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Monday, August 28, 2006

Notes on a napkin

Humans seek their origins.
Some deny or are blind to this and simply seek pleasure and comfort in life for as long as possible.
Some utilize the scientific method and spend their life attempting to reconstruct a bit of the 'crime scene' in hopes their findings will be 'life by natural causes' and their end 'death by natural causes'.
But the theist accepts meaning for the universe and spend their life using their minds to discern the meaning so that they can make themselves in accord with the meaning.

10 comments:

Lifewish said...

I think saying that we "hope" that the conclusion will be natural causes is a bit OTT - more accurate to say that so far it's a quite depressingly solid conclusion. I personally would be a lot happier in a world full of Gods, angels, fairies, elves, mermaids, Flying Spaghetti Monsters etc, but that's not what I see around me.

If the world behind your eyes differs too greatly from the world before them, it's all too easy to end up like the proverbial clothesless emperor. And the consequences of choosing faith over reality can be very nasty.

Incidentally, if our death is by natural causes, why is it that everything is instead insured against "acts of God"? It's all very Old Testament.

Bro. Bartleby said...

"...natural causes is a bit OTT..."
Well, I would think better than "unnatural causes"? I was thinking that an "unbeliever" or someone that believes life began by chance/happenstance/circumstance and has only the purpose that we thinking humans can conjure up, that person would rather exit by "natural causes" like the obit columns read, "in his sleep." If one's exit is into nothingness, then more comforting than to exit "unnaturally" ... any of those fluky and violent ways that one hears about.

Does happiness depend upon "seeing" and is it limited to experience of the physical world? Scientist "know" that Dark Matter exists, yet the unknown about it far exceeds the known about it, and the scientist happily goes about seeking to uncover or discover more of the unknown. God/Creator is the great unknown for some believers, yet we can happily go about seeking to uncover or discover more of this God, just as most of our ancestor's too did, yet maybe in new and different ways.

Just as in any other human attempt at organization, history shows that the organized church too has failed. Yet it's human, so what more can we expect? Do we dismiss modern science because of some of the foolishness of ancient alchemists?

For me, I can't help but believe that God/Creator/(choose your Name) is "behind" this cosmos in which we dwell, my mind is fixed upon that bedrock ... all else is the journey of discovery. And if that means speaking to God as I would speak to you, then so be it, not any more extreme than scientist sending probes into deep space, just to see what they come up with.

Shalom!
Bro. Bartleby

Lifewish said...

If one's exit is into nothingness, then more comforting than to exit "unnaturally" ... any of those fluky and violent ways that one hears about.

Hey, if you're gonna go, might as well go with style. It's not like you need to worry about feeling embarrassed the morning after :)

This is of course a matter of personal taste (or lack thereof...)

Does happiness depend upon "seeing" and is it limited to experience of the physical world?

For me, happiness lies partially in having a sense of security. I find that this can be best achieved by knowing I've minimised the ability of the world to unexpectedly bite me in the ass*, which means I have a strong incentive to develop a worldview that makes accurate predictions about what's going to happen next. This has concrete value - for example, the kids in the link I gave might be alive if someone had realised that a hilltop wasn't a good place for a large metal ornament.

In this context, dark matter is a "good" belief - it allows one to make valid predictions about what we'll see next. Evolution is a good belief for the same reason - both common descent and the mechanisms proposed to explain it allow one to make concrete, testable, accurate predictions about reality.

In this context, God, to the best of my knowledge, is not a "good" belief. No-one has ever used any religious belief system to produce concrete, testable, accurate predictions about the universe we sense around us. Where religious leaders make religiously-based claims about the universe, they're generally not concrete or testable (e.g. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life). Where they make concrete claims, they're almost never testable (e.g. heaven exists after death). Where they make concrete, testable claims, they're almost never accurate (e.g. JW leaders predicting judgement day). Where they make claims that are concrete, testable and accurate, it always turns out that the prediction could have been made even without their set of religious beliefs.

Belief in God isn't even wrong; from my point of view, it's just useless. I'd be interested in hearing your viewpoint.

For me, I can't help but believe that God/Creator/(choose your Name) is "behind" this cosmos in which we dwell, my mind is fixed upon that bedrock ... all else is the journey of discovery.

Is it still a journey of discovery if you already know the ending? Is a mystery novel still as interesting if you read the last pages first first?

I find that life is more interesting if I don't know where it'll take me next. And I need fear no evil - not because I've got an invisible, ineffective entity looking over my shoulder, but because I have the strength and knowledge to fight my corner as far as humanly possible.

Shalom indeed!

* Because there's no excuse for being cruel to innocent donkeys.

Bro. Bartleby said...

"For me, happiness lies partially in having a sense of security. I find that this can be best achieved by knowing I've minimised the ability of the world to unexpectedly bite me in the ass*"

You may find this of interest in the archive:
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Abbot Eastley's Homily on Comfort

--------
"In this context, God, to the best of my knowledge, is not a "good" belief."

Try an experiment, it will be difficult, for it will require you to 'forget' much of what you know, first and foremost, all you know about religion, all you have experienced in organized religion, all you have read about pertaining to religion. Then consider that prior to the Big Bang was what is called singularity, or a time (oops, time didn't exist yet) when all laws of nature as we know them did not exist. So we have a something that we can never really know, or recreate, or verify, but we can ponder, as does Stephen Hawkin does. But even forget that. Speculate that some intelligence has a bit of control over this 'singularity' yet isn't in any way controlled by the laws that control the singularity. If you can accept that as one possibility, then you can use your mind to see where that takes you; if you cannot accept even considering that a possibility, then ... what can I say ... except, I wish you happiness in all the days of your life.

Lifewish said...

You may find this of interest in the archive:
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Abbot Eastley's Homily on Comfort


Thanks, that was interesting. It's a viewpoint I've come across many times before, but very clearly expressed.

The question it brings to my mind, however, is: how is belief in deities anything other than another act of comfort-seeking? Of course, it's aimed at fulfilling wants that lie further up Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but is that sufficient to make it qualitatively different from more basic indulgences? What distinguishes worship of a god (even a real god, if such a creature exists) from cuddling of a hot water bottle?

Speculate that some intelligence has a bit of control over this 'singularity' yet isn't in any way controlled by the laws that control the singularity. If you can accept that as one possibility, then you can use your mind to see where that takes you; if you cannot accept even considering that a possibility, then ... what can I say ... except, I wish you happiness in all the days of your life.

Of course I've speculated about that many a time - apart from anything else, it's a staple theme of many of my favourite science fiction books (for example "Strata" by Terry Pratchett). Whilst interesting, such speculation to my mind merely raises two further questions:

1) What difference does it make? Unless we start throwing other concepts into the mix - such as the ability of the intelligence to meddle with the universe - proposing such an entity doesn't really add any value to our worldview. If we do include that interference as a premise, the god becomes scientifically-tractable, and we have to start wondering why we don't see any empirically-verifiable evidence of it.

If there's an omniscient entity out there, and He doesn't communicate His knowledge, acceptance of His existence is effectively useless. If He does communicate His knowledge, why hasn't He helped some dedicated mathematician solve the Riemann hypothesis or something?

2) Quis artificiet ipso artifex?* If wonders can emerge from purposelessness, why imagine that a God is their source? If, on the other hand, creation implies a creator, then why doesn't a creator imply a meta-creator, and a meta-meta-creator, and so forth?

In short, isn't the idea of God merely an attempt to place a lot of difficult questions about where wonderful things come from at one remove? Doesn't placing God at the source of all things just beg the question?

Your comment about the entity not being subject to the laws of the universe does raise an interesting question, though - to what extent is adherence to laws necessary for an entity to have meaning? For example, I'm fairly sure that some sort of timelike motion is a necessary prerequisite to being considered intelligent - otherwise, even the most sophisticated creature is merely a beautiful tapestry.

* My latin is atrocious - this is a bad guess at the grammar

Bro. Bartleby said...

Alas, outside I think the thermometer peaked at 110-F, so languid I am, save for a swamp cooler blanketing me with perhaps 95-F moist air. But your enthusiasm for wrestling with life questions is refreshing, I do think your youth is showing, and I mean that in a very positive way. I just listened to a hospice chaplain tell of a 97-year-old lady who has since passed on, but in her final days when all the body systems were shutting down, she called the chaplain and said, "I just wished I could go home and make a cheese sandwich." And for the next half hour the dying lady and the chaplain discussed all the steps in preparing a cheese sandwich. Perhaps we need to consider our every act a sacred act? Perhaps what we at first consider "useless" may indeed have depths that we have yet to consider? Even as a child I was puzzled when folks would speak of God as though God were within His creation, subject to natural laws, especially confined to time. How could that be? The God that I imagined was way beyond the white-haired old fellow painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the God that I imagined could not be imagined. Even now it seems audacious to imagine that a human mind could come within a billion light years of imagining the mind of God, if even that is the proper word, mind. Yes, useless musings, very impractical for career advancement, would addle any parish priest, would confuse and bore friends, yet I find that this useless endeavour is perhaps my wanting to simple go home and make a cheese sandwich.

Lifewish said...

Perhaps we need to consider our every act a sacred act?

That's a definite Insight you got there. Of course, that raises the question: if everything is sacred, can some things still be more sacred than others? If so, how do we up the, um, sacricity of our lifestyle? And without getting too new-agey either :P

Thanks for the cheese sandwich story.

Perhaps what we at first consider "useless" may indeed have depths that we have yet to consider?

Which is why I do still spend a decent amount of time chatting with Christians and trying to understand their motivations. However, at some point you have to show a little fairness as to what you spend your time on. I really should switch to chatting with Buddhists.

yet I find that this useless endeavour is perhaps my wanting to simple go home and make a cheese sandwich.

I know what you mean - debating, especially online debating, is well into my comfort zone. Which is a problem because, with limited time available to me, I feel I should be spending it practicing skills that I don't feel so comfortable with. Any opinions?

Bro. Bartleby said...

I have chatted with Buddhists, and they smile a lot, because as usual, they seem to be doing all the listening. And of course your "Western" brand of challenging and seeking instant resolution to mysteries is not their "style" ... then again, how many cyclotrons have Buddhists built last month? A completely different approach to life, or I should say, detachment to life, or make that, detachment to the everyday life and with that comes the understanding of how to practice compassion. This I find interesting, for when you strip away much of the dogma of Christianity, I find Jesus crossing paths here with Buddha. Perhaps when that happened, the Buddha smiled, and Jesus the Jew gave Buddha a hearty handshake.

Lifewish said...

If you meet a Buddha on the road, aren't you supposed to kill him?

Bro. Bartleby said...

No need to kill the Buddha in this case, for both are already dead ... to this world.
;)