THREE ESSAYS ON THE MEANING OF LIFE
ESSAY 2 : AN EXAMINATION OF THE HOUSE OF DISBELIEF
“Life is just nature’s way of keeping meat fresh.”
– Dr. Who, 2005.
In Essay 1 we examined the House of God and found it to be unsound because its Biblical foundations were unreliable. While there are some apparent “T” Truths (our working definition of which is that which is true for everybody all the time) in the Bible, we found the ancient, brutal, male god depicted in it to be incredible – and we found the House of God’s special meaning/purpose of life to be unbelievable (a one-off test for eternal heaven or hell). Having found the House of God to be unsound, does this mean that we must disbelieve in the existence of any God and/or any special meaning or ultimate purpose to our existence? Must we necessarily subscribe to Dr. Who’s grim nihilism, above?
No, not at all. While many feel that to successfully demolish theism is to establish atheism, this is illogical – to demolish our religions’ gods is not to demolish any real God/Divine/Higher Agency at all. Similarly, to find that our Houses of Gods’ ideas about life’s meaning/purpose are incredible, is not to establish that there is no special meaning or ultimate purpose to life (“special meaning” as opposed to our own personal meanings, and “ultimate purpose” as opposed to our body’s animal purposes).
TWO DIAMETRICALLY POSITIONS CAN BOTH BE WRONG
While two diametrically opposed positions about a subject can’t both be right, they can both be wrong. To give you an example of this, I will tell you about my experiences with water divining, water diviners, and “S” Sceptics.
OF MICE, MEN, AND WATER DIVINING
I had no particular belief nor interest in water divining until I quit the city to go farming – and, one day, my neighbour showed me how to divine water to see if I could do it. It worked for me, to my great surprise, and he declared I had the gift of being able to divine water. His demonstration was unasked for, but I went along with him out of neighbourly politeness – not, however, to the extent of fudging the water divining.
If anything, previous to that point I had a disbelief in water divining – having seen a show on TV some years previous which seemed to demonstrate, comprehensively, that water diviners were hoaxers. The show involved several of Australia’s allegedly leading water diviners volunteering to take part in a water divining challenge set up by leading “S” Sceptics. The challenge involved several pvc water pipes being sunk into the ground, some then being filled with water, and some not – the task for the diviners was to find which pipes had water in them. The diviners agreed that the test was fair, and approved of the referee appointed by the Sceptics (a well-known clergyman) to oversee the process.
None of the “gifted” water diviners did better at finding which pipes had water in them than chance selection would have.
Remembering this, after my neighbour told me I had the “gift” of water divining, I was intrigued. What was going on? I certainly was not hoaxing – nor did I feel in possession of a Divine gift! After he left I did some investigating – firstly making up my own set of divining rods out of fencing wire, then wandering about testing them – finding that they turned here and there. While a couple of spots where they turned were on a discernable underground aquifer line between obvious wells and springs, I had not deliberately made the divining rods turn over these spots. Puzzled, I then sent a letter about all this to the well-known Sceptic who had produced the TV show debunking water divining. His reply was – patronizing – to put it politely.
I was more intrigued than ever. I then tried to make the wire rods more objective by giving them plastic handles so they were free to turn – or not – without me being able to squeeze them or influence them in any way. Then I clipped a line level onto the wire to make sure I was holding them level and not tilting them to make them swing in the plastic handles. Same results – the rods turned at the same places. I tried the rods out on a friend’s place – finding water that he later had successfully drilled for an aquifer pump. Another letter to the Sceptic. Same sort of patronizing reply – with a detectable hint of fear and loathing (of the sort you tend to get from religious fundamentalists if you question their beliefs).
More testing on my part. I found that while the rods would turn over the obvious line of springs on my property, they also turned in a couple of places where there was no water at all – for example, they would turn over a dry, gravelly creek bed. However, more strangely, they would not turn over a dam full of water – even if I was standing in it!? They also turned over wire fences and long-empty iron pipes in the ground – but not over my pvc irrigation pipes full of water. The penny was beginning to drop – so I then filled a plastic bucket with water and left a metal one empty – and the rods turned over the empty metal one, but not the plastic one full of water. Eureka! This phenomenon was not about water at all, nor was it a divine gift – in short water divining was a complete misnomer – but it had a “T” Truth which was potentially useful for finding water: metal wire rods will turn over weak electromagnetic fields, such as those around wire fences, metallic rocks in dry creek beds, metal buckets, and around underground aquifers (often comprised of metallic rocks like basalt/blue metal). To know where an underground aquifer is through “water” “divining”, is to increase your chance of putting a drill down in the right place for sweet drinking water (different from artesian bore water which is deeper and quite widespread in Australia).
So both diametrically-opposed positions were wrong – Sceptics were wrong to say water divining was a hoax; water diviners were wrong to think it was about water and that they could find it in pvc pipes.
Another letter to the Sceptic – in a parcel with some rods I made for him to do his own research (he also has a farm). More fear and loathing. This particular “S” Sceptic was also a columnist with a weekend newspaper and, co-incidentally, his next weekend’s column contained a diatribe against religion. In it I could see the same logical mistakes he had made against water divining – he was attacking certain peoples’ “t” truths (the “g” gods of our primitive religions) rather than find the “T” Truth (about the existence of any real “G” God).
Another letter to the Sceptic pointing out that maybe he was making the same mistake with religion as he had about water divining – satisfying himself with slaughtering the slow-moving sacred cows of others (their vulnerable “t” truths), rather than hunting for big game (the “T” Truth). I’ll say this for him, he was a great replier to readers’ letters – his next, you guessed it, full of more fear and loathing – but lots more fear this time. Another penny dropped – this bloke was not interested in “T” Truth – only in his personal “t” truth because it was comforting to him (if you’d been a communist earlier in your life, as he had been, you wouldn’t want there to be a God either).
I relate all of this because it made me realise that while we all have personal “t” truths and “s” scepticism is generally healthy – fundamentalist “S” Scepticism and “D” Disbelief may be preventing us from finding useful “T” Truths – just like Essay 1 found the incredible “g” gods of fundamentalist religion is preventing us from finding any “G” God. It also made me realise, the more I thought about it, that Disbelief was as comforting as the House of God – to the point that it could rightly be seen as a “H” House itself – like the House of God, a place to shelter rather a home for Truth.
If this is the case, then the House of Disbelief needs examining just as much as the House of God did – to see if the poor souls sheltering within are safe.
THEISM AND ATHEISM BOTH WRONG?
So, back to theism and atheism, while it is not possible for two diametrically opposed positions about God and any special meaning of life, to be both right, it is possible – as in the example of the two diametrically opposed positions about water divining, above – they may both be wrong. In this case, while theism and atheism can’t both be right about the existence, or not, of any God and/or special meaning, they can both be wrong about the god and meaning that they have both agreed to argue about.
Western theism and atheism are both based on believing or disbelieving in the existence of a particular “g” god – the Biblical Abrahamic god. But the outcome of their argument over this primitive, religious god, establishes nothing about the existence (or not) of any real “G” God – it only establishes the fact that they have agreed to argue over the same god. It is entirely possible that there exists a real God which has eluded them both – mainly because they are not searching for any such Truth – the old Judeo-Christian god ideally meeting both their purposes. In the case of the House of God, the Biblical carrot and stick god (equal parts loving and punishing) is ideal for gaining power over the hearts and minds of humanity, and in the case of the House of Disbelief, this Biblical god is a straw god ideal for their purposes (“straw” because incredible and insubstantial, “ideal” because easily demolished).
IS GOD REALLY DEAD?
Since Nietzsche declared in one of his works, that: “God is dead, and we have killed him”, many disbelievers have danced a jig on “His” grave in celebration. But there is surely no grounds for atheistic triumphalism over the death of the “g” god of some pre-scientific tribes – not only the wrong grave, but empty anyway. Likewise for the existentialist/nihilist/libertarian celebration of the end of special meaning – to demolish one ancient and incredible understanding of life’s special meaning and ultimate purpose (a once-only test of newly-minted souls for their suitability for eternal heaven or hell) does not spell the end of all credible special meaning/purpose and/or establish meaninglessness and purposelessness as necessarily consequential facts.
In short, “H” Houses must be able to stand on their own merits, they are not made more sound by the relative unsoundness of another – even if that House is a diametrically-opposing one. So, this essay is to be an examination of the stand-alone soundness of the House of Disbelief.
The “House of Disbelief”!? We all agree that there is a House of God, but is there a House of Disbelief?
THE HOUSE OF DISBELIEF?
The 18th century period known as the Enlightenment was so-called because it marked the era when philosophy started to emerge into some light, from what had previously been a long era of philosophical stasis and religion-induced darkness. The foundations for the Enlightenment were laid by our growing scientific knowledge in the fields of astronomy and cosmology, in particular, driven by the discoveries of people like Galileo, Brahe, Copernicus – who discovered, not only many things about the universe, but that much of what was in the Bible concerning the universe, and our central place in it, was incorrect. Isaac Newton gave us the mathematical tools to understand our physical world and enshrined the scientific method. Scientific knowledge then grew on itself and discoveries cascaded forth. Much of which had been previously mysterious about our world was solved by our sciences and God (even working in mysterious ways) was needed less and less – as the universal answer for anything we couldn’t understand. God, as an explanation, became a “god of the gaps” – the need for which was reduced as the gaps in our knowledge were being shut. It was this process which eventually led to Nietzsche’s famous declaration about the death of God – as quoted above.
The ever-increasing discoveries of Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy, Cosmology, Geology, and (Darwinian) Biology rolled on through the 19th century and into the 20th, and the holes being blown in the Bible by science became wider and more numerous. As a result, atheism slowly became dominant in academia (most of whose greatest universities had originally been established, and run, by the House of God). When education was made more widely available to the general population in the West, atheism seeped steadily into society. Gradually, as science steadily increased its understandings and trundled out more and more marvelous products: engines, cars, planes, electronics, medicines, etc., people in the West came to worship science instead of God – because science was obviously based on “T” Truths – its products demonstrably worked and were making the world a better place. Priests, whose Book and god now looked incredible (and with a pretty low success rate at making the world a better place), were replaced by scientists who seemed to be in full understanding (of an apparently godless world).
Philosophy swung in behind science and “d” disbelief gradually became “D” Disbelief – a belief system, a religion for some – in other words, an “H” House. In this way, philosophy, for so long well described as a “footnote to Plato” – became the handmaiden of science. During the unfolding horrors of the 20th century: the First World War; the flu pandemic; the Depression; the Second World War; the Holocaust; the atom bomb (the latter an irony because it was a present from the chief priests of science) confirmed the growing parish of this House of Disbelief in its disbelief of any God, ultimate purpose or special meaning to life. In the absence of theism, other philosophical “isms” bloomed in the House of Disbelief’s garden: atheism; nihilism; existentialism; relativism; reductionism; determinism; materialism; post-modernism; Neo-Darwinism – to name a few, and various nasty political “isms” as well – like Nazism and Communism. The secular corollaries of the philosophical isms were meaninglessness and purposelessness – which people attempted to treat with various other isms, like: nationalism, capitalism, sportism, consumerism, and alcoholism.
Towards the end of the 20th century, as the House of God made itself more incredible by grasping tighter to fundamentalism and evangelicalism (literal belief in the Bible), the House of Disbelief became established in academia as the default position – disbelief treated as established – and now it was belief in meaning, purpose, God that had to be justified. The House of Disbelief thus came to share many characteristics with the House of God – it had: a Book, saints, priests, zealots, doctrines, fundamentalism, dogma, and creed – viz.:
A book, saints, zealots, priests, fundamentalism, doctrines, a creed, dogma – yup, disbelief is an “H” House. And, like the House of God, it has a tendency to swarm the high moral ground.
THE HIGH MORAL GROUND?
The exponents of Disbelief hold themselves to be the rightful tenants of the high moral ground, seeing themselves as more worthy than the religious who also claim the territory. “More worthy” because: too intelligent to believe in a God; braver – able to laugh in the face of death without the comfort of a caring God or any eternal life in a hereafter; morally superior because they strive to make the world a better place without a reward like heaven; not egotistical because not needing to believe in an anthropocentric human destiny.
Such self-proclaimed superior honesty, intellect, bravery, morality and lack of egotism is well spelled out by one of the priests of the House of Disbelief – evolutionary psychologist, Dr. Steve Stewart-Williams:
“...the virtue of being honest enough and courageous enough to acknowledge unflinchingly that there is probably no God, no afterlife, and no soul; that...we are insignificant in a vast and impersonal cosmos; that existence is ultimately without purpose or meaning; and that the effects of our actions will ultimately fade away without trace...yet to strive to make the world a better place anyway, without promise of eternal reward...who find a certain stark beauty in kindness without reward, joy without purpose, and progress without lasting achievement.”
“Darwin God And The Meaning Of Life”, P. 308
And this from Professor E.D. Klemke:
“An objective meaning – that is, one which is inherent within the universe or dependent upon external agencies – would, frankly, leave me cold. It would not be mine. It would be an outer, neutral thing, rather than an inner, dynamic achievement. I, for one, am glad that the universe has no meaning, for thereby is man all the more glorious.”
“The Meaning of Life”, Edited, E.D. Klemke – P. 195 (his italics underlined).
FEAR AND LOATHING
As well as swarming the high moral ground, the House of Disbelief (similarly to the House of God) tends to react with fear and loathing when its beliefs are challenged – witness the omnipresent sarcasm and loathing in the writings about God and special meaning of most of the abovementioned zealots of the House of Disbelief. This is behaviour typical of people who have had their comforting beliefs disturbed, and of people who are trying to win an argument to protect their own comforting “t” truths.
But is this fair – are there “comforts” in Disbelief?
THE CONSOLATIONS OF DISBELIEF?
We considered in Essay 1 that membership of the House of God was most often driven by the comforts, the consolations, of religion – but what consolations can residence in the House of Disbelief offer? This:
“...the evolutionist must conclude, along with the writer Vladimir Nabokov, that ‘our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness’...Having established this point, we might want to ask why people so consistently fear death. If death is nothing, then surely there is nothing to fear. We do not regret our past non-existence, so why do we regret the prospect of our future non-existence?”
(Op. cit., P.150)
Yes Virginia, “H” Houses, like “h” houses, are primarily about shelter and comfort – they are not a search for anything – especially not a search for any Truth of a matter which could be inconvenient and discomforting.
While it can be fairly argued that there are comforts in dwelling in the House of Disbelief, none of the above is an argument that all people within the House of Disbelief are morally “bad”, hypocritical, etc. Many residents manage good, moral, unselfish, righteous lives by any measure – the above are just observations that Disbelief provides comforts and benefits, like any House.
BUT WHY EXAMINE THE HOUSE OF DISBELIEF?
I think we have established it exists, but many would surely be asking: “why examine disbelief, what’s the point?” – everyone knows that religion is dangerous, it has killed many people and is still doing so – and therefore it could be fairly said that religion needs examination. But disbelief is surely harmless if we retain humanitarian principles – it is even a necessary counterpoint to dangerous religions?
In the first essay we examined the House of God and found its foundational fabric (the Bible) to be unsound, therefore an unsafe place to dwell – so maybe we should also examine the House of Disbelief to see if it, too, is an unsound place to dwell? If unsound, like the House of God, its certificate of occupancy should also be revoked to protect the poor souls within.
“Protect” them from what?
· To protect them from meaninglessness (as in the absence of special meaning and ultimate purpose) and its camp-follower, depression – frequently inherent in membership of the House of Disbelief. Depression is the looming plague of the third millennia – meaninglessness is its bedfellow.
· To protect them from missing any spiritual opportunity that life may present us with – maybe we are not just matter – maybe we are spiritual beings with physical bodies and that life/existence in a relative reality does offer us the opportunity of spiritual evolution as surely as physical evolution? We will search in Essay 3 for any spiritual factor in the human equation and for any reason why we should strive to spiritually evolve.
· To protect them from missing out on finding how to best live.
HOW TO BEST LIVE?
Discovering “how to best live” has been held by most, over the centuries, to be Philosophy’s holy grail. What if living in the House of Disbelief – of believing that matter and energy is all there is; that only personal meanings and animal purposes are possible; that the human equation only has physical, animal factors; that only, necessarily passing, animal happiness/pleasure is possible – is preventing us from living best? What if there is a greater enjoyment (ecstasy, even) available from life if we can come to understand any spiritual factor there may be in the human equation? What if lasting happiness is available (rather than passing pleasure) through being, knowing, and growing our self? What if we have more than one life? What if there are realities beyond this relative reality into which we, our selves, can evolve.
We will hunt for evidence of such as the above in Essay 3, here we just need to see that it could be worth the effort to examine the House of Disbelief to see if the pillars upon which it depends are sound – in other words, is the comfort offered by the House of Disbelief substantial, or are its inhabitants in danger of missing the full opportunities presented by life? Are they living life best?
ESSAY 2: AN EXAMINATION OF THE HOUSE OF DISBELIEF
To understand whether any House, or house, is sound, one needs to examine its design, purpose and fabric – just as we did when we examined the House of God.
The House of Disbelief does not seem to have been built to any design, it just grew organically – mainly as a reaction to the abuses committed by, and the incredibilities of, the House of God over the centuries. The construction of the House of Disbelief was spurred by scientific revelations and by the freer thinking which emerged from the Enlightenment period. Any presently apparent design just evolving gradually as more and more people entered its portals and began singing from the same ideological song sheets – usually neo-Darwinian and materialist hymns against God, special meaning, and ultimate purpose.
As religious fundamentalism became more strident in reaction to evolutionism at the end of the 20th century and into the 21st – and became more dangerous – “D” Disbelief has developed a purpose: opposition to religious fundamentalism. This is well-illustrated in the works of the more articulate office-bearers of the House of Disbelief, authors like: Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Harris, and company. They seem to clearly recognise the dangers of religious fundamentalism and are purposefully trying to oppose it. More power to their arms, but is fundamentalism the best antidote for fundamentalism – opposing fundamentalisms usually generate more heat than light? The best antidote to dangerous “t” truths has always been to find “T” Truths – more of that in Essay 3.
What comprises the fabric of the House of Disbelief? Like the House of God, the House of Disbelief has foundations, walls and roof, but unlike the House of God, whose (Biblical) foundations were found to be unreliable, the House of Disbelief’s foundations are firm. These foundations are humanity’s scientific discoveries, whose soundness we prove every day by using their products successfully. Upon the House of Disbelief’s sound scientific foundations, however, are built some questionable philosophical pillars – which pillars support the House’s comforting (for some) walls (of meaninglessness and purposelessness) and sheltering roof (of atheism). These pillars are crucial to the soundness of the structure – and it is these pillars which need close examination.
So, what are they – these philosophical pillars of the House of Disbelief?
THE PILLARS OF THE HOUSE OF DISBELIEF
Are these pillars sound? Let’s examine them, one by one.
The first three pillars of the House of Disbelief fall into a category known as: “The Problem of Evil”. I examine the problem of evil first because I think it safe to say that the perceived existence of evil in our world is responsible for the greatest number of those who have lost belief in the existence of any God and/or any special meaning to life – or why no such beliefs formed in them in the first place. If such disbelief cannot be dispelled, then residency in the House of Disbelief is confirmed and reading any further into these essays is unlikely.
Let me first say that, as a young man, I personally lost belief in any special meaning, ultimate purpose, and/or the existence of any Higher Agency to the contemplation of natural evil – for example, the dire illness and death of babies and children (i.e. too early for their life to have had any special meaning like self/spiritual growth); and, in general, bad natural events things happening to good people. But some encounters with credible evidence that we have many lives (some hard, some joyous – some short, some long) led me to explore the matter further (more of that, below) and to realize that a lack of belief in special meaning/purpose based on the fact of premature deaths and the suffering of natural disasters was not sound. To discover the evidence for why I came to this position, read on.
But first, a general discussion on the arguments for “D” Disbelief from the problem of evil.
I have just finished a book titled: “50 Voices of Disbelief – why we are atheists” (eds. Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk, 2009) and if Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” is the Bible of the House of Disbelief, then this book is its hymnal – containing the voices of fifty of our best and brightest: philosophers, scientists, medicos, psychologists and academics singing their personal anthems of disbelief. By far the greatest number of them give the existence of evil in the world as the main reason for having either lost, or never formed, a belief in God and/or special meaning. The main arguments from evil, in this book, tend to fall under the headings: natural evil, moral evil, and religious evil. “Natural evil” refers to injuries, sickness, and death resulting from the always uncaring, often violent, forces, animals and diseases of our natural physical universe; “moral evil” refers to the evil we humans sometimes do; “religious evil” refers to the evil done by religion in the name of God.
Whilst there is a similarity in how the logic works under these three headings, I will examine them separately because there are enough differences for them to be seen as three different, accumulating proofs against special meaning/purpose and the existence of any higher agency – i.e. three different pillars to the House of Disbelief.
So we will firstly examine the problem of evil pillar constructed out of the dangers inherent in our natural world.
The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (1994) states the “problem of evil” to be: “…the problem of reconciling the imperfect world with the goodness of God.” I would take it further to include also the problem of reconciling our sometimes evil world with the idea that it could have special meaning or ultimate purpose.
But firstly, we’ll stick with the standard dictionary definition – and there are two things to be considered in it:
1.) Is the world truly “imperfect”?
2.) What must make for “goodness” in a “G” God?
1.) IS THE NATURAL WORLD IMPERFECT?
One thing that is absolutely settled is that our world is not heaven – only meeting any acceptable definition of the word “heaven” for some people, and for them, only some of the time. All things are definitely not – as the Christian House of God’s hymn would have it: “bright and beautiful” – the natural world being more truly, as Shakespeare noted: “red of tooth and claw”. The battle to survive in our uncaring, competitive, natural, neutral world is undoubtedly constant and often dire – but must it therefore be, necessarily, “imperfect” – as the dictionary would have it?
Some think so, and some think it is beyond imperfect – to the point of being evil:
“But if intent be truly manifest, then what can we make of our universe – for the scene is evil by any standard of human morality.”
“Rocks of Ages”, Stephen Jay Gould. (Pp.205-206)
AN EVIL UNIVERSE?
Humans are killed by nature’s forces (storms, earthquakes, fires, floods, volcanoes, tsunamis), by its creatures (leopards, sharks, bears, lions, hippopotami, snakes, spiders), and by its diseases (viruses, bacteria). It’s a naturally dangerous and competitive universe, but:
· Is “intent” truly manifest in any of this?
· Do the undoubted dangers of the natural world prove it to be “evil”?
· What can we make of our dangerous universe?
We’ll consider what our universe says about the existence of and/or nature of any God, later – first let’s just consider the last point, above, first: Gould’s question “what can we make of our universe” – can such a natural, neutral, dangerous universe have any credible special meaning and/or ultimate purpose?
Let’s consider this another way – what should a meaningful universe look like?
WHAT SHOULD A UNIVERSE BE LIKE TO ESTABLISH PURPOSEFULNESS – AND THAT PURPOSE MEANINGFULNESS?
Anyone who loses meaning/purpose to nature’s undoubted dangers needs to explain: how should our universe actually be, before any credible special meaning and ultimate purpose can be established by our existence in it? Many, in their arguments against meaning from the existence of apparent evil, imply that our world needs to be Paradise before it can have any ultimate purpose – and before that purpose can have any special meaning.
But could any existence in a Paradise be purposeful/meaningful – pleasant, undoubtedly, but meaningful/purposeful? Or would any existence in such a state be inherently, necessarily meaningless – because it can have no credible ultimate purpose?
PARADISE Vs REALITY?
Firstly let’s imagine what paradise should be. For most people, Paradise should be everything our world is not: a world devoid of natural dangers; no mortal challenges; everything pretty and safe; eternal life; and, importantly (for many critics of special meaning), a level playing field for all humans – everyone having similar abilities, similar opportunities and identical experience.
If so, what have we got? Probably a nice place for a picnic – but what sort of special meaning and ultimate purpose could an existence in such a reality have? Where is its creativity?
Now think of our present reality – our actual world: full of beautiful and ugly; full of dangers and thrills; full of defeats and victories; full of people with different abilities having different experiences. What do we actually have, here in this world? An impartial, natural, neutral world: a frightening place but full of inspiring beauty; a challenging place but full of personal opportunity; a world full of mortal dangers (some of which, some of us, actually seek for fun); a world and life which must come to an end. Which place has the greater potential, the greater purpose – Paradise (an absolute) or here – our hugely creative universe? (a relativity).
WHAT MAKES OUR LIVES MEANINGFUL?
Some think that life is made meaningful through their animal, sensual enjoyments. Some find meaning in their bodily achievements – excellence in sports and/or the accumulation of money and stuff. Some find meaning in their children and grandchildren (meeting our animal, genetic imperatives of furthering our selfish genes). All a bit Darwinian, but, for most, a meaningful life also needs to involve some challenge, some excitement, some adventure, some danger, some experience of our world’s natural beauty – most of which involves some risk to the animal body/genes (varying from low to high risk – from sightseeing to extreme sports, say). But risking our genes for beauty or challenge is unnatural behaviour if you are a Darwinian ideologist – believing that the only ultimate purpose in life can be genetic survival. While most of us value our bodies, our health, enjoy our animal senses, and seek to further our genes – we sometimes also seek to brush with natural “evil” (injuries, death) because it can actually add special meaning (“special” because beyond the animal/Darwinian purpose/meaning) to our lives – that picnicking in Paradise never could. The beauty and thrills of nature can “lift” our spirits, meeting some spiritual need (like self/spiritual development? – more of that later) at the same that it endangers our animal bodies. There are apparently more factors to the human equation than just the animal?
Let’s hunt further.
Have you ever noticed that meeting our universe’s adversities often brings out the best in your self (two words)?
FACING ADVERSITY BRINGS OUT OUR BEST?
Often “bad/evil” times bring out the best in your self (bravery, courage, determination, consideration for others) – and “good” times often bring out the worst (greed, laziness, pride)? As the saying goes: “the finest steel comes from the hottest furnace”. Some would say that this is a cliché. But how do sayings become clichés?
Relativity, as opposed to the absolute, is all about creativity. Take for example, the Renaissance in Italy – a time of political upheaval, when Mafia-type thugs like the Medici controlled the cities, and warfare swept the countryside – this era of strife and evil produced some of the greatest art the world has ever known, while, as noticed by Harry Lime in “Third Man”, a similar period of time in peaceful Switzerland produced the cuckoo clock – a bit unfair on the Swiss, but you get the point. Now I’m not advocating bringing bad times upon others, to do them a favour in the form of helping along their creativity, just observing the fact that “evil” in the shape of hard times (and, to answer Job’s conundrum, happening indiscriminately to good and bad people alike) does not necessarily demolish special purpose/meaning from life (or even remove a beneficent God – more of that later). It could even add special meaning?
What sort of “special meaning”?
Apart from the artistic creativity, what about spiritual creativity – personal/self growth?
For some, the idea of personal growth from evil is an obscenity; and I understand where they are coming from (there is precious little self-growth in an earthquake or an African drought/famine, for example) – but there is scientific evidence to back up the argument that, sometimes, facing adversity (evil) can lead to growth – i.e. the very existence of evil must not necessarily demolish the existence of special meaning/purpose. This from psychologist Jonathan Haidt:
“Adversity may be necessary for growth because it forces you to stop speeding along the road of life, allowing you to notice the paths that were branching off all along, and to think about where you want to really end up.”
“The Happiness Hypothesis”, Jonathan Haidt (P.144).
Haidt backs up this idea by referring to several studies. In summarising one of them (sociologist Glen Elder’s lengthy study) – he says:
“We can say, however, that for many people … adversity made them stronger, better, and even happier than they would have been without it.”
(Haidt, ibid, P.151 – referring to Elder 1974 & 1998.)
CREATIVITY THROUGH ADVERSITY?
All of us some time will be sick or injured, mostly not too drastically, and we will battle through without it changing our lives to any significant extent. However, some get drastically injured or suffer drastic diseases such that they can never have a full life. Surely this removes the opportunity for self growth from such a life?
In a word, no. Self growth is still available.
Many who have suffered physical disadvantage through injury (often enjoying life’s dangerous thrills) and/or disease have not necessarily had life’s opportunity for self growth removed, often it has led to self-growth. For example, I have just (2008) seen a TV program about children and adults with the disfiguring Treacher-Collins Syndrome. I also have in my hand a magazine article about a woman with a type of distorting muscular dystrophy-type disease who is very severely crippled in a wheelchair. Such handicaps make any ultimate purpose difficult to see (or any Divine), and meaninglessness is a short step away. But we need to look more closely at the lives of the people I am talking about. One of the people affected by the disease on the TV program last night was successfully studying to be a doctor; the other in the wheelchair from the magazine article is a successful barrister. Also I have read also a book recently made into a film (The Butterfly in the Diving Bell) written by a man who could only move one eyelid as a result of a stroke – very inspiring, and definitely not devoid of the possibility of special meaning. And we all know about the amazing achievements of Stephen Hawking. These people are more truly inspiring than any Olympic champion. These people have not lost purpose and meaning from their lives – in many cases they have inspired ours to greater meaning and purpose.
So, adversity can be creative of growth, even happiness – from Haidt, above: “for many people...adversity made them stronger, better, and even happier”. By “them”, the studies above are not referring to people’s bodies, but to their selves.
OUR WORLD IS CREATIVE BECAUSE RELATIVE – NOT ABSOLUTE
Relativity: good, better, best – drives evolution – of bodies, and of selves (“stronger, better...happier”). What could an absolute (strongest, best, happiest) world (like Paradise) create? That our relative universe is so creative leaves it redolent of potential purpose therefore meaning – maybe this relative, often dangerous but always creative, reality is creating the absolute – to which we return? A metaphysical speculation, but not without grounds – more of that in Essay 3 when we attempt to walk along the road to Truth outside of our Houses.
LIVES CUT SHORT?
But how about the death of children? Many have lost any idea of ultimate purpose and special meaning of life after the death of a child – including Darwin. Darwin was a spiritual person, originally he intended to join the ministry – he did not lose his belief in any God and/or special meaning/purpose when he discovered natural selection – which he originally thought to be God’s method: “laws impressed on nature by the Creator” (Origin of Species, 1st edition Penguin, P. 458). As we can read in his letters, Darwin wrestled with belief and disbelief, but when his dearly beloved young daughter, Anne, died – so did his belief.
Such a loss of a child is enough to remove a belief in any special meaning (and/or in the existence of a Divine) for most. But, Darwinian emotions aside, is this a rational decision? What if we have more than one life?
THAT WE MUST ONLY HAVE
Darwin, in fact, lost his belief in special meaning and/or a Divine to a common speculation – the speculation that we must only have one life.
How do we know how many lives (an incarnation of our consciousness/selves in an animal body) we have? The popularity of the speculation that we only have one life does not make it the “T” Truth. How many times have you heard the statement: “you only live once”? (usually in ads for something expensive.)
Why do I call the belief of only one life a speculation?
Because it is not supported by any evidence. It is based solely on the observation that our physical bodies are born, die, and turn to dust. But this “proof” relies, in turn, on the assumption that “we” – our selves – are just our bodies. The nature of “self” and the evidence to support its existence will be discussed at length in Essay 3, here we just need to consider that to define our selves solely in terms of our animal bodies is like defining books solely in terms of their paper – you can do it, but you get an incomplete and totally unsatisfactory answer.
TO LIVE ONCE IS ONLY PROOF THAT IT CAN HAPPEN
The fact that we are alive once, that the self, our being, our consciousness is associated with an animal body once – is amazing, and only proof of one thing: that it can happen – it is not proof that it must never happen again. This from Voltaire is right on the money:
“It is no more surprising to be born twice than it is to have been born once.”
It also needs to be observed that the speculation of one life has been enshrined as doctrine by both the House of God and the House of Disbelief.
All our various Houses of God make their living out of selling the story that life is a once-only chance given to new souls for the purpose of testing their suitability for eternal heaven or hell. Houses of God take unto themselves the power to grant eternal life – their argument being that: because you only have one go at life, you had better come to us as we have the power to determine where you end up for eternity. However, it needs to be remembered that, as we saw in Essay 1, all religious speculations about the nature of our universe have been proven incorrect by science – so what are the chances of this speculation being any better – especially when it is so suspiciously pivotal to the House of God’s power over humans?
The House of Disbelief has a similarly vested interest in the belief that we only live once – as we have seen, the major “problem of evil” pillar propping up the House of Disbelief which we are now examining is planted firmly on the speculation that we can only live once.
“Only one life” is actually the only doctrine that both our “H” Houses can agree on – being vital to the soundness of both. This should be enough to make us suspicious straight away?
OK, but is there any evidence that we are born more than once?
ANY EVIDENCE WE HAVE MORE THAN ONE LIFE?
While there is no evidence that we must only have one life, there is quite some evidence that we (our selves) have many lives, existences/consciousnesses with many different bodies, in many different countries, over many eras, as members of different races and religions – and as both sexes. We will examine the evidence below – when we investigate the last pillar of the House of Disbelief (that life is meaningless because it is a repetitive Sisyphean task going nowhere). And we will examine it also in Essay 3 when we explore the region of the anomalous.
But now we must consider the second point in the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy’s definition of the Problem of Evil (raised at the beginning of the examination of this pillar of the House of Disbelief) and that is: what must any God be, and do, to exist and to be worthy of the name? While these essays are more particularly aimed at the finding any “T” Truths there may be about the human condition, and any special meaning/purpose there may be to our existence, the existence of any higher agency/God is certainly relevant to such a task – if there is no higher agency (whatever its nature) than blind physics, then it could be reasonably argued that the universe is entirely physical, mechanical, accidental – and necessarily meaningless.
2.) WHAT MUST A GOD BE AND DO TO EXIST?
Much of the problem that the existence of what we call evil poses for the existence of any “G” God” stems from of what a God must be and do – to exist. It is a problem which has been around for a long time – this from Greek philosopher Epicurus (c. 341-270):
“If God is willing to prevent evil, but is not able to,
Then He is not omnipotent.
If he is able, but not willing,
Then He is malevolent.
If He is both able and willing,
Then whence cometh evil?
If He is neither able nor willing,
Then why call him God?”
A bit later than Epicurus, Darwin expressed doubt about a beneficent and omnipotent God when contemplating the following example of natural “evil”:
“I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae [a type of wasp] with the express intention of their feeding within the living body of caterpillars.”
Charles Darwin, letter to Asa Gray, 1860.
And this from modern philosopher, Dr. Stephen Law:
“God is supposed by the Jews, Christians and Muslims to have at least three characteristics: omniscience (that is, He is all-knowing), omnipotence (He is all-powerful), and supreme benevolence. But it seems impossible to reconcile the existence of such a being with the fact that there is a great deal of suffering in the world. … As God is supremely benevolent, He can’t want us to suffer. As He is omniscient, He knows we suffer. Yet He is omnipotent, so He can prevent the suffering if he wants to...God, if He exists, has all three of these characteristics. Therefore God does not exist.”
“The Philosophy Gym”, P. 72 (author’s italics underlined)
So, the problem presented to our major religions by the existence of natural evil is: if their definition of God is correct then He cannot exist if any of His defining powers are disproven – “God, if He exists, has all three of these characteristics. Therefore God does not exist.”
But should we accept religions’ “g” gods as definitive of “G” God?
ACCEPTING RELIGIONS’ DEFINITION OF GOD?
The House of Disbelief readily accepts our Houses of Gods’ definition of God (omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent) and/or what should be “His” necessary behaviour (interfering in the natural world like a hovering nanny) – rather than spend any time thinking about what a true “G” God could be like. Why would residents in the House of Disbelief so readily accept religions’ “g” god as the only possible one – is it too cynical to imagine that it’s because religious definitions and gods are so easily demolished?
It seems so, the House of Disbelief is observably content to demolish “t” truths rather than seek any “T” Truths there may be. No “H” Houses want Truth – only the comfort of their own truths. Essay 3 hunts beyond our Houses’ truths, and gods, for evidence of any real “G” God and “T” Truths, but here we need to consider, firstly, whether Divine benevolence is in fact disproven simply because we are free to interact with our potentially dangerous world without a God’s interference? Consider, is not the parent who allows their children out in the dangerous world to grow by experience, more deeply benevolent than a parent who keeps his/her children locked away and not benefitting from experience? Must a true God prevent us from interacting with life (during possibly many lives) – or would such “benevolence” take any possible special meaning/purpose from each and every life?
Again, if we are looking for evidence of the presence or absence of special meaning in the way our world actually is, consider for a moment what the opposite to our present impartial and dangerous world would be like – if our lives were lived in a bubble of Divine protection, all things bright and beautiful, no unexpected dramas, challenges, or random dangers – what possible purpose could all our lives lived in such a theme park have, and what possible meaning? Such an unnatural situation would surely prove the existence of a nanny-God, but not the existence of any discernible ultimate purpose or allow any credible special meaning.
Some feel they have disposed of the problem of natural evil as represented by random accidents and sickness by ascribing to the Buddhist notion of Karma – the notion that nothing is random, all things happen to us for some reason, usually to do with working out problems and/or pay-backs associated with present or past lives – what goes around, comes around. For me, Karma is perhaps an all-too-easy answer – and not based on a lot of evidence that our misfortunes are immaculate retribution. It is also an idea that allows us to turn a blind eye to the struggles of others because they are warranted/deserved – and their suffering is needed? While I have argued that suffering must not necessarily remove special meaning, I nowhere argue that it is “needed”.
THE OLD TESTAMENT ANSWER: JOB
Another argument from evil for meaninglessness and godlessness is that bad things can happen to good people, and good things can happen to bad people – a twist of the Problem of Evil knife into the heart of meaning and purpose, for many. This is an age-old conundrum, and presented in the Old Testament Book of Job. Job was a good, god-fearing and god-obeying person, yet a string of natural misfortunes befell him. But, does the fact that fortune and misfortune are indifferent to your goodness or evilness, render life meaningless? Is this a sound position to take?
When people lose belief in any God or meaning because bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people, they are saying, in effect, that for life to have meaning it should be – at one and the same time – two different things: heaven for good people and hell for bad people. Think – would such a non-natural, metaphysical override to our world add or remove special meaning to our existence in it? Must our present natural world: impartial, uncaring of our goodness or badness – be necessarily meaningless, or is such neutrality the essence of its creativity – and such creativity essential to any meaningfulness and purposefulness it could have?
Life, in this relative reality which we find our selves in, is immaculately creative of self – look around you – you will see people growing their self (cf. their body). Not everybody, observably, manages self growth – but the opportunity is there – in both life’s evil and good times. But such growth only occurs because of life’s randomness, its unpredictability, in its neutrality to “good” and “bad” people alike – allowing anything to happen to anybody at any time and demanding a response. Who could rationally argue that a meaningful world must be the opposite, that that a “meaningful” world must always be highly organized, predictable and fair: good to good, bad to bad – a non-random experience where everything that should happen, does so just when it should – to whomever it should? What could possibly be the rational meaning and purpose of such a safe joy-ride whose outcome was known beforehand? We will examine the evidence for the existence of our nonphysical self, separate to our physical bodies – and the evidence for self evolution/growth through life – in Essay 3.
Life, our existence in this relative reality – which allows the existence of relatively good (better, best) bad and ugly – and its randomness and neutrality, is so effective in revealing our self that such could be rationally argued to be its purpose. The purpose is anything is what it does, and this is what life does – reveals our self to be known through our reactions to life’s random, neutral, challenges, sadnesses and joys (all unlikely on some joyride in a paradisiacal theme park). And the Socratic dictum of “Know Thyself” has been regarded as ultimate wisdom in most successfully evolving societies – such knowledge of self, allowing the next step, and what may be our lives’ ultimate purpose – to grow our selves? We will explore all this more deeply for evidence in Essay 3. Here we just need to consider the reaction of Sceptics – who would typically ask: let’s say you come to know your self, even come to grow your self – but then you’re dead!
BUT THEN YOU’RE DEAD!
Losing any sense of ultimate purpose and special meaning because we are all ultimately dead is, of course is predicated upon: the belief/speculation that we are entirely describable as a body – no self, soul, individuation of universal consciousness – just atoms and energy which observably return to the physical universe after death (we will consider the inadequacy of this description of the human condition in many places to come); having only one life (we explore this more deeply at the examination of the last pillar of this essay); that there can be no reality beyond this one (although this reality is barely understood – we come to quantum physics in Essay 3).
Other Sceptics complain about the anthropocentrism of the idea that the universe could be about human spiritual growth – even about the obscenity of such an idea.
BUT SO MANY ANIMALS
Some sceptics would call the very idea that life could be about the growth/evolution of the human self, an anthropocentric obscenity – millions of animals have suffered and died – just so that we humans can attain self-improvement? Skepticisms about this idea is well expressed by Darwin:
“Some have attempted to explain this [suffering] in reference to man by imagining that it serves for his moral improvement. But the number of men in the world is as nothing compared with that of other sentient beings, and these often suffer greatly without any moral improvement.”
Quoted from “50 Voices of Disbelief”, (Edgar Dahl) P. 255
Shakespeare’s phrase, that life is “red of tooth and claw” is certainly an accurate description of the universe. The creativity of relativity works through evolution – and evolution leaves a long trail of bones. If life were a movie it would have to come with a warning: “All the animals were killed in the making of this film!” – including, of course, all the human animals. But what are we to make of that fact? What must it necessarily establish – or disestablish? Does the fact that animals have no observable “moral improvement” (or self/spiritual evolution – call it what you will) from their Earthly existence and occasional suffering remove the fact that many humans observably undergo such self evolution – and the special meaning/purpose that self evolution allows?
I am an animal-lover, and have had many much-loved dogs and cats in my life – so I am sensitive to Darwin’s point, above. And I have to say that if there is another, perfect, absolute reality (or ascendingly perfect realities) beyond this relative one that our self/soul presently exists in – it will not be “heaven”, “paradise”, or whatever – for me, unless I can rejoin my beloved animals. As for suffering, no animal suffers more than the human animal – not only does the fact of us having an animal body leave us vulnerable to physical pain and uncomfortable animal emotions like fear, humanity’s unique level of consciousness leaves us open, additionally, to the greater suffering found in peculiarly human phenomena like existential angst, shame, guilt, unhappiness, self-loathing and mental illness. I will tackle the mysteries and philosophical implications of these latter, peculiarly human phenomena, in Essay 3 – here we just need to note that our suffering associated with experiencing an animal body (which things – like sensual pain and mentally painful emotions like fear – are necessary for our bodily survival) must not necessarily remove the special meaning/purpose of our animal experience; nor the spiritual factor in the human equation.
As for the accusation of anthropocentrism, because there is (most likely spontaneous) life on Earth there is bound to be life on many other planets, in many other galaxies, maybe in many other universes (we will examine Disbelief based on our insignificant size cf. the rest of the universe, later). And if the human equation has spiritual factors (to be explored and evidenced, below) – such will be the condition of lifeforms as evolved as ours, most likely to exist on other planets. And such lifeforms will also have existence in a relativity’s opportunity for spiritual evolution – i.e. this universe’s ultimate purpose/special meaning is not just about us humans. The “lower” Earthly animals, of course, may also have a spiritual being – most likely being, like us, an integral part of some universal consciousness/spirituality? Anyone who has had pets can tell some interesting stories about their spirituality. But that is a huge subject of its own, which I’ll leave to others to pursue – just exploring the Truth of the human condition as we are attempting here is enough of an exercise.
The bottom line, here, is that no animal suffers as much as the human animal with its consciousness of its mortality and existential fears (and our medical sciences’ ability to keep our bodies painfully alive for decades past their “use by” dates) – and, while it’s debatable whether such suffering is necessary for self evolution, the existence of suffering by us or any other animal must not necessarily demolish special meaning/purpose to our Earthly existence/experience.
So, how does the House of Disbelief stand after our examination of the first pillar? Hardly demolished, but neither has the natural world been proven as “evil”, therefore meaningless – just: neutral, random, challenging and rewarding – and potentially more purposeful and creative of special meaning for being so. Neither has any God been found or disproven – at the most, perhaps some sort of higher agency hinted at? But there are more pillars of the House of Disbelief constructed out of the supposed evilness of life on our planet to be examined yet. We come now to consider the implication of the “evils” perpetrated by humanity.
The evil we humans do: war, murder, rape, torture, theft, violence, and the such like, is commonly called moral evil – and many see it as irrefutable evidence of the absence of any God or any special meaning/purpose to humanity’s existence – such evil proving that we are nothing more meaningful and/or purposeful than just another animal. One of the strongest expressions of godlessness and meaninglessness flowing from moral evil comes from Primo Levi:
“If there is an Auschwitz then there cannot be a God”.
Levi was imprisoned in Auschwitz, eventually killing himself as a consequence of not being able to shake the horrors of his experiences in this concentration camp. But, while the evils of the Holocaust are many and undoubted, and Levi’s position of godlessness and meaninglessness to the point of depression and suicide is totally understandable – must nihilism be the necessary philosophical position for humanity to take from the fact that humans can do evil acts – is the problem of moral evil a sound pillar of the House of Disbelief, is seeking residency therein the only credible thing for us to do?
Levi lost belief in a “G” God – we’ll start there – that the existence of human moral evil disproves God.
THE ARGUMENT AGAINST GOD FROM MORAL EVIL
The arguments against any God from the existence of moral evil are similar to the argument from natural evil that we examined above – if there is a God then “He” would stop moral evil (just as he would stop natural evil) – ipso facto, because there is moral evil there can be no God. Who has not lost whatever faith we have in a God when we witness very evil acts like the Holocaust? We are onside with Levi’s point. But, as in the above consideration of natural evil, all that has been established about any God from moral evil against innocents, is that we know nothing about the nature of any God – other than He/She/Them/Us is not an interfering, hovering, Nanny. Nothing is actually established to disprove the existence of a God by human evil – just as nothing is established to prove the existence of a God (“G” God always meaning a real God – as opposed to a religious god) by the (much more prevalent) existence of Good acts.
However, the argument against ultimate purpose and special meaning from the fact of the existence of human evil is a much more complex issue.
THE ARGUMENT AGAINST SPECIAL MEANING/PURPOSE FROM MORAL EVIL
Let’s start by considering what are the legitimate implications about humanity’s nature from the fact that we can do evil acts – for example, is it established: that the nature of humanity is purely animal; that we are just our body; that there are no nonphysical, spiritual factors in the human equation which could allow our existence to have ultimate purpose beyond bodily survival and genetic imperatives – and/or special meaning beyond the personal meanings which we create for ourselves?
THE NATURE OF HUMANITY?
To understand something about the nature of humanity from our sometime committal of evil we firstly need to understand a little more about what motivates the evil deeds humans do.
THE MOTIVATION OF EVIL ACTS?
Firstly, what is moral evil – is it “a thing in itself” – an object, a drive, a need, something we can possess?
No, evil is not an object we can see and/or hold, it is an act deriving from a thought, and, while we can commit evil, we will see that it satisfies no drive or need.
In many ways, evil seems not to describe a presence of something – but an absence – a bit like the word “cold”. We have all experienced cold – we think that we can feel cold when we touch something judged to be “cold” – but in fact we don’t feel cold, we just feel heat being conducted out through our skin (metal always feels colder than wood at the same temperature because it is the better conductor). Physics confirms that cold cannot exist as a thing in itself – Absolute Zero (minus 273 degrees C.) cannot be attained; since the original conversion of energy into matter at the beginning of the universe everything has heat to some degree. Nothing we call “cold” has cold as a thing in itself, just relatively less heat than something else – us.
So, what could the word “evil” describe an absence of?
To commit evil on someone, we definitely need to remove any love.
EVIL – AN ABSENCE OF LOVE?
To do evil to other people or animals, humans need the absence of love. Now, we know that love does exist as “a thing in itself”. Most of us have love for certain others, not only animal/Darwinian love of our survival group (tribe etc.) and gene carriers (children, grandchildren, family in general) – but friends, even for humanity as a whole. And we need love ourselves, i.e. it observably exists as a need – we seek it, we want it, we need it, we give it, we get it, we feel it, we feel its absence. Love is integral to us, especially love of self – which is essential for any lasting human happiness (as compared to animal contentment – more of that in Essay 3). But evil is not integral to us, our happiness.
So, why do we do evil?
WHAT DRIVES EVIL DEEDS?
While evil may not actually exist as a thing in itself or answer any animal need of our animal body, it is accepted that we do occasionally commit deeds which can be fairly described as “evil”. Is evil, perhaps, as Paul’s House of God would have it, an original part of the human condition – are we born of, and full of, “Original Sin”? Does Satan exist, as the House of God insists – continually trying to influence us, recruit us into his “team” – in some sort of perpetual and God-sanctioned test of, or battle for, our souls?
I think we need to understand the human condition better than Paul did.
EVIL SEEMS TO BE A BY-PRODUCT OF SEEKING SOMETHING ELSE
Evil seems to be committed by normal humans (i.e. not pathological, mentally-sick sadists) as a by-product of trying to achieve something else – rather than being sought for any satisfaction it offers in itself because our natures are evil. For example, evil acts are often committed in the getting of power, money, and/or status. Whether evil acts committed in the getting of these things may have been intentional or unintentional, evil-doing was not the sponsoring aim – nor the need being satisfied.
So, let’s look at the above things that we are often seeking when we commit evil, to see what exactly is motivating our pursuit of these (often unique in the animal kingdom) things?
There are many types of power, for example: economic, political, religious, sexual, physical. Let’s consider physical power (fairly simple, but much that is involved here applies to the other avenues of power). When a bully bashes a weaker individual, what’s going on? Basically the bully is exerting, displaying his superiority over another. But what is the sponsoring need behind such power – is it, as Nietzsche said, all about humanity’s basically evil need/“will to power”?
Commonly in bullying, there are no motives like robbery, the bully is just dominating, displaying his superiority – over others, to others – “showing-off” to his followers. Why? As we will discuss, there are two factors in the human equation – the body and the self. The body factor is concerned with physical survival and genetic continuance – which bodily factor drives the display of superior power in bullying as a crude survival tactic (“I’m the toughest, don’t mess with me”) and also sends signals of genetic superiority to potential sexual partners (“your genes will more likely survive if you mate with me”). On the other hand, the self factor in the human equation is concerned with things spiritual, and the happiness all humans seek (uniquely among the animals) depends on being able to love/esteem our self. As well as cowing an opponent, the public “showing-off” of physical power in bullying also impresses others, getting their respect/fear. We commonly need the authority of others before we can feel good about, respect/love our selves (we will examine the evidence for these two distinct factors in the human equation in some depth in Essay 3 – and see more about the key role of how we feel about our selves in the getting of lasting human happiness).
Of course, the bully is mistaking his body (usually physically bigger, stronger) for his “self”, and such bullying behaviour often leads, in time and maturity, to self loathing – when the bully finally realizes his actual self is not superior but cowardly. Hopefully for the bully, this will happen before his deathbed (we also explore this in Essay 3).
The same sort of motivation is behind other power-driven behaviour in other arenas besides the purely physical (politics, business, etc.). There too, it has similar motivations derived from the two factors in the human equation, physical and spiritual: about animal survival and/or spreading our animal genes; and about pursuing our need for happiness through self esteem/love.
The bottom line is that although evil is frequently done in power-getting, evil is not the originating motive/need in such behaviour.
Similarly, the getting of money is usually motivated by both the animal and spiritual factors in the human equation. Money enables animal survival and genetic continuance/dominance – but it also allows love of self. We seek money to buy food, to buy a shelter, to attract a sexual mate – to bodily and genetically survive – but we often pursue money beyond enough to be able to buy sufficient food, shelter, transport, and attracting a partner to propagate our genes. We often strive to get extra money to buy a house bigger than mere shelter dictates; a car grander than mere transport; jewelry useless for animal purposes. What is that about?
Having a lot of money enables us to feel “successful”, superior to others who are also striving for money (there is nothing worse than someone who won’t play the game) – which enables us to feel good about our self. Obvious displays of wealth changes peoples’ behavior towards you – deference, envy, jealousy, comments about your cleverness, admiration for your success etc. – all evidence which authorizes us to feel good about our self (“authorizes” because we are often our own harshest judges).
FAME AND/OR STATUS
Fame and/or status also allows satisfactions for both the animal and/or spiritual factors in the human equation. Status and fame can come from our achievements in many fields, for example: political, religious, sporting, artistic, and academic achievements. As with power and money, status and fame can help us to better survive physically and genetically, and changes other peoples’ attitudes and behaviours towards us – drawing attention, recognition, admiration and flattery to us – again, thereby allowing (authorizing) us to feel good about, to even love, our self.
ALL UP, EVIL IS NOT THE SPONSORING NEED
So, while human moral evil is often done in the getting of power, money, and fame/status – evil is not the sponsoring need. As we have seen, the sponsoring needs are twofold: bodily/genetic survival and feeling good about the self. As we will see in Essay 3 (where we consider more deeply the phenomenon of the unique human need for happiness) any such self love/respect which is based upon power, money, fame – will only last as long as your power, money and fame lasts – or until the Faustian pact against the soul/self (which is often entered into in the getting of excessive power, money, fame) is called in?
So, the human condition is not as simple as the House of Disbelief needs to believe in order for said House to be a safe place to dwell. There is much that is mysterious in the human condition – that many of our behaviours (even evil ones) are actually ultimately motivated by love (our need to love/feel good about our selves) – leaves plenty of room for a credible, albeit mysterious, human self, soul, spirit (call it what you will). And such, in turn, leaves plenty of room for credible arguments supporting special meaning or ultimate purpose for our existence.
But how about those who seem to enjoy evil – the pathologically evil?
There is, of course, pathological evil – the enjoyment of evil, in and of itself. But pathological means sick – not normal – usually the result of mental disease, brain injury, or psychological damage in childhood.
HOW ABOUT OUR WARS – WHERE’S OUR SPIRITUAL FACTOR THEN?
For Georg Hegel, German Philosopher of the 19th century, human history demonstrated man’s inexorable progression – towards a state of final perfection and spiritual evolution. But fellow German Philosopher (and arch-pessimist), Arthur Schopenhauer, regarded Hegel’s idea (and any notion of a “God of love”) as a tasteless joke. For Schopenhauer, history is not a record of humanity’s spiritual evolution but simply the repetition of the same dreary truths – life is suffering, it swings like a pendulum between pain and boredom, man is a wolf to man – over and over again (The World as Will and Representation Vol. 2 pp. 442-3).
Many postmodern philosophers believe Schopenhauer to be correct – postmodern pessimism is well stated by philosopher Julian Young:
“The idea of history as an inexorably rational progression towards utopia is a grand and seductive idea. To the optimistic, self-confident nineteenth century it may even have seemed true. But to us in bewildered postmodernity, us who live in the shadow of the century of mega-crimes, the shadow of two world wars, of Auschwitz, Stalin, Mao, Hiroshima, the Twin Towers and the poisoning of our earth and sky, it is, I think, clearly – even obviously – false.”
(“The Death of God and the Meaning of Life” P.77)
Grim stuff! But before we retreat into hopelessness (or fundamentalist religion for a little comfort) let’s examine Young’s hopeless philosophy a little more closely. What drove these “mega-crimes” – the two world wars, communism, the Twin Towers – was it humanity’s evilness, our need/desire to act as a wolf to each other?
THE TWO WORLD WARS – MAN BEING A “WOLF TO MAN”?
The horrors and evils of the two world wars, while they involved many evil acts, did not arise from any need to satisfy man’s evilness – they arose from the usual suspects of the human condition – the animal drive for bodily survival and the needs of the spiritual self. Take, for example, the Second World War – begun, plainly enough, by German expansion into its neighbouring countries – but what was the driving motivation, evil? Before Hitler came to power in Germany the situation was grim, huge reparations were still being paid as a result of losing the First World War and the Great Depression was in full swing – meaning that the economy was a mess, hunger was common – this, coupled with their defeat in World War l, meant self-respect was scant. Hitler promised his people two things: 1.) present and future animal survival (“lebensraum” – living room) and; 2.) the restoration of German self-respect/esteem/love (“You are the master race”). Thereby Hitler got the support of the majority of his country – his support was not based on promising his countrymen the opportunity to do evil. Witness the early images of his ascension to power: women throwing flowers and holding up their babies to see him as he drove past.
However, Hitler’s personal hatreds were pathological; his hatred of Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, non-Aryans led to the committal of the ultimate madness and evil that was the “ultimate solution”. Of course, it was not just personal – Hitler had accomplices, but when the full evils of the Holocaust were known after the war, the vast majority of Germans were disgusted – and remain ashamed to this present day – even the later generations who were not involved. The, uniquely human, phenomenon of shame will be examined more closely in Essay 3.
And it should always be remembered that the Nazis were defeated by humans – not beings from outer space. Millions of innocent humans risked (and many lost) their lives, their health, their sanity, their futures, their animal and genetic survival – their selfish genes – under conditions of utmost bravery and often lonely, unwitnessed heroism so that bad should be beaten and good prevail. To believe war proves humans are just wolf-like animals, is to forget that, and them.
Lest we forget.
But how about some of the other grand human evils – communism, for example?
THE EVILS OF COMMUNISM
Julian Young also gives the examples of communist evils under Stalin and Mao as proof of humanity’s evil nature. It is certain that great evils have been done throughout the world by communism: Russia, China, Cambodia – are these evils evidence of man’s drive to prey, wolf-like, on his fellow man – proof of our evil and life’s meaninglessness?
While many millions were killed by the evils which occurred under communism, was evil the driving force which led to its rise? No, the founding idea behind communism was actually fairness, equality – Marx's workers’ “utopia”. Communism, the communal ownership and production of goods, actually arose as a reaction against evil – specifically against the evils of the Tsarist regime in Russia, against the oppressive warlords in China, against the unfairness of rampant capitalism in most of Europe (read Dickens, Dostoyevsky and a host of other Russian authors to get the picture of average life which preceded/created communism). Marxist themes were those of equality and fraternity, not any exhortation or meeting any need to do evil – man actually set out to create a utopia, but ended up with a dystopia when the process got high-jacked by a core of ruthless people seeking personal power.
We also need to consider why communism lost its grip on the hearts and minds of humanity.
KHRUSHCHEV’S REVELATION OF THE EVILS OF COMMUNISM DIMINISHED ITS GRIP
Communism’s grip started to collapse when the Russian leader, Khrushchev, officially acknowledged the evils of Stalin’s reign to Russians, and to the world’s general population. Many left communist party membership throughout the world and communism slowly began to lose its power at home. If humanity’s nature was evil, then communism should have attracted humans when its evils were revealed by Khrushchev, not repelled them. And it must be remembered that communism, like fascism, was rejected by humanity itself – it was not defeated by some outside agency, by some troops from outer space which had to come and intervene against humanity’s evil natures.
And humans are becoming anti-war. War, once so readily embarked on as a kind of adventure (look at the jolly troops heading off to the First World War, for example) is now spurned.
HUMANS ARE BECOMING ANTI-WAR?
During the Vietnam war of the mid 20th century, anti-Vietnam war marches were frequent and many young men who were drafted, refused to fight. Returning veterans were often vilified by the public instead of being celebrated as heroes. Not too many years previously it was the reverse situation – anybody who did not volunteer to fight in the World Wars was vilified – ladies even handed men who did not go to the First World War (surely one of our most needless wars) white feathers as a sign of the non-combatant’s cowardice. More recently, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have caused similar anti-war marches.
What’s going on? It is getting harder and harder to get humanity to go to war, whereas (looking suspiciously like spiritual evolution?)
EVIL DOES NOT SIT WELL WITH THE HUMAN SPIRIT
Those who think we are evil also need to consider: why do so many people emerge from wars with psychological damage as a result of the evil things they witnessed; the evil they had done to them; even, the evil they did to others? (see the film “Railway Man”, 2013). As already considered, the Vietnam War is a recent example of the damage that experiencing evil causes to the human soul (more American soldiers committed suicide as a result of their experiences than were killed in the war) and, more recently, the Iraq and Afghan Wars – most of us know, or know of, someone who suffered spiritual damage by their experiences with evil in war.
What’s going on here, witnessing/doing evil does not damage the human animal body – so what is being damaged? Witnessing/doing evil is only damaging to the human spirit/soul/self. Curiously, a damaged human soul/spirit/self can be injurious to the human body – physical sickness from self loathing is a phenomenon which has been documented many times. We are beginning to see more and more evidence of a duality in the human condition – two separate factors: body and self – different to the discredited Cartesian body and mind duality. We will examine the evidence for this duality in Essay 3.
But members of the House of Disbelief like to demote what we have been calling “spiritual” factors in the human equation, down to just physical factors – seeing “self” loathing as just changes to the body/brain – more correctly, just psychological damage – damage to the brain/body? We will look for some answers in the behavior of other animals.
Animals other than humans can be psychologically damaged by brutality/evil done to them (e.g. a dog that has been kicked) but they are not damaged by watching brutality/evil to other animals – a common sight for any pack animal (wild dogs, a pride of lions, or a herd of deer for example). Nor are they damaged by evil they, themselves, do to other animals – e.g. a wolf killing a baby deer, a lion tearing apart a baby elephant, a killer whale toying with an injured seal, a cat playing with a crippled mouse, etc. etc. No, there is something different about human animals – who will often risk injury to save humans, and even non-human animals, from attack by other animals or from natural hazards.
And no human are damaged because of any good things they may do or witness in life. This a ridiculous idea – good deeds, done to us, by us, or just witnessed amongst others only serve to “lift” us – to make us feel happy. Why are we the only animal so lifted – and which part of “us” is lifted? We will consider the related idea of human virtue in Essay 3.
THE NEED FOR PROPAGANDA
All leaders who are trying to encourage humans to do evil have to rely on propaganda. Rather than appealing to our evil nature when urging men to kill in war (which should be easy if we’re evil) leaders have always had to create hate for the enemy through propaganda to galvanise their troops. Hate is the main tool used by cunning leaders to enable the withdrawal of love, to enable separation from our fellow humans – to enable evil acts. It is, in fact, very hard for a human to kill another human face to face. When soldiers become too close to each other they realise their unity and similarities – rather than their manufactured separation, and problems occur for their leaders. For example, opposing troops in France during WW1 climbed out of their trenches and joined together in a celebration of Christmas. These soldiers were very quickly admonished and removed from that section of the battleline by their “superiors”. When the separation which has been manufactured is lost, the consequences for hate are disastrous – speak to a soldier who has had the experience of finding the family photos on the body of a man he has killed.
Doing or witnessing evil appears to go against some basic, non-animal part of human nature.
Residents of the House of Disbelief would still disagree, sticking to the idea that the part of the human condition which I am calling our spirit/soul/self as just animal emotion: psychological, not spiritual – just a product of the body/mind – and naturally selected because it is somehow advantageous for our bodily survival. As we shall see when we examine other pillars of the House of Disbelief, natural selection is “D” Disbelief’s answer for everything mysterious – viz.: because the theory of evolution must explain our every behavior, every behavior (no matter how apparently unnatural) must have been naturally selected – therefore somehow explained away.
BUT THE VERY IDEA OF EVIL IS ONLY A HUMAN
However, if we are only a mechanically evolved, naturally selected animal, as these people say, why should the doing and/or witnessing of brutality damage our human spirit or “psyche” (call it what you will) if the soul/psyche is just an animal part of us? Why are we damaged by witnessing/doing/experiencing evil because attacking other animals is what animals naturally do? As we have discussed, animals, other than humans, are never psychologically damaged by the tearing apart another animal – even a baby animal that can’t protect itself – just seen as easy meat.
So, if the feeling of having done evil is not possible for other animals, then the recognition of what is evil among humans can’t come from our animal factor. If evil is not an animal idea it must come from another place; if there is no idea of evil in nature, it is unnatural. Then, if it is just our idea, are we unnatural? We have natural animal bodies, so maybe it is just some part of us – e.g. our mysterious consciousness/self/soul/spirit?
We will explore the mystery that is human consciousness more deeply in Essay 3. For here, at this examination of our idea of evil and its implications, we just need to consider that we often describe a brutal act as “inhumane”, or as “an animal act”, and look down on the human perpetrator. The word brutal is one of the worst things we can call another human – it means like an animal – like a brute. As we have seen, we find brutality disturbing to a part of us – it makes average humans unhappy. But this was not always so – not so long ago, in term of how long homo sapiens have been around, brutality was very popular – e.g. the Romans, and more recently, public executions. But, in the West, we now shun public executions – we even demonstrate vigorously against capital punishment of any sort. Is this growth of compassion, empathy, and aversion to violence Darwinian – naturally selected – or is it spiritual evolution?
Some feel spiritual factors in the human equation are a myth – we are solely an animal, no better than any other – randomly evolved, in a spontaneous, accidental, and entirely material universe. Our spiritual evolution is a myth, we are no different to other animals except that our brains grew bigger because our upright posture freed our hands to use tools. We think better than other animals but are no “better” – we are actually worse because even though our brains are bigger our violence is getting worse – we should know better!?
BUT VIOLENCE IS ACTUALLY DIMINISHING
Contrary to pessimists like Young and Schopenhauer, we are not getting more like brutes, but actually show many signs of evolution. But only in a part of us which is not our body – which body has not noticeably evolved in the same time. Consider this from Professor Steven Pinker:
“In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, and shortly after the century of Stalin, Hitler and Mao, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet recent studies that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion...conventional history has long shown that, in many ways, we have been getting kinder and gentler.”
“A History of Violence” – Steven Pinker (Delivered at TED Conference, Monterey, California – about March 2007)
I think it is fair to say that Pinker is a resident of the House of Disbelief (one of his famous quotes being: “man is just a lucky meat puppet”). While he does not exactly jump to the conclusion that we are spiritually evolving he is puzzled by our improving behaviour towards each other and other animals.
“Instead of asking “Why is there war?” we might ask “Why is there peace?” From the likelihood that states will commit genocide to the way people treat animals, we must have been doing something right. And it would be nice to know what, exactly, it is.” (ibid)
Pinker’s phrase: “we must have been doing something right” is interesting – it is not one you will hear in nature – there is no “right” or “wrong” in nature (more evidence that we are unnatural?)
Pinker extensively examines the evidence for declining human violence in a later book (“The Better Angels of Our Nature”, 2011) and, although rightly pointing out that there is still too much violence in our world, he confirms that it is truly and significantly decreasing. This is mysterious in a world which is supposed, by consensus academic philosophy, to be entirely non-mysterious, physical, and reductionist – a world where all explanatory arrows are meant to point downward. Mysterious to the point of being “magical” – of even implying, perhaps, a divine, cosmic author?
“To writers who have noticed declines of violence, the sheer abundance of them, operating on so many scales of time and magnitude, has an aura of mystery. James Payne wrote of a temptation to allude to ‘a higher power at work’ of a process that seemed ‘almost magical’. Robert Wright nearly succumbs to the temptation, wondering whether the decline of zero-sum competition is ‘evidence of divinity’, signs of a ‘divinely imparted meaning’, or a story with a ‘cosmic author’.
Steven Pinker, “The Better Angels of Our Nature”, P. 694
While resisting such ideas himself, Pinker does credit that the door is left open to moral realism:
“I can easily resist the temptation, but agree that the multiplicity of datasets in which violence meanders downward is a puzzle worth pondering. What do we make of the impression that human history contains an arrow? Where is this arrow, we are entitled to wonder, and who posted it? And if the alignment of so many historical forces in a beneficial direction does not imply a divine sign painter, might it vindicate some notion of moral realism – that moral truths are out there somewhere for us to discover, just as we discover the truths of science and mathematics?”
Ibid. P. 694.
“Moral truths”? Maybe the truly strange thing about recognizing moral evil is the fact that we recognise some of what should be seen as our natural, animal behaviours as being moral or immoral?
Pinker also says: “…we must have been doing something right?” – maybe that “something” is that we are evolving spiritually – just as we evolved physically? We will continually examine that idea but, be that as it may, it is not time yet for human self-congratulation because, dangerously, we are not evolving as fast spiritually as we are technologically – we have atomic weapons in the hands of primitive theisms and equally primitive atheisms and philosophies of meaninglessness. The main thesis of these essays is that the theisms and atheisms that are presently ruling Philosophy are both wrong, and are both substantial hurdles in the race to raise our spiritual evolution before we blow our bodies back to the stardust from which they were constructed.
Next we will examine the pillar the House of Disbelief that has been constructed out of the evils in religion.
This pillar of the House of Disbelief, created from the evils committed by our religions, is a popular one – many have lost faith in the existence of any God and/or of any credible special meaning/purpose to life because of the evils perpetrated by religions or in God’s name. Some of what we will consider here has already been briefly discussed in Essay 1 (An Examination of the House of God) but, because the evils of religion form such a staunch pillar of the House of Disbelief for many people, we need to consider it in a bit more depth here as a separate pillar.
One of the worst acts of religious evil I have ever read about was described by Journalist Warwick McFadyen:
“The most chilling witness account of the carnage of that time [of Boko Haram Muslim terrorists in Nigeria] comes from a security official in the neighbouring province of Yobe. He was describing suicide bombings by two 10-year-old girls in the town of Potiskum. He said: ‘The second bomber was terrified by the explosion [of the first girl] and she tried to dash across the road, but she also exploded.’
“She also exploded.
“She was 10 years old.”
Sunday Age (Melbourne), January 3, 2016. P. 31.
We have considered, above, the problem for a belief in any God and/or special meaning caused by the existence of moral evil – but the above shocking evil was double jeopardy for any belief in a God or special meaning – not only committed by man, but in God’s name. How could any God worthy of the name, let that happen? Many have concluded that there can be no God after such heinous religious crimes. The local Muslim leader: “said God had ordered him to slaughter hundreds of people. So he did”.
It certainly made me angry at the Muslim religion, religious people in general, and God – in equal measure. And it opened up the, not unfamiliar, bottomless pit of the meaninglessness of human existence in front of me. But, in the coolness of later philosophical contemplation, what does such a religious crime necessarily establish about God and meaning? It certainly establishes something about the nature of God – that any God/higher agency which exists either chooses not to be an interfering Nanny/God, or is powerless to interfere in this world (surely if God could have, God would have, stopped such an outrage against innocent children in his name)? Thus, again, as we established in our examination of the other “problems of evil”, we see that the nature of God is not what religion tells us – all of: omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent. But what does humanity’s lack of understanding about any God’s nature establish about the existence or not of any higher agency worthy of the name “G” God?
WHAT DOES THE DISPROOF OF RELIGIONS’ GOD PROVE ABOUT GOD?
As we saw in Essay 1 which examines our Houses of God, religion is the worst thing that ever happened to God. Religion is not even spiritual, being about temporal power over the hearts and minds of humanity through hope and fear, carrot and stick, heaven and hell – about Darwinian survival in this world and the next. And about protecting religious officers’ power and status by protecting religious text – “B” Books, upon which such temporal power is based – not at all about finding any spiritual Truths to aid our spiritual evolution. No, the disproof of religions’ god does not establish that a God does not exist.
RELIGIOUS EVIL AND SPECIAL PURPOSE/MEANING?
As for what the fact of religious evil does to any potential special meaning/purpose of our existence, it can be strongly argued that any supernatural interference with our free will in order to prevent the committal of religious evil, would actually remove any credible special purpose/meaning that our existence could have (just as we saw with supernatural interference in nature or our moral evils). What could a totally safe existence, swaddled in cottonwool in some Earthly theme park – allow in the way of special meaning and/or ultimate purpose? In Essay 3 we find plenty of evidence for a credible special purpose/meaning in the immense creativity of our universe – in how this natural, reality actually is (i.e. seemingly neutral, uncaring, and without any supernatural interference).
What does religious evil say about the human condition?
THE EVILS OF RELIGION AND THE HUMAN CONDITION?
All religions over the years have been steeped in violence and evil. The Judeo/Christian House of God’s foundational “B” Book, the Bible, is a catalogue of god-approved slaughter of men, women, children, horses, swine and oxen. Getting Divine approval are: ethnic cleansing; slavery; stoning; sexism; homophobia; diseases and plagues from heaven; and the multifarious evils reserved for disbelievers at the “end of days” Armageddon scenario which religion urges us to bring about. Predictably, the history of any House built on such a brutal “B” Book will be littered with violence – and it is: the bloody slaughter of dissenting religious minorities (e.g. the Cathars); the murder of other denominations (e.g. the Huguenots); burning apostates at the stake; approval of the murderous Christian Crusades; several European wars (e.g. the 30 years war); the tortures of the Inquisition; various pogroms against the Jews. All religions are steeped in evils. More recent examples include the bloody inter-denominational battles in Ireland; the battles between the Sunnis and Shiites in the Middle East; the Jewish invasion of the West Bank in Palestine; Muslim terrorism (e.g. September 11th); a litany of personal evils by individual officers of our Houses of God (e.g. pedophilia).
What does this say about the Truth of the human condition? All religions were created by us, not by God. Are we evil?
Most religious evil is committed by religious zealots/terrorists – let’s consider that phenomenon.
It is understandable that we should be zealous about our political ideas (dictatorship or democracy; Nazi or not; Communist or free) because such ideas impinge directly on our day-to-day life and chances of survival (think of the effects of Nazism and Communism on daily life). Many a violent protest has been rightly organised against political/social issues which will even more violently affect our daily lives, but why are some people so zealously violent on behalf of religious ideas – do they think that God can’t look after himself and hand out his own punishments (and for eternity)? Why do we have to turn ourselves into murderers (taking the risk of eternal damnation on our selves) when an omniscient and inerrant God – that all terrorists seem to believe in – will surely hand out Divine justice?
To try and understand religious zealotry, let’s consider what motivated the September 11 mass murder of innocents by religious zealots in New York.
What was September 11 about? Was it about handing out God’s punishment in this world? Was it, perhaps, about getting 72 virgins in Paradise (what do the female suicide/murderers get: 72 stud muffins)? Some feeble-minded martyrs may be after Paradisiacal sex, but for the majority, it is about repairing a humiliation to their religion – and through that, a humiliation to themselves. Again, as we found above when we examined moral evil, religious evil is a type of evil which is more about meeting the human need for human happiness through self respect/love – rather than satisfying any human need for evil. In this case, about restoring Arab self respect lost from having their religion disrespected, from being militarily and economically dominated – very similar motives to the Jewish zealots who attacked the Romans around 70 AD. The New York terrorists were full of hate for the USA generated by the perceived loss of Muslim self-respect caused by American bases being imposed in their religious homeland (Saudi Arabia is the site of Mecca and the terrorists were Saudis). Also American support for the Israelis who had invaded and dominated an Arab country (Palestine – containing the Dome on the Rock – Islam’s second most holy site) has generated a lot of hate. We all get some self respect from the success and strength of our groups (like religion) and feel personal humiliation from group humiliation as well.
However, Muslim terrorists are also seeking redress, not only from self respect lost because their religion was disrespected, but to remove the general humiliation which they feel has been imposed on Arabs in general.
Most people get some self respect if they belong to a successful group, be it a dominant sports team, a nation which was successful at the Olympic Games, working for a successful company, belonging to a powerful country, a dominant religion, etc. To denigrate, disrespect, or threaten the success of your team/group is to threaten the self esteem of those who identify strongly with it (consider soccer football violence). For many Arabs, not only do they feel their religion has been humiliated, but they feel that their wider nationhood as Arabs has also been humiliated. Since the days when the Mediterranean world was dominated by the Arab Caliphate, the Arabs as a group had few successes and much exploitation. They have been largely brushed aside by the West – their countries being reduced to rubble as the powerless theatres of two world wars between mighty Western powers, then their oil resources were chopped up between mighty Western companies. Some, in the case of Palestine, have even had their country taken away – the Jewish occupation being supported by the West to salve a collective guilt flowing from the Holocaust – a moral evil with some religious underpinnings – which was inflicted on the Jews by a Western country. Politically, the Arab world was chopped up by various Western Foreign Offices drawing lines in the sand which did not represent longstanding tribal boundaries (often shifting). Such has led to much Arab anger and feelings of powerlessness. This from Lebanese journalist and author Samir Kassir:
“The Arab people are haunted by a sense of powerlessness … powerlessness to suppress the feeling that you are no more than a lowly pawn on the global chessboard even as the game is being played in your backyard…It’s not pleasant being an Arab these days. Feelings of persecution for some, self-hatred for others; a deep disquiet pervades the Arab world.”
Samir Kassir (quoted from “The Arabs – a history”, Eugene Rogan Pp. 5& 3)
If you really want a man to hate you, take away his ability to respect himself. You can see the attraction of terrorist group Isis has – in its promise to reinstate the Arab Caliphate of old. Such is more about restoring lost individual self respect – more about the universal need for love than about evil. This from Scott Atran (director of research in anthropology at the CNRS, Ecole Normale Superieure and senior research fellow at University of Oxford) concerning the membership of the terrorist group ISIS:
“As I told the UN Security Council this spring, what inspires the most lethal assailants in the world today is not so much the Quran or religious teachings but rather a thrilling cause and a call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends…80 percent come from non-religious families…For the most part, they have no traditional religious education and are ‘born again’ to religion through the jihad.”
There are other and more complex causes of Arab resentment against the West – especially political interference to support corrupt dictatorships (whether secular, theocratic, or a monarchy) which suit Western purpose. None of this is to approve of Arab religious evil, just an attempt to understand it and what it says about the human condition and any meaning/purpose to our existence, and/or any God. The point is this, evil done in the name of a god, or any type of religious evil/zealotry, is more about the defence of self – self defence, self respect – than about defending a God (who can look after himself). And self defence is the only way you can get good people to do bad things.
Of course, some Muslim religious leaders are exploiting the human need for self respect/love of their young people, turning them into soldiers/murderers – ostensibly for the greater good/power/status of their religion and/or the greater Arab nation – but actually for said religious leaders’ own greater personal power and status.
Most people who are residents of the House of Disbelief because of religion are, more truly, antitheists than atheists – made “D” Disbelievers by their hate for religion – generated by the stupidities of fundamental theism and by the evils perpetrated by religious people and/or in God’s name. There is no doubt that there has been, and still is being, much evil done by religion, the witnessing of which has led many of us to lose belief in any God and any special meaning or purpose in life. However, as we have seen, examined logically, the existence of religious evil does not disprove any higher agency worthy of the name “God”, nor disprove the existence of any credible special meaning/purpose – just as the many good things done by religion do not prove the existence of God or meaning. The problem of religious evil is just a problem for a credible belief in religions, their “g” gods, and their meanings. Religious evil is not a sound pillar of the House of Disbelief.
And the bottom line for all the various “Problems of Evil”, considered as a whole, is that we live in a natural, neutral, impartial world – and such, with all its adventures and dangers, will always involve the occasional suffering of “evils”. It can be credibly argued that coping with evil, and deciding where we stand in relationship to it, can add special meaning/purpose to our existence. While I am not advocating that everybody should ignore, or excuse the doing of evil because it is necessary for “character-building”, thereby productive of self evolution (therefore potentially meaningful) I am saying the existence of evil in all its forms must not necessarily remove meaning and purpose from our existence.
Hopefully, the more we come to know our selves and grow our selves (the more spiritual evolution we manage) – there will be less moral and religious evil. But, however much we improve our selves and manage to remove moral and religious evils, natural “evil” can never be removed from the possessors of mortal animal bodies in a natural world.
The next pillars of the House of Disbelief are founded on the successes of our physical sciences in explaining our physical world and our existence in it – and the implications such explanations have for the philosophy of meaning.
While the various “Problem of Evil” pillars supporting the House of Disbelief are probably the most popular, the pillar which is constructed out of scientism is also popular. Scientism is the belief that the only way which we can securely know anything about our universe, is through science – and that all the apparent mysteries of our universe either have been, can be, or soon will be solved by science using the scientific method. This from philosophy Professor, Alex Rosenberg:
“...we’ll call the worldview that all of us atheists (and even some agnostics) share ‘scientism’. This is the conviction that the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything; that science’s description of the world is correct in its fundamentals; and that when ‘complete’, what science tells us will not be surprisingly different from what it tells us today.”
“The Atheist’s Guide to Reality”, Alex Rosenberg – Pp. 6-7.
That our sciences have uncovered “T” Truths about the physical world is obvious – evident in the ever expanding array of dazzling new products it lays before us almost on a daily basis – which products we use regularly and successfully. Human society is in awe of science’s successes and our philosophies stand transfixed in the headlights of science’s (allegedly) rapidly-approaching Theory of Everything – the final integration of all our sciences which will lead to the solution of the (allegedly) few remaining philosophical mysteries of our world.
THE PHILOSOPHICAL IMPLICATIONS OF SCIENTISM
The main philosophical implications of believing scientism’s claim that everything is 1.) physical; 2.) totally explicable by physical science alone; are:
· there is no need for any higher agency by way of explanation for our existence;
· there is no need to waste our time searching for special meaning and/or ultimate purpose of life because if everything is physical and mechanical, life is essentially purposeless, therefore meaningless (except for our own personal meanings).
In his above quoted work, philosopher Rosenberg feels science has pretty much answered all of the big questions philosophy has occupied itself with over the past centuries – to list some of the biggest ones (and his succinct answers):
“Given what we know from the sciences, the answers are all pretty obvious…provided you place your confidence in science to provide the answers.
Is there a God? No.
What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.
What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.
What is the meaning of life? Ditto…
Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding?
Is there free will? Not a chance! ...
What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them…”
Op cit., Rosenberg, Pp. 2-3 (author’s italics underlined).
We are purposeless and meaninglessness because physics knows everything about our “reality” – a succinct demonstration of philosophy becoming the handmaiden to physics. Has modern philosophy written out its own redundancy cheque?
Most physical scientists would be pleased to see philosophy fall on its own sword – its body to be stuffed and kept in a glass case in the museum of academia. James Gleick, the biographer of brilliant atomic physicist Richard Feynman’s, tells us that:
“…Feynman scorned philosophers.” Better suited to cocktail parties than academia.
“Genius”, James Gleick, P. 429
Atomic physicist, Ernest Rutherford famously said:
“There is only physics. All the rest is stamp collecting.”
Leaving Stephen Hawking to administer the coup de grace:
“Philosophy is dead. Physics can explain everything”
Designs – The Meaning of Life”): Documentary shown on
IS PHILOSOPHY DEAD AT THE HANDS OF SCIENCE?
Accepting the above, of course, is based on “your confidence in science to provide the answers” (after Rosenberg). But, is your confidence well placed – can science “explain everything” – must we necessarily accept our physical sciences’ answers to the big questions listed above?
While it has been continually demonstrated that we can credibly “place your confidence” in science’s physical discoveries – is everything in the universe, in fact, physical? We will be essentially trying to approach an answer that particular question at our examination of the next pillar of the house of Disbelief (Materialism), here we will consider mainly whether philosophy, after physics, has been reduced to dreaming up nice little, comforting, politically correct, (necessarily personal) meanings – rather than having a valid part in humanity’s continual search for its own Truth – for any special meaning and ultimate purpose to our existence?
PHILOSOPHY – THE HANDMAIDEN TO SCIENCE?
Over the centuries, from the Greek golden age of philosophy – dominated by such giants as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle – philosophy was often (and seemingly well-) described, as “a footnote to Plato”. But, since the rapid blossoming of our sciences beyond the 18th century, our philosophical thinking has been liberated from its Platonic and religious strictures – supposedly an enlightening process (even called the “Enlightenment”) – only to find itself dominated by another fundamentalism: physical science. “Dominated” to the point where philosophy, rather than being a footnote to Plato, could now be better described as the handmaiden to science. Such was observable to some at the beginning of the 20th century:
“Although in its essence science only stands for a method and no fixed belief, yet as habitually taken, both by its votaries and outsiders, it is identified with a certain fixed belief – the belief that the hidden order of nature is mechanical exclusively, and that non-mechanical categories are irrational ways of conceiving and explaining even such things as human life.”
“The Will to Believe”, William James – Pp. 323-324.
A century later, has philosophy come to the point where it can be safely “scorned” as suitable only for “cocktail parties” (Feynman) – or worse – “dead” (Hawking)? Let’s have a look at where philosophy ends up if it adopts scientism.
The main philosophical positions which flow from scientism, and which, indeed, seem to presently rule modern academic thinking are: Materialism, Determinism, Reductionism, Causality, Evolutionism and Behaviourism. These scions of the Scientism family are all close cousins, which have partied together – and their inbred offspring are corollaries like: meaninglessness, nihilism, existentialism, post-modernism, atheism – and other such positions devoid of special meaning, ultimate purpose – and hope.
But are these positions sound – can science, in fact, “explain everything” – should we all reside within the House of Disbelief?
A SCIENTIFIC THEORY OF EVERYTHING?
Our sciences have, indeed, revealed much about our material world and the animals in it. Astronomy and cosmology have established the huge size and complex nature of our universe and explored its beginnings; Physics has revealed our universe’s great natural laws and forces and is delving into the mysteries of the sub-atomic; Geology has established the physical history, composition and age of our home planet; Biology has shown us the intricacies of animal- and plant-life and how it has evolved; Chemistry has explained the elements, molecules and the power of their combinations; Neurobiology has shown us how the brain works; Mathematics – “the language the universe was written in” – has been the midwife to science and has delivered much of the above. Many scientists feel that our scientific knowledge is almost complete – they consider that our physical sciences have been virtually unified already – and we stand on the verge of an imminent Grand Unified Theory.
But some feel our physical sciences may still have a fair way to go yet. This from scientist Dr. Bernardo Kastrup:
“...there is much room for yet unknown causal influences in the material world: more dimensions of space-time than we can perceive with our senses; “dark matter” that is not made of atoms; “dark energy” that we cannot detect directly; and the macroscopic causal influences that may emerge as the level of complexity of systems move from atoms, to molecules, to tissues, to living creatures, to societies, etc., and which cannot be reduced to the properties of sub-atomic particles.”
“Rationalist Spirituality”, P. 86. Kastrup (2009)
So, what other “unknown causal influences” is there also “much room for”? Is there room for God, for instance? Science has long declared God, as an explanation for our universe, entirely closed out – or, at best, reduced to a “god of the gaps” – as insignificant as those gaps are small. But is this a realistic picture, is it a secure philosophical position to hold?
It often seems that when science closes a gap in our knowledge we open up another at least as large? The amazing, curious world of quantum physics is a good example – it has solved many mysteries but has also opened up deeper mysteries like: the nature of matter (matter or energy – particle or wave?); the possibility of parallel universes; the existence of many more dimensions than our four readily perceptible ones; the phenomenon of non-locality (matter may be able to exist in more than one place at a time over vast distances); and the discovery that our observation of (consciousness of) matter may be able to directly influence it – even be necessary for its existence. Nuclear scientist, Amit Goswami feels that in the quantum world he has even found evidence of God and downward causation – i.e. examples of occasional causation from the top (a God) down, rather than the always-upward causation of materialism which holds that all causes must be from the sub-atomic up:
“We experience a quantum object, but only when we choose a particular facet of its possibility wave; only then, the quantum possibilities of an object transform into an actual event of our experience...Our exercise of choice, the event quantum physicists call the collapse of the quantum possibility wave, is God’s exercise of the power of downward causation.”
“God Is Not Dead”, P.23 (author’s italics underlined).
We can “choose a particular facet” of a quantum object – in the famous “box pairs” quantum enigma demonstration we can choose to collapse the quantum possibility wave of an atom, (which can be and has been split into two boxes at once) into a whole atom in one box (which always happens when we choose to look in either of the boxes). This is the so-called “quantum enigma” (enigmatic because our observation/consciousness can create physical reality). We will look at more of this enigma and its implications for philosophy, below, and in Essay 3 – but for here, we just need to notice that it is an objective and physical demonstration of the existence of free choice/will (we could have chosen to maintain the atomic separate waviness by releasing the atom’s field from both boxes at once). For Goswami, it is an example of “God’s exercise of the power of downward causation. “God” or not, it is downward, not upward causation – and the end of determinism’s insistence that downward causation cannot/must not exist.
We will examine in Essay 3 another idea of what could be Divine downward causation (Intelligent Design), here we just need to notice that scientism’s power over philosophy is way short of the hegemony that physicists claim – our universe was initially, and continues to be, tightly controlled – never was it out of control.
So, if not out of control, who’s in control?
It’s not out of order to use the personal pronoun “who” here because the above-mentioned forces, ratios, laws and constants were written in an intelligent language – mathematics. We know it’s “intelligent” because we (an intelligence) can understand, speak, and write it (a mystery in itself, which we will also examine in Essay 3). Such intelligible forces, ratios, and constants speak of a higher agency – not of an initial accident followed by subsequent random forces and blind mechanics. (Physical science has come up with various theories to explain this away – for example Multiverse Theory – roughly: there are an infinite number of universes so this stable one just had to come into existence. There are a number of problems with such a theory which we will examine more closely below, at an examination of another pillar of the House of Disbelief.) So, the point here is this: while the discoveries by our physical sciences of these forces etc. have certainly reduced the credibility of the existential explanations offered in religions’ pre-scientific books – and the credibility of the humanoid “g” gods depicted therein – they have at the same opened the possibility of a “G” God: an altogether higher and grander Agency than our pre-scientific religions were previously able to contemplate.
What sort of “grander Agency”? Maybe the original energy (which energy we know cannot be created or destroyed) which, according to science, became matter at the Big Bang was God – or of God, at the very least? There are many ways of approaching a more credible God than were open to our ancient and pre-scientific religions – leaving the way open for grander ideas about the meaning and purpose of life as well – “grander” than religions’ model of life being a one-off test for our suitability to spend eternity in heaven or hell?
But, given the ever-increasing mysteries (rather than scientism’s claimed closing gaps) which emanate from our ever-increasing scientific knowledge, why have the majority of our philosophers rolled over and spread their legs to scientism’s materialism – moved away from any God and/or special meaning/purpose?
SOME SCIENTISTS MOVE AWAY FROM GOD, AND SOME DON’T
However, a few scientists do develop a belief in a religious god and special meaning the more they learn – like the respected scientists John Polkinghorne (who took up the priesthood after being a particle physicist) and Rodney Holder (who did the same after being an astrophysicist). But most lose belief in a Divine agency and/or special meaning when they come up against the apparently blind mechanics of the physical universe (which includes the evolution of our physical bodies) – and we must ask why do so many intelligent people so lose a belief in God and/or special meaning/purpose?
Do they believe that any “G” God must be the “g” god of the family religion into which they were born – or nothing? Must any real God necessarily resemble those of any religion – for instance, the Christian House of God’s six-day-creating, man-god of the ancient Hebrews? Must the death of such a god at the hands of their sciences necessarily lead to the death of any rational belief in any credible Divine and/or special meaning?
MUST ANY RELIGION BE RIGHT FOR A GOD TO EXIST?
As we have seen in Essay 1, most of our pre-scientific ancestors created their “g” gods in their own image – brutal, male, jealous, revengeful, sexist, parochial – awful gods, out of a hard lands, during violent times. But imagine if it was possible to completely dismiss humanity’s gods from our minds and start with a tabula rasa – what sort of God would we construct today, given our present, scientific understandings? Would majority consensus ever come up with something like the very human, Abrahamic god of the Hebrew campfires? Definitely the ancient imaginings about creation like the Old Testament Adam and Eve stories would not arise and, hopefully, neither would the incredible doctrines based on such stories by later doctrinaires, like Paul (doctrines like Original Sin and Salvation). Perhaps, even more hopefully, the stand-alone, observably true ideas (Truths) that spiritual people like Jesus tried to bring: loving one another; forgiving rather than revenging; doing good unto others – would survive and perhaps stand out a little more? To clear the mind of the incredible often allows us to see more clearly.
The creativity of our overtly uncaring physical universe is amazing, and most likely to be the key to any God – and/or any special meaning and ultimate purpose in nature. Consider this from Professor Stuart Kauffman:
“God is our name for the creativity in nature. Indeed, this potent symbol can help orient us in our lives. Using the word God to mean the creativity in nature can help bring us to the awe and reverence that creativity deserves.”
“Reinventing the Sacred” (2008), P. 284 (authors italics underlined)
Kauffman feels that such a task as reimagining the sacred:
“... can be the next stage in the cultural, moral, and spiritual evolution of humanity…More, if we do not seek to reinvent our sacred together, our global retreat into fundamentalisms threatens continued lethality unopposed by a cultural evolution that can invite their willing participation.”
(ibid P. 286)
THE MYSTERIOUS CREATIVITY
OF ACCIDENT, CHAOS
That our universe is creative is observable. And a mystery – given that science says it was accidental in the first place, chaotic in the second place, and proceeded randomly and mechanically into the teeth of entropy in the third place. As mentioned above, across all this chaos, blind mechanics, and entropy were laid essential forces (like gravity) – huge but delicately set – and constants with fine ratios, all of which allowed the creation of, and the sustainability of, our universe. Physical theories like, for example, Inflation Theory may be able to describe how our physical universe developed as it did, but the question of how/why the great forces and constants of the Universe were delicately in place to make it so creative – rather than chaotic and non-sustainable – is nowhere answered.
THE MYSTERY OF LIFE
And, as well as being creative of a stable physical world, the universe also created life. How the inert became organic is still one of the great mysteries outside of science’s grasp. The science of chemistry can understand the necessary components of (amino acids etc.) and conditions for life (carbon, water etc.), but not how all the prerequisites beat the unimaginably huge odds to come together spontaneously to create not only the first ping of life, but then cell division, DNA etc. Many feel that the science of biology, through evolutionary theory, can explain all mysteries, but while it has a good explanation for the emergence of the various animal species through natural selection once inert physical particles became organic – it also has no explanation for that initial unlikely process. We will look into evolutionism as a pillar of the house of Disbelief, below.
There are also many nonphysical factors in the human equation which are – and must always remain, by definition – outside of our physical sciences and the magisterium of scientism. These nonphysical factors also need to be explained before it can be claimed that scientism is the path towards a full understanding of the human condition.
Even if science finally comes to totally understand how life can eventually emerge from what was originally a billion degree furnace, we have only come to understood the physical half of the human condition. The other half is comprised of the nonphysical factors in the human equation. To describe a human with all our nonphysical complexities (like consciousness) solely in terms of its material body is like trying to describe a book in terms of its paper – you can do it, but you are still way short of what a book is – or the meaning and purpose contained in it. Albert Einstein (perhaps the greatest scientist of all?) when contemplating the possibility of the unity of knowledge said: “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.” Allowing he meant by the word “religion” the “spiritual” factor of humanity (I have argued in other places that religion is not spiritual, but venal and Darwinian) Einstein’s point is that any quest for the Truth – for an all-encompassing “Theory of Everything” about the human condition – will have to tackle both the physical and nonphysical factors of the human equation – both the mechanical and the spiritual.
In the quote above from William James, he spoke of “non-mechanical categories” in the human condition. These would include all our nonphysical behaviours like: our understanding and appreciation of non-Darwinian beauty; the ability of music to lift our souls; our uniquely human concepts of dignity, virtue, and shame; humour; and the essential role of non-Darwinian love in lasting human happiness. We will examine more of the spiritual and nonphysical, below and in Essay 3, here we just need to recognise that such factors exist, and need to be explained away, before scientism can claim to be a sound pillar of the House of Disbelief.
A SECURE PILLAR?
Contemplating the claims of scientism to be on the verge of understanding everything, Kastrup sums up well:
“We seem to live under a collective hallucination that science already has, or claims to have, fundamental explanations for everything in our lives, even though it may not have worked out all the details yet...this is far from the truth, even for most of the “trivial” everyday phenomena. Such a statement is not an attempt to diminish the success of the scientific endeavour: progress has been enormous, and the improvements it has led to in our lives speak for themselves. But it is not scientific to implicitly infer the dominion of existing scientific explanations upon phenomena for which such explanations have not been demonstrated to be sufficient.”
Kastrup, Op. cit. P.40
All up, we must conclude that the scientism pillar of the House of Disbelief – made out of the supposed ability of science to explain everything about the human condition – is unsound. Scientists are far from being able to declare, as Hawking did, that “Philosophy is dead because physics can explain everything.”
Now we come to three philosophical positions which flow on from scientism – three pillars of the House of Disbelief which, like the Problem of Evil pillars, share aspects but have enough differences introducing separate considerations that I am going to examine them as separate pillars – namely: Materialism, Determinism/Reductionism et al, and the Non-Existence of Free Will.
Materialism is basically the belief that everything in our universe is entirely material/physical – all of matter and/or energy. Therefore everything can be, indeed must be, explained in terms of these physical fundamentals and their interaction.
The beginnings of modern materialism as a philosophy of everything is usually credited to Hobbes in the 17th century. For him, everything could be explained in terms of matter in motion, including all mental processes – just movements of matter inside an individual’s skull. After Hobbs, materialism (of varying strengths) began to lurk within most subsequent philosophies, as humanity became more and more impressed by our physical sciences’ (especially physics, cosmology, and chemistry) increasing understanding of the universe. Such understanding, when eventually combined in the 19th century with Darwinist biology’s power to explain the living world, gradually confirmed most of academia into a materialist, reductionist, determinist, upwardly-causal and downwardly-explanatory model – not only for the inert physical universe, but for every lifeform in it – all animals, including us humans, were just material machines at the mercy of the blind mechanics of an entirely physical universe.
In this way physics became the materialist cuckoo in philosophy’s nest – physics’ successes at understanding and exploiting the physical universe hunched out all the pretty little birdies which were originally contained in the nest (like self, soul, free will, God, “T” Truth, any ultimate purpose or special meaning to our existence). And academic foster parents rushed, competed even, to feed this cuckoo’s replacement offspring (a host of nihilistic “isms”) – not lamenting the death of the nest’s original fledglings, but embracing the implications of materialism: the death of God, and the liberalism this allowed. Post-materialist philosophical doctrine stated that, because our world is exclusively physical, any meaning or purpose can only be personal (as opposed to special and ultimate); any downward causality (like God or any other higher agency) must be dismissed as unnecessary; there can be no “T” Truth, only our relative “t” truth; any notions like self/soul/spirit and free will are just animal egotism and/or human hubris (and naturally selected).
We search for evidence of “T” Truth throughout these essays, and will search for the existence of self/soul more closely in Essay 3 (and the implications for special meaning and ultimate purpose) – here we need to test the soundness of the materialism pillar of the House of Disbelief – that all is matter/energy.
THE MATERIALIST MODEL
So, five of the main tenets of the materialist model of the world are:
1. Everything is fundamentally matter/energy (matter and energy being basically the same thing).
2. This “mattergy” (to coin a word), and the laws of physics which control it are natural – just occurring in and of the universe, which itself self-occurred – therefore not needing a “first mover/God” to create everything.
3. The movements of mattergy under natural forces determine the creation of every subsequent thing in the universe – including life.
4. All higher-order phenomena (like behaviours) can be reduced to the locations and momentums of fundamental particles.
5. Even mental processes like consciousness can be understood and explained in terms of materialist fundamentals.
The philosophy that is materialism is based on these tenets, and we need to examine their central claim – that everything is of matter/energy – therefore can ultimately be understood and explained by physics and its allied physical sciences (which are on the verge of being united into a “Grand United Theory”). If achieved, such ability of our physical sciences’ to explain everything necessarily heralds the end for philosophy – already, its imminent end is being trumpeted by more and more physicists (as seen in the statements of Rutherford, Feynman, and Hawking in the examination of the above pillar of scientism).
EVERYTHING IS MATTER/ENERGY?
Materialism is a monist (as opposed to dualist) fundamentalist belief which holds basically that everything (including all our behaviours) is, at bottom, the energetic interaction of sub atomic particles. From a base, these particles/energy work upward to cause everything in the universe. In the case of us and all our behaviours, subatomic particles/energy form larger atoms, which combine to form various molecules, which form cells, which form brains, which form our ideas, which dictate our behaviours which are learned by physical stimulus – response mechanisms – all is upward from our elementary particles of matter (not downward from some higher agency like God).
MATERIALISM IS THE CHILD OF PHYSICS
Materialism, as we saw above, is a child of scientism and derives its present philosophical ascendency in the academic world from the often spectacular successes of physics in particular – and the hubris of physicists (again, see Feynman, Rutherford, Hawking, above). But it has been often observed (after Maslow) that: “to a man with a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail”. The materialists’ hammer is their understanding of the physical world – and with it, everything is hammered into a shape that can fit into that world – what materialists like to call “the real world”. Matter is all they allow, because it is all they know. But anybody who holds him/herself out to be a philosopher needs to consider: is there credible evidence for the existence of any nonphysical parts to the universe – things observably existing, which are not comprised of sub-atomic particles/energy and created by their interactions – nonphysical things not written in the mathematical language of the physical universe and therefore susceptible to total understanding and explanation by our physical sciences?
EVIDENCE FOR THE NONPHYSICAL?
The nonphysical is anything which definitely exists, but which you cannot produce a lump of for our physical sciences to test on their benches, barometers, beakers, and Bunsen burners. So what’s an undeniable example of the “nonphysical” for us to examine? We need to have a look at that strangest, most complex of all creatures (that we know of, so far) – humans.
As we have seen, according to materialist fundamentalism, humans must have a monist, materialist explanation – just like everything else in the universe because there is only matter/energy in the universe. To propose any dualist, physical/nonphysical model for the human condition is special pleading. But does materialist monism well describes us – or is it a bit like trying to describe a book by only referring to its paper?
We obviously have animal bodies, but are we just those bodies? While we often exhibit behaviours which are driven by our bodily needs (hunger, warmth) and genetic imperatives (breeding) – sometimes we exhibit behaviours which seem to be motivated by something other than our material bodies – for example: our understanding of, appreciation of, and need to create beauty. We explore beauty at some length in Essay 3 – here we just need to consider whether “we” are just our bodies, or must a full description of “us” include a nonmaterial “something other” – like our selves/souls/spirits (call it what you will) which are moved by non-Darwinian beauty (e.g. art, literature, dance, certain music and architecture, landscape, etc.)?
WHAT ARE “WE”?
Materialists must have no truck with such an idea. In a recent Science documentary (“Human Universe”), physicist, Professor Brian Cox said that “we” are just the product of:
“Rules and chance [which] played out together to make us.”
(Shown on ABCTV, Australia, 14/1/2015)
But consider: our body is a collection of atoms which are continually swapping with our surrounding world – animal, vegetable, and mineral – to the point that, over the course of about 10 years, not one atom remaining in our body is the same. However our self (two words) remains the same – albeit with a (varying) amount of self growth occasioned by our life experiences and “our” (not our atoms’) thoughts about them and our decisions about how to react. Our decisions, reactions and behaviours are driven by what makes us happy. As we will see in Essay 3, what makes a nonphysical “self” happy is often quite different from what makes a physical body happy. The bottom line, here, is that our self, our being, cannot be our atoms which are in constant flux – while we are not – we/our self can change, but only through our experiences and our thoughts/decisions about such experiences. Our body is made of atoms, but we are not. There is not even such a thing as a human atom, let alone such a thing as a Tom, Dick, or Harriet atom.
So we are our self – but what, then, is our self? To determine more about our self, we need to have a look at some of our behaviours and determine what is driving them.
OUR SELVES AS REVEALED BY OUR BEHAVIOURS?
Materialism must hold that because matter is all there is, all of our behaviours are driven, bottom (from the interaction of subatomic particles) upwards – to meet the physical, animal needs and imperatives of our bodies. But do any of our behaviours not answer this description? Are there any driven by nonphysical “things”?
Let’s consider something nonphysical which is observably a part of our selves – something our selves have: our values.
What are our values made of – atoms? No, they are nonphysical. While they may be naturally selected if they lead to out-propagation of our genes, where do values come from to be so selected – random mutations (just particle interactions) to our atoms? We must ask: are we just a collection of physical objects to which things can only happen by accidental mechanical interaction with other physical objects – or can we make things happen according to our selves’ values?
While natural selection of random mutations seems to well describe the construction of all animal bodies, and of quite a few human behaviours, we are asking whether (even if only occasionally) our self has higher agency than blind physics. Do we sometimes have free choice?
“Higher agency” than physics; “free choice” – a couple of ideas pushed out of philosophy’s nest by the cuckoo that is physics. We are due to explore free will at some length, below – here we will just consider: are values only a mechanical happening or a choice we do?
MECHANICAL HAPPENINGS Vs FREE CHOICE DOINGS?
Some of our behaviours are obviously animal happenings (feeding, breeding etc.) but, just as obviously, some of our behaviours are not animal happenings but doings, driven by our values. For example, doings like: going to an art gallery; going for a bushwalk; riding a bike/horse for enjoyment; going to a classical music concert etc. These are not animal happenings, no other animals exhibit such behaviours, these are behaviours which are not only doings which illustrate agency, but freely chosen – and, further, doings which have spiritual drivers (“spirit/soul/self” also hunched out of philosophy’s nest by the cuckoo that is physics). Spiritual because, in the above examples, the motive was the desire to experience non-Darwinian beauty – which experience only serves to lift our spirits (sometimes, we will consider below, at the risk of the survival of our “selfish genes”).
Beauty (Darwinian and non-Darwinian) is a huge subject which we will examine in Essay 3, here we just need to examine the implications for materialism of the difference between happenings and doings. To that end we will consider that some of our behaviours (even those which are observably mechanical, animal happenings) can be altered by our nonphysical selves to become, entirely or in part – doings.
VALUES CAN TURN HAPPENINGS INTO DOINGS
Human values can be observed at work in the way we choose to do some things, which things can be fairly described as causal, mechanical, animal happenings. For example, when we choose to dine (a doing) instead of feed (hunger is a happening); make love (a doing – so to speak) instead of having sex (breeding is a happening); enjoy the journey (a doing – raising our consciousness to the moment) rather than rushing through the moment to “get” somewhere (a happening). So, values not only cause some unnatural spiritual behaviours (like attending an art gallery, bushwalking, etc.) but can modify in a spiritual way our causal, mechanical, animal happenings (like eating and having sex) – in other words, our nonphysical selves can make our physical animal happenings be done differently.
Not only that, but by incorporating the spiritual into the animal, humans can experience ecstasy – a much higher level of enjoyment and a distinctly human phenomenon. We will examine ecstasy more deeply in Essay 3, here we just need to see that we can incorporate the spiritual into animal acts – more empirical evidence for the existence of a nonphysical factor in the human equation.
Such equation should thus be written: human = animal + spiritual – a dualism which contradicts materialism’s monism – more of that, and the necessary nonphysical and/or spiritual conditions for human happiness in Essay 3). Here, we just need to consider that a full description of the human condition is not looking very likely to be materialist – merely fundamental physical particles acting, reacting and interacting mechanically.
And there are other necessary tenets of materialism. Let’s have a look at the belief that if there is no higher agency than blind physics then everything, the entire universe, was accidental. And it arose from nothing.
EVERYTHING CAME INTO EXISTENCE ACCIDENTALLY – FROM NOTHING?
The present consensus explanation for the existence of the universe, from our physical sciences, goes basically like this: our present physical universe (or maybe even universes?) is the consequence of an accidental event (mattergy spontaneously coming into existence) about 13.7 billion years ago. Most scientists are calling this event the big bang, or similar (the big expansion, big inflation, big bounce etc.) and subscribe to various theories by way of explanation (String Theory, Brane Theory, Inflation Theory, etc.). But all envisage the same basic thing – that our universe(s) just happened (there’s that word again) – i.e. without the aid of any outside first mover, higher power or “A” Agency – like a God.
DO OBSERVABLE FACTS MEET MATERIALIST THEORY?
“Observable facts” like: the happening which created everything was courtesy of certain crucially-tuned forces, intelligible laws, fine parameters, and essential constants – all with fine ratios and in delicate balance. (The laws are “intelligible” because written in an intelligent language – mathematics – which we know is intelligent because we, an intelligence, can speak it. That we, supposedly just stardust, can speak the language our dust is written in is another mystery we will look at more closely in Essay 3) We just need consider, here: how does the existence of these crucially set laws etc. meet the materialist theory that all is accidental and that there can be no higher agency?
Let’s have a closer look at the things I have labelled above as: “crucial”, “delicate”, “essential” and “fine” – things whose existence allowed everything to come into existence in the first place – and to continue to exist in the second place.
STABLE ATOMS, STARS, PLANETS?
The seeming chaos of the multi-billion degree “big bang” was comprised of energy/radiation and sub-atomic matter/particles which were brought together by mysteriously-existing forces (like the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force) which were crucially set to allow the first nuclei of protons and neutrons to come together, and hold together – once the Universe became a little cooler. These nuclei were able to capture mysteriously-existing electrons and become simple hydrogen and helium atoms after about 400,000 years when the temperature fell below 4000 Kelvins. These simple atoms were compressed together by another mysteriously-existing force (gravity), into giant fusions events called stars – which supermassive bodies eventually burnt up their fuel and collapsed under their own weight with such force that they created some larger, more complicated atoms which were spewed out into the cosmos when the star went super-nova (exploded). These atoms became more numerous and were distributed widely after a few more cycles of star formation and supernova explosion – until less massive stars (like our Sun) were formed with planets (like our Earth) in their gravitational orbit. Larger atoms crucial for life (like carbon) were in existence by then, and they in action with energy and necessary precursors to life (like amino acids) spontaneously became alive.
Plenty of large mysteries there, and the mysteries of what happened after the inert became accidentally organic (evolution) we will examine as a separate pillar of the House of Disbelief, below.
MANY TOWERING MYSTERIES?
So, as well as the abovementioned “mysteriously-existing” forces (gravity, strong and weak nuclear forces, electro-magnetism) which allowed the existence of something to “happen” (something rather than nothing), the even further mystery is that these forces were set in crucial parameters, in fine ratios to each other in a universe with delicately-set essential constants (like the speed of light). Such existences and fineness of setting was necessary for the very formation of atoms (the strong and weak nuclear forces allowing the delicate but powerful attraction and repulsion of sub-atomic particles necessary to form and hold atoms together); the formation of stars (the force of gravity, set as it was, allowed the formation of stars and planets – any stronger and stars would have collapsed, any weaker and they wouldn’t have held together). Another incredibly fine setting crucial for the existence of the universe was that of dark matter and dark energy.
Let’s consider what cosmologists have to say about a few of the materialist’s “accidents” necessary for the universe to get its ducks into a row:
“We really should live in a Universe with just radiation and no matter at all. But we don’t – and one of the most exciting aspects of modern cosmology is trying to understand what monumental accidents happened in the first microsecond of the Universe’s existence.”
– Cosmologist Larry Krauss (quoted from “Universe”, Couper & Henbest P. 26).
Krauss is not exactly getting carried away – he may call them “exciting” and “monumental”, but he still describes the events leading to our universe existing as “accidents”. Let’s consider just how monumental the accident was for the unlikely formation of enough, and suitable, matter to form a universe. Describing the initial moments after the beginning Krauss says:
“Every time a particle of ordinary matter was created, a deadly twin of antimatter was spawned as well. The birth of every electron, for instance, also saw the creation of an ‘anti-electron’, or positron. The two have exactly opposite properties. If an electron and positron subsequently meet up again, they mutually annihilate in a burst of energy. In the young Universe equally matched battalions of matter and antimatter waged war on each other. The skirmishes produced radiation…Why is there any material – matter or antimatter – left in the Universe today?…every now and then, one out of 10 billion interactions might have produced a particle of matter – one more than a particle of antimatter. In the end, you’d have 10 billion particles of antimatter, and 10 billion and one particles of matter. The 10 billion particles of matter and antimatter would annihilate, leaving just the one particle of matter left over. And that little bit extra is responsible for everything we can see today – it’s kinda remarkable!”
(ibid. Pp. 25-26.)
Kinda! Why not 10 billion and one particles of antimatter instead?
And what are the chances of the fine balance between the forces of order and disorder being accidental?
WHAT ARE THE CHANCES?
All should be chaos. In an accidental, natural beginning – any accidentally-occurring order should quickly be reduced by entropy. Professor Roger Penrose (mathematics, Oxford) has shown that, the chances of our universe naturally, accidentally having the required amount of order to combat the forces of disorder to produce the complexity we observe, is one in 1010 123 – a number so huge that the number of zeros totals more than all the atoms in the universe!
And let’s consider what astronomy has to say about the delicacy of the ratios, relationships, and proportions between constants.
THE FINE-TUNING OF RATIOS,
UK’s Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, listed six fundamental numbers in his book “Just Six Numbers” – which represent ratios, relationships, and proportions between constants which must fall within narrow parameters for our physical universe to come into existence – and to continue existing:
How sits materialism’s tenet of accidentalness as an explanation for our universe?
Not securely, the bottom line is this: the fact that something exists at all appears to be because of considerable fine-tuning written in an intelligent language. Our universe hardly resembles an out of control accident. So, Again, one is tempted to ask the same question we did in the examination of the Scientism pillar of the House of Disbelief, above: if the universe is not out of control, who’s in control?
And consider this:
“Our understanding of creation relies on the validity of the laws of physics, particularly quantum uncertainty. But that implies that the laws of physics were somehow encoded into the fabric of our universe before it existed. How can physical laws exist outside of space and time, and without a cause of their own?”
New Scientist – 23/7/2011, P. 29.
Physics laws were “encoded into the fabric of our universe before it existed”? The existence of a higher agency (higher than blind physics) “outside of space and time” is credibly implied – whatever the nature of any “agency” may be (hardly likely to be the 6-day creating god of the Bible).
How about the other tenet of materialism – that our universe emerged not only accidentally – but out of nothing?
EVERYTHING CAME INTO EXISTENCE OUT OF NOTHING?
Some theoretical physicists feel that there is no mystery, that they can declare that something can come from nothing:
“We can also show that the laws of physics are just what they should be if the universe came from nothing.”
Professor Victor Stenger – “Godless Cosmology” (in “50 Voices of Disbelief”, Ed Blackford & Schuklenk P. 116)
OR FROM EXISTING ENERGY?
Professor Brian Cox, in the above quoted TV documentary stated that the Theory of Inflation emanating from quantum mechanics implies that our matter/universe came from a huge, amorphous, existing energy. (And, further, there is nothing to say that it must stop at one universe – this introduces multiverse theory which has even more implications – which we will examine, below).
Dr. Kerry Spackman also feels Einstein’s famous E= mc² proves something can come out of nothing:
“...the equal sign in E=mc² means we can go in either direction. Instead of turning matter into energy [e.g. atom bomb] we can also create matter out of nothing but pure energy. This is a truly mind-boggling concept. We can take absolutely nothing but pure energy and make solid matter out of it.”
“The Ant and the Ferrari” – Kerry Spackman, p. 35.
But, a little problem there – “nothing but pure energy” – is pure energy “nothing”? As Spackman says, E=mc² – energy can be matter – it is never nothing.
WAS THE INITIALLY-EXISTING ENERGY NOTHING?
The existence of our physical universe could only be out of “nothing” if the original energy was nothing. Is energy nothing – or everything? I don’t think that: (“ ” + mysterious original forces and order = everything) is going to stand as one of the great equations of all time?
And, if the first Law of Thermodynamics is right (that energy cannot be created nor destroyed) – whence the original energy which became matter at the big bang?
Maybe there is never nothing, but always something?
More from Stenger:
“…let me address probably the most common question theists ask atheists, one they smugly think is the final clincher on the case for God: ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’…The eminent philosopher Adolf Grunbaum has shown that the question is ill-conceived because it assumes that the natural state of affairs is ‘nothing’ and some cause was necessary to bring ‘something’ into existence. That argument can be supplemented with a physics argument that something is more natural than nothing.”
Stenger, ibid. P.116
Quantum theory also implies there can be no state of emptiness:
“And quantum theory tells us that emptiness would have precisely zero energy – far too exacting a requirement for the uncertain quantum world. ”
New Scientist Magazine (23/7/2011 – P. 29)
So it looks like “always something” is the best answer.
Again, sounds a bit God-like – albeit not like the god of any religion – an eternal, absolute, infinite, original energy? Maybe this original energy was what we try to approach when we use the word “God”. Further, maybe God did not create the universe, but became it?
Hmmmmm. We may come back to that panentheistic idea (that God is all that is – everything is God/of God) later?
And did someone say “quantum theory”? Now there’s one strange cat. The matter so beloved of materialists may be more in the nature of a field/wave than the classic Newtonian idea of matter – requiring our consciousness to collapse, cohere from a wave into a particle.
IMPLICATIONS OF QUANTUM THEORY FOR MATERIALISM
After contemplating the strange quantum world, philosopher Jan Westerhoff concludes this about materialist reductionism:
“...we are in a situation where we cannot say that the world of quantum objects is fundamental...The moral to draw from the reductionist scenario seems to be that either what is fundamental is not material, or that nothing at all is fundamental.”
(“Is Matter Real?” – New Scientist, 29/9/2012, Pp.37-47).
Professor Philip Clayton has this to say about how materialism is left after the discoveries of quantum physics:
“Quantum physics is not a threat to physics but one of its most impressive successes in the last century. It is, however, a threat to a particular understanding of physics, for it is ultimately incompatible with the world view of materialism that dominated much of the physics of the modern era.”
(“Information and the Nature of Reality”, 2010, Ed. Davies & Gregersen, P. 57 – author’s italics underlined.)
And this from theoretical physicist, Henry Stapp:
“…the intense intellectual struggles that took place here in Copenhagen during the twenties, principally between Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and Wolfgang Pauli. Those struggles replaced the then-prevailing Newtonian idea of matter as ‘solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, moveable particles’ with a new concept that allowed, and in fact demanded, entry into the laws governing the motion of matter of the consequences of decisions made by human subjects.”
(Davies & Gregersen, Op. cit., P.104)
And how does materialism handle the mystery that is the occurrence of life?
After the original energy, sub-atomic particles, simple atoms, stars going supernovae, eventual smaller suns, planets, larger atoms like carbon – life arose on at least one planet which existed in a “goldilocks zone” – that is to say, just right for life (as we know it) to exist. Materialism must hold that life, like everything else in an accidental universe, arose accidentally, chemically and spontaneously from the accidental physical star stuff of the universe. But such “stuff” was inert, sterile, dead – emerged from a billion-degree maelstrom. So how could it become organic?
HOW DID THE INORGANIC BECOME ORGANIC?
Our physical sciences conclude that the enlivening of inert atoms happened on Earth about 3.5 billion years ago – most likely as the end result of physical/chemical action and reaction when organic monomers (e.g. amino acids) forming from organic molecules (e.g. water, methane, carbon dioxide, hydrogen cyanide) and teamed up with other (terrestrial or extraterrestrial) monomers to form organic polymers (protein) – all enlivened (maybe) with the energetic input of lightning?
Fine, possibly true – but how? This from Professor Thomas Nagel:
viable account, even a purely speculative one, seems to be available of how a
system as staggeringly functionally complex and information-rich as a
self-reproducing cell, controlled by
Thomas Nagel. “Mind and Cosmos”, P.123.
And this from theoretical physicist, Paul Davies:
“The living cell is the most complex system of its size known to mankind. …How did something so immensely complicated, so finessed, so exquisitely clever, come into being all on its own? How can mindless molecules, capable only of pushing and pulling their immediate neighbours, cooperate to form and sustain something as ingenious as a living organism?”
(“The Fifth Miracle” P.5)
So maybe the appearance of life no accident, maybe our universe was set up for life to appear?
“Belief that life is written into the laws of nature carries a faint echo of a bygone religious age, of a universe designed for habitation. … [but] Many scientists are scornful of such notions, insisting that the origin of life was a freak accident of chemistry, unique to Earth... the chance outcome of a gigantic cosmic lottery.”
- Paul Davies, ibid., P. xii.
But materialists are stuck with their chance theory. Professor Brian Cox (in the above quoted TV documentary) even offers the puzzling analogy that life could have occurred by chance – because somebody must win a lottery!? But there is no “must” about the occurrence of life – all the other trillions upon billions of tickets (ways the universe could have been if its parameters and ratios were different) – would not have resulted in a stable universe lasting long enough for the second lottery of the existence of life to have been drawn.
If materialists like Cox feel they can accept a lottery-win explanation for the existence of life, they should point out that if life occurred by chance it was equivalent to more than one, trillions against, lottery.
THE CHANCE OUTCOME OF SEVERAL, GIGANTIC COSMIC LOTTERIES?
Before life occurred, the existence of a suitable physical universe (if accidental) was already the result several gigantic lotteries, one after the other, to make a situation just-so for life – a universe: just so large enough; just so much more matter than anti-matter; just the right forces; just the right constants; all in just so finely-tuned ratios that order emerged out of chaos with the ability to survive into the teeth of entropy.
After all that, the first living cell had to leap spontaneously out of that unlikely-to-exist inert matter – yet another massively unlikely event to happen by chance – yet another “giant cosmological lottery”. The odds against the exponential accidentalness of are so massive as to be incalculable – to the point that the thought that the lotteries were rigged, is surely a rational one?
“What physical and chemical processes can transform non-living matter into a living organism?…It is currently being tackled by an army of chemists, biologists, astronomers, physicists, and mathematicians … On the basis of their research, many of them fervently conclude that the laws of nature are, to put it bluntly, rigged in favour of life.”
Paul Davies, ibid. p.xii
A theoretical physicist talking in terms like “written into” and the laws of nature “rigged”? Are we again looking at evidence of some sort of higher agency than blind physics? We are entering the region of apparent intelligent design here, a region we will explore more closely in Essay 3 – here we just need to notice, again, that the materialist theory of chance as an explanation for the existence of everything is not looking very likely.
This is before we consider some of the mysteries of the life which arose – for example, human consciousness.
Human consciousness is another huge mystery that we will explore in more detail in Essay 3, but here we just need to contemplate how damaging it is for materialism – that supposedly spontaneously and accidentally alive subatomic particles can have consciousness of the universe – to the point of understanding it?!. How one lifeform, humanity, evolved mechanically from accidental life to become conscious not only of being alive, but conscious of its own mortality. Further, we have come to such a deep understanding of life that, while not (yet!) capable of creating life, we are capable of recreating it (for example, by genetic engineering). By chance, humanity, a creature of the universe, has become also a creator of it. That’s truly weird – that an accidental product of an accidental mechanical factory, has come to be able to understand the factory to the point of being able to redesign the factory and its products? Way beyond Carl Sagan’s analogy of humanity being stardust able to observe the stars.
MINDLESS MOLECULES BECOMING MINDFUL?
If a single living cell can be validly described as: “most complex”; “immensely complicated”; “so finessed”; “exquisitely clever; “ingenious” (Paul Davies, above) are there enough superlatives to describe billions of these cells forming and co-operating together to form a human animal which has become conscious and able to understand the process to the point of being able to change it themselves through genetic bio-engineering? In materialist terms, this is: accidental atoms, accidentally forming molecules, which spontaneously became living cells – that mechanically evolved to be able to speak the mathematical language the whole process was written in to the point of recreating the universe!
AN OBJECT BECOMING SUBJECTIVE?
Consciousness also allows an object (or a collection of objects) to come into subjectiveness – the coming into existence of subjective, individual points of view by matter (us). Matter having ideas about other matter – often subjective ideas about objects – in an entirely material/objective world?
HOW STANDS THE MATERIALIST MODEL?
Materialism is looking a little incomplete – maybe even broken as a model of the universe and everything in it? We’ll leave the last word on materialism to Professor Nagel:
“Other forms of understanding may be needed, or perhaps there is more to reality than even the most fully developed physics can describe. If reduction fails in some respect, this reveals a limit to the reach of the physical sciences, which must therefore be supplemented by something else to account for the missing elements. But the situation may be more serious than that. If one doubts the reducibility of the mental to the physical, and likewise of all those other things which go with the mental, such as value and meaning, then there is some reason to doubt that a reductive materialism can give an adequate account even of the physical world...The possibility opens up of a pervasive conception of the natural order very different from materialism – one that makes mind central, rather than a side effect of physical law.”
Thomas Nagel, Op. cit., – Pp14 & 15
Nagel talks of the “reducibility of the mental to the physical” – let’s look deeper into reductionism and the other close cousins of materialism: determinism, and causality. These are positions which are similar to each other and usually held together (i.e. hold one, hold all) – and substantial enough in the minds of many to form a staunch pillar of the House of Disbelief.
“The hypothesis that man is not free is essential to the application of the scientific method to the study of human behaviour.”
The above hypothesis that “man is not free” – that humans have no free will (and that the scientific method should be applied to “the study of human behaviour”) – was the bedrock of Skinner’s school of behaviourist psychology. Behaviourism holds that all our behaviours are determined by what went before – usually a long chain of physical stimulus/response events. Such a position of disbelief in free will proceeds from the philosophical positions of determinism, reductionism, and causality (all of classical physics and close cousins of materialism). We have examined materialism and we will examine free will next – here we need to examine the above positions which, together with behaviourism, many people feel form a sound pillar of the House of Disbelief.
The determinist/reductionist/causal/behaviourist reasoning is that everything which exists, including us, has been determined by, caused by, or can be reduced to, a chain of physical events extending all the way back to the Big Bang. Even all of our behaviours, no matter how seemingly complicated, are just the end result of a physical stimulus-response chain. This results in the belief that we are just our bodies – no more than a physical aggregation of atoms – because all must be physical in our universe which observably proceeds mechanically in a manner determined by the laws of physics. Further, physics and allied physical sciences (like cosmology) have decided that the initial big bang which originated the universe was an accidental event – in a state of nothing. Thus there is no need, nor room, for a “first mover”, a God. And, allied with chemistry, a full physical explanation for life is possible (just a natural and spontaneous chemical event); and allied with evolutionary theory, an entirely physical explanation for us and our behaviours is possible (just the result of mechanistic natural selection). Thus, again, there is no need, nor room for any higher agency/God – because there is no mystery in the existence of us, nothing which cannot be explained physically – and, importantly for our exploration for any ultimate purpose or special meaning to our existence, there can be none in this entirely physical and accidental world – only animal/genetic purpose can exist, we must supply our own personal meanings (should we need).
This, then, is a fundamentalist explanation of everything, including us. Even humanity (once thought so special) can be satisfactorily reduced to, and satisfactorily explained by, its fundamental physical bits. Those poor souls who previously believed that the nonphysical factors of the human condition (like a self/soul) stood in the road of the successful completion of our physical sciences’ “Theory of Everything” are put out of their misery – we have no nonphysical bits – we are entirely and satisfactorily reduced to physical bits that were determined by physical forces, whose every behaviour is entirely caused by what went physically before. But, while it is observable that the material world (which includes our bodies) is determinist, causal, reducible to fundamentals – and many of our behaviours the result of our response to physical stimuli – is that it – is that a full and satisfactory description of us?
Let’s have a closer look at this fundamentalism.
Determinism is basically the belief that every event in our world is determined by some preceding state – even every human behaviour has been pre-determined. Not only that, but any “all-seeing eye” which could view the entire history of the universe, all at once, could know the entire future of the universe and its inhabitants from what had already happened.
Causality is the belief that this universe is entirely mechanistic – to the extent that all things existing at this moment are the end result of an upwardly causal chain of happenings extending from the Big Bang. We, and all our present behaviours, are just the end product of this mechanistic universe – a mechanistic bit of it which has been wholly caused by it.
Just another way of arriving at the same place – every thing, and every behaviour of any thing, can ultimately be reduced down through the behaviour of the particles of which we/they are comprised. All reductionist explanatory arrows point downwards (Weinberg) – as all causal arrows fly upwards.
Behaviourism comes from the softer science of psychology, but is allowed to play with the “isms”, above, which are the products of the “hard” sciences (physics, chemistry, cosmology) because behaviourism complements some physical explanations for certain tricky questions flowing from some human behaviour (behaviourism’s explanation being that every human behaviour is a physical, animal response to a physical stimulus antecedent). Darwinian biology (evolutionism) is also allowed to play with the isms of the hard sciences because it has some physical/mechanical answers to other pesky questions from human behaviour (for example, providing mechanical natural selection answers to some of our strange behaviours like altruism). We will examine Evolutionary Theory separately because it has a substantial portfolio of ideas which form a large pillar of the House of Disbelief on its own.
So, these fundamentalist “isms” offer physical explanations for everything about us – claiming such prove that we are not free agents, able to act according to our own will; that we are, rather, totally explicable in terms of our physical bits – even all our behaviours are just products of physical forces stretching mechanically back to the big bang (itself a spontaneous physical event). It is felt that “physics can explain everything” – an actual quote from Stephen Hawking. Atomic physicist Rutherford’s statement that “there is physics, and then there is stamp-collecting” also comes to mind. The implication is that if physics cannot explain it, it doesn’t/can’t exist.
We need to examine this claimed, and hubristic, hegemony of physics.
CAN PHYSICS SUCCESSFULLY AND FULLY EXPLAIN US?
Physics tells us that there are no mysteries because everything is physical and proceeding mechanically, causally, determinably from (or can be reduced to) the physical big bang.
Let’s cross examine physics on that assertion. Firstly: what was the big bang?
We are told by our physical sciences that the big bang was everything coming into being.
We then must ask: from what – what existed before the big bang?
Physics tells us that we can’t ask that question because there can be no “before” – time itself began at the big bang.
But physics also tells us energy cannot be created nor destroyed (the First Law of Thermodynamics, one of the pillars of classical physics). Therefore it must be concluded that energy must always exist.
Physics replies that even the laws of physics (like thermodynamics) began at the big bang. So we are prevented from talking about energy existing before the big bang – as if it was some type of category error. What physics is basically telling us is that: because there was no physics before the big bang – there could not be anything!?
Physics also tells us that such a position of nothing existing pre big bang is in accord with certain theoretical physics/maths (flowing from string theory). If nothing can exist before the big bang, then everything came from nothing – and it must have been accidental (no first mover can exist either).
But, as Stenger (from the above pillar) says: “something is more natural than nothing” and the New Scientist magazine (ditto) tells us that there can be no state of emptiness because quantum theory implies: “emptiness would have precisely zero energy – far too exacting a requirement for the uncertain quantum world.” If something must always exist, maybe it is Spackman’s, also above, “nothing but pure energy”?
Unless logic also cannot reach beyond the beginning of all things physical (the big bang) – then it can be reasonably concluded that if: 1.) emptiness cannot exist, and 2.) energy cannot be created – then absolute energy must always have existed before this relative reality, which we find our selves (two words?) in, came into existence.
So, we have an eternal, absolute, originating energy. Maybe that should be “E” Energy – i.e. “G” God? Maybe the big bang was more truly, the “B” Big “B” Bang – Energy/God becoming matter/the universe – rather than creating it? E=mc² indicates that energy and matter can go both ways – are basically the same thing and one can become the other – is this the God equation?
We are contemplating a Divine here that neither theism nor atheism would be happy with. I take that as an encouraging sign we may be approaching “T” Truth? Remember, as we discovered in Essay 1, both theism and atheism insist on wrestling over a “g” god – the primitive Biblical god. Theism insists on this god because it is the one in their infallible book, and atheism is happy to go along – because it is a god so easily demolished. Neither theism nor atheism are a search for any divine “T” Truths there may be – both are only interested in winning the argument for their comforting “t” truth.
A “G” God, as above, (cf. theism/atheisms’ “g” god) could also go some way towards explaining the mystery that is human consciousness – there is some evidence that our consciousness is, more truly, our individuation of a universal consciousness. And non-classical quantum physics has found consciousness to play a pivotal role in the very existence of matter.
Where does all this leave determinism? Consider this from Dr. Gavin Rowland on quantum physics and determinism:
“…it is often said that an immaterial substance cannot influence a material substance because it defies the notion of determinism in classical physics. This argument is easily refuted. The simple answer is that classical deterministic physics speaks of interactions between material objects only. It says nothing about immaterial objects having an effect on material objects [like consciousness affecting/effecting matter]. However, we now know that classical physics is an incomplete theory. It requires quantum mechanics to complete it. And quantum mechanics introduces nondeterministic elements…”
“Mind Beyond Matter”, Gavin Rowland, P.167.
As we will see in Essay 3, there are other elements in quantum physics (like non-locality) which also present problems for classical physics – and for their, supposedly, almost complete “Theory of Everything”.
THE NONMATERIAL IS IMMATERIAL?
Materialist philosophical camp-followers of physics say that the very idea of anything non-physical is “immaterial” (the word itself has become pejorative). Immaterial “things” can’t, therefore don’t, exist as things in themselves, but are just ideas which exist because comforting. Determinists call on their Darwinist allies here to explain how this works: ideas like the existence of special nonphysical factors in the human condition – like consciousness, soul/self, the spiritual – only exist because they have been naturally selected. Such ideas and the notion of free will are comforting, empowering, and help the people holding them to have a feeling of self-importance which enables them to out-survive and out-breed those who don’t have such ideas.
TO EXIST REQUIRES SCIENTIFIC MEASUREMENT?
Anything which can’t be tested by the scientific method does not actually exist as a thing – it can only be an idea which owes its existence to the need for comfort rather than be proven to exist by reliable objective observation and measurement.
Is that a good answer? More from Gavin Rowland:
“Behind these views is a dogmatic commitment to scientific measurement, a commitment that rules out any open-minded philosophical inquiry into the existence of nonmaterial things.
“Op. cit., P. 161.
While no serious person doubts that the “scientific method” has been the backbone of the glittering successes of our sciences, there are areas where it does not work – to insist that the nonphysical is only an “immaterial” idea because it cannot be proven to exist by examination and measurement by the scientific method is not getting our philosophies of meaning anywhere. Why do our scientific philosophers insist? For me, a lot of atheistic thinking emanates from a fear and loathing of religion and its ignorance and its evils – being more antitheism than atheism.
Rowland continues from above:
There is often an attitude that…the mission of science is to expunge all claims suggestive of religious ideologies. That includes free will, as the soul may offer an explanation whereas materialism does not.”
Ibid. P. 161.
I prefer using the word “self” rather than “soul” – just to remove the religious connotations. We examine antitheism and the existence of self in other places, and we examine free will next – here we just need to consider some of the evidence that exists for the non-material.
We know that our physical sciences deal in “T” Truths because we successfully use the fruits of those Truths every day. But the non-physical also seems to exist in this physical world as well. There is particularly evidence of the nonphysical in the human condition. Let’s consider if all our behaviours fit into the material, mechanical model of the universe that physics, chemistry, Darwinian biology, and behaviourist psychology have constructed?
MUST ALL BE JUST THE BEHAVIOUR OF PARTICLES?
For reductionists everything can be reduced to types of quarks, leptons, bosons – and there can only be, ultimately, the happenings, interactions of these fundamental entities. But not all physicists are reductionists agreeing with this downward/upward causal model. This from physicist George Ellis:
“There’s a basic assumption that the things you see – be it humans, computers, or trees – can ultimately boiled down to the behaviors of the particles they are composed of. Biology is determined by chemistry, which is in turn governed by the underlying physics. Much of modern science is rooted in this bottom-up reductionist view of cause and effect, which has been an excellent way of explaining many phenomena. But can all things be understood just by looking at their constituent parts?”
“New Scientist” Magazine – 17 August, 2013. P. 28
If there are “things” that cannot be understood “just by looking at their constituent parts”, what are such things – and what do they imply for any philosophy of meaning? How about consciousness, which we mentioned above – surely that is not about the physical movement of physical parts?
Francis Crick, one of the discoverers of DNA, felt that humans had an awareness neuron, that consciousness is just the behaviour of such physical bits:
“ ‘You’ your joys and sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”
Francis Crick, “The Astonishing Hypothesis”, P. 3.
Is this the “T” Truth? Are “we”, “you”, “me”, “us” just our physical bits – even our “self/soul” just notions arising from the behaviour of atoms? Is the mystery which is human consciousness solved, reduced – to the electrochemistry of neurons? We will examine the mystery of human consciousness more deeply in Essay 3, here we just need to reconsider what we discovered in our examination of the previous pillar of the House of Disbelief – that there are more than just physical “happenings” in the world we live in – there also “doings”? Again, let’s consider what Professor Kauffman had to say:
“Yet we humans, who are presumably reducible to physics like everything else, are agents, able to act on our own behalf. But actions are “doings”, not mere happenings. Moreover, agency creates values: we want certain events to happen and others not to happen. How can values and doings arise from particle interactions where only happenings occur?”
Stuart A. Kauffman – Op. cit., p.11
Kauffman has some interesting points:
· Humans are “agents” – able to act on our own behalf.
· Human “doings” – are not just particle “happenings”.
· “We want certain events to happen and others not to happen” – we are collections of particles with “wants”!?
· What we want is determined by our “values” – not by the interaction of our physical particles.
There is no doubt that some of our behaviours are determined by bodily causes or physical stimuli, but if we freely choose to make some other things happen rather than just have them happen to us; if what we want to happen is determined/caused by nonphysical things like values rather than entirely physical mechanical things like particle interaction – then free will is part of the human condition – and the reductionist-determinist-causal pillar of the House of Disbelief is broken.
We have only brushed on free will so far. The non-existence of free will is essential to materialism, behaviourism, determinism et al – an essential pillar of the House of Disbelief. Time now to examine the soundness of that pillar of disbelief.
· THE NON-EXISTENCE OF FREE WILL
“Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have.”
“Free Will”, Sam Harris, P.5
Is Dr. Harris (philosopher and neuroscientist) correct? And what implications flow for us as a species, generally (and for this exploration for any special meaning or purpose, in particular) from the existence or not of free will?
First, just how important is the subject of free will for humanity?
THE IMPORTANCE OF FREE WILL
Certain studies have shown that belief in free will makes people behave in a more moral fashion, and even perform tasks better. Disbelief, on the other hand, tends to bring out our darker sides – for example, two researchers into the subject of free will: Kathleen Vohs and Jonathon Schooler (2002), found that people who didn’t believe in free will were more likely to behave immorally – cheating in tests and stealing money when they had the opportunity. Conversely, in another study, Vohs et al found belief in free will was a predictor of good job performance. Roy Baumeister from Florida State University found that those who didn’t believe in free will were less likely to volunteer and/or give to charity – and more likely to suffer stress, unhappiness, and to have a lesser commitment to relationships.
While, hardly establishing the existence of free will as the “T Truth, I think it fair to say that the beneficial effects of a belief in free will have been established. This has led some to propose Illusionism: the idea that, although free will is in fact an illusion, we should encourage belief in it for the good of society and the survival of humanity – and that we could achieve this by scientists (and their philosopher hand maidens) exercising self-restraint and not disabusing people so readily of their beliefs in free will as they currently do.
I have seen no signs that this is going to happen any time soon. The above quoted determinist neurophysiologist, Sam Harris even thinks we are better off without the notion of free will – that we should stick with what is true because illusions will always hold us back. For Harris, rather than improving human behaviour by conning people into believing that free will exists, we should see all bad behaviour as resulting from the physical state of our brain and attempt to prevent such by curing the brain. Harris believes that such determinist beliefs can also lead to a more compassionate understandings of bad behaviour – i.e. it was not someone’s moral “fault”.
He’s right in that illusions tend to hold us back. But maybe belief in free will is not only good for humanity – but the Truth? Plato always thought that the Truth and the good go hand in hand. So there’s another holy grail quest for philosophy – if belief in free will is good for humanity, can philosophic reason establish its existence as the Truth?
FREE WILL – A HOLY PHILOSOPHIC GRAIL
Alright, there’s a task. Where to start? Let’s start with Einstein:
“ ‘Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills.’ ”
Albert Einstein, “My Credo” (1932)
Not a good start! While Einstein is here quoting Schopenhauer, his personal position was made clear later in this, his own credo, when he states clearly: “I do not believe in free will”. But was Einstein’s philosophic position as sound as his physics? What we need to consider to determine this, is: while it is certainly possible that we humans can (often) do what we want, is it certainly true that we “cannot will what he wills”? Most academic philosophers are on Einstein and Schopenhauer’s side.
DETERMINISM HOLDS THE GROUND
As we have seen in our examination of the above pillar – comprised of the combined might of determinism, behaviourism, causality, and reductionism – classical physics finds that everything is determined/caused by another. Most physicists are classical, thus believing free will is necessarily excluded from our completely material system – holding that its material state at any point in time can be predicted from/is caused by its material state at an earlier time. We, being entirely of matter, are governed (all our behaviour caused) by the state of our matter – and whatever acts upon it. A good example of causality thinking comes from Sam Harris, who believes that all human behaviour arises from our neurophysiology:
“How can we be “free” as conscious agents if everything that we consciously intend is caused by events in our brain that we do not intend, and of which we are entirely unaware. We can’t.”
“Free Will”, Sam Harris, Pp. 25-6.
Is this the “T” Truth (true for everybody, all the time – under our working definition)? Is everything which we think we “intend”, actually caused by prior events that we did not intend? Or can we, make things happen by of our own free will as free agents with no causal antecedent events?
First we must acknowledge that there are unintended happenings in our physical universe and in some of our physical bodies’ behaviours.
There are, observably, unintended “happenings” in our physical Universe which cause some of its subsequent events. For example, physical things whose existence must depend on an unbroken chain of physical events stretching back to the Big Bang (comets, supernova, etc.). The physical universe also includes our brains, and physical events/happenings in our material brain (for example, as we will see below, brain damage can cause behaviours we “do not intend”) which are causal behaviours. And there are also certain behaviours, which may look to us sometimes as our apparent “choices”, which are actually made for us by our body’s animal survival and genetic imperatives: to feed, breed, etc. – we do them or else we, and our selfish genes, die.
But can we also act on our own behalf – are there any behaviours chosen freely by our nonphysical selves – that is, not by our causally created/evolved and deterministic physical bodies?
VALUES – ACTING ON OUR OWN BEHALF?
We each of us have certain values. Such values play a big part in defining us – “us”, our selves – are not our bodies. Do these values lead us to some behaviours which we “consciously intend” – i.e. are not caused by material “events” in our brain but are “doings” – done by us as “agents” according to our “values”?
If so, we have free will.
There do appear to be “doings” in (at least) human behaviours – we appear to be agents able to act on our own behalf. For example, let’s look at three types of human behaviours, to see if they are driven entirely by physical, material events of the universe (which include what our evolved physical body wants/needs), or by what our self/soul wills – behaviours which:
1.) Have nothing to do with bodily/genetic survival imperatives.
2.) Actually endanger our bodily survival.
3.) “Lift” our spirits – “move” us, our selves (i.e. not our bodies) – therefore are driven by spiritual needs and/or value considerations.
1.) BEHAVIOURS WHICH HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH BODILY SURVIVAL
As we saw in the above examination of the materialism pillar of the House of Disbelief, we sometimes choose to do certain things which are not driven by our physical bodily survival needs and/or genetic imperatives, but just because we (our selves – two words) find them “uplifting”. In other words, the “we” that chooses is not our bodies but our selves/souls/spirits (call such what you will). These behaviours, then, are not bottom-up, cause-and-effect actions ultimately driven by the subatomic particles of our naturally evolved physical bodies but, are an example of our nonphysical self/soul driving our physical bodies’ particles etc. to do certain things – top-down – because they have no function except the above spiritual one,. For example: going to an art gallery; going to a musical concert; going to visit a flower garden; going to visit a distant place of geographical beauty (Matterhorn, Niagara Falls, Uluru, etc.). And these behaviours are often planned weeks, months, even years ahead – because we know, that even at some point in the future, we (not our bodies) will be uplifted by them. We want to do them consciously, and only for the reason that we know that our selves will feel good, by doing them (and even for some time afterwards in the remembrance of them).
Our self wills our body – often in the teeth of what the body wants/needs. I say this because the above are not only un-Darwinian behaviours, but actually anti-Darwinian behaviours – because they use up bodily survival assets: money, energy, time. Such behaviours are definitely “doings”, not “happenings” (as identified by Kauffman, above).
The next behaviours are even more anti-Darwinian – not only using up our bodily-survival and genetic-domination resources but actually endangering our body with its precious (and selfish) cargo of genes:
2.) BEHAVIOURS WHICH ENDANGER BODY/GENETIC SURVIVAL
Behaviours which endanger the survival of our body and its selfish genetic cargo include: taking a bushwalk; recreational flying/travelling overseas; doing recreational sports like skiing, bike and horse riding – or more dangerous choices like scuba diving, hang-gliding, parachuting. Again, these behaviours are doings rather than happenings – we freely choose to do them; make them happen – rather than have them happen to us. So what’s the motive – what do we get from such dangerous behaviours when we do them in an entirely recreational manner (i.e. not professionally)? While these genes-risking behaviours may sometimes allow animal-ego boosting (conceivably a Darwinian/genetic motive); and/or some of them may allow the release of feel-good bodily chemicals like endorphins etc. (conceivably also a bodily motive) just about always, our spirits are uplifted by our experience of the natural beauty which is most often integral to the venues we popularly choose to do these behaviours in: bushwalking/tramping/hiking in Tasmania, the English Lake District, Yellowstone National Park; scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef; touring overseas to areas of scenic beauty, etc. etc.
Speaking as a bushwalker, skier, bike rider, recreational traveler, and scuba diver, I can attest that experiencing beauty is arguably the largest part of the motive in these behaviours. Even as my body sits at my desk, my soul occasionally drifts away and swims with the beautiful fish (and sharks) off Heron Island, or stands in the snow on the dangerous peak of Cradle Mountain looking out over Tasmania’s wild ranges – my body getting no endorphins from exercise, or animal ego boost from the memory – whereas my self/soul is lifted. And it is my self which is left feeling that all of life’s vicissitudes were worth it – not my body which is in pain (knees worn out by carrying backpacks, cartilages torn by skiing – would you like to hear about my knee operations?). The phenomenon which is our understanding and recognition of beauty is yet another mystery in a supposedly mechanistic world which we will examine more closely in Essay 3 – here we just need to recognise that we freely choose to do some behaviours which not only have no survival benefits, but are actually anti-survivalist. Again, we have willed what we will.
3.) ETHICAL/SPIRITUAL BEHAVIOURS
Just what sort of behaviours do I mean by “ethical/spiritual behaviours”? Consider ethical vegetarianism – different to health-driven vegetarianism which some adopt in the belief that it is good for our bodies. Such ethical vegetarianism is another example of a free-will “doing”, rather than a physical mechanical “happening”. While it can be logically argued that health-driven vegetarianism is a happening (a survival behaviour) ethical/spiritual vegetarianism is a free choice driven by ethical considerations – for example, it is wrong to eat fellow animals; or spiritual considerations like compassion for animal suffering. Such ethical behaviour is a behaviour of our self, not our body – a doing, a free choice – because meat is actually excellent food for our body and eating it gives us a survival and breeding edge over those who don’t. If our progenitors had refused to eat meat in this natural, competitive world we would not be on top of (this world’s) food chain and have the luxury of freely choosing not to eat it our selves. So ethical vegetarianism is a top-down, non-causal, free choice/behaviour.
WE HAVE WILLED WHAT WE WILL
All up, these behaviours can be fairly descried as having been freely chosen because they are not caused by material things like the interaction of physical particles, nor have they caused random physical changes to our genes – which changes were naturally selected because they were adaptive (i.e. gave us advantages in the battle to survive in an environment of competitive struggle for finite resources). These behaviours were willed by the self because they lifted the self/soul through the experiencing of non-Darwinian beauty and/or made us feel better about our selves (in the case of vegetarianism). In Essay 3 we (freely) will explore the important role which, how we feel about our selves, plays in any lasting happiness humans attain – here we just need to notice that our bodies may have executed these behaviours, in a manner worked out by our brains/minds (part of our body) as the manner most likely to succeed (when to travel, where to travel, equipment to take, etc.) – but it was our non-bodily selves which made them happen at all – and for our self’s/soul’s own reward. Attending musical concerts, ballet, art galleries, bushwalking, travelling for fun, scuba diving, riding, surfing, skiing – are all behaviours which we do freely – in fact, the body would survive better without them (unless the human condition is a physical + spiritual duality, which requires both animal and spiritual factors to flourish in order to “best live”, rather than the materialist’s monism – more of that in Essay 3 as well).
So, in the teeth of Schopenhauer’s assertion which opened the examination of this pillar, we (our self/soul) can and have – willed what we will. The only way out of this for Schopenhauer et al is perhaps to consider that some higher agency has willed this behaviour for its own purposes – perhaps we are the way a “D” Divine spirit/consciousness experiences the beauties of this world – the “moving”, “lifting”, “raising” of our consciousness being rather the lifting of a universal/Divine consciousness of which our self is an individuation? If so, it could then be said that we have no free will because this universal/Divine consciousness wills spiritual behaviours? However, we, our self/soul, being part of this consciousness, also willed the experience of beauty which drives such nonphysical behaviours – and, even if free will is considered disestablished for this reason (that even our higher behaviours have agencies – albeit higher “A” Agencies) – special meaning/purpose (the main quarry of these essays) is not also demolished, rather it is established.
SCIENTIFIC STUDIES FOR FREE WILL
Have there been any scientific studies to back up the existence of free will? Yes there have.
Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz studied obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and found that cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) was an effective treatment for many suffering this condition. Where CBT worked it was only because the patients had the ability to willfully choose to give their intrusive thoughts attention or not. By doing so, these OCD patients were not only able to reduce their condition but to bring about physical changes to their material/physical brains (specifically decreased activity in the caudate nucleus) – determined by positron emission tomography. Schwartz’s findings were unpopular amongst his materialist/reductionist colleagues:
“At first, whenever I tried to discuss these ideas with my colleagues, the reaction ranged from mere amusement to frank annoyance. Like all of modern science, the field of psychiatry, especially in its current biological incarnation, has become smitten with materialist reductionism, the idea that all phenomena can be explained by the interaction and movement of material particles. As a result, to suggest that anything other than brain mechanisms in and of themselves constitute the causal dynamics of a mental phenomenon is to risk being dismissed out of hand.”
“The Mind and the Brain”, P. 14, J.M. Schwartz and S. Begley.
What of scientific studies against free will?
SCIENTIFIC STUDIES AGAINST FREE WILL
Physiologist Benjamin Libet (et al 1983) did an experiment in which subjects were wired to an EEG and allowed to make choices. It was found that the motor cortex of their brains showed activity a split second before they felt they had decided to move. Other more recent studies have shown similar results (Haynes, 2011 & Fried et al 2011).
For me, these are nowhere near truly free choice behaviours – the subjects were told how to behave (press a button), the only freedom allowed being as to when (to press) and which sort of behaviours were possible (which button). But for Sam Harris this is the end of free will:
“There is no question that (most if not all) mental events are the product of physical events. The brain is a physical system, entirely beholden to the laws of nature – and there is every reason to believe that changes in its functional state and material structure entirely dictate our thoughts and actions.”
Op. cit. Pp. 11-12.
The above are simple actions, nothing like choosing to do way more complicated behaviours like going bushwalking, for example. Deciding to do such may start with seeing a photo of a beautiful region (what makes certain non-fertile, even dangerous regions, “beautiful” to us is a mystery we will explore in depth in Essay 3) which photo starts a mental event (an idea), but it is not a physical event which makes the behaviour of a bushwalk happen – rather it is the self/soul which is lifted by the idea and is the driver which makes it happen. I notice that, even Harris (one of the zealots of the House of Disbelief) allows that only “most” ideas are “the product of physical events” – what of the others?
Let’s now look at any contribution non-classical physics can make to the question of the existence of free will – let’s consider quantum physics. As we saw above when we examined the Scientism Pillar, the quantum world also offers an example of free will – we’ll have a closer look at that.
WHAT THE QUANTUM ENIGMA DEMONSTATES OF FREE WILL
Consider the objective, physical demonstration of free will/choice recounted by quantum physicists Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner – flowing from the classic “box-pairs” quantum experiment:
“You therefore could choose to prove either that each atom had been wholly in a single box, or you could choose to prove that each atom had not been wholly in a single box. You can choose to prove either of two contradictory situations…You freely chose which experiment to do. You have free will… your choices were not predetermined by a physical situation external to your body…”
“Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness”, Rosenblum and Kuttner, Pp. 94-5 (emphasis mine).
If you do this experiment “…your choices were not predetermined by a physical situation external to your body” – neither were they determined by some Darwinian imperative internal to their body – choosing either way has no Darwinian result. However, whatever the choice is, it affects (or should that be “effects”?) the physical world. In this experiment free will is shown, experimentally, to objectively exist – and have physical consequences, rather than physical antecedents.
Sometimes, of course, our body’s genetic and/or day-to-day bodily survival imperatives are in charge of our behaviours.
TIMES WHEN OUR BODIES/GENES
Observably, sometimes our bodies/genes are in charge – and survival behaviours happen. For example, when the genes and naturally selected ego push the body into behaviours whose purpose is not to lift our souls/spirits etc. but to compete with others for food, money, status, power, and other bodily and genetic survival/dominance purposes. And this is where reductionism, determinism, and causality is evident – many, purely animal behaviours can happen to us.
But sometimes, some behaviours can be both chosen and driven – at once – by self and body, together. And when that happens, a most peculiar human phenomenon can happen – ecstasy.
When physical happenings and spiritual doings occur at once – when body and soul are satisfied together in the one behaviour – it is possible for us to experience the apparently uniquely human phenomenon of ecstasy. For example, when: making love to someone we love (rather than just having sex); enjoying beautiful food, beautifully cooked – often with love (dining, rather than feeding); enjoying the beauty of our environment (rather than just rushing through it to “get” somewhere) – our body and soul/self can be satisfied together in the one behaviour.
Ecstasy is different from mere chemical/physical pleasures (e.g. from bodily chemicals like serotonin or external stimulants like alcohol or caffeine) and animal contentment (like a full tummy). We will explore the phenomenon of ecstasy in more depth in Essay 3, here we just need to notice that it exists – and is more evidence of a spiritual factor in the human equation – which spiritual factor is injurious to the philosophical positions like determinism, reductionism, behaviourism, causality, and the non-existence of free will which we are presently examining for their soundness.
Another example of human free choice behaviours is choosing to know our selves.
KNOW THYSELF – ANOTHER FREE CHOICE
“Know Thyself” has long been received as wisdom by many successful civilisations over the years – and Know Thyself has never been taken to mean “Know Thy Body”. In other words, there has been a long- and widely-held understanding that the human condition is basically a duality – body and self (NB. not body and mind). We look at the human duality question in other places, for this examination of free will vs. determinism et al, we just need to consider that, while the Know Thyself aphorism is delivered in the form of an injunction, we are totally free to obey it or not. That we can choose whether we obey it, is evidenced by the observation that some have evidently come to know their self, and some have made no attempt.
While this Earthly relative reality we find our self in, with a body, does allow us to know our self through how we live and treat others (are we compassionate or cruel; empathetic or selfish; etc.) having such knowledge is not an animal drive of that body. Nor is it likely to have been a naturally selected behaviour – while self-knowledge can be the first step in a process which can lead eventually to happiness with self, it can be disadvantageous to our bodily/genetic survival. For example, if we choose to truly know our self, it is more likely to initially lead most of us into a level of self-loathing. We will examine the phenomenon which is human happiness, and the role knowing the self plays in lasting human happiness, in Essay 3 – here we just need to look at the uniquely human phenomenon of self-loathing.
While choosing to know the self may be widely regarded as wisdom, it is, as above, a rather risky thing for a human to do – quite often as risky to the body’s survival as some of the more dangerous free choices we considered above (e.g. bushwalking, rock climbing, scuba diving, skiing, etc.) because knowing the true self can lead to self-loathing which is commonly detrimental to the physical body – frequently leading to physical sickness and/or depression – sometimes even to suicide.
Suicide – now there’s another strange thing.
It is well known that self-loathing is a major cause of suicide. This is a paradox for those who think we are only our physical bodies – why would the physical mind/body choose to end its survival (and that of its selfish genes) because the self (not the body) was found to be loathsome? Of course, there are multiple other reasons which lead to depression (which commonly precedes suicide) but coming to loath the self is definitely one. In Essay 3 we will consider that freely choosing to know our selves (and finding the self to be unlovely) need not be a dead end (so to speak) – in fact it can lead to what may possibly be life’s grandest opportunity – to choose to grow the self.
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF FREE WILL
The ultimate implications of the existence of free will for our exploration towards the “T” Truth of the human condition (and for the existence of any special meaning and ultimate purpose in our lives) are important – we have bodies, but we are not those bodies – the human equation has other non-material, spiritual factors as well. While there is plenty of evidence that our physical, animal body exists and is subject, like the rest of the physical world, to causality, determinism, and reductionism – there is also plenty of evidence that something else exists in the full description of the human condition: our self.
That we are more than the sum of our subatomic particles is a dualist position, which must be rejected by materialist ideologues (who are necessarily monists). The usual dualism which has been considered by philosophy after Descartes (and discredited) is mind + body dualism – but we are contemplating another type of dualism for the human equation: human = self + body – which accepts that the mind is not separate to the body/brain because it is of it, but, rather, sees the self as the proper factor separate from that body/brain. We will hunt for more evidence of the existence and nature of self in Essay 3.
HOW STANDS FREE WILL?
All up, we have found that we can and do freely will behaviours that the self feels like doing – often driven by our self’s values and/or our self’s spiritual needs – which are not just happenings caused by a mechanical universe. A free choice is something which we may do, or may not – not something we must do to survive/breed – something we choose to do, often just because the self is “lifted” by the doing even though the survival of the material body may be risked and/or our selfish genes disadvantaged, even exterminated.
We now must continue on, to examine the soundness of some other pillars of the House of Disbelief – the next we have just brushed on – the discoveries flowing from the growing field of Neuroscience.
Many members of the House of Disbelief congregate under this pillar constructed out of the discoveries of neuroscience – a physical science, whose discoveries have led to a philosophical position some are calling neuroscientism. In days gone by, under the Newtonian world view, physics used to stop at the boundary of the human body, certainly regarding the human brain, at least, beyond its magisterium – and its products (like the mind; and its ideas) seen as more truly within the domain of philosophy and religion. In this way, ideas like free will (briefly discussed above) and classical physics could happily coexist. In the words of physicists Fred Kuttner and Bruce Rosenblum:
“Scientists could dismiss free will as not their concern and leave it to the philosophers and theologians. That dismissal does not come so easily today as scientists study the operation of the brain, its electrochemistry, and its response to stimuli. They deal with the brain as a physical object whose behaviour is governed by physical laws. Free will does not fit into that picture. It lurks as a specter off in a corner.”
“Quantum Enigma”, P.224.
As the science that is neuroscience developed, neuroscientists have been able to show that human thoughts about certain things are always located in the same region of the brain (e.g. religion, sex, empathy, morality). From this, some conclude that to see computer images of the human brain light up in the same place whenever God is contemplated, or other spiritual, numinous things experienced, is somehow enough to be able to explain these things/ideas away as just physical phenomena – a physical event/function of physical brain – and therefore entirely physical in themselves. God, our understanding and appreciation of beauty, even previously mysterious paranormal things like NDE’s and OBE experiences – became regarded as all just physical phenomena of matter – thus necessarily devoid of any special meaning. This is another form of scientism – specifically neuroscientism – and for many, it forms a solid pillar of the House of Disbelief with sound scientific foundations.
However, not everyone agrees that neuroscience can explain away some of the deeper and more persistent mysteries of the human condition. Author and New Statesman journalist, Steven Poole, likens neuroscientism to a plague:
“An intellectual pestilence is upon us. Shop shelves are groaning with books purporting to explain, through snazzy brain-imaging studies, not only how thoughts and emotions function, but how politics and religion work, and what the correct answers are to age-old philosophical controversies. The dazzling real achievements of brain research are routinely pressed into service for questions they were never designed to answer. This is the plague of neuroscientism – aka neurobabble, neurobollocks, or neurotrash – and it’s everywhere.”
Quoted from “The Australian Financial Review” – 29th September, 2013 – P. 4 of the Review section (syndicated from New Statesman).
Fair bit of journalese there, but Poole seems to be on the money and goes on to quote Paul Fletcher (professor of health neuroscience at Cambridge University) who is exasperated by those who assume that:
“...activity in a brain region is the answer to some profound question about psychological processes. This is very hard to justify, given how little we currently know about what different regions of the brain actually do.”
Fletcher justifies his point with the example of the brain region known as the insula: “nobody really knows what the insula does or that there are many ideas about its possible function.” The same lack of conclusive knowledge also applies to the amygdala – while its role in fear has been heavily researched and analysed, it also has associations with cuddlier emotions and memory.
A FORM OF MATERIALISM
Despite most brain areas being far from fully understood by neuroscience, materialists cheer on neuroscientism because it offers materialism a way to explain all human behaviours in terms of states of matter – even spiritual and/or numinous experiences previously seen as mysterious. But while neuroscience is moving continually towards a greater understanding of that part of our physical body we call the brain, and its role in that product called the mind – like all the physical sciences, it is getting no closer to understanding the mysteries of how atoms can be mindful, and/or how (as we saw above) the nonphysical self/soul can direct some of the behaviours of our physical body (often against the interests of body and selfish genes, sometimes to the extent of causing death).
Most neuroscientists try to explain away the idea of the existence of any self/soul/spirit by renaming such, rather, as our “personality”: how our mind works – most often determined by the state of the brain – i.e. its, thus our, actions as physically driven rather than spiritually. Therefore all our behaviours can be reduced to the condition/health of our bodily matter – the state of our physical brain made of particles. An example of this type of reasoning comes from neuroscientist Dr. Kerry Spackman:
“Consider the following true story about a dentist who had been happily married to his wife for 23 years. By all accounts he was a devoted father and husband: kind, caring and a pillar of the community. But all of a sudden his personality began to change… Even small things would cause him to fly into an uncontrollable rage...he began to get physically violent with his wife and work colleagues. Eventually, the police were called and he was charged with a serious count of domestic violence...his local doctor ordered a brain scan. This revealed a tiny tumour growing in a part of his brain which linked the rational frontal lobes of his brain to the primitive emotional circuits...As a result his entire personality, his soul, changed...As soon as the cancer was removed the dentist went back to being the same loving, kind and tolerant man he always was.”
“The Ant and the Ferrari”, Dr. Kerry Spackman, P.143 (my underlining).
The above story is not unique. It must be accepted that such reports of personality changes linked to brain injury or disease present empirical, cut and dried evidence that our personality can be changed/affected by changes to our brain matter. But what Spackman has done here is to slip in a giant assertion that our personality and our soul are one and the same thing: “his entire personality, his soul changed” (my emphasis).
We need to examine whether this is actually the “T” Truth (again, under our working definition: true for everybody, all the time) – is our soul just our personality?
WHAT CONSTITUTES OUR PERSONALITY?
The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology – ed. James Drever, 1965 (from my university days – must buy a later one!) defines our personality: “… the integrated and dynamic organization of the physical, mental, moral, and social qualities of the individual…[which] appear in the main to comprise the natural and acquired impulses, and habits, interests, and complexes, the sentiments and ideals, the opinions and beliefs…”. The New Penguin Compact English Dictionary (revised 2001) states that personality is: “the totality of an individual’s behaviour and emotional tendencies”. So, our personality, rather than being simply synonymous with our soul, as Spackman asserts, seems rather to be much more complicated – made up of many moving parts. Some nonphysical like: nurture/life experiences (like our education, upbringing, personal traumas); our tendencies (like the extent of our soul’s evolution). Some physical like: brain health/damage; our genes (inherited intelligence and/or acuity of mind); the beauty of our face/body (a great influence on personality, ask anyone who has had a relationship with a truly beautiful person); the size of our body (also an influence on our personality, consider “little man syndrome”).
Some would question the effect of our soul’s evolution on our behaviour. Consider this: in the case of Spackman’s dentist, while his personality was changed by physical changes/damage to his brain, his soul was not changed/damaged. As evidence for this conclusion we need to consider that it was not the dentist’s body/brain which risked its (and its selfish gene’s) survival by deciding to be cut open to fix the personality damage caused by the cancer – but it was his self/soul – which decided to risk the body’s survival because he (his self) was unhappy with who he had become. Our atoms are not interested in our personality, and our selfish genes are just that – not interested taking physical risks to get rid of nonphysical things like shame – so we can feel better about our self.
In sum, our personality is 1.) not synonymous with our soul; and 2.) our personality changing after physical brain damage does not prove that our “soul” does not exist.
We will discuss more of the mystery of human shame in Essay 3, here we just need to consider that the best conclusion about us seems to be that it is not the self/soul or the body/meat/mind which makes up “us” (as shown by our behaviours) but, rather, both together. As we are increasingly seeing, the human equation has both physical and spiritual factors.
MIND/BRAIN/BODY = SELF/SOUL?
Some neuroscientists try to prove that the self/soul does not exist by using the word “mind” in the same way the word “personality” was used above – by confusing/conflating the self/soul with something physical/of the body. The mind is of the physical brain/body. While no materialist knows how matter (just subatomic particles interacting under known nuclear forces) can have thoughts and memories. Materialist neuroscientists are happy to describe the mind as just “meat thinking” – considered as proven when electrical blips can be seen on a computer which has been wired to a brain – and/or when we see changes to mind after damage to the brain’s meat.
But, again, if the self/soul/consciousness is just mind evolved from body/meat, why would such mind/meat push our body into certain physically and genetically risky behaviours which only reward our soul – like those we considered previously (for example, is it the mind/meat/body that wanted to exhaust/risk the body and its selfish genes to take off and go bushwalking, travelling, skiing, bike riding, scuba diving? No, something else in the human condition seems to be initiating, motivating such behaviours – which waste survival resources – even risk death.
MIND/BODY AND SELF/SOUL WORKING SEPARATELY/TOGETHER
Let’s consider how the spiritual and physical factors of the human equation work together to produce our behaviours. For example, let’s take the example of a human going for a bushwalk/ramble/hike. The eyes of the body have seen in a magazine some pictures of rugged mountains; the soul sees their beauty (the body sees no “beauty” because such mountains are inimical to its survival); the soul is spiritually moved (inspired) to experience such beauty and sets the mind/body the task to work out how to achieve it: what date is suitable to get off work, where to travel (overseas or home, the Rockies, Milford Sound, Switzerland?), what time of the year, what equipment to take, how to travel there? And once on the bushwalking expedition the mind works out: how to find the lookout (“2 miles ahead according to the map”); it recognises it (“there it is, up ahead”); reins in the eager soul straining towards its goal so as to not risk the body too much (“not too close to the edge!”) – and then the soul then takes in the beautiful view and is uplifted by it. For a glorious moment the monkey mind is forced to shut up its chattering as the soul/self is wordlessly filled, moved, lifted by the beauty of the mountainous scene – until the body and its aches and hunger cuts in – sitting down to rub its aching feet, and the mind wonders where it put the chocolate. Then the self/soul forces the aching body to its feet because it wants to experience the beautiful waterfall which is still some miles ahead.
AGAIN, FREE WILL
Again, as we previously considered, such uniquely human behaviours have a lot to say about human free will. It was the soul which motivated the initial behavior, then set the mind to organize it, pushed the body through the pain barrier to achieve its own, self-ish (literally) goal – of being lifted, fulfilled, satisfied – at the expense of the body which was physically hurt (blisters, exhaustion, cold, wet, etc.); endangered (risking its survival); its selfish genes carping anxiously (and wondering who is really in charge?). While there may also have been some bodily paybacks to such behaviours (increased fitness, release of feel-good bodily chemicals from the healthy exercise) and certain Darwinian rewards (ego enhancement at the achievement) – all such bodily rewards could have been achieved in plain, non-beautiful environments (e.g. by walking around the block or visiting the gym) – whereas bushwalks (and other such spiritually-rewarding activities) are always conducted in areas of natural beauty and involve much more time-consuming preparation and trouble.
Such activities are freely willed.
Members of the House of Disbelief who think that humans are just the mechanical products of an entirely physical universe – basically robots – made of atoms produced by the (accidental) physical universe; (spontaneously) chemically enlivened; then (mechanically) evolved by nature choosing for adaptable (random) mutations have to ask: while a body part (the brain) works out how to make an activity like bushwalking happen (organizing, planning, etc.) would our physical body choose to do such a thing off its own initiative?
Robots could go on a bushwalk, but would any robot ever choose to do so of its own free will? What would a robot get out of experiencing beauty if they don’t have a soul/self – if the machine which they are has no “ghost”?
NATURALLY SELECTED BEHAVIOUR?
But Darwinian residents of the House of Disbelief are stuck with their only explanation: all behaviour must be “selected” by the physical world (nature) because the universe is entirely physical. For them, nonphysical things like a spiritual self and/or nonphysical values cannot exist. However, if this is the case, how were such behaviours as bushwalking naturally selected-for – if they just entail survival/genetic risk, all for only spiritual rewards (like being “lifted” by experiencing beauty)? Evolutionary rationales (some compelling, some not) can be made for some other apparently unnatural, anti-survival behaviours like bravery, generosity, altruism – but seeking beauty in dangerous country which is inimical to human survival is way past “natural” selection – beyond reasonable doubt such behaviours would be selected out, rather than selected for. Again, such behaviours are more than wasteful of scarce survival resources, they are downright dangerous – and disadvantageous to bodily survival, thus gene-spreading.
Are they, then, unnaturally selected?
We will examine the idea of unnatural selection, below – when we have a look at the “Natural Selectionism” pillar of the House of Disbelief – for here we will consider another good example of the difference between the brain/body/mind and the soul: the rainbow.
The mind knows what a rainbow is, but the soul never ceases to be moved by its beauty. I live in a beautiful rural valley (arguably an example of Darwinian beauty because it is arable and good for survival), and when a rainbow sometimes crosses it after a rainstorm it is beauteous to behold. Whenever I notice one, I am always thrilled, and lifted for a moment by its beauty. But soon my mind kicks in: “there’s the seven colours; the indigo looks quite distinct; it’s landing in my paddock; wonder if there is a pot of gold?; it’s over there because the sun is across there; I wonder if that’s the end of the rain etc., etc.” – but the soul rests quietly lifted, pleased.
The mind is full of words, reasons – the soul has no words:
“The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.”
The practice of meditation is another example of the difference between brain/mind/body and self/soul/consciousness. Meditation is an exercise in which the body/mind is quietened so that soul/self/spiritual consciousness can be accessed – even raised (consciousness raising to a “peak moment”). Those who have meditated successfully can tell you the difference between the (animal) monkey mind and the (possibly Divine?) self/soul/consciousness (possibly universal?).
But there is a newly-named branch of neuroscience which is studying exactly that – what goes on in the brain during meditation, religious experience, out-of-body phenomena, and numinous experiences in general. It’s called Neurotheology and/or Biotheology, but one could suspect such titles incorporate the word “theology” (the study of God) out of irony – those calling themselves “neurotheologists” or “biotheologists” consider that god only “exists” because certain brains/bodies function in certain ways.
Andrew Newberg (“The Metaphysical Mind: Probing the Biology of Philosophical Thought”) is a leading neurotheologist, who is investigating whether God only “exists” in our minds/emotions – i.e. we have only created “Him” – not He, us. Newberg has noticed that those who pray have increased activity in the limbic system and the parietal lobe – the former regulating emotion and the latter responsible for orienting oneself in space and time. If Newberg and his colleagues are correct, spiritual/numinous experiences are not evidence of a supreme being, but just evidence that some human brains are built in such a way that transcendent experiences come easily:
“It seems that the brain is built in such a way that allows us as human beings to have transcendent experiences extremely easily, furthering our belief in a greater power.”
Quoted from article p.16 “The Age”, Melbourne 1/7/2014 – Julia Llewellyn Smith (London Telegraph).
The Darwinian reasoning flowing from this finding is: God doesn’t exist because “He” is just a state of mind which has just been naturally selected. However, while a religious experience can be shown graphically on a computer screen (which computer can also detect which areas of the brain the impulses are occurring in) what exactly is proven? Even if it is established that religion only exists in people who exhibit certain brain activity – have you thus demolished the existence of God – or only established that certain brain activity establishes that a certain person is religious? And how does the occurrence of certain lobe activity in certain people who only think they are experiencing and/or contemplating God prove that God does not exist? As Graham Ward (Professor of Divinity at Oxford University) says:
“In any case, the temporal lobes light up for any kind of excitement, not just religious experience.”
(Same page, above article.)
And what of atheists? I have italicized “some”, above, because some other neuroscientists have noticed that atheists and theists have different levels of activity to each other in the pre-frontal cortex region of the brain – thought to be the main region which controls emotional feelings. Does this mean that atheism has also been naturally selected, too (and is also demolished by the same Darwinian logic used on God, above)?
ATHEISM NATURALLY SELECTED?
Maybe so – because we have identified that the House of God and the House of Disbelief both give comfort – and anything which gives comfort would be an aid to survival therefore be naturally selected. Maybe neurotheology has established that it is as I initially believed at the start of these essays – that both theism and atheism are wrong?
And we need to consider whether religion is of the body or of the self/soul – physical or spiritual?
RELIGION – SPIRITUAL OR PHYSICAL?
We have already seen when we examined the House of God in Essay 1, that religion is the worst thing that ever happened to God – the two are hardly synonymous – religion often being more Darwinian than spiritual. While it does incorporate some spiritual, numinous experiences (mainly in its beautiful art, buildings, and music) as it has mainly been practiced, religion has been more often about power – over people, through its claimed power/influence over God. More venal than spiritual. While most religions were initiated by spiritual people: Christianity by Jesus; Islam by Mohomet; Buddhism by Buddha – such initiating spirituality came to be mainly dominated by men more concerned with venal power. And religions not only offer Darwinian power and comfort (as considered, above) but Darwinian survival of the body – for eternity.
Even if neuroscience can locate religiosity in the brain, such only has something to say about religion. Even if our Darwinian religions and their incredible gods can be demolished, such is hardly to demolish God and/or spirituality. As we considered in Essay 1, to demolish religion may actually remove a hurdle from the path towards finding any real “G” God and credible meaning/purpose?
Some researchers have tried to prove that all nonphysical experiences, including out-of-body experiences like Near Death Experiences – have physiological explanations – i.e. entirely to do with the physical state of our body/brain resulting from physical things acting upon it (like electromagnetic fields). To this end, Canadian neuroscientist Michael Persinger (Ruttan, Persinger and Koren, 1990) invented what came to be called the “God Helmet” to see if religion/the religious experience could be simulated artificially. 80% of subjects reportedly sensed their deity, leading Persinger to conclude that divine visions, spiritual numinous experiences, and any out-of-body type experience were probably nothing more than the result of brains being subjected to energy fields. His experimental results are controversial and have not proven to be replicable – one experiment by Uppsala University (2005) tried hard to do so, but failed.
PURELY INTELLECTUAL BELIEF IN A HIGHER AGENCY
A spiritual, numinous experience is not necessary for a belief in a “G” God/higher agency. It is possible to believe in a Divine and/or higher agency just intellectually. These essays, for example, have uncovered evidence to enable a rational (rather than spiritual) belief in a “G” God and/or a special meaning and ultimate purpose to our existence – through grinding intellectual inquiry rather than any spiritual epiphany and/or numinous experience. Such an exercise as ours is akin to a logical/mathematical mental exercise which would light up different areas of the brain to those accompanying a numinous experience. Whether these essays have uncovered enough evidence to allow others rational belief is another story, but they are guaranteed not to give you a spiritual experience. All up, establishing certain religious, or numinous/spiritual, or Near Death, or intellectual religious belief always light up certain areas of the brain in neuroscientific experiments– proves nothing about the “T” Truth of those experiences and/or beliefs.
FUNCTIONALISM – THE NEW BEHAVIOURISM?
Functionalism took over as the materialist explanation for brain-mind phenomena with the demise of the Behaviourist school of psychology. It is an attempt at a physicalist, neuroscientific account of the mystery of the mind emboldened by work on artificial intelligence – resulting in the view that minds can be seen as just complex machines/computers. This from Dr. Gavin Rowland:
“Functionalism views mental processes mounted on the brain in a way that is analogous to computer software mounted on hardware, with the old behaviourist terms of stimulus and response merely replaced by the computer jargon of inputs and outputs. The mind is viewed as part of the machine, running an extra level of learned behaviour, but all the time based entirely on the physico-chemical brain.”
“Mind Beyond Matter: How the Non-Material Self Can Explain the Phenomenon of Consciousness and Complete our Understanding of Reality”, Gavin Rowland, Pp. 151-2.
Rowland goes on to demolish the analogy of human brains/minds with computers by pointing out: 1.) computers are serial processors whereas brains process information on many pathways at once; 2.) computers use a digital system whereas brains use analog – the information brains process a continuum not divisible into discrete bits (binary digits); 3.) “there is no evidence that suggests a computer has an inner life of any sort…they do not shed any light on the puzzle of first-person subjective experience.” As we considered above, you can build a computer that can go on a bushwalk, but you cannot build one that would wish to go on one of its own account in order to experience beauty.
IS CONSCIOUSNESS AN OBJECT?
Above we also spoke of self and/or consciousness. Consciousness is a huge and problematic mystery for materialists.
The phenomenon of the arrival of life into the originally inert universe, and then the phenomenon of some of that life coming into consciousness, meant that one object of the universe (e.g. one of its evolved products – humanity) became subjective – that is to say, able to look at, think about, and have ideas about other objects – even the object (the universe) that created it – becoming “stardust observing the stars” (Carl Sagan). Further than that, humanity (at least – maybe other extra-terrestrial life as well) has, through its consciousness, been able to even understand the stars because of its strange ability to speak the mathematical language the cosmos is written in. Consciousness has made us objects, subjects – and materialism’s objective model of the universe is broken. Nuclear physicist, Dr. Amit Goswami, puts the problem for the attempted neurophysiological/objective understanding of humanity well:
“Consider that an objective model always seeks an answer to the question in terms of objects. Thus neurophysiologists seek to understand consciousness in terms of other objects: brains, neurons, etc. The underlying assumption is that consciousness is an object. But consciousness is also a subject – that which does the looking and thinking about object(s).”
“God Is Not Dead”, P. 18 (2012 ed.)
OUR NONPHYSICAL FACTORS ARE OUTSIDE THE UNDERSTANDING OF OUR PHYSICAL SCIENCES
In conclusion we can say that humans exhibit behaviours driven by nonphysical factors in the human equation which are outside of the magisterium of physical sciences like neuroscience. This from Psychologist, Professor David Fontana:
“Science and the scientific method pause before non-physical realities such as mind and the soul. Science studies the brain, which is a physical organ, but the assumption that the mind is no more than a function of the brain and therefore also physical is just that, an assumption.”
“Life Beyond Death”, Fontana Pp. 2-3.
Our examination agrees with what Fontana is getting at here but, personally, I’m inclined to use the word “self” rather than “mind” for that part of us which is truly us, rather than our body. As neuroscience shows (e.g. the case of the dentist considered, above), our mind can be affected by the state of our body (disease, injury, drugs etc.) therefor our mind can be safely considered as just a function of the brain. But Fontana’s point is still intact, “non-physical realities” like our self/soul are “more than a function of the brain”, and therefore more than just our physical body.
We will hunt for more evidence of a human self + body duality below. We now come to the pillar of the House of Disbelief which is evolutionism, one of the main attempts to construct a physical, materialist Theory of Everything.
· BIOLOGICAL REDUCTIONISM – EVOLUTIONISM
Biological reductionism (a.k.a. evolutionism) is the claim that humans can be traced back through tiny, mechanical, evolutionary steps (the natural selection of random mutations) to the original single cell of life – which first life, itself, was just a random accident – a spontaneous chemical happening. In other words, we are reduced to being just the random product of a physico-chemical accident.
If established, many feel that the philosophical implications are huge: humans, being just the mechanical consequence of an accident, are necessarily devoid of special meaning and ultimate purpose – all is understood, and no God/higher agency is needed by way of explanation. Thus biological reductionism forms a substantial pillar for the residents of the House of Disbelief.
But are we just our evolved physical bodies? A question we have asked before, and found for the negative – that we are not just our bodies, we are more – there are spiritual factors in the human equation which our physical sciences cannot explain. Here we will examine if evolutionism can explain away these nonphysical factors in the human equation.
EVOLUTIONISM – THE END OF MYSTERY?
Fundamentalist evolutionists claim that the theory of evolution solves any mysteries about the human condition there may have been – we are reduced by their theory, in conjunction with chemistry and physics, all the way back to the original accident – the big bang (not even worth capital letters, just something/everything from nothing).
Is that it, are we that simple, just the result of a chemical accident flowing from a physical accident – which result was evolved mechanically? Some think so, this from Richard Dawkins, zealot of the House of Disbelief:
“This book is written in the conviction that our own experience once presented the greatest of all mysteries, but that it is a mystery no longer because it is solved.”
“Blind Watchmaker” (1986), p. xiii.
If Dawkins is right, if evolutionary theory has provided the final piece to the human jigsaw and solved “the greatest of all mysteries”, what are the philosophical implications for humanity?
If we are just our bodies – which are just basically like industrial accidents – then we are necessarily devoid of special meaning and ultimate purpose. There can be no “First Cause”/God, design, or purpose to the universe – nor, of course, any human destiny/significance – and:
“...we’re just bags of genetic material on an Earth overburdened by them.”
“godless GOSPEL” [sic], Dick Gross, P. 238.
Special meaning is impossible – we can only make personal meanings for ourselves.
ONLY WE CAN MAKE OUR LIVES MEANINGFUL
According to evolutionary ideologues, although there can be no special meaning nor ultimate purpose to our existence, we human “bags of genetic material”, can make our little lives meaningful by developing our own little, personal, emotional meanings. This from evolutionary psychologist, Dr. Steve Stewart-Williams:
“...we all choose little goals for ourselves, and this can make our lives meaningful in the emotional sense of the term. However, if we’re interested in the question of whether life is ultimately meaningful, as opposed to whether it’s potentially emotionally meaningful, well, after Darwin, there is no reason to suppose that it is. There is no reason to suppose that life has any ultimate meaning or purpose.”
“Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life” (2010), P. 194
The above amounts to philosophical reductionism, and such reductionism has swept the academic world. To paraphrase Dawkins – the “greatest of all mysteries” of the human experience once engrossed philosophy, but “it is a mystery no longer because it is solved.” I think it fair to say that the majority of academics in secular universities are evolutionists – disciplines carrying the “evolutionary” tag are springing up everywhere: evolutionary psychology, evolutionary neuroscience, evolutionary biology, etc.
But, in its haste, academia has ignored all the “little” unsolved mysteries we looked at above, like: the existence of the absolute energy which “became” matter/materialized explosively in the beginning; the chances of the resulting, intelligible and finely-tuned universe being accidental; how this, our relative reality (the existence of good, better, best) – which drives evolution through allowing/forcing selection for best – can proceed from the absolute; how life began (organic chemistry from non-organic chemistry) from the inert product of a billion-degree maelstrom. Such haste is probably as a result of academic philosophy’s covert battle with religion which it (probably correctly) sees as dangerous for humanity’s survival. However, you cannot reduce one incredible fundamentalism by the adoption of another equally incredible one – no matter how politically correct it is in the moment. Physical science is the cuckoo in philosophy’s nest, its hegemony resulting in philosophical reductionism being adopted by majority academic philosophy as scientific, therefore politically correct. But are the residents of the House of Disbelief safe to believe that we hubristic humans have been properly reduced to our physical fundamentals by the combined might of physics, chemistry and evolutionary theory? This from Professor Thomas Nagel:
“Physico-chemical reductionism in biology is the orthodox view, and any resistance to it is regarded as not only scientifically but politically incorrect....the orthodox naturalistic view is that biology is in principle completely explained by physics and chemistry, and that evolutionary psychology provides a rough idea of how everything distinctive about human life can also be regarded as an extremely complicated consequence of the behaviour of physical particles in accordance with certain fundamental laws.”
“Mind and Cosmos: Why the materialist Neo Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false”, Thomas Nagel – Pp. 5 & 19.
The question for us is: are “we” just our bodies – a collection of sub-atomic particles acted upon by “…certain fundamental laws” – does such fundamentalism fully and truly explain the human condition – or is it akin to trying to explain a book by only referring to its paper?
Let’s see – is there any evidence that we may be more than the “… consequence of the behaviour of physical particles”?
How about our self?
How about the nonphysical: the spiritual, the self – maybe such is “us” – not our physical bodies? Evolutionism may well be the full explanation for the form of the human body, but it hardy establishes that we are just our bodies. Consider this from Nobel prize-winning neurophysiologist, Sir John Eccles:
“I maintain that the human mystery is incredibly demeaned by scientific reductionism, with its claim in promissory materialism to account eventually for all of the spiritual world in terms of patterns of neuronal activity. This belief must be classed as a superstition...we have to recognise that we are spiritual beings with souls existing in a spiritual world as well as material beings with bodies and brains existing in a material world.”
Sir John Eccles (neurophysiologist) – Nobel laureate 1963.
Stirring stuff, but is there anything to back it up (apart from Eccles impressive learning and achievements)? Eccles mentions “the human mystery” – what sort of mystery could there be about us? Again, we need to consider the same nonphysical factors in the human condition that we considered when we examined the above pillar of the House of Disbelief.
NONPHYSICAL FACTORS IN THE HUMAN CONDITION
To determine these, we first need to approach more closely a credible answer to the question: what is a human being? Was Sir John Eccles right, are we best described as “spiritual beings with souls” – rather than just bodies alone, as evolutionary theorists suppose? While there are, observably, physical, animal factors in the human equation, just as observably, there are nonphysical, spiritual factors as well – which (often unique in the animal kingdom) factors seem to better define us.
What exactly are these?
We have already examined something of the mystery of our knowledge and appreciation of non-Darwinian beauty and how such beauty lifts our spirits, but other mysteries exist like: how ironic humour came to exist in a mechanical world; why some music can lift our spirits; why we seek to be happy when other animals just seek to be; how come only non-Darwinian love can make us lastingly happy; how human behaviours are influenced by unnatural ideas like shame and dignity in a natural world where such feelings are not shared by other natural animals; non-Darwinian altruism. We will examine all these nonphysical factors of the human equation closely in Essay 3, but here we will just have a closer peek at a few.
Reviewing life towards the end of his own, Darwin wrote in his autobiography:
“If he acts for the good of others, he will receive the approbation of his fellow men and gain the love of those with whom he lives; and the latter gain undoubtedly is the highest pleasure on this earth.” (p.94).
Evolutionists tend to see love in evolutionary terms – e.g. parental love, romantic love (or lust), group love – which can all be shown to have natural selection advantages. However, Darwin in the above quote is talking of “gaining” the love of our family – not about the love for our family (which familial love is usually motivated by the fact they bear your genes and safeguard their survival). Darwin also mentions gaining the love of “his fellow men” – why is the approbation of unrelated fellow men important to us when the only meaning neo-Darwinians can discern in their mechanical world is the dominance of our selfish genes over the genes of our fellow men? Is it ultimately, as evolutionary psychologist Robert Wright says, just another form of self-interest – are we seemingly altruistic, but more truly:
“…a species with conscience and sympathy and even love, all grounded ultimately in genetic self-interest.”
“The Moral Animal”, P.378.
For evolutionary theorists, altruism and our conscience is naturally selected – our apparent love of, and sympathy for, our “fellow men” ultimately just self interest. Let’s have a closer look at altruism.
Evolutionists have worked out neo-Darwinian rationales to explain away the mystery of human altruism in a supposedly mechanical world, where every behaviour should be driven ultimately by selfish genes. These explanations for what appears to be genetically contrary behavior, basically state that we sometimes risk our personal genes, in the present, for the greater good of our genes in the future. For them, all altruism falls under the following headings:
· Kin altruism is rescuing kin who are in trouble. While often risky for our own body’s survival, it ensures the greater number of our genes will survive through our genetic group’s survival – therefor it will be naturally selected.
· Group altruism is rescuing members of our social group, although they are non-kin. Grouping is a good survival technique which will be naturally selected.
· Payback (or reciprocal) altruism is rescuing even non-group members: in the expectation of a future payback – which is storing goodwill potentially valuable for our future genetic survival.
Fine, I’m sure those behaviours have had some larger genetic offset which may sometimes outweigh the demise of the original possessor’s genes, but there are some behaviours which don’t fall into these categories. I’m calling them non-Darwinian altruism?
As an example of non-Darwinian altruism consider the behaviour of risking our genetic cargo to rescue people outside of the above groups – total strangers and foreigners in mortal danger: outside of our kin group; outside of our social group; outside of any rational expectation of potential payback.
But there are behaviours which are even stranger.
Beyond the above non-Darwinian altruism of risking of our genes when there is no hope of genetic return, we sometimes even risk our supposedly selfish genes to rescue the enemies of our genes. For example, rescuing enemies in warfare:
“…we had to decide what to do with the wounded German…So I lifted him up and put him on my back. There was one of those vicious 88mm guns manned by the Germans on a hill nearby and it put a few bursts past us as we set off…another shell thundered out and came so close I stumbled and fell over…I picked him up and started walking again. Another shell roared by and exploded about fifty yards behind us. I just kept walking…I walked right up to the [German] tent…I said, ‘Here’s your bloke.’ I put him down, turned around and begun to walk back.”
“Dangerous Days”, Ernest Brough Pp. 120-1.
This is genetic double jeopardy – rescuing someone who not only has genes which could compete with your selfish genes, but who is trying to kill you and your genes? This is not an isolated story, there are many similar wartime examples of dangerous altruism to rescue an enemy. And there are other examples of risking our genes purely out of compassion – all genetic risk and no genetic payback – for example, rescuing animals of a different species.
We risk, and sometimes
lose, our lives trying to save animals (pet, stock, or wild) that do not belong
to us – therefore not involved in any way in our own survival. For example, I
have in my hands two newspaper articles: one from the Border Morning Mail (Albury, N.S.W.) reporting on the Police Rescue
Squad undertaking a 600 km round trip from Melbourne to rescue an old dog from
a shaft, and another from the Herald Sun (Melbourne,
“The other main type of reciprocal altruism for which we have a well worked-out Darwinian rationale is reciprocal altruism (‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’)”.
“The God Delusion”, Richard Dawkins, P. 216.
A “well worked-out Darwinian rationale”? Maybe he is right – the above hero who rescued the black bear did get a few scratches on his back!?
HOW CAN GENETIC SACRIFICE STILL EXIST?
So how can the above ultimate altruisms (of genetic self-sacrifice for no present or future benefit) still exist in any humans today after many millennia of natural selection, if it goes against evolutionary logic by only having the function of risking any possessor’s own genetic survival? Evolutionist, Robert Wright steals an old standby from religion – a miracle:
“Given that self-interest was the overriding criterion of our design, we are a reasonably considerate group of organisms. Indeed if you ponder the utter ruthlessness of evolutionary logic long enough, you may start to find our morality, such as it is, nearly miraculous.”
(Op. Cit. p. 378)
So why does that strange, unnatural, human trait for non-genetically-advantageous compassion often override our natural animal survival instincts and the laws of evolutionary theory? How can it exist at all in this later stage of our evolution as a species – given that the possession of such a compassion/morality gene would, in the main, be inimical to survival?
And there is another problem for evolutionism – as we considered above, why do we risk our precious genes just for fun?
RISKING GENES FOR FUN
The majority risk our precious genetic cargo from time to time in the pursuit of “fun”? We do this when we fly interstate or overseas on a holiday and/or go for a Sunday drive – or when we engage in recreational activities like skiing, bike riding, scuba diving, bushwalking, surfing, etc. All of these are common activities, undertaken only for fun – which usually involves, in some part, our enjoyment of beauty, which enjoyment only serves to lift our spirits. But such is genetically counter-intuitive because these activities involve mortal risk – to varying but definite and unpredictable extents. Why don’t we just stay at home, cosseting our selfish genes if the human condition is as evolution ideologues say?
Sometimes the thrill of extreme sports (bungee-jumping, mountain climbing, skydiving, hang-gliding) may partly have a physical explanation – such as the physiological “buzz’ from adrenaline and/or the potential genetic gains from “showing off” (attracting members of the opposite sex) – but even these sports tend to be carried out in areas of natural beauty, the experience of which is most often a large part of deciding to do such activities – which experience only serves to lift our spirits/soul.
And why is it just us humans – the only animal with the knowledge of its mortality – that commonly risks its genes for no survival advantage? And here we will notice, incidentally, that this is more evidence for the existence of free will – because we are not driven to these behaviours by bodily and/or genetic imperatives. Free will is also an enemy of the House of Disbelief and is more fully discussed at other places.
To understand why we engage in genetically-risky behaviours, let’s look at their motivation.
MOTIVATION OF GENETICALLY-RISKY BEHAVIOURS?
We have already considered, in our examination of the previous pillar of the House of Disbelief, the human motives for certain non-Darwinian behaviours (like going to the art gallery, music, ballet, etc.) and anti-Darwinian behaviours (risky behaviours like bushwalking, scuba diving, recreational travelling etc.) and, in a nutshell, we found that we do them because they bring joy to our lives through the enjoyment of beauty – both human made and natural. Not only is beauty “integral” to all these behaviours, it is often the main motivator (I have enjoyed these behaviours myself, and can speak of the motivation for doing them).
Beauty – we are prepared to spend Darwinian resources (time, money, etc.) and/or risk our genes for beauty? What sort of strange creature are we? According to evolutionism we are just another animal – and it has an explanation for beauty.
Neo-Darwinians have rationales to explain away any potential problems for their evolutionism – varyingly compelling. The one by which they try to explain away our understanding of, and appreciation of, natural beauty is seriously uncompelling. They hold that a fertile valley looks “beautiful” to us because it is a good place to survive – to appreciate it, to be drawn to it, advantages our genes’ chance of survival and propagation. So why do we see beauty in such places as a snow-capped mountain, a desert, an iceberg – not only non-beneficial to our survival, but inimical to it? We also see beauty in dangerous natural animals – a leopard, a tiger, a shark. Even beauty in dangerous natural phenomena: an approaching storm; a jungle. Darwin, himself, reports in his Autobiography that he was spiritually moved by the beauty of the Brazilian jungle. We will explore the phenomenon which is humanity’s recognition and understanding of what is beautiful, our need to experience it, and our drive to create it, in Essay 3 – here we just need to consider how well evolutionism understands humanity – how well it understands what we need to best live.
HOW TO BEST LIVE?
“How To Best Live?” This has often been described as Philosophy’s central question. We will try to approach in more detail an answer to this question in Essay 3, but for here, our consideration of the fact that the above non- and anti-Darwinian behaviours bring us joy and some satisfaction must lead us to the conclusion that for us humans to best live certainly involves more than just meeting our bodily day-to-day survival and genetic imperatives. Humanity, whilst it can definitely hear the beat of an animal drum, lends its ear to another tune as well – a more spiritual air – to which it must dance if it is to best live.
We know that genetic survival is integral to a lot of our behaviours (who has not felt the pull of our animal needs and genetic imperatives?) but, again, trying to describe humanity solely in terms of our bodies is like trying to describe a book by only referring to its paper – you can do it but you get an incomplete and unsatisfactory answer. A consideration of the complete suite of human behaviours, animal and spiritual, tends to lead us towards Sir John Eccles’ conclusion, above – that we are spiritual beings with an animal body – i.e. we have bodies, but “we” are not those bodies.
Again in this essay we have come to contemplate more evidence of human duality – the human equation seems to incorporate both animal and spiritual factors.
Consider also the strange human behavior which dominates so much of our lives: striving to be happy (“strange” because other animals just strive to “be”). The necessary conditions for lasting human happiness are examined at length in Essay 3, but it is observable that such lasting happiness needs spiritual input – as compared to animal contentment, which must necessarily be passing (all tickle is no tickle). We will explore the evidence for these assertions in Essay 3 – but the evidence we have considered so far is sufficient to reasonably conclude that, while evolutionary theory can explain our animal bodies and many human behaviours, it falls well short of explaining all of the human condition – and especially falls well short of finding philosophy’s holy grail of how to best live.
So, what can we conclude, overall, about the soundness of the evolutionism pillar of the House of Disbelief? We can say that evolutionary theory seems to be able to explain much of how our obviously animal bodies evolved to their present state. But there is much which is spiritual in human behaviour which eludes it – such that an entirely physical and evolutionist description of the human condition will never be successful. Anybody who has lived a life and can still deny the existence of the spiritual has not been paying attention – we are much more than our evolved, physical, animal bodies and an explanation of our spiritual needs and motives is way beyond our biological and physical sciences with their materialist hammer. Anyone standing under the pillar of the House of Disbelief built out of evolutionism is not in a sound position.
Evolutionism is the claim we are just the eventual physical product from something resembling an industrial accident – spontaneous chemistry. We now come to examine the mechanics of that claim – natural selection – the mechanical selection by nature of random mutations which gave the possessor greater adaption to the environment, thus greater survival rates and genetic continuance. Many feel that it can solve all of the “mysteries” of the human condition that we have examined above. We’ll call that position natural selectionism.
“Natural selectionism”? Doubt that it exists? Consider this from Professor Richard Dawkins:
“…cumulative natural selection is the ultimate explanation for our existence.”
“Blind Watchmaker”, Richard Dawkins P. 392
In the above book, Dawkins admits a penchant for proselytizing: “Certainly it seeks to inform, but it also seeks to persuade” – and is a great one for sweeping statements – but is this statement just proselytizing hyperbole, or is the human condition truly no longer a mystery because natural selection is the “ultimate explanation for our existence”?
THE ULTIMATE EXPLANATION FOR OUR EXISTENCE?
Hardly – at best, natural selection may be able to explain our body’s form, but not “its existence” – as we have already brushed on, before natural selection could happen, several hugely mysterious things had to have already happened:
1.) The nonorganic, physical universe had firstly to come into existence (not only finely-set, but mysteriously intelligible by us – supposedly just its natural products).
2.) The organic also had to come into existence (mysteriously from inert components which had emerged from a billion-degree big bang and subsequent supernovae furnaces).
3.) Cell splitting/reproduction had to come about.
4.) Genes had to come into existence.
5.) Some mysterious force had to exist to make genetic mutations happen.
Then natural selection could work its (relatively unmysterious) mechanical creativity on those genes. But, however observable and “unmysterious” evolution is, we have no idea as to how the process of natural selection began. Even an evolutionary ideologue like Dawkins admits that is a mystery:
“…we still don’t know exactly how natural selection began on Earth”.
Richard Dawkins, ibid. P.205.
All up, plenty of miracles/mysteries – before mysteriously-existing natural selection could do anything! And that’s before we enquire into even deeper mysteries like how relativity emerged from the absolute (physics is still struggling with whether it was absolute nothingness or absolute energy). “Absolute energy” could possibly be what we call God – the “D” Divine source of everything. Leaving that aside for another place, here we just need to see that relativity (the existence of this and that, here and there, now and then, you and me – and the existence of relatively good, better, best for nature to select from) is the grand enabler of evolution.
So natural selection is already not looking much like Dawkins’ “ultimate explanation for our (my emphasis) existence” – and that’s before we explore into whether words like “our” (and/or “us”, “we” etc.) should refer only to our animal bodies. As we have already seen, the totality of the human condition comprises many mysterious behaviours motivated by another, nonphysical factor – probably best described as the spiritual self in us.
So, further to the behaviours we considered in the above examination of pillars of the House of Disbelief, let’s have a look at some more of our behaviours that natural selection cannot explain. Let’s start with our tendency to engage in unnatural selection?
Most animals are natural agents of evolution one way or another – doing its work by striving to out-breed others of their own species, and/or by being predators and killing off the weakest of other species (and/or their own). Because (as well as the above mentioned spiritual factor) humans definitely have an animal factor, we also play an animal role in natural selection. But humans can also be unnatural, going beyond any natural role because we have certain unnatural notions. For example, we consciously make our mind up as to which animals should survive (be selected for) – using all sorts of unnatural notions and measures to decide this – notions like compassion and/or aesthetics. We have particular compassion for some animals based on other unnatural notions: like dolphins (because they somehow seem to relate to us); whales (because they are slow-moving and vulnerable); animals we commonly choose for pets – dogs, cats, birds, fish (because of our aesthetic notions we see them as beautiful). We even have unnatural love for animals in general – reflected in the existence of organisations like the RSPCA. And our unnatural aesthetic sense sees us tending to be more likely protect animals which are cute and cuddly (like koalas, bilbies, sugar gliders, pandas etc.) – such are more likely to be adopted and funded by the public in zoo-driven survival programs than, say, worms (however more useful worms may be in a Darwinian sense – i.e. to our survival).
Much of this is a more recent human behaviour, probably as a result of our spiritual evolution (discussed in depth in Essay 3). In our more natural past we killed off whole species of other animals in a natural manner: because they were easy prey (Moas by the Maoris in New Zealand, for example); we drove some to extinction because they impinged on our survival by being predators on our flocks (Tasmanian tigers for example); and we drove some useful ones to the brink by over-exploitation because they were useful to our rising technology (e.g. whales for their oil during the Industrial Revolution).
Sometimes, of course, our behaviours towards other species of life come not from compassion and/or aesthetics, but have purely Darwinian motives – for example, understanding that preserving diversity in all living things (including vegetation – consider the saving of the Wollomi pine for example) is a good survival tactic – we have learned that you never properly know the role of some animals/vegetation in our own survival, nor where the next “wonder drug” is coming from. That is not to say that we don’t sometimes operate in a purely Darwinian manner – we do – preserving some species of life, and/or propagating some breeds for the purely Darwinian motive of ensuring our essential food stocks.
All up, the above also provides more evidence for the animal/spiritual duality of humanity – we are agents for both natural selection and unnatural selection.
We mentioned pets, above. We need to consider more of what the uniquely human behaviour of having pets reveals about the full Truth of the human condition. Such behaviour exhibits not only our unnatural selection of which animals will survive (those with “nice” personalities – suitable to being a pet) but also our unnatural cross-breeding/creation of certain animals – for not only unnatural purpose (non-Darwinian beauty) but most often using unnatural criteria: look “pretty”, drop less hair, placidity (labradoodles, etc.).
So, humans breed and/or create (naturally useless) animals as pets – just because we find them beautiful and/or sometimes enjoy their company – for example, certain cats and dogs. “Useless” in an evolutionary sense, conferring no particular survival or genetic advantages to us – or worse – incurring survival costs to us by using up money and other resources we may need to survive ourselves (money and food spent on pet food, Vet fees, boarding kennels, etc.). While we have bred some animals to do Darwinian jobs for us (e.g. working dogs, guard dogs) we have bred just as many purely for their aesthetics – their “beauty”. Such beauty being totally non-Darwinian beauty, subjective, spiritual – i.e. their beauty to our self/spirit, not to our body – we have no need for them to be beautiful in a Darwinian/sexual way, because we have no intention of inter-breeding with them ourselves. If all of our behaviours only exist because they have been naturally selected, how can subjective behaviour (like pet-breeding/creating driven by a subjective idea of what makes a pet beautiful to look at) even exist in the first place, to be selected in the second place, in a purely objective universe? The breeding/designing of pets is more evidence for the existence of free will in humans.
No other animal designs pets – another difference between humans and more natural animals – if we add them all up it could be rationally concluded that other animals are, indeed, deterministic and do not have free choice? Interesting, but not something that needs to occupy us greatly here – examining the human condition is complicated enough.
HOW CAN THE SUBJECTIVE EMERGE FROM AN OBJECT?
So, natural selection holds that we are just an object of the objective universe – which means that such behaviour as us creating non-Darwinian beauty (like in pets) is subjectivity coming from an object of the universe? Does that mean that the totality of the human condition is not completely of the objective universe – or is the universe not a completely objective universe? Weird, that at some point, in some part of the universe, one specie stopped being accidental, causal, mechanistic, objective, natural – and acted in an unnatural, subjective way? How can we – animals which have been naturally selected – freely choose to turn away from it and do unnatural selection? This is not to be anthropocentric, one day we may find out that this has occurred in many other places in the universe? Should this occur, it will only serve to increase the mystery, not solve it.
WE ALSO FREELY MAKE ETHICAL CHOICES
We humans have also evolved ethics – an understanding of our “moral” responsibilities from our consciousness of being in a peak position in the animal kingdom. Just as some animals owe their existence at all to our unnatural sense of beauty, some animals also owe their continued existence to our unnatural sense of ethics – just as some, earlier in our less spiritually evolved, more natural history, owed their extinction to our more natural physical needs. As discussed, some of our “ethical” conservation actions do come from a selfish, Darwinian motive (through our understanding that bio-diversity is good for our own survival) but some come, equally or wholly, from an understanding of the moral responsibilities that the peak position in the animal world brings. The Green Movement, Save the Whales, Greyhound Rescue, and the RSPCA for example, are driven as much (or, in some cases, solely) by moral, ethical, compassionate, spiritual motives as by selfish, animal survival motives. All up, our freely chosen behaviours mean that evolution is no longer entirely random – we, a creature (object) of our world, have become a (subjective) creator/designer of it. Below we will also have a quick peek at consciousness – which reveals more of our “subject-object” split.
And, while we are on the subject of human free will and unnatural selection, consider that some humans are freely choosing their own genetic demise – definitely unnatural selection if all our behaviours are meant to be driven by our selfish genes.
Many of the fittest human individuals – those who have climbed by their natural abilities to the top of the human food chain – are choosing to drop their birthrate – for all sorts of unnatural reasons. Motives like: lifestyle – children can cramp your “lifestyle” (lifestyle, now there’s an unnatural human concept in a life we are told is only about making your genes dominant); self-esteem reasons (a new car or a new kid – which will make me feel better about my self?); philosophical reasons (“thinking” peoples’ fear of bringing a child into what they may see as a meaningless, purposeless existence); career reasons (self-love through enhancing our status being more important than gene propagation) – and so on. The bottom line is this: many successful, alpha human individuals have freely chosen not to breed, or breed much less than they would have in nature (wherein all other superior individuals and/or species naturally dominate) – meaning that nonphysical factors (like how they feel about the self) are sometimes more important to them than genetic ones. We will examine the importance love of self plays in our happiness in Essay 3 – here we just need to notice that we are making lots of choices which are not only free, but contrary to nature – unnatural selection.
And, at the same time as the alpha humans are breeding less, our unnatural virtue of compassion for the weak and sick is leading us to (freely choose) to help unrelated genetic competitors to survive and breed (in competition with our genes) through our charities, service clubs, personal donations, and our governments’ policies. We are enabling the survival of the less fit, whereas nature is all about survival of the fittest – advantaging human animals who would have been “selected out” in nature because of their physical and/or mental weaknesses. Not only that, but these individuals can now survive to breed and pass on often congenital problems – and we also freely choose to look after these weak offspring with our advanced (and costly) medical abilities to the point where they too can breed. I’m not saying that this is “good” or “bad” (I am a personal donor to charities benefitting the disadvantaged and a member of a service club, myself) nor that we should adopt eugenics – just observing that humans are unnatural in an otherwise completely natural, mechanistic world.
On the other side of the
coin, we are also moving in the direction of being able to perfect (physically)
our offspring through our medical sciences. Many babies are now being examined
in the womb for a growing list of natural defects – and, if we so (freely)
choose – aborted. We could also soon have “perfect” offspring through having
There are many debates occurring now on the issues involved – like medical abortions for example, or selected sperm donors (freely choose a Nobel prize-winner or a sportsmen). Again I am making no statement as to whether it is “right” or “wrong”, just that it is so – and an example of free, unnatural selection rather than mechanical, causal natural selection.
WE ARE EMERGING FROM NATURAL SELECTION’S GRASP
How, if we are just natural, are we acting in this unnatural way? It seems natural selection does not have humanity (nor those animals and plants chosen by us) entirely in its grip anymore (for better or worse – consider the pro’s and con’s in the debate surrounding genetically modified food).
And nothing better illustrates humanity’s situation of having emerged from the blind control of natural selection, than the human phenomenon of consciousness.
WITH CONSCIOUSNESS, WE
As mentioned elsewhere, humanity is more than Carl Sagan’s analogy of being “stardust observing the stars” (strange enough) to being stardust with consciousness – stardust able to see itself as an object. Humanity – supposedly just an object of the universe capable of subjectively seeing the universe as an object?
Consciousness is a huge problem for evolutionary theory – how did inert matter not only become alive, but conscious of itself as matter? Nuclear physicist, Dr. Amit Goswami puts the problem clearly:
“The question of how consciousness can evolve in matter is another case in point. ‘Can matter codify consciousness?’ is the hard question. How can interacting objects ever produce a subject-object split awareness? If material interactions can never produce consciousness, to think of consciousness as an adaptive evolved value does not make any sense.”
“God Is Not Dead” (2012 ed.), P.119.
The pillar of the House of Disbelief that physical scientists were trying to build out of materialist bricks and mortar (everything must be the interaction of particles) is not only incomplete, unsound and tumbled – as we saw above – but now its rubble is itself broken up by the phenomenon that is consciousness. How can consciousness be naturally selected from unconscious matter in an evolutionary process that is supposedly mechanical? Even nature cannot select a quality from matter which matter does not possess – no matter how adaptive it is to survival. More from Goswami:
“How can nature select a quality from matter that matter cannot process? This shortcoming, to explain intelligent qualities as evolutionary adaption, becomes even more obvious when we ask, ‘How does our ability to discover scientific laws arise?’ Such a discovery has survival value; that is not the question here. The question is ‘Can they arise from the random motion of matter somehow?’ Attempts to prove that this is the case have had no success whatsoever.”
Ibid., P. 119.
We are going to examine mystery of the phenomenon of human consciousness more closely in Essay 3 – for here we just need to consider that there is more to the behaviour and abilities of some lifeforms in the universe than can be explained by the natural selection of random mutations that have occurred to matter.
A NEO-DARWINIAN ANSWER
Some evolutionists feel that they have discovered an answer to some of the mysteries in the human condition in the existence of what they are calling: “the god gene” – VMAT2. For such evolutionary ideologues, what I have been calling “unnatural” can be explained away as the natural selection of this physical part of us which has been mutated. The gene, VMAT2 is said to be responsible for mood-regulating monoamine chemicals to the brain’s dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters. Those of us possessing the relevant gene are supposedly more susceptible to transcendent, religious experiences. By calling it the “god gene”, the implication is also that God cannot exist – “He” has just been naturally selected (because the comfort of believing in a God is good for our health, therefore survival to breed). This is drawing an extremely long logical bow. If we get comfort from religion, it is probably good for us (other research has shown that religious beliefs are beneficial to our psychological and bodily health – religious people having lower blood pressure, better outcomes from heart disease, breast cancer, depression, and/or rheumatoid arthritis) – the question remains, why has it not, in fact, been naturally selected? Religious attendance is dramatically lower in the West than even a century ago.
And can the existence of a gene, which regulates “feel good” chemicals at the thought of a protecting father/god, explain the existence of our other more spiritual behaviours. For example, can we only be “lifted” by beauty if we have this gene – or does it just regulate the extent of such lift? And why does the experience of beauty trigger such a lift in the first place, to be naturally selected in the second place? And as we have already discovered in Essay 1, religion and God are hardly synonymous – religion being more Darwinian than spiritual – more about protecting a primitive but Darwinially-useful “g” god, than finding any spiritual “G” God (“useful” because about power). So the “God gene” is really a religious gene, and if its existence is true – if everyone in the House of God has it, and nobody in the House of Disbelief – then if anything is explained away, it is just religion, not God – nor the spiritual factors in the human condition which everyone has to a greater or lesser extent. Most people also get the release of feel good chemicals from certain physical things/activities.
To find the full Truth of the human condition it seems like we need more than evolutionary biology. Nothing in the examination of the two pillars of the House of Disbelief built on the observable large process of evolution – which is achieved by the accumulated multiple small processes of the natural selection of hypothesized random mutations – can explain all the mysteries of the human condition, forcing us into residency of the House of Disbelief. To repeat an important point, trying to explain a human being through an understanding of his/her physical body (no matter how complete such an understanding may be) is as unsatisfactory as trying to explain a book by understanding its physical paper – even an understanding of the evolution of writing, printing and paper reveals nothing to us of the creation/existence of the nonphysical story which is written in the book – nor how the words could be beautiful/spiritual (poetry, good literature, etc.). Such story and literary beauty is its real mystery of a book – and therein is its ultimate purpose and special meaning.
The nonphysical factors of the human equation exist, just as there are nonphysical factors in a book – placed there by humans. The spiritual factor in the human equation remains unexplained by evolutionary theory which only explains our physical body – and rational belief in an (albeit mysterious) higher agency, and ultimate purpose and special meaning to existence – remains possible. Leaving aside “minor” miracles (like life – the emergence of life and DNA from aimless electrons, protons and neutrons?) there is no understanding in evolutionary theory of the even more giant mysteries of life, like: how relativity emerged from the absolute (absolutely nothing; absolute energy; an “A” Absolute God?), nor of how nonphysical things like ideas emerged from what was originally just a surfeit of matter over antimatter!? Natural selection is a straightforward idea of what happened after these miracles and other truly great mysteries had occurred, and Dawkins’ above fundamentalist assertion about the resolution of these preceding mysteries through our understanding of what happened after them: “that it is a mystery no longer, because it is solved” [through our understanding of natural selection] is hollow.
We now examine the pillar of the House of Disbelief constructed out of the belief that there is no special meaning/purpose or God – we just invented such ideas because they are comforting – and they were then naturally selected because the comfort they gave were beneficial to our survival.
· GOD AND MEANING – EXIST ONLY IN OUR WISHES
Atheists argue that there is no real God, nor any special meaning – both are entirely human inventions which enable us to cope with the existential fears flowing from our knowledge of mortality. This from prominent atheist, Michel Onfray:
“God, manufactured by mortals in their own quintessential image, exists only to make daily life bearable despite the path everyone of us treads towards extinction. As long as men are obliged to die, some of them, unable to endure the prospect, will concoct fond illusions.”
The Atheist Manifesto, P.13.
Others have said much the same thing – this from Freud about the psychology of the religious impulse:
“…illusions, fulfilments of the oldest, strongest and most insistent wishes of mankind…man’s need to make his helplessness tolerable”
(Sigmund Freud, Civilisation, Society and Religion, Page 208. Penguin, 1985).
Marx offered this – along with some other famous utterances on religion (e.g. “religion is the opiate of the masses”):
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of the heartless world and the soul of the soulless condition.”
(Marx, Economic Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.)
And leading “S” Sceptic author, Michael Shermer, sees it this way:
“More than any other, the reason people believe weird things is because they want to. It feels good. It is comforting. It is consoling.”
(p. 273 “Why People Believe Weird Things”).
Hard to argue with any of the above statements by our intellectual leaders – they are true as far as they go, but is God and special meaning to our existence thereby disproven? Is it established that:
· God and special meaning don’t exist – they were invented “only to make life bearable”;
· God and special meaning are just fulfillments of mankind’s wish “to make his helplessness tolerable”;
· God is disproven because religion is just “the sigh of the oppressed creature”… “the opiate of the masses”;
· People believe weird things because “It feels good. It is comforting. It is consoling”?
In a word – no.
That God and special meaning to our existence “exists only” because we find those ideas “make life bearable” is a weak argument. Logically – it is possible for a God/higher agency to be both comforting and true. Not only that, while belief can be comforting, it is equally discomforting – guilt from sin and fears of judgement leading to eternal punishment are common products of religion – which lead many people to “D” Disbelief in order “to make life bearable”. So membership of the House of Disbelief is also comforting by removing guilt and the fear of Divine judgement/punishment from our lives – leaving said House open to demolition if you use the same arguments from comfort as the above commentators use against the House of God.
It also needs to be noted that the above utterances tend to be about religion – while they seem pretty correct, must religion’s “g” god and its theory of life’s special meaning (to gain heaven and avoid hell) be the only possible higher agency there could be – is to disprove a fallible religious god and an incredible meaning of life to disprove the existence of a God and all special meaning/purpose to our existence – can they be tarred with religion’s brush, and disposed of together?
No. To recognise the comforts of religion, the fallibility of its human gods, and incredibility of its special meaning of life, no more disproves the existence of a God and special meaning, than a recognition of the comforts of meaninglessness and a residency in the House of Disbelief establishes the existence of special meaning/purpose and a God.
ARE RELIGION AND THE SPIRITUAL THE SAME THING?
Further, what is established about the existence a spiritual factor in the human equation if you manage a complete demolition of religion – is religion even spiritual?
In a word – no. Religion is Darwinian rather than spiritual, to dispose of religion is not to dispose of the existence of the spiritual.
RELIGION – DARWINIAN RATHER THAN SPIRITUAL?
We have already found in Essay 1 that while religion has some spiritual aspects (usually generated when Freud’s “wishes” and Marx’s “sighs” of “the oppressed creature” are expressed in beautiful words, art, buildings, and music) most motives in our Houses of God have Darwinian bases rather than spiritual. For example, the religious officers of our Houses of God sell to the people control over the vagaries of life (droughts, earthquakes, illness etc.) and death – through their power over a god. To this end, our Houses of Gods’ “g” gods have been created in male human form – with all the exploitable human frailties: vain (reacting favourably to worship and praise); jealous (demanding sole fidelity); parochial (having a favoured religion and people); awful and brutal (to keep the congregation in fear); but potentially infinitely generous (able to grant heaven for eternity). Similarly, the House of God’s meaning/purpose of life is Darwinian – about survival of the body – into eternity.
In other words our Houses of God accommodate a useful, marketable god and meaning of life by religious officers for their own control purposes. Religion is about their “t” truths, rather than an effort to discover any real spiritual “T” Truths there may be – like a real “G” God, and/or a credible special meaning/purpose to our existence.
IS TO DEMOLISH ONE HOUSE, TO ESTABLISH A DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED ONE?
So, while our Houses of God house fallible “g” gods and incredible meanings of life which exploit our animal psychological fears, emotional needs, and our Darwinian drive to survive – must the revelation of this establish the House of Disbelief’s own comforting “t” truths: that there is no God, no special meaning/purpose of life, that the spiritual does not exist – everything which we label as such, being just psychological and emotional responses of our animal body.
No, you don’t automatically build a sound “H” House just because you are using the rubble of an opposing House. The demolition of an unsound House does not establish a diametrically opposed House as sound – while two diametrically position cannot both be right, they can both be wrong.
We need to look at the House of Disbelief as a standalone building to establish if it is sound. To that end, we need to look at the strengths of its own theories about the spiritual, not just at the weaknesses of the House of God’s theories.
THE “SPIRITUAL” DOESN’T EXIST – ALL IS JUST ANIMAL EMOTIONS?
Physical scientists, and their philosophical materialist camp followers, argue that the spiritual cannot exist because the universe is entirely physical. For them, the “things” which I call nonphysical, spiritual factors of the human equation are, more correctly, just physical phenomena generated by the mechanically evolved lump of meat which is our brain – “existing” only because they have been naturally selected – proven adaptive to our species because they provide comfort and thus lead to more successful survival and outbreeding outcomes.
What are emotions? The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology (ed. James Drever, 1965) defines emotion thus:
“…a complex state of the organism, involving bodily changes of a widespread character – in breathing, pulse, gland secretion, etc. – and, on the mental side, a state of excitement and perturbation, marked by strong feeling, and usually an impulse towards a definite form of behavior.”
So, emotions are of the body: physiological: “bodily changes”, and psychological: “a state of excitement…on the mental side” (i.e. of the physical brain). Should what I have previously been calling “spiritual”, be more truly called emotional and/or psychological – an entirely physical product of an entirely physical body in an entirely physical universe? Does the spiritual exist separately or is it just Darwinian, human religion – and demolishable with religion?
CAN THE SPIRITUAL EXIST OUTSIDE OF RELIGION?
We have considered that religion is Darwinian, but also that the spiritual and religion are not the same thing – that the spiritual exists outside our Houses of God – this from philosopher, Professor John Armstrong:
“Religions, cults, and myths are attempts – for better or worse – to organise and guide our inner lives. But the issue of spiritual life can be raised and pursued apart from religion. “
“In Search of Civilsation” (P. 164)
And this from atheist philosopher Andre Comte-Sponville:
“The human spirit is far too important a matter to be left up to priests, mullahs or spiritualists. It is our noblest part, or, rather, our highest function, the thing that makes us not only different from all other animals (for we are animals as well), but greater than and superior to them. ‘Man is a metaphysical animal,’ said Schopenhauer – and therefore, I would add, a spiritual animal as well. This is our way of inhabiting the universe and the absolute, which inhabit us.”
“The Book of Atheist Spirituality”, P. 134.
Comte-Sponville recognises that there is definitely more to the human equation than physical factors – there are spiritual factors as well: man is “a spiritual animal”. And I think he is beginning to touch upon a pivotal “T” Truth when he says that our spirit may be “our way of inhabiting the universe and the absolute, which inhabit us”. Maybe our spirit/soul/consciousness is the Divine in us – maybe the way the Divine experiences (even creates some parts of) this physical reality? Consciousness is a huge mystery which we will explore more of, in Essay 3. But the bottom line for here, is that the words “psychological” and “emotional” describe aspects of our animal body, while the word “spiritual” is a word which describes aspects of our nonphysical self.
Unconvinced? Another way to illustrate the difference between the body/emotions and the spiritual/self is to consider the uniquely human phenomenon of our understanding and appreciation of beauty – a nonphysical phenomenon which can, strangely, affect our physical body.
This from Professor John Armstrong:
“One of the strangest features of the experience of beauty is its power, occasionally, to move us to tears. Not because we are presented with a harrowing or terrifying image, but because there is something in grace and loveliness that can be, for a moment, heartbreaking. It might be the face of the Madonna in a little thirteenth-century ivory statue from the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris; it might be a Bach cantata that awakens this strange emotion. What is happening to us at these special times of intense responsiveness to beauty?”
“The Secret Power of Beauty”, John Armstrong, P. 70.
Armstrong well illustrates the difference between our animal and spiritual factors – consider the difference between tears elicited from us by a “harrowing or terrifying image” (an animal emotional bodily response) – and human tears/crying elicited by the grace and loveliness of beauty. What exactly is “moving” us to tears? In the first instance it is undoubtedly our animal bodily emotion – fear, and in the second instance it is undoubtedly not of our body – beauty is making/allowing us to experience joy, ecstasy even. The unnatural human need for happiness we will explore more deeply in Essay 3, here we just need to consider that before we can experience happiness/ecstasy (as opposed to, necessarily, passing animal satisfaction) the spiritual self/soul needs to be involved. The Rolling Stones’ song “Can’t Get No Satisfaction” became an anthem because it struck a chord with us about the common human frustration of being able to achieve satisfaction/lasting happiness just through bodily contentment (necessarily passing because all tickle, is no tickle – pain even).
While we encounter beauty through our bodily physical senses (sound – music; smell – a flower; eyes – artworks; taste – beautiful tasting food) the effect of their beauty is on our soul/self. When people talk of being “lifted”, “transported” by beauty, they are not talking about the movement of their body. Beauty appeals to our spirit, soul, self (call it what you will – but not our body). Some might answer that it is possible to analyse beauty with our mind/brain/body – but to do so most often means we will avoid the ecstasy of being spiritually “moved” by it.
Of course, Darwinian physical “beauty” also exists. For example a curvaceous, buxom woman and/or a tall athletic man – but what is “moved” by such animal beauty is an entirely physical/animal part of us. We will consider the difference between Darwinian and spiritual beauty more deeply in Essay 3.
Above, I stated that “D” Disbelief is often as comforting as belief. Time to examine that assertion.
While, observably, many do believe in special meaning/purpose and/or a Divine just on psychological bases (i.e. just because it gives comfort) just as observably, many atheists disbelieve on similar psychological bases: getting rid of a belief in any special meaning/purpose or God and/or continued existence in a hereafter, provides comfort by removing the fear of judgment and/or punishment in said hereafter.
Disbelief is a good antidote for guilt. Guilt has been established by many scientific studies to be very damaging to our health – so a good argument can be made that Disbelief is adaptive – only existing because naturally selected. Whereas, as we have considered, above, while a belief in a “G” God and special meaning can be comforting, it is discomforting in equal measure because it leads to guilt.
Let’s have a look at guilt.
Who of us carries no uncomfortable guilt from living our life? While most of us have not committed serious illegalities and/or statutory crimes, most have committed everyday shameful acts – like: betrayal of friendship; malicious gossip; infidelity; divorce of a spouse to take a richer or more physically attractive partner; abortion; children abandoned in divorce; experienced schadenfreude at the misfortune of others; unethical business conduct; sins of omission; lapses of social and personal morals; personal hurt administered to others; cruelty to animals; racism; sexism; corruption; sexual abuses of power. Who of us has not been guilty of some of these? Some of the people I listed at the beginning of this essay as zealots and saints of the House of Disbelief supported murderous Communist regimes (why is it somehow admirable to have supported Communism, but despicable to have supported Nazism?). The above common sources of feelings of guilt, regret, and shame are more easily carried and/or totally dismissed if you dwell in the House of Disbelief: disbelieving not only such things as the existence of any all-knowing and judgmental God; of any afterlife life review (revealing all our sins, including those we may have “gotten-away with”); any eternal consequences for our actions on Earth – but even the very existence of such things as right and wrong, good and bad.
And such disbelief also allows a libertine life.
A LIBERTINE LIFE?
Disbelief in special meaning and God has enabled many a libertine approach to life. Some of the people I listed at the beginning of this essay as the zealots and saints of the House of Disbelief were/are also sexual predators of the people in their power/instruction and/or philosophic thrall; had multiple marriages/relationships; abandoned children to carry off trophy wives and/or mistresses – all while still managing to swarm the high moral ground to look down on the weaknesses of believers.
Is this fair, does “D” Disbelief swarm the high moral ground?
DISBELIEF CLAIMS THE HIGH MORAL GROUND?
Observably. Many “S” Sceptics swarm the high moral ground, looking down on belief as a psychological crutch for the weak – a comfort for those who cannot cope with the thought of death, oblivion, our personal insignificance, and/or our lack of control over life – unlike their own good selves – who have the intellectual integrity and courage to face life and death without needing the thought of a comforting God-the-Father and eternal life in the hereafter. More from Shermer:
“We [sceptics and scientists] seek immortality through our cumulative efforts and lasting achievements; we too wish that our hopes for eternity might be fulfilled.”
(p. 6 ibid.)
Disbelievers can certainly teach theists a thing or two about smugness!
To sum up, while it is undoubtable that many people believe in a God and special meaning/purpose to life because such belief is comforting, this does not disprove the existence of God or special meaning/purpose. Just as, conversely, the fact that many people choose to disbelieve in a God or special meaning/purpose because such disbelief is also comforting, does not prove the existence of a God and special meaning/purpose.
We now will examine the pillars of the House of Disbelief constructed out of the conclusions of philosophy alone – and using its (sometimes) sharp tools of reason, language and logic.
Many would say that philosophy, with its tools of reason, language, and logic, has managed over the years to dispose of any credible belief in special meaning/purpose and God. Is this true to say, and how did it happen?
THE DEATH OF GOD AT PHILOSOPHY’S HANDS?
Most of the grand, old universities and colleges of the world were started as, or by, religious institutions (e.g. Cambridge, Oxford, Sorbonne, Heidelberg) and most of their original philosophic output was designed to buttress the House of God and reinforce its shaky Biblical foundations. But then along came the likes of 16th and 17th century astronomers Galileo, Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler and the towering mathematician and scientist, Newton – and the scientific genie was well and truly out of the bottle. The world of academic philosophy was never the same again – no longer an adjunct to religion.
Although the roots of “D” Disbelief were established earlier by the likes of: first philosophers of science (e.g. Bacon); the first materialists (e.g. Hobbes); the rationalists (e.g. Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz); and empiricists (e.g. Locke, Berkeley, Hume) – the 18th century “Enlightenment” period is generally seen as the era in which the majority academic philosophic position emerged from its “Dark Age” of often vicious religious power, into the light – switching from its comfortable residency/imprisonment in the House of God to new, more radical accommodation in the House of Disbelief. Safe from the evils of religious persecution, Disbelief in God and special meaning/purpose flowered – fertilized by the steadily increasing discoveries of science. Kant (1724-1804) founded critical philosophy and David Hume (1711-1776), in “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion” argued against the monotheistic religions – suggesting that God may be actually be a plurality because of some evidence of the plurality of the universe – suggesting pluralities of intention and designs:
“…behold then the theogony of ancient times brought back upon us.”
(Hume, “Dialogues”, p.168).
And that God might not even be the Creator:
“For ought we know, a priori, matter may contain the source, or spring, of order originally, within itself…”
Many present-day philosophers feel that Hume’s arguments dug God’s grave. A.N.Wilson (“God’s Funeral”, 1999) describes Hume’s arguments as:
“…devastating …… the disturbing question to which there could not possibly be any answer.”
(“God’s Funeral” P. 24).
Hume certainly emboldened many academic philosophers, who felt that they could successfully play the role of assassin, and provide the Divine body to fill the hole that Hume had dug – Nietzsche for example claimed:
“God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him!”
Nietzsche, “The Gay Science”, section 125.
And in the train at this god’s funeral were rationalists, materialists, empiricists, proto-nihilists and existentialists – all carrying suitable funerary offerings (slaughtered sacred cows like special meaning and ultimate purpose to life) and grave goods (shattered icons). But who/what was in the Divine grave?
BUT WHO/WHAT HAS BEEN KILLED AND INTERRED?
Who had the assembled assassins and iconoclasts dispatched – all and every credible “G” God, or just the ancient, Abrahamic “g” god? Were the funerary offerings the slaughtered corpses of all and every credible special meaning/purpose to life, or just the incredible and tarnished traditional religious special meaning/purpose of life (e.g. life is a test for eternal heaven or hell)? Did the shattered icons truly have the face of “G” God, or just some human “g” god?
WAS THE ENLIGHTENMENT ENLIGHTENING?
The Enlightenment was so called because it enlightened us from the darkness of the ignorance that was religious philosophy – we learnt that, as the song would have it: “the things that you’re liable, to read in the Bible – ain’t necessarily so”. But the post-Enlightenment period, which continues to the present, seems not to have been all sweetness and light – it brought some other ideologies to replace religion, which contained their own darknesses: “M” Materialism killed our souls; “S” Scepticism killed special meaning; “E” Evolutionism killed all but animal purposes; “E” Existentialism dug a nihilistic black hole; “R” Relativism killed Truth. The House of Disbelief constructed after the Enlightenment is dark because it doesn’t seem to have any windows?
PHILOSOPHY BECAME THE HANDMAIDEN TO SCIENCE
With the advent of Darwin’s biological discoveries and the continuing advances of our physical sciences, philosophy gradually became the handmaiden of science (rather than the footnote to Plato it had been for centuries). The steady stream of successful discoveries (and useful products) from physics, chemistry, cosmology, geology, medicine, biology, and other physical sciences dazzled our philosophers and resulted in various philosophical positions of disbelief: existentialism believed only in the absurdity of life, materialism disallowed souls, reductionism reduced us to atoms, evolutionism to the apes – and meaninglessness and purposelessness became the default position of academia – any other position had to be proven by the scientific method (and only material evidence was allowed). Belief in special meaning, ultimate purpose and God was discredited to the point of becoming disreputable in most academic circles.
But are the reports of the death of God, special meaning and ultimate purpose “greatly exaggerated”? Let’s start with the death of God – was Nietzsche right in announcing that we had killed God? Should God be given a decent, but definitive, burial with academia being the undertaker – or have we been induced to dance on the wrong grave (and empty anyway)?
THE DEATH OF GOD?
What exactly has been killed? Definitely, time after time, the gods of our major religions have been repeatedly and convincingly dispatched – with a recent acceleration of philosophical assassins lining up to administer the coup de grace: Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” (2006); Michel Onfray’s “The Atheist Manifesto” (2005); Hitchens’ “God is Not Great” (2007); Dennet’s “Breaking the Spell” (2006); A.N. Wilson’s “God’s Funeral” (1999); Grayling’s “The God Argument” (2013) – being good examples.
All of these 20th century neo-Darwinian polemicists have successfully slaughtered the slow-moving, sacred cows of religion: their incredible “g” gods and their incredible “t” truths about special meaning/purpose. But none have hunted big game – any credible “D” Divine, or any rational “T” Truths there may be. How can you claim to have killed all such without first hunting for every credible “G” God and/or special meaning/purpose – then disposing of them?
To claim the death of God by killing religions’ god is futile – because you have tacitly agreed with religion that such a primitive god is the only possible God there can be – “the one true God”?
DANCING ON THE GRAVE OF A STRAW GOD IS A SPECIOUS ACT
Surely, by now, philosophy has settled that religions’ gods are not only dead but never existed – does it not know, with all its brain power and tools, that to encourage dancing on a grave that they know to be empty (of all but a straw god) is a specious act? But they dance on, and on, in publication after publication, settling for the dispatching of personal “t” truths about meanings and “g” gods – rather than finding any “T” Truths there may be about such – which should surely be philosophy’s role.
And ideology as rabid as any religion is evident in the many atheistic academic publications, and lashings of atheistic proselytising. Like the residents of the House of God, inhabitants of the House of Disbelief appear more interested in confirming their own comforting beliefs by gaining converts for their side, rather than finding any Truth – that winning the argument is the thing, and that any such “winning” can be achieved simply by gaining the greater numbers to your argument.
Too strong? In the preface to “Blind Watchmaker” Dawkins states openly:
“You have to become an advocate and use the tricks of the advocate’s trade…Certainly it [his book] seeks to inform, but it also seeks to persuade.” (p.xiv).
ATHEISTS OR ANTITHEISTS?
It is my observation that most atheists are, more truly, antitheists – spurred into their often vitriolic outbursts by the readily evident dangers of fundamentalist religious beliefs, and by various irrational and stupid theistic beliefs which continue to be held in the teeth of contradictory evidence from science and archaeology (Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, God-ordained ethnic cleansing). But many academics seem to be more interested in generating heat, than light and have fallen into fundamentalism themselves (e.g. materialism, reductionism). While it is easy to understand how fundamentalist, quasi-scientific beliefs on creation are bound to engender fear and loathing within the breasts of people who have spent a lifetime gaining rigorous scientific knowledge (like Dawkins in biology), but to make presumptuous claims about solving all life’s mysteries (The Blind Watchmaker: “…it is a mystery no longer, because it is solved.”) shows a desire to win, rather than to discover.
ACADEMIA IS NOT SOLELY ABOUT SEARCHING FOR TRUTH
Nobody should presume that academia is solely about the search for golden Truths. “T” Truths can not only be personally uncomfortable if they disagree with your personal “t” truths, but professionally inconvenient if they disagree with the past academic work on which your renown and/or tenure rests. You have to be very brave, personally and professionally, to publish any new idea/discovery which contradicts the ideology de jour of your academic Department.
While much of the recent academic attack on religious belief seems to originate from a good place – a clear recognition of, and fear of, the evils of fundamentalist terrorism – it has to be considered whether combatting incredible fundamentalism with more and equally incredible fundamentalism the most effective way?
WHAT IS THE BEST WEAPON AGAINST RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM?
Maybe the best way would be to find, or at least approach, a better “G” God? Such would surely be more injurious to religions’ evil and dangerous “g” gods than academic invective? While fully understanding the bound-to-be-ineffable nature of any “G” God – of any Absolute – would most certainly be beyond us creatures, born and experienced only of the relative, surely philosophy can hunt and approach such more nearly than any religion has managed so far?
I’m not suggesting Philosophy loses its credibility by adopting/accepting something silly from the plethora of quasi-credible New Age gods for the above worthy purpose, but that it should use its skills to explore, honestly and non-ideologically, the many nonphysical and mysterious phenomena of our world. Professor Stuart A. Kauffman’s “Reinventing the Sacred” (2008) is a good start, as is nuclear physicist Dr. Amit Goswami’s “God is Not Dead” (2008).
To this, many would reply: “Why must there be a God?”
WHY MUST THERE BE A GOD?
There is no “must” about it, there either just is a God/higher agency, or not. Whatever the answer, there is no denying the importance of the higher agency/God question to the philosophy of meaning – if there is no higher agency, no “first cause”, then everything is accidentally existing and, because it is observably mechanically proceeding, it is necessarily purposeless – therefore devoid of special meaning. It is a question we should tackle rather than hide away in an unsound House based on (increasingly unsound) materialist fundamentalism. But I suspect that the personal comforts of the House of Disbelief, and the grim fun most neo-Darwinian atheists seem to get from slaughtering the slow-moving sacred cows of dim-witted and/or fearful theists (and the sense of personal superiority it allows) will win out over the desire to find potentially inconvenient Truths? Even academics, are not above enjoying a feeling of superiority over the religious and/or the personal comforts allowed by the removal of the very notion of any higher agency (and the removal of guilt and fear of judgment and punishment that this allows) and/or the removal of any purpose (which we may have failed).
What of quasi-academic institutions like Sceptics Societies?
SCEPTICS DO PLAY A VALUABLE ROLE IN SOCIETY
“S” Sceptics (e.g. members of Sceptic societies and organisations) certainly do play an important role in society when they: attack dangerous Jonestown-type sects; oppose dangerous pseudo-historians like Holocaust-deniers; expose fraudsters in the Paranormal field (which field has some potential in the hunt for any Truths – we will go there in Essay 3); and by opposing always dangerous religious fundamentalism (“dangerous” because the three main religious fundamentalisms have a belief that an eventual Holocaust is God’s will and their “B” Books imply they have a role in bringing this about).
But capital “S” Scepticism feels that identifying wafer-thin possibilities for doubt and/or fraud in a potentially fruitful field of enquiry is the same as establishing it to be totally incorrect in every respect and/or fraudulent.
Sceptics like to think that they only demand evidence, but when the only evidence they allow is material, then their demand is actually for the sole reign of materialism. They claim to be able to decide on the Truth of certain nonphysical aspects of our existence (like our understanding/appreciation of beauty, music, humour and the existence of virtue, shame, consciousness) from their knowledge of the physical sciences and/or feeling that the mystery of all such things has been explained away by the (undoubted) phenomenon of bodily evolution by natural selection – without being able to explain how such nonphysical things exist in an entirely physical, mechanistic universe to be so selected.
SCEPTICISM IS MOST OFTEN A REACTION
We are all a little sceptical – it is a good survival tool, and healthy skepticism is most likely adaptive, therefore naturally selected – but, like atheism, “S” Scepticism is largely a reaction to certain peoples’ silly “t” truths rather than a search for any “T” Truth. And Scepticism is often a reaction to an oppressive family background of religion and/or from religious schooling. Loathing generated by oppressive religious dogma in their family of birth has created many of our leading Sceptics – as a run through of the biographies of many of the saints and zealots of the House of Disbelief mentioned at the beginning of this essay will attest.
While healthy skepticism is valuable to humanity because it often usefully destroys un-Truths, it should not be mistaken for a search for mysteries which may contain “T” Truths. Those who have carefully studied life’s nonphysical, often mysterious and numinous phenomena and experiences – seldom end up fundamentalist Sceptics. But where to look for such phenomena and experiences?
HUNT THE MYSTERIES
To hunt the mysteries is to be called a “mysterian” – and, in the eyes of some, to be able to label someone is to discredit them. But I am happy to wear it and add it to all my other ones: pantheist/deist/spiritualist/humanist/and-whatever-tomorrow-may-bring-ist. But the first place to look is surely life’s mysteries – those phenomena not well answered by religions and their Books – nor by our sciences. We need to examine the numinous, spiritual, nonphysical (including, even, the more credible anomalous/paranormal) aspects of life – thoroughly and non-ideologically. How can you say that no explanation higher than mechanics exists if you only examine the physical, material universe, using only the tool that is physical science? Science is more a method than a thing, a successful method when applied where it can/should be, but when it can’t be applied, humans do have other tools which can ring when the Truth is struck.
Essay 3 examines such tools and searches for Truth, using them, in the regions and mysteries of the nonphysical – but here, for the examination of this pillar of the House of Disbelief, suffice it to be concluded that any and every credible, possibly real “G” God and/or special meaning has not been identified and dispatched by academic philosophy or secular (i.e. non-academic) disbelievers/Sceptics in their battle for the hearts and minds of humanity. Nothing has been proven by academia in the hunt for special meaning, ultimate purpose, and/or a “G” God – other than intellectual power is no guarantee against the pull of ideology nor protection from the desire for psychological and emotional comfort. Philosophy, over the years and with its tools of reason, language and logic, has not constructed a headstone for the Divine nor a substantial pillar for the House of Disbelief – but only pushed an increasing number of people into the sea of meaninglessness, wherein they can only cling to rafts of fundamentalism to get by – day to day.
Let’s have a look at another philosophical pillar of the House of Disbelief – one famously popularised by one of the “saints” of Disbelief: Bertrand Russell.
· IF GOD MADE THE UNIVERSE, WHO MADE GOD?
This is a popular pillar of the House of Disbelief and many stand under it. I was advised by Phillip Adams (Australian journalist, “S” Sceptic and devout atheist) that he ceased to believe in God at six years of age, when he posed this question to his mother and she couldn’t answer it. Earlier in the 20th century, Bertrand Russell had made much of the same question in his anti-god polemic: “Why I Am Not a Christian” – which is a tract responsible for confirming many in their disbelief or leading many members of the House of God to abandon their faith and seek residency in the House of Disbelief.
GOD DID IT?
“Who made God?” is certainly a question which has engrossed many people over the years because the god envisaged by our pre-scientific religions was a creator-god who literally made everything – our first Theory of Everything – a convenient answer to any and every mystery which could be proposed by man: “God did it”.
Which answer, as Russell recognized, simply created a bigger mystery: “Who ‘did’ God?” And to throw into doubt this fundamental religious theory was, literally, to throw into doubt all of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) which were based on this creator God.
Here we need to ask, what must God be – to be regarded as such?
WHAT MUST GOD BE/DO TO BE WORTHY OF THE NAME?
We have already discussed in this essay theism’s idea of the nature of God (what God must be) – omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent – but what must God do?
The House of God’s god, most definitely, must make the Universe. The main Christian creed states:
“I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and Earth”.
So, such a belief, held in an obviously cause-and-effect universe, is vulnerable to Russell’s ultimate question: “because everything obviously has a cause, what was the cause of the first causer?”
The House of God flannels this away with a bald statement: God always exist.
While this looks for all the world like a “t” truth (because it is a convenient catch-all statement – with only a book, which we found in Essay 1 to be unreliable, as evidence) which must make us dubious, this must not necessarily stop it from being the “T” Truth. Maybe nothing is created – but everything always exists in some form or other – ultimately determined by relativity, the engine of our creative universe? Some observations from quantum physics are implying that something must always exist and Inflation Theory, implies that matter came from energy “in the beginning”.
MAYBE SOMETHING MUST ALWAYS EXIST?
The following theoretical physicists concur that something/everything most likely always existed. The following are excerpts from an article in the New Scientist magazine, quoting some of Earth’s leading physicists:
“…something is the more natural state than nothing.”
(Victor Stenger – physicist, Colorado Univ.)
“According to quantum theory there is no state of emptiness.”
(Frank Close – physicist, Oxford Univ.)
“Emptiness would have precisely zero energy, far too exacting a requirement for the uncertain quantum world.”
(Amanda Gefter, New Scientist.)
– All quoted from “New Scientist”, 23/7/2011, No. 2822 – Pp.28-29.
And classical physics has something interesting to contribute – in the First Law of Thermodynamics – which we know to be the Truth (using our working definition of “T” Truth: because it is always works for everybody all the time). The First Law states that neither energy, nor matter, can be created or destroyed. The big bang “in the beginning”, we are told by physics, was the billion-degree maelstrom of energy becoming matter. Was this always-existing energy/matter – God – not creating the universe, but becoming it?
NO MAKER, WHOSE MAKER NEEDS TO BE FOUND?
All up, if everything is matter/energy and it must always have existed, nothing is needed to create it – indeed, nothing can. So, there is no “maker” – whose own maker needs to be found. The original absolute energy was God (or of God at the very least) which became the universe – rather than created it?
Hardly the god of the House of God, but any real God is bound to be way more complicated than our primitive ancestors, who created the House of God’s god, could imagine/construct.
To lose belief in the existence of any Higher Agency and/or any special meaning and ultimate purpose to life – as a result of the “who makes a creator-god?” question – necessitates belief in the first place that the simple Abrahamic creator-god is the only possible Higher Agency there could be. Anyone looking for the “T” Truth, rather than looking for the petty satisfaction (and/or comfort) of demolishing a “t” truth, needs to consider whether the Judeo-Christian-Islamic creator god of Abraham is the only possible higher agency worthy of the name God?
Is the above Divine energy the basic unity of the universe that we hear so much about – everything is God?
The ultimate point here is: the pillar of the House of Disbelief constructed using Bertrand Russell’s “If God made the world, then who made God?” question – is not substantial – it is just another demolition of the ancient creator god of our primitive ancestors. Again, we need to understand that there is a great deal of difference between demolishing ancient religious “g” gods and demolishing “G” God.
While, on this side of the absolute/relative divide, the nature of any Absolute (e.g. creator, becomer?) must remain ultimately ineffable to us creatures of the relative, and ineffability does not disprove the existence of such. The existence of any God does not hang on our perfect understanding – It/He/She/Them/Us? – and especially it does not hang on the understanding of our pre-scientific ancestors.
Next we will examine the idea that we are necessarily reduced to meaninglessness because of our minute size relative to the immensity of the universe.
UNIVERSE IS SO HUGE THAT WE
“Homo sapiens also ranks as a ‘thing so small’ in a vast universe, a wildly improbable evolutionary event, and not the nub of universal purpose. Make of such a conclusion what you will. Some people find the prospect depressing.”
“Rocks of Ages”, Stephen Gould, P.206.
Because we are, indubitably, “so small” compared to our gigantic universe it can be reasonably concluded that we are “not the nub of universal purpose”. As to whether it can, further, be reasonably concluded that we are (or life itself is) “a wildly improbable evolutionary event” is an idea we explore in other parts of these essays – here we just need to consider what our relatively small size has to say about the human condition and/or the meaning/purpose of our existence?
Many have concluded, that because we are (individually and as a species) physically insignificant in comparison to the size of the whole universe, so must we and any meaning/purpose of our life be similarly insignificant. This particular argument against special meaning has been heard with greater and greater frequency as we discover more and more about the vast scale of our universe. Consider the following without feeling insignificant – if you can:
“…the total number of stars in the universe is greater than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the planet Earth”.
“Cosmos”, Carl Sagan, P. 196
I’m not sure Sagan has counted all the Earth’s beaches – let alone all their sand grains – but you get the idea. And Sagan is only talking about stars – which, like ours, may have multiple planets – and those may have moons. So many potentially habitable worlds.
IS OUR POTENTIAL FOR MEANING OBLITERATED BY SHEER SIZE?
Who has not felt an existential flat spot when lying out on a lawn under a clear night sky, contemplating the head-spinning number of just the visible stars? If we wish to explore our universe’s size further, even a pair of binoculars can open up galaxies of billions more stars previously unseen by our naked eyes. Those lucky enough to have looked through a serious telescope for the first time are most often stunned by the revelation of our universe’s size – and humbled by the realisation of our own small physical place in it.
But, does size really matter – does our relative minuteness necessarily indicate our meaninglessness?
I don’t think so, it is not credible that the size of individual lifeforms, relative to the size of their total world, or their total lifeform’s numbers, must dictate any special meaning and purpose they may have. Rather it is the potential and/or ability any such lifeform may have.
POTENTIAL AND ABILITY IS CRUCIAL, NOT SIZE
Consider the potential of the original single-cell lifeform on Earth – microscopic, very few (maybe only one?) – then look at what happened! An explosion of lifeforms ranging in size from bacteria to blue whales (and while we are on the significance of size, consider that bacteria can reduce blue whales to ocean-floor sediment).
Perhaps even more significant than size is potential ability. Consider that one particular lifeform which proceeded from an original single cell of life on one planet has the ability to speak mathematics – the language the universe was written in. This has allowed that physically insignificant lifeform to uncover many of this vast universe’s physical secrets using the scientific method it created to develop various physical sciences like physics; thereby to reduce the significance of its universe’s size and distances with engineering and rocketry; to recreate parts of the living universe with genetic engineering; to extend its lifespan through chemistry and medicine – perhaps, even one day, to avoid death.
And physical size relative to our giant universe does not remove any special meaning for humanity which comes from nonphysical phenomenon – like our understanding of beauty (and our desire to experience and/or create it); our understanding of right/wrong, good/bad (and our suffering of shame at not meeting these unnatural understandings); and the fact that only love of our (true) self makes us lastingly happy. We will consider many more mysterious nonphysical phenomena in Essay 3, here we just need to consider that size is irrelevant when compared to the mysterious existence of such phenomena in an otherwise physical and mechanical universe – which existence allows our life to have ultimate purpose and special meaning. While the discovery of the immense size of our universe(s) has certainly shaken humanity’s previous central, Old Testament place at the centre of everything – this does not necessarily usher in meaninglessness and indicate that the only rational thing to do is negotiate a lease for tenancy in the House of Disbelief.
HUGE CONSEQUENCES OF SMALL EVENTS – PHYSICAL AND NONPHYSICAL
Studies also reveal that small physical events (the beat of a butterfly’s wing?) can have huge and long-lasting physical consequences (some say tornados? – maybe not, but you get the idea). And small nonphysical events (like ideas) can have even greater consequences. Consider that individual humans have exerted massive influence (for better or worse) with ideas, or just a single thought – sometimes for many generations – will the repercussions of the thoughts of the likes of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Jesus, Einstein and Marx ever end – and on how many worlds which humanity may inhabit in the future? And it is not just “big” thinkers who are significant – many big, Earth-changing consequences have proceeded from films and/or TV shows – likewise, maybe some of them may be universe-changing events (consider the reach and duration of some radio/TV signals) – whatever will extraterrestrials make of “I Love Lucy” or “Monty Python”? Consider also the idea to put music on the Voyager spacecraft (and the idea of placing the location of Earth on it as well – what will the consequences of that idea – probably nothing, but you get the idea that there can be huge consequences to small ideas).
SIGNIFICANCE IS NOT CONTINGENT ON AWARENESS OR CORRECTNESS
And individual significance is not contingent on awareness. Individually, in the course of a life, we each will make differences that we are never aware of. An idea is like a virus: spreading, infecting, morphing. It is impossible to conclude on the significance of an individual life because no one individual knows what the whole significance of it is, was, or eventually will be – especially not the liver of a life. Even incorrect ideas can have huge consequences – sometimes being the key to correct ideas with huge consequences.
But while many would acknowledge the foregoing, they would still argue that the universe doesn’t need to be as big as it is – it’s too big for purpose, just too big to indicate any sensible design. Rather such needlessness as the oversize of our universe indicates inefficiencies and, necessarily, lack of design (therefore of a “D” Designer or purpose/meaning).
THE STAGE IS TOO BIG FOR THE DRAMA?
This from atomic physicist, Richard Feynman:
“It doesn’t seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil – which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.”
Quoted in “Genius”, James Gleick, P 372.
It certainly seems logical that this, undoubtedly, “fantastically marvelous universe” is indeed too vast a stage just “so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil” – which is the view of religion (and apparently of some geniuses?) But is our universe necessarily too large for any possible/purpose. Certainly there is too much empty space, so many empty worlds – most not only uninhabited, but uninhabitable – if this universe is just about us. But two points here: 1.) why must the universe to be just about us to have special meaning and purpose (as most religions say); 2.) does such size necessarily speak of inefficiency and accident – and against any blueprint/higher agency/God?
Maybe, in the end, our universe’s vast size does matter?
SIZE DOES MATTER?
Maybe the present, huge size and density of the universe is immaculate? The following two quotes from cosmologist Dr. Rodney Holder:
“…the mean density of matter in the universe at the very beginning has to be within 1 part in 1060 of the so-called ‘critical density’… If the density is smaller than it is by this amount then the universe will expand far too quickly for stars and galaxies to be able to form. If it is greater then the whole universe will recollapse under gravity in just a few months”.
And, describing how our universe’s huge size is critical for the evolution of human beings:
“Contrary to our intuitions, it turns out that the universe needs to be the vast size it is in order for man to exist. This is the size it inevitably reaches in the 14,000 million years which it takes to evolve human beings….A universe endowed with the mass of a single galaxy has enough matter to make a hundred billion stars like the sun, but such a universe would expand for only about a month. Thus the argument that the vastness of the universe points to man’s insignificance is turned on its head – only if it is so vast could we be here.”
“Think” (The Royal Institute of Philosophy periodical) Issue No. 12, p. 53. (2006)
I’m not sure that the universe is just about us, as Holder seems to imply: “…in order for man to exist”; and: “…only if it is so vast could we be here”). However, as well as a cosmologist, Holder is a man of the House of God, which fact could explain his Biblical, anthropocentric approach? But his scientific statements that the vast size of the universe is necessary for its continuing existence – therefore also necessary for the occurrence of life – remain valid. As does the possibility of any higher designing agency and/or any special meaning/purpose flowing from such apparently essential size.
Certainly we can conclude that the vast size and age of the universe is no proof of it being accidental – quite the reverse, such size was essential for life – whatever form it took, and on however many planets it has.
DARK MATTER AND ENERGY
Some see all the empty space in the universe as unnecessary, an indication of inefficiency, lack of blueprint, and accidentalness. But such “emptiness” has been found by cosmologists to be a complete misnomer – not empty, but full of “dark” matter and energy – dark matter/energy has been discovered to be entirely necessary in its size (and in the extreme delicacy of its ratios) for continued existence of anything and everything.
NUMBERS ARE IMPORTANT, BUT NOT THE NUMBERS OF SIZE
Rather than be obsessed with trying to draw philosophical implications from the huge numbers surrounding the size of our universe (billions of billions of galaxies, stars, planets, light years, etc.) we should look at the philosophical implications of the mystery of certain other, often microscopically fine, numbers. For example, the previously considered numbers which describe the necessary fine tuning to enable the nonorganic universe and the organic life within it to exist: the mathematical ratios and constants inherent in the universe. There is an even deeper mystery, of course – that we creatures, supposedly just a mechanical result of those numbers, should know them. We will examine this mystery more deeply in Essay 3.
All up, the significance of anything is not contingent on size – even/especially numbers.
THE CONTINGENCY OF SIZE
The original cell of life on Earth was cosmologically small (i.e. like a human to a galaxy) but consider what that original cell (or few cells?) became. A human cell is a small proportion of a human body – but it can have a big effect in time on the human body (for example, cancer). Every human represents a small but potentially important proportion of our species; and our species in turn represents a small but important part of animalia. While the full extent of the importance of any lifeform cannot be concluded upon until all life has finished in our universe, such significance is certainly not contingent on its size. The significance of any life, including us, is potentially huge, regardless of relative size – it is in our absolute potential that our significance rests (and that of any lifeform) whether species or individual. We may exist for just another second or for a long time; we may achieve, and/or be part of, immensely significant things; our descendants may evolve into an even more significant species – which may even populate the livable Universe (almost daily, more Earth-like, habitable planets are being found). Or a species may come to us, perhaps to interbreed and fill the universe? All of this may have come from one living cell somewhere in the universe? The present significance of every species, of every individual in that species, rests in its potential – and the potential of any species that can speak the language that the universe is written in, is potentially as huge as that universe.
But, just when we get our head around the issue of our significance/insignificance in relation to the size of our universe (and its implications for the existence or not of any higher agencies, design, purpose and meaning) along comes Multiverse Theory! This is the idea, based on certain observations in inflationary cosmology, that there could be more than one universe – indeed, it has even been postulated that there may be an infinite number of universes – a multiverse. This theory has recruited enough people into the House of Disbelief, that it could reasonably called a separate pillar of said House, and we will examine it as such.
· MULTIVERSE THEORY
Multiverse theory is an extension of the above argument for our meaninglessness through our insignificant physical size – but it does have some further philosophical implications of its own. Presently cosmology calculates that there are 350 billion galaxies in the observable universe and feels sure that it extends well beyond that in the (so far) unobservable universe – perhaps to infinity. An infinity comprised of finite matter? As mind exploding as that is, there is even more to try and get your head around – there is a growing branch of cosmology now which is called inflationary cosmology. Consider this from inflationary cosmologist, Professor Brian Cox:
“Inflationary cosmology creates a universe that is massively bigger than the one we can see, but it also provides a mechanism for creating an infinite number of universes. This is called eternal inflation”
Professor Brian Cox – “The Sunday Age” newspaper, 24/7/16, P. 27 – (interviewed by Andrew Masterson).
In the lexicon of today: whatever! Whether we exist in a universe that is infinitely big, or in an infinite number of universes (a multiverse) we are left in about the same place – in a physical arena of unimaginable size. But where does any such multiverse leave us philosophically – in our quest for the Truth of the human condition?
It is a conundrum. Even Professor Cox goes on to admit that: “I don’t know what to make of those things” (i.e. our size-wise insignificance). In our investigation of the pillar of the House of Disbelief preceding this one, we considered the philosophical implications of our small size relative to just this our known, universe – and found that such relative insignificance size-wise must not necessarily remove all special meaning/purpose to our existence. But there are other considerations and some stronger implications for the above arguments which flow if a multiverse exists – such that some feel residency in the House of Disbelief is the only place to be. Let’s see if this is a safe position.
THIS UNIVERSE (AND LIFE) INEVITABLE IN A MULTIVERSE?
Multiverse theory, for many, demolishes more certainly any design-type arguments for purposefulness (therefor meaningfulness) in our universe – especially anthropocentric arguments, common in religions, which maintain that the purpose of the universe is for our existence – i.e. everything was designed for human habitation. Multiverse theory goes beyond demolishing the idea that our universe was designed for our life – but that holds that it was not designed for any purpose at all – all is totally accidental, therefore meaningless. It argues that, given an infinite number of universes, a universe suitable for life just had to exist – not only “suitable”, but so suitable for life that it just had to occur spontaneously, chemically, accidentally. Therefore all was inevitable – accidental rather than purposeful – even the beginning does not need explanation. Hello multiverse, goodbye any possible cause, higher agency/God? Professor Cox says this about multiverse theories:
“In these theories you end up possibly suggesting that our existence is inevitable. You even end up not having to explain the beginning.”
Ibid. P. 27
So, the multiverse ends not only the mystery of humanity’s existence – but the beginning – of anything/everything?
The secret of the beginning must lie before the beginning – what exactly went BANG! Physics says we can’t talk of “before” the big bang – because time also began at the big bang. Physics definitely started at the big bang – because it is the science of everything physical. But philosophers are allowed to think of everything that can be thought of – even before the big bang – and have ideas like: if the big bang was energy converting to matter (E = mc2), then energy existed before the big bang. According to physics energy cannot be created or destroyed – making it eternal and indestructible – are we talking “E” Energy here? And should it be the “B” Big “B” Bang – God (of whatever nature) – becoming the universe (rather than creating it)? When we tackle the mystery of how matter can have consciousness in Essay 3, and consider that there seems to be actually a universal consciousness – the mystery gets deeper.
But for here we just need to consider whether inflationary cosmology and its implied multiverse allows the residents of the House of Disbelief to demolish two of our universe’s huge physical mysteries: 1.) the beginning of the universe; 2.) the existence of fine tuning in its settings, ratios, constants etc. – necessary to begin our universe forming, and for its continuing existence. More from Professor Cox about inflationary cosmology theory:
“In these theories you end up possibly suggesting that our existence is inevitable. You even end up not having to explain the beginning – and you don’t have to explain why our universe appears quite special in certain respects, such as the strengths of the forces, and the amounts of dark energy in it. If you just look at our universe, it appears beautifully tuned for life to emerge. But in eternal inflation multiverses, every possibility happens, so every possible universe gets made in reality.”
Ibid. P. 27.
So, not only increasing the insignificance of the human condition size-wise (because we become even smaller relative to an even bigger physical stage) the claim is, indeed, that multiverse theory can explain away all the big questions – and even life (inevitable somewhere in such a big arena). If so, multiverse theory demolishes any blueprint argument for our universe – and along with that: any Higher Agency/God (whatever the nature of such); any purposefulness to everything; and especially any special meaning to our existence. Basically the argument is: that because the multiverse is so huge, everything just had to happen – somewhere.
So, just how sound is multiverse theory?
HOW SOUND IS MULTIVERSE THEORY?
Our increasing amount of scientific information about the universe has led to various attempts to interpret this massive amount of data of which science is now in possession. In many ways our universe has come to appear preposterous – flatter, smoother, larger, emptier than any universe that could be predicted by the existing laws of physics – eluding explanation in terms familiar to scientists. Enter quantum mechanics – and inflation theory: basically, the early universe went through a phase of exponentially fast expansion and an infinite number of universes formed as bubbles from phase transitions.
But not all theoretical physicists are happy with the multiverse idea. Lee Smolin, “The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time” (2015 – co-authored with Roberto Mangabeira Unger) feels that having to think up explanations like multiple universes just reveals our lack of true knowledge about the cosmos. Smolin has this to say about inflation theory:
“As attractive as the idea may seem, it is basically a sleight of hand, which converts an explanatory failure into an apparent explanatory success. The success is empty because anything that might be observed about our universe could be explained as something that must, by chance, happen somewhere in the multiverse…the multiverse theory has difficulty making any firm predictions and threatens to take us out of the realm of science.”
Quoted from “New Scientist” magazine, (No. 3004; 17/1/2015, P.24
Smolin’s co-author, Roberto Mangabeira Unger says this:
“Nothing science has discovered up to now justifies the belief that our universe is only one of many, although the universe may well have predecessors. The multiplication of universes in contemporary cosmology has not resulted from any empirical discovery or inference from observation; it has been the outcome of an attempt to convert, through this fabrication, an explanatory failure into an explanatory success.”
“The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time”, Smolin and Unger, Part 1 P.6)
Nagel, Smolin, and Unger are not the only ones who are unconvinced by multiverse theory, this from theoretical physicist Paul Davies – wielding Occam’s razor:
“Invoking an infinite number of other universes just to explain the apparent contrivances of the one we see is pretty drastic, and in stark conflict with Occam’s razor (according to which science should prefer explanations with the least number of assumptions). I think it’s much more satisfactory from a scientific point of view to try to understand why things are the way they are in this universe and not to invent invisible universe to do the job.”
“Are We Alone?”, Paul Davies, P.80
Creating a multiverse theory to explain how our apparently purposeful universe exists, is to create thousands of millions of billions of universes, each containing in turn thousands of millions of billions of stars, planets and moons, to explain away the mysteries of this one. Rather untidy and, leaving aside that there is a giant “if” (because no observations of a multiverse have ever been made) one suspects that Davies is right, Occam’s razor would deal with it somewhat harshly – in Occam’s own words: “Plurality ought never be posed without necessity”.
Philosophically, the argument for meaninglessness from multiverse theory resembles the old chestnut that if an infinite number of monkeys were placed in a room with an infinite number of typewriters then one of them must eventually replicate a Shakespearian play word for word! (This was actually tried on a smaller scale by a researcher but the chimps only managed to defecate on most of the keyboards – one did, however, manage to begin typing what could possibly have turned out to be an infinite number of “ssss’s” – had he not been interrupted).
More sensibly, Professor Thomas Nagel has this to say about the existence of all possible universes – including one which must inevitably contain us:
“...there is the hypothesis that this universe is not unique, but that all possible universes exist, and we find ourselves, not surprisingly, in the one that contains life. But that is a cop-out, which dispenses with the attempt to explain anything. And without the hypothesis of multiple universes, the observation that if life hadn’t come into existence we wouldn’t be here has no significance. One doesn’t show that something doesn’t require explanation by pointing out that it is a condition of one’s existence.”
“Mind and Cosmos”, P. 95
We are dancing around the anthropic principle here.
THE ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE
There are weak and strong versions of the anthropic principle. The so-called “weak” version states that we can ignore the existence of our universe’s necessarily delicate parameters as signifying anything about purpose – we would not be here to remark on the fact of such delicacy if the parameters were different. But the “strong” version emphasizes the importance of our existence in the universe – quantum physics tells us that our conscious observation of the universe is necessary to make it exist as not just a quantum soup of probability – observers are needed to make a quantum universe concrete.
We will examine the mysteries of the quantum world in Essay 3. Meanwhile inflationary cosmologists feel that evidence is building for their position.
EVIDENCE FOR INFLATIONARY THEORY IS ACCRETING?
Inflationary cosmologists like Professor Brian Cox believe that, while not proven, inflationary theory works quite well – to the point that science can trust its predictions like the unseen multiverse. He points out that Einstein’s theory of relativity was accepted as correct because of the evidence accreting long before that theory could be proved. Cox expects proof may come in the form of “imprints in the cosmic microwave background” or the “discovery of extra dimensions in this universe” (possibly 10 or 24 depending on the theoretical variant used). The currently popular model in physics, string theory, indicates these extra dimensions may exist and Cox believes that the Large Hadron Collider could soon possibly throw up evidence to support the existence of extra dimensions than our present four.
Time will tell – but, philosophically, we should perhaps conduct a thought experiment accepting a multiverse in advance of proof from physics – something like: So a multiverse has been established as the Truth (true for everybody all the time), what does that mean for us, what are the philosophical implications for those who are looking for the Truth of the human condition?
Consider, even if a multiverse can eventually be established, the big mysteries are not erased, only made bigger. For example, the mystery of the existence of something rather than nothing, is only multiplied by the existence of infinitely more something. And, as for multiverses explaining away all the fine tuning etc. consider that all exiting universes must also be equally fined tuned etc. – to continue in existence – unless they are failed universes (making ours more significant?). The same applies to life – all the mysteries and miracles necessary for life to emerge from inert matter still apply even if life has emerged from inert matter an infinite number of times. You don’t remove miracles and mysteries by observing more of them.
And how about the existence of the nonphysical?
The existence of the nonphysical is especially a problem for anyone who sees a physical explanation for everything. For example how did the nonphysical emerge and continue in a supposedly entirely physical universe? Nonphysical things like: consciousness, values, humour, our understanding and appreciation of beauty, etc. – these are not explained away by the existence of many more planets/worlds suitable for such to occur in – they are mysteries for any type of physics however many times they occur in what physics tells us should be an entirely physical universe/multiverse. We are due to explore the mysteries of the above nonphysical things in Essay 3 – but here we just need to consider that if nonphysical things exist anywhere, even if only on one tiny dot in a unimaginably huge multiverse, then Physics’ TOE is broken – its entirely physical model of a Theory Of Everything.
THE MULTIVERSE AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL?
A multiverse also weakens further one of the already damaged, but most popular, pillars of the House of Disbelief: the Problem of Evil. We considered the various forms the problem of evil takes, above, at the beginning of this essay. One form of “evil” stems from the observable unfairness, even arguable meaninglessness, of some lives, like those which have been shortened and/or handicapped by circumstance – especially, for example, those who die as babies could be fairly said to have had meaningless lives. However, one of the corollaries of multiverse theory is that we/us/our self apparently exist in each and every universe in the infinite multiverse – in infinite parallel existences in which every thing which can possibly happen to us in life must, in fact, happen (good, bad and ugly). If we all experience everything, the “Problem of Evil” in the form of bad, short, etc. life experiences is gone, unfairness stemming from Earth’s observably uneven playing field is removed – we, our selves, will eventually have identical experiences and life opportunities for the self to know and grow (if that is the meaning of life). What better, more thorough opportunity for of our self/soul/spirit to evolve/grow could there be than to experience everything – and what truer meaning of life?
So, philosophically, infinite parallel existences hypothesized by some from multiverse theory does not remove meaning and purpose from life – just multiply the mystery of our existence.
And where does a multiverse leave the possibility of a God?
MULTIVERSES AND HIGHER AGENCY/GOD?
One of the biggest indicators for a Higher Agency/God (whatever its nature) is the fact that our universe is written in an intelligent language – mathematics – as must any other continuing-to-exist universe(s). We know it is an “intelligent language” because we, an intelligence, can speak it. We also know that we did not create/write the universe, so the intelligence which did so must have existed before us, and must also be “higher” than us – quite possibly “H” Higher?
The only higher agency which is killed off by inflationary cosmology and its potential multi-universes is (yet again) the old, parochial man-in-the-sky-god of the ancients – to possibly reveal a much more grand “D” Divine? A grander physical stage just implies that any Divine is grander. Also the fact that we (supposedly just evolved star dust according to cosmology, physics, chemistry, and evolutionary biology) can speak the language the universe was written in – is another huge mystery redolent of meaningfulness, which we will examine in Essay 3.
All up, a multiverse is not a strong pillar of the House of Disbelief – even if it should be found to be the Truth.
“T” Truth”? Some think that Truth cannot exist in a relative universe. Next we will have a look at that idea.
Relativism is one of the major pillars of the edifice which is post-modern philosophy. Relativism is the position that everything must be relative in a relative world – including truth – which is relative to the standpoint of the judging subject.
Relativism holds that “T” Truths cannot exist because there can be no absolutes in a relative world – there can only be our own personal, relative “t” truths. For example, beauty cannot exist as a Truth, it can only be: “in the eye of the beholder”. It could be argued that Relativism is incoherent as a belief system because, under its own rules, it can only ever be relatively true – “there is no Truth, except this.”
But many find relativism comforting and it has become a popular pillar of the House of Disbelief – because if there can be no Truth, no absolute right or wrong, good or bad – there is no such thing as sin, therefor no need for guilt etc.. If it feels good (and you can get away with it) – do it.
But is this a secure pillar to shelter under in the House of Disbelief?
RELATIVITY – IN THE BEGINNING
Science, through the successful theory of general relativity (and consistent cosmological observations) tells us that everything – all the matter and energy which makes up our material universe – flowed from a singularity: a unity, an absolute, which ignited in a big bang:
“At the moment of ignition, space and time and matter were all created together in a cosmic fireball.”
“50 Physics Ideas”, P.180 – Dr. Joanna Baker (editor Science magazine).
“Ignition”? So what ignited?
ENERGY ORIGINALL EXISTED
We know about the interrelationship of mass and energy from Einstein’s immaculate equation, E = mc². So, if matter exists now, energy must have originally existed.
“Einstein’s formula E=mc² tells us that so long as there is enough energy E to pay for the mass m of a particle, the way lies open for matter to be created.”
“The Goldilocks Enigma”, P. 70 – Professor Paul Davies
In the beginning, matter was thus “created” (transmuted/emerged?) from energy – the singular became plural when individual matter explosively emerged from a singularity of energy at the big bang – and plurality means relativity. Relativity allowed “this and that”; this and that allowed “here and there”; here and there allowed “now and then” – time: how long it takes to get from here to there.
Ultimately, of course, relativity allowed “you and me” – the selection for (relatively) good, better, best.
RELATIVITY – MEANINGFUL OR MEANINGLESS?
In the beginning was an absolute (absolutely nothing, according to some; absolutely everything (energy) according to some others) – which spontaneously became relative. We will explore this further in essay 3 but for now, with a plurality instead of a singularity individual things (of matter/energy) now stood in space and time in relation to other things. This is a potentially creative situation – unlike an absolute, which is always, wellll, errrr – absolute! Just how creative, can be seen in the fact of the arrival of life in the universe – this could never have happened in an absolute – and after the appearance of life, things became even more creative. Not only did individual matter exist, but individual living things.
Good, better, best is inherent in relativity – wherein all things must exist in relation to all other things – and selection for “best” is automatic in a finite, therefore necessarily competitive, environment. Selection for best is done by nature (natural selection) and I have argued (and will argue further in essay 3), by humans using different, unnatural criteria (unnatural selection?). This selection process is, of course, evolutionary. Here, just let it be observed that relativity is immensely creative through the process of evolution which it allows, no – forces – and it is in this creativity that our universe’s ultimate purpose rests. The purpose of anything is what it does, and what relativity ultimately does is create.
And any special meaning our universe may have, can only rest in what has been created.
THE CREATIVITY OF RELATIVITY?
So, what has relativity created through the selection for good, better, best? Anything “special”?
Residents of the House of Disbelief say “no” – it only created animal bodies driven to do essentially meaningless acts of survival by their selfish genes – which acts are ultimately purposeless because we are only those mortal, material bodies which will pass away into the nothingness from which we and our material universe came. But this is “philosophy-as-handmaiden-to-our-physical-sciences” – and our physical sciences’ only expertise is their knowledge of the physical world – again, “give a man a hammer and the world looks like a nail”.
On the other hand, residents of the House of God say “yes” – what relativity does, its purpose, is to test our souls – which purpose is redolent of special meaning because it determine our eternal fate – forever in heaven or hell. But said House also possess a hammer – everything is in their Book (“B” because written/inspired by their god). However, as we found in Essay 1, everything in the House of God’s book was written by man (in varying states of Divine inspiration) – and when our knowledge of our world and the universe was very basic (to say the least).
So, as relativists would say: “Whose Truth?”; indeed, in a relative world, can there ever be Truth?
I need to reprise here what I mean when I use the words “T” Truth and/or “t” truth. In these essays I try to reserve the use of the word Truth to refer to things which are true for everybody, all the time. For example, it is a Truth that we have animal bodies with animal needs and genetic imperatives – this is true for everybody, all the time. But whether humans can be completely described in terms of our animal bodies has not been established as a Truth – it may just be a materialist truth? Similarly, we have uncovered plenty of evidence that a higher agency than blind physics is the Truth. The fact that our various Houses of God only accommodate truths does not necessarily demolish the existence of Truth.
As we will see below and in Essay 3, there are other Truths about the human condition – things that are true for all of us, all the time – and the discovery of any such is the ultimate quest of these essays.
The residents of both our Houses would say: “Why bother?” – one believing it is as simple as buying a copy of its Book – the other holding that there is none. But neither Houses are about philosophy – just about protecting comforting truths.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SEEKING THE “T” TRUTH?
These essays are philosophy (however good or bad they may be as such) and seeking the Truth about the human condition is (or should be) philosophy’s ultimate goal – leading it to its supposed holy grail – finding the answer to the question: “How should we best live?”
To illustrate, consider that another “T” Truth we know to be such – that humans seek to be happy. This has been established to be a Truth by a seemingly endless number of academic happiness studies. It is also a Truth that we go about achieving happiness in different ways – and that some of those ways work, some don’t – and some are actually counter-productive. That is, some of our ideas about what happiness is and what will surely produce it are not the Truth but our relative “t” truths (this does not prevent the statement that humans seek happiness from being the Truth). And to achieve lasting happiness is surely “to best live” – or at least a great distance towards it. We will examine the uniquely human phenomenon of striving to be happy and what it says about the human condition (and how to best live) in Essay 3 – here, we just need to see the importance of seeking Truth.
To conclude, the undoubted existence of our relative truths does not necessarily remove the existence of “T” Truths. Everything may be relative, but this relative world not only allows the existence of things that are relatively best, but forces selection for it – which process is hugely creative. It is in our relative universe’s creativity that its purpose must lie because that is what it does. Essay 3 will look more closely at what it, and we, ultimately create.
And now for the last pillar of the House of Disbelief to be examined by us – the apparent meaninglessness of the tasks which make up our life. It may be the last pillar considered but, for many, it is not the least.
For card-carrying, existentialist residents of the House of Disbelief, it is absurd for human beings to imagine that our lives can have any special meaning or significance. Informed by their House’s saints’ speculations – like: the death of God; that we are just our material bodies; that we must have only one life – and some knowledge, like: the revealed incredibility of religion; the inevitability of death; the role of natural selection in the evolution of our bodies – they conclude that life is an ultimately meaningless and purposeless Sisyphean task. Such a conclusion was well spelled out by leading existentialist, Albert Camus I his book “The Myth of Sisyphus” (1942).
Sisyphus was a mythical figure from ancient Greece who offended the gods (by betraying Divine secrets to mortals) and was given a perpetual and purposeless task as punishment – rolling a boulder up to the top of a mountain from whence it would inevitably roll back down. Many see human life as similar to the task of Sisyphus: just a string of endless repetitious tasks which can have no meaningful goal because we only have one life and, in the end, we are all dead – all goals necessarily transitory therefore devoid of ultimate purpose. This from philosopher, Richard Taylor:
“We toil after goals, most of them – indeed every single one of them – of transitory significance and, having gained one of them, we immediately set forth for the next, as if that one had never been, with this next one being essentially more of the same. Look at a busy street any day, and observe the throng going hither and thither. To what? Some office or shop, where the same things will be done today as were done yesterday, and are done now so they may be repeated tomorrow. And if we think that, unlike Sisyphus, these labours do have a point, that they culminate in something lasting and, independently of our own deep interests in them, very worthwhile, then we simply have not considered the thing closely enough.”
“The Meaning of Life”, Ed. E.D.Klemke, P.171 (From “Good and Evil”, Richard Taylor, 1967).
The dominance of 20th century philosophies flowing from the belief that all about our existence is known through a combination of our physical sciences and evolutionary theory (such philosophies as: existentialism, nihilism, materialism, atheism, relativism, post modernism) have left the majority in the educated West (barred from entering the House of God by their education) without a belief in God, an afterlife, and/or any meaning to this temporary existence other than the personal meanings we can instill in it, and any purposes other than those of our temporary animal body (daily survival and breeding into the future).
The inevitability of death, and the assumption that such is the end of our one and only life, makes all our achievements, however grand, ultimately purposeless. Even the most supposedly meaningful life tasks (for example: curing people of sickness; growing food; being a leader; entertaining people; creating art) are Sisyphean because those you cured, fed, led, and/or entertained are ultimately dead, gone, and forgotten – as you are. Life sometimes allows a little passing fun, if you are lucky, but always guarantees an amount of Sisyphean suffering, frustration, and death. So what’s the point of going through all the trouble involved in life?
Such a philosophy of meaninglessness is predicated on two related assumptions:
1.) that we are just our physical bodies – which are observably gone forever after death;
2.) that we only have one life – with only one transient body.
Let’s look at these assumptions.
1. WE ARE JUST OUR PHYSICAL BODIES
While we observably have animal bodies – which observably die and return to the planet from which they originated and under whose natural selection they evolved – is our self/being/consciousness merely of that physical body? Or is our self a nonphysical entity? We have considered some evidence in the above examinations of the various other pillars of the House of Disbelief which leads us to conclude that the human equation has both nonphysical and physical factors – both of which factors can determine our behaviours – separately or together (ecstasy). Our conclusion at this point in the essays is that we are not just our material body which is mortal but, more truly, our self which is constant. Much of Essay 3 hunts the mysteries of humanity for more evidence of this.
An examination of the second assumption (that we only have one life) will present more evidence to help us resolve the truth of the first – the point being that if we (our self) has verifiable consciousness of more than one existence, with more than one body, in more than one reality/era of time – then we are not definable by a body because we have had (existed with) many.
2. WE MUST ONLY HAVE ONE LIFE
What is the evidence that we must have only one life; and/or the evidence our self has many lives with many bodies in many eras?
There is actually no evidence that we must have only one life. As we concluded in our earlier examination of the “problem of evil” pillar of the House of Disbelief, the fact that we find our selves with an animal body once, is only proof that it can happen – hardly proof that it must never happen again. And if you think about it, the nonphysical self/soul/consciousness existing in tandem to make up a human being is a miracle in itself – opening up a whole world of miracles. Voltaire understood that when he concluded: “It is no more surprising to be born twice, that it is to be born once.”
Fine, but is there any evidence that we do have more than one life?