Sunday, March 18, 2007

Letters to a teenage skeptic, #3

This is a continuation of Letters to a teenage skeptic, #1 and #2.  See also #3, #4, and #5.


My Beloved Son,

In response to my question: "What was it that caused you to doubt the existence of God?"

You said:
"It's not that I don't believe that there is a god, it's just that I think we're making too big of a fuss wether or not there is a god. My belief is similar to one of the Daoist beleifs of stopping and appreciating nature, except that I also thank whoever made nature. I like nature. I like existing. I thank the person who made the universe. But all my time is not absorbed by the worship of said creator. I like to "stop and smell the roses", as it were. What point is there in existance if one cannot appreciate it and live to ones fullest potential?"
I'll explain in more detail what all the fuss is about throughout our discussions. But for now, I'll give you a summary... (1) eternal life, or (2) eternal damnation...these are things worth fussing about.

If one prefers door #1 to what is behind door #2, then we need to conform our own will to the will of God because that is the only way one can live to one's fullest potential, according to the revelation of the One who should know, our Creator.

The consequences of an obstinant denial of truth can lead away from one's fullest potential in this life and in life everlasting. Seeking the truth and drawing conscientious decisions leads to maturity and growth. Ignoring the truth and living a life of indecisiveness leads to failure and suppressed maturity and growth.

As a military officer, I am often charged with making decisions even when I don't have all the information. If I didn't choose, if I was indecisive, then I wouldn't succeed, I wouldn't move forward, I wouldn't grow as a person. That's no way to live one's life to its fullest potential. Risk is a necessary part of life. All the best things in life require risk, love being a good example. Seeking the objective truth, obedience to truth, and loving Truth with all one's mind, body, and soul does not close doors, but instead opens them. It doesn't stifle life, but instead makes life much more full.

Pope Benedict XVI seems to be describing this same point in a recent interview. He said:
"We see how in young people there's the search for something "more," we see how the religious phenomenon is returning, as they say. Even if it's a search that's rather indefinite. But with all this the Church is present once more, and faith is offered as the answer....

Reawaken the courage to make definitive decisions: They are really the only ones that allow us to grow, to move ahead and to reach something great in life. They are the only decisions that do not destroy our freedom but offer to point us in the right direction. Risk making this leap, so to speak, toward the definitive and so embrace life fully...." (Interview With Benedict XVI (Part 1) [ 2006-08-17 ])
Therefore, it is important to seek the objective truth and draw conclusions, wherever it may lead, in accordance with our informed conscience. How do we start? We begin by informing our conscience. A malformed conscience can mistake error for truth quite easily. That's why "stupid is as stupid does." However, a well-formed conscience will tend away from that which is stupid or erroneous, thus a well-formed conscience leads to living to one's fullest potential.

Moreover, I think you are presenting a false dichotomy between the rightful worship of God and a rightful appreciation of what God created. They are not opposed to one another as you seem to imply. I studied Daoism, among other religions in college. I studied Christianity too. I don't see why you seem to think Daoists appreciate nature more so than do Christians. I have not read anything more authentically appreciative of nature than that which is seen within Christianity. When you "stop and smell the roses" you DO worship said Creator, even if you do not yet realize it.

Daoist tend instead toward an unauthentic view of nature, as they tend to elevate nature too much, in my view, submitting to "nature's rythms" as model for human behavior. That's more than a rightful appreciation of nature, but tends to a subordination or submission to nature, likened to "nature worship."

Philosophical Daosim was a response to a warring period in China, asserting instead that people should follow "the way" of the poetic philosopher Chuang-tzu or the political philosopher Lao-tzu. Both their philosophies were imaginative and mystical. Both philosophical Daoism and religious Daoism are characterized by regimental meditation so as to discover and become one with nature's rythms. Chuang-tzu Daoists tended to retreat from society in pursuit of contemplation (not unlike Christian monks). Lao-tzu was more politically focused than Chuang-tsu, who was more personally focused. Historic religious Daoism developed from philosophical Daoism, and was a polytheistic religion concerning itself with ritualistic magic and alchemy in order to attain immortality. Some traveled to legendary "magical islands" to seek immortality, looking for the so-called "fountain of youth." Many produced and consumed poisons thinking it was the "elixir of immortality," soon to discover that it was in truth, quite literally the "elixir of mortality."

Boats, carriages and mechanical, unnatural devices of all kinds were condemned by Daoists as deplorably new-fangled hindrances to the peace of mind of the common people. Ironically, the Daoist written text Tao Te Ching objects even to writing, the absurdity and inconsistency of which should be self-evident. One of the Daoist precepts is that a good way to promote peace and simplicity is to keep the people ignorant, asserting "blank their minds, but fill their bellies." I think some of the problems in China today may be a consequence of this erroneous ancient view of the world. In imitation of nature, Daoists discard what seems no longer useful. Because of this, Daoists can seem inhumane.

Nature is certainly worthy of our appreciation. However, just because animals eat their young for self-preservation that doesn't mean humans should consider this their model of behavior. Even today, the Chinese often kill their infant females because they are deemed less useful. Why not? They are just imitating "nature's rythms," right?

In the final analysis, "the way" of Daoism didn't seem to me to be in accord with Truth, which I am obliged to constantly seek.

What I did find is that many Eastern religions do not simply appreciate nature, they believe nature is god and god is nature. That is called pantheism. They don't simply appreciate rocks. They worship rocks. They think that the rock is god, and the tree is god, and the frog is god, and everything else we see in nature is god. They confuse the wonderful gifts of the Creator with the Creator Himself. I find this ontologically absurd. I believe instead that the gift of creation is distinct from the Gift-Giver.

Let me clarify some terms I've used .

Ontology = theory of being or existence
Dichotomy = division into two mutually exclusive or contradictory groups or entities

A false dichotomy is a logical fallacy also called a "false dilemma." It involves a situation in which two alternative points of view are held to be the only options, when in reality there exist one or more other options which have not been considered. This kind of argument is often found in politics, for example, "Will you re-elect the ruling party, or face nuclear holocaust?" The example implies that if we don't elect some particular person, nuclear holocaust necessarily follows. It's an unconvincing "invalid" argument because the conclusion does not follow necessarilty from the premises.

Pantheism is shown to be ontologicaly absurd (contradicts the theory of existence) by considering the following...

1. Everything that has a beginning has a cause.
2. The universe has a beginning.
3. Therefore the universe has a cause.

Now if the cause of the universe was the universe, then the universe would have to ontologically exist before the universe existed. That's like saying I am my own father. That's contradictory, and therefore false. Consequently, the cause of the universe must be, ontologically speaking, distinct from the universe. Therefore, God, the Creator, must exist distinct from the universe. If we think of "nature" as the universe, then the cause of the universe must be, ontologically speaking, "supernatural." Thus, nature must co-exist with the supernatural, and that which is supernatural must have preceded nature.

Your assertion above seems more akin to Deism than Daoism or Pantheism. Deists believe in an existentially distinct Creator, but they tend to believe that after God Created, he simply left his creation alone. He did not continue to interact with his creation. Deists tend to be more humanist in their morality and philosophy, because they deny the supernatural interaction with the natural, therefore they deny that God has revealed his will supernaturally.

I don't find Deism very concincing, however. I'm an engineer. Engineers design and create things, like spacecraft and robots. They don't do so without a purpose. As an engineer, I cannot imagine creating something so amazing as the universe, simply to ignore it and to never interact with it again.

Moreoever, if I were an all-powerful God and could relate with my creation, wouldn't I do so? I'm a father who has had a part in your creation. I don't find it concinving that the Creator would not want a relationship, direct interaction with his creation. I am compelled to intervene in your life, and I was only an instrument in your creation. After much prayerful contemplation about Deism, I was compelled to dismiss it as unlikely, because I believe based upon reason, exerpience, and the overwhelming testimony of human history that God is a God of "relationships." I could not believe in a God that didn't want to relate with his offspring.

So I ask myself, if the Deists are correct, then did God simply *poof* nature together and then ignored it? That's unconvincing to an engineer. That's not a compelling view of the Creator in my opinion. Nor does it accord with the constant testimony of humanity throughout every century of human history which reveals that the Creator has in the past and does indeed continue to interact supernaturally with his creation. Setting aside the view of very few individuals in history (which have always been statistically insignificant in the history of humanity), if you study theology throughout history, there's a pattern of belief common to every human community that has ever existed--every known human community has always believed in God and believed that God maintains a relationship with and directly interacts and intervenes in the affairs of man. It's difficult for me to discount this constant testimony when drawing my conclusions about God.

I learned early in my life that the testimony of others should be seriously considered when drawing conclusions about truth. This comes from being color blind. Let me explain...

In my Sunday school class, a teenage girl tried to argue for subjective truth (ie. the theory that "what's true for me may be different that what is true for you"). She used the example of color blindness. She said that what is green to me is red to someone else. Little did she know that she was speaking to a color blind science geek. ;) I told her I was color blind and that her example actually reinforces my understanding that truth is objective, not subjective. "Color" is actually the reflection of light off off an object in a specific wavelength. The reflected wavelength can be measured in different ways other than through one's eyes. A color blind guy like myself happens to have been born without cones within the eye that serve to divide the light so as to sense or distinguish the correct reflected wavelength. That's why certain shades of red appear green to me--some of my wavelength detectors are missing.

I reminded her of the definition of truth: "that which corresponds to reality." Truth and reality are therefore synonomous. If we share the same reality, we must therefore share the same truth. Just because some of my wavelength detectors are missing, that doesn't mean that the reflected wavelength of light coming from my shirt is different for me that it is for her. I then asked her to do an experiment for me. "Shut your eyes," I said. Did everything in the room immediately begin reflecting a different wavelength of light simply because your eyes are shut? That would be absurd, wouldn't it? Obviously, our ability to sense reality does not itself define reality.

I learned early in life to trust the testimony of others. If instead, I continued to cling to the "primacy of my own senses," then I would have to believe that almost everyone on the planet that sees red when I see green is involved in some great conspiracy to trick me into believing something that is not true. Unless I'm prepared to assent to this "great conspiracy theory," then the epistemology which relies upon the "primacy of me" must be flawed. Why would the ones closest to me, those I love more than anybody in this world want to trick me into believing something that was not true? A color blind person learns early in life that the testimony of their loved ones can be a trustworthy witness of reality, even when such testimony is contrary to one's own senses or experiences.

That's all for now. I'll discuss the answer to the other questions in my next letter.

Love and God bless,


See Letters to a teenage skeptic, #4