Archives for posts with tag: God

Some people think that a meaningless universe is inherently depressing. That a world without value or purpose is a void, is empty, and that emptiness seeps into all aspects of our being and tarnishes it black with despair. Nihilism is alleged to be the only reasonable belief system within an empty universe, and this frightens people. We all feel that there is meaning, and if that meaning is based on nothing, then it becomes invalid.

But let us look at a purposed universe. If the universe has to start at point Alpha, and must end at point Omega, then all the events between those two points necessarily must be predetermined because everything must culminate at this final position. If we are driving towards a particular end, then we would have no choice but to head towards it. We would be interchangeable cogs; our own value would be nothing, and the only possible meaning would lie in the path, not those who follow it.

If we are free, however, and we can either choose to follow the purposed path or ignore it, then that would be like “choosing” what 2 + 2 might equal. The answer could only ever be 4, and we end up not actually choosing at all.

If we are free to choose to the point where the Omega becomes fluid, then this universal purpose becomes invalid. Think of a screwdriver. If a screwdriver is only ever used to, I dunno, stab people in the eyeballs or something, and is never actually used to screw things, can we genuinely say its purpose to screw is imbued within it? Is it a screwdriver, or is it a stabby tool? By every single perspective, it would be a stabby tool, because that is the purpose that we have prescribed to it. Its created purpose would be irrelevant.

Any universe, if it has a beginning with a predetermined set of events that would lead a causal chain towards an inevitable end, saps any meaning from the individual and places it onto that chain. I know I was using Biblical terms to show the issues with God’s Plan, but this works with material determinism as well. At least with God there’s a semblance of hope and goodness in it. The common consensus is that entropy is the Omega of the material universe, and if our purpose lies solely in our path, then our purpose as material beings can only be death.

If there is no inherent meaning, however, then we are free. Some might argue that birth and death would be our Alpha and our Omega, and that freedom within these two illustrates that freedom can be possible within a purposed universe. However, death is not our ultimate Omega. Jean-Paul Sartre says, “It has often been said that we are in the situation of a condemned man among other condemned men who is ignorant of the day of his execution but who sees each day that his fellow prisoners are being executed. This is not wholly exact. We ought rather to compare ourselves to a man condemned to death who is bravely preparing himself for the ultimate penalty, who is doing everything possible to make a good showing on the scaffold, and who meanwhile is carried off by a flu epidemic.” Death, though inevitable, is unpredictable and just as contingent as everything else, thus making it impossible to be our purpose.

Because we are free, we choose our meaning every moment of every day. We constantly assign value, and our purpose comes from our decisions in the face of the contingencies of the purposeless universe. We are not an infinitesimal part of some “great plan”, we are the greatness. I would argue that the purposed universe is the empty one, because we as individuals become insignificant. In a meaningless one, we have the only significance.

The reason we fear the purposeless universe isn’t because we believe it leads to nihilism. It’s because it means we are responsible. In a universe with meaning, we are without obligation, without fear, because we know that what we do must be a part of what necessarily must happen. If we are free, then everything we do we are responsible for. Responsibility holds the greatest weight. One choice removes all other possible choices forever, and we can’t not choose.

It is, of course, impossible to prove or disprove fatalism. The jury is also still out on whether or not quantum theory has fully disproved material determinism. Just because a meaningless universe sounds better, doesn’t make it the truth.

I’m going to give two examples that personally make me lean more towards meaninglessness over meaning. I volunteer at a recovery house for drug addicts, and some guys get better, but most don’t. Sometimes the guys in the house get along, and sometimes they don’t. To me, if someone is trying to make a better life for themself, and they get placed in a house with someone else who they just can’t fundamentally get along with, and are forced to live next to this person 24/7, the likelihood of that person relapsing shoots up to almost 100%. Well, both of them, really. That something so trivial as the timing one is placed into a home for healing can make or break someone’s life, quite literally, is absurd. But it happens.

The other example is love. That there is someone out there that is perfectly compatible with you actually is quite likely. The law of averages says that someone within the entirety of the human race would have to have optimum compatibility with you. And that person would even necessarily have to be culturally compatible with you to the point of at least putting your location and timelines pretty close together. But pretty close together is relatively speaking compared to the entirety of the human race. Living on the west coast of Canada, my optimized ideal match could very well be in England, or Australia, or could just be being born right now. The likelihood of us ever meeting is almost non-existent. But let’s add the stipulation that this is a person that I will actually come across. There must be, throughout my life, the most optimized match for me. It won’t be as strong a match, but it will be stronger than anyone else I meet. But how many people do I actually engage with that I meet? Maybe I just see her on the bus, and we’re both wearing headphones. Or we just pass in the street. Now let’s add the further stipulation that of all the people that I engage with at least to the point where a relationship might become possible, there has to be an optimum match of those. But what if she’s just getting out of a relationship and is unable to commit? Or the opportunity passes because it is not recognized? Or I’m in a relationship and it’s fine enough that I am disinclined to leave it? We’ve already added so many stipulations that we’ve eliminated most of our optimal matches, and even when we’ve made it the easiest it can be to spend all of our days with this watered down “love of our life”, there are still many factors contributing to even that not coming to pass. Let’s be nice and say that you do meet this person and fall in love and spend the rest of your days together. What if you meet this person in the hospital bed next to you as you lay dying in your final days?

Dostoevsky has similar views on a universe with purpose. He looks at the suffering of children, and goes through many examples of horrific events involving the death and massacre of innocents. An army general letting loose his hunting dogs on a child; a child being locked in a Russian outhouse overnight, etc. He suggests that if the purpose of a universe is an ultimate harmony and bliss, why must it be paid for by the suffering of children? “If the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I would protest that the truth is not worth such a price.” Dostoevsky looks at the world, and rejects any purpose that necessarily requires the atrocity that he sees. That the universe might work in mysterious ways is another position Dostoevsky rejects: “I must have retribution, or I will destroy myself. And not retribution in some remote infinite time and space, but here on earth, and that I could see myself.” What value has justice if it’s obscured and postponed to the point of irrelevancy?

Yes, it is possible that this this world of seemingly pointless horror does have a point to it. A point that removes freedom and responsibility from those who participate in it. It is equally possible that there isn’t, and to me that seems the more sensible, and uplifting option. Unless all the meaning you’ve created for yourself disappears through contingencies outside of your control, and there is no permanent meaning outside yourself that you can cling to, that will always be there waiting for you, THEN I guess it could be a little depressing. But more meaning can always be created, and despair is not an excuse to not search for more. Just as misery can be pointless, so too can joy. Ever find ten bucks laying on the sidewalk?

Perhaps you might recall my earlier proofs of God, well here is another.

We live in a flawed reality. We use language with its limitations to describe things that we perceive with our imperfect sensory organs. The label of a thing is not that thing; it is merely how we as human beings are able to understand it to the best of our abilities. However, presumably there is actually a thing that we are perceiving and experiencing. It must have an essence that makes it what it is, despite us as a species being unable to objectively ratify it. The tree-ness of a tree, for example, that goes beyond a green leafy-looking thing that may or may not get rid of its green leafy-looking things every autumn.

The idea that things must have an essence that truly make them things was first theorized by a German, Immanuel Kant, and he referred to that essence as the thing-in-itself. While unable to be appreciated by our insufficient intellect, Kant suggests that there still must be an objective reality that transcends our experiential one, and defines it from the outside.

Arthur Schopenhauer, another German, built upon Kant’s theory of the thing-in-itself by suggesting that the Will is what makes a thing a thing. It is what drives us that defines us. Circumstance, character, environmental factors (note: all of these would be phenomena, existing within the experiential universe) may all focus or direct the Will, but the Will itself exists outside. The subject to the universe’s object.

Of course, there are gradations to the Will. The Will as it exists in a human being is a much stronger representation than the Will that exists in a fluffy bunny rabbit. The further down the scale, the more devoid of knowledge the subject becomes, and the more it must conform to laws. Animals are more susceptible to instincts, and plants only have the drive to grow, bear seed, and die. The bottom of the scale would be inanimate objects, mere pawns of physical laws.

Now what does the Will as the thing-in-itself have to do with God? Well, if the Hindus are to be believed, the Atman (the Self) is the same as the Brahman (God). The Will, as Schopenhauer envisions it, permeates all of eternity, and we are individualized portions of it, focusing it in our actions. If our Selves (our Atman) are all the representations of this Will, then we are all disillusioned into thinking that we are individual people, and to achieve salvation, or moral well-being, we would have to recognize the unity in all things, and act accordingly.

Another possibility of this theory accounting for a God is if each individual person/creature/object has their own thing-in-itself, rather than a generalized one that encompasses everything. For example, my Will would exist strictly within my own consciousness, and would not be a focusing of a larger/greater Will. If this were the case, and each Will of each person is their essence, each Will of each fluffy bunny or of each stone, then there would be a thing-in-itself of Being as well. Existence would require its own thing-in-itself, and following Schopenhauer’s proposition that the thing-in-itself is a Will, then there would be a Will behind the universe, this being God. Of course, Schopenhauer followed closer to the Hindu model and didn’t investigate this more individuated method (so far as I know), so this is just my own theory as to how the Will as the thing-in-itself is a potential for a proof of God.

Do I agree with this? Nope, still atheist. However, it is an interesting proof, and does answer the problem of Free Will that I look at in my previous post. Should I offer my refutation as to why I don’t believe it? Ehn, it’s getting kind of late. Maybe I’ll let you, dear readers, figure this one out for yourselves.

 

Everyone loves debating the existence of God. It’s been around since the beginning of God. Since it was only recently that the general population started to actually care about whether or not you can actually prove God through some logic or science or non-voodoo-esque methodology, it kind of baffles the mind a little bit that those who were trying to do it were doing it during a time when the belief in God was pretty much on par with the belief in air. But anyway, all the proofs for God that I know of are from way back in those days, so apparently now that people want more and more proof, it’s becoming less and less necessary to give it. Go figure.

So let’s look at some of these proofs and see which ones we like. And by we, I of course mean I. You’re not contributing anything to this, slacker. Keep in mind I’m not talking about the Christian God, or any particular God, just the notion of a creator being. These would be proofs for theism.

I’m going to breeze through a couple first before I get into the more complex ones. First off, the watchmaker proof. Say you find a watch on the beach, and see all the crazy shit that makes up how a watch works. You look at that crazy watch and you think, “Wow, this shit is fancy. Somebody must have built this!” The watch is too complex to exist uncreated, so its existence implies a watchmaker. The universe and all the junk in it are the watch in this obvious metaphor, and God would be the watchmaker. So because stuff is complicated, there must be a God. This is dumb because science happened, and now we know how things became complex. It’s because of science. Thanks, science!

The next one is morality. There has to be a source for Goodness in this universe, God is that source, therefore God must exist. This is dumb because no there doesn’t. Wishful thinking is not proof.

Next up is personal experiences. Witnessing miracles, near death experiences, all the things where people have “seen” or “experienced” the divine prove the existence of it. These might be very personal and subjective reasons to believe in God, but objectively they prove nothing. Judging things you can’t explain by attributing them to God is the same as attributing them to aliens. Or mole people. It also creates the problem of the “God of the Gaps”, which means that as these things become explained, the status of God is lessened until everything is explained and there is no longer any use for God. Once lightning is explained away by electrons and whatever the fuck else makes lightning happen (I studied the arts, give me a break), we no longer have need for Zeus. If you want God to be relevant, find another way to justify Him (Yes I just gendered God. It just makes life easier. I’ll use “Her” next time if it’ll make you feel better).

This next one is a bit more complicated and harder to explain away. However, it’s even more dumb than the previous proofs I’ve mentioned. This one can be blamed on St. Anselm the Asshole, who asks us to imagine thusly, “think of the most absolute perfect being. Now, what would be more perfect: if this being existed, or if it didn’t exist? It would be more perfect if this being existed, therefore ergo and badda bing, this being is God and God exists.” Anselm then tells us to “Suck on that, hosers!” and does a little victory dance because as ludicrous as this argument is, it’s very difficult to counter. Allow me, your lovely narrator, to try.

Our good friend Immanuel Kant has two counters to this argument. The first is that this proof splits God into two: God and the idea of God, which is a fairly shoddy God indeed. It doesn’t really disprove the argument, just suggests that it’s super ambiguous and lame, and therefore not good enough to be considered concrete proof. Kant goes on further to say that perfection is not predicated upon existence. Existence doesn’t make something better or worse; it’s merely Being, and therefore does not actually add anything to that being (pay attention, this is a lot of beings.)

A couple counters to THAT argument are that even if existence doesn’t necessarily make something better or worse, it does vastly change the concept of that being. Does it make it more perfect? Who knows. The other is that necessary existence (not boring, regular-type existence) IS a predicate (such as, a four-side triangle necessarily must not exist), and that’s what Anselm was talking about. However, I disagree that necessary existence is a thing, since all the examples I’ve come across have been closer to necessary non-existence, which I would argue is a completely different notion. Also, this is still confusing even for me, so let’s just look at my idea next which totally refutes the thing to such a point that all of these counter and counter-counter arguments are superfluous.

My idea is that perfection as a concept is flawed. Since Anselm is asking us to do the imagining, he is relying on subjective analysis to create this perfect being. So the problem is, my idea of a perfect being would be one who makes it rain beer, whereas some other person’s idea of a perfect being might be one that really hates beer (looking at you, Mormons). Since there can be no objective definition of perfection, the proof is invalid. Suck on that, Anselm, you jag.

The last argument I’m going to dismiss outright is Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover. Or the First Cause. It has a few names. What this one boils down to is that each event was caused by a previous event. You exist because your parents conceived you, they came from your grandparents, so on back to the apes, back to the primordial ooze, back to the beginning of the universe. If each event has been caused, there has to be something that started the chain. The finger that pushed the first domino, so to speak. That finger… is God. This God has been the God of the philosophers for a long-ass time, since it’s super logical and reasonable and smart people tend to eat that shit up. However, it’s not very popular because Deism is super boring, and not at all relevant to the goings-on of every day life. People typically prefer a more personable deity that they can relate to. One that shares similar values, etc.

Also, I don’t think that it necessarily proves the existence of an Unmoved Mover either. The question that started this was, “what caused everything?” Well, I have to ask, “What caused God?” The answer is, “Nothing caused God; God just is” which is the point of the Unmoved Mover. But how come God just is? Why can’t the universe just is? If the causal chain has to stop, what difference does it make whether it stops at the universe, or at God? Look at this shoddy diagram I’m going to attempt here:

God causes universe causes x causes y causes z….

compared to

Universe causes x causes y causes z….

The argument for what just is seems to be arbitrary. If the universe has to have a beginning (which I don’t necessarily think that it does) then why does it have to be a being that causes it, when it could be just a simple event like the big bang or something with the word quantum in front of it.

Now I’m going to offer one argument that has a bit of clout to it. The universe is bound by mathematical laws. For example, gravity will always be defined by its mathematical formula. Because these laws are absolute (and even if our current laws are wrong, newer ones will still prove this theory), there must be a lawmaker. God is a mathematician.

This still runs into a few of the problems we’ve encountered before. Like with the watchmaker, why does a law imply a lawmaker? But these laws have been here since the beginning of time, have never changed, and continue to define the universe, unlike the complex entities that the watchmaker theory refers to.

The best counter-argument I can come up with is one similar to the First Cause counter-argument. Just as the universe could easily be just is, so too could the laws that define it be as such.

My final proof, however, does prove the existence of God beyond the shadow of a doubt. It all comes down to a sociological theory called the Thomas theorem: “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” So for example, objectively speaking, race isn’t a real thing. There is no difference between white people and black people outside of the colour of their skin. However, if you’re a black person on trial in the American south during the Jim Crowe era, it really doesn’t matter that race isn’t a thing. You’re fucked. You know why? Because of your race. Same with being white-bread going into Harlem after dark. You can objectively state that race is real because the consequences of race are real.

So it is with God. People recover from addiction, they honestly repent their crimes, they find serenity and strength, they blow up buildings and drink suspicious kool-aid, all because of God. You tell any one of those people that God doesn’t exist, and they will show you the proof in the consequences. The addiction is gone, the criminal is reformed, the spirit is healed, the building is destroyed, and Jonestown is a graveyard. The consequences are measurably real, therefore the thing causing them must be real. So God is real. At least, sociologically speaking She is.