Archives for category: religion

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’…

Advertisements

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?

According to Humberto Maturana, what we call consciousness – our ability to ‘observe ourselves observing‘, is the result of what sociologists would call a ‘cultural process’.
Meaning that consciousness has been developed in time – as is millennia, and is constantly shaped through daily interactions between us.

I don’t intend to discuss its genesis now, I’m just gonna point to one of its many consequences. Our need to explain everything.

We’ve developed our consciousness by talking to each-other. If we are to accept Maturana’s theory – of course, which I do.
At some point in time, during this process, there must have been an ‘aha’ moment.
Or, more precisely, a ‘what if’ moment.

Until then, everything was ‘natural’. Sun up, sun down, birth, death… and everything in between.
While learning to ‘observe ourselves observing’ one of our ancestors must have noticed that we make a lot of decisions. Unconsciously – until that moment, of course, but, nevertheless, still momentous. To ‘flee or fight’, which fig tree to climb, which cave to use tonight, which pelt to skin, which flint to flake…

The very next moment our ancestor must have asked their-self:

What if the Sun doesn’t get up next morning? Will I wake up from sleep tomorrow?
Who decides these things?
Are there only rules – like ‘every time you touch a flame you get burned’ and ‘ice is always cold’ or on top of the rules there is somebody who calls the shots? As in ‘decides whether this time the lion will attack on sight or it will let this one go’?

And we’ve tried to explain away our fears ever since…
By determining which are the pertinent ‘natural rules’, by placing the responsibility on somebody else’s shoulder – read ‘God’, or both at the same time. Again, I’m not going to develop this subject either, I’ll just remember you that Buddhism – for example, doesn’t reject older creeds. The Japanese, for instance, follow both Buddhist precepts and Shintoist traditions. Also, many Christians entertain a lot of local and not so local superstitions. Like never start walking with the left foot or having a very strong ‘respect’ for the third number after 10.

Let me make a short recap.
We taught ourselves to speak, we talked to each other until we developed something called consciousness to such a level that we’ve started to ask ourselves existential questions and then we came up with more or less credible scenarios meant to allay our fears.

‘OK, … and your point is?’

Don’t be so ‘surprised’ when somebody ‘irrationally’ defends their own ‘story’. ‘Their story’ encompasses their world. That’s where they had been living, together with everybody they used to know/consider their kin.
Don’t attempt to force your story upon them. Let aside that you might be wrong yourself… any attempt to forcefully impose a narrative upon somebody else is nothing but “rape”. Don’t do it unless you are prepared to get raped yourself.
And keep in mind that it’s not ‘their story’ that harms you but ‘their actions’.

No story has ever harmed anyone. For any story to have consequences, people must act upon it. According to how they have chosen to relate to the it.  That’s where we can see eye to eye, regardless of the stories each of us keep dear.
Are we ready to accept that we might be wrong? That our story might be incomplete? That our explanation of the world might need some adjustments?

Are we ready to understand that enlarging our explanation to encompass others will actually increase our own ability to survive?
Or are we going to defend ‘our’ version, no matter what?

Are we going to keep looking for explanations or to become the subject of yet another one?

Really?

Am I the first to understand that once you’ve eaten it, nobody will ever again be able to part YOUR cake from you?

It stops being a cake as you chew on it?

Well… yeah. Actually it does. But… it remains a cake in your memory! That’s what you’ll remember having eaten: A cake!

And now, that we’ve settled the ‘eaten cake’ problem, let me ask you another question.

How strange is it that so many conservatives consider taxes as an infringement upon their right to freely dispose of their property yet they have no qualms to impose their beliefs upon other people – women, to be more precise, denying them the right to freely  dispose of their own bodies?

Because all life is sacred!

Hence, in their view, all abortion is murder. Regardless of the age of the fetus. Regardless of the consequences of having an unwanted child. Too early, too many, not enough money, health problems, sexual assault… nothing counts except for the right of the fetus to be born.

Some go even further. They consider that contraception is murder too. Because it denies the right of the egg-cell to become an embryo…

As I said before.
It is not only possible but very normal to have your cake and eat it too.
Same goes for convictions.
Once embedded in our heads they become ours and nobody can part them from us, no matter what logical arguments might be involved. Invoked?

Except for us. We are the ones who can leave behind some of our old convictions and reach new ones.
Conversion is the name of the game.

A game we’ve been playing since the dawn of time.

%d bloggers like this: