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Saturday, April 30, 2011

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Bill,

I shall respond in a series of posts, bunched more or less according to topic. I count 11 comments in blue, other than the one word comment. Imagine them numbered from top to bottom. Comments that belong together will be bunched together.

Post (A),

Blue-Comments 1 and 2: You are making here three critical comments:
(I) Enlightenment may contain within itself the seeds of relativism and egoism, both of which I reject.

Response:

1) The two principal claims that I associate with the Enlightenment and which I wish to focus on presently are as follows:

(E1) All claims of authority concerning items in a Normative Field (i.e., a domain with respect to which it makes sense to apply evaluative categories) are legitimate only if they are subjected to the scrutiny of reflective-universal-principles and for as long as they pass such scrutiny.

(E2) The autonomy of agents encapsulates reflective-universal-principles of reason such that when discovered through the exercise of self-reflective reason and joined together comprise at a given time the reflective-methodology that scrutinizes the legitimacy of all claims of authority.

2) I now turn to some clarification of terminology: The term ‘evaluative-categories’ simply means the familiar normative terms we use when we evaluate anything. Examples: true/false, good/bad, justified/unjustified, legitimate/illegitimate, right/wrong, just/unjust, proper/improper, correct/incorrect, beautiful/ugly, rational/irrational, valid/invalid, etc. The term ‘normative-field’ refers to any domain of items that we normally evaluate in some way. Examples: claims, beliefs, desires, principles, arguments, persons, actions, character traits, dispositions, practices, traditions, societies, religions, institutions, situations, performances, art-pieces, etc.

3) Two related points worth noting. First, since reflective-universal-principles belong to a normative-field (i.e., principles), they are themselves subject to scrutiny. Some may withstand such scrutiny, others may not. Likewise, the reflective-methodology (i.e., the collection of universal-principles at a given time) used to scrutinize claims of authority is subject to continuous improvement and amendment.

Second, implementing the above two principles may result in discovering new Normative Fields and discarding others that were previously thought to be a Normative Field. The former may happen due to the discovery of new reflective-principles and the later due to the discovery of certain facts.

4) An example of a reflective-universal-principle is Kant’s Categorical Imperative or his Means-Ends principle.

5) It should be immediately obvious that relativism, which is in the business of denying that there are any general truths, principles, methods, and so forth (and does so by itself asserting at least one), contradicts both principles (E1) and (E2). Relativism contradicts (E1) and (E2) because they both appeal to certain universal principles, methods, etc. Thus, the Enlightenment which incorporates (E1) and (E2) and any genuine extension of it is incompatible with relativism.

6) Egoism I take it maintains that right conduct for a given agent is what is in the best interest of that agent, regardless of how such conduct impacts others. I think so defined egoism will conflict with certain specifically moral reflective-principles such as Kant’s Categorical Imperative. It might falter even at an earlier stage because I do not believe that a thoroughly egoistic theory is compatible with autonomous agency. However, this later claim I need to prove.

(II). There is no reason to suppose that when people rely upon their own autonomy they will arrive at universally binding conclusions and achieve a rational consensus on central issues.

Response:

I believe human beings can arrive at universally binding conclusions and achieve a significant measure of rational consensus and moreover on some very important issues they already did so. However, it must be conceded that arriving at universally binding conclusions on which a rational consensus can be achieved is laborious, time consuming, demands enormous sacrifice (sometimes quite needless), and requires the presence of a certain social, political, intellectual, economic, environments in which some measure of rational discourse and exchange is possible.

Sometime the most difficult obstacle to such progress is to see that a certain Field is a Normative Field and hence subject to reflective scrutiny. A case in point is the authority to govern and the proper principles for social organization. For long periods of time the authority to rule that was based upon force or inheritance was not challenged (Athens is an exception). The reason, I believe, for the fact that such practices were not challenged was that it did not occur to anyone that governance is a Normative Field and, hence, subject to reflective scrutiny. It took the 17th Century social contract theorists to show that governance is a Normative Field subject to reflective scrutiny and came up with the social contract theory. The result is liberal democracy.

Humanity, however, achieved some measure of success in various areas: e.g., the abolition of human sacrifice and slavery, liberal democracy, science, recognition of the inherent value of human life and liberty, etc. I believe that we can do better and will. Of course, this optimistic outlook is not guaranteed and a healthy measure of skepticism is required in light of events such as WWII, the Holocaust, Genocide, etc., which take us back into moral chaos every so often. I suggest that even such events, as horrendous as they undoubtedly are, provide an opportunity for humanity to reflect and attempt to identify principles which could prevent repeating them in the future.

(III). “When people set aside external authority and think for themselves they end up espousing a plethora of conflicting positions.”
Example: Rejecting the authority of Rome that resulted in a proliferation of Protestant sects.

Response:

1) I partly agree with your claim and the example. However, let us examine why this happens. An abrupt removal of external authority that reigned for a long period means that on the whole people were not used to think for themselves autonomously, at least not regarding the subjects about which the external authority had control. Therefore, when the external authority is removed, people seek another external authority or else they fall into chaos. I think this is what happened in your example of Rome and the Protestant Revolution; the French Revolution, and other cases. While humans have the seed of autonomy and the capability to exercise it, doing so requires favorable conditions and doing so well comes with considerable practice and effort. The task is to gradually provide the requisite conditions including suitable education and an appropriate intellectual atmosphere (which sadly is currently lacking).

Mr Lupu,
You write as if the only options were either Atheism or Abrahamic religions. To me, the first fork is whether the reality is mind-like or is purely materialistic (i.e. algorithmic). The second option leads to Atheism. But the first option could also lead to Monism of Hindu variety i.e Advaita.
Also, Theism is not restricted to Abrahamic religions. The Vaishnavas of India (of whom the ISCKON are a representative) also believe in kind of Theism with Incarnation, theologically quite similar to the Christian Incarnation. In fact, I strongly suspect a genetic relation between Vaishnava philosophy and Christian, though this is an unexplored territory.

What would you say to the argument that the Godel's Theory indicates that even Mathematics is not reducible to algorithm and thus reality has an irreducible mind-like aspect. This argument was made by Fr Stanley Jaki but the physicists of 60's and 70's proved resistant to this and Godel's theorem was not much known to physicists then.

It is very curious that Douglas Hofstadter treats Godel's Theorem in an effort to built an algorithmic picture of mind.

It is curious that you write so much on God's relation with humanity but never introduce the Christian concept that God loves man. Perhaps love can reconcile the problems with authority and submission and autonomy.

The commandments at Sinai were given only to Jews and were not intended for the wider humanity. I think even now, the Jewish authorities regard only the Noahide laws as obligatory to all mankind. So the Jewish case is not analogous to Christian and Muslim.

Gian,

Regarding your first comment that there may be alternatives to atheism and theism my response is: Perhaps there are! Whether those you cite fit the mode I am interested in is not easy for me to determine, since I am not familiar with the options you cite.

Regarding your point about Godel: the inference you make from the Godel result that mathematical truth is not reducible to formal proof (within a given formal system) to the mind dependence of mathematics is not clear to me. Godel's incompleteness results are compatible with an abstract mathematical reality which is not mind dependent.

Third comment: God's love, whatever exactly that means, cannot solve the problem of the gulf between God's authority and my autonomy. In fact, God's love could be an additional reason for God to retreat as I have argued.

The point can be made by an analogy. Sometimes precisely because you love your child you must let go and allow them to find their own way in life. Clinging to a child prevents them from cultivating their autonomy and, thus, hindering the very point purpose of life.

Mr Lupu,
I guess Hindu philosophy has lost its former attraction to the Western philosophers since its 19th C heyday.

The soul-making picture of the world suggests that we humans are in an infancy stage. CS Lewis even compared it to a womb-like stage.

The religious people actually worry that God has or may retreat from them.

Divine love may be analogized as painstaking as artist's love for his creation, as despotic as man's love for his dog, as provident and venerable as father's love for his child and as jealous and exacting as man's love for a woman.

Lovers submit to each other all the time and delight in it.

Your attitude seems to have a whiff of Ivan Karamazov: God exists but I dont accept his world. His block was suffering of children. If the word Sin is troublesome, then you can just drop this word. Anyway, in Greek it is something like "falling short" or miss as an arrow, I believe. Adam and Eve were guilty of disobedience, that you would accept and nothing more is required.

Gian,

"Your attitude seems to have a whiff of Ivan Karamazov: God exists but I dont accept his world."

On the contrary. It seems you misunderstood my post. The view I expressed in the post requires that we accept the world and cultivate our autonomy; we could not do so w/o the world.

"God’s unavoidable departure from the world over which now Man has dominion created the rupture between God and Man, a rupture of such a scale that nothing but death can possibly bridge."

I haven't the time for a complete critique, but the above quote seems to me to be the only semi-lucid thought in the entire screed, only because it is contra the remainder of it. The quoted statement points to the necessity of Jesus Christ participating in the human life and dying (God sacrificing his autonomy) so that we might learn to sacrifice our autonomy and thereby participate in the divine life.

Complete autonomy is not an attribute of the God of classical theism or the Triune Christian God, nor is it an attribute of the original state of creation. Whether or not you're talking about the God of classical theism or the Triune Christian God specifically, God exists as a relationship and exists as creator. Thus, as corroborated in Genesis, Divine and human co-participation is the original created state. The link between creator and creation is inexorable. Sin just is the misplaced elevation or promotion of autonomy of the individual at the expense of cooperation with God--it just is, by definition, the creation of a gap that only sacrificing autonomy for the sake of cooperation can bridge. And it's a two-way street. Because God sacrifices, we sacrifice. Because God becomes like us, we become like God. As mentioned earlier, God just is the act of sacrifice of autonomy by virtue of the fact that he exists as three persons. If it were not so, the concept of him sacrificing autonomy by becoming incarnate would be unintelligible in reference to the God of classical theism. The doctrine of the Trinity leads me to conclude that if God was not the act of sacrificing autonomy, if he were not Triune, then he would be the one creating the gap between himself and his creation, and thus sinning. That is, if it were even possible to create something, and thus sacrifice autonomy, without yourself being the pure act of sacrificing autonomy-that is existing as relationship -- being relationship. Your apparent lack of knowledge about the relationship between the persons of the Holy Trinity and of the concept of deification completely ignores Catholic and Orthodox teaching, which comprises the majority of Christian theology throughout the world. Your rejection of theism amounts to no more than a rejection of fundamentalist thought (if you can call it that), or some sort of Calvinist head-burying.

On Thursday, May 5, 2011, at 11:33Am, a Mark Duch posted a comment on a guest post of mine titled “Why I am a Quasi-Atheist?”. After quoting one sentence from that essay, he says:

“I haven't the time for a complete critique, but the above quote seems to me to be the only semi-lucid thought in the entire screed,”

First, I take it to be a desirable standard of civility among disputants even in the blogosphere that if you do not have time to critically examine a post, then you refrain from calling it by disparaging names (e.g., “screed”; “semi-lucid”). This elementary lesson has been lost on the above commentator.

Second, the commentator post is a comment only by courtesy. It strikes me more like a sermon, preaching a set of dogmas without any effort to critically examine them or even show how they are related to specific things I have said. Notice that he comments on my post only in his first sentence and refers to me in the last two. In between, we get a stream of pronouncements without even a slight effort to critically examine their significance, coherence, or relevance to the topics discussed in my piece.

Nevertheless, I will attempt to respond to a few themes that I discern in this commentator's sermon.

1) “Complete autonomy is not an attribute of the God of classical theism or the Triune Christian God,…”

This pronouncement is quite astonishing. I presume we agree that if God exists, then God is perfect with respect to every characteristic he features. Now, surely if anything is autonomous, then God is. And if God is autonomous, then God must be perfectly autonomous: i.e., completely (I use the word ‘absolute’ here) autonomous. Hence, correspondingly, God’s authority is also absolute.

2) “Whether or not you're talking about the God of classical theism or the Triune Christian God specifically, God exists as a relationship and exists as creator.”

What does the phrase “God exists as a relationship” mean? First, if this phrase means that God’s existence depends upon a relationship with something else, then God’s existence is conditional on that relationship. But God’s existence cannot be conditional on anything. That is a fundamental tenet of any classical theism. On the other hand, if God’s existence itself consists of a relationship between several elements within God, say the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity, then the doctrine of God’s simplicity must be given up.

3) The Trinity: The Trinity carries a heavy burden in the above sermon: e.g.,

“The doctrine of the Trinity leads me to conclude that if God was not the act of sacrificing autonomy, if he were not Triune, then he would be the one creating the gap between himself and his creation, and thus sinning.”

The Trinity has been the subject of several posts by Bill on this site (See the “Trinity” entry in the Categories section of this site). The problem in a nutshell is this: the Trinity, monotheism, a natural assumption about identity, together with the relevant orthodox doctrines logically entails a contradiction. No adequate solution that removes the contradiction and does not violate the Trinitarian dogmas has been found (Bill soundly refuted several proposals he examined including two of my own).

Apparently the author of the above sermon is unaware of this problem or else he thinks that the problem is not sufficiently threatening to his overall views. In either case the threat of inconsistency is very serious. Since an inconsistent set of propositions entails every proposition, including the ones the author of the sermon preaches as well as their negations, relying upon the doctrine of the Trinity under such circumstances is precarious indeed. Perhaps, it is for this reason that parts of the above quoted passage and the one I quote next seem to be so obscure:

“That is, if it were even possible to create something, and thus sacrifice autonomy, without yourself being the pure act of sacrificing autonomy-that is existing as relationship -- being relationship.”

Does anyone understands what the above quoted passage means and explain it? Immediately following the above incomprehensible passage I am being accused of ignorance:

“Your apparent lack of knowledge about the relationship between the persons of the Holy Trinity and of the concept of deification completely ignores Catholic and Orthodox teaching, which comprises the majority of Christian theology throughout the world.”

4)“Sin just is the misplaced elevation or promotion of autonomy of the individual at the expense of cooperation with God--it just is, by definition, the creation of a gap that only sacrificing autonomy for the sake of cooperation can bridge.”

Whose Sin? The sermon does not elaborate. I suppose the Sin in question is just the doctrine of the “Original Sin”. But in my essay I have argued against the doctrine of the Original Sin. However, the present sermon does not even bother to address the argument I have given against this doctrine. It is at this point that I began to realize what is going on here.

The author of the above comment had no intention to engage with me in a rational discourse on the issues I have raised in my essay. His purpose was to use the opportunity to comment on my essay as a means to preach his favorite sermon. I do not appreciate being used only as means and so my response ends right here.

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