Friday, 14 January 2011

Gratuitous evil

There are evils in the world the overcoming of which can lead to good and self improvement - the struggles that make us brave, loving etc, when we are given a choice by a difficult situation and we do the 'right thing'. Thus there are evils which if they did not exist would reduce the 'good' available in the world.
Anti-theistic philosophers have pointed out there are many evils in the world that are not good for 'soul making' in terms of character or spiritual development. There are grievous evils suffered by those who cannot benefit from them: animals and young children and there are evils - degrees of severe loss and pain and distress that are 'soul destroying' and degrading for individuals, for families and societies, that may tear down and disintegrate with no possibility of resurrection or apparent redemption.
However I think that the anti-theists fail to consider other reasons why the existence of evil may be necessary a) to create creatures at all b) to create intelligent creatures. Firstly, creatures must necessarily be finite in space and time, and so limited. It is difficult to imagine how a finite, limited creature could not be prone to death or destruction particularly if every aspect of creation is in fact in a continual 'process' always existing in an unstable equilibrium between static order and distingegrating chaos. Evolution also requires environmentally caused death and an oversupply of victims to drive natural selection. Apparent free choice and real, sometimes painful consequences of making the wrong choice or incorrectly reasoning fashion our minds toward the correct kind of conduct, and appreciation of our environment, as well as striving to overcome a problem and adapt to a difficult environment drives most human progress.
It is difficult then to see how there can be creatures, and intelligent creatures, as well as truly virtuous creatures if we didn't live in a world where gratuitious evil was possible - a world that is truly free and 'real' not simply a plastic world deforming to our whims and where choices have no real consequences (because evil cannot result no matter what we will)
However I note that while my argument is a 'gain' for a 'soul making' theodicy, the theist is presented with a new problem: if evil is necessary for intelligence etc, how can 'God' be intelligent, good etc if God does not experience evil?

Process philosphy

The above article should be read - so letting me off actually explaining process thought to you.
My first encounter with process thought was with a Christian process theology as developed by Hartstone, and Cobb in particular. I remain rather unconvinced of the process monotheism - a belief in a supreme individual mind - developed by these writers. However having learnt more about Whitehead's original thought, this is sufficiently far removed from traditional theism.
We only need to consider the absolute when perhaps we are seeking still a necessary first cause or a final cause.Indeed, it seems process philosophy provides for a pan-en-deism, a rationally arrived at belief in an absolute which is yet involved in the world providing at least a teleological purpose of creativity and individualisation. If we accept that one pole of the divine absolute is 'outide' of space and time in the conventional way and the other pole of the divine is a process within space and time, we don't have to suggest that the divine no longer exists transcendentally as pandeists claim. Actually, I think it is not necessary for the divine to be considered 'exploded' or 'dissolved' in creation, for true absolute transcendence is 'beyond existence' and is not 'in' space or 'in' time at all - the absolute pole of the divine is not experienced and it might as well 'not be there' for persons in space time, accept it provides a logical and metaphysical grounding for the process.
I think we can 'secularise' or 'naturalise' process philosophy even further away from conventional theism - such that existence is a process that is not necessarily teleological (having no eschantolgoical end, for perhaps the 'end' of any actual entity is simply its own manifestation and optimisation in space and time.) And is a personal deity needed, in the final analysis? Apparently process philosophy can take a secular or naturalistic direction and I am interested in learning more about this.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

New Directions, New Interests

Everything must now be empirically or rationally demonstrated, but I retain the following interests:

a. naturalistic spirituality - the celebration of one's aesthetic response to the wonder of nature
b. The concepts of an 'absolute' or 'ground of being', and uncaused first cause are at least meaningful and perhaps even required by the Big Bang model of cosmology.
c. I am interested in knowing more about and working with mythological archetypes - the 'gods in everyman'
d. I am an eco-humanist. I consider any sentient life in the universe as very important, as such sentience is the cosmic consciousness, a material universe's awareness of itself. I greatly value our consciousness even if it is emergent for what was primordially unconscious or non-conscious
e. I have to find a way to deal with fear and give my life a meaning. Certainly trying to make life better and easier for others, and protecting the environment provide meaning.
f. I have to live 'in the now' and try to enjoy the 'isness of being' rather than relying upon some metaphysical pie in the sky consolation
g. I will continue to naturalistically study religion and similar supernatural truth claims, but from a moderately skeptical viewpoint. I certainly expect all supernatural experiences to be the result of mechanical causes or have psychological/sociological causes.
h. I am open to the notion of a God, a heaven and so forth, but see no convincing evidence, and so such claims must be unlikely in probablistic terms. It is for him who asserts to prove. I would like there to be a benevolent deity etc, but there remains no adequate explanation for how any benevolence could allow such evil to exist. My emotive need for a kind god is all but eclipsed by my emotive reaction to the suffering, particular 'innocent' suffering.

Empirical and Rational

I found myself lost in a metaphysical fog. I wanted desperately to believe in something, and at the heart of that desire for belief I found an urgent need for consolation for my fears and for someone to give me a part in some grand cosmic purpose. Each time I constructed a new theology, it soon collapsed. I had to keep the cosmology in my focus by an exhausting mental effort. It did not come naturally, I had to impose what I thought was the great pattern and meaning upon the world as its interpretation; Naturally these theologies ultimately failed to accommodate science or the evils of the world. I recently struck out with the idea that I should give some liberal Christianity another try. But I found i still had no mental resources to believe. I realised then that 'faith' is simply not questioning, and not looking for reasons, but simply accepting in a child like way, on the authority of someone else, a set of beliefs about the universe and life. However as adults we have a choice of authorities - of many different beliefs - so why do we choose one belief over another? This requires a reasoning process. If I accept things on faith, why do I believe in Jesus, but not in Zeus or the Sugar Plum fairy? How do I distinguish which 'authority' to believe in or even recognise it to be an authority? If we accept one authority over another we are reasoning. So reasoning is prior to faith after all.
Reasoning leads us to believe someone is authoritative and on the strength of that, we then believe their futher precepts. We probably do that with science - we don't do the scientific experiments ourselves to check them or peer review scientific abstracts. Thus in practice we accept much science 'on faith'. However we think the scientific method is authorative because we know it provides reliable data. What religious leader or holy book can be considered authorative, and if so, why is it authorative? I suspect that in my religious periods I have simply not traced my 'reasonings' backs to their foundations. My reasonings have all been based on untested assumptions. An assume dfact is used to support a reasoned argument, the conclusion of which is assumed in another case and situation, so I have built a self supporting 'plausibility structure' but I have never questioned the foundations.

Why would Jesus and the Bible be authorative? We know Jesus existed - at least it is very likely that Christianity is not an effect without a sufficient cause. Most movements have founders, and though the true founder might have been the Apostle Paul, it does seem apparent there were Christians before Paul got on the scence following his mystical vision. We have the mystery that Jesus clearly died, but his followers were convinced he had risen from the dead. This is indeed a conundrum up there with the Loch Ness Monster and Alien abduction - claims made in the last 30-40 years and believed by many (the period after Jesus' ministry when the gospels were first written i.e. none were exactly contemporary). Jesus does then seem an anomaly that provides some reason to think his ministry and life had some supernatural aspect. But is this mystery enough to hang upon it the whole edifice of Christian theology and all the stories in the bible? There is a tension, I agree, that while Christian theology and the bible is not coherent, nor does it make practical predictions or have great explanatory power, Jesus and the founding of Christianity remains unexplained. However we have no idea whether the New Testament is given a true account of Jesus' life. In particular the New Testament deals with just 3 years of Jesus' 30 odd years life. In other words it gives next to no useful information upon which to build up a character picture, any more than if people read a biography of just 3 years of my or your life.

I have resorted to removing from my thinking all ideas and concepts of a metaphysical nature that are not empirically or rationally demonstrated. Such an approach must lead to naturalism and non-theism. Faith is excluded for the reasons given above - faith simply means not questioning, which is absurd unless it is faith in authority that we have reason to believe is telling us the truth, and such reason must be empirically or rationally demonstrated. Some religious concepts are more purely rational than others: belief in an absolute ground of being, a first cause, a monism or deism are not demonstrated by reasoning - a contrary view is possible - but can find some support as the result of reasoning alone. However all these philosophical notions don't give us a living, breathing religion, and often create as many questions as they appear to answer. They don't answer a need for consolation or purpose.

I rather take the view that there is an 'absolute' or 'ground of being' but it's real nature is unknown, and one can only proceed down a via negativa, specifiying what it is not. Positive statements are hard to come by. I accept the likelihood of an absolute because the universe is cotingent; there appears to be a need for necessary being. The absolute need not be a person or mind or consciousness - it could be energy or a void of pure potential. Because of my nature mystic tendencies some Taoist concepts are appealing, also a hindu monism or even a Buddhist sunyata or 'emptiness' seem to point to the absolute.

There is some reason for me to tend toward 'deism' and a 'first cause', but such a Deus is not a full bloodied 'God of religion' but again the philosopher's supreme being. And if one imagines the Deus has a mind, this begs the question of the reason for the lack of disclosure to humanity and Deus' purpose. Again, there is no consolation or personal purpose offered. A deist's supreme being is only necessary if non-personal causes are insufficient explanations of the cosmos. But since such a Deity is not itself explained, and persons are the result of experiences and development, and are highly complex if they are anything like humanity, we are left with a first cause as deity 'answer' that is an entirely unsatisfactory explanation but is even more question begging. Indeed it seems more parsimonious to simply say the universe or some quantum vacuum that preceded the universe is a brute fact that suggest it came about because of the will of some person. Clearly if the first cause or absolute can be said to have 'willed' the universe, its nature cannot in any way be analogous with a human personality

So my religion remains a naturalistic spirituality, with a strong tendency to believe in a metaphysical 'absolute'. I have largely lost my animistic and panpsychic tenendies following my realisation that consciousness cannot be fundamental but must be a 'state' of something 'else'. This allow for acceptance that consciousness emerges in complex biological entities or a neutral monism, but rules out idealism. The fact we cannot sustain our consciousness even while alive (e.g. when in deep sleep) demonstrates to me the dependence of the mind on a body. Belief in supernatural entities is only possible if there are disembodied minds. We have no rational or empirical justification for such. Thus even the absolute cannot be a purely idealistic concept. Indeed the notion of the absolute may be a construct of our use of language, a pure abstraction, like 'numbers' and not separable from human consciousness. Perhaps even a physical singularity, the cause of the big bang functions as a materialistic absolute and first cause.