Monday, February 11, 2008

More on God and His Atheists

...or not. After all, the only Gods I'm aware of are those who bear the title metaphorically; like I was calling Ridley Scott "God of the Blade Runner 'Verse". That kind of thing.

Anyway, boring cognitive philosophical discussion coming up, so be warned those who like to 'skim'. Dare I say 'Rua'? Just wait for the next blog with piccies.

For the rest: so tell me, what do you think? Can you have any kind of discussion about Theism vs. Atheism without said discussion being implicitly 'philosophical'? In other words, once the subject is on the table and people have declared their stance, for whatever obscure reason, is the discussion still on the level of...well, think of what's sometimes called a 'coffee-table book' (say a book with Ansel Adams photos), as opposed to, say, a copy of a Camus novel? That's the kind of difference I'm thinking of.

I'm not saying that a coffee-table book is trivial, or anything like that; nor that it is in some way inferior to the Camus novel. It's just belongs into a completely different category of literary work. And the moment a discussion drifts from religiod politics, that being politics driven by religious or crypto-religious agendas, into a state where someone makes a declaration akin to, say, "Science proves that there is no God."... Well, sorry folks, but the coffee-table book was just closed and put down and the Camus Novel opened somewhere at a random page.

It doesn't really matter where the discussion drifts after that. It might go into the area of what is 'scientifcally provable', or what actually are the 'facts' rationalists so love to just take for granted; or it might head toward the illogicality or plain absurdity of the notion of a 'God'. It doesn't matter where. As of a certain point of transition the discussion has become 'philosophical'. Only a determined effort to laugh it off and return to the coffee-table book and ignore the pesky Camus could possibly save the situation.

And, of course, the likes of me, when faced with bland declarations of the self-evidence of the truth of either religiod or atheist assertions, instantly leaps in there and throws a few spanners into the smooth workings of people's self-evidences, especially when I realize that, as people so often do, they have stopped thinking just that extra essential step. For that step, or maybe two or three, will usually take them to a point where they see more than the hillside they're climbing and the sky above, and they'll suddenly notice the hills beyond and the valleys between them.

That was some serious mixing of metaphors. Sorry 'bout that, but it seemed to fit together.

Anyway, for those who really believe that 'science' and the 'scientific method' support either theism or atheism, here are a few thoughts on the matter. Needless to say I think that those who believe this canard are not not just mistaken but really haven't caught on to the full-on existential irony of what science has actually provided us with, namely the strongest evidence yet (and I mean 'evidence') that anybody who is either an affirmed theist or atheist is at best...well, let me be nice and call it 'misguided'.

For the results of several centuries of scientific activity and the creation of tools to support the investigation of the physical universe and everything in it have led us to the almost inescapable conclusion that, to put it simply, we cannot 'know' what is 'true'. We can only conjecture and select between conjectures and live our lives based on those conjectures. These conjectures might also be described as 'existential assumptions', created by...well, whatever created them. Contingency mostly. Occasionally there might be a dash of deliberation and decision, but by and large existential assumptions are implicit and therefore very rarely challenged by those who hold them: meaning all of us. Some of them in principle inaccessible to explicit consideration.

The bottom line is that the brain, in interaction with the world and wider context that it is set in and a part of, creates whatever we 'think about' the world. Some of these thoughts are built-ins which we share, for the very simple reason that we exist. The brains we have today are as they are today solely because the creatures having those brains and whatever these brains 'thought' were more successful at propagating themselves than those who didn't.

You can conjecture that there's got to be 'more to it', and possibly there is. But what I said above is self-evidently true, no matter what else there is or isn't. If there is such a thing as an indisputable existential fact about what we are, surely it must be this.

As for the 'extra stuff', anything happening inside those brains that does not interfere with said 'propagation' activities and successes, is existentially neutral. Anything that aids it should probably be classified as 'beneficial' and anything that impedes it as 'detrimental'. This is a value-free assessment, based only on the metric of 'continuance of the species' if you will. Of course, other metrics could be applied; and are. That's fine, but my point is that those are essentially parts of the 'extra stuff'. I know a lot of folks won't like that, but as an Absurdist with strong leanings toward General Semantics, I find nothing objectionable about it. It's just the way things are, and so what?

The only 'truth' there is, is that because of our cognitive organs (brains) we can not 'know' anything, because we cannot be anything else than what the structure and context of these organs permits us to be. We have no choice but to act at all times as what we are, to have thoughts and concepts circumscribed by what we are. This would be true even if we had 'souls', only then the limiting factors would be different. And, yes, I am aware that what I wrote just now is an expression of these implicit limitations. But consider this: that the existence of 'limitation' is the foundation and substrate of all thought, and that an 'unlimited' entity, if such a concept makes any sense at all, such as your typical monotheist God therefore can't actually 'think'; not in the way in which we understand it. It can only exist, but, or so I would argue, never actually 'act'; because 'action' is just thought made perceivable to those who are capable of observing it.

Because of all this, I'd also like to argue that the whole Theism vs. Atheism debate is actually less than pointless; it is actually meaningless--for reasons that should be clear from what I said above. The phrases "God exists" and "There is no God" are syntactically correct but semantically void. Still, theists and atheists continue to belabor their positions on the matter, each with what they consider cogency, and each with a smugness that attests only to one thing: their lack of preparedness to go and investigate the existential mechanisms that make said smugness utterly laughable.

But then again, who wants to find out, and especially as one gets older, that what one has thought and done for a long time was nothing but the mental equivalent of shadow-boxing?

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