Good Theology?

Here’s an interesting interview with Susan Jacoby on the subject of atheism. I don’t agree with all of her points, but it’s worth reading the whole thing. Here’s an interesting excerpt:

Certainly one of the first things I thought about as a maturing child was “Why is there polio? Why are there diseases?” If there is a good God why are there these things? The answer of the religious person is “God has a plan we don’t understand.” That wasn’t enough for me. There are people who don’t know anything about science. One of the reasons I recommend Richard Dawkins’s book, The God Delusion, is that basically he explains the relationship between science and atheism. But I don’t think people are really persuaded into atheism by books or by debates or anything like that. I think people become atheists because they think about the world around them.

When Andrew Sullivan posted a link to Jacoby’s interview at his blog, a minister reader of his took exception:

Why is there polio? Why are there diseases? If there is a good God why are there these things? The answer of the religious person is “God has a plan we don’t understand.”

That is not the religious answer. That is a religious answer. It happens to be a bad answer. It is bad theology. Atheism is a rational rejection of bad theology – and more power to them. But there is also good theology out there – good religious answers which do justice both to our reason and to our spirits.

It’s interesting that the minister is so dismissive of Jacoby’s answer. What she is proposing is essentially the idea of “skeptical theism.” Skeptical theists go a bit farther than Jacoby, arguing not simply that, as it happens, we don’t understand God’s plan, but also that, as finite human creatures, we can not reasonably even expect to understand it. Far from being some fringe answer offered by theologically naive people, it is one of the most common arguments served up by philosophers of religion.

I can understand why the minister would be dismissive. Among its other problems, skeptical theism is not so much a counter to the problem of evil as it is a concession that there is no reasonable answer to be had. So let us have a look at what he regards as good theology; the kind that does justice to our reason and our spirits.

Why does God allow polio and disease and other bad things to happen to good people? Because God is not an omnipotent manipulator of the world. Because God works through the system, not over-powering it. Because we have free will that allows us to create justice and love, and also evil. God’s power is not coercive (“you must not do that horrible thing and I will stay your hand”) but patiently persuasive (“there’s a better way, make a better choice”). God’s “plan” was not to create polio, or human beings, but to set the conditions and watch what we do, and to use that “still, small voice” to gently urge all creation toward divine ideals of deep rich experience, consciousness, love, marvelous beauty, and thoughtful theology.

As any teenage theologian can see, the idea of a simultaneously all-powerful and all-loving God is impossible based on the evidence of the tragedies that befall us everyday. But there is better theology available. The churches should be better teachers. And atheists shouldn’t give up so soon.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that very little of that actually makes sense. It is not very helpful to say that God works “through the system.” He created the system, and that system makes things like polio and suffering inevitable. We can reasonably ask why the system was created as it was, when it certainly does not seem too difficult to conceive of better systems. Moreover, we can question the wisdom of God’s decision to work through the system. Is it admirable that he chooses not to overburden the system (whatever that even means)? Perhaps we should also ask about miracles. According to most versions of Christianity, God, in fact, does not always work through the system. Sometimes he chooses to indulge in a miraculous intervention. The question, then, is why does God sometimes choose to intervene and sometimes choose not to?

Nor do casual invocations of free will really help all that much. Yes, people must have the freedom to choose evil. How does that solve the problem? To choose a recent example, whose free will would have been endangered if the devices constructed by the Boston Marathon bombers had been caused to malfunction? And for all the minister’s talk about how God is gentle and persuasive and loving, traditional theology holds that he turns into quite the judgmental dictator upon our deaths.

The idea that there is good and serious theology that makes religion seem reasonable, as opposed to the naive and unsatisfying version practiced by the masses, is, for me, a complete inversion of the truth. I’ve been an atheist for as long as I’ve been old enough to think about these questions, but I didn’t start to get really contemptuous of religion until I started reading theology and the philosophy of religion in a serious way.

I don’t have much of a problem with the Christmas and Easter Christians. The people who are members of a church because it enriches their social lives, or because it provides a safe environment for their children, or simply because they find it comforting. These are people who, if you ask them point blank whether they believe the doctrines, will claim that they do, but really they don’t think about them much. If you throw the problem of evil at them they are likely to say, “How should I know why God allows evil? But every view has its existential mysteries, and I know that my faith is so satisfying in so many ways that I’m not going to sweat it if I don’t understand everything.”

I can understand that. It’s not how I choose to live, but if other people feel differently that’s fine. Rather, it’s what the theologians are doing that I find tawdry and disreputable. If it amuses them to talk to each other about their latest invented-from-whole-cloth notions for explaining God’s ways then they are welcome to do so. But let us please have no illusions that they are contributing to humanity’s grand search for truth, or that their work should be taken seriously by anyone outside their little community of believers.

The minister requests that atheists not give up so easily, and criticizes teenaged theologians for worrying about the problem of evil. I would encourage him instead to consider the possibility that he has too quickly accepted facile answers to serious questions.

Comments

  1. #1 Muriel
    http://ueberschaubarerelevanz.wordpress.com/
    April 19, 2013

    It’s this curious phenomenon that religious people usually have no problem recognizing the flaws in almost every religion out there, and ridiculiing their sillyness, as long as it doesn’t come to their own.

  2. #2 Valhar2000
    April 19, 2013

    The minister should be careful. If he takes his argument a little further he’ll arrive at deism, which is not in any way supportive of Christianity.

    Atheist though I am, I’ll freely admit that deism is entirely plausible, right before I’ll claim that it is just about the most sterile hypothesis imaginable. So I don’t think that arguments in favor of deism help the Christian’s position very much at all.

  3. #3 Composer99
    http://composer99.blogspot.ca
    April 19, 2013

    One question that springs to mind for this minister is, “what does free will have to do with polio?”

    I mean, if Jacoby’s inquiry were to do with the evil behaviour of humans, his bringing up free will might be pertinent (leaving aside Jason’s comment about the Boston bombings), but for polio?

    Whose free will, exactly, is being upheld by the historical & present (though hopefully not future) existence of polio?

  4. #4 Muriel
    http://ueberschaubarerelevanz.wordpress.com/
    April 19, 2013

    Why, Adam’s and Eve’s of course. The Christians I talk to usually say that their sin has poisoned us all and brought all yada yada we know the story. And yes, it’s perfectly fair for God to have us bear the punishment for their misstep, because it’s not really punishment, it’s just consequences. (No, I don’t understand it either. If I did, I’d be a Christian.)

  5. #5 wysage
    April 19, 2013

    The minister’s idea was discussed in depth in Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I have not heard this idea endorsed by mainstream Christian theologians, even though the book was a best seller. However, Kushner’s book is used extensively in “Spiritual not Religious” circles. As Valhar2000 says, it leads to deism, but a deism that is less sterile than simply a god who creates the universe and goes away.

  6. #6 James A. Brown
    April 19, 2013

    If free will is so sacrosanct, then why do we employ police to interfere with the free will of criminals?

  7. #7 Oliver
    April 19, 2013

    “What does free will have to do with polio?”

    Oddly enough, Composer, that kind of thinking goes back a long way in theology. There’re at least two variants I know of.

    One is that all things we would call natural evil are, in fact, caused by beings with free will, usually demons or the devil or something. This goes back to at least Augustine (I think) and the logical possibility of such a scenario is basically the whole point of Plantinga’s Free Will defense. Of course, since it’s not compatible with the laws and discoveries of modern science, hardly anybody seriously touts it today.

    The other is that God is punishing people for choosing to do evil by sending natural evils. This is especially popular among the fundamentalist crowd–see Westboro Baptist post-marathon, Jerry Falwell post-9/11, Pat Robertson post-Haiti earthquake, etc. I’d wager that most fundy evangelicals believe in it, too. But it’s not unique to them. Contra most theologians, most lay Christians actually thought like this until very recently. (Look at the responses to the Lisbon earthquake in the 18th century for comparison, it’s all about their sinning bringing God’s wrath down.) Hard to see how God is ever loving if he’s doing that.

    I guess that’s where sophisticated theology comes in handy.

  8. #8 eric
    April 19, 2013

    Valhar:

    The minister should be careful. If he takes his argument a little further he’ll arrive at deism, which is not in any way supportive of Christianity

    He’d probably disagree with me, but empirically he seems to be over halfway there. He rejects the simultaneous omnipotence and omnibenevolence of God. He doesn’t think humans were part of God’s plan, let alone the apex of it (“God’s “plan” was not to create polio, or human beings”), and that same quote seem to indicate he doesn’t thin God is omnipotent either.

    We’d probably need a more explicit comment by him on miracles before labeling him deist (if he rejects them categorically, the deist label probably fits, if not, he’s still some form of theist) but the above beliefs certainly put him outside the Christian mainsteam.

  9. #9 Another Matt
    April 19, 2013

    Oliver, there’s one more tack I’ve seen, related to your second one:

    Free Will brought evil into the world, and along with it disease, earthquakes, and so forth as a corruption of the original perfect natural order. This fits with the idea that “evil is an absence of good” — it’s what happens when god’s presence is deliberately refused. It’s also why a lot of evangelicals think they can blame tragedies on secularism; but you have to kind of be a creationist to believe things work this way.

    See also this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concupiscence

  10. #10 eric
    April 19, 2013

    This fits with the idea that “evil is an absence of good” — it’s what happens when god’s presence is deliberately refused.

    Your kid (who,according to the story, has no knowledge of good or evil at this time) disobeys one of your stated commands, and you deliberately refuse your presence for 6,000 years. Worst. Parent. Ever.

  11. #11 Another Matt
    United States
    April 19, 2013

    Your kid (who,according to the story, has no knowledge of good or evil at this time) disobeys one of your stated commands, and you deliberately refuse your presence for 6,000 years. Worst. Parent. Ever.

    I didn’t quite word that right — it’s supposed to be the humans who deliberately refuse god’s presence. So, I think according to my hypothetical evangelical, your comment would have to be reworded:

    Your kid (who, according to the story, has no knowledge of good or evil at this time) disobeys one of your stated commands, and thereby deliberately refuses your presence, which you (being a loving parent) would freely, graciously, and happily give if your kid wanted it…

  12. #12 eric
    April 19, 2013

    Your kid (who, according to the story, has no knowledge of good or evil at this time) disobeys one of your stated commands, and thereby deliberately refuses your presence, which you (being a loving parent) would freely, graciously, and happily give if your kid wanted it…

    If my kid doesn’t want me near him, and its just a personal choice about who to hang out with, that’s one thing. If absenting myself from my kid will result in him being horribly tortured for eternity, he gets my presence whether he wants it or not. There is a point in which a good parent steps in. There is a point at which respecting your kids freedom of choice is more harmful than not respecting it – if not with fully developed adults, then certainly with naive children who don’t understand the full consequences of ther act (and remember, adam and eve did not understand what evil was before they did the deed).

    There’s nothing wrong with a parent letting their kid run, fall, and skin their knee. There is absolutly something wrong with a parent letting their kid stick their hand on a hot burner when they can prevent it. Picking an apple that will cause countless people to go to hell and inflict suffering on every living creater on earth for thousands of years is the mother of all ‘hot burners.’ As a parent, you step in. Not stepping in in that case has a name: criminal negligence.

  13. #13 eric
    April 19, 2013

    It happens to be a bad answer. It is bad theology. Atheism is a rational rejection of bad theology – and more power to them. But there is also good theology out there

    I did not pick up on this earlier, but lack of any accepted, credible, objective method to distinguish the bad theology from the good theology is kinda the whole problem with theology. If you think the theology atheists argue against is incorrect and the alternate theology you espouse is (more) correct, you’re going to have to provide some evidence to that effect. AFAIK, there is none. At best, one can test a theology for validity, but there is no test for soundness.

  14. #14 sean samis
    April 19, 2013

    The preacher’s answer is very bad. Good theology is a very small category best summed up as “I don’t know but I still believe.” Honest and simple. Any attempt to explain God is bad theology.

    sean s.

  15. #15 Lenoxus
    April 19, 2013

    The other is that God is punishing people for choosing to do evil by sending natural evils. This is especially popular among the fundamentalist crowd–see Westboro Baptist post-marathon, Jerry Falwell post-9/11, Pat Robertson post-Haiti earthquake, etc. I’d wager that most fundy evangelicals believe in it, too. But it’s not unique to them. Contra most theologians, most lay Christians actually thought like this until very recently. (Look at the responses to the Lisbon earthquake in the 18th century for comparison, it’s all about their sinning bringing God’s wrath down.) Hard to see how God is ever loving if he’s doing that.

    He is also being very inefficient. Hypothetically, God could give every gay rights advocate in some particular city a heart attack, or send lightning strikes against all atheist organizations in a given state. Instead, he uses earthquakes and such, causing numerous deaths and property damage for people who presumably aren’t guilty of the specific sins that Gid intends to warn us about (infants, ministers, etc).

    Jason:

    Among its other problems, skeptical theism is not so much a counter to the problem of evil as it is a concession that there is no reasonable answer to be had.

    It can also be reversed, which is one of my favorite counter-theodicies. We first assert that God is infinitely evil. Any counter-evidence (in the form of the world’s good things and such) is then dismissed as evil-God’s “mysterious ways.” Stephen Law calls it the God of Eth, and he expands the argument into variants/parodies of the other theodicies. (One reason I like this argument is that it makes the atheist look less negative/pessimistic, and perhaps helps the theist see things from our perspective — just as you would think it absurd to call our world the product of a maximally evil being, so do I think the reverse is a tall claim.)

    To choose a recent example, whose free will would have been endangered if the devices constructed by the Boston Marathon bombers had been caused to malfunction?

    Indeed. In fact, when evil does occur, there’s almost always more free will thwarted than otherwise. Some person has a weapon, or political power, or such, and with their free will they decide to dominate another person, a person who, if they “had a choice about it”, would rather not be killed, or tormented, or enslaved. Apparently, God doesn’t so much value “free will” as he values power, and/or the ability to accompolish one’s will. Those with power/ability win — which is by-definition how a universe without God would function, of course.

    So how is a hypothetical omnibenevolent God “supposed to” arrange the universe? Well, I don’t have all the answers — the theists are right about this. They’re wrong that this ignorance and/or mental limitation on our part means we can say absolutely nothing of relevance here; it’s perfectly valid, for example, to assume a very high probability that something is true or false. I’m not an expert on weather, and even the experts will tell you that weather involves inherently unpredictable chaos. Does this mean we should grant serious consideration to the hypothesis that tomorrow it will rain mint ice cream (hey, a rogue tornado could make it possible), and that dismissing such a hypothesis is so much human arrogance? No, and likewise with the atheist’s assertion that it’s unlikely an omnimax deity could be compatible with our universe.

    To put that in shorter terms: evidential problem of evil.

  16. #16 Lenoxus
    April 19, 2013

    Oops, I meant to credit that first quote (about natural disasters being blamed on human sin) to Oliver.

  17. #17 MNb
    April 19, 2013

    “You can’t prove there isn’t a God.”
    Herman Philipse comes damn close in his God in the Age of Science. Because it’s such a strong claim I don’t embrace it yet, but I ‘m tempted to give myself a 7 on the scale of Dawkins indeed.

    “to set the conditions and watch what we do”
    Any parent who raises his/her child that way (a comparison believers like when it suits them) should lose his/her custody.

    “Yes, people must have the freedom to choose evil.”
    A question believers never answer was this one: what about Elisabeth Fritzl’s free will during the 24 years she was locked up to be raped by her father two, three times a week? Or the victims of the Boston Marathon bombs? Why should the free will of the culprits be more valuable than the free will of their victims?
    The only good theology is Kierkegaard’s – having faith despite. But as Philipse convincingly shows, such a theology can’t claim to be reasonable.

    “I’ve been an atheist for as long …”
    The first ten years I called myself an agnost, until I decided it made no sense. It was no big deal; I didn’t need a coming out or something. Indeed, when I began reading about theology and philosophy of religion some five years ago I began to become more radical too.

  18. #18 sean samis
    April 19, 2013

    The Problem of Evil does not disprove God, but it does limit our choices to one of these four:

    0. There is no god.
    1. God exists, is Good, but has limited power. Evil is instrumental or unavoidable.
    2. God exists, is all-powerful but evil. Evil exists for its own sake; this must be if God is omnipotent.
    3. God exists, is Good, is all-powerful and is Totally, Completely outside human comprehension or logic.

    The pastor in this story uses choice 1 to justify evil, God lacks the power or ability to do otherwise. I doubt he’d accept that God is not omnipotent, but if God is, then he’s got to go with number 2: God is evil.

    The only “good theology” is to embrace number 3 and steadfastly refuse to try to use logic to explain God, suffering, or Evil. It’s totally unsatisfying, but at least coherent.

    sean s.

  19. #19 sean samis
    April 19, 2013

    Clarification:

    2. God exists, is all-powerful but evil. Evil exists for its own sake; this must be if God is omnipotent AND LOGICALLY EXPLICABLE BY HUMANS.

    sorry.

    sean s.

  20. #20 Oliver
    April 19, 2013

    @Another Matt: yeah, that is another one. Now that you mention it, I’ve definitely heard it from some Christians. Seems like they’re asserting natural evil is caused by human action via some magical causation or another. It definitely meshes well with the whole “Evil is the absence of God” thing. Looks like that wonderful atheist-vs-Einstein legend is making its round over the internet again, so I wouldn’t be surprised this chain of thought crops up more often.

    @sean samis: ‘Good theology is a very small category best summed up as “I don’t know but I still believe.”’

    Well put. If everybody started practicing good theology, there’d be no need to oppose anything about religion. But until then…

    @Lenoxus: I can already anticipate the objection: it’s perfectly OK for God to kill people en masse. That way, he kills the guilty in one swift stroke, and gives them the divine punishment they deserve at the end of their moral lives. And as for the innocents? The ministers? The children? Well, they’re all going to heaven, so what’s the harm done?

  21. #21 Oliver
    April 19, 2013

    Oops, immoral, not moral.

  22. #22 couchloc
    April 19, 2013

    Jason,

    You seem to lump theologians together with all philosophers of religion. (“I didn’t start to get really contemptuous of religion until I started reading theology and the philosophy of religion in a serious way.”) I don’t understand this or whether this is intentional, but philosophy of religion is a subject and does not denote a particular orientation (theist, agnostic, atheist). Hume, Dennett, Kitcher, Nagel, etc. have all written on the subject and are atheists. Your own discussion is a contribution to philosophy of religion I take it.

  23. #23 Kel
    April 19, 2013

    This is a reminder that how I approach atheism is very different from a theist does. I really couldn’t care less if a theist has found a way to not have the problem of evil completely abolish his belief, as the idea of some cosmic deity already seems absurd with or without bring evil into it. That so much ink is wasted on the problem of evil seems far too much like wasting ink trying to reconcile how the alignment of the planets affects a person born on Mars – there’s just too many other reasons to think astrology is nonsense without diving head-first into some problem that it creates for itself.

  24. #24 Oliver
    April 19, 2013

    @couchloc: how does Jason do that? If anything, keeping them separate in that sentence is the opposite.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve always taken theology to be literally taken as the study of God, and philosophy of religion to be the meta of that, if you will, the question of whether God exists.

    Now, fair enough, dismissing all of philosophy of religion here may indicate dismissing the theist arguments in it. Well OK, fine. But what’s the problem with saying that and theology lead one to contempt for religion? I mean, it’s not like people have to do only one or the other, but not both, right? Historically, most theologians (Thomas Aquinas springs to mind) have written about philosophy of religion, and vice versa, so to me, this just looks like quibbling.

  25. #25 Steven Carr
    April 20, 2013

    So the really good theological answer is that if you cry out to God for help, he will pass by on the other side….

  26. #26 couchloc
    April 20, 2013

    @Oliver: there are a few places in the post where theology and philosophy of religion are mentioned together. If it’s clear that these are distinct, then I’m happy with that; I just wasn’t sure given how it was written. I think of theology as the study of the principles and doctrines about God of a religion (excluding the study of the practical aspects like how to worship, pray, ceremonies, etc.). Theologians are believers who accept the truth of their religion in advance, and are trying to articulate and develop the theory behind their religion. Philosophy of religion is simply the branch of philosophy that studies religion using philosophical methods (logic, reasoning, etc.). Qua philosophers they do not assume the truth (or falsity) of the views they consider, but have to reason everything out. I would agree with you that Aquinas seemed to do a bit of both.

  27. #27 Roger
    April 20, 2013

    Jason,
    I don’t find his answer all that bad. I find that it conflicts with most historical and religious descriptions of the Judeo-Christian God. I think it’s a fine answer if you’re approaching theism in general.

    It becomes more problematic when he makes the claim that god cannot be both all-loving and all-powerful. Well, that IS the Christian God, no? Per scripture, per belief, per dogma?

    I don’t think religion and science are incompatible inherently (“working through the system” is a poor attempt to describe it, but sure), but I think his justification of theism (the belief in god itself) doesn’t fit with most mainstream religions (the interpretations and belief sets associated with a particular god).

    Finally, I both agree and disagree with his opening argument. I think probably the majority of atheists reject “bad theology.” We look at the answers that a religion provides us, and we say, “That’s a bunch of crap.” There are some atheists who will be atheists regardless of “good” or “bad” theology, or who believe there can be no such thing as “good” theology. I think most of us have rejected the dogma and the poor answers provided by theology, not because we inherently hate the concept of an immaterial god, but because we find it incredibly improbable, with no good supporting argument (ration vice passion). A “good” theology might be enough for some atheists to swing onboard, but only if that religion still made logical sense. THAT’S where religion fails most atheists. Not good vs evil; realistic and probable vs unrealistic and improbable.

    (TL:DR: science and independent thought are not incompatible with religion because of good or bad theology. Good theology can help, and there is likely such a thing, but bad theology isn’t the reason for disbelief.)

  28. #28 MNb
    April 20, 2013

    @Kel 23: “as the idea of some cosmic deity already seems absurd with or without bring evil into it”
    One of many nice things of Philipse’s book is that he explains why the concept of a cosmic deity is meaningless.

    @26 Couchloc: “Qua philosophers they do not assume the truth (or falsity) of the views they consider”
    While this is technically correct in my albeit limited experience it doesn’t work that way. Philosophers of religion who actually believe typically make assumptions based on nothing but their desire to “prove” (whatever that means in this context) their faith. Four examples:
    Edward Feser with his Aristotelian “analysis” of a human arm moving a stick;
    Dutchman Emanuel Rutte rejecting probabilistic interpretations of Quantum Mechanics because he needs causality for the new god “proof” in his thesis” (he argues for his christianity “because the empty tomb is historically proven” – this guy is a graduated mathematician);
    another Dutchman Jan Riemersma stating that evolution is a random process again because he needs it for hís argument in his thesis;
    Plantinga disliking evolution theory.
    I have pointed this out to the two Dutchmen; they simply refuse to accept it. Riemersma literally wrote “I needed a statement about the randomness of evolution and I found it.”
    If there are believing philosophers of religion who indeed do not assume the truth or falsity of their views a priori I still have to meet them. In fact the only one who doesn’t is a catholic theologian. As he never has written a book you probably don’t know him. If you google Joost Tibosch God you’ll find that he comments on a Dutch blog.
    So theoretically your distinction may be correct, in practice it doesn’t work that way.
    But yeah, as I try to be skeptical towards my own biases too I won’t exclude it’s possible that some believing philosopher of religion or another actually keeps the option open that his assumptions might be wrong. I guess it’s also possible that an Englishman roots for the Scottish football (soccer) team.

  29. #29 MNb
    April 20, 2013

    @Roger 27: when I was 13 or 14 a variation of the Problem of Evil indeed was the reason for me to reject christianity and call myself an agnost. I recognized the emotional element from the beginning and thus have never considered it a conclusive disproof. Indeed, as Sean S points out in 18, the Problem of Evil doesn’t disprove polytheism and pastafarianism. It’s shows that most variations of the Abrahamistic religions don’t make sense though.
    Here we find another reason why Couchloc’s distinction of philosophers of religion and theologians doesn’t work well in practice. I still have to meet the first believing philosopher of religion who converts to another religion because of the Problem of Evil.
    The third reason is the cosmological argument. If a philosopher of religion uses it and I show that it rather proves polytheism (assuming that it proves something), especially combined with the dependent fine-tuning argument, said philosopher of religion typically doesn’t convert either.

  30. #30 Kel
    April 21, 2013

    “One of many nice things of Philipse’s book is that he explains why the concept of a cosmic deity is meaningless.”
    One of the not-nice things about the book is the price. Getting it is going to cost me a pretty penny.

  31. #31 MNb
    April 21, 2013

    @Kel: yes, I won’t blame you if you decide against buying it for this reason. Still with my income of about 600 USD a month in irregular valuta (I live in Suriname) I thought it worth every penny I have spend on it.

  32. #32 couchloc
    April 21, 2013

    MNb, I don’t intend to get into a big discussion about this, but just for the record the only person on your list I even recognize as a philosopher of religion is Plantinga. Feser is not a serious figure and does not appear in any of the standard anthologies on the subject, despite people’s interest in him around here. The Dutchmen Emanuel Rutte and Jan Riemersma I’ve never heard of before. So I don’t know what I’m supposed to make of them. I’ve taught the subject before and it concerns arguments from people like Hume, Russell, Plantinga, Copelston, etc.

  33. #33 Mbee
    California
    April 21, 2013

    “But there is also good theology out there – good religious answers which do justice both to our reason and to our spirits.”

    The only problem is that ‘good Theology’ is all based on the asumption that there is a god to begine with!

  34. #34 sean samis
    April 21, 2013

    Re: Herman Philipse’s “God in the Age of Science”.

    Good Lord! even the kindle version is about $43! There goes my book-budget. Have to see if they have in the library…

    sean s.

  35. #35 sean samis
    April 21, 2013

    BTW, does anyone know who this Pastor was? I’d be curious how he responds to criticism of his bad theology.

    Any one know who the is?

    sean s.

  36. #36 Lenoxus
    April 21, 2013

    Oliver:

    And as for the innocents? The ministers? The children? Well, they’re all going to heaven, so what’s the harm done?

    A counter-argument: This suggests that there’s never anything wrong with murder. God will always assign the killed person to the afterlife they deserve, by definition, and if that afterlife is Heaven then the person’s condition has been infinitely improved no matter what their life was like. Either kill or don’t kill someone; God’s choice will compensate for all Earthly evil.Or, if we decide for some reason that it’s a bad thing when people go to Hell solely for not following Christ (which is frequently cited by evangelists as one of their personal motivators), then we ought to direct our resources into killing as many children as possible, guaranteeing their salvation, since the alternative involves a nontrivial chance of damnation. (Unless one subscribes to the view that there is no “age of accountability”, but that obviously has its own problems.)

    The counter-counter-argument to the above tongue-in-cheek suggestion is that even if killing a child would send him/her to Heaven, it’s still wrong because it violates the will and/or commands of God. (That’s the only reasonable counter-counter that I’ve seen, at least. Some Christians will say “Just because a kid grows up in a Hindu culture doesn’t guarantee they’ll be damned”, which is missing the point that we’re trying to maximize the probability of good outcomes, just as we do in medicine, politics, etc. Others argue that children in Heaven never grow up and thus have a lesser existence than those who became old before dying. This is oddly disturbing, yet perhaps a vague comfort to someone who lost a child? Regardless, it means that heaven is not truly perfect. In any case, still fails to suggest a fate worse than Hell, which means that mass murder, difficult as it it on the psyche, would remain the humane option.)

    The counter-counter-counter argument is this: Ah, so you’re a true divine command theorist! When it comes to Euthyphro’s dilemma, you choose the horn which says that morality is wholly rooted in God and/or his will, and does not answer to any outside ethical system; any conclusions we humans make can be countered with “God said X, not Y.”

    The problem with this form of divine command theory (DCT) is that it renders almost all of apologetics (including theodicy) irrelevant! For example, people get into discussions about whether the Biblical genocides could possibly have been moral for God to command. Defenders will say that the victims were irredeemably evil in ways that would have corrupted the Hebrews, or that it was necessary to preserve the familial line of Jesus, or (as Oliver pointed to) that dead children go to heaven anyway. But if it is in fact the case that all of morality consists entirely of what God decrees and God must answer to nothing else, then all you need to say is “God said so.”

    In fact, saying things like “The slaughtered kids went to heaven, so it wasn’t all bad” is actually incoherent. According to the particular form of DCT that advises against murdering children to send them to heaven, God himself can decide that it is wrong to kill kids to send them to heaven. By extension, if the slaughtered Canaanite children went to Hell, God would remain exactly as just and holy!

    So what is the point of trying to “justify” God’s actions in terms of some other ethics? Perhaps the theologian wants to show that God is consistent. But this form of DCT doesn’t disallow an inconsistent God. God can say “Yesterday, torture was evil, but today it is good, and next year it will be evil again,” and because God said it, it must be true!

    Similarly, there’s no reason that “God’s morality” has to accord with human intuition. Many theists actually make this point themselves, but they don’t accept the awkward, nonsensical, and horrendous implications.

  37. #37 Kel
    April 21, 2013

    “Good Lord! even the kindle version is about $43!”
    Only $43? The list price for me is $52.49 (Australian looking at the US store). If only it were $43…

    Cheapest copy I can find for a physical book is $56 delivered from the UK. Meanwhile the new Dan Dennett book I can get for less than $30 – and it looks good too!

  38. #38 MNb
    April 22, 2013

    @Couchloc 32: even less do I intend to get into any discussion about this subject – I just gave my personal impression. Of the four names you give I recognize three; two of them have been dead since quite a while and the third one I already addressed.
    If you don’t know Rutten, Riemersma or any other Dutch theologian/philosopher of religion that says something about the discipline(s) as well. The Dutch have a tradition here that is older than say the US of A.

    http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theologie#Nederlandse_theologen

    Apparently the “study of god” is not universal, but dependent on locality – I am quite tempted to write subjective.

  39. #39 bd2999
    April 22, 2013

    Little confused as to what this has to do with science exactly. I know religious extremists are a major problem. Other than that people can believe whatever they want. Philosophers and theologians have been going back and forth about this sort of thing for ages. God’s role in the existence of evil is what is basically being argued here.

    Far as I know there is not a great answer for natural disasters and the like. Not sure that science should care either or even about what scientist believes. It matters what data they produce and how it explains the world. Branching into other systems to me removes credibility of science and it appears more driven as the “atheist agenda” and science is trying to help move society along.

    There is a conflict at times but usually brought on by the super devout, ignorant and stubborn religious types. They tend to attack science itself. I think it is valid to point out flaws and such in various aspects but as a whole should probably be avoided. Just how generally I think folks like Dawkens or Bill Mahr can be needlessly cruel to people of faith.

  40. #40 Qop
    April 22, 2013

    I had an argument with a JW about diseases and his argument was it was Adam and Eve’s fault. I then said, well, if God created the world, then he also created the consequences for what would happen if humans behaved in a certain way in said world. That didn’t somehow get through into his head. I then asked, did Adam and Eve create Malaria and inject themselfs and their fellow beings with it? And he said noo… So then how was it created? The Fall… Who created the consequences of the fall… blank… blank.. blank…

    LOL.

  41. #41 eric
    April 22, 2013

    bd2999:

    Little confused as to what this has to do with science exactly. I know religious extremists are a major problem.

    1. That’s what it has to do with science.
    2. Jason’s blog, Jason’s choice of subject. Given that he wrote a book titled “Among the Creationists,” it should not come as a surprise that he is interested in and occasionally tackles theological subjects.

    There is a conflict at times but usually brought on by the super devout, ignorant and stubborn religious types.

    According to Gallup (and I think many other polls agree), about 50% of Americans believe that humans were created in our current form. I will leave it to you to decide whether that 50% counts as “super devout, ignorant and stubborn religious types,” but certainly we shouldn’t dismiss or ignore half the population’s opinion, should we? They vote on representatives and policy issues based in part on that opinion, for goodness sake. If 50% of the population thought the moon was made of green cheese, that would be worth paying attention to, because of how that belief might impact national education and NASA policy in a bad way. Same thing here.

  42. #42 Ça alors!
    April 22, 2013

    You cannot escape a dynamic of opposites when a material world is created. High vs low, left vs right, healthy vs sick or good vs evil are all manifestations that come within space and time when the primordial uncreated “one” is fragmented.

    That is why oriental traditions put emphasis on seeing beyond our default dual mode of perception which makes us believing that this dynamic of opposite is absolute.

    On a lighter noter, heard yesterday in Stardust memories (Woody Allen): “For you, I may sound like an atheist. But for God, I’m just a loyal opponent.”

  43. #43 sean samis
    April 22, 2013

    AnotherMatt (at #9 above) mentioned “the idea that ‘evil is an absence of good’ — it’s what happens when god’s presence is deliberately refused.

    This is a popular idea, and key to the argument that God is Necessarily Good. It’s an incoherent definition of evil. The argument goes that, for instance, Hate is the absence of Love. Ok. So what is indifference? The same as Hate? That seems wrong.

    sean s.

  44. #44 eric
    April 22, 2013

    Ca alors:

    You cannot escape a dynamic of opposites when a material world is created… That is why oriental traditions put emphasis on seeing beyond our default dual mode of perception

    So, evidently, you can escape that dynamic, because you just told us that oriental traditions escape it.

    Sorry, I just thought that was humorous. I have no real idea what point you’re trying to make, or what your post has to do with the subject of Jacoby’s article or the (anonymous) minister’s response.

  45. #45 MNb
    April 22, 2013

    @Bd2999 39: “There is a conflict at times but”
    How does this play out? Can theism make testable predictions? If yes, does it make predictions now and then that conflict with scientific predictions? If yes, doesn’t science always win?

    @CaAlors 42: “are all manifestations”
    Or rather they are contrasting concepts invented by members of homo sapiens who try to make sense of what they experience.

    @Eric 44: CaAlors argues that the allgood creator who started the whole thing had no choice but creating evil as well. Ie he presents a theodicy. Of course he doesn’t explain why there is so much evil, why we can’t detect a tendency to good (in case of natural disasters for instance) by statistical means and how evil picks it victims randomly without affecting omnipotence.
    As these questions aren’t exactly new you could say he gives us an example of bad theology/philosophy of religion – Couchloc’s distinction doesn’t seem to work here either.

  46. #46 sean samis
    April 22, 2013

    Sorry to say, but I’ve read Ça alors!’ comment at #42 and I can’t make head or tails of it. Like the Woody Allen quote tho’.

    sean s.

  47. #47 Ça alors!
    April 23, 2013

    Eric: “I have no real idea what point you’re trying to make, or what your post has to do with the subject of Jacoby’s article”

    The point is the (false) problem of evil that Jacoby and every atheist bring when they want to disqualify God’s existence. As I ry to explain, If God exists, it would be beyond the opposites by which we can grasp the world, which would mean that evil is strictly a human concept, brought by our limited-default-dual-mode of perception. Evil wouldn’t exist fro God’s perspective.

  48. #48 sean samis
    April 23, 2013

    Ça alors!;

    If evil does not exist from God’s perspective, is he just unaware of it, or not concerned about it? Was it an accident? Or something God intended? Does God care about it? Does he care if we sin?

    sean s.

  49. #49 eric
    April 23, 2013

    If God exists, it would be beyond the opposites by which we can grasp the world, which would mean that evil is strictly a human concept, brought by our limited-default-dual-mode of perception. Evil wouldn’t exist fro God’s perspective.

    This is not the God of any major religions. Certainly not Christianity. And while everyone is entitled to their own decision about what sorts of things to worship, I certainly wouldn’t want to worship such a thing.

    Now I suppose the answer “polio exists because God has no problem with the suffering it causes, and doesn’t recognize that as evil because evil and good are the same to him” is a much more comprehensive and self-consistent theological answer than “polio exists because God has a plan we don’t understand.” So in that way, your answer is better theology. But it’s not better theology from the practical sense of defending the God most theists believe in.

    I seem to be encountering this argument more and more. First, an atheist asks how God-concept A makes sense/is defensible, in part because A is what he or she keeps encountering when he talks to theists. Then, theologian responds by pointing out that God-concept B is defensible.
    How is that response at all relevant to the question posed? Are such theologians just missing the point, or are they being willfully obtuse?

  50. #50 MNb
    April 23, 2013

    @CaAlors: “Evil wouldn’t exist from God’s perspective.”
    Then Good wouldn’t exist from the perspective of your god (specifically your god, because as already pointed out this is not what the vast majority of believers believe) either. Of course we can apply this argument to any given concept: sin (vs. grace and forgiveness), beauty (vs. ugliness), knowledge (vs. ignorance). Hence from god’s perspective neither ethics, art and science (here including math, philosophy and even theology) exist, at least if you want to be consistent.
    So my question is: why assume a god at all? You just confirm Herman Philipse’s statement that the entire concept of god is meaningless.

  51. #51 JimV
    April 23, 2013

    Andrew Sullivan does not post comments at his blog (“The Dish”) except for occasional “Dissents of the Day” which are received by email. My email to him about the subject post responded to the minister’s claim that atheists should keep looking because “there is good theology out there” as follows:

    The idea that atheists who see cult nonsense being promulgated by all the church authorities they hear growing up should not conclude “this is a cult” but instead go looking for deeper rationalizations (which their grandmothers would consider heretical) is only logical to a committed cultist. The rest of us, having rejected the obvious nonsense (and thanks for at least acknowledging that it is nonsense), would then realize that anything from phlogiston to the luminiferrous aether can be rationalized by smart people, but a simpler explanation which is also consistent with all the evidence is that such things do not exist.

  52. #52 Ça alors!
    April 24, 2013

    It is funny because the Bible itself addresses what became our dual mode of perception with the myth of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. We could say that Adam and Eve were very close to God’s perspective when they weren’t subjected to a dual mode of perception and that they couldn’t stay close to God because they gained a dual mode of perception where good and evil (and all what a dual mode brings) was seen as a real, existing-by-itself concept. Our default dual mode of perception would be the Original Sin transmitted from generation to generation by Adam and Eve. Except that in the eastern traditions, the Original Sin is something that can be fixed if you learn how to see beyond the default dual mode of perception. Zen, advaïta (which litterally means non-dual) hinduism and buddhism are driven by this idea.

  53. #53 Ça alors!
    April 24, 2013

    Mnb: “Then Good wouldn’t exist from the perspective of your god (specifically your god…”

    Exactly. But what remains beyond good and evil is still a… good. But it is a super good. The problem here is one of language because language can’t express what a good-without-opposition would be. But for the argument, we’ll call it a superpositive state from where good and evil, or all and nothing, can be manifested.

  54. #54 Ça alors!
    April 24, 2013

    Eric and Mnb.

    What I try to say is mostly influenced by oriental traditions where the concept of God is quite different than in the monotheistic traditions. But when it comes to their mystic branches, judaism, islam and christianity join the oriental traditions on many points. They have all references to how you have to make fall the veil between you and God (your ego and Consciousness) in order to understand the nature of your self and the world. I find this link http://www.newkabbalah.com/CoincJewMyst.htm very good for explaining how we are trapped in a dynamic of opposites without realizing it. It is the jewish perspective but you can find similar explanations in buddhism and sufism…

  55. #55 MNb
    April 24, 2013

    @CaAlors: So what? The entire concept of god is still meaningless. Nor do you explain any observation in a testable way. Whether the origins of your thinking are jewish, buddhist or sufist, it contributes zero to our understanding of the world around us.
    AfaIc your arguments come straight out of your (or somebody elses) thumb.

  56. #56 eric
    April 24, 2013

    Mnb: “Then Good wouldn’t exist from the perspective of your god (specifically your god…”

    Exactly. But what remains beyond good and evil is still a… good. But it is a super good.

    Ah, well that explains it.
    Theological P1: Polio is not evil because there is no good or evil. We must abandon the whole mindset of moral opposites.
    P2: Just kidding, there’s still good. Its SUPER good! But for reasons I won’t explain polio still isn’t evil.

  57. #57 sean samis
    April 24, 2013

    Ça alors!

    Only one question remains for me: why on Earth would anyone smarter than a box of rocks believe anything you said was true?

    You have this wonderful story, why would anyone think it was more than a fiction? a fairy-tale?

    sean s.

  58. #58 Steven Earl Salmony
    Chapel Hill, NC
    April 24, 2013
  59. #59 Ça alors!
    April 24, 2013

    Eric: “theological P1: Polio is not evil because there is no good or evil. We must abandon the whole mindset of moral opposites.
    P2: Just kidding, there’s still good. Its SUPER good! But for reasons I won’t explain polio still isn’t evil.”

    Polio is evil from a human perspective. But that perspective is not absolute, and is seen as such because of a default dual mode of perception that can be overcome. It doesn’t mean that polio disappears because if you can stay in a non-dual mode of perception, but it stops to be seen as an opposite of an healthy condition, it is what it is, a changing condition. But there is no more an “ego”, a solid “I” that is there and who identifies itself with the disease. What remains is uncreated pure awareness, if you know what “I” means..?

  60. #60 Ça alors!
    April 24, 2013

    Mnb: “The entire concept of god is still meaningless. Nor do you explain any observation in a testable way.”

    The concept of God isn’t meaningless, it is exactly what gives meaning to meaning, morals, subjectivity, creativity, consciousness, etc…

    And it escapes the classic the scientific method for technical reasons. If consciousness is truly an uncreated component of the universe and that your own “I” can exist because of that phenomenon (I don’t expect you to believe that but just follow the logic of the argument…), there would be no way to check this, not with an instrument or any device for the simple reason that you can’t look for consciousness with consciousness. It would like trying to burn fire with fire or wet water with water.

  61. #61 Ça alors!
    April 24, 2013

    @ Sean
    You can check this with your self.That is what oriental traditions mostly teach…

  62. #62 sean samis
    April 24, 2013

    Being an Oriental Tradition does not establish its truth. I am sure that Oriental Tradition (like all traditions) teaches some things that are entirely wrong. This looks like one of them. If just “checking with one’s self” were good enough, we’d all agree about these things, but it’s these things on which there is the Least Agreement.

    So everything you write could be true; and it all could be false. I see no reason to think it’s true; error is always more likely.

    sean s.

  63. #63 eric
    April 24, 2013

    @59

    Polio is evil from a human perspective. But that perspective is not absolute

    Agreed on both counts. i have no idea how you got from this to the last two sentences of your post.They seem to contradict each other, in fact. If there is no more “I” then there cannot be an uncreated pure “I.”

    If consciousness is truly an uncreated component of the universe and that your own “I” can exist because of that phenomenon (I don’t expect you to believe that but just follow the logic of the argument…), there would be no way to check this, not with an instrument or any device for the simple reason that you can’t look for consciousness with consciousness. It would like trying to burn fire with fire or wet water with water.

    Philosophers (or maybe just you) seem to have a real problem with the concept of iteration and feedback loops. Yes, we can examine ourselves with ourselves. Yes, a device designed by an intelligence can evaluate that intelligence (and it can evaluate itself as a device). Yes, a methodology/heuristic can be applied to that methodology/heuristic. We do it all the time. I am not saying its possible, I am saying it happens and thus the question of whether its possible has been answered with a resounding yes.

    If consciousness is an uncreated component, conscious beings can check this by asking what the observable differences between a created and uncreated consciouness would be. If there are some, we look for them. If there are none, even in principle, science departments hand the subject over to the theology and philosophy departments.*

    *Intended jokingly as not as an insult.

  64. #64 Lori Quarnstrom
    April 24, 2013

    Have made 10.00 $$$ today! Thanks to penny stocks. Only just been trading 2 weeks to! It is not too difficult once you know how!

  65. #65 MNb
    April 24, 2013

    @ Ca Alors 60: “The concept of God isn’t meaningless, it is exactly what gives meaning to meaning, morals, subjectivity, creativity, consciousness, etc…”
    That’s a circular argument. You derive what you mean with “god” from meaning, morals, subjectivity, creativity, consciousness etc. and then state that this god gives these things their meanings.
    The proper procedure is first to describe what you mean with “god” and thén explain how this concept gives meaning to meaning, morals etc. The only snag is that it’s impossible to do that in a meaningful way, exactly because

    “it escapes the classic the scientific method for technical reasons”.
    The only way to escape this is accusing me of scientism, to which I respond “sure and I have good reasons for it”.
    In other words you can’t maintain you’re reasonable exactly because of this quote.

  66. #66 Ça alors!
    April 25, 2013

    @Sean
    “So everything you write could be true; and it all could be false. I see no reason to think it’s true; error is always more likely.”

    Absolutely. The only way to know is to check it by yourself. But that demands a lot of work and discipline. But who has the time to check the true nature of their self? And I included myself in this…

  67. #67 Ça alors!
    April 25, 2013

    Mnb: It is not my fault if the scientific method cannot measure what isn’t measurable…. Unless you believe that only what is measurable is real. Circular logic goes in both ways you know…
    But if you could realize that your reasoning happens under a certain mode, within certain conditions, and that it isn,t absolute and it shapes your self and your vision of the world in a certain way, I guess you would be less incline to believe that only the scientific method can reveal something real about the world. But that won’t probably happen because you would have to give this hypothesis a chance, and then act in consequence, but It doesn’t look like you are interested in changing your mind.

  68. #68 sean samis
    April 25, 2013

    Ça alors!

    I already have checked it myself. I do not find what you say I should. You may say I need to try harder, but you are unable to give me a reason to think I have not already tried hard enough.

    I don’t know anything about you, Ça alors!; I live in the middle of the US, and here we have a prank we pull on people called a “snipe hunt” (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snipe_hunt). Perhaps you are familiar with it.

    What I DO know is that I have no reason to think your suggestion is anything more than a snipe hunt.

    sean s.

  69. #69 Ça alors!
    April 25, 2013

    Eric: “If there is no more “I” then there cannot be an uncreated pure “I.”

    If there is no more “I”, what remains isn’t an “I”, only direct-not- filtered-egotic-perception, because you have removed the filter of the ego that makes you believe in a finite created self. There is no doer anymore, only a pure awareness that witnesses and experiences everything in a constantly changing forever now. Again, language fails to describe what happens in a non-dual perception because language is a dual mode of communication that also shapes our mind to think in a dual way…

  70. #70 eric
    April 25, 2013

    a pure awareness that witnesses and experiences everything in a constantly changing forever now

    That’s an “I,” even if it doesn’t have an ego. Like your previous ‘there’s no good…but there’s a super good,” this appears to be an attempt to have your cake an eat it too; avoid the problems someone might bring up if you call it a sentience, but have it be a sentience nonetheless.

    language fails to describe what happens in a non-dual perception because language is a dual mode of communication that also shapes our mind to think in a dual way

    Feynman (after teaching an undegrad class) is purported to have said that you only really know a subject if you can teach it. I question whether what’s going on here is really a problem of communication; I suspect its more a problem with the idea being communicated.

  71. #71 sean samis
    April 25, 2013

    Honestly, sometimes I feel Ça alors! is just stringing words together with all the careless abandon of a toddler making a necklace from a shoe-string and a box of fruit-loops. It’s pretty, but… wha?

    Sorry Ça alors!. Just had to say it.

    sean s.

  72. #72 Ça alors!
    April 25, 2013

    It took me years to understand the concept of “egoless awareness”. Language cannot be accurate when it comes to describe a kind of awareness that would be egoless. I mean, who is there if there is no one to be aware? It is a paradox that defies our everyday experience.
    So the problem here is not only related to the limits of what language is able to communicate, it doesn’t seem to make sense because we can’t relate to this, no analogy can be made with that because the only mode we ever experienced is the “egotic dual mode of perception” where perception always comes with an “I”.

    I used to be a hardcore materialist. Buddhism first showed me how reality and spirituality can be reconciled. The concepts were first hard to grasp, but it grew on me. Reading about egoless perception will still sound obscure for a while but if you agree to let down your preconceptions about your self, you may understand what it finally means.

    But maybe there is also a problem of communication because french is my first, and by far, language. I’m not at my best when it comes to explain something, that at its basis, exists beyond what language can say about it.

    But I’m a music teacher, so I know what Feynman means…

  73. #73 sean samis
    April 25, 2013

    Ça alors!

    Your English is better than my French (Zut alors!) but I will have to say that if you cannot explain something then you really don’t understand it. You may have spent years thinking about this; perhaps all that time was a waste. Sorry for that. Maybe there’s no paradox here, maybe there is just self-delusion. The most dangerous ideas are attractive; we want to believe them, but they are simply…merde.

    If you can’t explain it, if it just doesn’t fit into words, I advise you stop trying to explain it. Point us at some sources and let it go. You might be right, but words cannot prove that.

    I still think this looks like a snipe hunt, except that you may have pranked yourself too. The person most likely to deceive is the person in your mirror.

    Prenez soin.

    sean s.

  74. #74 Ça alors!
    April 25, 2013

    Merci Sean!
    An oriental teacher would say that non-duality cannot be fully understood until it is experienced. Understanding non-duality isn’t very useful because the intellect that does the understanding works on a dual mode which prevents its access to the non-dual mode. It is a bit like explaining what is color to a blind person. He really won’t know what it is unless he is able to see them.

    But because I like the philosophical problem of evil, and non-duality relates to it, I like to give my highly influenced oriental perspective on it. And that comes with the idea that language is a limited, still very useful, but limited mode of communication, specially when it comes to non-duality…
    Voilà.
    Bonne journée!

  75. #75 sean samis
    April 25, 2013

    Ça alors!;

    I accept that a full understanding often cannot be had until something is experienced. As your examples show, that is not an unusual requirement.

    I don’t need a full understanding of non-duality yet, but as of now I lack even a glimmer of understanding. Perhaps that is the nature of the beast, but given what I have now, I see no reason to entertain it further. Non-duality seems to be a mirage to me.

    In the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, they describe how to levitate; one just throws themselves at the ground and misses! This is, of course, intentionally silly. What you describe to me seems no less silly, but perhaps unintentionally. I’m sorry; perhaps you think I’m blind to it, but I have successfully gotten my head around some very odd ideas (ex: quantum physics) which cannot be directly experienced. I don’t have a full understanding of QM, but I’ve gotten enough to understand the value of seeking more. Not so with non-duality.

    Cordialement, (is that too formal?)

    sean s.

  76. #76 Ça alors!
    April 25, 2013

    Yes it is too formal!
    Anyway, at least, you are now aware that such a knid of awareness exists. I wasn’t until my mid-30’s…

  77. #77 eric
    April 25, 2013

    An oriental teacher would say that non-duality cannot be fully understood until it is experienced.

    Its experienced by everyone. Humans have three color receptors. Even ignoring the combinations our brains make of them, our perception of color is fundamentally not built on a duality. Our sense of hearing is not dualistic either; its closer to analog. We’ve got a big long spiral tube with hairs in it, and depending on how far into that tube a penetrates, we hear a different frequency.

    Our nose and tongue have non-dual modes too. In fact now that I think about it, your buddhist monk friends seem to have built an entirely wrong model of human perception out of their ideology, then argued against it. Your comment above is about as relevant to real human awareness as someone saying “you really can’t describe the synthesis of the four humors until you’ve experienced it.”

    language is a limited, still very useful, but limited mode of communication, specially when it comes to non-duality

    I agree…math is better. Symbolic logic is better. Neither are wedded to duality. Feel free to describe your ideas in those formats. If you can do it using that, it might even be scietifically fruitful. And it might perk Jason up. :)

  78. #78 Lenoxus
    April 25, 2013

    Perhaps evil is “privative”. Or perhaps the perception of evil results from the illusory nature of “dual” thinking. I’m willing to respect either of these views.

    But they both fail to address the problems of actual toddlers drowning to death, real rabbits being eaten alive, and so forth. They just relabel the problem of evil.

    We wouldn’t accept arguments like “evil is privative” and “good and evil stem from dual thinking” as excuses by a violent dictator, would we? We would even be appalled if a generally respected person like the Dalai Lama were to (for example) walk past a car accident, do nothing, and later talk about “Eastern thinking, self is an illusion, blah blah”. So why accept such excuses from God, who is ostensibly (1) person-like and (2) in charge of the universe?

    And again, we have the “Eth” problem. These vaugeries manage to excuse any possible God for any possible universe, right? Suppose God had started out with a trillion humans and sent them directly to Hell to suffer forever. Many Christians already think that’s the fate of billions of people as it is. How exactly do the standard theodicies fail to permit such a “maximally” (save that a trillion is finite) evil universe? You can talk about mysterious ways, say evil is privative and God is merely making the free choice to keep his presence out of the lives of his creations, or call evil an illusion stemming from Western thinking (never mind that Christian/Muslim/Jewish theology is just as quick to let God off the hook as anything else is).

    Congratulations, you’ve justified literally anything.

  79. #79 zane
    australia
    April 25, 2013

    As a boy and young man growing up as a convinced atheist, I was involved in many theological and philosophical debates, almost always as a away to try and prove christians wrong in their worldview. (and like you, there was no one to actually argue against) However the big problem I had, and can clearly see in this thread above, is that I had an idea about what christians believe was mostly incorrect, infiltrated with ideas from the popular media about what it is that christians actually believe. Unfortunately, this is often quite different from the story of the history of the earth and humanity as read in the Bible. For example, the reason given for the change in the perfection of the created garden of eden is the earth being cursed as the result of sin. This is only one small part of the explanation, but I just felt the need to point out the pointlessness of the above theoligical debate, if you don’t actually use the source of information that (few) christians use

  80. #80 Ça alors!
    April 26, 2013

    Lenoxus, I understand that you can resume this way my comments on this blog, but it would be wrong (oh the irony) to think everything or anything is justified. Evil is still evil. And I didn’t say that our dual perspective was an illusion, I said it wasn’t absolute. There is of course an advantage to do good rather than evil but it is already difficult enough to explain the concept of non-duality… Anyway, I don’t think I need to explain why good is better than evil…
    But Alan Watts here http://www.seekeraftertruth.com/alan-watts-what-to-tell-children-about-god/ does a better job than I at explaining the non-dual nature of the process some people label as God… So no, God doesn’t have to be “ostensibly (1) person-like and (2) in charge of the universe”, like I just said, I would say it is more like a process that you are right now subjectively, from a dual, fragmented perspective, experiencing.

  81. #81 Ça alors!
    April 26, 2013

    Or if you prefer a kabbalistic (excuse my french) expalnation:

    “Ein-sof, which is initially actually nothing but potentially all things, differentiates and actualizes itself into each of the innumerable manifestations of a finite world. It does so precisely in order that these finite entities can actualize the sefirotic values (e.g. wisdom, understanding, kindness, beauty, compassion, etc.) which are only divine abstractions prior to the world’s creation. By instantiating these intellectual, spiritual, ethical and aesthetic values, the entities of the finite world (i.e. human beings) negate their individual desire and will and “return” to Ein-sof (Ayin or “nothing”). From another perspective, humanity actually constitutes the source of all value, the infinite, Ein-sof, and in this way achieves unity with the divine. For this reason, a world that is alienated from and then reunited with God is superior to one that had never been alienated or divided at all.”

    http://www.newkabbalah.com/CoincJewMyst.htm

  82. #82 Ça alors!
    April 26, 2013

    Eric, you can only taste, see, touch, hear or think on a dual mode, mainly in 2 ways. Through discontinuity and discrimination. A thought comes and goes, just like images, smells, sounds and textures. If my tongue wasn’t empty of the sour/sweet taste, I wouldn’t be able to taste what is sweet or sour. And that I stop smelling coffee in the morning after a while but I do smell it again when I go outside the house and then comeback after 10 minutes. And if the back of my eye wasn’t empty of colors, I wouldn’t be able to perceive them, just like I wouldn’t be able to feel the texture of wood if my hand was made of wood. That is why a few hours ago I wasn’t sure if my hand was still touching my girlfriend’s thigh after a while when watching a movie with her. There was no more discontinuity between her skin and mine, nothing I could discriminate, even the temperature was equal.

  83. #83 MNb
    April 26, 2013

    @67 Ca Alors: “Unless you believe that only what is measurable is real.”
    There are several problems with this statement.
    1. I don’t believe. I accept or reject hypotheses and assumptions. Frankly I feel as if you don’t take me seriously if you suggest that I “believe” something.
    2. Quantities like power are not directly measurable. I don’t have any problem accepting that an electric apparatus has the feature power.
    3. Apparently you reject the scientific method when it suits you. I start with a null hypothesis (namely there is no god), which is definitely part of it You are the one who states something positive (namely there is a god), so you are the one who has to provide arguments and evidence.
    4. You are the one who uses a circular argument to back up a claim, not me. I understand that god by definition is a bodiless entity and I think the vast majority of believers agrees with it. From this definition I derive that the concept of god is meaningless, because he doesn’t have any means available to interact with the material world, unless you fall back on woo. That would imply rejecting science again, which at least would be consistent.

  84. #84 sean samis
    April 26, 2013

    MNb;

    I have to comment on what the word “believe” means. I know many atheists and non-believers (!) reject that word as being synonymous with “faith” but that is a very informal definition. Most of these same people object to sloppy claims that “theory” just means a guess; they reply that in science, “theory” has a very different meaning.

    “Belief” has the similar differences between technical an ordinary meanings.

    Technically “belief” is a mental state regarding some proposition where their mind is inclined to assent to the truth of the proposition. The SEP puts it “Contemporary analytic philosophers of mind generally use the term “belief” to refer to the attitude we have, roughly, whenever we take something to be the case or regard it as true.”

    Let me make it simple: anything you think is true is something you believe. What every you think your name is, you believe that to be your name.

    In this sense, belief is a very general term; like “animal”.

    Beliefs that are justified by logic or evidence are properly called “knowledge”. “Knowledge” is to “belief” what “cat” is to “animal”.

    Beliefs that are not justified by logic or evidence are properly called “faith” or “opinion” “Faith” or “opinion” are to “belief” what “beetle” and “squid” are to “animal”.

    Not cats, but still animals.

    So, MNb, when you “accept hypotheses or assumptions”, you believe them (your mind assents to the truth of them). Things you believe which are justified by logic or evidence are things you know.

    You told Ça alors that you think he (I don’t actually know Ça alors’s gender) doesn’t take you seriously when he (?) suggests you believe something. I suggest you believe many things, it’s just that you and I aren’t using that term the same way. Yours is the casual meaning, mine is the technical. Do you ever object when creationists rely on a casual definition of “theory” (meaning “guess”) instead of the technical?

    Mind you, I don’t believe Ça alors’s claims either. But it seems a good place to comment on the fact that “belief”, like the term “theory” can be misconstrued, leading to much confusion. But if we hold Ça alors’s arguments to a rigorous standard (which is fair and appropriate) then we need to hold our responses to that same rigorous standard.

    sean s.

  85. #85 MNb
    April 26, 2013

    @Sean S: “when you “accept hypotheses or assumptions”, you believe them.”
    I am aware of that definition. My experience with discussions like this one though is that religious people – believers, and there is a reason why thís word doesn’t apply to atheists – use the manyfold meaning of “to believe” to their own advantage: they argue that “to believe” meaning “accepting etc.” is of equal value as “to believe” meaning “having faith”.
    Frankly I have become so tired of this cheap linguistic trick that I assume guilt of obfuscating on purpose unless proven otherwise if a believer states that I believe something. It’s a sure sign that the religious person thinks that atheism is also a belief – a standard example of bad theology.
    In Dutch, my native language, it’s exactly the same.

    “Do you ever object when creationists rely on a casual definition of “theory” (meaning “guess”) instead of the technical?”
    Yes, equally vehemently. It’s the same cheap trick. If a creacrapper argues that “evolution is just a theory” I always respond that “gravity is also just a theory”. They strongly dislike it, because it enables me to refer to the Onion article about Intelligent Falling.

  86. #86 sean samis
    April 26, 2013

    MNb,

    I’ve experienced the abuse of both “belief” and “theory” for decades now. You say you object to the misuse of “theory” vehemently. I only suggest we object to the misuse of “belief” just as vehemently and persistently.

    I find it tiring too, but such is the price of trying to reason with people who don’t believe in reason.

    Take care.

    sean s.

  87. #87 MNb
    April 26, 2013

    Sean S,

    in debates I’m just practical. Separating “believing” from “assuming” avoids me getting tired. In other words: unlike you I don’t want to pay the prize.
    What’s more, I’m selective. When another atheists uses “believe” I never object, because I can trust them to use the proper meaning. Also I don’t mind if it happens in daily life or it would be hell, me being about the only atheist in town.

    Greetings from Moengo Suriname,

    Mark Nb

  88. #88 sean samis
    April 27, 2013

    MNb,

    That seems reasonable. I don’t correct misused terms all the time, only when it’s necessary.

    Greetings from Milwaukee.

    sean s.

  89. #89 Ça alors!
    April 27, 2013

    Sean: “but such is the price of trying to reason with people who don’t believe in reason.”

    I do believe in reason and science. I hope that “believing” science has boundaries isn’t interpreted as a lack of reason…

  90. #90 Ça alors!
    April 27, 2013

    Alan Wats here, especially at 3:00 minutes, http://www.disclose.tv/action/viewvideo/20285/Alan_Watts___Coincidence_of_Opposites/
    explains very well what is dualism and how we don’t realize we are trapped into that dynamic. He also speaks about why our senses work too on a dual mode, and repeat in other words what I was trying to say about good and evil…

  91. #91 B.R.McKay
    April 27, 2013

    Atheists seem trapped in the same “dualistic” sinkhole as Christians.

    Neither group seems to have a real curiosity about the nature of God.

    For instance, what does “Good” have to do with God if it requires “Bad” as part of it’s definition?

    In both, religion and science, true success requires going beyond the individual’s sphere of of perception into the Universal. Nothing less will bear fruit.

  92. #92 sean samis
    April 27, 2013

    Ça alors!

    Realizing the human mind has its limits is reasonable; expecting others to simply accept that some have escaped those limits by some magical, indescribable process is not reasonable. Without proof of that process or that escape, a reasonable person will maintain skepticism.

    I listened to the Alan Watts link up through about 3:35. The comments about sound are inaccurate, as are the comments about vibrations generally. Lost me there.

    In general, telling me that I’ve been mistaken all along but being unable to demonstrate why this is so is not likely to persuade. Telling me that I don’t realize something, but you do realize this thing, and however that you can’t really describe this thing to me leaves me very skeptical.

    Unfortunately for you, I have been alive long enough to have seen many of these ideas come and go and reappear. I’ve pursued a few to no avail, and realize that I was chasing mirages. Sorry, but I think you’re chasing a mirage now.

    Question for you Ça alors!: do you ever play with puzzles, like Sudoku (which I am very good at) or the like? There is a relevant point to my question; do you work on puzzles like that?

    sean s.

  93. #93 sean samis
    April 27, 2013

    B.R.;

    The problem with “going beyond the individual’s sphere of perception into the Universal” is that so far, no one has ever been able to show that there is a universal beyond our perception, or where the doorway is to it. Many have claimed and do claim to know how, but following them is the real “sinkhole”. It appears to be, as I commented earlier, a snipe-hunt.

    This is not a lack of curiosity; I have consumed a considerable amount of my life seeking after the nature of God, and found that the concept of God is intractable or incoherent. I am sure of one thing only: our grasp of God’s true nature is not important to God; if it were then God would not play hide-and-seek with us unless God is also malevolent.

    sean s.

  94. #94 MNb
    April 27, 2013

    “Neither group seems to have a real curiosity about the nature of God.”
    Yes and no.
    No because I just have argued that the whole concept of god is meaningless, he/she being a bodiless entity, thus incapable of interacting with our material world.
    Yes because this says something about the nature of god indeed – it’s not reasonable to assume he/she exists.

  95. #95 B.R.McKay
    April 28, 2013

    ‘following them is the real “sinkhole”.’

    Yes I agree. However, keeping reason in balance with intuition allows for inspiration.

    ” the concept of God is intractable or incoherent.”

    True, it is worthless. Concepts are devices limited to reason.

    When experiencing poetry. Do you dismiss the sensations and images that arise? Even though they are subjective and unique to you and in no way completely predicted by the poet.

    Is the poem only the words on the paper? It would be reasonable to say so.

    MNb,

    ” the whole concept of god is meaningless, he/she being a bodiless entity, thus incapable of interacting with our material world”

    Do you define “body” only in relation to other “bodies”? God being God would be the entirety and only in the single. The prototype of “Body”. The prototype of “Self”. Therefore reasonably “Existence”. Interacting materially, at least with me, much like the above mentioned poem.

  96. #96 Ça alors!
    April 28, 2013

    @Sean
    No, I don’t do sudoku but I sometimes help my young girls to do their puzzles.

    You said: “our grasp of God’s true nature is not important to God; if it were then God would not play hide-and-seek with us unless God is also malevolent.”

    Alan Watts responded once this: “God also likes to play hide-and-seek, but because there is nothing outside God, He has no one but himself to play with. But He gets over this difficulty by pretending that He is not Himself. This is His way of hiding from Himself. He pretends that He is you and I and all the people in the world…”
    “You may ask why God sometimes hides in the form of horrible people, or pretends to be people who suffer great disease and pain. Remember, first, that He isn’t really doing this to anyone but Himself.”
    http://www.seekeraftertruth.com/alan-watts-what-to-tell-children-about-god/

  97. #97 Ça alors!
    April 28, 2013

    You know Sean, I’ll may one day come to the same conclusion as you, but from what I was able to see and understand in my last decade, I’m perfectly at ease with a God that is more a process than a person, a process that is beyond the opposites by which we can grasp the world (dualism).

    I don’t think I fail to explain well what is God because I don’t understand what I’m talking about. Like I said, it is not easy to write in english about something that is beyond language and what our intellect can picture.

    But I find B.R. McKay very good at explaining this… : )

    Have a nice sunday.

  98. #98 sean samis
    April 28, 2013

    Ça alors!,

    As far as I can figure out, B.R. McKay seems to be just stringing words together, his explanations make no sense either.

    I suspect that ultimately, the reason you and McKay can’t explain what you believe is that what you believe is not real in any sense, is not true in any sense. It’s attractive and pleasing to you and McKay, but nothing more.

    Sorry, but that’s my take on this.

    Take care.

    sean s.

  99. #99 MNb
    April 28, 2013

    @BRMK: afaIc you’re talking Sanskrit. Only thing I know is that bodies are supposed to be material.

  100. #100 eric
    April 29, 2013

    Ca alors:

    Eric, you can only taste, see, touch, hear or think on a dual mode, mainly in 2 ways. Through discontinuity and discrimination. A thought comes and goes, just like images, smells, sounds and textures.

    Well, your non-dual thoughts come and go too. Making your buddha mindset just as dualistic as the rest of our stuff. You only perceive non-dualism when dualism is absent, thus,according to your own way of definining dualism, you and your buddhist friends who experience non-dualism are still dualistic, just like the rest of us. Yes?

    In fact I think you’ve come up with such a value and general definition of dualism that pretty much nothing escapes it, not even in principle. This makes it somewhat worthless.

    Now, you can avoid that by using a more precise or concrete definition of dualist minset/perceptions. But if you do that, I think your straw man other disappears too. What you’ve got here is a concept that only survives in vagueness. It thrives in a definitional gray area where you can switch meanings whenever someone points out a flaw. But there is no ‘there’ there, so to speak.

    If my tongue wasn’t empty of the sour/sweet taste, I wouldn’t be able to taste what is sweet or sour

    Let me take another bite. Nope, you’re wrong. I can have it on my tongue and still taste more.

    And that I stop smelling coffee in the morning after a while but I do smell it again when I go outside the house and then comeback after 10 minutes.

    In the meantime, you smell many other things. Your assertion is not that we experience coffee smell in a dualistic mode, its that we experience smell as a sense in a dualstic mode. But we don’t.

    And if the back of my eye wasn’t empty of colors, I wouldn’t be able to perceive them

    Wow, really? Have your doctor check that out. I can see new blue things when there are other blue things already in my visual range perfectly fine.

    just like I wouldn’t be able to feel the texture of wood if my hand was made of wood.

    You wouldn’t be able to tell because bark doesn’t have nerve endings. There is nothing about the sense of touch per se that prevents this. Living human touch can distinguish living human skin from other materials quite well.
    We can even self-test. What does my finger feel like? I rub it with my other fingers, and feel the ridges etc…

    I have no idea where you got this no-self-reference stuff, but its patently wrong. I suspect your buddhist friends thought up their theories of perception in the same era in which they thought that blood pooled in the body and did not circulate. And it shows.

  101. #101 B.R.McKay
    April 29, 2013

    sean,

    “As far as I can figure out, B.R. McKay seems to be just stringing words together, his explanations make no sense either.”

    If they made sense to Ça alors! and not to you, it just means that you didn’t perceive the sense intended. This is not necessarily, the fault of the words.

    If one’s mind is trained in a certain direction. It will seek out reinforcement of it’s expectations.

    I do admit to Sanskrit influences. Is this, “going off the reservation?”

    I respect science, find logic and reason very useful, but, it is hardly the entire spectrum of human experience. At the very least, reason should tell us that, “Left brain” dominance is a severe limitation. How can we call it’s results “True”?

  102. #102 sean samis
    April 29, 2013

    B.R. McKay,

    The problem is that logic and reason are not merely “very useful” ; logic and reason are Essential. Experiences are neither logical nor reasonable, they just are. Logic and reason are what humans use to distinguish real experiences from hallucinations and general delusions. Logic and reason are how humans figure out what an experience was and what it might mean.

    How do you know your experiences are not hallucinations? How do you know they are not just malfunctions of your brain? How do you know that your experiences mean what you think they mean? Logic and reason are all you have. If you don’t care about logic or reason, then either you misunderstand what those two are, or you actually don’t care if what you tell us is true.

    You and Ça alors! may be wallowing in a pleasant self-deceit. How can we call your “results” true if logic and reason don’t apply? We can’t, and we shouldn’t. I won’t.

    You perhaps think I am limiting myself. I am. I limit my beliefs to what is true; to those things I can reasonably believe are real.

    We all yearn for something bigger. But that yearning can easily dupe us. There may be something bigger out there; I am open to that. But maybe there is nothing out there like that at all. Are you open to that?

    sean s.

  103. #103 B.R.McKay
    April 29, 2013

    I have come to my “belief” in the provisional “truth” described above, through reason.

    Does this change your interpretation of it?

    Ultimately, what you or I think is true, is only going to be an approximation. The phenomena of Truth is that “bigger” thing.

    Ça alors!’s and my “pleasant self-deceit”, is really, only that we choose to focus on “Truth”, as an absolute and all pervasive quality.

    You, focus more on the 10,000 separate individual true things.

    Our “science” has determined that “truth” like “light” or “gravity” is inseparable from it’s context. i.e. Universe.

    Your’s may not include “truth” in this list. But, is that more reasonable? You also, may not fuss quite so much over the “inseparability” thing. I don’t mind.

  104. #104 sean samis
    April 29, 2013

    B.R.McKay;

    Does your statement that you came to your beliefs through reason change my interpretation of it? Not unless you can describe your reasoning process.

    A accept that you and Ça alors are focusing on “Truth” as an absolute and all-pervasive quality, but there is nothing that makes the existence of that as a real “thing”. Absolute and all-pervasive Truth exists only in the truth of many, many distinct things. Truth is not a place, or an object or an all-pervasive force, truth is just a term we use to refer to the things that are. There is no separability issue to fuss over. Whatever is true is true; truth INCLUDES its context.

    Absolute Truth is not something to find, it is accreted by the discovery of millions of little truths (facts). Truth emerges from facts. And none of this in anyway endorses the ideas you and Ça alors have advocated. There’s nothing mystical or supernatural about truth (capitalized or not).

    sean s.

  105. #105 H.H.
    April 29, 2013

    I have come to my “belief” in the provisional “truth” described above, through reason. Does this change your interpretation of it?

    What if that is not true, though? What if you only think you have arrived at you theism through reason? What if what is actually happening is simple bias? You want to believe, so you rationalize your way there. It’s not quite the same thing as reasoning to a conclusion, but it can feel like that to someone who isn’t trained to think critically. What if you are just really good at lying to yourself? Wouldn’t that change the interpretation too?

    Being irrational is like being a prude. It’s something nobody ever recognizes in themselves, only in others. I’ve seen theists make the most preposterous leaps of logic when defending their gods that they’d never make on any other subject. A lot of special pleading, mostly. You can always tell that the belief–or at least the desire to believe–came first and the rationales came second, because they are universally terrible and unconvincing. I’ve heard theists say with a straight face that their metaphysical belief in god is more supported than any objective fact, since they’ve reasoned it out oh-so-carefully and there is no possibility of error. Completely delusional, of course, but the religious mind often pairs error with supreme confidence. I don’t think they realize how preposterous they look to others. You don’t, do you?

  106. #106 MNb
    April 30, 2013

    @BRMK: “I have come to my “belief” in the provisional “truth” described above, through reason.”
    Thanks, you’re writing English again.
    You only address half of Sean S’ comment 102.
    Since Euclides we know that conclusions – your provisional truth – are only as valid as its assumptions. How do we know if these assumptions are correct?
    By comparing them ánd the conclusions to experience, observation, empirical data etc..
    But what if those assumptions and conclusions – like your provisional truth can’t be compared with experience etc.?
    Then your unscientific.
    The only two ways to gain knowledge are ratio and empiry. The latter is also reasonable; rather typical that you mix up your terminology. On their own both fail. Only combined we may hope to approach truth, whatever that means. As soon as you say something like “there is more to knowledge than just science” you enter the realm of pure speculation.
    So your respect for science is only lip-service.

  107. #107 relocation moving company
    http://www.triptouch.com/user/TaylorRobinson
    April 30, 2013

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  108. #108 MNb
    April 30, 2013

    Off-topic: dualism may have unsettling consequences.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120725120646.htm

  109. #109 Ça alors!
    May 1, 2013

    @Mnb
    I play hockey and do jogging every week, and I avoid as much as I can red meat. But again, dualism is exactly what oriental tradition wants you to avoid. It is due to our default mode of perception that we oppose matter to mind… That is also why dualism is also materialistic since I think you would agree that mind and matter are not the same.

    @Eric.
    I’ll comeback to you when I’ll have time. You don’t get what I mean by the eye, or I should have said, the receptor of the eye, is empty of color…
    As for the nature of non-dualism, again, language cannot speak about what is non-dual. So yes, in words, non-dualism is opposed to dualism, that is why there is a non before dualism. But that state cannot be understood or described until it is experienced, until you can see for yourself how you grasp the world on a certain mode in which the intellect does a certain job in order to make sense. But that “dual sense” isn’t absolute. Neither are our senses. Of course, you may “believe” the contrary, that our senses and all the devices they can see with are seeing the whole picture, but again, that has no choice to be a belief, or you may prefer, an assumption…

  110. #110 B.R.McKay
    May 1, 2013

    Sean, when you say that “Truth” as an absolute and all-pervasive quality can not exist as a real “thing”. I’m at a loss to counter your assumption, since, you have neglected to “describe your reasoning process”. But, rather defined the term “true” well within the bounds of your own orthodoxy.

    As far as I can tell my orientation is still valid. Just not your cup of tea.

  111. #111 B.R.McKay
    May 1, 2013

    H.H.
    Actually, I’m not particularly comfortable with the term “Theism”.

    Not sure what it means to you. (For example: Is Buddhism in it’s purest form, Theistic?)

    The practice focuses on direct experience, rooting out lies, self deception, and rationalizations. If I’m really good at lying to myself after 40 years, you should not be wasting your time talking to me.

    I’m just advocating a “viewpoint” that you have dismissed as “irrational”. What was your reasoning for that again? Please don’t lump me in with the evangelicals and fundamentalists that have helped form your “biases”.

    At the very least argue to the “Monism” evidenced in my views.

  112. #112 sean samis
    May 1, 2013

    Ça alors!

    Eric has it right. The receptors in your eye don’t “contain” colors, they respond chemically to light within a narrow frequency range. Their chemical response fires-off signals carried by nerves to the visual cortex. What happens in the visual cortex is not entirely understood YET. Give it time tho’. We will figure it out without resorting to magic or mysticism.

    You have said many times that your non-dualism cannot be described with words, which should warn you to stop trying to. Give us specifics on how to experience it for ourselves, and good reasons to not think these efforts are a “snipe-hunt”.

    As for “mind and matter are not the same” (addressed to MNb). That is neither here nor there. The brain is composed of matter, the mind is just a process, an über-complex system of bioelectric events happening in the brain. There is no need to imagine the mind as some “other” thing, and absolutely no advantage to thinking that the “mind” is supernatural or fundamentally independent of the material brain.

    The rotation of a wheel is a process that happens to the matter that is a wheel. Mind is a process that happens to the matter that is the brain. Rotation is much simpler process, but neither rotation nor mind are “other”; they are materialistic processes. Nothing more. When the brain dies, the mind goes with it; if the brain is damaged, so is the mind. There is no reliable evidence to the contrary.

    You may regard these things as mere assumptions, but you can give us no good reason to accept your claims as any better, much less true.

    sean s.

  113. #113 B.R.McKay
    May 1, 2013

    MNb,
    If I have been similarly condescending in this discussion, I apologize.

    I do admire your precision though.

    Yes assumptions can be a problem. When I doubt myself I start over with the single statement “All is God”. Then begin testing my experience of life against that thought. Sometimes I’ll vary it with “Nothing is Not God”, just so things don’t slip through the cracks. (I find it confusing when people want to argue about this.)

    There has also been another practice, “Who am I?”, or “Who is this self that asks the question?”.

    In the latter case, the point is to NOT have an answer ready for the question. But, to see what is revealed. What is revealed, can be tainted to various degrees by all the subjective folly I’m being warned about in this blog. Through practice one learns objectivity. And, with objectivity, comes quality. Which I am calling “provisional truth”.

    Ok, maybe you don’t call this science (I was using it metaphorically before). However, it serves the purpose.

    Since I’d like to wrap this up soon, I went back and read my original comment in #91, to see if it still holds up:

    “In both, religion and science, true success requires going beyond the individual’s sphere of of perception into the Universal. Nothing less will bear fruit.”

    Isn’t this pretty much what we have all been talking about?

  114. #114 sean samis
    May 1, 2013

    B.R.McKay

    No elaborate reasoning process is necessary.

    You wrote that I “say that “Truth” as an absolute and all-pervasive quality can not exist as a real “thing”.”

    Here is a Truth: that’s not what I “said”. There are two reasons:

    First; I didn’t “say” anything, I WROTE IT. No elaborate reasoning on that is necessary, it can be observed as a fact. It is True.

    Of course I am nit-picking there (another Truth) but for a purpose. It is clear that no deep reasoning process is necessary to establish the Truth of that point.

    You may assert that you were writing informally. If you do, that claim asserts that something is True: that you were writing informally.
    Such a claim to informality might be True; we cannot observe or test your intent at the time you misstated my comments.

    This illustrates another point: we will not always know what is True because our powers of observation are limited. Yet this Truth is still quite simple: either you were actually being informal or you were just careless. Nothing more than that is necessary to understand Truth.

    Secondly; I did not write that ““Truth” as an absolute and all-pervasive quality can not exist as a real “thing”.” I wrote that “Absolute and all-pervasive Truth exists only in the truth of many, many distinct things.” At no point did I write that “Truth cannot exist as a real thing.” Your characterization of my comment is Not True. Again, no elaborate reasoning is necessary; one need only read the comments to see.

    Truth could be a “thing”; it could; it is True that the possibility exists. But…
    It is also True that there is zero evidence of that possibility being real. It is also True that there are zero reasons to think it is.

    No elaborate reasoning is necessary; if there are reasons to believe it, no one has presented them. That is a Truth.
    If there is evidence, no one has presented it. Yet another Truth.

    The other part of my reasoning process is quite familiar: Occam’s Razor; “one should accept simpler explanations until simplicity can be traded for greater explanatory power.” A theory of Truth that makes it some kind of Mystical “thing” is much more complex than just treating “truth” as nothing more than a word we use for the things that just are.

    It is true that the simplest theories are not always true (see: Quantum Physics) but that is because sometimes greater complexity provides greater explanatory power (as it does in QM). Reality is not simple, but simpler than some people want it to be.

    Your more complex theory of Truth provides no greater explanatory power than mine (another Truth) so Occam ’s razor tells us to choose the simplest explanation.

    This is not about “orthodoxy”, it’s about facts. Can you prove that some “out-there” Truth DOES EXIST or that it MUST EXIST? If not, then why would I believe that it does?

    Here’s another truth: orthodoxy does not matter either way. Sometimes orthodox ideas are correct.

    sean s.

  115. #115 eric
    May 1, 2013

    Sean @112 (asking Ca alors):

    You have said many times that your non-dualism cannot be described with words, which should warn you to stop trying to. Give us specifics on how to experience it for ourselves, and good reasons to not think these efforts are a “snipe-hunt”.

    I don’t really care whether I can personally experience it – just show me that it does something. If scientists or westerners or whomever are trapped in this inferior mental state, then, Ca, use your superior mental state to build a better mousetrap. Or cure cancer. Use it to solve some problem that we inferior-perspective-burdened people can’t solve. I’m perfectly willing to accept that the world is really, truly holistic in a way I can’t perceive…IF this hypothesis can be used to do something my view of the universe can’t do.

    A superior or truer mental understanding of the universe should be translatable into actions that the inferior understanding would never predict would work. If your understanding does nothing, then its worth that too.

  116. #116 MNb
    May 1, 2013

    @Ca Alors 109: “we oppose matter to mind”
    For the sake of clarity: I think there is no opposition matter-mind. When I use the word mind I imply by definition something 100% material. If I’m writing/talking about an eventual immaterial component I use the word soul. Imo it’s obfuscating terminology to distinguish brain-states from mind-states, leading to a false dilemma. Now I know that some smarter people then I am like this distinction; too bad for them.

    “since I think”
    Your thought is wrong. Dualism can’t be materialistic. If mind, like I state, is materialistic it can be researched by science (that’s what neuroscientists do) and it makes no sense to separate it from matter. If there is a component (which I deny) that is immaterial it can’t be researched by science and dualism is correct. That’s what Nagel argues and all believers believe (or no soul, no karma, no reincarnation etc.).

    @BRMK 111: “Please don’t lump me in with …”
    Don’t worry. I don’t have the faintest idea in what category of believers you and Ca Alors belong. It’s up to you if you are going to tell us or not. I sincerely try only to react on what you guys write here and not to make extra assumptions about your belief systems. Of course I might fail; but I trust you to correct me if I do. Moreover I won’t hold it against you if you change parts of your belief systems; just tell us if you do.
    An important reason I like to discuss with you two is because you try to have an intellectually honest debate. I appreciate that very much because of several negative experiences in the past. So maintain!

  117. #117 MNb
    May 1, 2013

    Almost forgot: BRMK, you haven’t been condescending.
    Ca Alors, according to recent research processed food might be the culprit while red meat is OK. Masai and Inuit eat red meat their entire lives and don’t have health issues.

    http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/121/21/2271.long

  118. #118 Ça alors!
    May 2, 2013

    @Eric
    Non-dualism is not superior to dualism just like colours aren’t superior to black and white…

    It would perfectly your right to not care about colours if you would not able to see colours. But I would respond that it is not because you don’t see them that they don’t exist. And that it is not because I can’t cure cancer with colours that colours aren’t useful…

    On that last point, I think it would be very useful to see that a lot of suffering is caused because of an attachment to a self that isn’t what it pretends to be. But in order to see that, you need to escape the mental merry-go-round that the ego built a long time ago. If everybody could see that (i.e.: if you would be in a non-dual state), a lot of problems and suffering would disappear. Religions or patriotism would have no reason to be.

  119. #119 MNb
    May 2, 2013

    “Non-dualism is not superior to dualism just like colours aren’t superior to black and white.
    That’s a bad analogy. The first two are theories, colours are natural phenomena.

    “because of an attachment to a self”
    Probably yes, but that easily can be maintained in a thoroughly materialistic worldview. Materialists don’t have problems with praying and meditation. They reject most of the claims the practitioners attach to it.

  120. #120 Ça alors!
    May 2, 2013

    Mnb, a lot of research was done on meditation. Science can see how brain is changed by meditation. And that is all it can says… As far as I’m concerned, subjectivity is a fact. Science isn’t just the best tool to investigate it.

  121. #121 Ça alors!
    May 2, 2013

    Non-dualism isn’t just a theory. It stays one until you learn how to get to it. And once that is done, you can compare it with the average state and understand why our default mode is a dual mode.

    I know you don’t believe that this may exist but let’s say it is true. Would you agree that the scientific method wouldn’t be able to measure this new perspective (outside the different brainwaves)?

  122. #122 B.R.McKay
    May 2, 2013

    Thank you sean, very impressive. I will only directly quote you if possible, instead of paraphrasing.

    This part bothers me though, not sure you’ve followed your own rules.

    “Truth could be a “thing”; it could; it is True that the possibility exists. But…
    It is also True that there is zero evidence of that possibility being real. It is also True that there are zero reasons to think it is.”

    Might be more accurate to declare that there is zero evidence that you are aware of, or in language you understand, or testimony that you respect.

    As for “zero reason to think it is”

    Again, zero reasons that you, at this time have thought of or respectfully heard of.

    I feel like I should humbly suggest, that my meaning was more along the lines of; “Truth” as the prototype of “true”, existing as a fundamental potentiality integral to the coherence found in the Universe. And, hypothetically, a single, undivided phenomena throughout all it’s manifestations. Infinite.

    But, this is a lot more words than seems necessary for such a simple concept.

    I’m also afraid of your shredding it into oblivion since my use of language is “careless”. It’s that darn right hemisphere again.

    “Your more complex theory of Truth provides no greater explanatory power than mine”

    Actually mine seems vastly simpler to me.. And yours doesn’t explain why the truth of one thing is equivalent to the truth of another.

    “Can you prove that some “out-there” Truth DOES EXIST or that it MUST EXIST? If not, then why would I believe that it does?”

    Careful, you might be getting tired. “Truth” as I relate to it is not “out-there” but completely and seamlessly integral to the entirety.

  123. #123 B.R.McKay
    May 2, 2013

    @MNb 116:
    Thank you. I had some trepidation over yesterdays work here. Felt I may have spoiled the few good points that matter, through excess and attachment to results.

    I have also had some bad experiences. It was H.H. that seemed to be “lumping” not you. I realize that my use of language, isn’t always clear. A prime motivator for me to engage in these “talks” is to see what and how things are said. For me, a beautiful turn of phrase, is “true”, in and of itself. Its even more wonderful if the concepts expressed have wisdom, integrity and coherence. It’s always practice towards an ideal. And, as you say the ideal can evolve.

    Again, I appreciate your comments.

  124. #124 sean samis
    May 2, 2013

    B.R.McKay;

    Regarding “Again, zero reasons that you, at this time have thought of or respectfully heard of.

    I accept that correction. Can you cite evidence or reasons I’ve perhaps not heard of? Be aware that I’ve read this thread and I didn’t see any. And that I’ve been actively looking into this question since the 1970’s. All sorts of stuff has been passed-off as “evidence” or “reasons” but so far all those have perished under scrutiny.

    Regarding “But, this is a lot more words than seems necessary for such a simple concept.

    Exactly. Some things just are. Truth is the word we use to refer to those things. C’est tout.

    Regarding “yours doesn’t explain why the truth of one thing is equivalent to the truth of another.

    If two things are, then their existences are “equivalent”. Why would I think their existences were otherwise? If your explanation requires this, that fact would be evidence it is not simple.

    Regarding, ““Truth” as I relate to it is not “out-there” but completely and seamlessly integral to the entirety.

    This still seems to make truth distinguishable from the entirety; integral perhaps, but still distinguishable, like a star is distinguishable from the solar system it is a part of.

    Truth is not distinguishable from the entirety, it is just how we refer to the existence of the entirety. Truth is not a “part” of the whole, it is an attribute of actual existence. It is not a thing to be found. It is a term to refer to things found. Nothing more is necessary; all other constructions are superfluous.

    sean s.

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