Monday, June 20, 2011

Piety Versus Conviction

My significant other occasionally raises a concern about faith; especially faith among people knew to the idea. She worries that it could be a fad, for them, that the fleeting red-hot-burn of fresh revelation cannot last, that early ultraorthodox super-piety must eventually self-consume and burn out. A simple idea at first blush, it is actually strikingly poignant.

If a new convert to any faith finds themselves flagging, they might begin to think they are losing faith, as well as piety. Often, the rituals become the important thing; the praying, or meditation, or fasting, or whatever other form of worship. Worship becomes an end, rather than a means, and stagnation eventually sets in. I, for one, can often become so consumed in the idea of "praying properly" that we forget why I am praying at all. Prayer is supposed to be a means, a method of moving closer to God as we understand Him.

Piety, in all its forms, is at once virtue and vice. It is important to keep the growth of the spirit, and of the understanding of God, as a priority for our lives. These are questions that must be answered, if only because no clear answers have ever or will ever exist. It isn`t something we can be taught, but a field of personal exploration, as important as coming to understand ourselves, our limits, and our behaviour. Piety can inspire us to pursue these needs of ours, but at the same time, it can lock us into a rigidity of thought and an adherence to doctrine.

Adherence to doctrine is, in itself, not a negative thing. It becomes a negative when this adherence is blind, lacking in purposeful examination from a critical mindset. This is what I would call over-piety; piety for its own sake, for the sake of the religion, rather than the sake of the faith.

We must remember that we are followers of God first, and the artifices of his worship favour.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Why Quote Catechism?

An earlier quotation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church brought attention to the fact that no rational explanation for the choice of Catholicism had yet been given.

Catechism is, in effect, the educational curriculum of the Catholic faith; it holds all teaching of the church on matters of theology, at least the principle concepts. The current version of catechism used by the Catholic Church was published first in 2005; for the thirtieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II). It was published in 2005, with the first English edition in 2006. At present it represents the most current compendium of the Catholic Faith.

To examine the CCC point by point and offer critical analysis, while an interesting (and underway) project, would occupy far too much memory and space as to be possible as a Blogspot post. The said commentary will be made available upon its completion, likely in Microsoft Word 2007 format or Portable Document Format. However, a partial analysis serves the current purpose.

The choice of a reference to the CCC in an earlier post was a casual one, but not without merit. In the public dialogue, Catholicism is widely considered to be the most rigid and orthodox form of Christianity. It seemed poignant  therefore, to demonstrate that even the "rigid" Catholic Church believes that Genesis was a symbolic work. It was not necessarially an out-and-out endorsement of Catholic doctrine.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Reconciling Faith and Science

This one's frequent:
"How can you profess to having faith in God when the bible is shown to be scientifically wrong?"
It's a good question, and I'm not going to pretend its an easy one to answer. Unfortunately, it's incredibly broad. We'll ignore the usual rounds of bickering resulting from the fact that Holy Scripture isn't a science text book, and address the more frequent objections I usually hear.

In Genesis, the world is described as taking form in six days. Animals, plants, humans are called into being on a whim, and the world is set in its current arrangement from the start. Also, this was all supposed to happen 6,000 years ago.

I'm not sure where the six thousand years figure comes from, but none of my arguments have anything to do with undermining science. I like science; I was damned good at it. I have quite a fast mind when it comes to learning Physics, Geometry, and Chemistry.

My answer to that argument is that Genesis is largely allegorical, particularly in talking about creation. It's even talked about in Catachism, defeating the counter-argument that Christians "Aren't allowed to do that."
337 God himself created the visible world in all its richness, diversity and order. Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine "work", concluded by the "rest" of the seventh day.204 On the subject of creation, the sacred text teaches the truths revealed by God for our salvation,205 permitting us to "recognize the inner nature, the value and the ordering of the whole of creation to the praise of God."206
 How is it possible that Moses parted the Red Sea? How are any of the plagues possible? How is Jesus's miraculous healing possible?

In a word, Faith. Name your miracle, and the easy answer is "God did it."

(C) Bob and George

I don't like easy answers, and I like a God of the Gaps somewhat less. While I have no earthly idea how the various Old Testament miracles were performed, there are observed, documented miracles from our modern era, such as this one, which seems to suggest that whatever was working then is still working now. Healing miracles are even more interesting, and are supported through rigorous medical studies.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

TwoAbused Words: Rational and Coherent

I have noticed a trend on forums where the Theism/Atheism argument is raised to abuse two words. I personally believe that words in the English Language have precise meanings and that their definitions are immutable, save for colloquialisms, which have no place in debate. These words are: Rational, and Coherent. These abuses are seen equally often on both sides of the argument, which is to say that an Atheist is just as likely to wrongly declare irrationality as a Theist is to declare coherency, or vis versa.

Rational is perhaps the most abused of these words. People use it to indicate whether or not an idea or thesis is supported by the precepts of common knowledge upon a cursory examination. In a colloquial or informal context, that is in fact the acceptable use. However, in a philosophical discussion, however informal, the word rational takes on a whole new meaning. Here, Allison and Branden, first year philosophy students, are going to help demonstrate this point.

For example, Allison might say:
"I believe in the God of the Bible because I have had an apparition of Christ, and he told me he Truth of the Word.."
And then, Branden replies:
"That's irrational."
Branden is simultaneously right and wrong, which is an awkward state. What youtube user two has actually said, in a philosophical definition of rationality, is that Alice "came to that conclusion through a process which involved emotion, subjective analysis, or flawed logic." However, Alice had an apparition, in which Christ appeared to her, and told her he truth of the Gospel. If Bill Maher came before you, announced his name, and told you that his show was on HBO, unless you were an overly skeptical person, you wouldn't need to use emotion to determine if that was true (though it would change whether or not you liked his comedy). The statement "Real Time is on HBO" is objective, and the fact of it is not subject to a subjective analysis. There's no flawed logic in accepting something someone told you about their subject of expertise, though it's always wise to fact-check them. Therefore, under Philosophical terms, the decision to trust the apparition actually was rational. Branden's point was that trusting an apparition that couldn't be proved and could be the product of a mental illness seemed less than sound... but that's not what he said.

Further on in their conversation, Branden says:
"I don't believe a God is necessary for the appearance of human morality. Discounting that many humans do not behave altogether morally, morals are simply the project of group utility. Old morals like not killing, stealing, or raping are important because those three actions affect the strength of a pack, village, or other social construct."
And Alice's somewhat premature reply is:
"That's Incoherent." 

Coherency in philosophy has a very specific meaning. It means only that what position Branden has espoused must be consistent with all of his actual beliefs in order for it to be true (where true in this context refers not to Truth, but to the absence of a lie). An argument can be incoherent, but only if it contains an internal contradiction.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Problem of Divine Identity.

Building upon the previously-established concept, it becomes necessary to infer the identity of the Divine. This is the so called "right God, wrong God" argument. The problem with such a task is that it is, in its own way, inherently subjective. We would need to identify with the Gods of all the various Holy Texts, and then make a study of the nature of the universe itself, and in so doing, come to find that there is no one disqualifying factor, and the name of God becomes a matter of personal faith.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It's faith predicated on reason, and so long as "which God is God?" is approached in a calm and rational manner, it's also faith built of reason. It has been made a common atheistic argument that we are to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. While I respect anyone who can come to philosophy with a Wizard of Oz reference (or any reference that's not in a Holy Text), there's a certain fatalism contained in the argument. The human mind can't rationalize God, fully knowing Him, so why try to know Him at all.

Philosophy, for all its ontology, logic, and reason, is still a highly subjective field. Even with all the proper proofs in place, a given reader, either not understanding or otherwise, can reject the thesis. Sometimes, such a rejection is subject only to the beliefs of the reader. Others, it is a result of a flaw in the text.

Coming to know God is a hard, personal journey, and even once you're sure "which" God you mean, you run into problems. Suppose you settled on the God of Abraham, the God who heads the faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Okay... so do you wish to become a Jew, a Christian, or a Muslim? Suppose you decide to become a Christian, either out of convenience or a spiritual tug? Protestant, or Catholic? Catholic... Roman Rite or Eastern Rite?

You come to see the point. The idea of it being difficult to understand and grasp God is nothing new. It's so old, in fact, that cultures inherently alien to one another have sprung up, shaped largely by their faiths over the annals of human history.

It's all a matter of vocation... which is a subject for another article.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Defense of the Existence of a Singular Diety

(Taken from a crude thought experiment I conducted with help from Keith Neilson of NBCC in 2009.)

The matter of God is an oft-argued point, and the primary problem with such discussions is that nothing can be proved or disproved in absolute and scientific terms. This was because Science was not developed to theorize on matters of supernatural concern, but simply on natural problems. God (or any Deity) is a non-quantifiable entity, existing outside of the normal framework of nature. Under many (if not all) belief systems, a deity is an omnipotent or suprapotent entity. Omnipotence implies a supernatural nature, as omnipotence implies the ability to ignore and even alter natural laws. Therefore is God outside the scope of science.

An argument can be made, however, on the basis of analogy. Consciousness (id est sentience) is also unmeasurable. With the exception of agreeing upon the nature of given qualia (two men agreeing that red is in fact red, and green is in fact green), two separate consciousnesses cannot communicate their exact methods of perception. This has been called the Color Problem, where, in layman terms, though you and I will both agree on what is yellow, the colour I see "for" yellow could be the one that your mind uses to register the qualia of, say, red. Therefore, two consciousnesses cannot truly know each other, and are unmeasurable. Barring some new development, consciousness is also outside the scope of science, but we know that it exists, because we know that we are conscious. This consciousness is not the state of wakefullness, but the total package that separates one mind from another; personality, memories, inferences, and biases, what some might loosely refer to as a soul.

A curious consequence of the mechanism of consciousness, which is activity of the brain, is that the mechanism by which consciousness functions can be detected (even if nothing truly insightful can be so inferred), in the form of chemical reactions and their related electrical activity. Consciousness has an associated energy; the electrical activity of the brain.

Can a similarly-measurable Energy be associated to a Deity? Consider the following question.
Given the currently theoretically sound cosmological model, and the laws of Thermodynamics, where did the initial impetus that began the universal expansion (an event known as the Big Bang) originate?

Consider: Matter and Energy cannot be created or destroyed, merely converted from one form to another. We know of a link between matter and energy thanks to Einstein's famous equation, E=mc^2. It is possible to convert energy into matter, and vice versa.

For the universe to have begun expansion, the matter/energy would already have needed to be in place. It therefore becomes necessary to assume that some extra-temporal source of either existed as time also began with the Big Bang in the current model. A large reservoir of energy, the sum total of all the energy of the universe.

The reality perceived by a consciousness is subject to its mechanics; few argue that there are objective qualia in the universe upon which all humankind can agree without any need for education, and the agreeable qualities of the world grow with further experience and education thereof. However, we also know that this reality is still shaped by the function of the consciousness. Various mental illnesses (particularly the schizophrenic disorders and other related problems) can alter, sometimes dramatically, the composition of the universe as experienced by that particular individual, and this is often reflected in a change of the energy and activity of the brain, or by damage to its tissues. Similarly, can't we argue that the mechanisms and reality of the universe are determined by the matter and energy that comprise it? It is evident.

Interactions of matter and energy in the universe are governed by a series of constants, which define various fundamental forces. Changes in these constants has been demonstrated through mathematical simulation to have wide-reaching consequences for the universe in which the change has differed. However, many of these constants are unknown, or imprecisely known (i.e., are numbers with uncertain digits). These constants could be argued to be the mental state of a Deity. Because the nature of the universe is consistent and constant, we can rule out the possibility that there are multiple deities, if we assume that there is a single universe. This is the only reasonable assumption to the number of universes, as this is the only number of universes which can be measured.

Therefore, a Deity exists, and existed ex temporae with respect to our Universe, which is a consequence of the analogous process of It's consciousness to our perceptual consciousness. It is therefore subject to further consideration as to its proper identity. With respect to various mind-over-matter phenomena in humankind (including the property of Free Will), it is reasonably arguable that the said Deity is capable of circumventing the natural laws of the universe by exercising free will, which would be a functional omnipotence. Such a Diety would exist as long as the universe and would be "alive" so long as energy within the universe persists, functionally immortal. Such a Diety, given infinite time and self-insight, would theoretically know the precise state of its associated universe, which is functional omniscience.

We may therefore posit the existence of an Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Immortal Diety. Further consideration as to the identity of such a deity is necessary, and is dependent on observation of the current universe. It would therefore be impossible to entirely quantify such a Deity, as, beyond qualia, the precise nature of the universe can be altered by the mental state of the individual observer. It is therefore upon the observer themselves to identify or discern their God, but it is also reasonable to assume that the vast majority of Humankind should be able to determine reasonably similar Dieties.

This thought experiment hazards no guess to the identity of our universe's Deity, or to the possibility that such a Deity has communicated or is communicating with humankind through readily understandable means.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Idea, and The Method.

I guess form dictates that I do something to introduce myself. A few of you have seen my other blogs and might know roughly who I am from there, or wandered in from facebook. Those of you from CAF and MP will need a little more explanation.

My name is Zachary J. Adam, and I'm a 20-year-old from New Brunswick's southern regions, in Canada. I've been a lot of things in my short life, from full-time student to casual scholar, from lowly fry cook to Assistant Chef at a top-rate Inn. I've fixed broken cellphones, cobbled together webpages, and written everything from a light novella to political tracts, and from historical essays to business proposals. I'm the guy you know who took up a trade for the hell of it, when he could have ended up as a doctor, lawyer, or philosopher.

Over the last several years of my life (basically since I "discovered" the outside world at age 13 to be more than just an abstract concept to fill the space between house, school, and internet servers), I've made casual study of a number of topics, from history, language (I'm written-proficient in English and German and have enough French to stumble through a conversation), culture, geography, chemistry, biology, medicine, philosophy, and psychology. In high school, I specialized in advanced mathematics, physics, chemistry, and Canadian law. I graduated my school with honours and my college with three semesters of the Dean's List under my belt.

I say this, not to feign some form of higher insight, but to underscore the fact that I don't, really, know anything. The human mind is an empty shell when compared to the vast libraries of our physical and metaphysical world. I also want you to understand that I'm not coming into this from one of the typical backgrounds. I wasn't raised to any real doctrine (well, perhaps a slight bias to the left, with emphasis ethnic, social, religious, and academic pluralism), and I attended the finest public schools the towns I've lived in have had to offer. The topic of this blog is something, growing up, I never figured I would end up exploring. Before I graduated from high school, religion was a fashionable item, another identifying badge made inadequate by the measurements of science and irrelevant by a society that aught to be accepting of all cultural norms.

Then someone said to me in the early days of college that it was impossible to quantify the unquantifiable. Science has her place; measurable knowledge, readily documented and easily disseminated. Verifiable through falsification. Science was the weapon that beat back the dark of the night, heralded in a new age, and put a man on the moon. But it was only good for the studies of the branches of Chemistry, Physics, and Biology, and from there, their varying branches and intermixing offshoots. Philosophy, to an extent, Psychology, and, well, Theology... they required Science's founding principle: Reason.

There are unquantifiable values in our natural world. Until the problem of the mind is solved in the (admittedly young) science of Neurology, the human mind will always be an unknown value that can only be guessed at. The only person who ever knows what's going on inside a given mind is the owner of that mind, and you can trust me when I say to you that sometimes even they haven't got a clue.

Around two years ago, I was able to rationalize God, or at least a face as him. I had a reasonable framework by which a god or gods was possible. I was then, by progressive contemplation, able to work out which God.  I've been a Christian, at least nominally, ever since... and searching for a home for my spiritual side.

While there are those out there who might argue, I think it was better to have found Him later in life than earlier. To have been brought up into it would have caused me to miss very important lessons, lessons that have shaped my thought. I consider myself a free-thinker, someone who is objectively rational. While I agree that subjective thought plays an important role in life (I'm a culinary and literary artist, after all), objectivity is a prized and rare ability, to which I can credit only my parents and a small handful of teachers, instructors, and acquaintances  to whom this blog is in silent dedication.

A Note on Method
In the past, I've seen blogs and forums run with too loose a hand, and too tight of one. I wish to avoid that. The loose grip prevents advancement, and the tight one prevents the free exchange of ideas. I have, for now, chosen to allow anonymous posts.

I should be clear, however, that I will only be responding to commentary that is rigorous, amicable, and rational. Throughout the run of this blog I will be citing my sources and showing my work like a proper scholar, and I would expect any judgmental commentary to show the same level of integrity. In exchange for the requisite mental elbow grease, I'll be perfectly happy to pursue any such material with an objective eye to what it represents. All this, of course, takes some time.