Monday, 31 May 2010


It seems to me that we cannot prove (or finally disprove) the existence of deity by reasoning from either pure logic or the natural world, while our mystical experience is unrealisable. Therefore we have no certain knowledge of any deity. At best we are left in a fog of agnosticism and uncertainty, while for many we should not believe in anything without adequate evidence, which dictum requires at least a practical atheism.

However the failure of reasoning and experience do not exhaust the truth claims of many religions. In particular there are a number of religions that claim to have been based on the deity's revelation to various people, in sundry times and divers manners. Christianity in particular insists that the deity has revealed itself and it is this 'revelation' that a person is called to believe in, not any reasoning or experience. The ultimate revelatory event for Christians is the person and life of Yeshua of Nazareth, called the Messiah or Christ. A belief or rejection of Christianity requires an assessment and decision about this revelation.

But how do we know a claimed revelation is 'true' and really from a 'deity' demonstrating that deity exists? On the face of it, we would have to reason about who is making the claim and their reliability and the general coherence and back story. But I am beginning to suspect that Christianity demands not a rational consideration and assent but that faith is a non rational, emotional or 'heart' response to the revelation. Either we are individually and emotionally driven to believe or not as the case might be. "Let those who have ears to hear"...indeed. I am therefore inclined to think that not everyone is able to believe by virtue of their mental disposition and that faith is a gift. But if this is so then we are not 'free' to choose to believe or not. There is plenty of biblical evidence that supports a theology that emphasises divine sovereignty - divine determinism, while this is contrary to most human notions of fairness and justice.

Spirit and Spirits

Almost every religion and spirituality, with some exceptions (e.g. Therevada Buddhism) requires a belief in spirit or spirits. A belief in spirit or spirits is in turn a belief in the existence of usually invisible minds that exist in a state that is separate or separable from brains and, usually, physical bodies. The individual spirit-minds may be named Gods, Angels, Demons, Devas, or Faery Folk or be embodied in natural objects e.g. trees or parts of the landscape.

It is easy to imagine how a belief in spirit and spirits came druing the development of human culture down the ages. Mankind, before the advent of modern science and technology did not understand the world and the forces of nature. Mankind now largely understands the unseen forces of energy, electro-magnetism, gravity, and biology that cause nature to work the way it does. Previously what science could not explain and did not have obvious physical form was understood as the result not of impersonal forces but willed events. Mankind's model was the human being who could effect the world, to some degree, at will. Some effects in nature were clearly beyond man's power e.g. a storm or plague to willl. But not beyond the power of beings greater than man, beings that came to be understood as 'gods'.

Yet a belief in spirits persists among religious believers, and those with animistic, ecclectic or esoteric spiritualities outside the main world religions. A belief in spirits is certainly fundamental to any belief in an afterlife that is part of most religious believes. Usually survival post mortem depends on a notion that each person has a 'spirit' that is not identified with their body, but instead usually identified with the person's mind. This spirit can exist in a disembodied state or at least can exist after the destruction of earthly body and brain. Allied to a belief that a spirit can be disembodied is the animistic notion that spirit or spirits can reside in all manner of creatures, objects, even parts of the landscape providing a form of consciousness without the structures normally associated with a brain.

But if spirit exists independently of physical bodies and brains, it is never explained what spirit 'is' . There are forms of matter and energy that are very strange, that are weakly interacting with the physical world and invisible. They have been shown to exist through research in physics and cosmology. However science has never demonstrated that such invisible (in the everyday sense) forms of matter or energy can create or constitute a mind. While believers would insist that as science is limited to detecting and measuring the physical world it is not surprising that the intruments of science cannot pick up on the existence of 'spirit'.

It is not of course beyond the bounds of possibility that minds could exist in forms other than exist in living creatures, in particular in humans. However most religions insist that the human mind is an example of spirit operating, but there is much scientific evidence that mind is dependent on a physical brain. Most modern scientists think the notion of spirit is a redundant hypothesis in that all natural and mental processes can be adequately explained and indeed much better explained in terms of their interaction with the environment without reference to spirit entities.

We must then explain why a belief in spirits persists when they offer no explanatory power and there is no accumulated, reliable physical evidence. The most likely reason is that we need a belief in spirit to indulge our desire for an afterlife. Admitting that spirit is impossible is admitting that we are limited to a physical and finite world.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

I'm not back into work until Wednesday, then off again Thursday, and next week, I'm on holiday. Hurray. So its a nice time to catch up.

So who will win the election? It is looking like - on the strength of those notoriously unreliable opinion polls - that the Conservatives are going to be the largest party but there will be a hung Parliament. If the latter occurs I can't imagine the Liberals and the Tories will find enough common ground to form a coalition government. I expect therefore a Lib-Lab coalition but Gordon will not be in it. Since he never personally had a popular mandate in the first place to be P.M. having simply succeeded Blair through the support of Labour MPs, not any public test, then to lose this election will I think be too much of a blow. I just hope that the economy doesn't get the skids - because the money markets 'take fright' while the politicians come to agreement after lots of uncertainty and bickering in smoke free back rooms (smokey back rooms having been banned of course). I imagine those discussions are already going on, mediated by the Civil Service.

Whoever gets in will have to deal with the massive debt our government has incurred, albeit it seems this debt was necessarily incurred to dig us out of a worse hole. If we have to tackle this debt, then I'm afraid I think we should 'soak the rich' before we cut any existing services to the public.
Yes, of course there is waste in the public sector - I've seen it myself in various public sector jobs, in advising public sector workers and moreover my wifey is a civil servant who appreciates that tax payer's money is not infrequently wasted by government and unnecessary layers of management and bureacracy. There is at least a lot of deadwood management and -the Elephant in the room - the government pension schemes that the country has long been unable to afford. The unions won't like it, so I expect a great deal of industrial unreast over the next year or so. Still, many people have done well over the boom years, and its time to make the pips squeak a bit. To my mind, anyone earning at least three times average wage should contribute a lot more in tax. All those on average earnings or above will have to pay some extra tax, perhaps an extra penny or two on income tax. But the tax should be on income not more indirect taxation for the latter is not progressive: it seems obvious to me that VAT disproportionately affects the poor.


On the 'Big Questions' debate programme on ITV1 this morning, the audience and invited worthies were discussing, amongst other things, whether animals have 'souls'. It was pointed out that many of the higher animals, particularly primates like Gorillas and Chimpanzees do appear to show emotions analagous to those of humans - such as a desire to care for others, and a sense of grief and mourning when a family member dies. The debate foundered on the very simple fact no one quite agreed what was meant by 'soul'. Does this mean self consciousness, mind or life principle? The Christians in the audience appeared to concede higher animals could have a sense of self, mind and naturally has a vitality, a life principle. The Christians did not want to accept that animals unlike humans have a 'divine spark' that allows for divine-human relationship or moral sense to choose between good and evil.
My take on this is 1) I don't know what soul 'means' or could mean if it something different to self consciousness, mind or life principle 2) there is clearly a continuum of mental state, with the boundaries between human sentience and animal sentience sometimes appearing quite blurred.
Indeed this is one more fact that rather supports a naturalistic rather than a religious view of reality. Christian theologicans in particular have great difficulty explaining apparent sentience, self hood and feeling for others - empathy or 'love' if you like - in animals if only humans are made in 'Gods Image'...also whatever that means.

I'd be willing to accept a religious schema there is a 'great chain of being' - a hierarchy of spiritual existence - and humans are closer to acheiving a higher or God consciousness than animals:
this makes sense to me. If evolution is given a spiritual teleology and seen as subtley guided, so creating an escalator that drives life to ever higher states of consciousness, upward from the primordial matter quickened by the divine energy, on a path of return to The One, then humans are further advanced, if they live up to their potential, than animals. The process would be a lot fairer on animals if there was inter-species reincarnation e.g. so a gorilla might hope to be re-born as a human so that its 'soul' can continue to develop further toward God. Of course the whole notion of resurrection and spiritually hierarchy is also twaddle to a naturalistically minded person. Okhams razor if applied would lead us to assume that humans and animals are equal in death yesL we all return to the dust of nature, never to live again.

It occurred to me that there is scope for a much more generous view inChristian theology, for doesn't biblical eschantology promise a new 'heaven and earth' is promised, and for all creation to be redeemed. Could this include Aunty Jess' beloved Cocker Spaniel, who might find himself playing ball with his resurrected owner with God in paradise? Perhaps even if animals were not included in a general resurrection then humans could choose to resurrect certain animals. Isn't all 'love' eternal and so wouldn't our eternal life be incomplete if we can't redeem all those relationships we most value? However it is these kinds of questions that start making the whole notion of 'heaven' either incoherent, greatly heretical or (if we deny animals, lets alone plants or nature any place in our eschantological feature) just plainly and horribly unappealing. But maybe...if Christians insist rabbits, fish, monkey and just anything else natural is shut out of heaven, then perhaps we can keep our pets in the other place.....

From Fundie Pastor Bob's handbook for raising a child in the way he should go...FAQ #234
When the children ask 'Wil our pet rabbit go to heaven?" what should a parent say?
Pastor Bob says " You should be honest and say 'No... Jesus has not redeemed and the rabbit will go.... to hell!"


..I like that