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July 19, 2010

WHY G-D?

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Why G-d?
A Reflection
By
Jay B Gaskill


Science has not killed the religious enterprise any more than Nietzsche killed G-d.  

[I’ll explain why I prefer the notation, “G-d”, later in this essay.]

 

Sigmund Freud was a comprehensive, adamant atheist, a man who rejected G-d, and who (revealingly) also hated music.  For the latter observation about Freud and music, I am indebted to Dr. Armand Nicholi of Harvard and his intriguing study of the lives of Sigmund Freud and CS Lewis.[1]  For many of us, music is a powerfully communicative, non-verbal medium, one uniquely suited to conveying aspects of the human experience that elude mere words, including religious inspiration.  If – like Freud – someone is implacably hostile to all religious sentiments, we might imagine that moving music works, like Bach’s Cantatas and Mozart’s Masses, would seem irritating at best, even threatening. 

 

Whether we are musically responsive or not, we are social beings who are able to build and sustain entire civilizations based on our capacity to form trust relationships.  We have developed a fine-honed cognitive suite of capabilities that facilitate the detection of authentic personality – and its absence , by utilizing the faculties of compassion, empathy, and other related – as yet unnamed – gifts.  Without this suite of cognitive capabilities, social cooperation and the development of civilizations could not have taken place.  They are critical faculties, not mental disorders, and they are as essential to the sustenance of human life as the ability to detect food.  Can we readily dismiss the same faculties, or discount the evidence they present to our minds, just because they have led some of us to apprehend the presence of Ultimate Being? 

 

The motives of those who reflexively dismiss all personal encounters with an eternal being, a higher consciousness, a benign, unnamed other (the descriptions are manifold), discounting the  countless credible reports of personal experiences of the numinous over the millennia as merely “psychological episodes” are deeply suspect.[2] 

 

I recall the stories of the aboriginals who, when first confronted with telephones early in the 20th century, believed that they were magical objects, inhabited by spirits.   For them only the notion that little spirits were actually inhabiting the phone could account for the strange voices.  The idea of another personality whose words and thoughts could be conveyed by some invisible medium, then somehow reconstituted as sound, was outside their paradigm.  For the secular dogmatists, the intimations and urgings of the divine spirit is just in our heads, as a psycho-electric phenomenon.  The notion that a divine being could exist, Whose words and thoughts can be conveyed by some invisible medium, then manifested as an experience within the brain-mind, is equally outside their paradigm.[3]  Of course this arch materialist view also reduces the profoundest of music to mere air pressure fluctuations stimulating electro-chemical reactions in the brain.  The truth of the matter is that mere physical descriptions of electro-chemical processes do not constitute an adequate account of our conscious being, let alone of beauty, meaning, purpose, goodness, evil and all the rest.  Yet this inherent insufficiency is advanced as proof against the real presence of Ultimate Being.

 

We are naturally equipped to detect personality and to care about the conscious states of other persons.  When we use these abilities to assess and react to other persons, Freud would say that we are of “normal” mind, but when we use the same cognitive suite to detect spiritual reality, it becomes a malign thought disorder.  I am personally persuaded that the emotional force of Freud’s reaction against the notion of G-d was a sign of a deeper antipathy.  We are entitled to ask, Why so fierce a rejection?  Freud’s project was to “clinicalize” the apprehension of G-d.  In doing so, he had to discount the use of an inherently useful human cognitive faculty (the same set of mental abilities we routinely use to assess human character) whenever that same process was employed to discern and apprehend the spiritual aspect of the human experience.  Freud’s very passion on the topic of divinity exposed his own pathology.  His was a neurotic reasoning process, probably something like - “I hate God; but it is immoral to hate God; therefore I conclude that there is no God”.  Freud’s fierce atheism, containing a denial of the possibility of any authentic spiritual apprehension, originated in psychological denial.  Sigmund Freud hated G-d because he hated his own father[4].

 

That we are free to believe and to disbelieve is not evidence for or against the reality of an Ultimate Creator Being.  That a large number of intelligent, sophisticated, scientifically-attuned minds actually do believe in G-d[5], provides us with some evidence that “there is something to all this”, after all.

 

Science does not instruct us to doubt the very organizational principles on which the scientific enterprise is founded, nor does it advocate unreasonable doubt concerning those areas of human experience and belief, such as love and trust, about which the metrics of strict empiricism are so obviously inadequate.  

 

There is a faith path in science itself from Isaac Newton through Baruch Spinoza to Albert Einstein, all of whom saw the handiwork of an intelligent being in the fabric of creation.  That faith has propelled the scientific enterprise.  It consists of a simple, but profound creed: that this universe has an elegant underlying deign so miraculously intelligible to human intelligence that many scientists are driven to acknowledge that, in the beautiful handwork of nature, we can detect the “mind of God”.  Nature is like a building, so beautiful at its deepest levels that its very architecture inspires wonder and awe at the Architect.  This sense of awe is itself a form of cognitive apprehension taking place on the same level that our personal encounters with a loved one do; it is the gift of the cognitive suite that enables us to act in the confidence that we with a real person and not a golem, automaton or simulacrum.

 

My own preference for the partial notation for deity (G-d) is more typically found in the orthodox Jewish tradition.  My reasons are congruent with that tradition, but more ecumenical.  The partial notation is intended as code for entire the set of traditions that share a deep caution about naming and owning the Ultimate. 

 

A deep caution and epistemological humility tend to prevail among this subgroup whether their sensibilities are Torah-based or not.  This is an effective consensus among those for whom spiritual awareness and critical intelligence intersect,  a diverse group that includes humanist universalists (my description, not a denomination[6]), intelligent mystics and the more sophisticated followers of the great traditions. 

 

The agreement is tacit (no conclave here), and concerns what can be said and should not be said about deity, however described, whether as “supreme being” or “being-ness” (as my Buddhist friends might say[7]) or assigned no name at all.  However we might understand our connections to this common Ultimate - whether we are trying to describe our nexus to the distant, deep deity of pure intelligence manifest in nature (the deity of Einstein and Spinoza, “the mind of G-d” tradition echoed by Stephen Hawking), or our bonds to the personal deity of Moses and Jesus, or our respect for the “Thou” of Martin Buber, or our sense of reverence for the “Cosmic Wow” expressed by the awestruck Carl Sagan[8] - a sense of caution is warranted. 

 

Forbearance and intellectual humility are appropriate for a number of convergent reasons.  We are wise to avoid attachment to the name of deity (which is why many mystics reject naming itself) because some of us are tempted to think that we own that which we can name[9]. 

 

And we need to be humble about our facile attempts at G-d definitions.  After all is said and thought, the truly Ultimate Being necessarily remains partly cloaked to us.  History records that G-d becomes present to many of us some of the time, but logic and our private experiences tell us that the Whole of the Divine remains partly and necessarily outside our merely human powers of description and definition. 

 

We moderns tend to sort into seekers (of varying degrees of persistence and enthusiasm), believers (of varying degrees of confidence) and anti-believers (again of varying degrees of confidence).  The anti-believers are cloaked in a cultural fog – a gloom that gathers more densely among the modern intelligentsia and occults the various aspects of human apperception of G-d’s presence.  Whenever the fog part to allow a few G-d glimpses to get though the group-think within the intelligentsia causes these insights to be dismissed as the products of superstition or as mere wish fulfillment or as psychological states, but not otherwise real. 

 

At the root of all these barriers to belief is the quasi-religious doctrine of arch-materialism.  Suffice it to say that the glory of a Bach fugue cannot be reduced to air pressure fluctuations that elicit certain “electro-chemical neurological changes in some subjects.”  Nor can a radio receiver carrying an inspiring musical masterpiece be identified as its composer.

 

The purely physical-mechanical accounts of nature and human are powerfully descriptive on one level, but having elided meaning from the account, their adoption as a comprehensive world view constitutes a sort of self-induced autism of the soul.  

 

At the opposite extreme, we encounter the ardent “G-d screamers” those men and women who are so intoxicated with the prospect of an alliance with deity, validating their impulse to dominate the rest of us.  This is the subgroup whose members can  blithely invoke “my God says” in the same spirit and sense that someone else might invoke “my guard dog will....” 

 

The real G-d calls us to our higher angels, while gently reminding us of our own status. 

 

JBG

 

 

Read Jay B Gaskill’s Lost Souls Coffee Shop, an allegory for the human condition. 
And The Stranded Ones, a near-future novel about a potential Armageddon-scale “immigration” problem.  Hint:  They’re not from around here. 

 

Both books are sold as e-books by Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ireadiwrite Publishing & 10 other on-line book retailers. 

 

Just Google “Jay B Gaskill” and the book’s title or go to http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Stranded-Ones/Jay-B-Gaskill/e/9781926760155 or

 

http://www.amazon.com/The-Stranded-Ones-ebook/dp/B002YQ2IN0

For The Stranded Ones.

 

 

And -

 

http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Souls-Coffee-Shop-ebook/dp/tags-on-product/B0035LCA8Q or

 

http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Lost-Souls-Coffee-House/Jay-B-Gaskill/e/9781926760285

 

For The Lost Souls Coffee Shop 

 

 

 

Appendix to “Why G-d?”
Gaskill Essay links:
About the purpose of the Universe, see http://www.jaygaskill.com/generatropicuniverse.htm
About the Universal Dialogue as the source of knowledge, see http://www.jaygaskill.com/i2i.htm
About the Nature of the Miraculous and the Miraculous in Nature, see http://www.jaygaskill.com/RealityoftheMiraculous.htm
And the function of Myth as Revelatory Metaphor, see http://www.jaygaskill.com/WatchmakerinLove.htm
And the about the need for a Resurrection of Ethics, see http://www.jaygaskill.com/lucifer.htm
Bibliography
Barrow, John D. and Tipler, Frank J.    
The Anthropic Cosmological Principle
                   1988 (1st Ed 1986) Oxford U. Press ISBN 0-19-282147-4 (paperback)
Bohm, David
          Wholeness And The Implicate Order
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Buber, Martin
          The Eclipse of God
1952 Harper and Brothers
Davies, Paul
          About Time
                   1995 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-79964-9
          The Cosmic Blueprint
                   1988 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-60233-0
          The Mind of God
                   1992 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-68787-5
Dawkins, Richard
          Cimbing Mount Improbable
                   1996 W.W. Norton ISBN 0-393-03930-7
The Blind Watchmaker
                   1986 W.W. Norton
          The Selfish Gene
                   1976 Oxford U. Press
Dennett, Daniel C.
          Conscious Explained
                   1991 Little Brown ISBN 0-316-18065-3
Denton, Michael J.
          Nature’s Destiny
                   1998 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-684-84509-1
Einstein, Albert
          Out Of My Later Years
                   1950 Philosophical Library
Kant, Immanuel
          Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals
                   1964 Harper & Row (1st H & R Ed 1948, German Ed. @1788)
Monod, Jasques
          Chance and Necessity
                   1971 Alfred Knopf  ISBN 0-394-4661-5-2
Penrose, Roger
          The Emperor’s New Mind
                   1989 Oxford U. Press ISBN0-19-851973-7
          The Large, the Small, and the Human Mind (Editor & contributor)
                   1997 Cambridge U. Press ISBN 0-521-56330-5
          Shadows of the Mind
                   1994 Oxford U. Press ISBN 0-19-853978-9
Plantiga, Alvin C.
          God, Freedom, and Evil
                   1994-1996 W.B. Eerdmans ISBN 0-8028-1731-9
Polkinghorne, John
          Belief in God in an Age of Science
                   1998 Yale U. Press ISBN 0-300-07294-5
          Beyond Science, the Wider Human Context
                   1996 Cambridge ISBN 0-521-62508-4 (paperback)
          The Faith of a Physicist
                   1996 First Fortress Press ISBN 0-8006-2970-1
          Reason and Reality, the Relationship Between Science and Theology
                   1991 Trinity Press ISBN 1-56338-019-6
          Serious Talk, Science and Religion in Dialogue
                   1995 Trinity Press ISBN 1-56338-109-5 (paperback)
Prigogine, Ilya
          The End of Certainty, Time Chaos and the New Laws of Nature
                    1996 Simon and Schuster ISBN 0-684-83705-6
Searle, John
          Mind, Brains and Science
                   1984 Harvard U. Press ISBN 0-674-57631-4 (cloth)
Schweitzer, Albert
          The Philosophy of Civilization
                   1960 Macmillan Paperbacks
Vermes, Pamela    
          Buber on God and the Perfect Man
                   1994 Littman Library of Jewish Civilization ISBN 1-874774-22-6
Weinberg, Steven
          Dreams of a Final Theory
                   1992, 1993 Pantheon ISBN 0-679-74408-8
                  

 



[1] The Question of God: CS Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life.... 

 

[2] The historical accounts of these encounters are as pervasive and persistent as any aspect of the remembered or recorded human experience.  Though their cultural expressions differ (thinking of St, Paul’s experience compared, say, with that of Siddhartha - who became the Buddha), there is an unmistakable common thread, much like the early accounts of the New World, strongly suggesting that an actual reality is being described, however different some of the details may be.

[3] One of my favorite writers is the physicist, turned theologian, the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, who wrote, “As embodied beings, humans may be expected to act both energetically and informationally.  As pure Spirit, God might be expected to act solely through information input.  One could summarize the novel aspect of this proposal by saying that it advocates the idea of a top down causality through “active information.” Belief in God in an Age of Science, “Does God Act in the Physical World?” by John Polkinghorne (Yale 1998) at p 63

 

[4] Freud later admitted these feelings about his father, Jacob Freud, who died in 1896.

 

[5] The Oxford Don, CS Lewis, possibly the most famous Christian apologist, began as an ardent atheist.  Anthony Flew, possibly the most famous atheist philosopher of the 20th century, changed his mind about G-d based on where ‘the evidence led”. Dr. John Polkonghorne, a well known British theoretical physicist, became an insightful theologian.  Arthur Peacocke, a prominent biochemist, also became a leading theologian.  On the so called “holy hill” above the UC Berkeley  campus,  the General Theological Union hosts The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, where scores of biologists, physicists, cosmologists and others explore theologies in which science and religion are engaged in a mutually supportive dialogue. 

[6] Let me put it another way:  These are the humanists whose ethic is rooted in human concerns, writ large, and whose ethical foundations are rooted beyond tribe, condition, and era.

 

[7] The Asian spiritual traditions reject dualistic formulas, like “either deity or mortal”, “either spiritual or material”.  Buddhists tend to avoid the characterization of the spiritual state they seek to attain in theistic terms, but the deep parallels with the theistic-mystical traditions are hard to ignore.  Strictly speaking, the Buddha taught a method, in modern terms, a “spiritual technology”.    That should not prevent us from acknowledging that it was and is access to a spiritual reality to which the adept seeks, not a mere psychological state.

 

[8] Sagan, in my opinion, was a nominal atheist whose rhapsodic reaction of the Pale Blue Dot of earth seen from space betrayed his closet deism.  He wrote – “It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” This is excerpted from Sagan’s famous commencement address delivered on May 11, 1996

 

[9] This is why I really don’t like the reference, however it is meant, to “my God”.


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