

Good luck,
D J Wray
Packaged Evolution: The Intelligent Universe
http://www.atotalawareness.com/documents/packagedevolution.pps

10:09 PM  

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