Of all of those Big Questions central to philosophical concepts that surround life, the universe and everything, the realms of theology and religions and the nature of deities continue to fascinate. Opinions proliferate in books, articles, videos, conversations in bars and pubs, and in fact anywhere and everywhere two or more humans are in proximity. There’s the pro side; there’s the anti-side. There aren’t too many fence-sitters. I’m in the anti-camp as the following third installment of religious short pieces illustrate.
Theological Dot Points
What Causes Religious Belief?
Do Science & Religion Conflict?
Arguments about God?
Fallacies in Arguing for God?
On The Concept of An All-Knowing God
Is There Life After Death?
Theological Dot Points
*Theology for the masses today becomes the entertainment for the masses tomorrow. Think of The Olympians way back when and Ancient Greek mythology today, as an example.
*Theology is both Earth-centered as well as human-centered. Yet in reality, Earth is about as minor a celestial object as you care to examine both in time and in space; humans are also quite the minor entity, especially in time vis-a-vis how long Earth has existed as well as how long the cosmos has existed. Therefore, theology, in cosmic (spatial and temporal) terms isn’t significant at all.
*Had you been born in a different time and/or place, you’d be singing the praises of Allah, Mohammed and the Koran or perhaps instead worshipping Isis, Horus and Osiris, maybe even The Aten. So, methinks your theological convictions are all a matter of the time and place, of the culture and the society you were born into. It has nothing to do with theologically coming closer to truth!
*Not all of the major religions can be true, but all can be false. As has been famously pointed out, nearly everyone today dismisses the concept of many deities (plural) or polytheism. I just go that one extra yard and dismiss the one deity that’s left over as not having any more credibility than the many deities that are now confined to the rubbish bin that once upon a time held sway over the religious faithful.
*But has it ever really occurred to you that your entire theological house-of-cards is just a product of the accidental and random timing and placement of your birth and associated upbringing. Had you been born and raised and indoctrinated say 1000 years ago in Japan, Mexico, Australia, Indonesia, India or even what would become the USA, you’d be singing a vastly different theological tune with total conviction. You know that’s true. Further, that’s the most telling point of all.
What Causes Religious Belief?
Are we hard-wired for religion and belief in deities?
It would appear that humans alone of all the primates, far less all of the rest of the higher mammals, are hard-wired to, if not uncritically believe in a spirit or supernatural reality, at least have an intense and curiosity about the possibility of one. [Even the most rabid of atheists must have an interest in the possible existence of deities and the supernatural in order to bucket that existence.] The evidence for that is that nearly every culture from the Year Dot through to the present day holds such beliefs or interests. There’s no evidence that chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, and associated primates or other intelligent species like whales and dolphins and elephants, etc. have a similar belief or interest in anything theological. They don’t appear to have religious or spiritual experiences.
Why have humans and humans alone been singled out for this facet of ‘reality’? Further, there’s evidence that parts of the human brain can be stimulated to produce spiritual or religious feelings, for oneness with a personal God to a more nebulous oneness with the cosmos. Also, those with temporal lobe epilepsy can ‘suffer’ from hyper-religiosity.
Humans being singled out to have a spiritually inclined brain make little sense from a natural selection or biological evolutionary point of view. A religious frame of mind doesn’t help find food and shelter and a mate and avoid predators, etc. It all makes little sense unless this facet of our mental being was programmed in from the word go by either a really real supernatural deity or deities or else by my postulated Supreme Programmer who created our Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe.
IMHO the Supreme Programmer has programmed into us an awareness that there is a Supreme Programmer – kind of like an artist signing their paintings!
Do Science & Religion Conflict?
Not all humans are of course moral, so that’s not a universal. Many other animal species are moral or have ethical qualities. In fact on average I’d suggest animals tend to be way more moral in their intra-species behavior than humans are. Regardless, that suggests that there has to be some evolutionary advantage in adopting a ‘golden rule’. When it comes down to survival, being moral and not pissing someone else off more likely as not will result in a benefit to you when the fertilizer hits the fan and you need an ally. Many an atheist is an upstanding citizen; many a religious believer can inflict the worst of cruelties on their fellows – do I really have to give you a history lesson to point that out? Just consider those ‘moral’ humans that are part and parcel of the so-called Islamic State. So, there could be a lot of dispute about our moral compass.
We only have one example of Planet Earth and one example of the human body, so suggesting that Earth or the human body has intricate complexity is arguing from a single data point. Complexity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Some mathematics are highly complex to me; not complex at all to someone who has devoted years of work mastering the subject. Basic arithmetic is something incredibly complex to my cats. No doubt they must think arithmetic is a gift from the gods because only a god could invent something so complex.
The Earth and the human body are as complex as is needed to be in order to exist in the way that it does – no more and no less. It isn’t too difficult to imagine the Earth and the human body as being vastly more complex than they are. But anyone who has played around with computer programming generating ‘artificial life’ knows full well that from very simple starting parameters one can generate incredible complexity. No deity need apply for the job. From quarks and electrons you can naturally generate atoms of hydrogen and oxygen; from hydrogen and oxygen you can naturally generate water; from water you can naturally generate ice and vapor; oceans and icebergs and rain. There’s nothing supernatural required.
It is not a universal, therefore not a simple truth that we (as in 100% of us) yearn for all of the same things. If everyone yearned for the exact same things, however deep and important they may be, well that would be the state of our civilization. It would be pretty boring if all of us were monks of eastern religious faiths or philosophers or hippies and seekers of altered states of consciousness. Not all of us wish to know how many angels (not that there are angels of course IMHO) can dance on the head of a pin.
As for giving and getting, would you rather get a pay-check or give your money to the tax-man?
As a bit of a postscript, with respect to whatever degree of morality we humans have, it certainly didn’t derive from God. God’s own morality is non-existent if you believe the Old Testament. God is the greatest super-villain ever conceived of by humans, which is not at all unlikely given that God was created in the image of man. What’s a good camp-fire tall tale without a villain to make the narrative interesting? Fortunately, the Biblical Old Testament is just a camp-fire tall tale. It’s just myths and fairy-tales penned and told by grown-ups for grown-ups. There is no causality between the lack of morality in the fictional tales of God and the on-again, off-again morality of the human species.
Arguments about God?
1) When it comes down to providing arguments for the existence of God, I find totally incredible the statement by religious philosopher Alvin Plantinga that “Well, first of all I’d like to reiterate – I don’t think you need arguments. I think you can be perfectly sensible, rational, reasonable, justified, intellectually okay, meeting your responsibilities, etcetera, believing in God without believing on the basis of arguments even if you don’t think there are any good arguments. I think that’s how actually most people do believe in God and I think that’s a perfectly proper way.”
Excuse me, but if you propose the existence of something, anything, then the burden is on you to provide at the minimum some evidence even if you can’t provide proof. Evidence can be intellectual as in the form of arguments, but you’d better provide something to back up your belief. Plantinga does then provide arguments, but only after being prodded to do so. He’d rather just use his fallback position that you don’t need any arguments to believe in the existence of God. Of course I’ve come to except such nonsense from theologians or philosophers who dabble in religious philosophy. What a crock of bovine fertilizer it is to state that XYZ exists without the need to back up your claim. Obviously the Earth is flat and I don’t need any arguments to back that up!
2) The apparent fine-tuning of the laws, principles and relationships of physics that translates into a bio-friendly cosmos is indeed compelling evidence that there is an intelligence behind it all, even if most of the cosmos is bio-unfriendly. However, rather than postulate a supernatural intelligence, I suggest the odds favor a flesh-and-blood intelligence, in fact a computer programmer that has designed a Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe, and we are part and parcel of that simulated landscape. That simulation would of course have to be fine-tuned to allow for a habitable albeit virtual landscape, in the exact same way as our video games are fine-tuned in order to make the game-playing logical in its depiction of ‘reality’. Fine-tuning might be an argument for intelligence, but it’s not of necessity an argument for God.
Fallacies in Arguing for God?
There are dozens and dozens of biographies and other historical accounts about famous individuals like Archimedes, Plato, Homer, Aristotle, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Ramesses the Great, Tutankhamun, and so on down the line. Now you will note that these books never quote these individuals. They don’t say something like “Cleopatra said”, unless they actually wrote or carved some statement or inscription down. You can rattle off many “Jesus said” quotes; how many quotes do you know for any or all of the other above historical figures?
Now I’m not aware or I don’t recall Jesus having actually penned any document that has survived, not carved any inscriptions in stone – unlike Daddy, though for some strange reason those dual petroglyphs of His authorship don’t seem to be in the public arena anymore, or in a museum. So, when it comes to “God said” or “Jesus said”, something is clearly screwy somewhere.
I mean there are no qualifiers in the Bible about what God said or Jesus said. You don’t get words like “supposedly said” or “allegedly said” or “might of said” or “could have said based on… ” or “may have stated his view that” or “or words to that effect”. What God said or Jesus said is not in doubt which is more than just slightly anomalous.
Now here’s some pretty solid evidence the New Testament, just like the old, is a total fabrication – a work of fiction, or rather perhaps the world’s first anthology of fantasy stories. Now in the New Testament (Matthew 4: 1-11; Luke 4: 1-13) we find Jesus going walkabout in the wilderness for 40 days and nights. I might have been more impressed if it had been for 39 days and nights or 41 days and nights, but just another Biblical 40 is just so unoriginal, but that’s another topic. Anyway, Jesus didn’t totally lack for company, as he and the Devil had a bit of a chin-wag. Quotes are quoted regarding their conversation. Now, did the Devil act as a scribe for Jesus; did Jesus act as a scribe for the devil? Who was taking notes and recording this verbal interaction? The odds are there were no pens and pencils put to paper out there in the wilderness, so there can be no exact quotations of the Jesus-Devil exchange. That suggests that someone somewhere made it all up out of whole cloth, just as the characters in novels have conversations given in quotation marks.
On The Concept Of An All-Knowing God
Assuming there is such a being as an all-knowing (omniscient) Maximally Great Being (i.e. – God), this would suggest among other things that:
If you are all knowing then you know the past, the present, and the future as well since one can, being all-knowing, use the all omni-knowledge of the present to predict the future perfectly.
If God is all-knowing, God has to see what you see; taste what you taste; smell what you smell; hear what you hear; feel what you feel both physically and mentally. God may not think what you’re thinking, but He would have to know what you are thinking, what you have thought about, and what you will think about. You can’t even hide from God in your dreams. God would have to know everything that’s in your subconscious mind and know other things about you like how loudly you snore and know all about the intimate details of your various body odors. Multiply that database by every organism, not just human beings that has ever lived, lives now and will ever live.
God knows why I chose a blue tie over a red tie even though the rationale for that choice is buried in my subconscious and I have no actual conscious knowledge of why I made that choice.
Now apply that principle to each and every human who has ever lived, lives now and will ever live. This principle could also be extended further down into the animal kingdom.
God knows how many hairs are on my cat from day-to-day; moment-to-moment. That equally applies to every cat (past, present and future) and in fact all animals that have hair or fur.
God would have to know the state of health of each and every one of your body cells and by extension each and every cell of every multicellular creature that was, is, or ever will be. The same applies to all of those micro-organisms past, present and future. That’s trillions upon trillions of cells to note and log.
God knows which sperm cell(s) will score the touchdown(s) for each and every conception, human or otherwise, that ever was, is, or will be.
In seeming defiance of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, God knows the exact position and velocity of each and every fundamental particle in the entire cosmos from nanosecond to nanosecond and has instant recall of the state that existed for any particle at any time in the past and what will be in the future.
God knows every typo and misprint in every book, newspaper, magazine, letter, Internet blog, etc. in every written language that ever was, is or will be. Of course God has committed to memory every book, newspaper, magazine, letter, Internet blog, etc. in every language.
God could beat anyone, anywhere, at any trivia contest (past, present or future).
God could read and comprehend any medical doctor’s handwriting that’s been scribbled on their prescriptions.
Take this daily morning scenario:
– You wake up (God knows when) and you go to the bathroom to take a morning piss. God knows the volume you passed as well as the number of molecules of each chemical compound that was present as well as how long you took from start to finish and what it smelled like. God also knows if you then washed your hands! (God also knows those same details for my cats in their morning foray to their litter box apart from the hand-washing of course.)
– Then you take a morning shower. God knows the temperature of the water; how many drops of water came out of the shower head; what your bill for that water will be; how many bacteria got washed down the drain, the species of each and whether they survived. He also knows what brand of soap you used, how much you used, what it cost, and where you bought it from.
– When you get dressed He knows if you put on fresh underwear or not!
– Does God really need to know whether or not you had eggs or cereal for breakfast and if so how you had your eggs or what brand of cereal you dished out? God would also know the temperature of your morning coffee (or tea) at first sip and at final swallow.
By the way, you might have to add in all the nitty-gritty details of any and all possible extraterrestrial life forms into God’s databank as well.
Are you getting the impression that these are examples of Information Overload taken to extremes? Isn’t this scenario of an all-knowing Maximally Great Being not just getting a bit out of hand but getting pretty darned ridiculous to boot?
But the icing on the all-knowledge cake is that God could NOT forget anything, ever, or else He wouldn’t be all-knowing (omniscient) anymore. Isn’t that a curse rather than a blessing?
Is There Life After Death?
The philosophical logic of or behind Ockham’s Razor means that one shouldn’t pile on speculation after assumption after speculation after assumption in order to explain something. Stick with the facts and keep it simple, stupid!
Applying Ockham’s Razor to the Afterlife:
Fact: You have a body and no debate need be entered into regarding that observation.
Fact: You have an essence and no debate need be entered into regarding that observation.
Fact: You will die and no debate need be entered into regarding that future observation.
Fact: Your body will decay away and no debate need be entered into regarding that future observation.
Speculative Assumption: Your essence will leave your dead body at time of death and debate need be entered into regarding that future possibility.
Speculative Assumption: Your essence will unite with another living body (reincarnation) and debate need be entered into regarding that future possibility.
Speculative Assumption: Your essence goes directly to an afterlife location and debate need be entered into regarding that future possibility.
Speculative Assumption: Your essence will rejoin your original body when it is resurrected and go directly to an afterlife location and debate need be entered into regarding that future possibility.
So we see that if we want to minimize speculative assumptions and complications, then Ockham Razor is suggestive that we not proceed any farther than the fourth point. In other words, no afterlife is the default and simplest scenario when it comes to your demise.