Tuesday, 17 January 2017

God in the Age of Time

I mentioned in Responsibility, Beliefs and Discussion that I had recently read 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction. I'm not going to discuss all of the 36 Arguments in the appendix and nor am I going to explain the arguments I will discuss. Rather, I hope that any readers are sufficiently interested in the inspiring arguments to read (at the very least) the appendix for themselves. I also haven't strictly followed the order of Cass/Goldstein's arguments. So, that being said, let us begin.

Argument from Personal Coincidences

Say I have a dream and I meet someone I know in it. The next day, voila! What's happened?

We'll imagine dreams are some complex function of time, i.e. everything that has happened prior to now (t=0). One of those things is my "knowing" what I will do tomorrow. Say, for instance, I'm going to uni tomorrow (I might not but this is what I know when I turn in). My brain then subconsciously links [person] to [uni] so they end up in my dream/s. In principle, this can thus be true for some chain of probabilistic linking that I do not consciously perceive -- this example just happened to be one where I am capable of seeing what happened.

One then completes the thought by wondering how many times this dream-type happened and one doesn't subsequently see anyone... why would one remember that? So, if we look back at our memories, these mundane commonalities are stripped from the sample already. This is, naturally, flaw number two in the book.

Argument from Suffering

This is an interesting one. It's obviously wrong when you think about it as it assumes for no particular reason that suffering must have a purpose... well, it does say otherwise its existence would be intolerable. That is, quite simply, insane. Life/nature is amoral: things are for no particular reason. Sometimes these things might seem unusual or improbable (the odds of life having the conditions it needs to develop are, possibly, low... but the probability that those conditions exist give life exists is 1... this is profound as it makes the implausible mundane: it's just how it is for us) but they are all the same and there is no particular reason to imagine that there's a purpose to them for this rarity.

As to whether suffering is the "most intolerable feature of our world"... Well, I've read Brave New World and I can tell you I can live with suffering if it really is the right to unhappiness that makes us human (and here is a purpose for suffering that covers all suffering, i.e. it matters not if someone's suffering is instantaneous and they cannot learn "virtues", and thus premises 10 onwards fail... not that I think suffering is purposed/teleological). That being said, to suffer is categorically terrible but it is also necessary. Life is short and brutal -- and the fear of death is the natural and appropriate response. I try to avoid thinking about death for it brings no comfort (the possibility of movement from "is" to "was" and this the demise of all hope to re/solve the threads of one's life; death as cancellation, if you will). Perhaps unhappiness requires very little suffering -- let us hope so.

Argument from the Upward Curve of History

An utterly flawed premise. History doesn't curve upwards. We might perceive ourselves to live n an upward slope but the arrival of this slope was not inherent to the system -- rather a consequence of all prior happenings. Those happenings, again, were not inherent -- it may be disappointing to learn but existence is "random". This, after all is and done, sounds stupid but it really is rather enlightening. Once you accept that there is no reason why anything should be, you understand that the boulder is rolling because it started to and just so happens to have continued. Logical causality through time doesn't imply inevitability. Indeed, I doubt you could understand historical causality starting from the position that an outcome was Caused... a directional part of history... because to use such an assumption would be to subject all "evidence" to the existing narrative: how does X lead to Y? Time moves forward, but that's 178 degrees of direction. We do not assess X|Y but rather X.

Argument from Personal Purpose

Once again,we just are. Except me. I'm so lucky the world conspired to exist for me to inhabit it. This is obvious.

As people we'll derive our own senses of purpose and meaning but there is no compelling reason to believe that there is some Big Answer to why we're here. Put simply, event were ordered such that we came to exist. But they didn't have to be. Some of us might determine that we came to Be. But that's just another outcome.

Argument from the Intolerability of Insignificance

"in a million years, nothing that happens now will matter" -- a premise of the argument
"arrogantly demanding that we must matter" -- one of Cass/Goldstein's points of refutation

Both of these are wrong. Well, in truth, "matter is one of those smoke-like words where you can always defend some position as, like interesting, is is so... amoral. Does it, for instance, matter if some skeleton came to exist and then tens of millions of years later its fossilised remains came to colour a career in a way that is still being written about over a century later? Is that mattering? Who knows?

Time and history proceed in a certain way -- forwards. What happens now can only be a product of what has already happened. Even a perfect prediction isn't the future, merely a past event whose intellectual essence is centred on the future -- a prefect prediction is as much the future as an entirely erroneous one (after all, their states of being are revealed as their centre arrives in time). More to the point, the future is only unpredictable because it is so difficult (impossible in my view) to determine what combination of past things created the random patter we're able to perceive (see: time series analysis).

However, what happens when an asteroid crashes down or, for sake of argument, humanity is eliminated at first contact with enormously advanced aliens? Why should every flap or every butterfly matter? And do we really matter if we cannot perceive how we do (even if we assumed we were alive to have the opportunity)?

From a personal point of view, that we can matter ought to be enough (not that in a personal sense, the time scale of a million years matter -- we're too dead/cancelled to be aware of it). To the argument... we have already shown humans can perceive mattering over enormous periods of time -- eternity is not required (although why the creators of eternity cannot work from it escapes me). And True Mattering is fallacious.

In hindsight, I am reminded of History 300 and John Gaddis' notion of "historical consciousness" where the historian is both Big and Small... humbled by the expanse of the past, but still in control, in some sense. As I remember it (although the comments about growing up may have been purely about competing versions of truth), learning of one's insignificance is childish. But, then, I was not particularly convinced by Gaddis... at least, compared to Tosh. There are competing truths, in part, because sometimes some people are more right.

Argument from Free Will

There's an issue of an X-Men comic where (Mr) Sinister (Essex) manages to decade the genome or something such that he was able to perfectly know the behaviour of actors (i.e. the X-Men). As a villain, this was dire news indeed but somehow he was defeated (presumably by Danger). This didn't sit right with me (the premise) -- from which I infer I'd like to believe in free will.

Predictability = causedness => no free will to Cass/Goldstein. Unpredictability = randomness -- actually stochastic behaviour, i.e. there is no control from the Self. In other words, because I am Me and you are You, our behaviour is theoretically predictable. That's a reassuring sentiment. After all, in other contexts a lack of agency is something I am entirely willing to argue exits -- free will is surely nothing but the Big Agency.

I have, however, left floating the idea that perhaps I am not Me and you are not You. If this were to be true, then our actions would have to be purely interchangeable. However, we have established that the present is a product of the past. Thus, in order for me to not be Me, it is necessary that someone else be able to occupy the same space that I do. This is nonsensical, thus there is a self from the nature of causality. It is not enough that someone else be capable of doing the same things as me... it must be the case that the physical entity describe as me and the physical entity described as them occupy space.

In practice, of course, there is no deep problem posed by free will. Certainly, in the right mood, it would be an interesting topic to purse being at "the edge of our human capacity for understanding" -- although why Cass/Goldstein discusses "moral agency" after that escapes me. In practice, I repeat, it's really rather dull because we're able to believe in both predictability and randomess at the same time... ignorance is bliss, grasshopper (again, I refer to our discussions of time and causality).

Argument from the Intelligibility of the Universe (Spinoza's God)

This is an interesting one -- despite my steadfast belief in "stuff happens" or "is-ness" the logic that things flow from some theory of everything is nice tidy (i.e. appealing). But I do not see the last steps. Spinoza's God is an "is" that combines "is-ness" with "why-ness". This is God in the way that Man is God or the Machine is God... God exists because this state exists because I can show the state exists and define God as this state. That is, God is a definition and God is a metaphor... which is the point with Man is God.

A Final Comment

In reality, God does not exist. We cannot show any reason why God need exist nor find any reason that suggests He (or any other deity) might exist... just that there might be room. In fact, that we are capable of believing in God (although many of us do not do so), demonstrates the absence of a need for God... what matters is not God or Zeus or whatever, but the belief in the option. Behaviour relies not on reality but perception... and anything you can do with God, I can do without.

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