Tag Archives: religion

What We Know and What We Believe

For most of us, who don’t have direct access to experimental evidence, there’s not much difference between what we know for sure and what we believe. Please reread the first sentence. I am not being a Doubting Thomas or a cynic. I’m just asserting an obvious fact. Only a few people, scientists and lab technicians, have direct access to experimental evidence. Only they can test a hypothesis, control the inputs, and measure the results. When the results are valid, interesting, can be replicated and pass peer reviews, then and only then can we read them and form our own opinions about the results. Our opinions are based on our beliefs: our belief that the tests were rigorously controlled and statistically significant, the results were replicated independently, the peer reviews were objective and the hypothesis is consistent with our other beliefs.

Most of us may say that we know something for sure, but what we are really saying is that we believe that something to be true.

I’m not even saying that science is a religion because that would be a disservice to both science and religion. Both have their own domains and rules of validity. Not many of us possess the time or the resources to verify hypotheses about objective reality. If all of us had to verify scientifically whether the ground beneath our feet is solid (which it is not), we never would have descended from the trees of our local savannah a million or so years ago.

I am saying most of us don’t have direct access to objective reality, which makes what scientists do exceedingly important to us.

Even the things we believe that don’t correspond to objective reality can be very important to us. There are “provable” fictions we believe that organize and synchronize us, that make multitudes of us coherent over space and time, and that provide us social identities that outlive any individual member.

Fictions give rise to religions, nation-states, armies, corporations, tribes, families and mobs. Organizations based on fictions can be temporary or can last thousands of years. They can comprise two or more people, or billions.

One of the fictions important to me is the fiction of the soul or spirit. Today, I wrote a poem about the relationship between body and spirit.

The Spirit and the Body

Raanana, January 6, 2018

The spirit and the body live symbiotically,

Though neither needs the other,

They both enrich each other.

The body imagines the spirit

Upon which the spirit incorporates the body

With its traits of goodness and beauty

And they grow by consuming each other,

Though neither is lessened in doing so.

The spirit sees all things, but not the individual,

The body sees only the particular and not the allthing.

The spirit can see forever, but knows not the time of day,

The body knows this moment, but not what was or what will.

Together, they are God and the universe.

Because of them, there are acts of God

And the day-to-day happenings of the world.

Mike Stone

Raanana, Israel

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Filed under & Philosophy, Dilemmas, Essays, Dilemmas, & Philosophy, Prose, Uncategorized

Morality and Religion

There is absolutely no correlation between morality and religion. Don’t misunderstand: there are probably many moral people who happen to be religious too, just as there are probably many moral people who are not religious. The opposites and contrapositives are also true: there are probably many religious people who happen to be moral too, just as there are probably many religious people who are not moral. All I’m saying is that you shouldn’t be all that surprised when you encounter an atheist or agnostic who contributes money to worthy causes or hear about a minister caught with his hand in the till.

Morality is based on considerations of goodness. What is the greatest good? What is a lesser good? What is the greatest evil? What is a lesser evil? Religion is based on faith and obedience to the representatives or the tenants of that faith. There are subtle but important differences between the two.

Religion may have provided a kick-start for morality back in the old days. It probably went something like this:

“Thou shalt not kill!”

“Why should I listen to you?”

“Because I represent G-d Almighty and He’ll send you to Hell if you don’t do what He says!”

Then along came Immanuel Kant and wrote a philosophical treatise on Categorical Imperatives. Click http://aquileana.wordpress.com/2014/01/18/immanuel-kant-the-categorical-imperative/ for more information. Basically he said that the Ten Commandments, among others, make sense to abide by them, not because of the personal consequences of doing so, going to heaven or hell or getting some other reward or punishment, but because of the criterion of universality. The criterion may be applied to any action or inaction under consideration. Take an action A. Ask yourself hypothetically what would happen if everyone were to do A? Would world order thrive, at least survive, or would it break down? If world order would break down, then it’s not a good idea to do A. If world order would thrive, then A is a good action. If world order would continue to survive, then there’s no reason why you can’t do A. You may substitute “kill”, “lie”, or “commit adultery” for A and see what you get. Now let’s see what you get when you substitute “attack someone with the possibility of killing” or “defend yourself with the possibility of killing” for A. Yes, “attack” would lead to the break-down of world order, whereas “defend” would not.

Kant’s system of morality is not the only system that analyzes morality independently from religion. As a matter of fact Kant was preceded in this endeavor by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. Thanks to Michael Dickel for pointing this out to me. Religion is counterproductive when it comes to analyzing moral dilemmas. Religions start out with a cosmology and a history to establish their credentials, power, and future. Morality is considered an attribute of their commandments but is not to be questioned. It is not for you to question the will of G-d. Who is man to understand His ways? G-d moves in mysterious ways. If you follow His commandments to the letter then you will be rewarded with life everlasting; if not, you’ll be condemned to burn forever in the fires of Hell along with the rest of the nonbelievers. The measure of a man’s faith is that he believes even if it is absurd to do so. To analyze why it makes sense for us as a group not to kill, not to tell lies, or not to commit adultery is not a legitimate activity within religion. Some religions, however, do encourage the analysis of modern actions or modalities in an attempt to correlate or trace them back to some original religious commandment.

So what are the sources of morality that do not necessarily originate from G-d or religion, sources that can teach us or at least stimulate us to learn what is right or wrong? The simple answer to that is everywhere and everything.

Philosophy trains us to analyze the logic and the consequences of our words and actions. Literature, poetry, music, and art train us to feel things we’ve never felt before, to sympathize, and to empathize with anyone and anything around us. That guy walking unsteadily towards your car window holding out a Styrofoam cup in one hand and a cigarette in another at his side who looks like he hasn’t eaten a decent meal in a month is a challenge and a test of our morality. So is that nice looking girl at the office. So is your dog who would give up his life for you in a heartbeat and doesn’t want you to go away. So are the cats who have no one to feed them and give them water. So are the animals we slaughter wholesale for our insatiable appetites, the trees we cut down, the plants we plow into extinction, the soil, the water, and the air we befoul.

Analysis leads to paralysis. Yes, we walk a tightrope between too little and too much. To mix another metaphor, awareness is the burden of our consciousness. Nobody else can hold that burden for us, not even if they say they can. If we analyze too little or too lightly we are at risk of doing or not doing something we’ll regret later. The consequences of our actions or words can never be retracted. Time’s arrow only flies forward. The consequences can only be buried under new consequences which hopefully might be less regrettable.

Religion says differently. It is predicated on the premise that regrettable consequences may be forgiven. I ask you this: what would happen if we substituted “forgiveness of our sins” for A?

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Filed under & Philosophy, Dilemmas, Essays

On Good and Evil

Open systems are good. Closed systems are evil.

Open systems are good because they allow for the continuation of possibilities. The continuation of possibilities implies the continuation of possibilities for good.

Closed systems are evil because of lack of replenishment and material exhaustion.

We live in a closed system. Unfortunately one man’s good is immediately converted into another man’s evil.

A dictatorship is a tightly closed system. It is a very evil system because it only takes one man to make it evil.

A democracy is a loosely closed system. It is less evil than a dictatorship because it requires a majority of the people to be evil to make the democracy evil.

Religion is a closed system. The fundamentalists, literalists, and the ultra-orthodox believe that after God wrote the book, He closed it so that no one else could add anything to it.

The Earth is a closed system. There is a limit to how many trees we can chop down, how much carbon we can dump into the atmosphere or waste into the sea, how many people we can feed before we can’t live here anymore.

So, what is an open system? If I were to describe it for you, it would probably become a closed system. In spite of that, I’ll try to give a glimpse of a few open systems.

Space, time, infinity, and eternity are open systems, of course. See my blog post on https://uncollectedworks.wordpress.com/2014/06/14/common-sense-about-space-time-and-infinity/.

The distances between stars are open systems, for all practical purposes, unless you happen to be travelling in a spaceship, which is a closed system.

A moment might be an open system depending on what you do with it.

Eric Berne’s game-free personality type is an open system of sorts. See http://www.amazon.com/Games-People-Play-Transactional-Analysis/dp/0345410033/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1406396951&sr=1-1&keywords=eric+berne+games+people+play&dpPl=1.

In Gödelian terms I would suggest that an open system is both inconsistent and incomplete. See http://www.amazon.com/G%C3%B6dels-Proof-ernest-nagel/dp/B0017ID1A0/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1406397023&sr=1-4&keywords=Goedel%27s+Proof.

An evolution is an open system. So is a language, providing there’s no language academy trying to close it. Science is an open system too, as long as it maintains its pragmatism and does not succumb to dogma.

The jury is still out regarding imagination. There are those who say that our imaginations are limited to our worldviews, to what we have been hardwired to conceive to be true. There are others who believe the imagination to be unbounded.

The number of open systems is endless.

Maybe when we develop interstellar travel we will begin to live in an open system. Just to be able to imagine this may give us a sliver of hope in an otherwise dark and loopy dimension.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Filed under Essays, Dilemmas, & Philosophy, Prose