Monday, May 31, 2010

Themes of Civlization part 2: Freedom and Dignity

Back in the late early 70s, about 1970 when I was young, a major force in the world of thought was Skinarian psychology, led by B.F.Skinner best known for his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity. It is very strange that Skinner should have been popular with the young in that era, because looking back on it he was counter to every impulse of the youth movement. Skinner argued that freedom and dignity were outmoded concepts that stood in the way of ecological and social reform. Yet if there was anything that the youth movement was about it was freedom. If you have true freedom, dignity can't be far behind. Those concepts are bound up together. Digty follows freedom and requires it. Freedom without dignity is meaningless. Skinner argued that people need to be engineered to protect the environment, and we need to change behavior by treating people as rats in mazes and reinforcing their good behaviors and using negative reinforcement or opporant conditioning to rid society of their bad behaviors. As I understand it the difference in negative reinforcement and opporant conditioning is this. Negative reinforcement means you are reinforcing them to stop a behavior. So you are giving goodies they want but you are influencing them to stop something. With opporant one is using abrasive or uncomfortable reinforcement to detour behavior. Skinner wanted to start treating everyone like this in order to produce good social behavior. For a time this theory was on everyone's lips. The problem was Skinner assumed environment was the major factor in behavior. When the genetic side began leading the Skinner dropped from the horizon.

It is odd that this view had any currency at all in the 60's because it was anti-antithetical to the spirit of the age. The counter culture was about individual freedom. Skinner wanted to eliminate individual freedom and relegate it to the outmoded concept bin. Now the major explanations for behavior revolve around genetic determinism. Atheists go for this sort of explication, I think, because it allows them to feel guilt free when fears of Pascal's revenge loom forth. When the slight tinge that maybe there is a hell after all dawns its ugly head, the atheist likes to be able to say "O but I'm so totally blameless because everything I do is determined by genetics. All of life is just strict determinism." This is a forlorn hope because it plays right into the hands of the most fundamentalistic theists. Surely if we are predestined (ala Calvinistic predestination) then we should expect to find a genetic predisposition that would give away our ultimate destination. I find myself mystified by many of the choices of atheists in this generation. The desire to be reduced to the status of robots is no less puzzling. I can understand why they feel so much more comfortable with technology. That makes perfect sense. But I cannot understand why they are so comfortable with being reduced to the level of robots. It seems one major reason to rebel against God is to be free, but then they don't believe in freedom.

I'm sure some atheist believe in freedom, but I have argued with many  of them, a huge number, who do not. They especially reject freedom in the form of free will. maybe some atheists think its' a matter of being free to follow their pre determined natures. I have seen atheists on message boards, more times than I can count, many many times argue that free will is nonsense because everything is determinism. It seems total absolute determinism is a huge assumption among this millennial generation. At least in message board debates the hedge against religious guilt does play into it. Most of those arguments usually revolve around the notion "God can't hold me responsible for sin because I'm predetermined to do what I do." One would think that if everything is so pre determined then religious people are religious because of chemicals in their heads, they have no other choice because there is no free will. That may make atheists feel better about the slight possibility of a God, but then it also should mean that their atheism is predetermined and that may be because they are predestined to burn. Even so and at any rate they should at least understand that if this is true than religious people are not religious because they ear stupid, but because they are predetermined by chemicals. Conversely atheists are  not superior or smarter because they cant' help and did not choose their outlook.

I usually avoid arguments about free will because it is absolutely meaningless. There is no reason to assume that we could ever find the truth of it. If we are so totally determined, if the universe is so totally deterministic, then research and science are hopeless. Anything we "discover" will only be the biased result of the pre determined outlook. Science has to assume free will or it can't research or experiment. If conclusions are already pre determined there's no point is doing the research. But people who make these arguments are usually just confused about the nature of cause and effect. They are confusing causation with determinism. Cause and effect in and of itself is not deterministic per se. The nexus of material cause and effect allows for a greater verity of outcomes; there are uncertainty principles, and human reason means that we can choose from between alternatives. In any choice we make reason is the motive cause of the outcome that results from the choice having been made. Some think that free will suspension of cause and effect, but in free will reason itself becomes the cause, there is no one pre determined outcome. The analogy would be the human propensity for height. Humans fall within a range of four to seven feet, in general. There is no one over all universal height that so advantageous that it becomes the universal height, so a range is possible. So we have a genetic propensity for height, but we are not per determined to necessarily be any particular height, but we will usually fall pretty much in that range.

Science is potentially of  the greatest forces for freedom, yet it is also one of the greatest dangers. We saw how a certain kind of scientific thinking, with B.F. Skinner, almost contributed to the sacking of freedom and dignity. The scientistic mentality always seeks to reduce freedom and to explain away dignity. Scientism is practically the worship of science. It seeks to reduce freedom to a level of control in the name of some misbegotten misconception about the what serves science. Scientistic types always want humanity to be the servants of science. They will defend that with some circular reasoning about serving the greater good of some abstract humanity for which concrete here and now people must suffer. The other day I came across a perfect example of the scientistic mentality, on Meta Filter.

book review:Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
March 7, 2006 11:10 AM
March 7, 2006 11:10 AM   RSS feed for this thread Subscribe
Prof. Daniel Dennett's (New York University, Philosophy) new book Breaking the Spell appears to have frightened its NYT book reviewer, Leon Wieseltier (The New Republic, Literary Editor).

(the blogger here was wrong, Dennett is at Tufts not NYU)

Wieselter claims "The question of the place of science in human life is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question", and promptly proceeds to demonstrate that he himself knows nothing about philosophy. Dennett responds.
Prof. Brian Leiter (University of Texas, Philosophy) responds that "'The view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical' is not a 'superstition' but a reasonable methodological posture to adopt based on the actual evidence, that is, based on the actual expanding success of the sciences . . . during the last hundred years."
b l o g s s and serious reviews.

Science can explain all conditions and expressions mental as well as physical because its' had success in blowing tings up, polluting things, and discovering a few cures for a few diseases. This hardly constitutes knowing everything. People who really understand science don't make those kind of statements. People who think that way just turn their eyes to the floor when confronted with the huge list things science still doesn't know. Nothing like that matters, it's all about replacing God with the new god which they think they understand and control. We already have graphic evidence of how science is often used to exploit people and to reduce people to inhuman level. In the book What Difference Does a Revolution Makes Adrew Reding quotes Tomas Borgre, leader of the FSLN in Nicaragua (the Sandinistas) Jose Meguse Bonino (Latin American liberation Theologian) wrote about how science was being used to exploit the campesinos of Central America.The governments put statistics and technology to work dreaming up ways to control populations, modern economics made their way of life obsolete and reduced them to the level of wage slavery, and when they protested they were told "this is science, you are an ignorant peasant, you can't possibly understand but this is proven with modern efficiency). The mystique of science justifies everything. You are far too subjective, meaning ignorant and of no value, you can't possibly understand your own feelings. You need to science to tell you what to feel and if you can't stand that then science will give you pills so it wont hurt anymore.

But science is so successful, what does it matte what mere humans feel? Feelings are subjectively and subjectivity is not factual so science must erase subjectivity. Marcuse's one-dimensional man is more no tap now then it has ever been. What do you imagine the reduction of human consciousness to brain chemistry is really about?  Remember the novel Brave New World? How did they keep the masses in line? By altering their brain chemistry with a drug called "soma." If we are nothing more than brain chemistry and if our choices are all illusory and bad and science can alter our brain chemistry so we make the choices some group of elites wants us to make, and they make us feel good about it, hey why not right? What is life anyway? It's not meaningful. It's really staggering how a society that is so keyed into "empowerment" and so afraid of "dissing" and so hyped on the concept of "respect" can so easily justify being controlled, manipulated and reduced to subhuman lack of dignity? So far the government doesn't have to spray soma in the air to control people; they just provide lots of nice shiny things to buy. But the ideologies of control are all over the net constantly telling us we are merely machines dignity doesn't matter, life is meaningless, just get into some localized bull shit you like and don't worry about truth or justice.

Dignity is bound up with freedom. One cannot have dignity without freedom. Dignity is the ability to feel good about who you are and to feel that you are worth something just because of who you are. Without freedom you are not able to be who you are. You are forced to make choices you do not wish to make, choices that don't suit who you are, and that's astounding that so many people are willing to be told that their choices are illusory and thus they are actually allowing the functionalists to tell them they do not merit dignity. Basic human dignity is the only thing we all owe each other a priori. Dignity is part of the concept of love in the Christian sense, agope, God's love. Agope is the willingness to bestow human dignity upon the other. I define love as "the will to the good of the other," and part of that definition of "the good" is the basic human dignity we all owe each other. Freedom and dignity are inherent in the concept of Christian love.

The relation of freedom and dignity to civilization is fundamental. Civilization, according to Schweitzer, is living conditions arranged to maximize human potential and the growth of the individual. The assumption that all humans have dignity and the freedom to grant that dignity and to see one's own sense of it is the basic goal and pursuit of civilization itself. The Skinnarians highbrow talk of outgrowing freedom and dignity was a recipee for destroying civilization.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Part 2 of part one (Meaning and Truth) in Themes of Civlization

2 of 1


Meaning is a function of truth, and truth is the limit on meaning. In other words The only way that something is meaningful is in proportion to the extent to which it represents the truth of some situation or outlook. By the same token, meaning is limited by truth. A lie is not meaningful in terms of its falsehood, only in terms of what it tells us about the liar. Meaning is subjective, one cannot deduce meaning from the order of things as one might try to deduce a designer from the apparent design in the universe. For that matter, I don't think one can logically deduce a design in the universe. The fact that meaning is subject does not indicate that God can't bestow meaning. "Subjective" refers to an individual's perspective. Each individual has his/her own perspective and cannot know that of another. God, on the other hand, can know each and every individual perspective. God knows the heart, God knows the mind, God knows all hidden knowledge that no human can know. Therefore, God is the only perspective which sees from all view points at once. Thus God is both subjective and objective.

when I say "meaning in life" it should be clear that I'm talking about Meaning with a capital "M." That is higher meaning, meta narrative. The big picture.We can all have some kind of meaning in our lives, but the question is, do we have private, local, relative meaning or do we have "higher universal meaning?" Many people reacted angrily to the previous part 1 of this topic.It's odd that the sensibilities of changed so, because in the 60's that stuff would have been eaten up. The irony is these very people who take the attitude that they can find their own meaning and they don't need God, have that attitude because Sartre made it acceptable in the culture. But then turn around and lam bast Sartre for finding that meaning depends upon God. People today are at easy the existential aunxt. They don't fee it and they don't care. In any case, Sartre is only saying the most logical truth. Which would be more meaningful, if the inventor of a product said "I made this product to do X,Y, and Z." Or if someone who has never even seen the product said "I think this product is for X,Y, and Z?"

We live on a dust mote in a sea of random chance. There is no reason why we come to be. The galaxy, the solar system, planet, species and each individual in them is nothing more than an accident. If you don't believe in God you have to believe that no one designed you, no one created you for a purpose, you have o purpose, you weren't born for a reason, you are nothing than an organism, soulless, and devoid o any special reason for being. When you die, you die that's it no one cares no one remembers you and it wont matter one whit that you ever lived. If you have talent it is not a gift, its just a mistake. But if God created you then you are a creature of God's. You exist for a reason, and hat reason is o be loved by God. You exist to the object of love of the creator of the universe. What could give grand higher level meaning more than that? Yet, these people angered by that concept. That is hard for me to figure. I mean some of them actually said "this is evil." I certainly do not understand this. How could it be evil to think that each and every individual is an end in himself, a special being made for the express purpose of experiencing God's love? How in the hell can that be evil?

Each individual can find some basis of meaning that is personally satisfying. I get a kick out of thinking about that yellow garage, I don't expect that to be meaningful to anyone else. It gives me a sense of meaning in a way. But that's not higher meaning. it's not a purpose for living, it's just personally satisfying. You might not think higher meaning matters, but higher meaning gives the empitus to live for something and it makes our commitments worth dying for. Take for example the three civil rights works in Freedom summer, 1964. They were in Mississippi, registering voters. Their names where Goodman, Chainy, and Schwerner. These are the three civil rights workers murdered by the Klan and buried in a damn. This event was captured on the movie Mississippi Burning. Those guys were murdered in secret. They just diapered it took a huge search to find their bodies. If they had never been found, no one would have ever known of their sacrifice, would it be meaningful that they made it? Well each of us will die, and be forgotten and then it wont matter worth a hill of beans what sacrifices we made. By care about anything? Why help anyone or commit to anything because after you die peple forget you ever existed and it doesn't matter. It's not recorded in posterity, what dos it matter? What would it have mattered if the three workers had gone home and just didn't bother to work for civil rights? Why stand up for anything? In the end there's no consequence for cheating, no one sees.

Now I'm betting that most atheists out there will be thinking "I don't need God for it to matter." OF course without God it really doesn't matter because you just die nd then no one remembers and so who cares? You aren't around to think about it. But I bet that some where in your heart you are secretly thinking "it matters in the long run in some sense." But in the long run is not different from the short run, you exist for no reason, when you die you die and no one cares and it doesn't matter. But you are thinking there can be some way in which it does matter. But that's because you have the notion of God. In your hearts of hearts you know God is real and God is the one who sees. That makes things meaningful. Does that mean that atheists' lives are meaningless, or that atheists are of no value? No of course not, it means the opposite. Atheists are of inestemial value each and every individual because they are all creatures of God and their lives were created for a purpose. That purpose is to love and be loved in return. Atheists' lives have meaning even though they do know that they do have this meaning.

Now a lot of atheists try to make the argument that God doesn't know anything. God is no better than just any old bully in a bar. They try to make good on this idea by arguing that meaning is personal and private anyway. But the only kind of meaning they can have is personal and private so they have to make the best of it, and they have to pretend that that's as good as universal higher meaning; of course logically it can never be. You know there is universal logical meaning, you know it can only come from God.Finding a universal higher meaning is basic psychological need, and it's actually part of the definition of mental health. If these people understood the concept of God properly they would see how fallacious it is to think that God's view point is just one more opinion. Many atheists can only think of God as a big man in the sky. But is not a big man, God is the foundation of all that is. That means God is to you as your brain is the the thoughts in your head. You are a thought of God. How could we possibly compare the divine perspective to our own? We degrade it by even calling it a perspective. We should just say "how could the divine compare with a human perspective?" Because God is not just another perspective. God is all perspective. Some atheists try to say that meaning is bestowed by mind so they somehow think that God can't bestow meaning. I certainly don't understand that. The divine is the source of consciousness. The divine is the ultimate center of mind, thus the valuations that are bestowed by the divine are clearly more meaningful and carry more weight than any other.

Keep in mind, God is not a big guy in the sky. He's not the potentate on a throne with a white beard. That is just a cultural metaphor used by ancient people to make God relevant to their cultural understanding. God is not an individual being, for individual imply one of many. God is unique, God is the basis upon which all things exist, and has no category and is not comparable to anything. In my view God is the
Ground of Being or "being itself." This means that the divine is the basic foundation upon which things exist. This means the divine is the basis of the laws of the physics.I'm sure these ideas will anger many atheists. But this is because the modern sensibility cannot accept a will higher than its own. the mission of the modern is to be one's own God; we must never accept a will higher than our own. They are not use to thinking about placing their egos on a lower level than that of the divine. The modern sensibility is comfortable with local privatized meaning. But a huge body of empirical data shows that those who experience religious consciousness have a much deeper sense of meaning in life than those who do not. For thousands of years people have found meaning in the sense of the numinous.

In his amazing article "Spirituality and Well Being, An Overview" qualified clinical psychologist K. Krishna Mohan looks at a huge number of studies that demonstrate the link between self actualization and religious experience. He says that a vast number of studies prove that religious experince increases one's sense of the overall meaning in life, and that this is a major life long strength for those who experience it.

Numerous studies have found positive relationships between religious beliefs and practices and physical or mental health measures. Although it appears that religious belief and participation may possibly influence one’s subjective well-being, many questions need to be answered such as when and why religion is related to psychological well-being. A review by Worthington et al., (1996) offers some tentative answers as to why religion may sometimes have positive effects on individuals. Religion may (a) produce a sense of meaning, something worth living and dying for (Spilka, Shaves & Kirkpath, 1985); (b) stimulate hope (Scheier & Carver, 1987) and optimism (Seligman, 1991); (c) give religious people a sense of control by a beneficient God, which compensates for reduced personal control (Pargament et al., 1987); (d) prescribe a healthier lifestyle that yields positive health and mental health outcomes; (e) set positive social norms that elicit approval, nurturance, and acceptance from others; (f) provide a social support network; or (g) give the person a sense of the supernatural that is certainly a psychological boost-but may also be a spiritual boost that cannot be measured phenomenologically (Bergin & Payne, 1993). It is also reported by Myers and Diener (1995) that people who experience a sustained level of happiness are more likely to say that they have a meaningful religious faith than people who are not happy over a long period of time.

This article is on the website for the Indian Psychology Institute. Mohan looks at cross cultural studies in India and the West.

Sartre's attempt at making his own meaning failed, and this illustrates the fallacy. Sartre made the argument that sense it is up to us to create our own meaning, the meaning that we do create, as an amalgam, is the essence of humanity. In other words, humanity is as humanity does (or in this case, as humanity believes). But when asked what if humanity become fascist, then the essence of humanity will be fascist and we have to say our species is defined as fascist in essence. The only thing that Sartre could say was "this is unthinkable, we have to hope this doesn't happen." The fact that he could not find an effective answer is just a function of the problem that always dogged him. As Gabriel Marcel pointed out, Sartre never did develop a sense of ethics or a system of ethical thinking based upon his existentialism. This has always been understood as one of the great failings of humanist atheistic existentialism. This problem really points up the fact that localized meaning can backfire and make life even more meaningless. What if one is frustrated in obtaining the things that make one feel life is meaningful? For example how does a Hedonist cope with a life that is pure misery? Such a life must be meaningless a priori.

As I said meaning in life can't be deduced or proven. It has to come with the package of belief. Meaning is properly basic, however, and while it can present itself to people apart from any sort of proof, and thus taken on face value because suddenly things seem meaningful the proper basicality of meaning points o a higher truth. Since meaning is a function of truth, the sense of meaning can be understood as an indication of truth. There are certain hints at meaning:

(1)Love and the reverence for life.

Schweitzer tried to externalize the survival instinct in reverence for life, the desire to apply to all organisms the same fierce sense of survival that one applies to one's self. The sense of love and reverence for life gives one a sense of meaning in the grand universal sense.

(2) Morality

Positing a universal set of strictures that are true in all situations because they refer to duty and obligation gives a sense that there is a higher meaning behind it all.

(3) need for human dignity

Dignity is the root of the Christian sort of love. The Greek term for Christian love, or God's love, is Agape. A major aspect of the definition of Agape is "to be willing to accord the other the basic humanity dignity owed to a human being." Human dignity is a function of meaning. Because we are creatures of god we have this value in God's eyes. But human dignity is balanced by human responsibly, this is not an excuse to destroy the planet. Rather its a rationale for trying to save the planet. Fundamentalists who think "green" is a waste of time because we are headed for end already are not honoring the responsibility which comes from bearing the human dignity imparted by the image of God in which we are made.

(4)laws of physics.

That's a dilemma I use in my third God argument. If the laws of physics are prescriptive then who passed the law. Who is the law maker? Science cannot tell us where the laws of physics come from, but some scientists (such as Dr. Odenwald) recognize that the laws had to come first or nothing would happen. But where were the laws embodied when there was physical universe? If laws of physics are not prescriptive but merely generalizations drawn from tendencies of behavior that would mean the universe come to be against or without physical law, when other things happen without physical law or opposed to physical law we call it "miracle" and skeptics say it can't happen.

(5) Religious experince

as demonstrated above the studies show people who have religious experiences of the "mystical" or "peak" kind, tend to feel as part of the experince that there is an inherent overarching meta narratival meaning to life. Those who do not have such experiences are less likely to have this. This is would suggest that such a sense is part of a divine revelation that comes from contact with the divine.

It is tempting to try and make the need for meaning into an argument for the existence of God. The problem with this approach is it's too subjective to demonstrate that meaning exits. Yet since meaning is a function of truth, the need for overarching meaning, the sense that it is had in the nature of religious experince and the other hints may be indicative of a justification for faith. This is an argument from sign, but if meaning is a function of truth, then to find meaning might imply that we have found truth. It seems unthinkable that the sense of meaning that offers deep satisfaction and makes life work and gives us all the hope we need to face whatever trials may come, is just the product of a lie and a mistake. The sense of meaning the sense of the numinous gives to life is a priori indication of truth.

What is the connection to civilization? Schweitzer defined civilization as the organizing of living conditions in such a way that the individual is allowed to grain his/her full potential. Freeways and shopping malls are just the infrastructure of civilization. Just like the plumbing to a house is not the house, but merely part of the infrastructure of the house. Civilization is the ideas the enable us to pursue such living conditions as are conducive to human potential. Clearly the search for meaning in one's life is germane to the concept of civilization. If our ideas of civilization are not informed by that search then we are not pursuing civilization.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Christianity and Civlization: Themes of Civlization part 1: Meaning and Truth

Part 1 of 1

(part 1 of 1)

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)

See The Ultimate Online Sartre resource: "have a coffee Break With Jean-Paul."

I have decided to flesh out several themes that are implicit in the piece I wrote in "Open Letter to John Loftus and  the DC crowd."In doing so I will be speaking in a very general sense. Obviously I can't lay out the whole history of western civ. in a blog spot. I realize I will painting with a broad brush. But this an attempt to spell out the ideas that have always acted as undergirding for my belief system and spur me on to faith. I don't claim to be making pronouncements from on high. I don't claim that I could prove all my beliefs. Rather I shall attempt to spell out some of the basic reasons for my world view.

Perhaps the most important underlying theme of that essay is that of meaning and transcendent truth. Meaning in life plays a big role in the playing our of my youthful formation, because as a Sartian existentialist I bought into the line that "life is meaningless and absurd." it certainly seem meaningless to me when I was young.  This was what the Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre was all about. I felt then and I still feel today that Sartre was entirely correct his assertion that his philosophy was the logical consequence of not God. If there is no God Sartre was basically right about life and meaning. Existentialism had its hay day in the 50's. It burst on the scene after the war, the late 40's the major thinkers were turning to social ills, as the country tried to get back to civilian life. Hollywood began making "film noir" movies, and socially poiniant films like "the Best Years of Our Lives."  Films that either dealth with the dark side of human nature, or tried to expose social ills. In that context existentialism suddenly took center stage in cultural world and the world of letters, because it was seen as the way to put France back in the center as the culture leader it had been before Nazi occupation. Sartre had fought in the underground, escaped from a Pris ion camp by just walking out and acting confident like he was supposed to be doing it!

Existentialism hit its stride in the 50's when many thinkers became famous for it, such as Gabriel Marcel with Christian existentialism, Niebuhr bothers (Reinhold and H. Richard) and Paul Tillich with existentially based theologies. Albert Camus hit his stride in that decade. In art Jackson Pollock represented existentialist themes, and in film Ingmar Bergmann. By the 60s existentialism has become a cultural icon. The philosophy became fuzzy in people's minds. As with "Postmodernism" the exactly meaning of the term was replaced with an image. People who didn't know what to call a painting or a film that seemed "edgy" or confusing called it "existential." The term conjured up images of people wearing berets  and sipping espresso at a side walk cafe on the left bank and smoking Galloir cigarettes and saying things like "It is all absurd!" In the 90's this image worked its ay into beer commercials. The clown of life and the slogan "why ask why" were parodies of this "existential" feeling. "why do you sit on the beach with the sad clown of life? why ask why?" That image and the feeling it evoked lent a je ne c'est qua to our adolescent rebellion and our lonley youthful strivings. My brother and our best friend Lantz saw the Bergmann film "Smiles of a Summer Night."  The talk of "the yellow pavilion" in that film gave them the idea of speaking of Lantz's garage as "the yellow pavilion," (because it has just been painted yellow). We did not want to be in Dallas, we wanted to be in Paris or New York, so we forged our own Texas version of existentialist image, sipping coffee in Ihop and smoking camel filters dipped in paragaric and saying "It's all so absurd!" Texas Rednecks in ear shot would say "whut are them bo-ahs talk'n about?" as we unabashedly and loudly discussed the metrical patterns of Keats, Marcuse, Joyce, Descartes, and of course Sartre. Once my brother and friend were were working on an atheist critique of the bible, with a bible present. A redneck who didn't know up from down thought they were Christian fundametalists making apologetic notes and he came over to them and shouted, baning on the table, "a couple bible thumping bad ass boys!" I said to my brother when he told about this "why didn't you tell him what you were doing?" He said "I don't want that guy on my side!"

One of my favorite scenes in Woody Alan's filmAnnie Hall is a parody of this general image that existentialism had been stuck with by the 70's. Woody is in an art museum. A woman is gazing before a famous painting by Jackson Pollock. She says "can't you just feel the anxt, the deep respire, the black abyss of meaningless  and nothingness." Long pause in which Woody contemplates what was said. He then says "what are you doing tonight?" The woman replys "committing suicide, at 12:00 midnight!" Wood says, "what are doing at 11:45?"

Despite this romanticism, existentialism was a cogent philosophy, well thought out and based upon an older tradition that stretches back to the middle ages.

Sartre explains his philosophy most cogently and non technically in his essay
"Existentialism is a Humanism." The essay was first published in 1956, the year of my birth. But its most available incarnation is in Walter Kauffmann's book Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre 1989l, however the original lecture was given in 1946. Sartre begins his discussion in defining existentialism as the belief that "being proceeds essence." This will have a profound bearing upon the concept of both meaning and truth because it is a direct attack upon age old theistic notions of the meaning of truth. The age old is say that essence proceeds being. In other words, first there is an idea in the mind of God, then God creates that idea in concrete existent form. This stems from the thinking of the scholastics and Thomas Aquinas. But there are other themes that might challenge this notion. Aquinas was an Aristotelian. In his day he was greatly despised for brining novelty into theology. Theology was supposed to be set in stone, the really true truth that you didn't mess with. Thus Augustine was the philosopher of the Church. He was a Platonist. Aristotle was the philosopher of the Arabs, they saved his ideas. Plato was the intellectual bedrock of the church, and all the language of the creeds, with its incidents and accidents, was shaped by Plato. To bring Aristotle into it, especially after he was identified with the Arabs, who were infidels, this was a scandal.

The roots of existentialism have long been seen as stretching back to  Augustine, but more so to Aquinas. The major difference in Plato and Aristotle is what they do with the forms. Plato said the world we know is the reflection, like a reflection of an object in a pool of water. The reflection (the "real" world) participates in the forms thus has it's being. Augustine said the forms are in the mind of God. So the participation in the forms is that of a thought in a mind; like the idea of an art work in the mind of the artist, or of an object such as a piece of furniture in the mind of the artisan who makes it. Aristotle said "there is no form without essence." This means there is no world of the forms "out there," the forms themselves appear with and in the concrete examples of them. Thus there is no form of mud, there is mud right here and that mud contains the form of mud, there is no general universal ideal mud that it participates in.

The idea of the forms in the mind of God gave life meaning, it meant that it is an expression of what God had conceived for it in his mind. Now Aquinas obviously believed that God created the world.  But taking Aristotle's view of no form without essence he left open the possibility for individual "particulars" (the things in the world, in the concrete examples) to be shaped by "incidents and accidents." These ideas already existed. The major aspect of Platonic thought that played upon the Christian notion of Trinity was the concept of "essence." This comes from the concept of substance (really the same ideas); the Greek term is hamosios. This means the aspect of something that makes it what it is. So the Platonic Augustinians are saying a thing is what it is because it is first held in the mind of God. But the Aristotelean scholastics were saying that the from, the substance that defines it is in the individual event not in some pre set concept. The third view was Nominalism that comes form the followers of Duns Scottus. They said "a rose is a rose is a rose." Meaning there is no special form that defines a thing, it's just what it is. Even though they were Christians too, they are the forerunners of modern reductionism. Well The particulars of this story get pretty complex. I have to skip over the rest to get tot he point. Suffice to say Sartre came into it and said "there is not only no form without essence  but being proceeds essence."

This is a radical jump from the previous stage. I am not saying Sartre was the first to say that. But he took it and made it his own. The idea is that there is no pre set formula or concept for things in the world, they are just what they are becasue they just happen by accident and random chance. The upshot of all of this is humanity; what is humanity? Because the themes of the past said humanity is a creature of God, thus as humans we have a duty to God. Unfortunately time does not permit a exploration of this concept of "accident." Because the scholastic notion of accident is much like our modern random chance notion, and that's where it comes from. All of our modern concepts of cause and effect, occurrence (incident) and random "accident" have their origins in the scholastic notion of cause and effect. The modern world just cut off the bits that pertain to first cause and the other forms of causes and left sufficient cause as our modern notion of c/e. Thus c/e comes out of the concept of necessity and contingency.

Sartre just moves it over one. It's not that the essence is within the form, essence is following form. For humanity that means we first exist. We exist for no particular reason except the c/e reason that science uses to explain the random event that led to life on earth, and the it is up to us to us to make ourselves what we will. In other words we are free to become what we wish to become. This is a principle concept for Sartre, radical freedom. We are free, we are condemned to be free. This means we can't avoid making decisions, we can't rest upon being shaped by prior forces. Sartre would have none of the modern determinism stuff of chemical determinism. We are radically free, we have to choose what we will become. He re shapes the concept of essence. It first meant (substance, hamousios)the quality that defines what a thing is. Thus the substance of a horse is long nose, mane, tail, four legs with hoofs, and so forth. But for the scholastics it was like a special unseen quality that pervades things. For Plato there was a special realm somewhere beyond the world we know where the universal ideals exist (forms) and the particular instances of these things participate in these ideals in  a way that is mediated through the spend el of necessity. But For Aquinas the substance was actual in the particular. For Sartre substance boils down to an abstract definition of what something is. This is very crucial. This must be understood, because it is up to us to decide for ourselves what we are, we determine our own essence. If I want to be brave, I want to be a brave man, I define brave for myself. "I am brave because I go to the store by myself." I am brave because I'm not worried about McCain winning. We set a value and we define if we live up to that value. Thus in a sense we are making truth for ourselves. We making meaning for ourselves.

Meaning is the whole point. For Sartre life is meaningless and absurd. This has a particular meaning. I am not doing justice to the complexity of Sartre's philosophy. He was a brilliant thinker, and his most technical philosophical treaties is hard to read and requires a real educational background in Philosophy. It is called Being and Nothingness. That book is widely known throughout the academy to have been a "ripoff" of Heidegger's Being and Time. Heidegger was Sartre's teacher. It is true that he was greatly influenced by his old professor. I see Being and Nothingness as an attempt to translate the ideas of Heidegger into French thinking, not as out and out theft. Sartre does ad his own original slant to the ideas. But the necessity of baptizing into French culture ideas of a German philosopher was a very real problem. So Sartre was doing a service to Heidegger not just stealing his work.

For Sartre "meaningless" means there is no pre set essence, there is no predetermined value or ideal or definition for life. We are free we are not shaped by any duty or obligation to God or any higher power. We just organisms and we are here. Then it is up to us to decide what our lives mean, what value there is int them, to define for ourselves the meaning we wish to put on it. The most crucial step, humanity becomes what it wishes to become. Humanity is that thing whatever it is. We are not creatures, we were not created, we are not creatures of God, we are creatures of ourselves because we crate for ourselves our own meaning. We create our own truth because truth, if defined as "that which is" is a function of essence. We shape our own essence by the force of our own being, then we are defining truth according to what we have become. That which we are is a function of that which we chose to be. This should all have real resonance with atheists. Even atheists of today who have no background in existentialism should find kinship with these ideas.

So I believe that Sartre has one of the best readings of meaning of life, if there is  no God! If there is no God then there is Jean-Paul Sartre! But the problems in Sartre's views then become for me problems in being an atheist. They becomes reasons to assume the reverse of Sartre's view. Sartre was explicating the consequences philosophically of a world with no God, thus if these consequences prove to be false, that would be a reason to assume there is a God. Of course we can't think of it as proof. But I tend to think of it as a good reason to assume God in understanding what we should do about civilization.

There's one more step before I cover, self authentication. One determines one's own essence, that means we attach our own meaning to our lives by deciding upon our own values. When we do this in such a way as to act in freedom for ourselves to define ourselves, we make ourselves who we are, this Sartre calls "self authentication." It is in a sense the Sartian alternative to salvation. A Sartian existentialist doesn't die and go to heaven, he lives out his/her life on earth, enjoys it, and that is called self-authentication. Of course I'm leaving out a lot; good faith, bad faith, shrinking under the gave of the other, neusia, the state that arises from realizing the meaninglessness and absurdity of it all. Also this is connected to anxiety, in existentialist terms "anxt."  This is most important but I have no time to cover it. Now lest one think there is none of this in Christian existentialism, all of these moves are found in Kierkegaard in one form or another, and certainly in Gabriel Marcel.Of course Kierkegaard lived over fifty years before Sartre was born, while Marcel was a big fan of Sartre's (even though he was a Christian and Sartre an atheist). Christian existentialism proceeds not from the move "being proceeds essence" but form the move that the point of life is find connection with our source and thus become "more ourselves," (Kierkegaard).

Time and space does not permit more. This is only a blog but I will do part 2 of 1 next time. In that essay I will show why all of this really can be reversed and indicates a fine justification for belief in God.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Realization of God and Meaning in the Universe

The Topic was raised on my message boards, Doxa Forums, about the notion of ultimate meaning in life based upon God. I can understand valuing life and the universe and all of that if there is no God but I can't understand NOT being able to understand how God would make it more meaningful! I think those who argue that there is meaning without God, and that God doesn't make meaning just think of God as "another guy." He's just a big man in the sky with a lot power but he's an asshole and doesn't' know as much as they do and can't figure things out. To hear these sorts of thoughts expressed makes me sick. it makes me want to just wretch my guts. In fact it almost convinces me there's a satan. That could rob such a basic understanding from people. It's sick.
It's like not being able to see the difference in a Michelangelo sculpture and junk pile.

My friend Quantum Troll argued:

But is this the meaning that we experience and express in our lives? I would argue not. Meaning, for people, really comes from within. "What gives your life meaning?" gets a ton of answers, but most of them involve family, friends, what we do at work (esp. doctors and social workers), and God. Meaning is something you perceive subjectively, even if you believe in God.
This is the basis of romantic rebellion of the early 19th century, meaning is an inner truth and one's own unique inner truth is separate form the ultimate origin of the universe. Its strange how such an old idea, connected as it is to a defunct philosophy, still clinging to the postmodern milieu and espoused by a scientific reduction type (as QT is). Reductionism and romanticism are quite opposite of one another. At the risk of making the genetic fallacy it would be safe to say that QT would not normally espouse such an idea and would certainly disprove of the Romantic's basic understanding of knowledge as private and relative and based upon an inner truth derives spontaneously form nature that has nothing to do with scientific fact. Strange that a science guy would still recite his trace of an old bromide left over from a long forgotten movement. But this kind of thinking has worked its way deep into the modern Western psyche.

He acknowledges that if god exists then universe has purpose but still holds out for private meaning that would only be valued by the one discovering it through this inner truth. In my view that's a mistake based upon an illusion. Like the illusion of radiant cold. Cold is an absence of heat, it's not radiated. Air conditioners don't spew out cold they spew cold air, air which has the heat removed.So it is with personal meaning in our lives. Meaning is related to values are the bed of morals. Morality law is written on the heart so your value systems are ultimately put on your hearts by God. Our person meanings are filtered through the values system that is ultimately for the divine.

At this point in the discussion another friend, Tiny Thinker, introduced an idea that I think is quite profound, one I should have tumbled to at his this point:

Within, without. That has nothing to do with God, unless one presumes God is only within or without, here or there. Meaning itself is the puzzle. If God is the foundation of all and the ground of Being, then family, work, etc are all given by God, so they would not really be an alternative. People may derive meaning from their idea of God, but that is just another thing, another creation.

We may experience everything subjectively, yet that doesn't mean we aren't experiencing something that is objective. We pattern our own efforts and creations after that experience of something. What are imitating? For example, we may call some of our imitations of cause and effect in the empirical realm "laws and principles" and imagine they exist independently as "aspects of nature", but that only begs the question. It still says there is something "out there" that exists independent of our subjective perception which ultimately doesn't require any reference other than itself.

By "within or without" he means regardless of weather we place meaning within as this Romantic inner truth, or without, as the over purpose handed down from a rational creator, God is more than just another fact of creation, but the basis upon which all reality rests. That means meaning is bound up with God at an intimate level, private meaning is also bound up with God as God is according to Augustine "more near to me than my inmost being." As the basis of reality God is present and manifest in all of reality, even in the beings. That mean even the post priviate meaning that seems to be connected to who we are at the deepest and most intimet level is also connected to God and exists because God is the basis of reality.

This reminds me of my idea of that belief stems from realization and anyone can realize the reality of God believe. This realization transcends logic. It need to proceed from winning a logical argument with a skeptic but is as simple as realizing our own contingency. I didn't realize it at the time I thought of it, although I should have but this is nothing more than idea I've been attached to since seminary; Schleiermacher's feeling of utter dependence.

Frederich Schleiermacher, (1768-1834) in On Religion: Speeches to it's Cultured Dispisers, and The Christian Faith .sets forth the view that religion is not reducible to knowledge or ethical systems. It is primarily a phenomenological apprehension of God consciousness through means of religious affections. Affections is a term not used much anymore, and it is easily confused with mere emotion. Sometimes Schleiermacher is understood as saying that "I become emotional when I pay and thus there must be an object of my emotional feelings." Though he does venture close to this position in one form of the argument, this is not exactly what he's saying.

In the earlier form of his argument he was saying that affections were indicative of a sense of God, but in the Christian Faith he argues that there is a greater sense of unity in the life world and a sense of the dependence of all things in the life world upon something higher.

What is this feeling of utter dependence? It is the sense of the unity in the life world and it's greater reliance upon a higher reality. It is not to be confused with the stray sky at night in the desert feeling, but is akin to it. I like to think about the feeling of being in my backyard late on a summer night, listening to the sounds of the freeway dying out and realizing a certain harmony in the life world and the sense that all of this exists because it stems form a higher thing. There is more to it than that but I don't have time to go into it. That's just a short hand for those of us to whom this is a new concept to get some sort of handle on it. Nor does "feeling" here mean "emotion" but it is connected to the religious affections. In the early version S. thought it was a correlate between the religious affections and God; God must be there because I can feel love for him when I pray to him. But that's not what it's saying in the better version.

The basic assumptions Schleiermacher is making are Platonic. He believes that the feeling of utter dependence is the backdrop, the pre-given, pre-cognitive notion behind the ontological argument. IN other words, what Anselm tried to capture in his logical argument is felt by everyone, if they were honest, in a pre-cognitive way. In other words, before one thinks about it, it is this "feeling" of utter dependence. After one thinks it out and makes it into a logical argument it is the ontological argument. "Life world," or Labeinswelt is a term used in German philosophy. It implies the world of one's culturally constructed life, the "world" we 'live in.' Life as we expeirence it on a daily basis. The unity one senses in the life world is intuitive and unites the experiences and aspirations of the individual in a sense of integration and belonging in in the world. As Heidegger says "a being in the world." Schleiermacher is saying that there is a special intuative sense that everyone can grasp of this whole, this unity, being bound up with a higher reality, being dependent upon a higher unity. In other words, the "feeling" can be understood as an intuitive sense of "radical contingency" (int he sense of the above ontological arguments).

He goes on to say that the feeling is based upon the ontological principle as its theoretical background, but doesnt' depend on the argument because it proceeds the argument as the pre-given pre-theoretical pre-cognitive realization of what Anselm sat down and thought about and turned into a rational argument: why has the fools said in his heart 'there is no God?' Why a fool? Because in the heart we know God. To deny this is to deny the most basic realization about reality.

Now don't' think by any stretch of the imagination that I think this proves the existence of God! No, no way. It is not "proof," it is freedom from the need to prove!

As Robert R. Williams puts it:

There is a "co-determinate to the Feeling of Utter dependence.

"It is the original pre-theoretical consciousness...Schleiermacher believes that theoretical cognition is founded upon pre-theoretical inter subjective cognition and its life world. The latter cannot be dismissed as non-cognitive for if the life world praxis is non-cognitive and invalid so is theoretical cognition..S...contends that belief in God is pre-theoretical, it is not the result of proofs and demonstration, but is conditioned solely by the modification of feeling of utter dependence. Belief in God is not acquired through intellectual acts of which the traditional proofs are examples, but rather from the thing itself, the object of religious experience..If as S...says God is given to feeling in an original way this means that the feeling of utter dependence is in some sense an apparition of divine being and reality. This is not meant as an appeal to revelation but rather as a naturalistic eidetic"] or a priori. The feeling of utter dependence is structured by a correlation with its whence." , Schleiermacher the Theologian, p 4.

Back in the discussion on the form still another old friend added his idea to the mix, that was Fleetmouse. Fleet ask an interesting question:

If you injured your arm severely and thereby found out that you were a robot with a manufacturer's brand stamped into your hidden parts, would you feel that your life had gained in meaning?
 I remember an episode of "Twilight Zone" to that effect. I think the idea is interesting, perhaps he means to argue that it would challenge our standard concepts of person hood, self, and therefore meaning to realize that we are created as creatures of a creator. That would be the old illusion again mistaking meaning and self for freedom from creaturehood, like mistaking cold air for radiant cold. The problem is the images is wrong for several reasons:

(1) Discovering that you are a robot would be like discovering that you are not a part of nature, but a freak that was not produced naturally but created in a laboratory; you are not human you are a  machine .like complex form of can opener.

(2) This idea of being a big doll, or a robot, a machine, not part of nature, not created by nature is realted to a view of God that puts god outside of nature not as creator of all that is, but as some sort of great lab technition in the sky.

(3) It puts one at odds from the rest of nature and reality.

This is all contrary to the realization of the feeling of utter dependence. Utter dependence is not the idea of being a big robot of marionette but the contingency, the interlinking web of contingent things that can all be traced back to the one necessary starting point that makes all things to be, God. All of nature is contingent upon God who is the basis of realty, Being a contingency is natural and it is the result of being part of nature because nature itself is contingent upon God.

Meaning is just the outgrowth of realizing the relationship and intimate connection between God and reality. The theory I've espoused many times is the idea that the whole of reality is a thought in the mind of God. At that rate the idea of being a secret robot is small potatoes, but it would not be freakish or natural it would be nature of nature. Belief in God is the realization of our contingency upon a higher necessity that creates all there is because it s the ground of being and being itself.

When I say "God is being itself" what I'm saying is literally to say "what it means to be is to be a creature of God." Surely this realization is the beginning of an understanding of true meaning.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Traces of God: Answering the Reverse Design Argument

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Atheists have an arugment that seeks to reverse the design argument. It does exactly what the design argument does, which is probably reason enough to disregard it; it reasons form the apparent state of the world to the probable non existence of God. If it is illogical to reason form the wrold to God, it is equally illogical to reason from the world to not God. For this reason I swore off design arguments years ago. I have violated that oath twice, but for good reason (I'll get to those in a minute). In any case, there is a great deal wrong with this argument, and in figuring up all the many problems I see it I began to think of two things:

(1) Perhaps it would be instructive to delineate the cases under which one can argue from the state of the world to the existence of God.

(2) In pondering this question, I began to think about perhaps what might be the ultimate God argument.

The problem is that really if you think about it almost all probabilistic arguments are really arguing from the state of the world to the probable existence of God. But somehow this seem less drastic in some cases than others. I know there are those who just turn off at any kind of God argument. But for us Connoisseurs of God arguments, this should be a thorny issue. After all, what's the real difference between arguing form the contingency of the world, and arguing from the design of the world? Well, off hand the real difference is that one can be compared to something, the other can't. That's one of the major problems with this atheist argument, which was advanced at one point by Richard Carrier at one time. We do not have a designed universe to compare outs to, so we don't know what we are observing, design or random devleopment?

The argument says if we were to consider a random universe that came about by accident, you couldn't do better than our own. It really looks accidental. Life is precarious and rare, the universe is very hostile to it. It's vast, far more vast than it has to be. On the one tiny oasis we know of where life took root it blossomed into something as glorious as Richard Carrier's ego, we have no really obvious clue that God exists. If we were to consider what a puroespful logical creator would do we should expect sign posts to his existence everywhere, right? Well, maybe. maybe not. That's the problem the argument is nothing more than begging the question. It assumes we know what God would do, and after constructing a straw man God who behaves the way we want him to, we just assume we know what he would do and than access the tragic fact that it hasn't been done. So by golly, there must not be a God, because this non God doesn't' follow my advice! Of course the model for his straw God is fundamentalism.  Athens are so afraid to take on liberal theology honestly, but it's because they are all secretly fundamentalists. What I mean by hat is they are the "tails" to the fundies "heads." Like communist and anti-communists, they are both parts of the same thing.

The difference in this argument and one that actually has something to compare, a base line from which to work, should be obvious. The atheist who argues for Carrier's idea must forge his own base line by setting up a straw man (um, God) and then priviliating his assumptions about the nature of religion in such a way that he just nixes the possibly of any other kind of theology. That's not a real comparison. The fine tuning argument can compare fine tuning to lack thereof, compare target levels to the actual hitting of same. The contingency arguments (quantum and other forms of cosmology) can compare contingency to necessity. Religious experience arguments are drawn from the results of experience, they compare experience to non experience. The two instances in which I do use design arguments are those in which comparisons can be made between the nature of the world and state of existence known to lack that attribute as known non designed reality; the use of the "God Pod" as evoking innate ideas. We can compare reactions to God talk to other kinds of talk and see that our brains only react to God talk in the way that they do. Thus we can compare the innate ideas of God to reactions to other ideas. The other instance is the fine tuning arugment,which has already been explained. But the Carrier reverse design argument has nothing to compare except Richard's ego. With that as the standard for assumptions, we have no basis upon which to draw conclusions about the nature of God from the state of the universe.

This argument does have one other troubling application. It could be a "possible defeater" for proper basically. To be properly basic an idea must be logically apprehended as it is, with no possible alternative explanations, or  "defeaters." The argument is a possible defeater only if we understand it to be indicative the kind of universe God would not make. But we can't make that assumption beause we can't pretend to know all the things God would do. Once can find many alternative theological explanations that involve both Evangelical views of God and non Evangelical views. The most obvious non Evangelical view is that of process theology. The atheist can only think of God as a big man upstairs. This is the basic image they rebel against. The will of the father is their Kryptonite. They foresee a big man on a throne who decides and deliberates such a potentate wants to be served, they reason, and thus must make a universe in which he is known commonly to all. So we should expect the universe to be smaller, easier to navigate, easier to understand, filled with sign posts of God. No disease, no problems and everyone automatically given tons of faith so the world would be a paradise. If some serpent spoiled it, it should be put right immediately so that we can go on in our little heavens, where no doubt we get to listen to Richard Dawkins directing the chores of angels.

The God of process theology, on the other hand, is more like the Helena dialectic, or like some organizing principle. This is not a God deliberates and decides. this is a God who is potential in one realm, and who micro manages (literally) creation in the other; almost a law of physics, changing with creation, bringing subatomic particles into being and ushering them out of being. This is more of a stage director in the play of the universe (and in other dipolar structure stage director and producer) than a big king on a throne. Such a God would start the process of life and allow it go where it will, then embrace (to whatever extent possible) any beings that evolve sufficiently to come up to its level.

Another version would be my own idea of God as being itself (Tillich's idea--). This version of God is much like the process God, but I fell that God is too sacred a mystery to pin down to dipolar structures or to analyze all of "his" ("her," "its") doings. God is the great wholly (Holy) other. WE cannot know except through mystical union what God is doing. But such a God is the basis upon which being proceeds into concrescence and the basic reality of the Platonic forms. Such a God does not design or make plans, but the whole of creation is a non deliberating plan in the sense of being an expression of God's charter indwell; yet not necessity the result of raciocentination. Thus God starts a principle of life emerging from the nature of being, because that's what being does it spreads the beings, it "let's be" (John Mcquarrie). The evolutionary course that is followed may be assisted in an automatic sort of way, not as a plan, not as a deliberate gesture, but as the result of a nature that has to manifest itself creatively. This being doesn't' say "I will make men, and men will serve me." But men evolve out of the storm and the wastes of the abyss and they naturally come to find God because theta's he nature of beignet is there to be found in the sense of the numinous. When humanity reaches a point where it comprehends the numinous, to seeks God and finds God.

Humanity finds God in a million different places. It finds God in flowers and trees, in brooks (and in books), in grass, in each other. It finds God in storms and scary things, and in the night. It finds God in the sky and the stars in the darkness of a vast and endless expanse. It reaches out for what is there because it has been put into it to do so; not because God sat and said "I will make men and men will seek me" but because God provided for the reality of the Imago Dei to evolve and develop in whatever species reached the point where humanity has come to. God did this automatically as an aspect of self expression, as an outgrowth of consciousness. This kind of God would make a universe of the type we see around us. This type of God would also place in that universe hints so that whatever species reaches that level that God's manifestation would be waiting to show them God's solidarity with them. God would plant a thousand clues, not as a matter of deliberation like one plants Easter eggs, but as the result of being what God is--self communicating and creative. Thus we have design arguments and fine tuning arguments, and contingencies and necessities and the lot. We can find the God Pod in our heads that lights up when it hears God ideas. We can do studies and determine that our religious experiences are better for us than unbelief, because the clues are endless because the universe bears the marks of its creator.

Yet these marks are sublet for a reason. This is where the Evangelical view of God can also be a sophisticated view. The Evangelical God can also be the God of Tillich and the God of process, after all, these are all derived from the same tradition and the Evangelicals have as much right to escape anthropomorphism as anyone. The Evangelical God seeks a moral universe. This God wants believers who have internalized the values of the good. We do not internalize that which we are forced to acknowledge. Thus God knows that a search in the heart is better to internalizing values than is a rational formally logical argument, or a scientific proof. Thus we have a soteriological drama in which we can't tell if there is or is not a God just by looking at the nature of nature. That must remain neutral and must illud us because it is not given to us to have direct and absolute knowledge of God. Knowledge of God is a privilege. We must seek it through the heart, that's where it isthmian to be found. It's a privilege but faith is a gift.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wild Strawberries: Rview of Film by Ingmar Bergman

Borg with three students

I first wrote this reveiw in 2010. This summer of 2014 I'm re-viewing all my favorite films for the summer. So I saw this one last night (today is friday the 13).

Derek Malcolm, writing for the Guardian UK (Thursday 10 June 1999 19.36 BST )
"The film I constantly go back to, however, is Wild Strawberries (1957), which, while scarcely a bag of laughs, has a compassionate view of life that best illustrates the more optimistic side of Bergman's puzzled humanity." I agree with Malcolm, I also go back to "Wild strawberries," (Smultronstalliet) again and again. In fact at one time I saw it as tying my favorite film of all times bar none, to two films equally loved, both by Bergman, "The Seventh Seal," and this one. It is not a bag of laughs but it does have a side of humor and though its about an old man at the end of his life it has a hopeful tone that looks to the future. It's not a heavy theologically oriented film but it even has it's God-conscious side. Bergman, though an atheist, could not let go of the idea of God, it has too many cogent connections to art and thought and life.

Realesed in 1957 This was one of Bergman's earliest successes, just on the heels of his original break out film, "Smiles of a Summer Night." The film centers around an old man,
Victor Sjöström ... Dr. Isak Borg who is at the end of his life, he's a great immanent medical researcher, still admired and loved by the populace he once tended as a country doctor, about to receive an honorary degree form a major university to crown his life time achievements. He is a crotchety old man who hides guilt, anger and aggression behind a vernier of old world charm. He has a old married couple sort of relationship with his manipulative managing house keeper, who wheedles and flatters him as she dotes on his greatness and practically worships him, but treats him like a child to do what's best for him. He has a bad relationship with his son,(Gunar Björnstrand--the squire in "the Seventh Seal") Dr. Evald Borg dividing over a loan he gave his son years ago and has never been paid back, the father doesn't have the grace to forgive the debt, spouting all sorts of pious nonsense about responsibility and morality. the son is middle ages, the father is almost 80 and the debt still divides them. Victor Sjöström who plays the old man was, in his youth, one of the early stars of Swedish silent film. He helped to establish silent film in Sweden, and was said to have been handsomest man in Sweden. At the time this film was made he was very old looking.

The film is really about Berman's relationship with his parents. That's played out through the relationship of Dr. Borg with is entire family. The themes of the film are the loneliness that besets us when we close ourselves off from hurt by become cold toward others and toward human relationships in general. Not reduce Bergman to simplicity but it's kind of like John Lennon wrote "it's a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder" (--"Hey Jude"). The film open withe the doctor explaining who he is, we see pictures of his family including his son, Evald. His mother is still alive even though he's 78. He's talking about death and loneliness.

The old Doctor decides to drive to the University, to the alarm of his Housekeeper. But his doubter in law (Marriane Borg), played by Ingrid Thulin, just happens to be staying with him. She's left her husband but asks for a ride with him to the university, where she lived with her husband. So this film is a road trip with an old man and his daughter-in-law. An American film would pit Steve Martin and Jeniffer Lopez and they would talk about nothing and wind up destroying buildings having car chases. In this film, however, these two literally do nothing more than talk about what I'm sure appears to be "nothing" to most Americans, but actually invovles the most important things in life. The old man has had a disturbing dream, but the young woman doesn't want to hear it. She frankly tells him she doesn't like him because he hides cruelty behind his mask of old world charm, yet the two remain good matured. The film is full of dreams. Although in that conversation she tells him his son hates him because he is cold and closed off. This knowledge clearly wounds him but he retreats even deeper. The first dream was about the man walking down empty streets of a small European village (shot in old Stockholm very early in the morning so there would no one on the street). A hearse driven by horses dumps a coffin and a hand falls out of the ajar lid. The man goes near, the hand grabs him and pulls him close, the face peers out from the coffin, it's him! The man is dead and in his coffin and pulling himself toward the coffin. This dream sequence is shot in a glaring black and white that could not be done in color. It's a tribute to German silent film, loaded dream symbols and angst.

The two stop to examine a house on a lake where the old man spent many a happy summer as a child. The house is deserted and not owned by the family anymore, but the two wander about for a while looking. Sitting by himself the old man suddenly sees the house as it was and his brothers and sisters, children in old fashioned turn of the century clothes, run out of the house pursuing all manner of summer activities. He watches a scene between his cousin Sara and his brother, who we learn latter married and were still living but old in this current time 0f 1957. Dr. Borg wanders into the house and stands observing scenes of family life but the characters don't see him. We learn from this that that he was afraid to act on his feelings, he loved Sara but let her marry his brother (presumably they were third cousins) because he was stand offish. It's in this dream-like interlude with his childhood that we see the point of the title, his cousin Sara who he wants to marry is picking wild strawberries when his memory conjures up a picture of her beauty in youth. He plays in his mind a scene between her and his brother latter has such a scene with her. He is old and she is young she tells him she will marry the brother. He talks about how it hurts, we see this is the first daunting disappointment in relationship that hurt him and caused himself to close off to human relationships.

At this point they meet three young people who are hitch hiking to the University. The three are a hilarious trio, a theology student, a secular student of some kid who of course has it in for religion in the faddish way that students of the 60s hated everything established, and a girl who the two fight over the whole trip. They have a few little runs at discussing God. The Marxist student is shallow and can only think in Marxist cliches he doesn't see that the Doctor is trying to hint that God is too important and too grand a concept to dismiss outright. One of my favorite scenes in the film. he two students come to blows. They go off to fight in the woods. Their fighting looks like two beached whales trying to push off each other to get unbeached. They get back in the car, one has a black eye. The girl sits in the middle she turns to the theology student and says "so, does God exist?"

That kind of reminds me of my partcipation on message baords. Along their way after they meet the kids they almost have a wreck with a small VW bug. The married couple in the bug are friendly at first and happy to be saved and given a ride, willing to admit the almost wreck was their fault (their car winds up upside down but the Doctor's old car is fine). But the two can't stop fighting. Subtle at first then ridiculous. They wind up being put out of the car when the woman begins slapping the husband and has to be restrained by the kids because she can't stop hitting him.

While the fight was ensuing the old man and his daughter-in-law have had a very important discussion sitting in the car and he went to sleep and has the seminal dream of the film. The discussion revealed that the woman left the doctor's son because he's just like his father, cruel, demanding, cold, unfeeling. The woman is pregnant and wants the child the father categorically does not want children and refuses to continue the marriage if they have them. At a time when abortion was unthinkable in America these guys argue about that option as though they were discussing painting the din, because they are in Sweden. But the woman wants the child, she wants to have a family is going back to make one last hopeless stab and reconciling.

The dream that Dr. Borg has while asleep in the car has him ushered into the family summer house they had previously been to, but this time it was empty, dark and foreboding. The Doctor is ushered into the house by the husband who was put out of the car. In this dream, however, he's a proctor giving the old man a test as though he was again at university. Inside the family home is a long dark corridor that was not there before it leads to a very old fashioned looking lecture room in which the old man is given an examination as one might receive at University at the turn of the century. He has to look in a microscope and identify the specimen. He claims something is wrong with the microscope because all he can see looking in is his own eye. The Proctor says there's nothing wrong with it. Then he is to examine a  young woman and say what's wrong with her. He finds that the woman is dead, but she suddenly bursts into laughter. The Proctor tells him he's been found incompetent. He is then told that he has been charged with being guilty.  Grim looking students in the gallery watch and don't crack a smile despite the old man's attempts at humor. Finally he is lead to another room and when they go through the door they are outside.

  photo Wild-Strawberries-dream_400_zps27fb6bf2.jpg
 Dr. Borg's first dream sequence [1]

He stands on the edge of a glad in which his wife (now long dead) and another man play little kissy games and make love. The wife talks about how she will tell him about her day, the husband (Borg) will pretend that he's not angry and she's done wrong, but that she's to be pitied, she is sick and made a mistake. She hates him totally and utterly for this high and mighty  attitude and his refusal to become angry even though she sleeps with other men. The Proctor observes that with most men who are gazing upon an image of their long dead wives, they have a fading image of a saintly woman, but this guy remembers vividly this this scene of adultery.This is the seminal event that made him so closed off he's even alienated from relationship with himself (thus he can't recognize himself in the microscope).
 photo WildStrawberries_Bergman_zps5eb3539f.jpg
Day Dream sequence between Sara and old Dr. Borg

Despite this seeming nightmare the film ends on a hopeful note as the old man seems to have learned. As he tells Marianne "it's as though my mind is trying to tell me things I can't  face when I'm awake" The end of the film is hopeful and exudes a compassion toward the old man, human frailty in general and the young. The wind up at the University in Lund, he is seen taking the honors, and then back tot he house of his son for the night. The son and his wife are happy and seem in the process of reconciling. The son doesn't' seem to hate his father but is glad to see him. The old man tries to tell he has forgiven the debt the son wont hear of it. The three students wind up as friends cheering him on and as they say good by by singing to him as he watches them from the Balcony and waves goodby. They makes statements about how proud they are to know him. They had been popping up around corners even the ceremony for the award begins. The daughter-in-law tucks him in and there's a feeling of warmth and forgiving between them. "Wild Strawberries" is about a man facing himself, like the emblematic image of his own eye looking back at him in the microscope. He's forced to realize that he's allowed himself to be cut off from people and feelings to languish in guilt and for this reason does not forgive the debts of others. In the end he plunges into dream land where he is again in the summer house of his childhood surrounded by those he loved. In the first nostalgic sequence he could not find his parents, in this one he is reunited with them and though he's an old man  they see him this time and they do not see anything strange that he's old, he fits right in as he should. In the final scene he's a boy again, with his family in a wonderful summer at the old summer house.

  photo 220px-Bergman_Sjostrom_1957_zps7c167da8.jpg
 Bergman with Victor Sjöström

from  IMBd page:


  (Cast overview, first billed only)
Victor Sjöström... Dr. Isak Borg
Bibi Andersson... Sara
Ingrid Thulin... Marianne Borg
Gunnar Björnstrand... Dr. Evald Borg
Jullan Kindahl... Agda
Folke Sundquist... Anders
Björn Bjelfvenstam... Viktor
Naima Wifstrand... Mrs. Borg, Isak's Mother
Gunnel Broström... Mrs. Alman
Gertrud Fridh... Karin Borg, Isak's wife
Sif Ruud... Aunt Olga
Gunnar Sjöberg... Sten Alman / The Examiner
Max von Sydow... Henrik Åkerman
Åke Fridell... Karin's lover
Yngve Nordwall... Uncle Aron
See more »

[1] Darren Franich, Keith Staskiewicz  "20 Crazy Dream Sequences at the Movies," Entertainment on Jul 12, 2010,,20401120_20809515,00.html

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Why It Doesn't Matter if Religous Experince is Natursitically Induced


The immediate context of this argument is my God argument no.6 "religious a prori."

It was being debated on my boards by a friend called "anti-matter" and I. But the answers here work for most all of my experientially based arguments. Please scroll to previous post to see the major argument I use that is experientially based. The question I'm concerned with here is put by Anti-Matter quite well.

Basically, why should we not assume these experiences are just naturalistic? I am trying to communicate the mistake being made to think the argument turns on the miraculous nature of the experiences. They are natural, but that doesn't matter. It's still a fine God argument.

Antimatter wrote:

I'm rather confused by this argument, Meta. As far as I can tell, it doesn't accomplish anything or make any significant claims. You begin by arguing that there could be no objective evidence for god because religion is wholly separate from the rigors of science, but then you go on to describe objective (or "inter-subjective") footprints that god should leave behind. The examples you provide consist entirely of the feelings and significant events that religious adherents worldwide all claim to experience. You further argue that faith is a requirement to perceive these religious experiences, as god selectively grants these experiences only to those who are looking for them. We're left with two obvious explanations:

Meta: I didn't put it that way. So far you have described rational warrant so I fail to see why you say it doesn't accomplish anything. It laid the ground work for the weakness of empirical knowledge then exploited it by setting up a criteria for a different category of knowledge which is in religion's own special domain.

1. An undetectable transcendent agent interacts with reality in such a manner as to engender religious experiences and feelings.
2. Religious experience is a result of malleable human memory and confirmation bias, and religious feelings and the sense of god's presence is merely a psychological outcome of religious adherence and ritual.


Even your argument concedes that these phenomenon may have naturalistic explanations, but you argue that this "misses the boat" because both of the above explanations may simultaneously be true.

Meta:yes, I fail to see the problem here. I've long argued that the atheist is working under a misconception to try and point out naturalistic causes to these experiences. that in no way diminishes them. It doesn't negate their role as rationally warranting belief. it's just a matter of understanding how the warrant is predicated.

if the effects where entirely naturalistic I suppose that would be a problem, but as there is no data at all to back up even a slight view of their naturalistic causality that's not really an issue. No reason why it can't be both. like with the God Pod. it's part of brain chemistry but there's no proof that isn't the way God did it.

the question is would it do  that  entirely on its own. I don't see how it could.


You also point out that claims of religious experience do not constitute proof but "must be taken on its own terms." So you see, I'm left wondering what we gained from this argument aside from shoring up religion, making it unassailable to criticism.

Meta: isn't that enough?

AM: Explanation 2 above seems sufficient to explain the phenomenon you described. You provide no other reason to accept the supernatural explanation, and I can think of several reasons to find it implausible. For instance, I could describe the religious experiences of non-theistic religions or cults. I could also point out the almost total hostility of our universe towards life. To the best of our knowledge, all environments outside our pale blue dot are inhospitable, which suggests the universe was not designed for our benefit. Given these counter-examples, what is the rational warrant for your alternative explanation?

Meta: To take the last two first:

(1) other faiths

that is not a reason to disbelieve. I've explained a million times how this one reality stands behind all traditions. the label "theistic" or "non" is unimportant. all labels are bull shit, all words are bull shit. words have no meaning. The one reality is beyond words. It's only experienced. we load it into words, which means into culture and that filters it through the lens of culture. this is what makes religions different. but it doesn't mean there is no such reality.

(2) universe

why does the universe have to be designed for us? we are not put in the whole universe to live, just on the blue dot. It's designed for us quite well.

these do nothing to get under my argument. they not pertain directly to any part of the argument (which is not a design argument).

you offered these as examples of the implausibility of a supernatural explication. But it's a mistake to think the SN works in my view as a design argument would work. You expect to see the SN as some kind of contradicting alternative. I don't see the supernatural in that way and my argument doesn't turn on the need to explain some sort of miraculous nature of these experiences. I've commented many times that is not the nature of the argument.

this argument turns entirely upon the ability of our experince to go around sense data and to offer an object of theological discourse that is beyond the domain of empirical data.

that is a rational warrant for belief because it is commensurate with one's phenomenological apprehension of reality. The empirical materialism of an atheist is merely metaphysical hegemony that seems to mutilate one's experiences and reduce them to ideological orthodoxy.

see now this is why I started by the observation about how things fall between the cracks of inductive scientific data gathering. this is becasue what I'm saying is the atheist tires to reduce the phenomena to fit parts that fit his world view, and in so doing he loses the phenomena because these experiences are things that fall between the cracks.

so we go between the cracks (that's where the SN is) we say "hey this is not according to hole but it's real none the less" thus between the cracks we see there's a whole other view of reality

__________end debate__________

the argument doesn't turn on being able to say "this is a miracle that people have this experience because it couldn't happen unless God did this directly." That is not the argument. I will argue that There are unique aspects that couldn't happen without  divine presence being involved. I have said that we must discuss what the supernatural is in order to answer this question. Supernatural is an ontology, but it is also the power of God to vivify human nature and raise it to the higher level. These experiences do exactly what the supernatural is supposed to do. since they are actually mystical experience itself, and that was the original conceit of the supernatural, they are literally the supernatural. no question about it. they are it.

That these experiences can be induced naturally is really not surprising nor does it undermine the argument. It would if the argument was a proof of God in an absolute sense, but since I claim only rational warrant this is a rational warrant for belief:

(1) the content is usually religious

(2) the effects draw people into belief

(3) it fits what we should expect of god

(4) no other aspect of life produces this effect, no other aspect has the data to back it up. When compared with other forms of support, even when smoking is controlled or religious smokers do better than non religious.

we only get these results from religious experience. This means there is a validity to religion that justifies in considering these phenomena to be indicative of the co-determinate of God consciousness and thus, rationally warrant belief. If one is determined to construe such phenomena as signs of the veracity of religion it is not illogical to do so.

Natural and supernatural are juxtapositions, they are not antithesis of each other. They are two sides or facets of the same harmony. We should be willing to find supernatural in the natural, and that's just what Maslow says we find:

Now that may be taken as a frank admission of a naturalistic psychological origin, except that it invovles a universal symbology which is not explicable through merely naturalistic means. How is it that all humans come to hold these same archetypal symbols? (For more on archetypes see Jesus Christ and Mythology page II) The "primitives" viewed and understood a sense of transformation which gave them an integration into the universe. This is crucial for human development. They sensed a power in the numinous, that is the origin of religion."

"In Appendix I and elsewhere in this essay, I have spoken of unitive perception, i.e., fusion of the B-realm with the D-realm, fusion of the eternal with the temporal, the sacred with the profane, etc. Someone has called this "the measureless gap between the poetic perception of reality and prosaic, unreal commonsense." Anyone who cannot perceive the sacred, the eternal, the symbolic, is simply blind to an aspect of reality, as I think I have amply demonstrated elsewhere (54), and in Appendix I,

--Abrham Maslow, Peak Experience