Sunday, 08 March 2009
Elliot B has also posted an interesting response (link) to my comments on the James Chastek thread (link and originally this link). I started looking up words to make sure I knew what they meant and realized other people might like some handy links to them if they care to read through this. There's a little section of links to articles Elliot B supports but all the links to the dictionary have been added by me. The italic sections are Elliot B's post.
It seems that what is happening in this thread is the perennial mistake of subsuming God and His creatures under some idealized rubric of categories. This is the presumption of an a-Christological worldview. The key premise for Ben, it seems, is the moral primacy of “individual autonomy.” Unfortunately, however, this relies on an assumption that “individuality” not only is coherent per se (which I deny) but also presides over God and creatures univocally. Likewise it is assumed that there is some highest standard of goodness, to which both God and man must submit.
Curiously, individuality has been erroneously denied by someone mysteriously referring to themselves as "I." In keeping with James Chastek's original claim that actual Christian beliefs are not being addressed in most atheist criticisms of Christianity, Elliot B insists on a new category of morality that apparently is devoid of key aspects of the category humans are familiar with. As far as I can tell, this category is identical to "amorality" (link and link) and undermines the coherency of God caring about humanity in the minimalistic Jesus sense. If God manages to not care to such an amazing extent, the most obvious question is how much would such a God be apathetic? With even a cursory swathe of God's infinite attributes it follows immediately the answer [to the question, "How much does God care?"] is probably "not at all." Though Elliot B is partially correct in his assessment of my case, individual autonomy is merely one grossly neglected factor in the Christian moral paradigm. It should not be confused with being the most important moral factor there is from my perspective. A proper balance of both egoism and utilitarianism is actually in play but such a balance was not the focus of the problem in question and I will get more into that as we go along.
But the Catholic protest to all such pagan “subsumption” is simply the Eucharist. In the Eucharist alone do we find our canon of humanity and divine goodness. In Christ alone, as He is truly given to us in the divine liturgy, we find all the treasures of wisdom and goodness. The Eucharist, which is one with the Cross, is not something that happens in some larger “given” field of being (viz., the “neutral” universe as such), but something which simultaneously grounds creation as stemming from the Father in the Son by the Holy Spirit and elevates it to the same divine persons in common. Ontologically, Christ Incarnate is the basis for there being individual humans at all. Only insofar as a creation suitable for humans is ratified and redeemed in His Incarnation (made present historically and concretely in the Eucharist), can we fathom the creation of humans. Christ partakes of our humanness, not as if it were some antecedent metaphysical category limiting God, but as the ordained pattern for our existence. Thus, our humanity becomes the means by which we find (or lose) God. It is not that Christ partook of humanity qua ideal form, but that humanity is privileged to exist actually by participation in the kenotic glory of Christ Incarnate. God did not look ahead and see “humanity,” and then decide that was a fitting way for us to know and love Him. Quite the contrary: He looked ahead at a myriad of ways in which creatures might reflect and share in His goodness, and decided “humanity” was a fitting way for that self-diffusion to happen. Christ is not to be measured by His likeness to our instinct for “the good man,” for we are human only insofar as we possess a likeness to Him as the Suffering Servant.I'm going to assume that Elliot B believes there is such a thing as goodness outside of those who participate in the Christian communion ritual on Sunday mornings and that his rhetoric indicating otherwise is merely incredibly over-stated. Otherwise, I'm pretty sure this conversation is not worth continuing.
The actual claim is that the best of human nature (and the best our moral minds of the ages have entertained, including all of our fictional gods in religious literature) should coherently reflect in the "good" God who made human nature the way it is. If the cosmic stamper stamped the ground, the image in the dirt should look like the stamp and the stamp should look like the image. It should work both ways and it doesn't matter what the technical theological order of operations is. This is a very rudimentary checks and balances and quality control on the version of theism we might be investigating. Let's say ten different gods apply for the job of being the real good god we should all become like, it follows that we have to have some measuring stick to work with. And if each of these gods gets to write any old thing on their ontological resume and we have to swallow that uncritically, we have no means of determining which religious movement we should join. Which version of holiness should I want to partake of? An evil God's "holiness?" An amoral God's "holiness?" How about a God who's brand of morality that is impossible to relate to? We seem to be talking as though the basics of prosperity, mental health, and positive reciprocation are primitive, overly human conventions, and inapplicable. I don't see why anything like that follows. Would Elliot B really have us believe that the most enlightened communion guzzling Saint would condone a moral decision that knowingly resulted in doing more harm than good? Would this Saint run a daycare center with any pretenses to the amoral standards God apparently has for the broad spectrum of humanity? Why would anyone want to participate in a "goodness" that entailed the gross analogous mismanagement of humanity? The perennial error appears to be that of the Christians who think they can get away with calling an amoral God "good." Wouldn't participating in such an amoral "goodness" make you amoral as well? Why in the world would anyone want that or respect it in others?
This shows us that our canon for good human conduct is to be patterned after gratuitous suffering on behalf of others who can give us nothing in return. This is precisely why much of “being human” means enduring life for the good of future generations and people we don’t even know. This impulse in humans to keep living and to “make things better” is but an analogical reflection of Christ’s own preeminent one-way kenosis on our behalf. As long as the standard for “good conduct” is reified anonymously and pitted against God-in-Christ, the atheist critic is simply not engaging the Catholic Church’s own claims about good and evil. This, I believe, is James Chastek’s point. Precisely in the intersection of the gratuitous existence of the world (i.e., nothing need have been the case apart from God) and the gratuitous suffering we can offer for others, we find a clue to the mystery of evil. Ezekiel denies a man will be punished individually for the individual sins of another, but unfortunately, no one exists individually. We exist collectively, derivatively, as members of the human race. Hence, we can individually experience the collective evils of our race, as well as individually add to them. So, if we desire to exist as humans, we have no choice but to exist as the heirs of concrete humans before us. This, of course, entails inheriting humanity from them as much as inheriting the woes of sin. Certainly, if God wanted to “dote” on us individually, so that we would never experience the rotten fruit of our ancestors, He could—namely, by not creating us as humans. We are not punished for the sins of others, but we are subject to the punishments given to others insofar as others are the ontological and psychological basis for our particular humanity.First, as I pointed out to DChernik (link), Elliot B appears to suffer from an a-rational aversion to making use of his imagination here. Jesus clearly implies (link) that there will be no reproduction in heaven and so it follows the entire collectivistic inheritance scheme at any level (and what Elliot has said is entirely consistent with what I already had in mind and was criticizing) is not only obviously unnecessary, but explicitly denied in his own religion. It doesn't have to be this way and it is, with obvious disastrous immediate and eternal results even if we adopt the very measure of the religion itself (which is communion with God).
Second, I believe it is logically possible for such an extreme altruistic game plan to be the ideal frame of mind for a conscious being. For example, it seems reasonable to think that the Mandalorian clones of Jango Fett in Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones, could be psychologically engineered to make being completely obedient to Jedi generals and going to war against the Separtist droid armies and dying for the unknown people of the Republic the quintessential greatest state of mind they could ever hope to live and die for. However, I'm not sure that this is actually the case for the ordinary stock of humanity. Even if it was, that wouldn't really make Christianity true, it would just mean the greatest possible experience was constantly serving others to amazing degrees. Anyone could just start doing that, because they knew that it would be the rhyme and reason of how genuine human happiness actually works. The invisible middle man is simply not required. However as many have noted, if we are only here to serve others, what in the world are other people here for? A straight forward balance of the two factors is implied by the very nature of the good acts towards other people. If it is worthwhile to take care of people's needs and wants, then what makes the doer any less human or their own needs and wants any less worthwhile? I can easily concede that some people may be constrained by such an overly self sacrificing moral strategy (regardless of how they understand that), but I strongly suspect that a balance of both self service and selfless service of others is probably our moral mean that average individuals should strive for in order to attain a natural equilibrium of tranquility and satisfaction in life. However, I could be wrong. This is an evidential question. What actually works best for most people despite the habits and patterns they may be currently stuck in? What makes a human being feel the most alive and well and full of every positive attribute the greatest of our philosophers could ever hope to identify? If Christians are to maintain any pretenses to factual claims about the world and what is actually literally best for humanity, their worldview is subject to these "constraints." The world of psychology seems well on its way to building this basic profile (ex: link) and more Christian philosophers should take notice.
Third, on a side note, I have to point out even more of Elliot B's exaggeration. Is a bad weekend two thousand years ago to be considered "gross suffering?" We can throw in 40 days of hell in the desert, but that's still like only 41 days of starvation and being beat up one afternoon. Jesus could only experience so much humiliation in kenotic form. I'll bet we could get a large sample range of excommunicated unbelievers to suffer through 41 days of equal misery if it would save all the souls Jesus decided to leave in hell for all eternity. And you know how cruddy most people can be. Just about anyone would save a little girl from being brutally raped and murdered if they saw it happening, but such an earmark is apparently not a part of your omnipresent god's salvation stimulus package and one has to honestly wonder why if the best of our strongest moral impulses are truly "an analogical reflection of Christ’s own preeminent one-way kenosis on our behalf." As long as the arbitrary theological construction presented always entails validating the very same positive moral frame of mind that most sane people are quite familiar with, Christianity most certainly has been directly addressed in the points that matter and all such complaints and tangents from Christians amount to misdirection in my opinion. Of course, if such a connection is not made, that pretty much by definition means that God is something other than good and theology goes off the cliff in just another direction.
Fourth, it should also be noted that accepting the non-individualism means that Ezekiel is just talking to hear the sound of his own voice and that seems rather implausible in and of itself. Should the people that Ezekiel was reprimanding have said what Elliot B has said back to me? "Well, yeah, but that never applies. So why don't you say something relevant instead?" Me thinks there might have been yet another scandalous she-bear attack in their future...hehehe
Along many of the above lines, I highly recommend the reading of Michael Liccione’s essays, “Mystery and Explanation in Aquinas’s Account of Creation” and “The Problems of Evil” and a reading of Donald Keefe’s Covenantal Theology and his other writings on creation, theology of history, and the Eucharist. (John Kelleher has good introductory materials to Keefe’s work. Also, Fr. David Meconi, SJ [PDF!], has a good essay on Keefe’s theology of history, but it seems to be offline. I have a copy on my computer, which I can send to those who request it.)I will add these selections to my "not my religion" suggested reading list post that has been in the works for some time (it's private currently).
Lastly, as for Tegmark’s surd-omniverse, if it a) is mathematically-axiomatically formalizable and b) claims to provide a necessarily true description of the physical universe, it is subject to Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, and is therefore not necessarily true. Further, insofar as it purports to be a scientific theory, it needs empirical backing. Suffice to say, the empirical backing for the unified existence of every logically possible state of affairs (SoA) is not only slim but also asymptotically hard to come by.I actually agree that Tegmark's view is absurd (and he does, too, link), have always been under the impression that there is no theory of everything that can be represented in an equation (contrary to Tegmark), and that proving the abstract of the hypothesis evidentially may be very impractical given the nature of the claims. I don't see how it is even possible to get more specific even in principle than just saying "all possible pattern exists." I think Tegmark will eventually have to come to terms with the fact our equations can only represent our relative ontological perspective and can never actually be complete. That's my opinion anyway. More power to him if he can prove me wrong. I know the knee jerk reaction of just about every theist I've ever seen comment on multiverse theories is to suppose they are impossible to prove beyond speculation (ex: link), but Tegmark (and others with their own versions, link) is actually moving forward to provide the support for his hypothesis with testable claims. I can't say the same about advocates of the god hypothesis (feel free to correct me). In the meantime, since I'm sure this generation of Christians is as patient with progress of science into the unknown as they have been awaiting the second coming of Christ, it can be pointed out that God begs the same question the god hypothesis purports to solve in terms of the problem of particularity. Instead of asking why the universe is arbitrarily the way it is (or, as they would say, "designed") we have to ask why this divine super mind (of whatever description) is arbitrarily the way it is. Tegmark's views actually answer the question rather than begging it. A goal post for what would not be particular must be set and theology does not even attempt to do this. The best answer I've ever seen is to define/recognize that particularity is in actuality the state of ontological incompleteness at an absolutely generic level of any logically possible pattern (or logically possible mathematical structure as Tegmark would say). Even your own rhetoric explicitly points out the incoherent brute factoid of the Christian worldview ("the gratuitous existence of the world (i.e., nothing need have been the case apart from God)"). Yet, though this God has no need of anything else, it still arbitrarily decides to create things anyway. Um...why? It has some random preference?
So in terms of internal consistency, Tegmark wins. In terms of better speculation, Tegmark wins. In terms of more honest inquiry into the unknown (rather than being totally in bed with your speculation as the Bride of Christ is with the god hypothesis), Tegmark wins. In terms of the naturalistic precedent for explaining the natural world since personal supernatural explanations have so far thus failed to achieve scientific consensus, Tegmark wins. In terms of moving forward with actual testable claims (or at least fully intending to), Tegmark wins. Importantly, in terms of actually plausibly solving the philosophical problem in question rather than displacing it to yet another question mark, Tegmark wins. I'm still waiting for something in the plus column from the Christian perspective other than poorly thought out incredulity. Ironically as much as Christians will scoff, their hypothesis can only at best be said to have even less going for it. And most importantly, in terms of abduction, Tegmark wins.
Likewise, I wonder: surely “a metaphysically simple cosmos with no parallel universes or alternative modes of being” is logically coherent, but can such a SoA be said to exist in Tegmark-space?I'm not really sure what you are getting at here, but if you believe that something cannot come from nothing as many Christians will confidently assert, then God must already somehow have stored up in his perfect imagination Tegmark's multiverse. Therefore, we both believe Tegmark's multiverse probably exists. If God's imagination is the common ground, that means the Christian worldview posits a superfluous "theo-cortex" in addition to at least one "extra" creation (in addition to the identical imagined version of us). Hence all things considered, Tegmark is ironically asserting less than the Christian worldview is and their god hypothesis should be labeled the "surd-god" (to use your own intentions and phrase construction). Therefore, in terms of Occam's razor, Tegmark also wins.
Well that was fun. : D
It is reasonable to allow theists (and atheists for that matter) the time to process new philosophical ideas beyond their first impression of them. I've been vigorously working with defending and consistently applying Tegmark's views for years now. And each and every time, it's still just the tip of the iceberg it seems for theistic sensibilities and is not even on their radar. My counsel for them is to take a step back and actually consider the debate-scape how I present it. They may think nothing of naturalistic philosophy and everything of the last few thousand years of theistic philosophy (despite the incredible success of methodological naturalism in overturning supernatural explanations), but it isn't going away. Science isn't going to arbitrarily stop and multiverse theorists are going to push the envelope regardless of the incredulity of theists. If they are going to make "not my religion" complaints, it would seem only fair to point out that it does no good to not take seriously the actual up and coming opposing viewpoints.
On the other hand, it is not very reasonable to allow theists to get away with their moral gerrymandering. They've had all the time in the world to ponder such issues and all they can come up with are arbitrary, disassociated, and unfair definitions of "goodness" that can't pass any outsider tests. I have no problem cutting people slack for the former set of metaphysical issues so they have time to think and reassess, but not these latter set of moral issues. There is no reason why God's version of goodness should exclude carefully tending to the salvations of each and every individual, giving them all the best possible opportunity for success. As I have rigorously pointed out, my standard is defensible rain or shine. And as I have rigorously pointed out, the "low standard" is endlessly indefensible at just about every point. Therefore the argument from evil against the existence of a good, all powerful, all knowing deity stands. It doesn't matter that the standards used are "different" (since that's obvious), it matters which is better and why. What is the more reasonable and appropriate expectation? I've shown this inside the Christian worldview and also outside of it on stand alone terms. Christians are fighting an uphilll battle on both counts. Are Christians really that unconcerned with whether they are being taken advantage of in their metaphysical ignorance? It really seems so sometimes.