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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pascal's Wager Revisited

I think Blaise Pascal, like so many Christian believers, was a wuss, a weakling, a chicken, a namby-pamby without integrity.  He separates heart from mind and uses game theory to argue to the reason for belief (and to rationalize his continuing participation in a corrupt institution).

That may be too harsh.  Here is another take on his wager that I find courageous.

Distinguish faith from belief.  Distinguish, don't separate.  Faith is the thrust of the human spirit that drives us to wholeness, to the unity of truth and value, to the good and to justice.  Indeed, faith is what gives the human organism the dimension of spirit.  Belief can be the expression of that faith. But often it is the expression of someone else's (or some institution's) who is trying to control your behavior.

There is as much evidence for the meaning of life as there is for its absurdity.  The evidence for meaning is our experienced desire to inquire and to know, pushing past what we have been told, challenging authority, and reaching to infinity. (What a wonder is our evolved ability to imagine and to know!)  But there is also evidence that the universe cannot be known and that our effort to achieve the good will end in vain.  Nihilism is always a choice and the response to nihilism is either suicide or narcotics including the narcotic of easy (or someone else's) belief.

When we simply accept the beliefs that have been given to us without question, when we take the tales of gods as reality, when we take metaphor as literal and doctrine as absolute, we abandon the journey of being. Such believing (I do not call it "faith"), in which those who seek outside the boundaries of culture are heretics and those who question priestly dogmas are damned, is the denial of human existence. In the name of God, we are choosing Nothingness.

So now the wager.  If we choose to go for it, despite the evidence against it, we will create the meaning for our existence.  If we, despite the obstacles, try to solve the problems we encounter, we will have a good chance of solving them (including violence, war, cancer, earth change, slavery, poverty).  If we give up, if we say we can't and need to wait for some outside intervention from the gods, then we won't.

I say WE.  This has to be a collective decision.  If enough people choose NOT to have faith, but to rely on beliefs, some divine or alien intervention from beyond, then all bets are off!

This is a different kind of game theory than I think Pascal was proposing.  The question is: do we choose to play the game of existence at all.  No certainties; but if you don't buy a ticket you cannot win the lottery.  And actually I think we have a lot better odds than the state lottery.  Or dei ex machina.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Wager

One of Vern's friends commenting on my heretical blog said that he would rather "die and be wrong about believing in the existence of God and eternal reward than die and be wrong about not-believing in the existence of God and eternal reward."

That's a rendition of mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal's wager. And it sure makes sense according to game theory as you learn it in business school when you consider the payoffs.  It's much less risk being wrong in believing than being wrong in un-believing considering the consequences of eternal reward and maybe even eternal punishment.  

I find that a pretty sad position, but one probably shared by most of the "faithful."  Their position is compatible with our "market society," as Michael Sandels calls it, in which everything is for sale, including, I guess, eternal salvation.  The motivation in belief is hope for gain and fear of loss.  God (or Saint Peter) keeps the books--a pretty unflattering image of a god.

I find it sad also because it is a loss of eternity in the here and now.  I think it is an abdication of true faith for true belief.  It is a different kind of gaining the world and losing your soul.

It fits with Pascal's dualism of heart and mind.  Now he can have it all without taking a risk.  He can put the superstitious dogmas of culture religion apart from a search for truth represented by science.  It is definitely not a position of courage.

When I compare Spinoza and Pascal, I see the former a man of integrity and courage, the latter a man of weakness without integrity. The institutional guardians of current culture preach Pascal in order to maintain the order that keeps them in place.  It is the responsibility of those desiring integrity to oppose them.

But I do have an interpretation of Pascal's wager that is much more acceptable (at least to me).  I'll get to that next time.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Heart has its Reasons

Spinoza's Solitude and New Jerusalem (see two blogs ago) raised the issue of sacrificing the truth and the search for truth through reason for the sake of love, e.g. Esther in Solitude; Clara in Jerusalem, and of course Rabbi Mortera, and the Jewish community abandoned by not compromising with a desire to know.

Spinoza's contemporary, Blaise Pascal, though a devotee of mathematics and science, remained a believing Catholic even in the face of (or maybe because of?) inquisition and disapproval. He introduced a new dualism: "The heart has its reasons that the mind knows not thereof," he said. No, religious beliefs are not scientific. They must be accepted by faith. Nevertheless, religious beliefs cannot be disproved (which of course makes them unscientific according to Karl Popper) and are still reasonable in the way of love.

With Pascal, love of and by God and love of neighbor are not rational in the scientific sense. And there is a whole realm of reality that cannot be accessed through intellectual reason. The heart has its own reasons apart from intellect. Otherwise we take the wonder, the mystery, the feeling out of life. "There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

I think Pascal's thoughts lead to an anti-science that rationalizes untruth. It furthers religion as the "god of the gaps." It also demeans poetry and mysticism by making it a sort of elitist enterprise. It separates the imagination from thought and critical reflection from belief.

Methinks that the dualism of mind and heart, like the dualism of soul and body and the dualism of nature and super-nature, is a false dualism--a fallacy that can be explained by neuroscience. In the human activity of adapting to the environment through the artifacts of imagination (images and symbols), these is an experience of self, distinct from one's artifacts, in upon with others and the world. We call this consciousness. It is there unreflected upon in the focus on objects in the world.

This feeling is not separate from symbolic activity or thinking or reason but a ground or contextual sense in the process. Here is the "reason of the heart," the feeling of being whole, the sense of transcending the senses, the wonder of mystery, the faith that surpasses beliefs, the magical part of reality.

Yes, the rigid intellectual can neglect the wonder of his faith and activity by being so captured in objects and facts "out there." He can get lost in the formalism of his mathematics and so be unmindful of the informalism of his imagination. He can neglect the artistic dimension of science and all human knowledge. He can literalize the metaphor. But I know no seekers for truth through science that neglect the wonder and the mysterious and the poetic. Just read Dawkins: The Magic of Reality.  Deutsch's: Beginning of Infinity.

In an integral humanity, there is no mind without heart, no faith without reason, no truth without quest, no reason without love.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Big Issues

Here are some issues with which to test any ethical model or theory of justice, good, truth, and unity.  Please add others or refine these.

1.  Human immortality.  So you've just turned 85 and your body is wearing out.  Through stem cell regeneration you have already developed a new kidney.  Your knees have already been replaced. You have had a heart by-pass.  But arthritis, colonitus, enlarged prostate, and, yes, forgetfulness still holds you back.  Time for a new body! Just like in Avatar, one has been prepared for you that is 20 years old. By reverse engineering your brain into the new body, you have it. Your sense of self, your consciousness, your memory are all there. Can it be done?  Probably.  When?  Perhaps by 2040.  Death pushed back perhaps indefinitely.

Should it be done? Should it be done for just those who can afford it? What will this mean to civilization if old people don't die but become young again with all their values, beliefs, prejudices? Are their criteria for selection? Who decides? What are the standards for deciding all these questions?

2.  AI.   Robotics have progressed to such a stage that we can manufacture robots with self-sustaining, self-correcting, progressively learning programs that can interact creatively with humans and other robots through language and other symbols and can adapt to and with the world through artifacts.  They have passed the Turing test for artificial intelligence.

Should we go ahead and make them?  Should we implant rules Isaac Asimov style?  Should they be afforded certain rights and responsibilities?  On what standards do we answer these questions?

3.  Sexual Morality.  Moralities, some conflicting, some compatible, regarding abortion, the right of women to terminate a pregnancy, and certain sexual practices challenge public policy.

  • One morality says that at the moment a sperm penetrates an egg a soul is infused from outside and the embryo has a human essence so that terminating the pregnancy or destroying stem cells from a fetus would be killing a human being and so should never be done even to save the life of the mother because even a good end does not justify an evil means. 
  • Another morality values the embryo as a human being in potentia so that terminating the pregnancy would be killing a human being at least potentially and so should not be done excepting for grave reasons (e.g. rape, incest, death of mother).  
  • Another morality values female eggs and male sperm as human beings in potentia even when they are not united to form an embryo and therefore forbids contraception, male masturbation, homosexuality, and any sexual conduct that does not lead to at least the possibility of child birth.
  • Another morality would value the life and well being of the mother and, not acknowledging the fetus as yet human until after birth, would allow her to make the decision as to her own well-being.  
  • Another morality values life as human only if it has the capacity for human life, namely the ability to interact with other humans.  Stem cells from an aborted fetus, a fetus without a brain or a brain so damaged that it could never interact with others, are not human and are not capable of being human and so might be destroyed for any reason.  
  • Another morality values life as human only when the organism has the capacity to be human, e.g. has developed the capacity to interact with others through language or other symbols capable of achieving human life, is not yet human and so does not have human rights.  But the parents do have rights to life and those must be protected without violence. 
  • Another morality says that all physical intervention (any surgery or radical medical procedure) should be a last resort and not used excepting for good reasons, e.g. continuing health and development of human persons.  
  • Another morality values all life and says that no living organism should be destroyed excepting for good reasons, e.g. continuing the general health and development of life on the planet.  
Does the public have the responsibility to protect what may become human or what is already considered by many as human life?  Does the public have the responsibility for the full human development of the person after birth, especially if the public requires the birth?

4.  Synthetic Biology.  Biology is progressing rapidly by understanding the fundamental building blocks of DNA.  Conjecture and experimentation (scientific method) with living beings and with the chemistry that is fundamental to life are the primary means of advancement.  Cloning is being used to understand the workings of DNA and natural selection in evolution.  Stem cell research provides understanding on the development of body parts.  Neuroscience is discovering the workings of animal and human brains through experimentation.

How far do we go?  Where are the limit if there are any?

More issues to come:

5.  Distributive Justice: wealth, poverty, taxes, market economy.  (Dialogue with Rawls, Sen, Dworkin, Michels.)

6.  Religion and the State: a shifting arrangement, role of civil versus denominational religion, religion and the development of publics.  (Bellah, Murray, Arendt)

7.  Crime/Punishment and Free Will.  How to think and act regarding punishment.  (Gazzaniga, Pinker)

8.  International Law, Morality, Ethics.  Globalism beyond economics, public and private, reaching beyond the old nationalism.  (Sachs, Dworkin)

9.  Civil Discourse, possibilities and remedies for civility, ideology and ethics.

10.  Global Urbanization, development of publics and democratic social change.

11.  Eco-Justice, problem solving planet health and human health on the planet.  climate change and all that.

12.  Liesure and Innovation.  changing nature of work and remuneration,



Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spinoza as Role Model

The DC Jewish Community Center is hosting a Spinozafest.  Two weeks ago Bernie and I saw a new drama in formation called Spinoza's Solitude.  It was a wonderful experience because after the play, we the audience discussed and actually made suggestions for improving the drama.

Last week we saw New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch Spinoza.  On April 1, after an all day discussion (a "Spinozium"), the congregations (attendees of the play) will be asked to vote on whether the herem, the excommunication and banishment of Baruch de Spinoza should be reversed. We will be out of town for the Spinozium so we were able to vote by absentee ballot.

What a courageous, enlightened activity on the part of the Washington DC Jewish Community.  Would the Catholic Church or even a local parish be willing to do the same for the inquisition and burning at the stake of Giordano Bruno?  I think not.

All this has me reading Spinoza, especially his Ethics, anew.  And I find this 17th century "free thinker" so totally relevant for today.  I think that as Spinoza and Bruno were at the birth-pangs of the Enlightenment assisting culture (including religion and art) appreciate reason, especially scientific method, and embrace modernity.  So we do well to consult them near the end of the old Enlightenment and into the new, from modernity and into post-modernity.

They follow in the path of many who were considered heretics, atheists, immoral corrupters of youth.  They in fact exemplify the faith that exceeds inherited and easy beliefs.  They took on the culture and religion of their day and were poisoned, crucified, banished, or burnt as a result.  And yet they were happy persons unlike their detractors and judges.  They were able to be secure in the truth--not the easy truth of the already-said, but the truth as emerging in their quest.

I was especially struck by the portrayal of Spinoza in New Jerusalem. He is excited to explore wherever it might lead him.  He follows his conscience even when it hurts him.  He is very happy even in pain because he is enjoying his quest.  He accepts and values doubt, ready to question all that he previously thought or learned.  He is willing to be corrected and even judged, and is ready to correct but never judges a persons moral worth.  He is avid to learn from the rabbi and elders, but also avid to question and surpass them.  He exemplifies a seeker open to new ideas and evidence.

Spinoza was precursor of the modern man who looked for nature's unchanging laws, scientific ideas to replace religious tales, an Absolute God or Necessary Substance ultimately accessible through reason.

But I think he is also a model in the new post-modern age of the new Enlightenment in which Einsteinian relativity has surpassed Newtonian necessity, quantum indeterminacy has surpassed classical determinacy, evolutionary emergence and selection has surpassed architectonic design.  He is a person that can accept ambiguity without cynicism, complexity without insecurity, irony without fear, criticism without anxiety, and meaning without righteousness.

Baruch, be my guide to the new Enlightenment!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Why like Dworkin's hedgehog am I centering on a UNIVERSAL ethic?

  • Because we are now a global species though still with tribal instincts and multiple moralities.  
  • Because our diverse culturally-based religions are sanctifying destructive behaviors.
  • Because we face enormous challenges to and opportunities for the future of our species.
  • Because we need a foundation for international as well as local politics, law, and civilization.  

How can we develop an ethic that is acceptable to everyone?

  • By creating a theory or model for moral reality that connects to the theory of all reality.
  • By using a foundation for this theory that is accessible to all.
  • By testing this theory for accuracy and continued refinement.
  • By offering this theory in diverse, culturally appropriate symbolic expressions.

What is the structure for a universal ethic and how is it discovered?

  • The foundation for this ethic is humanity itself.
  • The structure is human being as it is aware of itself in action, not as it is expressed.
  • Ethics is critical reflection on and interpretation of the symbolic expressions of humanity towards understanding the foundation and structure of a universal ethic.  
  • Ethics as a branch of philosophy, using the method and findings of science, aims for the unity of physical and moral reality, i.e. truth and value, and presents its theory for a universal ethic to the human community for continuing reflection, critique, and interpretation. 

How does such an ethics proceed?

  • Ethics starts by reflecting on itself and articulating its mission and method including a faith in the unity of truth and value in the universe.
  • Ethics reviews the work of others who have developed ethical theories.
  • Ethics studies the latest findings of science in regards human behavior.
  • Ethics immerses itself in diverse cultures and their literary and other symbolic expressions.
  • Ethics imagines a model by which human behavior and being can be understood in all its forms and contribute to the understanding of the unity of truth and value in all reality.
  • Ethics articulates the model and presents it to the community for critique.
  • Ethics explains and refines the model in the light of experience.

What are consequences of ethics?

  • More thoughtful political discourse.
  • Basis for policy and legal interpretation.
  • Commitment to living well by doing good. i.e. personal happiness through social service.
  • Principles and rules for community building.
  • Critique of culture, including history, religion, art and other symbolic expressions.
  • Faith and optimism in the human enterprise towards truth beyond superstition, universal love beyond tribal narrowness.
  • Standards for dealing with crises (choices) in the human enterprise.
  • Honing of the human ability to interpret respectfully, think freely, speak openly, and act in concert.
  • Respect for past learning and openness to future progress.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hedgehog Justice

I am pleased to announce that I have a new mentor.

Ronald Dworkin, Professor of Law and Philosophy, with accomplishments, honors, writings too numerous to mention here, has written his culminating opus:  Justice for Hedgehogs.  I am thankful to Pat Amer for introducing me to him.  

While the book is on order, I read Professor Dworkins summary of it and also in introduction to it at a symposium on it prior to publication and many other articles that he wrote.  I just sent off a letter to him with five points of conversation (and maybe conversion) and a personal note.  I wrote not to evaluate his work (I would never presume to do that), but to evaluate my own.  The five points were: definitions (ethics and morality), method (interpretive), principles (dual standards), ideal (original auction), and human nature. To which I think it all comes down.

On that latter I wrote:

In your efforts to avoid metaphysics and religious dogmatism, you say your dual principles portrayed by the imaginative auctions are substantive—not true by definition or by laws of nature.   Like Socrates, you ask your students to simply examine themselves to find them.  I agree.  

Yet, I think they are substantive because they derive from human nature as I think you do also.   You speak of the “test of conviction.”  You “appeal to Kant to say that you must accept that which makes these principles true for you is your humanity: the fact that you have a life to lead and death to face.”  I submit that that “humanity” is finally the foundation for your principles.  And it is in my reflection on and model for human existence, aided by many mentors, where I locate my theory of truth, good, justice, and unity.  “Dignity” is your formula. “Integrity” is mine. 

You want to avoid “scientism” in ethics as well as heed Hume’s value-from-fact warning and Moore’s “naturalistic fallacy,” as do I.  And here is where you will probably disagree with me and will perhaps set me straight: 

I think we can develop an elegant model for the structure of human existence that can be falsified using the latest in biology, evolutionary psychology, and neuroscience.  I also think that the structure of human existence is available implicitly and universally in every conscious human act; and that as a dynamic, developing, multi-tension structure is a “fact” that gives rise to an “ought.” 

I also argue that moral truth and physical truth are not separate but part of our progressive, though fallible, achievement of reality.  Therefore our ethics and our physics are dimensions of one great human enterprise, executed in community through imaginative formation of ideas refined and affirmed through experience.  I argue that the holy grail of a grand unified field theory has an ethical dimension.  I push therefore not just for a unity in value, but a unity in truth as well.

Am I looking in vain for a non-existent Archimedes fulcrum?

Would you say that I am on a fool’s errand?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sub specie aeternitatis

"From the perspective of eternity"--a phrase Spinoza used in his Ethics. 

It can mean a lot of things:  Objectivity: Backing up from the emotion of the immediate and considering an event reasonably with detachment.  Humor: Standing on the mountaintop and laughing at our small, silly concerns.  Humility: Realizing that our time and place are a pittance in cosmic time and space.  Irony: Recognizing that what we say and do is so relative, so temporal, so tiny, so insignificant.

But it can also mean: Substance: being a part of Nature and Reality. Meaning:  searching for the explanation of all that is.  Importance: experiencing a relationship to everyone and everything.  Ultimacy: recognizing that everything we do is a moment in the unfolding of the Universe.

What a privilege and gift that we who are living have the ability to experience the NOW.  It is in this PRESENCE that we are in-touch with all that is past and all that is to come, all that is within and all that is outside, all that is personal and all that is communal, all that is real and all that is ideal.  We are the BEGINNING of eternity, infinity, universality in our awareness of ourselves connected to all.  Though at an infinitesimal point of time and space, our QUESTION embraces the universe.

Living the good life and treating all others well is finally life and action sub specie aeternitatis.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Global Ethic from World Religions

Following up on previous posts. . . .

Friend Bob Toth in response to my blog reminded me of the effort spearheaded by Hans Kung, Catholic and Ecumenical Theologian, to organize world religious leaders into a Parliament and articulate a global ethic.  It is a great effort and formulation that is hopefully constituting a global "civil religion" and informing a transnational polity.

Here are the links: 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Religion and Politics Again

Religion is important to and cannot be separated from American politics. (You never thought I would say that, right?)

Spinoza, my newest mentor, says that religion is the extension of ethics.  He teaches that the intellectual love of God, whom he identifies with Nature not just as an object (natura naturata) but also as an subject (natura naturans), as the highest responsibility of humanity.  This I think relates well to the notion of God as Universal Love (John) and as the objective of the "unrestricted desire to know" (Lonergan) and the tenet that human knowing is the "beginning of infinity" (Deutsch).  But Spinoza's religion would be totally devoid of "superstition" including miracles, supernatural beings and events, holy writs, which turn people away from their responsibility to use reason. He was the first to use historical criticism of the Bible and to demythologize theology.

Aristotle and disciples say that politics is the extension of ethics since the personal flows into the communal and individual behavior is developed and shaped with others in the republic.

Therefore, I say ethics, right thinking and action arising from our common humanity, is both religious and political.

Old man that I am becoming, I remember President Eisenhower counseling all Americans to participate in a religion whatever one. Many of our priests ridiculed this because of course Roman Catholicism is the true religion.

But Ike was acknowledging what many thinkers then had observed: 1) that there is an American civil religion with its beliefs, rituals, and symbols through which all citizens became one nation, and 2) that the religious denominations were avenues into that civil religion, especially Protestant, Catholic, Jew (the name of Will Herberg's important study), but also Unitarian, Universalist, and Humanist associations.

I think that what is happening today is that the American civil religion is under great stress for a number of reasons:
1) a tension within the denominations due to theological/liturgical reforms (that terrible John XXIII!), the movement towards rights of "people of color,"immigrants, women, gay and lesbian, and the new transnationalism;
2) the 60s and 70s critique of idolatry in the civil religion; e.g. burning of the flag and other holy symbols, questioning of long held beliefs related to rights and the role of government, secularization of rituals (e.g. Christmas, Presidents' Day, and especially war) and addition of new ones (e.g. MLK Day);
3) new influential denominations arising that are not Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish; e.g. Mormonism, Islam, New Age; and
4) divisions, economic and cultural, more starkly defined because of mass communications.

So I think we are in the throes of a developing new civil religion; that is, we are a culture refining its principles.  There are those of us (usually older) who want to go back to that "old time religion which was good enough for you and me" and there are those of us who want to push on to the totally rational and secularized "new world order."

In Biblical studies we learned how the twelve tribes of Israel became one nation by pulling together all their diverse traditions including the stories of their different gods into one story and one god.  Their story is not very coherent or consistent, and admits of many interpretations, as any objective study of the scriptures will tell you.  But it was apparently good enough for a time which was pre-philosophical and more so pre-enlightenment or scientific.

The constant struggle for the Israelites remains with us today as we continually try to become one people: avoiding both idolatry and iconoclasm in our story.  Idolatry is making our beliefs, rituals, and symbols divine or absolute; it is a claim of eternity and infinity for human products.  Iconoclasm is throwing out the baby with the bath by rejecting the importance of symbols, rituals, and beliefs for transcending to infinity.

So while there needs to be a strict separation of the institutions of religion (church, mosque, temple and its products) from the institutions of state (government and its products), there really can be no separation of religion and politics.  The polity is made up of people's stories.

Can we share our stories?  The stories of the little town of Oklahoma portrayed by the Post yesterday or of the Amish community recently portrayed by PBS just trying to keep their values; and the stories of us Takoma Parkers, loving our liberal, urban, racially-mixed, sexual-orientation-diverse, secular-humanist, energy-efficient, higher-taxed-for-better-services community. And all the stories of communities around and in between.  Can we do it without name calling and demonization?  Can we do it with respect?

I hope so.  I have faith that we can.  I have a faith in humanity and its potential for eternity and infinity.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart dies at 43

These were the headlines at CNN.  And it set off a wave of wild internet comments attacking him and then others attacking the attackers as "typical liberals gloating over someone's death."  

I think it is very sad that 1) people would attack a person who just died (they did the same to Ted Kennedy it was pointed out), and 2) CNN called Breitbart a "conservative"--which keeps setting up this ideological stereotyping.  

Breitbart was NOT a conservative--at least not in the strong American Conservative tradition of Alexander Hamilton, Robert Taft, Dwight Eisenhower, Reinhold Neibuhr, Russell Kirk, John Kekes, WF Buckley, David Brooks, and to some extent George Will.  

My father was a Republican and a strong defender of conservative values (free enterprise, local self-determination, fair wages, social contracts).  He was also a strong social justice minded Catholic and the first plant manager in GM to put black persons in higher management positions and led the process in Cleveland to segregate schools peacefully after the Courts ruled. 

American Conservatives are positive.  They are for, not against.  Far from being antiscientific, they are a thoughtful and happy lot who value rational problem-solving over rash quick-fix actions.  They do not stereotype or demonize liberals and actually claim their own liberal roots in economy, education, and especially political decision-making.  They represent an important corrective in American politics to ensure that government does not dominate private decision-making while at the same time assuring safety and fairness.  They point out collateral damage or unintended side-effects that might occur if government over asserts itself at home or abroad.  They are often a check on military action and actions that discourage initiatives.  They promote caution when radicals of left and right are often pushing quick or unilateral action.  They warn against populism  of the left and the right, (the KKK Southern Democrats and the John Bircher/ McCarthyites), but always in the name of a pragmatic and rational plan for the future.  

Breitbart was not a conservative in this tradition.  Nor do I think that the people who are now dominating the Republican Party are conservatives.  

I want to start a project to restore true American Conservatism by going back to the masters and showing what that tradition is and how important it is to American progress.  Anyone want to help?

We strongly need a Conservative party in the US today.  I was hoping that Mitt Romney might lead such an effort.  But. . . .
We have enough swaggering hit-men out to shoot down "liberals" and "moderates" and "Rinos" by calling them names or sending out scurrilous information and so appealing to what is worst in American citizens.  

Theology and Ethics

I said that I totally disagreed with those (like Rick Santorum) who said that there could be no morality, no sense of right and wrong, good and evil, without religion.  I even said that religion with moral certainty is evil or at least the source of much of it since it leads to a violation of the categorical imperative found in the structure of our human existence.

But let me put on my old Jesuit theology hat and talk about God or gods, which is what theology does.  Steven Hawking in Brief History of Time indicated that scientists were approaching the Grand Unified Field Theory of Everything and, when achieved, would look into the "Mind of God." He was confronted and assured his followers that, like most scientists, he did not find use for any entity outside or beyond nature and was just using the phrase as "a metaphor."

Well, of course, metaphor (e.g. symbol, image, model) is all we have to advance knowledge.  According to Karl Popper, John Dewey, and all students of scientific method, we use our imaginations to make conjectures and then check them out by making predictions that can falsify the models we postulated.  The question is: is the metaphor "God" at all useful in our post enlightenment, post modern world.

I have discussed morality from an evolutionary psychologist point of view. Moral rules preserve and advance the species by helping us get along with other people.  Those rules are legitimated through laws and sanctified through religion. And from what I read there are three orders of "other people": 1) family, tribe, spouse for reproduction, protection, and emotional support, 2) friends and community (including neighborhood, congregation, service club, association) for social relevance and intellectual support, 3) city, state, civilization for cultural, artistic, and scientific education and support.

Ethics is a critique of the moral rules so that 1) we can adapt to changing and new environments and 2) we can satisfy a personal and collective yearning, wonder, hope for knowledge (including moral knowledge) and further our growth as human beings.

Just as ethics is a critique of moralities (e.g. comparative moralities in history or the operating ones in our culture), so is theology the critique of religions, their expressions, institutions, and rituals.  Theology means "study of god/s" and is taught in seminaries and divinity schools.  The "God" hypothesis is problematic.  

It is not a scientific statement because it cannot be falsified (Popper) and it is often a hindrance to science by blocking the search for universal explanation.  In that sense I again argue that literal theism is immoral insofar as it impedes the human moral imperative.

Supernatural entities by definition (admitting of no explanation in nature) are pretty useless for actual knowledge though quite a delight for fantasy and fiction. However, because gods can incite imagination and imagination is a vital part of science, there may be a way to reflect on religion and thus do theology as a useful human venture.  Can one be a non-theist and a theologian?  In my theological tradition, I will try to do that now.

The definition of God that I like most is the one in the Johannine tradition that "God is Love and we who live (and act) in love, live in God and God in us."  This ties into Paul's morality that there are three key virtues, "faith, hope, and love and the greatest of these is love" and Luke's indicator of the ideal community: "see how they love one another." And then there is Matthew 25, the beatitudes, which is love for the least of these.

But what is love?  If I can provide an explanation of love--especially through science--maybe I can vindicate theological thinking that God is Infinite Love and the purpose and meaning of human existence. Though I am not sure I care about vindicating theological thinking.  I am more interested in using the imaginative aspect of theology to further our human quest and prospect. 

Human thinking, action, and existence are about relationships, relationships at all levels, micro and macro.  We use our symbolic capacity--images, words, models, metaphors, formulas--to discern, develop, and verify relationships.  The arts and sciences are primary means by which we exercise this capacity. 

Neuroscientists have isolated functions in the brain supported by hormones to explain love bio-chemically:  Lust (eroticism?) incited by testosterone.  Romantic love supported by dopamine.  And bonding love through oxytocin and vasopressin.

But I would rather use the three orders I described above to define "love" as a uniting relationship among people.  In the first order, there is affective and erotic love--that of family and admirers.  In the second order, there is friendship love--that of companions and colleagues. And in the third there is transcending love--that of mystics, poets, seekers, and adventurers.

The third order of love is linked to the search for universal explanation and to progressive knowledge and transformation of the world or what David Deutsch calls the "beginning of infinity."  Infinity refers to the ongoing reach of ideas, the progressive search for explanation, the totality of relationships.  The relationships that make up the nature of our existence and especially the temporal, spatial and ideal dimensions of our social relationships is that third order of love.

Perhaps here is a moment to resurrect the theory of Omega Point advocated by Teilhard de Chardin and Frank Tipler.  Dennett I think rightly criticizes Chardin by inferring an inevitable progressive intentionality and directionality in Evolution. Tipler is criticized for giving Omega Point, occurring at the Big Crunch, unwarranted characteristics.  Both identify Omega Point with God--one that is becoming through the progress of universal understanding or explanation.

Bernard Lonergan analyzes human understanding in scientific method and discovers infinity in the "unlimited and unrestricted desire to know" and defines Being or God as the objective for the unrestricted desire to know.  The notion of God is our experience of our collective and progressive search for knowledge of our world and for unity in our relationships.  This notion can be identified with universal truth and love and is beginning of infinity.

I think this notion, which is really the dynamism of our existence with its transcending and intentional quality, gives meaning to the God metaphor without postulating some supernatural entity or order beyond or above nature.  That is, should one want to use "God-talk" (e.g. theology) at all, which I seldom do.  More important to me is the commitment to thought and action that will progress our knowledge and relationships which we make by continuing to question, to think, to problem-solve, to act, and to keep learning, never settling for old language and answers especially in the form of creeds and institutions. 

That, I think, is the "faith" beyond the religions and moralities to which great prophets, philosophers, and poets have pointed us (including Lao-Tsu, Socrates, Jesus, Spinoza).

And so, as a non-theist and a theologian, I think there can be a place for God-talk in good philosophy and science if you recognize its metaphorical character. Nevertheless, I want my church or temple to be without revelations from angels and gods, without creeds or infallible pronouncements, and without an institution that pretends to be founded by or on some Absolute.  I want the clergy, not as conduits of infallible pronouncements or mediators to truth, but guides to faith in existence/truth/love, encouraging us to go on searching and exploring even without finding.  So God is infinite love and the purpose and meaning of human existence--for which we personally and collectively must take responsibility.

I guess that makes me a unitarian, universalist, catholic.  In faith a universalist accepting the ambiguity of diversity; in hope a unitarian trusting that we can eventually achieve unity, and in love a catholic, inclusive of all without condition. If God-talk leads to this, so be it. But when God-talk gets in the way of this (as it often does), then I disdain it.