Sunday, May 28, 2017

18 - Yotzer and Deism

There is another comment that I would like to bring to your attention because it leads to a topic that I want to discuss in somewhat more detail: that of Deism, and how my thoughts about yotzer compare with the beliefs of Deism. The comment is short, but demands a long reply, and so I will not have enough space to address in this post any of several other comments that are important. Responses to these other comments will be slipped in to subsequent posts.

Comment #2, Post #13:

I'm reading your blog & interested in where you are going. I don't know that I agree with all of its Deism.

My response: 

We can start by understanding what is meant by “Deism.” The most succinct definition I have ever come across, found on the “Religious Tolerance” website is:

Deism: A religion whose followers believe in a God who created the Universe, established its rules of behavior, set it going, left, and hasn't been seen since. 

In fact, Deism is not a religion but a philosophy (or theology) that can be held within any religion. The three key points that underlie any variety of Deism are:

  1. It is only rational to conclude that at some time, a god of some sort, created our Universe;
 
  2. Contrary to scriptures, If that god continues to exist, it has completely withdrawn from any contact or involvement with humankind;
 
  3. It is therefore up to humankind to fend for itself in defining the good life, the ethical way to behave and its own direction as a species. 
 

I, too, believe that it is only rational to conclude that some kind of god (yotzer) created the Universe and everything in it. I also agree that there is no evidence of direct interaction between the creator and humankind, though there are some deists who believe there once was such a relationship. However, my personal concept of yotzer is quite different from that of a disappearing god.

Deism sees the lack of human-divine interaction as evidence that the creator has withdrawn or ceased to exist after creation. This is based on the belief that creation was a singular, time-limited event.

In the yotzer paradigm, creation began with the Big Bang, and after roughly 14 billion years, is still happening. Humanity is one of a vast number of species in the evolving Universe, and has not evolved to the point where it is capable of perceiving and communicating with its creator (yotzer).

Deism does not attribute any purpose to creation.

In the yotzer paradigm, the purpose of the Universe is to produce one or more life forms that are sufficiently evolved to perceive yotzer, communicate with it, and participate in some way in the as-yet-unknown ultimate purpose of yotzer. In this vision, yotzer has a purpose and humanity has the potential to be part of that purpose.

Atheists believe there is no god. Deists believe there was a god. I believe there is a god, which I call yotzer, which is active at the Universe level, waiting for some species to evolve to the level where it can learn its purpose and become instrumental in accomplishing it. We may be the only species in the Universe that is close to that, or there may be millions of others with the potential to make contact and collaborate with  yotzer. At this point, we don’t know if we'll ever evolve far enough, or exist long enough, to reach that level of awareness and agency, and be part of achieving yotzer’s purpose.

The yotzer paradigm—a summary 

Unlike the Biblical telling, in which God created the Universe, including humanity, in a six-day period, I believe that the Universe’s creation only began with what we call the Big Bang. That creation, after approximately 14 billion years, is still incomplete and ongoing. Something is continually creating the Universe. I choose to call it yotzer. (Hebrew for “creator.”)

We know nothing about yotzer other than that it is creating the Universe. However, based on what we have learned about the Universe, there are a number of things that we can surmise:

  • The materials, forces, and rules of the Universe were first created and launched by yotzer;
 
  • Nobody knows how life was created, but the entire evolution of the material Universe appears to have been intended by yotzer for introducing and maintaining life on at least one planet;
 
  • Evolution, as built into the universe, is not only about survival, it is about at least one species developing sufficient intelligence to become aware of the Universe and the process of its creation.
 


Our species has developed a range of qualities that do not have obvious survival value. These include: the drive to learn and understand, even when the subject has no immediate or clear connection to human needs; a sense of aesthetics (art, music, etc.) and a drive to create aesthetically; a commitment to ethical systems, which generally privilege the species over the individual; a sense of spirituality, which, though difficult to define, involves an intense drive to search for meaning and purpose outside of the material aspects of life and the Universe.

It is the spirituality drive that is behind the founding of religions. Humans invented gods because the spirituality drive required satisfaction.  The basic questions (“primary concerns” - Post #9) that humans have been asking themselves and others for at least 5 millennia needed answers, as do many other questions about the world and the Universe.  

In their search for meaning and purpose, humans envisioned gods.  This invention resulted in laws and narratives that helped humans to develop codes of ethics and morality, as well as myths that became part of communal identity and helped explain how the physical Universe sustained us.

For millennia, these god-concepts and the myths surrounding them, served to advance our progress as a species. However, as human knowledge has advanced, they have failed to serve us effectively.  We have largely outlived our theologies, though the religions, including their traditions, communities, ethical codes and values, are still alive and useful.

I believe that the yotzer paradigm can point the way to a new theology, one that can be absorbed into any religion and is not only consonant with our growing scientific knowledge, but can help humanity, as a species, to continue its spiritual evolution.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

17 - Some Responses to Comments on Atheism vs Theism

One of the joys of doing this blog has been reading comments from its readers. Your input has motivated me, impressed me, and made me think. A heartfelt “thank you” to all who have taken the time to add their voice to this conversation.

In this and the next few posts I will respond to some of these comments. In each “response” post, I will choose comments that bear on a specific topic, with this post being devoted to perspectives on atheism and theism. In some cases, what you see here is just a portion of the original comment. To read the complete comment as it was originally phrased, go to the comments section of the original posting.

Comment #2, Post #1: 

...I may be a "Fool" but I'm not an Atheist, Theist or some of those in between. I am a Christian & believe in God. I respect all other religions except the fundamentalists... 

...The attempt by mankind to explain the creation of our planet, God, gods or other Supreme Being depends not on theories but upon Faith in an unknown event which I believe is an intangible that can be argued but not proven. 

...All the formulas, theories, & word definitions perhaps are man's creation yet to be proven true or false. In my opinion, "Faith" in God/god/Supreme Being, as intangible as it may be, is the only answer regardless of religious belief. 

My response: 

I agree with you completely that the question of whether there is a deity responsible for the creation of the universe is no better answered or proven by science than by religion. Although we can go a ways in disproving some specific description of a deity, we can never prove there is none. Despite your denial, you are a theist in that you believe there is a god. But being a Christian you must deal with the far more complex issue of Jesus and the miracles attributed to him and the miracle of his own rising. Great Man? Messiah? Aspect of God or son of God? What is your belief in this area? Or does it really matter what is myth and what is history?

Comment #3, Post #1:

Science is a wonderful methodology -- a tool that helps us explore and describe our universe in all its immensity and minutiae with increasing accuracy. …[It] can tell me the probability that my baby will have brown eyes, but it cannot explain the loving bond that ties me to that child. The joy we experience in meeting our children's children, who are our link to future generations and thus to eternity -- that ... is bound up with Faith. 

I am a scientist, and the more I learn about the intricacies of our universe, the stronger is my faith in a Unified creative force that brought it into being. 

I love Julius Lester's description of prayer as our Lovesongs to our Creator, or however we each may understand the notion of God. I don't know whether God lost interest in our world after creating it, or if God maintains a personal relationship with each of us. I can't prove it, but I do believe that God hears my prayers and cares about all of us. For me, God exists in the infinity of time and space and love. 

So I guess you'd count me in the Theist camp, though I've never thought of myself as a fundamentalist. The closeness I feel with God, and my gut-sure certainty of God's existence does not require that any one else's path toward Faith or Doubt or Wondering or Agnosticism or Atheism be the same as mine. In the words of Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?" 

My Response: 

You are most certainly not a fundamentalist. Your description of your beliefs is consistent with what Einstein and many other scientists and cosmologists, who have said, in essence: “There is a god out there and I can sense it and appreciate the unification of its architecture.” Your penultimate statement, however, is very consistent with that of a theist who has been influenced by his/her religion to believe in a particular god that hears prayer, and that has relationships with humans. I admire and envy your ability to live in both of these perspectives at the same time.

Comment #5, Post #1: 

…it is impossible to prove or disprove the existence of a God. The question then becomes if there is a God what has it done and what does it continue to do. And if you believe god created the universe or the multi verse, as is more popular today, where did god come from? It seems to me that believing in the creation of an all powerful god is probably more difficult than believing that random events created the multiverse, as if you believe that random events did it that's the end but if you want a god there is no ending of trying to find the origin of such a god. 

My Response: 

While you are right when you say it’s impossible to disprove the existence of a god, there is one situation in which a god’s existence could be proven. That is, if there were a god and that god wanted to prove to our and/or other species that it existed. Thus, the questions a theist must address when developing a theory that a god exists is: Why would a rational god not want us to know that it exists? Or why would a rational god want us to not know it exists? I also question your assumption that the god must be all-powerful in order to exist. A god could have had no origin, could possibly be infinite in time within the Kosmos, or it could even be the Kosmos itself, and yet could be limited in one of several ways. We’ll explore this in later posts.

Comment #3, Post #11:

As a self described "atheistic agnostic", the issue of a god or a God or a greater power larger than ourselves is a non-issue. The question of a greater power, which I believe is unanswerable within our limited ability to understand our universe, is to my mind nothing more than a philosophical head game whereby the goal is to arrive at a similar conclusion to the question of "how many angels can fit on the head of a pin". 

As an agnostic, I cherish and revel in the ability to doubt everything. ... I hold a similar view to that expressed by Jean Paul Sartre in his existential work, "Being and Nothingness". Sartre stated that even if one could prove to him that a god exists it would mean nothing in how he would live his life. For Sartre and existentialists, god is a non issue. Life is meaningless and the important and crucial matter in life is to find and bring meaning and purpose to one's life. 

Therefore, the real question of our lives does not involve the question of the existence of a greater power. The question and discussion we should be having is how to create meaning and purpose in our lives which is reflected in our resulting behaviour. Good religion or good spirituality should focus on how our lives should be lived… Within [at least ] Judaism, there is a strong current of thought that doubting the belief in a higher power is not an impediment in being part of the Jewish tradition and the Jewish people. The importance of behaviour over belief in a higher power has been an acceptable part of the Jewish tradition. 

My Response:

Saying “I am agnostic” is simply another way of saying “I don’t know and it’s not an issue that’s high on my priority list.”

To me the most significant part of your comment is to be found in the reference to Sartre, and the question as to whether a god is required to bring meaning and purpose to human life. There has been a god, in reality or in our imaginations, ever since we became sentient, and god, as understood by one religion or another, has had profound impact on our lives through a wealth of myths, literature and laws. The Western world is, in many ways, characterized by its legacy of ethical and moral values inherited through so many generations of religious belief. The idea of a god has clearly affected how our species has developed.

This does not prove that it is impossible to construct meaning and purpose in the absence of belief in a god, or at least, without reference to the convictions and structures that have grown out of humankind’s belief in a god. The point is simply that so far, this has been humankind’s most productive way of approaching the problem, and the alternatives are less well tested.

Summary

We have witnessed here four very different comments on the subject of theism vs atheism. Two were identifying themselves  as theists of different faiths, one as an atheist, and another as an atheist who is querying why it even matters.

I will respond to  more comments in my next posting, including ones that have been made to posts 1 to 16, and as well as any comments to this post or simply ideas you have that are not specific to any post.  Feel free to comment on anything.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

16 - Religion in the New Millenium

A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.  - Carl Sagan
In this post:

Religion/Philosophy and Science should
be partners in humanity's search for its
role in the Universe.
Here are some thoughts on how Religion
must evolve to serve that purpose.
What do you think of these ideas?

BANNER IMAGE:



"360-degree Panorama of the Southern Sky" by ESO/H.H. Heyer - ESO. Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:360-degree_Panorama_of_the_Southern_Sky.jpg#/media/File:360-degree_Panorama_of_the_Southern_Sky.jpg