don't want to sound overly cute at this juncture, but I suppose you
have figured out by now that I am an Agnostic. I will accept just so
much of the "design" argument and creationism as is consistent with the
findings of modern science, and in particular, the so-called "Big Bang"
theory of creation.
While the jury is still out from a scientific standpoint, there is at least some sort of intuitive argument which can be made for creation as an anti-entropic process which would then require an "outside source" in order to avoid breaking the laws of entropy. Asserting that such an "outside source" probably exists says absolutely nothing at all about the nature of that "outside source," which some choose to call God. As a "devout" Agnostic, I believe with all of my heart, soul, and mind "that the nature of God is unknown, and probably unknowable."55 Accepting what we do know about creation and the laws of entropy, all we could say with any certainty is that God is "outside" the universe as we know it. That clearly implies that the nature of God is "outside" the realm of our knowledge, and that it is "probably" not possible for mankind to ever discover the true nature of God. Since religion deals with the realm of superstitious beliefs taken on faith, and the unknown facts upon which such beliefs are based, that is about all a rational philosopher can say on the subject of religion: there is something there, but what it is cannot be ascertained.
There are a number of what I call sub-issues which actually fall within the purview of one or more of the above, but which are usually discussed separately by philosophers. This section treats these sub-issues so that you will not feel I have omitted anything of importance from this statement of my philosophy.
One of the
definitions of philosophy includes the proposition that philosophy is
concerned with the rational investigation of the truths and principals
It seems that every great philosopher must draw some sort of
distinction between that which exists and that which does not exist.
Descartes has the most quoted jumping off point: "I think, therefore I
The question of existence or non-existence is more deep than you might
imagine at first glance because it is, in essence, a consideration of
what is real and what it not real. Descartes, at the point of the above
quote, was discussing the proposition that he could not rely upon any
information given to him by others, or even by his own senses, in order
to arrive at what he should believe as a fundamental truth.
In our own times, with incredible movie magic already present in many of our motion pictures, and computer generated virtual reality just around the corner, the thought which Descartes had in mind becomes even more a part of the everyday reality of the average man: it is increasingly difficult to discern the boundaries between fact and fiction in the sounds and images which are presented to us by the media upon which we rely so heavily. The old saw about "don't believe everything you see, and even less of what you hear" is even more of a warning today than when it was coined many decades ago.
Still, we must begin with some conception of how to perceive a fundamental truth out of a vast array of available information. After many centuries of relying upon scientific method for the discernment of fundamental truths, it would seem to be silly to cast that concept aside merely for the sake of engaging in the sort of self doubt that plagued Descartes. If some number of reliable and independent scientific teams come up independently with equivalent results, it is usually pretty safe to say that some sort of approximation of the real truth has been arrived at. We all recognize the limits on the use of scientific method, such as the fact that some scientists doing some investigations may discard some important results because those results are inconsistent with the bulk of the data which they acquired from their experimentation. It is all too easy for scientists to fall into a trap. However, when the use of scientific method produces knowledge which is then used to create a proven practical solution to a given problem, at that point it becomes quite safe to assume that the scientists all did their work at least somewhat properly.
The essential concept to grasp here is that we should neither put too much faith in the products of science nor should we put too little faith in those products. Either extreme is bad for us all. In the former case, we would be too likely to follow science down the rosy path to a great unanticipated disaster, such as what occurred with some drugs like thalidomide. We must activate our suspicions when the consequence of applying science produces any sort of unanticipated result. In the latter case, we must not discard the results obtained by other scientists which are seemingly useful to our own existence merely because we have not ourselves repeated the scientific work and verified the results obtained. We cannot advance as civilized humanity if we are constantly forced to return to our roots and repeat ourselves all of the scientific investigation which has preceded our present situation. In other words, we should assume that the properly documented work of respected scientists means exactly what it purports to mean, until we have some reason to suspect that something may be amiss in that assumption.
With that thought in mind, we can return to the question of existence which so plagued Descartes. I break the question of existence down into three states: existence; non-existence; and unknown. The first state, existence, can be said to occur when the tools of scientific inquiry produce a result consistent with the existence of the postulated item. This is the easiest to visualize: I postulate that you exist; I use some common sorts of scientific tools to contact you in person or through some medium which I deem to be a reliable representation of the true state of affairs; I am successful and we have discourse; therefore I have proven to my own satisfaction that you do exist. The second state, which is non-existence, can similarly be said to occur when the tools of scientific inquiry produce a result consistent with the non-existence of the postulated item. This state is more difficult because of the difficulties associated with proving a negative. However, so long as the postulated item has some attributes which are subject to perception when using the tools of scientific inquiry, then it is possible to conduct a rational search for the postulated item, and by the success or failure of that search, determine the existence or non-existence of the postulated item. For example, if I postulate the existence of a very large building, square at the base with 1,000 feet on a side, and 15,000 feet tall, it is easy for us to conceive of using the available tools of scientific inquiry to search for such a building and, because we will not be able to find it, declare it to be non-existent.
It is the unknown third state which most plagues mankind. It seems that there are many things which we wish to simply will into existence. Sometimes we are successful, using the tools of scientific inquiry to find some new existence which we did not know existed prior to our search. Of course, there is also the similar and closely related issue of wishing to will things out of existence, thereby destroying those things. More importantly, however, are the things for which we do not currently possess the proper tools of scientific inquiry needed to settle the question of existence or non-existence. Two important things in this last category are God and the human soul. We do not know enough attributes of such things to look for them.
Religions have traditionally postulated the existence of one or more Gods, but the results of several thousand years of careful scientific investigation has not produced any tools for contacting any such God at will. Many religions have also postulated the existence of a soul, at least for humans, but many also for animals. Again, no reliable tools of scientific inquiry have been developed to prove which creatures have souls and which do not, if any do at all. In at least these two cases, we are faced with a strong wish for those items to exist, but a totally inadequate understanding of the nature and/or attributes of the items in question. If we cannot accurately postulate even these characteristics of the item in question, then it is not possible to calibrate any of the tools of scientific inquiry to perceive whether or not the item in question exists or does not exist. Any such item falls into the third state of existence, where it is unknown whether or not the item in question exists.
Items which fall into this third state of existence, the unknown state, cannot properly be said to be the subject of scientific inquiry because science has no method to investigate them. But that does not prevent those items from being the subject of philosophical inquiry.58 It is only at the point where the philosophical inquiry produces something concrete enough to be manipulated by the tools of scientific inquiry that the question of existence or non-existence of the item(s) in question can finally be settled. Until that occurs, science might as well study something else.
God clearly falls
into the third state of existence: it is unknown whether God exists or
does not exist. As pointed out above, the question of the existence of
God is thus a proper subject for philosophical inquiry.
Many pages of philosophical writings have been devoted to this fundamental question. In spite of extensive inquiry, we know virtually nothing of the nature of God. Mankind wishes to will God into existence, but we cannot determine enough of the nature of God to subject the question of the existence of God to a rational scientific inquiry. Accordingly, natural philosophy, which embodies virtually all of the scientific inquiry referred to above, cannot help us with the subject of God.
Most philosophies deal with God as part of metaphysical philosophy, thereby assigning God as one of the fundamental postulates upon which the philosophical system is constructed. It is fundamental error, but we forgive those old philosophers who fell into this trap because they were each products of their own times, and could no more disbelieve in their God(s) than I could disbelieve in myself.
In reality, God is an attribute of moral philosophy. Down through history, people have found it exceedingly convenient to incorporate the concepts of divine surveillance and divine sanctions in order to persuade the irrational populace to behave according to the accepted moral code. In Christianity, divine surveillance is an attribute of an omniscient God, while divine sanctions come from the concepts of Heaven and Hell. The Christian God enforces the Christian moral code through constantly monitoring the behavior of all people, and on that eventual judgment day, each person will be consigned to either Heaven or Hell based upon the judgment of God as to the just disposition of each person, all things considered.
The Christian concept of God, as stated above, is fairly typical of the role that most of mankind has assigned to one or more Gods in the various religions which have governed mankind from the earliest days of civilized behavior. In effect, the leaders of mankind have always used religion as an instrumentality for ensuring correct behavior by the masses of humanity which comprised any given civilized population. This is just as true for the Indian tribes of Native Americans as it is for those who adhere to one of the world's five so-called "great" religions.59 In fact, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find any sufficiently sophisticated group of humanity which does not in some way possess this concept of religion being an instrumentality which attempts to ensure correct behavior by the masses, usually through some form of divine surveillance ("God is watching you") and divine sanctions ("God will punish you").
The fact that mankind has always found God to be such a useful entity when He is endowed by his creator, mankind, with the attributes of divine surveillance and divine sanctions is no reason for us, the inheritors of all recorded human intelligence, to adopt this concept of God as our own. As the Durants noted,60 sooner or later the time comes when the populace discovers that it has been conned by this concept of God, and as some sort of reaction to the knowledge that we have been conned is inevitable, the unfortunate usual result is the disintegration of the civilization. This same conclusion is the central theme of Spengler.
My Philosophy holds that we need not engage in such con games in order to have an organized and civilized society. In fact, if we base our concept of God on Truth, as opposed to the usual con game, perhaps we will succeed in breaking the cycle of periodic civilizations lasting roughly a thousand years each which have been thoroughly documented by both Spengler and Toynbee and at least discussed by the Durants. Maybe it is finally time for mankind to leave his period of adolescent development, through these cycles of civilizations, and form an "adult" civilization which will replace those cycles with a long term effort that will take mankind to a new level of existence. This is, at least, my hope.
I believe that most of mankind is aware, at least at a subconscious level, of the fact that our current conception of God is nothing more than a con game. However, at the same time, most of us are quite afraid of what the evil nature of mankind might produce if God is removed from the picture.61 Thus, most of us choose to manifest a belief in God which we do not actually possess. This is true hypocrisy.62
We have traditionally used the "fear of God" as a primary motivational factor. It is clear that this fear no longer motivates the majority of mankind. While the Christian "Right" proselytizes in favor of a return to a "fear of God" as the solution to our present problems in morality, the level of sophistication of most individuals will not permit the restoration of a "fear of God" as a motivation to "do the right thing." I do not believe that a "fear of God" is at all necessary to the promotion of correct moral behavior. There are a lot of us out here who believe in morality without a "fear of God." This is true because a true morality is beneficial to all mankind, since we can virtually all agree that the anarchy of having no moral foundations to guide us would be contrary to the required state for fostering the development of a higher civilization.
In a way, I choose to follow the commandment of Jesus: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."63 It is just that, with God assigned to the third state of existence, unknown, there is little left to render unto God. Most of what history teaches us about the concept of God is that the image of Genesis 9:6 is exactly backwards: man created God in the image of man, not the other way around. If mankind is responsible for giving false attributes to God for the high moral purpose of creating a better society, then mankind can also remove those same attributes and still achieve that same high moral purpose. We should not hesitate to state the human source of our own ideals, and to revel in our own ingenuity at lifting ourselves above the savages.
With our concept of God constrained to the unknown state of existence, the only true religion which is possible is Agnosticism.64 But this does not mean that mankind lacks a source of moral authority. It is just that mankind must finally confront this deep truth: mankind invents its own moral authority for its own purposes. Thus, when there has been a massive failure of moral authority, such as has occurred now throughout Western Civilization, it is up to mankind to invent a new moral authority, NOT to attempt to force a return to a now discredited source of moral authority.
c. Volition and Motivation
Volition is the act of willing, choosing, or resolving; or an exercise of the will.65 Motivation is the act or instance of motivating,66 which in turn is a variation of the verb to motivate; to provide with a motive or motives; incite; impel.67
Both of those words are derived from motive, which is something that
causes a person to act in a certain way, do a certain thing, etc.; in
essence, an incentive.68 Thus, motivation is a method of controlling volition, and again, these two subjects are closely related to each other.
Classically, there is a great debate over the proponents of predestination and free will. However, the concept of predestination arises only as a consequence of giving some concept of God a set of powers which are too great. Christianity sees predestination as a source of evil, and has thus modified many of its teachings to maintain a concept of free will for all individuals. Predestination is evil because it negates all motivation for people to conform their behavior to the defined moral rules. In other words, an adherent of predestination feels that God has predetermined for that individual to act in a way in which that individual desires to act, but which is against the moral rules of society. So, the individual justifies a morally despicable act on the ground that it is useless for that individual to fight against the forces which impel the individual towards evil because the result is predestined in accordance with the great script written by God.
Any decent analysis of human history will conclude that humans have free will. In essence, once you look at the grand sweep of history, you will see that there is virtually no describable plan to it all,69 so the conclusion is compelled that there is no great script, written by God, which predetermines all acts of mankind throughout history, past, present, and future. Virtually all major religions assert that mankind has free will, if for no other reason in that it allows the blame for morally reprehensible acts to be affixed on the offending individual rather than on God.
Given that individuals have free will, and can freely choose to conform their acts to the boundaries imposed by the rules of society or not, how do we achieve an orderly society as opposed to the chaos of anarchy? The obvious answer is that any civilization naturally motivates its citizens in various ways through allocations of pleasure or pain as the consequences of the acts of the individual.
As the old saw goes, "be careful what you wish for because you just might get it."70 So it is with the incentives and disincentives which society provides to its citizens. If there is any lesson to be learned from the history of this past century, it should be that a free people will tend to act in accordance with the incentives and disincentives which the society provides. In many a case, the government has established some incentive only to be amazed at the number of people who took advantage of the incentive, thus radically altering the whole behavior of the population. On the other hand, the failure to provide an adequate level of incentives is frequently blamed for the collapse of the economy in the old Soviet Union because it couldn't provide a wealth of consumer goods for its citizens. Thus, as the Durants predicted,71 when the people would no longer accept living in a constant state of a wartime economy, Communism was rejected and the Soviet Union collapsed.
There are many symbolic analogies of this allocation of pleasure and pain as the great motivational factor. The first which leaps to my mind is the image of "the carrot and the stick." When we speak of "the carrot and the stick," we all know that what we are really talking about is motivation through allocations of pleasure and pain. We should never forget that this is what makes humanity conform to the rules which society chooses to impose upon its citizens. And in fact, in the absence of divine surveillance and divine sanctions, it is just about the only motivational factor which can conceivably work.72
Social scientists have spent a great deal of time studying motivational factors in the context of a free society. One related field of study is even called "motivational research." Our scientists know a great deal about how to motivate people, and we should not ignore their teachings in attempting to remedy the ills which afflict our society.
One of the things which we have learned is that we do not need to create strictly economic incentives or disincentives in order to have motivation. People can be as readily motivated by other (non-economic) factors, such as glory, recognition, sensory pleasure, and so forth.
You can easily prevent the establishment of an undesirable behavior before it has manifested itself. However, to alter an existing behavior is much more difficult. In the case of an existing behavior, that behavior exists because the individual has found the consequences of the behavior to be more desirable to the individual than the (possibly remote) consequences of avoiding the undesirable behavior. Typical of this sort of motivational problem would be the issue of drug abuse. People tend to abuse drugs because their drug use results in an immediate sensory pleasure, while the offsetting negative consequences only occur if the individual "gets caught." The individual trades off the highly desirable immediate sensory pleasure against the relatively mild (at least in most cases) negative consequences which are also relatively unlikely to occur. Any such individual is trapped in a state where that individual is simply strongly motivated to be a drug addict, and there is virtually nothing which society can do about that drug addiction unless society acts to significantly alter the motivational factors which control each of the individuals in question. Accordingly, if society desires to prevent drug abuse, society must find a way to alter the motivational balance for each of the individuals involved in creating and continuing the cycle of drug abuse such that each of those individuals will be ready, willing, and able to reject continuation of the undesirable behavior patterns. If we cannot alter this motivational balance, then virtually all attempts at solving the problem of drug abuse are doomed to fail, because the many individuals who are highly motivated to continue their undesirable behavior patterns are simply more ingenious and inventive than the relatively limited number of individuals which society can afford to devote to the enforcement of the prohibitions mandated by society.
But directly inflicted pain and pleasure are not the only source of motivation. It is quite probable that directly providing such motivations will actually be quite rare, in the overall scheme of things. The most common source of motivation is probably money, in large part because the fungibility of money allows it to be used as a substitute for a wide range of pleasure and pain equivalents. In some sense, our present criminal justice system uses money to motivate by offering rewards (pleasure equivalents) to individuals who provide clues to solve heinous crimes and by imposing fines (pain equivalents) upon criminals who are convicted of lesser crimes. Our economic system similarly motivates individuals by holding money out as the great reward for desirable economic activity. The operations of many other social mechanisms may be similarly described.
The most significant non-monetary motivational source is fame, or perhaps glory. We establish certain psychic rewards for individuals by setting goals and establishing the rewards for achieving those goals. Sometimes there is also a monetary component, but in many cases, it is only the fame or glory which gives pleasure too, and thereby motivates, the individuals in question. The stories are legion of people who have invested huge amounts of time, energy, and/or money in order to achieve some goal of fame, such as to appear in the Guinness Book of World Records.
In fact, in any situation where the desired activity can be framed in the form of some sort of competition, society can easily motivate the performance of the desired activity by simply establishing some sort of rules and some sort of relatively minimal reward. This is true because, in many cases, the fame which accompanies winning the competition will be all of the pleasure necessary to motivate the desired activity.
So, to summarize, individuals have free will to do anything which they wish to do. If society desires to motivate any particular course of conduct, then society needs to establish an adequate set of incentives, which should normally be framed as a grant of some form of pleasure in return for any desirable activity and/or some form of pain in return for any undesirable activity. However, there is a virtually unlimited range of items which can provide pleasure and/or pain equivalents, with the two most common being money and either fame or glory.
55 This is the Agnostic Dogma, quoted from Book x, Section x.
56 See the definition quoted in Book VI, Section B.
57 René Descartes (1596-1650), Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking for Truth in the Sciences (1637), translated by Elizabeth S. Haldane and G. R. T. Ross, quoted from the Great Books of the Western World, Volume 31, page 51. This same thought is sometimes expressed in Latin as "Cogito, ergo sum" and in the original French as "Je pense, donc je suis." The original thought traces back to Aristotle (384 b. c. - 322 b. c.), Nicomachean Ethics, Book IX, Chapter 9, who wrote: "To be conscious that we are perceiving or thinking is to be conscious of our own existence." (As quoted in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 15th Ed., Page 87, Item 21.)
58 I have always enjoyed reading books and stories which are from the Science Fiction genre. It has always seemed to me that a large number of those works are essentially philosophical in nature, meaning that they deal with issues properly the subject of philosophical inquiry. I heartily recommend the reading of such works to any budding young philosophers.
59 The five so-called "great" religions are: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. They are "great" primarily because they have each survived for over 1000 years and have each kept millions of adherents into modern times.
60 See the lengthy quote in Book VI, Section G, for this sentence: "The moral code loses aura and force as its human origin is revealed, and as divine surveillance and sanctions are removed."
61 As XXXXXXXXX (XXXX-xxxx) is quoted as saying, in XXXXXXX (XXXX), xxxxxx xxxxxx: "I know not what exists in the heart of a knave; but I have seen the heart of an honest man and it is horrible."
62 Hypocrisy is the state of paying lip service to a belief not actually believed for the apparent purpose of receiving some benefit for appearing to believe. The most typical benefit received is simply the appearance of belonging to the group and therefore apparently harmoniously existing as a functioning member of the associated society.
63 Matthew 22:21.
64 The word "agnostic" was coined by Thomas Henry Huxley [1825-1895], who intended it to be the antithesis of "gnostic" (used in the sense of the definition "of, relating to, or characterized by knowledge or cognition : INTELLECTUAL, KNOWING"), and it represents a personal statement by him that he did not know the truth about God and did not expect to ever know the truth about God. A key quotation of his is: "The only medicine for suffering, crime, and all the other woes of mankind is wisdom." (Science and Education , Chapter 4.)
65 Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition, 1993; first definition.
66 Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition, 1993; first definition.
67 Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition, 1993.
68 Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition, 1993; first definition.
69 This statement deliberately ignores the observations of Spengler to the effect that all civilizations have some degree of similar attributes because they are all social organizations with similar forces causing their birth, death, and other major attributes. Even Spengler asserts that these similarities only exist in the macrocosmic view, and the details are all muddled together by the individual acts of the various historical players. Thus, the observations of Spengler to the effect that similarities exist between all civilizations can in no way be taken to mean that all civilizations occur as a consequence of some great plan. Because mankind has free will, it is within the capabilities of mankind to alter the plan at will, and to thus create a civilization which bears no similarity to those described by Spengler.
70 Also, this concept is closely related to the law of unintended consequences, which holds that if you fail to anticipate all of the consequences of any given action, you should not be surprised that any given action has any number of unanticipated, and potentially bad, additional consequences.
71 "Here too Communism was a war economy. Perhaps it survives through continual fear of war; given a generation of peace it would probably be eroded by the nature of man." The Lessons of History (1968), by Will and Ariel Durant, page 66.
72 And, I could quite easily digress and show that the entire concept of divine surveillance and divine sanctions is merely a religious representation of this same concept of allocating pleasure and pain in order to motivate conformance with the rules established by society.
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