Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Einstein to atheists & Christians



I'm an atheist and materialist because I find objective evidence of material existence and no objective evidence of any spiritual existence.              Will, Sauk Rapids
Thank you for this pithy summary of materialist reasoning. To me evidence of spiritual existence comes daily, but, understandably, this will not suffice for a materialist who does not experience communication from the inner world. I regard some of my posts under “Paranormal” as evidence (see my blog index), and I hope this series provides more evidence. I ask Will and other atheists to keep reading, although I know any hint of Transcendence smacks of religion and religion’s horrors.

Do you believe in spiritual power?  Laura Stanley answers,
I'd like to believe it so I don't examine it too closely. That's enough for me. . . . The God debate is non-falsifiable. No one wins. We believe what we want to believe.
Laura may express the feeling of many. But I can’t stop mulling over these BIG questions, these Ultimate concerns. I write for those who seek assurance and corroboration that their vague perception of Transcendent Reality is real. For me, scientists, Carl Jung, and other writers who give SECULAR examples of being touched by the Transcendent give the most convincing evidence.
Chris, commenting knowledgeably on my previous post, assumes that I prefer an impersonal idea of God and states,
That doesn't mean that He cannot relate to us on the level of the empirical ego.

If Chris reads carefully my post “Materialism a.k.a physicalism,” he will realize that I describe precisely what he recommends—relating to the Source of All That Is “on the level of the empirical ego,” that is, personally. Like LaCugna, I relate to a loving and caring God.
During my formal education in theology I paid attention to the various spiritual traditions he mentions and, in fact, their descriptions helped to explain why worship of 3 guys in the sky is idolatry.

But I write for non-academic readers, for whom abstractions are meaningless. What’s needed is simply ridding God-talk of sexism—the exclusive use of “He” in reference to the Source, the Mother/Father Creator. I wish Chris would pay attention to this pressing need. Praying to Her or It as well as to Him, we can have our personal relationship with Transcendence while also realizing its utter ineffability.

 Einstein and Sagan
In my office is a little sign prepared for display at my presentations:
Does God exist?  Wrong question!    
The right question is, “What is your idea of God?” 
If you lack faith in the great guy typically named in prayers, your lack of faith earns my respect. I don’t believe in that either. But I disagree with atheists like Will who believe in materialism. The problem is religious believers who insist on their particular way of imagining God— their own familiar idea, whatever image of God they were trained in. This, they insist, is the only true God. Atheist scorn for this puny guy has merit.

In an MPR interview of Carl Sagan, he ended with this statement:
If by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, as Einstein did, then clearly there is such a God.   

Sagan could accept an idea of God that made sense to him and Einstein. It’s agreeable to me too. Sagan said he was an agnostic.
To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.

Sagan, however, accepts something that governs the universe, which suggests he is not entirely agnostic. The governor of physical reality would have to be an immaterial force.
Clearly, not everyone who rejects religious images of God rejects the Force responsible for the stuff we see and touch and wonder at and sometimes get mad at. In my experience, agnostics don’t really reject spiritual reality. They relate to Something mysterious but refuse to be dogmatic about it. Laura Stanley, for instance, confesses that she prays.

Einstein went further in accepting spiritual reality. Like Sagan, he did not believe in the anthropomorphic (humanlike) conception of God, but he respected a “cosmic religious feeling” found in “religious geniuses of all ages,” heretics, atheists, and saints. It is “the most important function of art and science” but gives “rise to no definite notion of God and no theology.” Insightfully stated. Einstein gives an effective rejoinder to both dogmatic Christians and dogmatic materialists. He says there is More than material reality but we can't know what it is.
This oft-quoted saying of Einstein also answers both materialists and religious fundamentalists.
Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.
By “religion” Einstein clearly means “spirituality.” In his time the two were conflated—if you were spiritual you were religious. Today that has changed drastically. A 2012 Pew survey found nearly 1 in 5 Americans belong to no religion but few are atheist. They are spiritual without being religious. Einstein and Sagan talk about “religion” rather than “spirituality” but they really reject religious dogma while affirming spiritual reality as they understand it. So, again, the decisive question is, “What is your idea of God?”

I hear similar statements from mathematicians and scientists interviewed by Krista Tippett at On Being. Deep thinkers have an indefinable mystic feeling/awareness—intuitions that come from a deeper level and lead to the profound conviction of Something Beyond this surface world.
Organized religion with its bureaucratic and authoritarian trappings leads people astray, but religious thinkers tolerate it because they are drawn toward the mystic core of religion.


Unseen Reality, January 21
My promise to present views of Einstein and Carl Sagan will have to wait and so will my answer to other comments that have come in.
Comments from Chris to “Materialism a.k.a. physicalism” puzzle me greatly. I cannot understand why they were made or what is meant by them, but I will try to answer by stating my beliefs as clearly as I can.

Unseen or spiritual reality is energy is consciousness is intelligence/mind/thought. It has been given many names, among them God, Creator, Brahman, Allah, Ultimate Reality, The Force, Father, Mother, Source . . . and the list could go on.
All that we see, objective/external reality, arises from unseen inner reality. Outer physical reality arises from spiritual reality, not the reverse. I quote my friend Sondra to state it in yet another way,  
Physical reality is an effect of consciousness, not the cause of consciousness.  
Our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, outlook, intentions, attitudes, expectations, and so on, along with these elements of consciousness in others, create our external reality.

As the Source/Creator of all that is, what we call “God” is transcendent or beyond common sense perception. It is also the Creator of, therefore transcendent of, space/time, personhood, intellect, will, or anything else conceivable or inconceivable to our finite human selves. To ask whether the Divine, which is the origin of intellect and will, “has” intellect and will betrays an anthropocentric or human-centric view. Much Christian language betrays this limited perspective.

Religions are various ways of interpreting and relating to spiritual reality; they are types or brands of spirituality. Many scientific types reject belief in a “personal God.”  This is not my language. As the Creator of personhood, the Source certainly can be personal but not an individual humanlike person (per Catherine LaCugna and Karl Rahner). I object strongly to religious language that reduces the Transcendent Mystery to an anthropomorphic individual or set of individuals. God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky or three gals either!

I am an atheist in the sense that I reject the gods created by typical Christian language. Worship of the gods implied by what I call “sexist God-talk”  is condemned by the First Commandment, which prohibits idolatry. Religious images ought to be understood for what they are—images. As such they can be enlightening, uplifting, and transformative. They can lead to mysticism.
In answer to a specific question of Chris, dogma is not necessarily incompatible with mysticism, but dogmatism is incompatible with it. Dogma understood figuratively instead of literally is fine. We need to grow out of this literal stage:
Christianity mistakes its myth for history and its symbol for fact.
God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky
“Father” and “Son” are not facts; they are images that could be replaced with any number of other images. Until common Christian language does so, Christians will continue mistaking the myth of Christ for history and Trinitarian symbols for facts.

My statement here does not satisfy scientific materialists, I know. More on scientific materialism next time.



Chris comments:
It would seem that you are conflating classical theism
with theistic personalism. They are NOT the same. As a Catholic, I think it is especially important to understand the difference. I totally agree with you that God is not a person. The fact is, no major theologian of any of the Abrahamic faiths before the Reformation have ever made that claim.

God, as He is in himself, is, like Joe Campbell said, beyond all categories of human thought. He is unknowable, ineffable, inscrutable, the One, Being Itself, Actus Purus.

That doesn't mean that He cannot relate to us on the level of the empirical ego. Again, speaking from a Hindu perspective, Christianity is a bhaktic tradition par excellance, which stresses relationship primarily rather than identity with the Divine. It is neither incorrect nor inferior to the jnanic perspective that you apparently prefer.
An apophatic transpersonal Divine doesn't preclude a cataphatic personal point of view.

I agree with you, and with Buddhism, that "positive" language about ultimate reality can easily devolve into idolatry. As I understand it, the Buddha was a kind of Hindu Martin Luther who moved the focus away from metaphysics to "the one thing needful".

But, Roman Catholic theology has always been largely apophatic(within a theist context)- from the days of the church fathers right up to the Middle Ages, the theologians have stayed true to the doctrine of analogy. God is "personal" in the sense that "He" is not less than a person. Just because the adult mind is far beyond the child's mind, doesn't mean an adult cannot relate to and understand the child. Many spiritual seekers find the via negative to be too cold and sterile. Hence, the masses of humankind throughout the whole world have always tended to gravitate to the "path of love" and its devotional practices. That may be less "intellectual", but not any less true or salvific/enlightening. After all, ultimate reality is beyond our comprehension.

Respectfully, I think you might profit from looking at the difference between theistic personalism and classical theism.
 

8 comments:

Laura said...

Jeanette you say: "I write for those who seek assurance and corroboration that their vague perception of Transcendent Reality is real."

I understand why but again, anything you come up with is non-falsifiable. All the labels like theism, materialism, physicalism, etc. It gives philosophers something to think about maybe, but proves nothing. This "vague perception" may comfort people and if so, wonderful. Life is to be lived and the more warmth and comfort we can enjoy, the better.

Chris said...

Hi Jeanette,

Thank you for responding to the points that I raised in your latest post. Before I go any further, I just want to make clear that my comments are motivated by truth-seeking and are not intended to be mean-spirited.

"Does God exist? Wrong question!" Once again, I applaud your commitment to not practicing idolatry. But, it seems to me that you either do not grasp or simply do not prefer the via positiva- the "affirmative path". Negative and positive theology depend on one another so that neither one devolves into idolatry. Idealist monism is not necessarily a cure for discursive formulations. There's a rather amusing irony in your insistence to not "personalize" God in an effort to not limit what God is. But, that's exactly what you're doing. I wonder if your main objection is, perhaps, masculinity rather than personhood?

To re-visit, apophasis and cataphasis are complementary poles. When you say that God isn't a human individual, my question to you is who, pray tell, makes that claim? Sure, there a plenty of people "on the ground" who practice a simple devotional faith, but, what of it?

What matters more is the quality and authenticity of one's practice. Cultivating peak experiences, lofty intellectuality, and monistic theology, is not necessarily any more salvific than a simple peasant who faithfully engages in the sacramental life with a pure and pious heart. It's not for nothing that the way of knowledge has been called by the Hindus "The Razor's Edge". It's not for everyone.

You say that you "relate to a loving and caring God". Sure, the true jnana will, of course, be a bhakti. To know the Truth is to love it. But, (and this is key), to love the Truth is also to know it. To love in a powerful and transformative way, the Divine can be conceived of as an "external Deity"- the Supreme Object of worship and devotion. While understanding, at the same time, that God is beyond our comprehension. This is called traditional Christianity. The goal of classical theism is union with the Divine, a "participation" that features diversity in unity. This perspective need not be understood as being in opposition to a more "gnostic" pov that posits the Divine as the Supreme Self. God is radically immanent AND radically transcendent!

I'm in full agreement with you that modern Christianity is lacking a more mystical focus. But, that's just it, Christianity IS a mystical tradition! But, I'm not sure why you think it is necessary to jettison its central dogmas? How do Christian dogmas stand in the way of the spiritual experience? To my lights (and to millions past and present), the Incarnation, as fact, is precisely what makes the tradition so powerful and transformative- The Word Became Flesh. If there is, indeed a Supreme Reality that transcends all categories, are the claims of the Church really that objectionable?

If you deny outright the possibility of paranormal and/or miraculous phenomena, how are we any different than the materialists?

What about the many sins of the Church? Well, humans are fallen and institutions are just that, institutions.

"There are two kinds of people in the world- those who are dogmatic and know it, and those who are dogmatic and don't know it."-

GK Chesterton




Chris said...

Laura,

I think an important point to recognize is that there is a difference between what is empirically testable and not testable at all.

Everyone has a worldview. Metaphysical demonstrations are different than scientific hypothesizing.

Buzz Christison said...

I WILL BEGIN BY SAYING WHAT SAM ERVING ONCE STATED,"I AM JUST A COUNTRY BOY WHO BAGGED A LOT OF GROCERIES,SO I COULD GET AN EDUCATION GOOD ENOUGH TO PRETEND TO UNDERSTAND ALL THE PEOPLE SMARTER THAN ME".
IN ALL THE COMMENTS I HAVE READ ON THIS SITE, I HAVE HARDLY EVER HEARD THE SIMPLE WORD FAITH. FAITH IS EASY TO UNDERSTAND, NOT DIFFICULT TO PRONOUNCE OR SPELL.IT SIMPLY IS EXACTLY LIKE OLD WEBSTER DEFINED IT. FAITH IS WHAT I BELIEVE AND PRACTICE.
NOT BEING ONE TO IMPRESS THOSE AROUND ME,I HAVE TO KEEP THINGS SIMPLE,OR I STRAY OFF COURSE. I TOTALLY AGREE THAT THE RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD, OR AT LEAST THE APPLIED INTURPITATION OF THE SAME, IS THE MAIN SOURCE OF A MAJORITY OF THE WORLDS PROBLEMS, AND MOST DEFINITELY OUR WARS.
I WAS A MARINE COMPANY COMMANDER IN THE VIET NAM WAR(VNW),WHICH IS WHERE I LEARNED TO TRUST MY TRAINING,MY MEN AND MY FAITH. THE FACT THAT I AM HERE,TYPING WITH ONR GOOD HAND,HENCE ALL THE CAPITALS,IS A TESTEMENT OF AFFORE MENTIONED FAITH.
ONE PARTICULAR TIME,ISENT TWO MEN TO FORWARD OBSERVE,INTO A OPEN AREA OF GRASS BETWEEN TWO TREE LINES. THEY WERE SHOT ABOUT 100M FROM OUR POSITION. I LOST MY HEAD AND MY TRAINING,TURNED TO MY MEN AND ORDERED COVER FIRE FOR ME AS I RAN UNARMED TO RECOVER THE MEN THAT WERE WOUNDED.THE ENEMY HAD POSITIONED MACHINE GUNS ON BOTH FLANKS AND ONE STRAIGHT AWAY.I YELLED OUT LOUD"LORD IF THIS IS IT FORGIVE MY SINS,I LOVE YOU I TRUST YOU AND I NEED YOU IN MY LIFE FOREVER".AS I RAN I COULD HEAR THE BULLETS TRAVELLING PAST ME,I COULD SEE THEM KICKING UP THE YELLOW LATERITE DIRT,BUT I REACHED MY TWO MEN, AND BEGAN DRAGGING THEM TO SAFETY.I ONLY WENT ABOUT 15M AND FOUR OF THE MEN I ORDERED TO COVER FIRE AND STAY PUT,WERE THERE TO HELP.I WOULD ESTIMATE THAT AT LEAST 2000 ROUNDS OF AMMO WAS FIRED AT ALL OF US,BUT NO ONE IN THAT RECOVERY EFFORT WAS TOUCHED.THE TWO MEN THAT WERE ORIGINALLY WOUNDED,LIVED TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY AND DID GO HOME AS WELL AS ALL INVOLVED. I GUESS THAT I'LL FINISH BY QUOTING FORREST GUMP"AND THAT'S ALL I KNOW ABOUT THAT".
SEMPER FI
BUZZY

Chris said...

Buzz,

Amen , brother.

David Steeves said...

There is more in heaven and earth than we know or can know. When we realize the above we find a sense of what we are, limited, but with the ability to wonder. Then we can realize what a wonder it is to live. Dave

August Berkshire said...

Every time we come upon something in nature that we cannot (yet) explain with science, the god-of-the-gaps rushes in to say: Okay, I guess we were wrong all those other times we said "god did it" but this time we're right. All the while having no proof of an actual god.

August Berkshire said...

Every time we come upon something in nature that we cannot (yet) explain with science, the god-of-the-gaps rushes in to say: Okay, I guess we were wrong all those other times we said "god did it" but this time we're right. All the while having no proof of an actual god.