Tag Archives: deism

How would you like to start a religion?

In Alain de Botton’s recent book; Religion for Atheists, the School of Life philosopher argues the benefits of religious thinking. He points out that the shared values in humanist philosophy and religion are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, the structures and traditions of each may be useful in creating a society that we can all agree is good and moral, regardless of their personal God (or lack of one).

Big Think – Alain de Botton “Religion for Atheists”

Those with brilliant acumen for realizing the essential effects of religious and spiritual thinking, as well as skeptical and critical thinking, should use every tool to navigate an otherwise trapped society ruled by charlatan plutarchs and snake-oil salesmen.

Tim Mawson has argued that atheists need to pray in an open-ended fashion, at the very least as a personal experiment to falsify the possibility of one’s own spiritual pantheon. Or is this a dubious step down the path to belief, activating and placating the God delusion parts of the brain? Or can a sufficiently intelligent brain maintain the divisions between outwardly-seeming contradictory systems of thought? Though Richard Dawkins would ask ‘what’s the point?’, many others ask ‘what’s the harm?’

Or as Kadam Morten (teacher in the New Kadampa tradition of Buddhism) explains, the neuro and cognitive sciences have shown an increasing benefit to the sustained practice of meditation, which can permanently change the structure of the brain and improve attentional capacity. Buddhists belief in the interdependence and interconnectedness of all things – a kind of unified theory of everything, and that all of reality is a distortion, which is echoed in the disconnect we know exists between physical reality, our sense organs, and the brain that illusorily compartmentalizes our experiences. Morten reminds us that the human capacity for love, compassion, peace, apology, happiness and joy all live in the brain, and can be understood through the lens of both spirituality or scientific discovery.

Since we all seem to be wired for belief, whatever the survival mechanism that brought us to this point, these instincts have clearly had a massive impact on religion, art, society, ethics and emotion. And while the corroborative neural pathways in humans and other animals can tell us a lot about brain evolution, the more subjective questions of emotion may always be beyond our grasp. How could we ever fully understand what emotion an animal is feeling, or even apply the human words we’ve developed with our own electrochemical impulses? But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be more informed, more literate, in our empathic roles as researchers and investigators and thinkers.

Some of these questions are (as yet) unfalsifiable, which makes them useless to science, but not necessarily to our growth and adaptability as humans. Provided there is no conflict with the current model of scientific knowledge, the Canon, then perhaps the ever-evolving systems of religious and spiritual thinking in our history can also build into a productive model of social utility.

But reconciling the physical world of hard science and metaphysical speculation is nothing new, and the brain is certainly capable of maintaining multiple worldviews.

When Einstein referred to his God, he was referring to Spinoza’s God. Indeed, when Richard Dawkins denies God, he refers implicitly to the God of traditional theology, and not Spinoza’s being of infinite attributes… or being itself. In so doing, the Big Bang can be the creation myth, empirical discovery becomes our theology, the laws of physics our forms of magick, and the Heat Death of the Universe becomes analogous to the Eschaton.

The Philosopher’s Zone – Beth Lord “Spinoza’s God”

This is not to say that science is based on belief, that creationism is in any way equitable to evolution, that quantum physics can by extrapolated on the macro-scale to justify mystical flim-flam, or that energized memory crystals can infuse the power of intention to transform reality into the magical alternate version you desire. Some things are simply false notions.

Atheists are still the most hated and distrusted group in America, despite being on average just as moral and law-abiding as any random religious adherent (and certainly more than some I could mention). Reason and philosophy have different aims from religion, the extent to which these various factors rule our lives and interact and cooperate with each other partly determining the kind of person we will be.

Theists do battle with atheists, atheists fight right back, many religions disenfranchise or discriminate against others, while some atheists belittle agnostics and others whose beliefs and opinions differ from their own.

The false dichotomy has it that people on the right behave and believe irrationally, and that those on the left are amoral heathens. But what if all parties involved transcended their petty differences to find those sticking similarities? How could we organize our communities, nations, and minds in such ways as to accept the verifiable truths found in science, and the infinitely complex beings we believe keep us thinking, going, doing, feeling, and helping?

Lest we forget that our great American experiment was started by a group of deists, who believed in a necessary first cause but were otherwise largely agnostic regarding the idea of an interventionist Creator. They believed that intellectual pursuit, discourse, and hard work were what built a nation, not an affinity to ghosts and clouds. True, while many of the groups that came to America to escape religious persecution and indoctrination were more puritanical, many others rightly splintered from them. Splitters.

Even Scientology, which is only fifty-eight years old and is largely regarded as a cult of science-fiction quackery, has spawned a reform movement of former members now disillusioned by the Church, but still firm believers in the metaphysical benefits they receive through their form of worship:

Marty was given intensive auditing, carried out lengthy meditation exercises, and at one point during a “communication drill” in which he had to silently stare into a counsellor’s eyes for an hour, underwent what he calls an “out-of-body” experience. “I literally exteriorised from my body,” he says. “It was incredible. It changed everything.”

The tools of science reveal that meditation alters brain-wave states, ritual belief and thinking change the dosage of electro-chemical impulses, and fasting raises the user’s perceptional awareness and focus. All this without the drama of a a bullying god, danger of fraud such as dying in a sweat lodge under some nincompoop new age guru, myopic prejudice rendered by dogmatic interpretations, or tithing your savings to a theocorporate entity.

Perhaps a truly superintelligent being (AI, extraterrestrial, extradimensional, god-like, or ourselves in the near future) would need to explore an infinitely rich tapestry of realities involving scientific discovery, spiritual self-reflection, psychoanalysis and even experimental psychedelic use.

“It has to do with your own intelligence. Truly stupid people aren’t interested in psychedelics because they can’t figure out what the point of it is. It feeds off intelligence. It’s a consciousness-expanding drug. If you don’t have any consciousness you can’t expand it.”

-Terence McKenna

And while an extreme intelligence would be largely unpredictable, given that its parameters for growth and survival would be very different than our mortal comprehension, it is useful to note that no strategy or resource would go ignored or unconsidered. It should go without saying, but often goes unnoticed, that a diverse set experiences, techniques and modalities for thinking will yield a more well-rounded, intellectual individual with wider options and resources for problem solving and deep reflection. We may even reach a point in our development towards super-intelligence that allows us to induce analytical or spiritual thinking, psychedelic or profound experiences all at will, depending on what suits our present needs.

Science is still the greatest tool we have for discovering the truth about the physical world, and neuroscience may bring us answers in the coming centuries concerning our elusive and dated conceptions of consciousness and self.

But epistemology and metaphysics aside, the most pressing and useful marriage of these techniques and schools of thought could further the higher order ethics usually found in humanist philosophies, and in the desire utilitarianism of Alonzo Fyfe, as “the idea that morality involves using praise and condemnation to promote desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and to inhibit desires that tend to thwart other desires.” This empirical system defines ‘general good‘, which can be either true or false, and the more specific ‘moral good‘:

“A good desire is a desire that tends to fulfill other desires. A bad desire is a desire that tends to thwart other desires.”

It uses relational values in such a way to determine a moral realism and not a moral relativism, in the same way that, say, distance can be both relative and definitely quantifiable at the same time. This would seem to result in a society that pursues civil libertarian values that do not adversely affect the lives of others, while rejecting both the individual subjectivism of psychotics and narcissists, and any desires based on fictional precepts such as neo-conservatism or fundamentalist dogma. In other words, such a system of ethics avoids the dangers of both populist and oligarchical power-mongering based on false notions. It, like other rational forms of philosophy and political science, would allow religious followers to worship as they see fit, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. This would seem simple and American enough, and perhaps such a reasonable approach may one day replace the heated rhetoric and violent passion of theocratic conflict.

Conversations From the Pale Blue Dot – Alonzo Fyfe “Desire Utilitarianism”

In the realm of the secular sciences, peace is already being wedged into the Middle East, with cooperative endeavors such as SESAME, or Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications, which has been bringing together physicists from Israel and Egypt and Jordan, and perhaps eventually Iran.

Culture codes, languages and biases cannot be changed overnight. But perhaps the ongoing reformation (of art, science, philosophy, and religion) can utilize these ideas to bridge the gaps in these disparate fields. As we can see, they all have vital importance to operating minds, and we need only to overcome the contrived conflicts that have arisen through ignorance, but that may otherwise doom us with their obstinacy.

Deistification

With religious persecution no longer all the rage, I’ve given consideration lately to the steps by which I freely became an agnostic deist. I’ve always had my doubts in the bible, even when mad deacons put forth the scientific evidence for the ark, or the perfect beauty of a snowflake, much of it is very ridiculous. That is, deserving some ridicule.

Al Pacino (i.e. the devil), had some very interesting things to say regarding the paradoxes present ever since the Garden of Eden, not the least of which being the hypocrisy of God to condemn his only begotten son to a brutal death simply because of a case of entrapment he had set up against two weak-minded humans thousands of years before to commit their fated sin(s). The philosophical inconsistencies alone began to make my head spin.

I dabbled with the sophistry of creationists like Kent Hovind, (having been given his tapes by an uncle) but never having been a Christian zealot, it came from more of a place of intellectual rebellion, trying to find the most obscure and bizarrely interesting ideas in defiance of everything mainstream. I was a teened-ager at this point.

Soon after, my mind began to wander into areas of critical thinking and skeptical exploration, listening to paranormal talk radio and reading books about how we may have been seeded by ancient aliens. Though they would not be kept on my eventual list of beliefs, these ‘third options’ presented made the dogmatic religious origins seriously suspect.

Still, the beauty of nature argument from certain historical philosophers, as a merely personal spiritual concept, was quite compelling.

As I delved into history, I learned about Descartes, and eventually the real beliefs of the founding fathers of America, and was surprised to learn that most of them were agnostics and deists, words I didn’t have much context for. The ideas resonated with me more than mere atheism, though the debate over which is more of a hard-core belief system, and which is the real cop-out persist, with every side having their own biased arguments.

For a while, I simply adhered to Pascal’s wager, to hedge my bets.

Eventually, in college and after, I discovered the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, and the writings and recordings of Carl Sagan, the arguments and evidence from biology, history, physics, quantum mechanics and philosophy oped to me a new realm of cosmological context. The debates found on the Conversations From the Pale Blue Dot podcast situated my belief as a personal choice, despite Richard Dawkins‘ or Stephen Hawking‘s insistence that no God is necessary, nothing falsifiable precludes it.

I can see how the world is beautiful with or without the existence of God, and I certainly don’t buy that our ability to believe at all is proof in a built-in system of God’s. However, with theories such as the holographic universe, the interconnectedness of the (as-yet-undiscovered) Higgs-Boson particle, and every spiritual guru’s insistence, I allow for the possibility of the experimental, psychedelic Creator.

But I cannot accept that God or Jesus or Krshna or Allah tampers with us daily. You spend enough time examining the world, you really begin to see the absence of the Hand of God in everything.

So there’s a bias for you.

Like ants…

I’m watching a little ant on the bathroom tile floor, thinking about deism, and that, purely for the purposes of human understanding, I’m sure that an omnipotent being wouldn’t even fall within any of the limitations our most liberal definition of omnipotence would grant him. Imagine though that you are the god looking at the ant, you can compel all of its movements, you can kill it at any time you wish in any variety of ways, you can make it stop, you can trap it, you can create a specific path for it, you can put any kind of obstacle, punishment, reward… you can’t control its decisions, but to you they don’t even seem like decisions anyways, it doesn’t frustrate you that they’re not going to your plan because you really don’t have a plan for this ant, it’s not so much a being, it’s representation of life is about as abstract as a little robot that’s just there to hold your curiosity while you’re taking a shit. Now imagine that you have the cognitive capacity to monitor entire hills of ants, you could control each of their destinies without controlling any of their decisions. That may tell us something about how predestination and free will coincide, you have some limited range of choices within this rigorously set guide, but we’d like to think that things are a little more complicated than that, as our brains are slightly more complicated than an ant’s, and God’s presumably astronomically moreso than ours. But then I was thinking, I don’t sit and look at ants or anthills often, usually I see them by chance and I may flick one off of me or sit and monitor its movements like I just have. If I stand up, I won’t see it anymore, if I move or turn my head for a moment it could be gone. It is unimportant to me. If one catches my attention, that’s one thing, but I don’t go out of my way looking for them, and I certainly don’t busy myself with their lives and decisions and goals, tiny and abstract as their concept of life may be to mine in comparison. I think that I’m a deist, then, because whatever definition we have for God, he has much more important things to do than set his rigid laws and judgements for us. On a large scale, none of us can pretend to understand or theorize what his decisions may be or why he does them. But if he’s there and we’re giving him, by definition, the ability to do anything limited only by that which he won’t do, well, what wouldn’t he do or couldn’t he do, or shouldn’t, and I though, I am much more interested in whether or not the decisions of God are predestined than whether or not the options of man are. Because if God has to make a decision a certain way, what’s that say for the rest of the universe?