teleology & ethics

The word ‘teleology’ (from Greek τελος ‘telos’ – meaning ‘goal’, ‘end’, ‘purpose’ or ‘that toward which things tend’) is not a street-level term.  However, the concept of a purpose, goal, function or ‘end’ to things most certainly is.  It’s a common as anything.  Teleology is blindingly relevant.

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the most basic question

The most basic question one could ask is one which is asked and wondered at both by small children and genius level intellectuals.

It has various forms, and is worded differently, but is essentially the same question:

Where did we come from?

Alternate forms include: Why are we (or anything!) here?  How did things come into being?  Why is there something rather than nothing?

It’s the question of the ultimate origin (or original beginning) of everything.

A few things about the question:

First, it is valid to ask this question and to seek at least some kind of answer.  The level of certainty which one has concerning their answer has nothing to do with whether or not it is a valid question.

Second, we are never done asking the question.  Comparison between the various kinds of answers will never be finished.

Third, it is the most basic question.  It is the question where all other questions lead to.

Now, this most basic question has three kinds of answers (each with presumably infinite variations):

  1. Everything* is an illusion.
  2. Everything is eternal.
  3. Everything was created.

Now, I’ll comment on each option in more detail.

  1. Everything is an illusion. This is not a popular view.  Who would want that to be true?  More than this, it immediately raises the question of “If things are illusory, then who/what is having the illusion?”  Descartes famously said “I think therefore I am.”  So things are real.  Option one is neither desirable nor logical.
  2. Everything is eternal (uncreated/uncaused). This view encompasses all views in which the idea of an ultimate ‘beginning’ is rejected.  Cosmology (whether big bang theory or multiverse theory) seems to point ‘back’ spacially, temporally and causally to an ultimate beginning.  Also, even the views that are cyclic in nature would seem to be in need of a prior explanation.
  3. Everything is created (had a beginning / was caused). This view can be split into two: a) Everything is caused/created by a cause/creator other than itself; or b) Everything is caused/created/originated by itself.  More succinctly: a) Created by creator or b) Self-originating.  If it is arbitrary or ad hoc (which I reject) to postulate a Creator, than it is certainly and utterly arbitrary and ad hoc to postulate that ‘Everything’ just had to exist of necessity (by nature).  This leads me and countless others to conclude that the most rational and reasonable position to take (however tentatively or confidently) is the view that Everything was created/caused by a creator/cause other than itself.  This view encompasses all kinds of beliefs in any/all kinds of creators/causes.  Affirming a 1st cause does not instantly commit someone to any particular kind of set of beliefs – only the simple affirmation of a 1st cause.  Pantheism, Panentheism, Deism, Theism, Spinozian/Einsteinian cosmic ‘god’, Mother Nature, etc. are all encompassed here.

This question, again, is the most basic question and is the starting point of theology.  Theology starts with the assumption (and a rational/reasonable one) that the only valid answer for the existence of things is a Creator who is other than the things created.

Theology must be taken one step/level at a time.  It is utter nonsense to reject the general idea of a Creator because of some specific question at a later logical step/level.

That brings things to a natural breaking point, so I’ll finish there.

Can anyone think of a 4th possible ‘kind’ of answer to the question – or another example of one of the three answers given that I did not mention?  Other responses?

***

*The word ‘Everything’ is being used here in the most basic sense, to refer to all existing ‘things’.  Much argument can be had about this usage.  But not here.

pro-life atheists

In a very interesting find, this is a site of atheists (and agnostics) who are pro-life.

I think their arguments are (mostly) excellent, though of course it would be interesting to a) see how non-pro-life atheists would respond to them, and b) converse with them concerning things like how they determine (judge/establish/discover) the nature of human worth/value/dignity.

on reading genesis 1-3

What Genesis 1-3 is not: a play-by-play, atom-by-atom historical and scientific account of creation.  The author/community which produced the text clearly had other things in mind than producing such a thing.*

This is widely accepted by people who should know: scholars in fields relevant to Genesis 1-3 (biblical scholars, ancient near east religion scholars, hebrew linguists, experts on ancient semetic poetry, etc. – see relevant examples in the Denver Seminary Old Testament bibliograpy – updated annually). Yael Klangwisan spoke on Genesis recently at a TANSA event at Laidlaw college, and a very informative PDF of her slideshow can be found here.

Unfortunately there are two kinds of people I know of that both tend to insist that Genesis 1-3 is intended as a ‘factual’ report of the exact, literal events of creation.  These two types of people are (who would have thunk it!?) young-earth Creationists (YEC’s)… and many (not all) atheists.

YEC’s are convinced that science supports their literal interpretation (see pretty much anything on this site)…

…and some atheists are convinced that this literal-and-only-literal-gosh-darnit interpretation has been replaced by science (see the opening statement of Richard Dawkins from his 2007 debate with John Lennox – and I’ll put a transcription of it as the first comment below).**

Meanwhile, there are those who are willing to listen to what Genesis is really trying to get across, and who refuse to use science to prove their religious or anti-religious views.

*Many/most/all? of the characters in the Bible, for example, would have been aware of the poetic and metaphorical nature of Genesis 1-3, though would naturally have had little/no reason to question whether or not it took 6 days for God to create the world, etc.  A prime example of just how much the literal-ness of this text does not matter in Jewish thought is the story of when Ray Vander Laan asked the world-class Jewish scholar, Jacob Neusner how long the days of creation were; to which the reply after a long pause was “I’ve never thought about that.”

** No… wait… Dawkins doesn’t only say that the literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3 is replaced by science, he says that religious explanations in general are replaced by science…  Wow.

related magisteria

Whether or not one agrees with Gould’s famous dictum that Religion and Science are Non-Overlapping Magisteria, it occurs to me that unless a given Religion says absolutely nothing at all about the things which Science also investigates, then at least they will be related.

A far better question, of course, is how they might be related.

coins have 2 sides

-you can’t say something is ‘evil’ if you’re not already assuming some concept of ‘goodness’

-you can’t say something is ‘poorly designed’ unless you’re assuming what ‘good design’ looks like

-you can’t say something is ‘chaotic’ unless you know what ‘order’ is

-and you don’t have goodness, design or order without some idea of teleology

books on evolution and earth age

Over at xenos theology, Jonathan Robinson draws out attention to: