A Letter About God

This is a slightly abridged version of a letter I sent to a friend of mine in response to a letter she sent me about her atheism. I think it addresses a lot of my central thoughts about the existence of God. Redacted portions are marked by brackets.

I should begin this letter with a sincere apology for my overly delayed response. I envisioned a proper reply to your letter as a monumental task, and, as such, I was wary to undertake it – not out of unwillingness, but out of fear, lest any response of mine were inadequate. I felt that your seeming eagerness to understand Christianity left me no excuse for failure, should I not convince you of its truths. This fear of mine is unfounded – it is not I, but God, Who can save you – but it exists nonetheless.

My fear is a symptom of doubt – primarily of myself, but also of God. I cannot and should not pretend that I do not doubt []. In a very real epistemological sense, I cannot be anything but an agnostic. I cannot, as you said, 'profess to have all the answers.' I do not know that God exists; for that matter, I do not even know that you – or I – exist. Man's knowledge and reason are so very, very frail. 'Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie.' Every which way I turn, I am faced with the unavoidable conclusion that the Truth, whatever it may be, is incomprehensible and absurd. 'Adhuc lates, Domine, animam meam in luce et beatitudine tua, et idcirco versatur illa adhuc in tenebris et miseria sua.'

And yet – despite all lingering doubts – I am still convinced that God exists. Even your objections to His existence strengthen my conviction. You may believe that we are blind because the Truth lies shrouded in darkness; but I, I say that the Truth's light is not too feeble, but too overpowering – that I am blind, not because of its absence, but because of its brilliance. 'The light shineth in darkness; and the darkness hath comprehended it not' (John i. 5).

When I consider this world of sunsets and suicides, of loves and wars, of minds and madness – when I consider the atom or the photon – I cannot escape my impression that beyond our stunted perceptions lies something Transcendent. This world alone is not enough – it cannot be enough – for it cannot explain anything, even itself. And thus, to me, nothing will ever be more unbelievable than the assertion that time, substance, and space arose from non-being and chaos – that there truly is nothing else. (This is what I believe Chesterton means when he says that atheism entails belief in a 'universal negative.') Perhaps we do not understand the Transcendent, but it must exist, it cannot not exist. Reality without it is dead and senseless. There must be something beyond time to explain time, something beyond space to explain space, something beyond causation to explain causation, something beyond order to explain order, something beyond the mind to explain the mind. There must be something which lies beyond our grasp, beyond our sight, beyond our reach, something which itself needs no further explanation or justification – something Transcendent. That is my fundamental conviction. And this Transcendence I call God.

(With this definition of transcendence, I remember the words of M. Whitehead, a mathematician who once taught here at Harvard: 'Religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind and within the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realized; something which is a remote possibility, and yet the greatest of present facts; something that gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet is beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest.')

The skeptic may reply (rightly) that what I have said is all well and good – but that I cannot know much, if anything, about this Transcendence. Who are we, we mortal men, to dare to know the source, not only of men, but of reality itself? And the Christian, in a sense, would have to agree. The Christian God is one Whose ways are higher than our ways and Whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah lv. 8-9). As Barth said, 'God is inconceivable.'

Fortunately, we know one terribly important thing about God; we know that He has created us. He has created the universe such that it could support life, and He has breathed into that life His spirit. The importance of these two truths cannot be underestimated. Because I am not a scientist, I will not belabor the details of the first point (which, incidentally, presupposes that abiogenesis itself can be accounted for scientifically), but will leave it to you to imagine all the possible universes that never would support life - universes with different 'laws of nature,' and chaotic universes, with no laws at all. (It is challenging enough for a universe to support stable heavy atoms, let alone advanced life-forms.) Do not forget [] that one of reality's most miraculous features is its orderliness: 'Das Unverständlichste am Universum ist im Grunde, dass wir es verstehen können.' This orderliness and ability to support life, in and of themselves, do not prove anything, but to me, they are very indicative. At the very least, a situation in which a Transcendent being created a universe which just so happened to support intelligent life would be extremely bizarre.

The second point – that man is more than matter – is more interesting, and ultimately much more crucial. And, before I explain its relevance in full, I must first discuss your invocation of emergentism as an explanation of consciousness. Though I intend to address each of your arguments individually later on, I cannot proceed any further without pausing to consider it.

If we know anything, we know that we exist mentally. Cogitamus, ergo sumus. Consciousness is an undeniable fact (though some atheists have, of course, denied it); the question, then, is whether or not it is a so-called 'scientific fact.'

I propose first and foremost that free will cannot be explained scientifically, even if consciousness itself can. Belief in free will is belief in personal causality – belief that physical events can be caused or affected by mental entities, or persons. But science, properly understood, is the study of impersonal causality – the study of how objective, physical states of affairs change according to certain underlying principles. To assert that the mind can have power over matter is to assert something quite remarkable indeed; it defies scientific explanation. It is not at all a solution to say that free will 'emerges' from chemical reactions in the brain. How would personal causality 'emerge' from impersonal causality? How can matter generate minds? I simply do not see satisfying non-religious answers to these questions. (Remember, if free will did in fact emerge from matter and impersonal causality, it would itself become nothing more than an effect of impersonal causality, not a personal cause. In other words, it would no longer be free will. To explain the will is to abrogate it.)

Of course, I do not see how emergentism can explain any aspect of consciousness, let alone free will. The mind-body problem is similar to the is-ought problem; the mind may be completely dependent upon the body (just as 'ought' statements are largely contingent upon 'is' statements), but knowledge of the body alone cannot give an adequate account of the mind. (To borrow an example from M. Nagel, we know a lot about bats, but we know absolutely nothing about what it is like to be a bat. Science cannot give us true knowledge about the subjective mental states of other beings.) Put another way, though the brain may be necessary to explain the mind, it is not sufficient to explain the mind; something more is required. Mental entities are as fundamentally different from physical entities as normative facts are from positive facts. Thus, the fact that mental entities exist is extremely radical for the atheist, who must believe that, after thirteen billion years of matter and energy, the mind abruptly came into being.

But is this fact truly so radical? To answer that question, I first will ask you to consider computers – machines that can process incredible amounts of information and perform tasks far beyond man's capacity, but do not have minds. Their 'artificial' intelligence is in fact non-existent. They are not self-aware; they do not perceive; they are not conscious. Everything about their existence is objective and available to empirical study. There is nothing categorically different about computers with respect to the rest of the world.

There is, however, something categorically different about humans. We are self-aware; we do perceive; we are conscious. Some things about our existence are objective and available to empirical study; but some are not. I cannot see or measure your perceptions, [] only the neural activity which corresponds to them. For all I know (and for all the best scientist knows), you could be a biological 'computer' programmed to act as if you were conscious. That you can perceive the external world and ponder your own existence reveals that you (and all mankind) are categorically different from everything else that has ever existed before. (It is irrelevant to my argument whether or not other putatively sentient creatures, such as gorillas, actually have minds – the difference in category remains – but I will henceforth assume that they do not, for the sake of simplicity.) A few million years ago, a chemical process whose reactants consisted of matter and energy led to products that consisted of matter, energy – and mind. This fact can be nothing less than astounding.

If the honest naturalistic scientist were to hypothesize how 'intelligent' life could have developed, I imagine he would conjecture something akin to biological computers, M. Minsky's 'machines made of meat.' He would probably propose organisms whose brains were so advanced that impressions from the external world – light waves, sound waves, &c. – could trigger neurobiological reactions, which would then trigger behaviors. But he would hardly venture to guess that these agglomerations of matter would somehow become aware of their own existence – that the mind would sprout randomly from mindlessness. A world without minds would be much more concordant with the naturalistic worldview and account of reality – were it not for the fact that minds exist.

But minds, alas, do exist. How are we to explain them? You might answer that, in the future, science will discover some new physical fact which will quickly and simply explain the existence of minds. After all, has not modern neuroscience gone a very long ways toward explaining the mind? My answer would be an emphatic No: It has not moved one inch closer toward explaining the mind. It has, of course, done very well with explaining why the mind behaves as it does, and how the mind relates to the body. But it has not provided one scintilla of evidence to explain why the mind exists at all, nor do I see how it ever could. Our perceptions themselves, after all, are subjective, and thus not measurable. How, then, is the scientist who glories in the objective and orderly behavior of the universe to contend with subjective and inexplicable minds and wills?

The explanation for the mind must come from the Transcendent – from God. And the knowledge that the fountainhead of all existence somehow imbued us with minds should be very unsettling for the deist (whose deity merely sets things into motion). It leads inevitably to a question that has dogged man's steps since the psalmist posed it to God three millennia ago: 'What is man that Thou art mindful of him?' (Psalm viii. 4)

We must keep in mind three central facts when answering this question: first, that men, because we have minds, are categorically different from all other creation; second, that the first fact cannot (as far as we know) be explained by science; third, that God, in some way, must have taken special interest in the affairs of men. The third fact, which follows from the first two, is the most essential. And in light of these three facts, our picture of God becomes much more theistic and much less deistic – in a word, much more Christian. The deist's account of God becomes sorely wanting. As someone Who has taken an interest in people, how could God Himself not be personal (or 'super-personal')? If we know from our own existence that the mind itself is an active agent, how can we then reduce the Transcendent to some inert, slumbering 'force' less self-aware than a child? It is not enough to say, as the deist does, that God caused the world to exist and then retreated to His chambers – for that does not explain men as persons, only as biological automata.

If the deistic God cannot explain men as persons, how much less can He explain them as moral beings! You yourself have admitted how insufficient non-theistic accounts of morality are. Your morality, if it does not come from God, is nothing more than an evolutionary instinct. As powerful as your moral and æsthetic convictions may be – and I know that they are powerful – they cannot be anything more than chemical accidents unless an active, personal, and moral God has imbued us with them. Could God have created men who seek the good and the beautiful if He Himself were not in some way good and beautiful?

We live in an orderly world, a personal world, and a moral world. And I simply do not see how the neo-Platonist's or deist's δημιουργός can properly account for a world such as ours. There is too much light in this world – even in us, whose hearts and minds are dark – for me to believe in anything less than Light, pure Light – not some half-conscious nightmare or impersonal agent (How can an agent be impersonal or inactive?), but in Light itself, not lesser than I, but infinitely greater. 'Deus lux est et tenebrae in Eo non sunt ullaeq' (1 John i. 5).

Ah, but you may say, 'What is Light?' What do I mean when I say that? And truly, my words are but a shadow of the reality. 'Die Worte tun dem geheimen Sinn nicht gut, es wird immer alles gleich ein wenig anders, wenn man es ausspricht, ein wenig verfälscht, ein wenig närrisch.' Even ignoring linguistic limitations, the conceptual difficulties that arise when attempting to describe that which is, by definition, beyond conception are considerable. It is unrealistic to except a full understanding of God; God cannot and should not be limited to our fallible thoughts.

And so we proceed by intuition; the line between thinking and feeling is blurred; and we become swayed, not by arguments themselves, but by impressions – subtle, emotional, or subconscious reactions to complex, contentious, and charged issues (such as religion and politics). These impressions affect us profoundly, especially with regards to what standards of proof we demand. I cannot ascertain the substance of your past and present impressions concerning religion, but I hope that you will consciously evaluate your religious impressions, as I have sought to evaluate mine. In particular, I hope that you will not misunderstand the philosophical God I have hitherto defended – a God who, though similar to the Christian God, is not necessarily identical to Him.

You will notice that my belief in God is significantly grounded in my impressions about Christianity (and, to a lesser extent, my negative impressions about deism and atheism). To a certain extent, this is inescapable, because it is difficult for us to separate the person of God from the idea of God. (Indeed, I believe it is impossible to extricate impressions from our mental processes, nor do I see that it would be productive to do so.) For a long time, I believed in the idea of the Christian God without acknowledging Him as a person. Mlle. L'Engle said, 'Those who believe they believe in God but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God Himself.' At some point, my belief that God existed became a conviction that God was beautiful – and even Beauty. It will be a useful enterprise for you to ponder the person and idea of God separately.

Unfortunately, you will notice that I cannot prove the idea of God. In this letter, I have sought to demonstrate that the idea of a Christian God is plausible – much more plausible, in fact, than any alternative. Such a demonstration does not technically constitute a proof. But my endeavor here was not to prove to you the existence of the Christian God, but to enumerate both my rational arguments and my more nuanced impressions concerning Him. Every which way I consider the matter, the Christian God (or theistic God) becomes more and more unavoidable. During those times in my life when I would have desired to leave Christianity, I could not bring myself to believe in its falsity. I could not do away with God, and the thought of doing so terrified me; like M. Geisler, I did not have enough faith to be an atheist. I cannot say that my arguments for the existence of God are 'sufficient,' because I do not see how we can determine what are sufficient grounds for believing something. All I can say is that I have considered the matter quite carefully and remain convinced of God's existence.

Nonetheless, you apparently are not convinced – and you have raised some compelling objections to the existence of God (or at least to the necessity of God's existence) which now demand my attention.

In your letter to me, you mentioned a question asked by many men before you, a question which drove M. Russell away from theism: Who created the Creator? If God explains the universe, whence God? Furthermore, you stated that my position could not explain the universe any more than yours could.

My first response is that is not logically possible for a perfect explanation to exist, because justification cannot be a closed system. I have mentioned the Münchhausen-Trilemma to you before, and I will quickly restate its ideas here. For us to know any truth with certainty, we must have justification for believing it – but to know the justification with certainty requires further justification. It is easy to see how perfect justification then becomes impossible. (I always think of Todd Anderson's words in Dead Poets Society: the truth is rather like a blanket which cannot cover everything up. If you try to cover up one thing, you uncover something else.) Chesterton put it more eloquently: 'Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.'

With regards to your initial question about who created the Creator, I would only note that God, as a being Who exists beyond time, would not require a cause or a creator in the same sense that spatiotemporal entities themselves would. (This entire line of thought was broached tangentially when I discussed the Transcendent.) Everyone is forced to believe in something uncaused; the real question, then, is, What sort of thing could be uncaused? I can only conceive of an uncaused entity if that entity exists beyond time. And thus God is a much better candidate for the uncaused than anything else, especially that singularity of matter and energy with which the world began.

Another issue you brought forward was whether or not agnosticism was cowardly. I mostly agree with your Socratic formulation of wisdom: 'The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.' (Of course, I prefer Solomon's version in the ninth proverb: 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.') I hope you see that I have attempted not to exceed my philosophical reach; as M. Whitehead said, 'The chief error in philosophy is overstatement.'

I should begin by clarifying my own position on the matter. First, it is important not to conflate statements of belief with statements of knowledge. Agnosticism is a position about knowledge, not about belief; thus, as I have mentioned before, agnostic Christianity is not an incoherent or inconsistent view. Second, describing agnosticism as cowardly or brave is not entirely reasonable; agnosticism as such can exist for a multitude of emotional and intellectual reasons.

However, I still believe that many (if not most) agnostics are simply unwilling to acknowledge what their true beliefs are in the matter. Almost all the self-proclaimed agnostics I have met are atheists, whose beliefs have never struck me as brave or humble. In contrast, I have found that true Christians are very humble – much more so than agnostics and atheists, for the humility of the genuinely devout stems from lifelong submission to God. (So you know, I would not number myself among these devout yet.) Concerning this humility, I can only echo M. Muggeridge's words: 'Animistic savages prostrating themselves before a painted stone have always seemed to me to be nearer the truth than any Einstein or Bertrand Russell.' If I were to name the primary impetus behind atheism today, it would be pride. In my opinion, emotional (and spiritual) factors such as pride are a main influence upon someone's willingness to believe in God. (In your letter, you wrote that your political beliefs were in your 'character.' Religious – or irreligious – beliefs are hardly different.) But this entire argument about agnosticism's bravery implies that we have direct control over our beliefs, which you know from your own experience to be untrue.

Is my appeal to God an 'appeal to the unknown,' as you suggest? I know of no argument that can preclude or falsify unknown alternatives, and so, in a sense, I am defenseless against this claim. I can only say that science, in my view, could never explain itself in the same sense in which God can. Science is not some mystical force that marches irrevocably toward the Truth; it is a collection of our interpretations of data about how reality changes in time. And our interpretations, though often meticulously refined, are inevitably human and limited to a specific set of statements about reality. For example, science cannot answer Leibniz' question, 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' (I could name several other questions which science cannot, and almost certainly can never, answer.) You contend that my God is a 'God of the gaps' used to explain phænomena that science cannot yet explain. I would counter that my God is not merely an explanation for scientific phænomena, but also one for science itself. For all these reasons, I do not believe that your faith in science (which Lewis called 'mellontolatry,' or worship of the future) is entirely warranted.

You assert that you have more 'evidence that science will prove capable of finding solutions than that the Christian God exists.' I will reply with the words of M. Jastrow: 'There is a kind of religion in science, it is the religion of a person who believes there is order and harmony in the universe, and every effect must have its cause, there is no first cause.... This religious faith of the scientist is violated by the discovery that the world had a beginning under conditions in which the known laws of physics are not valid, and as a product of forces or circumstances we cannot discover. When that happens, the scientist has lost control.... Consider the enormity of the problem. Science has proven that the universe exploded into being at a certain moment. It asks, what cause produced the effect? Who or what put the matter and energy in the universe? Was the universe created out of nothing, or was it gathered together out of pre-existing materials? And science cannot answer these questions.'

Your 'evidence' for science's ability to find solutions to these problems can be nothing more than inductive reasoning applied to the wrong category of question. And, ironically, science itself has removed what was the linchpin of atheistic arguments until not even a century ago – for science has demonstrated that the world had a beginning. I return to M. Jastrow: 'For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.'

For millennia, atheists founded their unbelief in the knowledge that theists could not prove that the world had a beginning. This past century, science essentially proved that the world had a beginning – and yet atheism did not retreat, but has continued to advance (and even prosper) thenceforth. I ask you to ponder why that is, and to remember that the Pharisees who crucified Jesus were the very same men who witnessed his miracles. M. James spoke of the Will to Believe; the Will to Disbelieve is just as real.

You mention the paradox of the stone (or of the burrito), a quite interesting problem. As far as I can tell, this is the only argument you have advanced which concerns solely the Christian God and not the deistic God; all the others apply as much to the latter as to the former. (The reason for this is that only the Christian God is allegedly omnipotent.) Thus, in my view, the paradox of the stone is the only argument you have advanced that favors deism over theism. If the paradox of the stone can be dismantled, it seems to me that Christian theism is much more philosophically rigorous than deism (whether or not it ultimately is true).

I fear that my initial tripartite response to this paradox was flawed, and I hope that I can correct my errors here. The simplest way to answer the paradox is to consider what God's 'omnipotence,' as described in scripture, actually entails; a quandary for the Christian arises only if scripture attributes to God that which is incoherent. But there is no reason to believe that the idea of omnipotence as espoused in scripture connotes the ability to violate logic; thus, the paradox of the stone is irrelevant. To illustrate this point, consider that scripture says that God cannot lie (Titus i.2); as you can see, the Bible itself asserts that God is technically 'bound' by some 'law.' God's omnipotence, then, signifies only complete dominion over nature and all active powers, not over 'logic' or 'morality.' Obviously, this sort of omnipotence is perfectly compatible with logic. Because neither 'logic' nor 'morality' is active in any sense – in fact, it is questionable whether they exist as anything more than descriptors of other entities and actions – God's being 'bound' by them is not troublesome at all. Essentially, the paradox of the stone depends upon an anachronistic understanding of omnipotence.

You observe next some potential flaws in my argument based on what you called the 'statistical unlikelihood of human life evolving,' referring also to multiverse theories related to this issue. Note that I was not employing the argument from 'statistical unlikelihood' as an argument for the existence of God (though I believe that it could function as such when conjoined with other arguments); rather, I was invoking it to answer the separate question, What is the nature of the Transcendent? I believe the fact that the Transcendent brought into existence a world which could support sentient life is extremely telling. ('Who knows what other life forms could have developed if gravity were GM1M2/S3?' From what I have read, scientists are able to simulate alternate universes with an impressive degree of precision. Of all the possibly universes that could exist, very few can support stable atoms, let alone stable multicellular organisms.)

Apparently, you are under the impression that I said multiverses could resolve the flaws in my argument. On the contrary, few things could be more damaging to this aspect of my argument than the existence of parallel universes. (This is one reason scientists have postulated the existence of parallel universes; in a way, they provide a much more comforting and "scientific explanation than deism or theism.) Of course, I see no reason to believe that parallel universes exist or could exist, nor do I see how we could ever directly observe universes which never intersected ours.

Finally, you propose some of Ayn Rand's idea of man as an alternative to Christianity. Though this does not directly pertain to the main purpose of your letter or my response, I feel it necessary to comment on Mlle. Rand's views. You write, 'Her characters have been described as "flat," but I view them more as super-humans, the ideal you strive to achieve. You don't need to see or know anything besides the ideal, because that is your only goal.' Then, you quote Rand herself: 'Do not lose your knowledge that man's proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all.'

Perhaps her characters are ideal; but even if they are, they represent an ideal which we cannot achieve. Perhaps man's natural estate is an upright posture; but even if it is, man has fallen and cannot bring himself to rise again. Perhaps our minds should be intransigent; but even if they should be, they most certainly are not. You say that Rand's characters are super-human. I say that they are not human at all; they are machines. Humans are weak and stunted and far too often evil – our hearts are hearts of darkness. Humans are those whom Mlle. Rand regards with contempt.

I propose, as an alternative to Howard Roark and Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden, the twisted and rent body of Jesus Christ. Should man remain upright? Perhaps – yet Christ hung low and limp upon the cross. Should we remain unflinching and uncompromising and 'intransigent'? Yet Christ became obedient to Death, even death on a cross (Philippians ii. 8); 'and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth' (Isaiah liii. 7). Let Rand proudly boast all the more, yet Christ's words upon the cross were broken: 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?' (Matthew xxvii. 46) Let her conquer the world with her strength; Christ shall conquer the world with his love.

God help us [] if we are called to save ourselves; I know that I cannot. The truth is that the ideal is far, far greater than anything Rand ever devised: the ideal is perfection itself, Love itself, Jesus himself. And the miracle is that we can draw closer to this ideal, not merely when we rise, but even when we stumble. For my God has promised this to me: 'My grace is sufficient for thee, for My power is made perfect in weakness' (2 Corinthians xii. 9). Mlle. Rand may keep her philosophers, kings, and giants. Christ will call the weak, the poor, and the downtrodden – the human.

Everything fades []. People die or move away; old friendships sputter out; our aging memories cheat us of our pasts. Things change. There is so much death in the world – physical death and spiritual death. Every lie, every burst of anger, every selfish act: with every sin, something – trust, innocence, beauty – dies. Something dies, and it cannot quickly be restored. Something dies, and you and I are powerless to do anything about it.

But God is not. And because of God, I know that Death itself shall die; <'for Love is strong as Death' (Song of Solomon viii. 6). All the earthly deaths that encumber and surround us will one day be utterly forgotten. Jesus' sacrifice will triumph over all of them; he will swallow up Death forever (Isaiah xxv. 8). <'God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away' (Revelation xxi. 4). 'Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us' (Romans viii. 18). And thus, we can boast: 'Where, O Death, is thy victory? Where, O Death, is thy sting?' (1 Corinthians xv. 55) For 'the last enemy that shall be destroyed is Death' (1 Corinthians xv. 26).

Aquinas is reported to have told another monk that all his works seemed like 'straw' compared to what he had seen. And as I conclude this letter, I know, like Aquinas, that my words cannot do justice to that beautiful Truth which has consumed me; I can only pray that the thoughts expressed herein will draw you closer to it. [] I ask you to look beyond my words; seek the hidden meaning. Do not be swayed by the Beauty without first being swayed by the Truth – but do not forsake either lightly.

'For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known' (1 Corinthians xiii. 12).



LEE! said...

hmmm... i don't know if you ever read your comments but i must say that your arguments were pretty well-informed and thought-out (which is more than what some of both sides of the "Does God Exists" argument can say). i think it was a little long winded in some instances but i'm sure that that was the Harvard virus plaguing your writing. ^_~

speaking of which would you excuse me of my ignorance on some matters and my inferior grammar/diction? you obviously are more well-versed on what the great scholars of all time have to say than i am, and i will try to keep up with the years of extra study and examination that you have over me.

where was i? oh yeah, right, a little introduction about me, my name is Lee!, and i met Jordan Monge while she was down in Orange County for the summer. the tale of her conversion has become almost a legend and because of a recent encounter with a poly sci professor who has a few misinformed assumptions and a apologetics lesson i attended the previous night i was interested in trying to establish my arguments to an intelligent and cultured non-believer through discourse with someone who has experience in this matter.

i think with Jordan's basis in the ideal of a "universal good" it is relatively simple to point out that human intellect cannot suffciently explain where we get these universal truths without some sort of super-being who sets down a certain standard of what is right and what is wrong.

my hypothesis, however, says that it is somewhat plausible for having a set of moral codes and guidelines if you accept the idea that there is no such thing as "good".

to do away with our definition of what is good and moral we must first establish a standard of what IS good and moral. because the origin of American morality comes from the Christian faith (and because i can't boast even a smallest understanding of other faiths) we'll use the Christian faith as a standard for what is good. so the next step in the definition of good is "what do Christians believe is good?" the most easiest (and most well-known) standard of good lies in the book of Exodus, chpt 20 verses 2-17, most commonly known as the Ten Commandments. i remember watching a movie one time where a character said that the Ten Commandments can be summed up in one word: don't. don't have other gods, don't disobey your parents, don't steal, don't envy, don't murder, and so on. if you reverse the term "don't" (or rather "do not") then you come up with the term "not doing". so in a way the Ten Commandments are not a list of things to not do, but merely a general call to self-control.

as well-informed believers though, we know that while the Ten Commandments are important they, in themselves, are not cardinal to our belief. Deuteronomy 6 (one of my favorite chapters in the OT) verse 5 tells us what the greatest of all commandments is, which is later reaffirmed by the Messiah in Mark 12:30. "Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might, and with all your understanding". while different translations use different terms the basis of the verse is the same: love God with everything you have and with nothing left behind for yourself. it is my personal belief that when you get this truth right, everything else will fall into place thusly making the Ten Commandments essential but not primary in our beliefs.

but what of the non-believer? if they do not believe in The One Above then how are they to obey the most essential of commandments that is integral to the Christian (and Jewish) faith? we must then relegate ourselves to the second of the greatest of all commandments, Mark 12:31, to love others as we love ourselves. it is the golden rule that many who profess themselves to be "good" say: don't do anything to anyone that you wouldn't want done to you.

LEE! said...

and so we come into a question as to where we get this sentiment: why should we be nice to other people? it is my conjecture that to find the origin of this sentiment we must work backwards from the end resultant into the ancestor of this ideal. why do we respect each? why do we have common values and goals? why do we have a community and why are we encouraged to participate and bolster our community? why do we have a community at all?

one theory says that it all started with evolution: for man to survive he needed to be smarter, so the babies born with bigger skulls grew up smarter and survived better. the bigger their domes got, the harder it was for both mother and child to survive during childbirth. so the babies had to have softer bones in order to pass through the vaginal crevice. but the babies were more fragile, so for it to survive (and for the human race to survive), the babies needed to be cared for. thus is the origin of communities explained.

but there is a certain specific linchpin that holds this theory of the origin of communities together: why do we desire to reproduce according to our kinds? i think the answer is relatively simple: if you do not compete then you are eliminated. only the victors and competitors survive because the species which did not have the ambition to grow, adapt, and change do not exist today, while to the victor goes the spoils (and the endless spiral of life, death, destruction and rebirth). the constant need to compete has eliminated the most obvious of options: peaceful co-existence no matter the faults or supra-ulterior significance.

our conciousness being a collection of memories and musings coalescent with our desires to compete and survive has led to fairly broad ideal of what society should be: to survive as a species we must help one another.

but the ideals of community values and working for the "greater good" is all frontal lobe thinking, what about the lizard brain? that part of the gourd on our necks that desires to be dominant or dominated, that which recognizes power and hierarchy? what does it have to say about survival? it is the part that desires to cull the weak and support the strong so that only the strong survive to pass on their strength to the future generations and to eliminate the weak.

thus it could be said that the balance between the frontal lobe (survival as a community) and the lizard brain (survival as an individual) has led to the ultimate combination of superior dominance on the planet earth.

oops ^_^;; sorry, got a little sidetracked *coughs*

anywho the basis of my argument is that our concept of good is merely a label to the general feelings of affections and the succeeding acts that go along with love. so how would you react to someone who presents this argument? that in all reality "love" and "good" is just an illusion meant to logically explain our innate desires to support and nurture others which human cultures around the world teach to us and in all reality these values are merely intrinsic to society through evolution.

i could go a step further and say that if someone has fully contemplated their existence to this point then they realize that without religion there is really no other meaning to life besides boundless hedonism and denial of the ingrained concepts of society (in a way it would be DE-volving because instead of using higher brain thinking the person would be going back to more basic and primal prusuits of sleep, eat, feed, mate, repeat) however my brain is starting to hurt from trying to wrap my mind around all these different ideals. >_<

anywho... what are your thoughts? i would really enjoy seeing your rebuttal. ^_^