Archives for category: religion

Science is, above all, a state of mind.
One that posits the world can be understood, one fact at a time.
Science also says that The (complete) Truth will never be fully acquired, only people tend to forget that part.

Some history, first.
Science, as an attitude, had appeared on the shores of the Medieval Mediterranean Sea. The Arabs had just discovered Ancient Greek writings about the ‘natural order of things’ while the Catholics were trying to figure out what God had in mind for the future of the mankind.

We have seen that the laws of nature depend on other laws of nature, which ultimately depend on God’s will.

Put all these together – the wish to understand God’s will, the belief that God’s will is expressed through the natural order of things and the systematic observation of nature, and, Eureka, you have ‘science’.

Which attitude had made Europe what it is today. Both the good and the bad of it.

Europeans have initiated the orderly study of everything around them.
As I said before, the initial intent wasn’t any technological improvement. Technicians and scientists were two completely different breed of people. As in ‘tinkerers’ and ‘philosophers’. Tinkering was sometimes confused with witchcraft while ‘philosophy’ was almost synonym with theology.
Well, both ‘professions’ could lead those to practiced them to a ‘funeral pyre’… whenever either of them ‘trespassed’… Many of those who are able to read are familiar with what ultimately happened to Giordano Bruno but very few of us know the fact that the ‘un-certified healers’ were seen with ‘suspicion’.

“Questioned whether she heals sick persons, answered yes Sir.
Questioned with what kind of medicines, answered by picking betony up and washing it like salad and crushing it into a mortar to get its juice and to give it to her patients for 3, 4 and 5 days, telling them that the more they drunk it, the better it was.
With these words the healer Gostanza da Libbiano, tried for witchcraft in 1594,….”
“The difference between them (healers) and physicians was the specific kind of tasks assigned to doctors: physicians, who rarely touched impurities and who regularly graduated from the university, were believed to be able to make the pain cease, whereas the healer, due to the fact that she actually touched her patients, was able both to make pain cease and to cause it”

Donatella Lippi, Witchcraft, Medicine and Society in Early Modern Europe, 2012

On the face of it, ‘science’ was, and continues to be, declared to depend exclusively on facts. Regardless of those facts being the expression of God’s will or, ultimately, of a serendipitous nature.
In fact, science is about what we, ‘scientists’, have been taught to accept as facts by our teachers and peers.

Another interesting thing.
When most scientists were still believing in God, their natural arrogance was kept in check by their belief that there was somebody who knew more than them. He.
As soon as God was declared dead, all hell broke loose.

‘Practical’ sciences continue to be kept in check by … well… practice! For any engineer, biologist, chemist, physician and all other related scientists and practitioners of science  it is obvious that Karl Popper and Werner Heisenberg were, and continue to be, right. No matter how much we will ever learn, we’ll never be able to know everything. Hence, we should proceed with utmost care.
Those who practice ‘secondary degree’ sciences – sci-Po being the most obvious example, share the belief that the world can be learned but are enjoying a far longer ‘leash’. Simply because the consequences of their actions come a lot later than those experienced by the ‘practical sciences’ practitioners. Add the fact that the ‘effects’ are harder  pinpoint to one specific cause/action…
And since God has become, at most, a personal matter… he no longer exerts the taming influence it used to…
Science has become independent. It is practiced for/in its own right, not as the only available manner of ‘divining’ God’s Will.
In fact, we use science as a manner to design our future. Independently. As each of us see fit and as allowed by those around us.
Which is good. Attempting to learn before proceeding is commendable, of course.
But proceeding with the unshakeable belief that we already know everything about what lies ahead of us is… foolish. Even more so when we speed up…  with total disregard about what other people, our colleagues/peers/fellow human beings, have to say and/or feel about the whole thing. Because we momentarily can.

 

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“A person may choose to have an abortion until a fetus becomes viable, based on the right to privacy contained in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

This was how the United States’ Supreme Court was reading the US Constitution in 1973.

Pro-lifers oppose this view. Their main argument being that life is sacred and needs to be protected. Period. For them, abortion equals infanticide. Plain murder.

What we have here is a clash of absolutes.
The absolute right to life and the absolute right to dispose of your own body.

The United States Supreme Court has solved the conundrum by setting a time frame. “until the fetus becomes viable”.
Pro-lifers propose another solution: “make abortion and attempted abortion felony offenses except in cases where abortion is necessary in order to prevent a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother“. (Alabama’s HB314/2019)

Let’s see where lie the differences between Pro-Choice and Pro-Life.

Pro-Choice say that agency must be reserved for those who 1. are alive and 2. are directly implied in the matter.
Pro-Life extend the definition of ‘alive’ to cover everything they consider to be ‘living matter’ and thus take the final decision from those who are directly implied into the mater. And give it to those who have to decide the seriousness of the “health risk to the unborn child’s mother”.

In both cases the absolute becomes relative.
In the first case, the absolute becomes relative to the person directly involved in the matter.
In the second case, the absolute becomes relative to those powerful enough to insert themselves, and others, into the equation.

And both sides clamor they are acting in the name of individual liberty…

The theory that each person imposes the moral law on himself. It is opposed to heteronomous morality, which holds that the moral law is imposed from outside of man by another, and ultimately by the divine Other, who is God, which makes the moral law theonomous.

I argued in my previous post that in a perfect world the simple fact that we consider ourselves to have been created, in his likeness, by the God we believe in, would have been enough to make us behave in a certain manner.

We don’t. Behave in that manner.

The world exists. And will continue to exist, regardless of whatever we might do in the foreseeable future. Maybe not the Earth as we know it but it’s rather unlikely that we’ll ever be able to destroy the entire world.
Here, on our home-planet, we’ve more or less soiled everything we’d come in contact with. Willingly or unwittingly.
Which suggests that the world might not be perfect but is more or less OK. And that it is us who haven’t yet risen to the occasion.

We may not have fully risen to the occasion, indeed, but we’ve managed to somehow survive. Until now, that is.
How was that possible, given our imperfect nature?

Was our behaviour shaped from outside as the heteronomous morality theory suggests? By (a) God, as the theonomous morality theory pretends?

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”

What do we have here?
A couple of people, who are already able to speak, who cannot yet make the difference between good and evil but who can see that ‘the fruit of the tree is good for food’ and ‘desirable for gaining wisdom’.
Furthermore, the couple is not only able to communicate between the two of them, they – or, at least, one of them, are also capable to negotiate with ‘outside agents’.
And, in fact, it was a consequence of a ‘negotiation’ that they had learned to differentiate between good and evil.
Moving even closer to Godhood in the process: “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

“So the Lord God banished him (them, actually) from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.”

I must confess that things become more and more complicated instead of becoming clearer.
‘Moral law is imposed’…
Adam and Eve have learned the difference between good and evil as a consequence of ‘freely’ interacting with someone from ‘outside’ their ‘immediate community’.
And got punished for it. On a ‘technicality’!

What is moral in all this?
What are they to learn from this experience?
Since all that God had imposed on them was ‘punishment’, are they (we?!?) to understand that ‘moral law’ is equivalent with ‘gallows’?

In this setting, moral law is supposed to be learned exclusively through ‘trial and error’?
No ‘explanation’? No ‘prep school’?
Is this nothing but a form of ‘radical training’? Like that advertised by B.F. Skinner?
Not to mention that for some ‘sins’, the punishment is to be served ‘later’…

It’s not unusual for a Christian ‘zealot’ to accuse an atheist of ‘cherry picking’.
When the latter uses a quote from the Bible to argue something which ‘displeases’ the former, of course.


“If God does not exist, everything is permitted.”

I found this quote, which belongs to Dostoevsky, in an article published by http://www.thecatholicthing.org in 2016.
That is to say, the nonexistence of God means that we live in a world of perfect moral freedom; we may do anything we like, up to and including mass murder.

Well, if I remember correctly – more than three decades have passed since I had read The Brothers Karamazov, which didn’t impress me much, the book is an intricate, but very compelling, demonstration of the exact contrary.

Raskolnikov is unable to live with himself after the assassination of the usurer. It is fundamentally unable to clear his sense of right and wrong, to silence his conscience. Initially, he tries to continue living, enjoying his cunning, concluding that it is a superman. Yet the humble Sonya reminds him of his act, reminds him of his guilt and therefore needs forgiveness. Dostoevsky destroyed the theory of the Superman condemning the characters involved in the mental suffering until they recognize the truth.

Time has come for me to admit of having myself committed the sin.
The quote I used above ends with ” and the light of Christianity.

Cherry picking had grabbed my attention while researching for a future post. ‘Moral identity‘. Which implies ‘autonomous morality’:

The theory that each person imposes the moral law on himself. It is opposed to heteronomous morality, which holds that the moral law is imposed from outside of man by another, and ultimately by the divine Other, who is God, which makes the moral law theonomous.

So.
Those engaged in cherry picking do it because the selection serves their purposes or because their actions are “imposed from outside”?

The philosophical doctrine that every state of affairs, including every human event, act, and decision, is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs.”

The systematic study of the nature and behaviour of the material and physical universe, based on observation, experiment, and measurement, and the formulation of laws to describe these facts in general terms.

In these terms, science must be deterministic.
No systematic study of anything might ever be made if not starting from the conviction that a given set of causes will produce the same results, over and over again. No laws attempting to describe any facts in general terms might be formulated unless starting from the same premises.

On the other hand, it was science itself which had taught us that:

It’s impossible to determine, with absolute precision, both the position and momentum of an electron

The same ‘uncertainty principle’ can be extended to other pairs of “complementary variables, such as length of time and energy“.

And there are countless other examples of ‘in-determination’ which have been documented by scientists during their search for the ultimate truth.

Any chance of reconciliation?

Well…
To start, I’ll note first that ‘determinism’ is a concept which had started its career in philosophy while ‘science’ has a more ‘complex’ origin. It might have been initiated by Christian theologians trying to ‘guess’ God’s will only they were attempting to fulfill that task by closely watching Nature – which was seen as the very embodiment of God’s intentions.
In this sense, scientific determinism can be understood as the conviction that Nature must make perfect sense – must be completely explainable, simply because God’s creation – which includes Nature, must be perfect.
OK, and since all theologians agree that no human will ever be able/should ever pretend to know God, what’s the problem in accepting that Man – collectively speaking now, will never learn enough to find a complete explanation for everything?

‘And what about the atheists?’

What about them?
Oh, you mean the people who are sure that God doesn’t exist? Who are just as sure that God doesn’t exist as the staunch believers who are perfectly confident that God not only exists but also micro-manages everything? Under the Sun and beyond?
I’ll just leave it there…

On a deeper level, there is no contradiction between ‘determinism’ – philosophically speaking, and scientific thinking. As long as we keep these two ‘apart’, of course…

‘So you are going to accept that science will never ‘know’ everything AND that ‘everything is a consequence of the previous state of affairs’ ‘ ?

Well, again…
The key word here is “inevitable”!
Determinism is ” the philosophical doctrine that every state of affairs, including every human event, act, and decision, is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs
For a philosopher it is very easy to say ‘inevitable’. Even more so for believing philosopher.
For a scientist… how is a scientist going to say that something is ‘inevitable’? ‘Philosophically’ speaking, of course… as in ‘with absolute precision’?!?

Specially since entertaining a truly ‘scientific attitude’ means, above all, to be prepared, at all moment and without any notice, for all your previously held convictions to be contradicted by new evidence…

‘What are you trying to say here?
That everything revolves around the manner in which each of us relates to the meaning of his own interpretation of each concept?
That truth itself is relative?’

‘That man is the measure for everything?’

Yep!
AND that man is also responsible for the consequences his own actions! In front of his own children, before everything else.
For no other reason than it will be his own children who will bear the brunt of his own decisions.

Additional reading:
Science as Falsification“, Karl R. Popper.
800 Scientists say it’s time to abandon “Statistical Significance”
“Protagoras”
“On the Essence of Truth“, Martin Heidegger
“Suicide now leading cause of death among children aged 10 to 14 in Japan

Indeed!

Only there are a few hurdles which will have to be negotiated first.

Which ‘truth’?

Mine?
Which will set me free?
Theirs?
Which will set them free?
Or ours?
Which will set us free?

What is Truth in the first place?

What I believe in?
What we believe in?
Something which is out there and we learn about incrementally? In a collective manner but individually driven?

How can we find it? If ever, of course….

Agree to something which has worked until now?
Listen to what those around us have to say about the/any matter?
Do your ‘own homework’?
All of the above, in a respectful manner?

Freedom is too bothersome?!?
Have you considered the alternatives?


Homo had become sapiens when he had started to learn.
To actively discover information and to discuss the findings with their peers.

This was how our ancestors had developed both consciousness and language.

The next stage was reached when people were no longer satisfied with mere survival. And attempted to glimpse into the future.

” “But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
    or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
    or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every creature
    and the breath of all mankind. ” (Job 12:7-10)

Until that moment, the deal was simple.
People followed the rules – which had already been set in ‘stone’ and passed over from ‘the beginning of time’, and things continued unabated. Hence no need for further inquiry.

From that moment on, everything had changed.
People still had a set of rules to guide them. But they had also been endowed with ‘free will’:
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (Galatians, 5:13) and
“Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” (John, 7:17)

So, there were rules, there was freedom and there was the Will of God – which had to be determined if it was to be followed.
How to determine it? Nothing simpler. ‘Ask the animals and they will teach you.’.
Meaning that the answer of any question our ancestors might have had about the Will of God was accessible to them. And that they had the liberty – the obligation even, to look for that answer. By studying the nature.
Because understanding the nature – which was the incarnation of God’s Will, was considered by our grandfathers to be the key to understanding the Will of God. And, implicitly, a keyhole through which they could glimpse into the future. Their future, of course.

It was a very recent development that more and more people had become convinced that science had killed God. By producing ‘scientific evidence’ for more and more things which used to be considered ‘acts of God’.
Franklin’s lightning rod and Georges Lemaitre’s Big Bang are but two small examples.
Benjamin Franklin was convinced that ‘God governs by his Providence and that the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children‘ while Lemaitre was an ordained Catholic priest. Yet many of our contemporaries construe their endeavors as scientific proofs that there is no such thing as a Creator God.

And what about ‘science’?
What is it, after all?
An attempt to understand God’s Will or a method to prove that God does not exist?

How about science as an attitude?
Which maintains Man can, and should, learn about things. Regardless of the name each of us chooses to call them: ‘Nature’ or ‘the Will of God’.
Which also maintains that Man, in their quest for knowledge, must preserve its modesty. Nature and/or the Will of God might be ‘accessible’ but it would be actually presumptuous, for each and for all of us, to consider that we’ll ever be able to know/explore every nook and cranny of the World.
To learn, and express, all the Truth there is.

“One of Pareto’s most noteworthy and controversial theories is that human beings are not, for the most part, motivated by logic and reason but rather by sentiment.”

Coming from an engineer – Pareto had started as one, this concept becomes even more noteworthy.
Why would a ‘professional using precision measurements and seeking consistently reproducible results’ focus his attention on sentiment rather than reason?

Because this is the reasonable thing to to?

And one of the reasons for which I tend to agree with him – besides being an engineer myself, is that he had started his studies using the most ‘reasonable’ instrument ever devised by man: “Residing in Florence, he studied philosophy and politics and wrote many periodical articles in which he first analyzed economic problems with mathematical tools.”

So, Pareto had reached the conclusion that human beings are driven mostly by sentiment after rationally analyzing the economic (and political) life.

OK. But what lies behind ‘sentiment’?

Pareto had proposed ‘residues’ as ‘motivation’ for sentiment. His theory is interesting only rather complicated. Almost byzantine. A well written summary can be read here.

What I find fascinating about Pareto’s theory is the rather veiled but certain correspondence which exists between his ‘residues’ and Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs”.

I’ll try to ‘raise the veil’ at a later date, today I’ll just point you towards a very relevant ‘coincidence’.

The psychologist had traveled the same road as the engineer.

Maslow (1943) initially stated that individuals must satisfy lower level deficit needs before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs. However, he later clarified that satisfaction of a needs is not an “all-or-none” phenomenon, admitting that his earlier statements may have given “the false impression that a need must be satisfied 100 percent before the next need emerges” (1987, p. 69).

Both had started ‘deterministically’, trying evidentiate ‘the’ (ironclad?) link between behavior and conditions – and expecting that link to be of a rational nature, only to reach the conclusion that individual sentiment/evaluation is at least as important – if not more so, as reason in the decision process. In shaping human behavior.


What we currently call ‘science’ is both an activity and an attitude. Something some of us do and the way in which some of us see the world.

In current lingo, those who ‘do science’ are involved in ‘technology’ while those who see the world ‘scientifically’ partake in a certain philosophical tradition.
If we look at things in this way, it becomes obvious that doing science and thinking scientifically might not be the same thing.

Science, as an attitude, had sprung up in Ancient Greece, been kept alive by the early Islamic scholars, rekindled by the Medieval Catholic theologians, come of age during the Renaissance and ‘exploded’ after the Enlightenment.
Technology, on the other hand, is way older. And had been developed mainly elsewhere than the scientific attitude. China and India had been technological powerhouses and thriving civilizations in times when Europe was still learning to wash its hands before dinner.

‘Modern’ science – what we have now, appeared only after technological prowess had been married to the right attitude. 

OK.
It is easy to accept that technology, the more widely distributed part of ‘science’, had appeared as a consequence of mere necessity. People needed things in order to survive, then wanted things in order to increase their comfort… things which had to be produced… as efficiently as possible… hence people had put their minds to it and … voila!
But what had driven some of those around the Mediterranean Sea to develop the scientific attitude?

The same thing which drives us?
The attempt to find out the future, one second earlier than it really happens?
Because they thought, like we do, that reality is unique and that man is meant to master it?

Man, the guy who was made by God in His own image and who was told to rule the world?

Roger Bacon, Duns Scotus, Occam,  Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Georges Lemaitre… some of them might have been persecuted by the church – personally or had their their ideas ‘challenged’, but they all had been raised in the Christian tradition and had been active members of their religious communities. Even Galileo, the only one among these who had been ‘physically’ affected by the way in which his ideas had been received by his contemporaries, had a more or less ‘functional’ relationship with the heads of the Church… he had died in his own bed, arrested in his own villa, not at the stake …



And no, this is no joke! Alas…

Populism is scientific because its ‘adepts’ have a very rational behavior and use scientific tools to increase the appeal of their public messages.
And, on the other hand, populism is scientific because its advent is perfectly explainable given what we currently know. About our society, about our brains, about our psychology….

Let me start from the beginning.
In Thomas Kuhn’s terms, the last 60 or so years have witnessed a tremendous paradigm shift.
Science has replaced religion as the main paradigm and ‘religion’ has been demoted to  ‘religions’.

Science becoming the main paradigm means that we have grown confident about our knowledge. We might be aware that we don’t know everything yet but we continue to believe that we’re able to learn everything. That if we are diligent enough we’ll sometimes be able to look under every rock that is.
This attitude has led us to search for ‘perfection’. ‘Efficiency’ has displaced ‘redemption’. We have ceased our quest for salvation and are now obsessed with ‘buy low, sell high’. In other words, ‘make the most of it but strain yourself as little as possible’.

Which makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

A lot of sense… mainly when you no longer perceive the guy next to you as being a full-fledged member of your community. Your religious community, that is. Of your church.

You see, ever since Emil Durkheim, the sociologists have been aware that religion was not so much a story about the making of the world as a ‘common ground’. The ‘common core’ shared by the members of a given community. Which ‘common core’ makes it possible for those who share it to have respect. For themselves and for the other faithful members of the community. By sharing that common core, the individuals find their bearings in the ‘wide, wide world’ and, thus, know how to behave relative to their ‘neighbors’. With enough mutual respect among the individual members that the community is able to function. To survive, that is.

We no longer have that kind of community.
Our primary allegiance is no longer towards ‘church’. Most of us consider themselves primarily as members of a nation – something governed more by formal laws than by public sentiment, and only secondarily – if at all, as members of a ‘religious’ community.

Now, putting two and two together, it’s very simple to understand that in the given circumstances ‘populism’ was inevitable, right?

Too many of the would be leaders have no qualms about how they get what they want.
Power.
‘Buy low, sell high’ is the current mantra, remember? Accepted by all of us. Buyers, sellers, by-standards…
Too many members of the general public are willing to accept promises which are in line with their own expectations, even if those promises being put in practice means a lot of misery for OTHERS. Who cares about those others, anyway? They are not members of OUR ‘church’!

I’ll let you decide how sustainable is such a situation. I was going to use ‘community’ instead of ‘situation’ but it would have been horribly wrong. We no longer live in communities. We only happen to live in the same place.

For how long?

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