The material universe is all that exists. Reality is "one-dimensional." There is no such thing as a soul or a spirit. Everything can be explained on the basis of natural law.
___To describe Reality as consisting of Matter alone is a serious over-simplification. What about such intangible aspects of reality as Life & Consciousness? According to the current scientific paradigm, our universe began from a quantum state without matter, space or time. Yet, that immaterial pre-bang singularity (software) possessed the power to cause change (generic Potential), which could then actualize into active Energy (causation), which would further evolve into Matter (substance), Space (expansion of matter) & Time (extension of causation). Hence, Reality is multi-dimensional. And the dimension traditionally referred to as supernatural Soul or Spirit, can now be described, in natural terms, as Mind or Consciousness, which are not material things, but processes of becoming and enforming. Primordial Quantum State :
www.einstein-online.info/spotlights/quan...cosmo_path_integrals EnFormAction : Literally, the act of enforming --- to fashion, to create. The cause of becoming.
Man is the chance product of a biological process of evolution. Man is entirely material. The human species will one day pass out of existence.
___The human species of animal is an entirely natural product of the evolutionary process. But that systematic weeding-out operation has proven to be an efficient method for producing entities with self-consciousness from the raw material of un-formed potential. Random Chance is an essential part of the evolutionary machine, offering many paths from which only the best fit for current circumstances is Chosen by “Natural Selection”. Homo Sapiens, a product of Chance + Choice, has already surpassed its original material form, and will likely continue to evolve into more efficient future forms, with Choice, natural & artificial, playing an increasing role.
Truth is usually understood as scientific proof. Only that which can be observed with the five senses is accepted as real or true.
___Absolute Truth is not available to Science or Religion. Each approach can only approximate the whole truth with an incomplete collection of specimens. Nevertheless, Religion claims to have an unfair advantage in that it supplements the five senses with "supernatural" insights. Hence, it pretends to have true & final facts --- direct from God's mouth, or from inspired ancient sages --- by which specious authority it controls credulous & deferential human behavior. Science though, limited to natural sources, gets its relative knowledge the hard way : by collecting examples and inferring consistent patterns, which prove to have some pragmatic value for dealing with Nature. However, the sixth sense of rational inference has proven to be essential for determining the practical truth value of that information. It's true that other kinds of knowledge, subjective or supernatural, are typically dismissed by naturalists as illusions or self-deception. Yet, when grounded in "objective" facts, introspection & meditation can be of great value for self-knowledge, including the relationship between Self and All.
No objective values or morals exist. Morals are individual preferences or socially useful behaviors. Even social morals are subject to evolution and change.
___All human values are subjective, based on limited experience with physical and mental nature. But both Science and Religion strive to come closer to absolute objective values in their approximations. Nevertheless, even religious thinkers, who believe they have an absolute standard, will admit that we “fall short of the grace of God”. So, for practical purposes, we all make-do with relative values that evolve as our understanding increases. Naturalists don't pretend to have a fixed & final source of truth & value, from antiquity. Instead, ever-changing right-now physical Nature is the bountiful bible of Science.
2. PANTHEISM __(e.g. Hinduism; Taoism; Buddhism; New Age metaphysics)
Only the spiritual dimension exists. All else is illusion, maya. Spiritual reality, Brahman, is eternal, impersonal, and unknowable. It is possible to say that everything is a part of God, or that God is in everything and everyone.
___In a philosophical sense, our experience of Reality is indeed an illusion, in that our mental model world is an artificial construct. Our image of Reality, our worldview, is created by the mind from a restricted range of experiences, with gaps filled-in to produce a simulation of objective reality. For example, I have a blind spot in my left eye, but I'm not normally aware of it, because my brain fills-in the missing data with similar data from the right eye. So what I see is not pure physical reality, but a patchwork mental construct. As long as we agree on the essentials of reality though, we can overlook a few minor differences in perception. Anyway, I agree that ultimate Reality is Ideality : i.e. God; "eternal, impersonal, and unknowable" --- except as reflected in He/r physical creation. All we know of spiritual Ideality is what we learn from natural Reality. So if God is ALL, then "everything and everyone" is a part of the whole.
Man is one with ultimate reality. Thus man is spiritual, eternal, and impersonal. Man’s belief that he is an individual is illusion.
___I make a distinction between Ideality (ultimate reality) and Reality (proximate reality). For all practical purposes, Reality is as we perceive it to be, personally and collectively, and Man is physical, temporal, and individual. Yet for philosophical purposes, our constructed experiential reality may only be a crude model of an ideal (imaginary) world created by the Mind of God --- and made of immaterial (spiritual) Information. From our subjective perspective, people are isolated individuals. Yet, from a holistic or quantum vantage, all things are interconnected into a single operating system. Which is real, and which is illusion, depends on your frame of reference. From my Pandeist perspective, humans are not magical gods, but more like autonomous avatars of God in the Game of Life. John Muir : As soon as you try to pluck one thing, you discover that it's connected to everything else.
Truth is an experience of unity with "the oneness" of the universe. Truth is beyond all rational description. Rational thought as it is understood in the West cannot show us reality.
___Rational thought is inherently analytical; taking things apart to see how they work. So rational “truth” is understanding of mechanism. But the emotional feeling of “oneness” is indeed irrational, synthetic, and of little use for practical matters. However, it may give us a glimpse of what it would be like to become One with God. Unfortunately, subjective irrational "truths" are indistinguishable from lies, unless they can be verified objectively and rationally.
Because ultimate reality is impersonal, many pantheistic thinkers believe that there is no real distinction between good and evil. Instead, "unenlightened" behavior is that which fails to understand essential unity.
___The physical world is characterized by events that we subjectively experience as either good or evil, depending on their significance for us personally. But if God is “essential unity”, then the dualistic Yin/Yang, male/female, good/evil categories of the space-time world do not apply. Instead, God is, by definition, infinite in potential and all-encompassing. In that case, there is no distinction between Good & Evil, but a unified composite of all possibilities. Only in a space-time world can binary distinctions be made from a subjective point-of-view. Again, to think of a holistic deity as a distinct person would be illogical. Yet, enlightenment would, in theory, allow us to see beyond the particular details of reality, into the holistic meaning of "God, the Universe, and Everything". Unfortunately, even our enlightenment is limited, since "we see in a glass darkly".
3. THEISM __(e.g. Christianity; Islam; Judaism)
An infinite, personal God exists. He created a finite, material world. Reality is both material and spiritual. The universe as we know it had a beginning and will have an end.
___I think an infinite & personal God is an oxymoron. How can a human, whose understanding is grounded in space & time, relate personally with an entity undefined by those limitations? Of course, we can imagine & symbolize God in any number of material forms, such as a golden idol, or a holy man. But that's like having a personal relationship with the universe by communing with a grain of sand. Yes, created Reality is both Yin & Yang, both matter & energy, both physical & mental. Yes, the world apparently began with a Bang, and will end with a Sigh. But, the meaning of that brief story will only be known after the denouement, when all threads are tied together. Meanwhile, our model of Reality consists only of ideas in human minds, and of the narrative we create to make sense of those isolated ideas. Likewise, our various models of God are imaginary images constructed to illustrate the narrative we choose to believe is true. Denoument : resolution of various threads in a narrative; to reveal the overall meaning.
Humankind is the unique creation of God. People were created "in the image of God," which means that we are personal, eternal, spiritual, and biological.
___The human species doesn't show any signs of being a special creation. Instead we appear to be only the current top-dog in the race of evolution toward some unknown finish line. We like to think of ourselves as made in the image of God, primarily in that we are self-conscious, and that we have some modicum of power over the rest of Nature. But, if history is a reliable guide, homo sapiens will eventually be superseded by a species more intelligent and powerful. Perhaps homo techno will be the next phase of creation in the image of God. That next generation of God's “children” will still be personal, but may be post-biological. And their artificial intelligence might be even more “spiritual” than that of meat people. Their lives may be extended, but like all things physical, they will have a time limit as defined by Entropy.
Truth about God is known through revelation. Truth about the material world is gained via revelation and the five senses in conjunction with rational thought.
___Based on experience with trust-twisting con-men, freethinking Deists typically are skeptical of private revelations to prophets and seers. Besides, which of the many revelations of various cultures is the most reliable version of God's Truth? The chaos of competing prophets & scriptures is obviously a product of many human minds, not of the singular divine mind. Since we can't trust all of them, or any one of them, to be the True revelation, our only rational option is to trust our own subjective inferences about God; which of course are just as fallible & self-serving as those of any prophet, but are less liable to make us pawns in a con game. A skeptical scientific attitude toward truth, may not inspire religious fervor, but it should provide us with useful knowledge of both Nature and Culture. From that philosophical foundation, we can safely speculate on questions beyond the scope of Science. From our understanding of the creation, we can form a plausible theory of the Creator.
Moral values are the objective expression of an absolute moral being.
___Most human societies agree on the big issues of Morality, but diverge widely on specific applications of those principles. Hence, due to the resultant cacophony of earnestly preached ethical systems, it would be nice to have a single final objective “thus saith the Lord” on moral questions. But again, which revelation & interpretation of those values can we put our faith in? Even the Torah was not content with God's hand-written list of Dos & Don'ts, but went on to “reveal” hundreds of minor rules, regulations, and elaborations. So we can reasonably infer from their complexity & contradictions that all moral systems are actually the collective expression of many subjective opinions. Of course, a direct mandate from an “absolute moral being” would be ideal, but the various value systems we now have are clearly relative and evolving. Perhaps the Creator intends for us to discover our own practical day-to-day morality using our god-given smarts. Just as physical nature is a work in progress, cultural morality is an unfinished evolving understanding of the right thing to do in unique cases.
4. SPIRITISM and POLYTHEISM __(e.g. Pagan & Primitive Religions)
The world is populated by spirit beings who govern what goes on. Gods and demons are the real reason behind "natural" events. Material things are real, but they have spirits associated with them and, therefore, can be interpreted spiritually.
___What the Pagan religions called “Spirit” or “Chi” or "Life Force" is essentially the same as what modern Science calls “Energy”, which is simply the power to cause change, to enform. Causative forces in the world have different effects, such as gravity, electromagnetism, strong-force, weak-force. There are even cultural causes, such as governing authority and military force. A “force of nature” is simply a natural phenomenon that humans cannot directly control. That's why the ancients attempted to flatter & bribe them --- as if they were conscious entities --- while scientists merely attempt to understand how they work --- as if they are mechanical devices. The Spiritual interpretation leaves us at the mercy of natural forces, despite our pathetic prayers & sacrifices, while the Natural interpretation gives us more & more control over them, as our knowledge expands. Enform : To form; to fashion; to create; to change form.
Man is a creation of the gods like the rest of the creatures on earth. Often, tribes or races have a special relationship with some gods who protect them and can punish them.
___What the ancients interpreted as divine mischief & punishment is simply due to the chaotic Butterfly Effects of Nature. For example, seasons follow fairly predictable patterns from year to year, but weather is unpredictable from day to day. Even modern weathermen wish they could have more direct control over weather, instead of resorting to giving gambling odds. The only thing special about humans is that the mundane causative power of energy has emerged as the almost magical power of rational mind. That imaginative & controlling power of mind over matter may be our "special relationship" with the world-creating Eternal Mind --- in whose image we are being created. Butterfly Effect : Due to quantum scale randomness, small variations of the initial condition of a dynamical system may produce large variations in the long-term large-scale behavior of the system on a macro scale. For example, earthquakes or hurricanes can strike suddenly, and without warning, in unexpected places and times. Ironically, their negative effects fall upon both good & evil people.
Truth about the natural world is discovered through the shaman figure who has visions telling him what the gods and demons are doing and how they feel.
___Shamans, Oracles, and Fortune Tellers are professionals with a knack for telling people what they want & need to hear. Most of their methods depend on the randomness of nature to allow them to discern meaningful patterns where laymen see only chaos. From those hints, they can construct an ad hoc narrative that fits the current situation, and which resolves the uncertainty about the next chapter in the story. That their communiques from the gods often proved to be wrong, is explained-away by the sometimes whimsical or inscrutable nature of divine communication --- “can you hear me now?” The Seers also resort to elaborating on (retro-fitting) details in the forecast that later turn-out to miss their mark. Besides, we forgive our fallible weathermen when their “three degree guarantee” is wrong. After all, the Shaman is only human. Retro-fitting : to go back and change something in the original story to fix a subsequent problem.
Moral values take the form of taboos, which are things that irritate or anger various spirits. These taboos are different from the idea of "good and evil" because it is just as important to avoid irritating evil spirits as it is good ones.
___Almost all religions, including the Abrahamic traditions, control their independent-minded followers with arbitrary rules of behavior and taboos for food, places, and times. But those nit-picky no-nos assume that the gods are a bilious bunch of short-tempered spooks, so humans have to "walk on eggs" to avoid drawing their fire. However, an understanding of how Nature works makes it clear that tempestuous weather, and other events, are on auto-pilot, and not caused by divine wrath and retribution. So perhaps our values, instead of scary stories, should take the form of pragmatic guidelines to avoid being in the wrong place or time, not because it upsets the gods, but because it's bad for humans. For example, Pork is good food for most of us, but an autocratic prohibition can make it seem noxious, for no apparent reason. That's not a moral value, but a test of faith & loyalty to the capricious rule-maker.
5. POSTMODERNISM __(Western Academics, Liberal Religions; Existentialism)
Reality must be interpreted through our language and cultural "paradigm." Therefore, reality is "socially constructed."
___Darwin & Einstein were born into a traditional worldview of abiding eternal reality. But the modern era experienced a barrage of paradigm shifts that shook the foundations of customary beliefs in science, religion, and politics. Postmodernism, perhaps informed by Quantum uncertainty, then emphasized the dominance of unpredictable change (evolution) and denied the validity of “eternal verities” & inherited truths. Hence, each culture and each person must question everything, and update the received worldview of their forebears, continually constructing a new paradigm to fit cutting-edge knowledge & circumstances. In that sense, reality is a moving target, an ever-changing mental construct, and not a fixed world outside the mind. But Postmodernism, and Existentialism, mostly appeal to Atheists, who expect no divine intervention, and place the burden on ordinary humans to accept responsibility for creating a better reality than they inherited. Deism likewise acquiesces to the reality of a world on auto-pilot, with no god to come to our rescue; consequently humans must act as the stewards of their world, while God passively observes what kind of social reality we are constructing. Therefore, if God is defined as eternal Ideality, and the Creation is an ever-changing space-time universe, then the notion of static Reality, perhaps spinning on its own axis, is archaic and outdated. The world is obviously going somewhere, and that destination was partly predetermined in the beginning (initial conditions), but may also be partly "socially constructed" by the collective choices of human minds. Of course, the options are limited to those preselected by natural evolution. /see Postmodern below/
Humans are nodes in a cultural reality – they are a product of their social setting. The idea that people are autonomous and free is a myth.
___Humans are free and autonomous only in the sense that they can make informed choices that affect their future lives. A sense of personal freedom is necessary to motivate us to work to make the world better. In the Quantum foundations of reality, elementary particles seem to be both "free" individuals, and amorphous nodes in a collective reality. As particles, they have specific properties, but they are also "bound" (entangled) to all other particles in a holistic "super-reality", known as "superposition" or as a mathematical wave-form. So, the idea that people are both autonomous and interdependent is a reasonable concept. Unfortunately, postmodern academics tend to emphasize the hopeless notion that we are caught in a socialist web of our own collective weaving. Yet, both political & religious Existentialism allowed that some of us retain the will and the power of self-actualization. If freewill is a myth, then it is a necessary belief for creatures with self-consciousness. Otherwise, why bother?
Truths are mental constructs meaningful to individuals within a particular cultural paradigm. They do not apply to other paradigms. Truth is relative to one’s culture.
___It's true that my personal truths get most of their meaning from the context of my specific cultural worldview. But scientific paradigms, in the language of mathematics, cut across the arbitrary borders between secular cultures and faith systems. Within a specific paradigm, facts are indeed relative to their immediate context, but some truths may be closer to general & absolute than others. PM may advise us to be content with our little pragmatic partial truths, but Science is motivated by the dream of ultimately discovering the ideal Theory of Everything. So we must get-by with our subjective truths, even as we search for objective Truth. Some religions hold to the doctrine that their scriptures are literally the "word of God, hence absolutely inerrant. Be that as it may, the babble of world religions, and worldwide religious conflicts, suggests that human interpretations of their "divine revelations" are subject to errors, such as subconscious cultural prejudice and confirmation bias. Consequently in practice, their "absolute truths" are relative, subjective and slanted. That's why the ever-evolving scientific method was developed : to weed-out factual errors and personal or cultural biases. Hence, scientific truths are not limited to any particular race, religion, or historical era. Confirmation Bias :
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias Culture : Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations
Values are part of our social paradigms as well. Tolerance, freedom of expression, inclusion, and refusal to claim to have the answers are the only universal values.
___"Tolerance, freedom of expression, inclusion, and refusal to claim to have the answers" are ideals established in the Enlightenment era, but seldom found in practice. Since each of us can work with only a fragmentary understanding of truth, we must be tolerant of the partial truths & values of others. Cultural relativism is necessary for a multicultural society to exist in harmony. But privately, we can each believe that our own social group's facts & values are the best. That's why postmodernism advocates religious & political tolerance of philosophical differences and distinctions. This open-minded attitude allows us to live together in peace, and to work together toward a common value system. It's only a mindset of arrogance & absolutism & fundamentalism that keeps ecumenical efforts from achieving world peace --- admittedly at the cost of giving up the feeling of superiority that comes with knowing the absolute Truth. Postmodern Religion : According to postmodern philosophy, society is in a state of constant change. There is no absolute version of reality, no absolute truths. Postmodern religion strengthens the perspective of the individual and weakens the strength of institutions and religions that deal with objective realities.
Note 1. I find that I can agree with the general philosophical basis of most world religions, but the particular beliefs & practices, and the fragmentary worldviews, of those religions are incompatible. That's why I don't claim to follow any of the major religions or the minor cults. Instead, I simply believe in the God that almost everyone believes in, but not in the God that dogmatic believers quarrel about and kill for. All of us, including Atheists, can agree with the understanding of God as known from our sensory experience of Nature. But the various culturally-defined images of God as presented by the variety of religious (non-sensory) “experiences” are contradictory. And that includes hypothetical Materialistic interpretations of God. Beyond the revelation of the creation, no one speaks for God.
Note 2. The babble of world religions can be compared to the parable of blind men surveying an elephant and describing what they discover from their isolated points-of-view. Each thinks its own doctrine best describes Reality. But perhaps non-dogmatic non-scriptural philosophical Deism could combine the most useful parts of those patchwork impressions into a single comprehensive-but-evolving worldview. As soon as it evolves into a mainstream dogmatic religion-among-religions though, I'm afraid that Deism will become another blind man groping the elephant of reality.
Variety of Elephant-Views as seen by Blind Men
Deism : a naturalistic worldview that rejects claims of supernatural revelations*, or authoritative religious doctrines, yet maintains a role for a loosely-defined self-existent precursor or creator to get the creative process started in space & time. Instead of spurious scriptures, mundane scientific methods are relied upon to reveal how the world is made and how it works. From that general understanding, ongoing evolution is presumed to be the method by which the world is being created over time. The common assumption is that the world did not create itself, but was a product of a self-existent creative principle, commonly labeled God. All living creatures seem to possess some inborn rudimentary ethical rules dealing with other creatures. But humans, with their complex multicultural societies have learned to develop more specific & objective rules of government to supplement their subjective morality, as summarized in the Golden Rule. * due to internal conflicts and lack of objective evidence.
Last Edit: 3 days 11 hours ago by gnomon. Reason: general revisions and editing, plus added material
___Where does modern Deism belong in this overview of spiritual decline? Somewhere between Agnosticism and Atheism? Note that the first step on the slippery slope from Holiness to Helliness was to question the inerrancy of the divinely revealed scriptures. All of the other stages of falling-away stem from that sincere application of Enlightenment Era scientific skepticism. Unfortunately, even an official policy of blind faith has not prevented Christianity from fragmenting into 1500 North American sects, and 15 faith families. But I don't see Deism on the list at the website below. Is it a branch of Christianity, or of Eastern religions, or a new departure from traditional religion altogether? Maybe it should be listed under the Liberal family, or New Age. Or maybe it's not a religion at all, but simply a modern philosophical worldview encompassing religious, political, and scientific applications. With faith only in evolving freethinking Reason, and lacking faith in an abiding absolute revelation of Truth, Deism seems to lack the emotional core that binds communities together --- at least until they fall-out or fall-away.