Saturday, January 13, 2007

Notes for a "Re: The Experiential God" video

I watched videos from YouTube members about God and science and such, and I figured I would jump in. I wrote four pages of notes already, but it's so disorganized that I couldn't hardly begin to make a cogent video response that was less than 30 minutes. So here's my attempt to synthesize their points and my points in an outline that can take less than 10 minutes to present.

Their points:

  • AbortedSoul
    • Surprised at the existence of an intelligent Christian (Hey, there are more of us than you think).
    • Doesn't believe in "any god was invented by man" i.e., any "Invisible Sky Daddy". Carl Sagan: "This extraordinary theory requires extraordinary evidence". (I agree)
    • Evolution stuff, blah blah, we're all evolved from random processes, nothing special about human beings, etc. (Law of accelerating returns)
    • God not needed to require or validate "love". It's just sociobiological imperatives.
    • James W. Prescott's "cross-cultural study" - punishing children --> devotion to the inferiority of women + devotion to supernatural beings.
    • Evil Bible verses
    • Truth is more important than feeling good.
  • LanysNeverLesser
    • Belief in God an axiom of a formal system of thought; not in itself rational
    • Why believe in God? Experience.
  • MetaBob
    • What divides people between those who experience and those who don't experience God?
    • The experiences may be real, but the interpretation of them is not so obvious. What to say to someone who has such an experience but interprets it according to a different tradition?
    • Calm manner a trojan horse for a kind of belief system. Do you believe that human beings must believe in the true God or else?
    • Spirituality not incompatible with atheism
    • Correlation =/= cause, as far as religion and violence goes.
    • Atheism is a religion. (So awesome!)
    • Science shows us a world in which God is not a literal part. (I agree)
    • God-in-us; we bring God into the universe (blah).
    • Law of accelerating returns... sounds good. Ray Kurzweil, "The Singularity is Near". (Sounds a lot like Teilhard de Chardin's "Omega Point")
      • We are the intelligence of the universe; headed towards a singularity of intelligence.
    • Science doesn't say anything that can't be refined.
    • Stuff about alien races. Drache equation - assumptions.
    • Singularity stuff "religious" unless you define "religion" as narrowly as the various institutional superstitions
  • Cortmeister
    • Can understand how religion came to be; perhaps religion is hardwired into human beings...
All right. First part of my video I basically need to introduce myself and make it clear that I'm a Catholic of an all-or-nothing variety, so they don't need to guess about what my opinions are on such or another topic. But then I'll concede many of their points.
  • AbortedSoul
    • I'm sympathetic to the rejection of mythological-seeming, invented deities, and I understand why the Christian God seems by all appearances to fall within that category (cite Xenophanes).
    • I am also sympathetic to his statement that truth takes priority over feeling (cite Simone Weil).
    • I believe in evolution; I believe what science says. I don't always believe what scientists say, because sometimes they speak not as scientists but as philosophers, and in my opinion bad ones.
    • I understand his problem with the "evil Bible verses" and I plan to do a separate video addressing that problem.
    • I am more sympathetic with AbortedSoul, vs. MetaBob, about the non-spiritual element of atheism, at least as MetaBob himself conceives it. I do not consider a sentimental awe at our own technological development "spiritual".
  • MetaBob
    • I agree with his critique of LanysNeverLesser's argument from experience, both in the aspect of how it divides humanity into the "haves" and "have-nots" of religious experience, and in how it neglects the fact that all experience is interpreted by a pre-existing tradition.
    • I want to assuage MetaBob's concerns and assure him (and any listening secularists) that while the Catholic tradition does assign very important value to belief in God and belonging to the Church, and has serious criticisms of atheism abstractly understood, our theology of grace prevents us from judging anyone (cite Trent, Pius IX, Vatican II, Catechism, document from Congregation for Evangelization + Dialogue).
    • I agree that atheism can be spiritual, but my criterion for a genuine spirituality would be that it begins with an awe at an Other that transcends us; MetaBob's own spirituality appears to be a mere awe at our collective selves. I would consider Buddhism to be spiritual; I would not consider Hegelianism and its modern derivatives to be spiritual.
    • I agree that atheism is a quasi-religion, but not because of its sentimentality towards science, or the ritualism of organized atheism. I believe that it is on the same level as the theistic traditions insofar as it makes positive and axiomatic metaphysical claims which are not universally demonstrable in an absolutely compelling way. In fact I believe that it is impossible to be a thinking human being without at least having implicit metaphysical propositions operative in one's behavior.
    • I agree in a less qualified sense that science does indeed show us a world in which God is not a literal part. If God were a part of the world, then he wouldn't be God, but a part of the world. All of the Abrahamic traditions make an absolute and radical distinction between God and the world. In a certain sense, the modern division between modern science and religious belief already had its seed in ancient times, when the study of the changing natural world was held in low regard precisely because nobody ever expected to find the Ultimate and the One amidst stones and beasts. But for the Abrahamic traditions, that distinction is more radical even than was taught by the Greeks.
    • I agree in a generally progressive view of history; I do not believe that it is tied to technology, but rather to culture and civilization.
    • I agree re: alien races. Basically the question is totally up in the air. As the statistics about the size of the universe, and the statistics about the improbability of the development of intelligent life both approach infinity, the only result is the total unpredictability of the outcome.
  • Cortmeister
    • I certainly do think there are naturalistic explanations for the origin of human religiosity, but isn't that strange, given that the evolution of features that help a species survive usually entails that those features correspond in some way to objective reality? (c.f., William James, "The Sentiment of Rationality")
  • LanysNeverLesser
    • I agree about the nature of axiom-based formal systems, and I would even apply this train of thought as a critique of atheist's claim to have a suitable foundation for moral action.
Now, to organize my own points.
  • Regarding science and religion
    • Seems like the only thing that would surprise atheists more than the existence of God is the existence of a thoughtful Christian. Here's a thought: maybe Christians would stop kicking around prejudices about atheists being moral degenerates when atheists stop kicking around prejudices about Christians being intellectual degenerates.
    • As I said before, I accept what science tells me; just not always what scientists tell me. Of course, that means that I can't be a fundamentalist. But it doesn't mean that I can't be a fully believing Catholic. Christians have always been able to interpret parts of the Bible in non-literal ways; Biblical literalism pops up in history when Christian societies either forget, or are not willing to accept, the writings of the ancient fathers. Consider Augustine.
    • Now, there is talk of miracles in the New Testament, and I believe in those literally. I don't think that makes me an idiot. The belief that miracles are impossible is a metaphysical claim, not a scientific one. The only premise necessary to believe that miracles are possible are that, all scientific truth notwithstanding, infinite being can break into finite being with startling and unpredictable results. Let me make an analogy with AbortedSoul's argument about morality. Atheists don't believe that morality is absolute; but that doesn't mean that they break moral rules whenever they can. Well, by the same token, theists don't believe that the observable patterns of the universe are absolute; but that doesn't mean that we expect superstitious miracles to pop up everywhere we go. (Of course, I've spoken with some really superstitious Catholics, just as I've spoken with some really immoral atheists).
  • Regarding science and philosophy
    • I wish that everybody who studied science was required also to study the philosophy of science. Sophisticated human thought didn't begin with Galileo, and science is not the successor to philosophy; it is a branch of it. It's a big branch, and an impressive one at that; but still, one branch among others. The scientific method sets rules for itself in order to maximize accuracy in description of the perceptible universe. For this reason science must bracket questions outside of its purview. (That does not mean that scientists must do so; indeed, they're always talking about the "big questions". But when they do so, they are not being scientists).
    • I believe that it is a fallacy to believe that no question with a real answer falls outside of the competence of the scientific method. In fact, this belief would eliminate the scientific method itself, because the method's own dictates cannot be discovered via any sort of experimentation. They are based, rather, on epistemological reflection on what sorts of knowledge can be based on unmediated contact of phenomena with our five senses.
    • For this reason, there are several things that everybody takes for granted as being "real" yet which are not proper objects of science. History, properly speaking, is not a science; the past is as unavailable for lab experiments as is God itself. True, the Method and technology are used to enhance our knowledge of relics and vestiges of the past. But this is only the indirect study of the past; it is only by combining the hard evidence with interpretation (a process that is woolier than the Method) that we can make approximate reconstructions of what happened. Futurology is not a strict science for the same reason. The human sciences - anthropology, sociology, and psychology - are at best murky, as people and societies seem to be only partially conformable to the Method's ability to make inferences based on patterns. The broader the scope of the human sciences, the fewer certainties issue forth. Metaphysics is not a science, not because it has no reality, but because it constitutes the very foundations of science. Metaphysics asks questions like, what is an object; what is cause and effect; is time continuous or a series; what is motion; what are the constituents of being as being. The question of how metaphysics corresponds to reality yields other fields that are real but not scientific: epistemology, logic, and phenomenology. Then, finally, we have ethics--and even the debate about whether good and evil are real or not has less to do with what can be observed scientifically, than it does with how those observations are interpreted.
    • I want to emphasize that I am not trying to discredit or critique science. I believe in science. But I have much less of a mystical awe of science than does Kurzweil; I think of the method as an ordinary tool of investigation rather than a vehicle to human self-transcendence. I also distinguish between science and reason - science is a branch of reason - which AbortedSoul does not seem to do. Thus I find that religion is good and reasonable for reasons which have little to do with the discoveries of science. That means that you will never find me arguing that religion is good because this or that study shows that religion makes people happy. I do believe that religion makes people happy--it makes me happy--but whether it does or not is irrelevant to whether one ought to believe it. That is, of course, unless the alleged happiness that comes with religion is a clue as to its correspondence with some kind of reality--but I don't make this claim.
    • As a philosophy student I find science relatively uninteresting. In all of its investigations it seems to say so little of significance to everyday life and action. On occasion, questions of science interact with other fields that I am interested in, like the significance of the biology of ovulation for the question of abortion and "double effect", if one has, like me, already accepted the axioms that life begins at conception and that it is objectively evil to intentionally, artificially terminate any individual human life. The question of alien life is moderately interesting but has very little importance as far as Christianity is concerned; we've already discovered a "New World" once, and learned some hard lessons from the experience. Let's hope that if we do interact with aliens, we will remember our own dark history of colonization and exploitation, eh?
    • Certainly, the progress of science makes us very technologically advanced. So we get all kinds of new mechanical toys to play with. Maybe technology will save us from destroying our own planet; that would be cool--but also unlikely, as long as the world is governed primarily by market forces and democracies full of individuals who aren't willing to make sacrifices. But unlike Kurzweil I don't believe that technology is an important indicator of the progress of human civilization on the whole. The better standard is one put most eloquently by Hubert Humphrey: "The moral test of a government [or civilization in general] is how it treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick and the needy, and the handicapped." I would also add: the refugee, the minority, and the woman. By this criteria, I think we've made a lot of progress; but this progress is not, unlike technology, constant, necessary, or even agreed upon as to the shape that it takes.

1 comment:

Matt of CG said...

Whew-weee, Jeffie! That's a big ol' piece of jerky! If there's anybody who has got the molars to chew on that, it's you!

How many treble hooks are gonna be on this lure?! Remember to set the hook good n' firm so you don't loose your fish. Just thinkin' about the size of your potiential cath gives me goosebumps. HE-HE-HE!!!