Friday, May 27, 2011

Is There a God? -- Is There Mind?

One of the more profound proposals in Dawkins’ The God Delusion is the following:

“…any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution” (p. 31, italics original).

From our observable experience, the only beings that are capable of design are those that are embodied and have neurological faculties such as physical brains. Without neurological physiology, design does not exist; without a body and a brain, the mind ceases to exist. Mind, though not reducible to mere matter is, no doubt, an emergent product of matter. In our experience as humans, in our empirical study of the cosmos, no exceptions to the mind-matter continuum can be pinned down, none. Anyone that presumes that mind exists without brain cannot assert this with the backing of empiricism and the scientific method.

In my recent reading of Keith Ward’s Why There Almost Certainly is a God I came upon a divergent expansion of Dawkins’ proposal stated above. Let me quote:

“The question of God is the question of whether conscious mind can exist without any physical body… Arguments for the existence of God are arguments claiming to show that not all minds arise from matter. There is at least one mind that is prior to all matter…” (p. 19).

I apologize to the unconvinced reader not for the fact that I am presuming the following to be true, but I am sorry for the educational system and the religious leaders who have fed you with lies, to believe that the soul is an immaterial part of your humanity, a part that survives beyond death. Mind and consciousness are late developments in the universe—the product of billions of years of physical cosmic processes that have resulted in the raw materials for life and the product of millions of years of biological evolution that led to the development of physical brains and higher-level thought and self-awareness. You have mind, you are reading, you are thinking and self-aware not as the result of a direct divine fiat miracle but because of the dysteleological process of evolution that brought the unlikelihood of you into conscious being.

We know, we observe, we can experience no mind or consciousness that is not a part of and the result of this process of naturalistic evolution. To assert that there is a God is to assert that mind, one mind is an exception to the rule. One mind (though indeed God would be more than mind though not less than) is an exception to the process of conscious existence. This is what it means to propose that there is a God outside of time and matter, it is to posit the existence of mind before matter and outside of the necessary process to produce mind from matter: evolution.

Now, this does not mean there isn’t a God or a Mind; however, if there is such a Mind, it is highly unlikely that it is an exception to every other reality that we know and experience. This Mind must itself be emergent, a product of evolution. In this regard I am an unquestionable theist through the paradigm of radically emergent theism in which God is a property that emerges from self-aware minds or from the noosphere. This is the only God that I can relate to, one that is herself made from the same fabric, the same matter, that produces Mind and consciousness. This is a God, who like myself, is not static but in process, changing. This is a God who can become what we want her to be. And, unlike the wooden ideologies of fundamentalism, she can become whatever we want her to be. Her fullness is contingent on a humanity that takes the reigns of its own potential, a humanity that will not wait for the intervention of a Sovereign God who is himself an exception to existence and morality, who is unaccountable to reality and ethics, and who will never show.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Houses to Dwell In

Process philosopher David Wheeler, in speaking of faith and faith communities, notes the following
…faith’s home is to some extent a function of the contingencies of one’s birth, upbringing, and historical-cultural location, and to some extent a function of one’s own temperament and choices. Fundamentalisms of every ilk ignore this truism… [C]oncrete faith communities , no matter how great their vitality and their efficacy in producing concord and well-being for their believers, do not exhaust the possibilities of encounter with the Real, nor do they exclude the possibility of other faith communities and traditions… [T]he Sacred Presence, or the Real, or whatever we way wish to call it, is always vaster and more subtle than all our categories and concepts (pps 104-105).
Though Wheeler’s observations are about faith communities, I am applying his immediate meanings beyond faith communities to secular philosophies such as atheism and humanism and then even to methodological paradigms such as naturalism. As a post-modernist, Wheeler points out that the dwelling place, the home of faith and philosophy is to some extent contingent on historical-cultural location and temperament. My placement of scientific methodologies such as methodological naturalism or humanist ethical systems on this chart does not put them on par with any of the religious examples given. As I will explain, these categories are instead very personal for me.
Dawkins’s belief scale is the basis of numbers one (1) through seven (7) at the base of my chart. This scale is a categorization from #1 Strong Theist through #7 Strong Atheist. The strong theist and strong atheist “know” their positions are correct. Every stage in between the polarities of strong theism and strong atheism is essentially a form of agnosticism. It might come as a surprise to some that Dawkins identifies at #6, as a de-facto atheist who knows that he cannot absolutely prove there is no god but who feels he can reasonably conclude there isn’t one and lives accordingly. Dawkins’ belief scale is the most objective aspect of my graphic, the remainder ventures into much more subjective categories about how I think.
The examples given under each category are deeply personal for me—they are not meant to be ontological. I am not asserting, for example, that Liberation Theology is inherently or by its nature Weak Theist, nor am I asserting that Evangelicalism is by its nature De-facto Theist. I am asserting that for me these examples represent perspectives within the category listed. I am saying that I can take on a given religion or theology within De-facto theism and run with it. I am able to and find myself often thinking like a Rabbinic Jew or like an Evangelical, taking such perspectives within the category of De-facto Theism.
Perspectival Empathy
On Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator tests I score INFP. My incline toward P (perception) versus J (judging) gifts me with the ability to understand and enter into multiple perspectives. In my personal development I find myself able to defend and think like any given point listed above. As recently suggested by a friend from church, I call this perspective or perspectival empathy. I say this not to boast because this is not in and of itself a badge of honor as it also burdens me with an inner discursive community of voices, representative voices that speak up and defend their holdings and claims as I navigate through the mysteries of existence.
In my thinking process, I recognize the contingencies of the perspectives I take. I realize that there are highly contingent histories and aspects my historical-cultural location and my temperament that influence how I think. Unlike the fundamentalist who denies such contingencies, I accept them. Hence, I see each of the perspectives listed here as way points, as houses to dwell in, to work with the quote initially given by Wheeler. No single point exhausts who I am or who I enjoy being. No single way point is a stopping ground for me, summing up the thoughts I am capable of thinking or defending.
Right and left brain distinctions in which the left brain is inclined toward logic, reason, and math and the right brain is inclined toward creativity, music, and art no longer carry weight in neuroscience. However, I find this distinction valuable as a metaphor. I feel as though my left brain thinks scientifically and rationally and is atheistic. On the other hand my right brain, my creative brain, swims in a world of theology and subjectivity and is theistic (or panentheistic, see note below). I do not feel as though any given category on Dawkins’ belief scale exhausts who I am and the thoughts I am capable of thinking. In some ways I could jettison the entire scale, which would not be too difficult, but I have found that I am able to use it as a metaphor to describe how I think and how I feel. I am a rational atheist with deeply mystical, creative anchoring in God. Yes, this is a contradiction, but I am okay with this. It works for me.
Note on Panentheism and Weak Theist
The items in the #3 Weak Theist category are there because they represent non-interventionist theism for me. Many have argued that theism is defined by the existence of a God outside of the cosmos whose intervention in the natural order is by means of interrupting natural law, i.e., by performing a miracle. Though for others some of the examples listed might better be categorized as de-facto theist, these paradigms for me are essentially non-interventionist in which God acts by means of natural law and in which God is likely ontologically incapable of contravening natural law. God in these models works naturalistically, entirely in step with natural law not by coercion but by persuasion. To the degree that one’s panentheism allows for an interventionist God, to that degree does panentheism become a form of theism. However, any appeal that panentheism has for me as a philosophical model or as a means of reconciling the questions of theodicy, fall into non-interventionist camps which might even be called non-theistic.