Open Enquiries from a Featured Theist

In my first ever blog post, almost a year and a half ago, I declared my sentiment that the debate on the existence of God is ultimately meaningless.  Since that fateful day, I have posted articles about philosophy, science, psychology, history, mythology, as well as random thoughts and just some utter bullshit.  Inevitably though, I am time and time again roped into the same religious debates that I denounced with that first post.  In these debates, I have argued from both sides of the fence, playing Devil’s and God’s advocate depending on the context, all while stealthily avoiding affiliating myself with any one denomination.  Throughout the course of these discussions, the rare times I’ve had to directly address the question, I’ve described myself as an omnist, a deist, an agnostic apologist, and an aimless wanderer between all beliefs (and no belief).  But, despite all my efforts to avoid it, I have recently been labelled by a wonderful alliance of atheist bloggers on their compendium, Enquiries on Atheism, as a ‘Featured Theist.’  Now don’t get me wrong, I am both honored and flattered to be featured on this collaboration, and I want to send my sincere thanks to whoever is responsible for making the decision (even if it’s just a random computer algorithm).  But it does draft me onto the losing team of a competition of which I’m growing more and more wearisome.  Through all my debates for and against the values and hypocrisies of religion, the one consistency has been inconsistency, specifically, the inconsistency of beliefs among those of the same nomenclature.  Even within a specific denomination of a specific religion, you’re not likely to find any two people who share all of the exact same beliefs, moral, philosophical, or otherwise.  For example, two Christians who attend the same church and both declare Christ as their Lord and savior may have completely different views about the importance of the factual validity of the bible.  Likewise, two atheists may be variably certain about the nature of objective reality.  It’s these and similar discrepancies that have led me to avoid declaring any affiliation myself.  Nonetheless, we humans need to categorize our world in order to understand it, and so people with vastly different beliefs may end up being labelled, by themselves and others, with the same assumption-laden label, which further sparks the debate based on nothing more than each person’s own presumptions about that label.

But while I’m being cast, I might as well play the role, for the show must go on.  And I’d like to take the opportunity to explore the varying beliefs within one of these sticky labels.  Atheists are notorious for avoiding declaring any of their own beliefs by exploiting the loophole that atheism is a lack of belief.  But as atheism is merely a lack of belief in gods, as opposed to nihilism, I’m not gonna let the writers over at EoA wriggle out of the witness stand so easily.  So I do have some enquiries, which I’ll list here and also shoot over to them, that should, if they choose to answer, help clarify what beliefs atheist do not lack. These questions are open to all who want to answer though, and if you don’t mind disclosing your preferred label, it may help to exemplify my point even further.

1. Do you believe in the finality of objective reality, despite that our only source of knowledge about that reality is subjective experience. In other words, do you believe that the physical universe is all that exists?

2. Do you believe that logic, and thereby science, is inherent to reality, or do we project it onto reality.  Is logic the language of nature, or is it simply our method of understanding it?

3. Do you believe that our logic, and thereby our science, can or will someday explain the entirety of reality. Can the true nature of reality be known?

4. Do you believe consciousness exists in this reality? Is it merely a by-product of brain function? Is it contained somewhere in the brain?

5. Do you believe in the possibility that consciousness can continue to exist after death?

I’ll stop there for now, as these are the questions I’m mainly interested in.  Hopefully from here we can foster a discussion that explores each others’ worldviews.  Until then, have at it!

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Why this dog has to die.

A common claim by the antireligious is that religion can and should be blamed for the wealth of atrocities committed in its name.  From the Crusades to the bombing of abortion clinics, religion is to shoulder the blame for the sins of those who claim it justifies mass murder.  By that logic, this poor lil’ pup is to be held accountable for six murders committed by David Berkowitz in 1976 and 1977.  Sorry Harvey, but it’s your word against his, and you can’t talk, ’cause you’re a dog.  Don’t worry though, you’re in good company.  Last week we put J. D. Salinger to death for the murders of John Lennon, Rebecca Schaeffer, and the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan.  And while we’re doing away with any arbitrary reason people might use to murder, we better get rid of love, lust, power, property, politics, money, drugs, music, books, food, water, shelter, nature… let’s see, anything else?

 

Planet Eden

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The old legends say we came from a planet.  I’m serious.  That somehow one planet produced us on its own, totally randomly. Seems pretty ridiculous to me. The most complex thing I’ve ever seen a planet produce is a chemical storm. But that’s what they say. Supposedly this magical planet somehow had more than just a handful of elements, it had hundreds. And all those random chemicals magically came together to create a perfect biome just for us.  It’s absurd. This planet somehow produced its own reaction turbines that took in our carbon dioxide and converted it to oxygen. And they were supposedly all over the place. I mean, this stuff is laughable. On top of that, it could magically produce nutrients out of its crust. And there were little beings like us, only not as smart, whose bodies were made of nutrients and we would kill them and eat them.  For real, this is in the archives. This magical planet produced everything we needed, we didn’t have to go from planet to planet gathering resources to convert to nutrients.  Everything was laid right at our feet. Seriously, people actually believe this shit. I guess I get it. It’s nice to imagine a place like that. Makes you feel special.

It’s bullshit though.  I mean, just look at the evidence.  We’re an extremely complex organization of about 100 elements, put together in just the right way, and programmed to reproduce.  We were obviously made on purpose by someone or something.  And they probably didn’t get it right, so they just jettisoned us out.  An experiment gone wrong.  How else do you explain it?  We bicker and argue and believe stupid stories.  We have to scrounge around space for the elements we need to keep us alive.  We can’t self-sustain, so they just discarded us.  At least that makes the most sense to me.  Seems way more probable than a magical planet out in some distant galaxy.  But they’re right, I don’t know for sure.  I just go where the evidence leads instead of blindly believing some old superstition.

But we got too greedy, the legends say. We used up all the resources there, so we had to leave. But someday it’ll revive itself, this magical planet out there, and we can return and live with everything at our feet again. It’s just false hope is what it is. People want to believe in some utopia, past or present or both. It’s bullshit. People need to wake up.  Whatever. I guess it doesn’t hurt anybody if they want to believe it.  They just want to feel like there’s some purpose behind all of this.  Otherwise they’d just jettison themselves, which I wouldn’t mind to be honest.  That’s mean to say.  They’re not hurting anyone, they’re just annoying.  It’s a nice thought though.  I guess I can’t blame them.  It’d be great if I was wrong, if one day we found it.  I’d be the first to apologize.  I hope I am wrong.  I hope one day we can just stay on one planet that provides everything for us.  Planet Eden.  Sounds like a nice place.

The God of Solipsism

I’m bad at intros, so I’m just going to jump right into it.  This is an explanation of a theory I have that, in order for a solipsist to accept that the external world exists, he must believe in God.  Now this doesn’t have to be Yahweh, or any god in particular, it merely needs to serve the function that I am presenting.

If reality cannot be proven to be more than a construct of consciousness, then in order for the external world to exist independently of my consciousness, it must exist, in full, in some consciousness that is at a higher level than mine.  In this case, I am a figment of this higher consciousness’s imagination, as are all the people and beings that I encounter.

Another way to think of it: If I accept that the external world exists, then I must accept the existence of other minds, other minds that, like mine, cannot prove the existence of anything but their own minds.  So unless we are all actively constructing the universe collectively, than there is a mind outside the universe imagining the entirety of it.  Now there may be evidence of the former if we look at quantum mechanics in this light.  If we are all actively constructing the universe as we go, then the more we probe into the inner workings of the universe, the more we have to actively construct.  So you could see the anomalies and contradictions of quantum mechanics as our minds not being able to accurately construct all levels of the universe.  Since subatomic particles behave differently when they are being observed, this theory is entirely possible.  But if the latter is true, then we are simply pushing the bounds of what we can understand being figments of the imagined universe, and only God can fully understand it, if that.

This is not an original concept.  The illustration above represents one version of Hindu cosmology in which Brahma, sitting on a lotus flower that grows out of the navel of Vishnu, who rides on the back of a serpent in a primordial endless ocean (just ignore that part for now), dreams the universe.  Vedantic Hinduism claims that Brahma is all things, and that the universe we live in is Brahma’s dream, and the Atman (the individual self) is a manifestation of Brahma in his own dream.  Hinduism may be one of the oldest religions known to man, not to mention the oldest one still practiced today, yet even here we find the concept of solipsism giving rise to God (or Brahma).

Believe Everything (Believe Nothing)

I’ve started to notice in my online debates (I know, I’m so cool, right?) that I tend to send mixed messages as far as my actual viewpoint on the topic.  I somehow manage to defend and oppose both sides of the argument at the same time, which causes some confusion.  If I defend religion, or a religious person, in a debate, people assume that I am a religious person, at which point I have to clarify that I’m not really, but I’m interested in religion and religious debates.  In philosophical debates, I am often labelled as a solipsist because I pull the solipsism card alot.  People then go on to try to disprove solipsism to me, at which point I have to clarify that I’m not a solipsist really, but I think that solipsism is very possible, and so has to be taken into account when debating the nature of existence.  This has caused me to attempt to sit down and actually define my beliefs, which has been harder than it sounds.  It seems that most people (at least most bloggers) have a very well-defined set of beliefs that they defend in all of their posts and comments, so when they read something, they say something along the lines of ‘You are wrong or right for these reasons.’  But I find that most of my comments usually start with ‘I think…’ or ‘Maybe, but…’  or something along those lines.  I try to steer clear of asserting my opinions as facts, despite what my schoolteachers taught me about how to write an essay.  This may be my natural aversion to confrontation, as I find most blog debates quickly get heated, and then people just start animalistically defending their own point without actually debating the topic.  But the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to think that I just don’t truly believe that any one viewpoint is correct.  I have theories about the world and how it works, but I could be completely wrong, and I accept that fact.  I don’t think that just because something could be wrong, I should ignore that viewpoint entirely, as I could learn alot from considering it.  I don’t ‘believe’ in any one religion or religion in general, but I want to learn as much as I can about each one, because who knows where I’ll come across an answer to a question I have or a thought I may never have had before?  I’m not a solipsist, because I don’t deny the existence of objective reality, but I don’t think it can be entirely proven either, so I have to frame all of my assertions about objective reality through the lens that I may actually be talking about nothing.  I think that in order to consider all viewpoints, we can’t simply find the reason that one is wrong and then cast it out.  In order to gain anything from the viewpoint, we have to consider the implications that it makes about the world around us, and who knows, maybe we’ll learn something by doing so.  Just a thought, I’d love to hear yours below!!

Scientists found God… (not really)

The scientific world (and some of the pseudo-scientific world) was in an uproar last week following the announcement of the discovery of the long-awaited Higgs-boson, or as some have deemed it, ‘The God Particle.’  This tricky little sub-atomic particle is an essential puzzle piece that had been missing from the standard model of quantum physics for more than 40 years.  The discovery and subsequent research of the particle will answer many questions that quantum mechanics has been struggling over for decades.  But the question on most laymans’ minds is “What the hell is it and why is it called the God Particle?”

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The term was coined by Leon Lederman, who claimed that he named it so because the particle is “so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive,” and added that he chose “the God particle” because “the publisher wouldn’t let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing.”  The name unfortunately stuck, and has led to countless pseudo-scientific and antitheistic arguments that science is finally putting the lid on the whole ‘god delusion,’ thus adding more fuel to the eternally burning conflict between science and religion.  A conflict that I and many others see as much a delusion as atheists claim God is.

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I was raised in church, going to sunday school every week, and I know what you’re thinking, but no, I was not brainwashed.  I was told stories, asked questions, and taught to think of others before myself.  And I was never, ever, not once told anything about science, evolution, the big bang, none of it.  I was very scientifically inclined as a young boy.  I watched Bill Nye as religiously as I went to church.  But the two never clashed in my mind.  I don’t remember exactly when I first heard of the conflict between science and religion, but I remember always being baffled by it.  To me, the two were entirely separate ways of thinking that didn’t interfere with each other at all.  I remember an instance where I asked my mother something along the lines of “If the earth is 4 billion years old, why does it say God made it seven days?”  My mom responded with something along the lines of “Well, how long is a day to God?”  Her response stuck with me for the rest of my life, and it always served as a reminder not to think of religion along logical terms.  Still the war wages on, and some people have dedicated their lives to fighting for one side or the other, not realizing that neither side has got it right.

From astronomy to evolution, scientific discovery has been met with hostility from religious literalists who claim their discoveries to be heresy.  So it’s easy for a rational person to view religion, as many atheists do, as a plague upon mankind, and an enemy to reason.  Some atheists, who might more accurately be called antitheists, cite past religious wars, crusades, and terrorists attacks as proof that religion has done nothing but harm to the human race.  They seem to forget the countless religious charities that exist to provide food, shelter, and medicine to poor and underprivileged people around the world.  There is also a tendency among atheists to deify science and view it as an infallible benefit to humanity.  They seem to forget, again, about things such as radiation poisoning, chemical warfare, and the atomic bomb.  The fact is that neither science nor religion is inherently good or evil, but that, like most things, it is up to us to decide how we will use them.

Then there is the mindless back and forth arguing about the existence of God.  Atheists claim that since there is no scientific evidence for him, that he cannot exist, while theists futilely try to come up with some logical way of proving it.  The problem is that you cannot logically make an argument either way.  Ludwig Wittgenstein (whose work inspired this blog’s namesake) said that not only can the question of God’s existence not be answered, it logically cannot be asked.  Wittgenstein was a very logical person, who liked to classify things according to their nature.  He saw that there are a set of things which exist and a set of things which do not exist.  But God, by definition, does not fall into either category.  He is above and beyond anything the human mind can conceive, including existence.  He is that which created existence and non-existence, and so cannot be defined by them.

To me, the problem lies in the fact that people forget that there is a rational side and a spiritual side to every human being.  We must be able to think rationally, because it helps us to survive in the external world, but there’s a part of every human that wants to transcend the physical world.  As Plato tells us in his cave allegory, we only see shadows of what the real world actually is.  This is where our spirituality comes in.  The problem occurs when one substitutes his rationality for spirituality and vice versa.  On the religious side, a person might see a scientific theory as contradictory to his spiritual upbringing, and so denies his rationality.  On the other side, a rational person might see religion as contradictory to his rational thinking, and so denies his spirituality.  Both people are missing out on the full spectrum of what it is to be human.  We are a harmonious balance of intellect and insight constantly struggling against our primal fears and desires.  Without both qualities in your arsenal, you will be unequipped to battle those primal emotions, and will lose out to your animalistic nature.

As you’ve probably noticed, I used the Higgs story as an excuse to give my thoughts about this topic, of which I have a lot.  So I hope that you will forgive my somewhat unorganized ranting.  But my hope is that a rational person might read this and be swayed against the popular anti-religious sentiment among atheists, and that a religious person might read this and decide to keep his spiritual and rational mind separate, but both growing and evolving throughout his life.