Monday, December 14, 2009

Nature and Supernature

Original Posting

In the blog before last I wrote:

If God is supernatural, then he is by supernature outside of our grasp. Our minds are natural, our minds deal with natural phenomena, we are natural. If God is supernatural, he would be so utterly unlike anything we've encountered that it would be impossible to conceive of him. Science, reason, and logic all work with natural material, but why suppose that they can also work with supernatural material? Why suppose that the supernatural even operates according to logic? Why suppose that natural minds are equipped to deal with supernatural matters? Most importantly, why suppose that a supernatural entity would leave natural evidence of its existence?

I'm not sure how well I explained myself, but it occurred to me that I should write a blog about the concept of “supernatural.”

Supernatural is one of those words that don't really give a positive description of something (although it might look like it does), what it provides is a negative description. Saying X is supernatural is to say that X lacks the property of being natural. Because of this, we can only understand “supernatural” by understanding “natural.”

So, what is natural? It is the universe. It is our realm. Basically the totality of our existence. All the forces of the universe are natural forces.

What, then, is supernatural? Everything that isn't natural. Specifically, I suppose, it would have to be beyond our natural world to avoid being subnatural, but I'll leave that alone for now. What's important is that “supernatural” refers to anything that is not a part of our realm of existence.

This means that if ghosts actually exist as part of our realm, existing due to hitherto undiscovered forces, they are actually natural, not supernatural. If God does not exist outside of our realm, but is himself part of our universe, then he is not supernatural. Only things that exist apart from our universe are supernatural.

This, as I mentioned before, is a key aspect of my view of God. Anything supernatural we should approach with agnosticism*, because it would be impossible for natural creatures to discover evidence one way or the other about something outside of our realm. All things supernatural would instantly check in at 50%/50% on the probability scale from our natural perspective.

*Although, you could ask if it's even possible for supernatural things to exist. After all, “existence” is a natural property, wouldn't that make it impossible for a supernatural entity to exist or non-exist? Existence would just be the natural property most similar that we would use to try to understand it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Agnosticism

Original Posting

After many religious changes, I have settled (for the time being) in agnostic theism. What I mean by this is that I consider knowledge of God's existence to be impossible, and therefore I cannot be said to believe or disbelieve in the existence of God. However, because all I have is a question mark, I choose whether or not I will live my life as though there is a God, and I have chosen to live as though there is*.

Now, my reasoning for being agnostic lies in my understanding of God: I have always defined God as supernatural. I know that there are some who conceive of God as something natural, something that's a part of the natural order, however I would not call such a being 'God' any more than I would call extremely powerful extraterrestrial life 'God.' Whenever I talk of God, I am talking about a supernatural entity.

That is why I judge that agnosticism is the most reasonable position.

If God is supernatural, then he is by supernature outside of our grasp. Our minds are natural, our minds deal with natural phenomena, we are natural**. If God is supernatural, he would be so utterly unlike anything we've encountered that it would be impossible to conceive of him. Science, reason, and logic all work with natural material, but why suppose that they can also work with supernatural material? Why suppose that the supernatural even operates according to logic? Why suppose that natural minds are equipped to deal with supernatural matters? Most importantly, why suppose that a supernatural entity would leave natural evidence of its existence?

That is why I have thrown in my lot with agnosticism, because I do not see any reason to suppose that knowledge on the topic is even possible.

*In principle. Really I live more like a heathen who prays before meals and sleep.
**Unless it's true that we possess spirits that are supernatural.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Our Prejudice; a Freethought Thought Experiment

Original Posting

Freethought is a term generally used to indicate the philosophical position that beliefs should not be based upon tradition, dogma, or fear of consequences, rather that they should be based upon evidence and reason. One of the key ideas that the freethinkers cling to is the idea that “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence” (W. K. Clifford). What sort of free thought is that? It starts out by saying what kind of thinking is off-limits! They reject tradition and dogma, they take away the freedom to embrace irrational means of coming to beliefs!

I'm not, however, too concerned with the misuse of language when developing names for viewpoints. My main goal here is to call attention to the ways that “freethought,” traditionally understood, is not really free, so that I can then highlight what actual freethought would be. It's not really an attack on the freethinking worldview, it's a launching pad for a discussion of my conception of what genuine freethought would be, which is itself a launching pad for a moment of introspection.

To conceive of freethought proper, think of the kinds of thought used in everyday life. Now strip away every prejudice, every bit of non-freedom. What do you have left? Nothing, really. Without prejudice you cannot even say that truth is better than non-truth, you have no criteria for what is 'good' thinking and what is 'bad' thinking, there's nothing but a jumbled up mess of thoughts firing off. Without those little prejudices, there is no framework for our ideas, and everything falls into mental anarchy.

However, ask yourself if your prejudices are justified. How many beliefs comprise the framework of your mind that are based on little more than assumption and prejudice? How many things do you hold to be self-evident?

Our beliefs are one of the main aspects of our selves that we use to define ourselves. However, wouldn't a belief that's based on other faulty beliefs be itself faulty? Any faultiness in our foundations and frameworks could result in us defining ourselves by little more that prejudice. Is there really any other way to do things, though? Doesn't all thinking ultimately come back to those beliefs that we hold to be self-evident?

Is it possible that we just use the term 'self-evident' to escape the more plausible concept that we simply choose certain beliefs as being obvious enough? Is it possible that it all comes down to an act of the will, which states what kind of beliefs we think are obvious enough?

And if it all comes down to the will, what hope for truth do we have?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Restrictive Nature of a Meaning to Life

Original Posting

If it were your decision whether or not there was an objective meaning of life, which would you choose? Not which meaning, mind you, that's out of your hands, you only get to choose whether or not such a meaning exists. Would you prefer life with a definite, objective meaning/purpose/end or would you prefer life without such a thing?

I have always figured that life would be better with an objective meaning for us to order our lives, principles, and ethics around, but at the same time just imagine how restrictive this would be. If there is an objective purpose to life, then living our life for any other end or any other purpose would mean living incorrectly (in fact, it would be what made living incorrectly possible). Living for another reason than the proper reason would be akin to playing soccer for the sake of patting your teammates on the ass instead of playing for... whatever the purpose of soccer is.

An objective meaning to life invalidates all other purposes we may give to our life. It means that a man living for the purpose is living an objectively better life than any man who does not.

On the other hand: if we say that there is no objective meaning to life except for the meaning we choose to give it, it becomes impossible to say that anyone is living a poor life. All lifestyles become equally valid: a life spent curing three different kinds of cancer is no better than a life spent trying to capture the flag in Warsong Gulch or a life spent trying to accumulate an impressive collection of pornographic Pokemon cartoons. Once we say that there's no objective meaning to life, any meaning becomes equal to all other meanings as soon as someone esteems it.

On the one hand, it seems wrong to say that the fellow who dedicates himself to Warcraft or Pokemon is living an objectively equally valuable existence as the doctor who dedicates his life to curing cancer, but it also may leave a bad taste in your mouth to think that there's an X out there and whoever lives his life for X is living properly while anyone who prefers to live for T, U, V, W, Y, or Z is living for an inferior, improper reason. In the former instance everything is under our will, in the latter instance nothing is under our will.

Of course, I've simplified things down here. Perhaps there are several appropriate things one may live their life for: we escape the horror of having only one valid thing to live for and we probably escape the horror of saying animated porn is equal in value to curing cancer, although we may become powerless to criticize many lifestyles we may find objectionable. But, the main reason I stripped it down is to show the unsavory things one may be believing if one believes in an objective purpose to life or if one believes we create our own meaning.

Let's return to the question we started with: if it were up to you, would you have a universe wherein life has an objective purpose or a life wherein there is no such purpose?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Importance of Variation

Original Posting

As I was sitting here surfing the internet for things I probably won't even remember tomorrow morning, my mind hopped onto a certain train of thought.

You see, earlier today I was busy writing something for a website I contribute to once a week (that sounds a lot more prestigious when I don't describe the nature of these contributions) and I noticed something during that time: I suddenly had a reawakened desire to study. I suddenly had a desire to do some heavy thinking about some heavy topics. This desire, however, occurred at a time when I couldn't fulfill it because of my prior obligation.

Then, as I lay here in my bed surfing the internet, I had another sudden desire to just start pulling books off of my shelves and begin reading. This, however, occurred on one of the few days I actually need to wake up semi-early tomorrow. Again, the fact that I should not spend my time studying made me want to study much more.

So, I began thinking about what this meant. On the one hand, it's evidence of the fact that we (or at least some of us, apparently myself being one of them) always want what we don't have. When I had to do X I suddenly desired Y even though when I'm free to do Y I often do not have the passion for it that I have when I have to do X. The question, then, is what does this mean for us and our activities?

The conclusion I came to is that unlimited free time (a state I happen to live in for the time being) results in nothing seeming worth a great effort because there's always more time wherein to do it. Because we always have more time to do something, we often do not find this moment better than that moment to do it in. There's always more time, so we're more inclined to put things off and pursue easier pleasures.

This conclusion led me to realize the importance of variation. By variation I mean variety in the situations we find ourselves in at different times. Some situations are better suited for certain activities than others (i.e. it's better to read a book while working than it is while driving, but it's better still to read during your free time than while working), which means we are forced to make value judgments to decide what we're going to spend our time on.

Because we grasp the importance of Y best when you understand that you can only engage in Y for Z amount of time before you have to X. When you have infinite time to engage in Y, you'll have a difficult time grasping it's value in moments.

Unfamiliar Ergo Awesome!

Original Posting

Let me ask you a question. If you lived in a high fantasy world full of strange and unusual races, wonderful creatures like dragons and sex-crazed wood nymphs, wizards who can manipulate the material realm simply through the use of potions and words, and full of ancient treasures, what would boredom be like?

I'm not sure what you answered, but my answer would be: the same as it is in our world.

Go ahead and phrase the question in different worlds: sci-fi, pirate adventure, supernatural investigation, etc. In all those wonderful and fantastic worlds, what would boredom be like? Well, why should boredom be any different in those worlds than our own? Of course I don't think anyone imagines it would be otherwise, they just imagine that boredom wouldn't be much of an issue in those worlds. Or maybe they just imagine that there's a lot more potential for excitement in that kind of world.

Why should such a world seem exciting, though? The High-Fantasy world seems exciting to us, I think, because it contains things that don't exist in our own world. It contains the unfamiliar, and that's why it's interesting. If we lived in a world where Dragons flew over our house everyday, Dragons would become terribly boring to us; if they kept themselves exciting by being violent, then we would find a way to kill them or subdue them.

And then the excitement's gone.

What fascinates us about things unfamiliar to our world is their distance. You've never quite grasped them, there's always another interpretation or another matter to think about. We can always butcher up our own animals and post our knowledge about them on Wikipedia, and of course we might find it interesting, but it won't produce that same fascination that something unknowable would have.

Would it?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sacrifice of Time

Original Posting

Each minute you can only do one thing (I'm not talking about multi-tasking, what I mean is that one can only do in a minute what one does in fact do in said minute), and then that minute is gone forever. We all have our minutes, but they are only good as sacrifices, we sacrifice them based on what we do in that moment.

Every moment spent reading a book is a moment not spent playing on the internet, every moment spent writing is a moment not spent exercising, etc. This is where the concept of sacrifice comes into play: I have to sacrifice this moment to something, what will it be? It's a sacrifice because once the moment passes you never get it back to spend on something else, it's gone forever.

Most of us take this very lightly, as well we should considering that we would probably go insane if we tried to measure the significance of every moment in our life as they passing away (not to mention it would be a terrible choice to sacrifice those moments to), but perhaps it's appropriate to spend a little time considering this. Ultimately, what you choose to sacrifice your moments to is what determines who you are; we are shaped by what we spend our time doing.

People who spend much of their time on intellectual matters become intellectuals, people who spend much of their time in social situations become more social people, etc. This is the largest way we shape ourselves and mold our character: if you ever wonder who you are look at what you spend your time doing, and if you ever wish to change yourself change what you sacrifice your moments to.

What, then, does your day reveal about you? As for me and my friends, we sacrifice our time to the Void. We prefer to pass the time, i.e. sacrifice time to nothing more than the sacrifice of time.

Damn browser games and Warcraft.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

You Know What Would Suck?

Original Posting
Time Machines.

I can think of no more obvious example of where science and human power would be more detrimental to human flourishing. Think about what would happen, if you will, if we were ever able to expand our knowledge and understanding to the degree that we can manipulate the flow of time itself, allowing us to create a device that would allow us to move backward (or forward) in time.

The first issue would be availability. Presumably this would be very expensive machinery, accessible only to a small group of powerful individuals. Still, the excitement and outrage from the public would cause a panic. 'We can go back in time and kill Hitler!' they will think, 'but we can also go back in time and kill Washington, or Newton, or Einstein, or Darwin.' People will be excited about the possibilities of undoing the horrors of the past, but they will also be afraid that someone could undo the great achievements of the past (after all, there's bound to be people who think the world would be a better place without some of them).

Of course, that will only be part of the population. There will be a huge portion of the population that understands what a horrible instrument this could be. After all, one little change in the past can have radical, unpredicted, and unwanted effects on the future. 'Stop the whole thing!' they will say, 'we can't control this! Maybe we can be proud of this accomplishment, it says a lot about human ingenuity to build a device that would allow us to go into the past... but at the end of the day the effects of our actions could have all kinds of unintended consequences. A simple trip to assassinate teenage Adolf could end with us all under Communist rule! Or maybe the Nazis win without Hitler! Or maybe it'll allow anti-Jewish sentiment to persist long enough for someone else to come along and do a more devastating holocaust. Too dangerous, put it away.'

It will not, of course, be put away. If the main argument about changing the past is unpredictable results, this simply means we need to increase our understanding. We cannot say we cannot, it's all a matter of effort! It simply means we need more evidence, more data, more research so that we can precisely calculate the effects of our alterations. Those who decry it as dangerous and unpredictable are passing up a golden opportunity. We finally have the power to fix history! It would be unethical not to use it.

After all, if you (who have knowledge of Hurricane Katrina) could go back in time and warn the appropriate people of the devastation it will cause, wouldn't you be a horrible person not to do so? If you, with all your knowledge of the Nazi's and their attempts to exterminate the Jews and create an Aryan world, do not attempt to warn people then you're no better than the god who sits back while these things happen! For the good of humanity, we must use this technology!

The outcry is still great, of course, so the government has to step in. The government will be asked to put a stop to all this, to keep the people who want to change history from actually doing so. Naturally, the government sees the value of this technology: all of their errors can be fixed. Brush away the Vietnam War, that didn't turn out right. Now that the War in Iraq is no longer popular, get ready to hit the 'undo' button. The public doesn't like it? Well, if we change it, the public won't have any knowledge that history's been changed would it? We were elected to do what's good for the people; even if the people do not like what's good for them we must still do it.

Then, in the name of what's good for humanity, in the name of human flourishing, in the name of living well, the scientist will study to make results predictable and a government team of planners will map out a series of changes that will improve the life of humanity. They'll go back and improve humanity, the ultimate triumph of human power and reason over the natural course of things! They'll control history, in the name of humanity's good of course, and that will result in absolute power.

"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the [machine] controls the past."

We could all be manipulated easily then, all one would have to do in pinpoint the points wherein we as a society were least suspicious and most willing to trust authority, then make their sweeping changes. If they don't work, just hit 'undo,' and try something else. You've got all the time in the world to find something that works. They'll brush away any ethical objections by reminding themselves that it would be unethical not to try to improve the world in this way.

Then, we'll be powerless. We'll be utterly at the mercy of those who are able to control the machine. Even if we're powerless because our overlords seek our good, we're still powerless.

That's why time machines would suck.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Any God Too Small for me to Comprehend...

Original Posting

...isn't big enough for me to worship.

What is the mindset behind this statement? It's basically the declaration that God is not rational (note: this is distinct from irrational, this is more along the lines of being beyond-rational), and that God is only worth worshiping if he is not rational. This phrase, common among Christians, especially Christians dealing with difficult issues, is both a profound declaration and the cop out to end all cop outs. After all, once we no longer expect God to be rational or logical, nothing is impossible (perhaps this is what Jesus had in mind; Matt 19:26).

Can't wrap your mind around the fact that there is one God, and yet we have Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Three, yet one? 1+1+1=1 (I've never understood why some Christians think it helps to illustrate one of their most sacred doctrines with an arithmetic error)? Well, that's fine, because if the Trinity made sense, it wouldn't be worth worshiping.

Someone had the radio on a religious station today, where the speaker was discussing God's planning and forethought and it's relation to man's responsibility. I believe he was discussing specifically the fact that God foreknew Christ's coming and sacrifice since before the foundation of the world, but that man is still responsible for killing him. The question was how to reconcile man being responsible for Christ's death with the fact that God ordained the whole thing. His answer: beat's me, but any god too small for me to comprehend isn't big enough for me to worship.

I'm sure I don't need any more examples, you can see how this maxim will basically allow you to believe whatever you want about God. The beliefs no longer need to make sense because of God's transcendence; anything could be true. So you see how this is a huge cop-out.

On the other hand, there is a decent point behind this statement. If God is the creator of our entire universe and the creator of all of our natural laws, then there's no reason to imagine that God would be bound by the laws of logic. If God created logic, then God would only be bound by logic if he chose to be bound by it. If logic exists over God, then we really ought to drop this 'Almighty' talk. If logic exists as part of God's nature, then he must continue making logical sense.

So that's where we seem to be: either logic is created by God (and the cop-out stands and reasoning about God is absurd), logic has power over God (and therefore God is bound by a set of laws), or logic derives from God's nature (and therefore God is simply following his nature, and the cop-out needs to be thrown away). This is an important matter; the answer to the question will determine whether or not there's any point in thinking about God (after all, if he doesn't bother with logic, how can we think about him. We're left to accept whatever revelation we happen to like best).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On Religion

Original Posting

One topic that has always fascinated me is religion. Maybe fascinate isn't the right word, captivate, beckon, entice. I am a deeply religious man without a religion (I consider myself a Noachide, which I suppose is a religion, but it doesn't have a lot of room for growth that I've found). I'm also deeply loathing of religion, I find it rampant among those delightful people who are both ignorant and arrogant. Knowing little, adopting the party lines of the day, then arrogant enough to believe that their lines are superior to any other belief (not that they aren't, simply that they don't have the intellectual right to believe that they are).

So, there I am, a fellow deeply loving religion and deeply hating religion. Of course I only hate the shallow religion. The deep religion, that is what I love and what I seek. The religion based in personal experience: the experience of God. That's the only religion that interests me anymore. Oh, and it is alive among many: there are many who experience God with varying degrees of intensity. The only problem is that the shallow infects the deep like a cancer. Once people have the experience they try to make it comprehensible. Comprehend the transcendent? That can only end badly.

This is why I suppose many people in this day are warmer to the idea of a transcendent "something" (the word God may be too dangerous for those who want to keep things nice and vague) than the idea of organized religion. The transcendent something maintains it's mystery, it's more difficult to make it heavy, humdrum, and safe. Religion, however, can quickly become mundane. That's why it's always fun to watch the recently converted with their fervor (of course, when they set themselves above others, they are the most irritating of all). They are still being infected. They're riding hide on the deep while the shallow slowly spreads.

Bringing clarity...

and falsehood.

It is that experience that both led me out of Christianity and makes it impossible for me to condemn Christians. It is clear that salvation does happen. Christianity clearly has real, powerful effects on people's lives. I only left because I discovered that these things take place in other religions as well, and I would no longer ascent to Christianity's exclusivity. I seek the thing that these people are experiencing.

But how do you seek it? Must it not remain elusive lest it become shallow? What told Augustine "take and read"? What did Brother Lawrence experience? Who communicated with Moses and Israel? What is the force that changes some lives while leaving others alone? Is it simply something internal? Something within man? I'll be honest, I hope not. How dull, it returns us right back where we were. With a desire for the transcendent and no hope of satisfaction.

Of course, with every passing day, humanity's desire for the transcendent is buried under practicality. And with that comes less interest in these matters. But still, I desire it, and still others do as well.