Thursday, July 19, 2007

Pick, Choose, Lose

You almost certainly have heard the retort to those that claim we need to do away with religion and religious morality that without that pillar of religion we could not possibly know what is moral and immoral. Somehow, after so many years, after so many philosophers have ponders this subject, somehow so many talk-show hosts, theologians, and regular people think that this is a proper retort. They may know that at some level it does not prove that some god exists, but it gives them the justification to believe. I wish to demonstrate the intrinsic error in the thinking of such persons and thus show the argument is self-refuting.
Firstly, a question: "Has anyone heard of the Euthyphro dilemma?" In one dialog of Plato 2400 years ago, our interlocutor demonstrated the absurdity of morality coming from a divine source. "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" Similarly: "Is the good loved by the god(s) because it is good, or is it good because it is loved by the god(s)?" All of the attempts to try to get past this dilemma are based on attempts to make the definition of god malleable enough to make good and god one in the same. This does nothing because by defining god as good, the term good then loses its meaning; an action is called good only because it is what god did; if he had done something else, that would have been good as well. Of course, should I do the same, somehow I may be charged with a crime. Hence, the action must have a level of goodness to it even if not done by any gods. Aquinas' sophistry is no rescue.
Further, within the moral context of religion, we are truly doomed. Take religious belief X and religious belief Y. According to the X religious moralist, the things deemed good and evil by the deity of X are in fact good and evil; similarly is the case for the Y religious moralist. We know from experience that certain religions will have different moral precepts, otherwise what distinguishes them are inconsequential. Judaism does not allow the eating of pork; Jainism does not allow harm to come to even the smallest creature; the Mezo-American religions of the past had human sacrifice; homosexuality is taboo in many belief systems; etc. Within this context then, how does a moral sanction in X and another in Y work with each other? What I mean is this: in X, some moral precept will be different from that in Y; in fact, X may call something in Y immoral. He says this because of X. Y does not accept this because of the precepts of Y, and Y may even charge X with similar statements of immorality. An example of this can be the case of homosexuality. Some churches today say it is sin; others are not claiming it is sin or wrong at all, even though they read the same holy book. Further, by condemning homosexuality, the latter church could claim the former church was acting immorally because of how they treated homosexuals and make them feel guilty unnecessarily. Both churches can make opposite claims, both claim that they are being moral, and claim the other is being immoral.
A certain word should come to mind here: relativism. That is what we have here with this situation of different religions. And it is ironic because the theist claims morality from god to ensure that it is absolute and not relative. And it is not always just about minor issues of what you can eat or how long your hair should be. We also have to deal with the oppression of half of the population because of their estrogen levels; countless holy wars have been issued based on revelation and textual clairvoyance; the nether-reaches of people are hacked away at; who you can commune with is limited; the examples are without end. And you would be hard-pressed to find agreement on these issues even within the larger spheres of any many religion. The Christians cannot agree about apostolic tradition or homosexuality or contraception, for example. And the things that almost all people would call evil has happened in the name of these theologies.
Now, one often hears the retort that we just need to weed out the bad theologies and leave the good ones. And how are we supposed to know what theologies are good and bad if what is good and bad is based on theology? The statement supposes that that person has the superior belief simply by the fiats of that belief. And the same statement could be made by Pope Urban II who preached for the First Crusade. From a religious morality, one cannot claim another religion is better than another without invoking some sort of absolutism, but that runs contrary to the very nature of religious morality--it is relativistic. This or that is good based on this or that theology.
Within the religious paradigm, one cannot claim that another religion is bad or immoral without becoming ridiculous. X and Y are in conflict, so how does another person, P, decide which is the one with the better morality? How can P say that Y is being immoral or X is? There are three choice: decide X is true; decide Y is true; decide that there is something other that X or Y to judge by them. Taking the first two options is without merit because it is a decision not based on morality because you are choosing that morality. The choice hence relative and meaningless to the person that chooses in an opposite case. To claim anything in X or Y is good or bad requires something to supersede both, and hence a morality must exist that is not based on any of these theologies. One may try and suppose a higher theology, but that only leads to an infinite regression.
And so we have secular ethics, being it utilitarianism of Kant's categorical imperative or something else, including our ethical instincts. It is the only thing that can possibly supersede the religious bickering and say that some theology did cause evils. The religious person cannot do that without contradicting themselves. If they claim that religions is the source of morality, but say some religions is immoral, then religions is a source for immorality; any religion can make the same statements, so they all contradict each other, all fall into relativism, and often violence ensues. Religious ethics causes only absolute relativism, the most dangerous ethical precept of all.
Can't all of these pundits on the radio or TV not see the contradiction in their statements, in saying religions does cause evils, but claim religions are causing evils within the religious context? All they can say is that the believe something is immoral from their perception of their theologian, which cannot cross over into another religion, perhaps not even another sect. In the case of sects based on the same holy book, one could claim that someone has a theology that is not based on that book, and so their morals coming from that sect are not true; however, it seems that such arguments of who has the correct interpretation are not going to be settled in any point in the future. The Pope has confirmed all non-Catholics are not "real" Christians; Shia and Sunni Muslims certainly do not agree about Ali and the imams; there are plenty of permutations of Judaism; Buddhism can be atheistic; sectarianism is without end. The relativism of interpretation is much the same as that relativism of morals--and worse is that it is absolute.
One cannot escape this problem. If one claims that someone is evil in the name of religion, they first have to demonstrate how it is good; but that religion was not chosen based on its goodness but on the sense of what that person already thought was good, meaning that that sense of morality must have existed before he chose; otherwise, the choice was ad hoc and carries no real weight. If morality is not relative, it must exist beyond the religious fray. Otherwise, we cannot say one religion is good and another is not.
As for most people, they should realize this, since they are not taking all that they have in their holy books to heart. Most people pick and choose what is right and wrong in their books. That choice cannot be made within the confines of that religion. If the book says "murder all infidels", you cannot within that same religious sphere of morality say that that is not a moral statement, even if it contradicts another passage, such as "don't kill, EVER". And how are those choices even made? Intrinsic understandings of what is good without the book. And fortunately, most people do not take every word of their holy books are strong as the next. Otherwise, we would be in the days of the Inquisition all over again. If you say the Inquisition was an immoral institution, that statement cannot be within religion.
Face it: you are moral because of some other factor--you know that acting morally is favorable in most cases. Why else would morality be called "good"? So, I ask that we realize that the basis of morals on religious leaders. Even Jesus was supposed to have said "Why do you call be good?" (Mark 10:18).

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Madman

Have you heard this tale, about the madman? As in all stories there can be found some truth, as well as some fiction. The fiction is that there is only one man. There is more than one of these madmen; they just seem to all be so similar. They all run into the villages, carrying their unlit lantern, crying “I have God, I have God!” What is his proof? He has the lantern, and it is lit because of the deity, that through this light comes the light to see what it good and evil, what is right and wrong, and, moreover, happiness because of the beauty of the light.

Many have claimed this light, many claim the light now, and probably many more will. That light has been called by many names: Zoroaster, Mohammad, Buddha, Jesus, and so many other permutations; so many exist that one could recreate all of the constellations in the sky, the Moon, the Sun, and the planets, and still have enough luminous power to see without any of the heavenly lights at all. With all of these light-bearers, isn’t it odd that you have not seen all of these lights? If fact, can you honestly see any of them at all?

One of the madmen will come to you and he will wave that lantern about, hoping that you will see the light he possesses so you know that he has the true God on his side. But like any madman, he cannot stand still, he cannot slow the pace, he cannot give you the moment to push off his antics by unanchored thought. Ask him to stop for a moment and let you see that light; he moves it about so quickly one cannot be sure if you saw that light or only thought you did. See if you can pin him for a moment to see his light, to see his morality that he claims to be so great, his spirit that is so unconquerable. Try and get close and watch the madman squirm; do not get too close, for that great good is also a great blunt beacon. Why does he not stand still? Why can we not look into the light?

And like all madmen, he has his excuses. “How can you think there is not a light here? How can you deny this thing? Are you questioning that there is good in the world?” Of course, you must be accused before your mouth can open, for otherwise you could question, you could seriously learn. But in the past, there have been some great wrestlers, and they have taken the lantern and found no light at all inside. The better lanterns actually reflect, not create or act as the source, of the light, and are only as bright as the luminous being are around.

How can this be? When the madman comes to your town, he will know about these failed charlatans. He will claim that they did not really have the light, that they were the few that only pretend to in fact have God. How can you tell if this person has the lantern that actually contains the light at all? Some will watch the madman and say that his lantern is also without light at all; some will even say that instead of creating light, this lantern absorbs, it darkens. The madman will retort “without this light, how can you say what is and is not bright, or what is or is not good?” Let the daemon inside allow you to ask “do you know that the lantern is bright because you say it is so, or do you say so because you know it is bright?” Euthyphro could not answer, nor can anyone, without realizing that we do not need the madman or his torch. For if the lantern of the madman was what determined what brightness was, what are we supposed to do about the next madman, with his own lantern, claiming all the same? How can we judge who has the true light if in fact it is the lantern that determines brightness? Shall we continue to believe these things in circles, or shall we look up and find that there is another source, one that anyone with eyes can see, that can be seen without these flimflam fires, and it is just above us all?

And what is the irony of this tale, for no tale is worth reading without a twist? As others have seen, that lantern is a reflector, it only directs light from another source; it cannot produce its own. It never has. It never could. It never will. And its own brightness has always depended on those sources around it. At one time, when we were all deep in the foul depths of the cave, light was scarce, tenuous, and never concentrated well enough to see before ourselves as we walked in the darkness. The lantern was the only object that was found as we groped the sides of the cavern, and we all became moths, even to the point that the lantern burned some.

Yet, somehow, someone stopped looking only at that lantern, and discovered other sources of light. The eye of the mind was able to peer deep into the outer reaches of the cave, and soon new illumination was discovered. With time, new torches were built, and the cave became easier to navigate.

But what is the irony, you ask? The lantern-bearer has two hands. One holds the light, which begins to become rather dim in comparison to these new torches; in the other, is the pale, filled with icy-cold water. Those new torches are extinguished as best he can, ensuring that his light is the only one, even though his own lantern becomes brighter. Some of these madmen will make adjustments to their lanterns so that they can claim that, even though these other lights do exist, because his light reflects theirs, his light becomes the only one that can see certain parts of the cave. Only with the better reflector can he possibly be visible next to the stars that are born about him.

You can imagine that when some of these new torch-makers claim we no longer need that lantern, that in fact it has led us astray, the madman will retort “if you deny my light, how can you possibly see? There are some things you will never see without my light to show that path. Where is the light that will replace mine?” Why must I follow the path you lay out when your light is so faint, when all that it has comes from the light of others, and that are lights have become bright enough that, all combined, we can see the same path as the madmen’s, plus so many more. And why only have this one lantern for those paths when so many other torches have been lit?

Now the madmen are running, nay, chasing these new lights, and they are loosing their step. Perhaps some will drop those lanterns and they will find that the there was no change at all. What is true is that many of these lanterns have been broken; they cover the ground, leaving their shattered shards to harm those that walk through, especially when the madman picks up these broken lamps and acts as the messenger again, believing all is good even when he bleeds.

One day, there shall be enough be torches to see the corpses made by these lanterns, the broken idols that they always were, and they fill be cleared from the ground. But today, we must be careful, for we still are deep in the cave as still know not what we do with these bodies; the shards remain to continue the cause death by those unfortunate to come too close. With enough of these torches, one day we can become children of light, and when we look into the old reflectors, we will see ourselves and know that was have become the light, the gods preached before, that we now poses the good, the true, the spiritual. Instead of searching, we can produce our own Pleroma, our own seventh heaven, but it will require as many lights as there are stars. Our magnified gazes show us billions upon billions are to be needed, which leads us to the final question:

Do you have a match?

For reference, one should be well-read in their Plato, Voltaire, Nietzsche, and modern secular writers to best understand the above.

The Reason

There have been a great number of blogs started, and I am now one more Johnny-come-lately, making an already dense and saturated field all the worse. This blog will not be about my life so much as about what is very important to me: my thoughts. Sometimes I will post things that are well evidenced or argued by logical analysis, and sometimes I just want to produce excellent prose that can cause as much thought as deep and dry non-fiction does. I hope it can be interesting for the reader.

As for subjects, I am most interested in the sciences, but by interests in scholarship, history, and philosophy will permeate this blog, so don't expect nothing but science news, to which better outlets probably exist. Religious belief will also be played on, and even though I do not plan to have works that will be of the same value as the books that have in the past been printed, or the newest batch that has been created, there is here the possibility of extending those thoughts beyond those pages, or clarify those works against criticisms that are unjustified.

I hope you will enjoy these writings. Sometimes it will be serious, sometimes humorous, I should hope. Symbols will be flying and explanations for them will not be common, so be on your toes, especially since I many not even know what I am talking about.