Simple Arguments to Avoid Being a Simpleton: Adventures in Western Religious and Secular Thought by a Skeptic

Notes: I wrote this under an assumed name in 2006, I no longer agree with all of it. Originally published in the Green Triangle in August 2006. 

Fractured Mirror: On the “Binary” of Fundamentalism and Secular Humanism:

Secularists are very selective in what bothers them as are Fundamentalists: It is as if one is either a fundamentalist or a hard-line evolutionist. Both make sense in certain context, but neither makes sense if one tries to view it in a total context.  For example, even if one accepts evolution to be true, which I do in terms larger than most neo-Darwinians would allow, we cannot speak with certainty about the cases or the original means by which evolution was set in motion. The same is true for the “big bang theory” or “creation ex nihilo“–the big bang theory may be true for the creation of the universe but it does not explain why entirely “random infinite mass” happened in the first place in what was a seems to have been a void. Creation ex nihilo can answer the why, but only in the context of a religious tradition, and even then, it doesn’t answer the how except through the most literal readings of Christian and Jewish (or Muslim or Hindu) scripture.

What does the universe grow into now if it is expanding, nothingness? Is there really anything that can be in a vacuum?  If God was there, could it have been nothing?

No, we are speaking means here, and ultimately are left with questions that can’t be understood historically or empirically.  These lacks in historicism and empiricism, however, are not grounds to use the bible as some sort of “proof” and then have children identify the bible as God. That is both unsound epistemology even from my standpoint and absolutely idolatry from most theological standpoints.

Here, we are left with what most literary critics would call a “false binary.”  This is he manifestation of the want to categorize the universe along the lines of simple and simplistic oppositional camps and generalized opposing “types.”  This was an idea that wasn’t limited to the “modern” mind.  Buddha advised against even dealing with creation since it was fundamentally outside the realm of the knowable and may even be totally irrelevant both morally and spiritually.   Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christians realize this and encourage typological readings as well as “historical ones.” The hermeneutic being, of course, the tradition of the Church fathers, which can be vastly over simplified as follows: God is the word (logos) that speaks, not merely the pages of some book. With the context of that speech through tradition and reason and the Holy Spirit, then those words are quite like reading a literal translation of a dead language–about 1/100 makes any real sense and anything can be deduced from anything else.

A specific church father seems of utmost value to quote—even if the later fundamentalism of Orthodoxy has many of his teachings declared heterodox. As Origen of Alexandria says in his On First Principles (here translated by George Lewis), “Scripture interweaves the imaginary with the historical, sometimes introducing what is utterly impossible, sometimes what is possible but never occurred . . . [The Word] has done the same with the Gospels and the writings of the Apostles; for not even they are purely historical, incidents which never occurred being interwoven in the ‘corporeal’ sense.”  What was true was beyond what was merely literal or possible.  The truth can be the mythological that evoked being—i.e. the ontologic experience invoked in myth as opposed to its fundamental literal and historical truth.

Funny how both sides of this debate seem to have forgotten this viewpoint. Ironically, secular Humanism is a split from Christianity’s Renaissance humanism, but oddly enough Christian Fundamentalism which, at first, seems to be a misreading of Martin Luther, but really stem from a sort of “objective factual” epistemology as the only valuable epistemology instead of narrative power. Both are reductionistic and resemble each other in their opposition more than they resemble any actual “alternatives” to the dominant paradigm.

The God’s MPD: On St. Gregory Palamas

The division of God’s energies from God’s essence has helped me to deal with how God the father could be both the distant Elohim, the “I who is,” which we cannot know and yet also be God who spoke to Abraham and Samuel directly. Even if one reads this as metaphor or as an “early” and unrecognized form of the Holy Spirit or the Son communicating, the Trinitarian view of God seems very hard to reconcile with the distance of God, the immensity, the complete a-physical and total physicality. Now, C. S. Lewis says that such contradictions do not make sense (being contradictions of natural language and not natural law and are thus nonsense), but I still see Lewis as trying to limit God as something understood by human reason. Not that God’s energies (his actions and the Holy Spirit) can’t be understood by reasonable means, it seems pretty clear that they can. But what is God is fairly well beyond us, according to Palamas.

Many secularists see this as a cop-out, but one may ask them can they understand the entirety of the universe or the unreason behind certain trains of thought, or even the grounds for ethics to have developed at all, without involving elaborate conspiracies of power, and often it is hard to answer.  The point is that the unknowable nature of God is not any proof of God.  To assume that, its Orwellian doublethink at its finest.

On Faith-related epistemology

The above arguments are not proof of God. Speaking as a logical positivist , which is how one should speak when dealing with science, God may be impossible to prove or disprove.

However, speaking from a logically positivistic point of view, it is impossible to prove that even matter exists beyond any claim of skepticism. Descartes imp can’t be positively disproven beyond a shadow of a doubt—it’s a game of proving that the world outside your perception of it is real. Without faith in the truth of our experience of the physical world, then there is little ground to deal with that physical world at all.

Now, this is not saying that “real” scientists have to have God to be scientists, but they must have “faith” in the scientific method and they may need something to ground that faith in. It is any easy thing for a theist to do; it’s easy for a non-theist to do if the said individual thinks the whole problem posed by Descartes is a false start.  Secular materialism is an extension of classical and Christian thoughts about epistemology that refutes one part of it—namely, the Christian metaphysics.

More Mirrors Broken: On Two cotemporary binaries; Modern, or Scientistic, and Post-Modern, or “relativistic”

Now, in terms of philosophy and epistemology (and metaphysics too), the dominant world views in European and North American culture seem to be the modernist (stemming from Voltaire and Descartes to, say, most Science department professors). The problem with modernism is that it says that a statement of near-absolute truth can be made by man without faith in anything. It claims to have answered skepticism.

This a semiotic/epistemological problem in that it assumes that a)the expression of truth can be a direct representation (instead of a metaphorical one) of the “truth that is” and b) it assumes that faith in methods is a justifiable faith and other forms of faith are not.

Its theological/moral problem is that it is hubristic, it sees things from “simple to complex” and as evolving. (My problem with evolution has nothing to do with “creation” vs. design vs. randomness since I do not thing that any of these questions can be refuted on empirical grounds and thus fail to meet ever a positivistic view of science, must less a skeptical one. It is a problem with the moral implication in terminology of “evolution.”  This has little to do with science and more to do with Victorian mythology of progress that the popularizing philosophers of evolution used to make Darwin accessible. Here, it is important to note, that it was Herbert Spencer and not Charles Darwin who coined the phrase, “survival of the fittest”).

I can say as if I was a Christian (or a theist in general) that since I have faith in God and God’s honesty, that I can trust metaphorical and empirical data since an just God would not deceive me by the standards of justice that I view as being rooted in that God’s very being. Now, that does create theodicy problems, but I am going to avoid that right now.

A Christian may have faith that there faculties are operating and Descartes perverse imp is not pulling the wool of their eyes, because they have the benefit of something beyond to ground their faith in reality on. Any nihilist or hard-line skeptic can attack the scientistic view just as easily as the Christian one because it avoids deeply addressing Descartes problem. This is ironic since Descartes central pre-occupation was a sort of apologetics for mathematics and natural science as separate from theology and natural philosophy.

Therefore I can agree with modernist science, but not with modernist justifications of that science. I can acknowledge that I do not “know” beyond any shadow of a doubt that God exists, but have faith that moves me beyond the obvious holes in empirical knowledge.  In fact, faith here is little to do with God, but faith in the faculties in which I know is crucial.

Post-modernity takes the skepticism inherent in modernism and uses it, much like I have above, to show that modernisms faith in improvement and absolute truth are not grounded in any truly empirical or skeptical claim. But where modernism confuses the truth of a thing with its expression, post-modernism confuses in ability to communicate directly with the non-existence of any truth.  A professor wants told me that language is our mark for what is real and if it is expressable, it has “reality.”  I find sort of ridiculous: the only positivist line applies here, “just because I can say ‘America has a monkey for a king,’ doesn’t make it true literally” (although it is a pretty funny metaphor).

If we must speak in religious metaphors, perhaps it is helpful to do so here: where modernity’s sin is pride, post-modernity’s sin is TOTAL faithlessness which renders almost all things inessential and vapid, including its own expression.

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