Simon Fowler's Blog

Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Posted by Simon on April 4, 2010

Resurrection.
Wave-particle duality.
Perfect Love.
Pluto not being a planet.
Purpose beyond reproduction.
The Red Sox ending an 86-year World Series drought.

Today was a special day to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ – and therefore the possibility of my own resurrection – and realize that I still believed this particular impossible thing.

We’re not entirely rational creatures (see David Rock’s work on how our brains work).

The scientific method takes a leap of faith in its non-empirical reliance on reason. And it seems to benefit very much from doing so. Being finite beings we have to start somewhere ‘inside’, with certain assumptions for which we have no foundations. And reason is a good one that continues to work.

But it’s not all we need. Purpose and love seem to have a role in our creatureliness also. Though not irrational, they don’t seem entirely rational either.

Impossible is one of those words that we should have a little bit of reluctance to utter. It’s too often used to shut down the mind and imagination. It’s too often the result of an unquestioned paradigm that itself fails to adequately explain the way life actually is, or should be, or could be.

When a friend cries out, in the midst of grief, “Why?!”, don’t give them a ‘reason’. When a student or colleague cries out, “why not??”, don’t immediately give them a ‘reason’. Words and reason are not always up to the task of explaining purpose, or [im]possibility. And neither are they often adequate or sufficient for demonstrating love.

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a seemingly impossible reality that yet exemplifies and creates in me reason, purpose and love. As difficult as that might be to swallow, before or after breakfast, He informs and empowers me about the way life actually is, could be and should be.

P.s. I tried to make this note include something about the First Follower project as part of my weekly obligation. In fact it has been present in my mind all the way through because David Sivers, Andrew Dubber and Andrew Wicklander are people who seem to you scream out, “don’t tell me this is impossible!” and they encourage others to go beyond the present limits of our imaginations. God has weaved possibility into the fabric of all his creatures.

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10 Responses to “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

  1. pagan said

    As fantastic as the world’s resurrection stories are, they can’t hold a candle to the legend of a friendly rabbit who dispenses colored chicken eggs to children once a year.

  2. Brian B. said

    Have you ever considered the idea that God is simply a figment of our imagination, propagated by memetics? Just as we fail to transform our imaginative projections and yearnings into reality, some fail to fully grasp the concept of death. Our fear of the latter and inability to achieve the former, engender in us the need to create an alternative domain where we can concretize inability and transcend finality. This new order of fantasy is evoked in God and Heaven. The reality is sense-paradigmatic and bio-linguistical.

    • sifowler said

      Very good question, Brian. I’ll have to look up sense-paradigmatic and bio-linguistical before fully answering!

      I think Ludwig Feuerbach established the ‘projection’ idea, happily adopted later on by Marx & Engels. So I’m familiar with it. And it’s certainly a possibility. But it seems to explain away, rather than explain. If the material world is all there is, and we’re products of evolution, why would the brain enabled this ‘fantasy’? And if it has enabled this ‘fantasy’ then presumably it has an evolutionary advantage. So, for one thing, it would seem foolish to choose a path – not believing in God – that has an evolutionary disadvantage. πŸ™‚ For another, if God is Ultimate Reality and therefore part of all reality (within which the created material order exists) then having a brain that can conceive of something that concretizes inability and transcends finality is to be expected.

      And surely everything is propogated by memetics? Even the concept of evolution, or sense-paradigms and bio-linguistics (you’ll have to explain those two to me). If the brain can be fooled about God, it can be fooled about anything. So what do we know?! πŸ™‚

      • sifowler said

        So it was Hegel, apparently, but Fueurbach really elaborated the notion. You now have seen my entire knowledge of the history of philosophy. I just happened to study Fueurbach in college.

      • Brian B. said

        God has weaved possibility into the fabric of all his creatures…?

        The brain has not enabled this fantasy, we have. Imagination is a function of a complex brain just as fusion is a function of gravity and gas. The central thesis here is not that God has created or weaved possibility, but that we have weaved God out of the fabric of imagination. To jump from knowing we have the ability to create phanthoms to actually believing one of those phanthoms created us is a leap of counter logic, I cannot make. The possibility that something exists does not mean it does exist. Swap God out for FSM and the a priori reasoning fails.

        Supposing that everything is propogated by memetics does not imply the subject of the meme exists, merely that an ontological premise has survived culturaly. Yes, the brain can be fooled about God, and indeed is. That is why we use the scientific method to deliniate the imagined from the real. Otherwise we would not be able to make things.

      • Simon said

        We, not the brain? Who’s “we”? A non-material reality, perhaps?

        We both inevitably suffer from a priori reasoning. Because we are human and finite, we have to start somewhere. I start with the premise of God, you start with a premise of no God. We both also start with a premise of reason (something the scientific method unfortunately cannot prove so has to take on faith :)).

        In this case you’re arguing within your own premise, not mine. I never said, and don’t believe, that God/phantoms are created in our minds. And I agree, if I actually thought that’s what I was doing it would not be logical to think that what I created in fact created me.

        I also agree that the possibility that something exists does not mean it does exist. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist either! πŸ™‚ It’s not possible to say one way or another. Other evidences are required.

        But I would still say that given the ubiquity of belief in God or a deity or a spiritual realm throughout the whole of human history to the present day, the burden of proof lies with the non-believer. It seems more illogical, or hasty, to conclude so firmly and quickly that God doesn’t exist, or is the FSM. As it would also be hasty to say – which I don’t think you would – that there is no such thing as morals (for which the scientific method is also inadequote). But as I say, one cannot conclude anything about God one way or another just because people believe, but the burden of proof shouldn’t lie with them.

        [I’m really enjoying this conversation, by the way, Brian. It’s fascinating stuff. And as much as I’m convinced of the reality of God (in large part because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) I’m far from a water-tight explanation of it all. I want the truth, wherever the search for it leads. And I fully expect material reality and non-material (incl. spiritual) reality to concord.]

        That said, you’re wrong and I’m right! πŸ™‚

        One other thing. Using the scientific method, how can you be sure God is a fantasy, a phantom? Surely you can only say, as Richard Dawkins says, to his credit, that it’s highly unlikely. But God would only have to reveal himself to you once for you to know he’s real. In the same way (and I love it when I make myself analogous to God!) you only have to meet me once in order to know I exist – and keep meeting me if we’re going to have a relationship – but you’d have to meet everyone who has ever existed and will ever exist in order to conclude, scientifically, that I’m just a fantasy. If an atheist is going to have the scientific imagination required to allow something as unlikely as wave-particle duality to be unveiled, then God should remain a hypothesis.

      • Brian B. said

        I start without the premise of a creation myth and it’s associated historical and cultural baggage. We do not have to start with that hypothesis and inevitably suffer from that reasoning. You presuppose the existence of God by choice not because there is any verifiable evidence. Your idea of God is based on assumptions. That your knowledge of God is that it must be true, it must be believed to be true, and the belief must be justified. Justify it. Logic can ascertain reason. Faith is not necessary except in induction. And even that is recordable with technology.

        Your argument that you do not believe that phantoms are created in our minds is false. Imagine a ghost. Now imagine a supreme being. You see, you can create God in your mind. Making that idea of God a human conceptual reality does not infer that the newly created mind-God is actually real. However the idea can become a linguistic entity. Embellished by mind. Propagated by fear, love, hate, wonder and ignorance. Nothing more.

        Speculatory assertions that the possible implies the probable does not make the less possible any more probable than improbable. Indeed, other evidences are required. Widespread believe in an unproven hypothesis does not bring that evidence. Argumentum ad populum. Just because you start from the ‘premise of God’ does not imply a contingency burden of proof on the unbeliever. On the contrary, it is your assertion! You prove it!

        There is no haste in dismissing the notion of God. A lifetime of reflection and learning. The moral argument is part argumentum ad consequentiam and part psuedo-high ground affilitaion. Some theists flatly believe that morality and religion are essentially the same thing. Under that definition, it is literally impossible for a non-believer to be moral. http://www.atheistfaq.com/2008/01/arent-atheists-less-moral-than.html

        So Dawkins says it is highly unlikely… and that God would only have to reveal Himself once… I only have to meet you once to know that you exist… But God has not done any revealing! You might think He has but he hasn’t. πŸ˜‰

      • Simon said

        I think we’re going around in circles here, dude. It seems you’re asserting more than I am. You’re drawing unprovable conclusions about the reality or not of something in the mind. I’m just saying that whether God or wave-particle duality is imagined or believed says nothing either way about their actual existence. (I’m sure Kant is relevant here but, like I said, I’ve already exhausted my philosophical history knowledge in this conversation!).

        You’re also asserting that there is no God, as though you’ve carefully examined all the evidence. Moving from the fact that he hasn’t revealed himself to you, to saying he hasn’t revealed himself to anyone and that there is no other evidence is an astonishing leap. At best, I think you have reason to be agnostic, that’s all.

        You also describe believers’ historical and cultural baggage as though you’re completely free from it (which is impossible) and that your own scientific-materialist & post-enlightment historical and cultural baggage is non-existent or entirely benign. Our cultural particularity is inescapable but that’s all the more reason for us to be open to the unexpected; which is what happened to me 20 years ago and, frankly, continues to happen to me.

        I do think there are other evidences, but I’d need to know what constitutes ‘proof’ in order to know if the evidence I have would be convincing to you. But for the sake of it, here are a few evidences (not proofs, just signs) of God or the non-material realm. Most of these I doubt you’ll find persuasive, but I think if you examined them you’d see they’re not easy to otherwise explain: Not in any particular order: 1) my own change of life 20 years ago and ongoing change, 2) the existence of the church (i.e. how it came to be), 3) the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 4) the history and existence of the Jewish people, 5) the prophecies of Jesus Christ, 5) total forgiveness, 6) unconditional love, 7) the desire and hope for justice and truth in this life and beyond, 8) moral argument (i.e. the mere phenomena of two people disagreeing over a moral point implies there IS a moral point), 9) the unsatisfying nature of the merely material, 10) the human longing for both transcendence and immanence.

        Like I say, evidences, not proofs. And they’re all worth being given serious consideration. As I said in my Good Friday post, I think my own testimony is a remarkable evidence that there’s a God, and I’d welcome you to interrogate me before you find another explanation.

        Finally, about the moral argument and atheists. Of course it’s absurd to say that atheists have no morals; that’s evidentially untrue. The comparison between morals and God however (and we should throw in ‘reason’ there too) is merely that they are both non-material. An atheist, being a fully moral being like everyone, believes passionately in something that he or she cannot see, touch or measure, and yet knows it’s there and desperately wants it. The mere fact that an atheist or a believer believes a certain course of action is “right” (whether using consequentialist/utilitarian or deonotological arguments) has no “scientific” basis. Sure, there may be an evolutionary reasons for the moral mind (we should expect the brain to be wired for morality) but those arguments are employed to explain ALL behaviors which means they end up explaining none (in my view). They therefore don’t help you or I to decide tomorrow morning whether or not we should be faithful to our wives or not. There’s probably good evolutionary evidence both ways. But you and I still make these decisions to be faithful. Given what God has revealed about himself in the Scriptures, I think our being made in his image is a very good explanation for why we (you and I, atheists and believers) feel the tug of moral obligation.

        I suspect I’ve just gone and started another circle here. But it’s all interesting stuff to talk through!

  3. Brian B. said

    Apologies for the brievity, bed calls.

    Philosophers have examined many arguments for the existence of God. None of which indicate that as fact. Let’s think about what you are saying: God revealed Himself to you… How? You had a feeling in your mind/body system and decided it was a calling/communication/awakening etc. That is all it is. If a man told people he was visited by aliens or the White Rabbit, we’d say he was delusional. Religious taboo suppresses common sense. I didn’t say I was free of cultural effect, merely free of the “creation myth and its associated historical and cultural baggage”. “Evidences” such as you’ve stated do not influence me whatsoever as to the existence of God. The inadequacies of the human condition do not infer a supreme being. I don’t know how you can think it does. How can your ‘own testomony provide remarkable evidence’ for God? Come on now? If you are willing to make that leap, what level of evidence do you require for other important things? Simple word of mouth? As Laplace said: “The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness.” and Sagan “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

    As an exercise, make a list of all the religious enhancements in your mind…free your mind of all belief in God, angels, devils, morality, afterlife, miracles and supposed devine purpose. When you have divested yourself of all the layers of beliefs, you will be truely free.

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