Our Existence

Courtesy of Stockvault.net

On another blog, there’s been an ongoing discussion between some atheists and a Christian related to our “existence;” that is, our “beingness” — why we are here, why we are alive and living on this planet. Some would describe it as a discussion related to Ontology: The metaphysical study of the nature of being and existence; that is, study based on hypothesis or theory rather than experiment.

As would be expected, there is a rather significant difference of opinion between the two factions.

The atheists naturally consider science as the most important element of our existence because it IS based on experiments. They assert it is the discipline of science that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions, not only about ourselves, but also about the universe we live in. They further contend it is science that has allowed us to survive, as well as improving our lifestyle in the process.

The Christian naturally downplays this perspective and repeatedly accuses his detractors of believing in “scientism,” which has been defined by some as “a scientific method that has no (or few) limits, can successfully be applied to almost all aspects of life, and provides an explanation for everything.” It has even been referred to as a RELIGION and that its followers worship science, its rituals, and its results! The following from Wikipedia is notable:

According to Discovery Institute scientism is an effort to use the methods of science to explain and control every part of human life, in other words, the misguided effort to apply science to areas outside its proper bounds.

Moreover, the blog owner believes philosophy (the rational investigation of questions about existence and knowledge and ethics) plays just as important a role defining our existence as the discipline of science.

He emphasized his perspective by offering the following quote on his blog by Stephen Barr, author, and professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Delaware. I find it very telling …

“There’s a misconception that’s actually at the root of the science-religion tension. Many people think that nature and God are in competition, that if something has a natural explanation that God had nothing to do with it. And, if God did something, it’s supernatural, so it’s an either-or. And, so the more science can explain naturally the less there is for God to explain. But that’s a complete misconception because God is the author of nature.

(Emphasis added)

I close this post with a quote from the referenced blog owner: Science cannot prove that we have a complete picture of reality.

Considering the preceding discourse, what are your thoughts?

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Double Speak

In a recent discussion on a Christian blog, the owner made the following statements in rebuttal to one of his visitors that disputed the basic premise of the post, which was that an individual cannot be an empiricist* and a materialist*.

Materialist explanation fail to explain consciousness for one.  [P]anpsychism*, for instance, is not based on empirical evidence, but on magical interpolation based on materialist thinking. 

And …

This is (a) fundamental problem with a materialist ontology.

Confused? You’re not alone. So I did a little research and came across this video. After watching it, I’m sure the referenced comments will all become as clear as, well, the rose-colored glasses that Christians wear.

(Please do not contact me for further interpretation! )

*Definitions:
Empirism: (philosophy) the doctrine that knowledge derives from experience
Materialism: (philosophy) the philosophical theory that matter is the only reality
Panpsychism: (philosophy) the view that consciousness, mind or soul (psyche) is a universal and primordial feature of all things. 

Does “Evil” Exist?

On a couple of blogs I visit, there has been extensive discussion on the word “evil” and whether or not it played a role in the recent school shooting.

On one of these blogs, the owner asked where the idea of good or evil comes from. Although I knew the answer he was looking for, I decided to do a little research. Following are some of the things I learned.

For many, the concepts of “good and evil” are essentially moral standards derived from the bible. As one source put it, “… it is His holiness that defines it” (evil). Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland noted that “Evil is a lack of goodness” (i.e., Godliness). Moreover, the bible says God is love (1 John 4:8); thus, one would assume the absence of love in a person is un-God-like — and therefore “evil.” Simply put, to the Christian, the word “evil” is associated with morality and ethics (i.e., whether something is “right” or “wrong”) and this is determined by bible teachings.

Probably the most defining concept of evil is related to the belief in Satan, who many see as the epitome of evil.  Consequently, if we take the word evil literally, it means the work of Satan (or the dEvil). As one source put it, “Those who practice evil are in Satan’s trap and are slaves to sin.”

Some who use the term ‘evil’ are implying that evildoers are “possessed, inhuman, or incorrigible.” This is unfortunate because when the word is misapplied, used perniciously, or used without sensitivity, it can be harmful … even dangerous.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argued that the concept of evil should be abandoned because it has a negative effect on human potential and vitality and contributes to an unhealthy view of life. Other philosophers feel the concept involves  unwarranted metaphysical commitments to dark spirits and the supernatural.

Interestingly, the word “evil” is not defined the same in every faith:

  • To the Bahá’í, evil is a concept for lack of good (e.g., cold is the state of no heat, darkness is the state of no light, forgetfulness the lacking of memory, ignorance the lacking of knowledge, etc.).
  • To the ancient Egyptians, it was simply a lack of order.
  • To the Buddhist,  evil means whatever harms or obstructs the causes for happiness in this life.
  • In the Islamic Faith, things that are perceived as evil or bad are either natural events (natural disasters or illnesses) or caused by humanity’s free will.
  • In Judaism, evil is not real since it is not intrinsically part of God’s creation.

Hence, the next time someone asks you if a particular act was “evil,” your best response might be … “It depends.” 🙂

One final thought (from the study I reference below):

The problem of evil is the problem of accounting for evil in a world created by an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God. It seems that if the creator has these attributes, there would be no evil in the world. But there is evil in the world. Thus, there is reason to believe that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good creator does not exist.

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For anyone interested, further information on the topic of evil (from an academic perspective) can be found here.

Become An Inventor

Some of you may have seen this challenge, but just in case …

If You Could Invent A Religion, What Would It Look Like?

The lead line is: “If you could start a new religion that would change the world for the better, what would it look like?”

From my perspective, the problem with this question is the word “religion.” To many (most?) people, religion is associated with Christianity. Although the article uses the words “new” religion, I tend to think most Christians would simply try to offer what they might consider a “better” version of their faith.

Further, the word religion itself is defined as “A strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny; An institution to express belief in a divine power.”

However, I will concede the sponsors of the contest did expand the question thus:

Imagine a religion or philosophy that cuts across boundaries, strengthens our sense of community and acts as a force of good. Design a new philosophy to live our lives, a framework for a new belief system — or a reimagining of an existing one.

(Emphasis mine)

So, using the more expanded version — and just for fun (sorry, I can’t match the reported $5000 being offered for the “winning” suggestion) — what would your invention look like?

A Discussion of EVIL

It’s been said that evil is a subjective term open to interpretation. I’ve been giving this statement some thought and decided I’d like to hear from my blog visitors on how they would “interpret” … EVIL.

I think for many a logical response would be that Evil is the absence or complete opposite of that which is ascribed as being “good” (substitute: “God”).

But that doesn’t really tell us anything.

So let’s take a closer look at (ominous music) … evil“EVIL”

Do you believe Evil is subjective — taking place within the mind and modified by individual bias;  or objective  — undistorted by emotion or personal bias, based on observable phenomena?

In your opinion, which of the following best describes Evil?

  1. Morally reprehensible, sinful, wicked
  2. That which causes harm, destruction or misfortune
  3. The quality of being morally wrong in principle or practice

Is there more than one kind of evil? The New World Encyclopedia says there are three kinds of Evil:

  • Moral – Evil that human beings volitionally and intentionally originate (i.e., cruel, vicious, and unjust thoughts and actions, such as murder, rape, abuse, terrorism, genocide)
  • Natural – Evil that occurs independently of human thoughts and actions, but which still causes pain and suffering (e.g., earthquakes, volcanos, storms, droughts, disease)
  • Metaphysical – (Too confusing to be discussed here!)

Does Evil exist as a force, power, or person, i.e., evil incarnate? (If your answer is “yes,” why do you believe this?)

Are there degrees of Evil?

Is there a relationship between Evil Action and Evil Character?

Do humans commit Evil acts voluntarily … or is it due to a neurological glitch or malformation in the wiring of the physical brain?

WHO, in the end, decides what is Evil?

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NOTE: An interesting read on this topic can be found here.