Sunday, 29 May 2011

Default naturalism

Hi, I've been playing my favourite game of 'metaphysical speculation' of late. This involves my considering pantheism, pandeism, deism  and examining their logical implications and what, if anything, theses isms provide in terms of explanatory power and to what extent they are even attractive notions. I find I have to accept that the only reliable knowledge appears to come via the scientific method and deductive logic.All other belief systems do not fare well in explaining the world as disclosed by science.So I must accept that 'naturalism' must be my default belief system and with it the implications that there are no supernatural entities (including gods and spirits) and no after-life.

Here are some problems and serious objections  I have identified with the following  isms -

Pantheism - naturalistic pantheism asserts no new facts about the world but just describes a human's aesthetic and emotional response to the naturalistic thesis. Therefore it is not, strictly, a world view at all. For spiritual pantheisms see below on monism.  Also even if we ascribe to the universe some of the feelings and qualities the religious attribute to God, perhaps the most important aspect of a theism, from the believer's point of view, is that God is Good and sentient. I would insist that an impersonal amoral entity like nature, however vast and beautiful cannot be compared to the theist's notion of a God.

Pandeism - If God has become the world, and ceased to be a sentient existing entity, then isn't pandeism really saying that God has 'died' and we are made from his remains? God becoming a finite insentient amoral universe is a change from God to non-God.  Therefore pandeism is the belief that God used to exist but does not any longer. The only advantage of pandeism over mere pantheism seems to be that it provides a first cause. But the deus of pandeism cannot provide any succour or hope, it cannot be worshipped or related to in any way. I have put forward in previous posts the suggestion that God created the universe and the universe evolves into God. But I have realised that  between creating (and then dissolving) and evolving again from the universe God would be wholly unable to control the destiny of the universe. Thus if something happened to destroy life in the universe then God would not evolve - the whole speculative notion clearly unravels at this point.

Deism - Why does the deus create? If there is no reason for this, there is no reason for us and no reason to think the creation has any long term goal or purpose apart from merely being. I once thought it might make deism more attractive if one could consider that the Deus has expressed and manifested itself through the Cosmos, that in some sense the Cosmos is the divine embodiment of the divine glory.

But  a number of problems have presented themselves: firstly  if the deus does not intervene in creation as some deists insist then what do we make of the act of creation itself? Isn't creating just such an intervention? If God can create why can't he preserve and destroy also? You see, by claiming the Deus is a creator of the universe, and perhaps of living creatures, requires the kind of power and potential for intervention normally attributed to the God of theism.  For the same reasons Deism does not avoid the problem of evil if God can create the world and design life. Even if God is not omnipotent such creative powers would surely prevent much evil in the world if God applied them at any other time since creation And if God did not want to prevent such evil but could, then he would not be worthy of worship.

And if  instead Deists say that God simply caused the initial conditions for the universe, then God can only really be said to be only the creator of the initial conditions, not of, say, trees, animals or humans. The first cause in a very long chain of causes is not the creator deity of the theist. Also creating the initial conditions is not really 'expressing' the divine nature's good or creativity, except in a very narrow limited sense. Creation is therefore not meaningfully an  'expression' or 'manifestation' of deity if the Deus is simply the first cause or the fine tuner of initial conditions, as these limited creative processes cannot transfer the character or beauty of their creator into the created surely?

Also I doubt Deist's claim that their religion is 'rational'. It may be more rational as it lack many supernatural elements, but if God is proved by reason, how is a reasoned atheism possible? I think there are strong rational grounds for atheism or at least agnosticism. It turns out that deism is only more rational relative to theisms. Ultimately deism also rests on notions that are not themselves rationally proven or empirically demonstrated. And once it is admitted that deism is not really fully rational, it seems to lose much of its USP.

Monism  The problem of this belief system is explaining the paradox that the unity is expressed as many and is subject to constant change and flux. The analogy of the 'waves' on the surface of the still ocean depths is helpful but where are the true physical analogs of this analogy. What in our universe equates to the 'ocean depths'? Is this the quantum vaccuum full of 'vacuum energy' perhaps? But somehow a monistic spirituality wants the underlying unity to provide a spiritual dimension not merely an impersonal physical ground of existence. Perhaps monism does allow us to say 'all things are interconnected' but this does not provide the kind of attractive prospects of the theist's hope of eternal salvation. If we dissolve into the one-ness at death, this is just another form of oblivion. Are we to say that the one-ness is consciousness and bliss as well as fundamental being and existence? But if the experience of one-ness is sufficiently good for itself and our final end, why does the cosmos exist, or matter? Any kind of monism, irrespective of truth value, if elevated to a spritual path seeking 'oneness' with 'The One' seems to deny all the value of worldly forms and experience. And if the spiritual path is to be located in this world, this monism has no religious advantage over mere naturalism. Even if philosophically it is true there is an fundamental unifying principle,  what does this mean to me personally? My answer - not a lot.

So What?
Indeed one might say 'So what?' also of Deism, Pandeism and Pantheism as well as Monism.  These cosmological models however coherent they may be in themselves,  do not provide me with any final goal or final purpose in life or happy ending, nor any personal relationship with deity that respects my individuality and what I value and love. These isms fail to provide  me with attractive  'spiritual' values, purposes or goals over and above what is available from a mere naturalistic take on the world.

I have concluded then that these isms provide no religiously attractive substitutes for a theism proper.  After all, only mere theism claims to provide a  happy ending to the story of space and time that preserves individuality. Indeed theism easily ticks all the boxes of what wishfully thinking humans would like to happen. Indeed it is 'too good to be true'.And it so happens that apart from our strong intuitions that theism is true - intuitons surely  rooted in mankind's greatest desires -  it seems theism cannot be rationally sustained.

I could go on to say that if theism is the only religion worth believing in, even if I can't believe it, then it is worth clarifying what I mean by theism: a religion found on a belief in one or more gods that have providential control over the world and reward their followers with blessings and happiness. This definition may seem to offer a very instrumentalist even selfish view of religion, but would any religion be founded on reverence for deities that made no alleged difference to our lives (i.e. they could be ignore without any consequences) or  only had to be appeased to avoid bad consequences? Surely we revere deities in the hope this will result in our good - i.e. for the same reason we are motivated to do anything in life.

Sadly there is no good reason to believe - to have real confidence -  in theism. Everything  we know about the world and universe today testifies that there is no providential control and that the Gods or Gods are absent from every day experience even if they cannot be proven not to exist. There is no evidence that believers fare better than non believers in this life, once the placebo effect of  'positive thinking' is accounted for in putative survey of the population. And I think I have demonstrated to myself that the God of the philosophers, as an absolute or ground of being or  first cause only, provides no joy or satisfaction to encourage religious belief or practice. Indeed the God or God substitute of pantheism, deism, pandeism and monism is really quite irrelevant to every day existence, merely vain metaphysical speculation to no good purpose for my life.

1 comment:

  1. But why presume that God requires intelligent life to come into existence for our Universe to return to being God? Physics may well provide for that, whether life is, or no. And if it does require such life, I find it hard to conceive circumstances which would render our entire Universe unable to generate intelligent life.... The pandeistic model supposes that our Creator had a reason for creating, a gap in its knowledge which could only be filled through the experience of existing as our sort of possibly-life-generating Universe and all the complexity which arises within it. If life is useful to that end, it would be logical to presume our Creator set forth a Universe with characteristics yielding the absolute maximum probability of generating such life.... And so it would seem some scientists (like Paul Davies and Frank Tipler) have concluded our Universe to be uncannily fortuitously aligned!! And similarly, it would be highly probable that such a designer would minimize elements of the design which might render our Universe as a whole hostile to life.

    An entity capable of planning and then becoming our Universe entire ought to be credited with being capable of making our Universe one which is highly likely to produce outcomes which are sufficiently useful to it to allow it to ultimately outlive its plan; ie if our Creator became our Universe to experience existence as experienced by life within such a Universe, it is highly likely that the design of our Universe would succeed in generating what such a Creator sought to experience.