Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Decisions and Power: the Intellectual and the Intuitive

I believe what I do about life because I feel that it is true.

Automatically, in the culture I live in, this statement is regarded with suspicion at best. Most people I've talked to are looking for proof, whether it be through sacred texts, historical context, the sciences, or philosophical argumentation. It is important to note, however, that with proof comes a natural imperative on the part of whoever something is proven to.

That is, if I prove to you that my beliefs are true, you have an imperative to agree with me or live in willful ignorance. I say that gravity is true, I drop a box, and use that as evidence that it is true. For you to say it is not true is regarded as stupid. This analogy, however, is interesting for two reasons.

Firstly, when I give evidence of gravity, I am showing you its' effects. Gravity itself is a theory, an explanation for a consistent pull of objects toward the center of our planet. For me to say "no, gravity isn't something I believe in" would not make me fly off into space, because reality is consistent despite our beliefs.

Secondly, to enter into discourse is much more intelligent than to agree or disagree. Perhaps you have a different explanation for why a box falls when it is dropped, or perhaps you wish for the terms to be redefined or you think that on some level, the standard understanding of gravity is flawed.

So either way, when making assertions about reality, you are in a position of power, and if people have other inclinations, then they enter into a power struggle with you. Ideally, if your allegiance is to the truth as opposed to being correct all the time, you are willing to back off if proof is offered otherwise.

The problem, however, is that proof only goes as far as our senses and our knowledge go. This is why our understand of reality continues to evolve as we as a species evolve. Yet still, we cannot explain things like consciousness and miraculous occurrences and a lot about our universe. These things have implications for how we understand all of life.

As incomplete beings, humans fill in the blanks where proof is lacking with their own experiences and personality. This is natural, and can lead to beneficial and detrimental consequences. One's culture, experiences, emotions, flaws and places they excel are all a part of this, as is one's biology and family.

In a way, philosophy is just as much about one's intellect as it is about one's experience and feeling. If a person doesn't understand themselves or the source of their feelings, then their philosophy may be filled with all sorts of unwarranted cynicism, reductionism, or it might be full of empty ideals.

In the same way, if people understand very little, then their philosophy will be full of inaccuracy and assumption. Ego makes this worse.

So you end up with people making absurd factual declarations or becoming anti-intellectual, and people choosing to ignore any aspect of life that isn't analytical. The problem is, since every person is human, they are a fusion, on some level, of these aspects of life.

Whether intuition and feelings are products of brain chemistry and instinct or an indication of higher reality (or both), they exist and have to be dealt with. Whether the universe is a naturally occurring phenomenon or a created existence, it exists and has to be dealt with. On a practical level, this means that we feel and we think. To ignore one is to ignore part of what it means to be human.

I find Christianity to align with something I feel to be true about reality. That is, that the best way is one of reconciliation, respect, love, and value of everything around me. Obviously, I have to sort through a hell of a lot of baggage to even make that statement in the first place, because Christianity means so many things that its' definition has begun to break down. I also believe that part of being a Christian is listening to the beliefs of everyone around you with respect, and allowing for the possibility of being wrong. If someone says my religion is a moral failure or some tenants of it (such as the existence of God) are wrong, I need to take that seriously and look at those things. I believe I do this well.

However, I must also always look at the evidence around me as well. This is why, once I began to really question things, I realized that a lot of the talk about scientific theories like evolution and abiogenesis at my religious schools was not founded in reality. One must always pay attention when reality interrupts your religious thoughts, and one must always investigate deeply before throwing out something you feel is true.

Sometimes a feeling is a product of a simple emotion and can be valued as such without needing to blindly believe religious tenants. Sometimes a fact is a product of simple observation and can be valued as such without needing to blindly accept it without a full explanation.

Both of these things have been and will be used to hold power over others. I encourage you, never settle for this. Investigate for yourself, think and feel for yourself, listen to others and really consider what they say, and make your own decisions.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Morality of Atheism and Theism: Science, Religion, and Progress

Some say the universe came into existence through a rapid expansion, a "Big Bang." Some say that it began with a single Word from God, in creativity and joy. Some say it began with a conflict between multiple gods, through war and strife. Some say the universe has always existed and perpetually will exist.

The origin and nature of humanity has been attributed to many thing as well. The prevailing scientific theory is one of Abiogenesis and Evolution, life arising from inorganic matter and continuously evolving. The religious would say that humanity was created spontaneously by God and is a spiritual as well as physical being. Others would say that we are spirits and all of the physical world is incidental, that we are spirits inhabiting physical bodies, awaiting freedom at death. To be absent from the body is to be present with God. Some make no claims about the origin of man, stating that they simply do not know.

In general, people are theistic or they are atheistic. There are gods or a single God, or there are no gods. A god is usually defined as a being that is above humanity, or as the greatest possible being. Supernatural, with power beyond what humans have, and usually immortal or possessing an ascension beyond death and usually the laws of the physical world. Many cultures have had conceptions of gods, and the Abrahamic religions are the major monotheistic ones (Islam, Judaism, Christianity). Christianity is peculiar in that it, for the most part, includes the doctrine of the Trinity, that God exists in three person, who are united in one essence. This is commonly subject to the accusation of being polytheistic by the other Abrahamic religions.

The only reason I don't speak about polytheistic religions is because I don't know them as well. I would like to remedy that through study of various theology, culture, and mythology, as I think they're very interesting. However, for now I speak of monotheistic religion.

Religion has evolved over the years, and some link it with the continued voice of ignorance and lack of progress. Unfortunately, this is often correct. The most frequent disparity is between the voice of science and the voice of religion. Indeed, you can probably see this in what I've written about so far. Scientific theories stand apart from religious theories regarding creation, the origin and nature of man, and the nature of the universe as prevalently atheistic. This is because the existence of gods have not been evidentially proven. The reason for this is because science is by nature materialistic and empirical. That is, it is about what can be observed and proven through testing and the scientific method.

I think it is fascinating that a type of morality has grown around the scientific method in our culture. Combined with the abuses that are easily observable from the major religions, science has become more than just a method; it's become an epistemological stance. Citing my own religious orientation as a reference, one need only read my past month of posts to note that Christianity, as I and many others have experienced it, is abusive, manipulative, destructive, and ignorant. Much of this can be traced back to theological beliefs, as practice naturally flows out of belief. You may believe that sexism and racism is contrary to your beliefs, but if you hold them dear and find yourself being sexist and racist more often than not, then it's possibly you are incorrect. The problem, of course, comes from the fact that your beliefs are inherently unique and informed by your experiences. This is the problem of speaking about religion: no two religious individuals are precisely the same in belief.

Regardless, the moral stance of the religious often flows from commands of their deity or from implications within religious writings. The morality that seems to be developing from the movement around the scientific method is an allegiance to the truth. Which of these is a higher morality? If a deity does exist, then are they not the same thing? It is comforting to think that a being with higher morality can direct our paths, because we often don't have a clue what's going on in our lives. Or perhaps that's just me.

In any case, the natural conclusion is that our actions matter. The epistemic stance of the culture of science is that we must always progress, the method leads us forward into truth and enlightenment, and that there is no evidence thus far of anything higher evolved than man. Humanism is what we are now speaking about, because you must believe yourself to be capable of finding the truth and with a moral responsibility to move in that direction. Evidence based epistemology is admirable for its' allegiance to the truth, but it makes several assumptions. Namely, humanity is nearly god-like in humanism. No, I'm not saying humanists are egotistical maniacs. I'm saying that humanity is able to see the simple truth and that reductionism is a natural extension of that, that nothing emerges from the evidence that is beyond our comprehension, because there is nothing else. The problem with this is that if there is more than what we can prove, then the system is merely progressive and can not lend itself to claims about things beyond its' method.

In other words, the theory of evolution is a most excellent theory regarding the origin of man. However, to then move into extreme atheism from this point does not follow, as one has not scientifically tested the universe in its' entirety (whether we're speaking of the vastness or the amount of things we have yet to understand), and a negative is not a provable premise without a comprehensive knowledge. In other words, God has not been proven to exist, but that does not mean He does not exist.

That also does not mean He does exist. It is simply not provable at this time. This is why I respect atheism as a stance. It lends itself to honesty and to asking questions, which religion often does not comply with.

The simple fact is, the term atheist simply refers to one belief. There is no God. It is not faith, it is the inverse. There is no evidence, so there is no God. Theism is the opposite (obviously). There is no evidence, therefore God transcends our evidence. Both, however, are beliefs.

This is why the divide between the atheist and the theist has lost a lot of its' meaning. There are philosophical implications of both beliefs, but they are both presuppositions. To judge a presupposition, one must ask themselves what the implications are and whether or not it is true, or compliant with reality as we know it. We must, in a sense, use epistemic, scientific, and intuitive methods for measuring our presuppositions, as none are adequate on their own.

This leads to a whole litany of questions. If there is a God, then where is He? Why is there evil if a being is powerful enough to prevent it? Why is there anything good at all if this God is evil? If there is no God, how do we explain the spiritual aspect of our lives? Are we merely evolving to a higher state of being? Is something more emerging from humanity, or has it been there all along, as the existence of religions would imply? What's the point of what I do? How can what I do not matter if it affects others and the universe?

We're all trying to understand and find meaning, but some have stopped and they think this is all there is. Their religion/stance/culture/morality is the endpoint, and they become militant while others are still asking questions, still trying to understand, still learning.

Where do I stand between science and religion? I answer yes to this question. They address two different things, evidence and intuition. The material reality and the spiritual reality. They are not so different, and they bleed over into each other. Why else would we have stories, and why else would I and those like me, as young children, go outside and look at the stars and wonder what else is out there?

I asked in my previous post why it matters what I believe and what I think. In a sense, I am merely a small being theorizing on a random blog with a few readers that hopefully benefit by cognitive dissonance. In another sense, I'm asking questions that my race is asking in its' global culture. We cannot escape from the morality and the implications of our actions and beliefs, and as a Christian, I once again come back around to saying that I'm sorry. I'm sorry for what my religion has done, for the ignorance it has promoted, for the harm it has done. What is important is to move forward from that, progress, and do better. That is the nature of repentance, and it's what I and those like me strive for. This goes beyond religion to being a person open to truth, being an explorer, and giving respect to what is around you and demanding that respect in return.