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A Different Cosmological View

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Brad
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0 posted 02-15-2001 12:41 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

I've stated this before but after reading the thread in Dark Enchantress, I feel I should restate it because I feel it's rapidly turning into a Christianity/atheist point of view. The distinction is better expressed as a mundane/transcendental point of view. For example, in Chinese cosmology you have ri (principle) and ki (energy) -- this is actually more basic than the traditional yin/yang distinction. Now, these two ideas can be usefully translated into 'matter/energy' and 'natural law' but Christianity has nothing to do with it. In traditional Chinese cosmology there is little evidence for a personalized, anthropomorhized God. This doesn't mean there isn't one, it just means that it's not necessary to have that as a prerequisite to come up with these basic distinctions.

Earlier Fractal007, mentioned Zen as a way to a kind of meaning but the ultimate meaning in Buddhism is Nirvana, nothingness. It is perhaps difficult for many to accept that this is what Buddhism (or most of the legitimate sects that I've studied) teaches but that is what it teaches. There is no meaning in life.

However, both these points are variations on different transcendental world views.

The basic distinction that is at issue in philosophy today (at least the stuff I read) is not Christianity/atheist but a transcendental/pragmatic distinction. Now here many of you have a point, the transcendental permeates all aspects of our society (and every society I've studied) but again that doesn't make it true. Even science, as Steve pointed out in the other thread, uses many of these distinctions. The question is what happens if you drop them and move to a more pragmatic point of view?

Nothing, nothing changes because if the pragmatists are right it's always been this way and there is no way we as humans can know the existence of the transcendental. It is by definition unprovable. None of this means that you have been cheated or lied to by science or religion, it just means that ultimate truth is out of reach.

It can be a little staggering at first but really once you get used to it, you get more fascinated with the types of 'worlds' that humanity has created and will create in the future. You can still judge societies (you always judge, it's call making decisions), religions, or whatever but you can't scream at someone,"This is the truth."

You can say, "This works for me." Now, if you want to sit and say that to people, well, I guess I can't change it but I think the better point is to ask, "What works for you?" argue, debate, discuss without ever worrying about some final ANSWER.

And then you have to prove it. How do you prove it? For many of us, that doesn't change at all: the scientific method, what Jim calls historical/legalistic reasoning and the host of other methods that we use to come to terms with the world around us. The only difference is a change in rhetoric or semantics (which is a big difference if this forum is any sign).

Now, many of you seem to be worried or even afraid of the consequences of such a view but don't confuse this view with a view that argues 'God is dead' or 'the transcendental doesn't exist', it simply argues that we don't know, that we can't know and still be human. By human, I mean an historically situated individual that can't get outside of that dilemma.

But it's not that much of a dilemma because everyone else is stuck there too.

Brad
fractal007
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1 posted 02-15-2001 01:05 PM       View Profile for fractal007   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for fractal007

Interesting post.

I like your idea of what works. There is only one slight problem. Suppose someone feels that Christianity is what "works for them," and now you want that person to prove Christianity to be valid. I just listened to the first half of the "great debate" which Stephanos suggested I listen to. I don't think that anybody is going to be able to "prove" or "disprove" the existence of God anytime soon, let alone the God which Christians profess to worship and follow, or any other god for that matter.

All people have been able to do has been to look for evidence that some God/creator started the universe in the first place. This evidence has been presented always in fallable ways. For example, the design argument, or the uncaused cause idea. I wonder what would happen if somebody actually found God somewhere in the universe. I wonder if that person would recognize him/it/her/[whatever other pronoun you'd like to ascribe to such a "creator"].

As far as FINAL ANSWERS are concerned, I must concede, I have been rather over concerned about them. My own idea about this is that when I die I will find the final answer. I will either cease to exist or else find myself in some other realm, possibly another lifetime, or Heaven, or some other place/time/thing. In the event that I cease to exist I will not be able to worry or be happy about whatever has taken place with my death. I apologize if this sounds a little like Pascal's wager, but it is a rather logical truth.

However, it can also be argued that, because of the law of the conservation of matter, humans will always exist in one form or another. If memory serves, this is called molecular immortality.

Others could argue that since all physical objects are constructed of matter, life must be constructed of matter. Since life forms are matter, there is very little distinction between a life form and a rock. Both of them obey the same physical, chemical, and whatever other laws you care to name. I am sure that others have likely come up with that argument, and so it probably has some term or designation attatched to it. If the argument is true then it may very well have implications that are beyond our comprehension.
Alicat
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2 posted 02-15-2001 02:33 PM       View Profile for Alicat   Email Alicat   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Alicat

Frac, I like the reference to molecular immortality, as in part, it's a belief I hold. When one dies, their life does not end. They only truly die when the ripples their life caused come to an end, like a rock tossed in a pond. (Like that tie-in?)

Brad, what can I say? I simply love the way your discourses run, and especially liked the phrase "you always judge, it's call making decisions".

I think I'm just gonna sit back and watch this thread develop for a while before further commentation, though reading Brad's topics does cause one to reference his references.

Alicat
Stephanos
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3 posted 02-16-2001 12:18 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Many of the transcendental philosophies certainly present "transcendental" concepts without an intelligent causation.  However I always discover great difficulties with trying to hold on to transcendental or spritual laws while rejecting a transcendental conscious mind.  

Pretty much all religions or belief systems fall into one of just a few categories.  There may other names for them, but these basically include Polytheism, Theism, Pantheism,  Atheism, and agnosticism.

Theism says there is one supreme God who is the creator and sustainer of all other things.  Polytheism says there are many gods who either created all things, or not (depending on the particular beliefs). Pantheism says all things are a part of God, or the God-force, or the one eternal entity (being personal or not depending on the particular beliefs).  Atheism says "There is no God".  And agnosticism says that God is unknowable whether he exists or not.
(Some religions are blendings of the above categories.)

Back to my first line of thought--  I am no expert, but it does seem that most Eastern religions and their western offspring are Pantheisms.  PAN (all), THEOS (God).  While secular humanism leaves most with a bitter taste in their mouths from its prospects of an aimless, purposeless, mechanized cosmos where anything of spiritual worth (including love and hope) turns out to be merely atomic variations in the brain,  Pantheisms usually provide a way for people to still not believe in an intelligent Governor of  the universe, while still holding on to "transcendentals".

The Pantheistic views which seem to suggest we are a part of an impersonal force or "all", are the easiest types of spirituality, until we think them completely (and honestly) through.  One seeming advantage of them is that laws which spring from an impersonal force don't hold such severe consequences for the breaching of those laws.  Without a law-giver they are not so rigorous.  Moral law for example becomes a "consensus" rather than an absolute.

Was Hitler wrong?  If there are no moral absolutes then one must not say he was wrong, but rather in the moral "minority" due to  the relative moral barometer of the world populace at  that time in history.  But what if military actions would have failed to curb Hitler's domination somehow and his "morals" became accepted by the majority?  (It's easy to say it couldn't happen, but his rhetoric seducted an entire nation).  Would his atrocities then cease to be absolutely wrong?  What if Hitler's world armies wiped out most of humanity except Germans and those who fit his idea of a master race?  Would their actions be immoral against the oppressed few?  If we say morality is merely what is best in the eyes of the "many", then no.

This is the kind of problem I always run into when thinking through "transcendentalism" that rejects a personal intelligent creator.  If we carry transcendentals or laws over into the practical realm, it would be absurd to think we could have them with no one to legislate them or enforce them.  The same must be true in a universal sense because no human has ever created an unchangeable law in nature or morality.  We are bound by them but did not create them.  We are corrected by them on a daily basis because of our frailties.  How can the corrected ones claim more intelligence than what or who lies behind the text of correction?

Brad, you said   " In traditional Chinese cosmology there is little evidence for a personalized, anthropomorhized God. This doesn't mean there isn't one, it just means that it's not necessary to have that as a prerequisite to come up with these basic distinctions."  

I have to disagree.  I see no possible way to have ordered absolute laws and standards without a theistic world-view.  

Later you seemed to suggest that we cannot know ultimate truth, or God, or whatever.  (an agnostic view)  But if the governing force behind the laws which surround us at every junction must be an intelligent mind, then he is personal and perhaps very able to reveal himself to us.

"Personal" (Webster's) --  "concerning a particular individual and his  intimate affairs, interests, or activities; intimate".  Isn't it a much better prospect to have an ultimate truth that we can know (or who we can know)... that actually feels, cares, and loves.  Without him we are destined to become compost and cosmic dust, and atomic chemistry doesn't care a bit.

When it comes to Theisms the same principle applies, if the ultimate being is personal and not just a force, then he has a will, a mind, a plan.  In other words there are definite parameters and dimensions to his personality.  That's how we tell each other apart in the natural world.  If you brought a blonde haired woman to me with blue eyes and said "Stephen, this is your wife", instantly I would know better.  My wife has brown hair and hazel eyes.  Not all theisms are true.  As a matter of fact only one CAN be true.  Just as my wife of monogamy can never be two different women.  

Some of the above reasons are why I think that in the final analysis it will always come to a Christian/ athiest question (or maybe this time a Christian/ Pantheistic question) rather than a transcendental/ mundane question.  If transcendentalism has merely replaced a lonely world of atoms, with a lonely world of more "spiritual" atoms, then it is also pretty mundane to me.

respectfully,

Stephen.



[This message has been edited by Stephanos (edited 02-16-2001).]
Stephanos
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4 posted 02-16-2001 12:44 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

After reading what I wrote, I realize that I don't want to come across as the mad "preacher" type. If I did, I intended nothing to offend on a personal level. Sometimes it's hard to have firm convictions and portray them in a way that is not percieved to be hostile (yet without compromise). I only ask bear with me.
Brad
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5 posted 02-18-2001 07:18 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Don't worry, Stephen, you didn't come off as hostile but I would think twice about calling Eastern religions 'easier' again.

I'm not going to address your theistic categories right now. I do think they are easily enough destabilized but I don't think that's your main point.

My point was simply to show that other cultures have done what you said can't be done (with the interesting modifier 'honestly' tagged on there, nice move. ). I really don't understand the necessity of personifying cause and effect. If a leaf is blown off a tree, do I have to personify it in order to explain it? You can of course but I don't see why? If a meteorite hits the Russian tundra do I need the arachnids from Starship Troopers to explain it?

I wonder if it doesn't come down to a misunderstanding of meaning:

mean (mn)
v. meant (mnt), mean¡¤ing, means.
v. tr.

1. To be used to convey; denote: ¡°¡®The question is,¡¯ said Alice, ¡®whether you can make words mean so many different things¡¯¡± (Lewis Carroll).


2.To act as a symbol of; signify or represent: In this poem, the budding flower means youth.

3. To intend to convey or indicate: ¡°No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous¡± (Henry Adams).

4. To have as a purpose or an intention; intend: I meant to go running this morning, but I overslept.


5. To design, intend, or destine for a certain purpose or end: a building that was meant for storage; a student who was meant to be a scientist.

6.To have as a consequence; bring about: Friction means heat.

Of the above definitions, only the sixth doesn't contain an element of intent but it does contain agency. If a meteor comes crashing down on us, does it intend to kill people? Does it have to?

But here's where I think things get tricky. In order for that sentence, "Friction means heat" to have meaning I have to ascribe intent on the speaker, not friction, but the person who said it -- he or she is intending to explain something to me. If it were simply a consequence of an effect without intention (the wind in the trees or whatever), I would not consider it a meaningful statement unless of course I did ascribe intent to the wind (fate, spirits, God). I would consider it a coincidence.

Now did the Chinese ascribe meaning to hurricanes and earthquakes, to stars and the placement of architecture? Yes, they did and they also personified both good and evil spirits but these were not the "first cause". The Chinese imagined a cyclical universe (a bit of a generalization here, not all Chinese followed this path and there were discussion of first causes, the causeless cause) in constant flux where the 'the first cause' in an ultimate sense did not exist.

That is, cause and effect does not have to lead to an absolute beginning or an absolute God or an absolute moral compass. Understanding cause and effect does not have to lead to ascribing intent to material objects or metaphysical forces -- communication does and any form of explanation will imply intent in order for it to be communicable.

Do you see the difference?

A person doesn't have to assign intent in order to make distinctions, a person does have to assign intent to listen and talk to someone.

I'll be back later,
Brad




Stephanos
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6 posted 02-18-2001 11:16 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Brad,

you said,

" If a leaf is blown off a tree, do I have to personify it in order to explain it? You can of course but I don't see why."

But my intent was never to personify natural occurences. Were there unconscious physical laws and principles at work when the leaf was blown off of the tree? Yes. So why bring in personification of anything to explain it... I totally agree. My point was merely to say that there are systems of belief which address those "transcendent" absolute entities such as natural law, moral law, mathematics, logic, etc... and explain them apart from a divine intelligent Creator. So here I am not trying to "personify cause and effect" in all occurences.

Natural law is not personal in and of itself. Gravity, for instance, has no thought processes. It functions the same every time without exception. It grants no preferential treatment. My point was that the source of all unchangeables must be an intelligent conscious being. Spiritism is an ancient religion which ascribes spirits to natural objects such as trees, rocks and rivers. What I am saying is a far cry from that.

You wrote,

"The Chinese imagined a cyclical universe ... in constant flux where the 'the first cause' in an ultimate sense did not exist.
That is, cause and effect does not have to lead to an absolute beginning or an absolute God or an absolute moral compass. Understanding cause and effect does not have to lead to ascribing intent to material objects or metaphysical forces"


To the first two sentences I will say that I simply disagree with any system of thought (Chinese or otherwise) that prefers a naturalistic explanation of ultimate causation. Ultimately these either deify the natural (as do many eastern religions) or adhere to a strict materialistic view of all things (as does atheism).

As to the last sentence in the above quote, I was never even hinting at ascribing intent or consciousness to material objects or metaphysical forces, only to their maker.

I'm not saying there is nothing of value to be learned from oriental/ Eastern thought. I am just saying that their philosophy is mistaken in that particular explanation. Though I know it's politically incorrect to say that anything or anyone can be objectively wrong, it is my statement.

And yes, I do see your point about ascribing intent (in a general sense of the term) necessary for communication. I agree.


later,

Stephen.




[This message has been edited by Stephanos (edited 02-18-2001).]
Brad
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7 posted 02-19-2001 12:37 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Are you sure you weren't saying those things? I was trying to translate stuff like "the hand of God is in all things" or "everything happens for a reason". Reinterpreted, they might comes off as a form of animism but that is what you're saying, isn't it? I'm not saying you're an animist of course but the same principle seems to apply unless you're a Deist (which would be a mechanistic world).

And I don't see anything wrong with that or with beliefs in any of the above statements.

However, if you can understand that God may not be involved in the falling leaf, then why should God be involved in mathematics, natural law, moral law or anything else? The difference here lies in whether these are human constructions or human discoveries. In either case you can't guarantee that are current state of knowledge is immortal (I'd place bets on a few more changes before we get to a kind of stasis if such a stasis is possible or preferable).

Every example I use from another culture is not intended to show a 'better' way to think how the world is constructed but simply to show that there are different ways to construct the world and if there are different ways to construct the world then who is to say which is better and which isn't?

God can do this of course but only God can be objective (it's a definitional thing again). That is, in order for you to claim objectivity, you can't just believe in God, you have to be God. Are you sure you want to accept that mantle? Just kidding.

In the earlier post you said that an atheist cannot argue that Hitler was wrong (a strange way of phrasing it by the way but I don't want to go there). Why not? An atheist can apply the exact same principles that you have without having to argue a moral absolute somewhere out there. Can he use the Christian tradition to arrive at these conclusions? Again, I don't see why not, he or she may think that there is something of value to be learned in that tradition and take some of it with him or her(phrasing intentionally close to yours regarding Eastern traditions).

None of this is intended as a blow to anyone's Christian armor because the argument is not against spiritualism but simply to show that any form of thinking is not objectively provable given any human's historical and inherently limited situation.

This might be an argument against spiritualism if I were to apply something like Occam's Razor to cosmic whole but I'm not doing that now. I may do it later just to see what happens but Occam's Razor doesn't prove anything either.

And quite frankly I still don't see why this is such a horrible thing. It doesn't mean we can't prove anything, it just means we can't prove anything completely. On the pragmatic level, we've done some pretty amazing things.

Brad

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8 posted 02-19-2001 11:20 AM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

Stephen:

“I'm not saying there is nothing of value to be learned from oriental/ Eastern thought. I am just saying that their philosophy is mistaken in that particular explanation. Though I know it's politically incorrect to say that anything or anyone can be objectively wrong, it is my statement.”

In general, I think it is appropriate to say that Eastern religions tend to ascribe spiritual interpretations to mundane events in ways that are often inconsistent with Western thought and modern science. I think there are times when a supernatural cause is justified and there are times when spiritual interpretations are little more than another way of looking at something, but sometimes such assertions are just plain wrong, or at the very least, incompatible with both the Judeo-Christian world views and modern science (as is the case with the Eternal Flux universal model).

Brad:

“Are you sure you weren't saying those things? I was trying to translate stuff like "the hand of God is in all things" or "everything happens for a reason". Reinterpreted, they might come off as a form of animism but that is what you're saying, isn't it? I'm not saying you're an animist of course but the same principle seems to apply unless you're a Deist (which would be a mechanistic world).”

I think you might be missing the point (but I do concede that stuff like “the hand of God is in all things” and “everything happens for a reason” doesn’t do justice to the ideas such statements are attempting to communicate. Let me give it a try.

Affirming the sovereignty of God is not the same thing as saying God is the Puppeteer and all under Him are marionette puppets playing out his little drama. Our freedom is already truncated by our own mortal limitations and our choices are often determined for us by circumstance (I think you asked me if I was reading Hegel the last time I wrote something along those lines). If God is omniscient and omnipotent, and if God has any sort of plan for the human race, then it follows that our choices are further limited by how they correspond with His plans (if our plans could confound God’s, He wouldn’t be omnipotent). We can only know to what degree and to what ends God is involved in the mundane day-to-day, as He is willing to tell us in terms that we are capable of understanding. But I think that is another thread.

“And I don't see anything wrong with that or with beliefs in any of the above statements.”

You big liar. Animism over-spiritualizes the mundane and Deism limits or eradicates the interaction of the transcendent and the mundane. Do you honestly expect me to believe that you do not have any problems with those world-views?
Brad
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9 posted 02-19-2001 07:30 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

I'll hold off on the 'marionette' explanation for a minute because that's not really what a I meant. My sole interest there is the necessity of anthropomophising deities or believing that a conscious mover is necessary.

Am I really lying here? Is it really so farfetched that animism is alive and well in the everyday world we live in? Have you ever hit a vending machine when the coke or candy bar didn't come out? Ever try to coax your car with soothing words, "C'mon baby, you can do it," or give one a name. What about the superstitions of sailors and astronauts? What about that 'feeling' one gets in the middle of the forest with a slight breeze?

In Japan, I remember having a discussion with an Indian woman who was Hindu and we were discussing the parallels between Hinduism and Shintoism (not exactly my specialties). At one point, I blurted out, "I don't believe in any of this!" and she was shocked. A conversation that might have lead to interesting insights and new ways of thinking was blocked by, in my opinion, my narrow mindedness. Being open to animism and other forms of religion doesn't necessarily mean I take it hook, line, and sinker but I think it's worth listening to.

On Deism: Isn't that what most people believe in anyway? If you want to argue the consequences of such a philosophy, we can certainly discuss that but I'm not against it. I'm reminded of a story with Niels Bohr and Einstein and their unceasing debate over relativity and quantum physics (I don't have a copy of the book with me right now and I don't know if it's true). As usual, Einstein would resort to his famous aphorism, "God doesn't play dice with the universe," and other related quips that would be attempts to stop the argument or to get that all important sound bite in. Finally, Bohr, apparently getting a little annoyed with such things replied,

"Albert, stop telling God what to do!"

Gee, am I repeating myself here?

Brad
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10 posted 02-19-2001 10:30 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Brad,

I don't think it is a difficult concept to understand that one can and should choose to believe in God to explain the existence of absolute immaterial laws. You say men have constructed world-views which explain such things nicely. But explaining such design without a designer, and absolute immaterial laws (certainly discovered and not made by humankind- even if granted that they somehow arise out of human consciousness which is a shaky proprosal) without a lawgiver puts them at odds with sound reason. This is all of course assuming that things can actually be right or wrong, that there is a standard of logical reasoning (without which debates and legal hearings would both be meaningless and arbitrary).

That was my first statement. My second was that one can believe in God without ascribing divine attributes to every natural occurence. If you asked me why a leaf falls off of a tree. After determining the motive of your question (what you are really asking) I could answer your question. If your question is to aquire understanding of a natural physical process based on natural laws, then I could easily explain the falling of the leaf in those terms with no need at this point to speak of ultimate origins. My answer satisfies you regarding the natural realm and it satisfies me. If your questions were in a more metaphysical or philosophical direction, such as "why does a tree exist? Or why do the laws which cause a leaf to fall exist?" then a merely natural explanation will not suffice, and the divine cause would be brought in to the conversation.

A human can create conditions which act somewhat independent of himself, in art or in other areas. God has done the same with the laws of nature. They are on autopilot (to use an analogy), though the plane itself cannot be thought of as independent of a living pilot (remote or not).

So being a believer in God and acknowledging that there is a Creator of the universe is not the same as animism. I don't know any other way to explain this. The difference would be like that between a person who notes a painting and says "Picasso painted that", and a person who says "Picasso himself lives molecularly in the paint". The one you would call sensible (if it is Picasso), the other you would call possibly psychotic.



[This message has been edited by Stephanos (edited 02-19-2001).]
Stephanos
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11 posted 02-19-2001 10:55 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Brad,

One other thing...

To quote you,

"In the earlier post you said that an atheist cannot argue that Hitler was wrong (a strange way of phrasing it by the way but I don't want to go there). Why not? An atheist can apply the exact same principles that you have without having to argue a moral absolute somewhere out there. "


I just wanted to clarify what I meant about an atheist not being able to say that Hitler was wrong or immoral. Atheists DO say such things. What I mean to express is that their world view of a materialistic cosmos is not consistent with such statements. At a heart level, they, like everyone, believe in right and wrong, good and bad. Yet this is a betrayal of what they assert in their athiesm... especially the part about morality merely being a social consensus, or conventional in nature rather than law-like or absolute in nature. Are we putting people to death in criminal justice systems for societal conventions? or for wrongs which are wrong absolutely?

Is rape wrong absolutely or has a social consensus over time made it a taboo? If it happened to your mother or sister your heart would tell you what you really believed (atheist or not).

In a sense atheists are borrowing moral absolutes from a world view which is not their own. Or maybe their own is not so purely atheist when the masks are removed.
Brad
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12 posted 02-21-2001 07:21 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

No doubt you have the more difficult position here. I have a world of different cultures and different histories to choose as counter-examples and your point can only be argued through "absolute" logic. Still, your argument hinges on absolute laws in the universe (your axiom). I guess you're saying that if there were no absolute laws, we wouldn't exist even if we've got them all wrong. From this, you argue that a prime mover is necessary (where did these laws come from?) but I've tried to show that these absolute laws can be in place without a prime mover (always already in place). If you ask a 500BC Chinese person, where these principles come from, you would probably get a blank stare in the same way that someone who believes in God will give a blank stare if asked, "Where does God come from?"

Now, if I've understood you correctly, you point out that the Chinese are using false reasoning to believe what they believe at the 'heart' level but you do this through analogy. I use analogy too of course but simply to point out that if the Chinese can be wrong then so can you or I. That's the whole point I'm trying to make here. Now, if you have an argument that is logically foolproof that is not an analogy, I'm listening but you haven't made it yet. Honestly, I don't know how such an argument can be made. This doesn't disprove your beliefs because I'm stuck in the same boat.

Furthermore, you don't seem to question the existence of natural laws in the first place. I consider the knowledge we have now to be humanly constructed and thus contain the possibility of error. That is, there is no way to determine that what we know is objectively true for any and all conditions through time, and that's the point of having absolute laws in the first place, isn't it?

The usual response to this idea is something like, "Well, if you don't believe in the law of gravity, jump from a ten storey building and see what happens," usually accompanied by a snort or a chortle. But that doesn't prove an absolute law, does it? It proves that our current theories align pragmatically with what happens in everyday life (and most people knew what would happen if they jumped off a ten storey building before the law of gravity was figured out).

But let's continue with gravity for a moment. I remember a thread here (I think it was Pete) who pointed out that his physics professor would always look up when a piece of chalk broke off when writing on the blackboard. When asked about this, he replied, "According to quantum physics, there is a small but real possibility, that the chalk will fall up instead of down. If that happens, I don't want to miss it."

The law of gravity is now considered to be probablistic, not deterministic. Is the professor wrong? Maybe. Are you wrong? Maybe. Am I wrong? Maybe.

You argue that without absolute right and wrong, rights and wrongs can not be determined but in order to prove this, you have to begin with those rights and wrongs and extrapolate an absolute right and wrong. That's the reverse of what you are trying to say, isn't it? In a sense, you are arguing that because we do this, there must be this but you are claiming that there is this and that is why we do this.

How do you know?

You can know this by some transcendental means, sattori, hearing God's word, a burning bush or whatever and I'm not claiming you don't have that ability (who am I to say?) but I don't and I don't see how you can prove the necessity of God without it.

Later, you argue that at the 'heart' level, we all know that murder and rape are wrong and because we know/feel this, it is evidence that you're right. But it's not evidence if you don't accept or trust or believe that what we actually feel is an eternal absolute, it just means that we believe in the same thing for a certain amount of time. It just means that we have been brought up in the same or similar cultures and are taught to believe this at a basic level. An atheist can believe in the same thing. True, he or she can't claim an absolute right or wrong determined by some law giver but to deny the ability to distinguish right or wrong is to deny an atheist the ability to make decisions at all. It does nothing to argue that atheists have been influenced by Christianity (in the West, how could this not be so?) and aren't being true to that influence (deep down inside everybody's really a Christian argument) because we are influenced by any of a number of different factors in our life. You are arguing that unless someone believes what you believe they can't make decisions or if they do they are lying to themselves.

That's not a logical argument, that's an assertion and it's an assertion I can't abide by. Of course, you can argue that what I'm saying is reading too much into what you have said but you are the one arguing absolutes, I'm not. I'm allowing you to believe what you believe, you aren't allowing others to believe what they believe.

As far as Picasso goes, change that phrase from 'lives molecularly in the paint' to 'Picasso's essence lives in the painting' and people do indeed say just that.

Brad


[This message has been edited by Brad (edited 02-21-2001).]
Jamie
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13 posted 02-22-2001 03:16 PM       View Profile for Jamie   Email Jamie   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Jamie's Home Page   View IP for Jamie

Despite the many facets of religion they all basically grew and evolved from the same seed. Man is comforted by some kind of immortality and invented religion to provide this comfort. Imagine how evil the world would be without the premise of reward/punishment in an afterlife. Mankind simply could not face the fact that you are born, live a lifetime that is finite and then simply die. Of course, that is just my current opinion.

Jamie

Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito. - Virgil.
"Yield thou not to adversity, but press on the more bravely".

Stephanos
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14 posted 02-22-2001 07:06 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Brad,

You seem to suggest that the presence of different cultures and histories (especially those which hold naturalistic philosophies - for eastern religious thought is admittedly naturalistic, meaning they see reality as one whole entity with nothing “outside” which is “super”natural, though their view of nature is expressed in more “spiritual” terms than naked naturalisms like strict atheism) are counter examples to my assertion that a Supernatural cause is needed to explain the existence of fixed “laws” in nature. I would rather suggest that the only way for these cultures to be true counter examples is for them to have rejected the bulk of use and recognition of such “laws” in practice as well as in philosophy. I know of no culture which has succeeded to disregard the recognition of natural law, logical law, or moral law. If any cultures have rejected standards of logical reasoning for example, they have done so for the most part in the realm of philosophy and in their formation of metaphysical explanations. Their philosophers and religionists have often successfully left logic out of the picture. I grant you that one. And these conceptions have been passed along to the populace through the schools of tradition. But when you look at the everyday practical lives of any culture, and I do emphasize “any”, you will always see a tendency to recognize laws of logic... (they govern our thoughts from the moment we wake up each morning until we sleep). I am quite sure that thoughts similar to the following pervade every culture, though the languages are different... “I am hungry. Food is in the pantry. Because the food is where it is, and I am where I am, I cannot now eat. In order to be able to eat, I must walk to the pantry.” Does this sound ridiculous? Yes. Because we adhere to such laws in such an intimate way that we don’t even think about them, as when looking through glasses, most people aren’t conscious of their glasses.

You quoted-- “Now if I’ve understood you correctly, you point out that the Chinese are using false reasoning to believe what they believe at the ‘heart’ level but you do this through analogy. I use analogy too of course but simply to point out that if the Chinese can be wrong then so can you or I.” Perhaps what I am really trying to convey is that what any culture believes at a heart level is manifest in what it practices in day to day activity. We all recognize unalterable law and “axioms” in life. Such as the statement, “If object A is equal to object B in size, and object B is equal to objects C,D and E, then object A is equal to objects C,D, and E.” These are so self evident that we have established them as axioms and absolute. Science itself would be in shambles were these to change. In fact the word equal meaning what it does, it would be impossible and illogical for the above axiom to not be true.

We live our lives in a thicket of accepted axioms... which are not societally formed (though society has learned them and recognized them), nor merely accepted through repeated observation. C.S. Lewis stated, “...where the inference depends on an axiom- we do not appeal to past experience at all. My belief that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another is not based on the fact that I have never caught them behaving otherwise. I see that it ‘must’ be so.”

Now the naturalist and the supernaturalist both acknowledge axioms and laws but have different explanations of them. To the naturalist, it is an evolutionary process of a totally interlocking system where one event causes another to occur (cause and effect). So to them, our morals, our logic, or anything that seems fixed arose out of the mindless impersonal process of “nature” through time. That may supply an answer well enough to the question “Why do we think the way we do?”. But it can never answer the question of a different kind, “why should we think we are justified in thinking so.” If everything arose out of a mindless mechanistic nature, then everything turns out to be preferential in nature with nothing more true than any other thing.

Certainly one can accept the above way of thinking and undermine the possibility of knowing anything for certain, but in so doing he issues a death -blow to his own argument or position (which states in the guise of a known premise that all is unknowable) since what he asserts falls into the same category as something which cannot be known for certain. If I were to accept him at his claim, I would have no reason to believe it to be true! You mentioned at the start of your post that I had the more difficult position. Yet I have never seen a more difficult postion that one I have here described. In fact that sort of fatalistic mindset reduces every point of debate from the supreme court down, to something as trivial as preferring coffee straight black or with cream. My point is that people may accept such absurd beliefs in order to escape the uncomfortable notion of an all powerful and all knowing God, but I am glad that they do not and cannot live their actual day to day lives in that manner. The inconsistency is obvious.

As to questioning the existence of natural laws. No I do not for one moment question the existence of natural laws. Metaphysicians may question these, but I doubt there are many practicing scientists who don’t accept them as axioms. Quantum physics do not disprove the existence of laws in nature. It only recognizes our inability to perceive order in the motions of sub-atomic units. I am no expert in quantum physics, but I have never heard anyone assert that it undermines gravity as a natural law. And is the the belief in gravity as law really based on what pragmatically happens in everyday life? Is it not based on the understanding of mass in objects and their resultant attraction of other objects? When this realization was understood, the pragmatic examples of what happens in the world simply confirmed the axiom. “But,” some might say, “other theories have proved Newton’s theory of gravitation incorrect.” This is not so. Einstein’s theories only described gravity in a different way, stating that objects do not attract each other by asserting a pull, but that space is curved near matter so that objects take the path of least resistance. Far from disproving laws of nature, new theories have tended only to confirm them (even if correcting them).

Saying that all beliefs (including the ones we are debating here) are likened to being “stuck in the same boat” is yet another reflection of the idea that human knowledge is incapable of being a true insight into reality. It has been said that “A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid, would be utterly out of court. For that theory would itself have been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be itself demolished. It would have destroyed its own credentials. It would be an argument which proved that no argument was sound- a proof that there are no such things as proofs- which is nonsense.”

You said in your last post ... “You are arguing that unless someone believes what you believe they can’t make decisions or if they do they are lying to themselves. That’s not a logical argument, that’s an assertion and it’s an assertion I can’t abide by. Of course you can argue that what I’m saying is reading too much into what you have said but you are the one arguing absolutes, I’m not. I’m allowing you to believe what you believe, you aren’t allowing others to believe what they believe.” Not to poke fun in any way, but what you have said contradicts itself at many turns. First of all you say that you are allowing me (and others who believe like me I’m assuming) to believe what I believe. Yet you also say in close proximity, “That’s not a logical argument”. Is this your example of “allowing” me to believe what I believe? Correct me if I’m mistaken, but I believe you are saying that I am wrong in my assertions. I do not blame you for this. It is admirable to stand up for something if you believe that you are right (and moreso if your views turn out to be true). I just want to show that far from really thinking that our views are “in the same boat”, when you say that my arguments are not logical, you are saying that my views are in a lesser boat than yours (which you feel are more conformed to reason). You also say that I am arguing absolutes, but you are not. I want to clarify this. I am arguing for absolutes, while using absolutes (standards of logic). While you are right that you are not arguing “for” absolutes, you still are using absolutes to argue from, (hence your own reference to logic). Do you see the contradiction here?

So after reflection, I think what should first be asked is not God vs. atheism (not yet), or transcendent vs. mundane, but supernaturalism vs. naturalism. For a naturalistic universe leaves no room for absolutes, just societal happenings. I will address the morality aspect more fully later because this subject as well as the others we have been discussing could fill volumes.

respectfully,

Stephen.



[This message has been edited by Stephanos (edited 02-22-2001).]
Stephanos
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15 posted 02-22-2001 11:22 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Prometheus,

Yes humankind does have a need for comfort and solace in the prospect of immortality. The question remains however, is this comfort merely "invented" by men in the same way mythologies were invented by men, or is it a real and valid comfort?

If it turns out to be only stories and fictional accounts then Marx was right who despised religion and called it an "opiate of the masses". I have gathered from everyday life that false hope is always a more irksome experience in the end than no hope at all. I am a realist in a way and am not for mistaking fairytales for dogmas, world views, and especially eternal hopes.

I am convinced that out of the "facets" of religion, there is one which did not come from the same setting. Let there be one out of all of the contradicting doctrines of mankind which is a true revelation whose roots are in a divine reality, and I will be happy with that. If they are all from man, I may see some of their practices as useful, but I will never feel fond of their claims which only decieve and dissappoint. I'd rather be an atheist if it were the truest thing to believe.

But just consider what you said... " Imagine how evil the world would be without the premise of reward/punishment in an afterlife. Mankind simply could not face the fact that you are born, live a lifetime that is finite and then simply die. " How can there even be any evil or good if there is no absolute standard beyond nature to determine or judge what is evil or good? If you say that standards of evil and good are merely what societies have self determined corporately through time, this is naturalism. Remember naturalism states that nothing exists outside the "whole show". So anything at all had to arise from inside the one mindless, impersonal interlocking event called nature. If this is true, ideas of death being evil are simply part of that event, as well as ideas of death being desirable. How could one really be truer than the other? They become matters of corporate opionion not truth. Pain, injustice, hatred, insanity, torture, child pornography could all replace the word death in the above scenario and the same would be true. Any ideas at all of what is good or evil are necessarily (by constraint of a naturalistic explanation of things) reduced to preferences or opinions.

But I think you were right when you said that it would be evil to live life without the prospects of an afterlife or immortality. So if I believe that it is evil, I believe that there is a divine mind who gives the standards to judge evil and good. And if comfortless death without escape is evil, then there must be an alternative which is good.

I am a Christian because I believe that this "good" alternative is found in the death and ressurection of Jesus Christ and his promise of eternal life. But I'd throw it all away if it were a just a "man" thing. No god of man's invention is really worthy of worshipping. All those man-made gods are really in the same predicament as us, how could they ever help us out?

Just something to think about.

Stephen.

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (edited 02-22-2001).]
Brad
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16 posted 02-24-2001 08:30 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Stephen,
None of what I've argued is contradictory as long I've written it correctly (always a
possibility that I made a mistake but I don't see it yet -- feel free to keep looking ).
None of what you've argued gets us any closer to God, the transcendental, or the
supernatural as necessary to understand the universe as I see it. Again, you're taking
common sensical propositions (from your point of view) out of cultural contexts and
positing them as absolutes -- as long as people speak the same language is the most
incredible leap (and, yes, it's made all the time -- Paul DeMan argued that it was the
temptation of permanence, not the need for it that creates this problem) but how can
you argue a contextless absolute unless two people speak the same language and live
in, to some extent, the same socio-historical culture? I'm not arguing against
generalizations but both propositions offered are not transcendental, common sensical
examples because they imply a context, they have to be in a context. Not describing a
full context doesn't free you from it. If you're hungry in the Chinese emperor's palace
and you know food is in the kitchen, it does not logically follow that a human will
come to the conclusion that he or she should go to the kitchen and consume (the idea
of stealing food is too unthinkable to be, well, thinkable). It may of course but it is not
a certainty. In the same sense that you walk by a corner bank and don't conclude that
since you need money, you should walk in it and take it (it may cross your mind of
course). It is this very point of doubt that I keep trying to express here. As long as
there are other options available, it is not clear from a human point of view that it is
an absolute or obvious to everyone.

A person can be hungry or not hungry, can know or not know where the food is, can
know what a pantry is or not but all of these are contingent, not absolute, statements.
You can keep going down the line, you know. Does a fetus who has just been born and
then dies feel hunger? Does a dead person need food? Some cultures say yes. Is a dead
person a person? Some cultures say yes.

In your other example, you point out that if A is the same size as B and B is the
same [size] as C, D, and E then A's size is equal to C, D, and E. Again, we have a
context specific example that doesn't transcend temporal situation, problems of depth
perception, of optical illusions, of measurement. It could just as easily be argued that
they do not equal each other at a particular level of measurement or a particular point
of view or at a different time. [Quick note: Prometheus has already heard this argument
and that's why he has recently begun to qualify his statements with "Of course, this is
only my opinion at the present time". I smile everytime I read that and I hope he's
smiling too ]. As you can see, I disagree with the esteemed C.S. Lewis on just the
point he's making, it is an historical (contextual) argument he's making.

But since you quoted Lewis, I'll quote Fish:
" . . .not only is there no one who could spot a transcendent truth if it happened to
pass through the neighborhood, but it is difficult even to say what one would be like.
Of course, we would know what it would not be like; it would not speak to any
particular condition, or be identified with any historical production, or be formulated in
the terms of any national, ethnic, racial, economic, or class traditions. In short, it would
not be clothed in any of the guises that would render it available to the darkened
glasses of mortal -- that is, temporally limited -- man. It is difficult not to conclude
either (a) there are no such truths, or (and this is my preferred alternative) (b) that
while there are such truths, they could only be known from a god's-eye view. Since
none of occupies that view (because none of us is a god), the truths any of us find
compelling will all be partial, which is to say they will be political."

I would probably change that 'while' in (b) to an 'if' but I'm pretty much arguing the
same thing here.

But that doesn't mean much, if it means anything at all, because I'm simply arguing
that all statements unless spiritually (supernaturally?) inspired are "in the same boat"
and if something explains everything, it doesn't explain anything. I like to think that it
leaves individuals just slightly more open than others who whip out aphoristic sayings,
cliches, or screams of that's the way it is but there's certainly no logical reason for
this to be so -- understanding this point isn't going to change people's minds on much
-- and it doesn't change the basic dilemma that we believe what we believe on an
everyday level, that we make decisions without much retrospection all the time, and if
something is too far out, we tend not to listen at all. Our difference here is two-fold.
On the one hand, you seem to think that everyday life in India or Cultural Revolution
China or Tokugawa Japan is, at least in essence, the same as everyday life in America
today, that they do the same things for the same reasons. I just don't believe that to
be true except perhaps that any reproducible society will have a culturally
(socio-historical) specific way to reproduce that society (food, water, sex, etc.). I do
believe we are one species and have some similarities, I'm not sure reason and logic
are shared in the same way you think. But you never know, this might change.

Furthermore, I don't think individuals are all that consistent -- I think they contradict
themselves all the time dependent on the social context in which they are working, in
the way that words are used, and what particular age they may be in (to name a few)
-- I think they do this consciously and unconsciously all the time. I don't believe in
the unified or essential individual, I believe in change (but not absolute change).

Let's see what else? Arguing that nothing is certain isn't a death blow to any
argument because it implies that the 'nothing is certain' is also uncertain. I think I've
made that clear. It just means I don't know for sure but here's what I think now (and
I reserve the right to change my mind). Perhaps not a particularly powerful rhetorical
maneuver but one that works for me. Do you know what's going to happen tomorrow?
I don't. I try to make a guess and live my life according to what I want short term
and long term. Only if you are worried about the FINAL ANSWER and want to pack
up shop and go home (ie stop thinking) does this become a problem because this is
what people do in their everyday lives. I think.

I don't understand your arguments regarding theory. If a theory explains the situation
in a different way and it accords better with the evidence (and the majority of
scientists recognize this) then it supplants a theory. Newton's mathematics are still
quite useful but the world view has changed and changed a lot. Newton's view is
deterministic and quantum physics is probabilistic. You may think this is only a
temporary problem that will be solved later and that's possible but that's the current
way things are going (is there anyone here who knows of a quantum explanation that
doesn't employ probabilities?). Admittedly, on a pragmatic level, there is no reason to
dispense with what you call Natural Law. They work well most of the time.

Your statement:

"Saying that all beliefs (including the ones we are debating here) are likened to being
“stuck in the same boat” is yet another reflection of the idea that human knowledge
is incapable of being a true insight into reality. It has been said that “A theory which
explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe
that our thinking was valid, would be utterly out of court. For that theory would itself
have been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course,
be itself demolished. It would have destroyed its own credentials. It would be an
argument which proved that no argument was sound- a proof that there are no such
things as proofs- which is nonsense.”

I don't know how arguing that human beings don't have a god-like view in anyway
disputes the above statement. It just means we can't know for sure (in the same way
we can't know the future). Who said human beings can't think? Don't confuse
epistemological certainty with an ontological system that pragmatically works.

As far as the rest of my "contradictions" go, I was trying to point out that your
assertions are not logically reasoned arguments following a reasonable proposition
(axiom). Not saying you can't do it, not saying you can't make assertions if you want,
just saying that I think it's a mistake to confuse the two. That's why I started this
thread in the first place -- not that you believe in God, but that you believed that
common sense and logic were commensurable and therefore universal. Did I
misunderstand you?

One last thing, please explain the difference between supernatural/natural and
transcendental/mundane -- I'm not sure what distinctions you want to make here.

Thanks,
Brad

jbouder
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17 posted 02-28-2001 01:57 PM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

Brad:

You mentioned something in an earlier thread that completely went past me at the time(I’ll blame my philosophical rustiness on kids … just wait … you’ll see what I mean). I can’t find where you wrote it and I am not even certain I have the context right, but I think you wrote something along the lines that belief in the transcendent doesn’t really matter. Your choice of wording might have contributed to my not spotting it before, but it seems that you are of the opinion that the truth or falsehood of one particular religious tradition or another is not at issue. The issue is whether such belief has meaning and you seem to be of the opinion it does not.

Scientific and historical proofs are limited in what they can actually prove to us. A scientist can observe the migratory patterns of quail from North Africa, across the Red Sea, and into the Sinai, then observe desert nomads walk amongst the exhausted flock, picking birds off the ground and then the scientist can postulate that this event may have been the same type of event that took place during the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt, but the scientist cannot ascribe meaning to his observations without help. A historian may be able demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead as the New Testament describes, but the historian cannot ascribe meaning to that event.

Ascribing meaning is not something contingent creatures do well. From a humanistic perspective, religious belief would not matter, regardless of the amount of scientific and historical evidence available to validate any one group’s particular religious system. Perhaps it takes a necessary being to ascribe meaning to an event that took place in a contingent universe. Proving Christ’s resurrection using legal-historical reasoning only takes you so far. But what the validity of a historical event such as the resurrection does for us is gives us an additional reason to look at what was said before the resurrection took place. What did Jesus Christ say about his own resurrection? Did he ascribe meaning to it? Did he assert that his resurrection would be meaningful to all people? Does a miraculous event that took place in time and space during Christ's earthly life lend credibility to abstract concepts such as faith, sin, salvation, and the afterlife that he spoke of at length during his time here?

The result is not a milk-and-water spiritualism that is so common in the modern world and there is no Barthian “leap of faith” required to embrace the meaning of certain objective historical events that are central to confessional Christianity. Ascribing “meaning” to an event may require the revelatory action of a necessary being, but if that necessary being speaks in space and time in words that can be readily understood by you an me, and provides us with evidence that he has the authority to do so by way of miraculous events in the physical universe, then I am happy and willing to appropriate that conveyance into my life and allow it to shape my world-view. Until someone can provide me with a more convincing argument to the contrary, I am with Martin Luther in saying, “My conscience is captured by the Word of God. I will not recant.”

Jim
Brad
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18 posted 02-28-2001 07:14 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

I always thought it was Kierkegaard who argued the 'leap of faith'.

I had planned to explain that rather hidden sentence (although Stephen caught it and now you remember it) but got caught up in other issues. These things happen.

It's not as bad as you may think, or it's worse than anything you've imagined, take your pick.

It follows from much of what you've said. Historical/legal reasoning; the scientific method; and other forms of logic do not/can not dictate meaning or significance to an individual, but the individual in any context assigns significance/meaning to any event (even insignificance is a type of significance). They have to do this in order to make choices and you always have to make choices. If one assumes that the lack of any evidence for the transcendental means there is no transcendental, it follows that meaning and significance are assigned by the human being and human beings, not by something outside the human being and human beings.

In everyday practice, then, it matters little what transcendental belief system you adhere to, it's what you do that matters. It's what choices you make that matter. At first glance, this makes little sense, what about Jim Jones, or the Heaven's Gate group, what about the Saiin gas incident in Japan? But, it was precisely the actions that appall us, not their spiritual beliefs. If I understand things correctly, the Raelian movement also believe in a kind of extra-terrestrial beginning (like Heaven's Gate)but there is no reason to believe that they will also do a mass suicide. Quite the contrary, they think they're going to live forever.

I'm certainly not arguing that we shouldn't listen to what people say or read what people write (ever read Mein Kampf?) but they are indicators not guarantees as to what people actually do and are, of course, actions in and of themselves. The difference then lies in action, not in belief, because what we believe is not detectable to others. I remember working with a Korean for a short time who would constantly say things like, "You can trust me, I'm Catholic," but anyone who knows the history of Catholicism and of Catholics knows that this is not always the case. It doesn't, by definition, mean he was an evil man or a trickster; it simply means that the label Catholic means very little in the real world. The practice of Catholicism can be very important but simply declaring a spiritual belief doesn't mean much.

Simply put, I can never know for sure what you truly believe so in making decisions, I will look at your actions, not your beliefs.

Brad
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19 posted 02-28-2001 08:03 PM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

Brad:

Have you been reading Martin Luther's Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Romans? Without going into too much detail, Luther explained the apparent inconsistency between Paul's argument that we are saved by grace alone and not by our works, and James' position that faith without works is dead. Luther asserted that there is no contradiction. The first several chapters of Romans is a treatise on salvation and focuses on man's inability to save ourselves by our own doing. Righteousness is imputed, not attained. James' letter tells us what is the evidence of faith ... when he wrote "faith without works is dead", he was saying that true faith is evidenced by the presence of good works. You seem to be thinking along much the same lines as Luther was thinking ... you really need to go back a little farther than Hegel.

Practically speaking, I think you are right. A person is most easily judged by his actions. Actions give us a picture of more abstract attributes such as honesty, integrity, and goodness. But by focusing on the practical, and saying "I only care about what is done", I don't think you are using the good ol' Socratic Method. When someone acts selflessly, putting the interests of others ahead of his or her own interest, my next question is "Why?". The answer may lead you down any number of paths. Perhaps the person is a devout Buddhist or Jew. Perhaps a Christian. What the person does is important. To me, why he does it is just as important. And once you begin to uncover the why ... well ... the questions don't seem to ever stop coming to mind. That's what makes it so much fun.

Jim

P.S. I know about the "Father of Existentialism" and the origin of the "leap of faith". But Karl Barth's writings on the subject had a greater influence on modernist Christianity.
Brad
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20 posted 02-28-2001 09:20 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Jim,
I don't see any contradiction either. One is a contract with God and one is a contract with other people -- to separate the two is pointless if one accepts the contract with God. Where I disagree is that one must prioritize the contract with God over the contract with other people. In everyday, social life, such a prioritization becomes nothing more than a rhetorical trick.

You say that we should ask "Why?" I suggest that we ask "Why shouldn't I?". Thoughts and beliefs are determined by the actions we do and the actions of those around us; it is my proposition that faith comes from acts because it is an act itself -- it is not an idea but a way of thinking and doing at the same time. If one concentrates on action, faith may come as a kind of Buddhist satori. If faith comes first as idea, it is on shaky ground. If faith comes through action, it can be subject to continual renewal.

I want to be clear here, faith results, not in the outcome of any action, but in the action itself -- it is a process, a journey, an acting if you will. It becomes a part of what I sometimes think we mistakenly call identity.

Not the other way around.

Brad

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21 posted 03-05-2001 12:06 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Brad,

My point about "logical" processes, is not that they yield the exact same results in every situation or culture, but that they are at work in every culture and have very consistent characteristics. The same logic which says to a man in Los Angeles, "since you are not in the kitchen now, you will have to go there before you can open the pantry and eat" says to a man in the Chinese Emperor's palace, "Since It would be foolish for you to go into the emperor's kitchen and steal his food at the risk of your life, you will have to find another means of acquiring food unless you want to die." And yes I know that logical thought doesn't speak to us as if it were separate from us as in my example, but in many ways it is often objective since it is a type of thinking which often corrects our thinking. Of course you could hack my example up with all kinds of reasons why the above statements are totally contingent on the surroundings, and culture. But I am not defending across the board the consistency of all courses of action which logic (or lack of it) might lead to in different circumstances. I am defending that logic itself is operative across the board in all circumstances and cultures. You demand a context bigger than a national or racial culture. But you forget that humanity itself is a context and a culture. It is our very generation which coined the phrase “the global village”. Admittedly we are very different from each other. But more admittedly we share many basic traits, similarities, and common ground in the mental, psychological, and spiritual realms. We are more the same than different.

In my former examples, I only excluded a "full context" as you said, since it would take pages to include it. But my attempt is not to be free from incriminating context. I 'm just sure there is a larger context, just as when a zoologist studies whales, he recognizes common traits and truths that transcend all the particular species of whales, so it is viable to study the genus as one class. Yes species have differences, but they have more common traits than differences, which is why they are all called whales. So you are preferring the view of segmented global cultures where the points of reference inside any culture are all uncommon and alien to the others. I recognize differences in cultures also. But while my view of differing cultures might be compared to a house with many rooms, where the doors though sometimes closed are not barred, and the tenants share a common hallway and more importantly the same basic foundation, yours sounds more like separate houses altogether which have always been locked to the neighbors. There is a global context. We all have a common history, and a common biology. Your demand of a particular cultural context for every proposal of shared "laws" is not a fair demand. But if you continue to ask for one, planet earth is a culture in and of itself. You may have overlooked that. That's why there is human psychology, not just American psychology, Chinese psychology, Jewish Psychology, Eastern psychology, Western Psychology, etc...etc... (I don't deny that these geographical historical cultures produce different psyches, but they don't do such a complete job as to render each culture other than human, excluding themselves by complete metamorphosis from the general umbrella of commonalities in human psychology).

As to my example of the axiom:

If A is the same size as B, and B is the same size as C,D, and E, then A is also equal to C,D, and E in size.

This is not at all a context specific statement. At least not according to the examples you give... problems of depth perception... Is this eyesight you are referring to? If so this has no bearing on measurement of size, if you are truly measuring and not estimating. Optical illusions... again this holds no weight in the arena of measurement since we are not going by appearance in measuring size, but by actual measurements which often prove appearance wrong. Optical illusions of the spatial kind prove to be illusions by measuring. Problems of measurement? ... there could be. But you are saying there is (a specific exceptional example), while my axiom assumes that there were not problems of measurement...hence the phrase "the same size". My axiom is stating that these objects have been measured, and there were no notable problems with the measurements (for example, when measuring 1 inch by 1 inch cubes there is rarely ...I would say almost never...a problem with measurement, though there might be with an eighty side polyhedron that was submerged 3 miles below the surface of the ocean, but this would be exceptional rather than the rule). Besides, any problems with measurement are exactly that, problems with measurement (ie, our abilities to determine what size something is). My above axiom is not even dependent on our ability to measure since it presupposes correct measurement. Even if we could never measure very well (which we can), my axiom states that things can be the same size even if we are unable to determine so because of crude instrumentation. Logic demands that this is true. Surely you must admit that two grains of sand in theory could in fact be the same size even if it cannot be minutely determined by our tools of measurements. But even if you balk to admit this by elevating human awareness as the determiner of truth. (or make truth contingent on human awareness), my axiom presupposes the possibility of correct measurements. Considering that we've built skyscrapers and sent men into orbit, it is not unreasonable to suppose that we can measure fairly accurately. And as to your statement of doubt concerning the time element, yes they could be argued to be different in measurement at a different time, but the axiom being taken at face value assumes we are speaking of a common moment in time. If I say that two trees in my backyard are the same height, surely you should understand that I don't mean next year, or even last month. There is such a thing as the unstated obvious.

You seemed to imply that anything "transcendent" or "absolute" is out of reach to us. This cannot be proven. And I am aware that the counter view can be denied by refusing to admit that there are absolutes. You see both of our views are philosophical, metaphysical in nature, and cannot be answered empirically. Though I think that laws of logic, natural laws, and moral law are good indicators of a transcendent creator of the universe, you are free to disagree with me especially since I cannot prove it in the same way I could prove that I have "brown hair". I could present empirical evidence here and show you that my hair is really brown, and not dyed that way. Your quote of Fish which stated that an ultimate truth would not be clothed in any “guises” which would make it attainable to mortals is a mere statement of philosophical presupposition. There is nothing that suggests to me that humans cannot know things that are ultimately true, though admittedly we cannot know them completely. You can understand that a tree grows without understanding the intricacies of botanical and chemical science. Biblically speaking we were made “in the image of God”. So who is to say that in many respects we are not indeed “gods” with a little “g”, able in some comparatively minor ways to perceive and know as God does. So I disagree with your sentiment that as mortal humans we are rendered eternally isolated from ultimate truth. This still falls under the category of agnostic thinking which says “yeah, an ultimate truth maybe...God, maybe...but we can never really know for sure”. That statement is only true if God who governs the laws of all things made it so (as to be unknowable). But if what Christians believe is right (not to mention other monotheistic religions also at this point) that God has revealed at least some knowable truth and has even commanded us to know it, it stands to reason that we were built in such a fashion that truth thankfully is within our grasp. So I really don’t think I’m confusing “thinking” with “god-like knowledge” in the way you mean (assuming that you think god-like knowledge is something so divine and immutable that we can never grasp it...something separated from us by the nature of our being and the nature of absolute truth). I just disagree with you on a philosophical point that either places all “god-like” knowledge beyond us or at least partially within our reach. We are designed to have some “god-like” knowledge. You are free to disagree.

You stated that “all statements unless spiritually or supernaturally inspired are in the same boat, and if something explains everything, it doesn’t explain anything”. I just wanted to make the point that the Christian claim is exactly that men made statements that were “supernaturally inspired”, and that the revelation of scripture was given to men by God. No, God didn’t reach down from some clouds with a pen and write it himself. But there were many different people from different cultures, both Jewish and Gentile, from many different socio-economic classes and schools of thought to whom God “happened” in a personal and historical sense and they wrote of their experiences. They weren’t just trying to write out philosophical platitudes and aphorisms for other generations to ponder and put on greeting cards. They found themselves (often by no choice of their own) encountered by a living God who did things... who was no mere nature-god or collective human spirit like pantheism entails. Now admittedly I haven’t exactly approached our discussion from that angle. Since your thread was philosophical in nature (imagine that in this forum! lol) I chose to come from that angle. But I could also tell you of personal experience of God in my life which is undeniable to me. It would be as futile for me to argue against God as it would for me to argue against the existence of my mother. After all I’ve met her. But subjective experience is often argued away by those who have already predecided not to believe because of philosophical/ metaphysical presuppositions. That’s why I’ve been reserved in going that direction, but it doesn’t mean I can’t. I was merely trying to show that there are very definite evidences in the natural realm for the existence of God. Of course these are not “proofs” in the sense of empirical proof because the whole question of God’s existence is of a metaphysical nature. However your view involves presuppositions as well as mine, so neither can be proven in a test-tube manner. I just believe that the evidence weighs greater on the side of Christian theism than for naturalism (including any of it’s forms including eastern religion) and this is what I’ve been trying to show.

The difference between supernaturalism/ naturalism and transcendental/ mundane I will try to explain. Naturalism is any belief system which portrays nature as the one great interlocking event besides which there is no other. Nothing exists “outside” of this natural scheme. The reasoning follows that anything that happens cannot be supernaturally explained or miraculous, because it is merely part of “nature”. Simplistically, miracles claim to break the “rules” in the scheme of nature. That’s why biblical miracles were said to be “of God” and not just some as of yet unexplained happening. But naturalism would say, “that’s no miracle. Since there is nothing beyond the boundaries of monistic “nature” , anything that might appear miraculous is really behaving according the character of the “whole show” and therefore not miraculous, though granted not explained. So supernaturalism is any belief system which grants that something exists quite “apart” from that grand inter-locking event called nature... or of it’s own accord. There are alot of religions and belief systems which are supernaturalistic but not explicitly Christian. But usually before anyone can really determine which of the many supernaturalist explanations are right, he or she must determine if supernaturalism is plausible. If one has a naturalistic world view, God or any supernatural powers are ruled out to him in his thinking. If one has a supernaturalist view, then God and or other supernatural powers and beings are possible in his thinking. when I said that a naturalism vs. supernaturalism debate is more suitable, I meant that this to me is a more primary consideration. Because mere mundane vs. transcendental views do not always part in such a radical way as do supernaturalist vs. naturalist views. One would think that a naturalist view would forbid any transcendental or “spiritual” thought but it doesn’t. It merely forbids any “supernatural” explanation. That’s why forms of naturalism can take on spiritual elements, but they are much nearer to their strictly materialistic cousins than to supernaturalism. In fact when you cut all the ribbons of “spirituality” away they pretty much seem to believe the same things. A Western minded man who was brought up in the tenants of respectable science and empiricism might view the cosmos as a mere conglomeration of molecules, atoms, protons, electrons, and on down through the stratum of smaller and smaller building blocks, with nothing more whatsoever to be found. At a quick glance a Hinduistic sage of India appears vastly different from the above mentioned man, but he also at the root of things in his mind believes that everything is one entity. According to both, there are no permanent dividing lines, and there is nothing within the whole mass which can claim to stand of it’s own accord...everything is dependent on the other parts, everything in time is dependent on what happened before, and everything that is has the characteristic of dependency. So you see how two greatly different mindsets can be more kindred that we think. But a supernaturalist view, especially the Christian view is radically different that either of these. The belief is that an eternal being, “God” has always existed of his own accord, not dependent on any other thing, not a part of an interlocking event called “nature”. In fact it is asserted in the Hebrew bible that he was the self existent one before nature ever was. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. So in a peculiar sense he has an individuality and uniqueness which is unlike any other created thing. Out of his opaqueness of being, and absolute existence he created other things, which we may call nature if we wish. But it is more like a man who paints a painting. He never IS the painting. The parts of the painting, such as the paint, the canvas, the frame are not parts of his being as if he were dependent on them. If they disappeared he would not. Though it is true that his heart and emotions and thoughts are exhibited in the painting and accessible to other minds in an indirect sense. It is this sense that I think you mean when you say that Picasso lives in his paintings, it is part of his essence (but a leaping assumption to say all of it). But this is what I mean by naturalism/ supernaturalism distinction. I think it is a more radical, more conclusive division than mundane vs. transcendental which can be essentially (though not particularly) the same.

Stephen.


[This message has been edited by Stephanos (edited 03-05-2001).]
Brad
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22 posted 03-06-2001 04:50 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

It was never my intent to question your personal beliefs, just the idea that it was naturally acquired. I don't deny that you have experienced what you have experienced, but I don't think that it's explainable unless the presuppositions of both parties (individuals) are the same. From your example, dogs have the same logical sense that humans do.

At what point do the generalities you wish to project become so general that they become useless in understanding what people do? I believe that the 'global village' is a myth, even a dangerous one, because of the assumptions involved. If you honestly believe there is some kind of natural moment, what do you argue when someone does not follow that natural belief; do you efface the difference, do you see someone as illogical, unreasonable or just not 'right' in the head? I'm not saying that you do this but I've seen a lot of people do this and I think it follows from a belief that one's own culturally conditioned common sense is the only common sense. Questions: Why do Americans wears shoes in the house? Why don't Americans care more about their families? Why do you count money like that? Why do Americans separate the body from the mind? Why did you make a mistake there? All of these are real questions that I've been asked and my initial reaction has always been, "Huh?" Yet, all of them are valid questions given different presuppositions. Reverse questions might be, "Why do the Chinese still use chopsticks?" "Why do Korean younger people turn away from their elders when drinking alcohol?" "Why would anyone believe in Godless communism?" and one I get from my dad, "Why do they hate us so?"

Another quick anecdote: I was having lunch with some Korean professors and a French woman. At the end of the meal many of the Korean professors and myself started smoking and the French woman asked for a cigarette, I gave her one, to the utter astonishment of some of the elder Korean professors, who guffawed and laughed and finally responded, "It's okay, okay, go ahead." The French woman and I looked at each other with a look that said "they just don't get it." The funny thing, of course, is that the Korean professors were doing the exact same thing.

Perhaps you see these examples as trivial and perhaps they are but it's these little episodes that, to me, show that nothing should ever be taken for granted.

Except in order to think anything, we have to take some things for granted, I'm simply arguing that they aren't objective, natural, or even common sensical in a general sense. If we concentrate on the similarities between peoples and individuals, how do we explain the above situations except as aberrant behaviour? If we concentrate on the differences between people, then we can begin to understand what those different presuppositions are. Here you have a point though, I don't believe we can understand each other 100% (I'll never feel that shock that the Korean professors felt) but I think we can do better than 0%, I think we can understand each other in a way that's not perfect but pragmatically useful.

Your presuppositions on measurement and objective knowledge make everything nice and neat, you've turned everything into a tautology. You presuppose the ability to measure accurately, objectively, and then proceed to do so. My presuppostion is not the reverse of this, not that we can't measure accurately, but that we can't know that that measurement is accurate except through it's success or failure in our perceived world. I'm arguing that we can't get outside those limited perceptions; it's all we have unless we presuppose exactly what you presuppose -- an outside, a God, a supernatural arena. I'm not arguing that you can't presuppose that arena, I'm arguing that you can't presuppose this and then offer concrete examples as proof of that presupposition. Your presupposition and your proposition are the same thing.

And how does that help us?

I can stick with the supernatural/natural distinction, that's fine. The mundane/transcendental one was more to have fun with the connotations of mundane than anything else. As far as Picasso goes, I'm still confused by what you mean by essence. Can the essence of something be further divided? Is there a part to an essence?

See ya round,
Brad
serenity blaze
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23 posted 04-12-2004 01:13 PM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze

*bumping this*

It's a whole lotta good reading and I want to be able to find it easier when I come back.

serenity blaze
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24 posted 10-08-2007 01:51 PM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze

grin...

bumping this AGAIN--

because...dare I type it? I still don't "get" it.
 
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