Monday, May 16, 2011

Agnosticism and Faith

This is a comment on a blog with appears in a related blog at this URL:

Big Thick Glasses Blog

Mr. Thick-Glasses (or may I call you just Big?) I have just a few additional notes, both elaboration and extension.

Many religions posit an interactive deity -- one to whom you can pray (talk), a creator, an overseer, punisher of evil. Clearly this common, naive concept of “God” is an extension submission to human royalty, supplication to a king – evidenced by the use of the term “Lord” to refer to god. This god is omniscient and omnipotent; eternal, yet temporal; loving but swift and unwavering in justice. The problem – if not a logical contradiction – in these positions is that all attempt to a circular dodge to the examination of faith and reality: you have to believe because the religions authoritative document(s) (Quran, Bible, Vedas, etc.) say you must! If you can’t believe – you’ll go to HELL! Yikes… better safe than sorry, right?

It’s these “isms” that I find “offensive”. They trivialize the concept of truth and spirituality. Prayer (meditation) is often reduced to a public spectacle, or, at worst, sort of a verbal wish list, a celestial email to Santa Claus. I don’t want to pretend, though, my being offended is a philosophical rebuttal of any of religion. I simply think of these types of religious belief as little more than superstition… I rejected most of these notions long ago and I don’t think these ideas are generally the object the current discussion.

I suggest that I can’t accept or reject something that “can’t be expressed in term of my experience.” I’m using the term “experience” in a very broad way. My “experience” is all that may be communicated to my conscious, examining being though means of communication and extended means of communications. This communication could be verbal, or symbolic. Clearly, quantum physics is NOT intuitive. However, we use the language of mathematics to extend our communications. We STILL express a hypothesis, suggest experimental means of verification, and reach a conclusion for belief or disbelief, not just based on articles of faith, but on the basis of how closely the experimental results confirm the expressed hypothesis.

I also suggested that, as an agnostic, I can't get past the question of what it is that one does or does not believe in. By this, I mean that if the hypothesis can’t be expressed, then how are we to find any path to belief or disbelief. The very words “belief” and “disbelief” have no meaning in this context.

To use your example of a “Marpled Fleezer”: I ask you, “What is a Marpled Fleezer?”

Expert that you are in Marbled Fleezerism, you respond, “A Marpled Fleezer is a diforbled gloozy noogie.”

Clearly, I can neither believe or disbelieve based upon this information… it’s logical gibberish.

However, maybe you can convince me that a Marpled Fleezer is predicted by the results of some process of logical deduction, calculation, induction. You further sway me to agree that if “Marpled Fleezer”, then “diforbled gloozy noogie”, which is also a concept which can be described to me though some means of communication which is within the realm of my understanding, assuming I possess the required discipline to understand the medium of communication. Now, I have the prerequisites for belief or disbelief.

So… what is it that we’re talking about in which we having a belief or disbelief. If we eliminate the “na├»ve” god concepts, (which would almost certainly land both of us in the atheist columns of most theist scorecards), we’re still left with these suggestions: “god == the ultimate reality”, or “god == the truth” or “god == everything” or “god == whatever”.

To reach a real belief in any of these “god ==” equations, we need to find some language to describe the right hand side of the equation –using “language” as I’ve defined it in the previous paragraphs: some means of communication which is within the realm of my understanding, assuming I possess the required discipline to understand the medium of communication.

I think that any possible right hand term for the “god equation” will result in insurmountable problems in terms of our communications tools. I’ve likened it to the situation of a couple of silicon atoms in a microprocessor. Supposing for a moment that silicon atoms have a consciousness and problem solving abilities, these advanced silicon atoms manage to map out their place in the microprocessor and can predict the state of neighboring atoms at particular times. Their complex theorems and calculations describe completely their confined universe. However, what the silicon atom philosophers and theoreticians could never comprehend is that the computer in which they reside is being used by a human to compose a poem expressing love for another human! How could they possibly incorporate this into their body of belief… they not only would not have a means of expressing the concept, they would have no path for arriving at a description of “human love” from the atomic activity of silicon atoms.

We can possibly understand our place in our universe. We may discover all there is to know about our cosmic neighborhood. But we can’t describe something which is beyond the limitations of our ability to communicate and postulate a hypothesis.

Despite my Postulatory Agnosticism, I’m inclined to an intuitive belief in some spiritual center. I don’t really know why and beyond a possible discovery of some physical explanation for why my body makes me feel that way, I don’t expect ever to establish the empirical truth of this belief. Nor do I really have a way of expressing what this is that I intuitively believe in… but it makes me feel good to entertain this belief. That’s “faith”.