Saturday, February 08, 2014

Preservation of my Religious Hopes

I haven’t written much about my religious ideas in quite a while.  I think that’s because I had my several years of cognitive dissonance where I wrestled with my inherited doctrines attempting to reconcile them with my new life experiences and increased knowledge.  In other words: owning my faith.  Now I’m at peace with my beliefs, mostly because I stopped believing things.  I changed my epistemological stance, and now I simply say I have hopes.  Well, ‘simply’ isn’t quite the right word because I’m thinking and writing in a language built upon the precepts of a different epistemology.  One where common sense dictates that people know things, so our words are always bending my thoughts and writing toward a knowing-based way of communication.  I have to fight all the inclinations of our shared language to explain my stance, bending it another direction.  When I say “I don’t believe in God.” (which is true) everyone will say, “Ok, so you are an atheist.”  But I’m not.  I’m speaking from a different epistemological framework.  That statement is not about God, it’s about my lack of credentials when it comes to discerning reality.  I also don’t believe in physical reality, and love, and math and morals.  Not because I’m crazy, but because I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and can’t escape the conclusion that I’m an incredibly limited thing (I THINK I’m a thing) making my best educated guesses with a bunch of other incredibly limited things (I THINK you’re a thing) making their best educated guesses.  I’ve found that the more you define your terms the less you are able to resolve or universalize anything.  But I still live my life as if there’s a physical world and love, morals and math.  Because I hope they do exist, (well, maybe not math… me and math don’t get along so well.) and that’s what works out best for me.  I’ve already spilled far too much digital ink on my epistemological shift in previous posts, so I’m not going to go any deeper.  I just need to establish this strange worldview that I have in order to fully explain this new point I want to make.  To sum up: when I say I don’t believe in something, I am not saying that I think that thing does not exist.  I’m only saying that I can’t justify myself believing that it does because I’ve discovered how wrong my beliefs can be.  

When I survey the intellectual and spiritual journey I’m on I can’t help but notice those around me who have been on similar paths. It’s interesting to me how we are similar and how we differ.  I e-know several people pretty well who went through the process I did of cognitive dissonance with our evangelical Christian heritage, digging deep into literature, learning the history of our doctrines, holy book, comparative religion, etc.  Some of them flipped to atheism.  I think those are the ones who didn’t let the process shake the foundations of their epistemology.  So they went from KNOWING there was a God to KNOWING there’s not.  Some drifted into the misty haze of spiritual-but-not-religious.  These guys, like me, found the process of changing beliefs that they were so absolutely sure about to be disconcerting enough to rattle their epistemology, and so they are far more tentative when it comes to fully embracing any new or different doctrines.   And I know one guy who I’m not sure if he dug as deeply as us, and stayed doctrinally pure.

I THINK…. think…. THINK, that I’m the one who went the deepest, past the culture, history, and philosophy and down into the nitty gritty of the epistemology.  I’ve tried to push these ideas to their total logical conclusion, so I stayed and sussed it out the longest.  (Not because I’m smarter or whatever, just because I found it more interesting than they.)  In my attempt to synthesize my experiences and research into the basis of knowledge and language, I came to the conclusion that I can’t believe or know things.  This meant I had to drop language about faith and knowing, and even belief, because they are not accurate to my thinking.  But I also don’t see a reason to actually reject a bunch of stuff out of hand.  In fact, I think a lot of my religious heritage is very good for me and my family.  This is where my hope-talk comes into play.  Besides hoping there is such a thing as justice and love, I HOPE there’s a benevolent creator God.  and since I can’t gather any data concerning the likeliness that such a being exists, I live as though one does.

But what happens when you try to pin me down on specific doctrines ABOUT that God I hope exists?  This is the point I’m trying to get to, that I think gets misunderstood by those in my religion.  When I first started down this road of heterodoxy I was looking into specific doctrinal issues that didn’t make sense to me.  How does a God of justice create beings that He knows will rebel and then choose to reject Him resulting in eternal torment?  How does a God who is perfect display characteristics (recorded in the Bible) that are, by normal definitions of the words used, LESS mature than myself?  Jealous, angry, vengeful… all things we are told not to be, and when we see other’s acting this way we see them as clearly immature.  So when I found alternate doctrines to address what I could only interpret as contradictions, (and yes, I assure you I’ve read every apologetics author, talked to a couple pastors, etc about these things) I went from believing one thing about God to believing a different thing about God.  But that process cracked the foundation of my justification for believing anything about anything.  At some point I realized how easy it was to reinterpret things.  Not just religious things in ancient texts, but everything.  Morals, law, relationships, etc.  

But my point is about the MOTIVE behind dropping specific doctrinal beliefs about God.  To those in my tradition there is generally one motive attributed to dropping them: a desire to rebel against God.  I’ve already talked about conflating what God is, with what our religious tradition says about God, so I won’t get into that distinction. My point is that after several years of letting the dust settle I have a clearer picture of my motives.  I’ve always denied that I’ve ever felt rebellious towards God.  In fact, I’ve ever only wanted to get closer to God.  My recent revelation about myself is that what I’ve been doing is attempting to save my respect for God.  I could not continue to respect the God presented in my inherited doctrines.  I wasn’t rejecting those doctrines about God because I thought I knew better than those guys, or was smart enough to interpret the Bible better.  I only knew I could not serve a God that is unjust, petty, or just in general less mature than I am!  When I first started my serious research I went in assuming that there were good answers to my confused questions.  When I found that the best answers out there didn’t satisfy me I was at a bit of a loss.  I knew I WANTED to find the answers satisfying, I knew I WANTED to get closer to God, I knew I WANTED my inherited doctrines to be true.  So imagine my confusion when I came up with different answers.  

One of the ways I worked REALLY hard to get my traditional doctrines to work was by bending the definitions of words like Love, Justice, Mercy, Jealousy, Omnipotence, etc.  I say ‘bending’ because that’s what I found it to be.  Most apologists appeal to this redefinition of words based on context, along with the ‘embrace both’ paradox approach.  I don’t have a philosophical problem with paradoxes, IF they are construed as based in human limitations or ignorance.  I don’t believe in paradoxes in an ultimate sense, but I could be wrong.  My problem with paradox as a tool in theology and apologetics is that it is of no REAL use for building a coherent and logical system IF you are hoping to establish Knowledge or belief, because any poor logic or silly contradiction can be swept away with the paradox maneuver.  

So without the rhetorical tool of paradox I found that I simply had to change my hopes about God in order to preserve my relationship to God.  So while it’s possible that there’s a God and He’s vengeful and jealous and feels like getting some souls to worship Him forever is totally worth billions of other souls suffering eternally, and it’s possible that that is totally justified in an ultimate sense that any person would agree with if they just knew all the facts.  But the problem for ME, personally, is that I simply cannot be a moral person and serve that God.  I’d have to choose one or the other.  That leaves me with two choices.  Assume that there is a God who matches Christian doctrines, and reject that God, or hope for a better God.  (Becoming an atheist is not an option because I can’t find a way to warrant that position, and yes, I’ve read and watched lectures by all the big hitter atheists and talked through all the issues with hundreds of atheists out there.)  So given my position, the answer to me is obvious.  I hope that God is better than the doctrines my religious tradition has presented.  I’m not making a god in my own image, because I’m not making any propositions about God.  I’m simply serving that which is greater than I.  And my UNDERSTANDING of the traditional Christian God is NOT greater than I, except in raw, brutal power.  Again.  My UNDERSTANDING.  I’ve tried everything I can think of to make my understanding fit the orthodox Christian tradition.  Even though I wanted to, I could not make my understanding conform.

This leads me to an ironic conclusion, which is that the hopes that took me away from orthodoxy are motivated by my desire to serve God, that is, to have “right thinking”. (the actual definition of orthodoxy)  It will be doubly ironic if I end up in hell for all eternity as a result!  


Anonymous Anonymous said...

About the philosofical stuff.
While it is interesting to think about... It doesn't apply to real life.

Imagine that you live in Tyria in Guild Wars 2. You can come to the conclusion that it's all a game and that there's an outside world. But that will never change the fact that you are still bound by the rules of the world you live in. You cannot bypass those rules.
So even if there is a world outside our own and feelings aren't a factual truth, that doesn't change the fact that they do exist and are rules in the world we live in.

Math is a factual truth and will always exist regardless because it is defined as it is and comes from nothing. Basically as long as there is something and there is another something, those 1 and 1 somethings will always add up to 2 somethings no matter which layer of existence you are in or aren't in.
However sure, love may not exist. But in the world you live in with the set rules of the world, love does exist. Just like how karma exists in Guild Wars 2. You can feel love in this world so even if this world isn't a real world, you still have to live by the rules of this world when you are in this world and therefore love is true in this world.

I won't say that a god exists or doesn't exist. I, like you, can't give any evidence of one or the other. But in the same way as stated above, this world exists as it is regardless of if it's created by a god or if it's created from nothing as the theory of everything states.
But I will ask you this:

Why would you need a god to explain the world and your existence?
What's the big deal with a god?
I don't understand that.
Do you feel lonely without a god?
Do you feel that if you were created by a god, you would be happier than if you weren't?
I mean... You live your life in this world regardless if it's created by a god or not.
You will never ever be able to prove or disprove the existence of a god.
Can't you just live your life embracing the world as it is?
Why use a god to åproject your feelings on?
Do it at the nature and the fellow humans that build up your world and community instead?

8:34 AM  
Blogger Joshua C. Foreman said...

Good questions, Anon. I'll do my best to answer them:

"Why would you need a god to explain the world and your existence?"

I don't. But I would allow the possibility that nothing could exist without a crating god. It's also possible that stuff has simply always existed. Both are out the scope of the human mind to comprehend.

"Do you feel lonely without a god?"

No. I don't find any emotional comfort that I can discern from the idea of a god except for a nice hope about meaning for suffering. But since I can't even provide evidence for that idea, I can't pull too much comfort from it.

"Do you feel that if you were created by a god, you would be happier than if you weren't?"

I can't think of a way to theorize such things without alternate dimensions or something. But I'm perfectly happy not knowing.

"I mean... You live your life in this world regardless if it's created by a god or not."

You are correct. I don't hope for a god because I want the world to have different rules. I hope for a god (of a particular type) because I hope that the terrible suffering that those in the world endure has an ultimate purpose that vindicates those experiences.

"Can't you just live your life embracing the world as it is?"

Well, I think most people try to do that. I feel like I'm doing my best. My problem is that I can't be sure what the "world as it is" actually is. I only have my limited, finite, subjective interpretation of it.

"Why use a god to åproject your feelings on?"

I'm not sure what you mean by this.

"Do it at the nature and the fellow humans that build up your world and community instead?"

I think you're saying that rather than spending my hopes and gratitude on a god that may or may not exist, I ought to appreciate nature and the people who make my life what it is. If that's what you're saying, then I would just say that I think I'm doing both. And appreciating a theoretical god does not diminish the appreciation I can show for nature and people. Do you feel that if you hoped for a god it would diminish your ability to be grateful for nature and friends and family and such? I'm sure this is the case for some people, so I'm curious if it is the case for you.

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It appears my wall of text (sorry for the size but when I start it easilly happens... ehe..) has enough characters to cover 3 posts... So I guess I'll cut it up then.

I think you understood my questions quite right and I'm quite surprised by many of the answers. You seem like a very rational thinker, yet you want a god to exist (which isn't very weird as opposed to what I may make it sound. I want magic to exist because that would be very interesting and fun, but your reason is a lot better than mine).
I'm, as you may have noticed, without the thought that a god has created the world and I'm very curious why people want there to be a god.
I live in a country that's pretty much almost entirely atheistic and use religions mostly as an excuse to have parties and days free from work. Because of that I'm not exposed to religious or spiritual people very much so it's a bit hard to understand many parts of it.

What I mean with the last part you commented is that the few people that I know of at least give "God" credit for their own work and the work of others. A famous singer here for example always thanks her god for giving her the ability to sing even though she's trained her whole life and her parents early on decided to expose her to the idea of music and singing. Her parents gave her the genetical code she needed to develop her body and brain.

Thanking god for having food on the table is another example I don't understand.
The grain for bread for example is grown by farmers. Then someone grinds it to flour. Someone takes the flour and makes dough and bakes it to bread. Then you buy the bread with money you have earnt by working yourself.

Sure, God may or may not have had a hand somewhere in this. But nobody knows and instead of thanking God for something he may or may not have done, I think that people should be thanking themselves for working and earning money for the bread and thanking the farmers and bakers and millers and what-not that produce the bread. It is at least quite clear that a god didn't conjure the bread onto your table, in which case I think it would be very appropriate to thank that god for it.

Personally I do think that thanking a god for it takes credit away from the people who have worked hard for it.
To give an fictional example from "real life": Imagine someone giving Obama credit for creating the super adventure box. While he may or may not have had some influence somewhere on it, I think it would be very weird to give him credit for it and it is credit that you and your team deserved and as such it leaves you without that part of the credit and I think that that is quite unfair regardless if you want the credit or not.
In the same way I think it's weird and unfair to give a god credit for people's hard work.

On a side note... Even if a god or creator did exist, I don't think that he would interfere with the game, just like how ANet doesn't hand out random gold to people who ask for it or give people random levelups if they ask for it.
When ANet joins in, you apparently do it in the role of a player, like Shazbawt when he joined us and killed the wurm. In the same way I think that if a creator did exist, he wouldn't want to be part of the world in an unnatural way because that would destroy the point of the world. Imagine ANet handing out free precursors to people who gave them a prayer.

But everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and I think that's important.

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But as far as I understand, you want a god to exist to justify the suffering in the world?
It would be nice if suffering was justified with some end goal.
But I don't know if I would want a god that let people suffer because he had a plan for them in the end, that seems quite cruel.

I'll try a philosophical/logical argument to try to convey how I see it:

All suffering can be tied to events that happen in the real world. A terrible sickness is the result of an viral or bacterial infection, a degenerative effect from the own body caused by the DNA being damaged or mutated so that it produces harmful proteins etc. I fail to see what point a god would be trying to make with sicknesses.
The genes can be directly connected to the parents and the biological process in which they are mutated from the parents' genes.
Bacteria and viri work in the same way as other life forms. They reproduce and mutate. They don't spontaneously come to exist.

War is the cause of some form of egoism. Financial, religious or pride for example. The wars of Jerusalem are financial. The Korean wars I'd say are because of pride. To win land you start a war for financial purposes, has been done countless times. The wars in turn create suffering. These are created by humans, so the suffering is directly caused by humans and not by a god. If the suffering isn't caused by a god, then how can he have plans for the people suffering?
People get their personality part from their parents, part from their environment and probably part from their genetics as well.

If you are bullied, the suffering is caused in the same way as the war idea. It's because of the personality of the people.

Mental illness can be tied to environmental effects or bodily dysfunctions just like illnesses.

Starvation - people's egos and the lack of tillable soil and/or water and the lack of workplaces. Lack of tillable soil is dependent on the nature. Desertification because no plants bind the soil. Rocks in the ground because of how the ancient ice sheets rolled over the ground grinding the mountains down, etc etc. Lack of water is nature dependant. A desert is dry partially because it lacks water and partially because it's hot. What water is there evaporate and since it's dry it won't form droplets of water in the sky so it won't rain, making it even more dry.

What the point of my wall of text is is that everything can be tied to a cause in the world.

If a god would interfere with the logic flow in the world, that would create a logic crack in the flow. An anomaly. Something that shouldn't be there but still is there.
If for example a god helped you get your skills, he would form a logical crack in the way that he influenced you in an unnatural way to develop your skills.
He could have changed your personality to make you want to develop them more. He could have changed your environment to influence you. He could have outright given you the skills directly.
But if he changed your personality, then it would no longer be dependent on your parents, surroundings, your experiences etc and it would create a logical crack since it can't be tied to the real world.
If he influenced your surroundings in some way, for example making a red house blue instead to influence you, that would make an obvious crack in the logic flow since the house once was red but now is blue.
If a god outright gave you the skills, then that would disturb the logical flow since you haven't trained in order to get them. You would know what resin or rubber was without learning about it.

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So far nobody seems to have discovered any anomalies as such in the world. And I think that if god would have influenced the world to create all of his plans, then that would be quite obvious because of the lack of logic. Everything so far seems very logical so I would like to say that no god has directly influenced the world.

But a god could of course have planted the seeds as he created the world. However if a god really "scripted" the world from the start in such a way that everything is predetermined, then it would be quite pointless to create the world in the first place. He would know everything that would happen in advance since he scripted it. So in that case there would be nothing to gain.
What you would gain from creating a world is to see how the world develops. It's like writing a game and then see the reactions of the players or see what the players do to achieve their goals. Then you would gain enjoyment and understanding in how people work. It would be quite interesting.
I think that "random" development is essential for a creator to incorporate into a world because otherwise it would be a quite uninteresting world.

So if the creator did create the world with a set of rules within which anything can happen randomly as the world see fit... Then that god certainly didn't have any more plans than "let's see what happens" and that, I think, doesn't "justify" suffering.

My view is that people are sadly how they are and nature is sadly quite cruel and that's because of the rules of the world. And because of that, suffering is created.

A god may be behind it all and have created the world in which case I thank him for it.
But I do think that it is very unlikely that said god in such a case has any direct impact on the world and can be thanked or blamed for anything that happens in it.
ANet can't be blamed for the trolls that come to the Wurm in order to make it fail. And ANet doesn't have a purpose for the people that are troubled by said trolls.

However I do think I formulated most of my former questions quite wrong. Thinking about it I think it sounds like I formulated the questions in a way that I assumed you were a believer but really it seems you are a disbeliever that wants to believe, which I find interesting. I apologize for that and think that was wrongly done by me, however unintentional.

In any case I think it's important that I say that I'm not posting with ill intention, just curiosity because it's different from what I'm used to. So I hope you don't take any of it wrong.

As a side note... The jelly wurm video was very very awesome. I loved it! It really inspires me to learn more about making fun stuff. It was a fun and different take on molding and making models... and candy.. haha!

3:27 PM  
Blogger Joshua C. Foreman said...

Thanks for the wall of text, Anon. I love them because I love to think and have my thinking challenged. Although we apparently think very much along the same lines, just differing by our upbringing and culture. I’m guessing you are from around the Netherlands? France?  I’ll try to engage your main points as best I can in this limited format.
I wrote about this earlier, so if you’re interested, check out:

In essence, if you thank a god INSTEAD of people/nature that brings about the thing you’re grateful for, then you really are not honoring God and the mechanisms that God put in place.
The kind of gratitude seem to be pointing at is some kind of god-of-the-gaps sort of thing, where one feels compelled to thank a god because they don’t know how things really work. My particular conception of god is panentheistic, meaning that nature is an expression of a god. (Nature is not God in total, but a manifestation of God) So I don’t believe I fall prey to this kind of gratitude you’ve described.
Again, it’s not hard to examine the physical causes of suffering, and I am in no way attempting to explain suffering as divine intervention in nature. My hope is not that there’s some entity moving chess pieces around giving us cancer and making dictator slaughter their citizens. My hope is that the rules of nature were designed by a god who knew exactly what the results would be, and that the suffering that is part of living in a physical universe has a purpose that we will all be grateful for once this time in the physical universe is done. (And no, I don’t have any theories about how minds could exist in non-time/space, I only refuse to insist that such a thing could NOT be possible, because I don’t believe our minds have sufficient resources to make that determination.) And yes, the idea that God would purposefully create a universe where the inhabitants would suffer does, on its face, seem cruel. I have two responses to that feeling. First, I suffered some extreme anguish during a time in my life where my ex wife had become a crack addict and was attempting to get custody of my kids. I’m talking about sobbing into my pillow on a nightly basis for months as I lost all my money, my job, had to move, was starting a new job (at ArenaNet, where fortunately the owners were very patient with me, especially after I had to explain why the moving company called and said they couldn’t move my furniture because they found drugs in a drawer!) etc. Now, 10 years later I look back on that time and I would not change a thing. I grew SO much as a person as a result of that suffering, it’s more valuable to me than any kind of blessing I could have received. And secondly, when we consider what is required for growth, we can recognize it as a kind of suffering. School is generally really horrible for kids. The exercise necessary to become a great athlete is grueling and painful. Physical therapy for healing broken limbs and such is painful and obnoxious. I can see these things as miniature models of what a God could be doing by making a universe full of suffering. This model only works if every single person who suffers is, indeed, grateful for that suffering when all is said and done. Or if individual egos no longer exist and all is One and that One is what it is because of the suffering. I’m not putting this foreword as a theory for what is. Only as a consistent theory for what I hope is. I think it’s a hell of a lot better than my former belief in a God who wanted to make a perfect world, but then that darn snake messed everything up and now he’s had to put together a plan B, but too bad for all those billions who don’t believe the right things because they get to suffer eternally!

Anyway, I agree with your statement: “My view is that people are sadly how they are and nature is sadly quite cruel and that's because of the rules of the world. And because of that, suffering is created.”

5:37 PM  
Blogger Joshua C. Foreman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:38 PM  
Blogger Joshua C. Foreman said...

I don’t really have a philosophical problem with the idea that a creator God would want to tinker with the events of a world it created as many philosophers do. But it’s not an idea I’m convinced by either. Personally I’m a determinist. I don’t believe in free will, and I don’t agree with you that the only conceivable reason a god would create a universe is for the surprises it would offer.
Being a determinist panentheist, I view nature and all that occurs in it (that includes all human thought and action) as a miracle (being the ‘intervention’ of God) and not a miracle (being that it always follows the laws designed by God. God would not have to intervene to get what It wants, because it perfectly set everything up to play out according to Its desires. Does that make sense to you? (Not asking if I’ve convinced you to believe it, only if it makes logical sense and does not contradict its own premises or what we observe in nature.)

“I assumed you were a believer but really it seems you are a disbeliever that wants to believe”
I would say it’s more accurate that I neither believe nor disbelieve, and that state is arrived at due to careful deliberation concerning my credentials as a “knower” of anything. And I’m very much at peace with this position, so I wouldn’t say I “want to believe”. I do have hopes that the nature of the universe is a particular way. I think everyone does.

Oh, and I doubt you'd be into it, but just in case you want to dig deeper into the justification of suffering stuff, check out this review I wrote about a book that I feel comes closest to a coherent theory on the subject.

5:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're almost right about my location!
Sweden it is.

Yes, I do see what you mean now.
You want everyone to, in the end, be able to benefit from their suffering.

I would agree to that in it's entirety. It would be very nice if everyone would be able to do that.
Although I doubt that's possible.
It would be nice though, it would.

But everyone is indeed shaped by their suffering and suffering is important. Imagine a child who wouldn't suffer when they put their hand on a hot object. Then they wouldn't learn that hot objects are dangerous.
Suffering is a mechanic to prevent us from doing things that makes us suffer.

Although some people are in a position so that they can't help but suffer. Which is a pity.

However we are not only shaped by suffering. We're also shaped by our other feelings.
Oh the feeling you get when you accomplish something hard. That's quite wonderful.

So in the end I'd say that there is a point with the feeling of suffering and infact all feelings.
But some people suffer pointlessly, which is sad.

But I don't think there has to be a god in order for feelings to be beneficial.

Something without a brain or nervous system can't feel since feelings are created by the brain. If you would trust the theory of evolution, the brain was developed as the result of a very high number of mutations of which scale I can't even comprehend.
Each mutation that made it better resulted in a creature that could interact in a more beneficial way in the world and because of that it was more successful and had a bigger chance of spreading it's genes.

Feelings would be created in the same way. A creature whose genes were mutated in such a way that it could feel more than another creature, then that creature would benefit from it more (probably with some limit where it no longer becomes beneficial to feel more than you already do). For example it would notice that if it walked on sharp rocks, it would hurt, so it wouldn't do that and thus would save it's feet as opposed to a creature who wouldn't feel it who could quite possibly cut itself and get infected or what not.
Higher chance of staying alive and reproduce, so it has a higher chance of making other creatures have the same ability.

So if you accept the theory of evolution, then in the end I think we're back at the question if a god created the world "seed" or not.

That is.. did a god create reality or did it spontaneously phase into existence or was there some other cause?
The theory of everything, I believe is the source, claims that a universe can spontaneously pop into existance from nothing and that it's rules would be the result of the amount of chaos as opposed to order in it. I'm not the right person to explain it, but I find it very interesting.

But then you can just say that a god may have created that mechanism. And sure, that could be true.
But I think that a god or creator would be a much less interesting explanation since it simplifies the creation by introducing something weird and complex.

If a god created the world... Who created the god? In what plane of existence is the god? Then you have an infinite loop of "who came first?". You could claim that a god phased into existance in the same way that science claims that a universe could phase into existence. But that would be pointless because then it would be unnecessary since the universe could phase into existence from the beginning.

3:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I initially missed your second part. This post will be somewhat of a re-iteration of the logic idea.

But yes, I do get what you mean. A god could possibly create a world with rules that allowed him to interact with it. Though I do think that it would be evident if that was the case.

However I still think that this world is not it. It does seem that everything in this world works together in a "logical flow" but I believe a "logical network" would be a better name. An event has a cause and results in something. That would be tied into a "logic network" where everything interacts. Everything that happens, happens inside of the network and creates new ties to different points in the network and constantly expands it.

If you would introduce any type of outside idea into that network, coming from a god, there would be a "loose end". Something that wasn't the cause of the network itself but something outside of the network. The only way to keep the network flawless would be to introduce the idea at the source of the network when creating it.

Imagine sewing a thread into a ready made piece of cloth.
No matter how you do it, it would create an anomaly in the piece of cloth. You'd have to introduce the thread already from the beginning and make it span the whole piece of cloth in order to make it natural.

And if a god sew alot of threads into an otherwise flawless piece of cloth, I think it would be evident that that was the case due to the number of loose ends there would be.
As it is now, I think the world makes perfect sense with the understanding I have of it.

So my idea is that if a god would create miracles, he would have to create them right at the moment of creation. And if he did, they wouldn't be a miracle, just the natural flow of the world.

The only hopes I have about the universe, or even multiverse as science is starting to suggest, is that it's interesting. And it is, so I'm happy :)

4:18 AM  
Blogger Joshua C. Foreman said...

Good converstation, Mr. Swede.
“I don't think there has to be a god in order for feelings to be beneficial.”

I agree. I’m saying for all suffering to be useful or ultimately ‘good’, there has to be some kind of ‘next life’ where the scales are balanced as it were. There are plenty of cases where it’s obvious that suffering is beneficial from and evolutionary perspective, but things like child rape, torture, etc. make it impossible to reconcile with ultimate justice. And that’s what I hope for. I can work for social justice until I’m dead, but I can never stop this stuff from happening all together.
“You could claim that a god phased into existance in the same way that science claims that a universe could phase into existence. But that would be pointless because then it would be unnecessary since the universe could phase into existence from the beginning.”

Agreed. I don’t think a God solves the god-of-the-gaps problems, ironically. I don’t hope for a God to solve any mysteries. I hope for a God so that there is Ultimate Purpose and Justice. I would not collapse into a crying ball of misery if it turns out I’m wrong though.

“You'd have to introduce the thread already from the beginning and make it span the whole piece of cloth in order to make it natural.”
Yes. This would be my theory. As I said before. ALL of nature is a miracle. AND none of nature is a miracle. It simply depends on how you define divine action/miracles. As you say “ just the natural flow of the world.”, for my hope, that natural flow is 100% divinely ordained. To take a mundane example… if a God wanted me to respond to this comment you made, It would not have to ‘reach down’ and ‘touch’ my brain and inspire me to respond. Instead, in that instant that all matter/time came into being the rules of reality were shaped in such a way that every particle/wave/string/whatever would form into the patterns that would compose my DNA and the DNA of those who raised me and created my culture, causing me to find our conversation interesting and fun, and thus ordering my mind to prioritize writing this above cleaning the house for my wife’s birthday party! It’s a MIRACLE! I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to hear it. ;)

“The only hopes I have about the universe, or even multiverse as science is starting to suggest, is that it's interesting. And it is, so I'm happy :)”

I’m similar. But when I think of the suffering of our fellow humans that effects me deeply. Like most people, most of the time I’m only thinking about myself and it’s not a problem. But when I’m more in line with the character of Jesus, and I feel compassion for the suffering, I am both pulled to help (which I do with finances and time/talent) and also filled with a hope that their suffering is not pointless.

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ultimate justice is an interesting idea. But I don't think it is necessarily a good one.

If you avoid doing bad stuff just because you think you're getting judged in the afterlife, then that's not really right. It doesn't make you good.
You should avoid doing bad stuff because you think it's bad.
"Killing is bad because you go to hell" vs "Killing is bad because you cause suffering for other people".

Besides.. what is bad?
If a person is doing something he thinks isn't bad but you think is, then is it bad or is it not bad?
People generally say that killing is bad, but if you kill someone who is about to kill 10 others and will manage to do it if you don't kill him, is that bad?
Is it even possible for one source, god or not, to determine that?

If you have an ultimate justice in the afterlife, then what point is there to judge the person while he is alive? He will get judged anyways.
It also gives you a reason to commit suicide. Because if you are tormented by others while you're alive you might as well kill yourself. They are to be blamed, you get away with it, get judged based on your suffering and go to a better place.

I'm not saying that ultimate justice is inherently bad. But I am saying that it's not necessarily good in my eyes.

I would love to see everyone get judged for the bad stuff they do. But I'd rather see it while we are alive.

But I probably agree that for all suffering to be good in some way, there has to be an afterlife of some sort.

There is something that disturbs me a bit.
We can "easily" make machines that can walk, determine things by themselves, see things, hear things. We could theoretically build a biological robot that can do the same. It sounds quite grotesque, but putting that aside I think it's an interesting thought.

It's quite obvious that the electronic robot isn't conscious. Even if we can emulate a brain with artificial neural networks, it's not conscious. It's a computer that calculates stuff.

What about the biological robot?
It's artificial. It can function as a biological being since it has all the components a biological being has.
Theoretically it should function like the electronic robot that is also put together. But it has a brain that controls it, not a processor.

Where does consciousness come from? When and why does a creature become conscious?

The reason for why I think we can never answer the question what consciousness is is because I believe that we have to go to the layer outside the consciousness to be able to analyze it. I may be wrong and I hope I am.

But yeah, I don't put much thought into it because no matter how much I think about it, I will not get an answer. I think that our brains only can comprehend what we can perceive with our senses. A person who was born blind doesn't understand the concept of colors. Try explaining the concept of colors, imagining that the person you are explaining it to never could see anything. I would say it's impossible. I can be proven wrong on this but I doubt it.

I can't perceive my consciousness since that's what makes it possible for me to consciously perceive. So meh.. whatever..
I think that it's life's biggest mystery, far more mysterious than a universe that pops into existence. While I don't think a creator exists, this is absolutely the one "connection" that would make a creator plausible. But that is still a bit of god-of-the-gaps and I'd rather find a more interesting solution.

Good conversation indeed Mr. Josh :)
I do think we do have alot of common ground which initially surprised me. But it makes it more interesting :)
Go do the cleaning and make an awesome party with lots of wurms :P

4:23 PM  
Blogger Joshua C. Foreman said...

Ah, see, as a determinist I don’t hold people accountable for the suffering they inflict, or the blessings they give to others. (In an ultimate sense. I still play the free will game to work in society.) So when I talk about Ultimate Justice, I’m not talking about ‘bad’ people getting punished and ‘good’ people getting rewarded. (I agree with you about the motive thing.) I’m talking about a creator God being vindicated for a decision to create a universe in which so much suffering occurs. All suffering must do two things for this vindication to occur as far as I can tell. First, each person must realize that the suffering they endured was part of a necessary process to turn them into what they are, and second, they must value what they are more than the lack of suffering that would otherwise have been. This obviously can’t happen in a single earthly existence.

I really enjoy AI/AL theory and science. I really loved the way the topic was addressed in Battlestar Galactica. I don’t see why a computer (biological or not) could not have consciousness emerge. Why could that NOT be a creator God’s plan all along? Perhaps we hairless apes were created only to build the ultimate consciousness that the singularity will bring about. Sure, that’s disturbing to the hairless apes like you and I, but hell, we’ll all be dead eventually anyway!
So yeah, I agree that consciousness is the indeed the biggest mystery of the universe, and I obviously agree that we humans are in the worst position to study it. Like studying the backs of our own eyeballs.

And don’t worry, I finished up in time to get the house beautiful again. Had to scrape off SO much gummy from the stove!

1:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would say that for the vindication to be possible, what you say must be true. But that would also mean that bad people will have to have an afterlife where they atone for their sins and good people must have an afterlife where they get a compensation for their suffering.
Otherwise some people will never have any point with their suffering.
Just having an afterlife doesn't help because if a child who is constantly raped and then murdered just have a random afterlife, that doesn't make that child feel that the suffering was a good thing since the suffering never came with anything good.
If the child gets a compensation in the afterlife, go to heaven, become a higher ranked creature and goes back to life, get 40 virgins or whatever may happen, then the child does get something good from the suffering and then it's vindicated from an ultimate justice in the end standpoint.

And if that's the case, I would say that my former arguments still exists.
If it's not the case, I can't see how ultimate justice would be ultimate justice?

It is true that I can't say with 100% certainty that a computer can't be conscious.
But in that case, could a steam engine be conscious?

The argument for why a computer would not be conscious is because it is 100% deterministic and automatic. Yes, it has means of sensory intake. But so does the steam engine. But instead of electrical sensory intakes, the steam engine has mechanical sensory intakes like a mechanical governor that regulates the speed for example. They both share the same level of determinism. The computer won't do a thing it's not programmed to do. The steam engine won't do a thing it's not designed to do. Even an artificial neural network is deterministic even though it might give the illusion that the computer thinks for itself.

This of course leads to the question if we also are deterministic or if we have actual free will. Also another disturbing question we may never have an answer to.

So while we theoretically can predict everything a computer will do in advanced if we know the current state and the inputs, can we theoretically predict everything a creature will do if we know it's current state and it's inputs?

If there wasn't consciousness, then the answer for me would be yes, we can predict everything.
But the consciousness is in the way for this because it gives us an illusion of free will.
We are able to think about anything we want at any time we want, or so it seems.
A deterministic computer will never be able to do that.

If I wanted to, I could go brush my teeth right now even if I did it a few minutes ago, just because why not.
A robot would need a predetermined schedule or random number generation or sensory intake to do it. And even a random number generator is deterministic since it needs some form of seed to function.

So yeah..
If it was just the brain, with no consciousness, then I would be fairly sure that it was deterministic since nothing was controlling it. The problem for me is that there is consciousness.
If we were deterministic, there would be no point in having a consciousness that gives us the idea that we have free will when it can function without it just like a robot.

Also if there's no free will, there is no point with ultimate justice since nobody can actually control what they do anyways. Then there's nothing to justify and nobody to blame for it.

3:16 AM  
Blogger Joshua C. Foreman said...

"Also if there's no free will, there is no point with ultimate justice since nobody can actually control what they do anyways. Then there's nothing to justify and nobody to blame for it."

Yes and no. This is what I was saying about being a determinist. I don't believe in free will. I think our brains generate our consciousness via physical cause/effect networks. To propose free will is to propose something that exists outside of cause and effect. We FEEL like we make choices because the incredible complexity of our brains hide the process that results in our thoughts. So we make up this idea called free will to explain that black box that is our brain. To me, free will is another kind of god-of-the-gaps, whether a god is proposed or not. It's magical thinking. Like I said, when I'm talking about Ultimate Justice I'm NOT talking about punishing evil and rewarding good. I'm talking about there being a good reason for the suffering that humans experience.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, there is, as we concluded, a good reason for suffering to exist. But that doesn't mean all suffering is justified on an individual level.
Suffering is a good reason to exist regardless if god or a creator exists or not since it protects us from harm. But as a side effect, it can also be exploited to harm us.

I don't think that free will is a god-of-the-gaps. I think it's something that's needed for there to be a point with having a consciousness at all, as I said.
Because why be aware if you don't have to be aware?
If there was no free will, it would be much more efficient to not have a consciousness to have to deal with. It's not used for anything anyways. It's like you would build a decorative solid sphere of iron and inside it, hidden from view, there is a sphere of platinum.
What's the point with the sphere of platinum? It's completely unneeded.
It's like introducing extra polygons inside the middle of a 3d model. Polygons that will never ever be seen or used. It takes up extra computational power without being used. That's the first thing you would remove to make the model more efficient.

Free will is also not an explanation as a god would be in god-of-the-gaps. Free will is a phenomenon that can be observed, even if it would be an illusion. I observe that I can make choices out of my free will. It might be a true or false statement, but it's an observation that can be made.
Just like that we can observe the sun and that we seem to orbit around it. That might turn out false, everything can be a huge veil with images projected to Earth, making us think that there is space while there isn't. We wouldn't be able to tell the difference unless we would reach the sun. Although it does seem improbable, it could be the case.
This would be in comparison to a god who is randomly put in place, said to have created the world for example. But nobody has ever observed a god or anything being created by a god. And for that reason it's god-of-the-gaps. It's a gap that you fill with something that you come up with or that someone else comes up with that can't actually be observed.

The consciousness would be (part of) an explanation for free will, but would also be a phenomenon in itself which would require it's own explanations.

I do have a pretty hard time accepting the lack of free will when we do have consciousness. I do have a very hard time seeing the point with introducing consciousness when it doesn't have a free will to control.

3:24 PM  
Blogger Joshua C. Foreman said...

"I don't think that free will is a god-of-the-gaps. I think it's something that's needed for there to be a point with having a consciousness at all, as I said.
Because why be aware if you don't have to be aware?"

As far as I can tell, there is no need to have "point" for anything. Especially with no God. As for WHY we feel that we have free will, that would have to do with whatever factors made humans evolve the way we do. There are plenty of things about humans that don't have a point. Why do we have an appendix? Why do we only see such a small spectrum of light and color? Because that's what happened to be selected for survival of our species. Consciousness must have some selecting power to exist, but it does not have to point to any ultimate reality. Personally, I hope it does, but as an atheist, I'm surprised that you would talk as though there must be a point to it.

"If there was no free will, it would be much more efficient to not have a consciousness to have to deal with. It's not used for anything anyways."

I would say it's hard to determine how efficient consciousness is, especially since it's practically impossible to define. And we really can't know what consciousness is useful for. We can point to lots of things we like to do with it; such as this conversation. But that's beside the point. We must remember that the process of evolution does not value efficiency unless that efficiency promotes survival and reproduction. So I don't think you can use that as an argument for free will.

"Free will is a phenomenon that can be observed"

Ah, I disagree with you here. Unless you can observe multiple dimensions where you actually choose two different things, there is no way you can observe free will in action. All we experience is a feeling. You don't take feelings about a god as evidence, so you should not take feelings of free will as evidence.

" I do have a very hard time seeing the point with introducing consciousness when it doesn't have a free will to control. "

Well my speculation would be that the point of consciousness without free will is that consciousness creates experiences. With or without free will, we all experience. And if that experience is the goal or purpose of our existence, than free will is superfluous.

Either way, this is a very complex topic, and it takes a lot of time and thought to work through, especially since so many of the words are ambiguous and subjective! That is why I am not dogmatic about any of my opinions. I think the one thing I like to ask people who defend free will is to explain how an effect can exist without a cause. If you can choose vanilla or chocolate, and there are no influences on that decision, WHAT caused you to choose one over the other? If you say free will, that is what I mean by god of the gaps. It's simply a word you put in the place of understanding. It's a gap in your theory that you fill with an idea that is as complicated or moreso than the unknown physical explanation.

4:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why would an atheist drop the concept of things having points? Points in the spiritual sense, sure. Points in the logical sense are however something completely different. The point of eating is to get nutrition or enjoyment. The point of participating in the act of coitus would be to reproduce or to get enjoyment. The point of writing this would be to share information, thoughts and for enjoyment. There may also be additional points.
The point of the appendix is not known, but it is suggested that it was part of the digestive system but is no longer needed and may optionally have degenerated a bit and may have stopped degenerating since it's not in the way and thus give no advantage by degenerating further and give no disadvantage by staying in place.
Evolution does do things randomly, but what comes out as pointless is overpowered by what comes out as point...full... If a consciousness was pointless and created by the brain, it would just be in the way if the brain was deterministic anyways. Thus it would be a clear disadvantage and it would likely be overpowered by the brain that was deterministic without a consciousness.

But why would you need a consciousness to make experiences? The brain is very capable of doing that on it's own in the same way a computer is very capable of doing it on it's own.

I don't have to have multiple dimensions to observe free will. I observe free will each time I make a choice. As I said, it might be a false illusion or it might be true free will. But I do observe the phenomenon, that's why I at least know I have the illusion of free will if nothing else. That's why I know of the concept in the first place.
Our brains wouldn't comprehend "free will" if there wasn't a phenomenon that suggested it that we could observe.

I would also say that there are no "feelings about god" unless you first know about the phenomenon of a god. This can be achieved by observing the art of creation and a being participating in said art. For example when you make molds, you create.
Thus you get the concept of creation which is part of the concept of a god.
Further you can understand the concept of power by being overpowered by something or overpowering something. Thus you get the concept that things are more powerful than other things.
You can get the concept of flying by watching birds in the sky.
The wind is an invisible force. You understand invisibility.
Put these together with a bit of imagination and you can imagine a guy that flies in the sky that is invisible and creates stuff that is more powerful than anything else -- God. During several hundred years, not sure about how many, people have written texts on the subject. If you read them, you will learn more about the subject and you can imagine more things.

However the idea of free will can be directly observed. "Hmm, should I have chocolate or vanilla today? Let's go with chocolate." If nothing else, it's the illusion of a free choice between chocolate and vanilla. Hence the phenomenon of free will is observable. But I bet you have never observed a god creating stuff.

Also, free will is not undeterministic. It works with causes as well. However not in a deterministic way.
I may have the choice between eating ice cream, vegetables and poop. Ice cream tastes nice so there's a reason for eating it. Vegetables are healthy so there is a reason for eating them. Poop on the other hand, there's no reason to choose unless perhaps you have bad eyesight and mistake it for chocolate pudding. However I may still choose it due to my free will. Logically I would choose ice cream or vegetables. A deterministic brain would do what would favor it and eating poop would not. Unless .. chocolate pudding... or you may have a fetish for it. You might also be curious the first time you do it. But you can still do it a second time even if you hated it and it was the worst thing in the world. In fact you can continue as long as you live even if that was the case.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Joshua C. Foreman said...

"Why would an atheist drop the concept of things having points?"

Ah I misunderstood your point. Get my point? Thanks for clarifying.

"But why would you need a consciousness to make experiences? The brain is very capable of doing that on it's own in the same way a computer is very capable of doing it on it's own."

Well this is where we could follow a really deep (probably endlessly so) rabbit trail and try to define consciousness, but I'd just say that consciousness could simply be a word we apply to experiences that reach a certain threshold of complexity. And perhaps the Ultimate reason for making beings that have what we call consciousness is that our experiences are a particular KIND of experience that can't be generated in other ways.

" I at least know I have the illusion of free will if nothing else."

Yes. I agree with this. In fact, I'd say that illusion was necessary to get our society to where it is today. That's why I say that I play along with the idea of free will because our culture and language is built on this foundational idea.

"Also, free will is not undeterministic. It works with causes as well. However not in a deterministic way."

You lost me there! In your analogy you say that you can freely choose to keep eating poop if you really wanted to. My question is how do you create or from where does this power come to make an effect with no cause? IF there is a cause for your choice to eat poop over and over (such as insanity or fetish or whatever) then that's not free will.

In order to demonstrate free will you will have to posit what it is that allows an uncaused effect to occur.

9:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I do think I get your point if your point is the point in the spiritual sense. In that case I agree with your point that there need not be any point with anything. There doesn't have to be a "meaning of life" for example.

About the consciousness:
I would say that experiences would be possible to evaluate and store in the informational sense in it's entirety in an electronic circuit given that the disk space and processor are good enough to cover it all. Currently it would appear that that is not the case.
But you can for example cover a robot arm in sensors that detect temperature, tension and pressure (I believe it is), just like our skin. You can then make a program that reads the senors and when they go too high, that is bad and that is "pain".
You can program it so that it learns what kind of experiences give what kind of readings on the sensors so that it will get an affinity for certain experiences and less affinity for other.
For example a light touch could mean that someone likes it and it can become beneficial and a hard hit would mean that it is disliked and should stay away or defend itself. All the other senses could work just the same.
This doesn't need a consciousness as it can be done with electronic circuits to work completely autonomous. It would make the robot stay away from danger and get close to affection.
However, all of it's choices would be deterministic. There is always only one right choice and that would always be the most optimal choice that it can calculate from a survival standpoint.
A consciousness isn't needed for survival in a machine that emulates a creature. So why would it be in an actual creature? There are many examples of living things that work autonomously in nature. Microorganisms and plants cover alot of the subject.
Creaturewise, microorganisms is a perfect example. They often have sensoric elements directly connected to motoric elements so that they automatically move towards a high density of a certain chemical for example.
So why is there a consciousness if it's not needed? The simple logical answer is because it is needed or at least was needed at some point in time and that it is not hindering any of our functions. If it is unneeded and use the brain, then it is stopping the brain from doing other more useful stuff and then logically it wouldn't exist.

About free will:
According to the last part, creatures should logically work completely autonomous with the single goal of surviving.
So why can we make choices that are destructive to us even if we know they are? I do have the ability to turn on the stove and put my hand on it. But I don't want to.
The will -is- affected by the state of the mind and as such it is not "free will" in the sense that it is unaffected. But I would argue that you have a "free will" in the sense that you can choose to do whatever you like regardless if you're drawn to doing it or not., the affinities you have for different things etc, but it seems to me that it is not deterministic towards those. Only affected. Hence I can choose to eat vanilla ice cream instead of chocolate even though chocolate is much better. Since I don't like the idea of eating poop, I disregard that possibility and just go for the ice cream. But I could make the choice to.
So no, the will isn't "free" in the sense that it's unprovoked.
But I would say that the will is "free" in the sense that it is not deterministic or autonomous. In other words, you consciously make choices. Which.. ties into the consciousness.

2:40 PM  
Blogger Joshua C. Foreman said...

" I do have the ability to turn on the stove and put my hand on it. But I don't want to"

But you don't know that you have that ability. You think you do, but that doesn't make it so. Perhaps you feel that in order to prove that you can, you do it. But in that case you still being driven by something that you can't prove you would choose otherwise.

Again, I'm not saying that free will does not exist. I'm only saying that if it does then there exist uncaused effects in the universe. And that breaks logic.

3:30 PM  

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