Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Everything Equals Everything

Hey, this is not bad!  First I tried Everything is Everything, that was my first choice.  Taken, 2004.  Then Everything means Everything ... 2005.  So I got Everything is Still Everything, but then it occurred to me Everything Equals Everything is better than any of them.  Available!  Who would have thought such a sweet name would still be free for the taking.

I am starting this blog on the advice of a friend who noticed that I have a lot of book reviews on Amazon.com.  Yes, I read books and review them for fun.  My genre is not strictly my own field (geography) per se, though it includes some excellent geographers.  My reading is non-fiction, to be sure, mainly science, including the natural and social sciences and tapping into philosophy, biology, brain neurology, physics, theology, geology, ethics, anthropology, history, political science, geography ...

You see, my passion is evolution.  The link to geography is clearly biogeography, and I am working up a course by that name to teach between my GIS and Cartography.  But this reading is all in my spare time -- I like other fields too.

I think I'll comment on evolution mainly, one way or another.  For better or for worse, and at the risk of sounding like an absurd scientific reductionist, I think evolution pretty much explains every living thing on Earth and elsewhere -- the origin of life, human consciousness, and much of thought and behavior.  Many people in the U.S. don't even believe in evolution or dismiss it as just a theory.  Even a few people I know have expressed their doubt (that's an embarrassment I must live with).  But most of the rest of us believe it, but have just a weak understanding.  I was a little fuzzy on evolution myself until I starting reading up.

There is something I need to say, and first I feel that I should throw up a bunch of caveats and apologies before I move forward because things that interest me include some things that are controversial.  The meaning of life, purpose, truth, right and wrong to name a few.  Though I love the words, I eschew obfuscation and wishy-washy implicators.  I try to be clear, I make mistakes, and am open to being wrong.  There.

Although I am atheist, I like to engage in conversations with devout believers when they will have me.  I entertain the Jehova's Witnesses when they come to the door, and I even welcomed some Unification Church folk too.  Nice people, I thought, and I enjoyed disagreeing with them.  Lo, they seem to like me too and sometimes even return with gifts!  A Jehova Witness friend sent me a book, and a Moonie gave me one to read as well. 

I read them both, as I've read the dominant religious scriptures.  When I was young I went through the Old Testament page by page, and the New, and with an open mind too.  I met with a Rabbi/scholar with a long agenda of topics that interest me, and recently I shared thoughts with a theologian and professor of religious studies.  I know I'm not going to convince anyone already so committed as they are; it wouldn't mean that much to me anyway. But I like to use these conversations to deepen my understanding -- to test the validity of my views and to refine them.  I try to gather evidence (including contradictory evidence) and adjust my beliefs accordingly.  That's the scientific method; no faithful shortcuts to understanding for me, thank you very much.  I am pedisposed, however to what Daniel Dennett wrote, encapsulating what made (and still makes) Darwin's idea so explosive: no "skyhooks," no devine intervention.  None of that is necessary to get us where we are right now.

I'm also agnostic, of course -- it's the only reasonable position.  All believers should be agnostic too, it's simply admitting you really don't know.  Atheism means you don't believe, agnosticism admits you don't really know.  So that's where I am about that, and it colors my views about everything.

.. which brings me to the name of my blog.  In a recent and thoughtful dialog with a theologian, he posited that viewing God as a "creature" or a "being among beings" is not a very sophisticated perspective.  People who do that are looking for straw dogs, he said, the sort that Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett knock down so easily.  God, he said, is not the man in the clouds with the flowing beard.  That might as well be Santa Claus.  God is the "ground of being itself."  Without God we would not be able to know anything at all because God is a precondition for all existence.  Therefore he found no contradiction between science and religion, God includes ALL truth, you see ... including scientific truth.
 
I thought it was a nice perspective -- a God of that sort could be inspiring to contemplate.  It reminded me of what I have frequently heard growing up in a liberal Quaker household: God is Love. God is the spirit of love, which radiates from being to being. It warms the heart, it's infectious, you pass it around and all sorts of good things come of it. Yes, love actually does that, and so the argument resonates. It sits well with me.  No "creature," no supernatural force necessary, nothing patently absurd.  Just true pure love.

Except we already have a word for love. It's "love." Love is love.  And tying it up with the language and imagery, myth and ritual, contradictions, mystery -- the obfuscations, or the religious straw dogs (who I consider "absurdly religious") is completely unnecessary.  Associating something so real, beautiful, simple, and pure as love with those firestorms of ideas even seems a little dangerous even, for love.

But I have gotten carried away.  He did not say God is Love, it was other people who said that.  He was referring to something much bigger, much greater, much more beautiful than love.  His concept included all of science, all of existence, it was the "ground of being," without which nothing is possible, nothing exists. It includes all things and all meaning.  Even when biochemists discover how life began (and there are four interesting theories that I know of so far), it won't matter.  God will include first life and everything else too. Even a deist God, which set everything in motion and then stepped back, so to speak, could have set it in motion before first life, and He/It would still deserve the credit for everything.

That comes back to the problem I had when God was just Love. We also have a word for Everything.



And so that's where I guess I'll begin.  Religion is not something I intend to dwell on, but hey ... if you have clear thoughts and questions about life, the universe, and everything, it informs just about everything else.

2 comments:

  1. Erick, excellent to have you in the blogosphere! This should be interesting. You and I, as far as I can judge, have intersecting, but not fully overlapping, perspectives on things. Evolution, sure... I'm all for it and it is context for my training; thought at the end of the day I find Dawkins, for instance, a little thin for my taste. And atheism, sure... but I am open to the idea that there is significant value of theology, and many aspects of religious belief. Anyway, bottom line, I am happy that you are doing this. Welcome aboard.

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  2. Erick, I found your blog thru Project Reason. I have similar interests, and similar challenges. I don't like using the term "Atheist" at all, because it sounds/feels like a refutation of a Theist. No one, I have found, likes to have their belief negated. Resistance is common. I have looked for a better term. "Seeker" (ala Herman Hesse) "Humanist" (ala Kurt Vonnegut). Agnostic sounds too wishy washy. I don't want to get hung up on the name, and of course, I digress from your post. I too am an evolutionist, but the thing that interests me is how religion seeks to validate their side by refuting it. Does the negation of one prove the other? Of course not. I think I've gone on far enough for a comment.:) I am so glad I found your blog, and I will be coming back. I have one too, called Foolish Questions. I put all kinds of stuff on mine, but for reasons of my own don't allow comments. (I will probably change that soon, to allow certain commenters). MartyKC

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