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Posts Tagged ‘Metaphysics’

Still thinking of reasons to believe…

Something hit me about a week ago, when watching the Passion of the Christ: people do really, really horrible things to each other.  The sick twisted stuff that people do to each other, the brutality, the dehumanization, the sadism, the torture, it blows the mind.  Why do people do such horrific things?

At the same time, I wonder if that isn’t a kind of evidence for God for me.  This isn’t a logical argument with premises and conclusions- I don’t even really want to go there right now.  It’s an intuitive thing.  Here goes-

Human beings are capable of unique evil.  We do so much that is purely motivated by malice, and we are capable of an kind of evil that you don’t see elsewhere in the natural world.  Some of the nasty crap we do can be explained as evolutionarily functional: war overresources, for example, or male promiscuity.  I’m not talking about that stuff.  I’m talking about genocide and systematic horror that we inflict on each other, the kind of stuff that isn’t really functional, so it doesn’t make sense, or rather, it doesn’t seem to have a natural explanation.

Nature isn’t malicious; it’s indifferent.  It’s not evil; it’s amoral.  But we can do things that are horrible to each other that go far beyond the harsh indifferent cruelty of nature.

And it’s not limited to the Hitlers and Pol Pots of the world, either.  Just think for a second; I’ll bet you can imagine some pretty horrible things that you could do to another person, if you put your mind to it.  Even if we’d never consider doing it, why can we even think of those things?

By contrast, almost all the good we seem to be able to do is either  1) evolutionarily functional (like parents sacrificing for their children, or pretty much anything good you do that has an element of self-interest or group-interest) or 2) only a matter of correcting bad stuff.  If I feed millions of starving people, for example, I’m not creating a positive good so much as I am merely correcting an evil.

It’s easy to think of horrible and nasty things you could to to hurt other people for no reason and no real benefit to you (and therefore not easy to explain by evolution or nature), but it’s hard to even think of positive good (something above and beyond just correcting something bad) that you can do that isn’t naturally explicable and evolutionarily functional.

To me, this makes me think a couple of things.  One, maybe there’s something to the idea that we’re fallen, broken people in a fallen, broken world that needs fixing.  And maybe unnatural evil means that there might be unnatural good.  It’s hard to even imagine what that kind of unnatural, positive good would look like (because of the T in the Tulip, maybe?), but if there can be malicious non-functional evil, why can’t there be pure good, righteousness, sanctification, holiness.  And if it’s not here in our world, then where is it?

Where did evil come from?  It’s not easily explainable from a naturalistic point of view.  Does that mean it comes from outside the naturalist model somewhere?  And if there is evil from outside, why not good?

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I talked about this before in another post, but I didn’t feel like I articulated what I was thinking as well as I would have liked, so I want to try it again.  Also, it’s still on my mind so I still want to talk about it.

I feel like I’m on the verge of believing, but I’m holding myself back because I am extremely conflicted.  I know I’ve been over probably a dozen problems that were “the thing” that kept me from believing, but this is the one that’s bothering me right now.

I’d like to believe, and I’d even like to be a Christian, but I’m uncomfortable with having to see the whole world and all of existence through the lens of Christianity.  Its what I was talking about before when I said I was reluctant to take on a worldview, but I don’t think that expressed what I meant to express very well.  I don’t want to have to interpret everything I experience and think about in terms of its relationship to Jesus Christ.  I just don’t know if I’m cut out for that, and I don’t see how I can be a Christian without putting on Christianity-colored glasses.

I don’t always want to see everything in that color, that’s all.  And I fear that if I’m always looking at things through a Christian lens, that my life will be poorer for it.  That life and existence will be less nuanced and less

Like I said before, I’ll be getting my head into a Christianity groove, and then I’ll hear some cosmic, mysterious Moody Blues song or something and Christianity will suddenly seem so small, provincial, limited, and limiting.  I feel like there’s so much mystery out there and I’m not sure that Christianity is a perfect fit.  Since it’s nit a perfect fit, you wind up having to cram the  universe into the Christianity shoebox, where either the universe or the box gets broken and warped in the process.

I don’t know how to articulate it better than that, so that will have to do.  I’m thinking about disabling comments on this post, though, because I’m afraid that what I’m trying to explain will once again be minimized, misunderstood, and dismissed.

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I’d be lying if I tried to continuously assert that faith issues and spiritual experience issues were the only things holding me back from committed belief in anything. There are major parts of me that are reluctant to decide for God or for Christ because I don’t want to decide for God or for Christ. Simply put, I have a religious/spiritual fear of commitment.

I’m not talking about the stereotype of the unbeliever who is unwilling to change his life, so he chooses atheism in order to live a life of immoral license. For me, the hard thing about being a Mormon was never the commandments. I’m not saying I never sinned, but I generally wanted to do the right thing, and I was generally successful in repenting of major wrongdoings and staying on the right track. The hard thing was never all of the rules. It was always intellectual.

What I’m trying to say is that Mormonism was so intellectually complete that it was stifling to me. There was no room for the unconventional, or the speculative. That may sound strange in light of rampant “Mormon folklore” and elders’ quorum-style speculation about Kolob, but I assert that it was/is nevertheless so. Sure, there was “room for speculation” in one sense, but it was always limited to certain narrowly defined directions, and even then you’re encouraged to focus on the essentials and warned of the consequences of straying too far out of bounds (just ask the September Six!).

I don’t really feel like I’m articulating this very well, and I’m sure that be failing to articulate it well, I’m inviting well-meaning Mormons to completely disassemble what I’m trying to say.

I like the idea that anything can be true. I like being able to read science fiction and wonder if that kind of thing will really happen someday (whereas the Second Coming of Christ sort of puts a damper on the voyages of the Starship Enterprise). I like entertaining possibilities. As much as religion appeals to me, uncertainty also appeals to me. Freedom to be as heretical as I please is a precious freedom.

I want to be able to wonder if – or even wish that – maybe some crazy thing is true without worrying that it is somehow beyond the walls of my religious/belief system and I need to repent. I want to be able to entertain any idea without feeling like I have to dismiss it for being unbiblical or unbookofmormonical. Or whatever.

I don’t like the idea of saying “I believe x is true” because it shuts down the possibility of a through w and y and z. To me, that is almost suffocating. I know I want spirituality, a spiritual path even, replete with practices and a way of life, but I don’t know if I am even really interested in a worldview. I don’t want to have to interpret everything I see through the lens of Mormonism, Christianity, or anything else for that matter. Maybe it’s the postmodernist in me that wants to be able to hit the buffet instead of ordering just one thing off the menu. I don’t know. Maybe this kind of thinking is intellectually dishonest of me, but if I am to be personally honest, I have to admit that it might be the biggest thing holding me back from belief of any kind.

Thinking about this, is sounds to me like I’m begging to be a Unitarian Universalist, but I have to admit that I’m not interested in the UU at all. I actually like traditional liturgical Christianity, and even Christian theology. And besides, like I said, I’m not reluctant about a spiritual path or well-defined spiritual practices, or even scriptures or many aspects of theology (by which I mean the philosophy of religion). It’s a stifling worldview that I’m spiritually claustrophobic about. I know it has a lot to do with gorwing up Mormon, but I also know it’s not an unjustified fear, because I see it in other belief systems, even more so than in Mormonism.

So one facet of my spiritual fear of commitment is this panicky spiritual claustrophobia that I don’t know how to deal with, or indeed if I even want to deal with it, and certainly I don’t want to have to deal with it.

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I’m always thinking about religion, faith, and belief. At the moment I’m a provisional atheist, but I’m not excited about being a permanent member of the club. I may ultimately feel like I have no choice, but if I do, I’d just as soon be some kind of believer.

Anyway, here are some of the ideas I’m tossing around in my head.

I’ve been reading Joseph Campbell and thinking about the interaction between myth and the human psyche. I wonder if Myth is the process by which human beings process the unprocessable. There’s something out ther,e bigger than all of us, and to attempt to define it scientifically would probably utterly fail. It has to be tackled holistically, using all the disciplines and arts and sciences and philosophies that humanity has at its disposa, and even then we miss it completely. So maybe Myth is the way we deal with it. We conceptualize it in a way that we can wrap our minds around. We use Myth as metaphor for the deeper reality that we otherwise are completely incapable of communicating.

If that is the case, then theology is probably a lost cause- at least if we think that theology is somehow going to lead us to an ultimate truth. Narrative, on the other hand, becomes extremely important.

If that is the case, then to do something with this transcendant reality, humans need ot negage it in a way that is meaningful for them. Thus, different societies and cultures have different myths and religions based on those myths based on what resonates with their culture. For me, the most resonant Myth would be Christianity. Seen that way, I could envision myself believing in God and following Jesus Christ, but with the reservation that I knew full well that it was just the best way I know of how to get at the Ultimate Mystery of Existence.

I simply cannot believe in God, face value, as described by any one religion. And I feel like simply entertaining some vague notion of transcendant reality is not sufficient for anything approaching spiritual fulfillment. So if I am to believe in something, I need to find a vehicle for that belief, and keeping in mind the ultimate flaws in any human conception of the sacred/divine/spiritual is how I would avoid the pitfalls of dogmatism and fundamentalism and furthermore be able to feel intellectually honest with myself.

I realize that this sounds a lot like the liberal Christianity that I normally dismiss without another thought. I don’t know what to do about that except to say that it just might be the best I can do. I also wonder if this doesn’t sound awfully like Neopagan theology, except that I’ve decided to believe in Jesus instead of, I don’t know, Zeus or something.

Anyway, that’s what’s on my mind right now. I’m also trying to read Kierkegaard. From what I know about his approach, it sounds interesting and different, and maybe something I can get on board with. We’ll see.

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There are things that I do affirmatively believe and am sure of, and things that I outright deny. In between the two is a broad spectrum of belief. Somewhere in that spectrum is the fact that I strongly doubt the existence of God, at least in the traditional personal sense), enough to where I’m comfortable saying that I do not believe in him.

Also somewhere in between the two are things that I might believe. Things that I could believe, but that I’m not really willing to commit to.

I started this post a long time ago, and never finished it.  I might believe that there is something out there that I could call God- some sort of sentience or superconsciousness to the universe, sort of Spinoza-esque, or Pantheistic like Brahman.  I could imagine that there’s something like that, and if I believed it I could be a Quaker or something, but I don’t affirmatively believe it because I don’t feel like I have a reason to, other than wishful thinking, and I don’t see what difference it makes.  The universe is awesome and majestic, whether it has a consciousness or not.

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I am tired of people trying to convince me that I can logically and rationally come to the conclusion that Christianity (or any other religion) is true. So, quit it.

1. Religion is ultimately a matter of faith. If your religion could be rationally proven, everyone would just join it.  Trying to prove your religion to me means that either you don’t know what, or you think I don’t know that.

2. Most any rational argument for religion has an equally compelling counterargument.

3. I have not decided against religion because I found it illogical or irrational.  I have decided against it because I lacked the spiritual impetus.  I read the Bible, I went to church, I read some apologetics, but I never felt that there was anyone on the other line.  I never felt the presence of God.  Because of that, I felt like I was kiding myself, and if I kept it up, I’d be lying to myself, and I might even convince myself.  I’m not okay with that.

Experience has made it something of a trusim to say that you can neither prove your religion nor can I disprove your religion (no matter what argument I put forth, even if I logically prove the existence of God to be an impossible paradox, you can always say God is the supreme being, so he can be a paradox if he wants to).  So don’t even try.

I’m willing to swallow the logic of the apologetics and believe even when I don’t have all the answers, but I need something spiritual to base that on.  Why does that seem to be so hard to explain to people?  All I’m asking for is a spiritual foundation to build my beliefs on, because that’s really the only possible foundation.  Otherwise, I have a tower built on nothing but self-delusion.

You want to convince me of your religion?  Bring me something genuinely spiritual.

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Just because I have decided that I am an atheist doesn’t mean I believe in nothing.  It doesn’t mean I am a fanatical devotee of the temple of Science, or that I am some kind of Nihilist.

Atheism isn’t a set of beliefs.  It’s not a positive affirmation of anything. All “atheism” says is that I don’t believe in God.  But I do believe in other things.

I believe in a fundamental unity of the universe, that separateness is an illusion.  Physically, we’re all made of the same stuff anyway, and there’s a cycle as we rotate mater into, through, and ultimately out of our bodies.  Our atoms don’t have our names written on them.  The illusion of separateness may have its advantages, but in the end it is an illusion.  Furthermore, if mind and body are really the same thing, then our consciousness is really just a part of everything else the same way our body is.  And if there really is some kind of mind-body dualism, then mind is still part of everything else either by virtue of being connected to body in some way, or in the sense that the mind/soul is all the same as all other mind/soul the same way body is.

I believe in dicsovery, in learning, and true progress.  I believe in the importance of figuring out as much as we can about the world and about ourselves, through all of the fantastic means we have at our hands.

I believe that there is a lot more out there than we can even imagine, that our models of the universe, useful though they may be, don’t come near to explaining everything in an exhausive sense.  I believe in mystery, and in the unknown.  I believe that “there are more things in heaven and earth… than are dreamt of in [our] philosophy.”

I believe in treating other people the way I would like to be treated.  I believe in empathy and compassion.  Even without God, these are the things that make us human and give value to the human experience.  I believe that human beings are important, not because some arbitrary supreme being says so on a whim, but because we have incredible potential.

I believe in being happy, both on an individual and a collective level.  I believe that the pursuit of happiness, again balancing the individual’s happiness against humanity’s happiness, will take us great places.

I believe in making the world better- I believe in taking care of each other and taking care of the world we live in and leaving the place better for the next generation than it was left for us.   Because humanity is wonderful, and the earth is our home.

I believe that love is the most wonderful thing that there is.

That’s all I can think of right now.  I’m sure there is more.

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I have come to the realization that I do not believe in God.

I don’t deny that God exists.  He (she? it? they?) certainly might exist.  However, at the moment, I simply do not have enough to go on.  I see no gap in the universe so great that it needs a god to fill it, and I feel no personal relationship with any divine being.
I have very few reasons to believe in God at the moment.  I have the testimony of others, sure, but for most people that means a singularly unreliable, subjective kind of testimony.  And it is more than counterbalanced by my sense of skepticism.

By no means do I intend to paint all believers with one broad brush, or to disparage them all.  In fact, one major reason that I leave myself open to the possibility of God if the fact that my wife believes in God.  She seems to have a sweet, humble assurance of divine presence and a sense of relationship with the spirit that I do not have, but would never dare question.  In fact, people like my wife lead me to hope that I might be able to believe in God someday.

The authority of the Bible, like the auithority of any other religious book, is also highly unconvincing.  Again, it it second-hand testimony at best, and largely unsibstantiated.  Furthermore, all of the “Bibles” of the world conflict with each other, and contrary to the protestations of their respective adherents, none of the pack really stands out.

I am naturally inclined toward Christianity, sure.  But it is Christianity that I am inclined toward, not God.  You may think it odd that I would separate the two, but I’m doing it.  I find Christianity appealing and relevant, but I have no reason to think that it is for any other reason than because I grew up in a Christian family in a Christian culture.  So when I make my ad hoc adjustment for cultural bias, I find myself again at the zero mark.

Finally, I admit that I would like to believe, but for the moment at least, that is not enough.  I know how easy it is to manufacture something when you want it badly enough, because I grew up in the Mormon church.  For the time being, I simply refuse to make myself believe.  I’m not comfortable with that, and I would never be able to shake the skepticism that comes from the fact that I would know full well that I had purposely cultivated religious fervor.  That’s not the same thing as a relationship with God.  I know, because I did it for twenty-eight years.

In other words, I have already gone the route of pushing myself toward belief.  I’ve spent years cultivating faith on purpose, readin scripture, praying, testifying until I felt sure of myself.  Immersing myself in religion and spirituality until I convinced myself that it was all true and that it really was God.  Coming out of that, I’m hardly willing to just pick a different flavor of religion and try again.  I have no reason whatsoever to suspect that the ultimate result won’t be exactly the same.  Also, I am reviled by the idea that God is playing some kind of cosmic shell game.

I could change my mind.  I’m open to it.  Right now I have some vague criteria in mind that would do the trick, but they seem to not be forthcoming.  I’m not closed to the possibility that in the future at some point, either those criteria will be met, or I will change the criteria.  I’m hardly so arrogant as to assume that I’ve got the whole universe figured out right now, and I’m hardly so stubborn that I would be unwilling to change my mind about things.

I prayed this afternoon that God would tell me that he exists.  I didn’t get an answer.  I guess that’s all for now.  I don’t know what this means, or how long it will last, but here it is.

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What then is consciousness? What is the “I,” the thing that is doing the observing when I think about my thoughts? Some people posit a soul. Ebon Muse proposes a construct along the lines of distributed intelligence. Scientists call it the “hard problem” of the study of consciousness.

If the consciousness, the watcher that is observing the mental processes and the metaphorical movie screen in your head, is a matter of distributed intelligence, then we can think as a unified consciousness the same way that swarms of bugs can act as a whole unit even though the decision-making isn’t happening at any one point in the swarm. Your brain is thus the hyper-complex neurological analogy to a swarm. Every mind is a hive mind.

If such a thing is possible on the small scale, then I find it entirely possible to imagine that it happens on the large scale, or even on the largest possible scale. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to think that the universe, the cosmos, has a kind of consciousness that is composed of distributed intelligence. It wouldn’t be a consciousness like ours- it would be so big and in such a different context that not only would it be so alien we could never interface with it, but the sheer difference in scale and the nature of consciousness means that it would be categorically impossible to wrap our minds around what it is.

Yes, we are part of it. Everything is part of it. If it exists, that is.

But if it isn’t conscious or intelligent in any way at all, it still exists. The cosmos unquestionably is. And to me it is equally unquestionable that separateness is not, in fact. Thus, the cosmos not only is, but it is us. We’re part of it when we rest in dreamless sleep, when your brain is not tricking you into believing that you’re separate from other things. We’re also part of it when we’re dead. Actually, we’re always part of it, but there are times when nothing is trying to trick us into believing that we aren’t, and that there’s a difference between me and you. But at those odd times, like when we meditate and lose track of our individual identities, our Self merges into the Whole.

What could be more fantastic?

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In his article, A Ghost in the Machine, Ebon Muse discusses the superior parietal lobe. I’m not a neurobiologist and I don’t necessarily know anything about the brain, but Ebon Muse cites sources, and I have no reason to not believe what he says about what this part of the brain does.

Essentially, it’s the part of the brain that tells us where we are. It gives us a sense of location, which means it also gives us a sense of separateness, of being distinct from other things. When the superior parietal lobe’s functions are impaired or otherwise disabled, a person loses a sense of their own physical limits, i.e., where self ends and not-self begins. This can be accompanied by feelings of oneness with the universe or even religious and mystical experiences.

The more I think about this, the more it blows me away. Ebon Muse uses the function of the superior parietal lobe as evidence against mind-body dualism, but to me, this knowledge validates Maya.

Separateness is an illusion. In reality everything is the same as everything else- it’s all connected in one big system and the boundaries that we perceive are merely cognitive conveniences that enable us to simultaneously have consciousness and perform vital physical functions. The superior parietal lobe’s function is to produce a mental construct of physical (and mental/spiritual) distinctness. In other words, without the superior parietal lobe convincing us that we were separate individuals, we wouldn’t think we were. So the truth, before it’s chewed up by our brain and formed into a picture that we can comprehend, is that separateness is a myth. Everything is really the same.

Like I said, this is huge to me. I already believed in Maya, because it seemed like the most reasonable thing in the world when I read about it in books on Hinduism. I mean, we’re all made of the same basic atoms as everything else is, and the atoms that compose us don’t stay with us; they’ve not got our names written on them or anything. Our own bodies take in new matter and replace the old matter. If matter is really all just three different kinds of subatomic particles, how can I really say where “I” stop and “everything else” stops. Our mind tells us that we are finite and have borders, but our minds tell us lots of things that are not so.

Our very empirical experience of the world is not direct- it’s sensed indirectly by remote sensory organs, coded into nerve impulses which are sent to the brain, and then the brain sorts through it and composes a perceptive impression which it feeds to the consciousness. Along the way, mistakes get corrected, gaps get filled in, and all kinds of mental processes color and shade this sensory information. What I think I’m seeing is not necessarily the objects I think I’m seeing, or even the photons that bounce off them or the raw data that gets sent to the brain. It’s a processed mental construct. What we think we see is not necessarily what we see.

How is the sense of separateness different, particularly if it is only maintained by nervous activity in the superior parietal lobe? Without that, we would have no sense of independent existence, and to me that means that the sense of separateness is actually the artificial construct.

In other words, Maya is the product of our superior parietal lobe lying to the rest of the brain. It’s a functional, useful lie, to be sure, but it’s a lie. The real truth is that all is one, that everything is everything else, including you and me.

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