Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Wonder of the Transcendent Good

If we as humans reject the horrific unethical beliefs of many Muslims, Christians, and Hindus (Part #1 The Horror of God Belief), and we already have rejected delusions and fanciful mythological stories of religions in general as various thoughtful theists have done since Plato...
do we go about thinking of Ultimate Reality
(usually and traditionally termed “God”)?

Ah, the God question.


Nothing like trying to solve the nature of existence, billions of years of cosmic history, why the Big Bang happened, and why is it possible (to paraphrase Einstein) that mere primates came to self-aware consciousness
and the ability for creativity, reason,
science, aesthetics,
and compassion.

The how is often answered by cosmologists speculating about multi-verses and quantum events. Fascinating stuff. As for humanity’s sometime action of altruism, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins speculates that ethical ideal might have come about by a “misfiring” of evolution.

However open agnostics such as the astronomer Chris Impey of the University of Arizona-Tucson raise very good questions about the unusual anomaly of Homo sapiens in the midst of what appears to be an unconscious, thoughtless, amoral cosmos.

Astronomer Impey: “If the universe contained nothing more than forces operating on inanimate matter, it would not
be very interesting."

"The presence of sentient life-forms like us
(and perhaps unlike us) is the zest, or
the special ingredient, that gives cosmic
history dramatic tension."

"We’re made
of tiny subatomic particles and are part
of a vast space-time arena, yet
we hold both extremes
in our heads.”
How It Ends? By Chris Impey

Yes, the amazing ability of conscious primates to hold the concept of the macrocosm to the microcosm within each of our heads, to create new things which never existed, to have a sense of ought which often thwarts what is biologically advantageous….

So if we humans want to move beyond our personal feelings and inner intuition in regard to God, we need to look to brilliant philosophical thinkers.

While atheist thinkers have posited that everything is due to cosmic
Chance (Jacques Monad, Stephen Jay Gould) or
Necessity/Determinism (Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne),
in striking contrast mathematician/philosopher
Alfred Lord Whitehead
and philosopher Charles Hartshorne
think that Meaning and Creativity and the Good
are at the center
and beginning of

Consciousness, reason, ethics, aesthetics are somehow inherent
in the essential essence of the cosmos,
not meaningless anomalies like atheists claim.

Since Charles Hartshorne comes from a Quaker background, attended Haverford Quaker College
and is the most recent brilliant theistic thinker,
let’s first take a look at him
and his concepts and philosophy
which he terms,

Earliest Spiral Galaxy

For Hartshorne, the future is OPEN. Creativity, possibility are there. God and all conscious life have real alternative choices to create.

For instance,
"When Scrooge, in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, asks the Ghost of Christmas Future whether he is seeing the shadows of the things that “will be” or the shadows of the things that “may be only,” he is expressing in a precise way Hartshorne’s analysis of future tense statements."

"If the shadows are of the things that “will be,” then all hope is lost, but if they are the shadows of the things that “may be only” then Scrooge can change his ways and make for himself a different future."

"A hallmark of Hartshorne’s neoclassical theism is that the universe is a joint creative product of (a) the lesser creators that are the creatures, localized in space and time, and (b) the eminent creator which is God whose influence extends to every creature that ever has or that ever will exist."

By Donald Wayne Viney, Pittsburg State University

"Charles Hartshorne, (born June 5, 1897, Kittanning, Pennsylvania, U.S.—died October 10, 2000, Austin, Texas), American philosopher, theologian, and educator known as the most influential proponent of a “process philosophy,” which considers God a participant in cosmic evolution."

"The descendant of Quakers and son of an Episcopalian minister, Hartshorne attended Haverford College before serving as a medical orderly in World War I. He completed his undergraduate education at Harvard University...earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1923. Hartshorne studied in Germany (1923–25), where he met Martin Heidegger and Edmund Husserl."

"He returned to lecture at Harvard (1925–28), after which he taught philosophy at the University of Chicago (1928–55) and at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia (1955–62). He then taught...philosophy at the University of Texas--Austin...He also served as president of the American Philosophical Association and the Metaphysical Society of America."

*Side Note: Of course, some thoughtful people come to the conclusion there is no Ultimate Source/Essence. Nontheist and atheistic Quakers, Christian nontheists, religious atheists—all claim that there is no Essence, no Transcendence. Only matter and energy reign. It appears that they use religious language to describe their feelings and subjective preferences, nothing more. If you would like to read about nontheism, check back in to some of my posts on that subject.

To be continued--

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox


Katya said...

Hmmm.. Here we go again with "denying" and "not accepting" religions(s) and mythology before looking at other options. is that necessary? I somehow always thought/felt that myths never denied humankind options, or creativity; neither did faith in god (of one's choice). Different sects and religions did.
Also, Daniel, doesn't the search for "ultimate truth" and the "one correct answer" give you a headache? For me, being "absolutely right" in what I believe in has never been a priority. I believe in it, and that's enough. Someone else might find it absolute gibberish - and they believe in something else, and it works for them. What I believe in works for me... so, in a way, we are all right in some ways - as long as our beliefs work for us (and don't hurt other people. Cutting off heads and executing innocent "in the name of god" has never been my favorite).
I honestly think many people would be a lot happier if they stopped searching for the "right" option and just... started living. Thank you.

Daniel Wilcox said...


Thanks for reading and expressing your different view.

One reason why we disagree is probably because you have had very different experiences with Paganism than me. Mine have been very negative, though I do agree that some myths do present truth that can't be reasoned to or found via science.

In the past, Pagans have written repeatedly that there is no evil in the world. They have insisted that cancer and malaria aren't wrong.
Other Pagans argue that killing isn't wrong. In fact some of them emphasize violence and killing and glory in lethal slaughter as did Homer in The Illiad.

I realize that you hold to a different ethic than that as you even oppose capital punishment. Just like there are all kinds of monotheists, there are many different kinds of Pagans.

Then there are other reasons too, though. I taught various branches of Paganism for many years to high school students. Most of the myths are filled with superstitions and delusions. And not only don't match reality, they cause harm when lived.

3rd, I've read Carol P. Christ's book on Paganism and found it to be full of delusions and bad ethics.

4th, I was deeply influenced by Plato who rejected the myths of the Greeks.

But I realize that you and Joseph have had very different experiences with Paganism and highly value you.

I admit, I still don't understand why. Maybe we can continue the discussion sometime.

Katya said...

Oh I feel a long discussion coming on. :) But, perhaps, these discussions are better when held in person.
For now... not all Pagan religions are the same, as not all Pagans are the same. The idea that "there is no evil in the world" may not necessarily mean that literally. Evil exists, but it may be in us, in our deeds, rather than in the outside world. (Basically - don't take it literally. One can interpret it, "Instead of focusing on all the evils of the world out there, try to focus on yourself and correct the "evil" within - don't do bad things... That way, you can change the world for the better. And if everyone focuses on improving themselves, the world will be a better place." )
As for certain Pagan traditions of (human) sacrifice... I do not believe it good practice, but I can understand the idea behind it at least in theory.. Generally, people looked up to gods in times of trouble (they still do, and religious behaviors always spike at times of turmoil even today). When there's trouble, gods need to be appeased... If people are dying, the situation becomes... urgent. In desperation, people may decide, "We'll do anything, give you anything, just stop this (drought, plague, people dying out etc., put your chosen catastrophe here). One Greek king was to sacrifice his favorite daughter to the sea monster to save his people. (I don't think either him or his people were gleefully looking at the rocks, wondering if they could "see the show". Most likely, everyone was devastated... but they saw it as the only way they could survive). Today, there's death penalty. Granted, there is due process here - and generally the person has done something to end up on death row - but more and more, as cases are investigated, we find that quite a few of them are wrongfully convicted... I wonder if the outsiders could be looking at our death penalty practice as a "procedure to sacrifice a human to appease the unknown god", especially if the human was in fact innocent of the deed he was convicted of (I say "he" because women in the US very rarely end up on death row).
Yes, the horrors of war and famine you write in your blog are terrible. The refugee crisis is very real... And there are many more global catastrophes one can write about.. But, if you look at the rules and laws of "civilized" countries, you may well find that in many ways, people are not as civilized as we would like to think.. And if you look closely at inhabitants of an average suburban neighborhood, you may find out that your average neighbor is in his mind more savage than some Pagan tribesman that "upholds" human sacrifice. The only difference is - next door neighbor is Christian who believes that all non-believers should burn in hell. His search for "ultimately true" religion has brought him to the point of fanaticism and need to eliminate everyone who does not believe exactly as him. Thankfully, he can't go on this rampage, because the law prevents him from it. In that respect, the tribesman may be more civilized, because he understands in his mind that killing your own kind is "no good" and he does not even have a policeman enforcing that rule: his own mind tells him the truth...
Thank you.

Daniel Wilcox said...

I prefer discussions held in person because they can have constant interaction and constant feedback--like a mountain spring:-)

On the other hand, sometimes instant response is too emotional, misguided, not-thought-through. There is something also to be said for simmered tea left to set. When one reflects on a problem, chews it about, then sometimes deeper insights come and one also has a chance to eliminate any hidden errors.

I agree not all Pagan religions are the same. That's why I wrote, "in my different experiences." C.S. Lewis has a much more positive view of some forms of Paganism than do I. Both he and his wife considered his Til We Have Faces, a retelling of a Greek myth, his best book.

The Pagans I spoke with really thought there is nothing wrong with cancer, malaria, the ruthless suffering in nature, etc.

That's when I stopped reading about Paganism. Sounded too much like a many-gods-version of Calvinism.

Also, as you know, I'm a skeptical person, am fairly strong convinced that the paranormal, miracles, etc. don't exist. I've had many, many people try to convince me differently, but after studying up on the miraculous for many years--even back when I was hopeful--I've never found a scientifically verified miracle.

Yes, I, too, can understand the ideas behind human sacrifice. After all, in a drastically modified form it is a central tenet in much of creedal Christianity.

As for the death penalty, I think it is a form of "sacrifice to appease" whether God or Gods, the concept of justice in a human sacrifice sort of way (like the Aztecs sacrificed captives of other tribes captured in war), or a sacrifice to our sense of revenge and wrath.
I must admit, of late, I've not been feeling very sorry for ISIS members because of the way they behead innocent people and rape young girls.

I agree, people in civilized countries aren't as civilized as they think. This I saw when upstanding Christians all supported the bombing of civilians in Vietnam! Now many Christians support torture and continue to support bombing, even using the atom bomb!
Like Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and others have written, good and evil run through every heart. And the atheist psychologist Eric Berne, who was mostly very positive about humans, also did write, that every human has a "little fascist" hiding within that he must oppose.

Lots of thoughtful points, Katya.

Thanks for the dialog,