Moral Behaviour Vs. Religious People

In the London Review of Books, reader Anthony Buckley (“God and Human Behaviour”, Letters, LRB, 30 June 2011) wonders what “would constitute evidence” for or against the statement that “religious people…are more likely to behave in virtuous ways than non-religious people“.

That is an interesting question. And it can be easily answered in Christianity. The Gospel of Luke (chapter 5, verses 30-32) says:

“But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples,saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

It seems logical to conclude that, according to the Messiah Himself, “people who have [Christian] religious convictions” will be “on the whole morally worse than people who lack them“.

New Logical Fallacy: ‘Argument Ad Providentiam’

Only the most careful readers of my quasi-live blogging about President Vaclav Klaus’s GWPF Inaugural Annual Lecture in London on Oct 19 will have noticed a quick remark I wrote, inspired by what Pres. Klaus was saying at the moment: argument ad providentiam.

That’s a concept I have mentioned sometimes in the past in some part of the web, not under that name of course. Very briefly, it goes like this: philosophically speaking, an interpretation of the world is fallacious when it implies the existence of divine, or divine-like intervention.

And so for example, AGW is logically fallacious as it has providential undertones.

Why? Because for (catastrophic) AGW to be happening right now, several amazing coincidences must have recently happened:

  1. Relatively widespread availability of computer power just enough strong to simulate the right climate projections on a multi-decadal scale
  2. Climate science developed just beyond the minimal level needed to understand how to simulate the right climate projections on a decadal scale
  3. Novel statistical approaches devised just in time, and correct from the get-go, for Mann’s Hockey Stick to emerge from the jumble of dendro- and other proxy data
  4. Governmental willingness to co-operate together all over the world (after the end of the Cold War) just in time for a worldwide problem like AGW to happen
  5. AGW recognized as an issue just as heavily-populated places such as India and China start getting their living standards on track to reach the Western world’s

I am sure one could continue a lot longer.

So in a sense, belief in AGW implies belief in a highly-improbable series of lucky discoveries and developments to happen just at the right time. That is called “Providence” and it is strong evidence for the existence of a Divine Being. But since such “evidence” is a contradiction in terms, then catastrophic AGW to be happening right now, that’s a logical impossibility.

The Christian Roots of Marxism (and Secular Thought)

It turns out, Pope Benedict was not so wrong after all.

Excerpts from “A Rescue of Religion” by John Gray, The New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 15 · October 9, 2008 – reviewing “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?: 23 Questions from Great Philosophers” by Leszek Kolakowski, Basic Books:

It is part of Kolakowski’s achievement as the greatest living intellectual historian to have tracked the ways in which religion has shaped Western thought. His work is, in effect, a sustained argument for the irreducible presence of religion in intellectual life and in society. In Kolakowski’s view the secular movements of the last century, such as communism, [...] deployed categories of thought, including a view of history as a narrative having a consummation or end-point, which are inheritances from Western monotheism. [...] Religion was not in truth superseded, either in Marx’s thought or in the movements Marx inspired. Instead, the promise of salvation reemerged as a project of universal emancipation.

The renewal of religious categories of thinking in avowedly secular systems of ideas [...] continued in the ideology of neoconservatism. The notion of the end of history [...] derives from religious traditions of apocalyptic myth. [...] Presupposing as they do a teleological view of history that cannot be stated in empirical terms, all such theories are religious narratives translated into secular language. [...]

Religion has had a formative influence on our categories of thought, which it is the task of philosophy to examine. Excavating the archaeology of our concepts is a part of philosophical inquiry. For us, that inescapably involves tracing their debts to Judaism and Christianity. Any way of doing philosophy that neglects these traditions is unhistorical and impoverished.

There are some philosophers for whom the only place for religion in philosophical inquiry is that of a bogey, a specter of irrationality that must be exposed and expelled so that philosophy can be an entirely secular discipline. As Kolakowski has argued, however, a good deal of secular thought has been shaped by Western religion. Exorcising religion is harder than it seems.

Richard Dawkins where art thou?

Fitna: Anti-Koranic Freedom of Expression It Ain’t

What to say about Fitna, the anti-Koran movie by far-rightist Dutch MP Gert Wilders who’s enjoying his spot in the limelight in these days?

First of all, the fact that it has had a difficult time getting published is not a serious matter of censorship and/or an attack on freedom of expression. Freedom of expression doesn’t mean playing up polemic for the sake of polemic: I’ll defend Rushdie’s right to write literature that some may find offensive, but I won’t waste a second to defend the author of Fitna or anybody that publishes something with the one and only intent of causing offense.

On the other hand it is simple historical truth that Christians and Jews have been able to prosper in Islamic states: the opposite, unfortunately, is much harder to argue (just think at the Armenian genocide, that follows the de-islamization of the Ottoman State).

The Qu’ran is quite explicit about this:

2,62: Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.

5,69: Those who believe (in the Qur’an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians and the Christians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness,- on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.

22,17: Those who believe (in the Qur’an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians, Christians, Magians, and Polytheists,- Allah will judge between them on the Day of Judgment: for Allah is witness of all things.

One should compare that for example to Roman Catholic exclusivity: at least until the Second Vatican Council, there was no path to Heaven to anyone that was not a RC. All sort of Christians have managed to kill each other (and others) for centuries, on the basis of some sort exclusivity. Compared to that, the Qu’ranic text verges on the ecumenical:

2,135: They say: “Become Jews or Christians if ye would be guided (To salvation).” Say thou: “Nay! (I would rather) the Religion of Abraham the True, and he joined not gods with Allah.”
2,136: Say ye: “We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we bow to Allah (in Islam).”
2,137: So if they believe as ye believe, they are indeed on the right path; but if they turn back, it is they who are in schism; but Allah will suffice thee as against them, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.
2,138: (Our religion is) the Baptism of Allah: And who can baptize better than Allah? And it is He Whom we worship.
2,139: Say: Will ye dispute with us about Allah, seeing that He is our Lord and your Lord; that we are responsible for our doings and ye for yours; and that We are sincere (in our faith) in Him?
2,140: Or do ye say that Abraham, Isma’il Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes were Jews or Christians? Say: Do ye know better than Allah? Ah! who is more unjust than those who conceal the testimony they have from Allah? but Allah is not unmindful of what ye do!

To anybody talking about Islam as “intrinsically fascist” I can then only answer that as far as I am concerned they can write that on the surface of the Moon, but all they’ll show is ignorance (and unwillingness to learn).

Head Scarves? Islamic Veils? What about Western Trousers…

It is always amusing to see how much debate can be generated by a single piece of cloth (“Much ado about head scarves“, IHT, Feb 19).

But what I find even more amusing, is to hear in those debates opinions expressed by men in the “civilized West“…themselves having been forced to wear trousers every single day of their lives for the past four, five, six or even more decades.

Let’s see if and when anybody will start a Liberation Movement to give male human beings too, the chance of choosing the way they dress.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, or How Much Can the Media Distort Opinions

So what is Roman Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s opinion on the “Sharia Law” brouhaha around the Archbishop of Canterbury?

Who knows? Because from a look around the internet, it’s hard to tell…

(a) BBC News
(a1) Carey weighs into Sharia law row
Last Updated: Sunday, 10 February 2008, 08:11 GMT

Catholic leader Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor said he was “saddened” by the way the archbishop’s comments had been misunderstood. “I think he did raise a point of considerable interest and concern at the moment, namely, the rights of a religious groups within secular state. “Everyone in Britain must obey the law and therefore the question of how one can be a loyal British citizen and a faithful member of a religious group is a very pertinent question,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme.

(a2) Sharia row persists for Williams
Last Updated: Sunday, 10 February 2008, 18:53 GMT

Catholic leader Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor is one of the many to come out in defence of Dr Williams. “I feel he may fear that people with a Christian conscience will be put to the sidelines and not allowed to say what they believe to be true for the common good,” he told the BBC.

(b) AFP
Anglican leader ‘horrified’ by Sharia law row: predecessor
6AM Sunday

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the leader of the 4.5 million Catholics in England and Wales, weighed into the debate, saying there were aspects of sharia that were not wanted in Britain. “I don’t believe in a multi-cultural society,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. “When people come to this country, they have to obey the laws of the land,” said the son of Irish immigrants.

(c) The Independent (Ireland)
Sharia law comments leave bishop in hot water

In an interview, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said that government promotion of multiculturalism has destroyed the unity that used to hold British society together. Immigrants must “obey the laws of this country”, he said

(d) Sunday Telegraph
(d1) ENGLAND: Sharia law may result in ‘legal apartheid’
By Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Religious Affairs Correspondent
9/02/2008

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, said that the Government’s promotion of multiculturalism had destroyed the unity that used to hold society together. Immigrants must “obey the laws of this country“.

(d2) People here ‘must obey the laws of the land’
Last Updated: 1:16am GMT 10/02/2008

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, leader of the 4.5 million Catholics in England and Wales, begs to differ. He is adamant that such a move would only make segregation even more entrenched. “I don’t believe in a multicultural society,” he says firmly. “When people come into this country they have to obey the laws of the land.” He has a mellifluous voice and an affable manner, but the cardinal becomes steely when discussing the problems facing British society, and the issue of sharia law.

(e) Evening Standard
Two of the most powerful clergy in Britain launch stinging attack on Archbishop over sharia row
Last updated at 20:37pm on 10.02.08

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor added his criticisms and went on to urge Muslims to do more to integrate. “The extent to which multiculturalism has been encouraged recently has meant a lessening of the kind of unity that a country needs.
“There are common values which are part of the heritage of this country which should be embraced by everybody.
“I don’t believe in a multi-cultural society. When people come into this country they have to obey the laws of the land.”

===========

Notably (alas, I haven’t kept any evidence…) the BBC (a1) article mentioned the Cardinal’s criticisms at first this morning, then around 9AM switched to a more supportive note (Radio 4’s Sunday Programme was broadcast today between 7.10 and 7.55AM).

So what can we be sure of?

(1) Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor has expressed complex thoughts, and felt the need to clarify them

(2) Those thoughts were anyway too difficult to translate into a soundbite

(3) Every media source opted to pick-and-choose whatever pleased them

(4) Even after the Cardinal’s change of tones between the Telegraph’s interview and the Sunday Programme’s appearance, most if not all stuck to their first choice

(5) Only the BBC made any significant change, but more or less “under duress”: to avoid ridicule, that is

The end result is that whatever the Cardinal’s opinions, his words were and still are just fodder for the Media animals. And whatever is read via one source or another, is very very unlikely to communicate the nuances of the Cardinal’s actual opinions.

===========

The question then becomes, given the above, how should one relate to the British media to avoid continuous distortions of one’s thoughts?

On the Nature of God

“(God) leaves you (on purpose) in doubt… were He to speak out the Truth, stating “I exist” or “I do not exist”, the world would end”
Roberto Benigni

So where is this God (or gods) that can elicit strong passions not only in the believers, but even in those avowedly opposed to the very idea that such a thing as Faith exists? Why doesn’t He (or She) just show up in front of everybody and settle the question once and for all, instead of appearing obsessed on concealing His/Herself?

An answer can be elaborated starting from two basic hypotheses: (1) God actually exists; (2) is the Creator of the Universe (or Multiverse).

As a consequence, God is not part of the Universe/Multiverse, because the Creator obviously cannot create the Creator.

Therefore, there is no way to relate to God in a scientific manner, i.e. objective, observable and measurable under repeatable, controlled conditions: in a word, impersonal.

Hence, it is a waste of time to look into Nature for evidence of the existence of God. Physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology will never show anything of the sort, just as there can be no soup on the fork.

And just as radio waves do not “hide” from the human eye, but simply can only be transformed into images and sound with a TV set: so God does not “hide” from scientific research, but can only be experienced using the appropriate tool.

That tool is Faith, a very personal endeavour made up of belief, trust, commitment and conviction in a combination that is the very opposite of impersonal and objective

===

God the Creator, if He/She exists, is extraneous to scientific reality.

Does that mean that for all intents and purposes, God does not exist at all? I would advise against taking such a strong science-is-everything stance.

Science by definition can only deal with scientific stuff. But there is a lot that can and does happen to each one of us, that cannot be repeated nor written about in a scientific article: probably, most of one’s life, and definitely, all of one’s dreams.

I am afraid I cannot repeat my dreams in a controlled situation.

===

How can Faith function then, between a Divinity that is quite literally outside of this world, and the physical brain?

A topic that will deserve its own blog.

The High Priests of Contemporary Atheism

Truly gone are the days of Epicurus.

Gone are the discussions about Free Will and the existence of Evil. Recently, some vocal atheists apper to be thinking it is time for puerile opinions instead.

Sure, many “persons without God” (including agnosticists such as Breaking the Spell”’s author Daniel C. Dennett) have a healthy respect for the experiences and beliefs of fellow human beings, be them atheists or not.

But then what can one say when an otherwise brilliant thinker like Richard Dawkins publishes without a grain of self-awareness the “Ultimate 747” argument, a so-called “definitive proof” that God does not exist?

It is a sort of an updated “who created the Creator” question that anybody with a brain can beautifully, simply and quite obviously take apart (hint: the Creator doesn’t have to be part of the Creation).

In Italy, philosophy Professor Maurizio Ferraris finds it worthwhile to spend his time arguing that Jesus is akin to Santa Claus, whilst mathematician extraordinaire Piergiorgio Odifreddi can’t even think of belief in God as anything else than irrational superstition.

Things look like going even more downhill now, with Christopher Hitchens’ new book “God is Not Great”: apparently, a masterpiece with pearls of wisdom such as asking if the Jews did not know that murder and adultery were wrong before they received the Ten Commandments.

Obviously, the problem is not with Hitchens, a professional polemicist that utters outrageous statements for a living (sort of a male Ann Coulter with just a tad less smell of sulphur). The problem is not even with Dawkins’ anti-fundamentalist crusade that truly throw the baby (Faith) with the bathwater (religious establishments).

There is a much larger issue at hand: the blind acceptance of their half-backed arguments by people evidently in need to justify their atheism to themselves.

Take for example Michael Kinsley’s review of Hitchen’s book (With brio and anger, an atheist takes on religion”, International Herald Tribune , May 12, 2007).

Mr Kinsley finds “entertaining” some blatantly silly questions such as “How could Christ have died for our sins, when supposedly he also did not die at all?” (Answer: please do read at least one Gospel, once).

Worse, Mr Kinsley is “satisfied” with (yet another?) “disproving” of the existence of God. Wow…it’s nice to know that age-old questions can finally be set aside: why don’t Messrs. Hitchens and Kinsley explain to us the Meaning of Life too?

Mr Kinsley is also quite happy to repeat Mr Hitchens’ thoughts on religious ecumenism. “if any one of the major faiths is true, then the others must be false in important respects – an obvious point often forgotten in the warm haze of ecumenism”. Boy, have they “obviously” squared the circle or what?

Do people like Kinsley and Hitchens realize how deeply, reactionarily catholic (with small “c”) is such a limited view of Faith (one God, one Truth, one World)?

How much was the Mahatma a “moron, lunatic or liar” then? That’s their definition of a modern believer. After all he did say “Non-violence requires a double faith, faith in God and also faith in man” and “One’s own religion is after all a matter between oneself and one’s Maker and no one else’s.”

Doesn’t anybody remember Quintus Aurelius Symmachus? One of the last pagans in ancient Rome, Symmachus protested the removal of the Altar of Victory from the floor of the Roman Senate by a Christian Emperor by saying “We contemplate the same stars, the Heavens are common to us all, and the same world surrounds us. What matters the path of wisdom by which each person seeks the truth?”.

(No need to waste your breath on our activist atheists, o civis Symmachus! They wouldn’t even know what you’re talking about).

Anyway, there is just the faintest of hope of some reasoning capability left in the activist atheist’s mind. Mr Hitchens writes that a sustained argument about the (non-)existence of God shouldn’t be either necessary, nor sufficient. I am sure only the most fundamentalist believers and atheists will disagree with that.

What is for atheists then the point of writing books belittling something they do not have?

Perhaps, just perhaps, one day people like Mr Hitchens and Mr Dawkins will realize that they may as well uselessly ponder on mysteries such as why a wonderful person as my wife ever fell in love with a less-than-perfect guy like me. Good luck with that!

Is this really what millennia of debates between believers and atheists have gone down to? Somebody will rightly point out that there are plenty of idiots that believe their Faith should be expressed by insulting, outlawing, threatening and killing others.

Yes, there are!

But two wrongs don’t make one right: weren’t Dawkins et al. supposed to be the Brights, the superiorly intelligent humans capable of shedding silly arguments and superstition from their lives, and from the lives of anybody that would follow them?

Why are they then switching off their brains whenever the conversational topic is Religion?

If theirs is the Light, we live in a very dim world indeed.

Like the Conquistadores in the Americas, these Brights are fighting to destroy what they can’t understand in the belief of improving the human lot. The bringing down of anything spiritual, it has become their spiritual quest. The attitude of the vast majority of their fellow humans, they consider it a primitive relic unworthy of their own perfection. Several thousand years of contributions in logic and philosophy, that doesn’t mean a thing to them.

Having discovered the “definitive arguments” for the double impossibility of proving the non-existence of any Divinity, they put themselves outside of human history. And they even gather around their books of wisdom, to accept with little sense of critique anything that is said to belittle the very idea that human being can believe in God.

It’s a hubris extravaganza.

Contemporary (activist) atheists truly set themselves in competition with God: here’s a hint of why they find so compelling to make however flawed an argument against the scandal represented by anybody not believing in their “religion of atheism”.

Intelligent Design – Blasphemy?

Religious discussions about the theory of Evolution crop up every once in a while. Now it’s the turn of The Economist to dedicate one Briefing to “Evolution and religion”.

In that article it is reported the well known fact that in certain Christian and Muslim circles there is now support for so-called “Intelligent Design” (ID), “the idea that some features of the natural world can be explained only by the direct intervention of a ingenious creator“.

Frankly, as a Christian and Monotheist myself, I do find ID insulting to the very concept of an Omnipotent God and therefore bordering onto the blasphemous.

Let’s assume some computations mentioned by ID proponents are correct (“it would require about 300 times the age of the universe to by chance form just one protein molecule“). The alternative is to have an Intelligent Being making something as complex as a protein, or as an eye appear.

This God or Gods would continuously interfere with the Universe, adding bits here and there, making eyeballs and noses and whatever else.

Such a notion should be rejected at once. It directly implies that the Being was/is not Intelligent enough to create a universe where proteins, eyes and everything else would indeed come out of a natural mechanism such as Evolution.

It all becomes clearer once we stop separating “natural” from “God-made”. Such a step should be quite easy for a religious type.

Therefore: since God is designing the whole of nature, including all “natural mechanisms”, what prevents Him from making evolution a natural process, using a rather more elegant solution than having to clumsily get any or all parts, big and small, made on purpose?

And think again of the eye: ID proponents say it is “too complex to have evolved on its own“. It’s them putting some kind of limitation to what God could and could not do.

That’s blasphemy: the implication that God would not be able to devise something called “evolution”, and had/has to intervene “personally” in the making up of new species.

Au contraire: the Theory of Evolution is so much more compatible than ID with the whole idea of an Omnipotent God.

The Intelligent Being, if any exists, has created us with a clear instant-by-instant perception of time flowing in a particular direction. This applies presumably to all creatures on Earth. Why not use that constraint then in designing and implementing them all?

===============

Catholic circles especially in Rome are unwisely toying with the idea of discounting the Theory of Evolution anyway, as it would confine God “to just lighting the blue touch paper for the Big Bang“. Furthermore, if natural selection works with random steps, there it goes the “unique, God-given role in the animal kingdom” for the human species, especially favoured by Pope Benedict XVI.

These arguments should be aired after extremely careful consideration. First of all, as reported by The Economist, there is no point in devaluing the Church by letting it proclaim things that are manifestly false (a warning first made by St. Augustine).

As for the “blue touch paper“: the question is ill-posed. Even if the Universe has been created to follow Natural Laws such as Evolution, there is enough built-in uncertainty, such as in Quantum Physics, to allow any Creator to tinker at His pleasure.

Finally, regarding man’s unique role, I would rather promote more humility.

It makes little sense to try to defend one’s standing when the counterpart is… God!

The Tragedy of the Self-Righteous Christian

I am sure 99.57% of my non-Christian readers will never believe this, but…

…to be Christian and self-righteous at the same time is a contradiction in terms…

It ought to be a paradox.

The Gospels are quite clear. Besides depicting Jesus dining with “prostitutes and publicans” without feeling any urge to lecture and condemn them, references abound on concentrating on one’s own real problems instead of anybody else’s purported issues.

“Motes and beams” come to mind from Luke 6:41-42:

41 Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
42 How can you say to your brother, `Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s. 

Also the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector from Luke 18:10-14 could not be clearer:

10 Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: `God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector.
12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.
13 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, `God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

===============

And yet obviously the vast majority of Christians prominently appearing in pulpits and news do indeed sound a lot more self-righteous than the average person.

Take for example the whole debate about homosexuality as a sin.

As a RC myself, it is not yet clear to me if the Vatican takes that view, or restricts the “sin” to the actual sexual intercourse between consenting adults of the same gender. Officially, they say the latter is true. However, this would clearly contradict Matthew 5:27-28:

27 “You have heard that it was said, `You shall not commit adultery.’
28 But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart

===============

Personally I don’t think God pays any interest in the sexual mores of a person as long as there is love behind them (with consent, adulthood, etc etc).

Anyway, centuries ago actors and non-baptized children were not deemed worthy of Christian burials, and attitudes have (slowly) evolved beyond that.

So it can be expected that in two or three hundred years all the “Christian” debate about allowing homosexuals as bishops, or in a Church at all could be seen as a giant waste of time, as puzzling as early-Church discussions of the existence of a soul in a woman’s body.

===============

Unfortunately, self-righteousness is much more than that: it is a tragedy and a scandal.

  • It is a scandal, as by shouting out (in the example above) against homosexuality, priests and Christians of all kinds of denominations are actively trying to deny other people the possibility of Salvation.

It would be like asking a person to choose: either eat or love God. I am afraid most would choose the former.

And so who knows how many people have been persuaded by their local priest or bishop… to become atheists!

  • It is also a tragedy, as the recurring appearance in history of a certain kind of rigid, unloving and definitely uncharitable attitude of self-righteousness among the Christians, leaves the nagging doubt: is there something intrinsically un-Christian in Christianity itself?

It has not to be that way. After all it is hard to hear about Christians that truly keep to Matthew 6:3-4:

3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4 so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

The best Hope and strongest foundation is the work of thousands of less publicity-prone people that actually do love God and their neighbours.

ps Am I suggesting Christian Churches should stop talking about their beliefs? No, I am saying Christian Churches should concentrate on the souls they’ve been gifted with, rather than pontificate about the ones they are currently refuting to accept. The commandment to love one’s neighbour as oneself carries no conditions.

The Four Horsemen of Atheism

There is plenty of people more qualified than me to debunk yet another “contribution” to the Atheism-Faith debate, just published on Italian Sunday newspaper  “Domenicale Sole24Ore” (Maurizio Ferraris, “Not knowing What To Believe“, October 29)

Anyway, here I propose a classification, from the point of view of the Person of Faith, of Contemporary Atheism in four categories: Indifferent, Devout, Faraway and Economic

(1) Indifferent Atheist is a person with no interest whatsoever in the Divinity and Religion: and with whom the only meaningful dialogue for the Believer will be about sport, cinema or television

(2) Devout Atheist sees religion as a series of moral precepts useful to manipulate this or that social reform: in a sense, the Devout Atheist resembles more the Antichrist than a person with whom to start a serious conversation on Religion

(3) Faraway Atheist thinks like Ferraris, and whilst not possessing faith, pretends to reduce it to a fairy tale for children and/or idiota. This view of the world makes no distinction between Jesus Christ and Father Christmas; comes out with monstruosities such as “He who believes in an Infinite God, believes in everything“; reduces religious tradition to an accountant’s sheet of dogmas to follow in order not to be “heretical” (a naive point that will sound ancient to Roman Catholics, and completely stranger to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc etc). One would expect Ferraris to burst into laughter at the mere presence of a Person of Faith in the same room as him: hardly the best and most rational attitude (Ferraris is obviously not alone: see Richard Dawkins in “The God Delusion” and Daniel C Dennett in “Breaking off the Spell: Religion as Natural Phenomenon”)

(4) Economic Atheist finally, understands that a serious non-indifferent Atheism that aims at least to understand the why Believers exist, must learn from the recent revolution in Economics: where the hyper-rationalist Homo Economicus of the old theories has been replaced with a person who follows a systematic logic, simply not mathematical logic

And it is only with the Economic Atheist that there is any meaning, for the Person of Faith, to discuss Religion. Not having the prejudice of considering Faith as synonymous of irrationality, the Economic Atheist will indeed be open to an exchange of ideas (sadly, not a given as it should be)

Facile discourses in religious topics by Atheists of other types, are worth as much as a women-only bathroom on Mount Athos, the famous Greek monastery on whose territory only men are allowed

God’s Many Dices (II) – The Philosophy of Parallel Universes

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
(Hamlet, I, v, 166-167)

In a Reality of many and much varied Parallel Universes, as modeled from contemporary Cosmology, it is possible not just to revisit and better understand scientific puzzles like the nature of Mathematics and Time, the Goldilocks Enigma, and the Many-Worlds interpretation of Quantum Physics

The Science of Parallel Universes has also significant consequences outside science itself, and can be used to provide answers to age-old questions in the fields of philosophy, morality and theology, such as:

  1. Why would a benevolent God, or gods, or any Creator let bad things happen?
  2. Do we have Free Will and what exactly is that?
  3. Are we the combination of a physical entity called body and ethereal ones called mind and/or soul? And what is the reality of our thoughts?

Surprisingly, the one and only assumption really necessary for that to happen, is for cosmos to be unimaginably big, containing an untold number of different versions of everything we see, some of them stranger to us than others

(I know: the below is far from complete, far from perfect, and under development: but elegantly simple)

———-

A branch of contemporary Cosmology predicts that “All There Is” (let’s call it the Cosmos) is made of many “Parallel Universes”

Not of the creepy, nearby kind favored in sci-fi movies: as explained by Max Tegmark of MIT in a recent SciAm article, those Universes all reside in the same hugely gargantuan volume of space but at very big and growing larger distances from one another

Those Parallel Universes can be grouped in Multiverses at Level I (same physics, only initial conditions differ); Level II (different physical constants and particles); and Level IV (different physical laws, different mathematical structures)

More: there is equivalence between the Level I//II set of those Universes and the multiple-outcome probabilistic world of Quantum Mechanics (the Level III Multiverse)

This suggests that the quantity of Parallel Universes is truly huge, and their diversity enormously great: because their combination will cover everything that is possible

A detailed overview on the topic can be found at this link

———-

But if “All There Is” coincides with “All That Is Possible”, then any thing that can happen, does, did and will do, in some Parallel Universes (or just one)

Let’s call this the “EP:H Model of Reality“: somewhere, sometime everything possible happens

(That should obviously read Almost Everything and almost any thing: it depends on the number and variety of Parallel Universes. The qualifying adverb is implied in the rest of the text)

The implications beyond a strictly scientific arena are almost unimaginable

———-

1. Why would God, or the gods, or any Creator let bad things happen?

In the EP:H Cosmos, because the possibilities of existence appear to be more important than a pre-ordained good and evil

++++

The question about the apparent inaction of the Divinity in the face of iniquity or calamity is the topic of the branch of philosophy and theology called Theodicy: from the Greek: theos, “god” and dike (pr. dee-kay), “justice”

“The justice of God” (or lack thereof) has kept philosophers busy for millennia

Why for example doesn’t any God just intervene to rescue a little child on top of whom a house has collapsed after an earthquake? Or to eliminate a little-know Austrian painter called Adolf instead of letting him butcher people in the millions?

In ancient Greece, philosopher Epicure elaborated the Epicurean Paradox, arguing that a benevolent, omnipotent God indeed does not exist: “God either wants to eliminate bad things and cannot, or can but does not want to, or neither wishes to nor can, or both wants to and can. […] If he can but does not want to, then he is spiteful […] If he wants to and can, which is the only thing fitting for a god, where then do bad things come from? Or why does he not eliminate them?” (from “The Epicurus Reader”, translated and edited by Brad Inwood and L.P. Gerson, Hackett Publishing, 1994, p. 97)

Interestingly, whilst Epicurus still believed in a different kind of Gods, his argument has been repeated by countless people since, as way to deny tout-court the existence of a God.

Pick a tragedy, any tragedy, and you will find your proof that there is no God

German polymath Leibniz coined the term Theodicy in a 1710 essay, and he is remembered as arguing that in spite of much evil within it, the world is the best of all possible worlds. He went further, saying that God as “infinite being” will create as a matter of course an infinitely rich universe (perfect in the sense of being complete)

In reaction to that, after the Lisbon quake of on All Saints’ Day, 1755, French philosopher Voltaire wrote the novel “Candide, or Optimism” (1759). In there, Leibniz himself (or possibly, French savant Pierre de Maupertuis (1698-1759)) is satirized as the character Pangloss, convinced against all kinds of odds and runs of bad luck that “All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds

++++

The centuries -old Epicurean argument against the existence of God loses validity in the EP:H Cosmos: the God(s) (if existing) is/are simply letting everything happen.

Everything means everything: everything good, and everything bad. It will include all things evil, and all disasters (and not-so-incidentally, all joys and all luck)

This is known as the Plenitude Principle. It can be traced back to Aristotle, and has been reasoned by many including St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Kant.

Paraphrasing then Albert Einstein (once scorning Quantum Mechanics by saying that “God does not play dice with the Universe”): God (if one exists) does indeed play with the Universe(s), throwing a very large lot of dices, making sure that all possible results do happen

This is another way of saying that there is no “morality” in “Nature”

Reality coincides with the Realm of The Possible, not the Empire of the Good: therefore, for a benevolent (or otherwise) God (if one exists indeed) there may be no meaning in “preventing evil”

———-

Three (obvious?) points about EP:H and the Divinity:

(a) EP:H is no proof of the existence of God(s)
(b) If there is no God the Theodicea question becomes a moot point
(c) A Divinity may as well choose to intervene, in particular circumstances in particular Universes…that’s compatible with EP:H as long as the action is physically possible)

———-

2. Do we have free will and what exactly is that?

With EP:H, on the whole Free Will is an overall illusion, and a particular reality

+++

The issue of Free Will is about a conscious being’s ability of choose and/or control their decisions

In the EP:H Cosmos something somewhere is going to happen, as long as it is possible. At first glance then, the question of Free Will may appear as having no meaning

In one sense, anything possible is compelled to happen

If there is, say, a one-in-a-million chance of you buying the winning lottery ticket, and 999,999 copies of yours have failed to do so in as many Universes, well, really there will be no escape…

Still, each individual’s life experiences are evidently a limited subset of the whole range of possibilities. Therefore the fact that everything is happening can only be statistically reflected at the level of the person, who may as well retain Free Will for all intents and purposes

Thus, each of us is practically free as individual to choose one’s next action. The only constraint is on the set of all our “copies”. They (we) will commit all possible acts wherever they exist somewhere in the Cosmos, but only when considered together

On the other hand, in a gas that is moving in one direction as a whole, a particular molecule can yet move at a particular instant in the opposite direction. Likewise, each of us can still be free to choose which way to go at every particular step in our lives

Paradoxically (but only up to a point), the EP:H Cosmos is made of items that are individually free, but constrained as a group

———-

3. Are we the combination of a physical entity called body and ethereal ones called mind and/or soul? And what is the reality of our thoughts?

Everything is physical: there is no need for any “external metaphysics” located somewhere outside of the EP:H Cosmos

+++

The belief in a soul may have accompanied our species for at least 30,000 years (although our concept of it is of strictly ancient Greek origin). It has sometimes crossed or collided with the other belief, that of a mind just as well separated from lowly physical body, a major point in the philosophy of great rationalist Descartes himself.

Current Christian theology speaks of a soul-body singular union that will be reinstated by God at the End of Times. But a fundamental question remains: how can a non-physical entity act in the physical world? Where is the ultimate interface between the body and the soul?

Wolfgang Pauli answered with the consideration that in quantum physics, it is not possible to precisely measure all variables, and thus they may be considered even not to “physically” exist: in a sense, “hiding” metaphysics in the uncertainties of quantum mechanics

In the EP:H Cosmos things are much simpler. There is no need for anything “beyond physics” to exist: either it is possible, and therefore is indeed “happening” in one or many Parallel Universes: or it isn’t possible, and therefore it does not exist

Thus there is no need for the concept of a soul. But that does not mean that the soul does not exist: it means that it is a physical entity

Or starting from a slightly different point of view: in the EP:H model, anything we can think of is indeed “happening” in some other Parallel Universe

But if thoughts inside us are as real as anything we experience outside ourselves, then there is no necessity for a “spiritual” or “metaphysical” world beyond the physical universe

———-

EP:H is a strange Cosmos indeed

It is a freer world: God (if one exists) prefers to make everything (possible) happen rather than constraining us in a particular setting. Even if our life will overall resemble some of our copies’, still we can choose to do whatever particular action we want

Our whole being is a single entity, not a split creature with an untraceable soul. The world in our heads is just as real as the one in our hands

It is at the same time a terrible and an uplifting thought

Somewhere out there in the EP:H universe, I am (i.e. my equivalent being is) winning loads in Las Vegas. Somewhere else my whole family is being gunned down and/or persecuted. In a place I am the Emperor of the Galaxy, in another I wasn’t born, or my infant body has been discarded in some garbage dump

Somewhere, I am a refugee holding on to dear life to reach some kind of Promised Land. Somewhere else I am the policeman charged of sending the refugee back home, or the people-smuggler profiting from the refugee’s awful situation

What sense can we make of all of this? Obviously, the best way to understand all that is through probability

In fact, even if “everything happens” it doesn’t mean that it has the same chances to happen. It only means that somebody able to oversee all the various “equivalent Earths” out there would see some kind of a pattern.

For example, with my body size and shape the likelihood that any of my equivalents is the topmost dancer at the local Russian Bolshoi theatre in any Universe is, say, 1/100,000. In an EP:H Cosmos big enough to contain one hundred thousand of my equivalents, just a lonely one of them will manage that miraculous feat (in the Universe of the Very Plump People, no doubt)

If the Cosmos is instead full of 100 million of my copies, there will be a whole thousand of them proudly working as “primo ballerino” at the Bolshoi (in the 1,000 Universes of the Very Plump People, no doubt)

But if on the contrary the Cosmos contains just 10 Maurizio’s, well, so much for my Barishnikov impersonation

———-

Is the inherently ethics-less EP:H Cosmos a licence to do as one pleases?

Can we justify any action we do by saying that everything is happening, anyway? Can one make it out with the intern whilst his copy is becoming the US president?

(Well, we all know something managed to do both at the same time. Is there an unfortunate William C of Little Rock, Arkansas, living a life with no lust and no power in another Universe, just to even out the overall chances?)

On the other hand, even if there are countless other people out there, similar or even identical “copies” of us, in EP:H each individual is still substantially free to will as he or she wants to

And just like there are many copies of us in the Cosmos, there are many houses like ours in our streets. Some homes are tidy, some dirty, some are well maintained and some are left to run down

Still, the state of any other house has no bearing on our individual “duty” to keep our own house as clean and in as good conditions as possible (if we want to)

And so for our own good, for everybody’s good, because of our nature, to happily live next to one another: or for whatever personal reason driving us to act in one way or another, still there is a meaning to have, develop and follow our own specific brand of ethics (if we want to). All that, whatever the number and diversity of Parallel Universes

———-

The journey through the implications of a EP:H Cosmos of many and much varied Parallel Universes has just begun

Consider the concept of “Humanity”: just as every “copy of me” is another Maurizio with slightly (or a lot) changed initial conditions, so every person could be seen as the copy of somebody else, from the same Universe, with changed initial conditions

Not only then we belong to the same species, we may as well consider each other as variations on the same theme

In EP:H we are all brothers indeed: twin brothers

———-

Perhaps there are as many questions as universes, still left to explore. Is the EP:H model too simple? Does it explain too many things at once? Can it be partially or wholly confuted?

What’s next step in discussing Cosmological Theodicea? Is it compatible to the beliefs of any mainstream religion?

One thing we can be sure of: things much weirder still are out there to discover

There is a theory which states that if ever
anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for
and why it is here, it will instantly disappear
and be replaced by something even more
bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory
which states that this has already happened
(Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe)

Dawkins Inc.’s Hyperrealism Myth

Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and Daniel C Dennett “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon ” are both works of awowed atheists somehow intent to speak out about “religion”

And it appears that in both cases, the message is an exhortation to get rid of the divine and the religious sides of one’s life, in order to walk positively free and serene towards a bright future without the weight of legends and superstition

This over-reductive vision of the idea of the Myth (not to mention of the Rituals) is not absurd, is inhuman: because to consider religiosity as a child’s play of fantasies and personal and collective delusion, means to deny the existence not just of a God, but an important part of our human nature

Does anybody really live without a myth? “Myth” in a positive sense, even just the archetypal symbol of our hopes for being or having something better

To those that think that rationalism is the only logical way forward I want to say: even Voltaire had his share of petty behavior: who knows what, perhaps he kept picking his nose

Does that mean that those that want to be guided by Voltaire’s thought, are also all nose-picker? Of course not

The “guide” is not the “true Voltaire”: it’s Voltaire-the-Myth. And that’s just about right. He may never had spoken the famous utterance about fighting to the death to defend somebody’s else right of free speech: who cares? Those words are an integral part of the myth of Voltaire

Paris, was it really worth a mass? Was a kingdom given given away for a horse? To spend time trying to verify those and any other “myth” is an interesting historical exercise but makes one lose sight of the original meaning

Would it not be stupid to throw 2001 – A Space Odissey in the bin because there is no black monolith orbiting Jupiter?

The fantasy of a certain contemporary attitude, hyperrealist to the point of being completely imaginary, was already underlined by Piero Manzoni in his bizarre 1961 “Merda d’Artista

————————

I am sure even the ancient Greek myths, obscure fairy tales for us, had in origin important meanings and messages

It’s therefore a pity that to the word “Myth” and to the idea of the Divinity, it is now customary to associate the concept of the Great Unwashed, uncultivated, lazy, stupid and easy to fool: “And so from now on we can do without that”

On second thought, that’s a Myth too

 ———————–

UPDATE: There is a nice review of Dawkins’ book on the New York Times / International Herald Tribune:

A passionate atheist’s case against religion By Jim Holt The New York Times – Published: October 20, 2006

Grab it while you can

I particularly like this passage: “Despite the many flashes of brilliance in this book, Dawkins’s failure to appreciate just how hard philosophical questions about religion can be makes reading it an intellectually frustrating experience

Democracy and Religion

A quiz for all the aliens from the Andromeda Galaxy out there: which of the following organized belief systems ("religions") is more compatible with the minority-respecting political Rule of the majority of the people ("democracy")?

(a) A worldwide establishment centred on a powerful, "infallible" single person chosen for life by and among a few dozen cream-of-the-crop individuals

(b) A loose collection of groups professing very similar beliefs with a large regional variation, following charismatic people whose main claim to leadership is the ability to convince the followers of their closeness to God

Of course (a) is a simplified description of Roman Catholicism. And (b), of Islam

=====

You can guess the answer for yourself. What the above shows is that a load of uninformed garbage is currently served as "intellectual discussion" on the "unachievable co-existence" of Islam and Democracy.

Doesn't anybody remember the XIX century absurd grandstandings about the impossibility of reconciling Christianity (esp. Roman Catholicism) and Democracy?

Or those politicians musing in the 1920's about the alleged incompatibility of Southern and Eastern European societies with the concept of peaceful handover of power between political parties after lawful elections?

The problem is that it is very easy to extrapolate the news of the moment (e.g. the rise of Fascism in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Romania) into "universal laws" with no base in history…and so people will keep dying waiting for the simple truth to be accepted, that political systems do not depend on religion