I often hear those who support a Creationist view of the universe use the concept of beauty to support their position. “There is no way a sunset this beautiful happened by chance,” they say. “This definitely shows the activity of an intelligent designer.”
This article is not intended as a defense of an evolutionary process. Nor should it be considered an attack on Creationism per se. However, it is designed to demonstrate that the use of beauty as proof of the latter position may be all well and good for an opinion, but can in no way be considered proof. The reason why is because beauty is not a fact. It is, as mentioned, a concept. Christopher Hitchens, in his book God Is Not Great, recalls a story about an instructor, Mrs. Watts, who taught young Hitchens about nature and the Bible.
However, there came a day when poor, dear Mrs. Watts overreached herself. Seeking ambitiously to fuse her two roles as nature instructor and Bible teacher, she said, “So you see, children, how powerful and generous God is. He has made all the trees and grass to be green, which is exactly the color that is most restful to our eyes. Imagine if instead, the vegetation was all purple, orange, how awful that would be. (Hitchens 2)
Hitchens’ point was that nature did not change to suit the eye, but that the eye changed to suit nature. Perhaps more accurately, the human concept and expectation of beauty adapted to nature. We’ve all heard the old adage, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Truer words have never been spoken and fewer more illustrative ones.
Remaining with our nature theme, there are certain parts of the United States considered beautiful by some and reviled by others. For example, I have relatives in the southern state of Louisiana. They love the area and believe it to be beautiful. While Louisiana may have some attractive areas, most of what I’ve seen (and I have visited on several occasions) has been either unremarkable or entirely off-putting. On the other hand, I am from the state of Michigan and consider it to be a state with much to offer in the way of natural beauty. However, there are those from other parts of the country who consider Michigan to be the armpit of the nation.
A pattern begins to emerge—simply that people recognize beauty in that with which they are familiar. There are some commonalities, of course. Everybody loves a brilliant blue sky, because everybody has been exposed to a brilliant blue sky. Consider a science fiction movie that takes place on a planet featuring a red sky. We see that and think how terrible it would be if Earth had a red sky. How frightening and strange that would be! Yet it is completely reasonable to assume that those used to a red sky would think the same thing about our blue sky. Sunsets and sunrises are universal for humans. We love the red, yellows, and oranges that accompany them. However, if we were used to a brown and green rising or setting, what we now love would seem out of place and perhaps even sinister. We are accustomed to the features of our own planet and therefore consider them beautiful.
Douglas Adams, writing in his bestselling book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, includes a passage that, while not indisputably parallel to the topic at hand, is so charmingly demonstrative as to demand inclusion. In this brief passage, the earthling Arthur is talking with Marvin, a depressed and stoic robot. Arthur begins,
“I come from a planet called Earth, you know.”
“I know,” said Marvin, “you keep going on about it. It sounds awful.”
“Ah no, it was a beautiful place.”
“Did it have oceans?”
“Oh yes,” said Arthur with a sigh, “great wide rolling blue oceans…”
“Can’t bear oceans,” said Marvin. (Adams 135)
Humans love the familiar. It is more attractive to us. More beautiful. In general, we crave normality, predictability, and consistency. These qualities can raise our spirits when present and dampen them when absent.
When someone indicates a vision of natural beauty to me and says, “Are you telling me that such a lovely thing could have just happened? Surely it would take an intelligent being with inside knowledge of humanity to give us all these things that we enjoy and consider beautiful,” I must remark that the things of great beauty are such because they simply are the way they are. And if they were different, we would likely consider the alternative just as beautiful.
Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve,
2009. 2. Print.
Adams, Douglas. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. New York: Del Rey, 1998. 135. Print.
I am pleased to announce the release of a new essay, “Mere Lewis - A Critique of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.” In this essay I take a good look at the first half of the book, which is the part that attempts to prove Christianity on logical grounds. I address Lewis’s various points, including his insistence that the world is operated under the guidance of a universal moral law set up by God.
Lewis’s book is certainly an interesting read and more than anything illustrates the fact that Christianity is truly a faith. The attempt to prove it logically fails, however, and since this is the object of the book, it also comes up short. The purpose of this essay is not to ridicule Christianity. As mentioned multiple times, one is certainly welcome to accept Christianity or any other belief system based on faith or preference. When one attempts to prove factual a faith that demands acceptance or death, however, it becomes fair game. In fact, one could make the argument that others have a responsibility to refute or present alternative arguments to any attempt to force acceptance of a religious or spiritual idea on anyone. This is what Lewis does in Mere Christianity. He attempts to craft a case for Christianity so that skeptics will have no choice but to accept it, even if against their will. Religious belief cannot be proven. It is, and must be, a matter of faith to some extent and in some regard. That is, in fact, the beauty of spiritual matters. They are protected from the harsh lights of the laboratory and can provide hope and comfort. Hope only comes from unproven sources, after all, and humanity often needs it.
It is my opinion that Lewis has done Christianity a disservice with his book and jeopardized the freedom of those who resist. Mere Christianity proves nothing and simply muddies the waters for those searching for spiritual fulfillment. This is why this essay exists. Presenting a belief system for consideration is certainly a legitimate pursuit, but attempting to drive it down throats with the cudgel of intellectual process is another matter and requires extraordinary proof. The book falls well short of the mark and must therefore be challenged. This is the purpose of this essay.
It is a sad reality that many people view uncertainty and doubt as oppressive and restricting, a prison of high walls and dank enclosures. It is, of course, the human tendency to search out certitude. The desire to learn the future has made a living for more than a few psychics, while religion survives on assuring people that their ultimate fate has been decided. Beyond even this, once a sense of stability has been attained, people are understandably hesitant to risk disturbing it. The question is, however, are the methods through which we attained stability and by which formed ultimate conclusions accurate and/or spiritually and emotionally healthy?
One might make the argument that stability is always healthy, but I would disagree. One can choose the stability over other options, such as happiness and growth. For example, stability can be defined as predictability. A wife might know that her husband is going to beat her every night at 9:05 pm, but this knowledge will not make her happy, nor could this type of situation be considered healthy. Yet, many women stay with abusive husbands. Many people stay in less than ideal situations for a wide variety of reasons, many of which have to do with the fact that, while the situation is not what they want, giving it all up in favor of an unknown is scary. Often, people choose stability (predictability, the known, the familiar) over the possibility of finding something better. As mentioned earlier, many people view uncertainty and doubt as oppressive and restricting.
I would submit to you, however, that doubt and uncertainty can play an entirely different role. They do not have to be oppressive and restricting. The fact of the matter is that doubt can actually be the definition of freedom. In America, we have the luxury of expressing our doubts about leadership. Defunct scientific theories would still be prevalent had someone not doubted the original idea. Not only is doubt liberating, it is essential.
Granted, the idea of doubting what one has always been told or has come to believe can be frightening. That does not make it dangerous, however. Doubting is only dangerous when it cloaks an agenda. To use doubt as an avenue to reach another point on the spectrum is false. In order to properly utilize doubt, one must begin with no destination in mind. And this is where it can become scary. The key is learning to rely on the Universe, the natural order of things, to guide your doubting consciousness to where it needs to be. We as humans have no way of knowing where that place is. We are reliant on that which is greater than ourselves. The more we struggle to control our trajectory, the more unhappy, stressed, and anxious we become. Learning to let go and submit yourself to the moving of Universal Energy is what will set you free.
But first, we must allow doubt in our lives to shake up our preconceived ideas, our assumptions, our desires, and that which we “know.” It is time to “know” new things and, eventually, realize that not only do we not know anything…but that we don’t need to.
If you are unhappy, it is likely a result of regret. Regret kills the soul and enslaves the mind. “I wish had done that. I wish I hadn’t done that. I wish this could have been different. I shouldn’t have. I should have…”
We see from these few example the power of words. “Wish” has no place in the human experience, as it references the past. The past has no place in your current existence, as it supersedes the present via the unfortunate tendency of the mind to adopt it. What you are doing now is what counts. “Should” is a dangerous word and has no place in vocabulary except as a method of communication. It is an instrument of spiritual and emotional torture. Both “wish” and “should” result in regret and, as stated, regret kills the soul.
You have your current life but once. Reliving past experiences is not useful, save for enriching the present. If it does otherwise, it is an extraneous element, a foreign virus, and should be given no power to either influence or control. The past should stay in the past, apart from the mind and present, where it can do no harm. Regret is an unwelcome interloper into the present. It demands to be dealt with, using assumed authority it usurped from your present existence.
There are two main types of regret: negative and positive, but not bad and good. They are “I wish no” and “I wish yes.” The first tortures us through the negative by saying, “I wish that had not happened” or “I wish I had not done that.” We, of course, cannot change the past. We cannot go back and relive those moments in the past during which we commit perceived mistakes. I say “perceived,” because a mistake only appears so through the faulty lens of our own fallibility. We make decisions based on present knowledge and perception. To use present knowledge and insight to judge our past selves is unfair and not useful. To realize a failure of our past is merely an indication that we have grown in understanding and should in that way be celebrated. We are not celebrating the past failure, we are embracing our present growth. The question is not what to do with the past, for it is behind us. The question is what are we going to do with our progress. The past is a reference point, a way to measure our present selves, and that is all.
The second type is similar in its value. Something undone cannot be performed in its original position on the timeline of our existence. It, too, is only useful as a point of reference. Just as a past event cannot be undone, so it cannot be done. Lessons going forward are all that have literal power and can be experienced. We can avoid duplicating past failures and escape missing present opportunities. The first requires inaction and the second, action.
Caroline Myss wrote, “Do you really want to look back on your life and see how wonderful it could have been had you not been afraid to live it?” This thought is at the core of positive regret. Imagine sitting on your front porch in a rocking chair at 80 years of age and wondering what would have happened if you’d turned over that rock, investigated that cave, taken that journey, thought those thoughts, traveled those miles, listened to those words, considered those possibilities, smelled those flowers, broken those chains, or challenged that authority.
I much prefer the risk of failure than the certainty of positive regret. The lesson is the recognition of the call to live freely, deeply, widely. With focus but without determination, with understanding but without assumption, with desire but without fabrication. The search for truth is not in the destination, but within the journey itself. Fear of failure is not essentially part of the equation – we only make it so. There are no failures in the search, only further learning. Failure is merely an experience of enlightenment. In fact, the only failure to be feared is that of inaction, a missed call to progress.
“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.” – Buddha
People want to feel safe. We’ve seen this in a political sense over the last few years, as a debate has raged regarding the balance between freedom and security. For example, the advances of the TSA has raised a lot of concerns over their oft-decried methods of security screening. Others say that is simply the price of being safe in today’s world.
The principle can be carried over into the religious realm, as well. People are willing to trade their freedom in return for the promise of eternal security. They accept a religion wholesale because it promises to save them from being damned by a god that, interestingly enough, endorses this same religion. Of course, the religion in question inevitably claims that God “gave” them their religion and they are merely carrying it out. This is never true. Man always creates the religion and puts God’s stamp of approval on it.
So, to accept religion as a safety blanket is much like allowing yourself to be groped by a TSA agent. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, but now you feel better about the security of the airplane. The confines of religion may be inconvenient and perhaps a bit nutty, but at least you don’t have to worry about the Judgment. It’s a choice we must all make.
The choice would be clearer if we could be certain what religion says is true. However, there are numerous sources and methods that suggest religion is an empty suit, promising what it cannot deliver. Not only can it not deliver on its promises, its entire premise is in error. Their plan is built around the idea of a vindictive god, who is waiting on high with a hefty club, chuckling with glee as he waits for the opportunity to smite humanity.
The viewpoint itself is flawed. If there is no evil, vindictive god, then there is no need to be protected from him. If we don’t need protection, then religion serves no functional purpose. In this sense, one could draw a comparison between organized, traditional religion and the mafia. They both sell protection from a doomsday they themselves concoct.
Let’s say a guy named Vinny told you he was going to burn your business to the ground unless you paid him money each month. Then you found out Vinny was actually pathologically scared of fire and therefore would be unable to follow through on his threat. Why pay the protection money if the danger is unfounded? Religion soon realized they would be unable to maintain or increase a following without motivation. That is why the idea of punishment for rejection evolved. Religion rules by intimidation.
Fortunately, more people are beginning to recognize the need for a personal spirituality completely apart from that offered by organized religion. It is a burgeoning movement as people grow tired of religion’s tyranny and learn more about the mysteries of Life and Universe on their own.
The questioning of tradition is vital to reaching the point where religion loses its hold upon your existence. Stepping out on your own may not afford you a feeling of safety, but as you proceed to break the bonds of religion, you will begin to realize that feeling safe is not necessary, because there is nothing to be feared.
It is not arrogant to endeavor to see beyond one’s self and the fabric of traditional teaching. It is, in fact, a calling of the highest order. Arrogance is not in the Search, it is in the Application of Destination. The Destination itself is not to blame, but the application of such. To apply individual discoveries to the masses at large soon becomes arrogance when teaching is introduced as the primary method of propagating the spread of any said discovery.
How then, shall we say, is one to communicate the culmination of ideas and thoughts beyond what is already out there? After all, every theory of avenue of thought was once put forth to an untutored populace. Part of the key is the phrase “untutored populace” and it is certainly not used with any sense of condescension. One is only truly untutored if they exhibit designs upon ignorance, which is to say, an unwillingness to learn or even an aggressive prevention of knowledge. Surprisingly, there are always those who adopt this last strategy, although for a variety of reasons.
The first and most powerful is the fact that they do not wish to have their current system of belief overturned. The other is that many people do not believe they have anything further to learn. The moment one stops learning, they lose command of the knowledge they already possess, for it is only by tempering present understanding with future developments that one can remain truly relevant. The presentation of knowledge to the “untutored” should not necessarily be performed with the specific purpose of conversion. Rather, it should be designed to initiate individual thought, to act as a catalyst for a personal consideration of issues. Therefore, the object of such knowledge should not be teaching, but inspiration.
If someone presents you with a set of ideas that you consider carefully, but end up rejecting on one basis or another, it does not mean the process was a waste of time or their ideas have no merit. The mere fact it caused you to think enough to reach a conclusion is worth enough and very well may be the impetus needed to further your own ideas. The culmination of knowledge is vital and less attention is needed as to realizing up front what is “right” or “wrong.” Most schools of thought have merit and the wholesale rejection of one or another may be the rejection of an element key to your own understanding. This is why it is troubling to see so many individuals reject entire belief systems without actually delving into their inner workings. How do they know it is without value without having seen for themselves?
There are three main worldview options available to one interested in constructing a worldview reflective of their inner beliefs, preferences, or discoveries. Each individual has a worldview. Sometimes it is inherited and undissected, sometimes it is naturally molded through years of experience and assumption, and sometimes it is carved out through research, meditation, and thought.
Even those who claim to hold no particular worldview are, in fact, doing just that by their own denial. The denial of a worldview becomes a worldview in and of itself, i.e. “My view is that I have no view.” The only way to avoid that would be to deny the existence of anything worth considering, which would deny one’s own existence in time, which then renders one unworthy of consideration, which then negates their original claim, for it is difficult to take seriously anyone who does not even exist.
As mentioned, humans have three main options when it comes to worldview. We can believe in what is, what may be, and what isn’t. These choices aren’t as clear-cut as they seem, however, as we will discover next. In the context of worldview, we are only referring to that which is apparent. Reality itself is an elusive wraith and is supremely subject to interpretation, based on an endless number of variables. This is an important point to remember when considering the three points of the Worldview Triangle.
What Is has always been the dominant view, for the simple reason that people are not comfortable with unknowns. The physical mind has not naturally developed to entertain thoughts or ideas not grounded in a solid foundation of “knowns.” Science struggles to decipher the mysteries of the physical, religion endeavors to solve the human need to understand and cope with the spiritual. Human beings need to “know,” even if what they know ends up being completely false. We’re talking about absolutes, black and white, answers to life’s biggest questions. The idea that there may not be answers has no place in this worldview.
Traditional religion is the best example of a What Is worldview. Not only does it provide a level of comfort to its followers by offering a set of absolutes, but uses these same absolutes to create a list of standards by which all life decisions can be measured. In short, it provides certainty for both the present and the future, the ideal alternative for someone wishing to know “what is.”
Of course, there is always a problem when the What Is worldview is employed, namely that not everyone will come to the same conclusions. The drive to “know” is so strong that wars have been waged because one person’s What Is happened to be different from someone else’s What Is. So we can see that the What Is worldview has its flaws and can, in fact, be dangerous.
What May Be is an alternative to What Is, but always accepting of it. For someone to truly live by a What May Be worldview, they must, by definition, recognize that someone’s What Is may be. This is not to be confused with an acceptance of the What Is worldview, as that would entail a cessation of the What May Be, and could simply end up being a willingness to allow one to live life as What Is. What May Be is by far the more flexible of the two, since What Is cannot, by nature, co-exist with What May Be. It might be willing to ignore it, but will not recognize its validity.
Again, What May Be does not necessarily accept What Is, but will always recognize its validity as a worldview, even as it rejects it. The same cannot be said of What Is, which cannot accept What May Be, as it then becomes that which it accepts. That is the Achilles heel of What Is. In order to accept, it ceases to be what it once was. By contrast, this is the greatest strength of What May Be, which by nature accepts the possibility of What Is being accurate, even if it strongly disagrees.
While What Isn’t may in some ways be a close cousin to What Is, it is paradoxically opposite. It shares the same certainty of belief, but rejects that which What Is embraces. For example, What Is might accept the idea of God, while What Isn’t rejects it. At the same time, one could say that What Isn’t accepts the idea that there isn’t a God, while What Is rejects it.
One might say, then, that the two are interchangeable and therefore identical, but this is not the case. One way to illustrate the difference between What Is and What Isn’t might be to say that one is positive and the other negative.
There is another way in which worldviews are related. To illustrate, let’s take it a step further and introduce a subtlety of What May Be, that of What May Not Be. For example, to say unequivocally that there is a God is not the same as accepting the idea that there is a God. Similarly, saying there is certainly no God is not the same as accepting the notion that there is no God. Saying there is no God is an active-negative (What Isn’t) statement, while saying you accept the idea that there is no God is passive-negative (What May Not Be). By the same token, saying there is a God is active-positive (What Is) and saying you accept the idea of God is passive-positive (What May Be). Therefore, there are subtle relationships between What Is/What May Be and What Isn’t/What May Not Be. The fact remains, however, that the first are absolute, while the others are not.
You can accept an idea without buying into it wholesale. A clearer way to state it would be to say, “I accept the possibility that there is no God” or “I accept the possibility that God exists.” Therefore, What Is and What Isn’t, while closely related, are miles apart, as are their cohorts, What May Be and What May Not Be.
Facebook was the recipient a few days ago of my status update that contained the following thought: “When investigating a certain idea, it doesn’t do any good to search out only sources that support your original thought. A strong argument is not one against which no defense can be mounted. Rather, the fact it can be countered (not disproved) in some way makes it a worthwhile idea. Anything presented with no thought or regard to alternative should be regarded with suspicion.”
Unfortunately, someone quickly commented on the status with the disheartening remark, “An argument against which no defense can be mounted is the strongest sort of argument.”
Characteristically, reading the comment even now causes me a bit of annoyance, because it simply illustrates a piece of conventional wisdom that only addresses the most basic understanding of philosophical and scientific method. I responded by saying, “An argument that appears unassailable is generally built on an improvable premise. Therefore, it is weak because its foundation is faulty.”
Keeping the conversation on track was my goal and this last remark was a feeble attempt to restate the original thought into something more tangible, since it is always difficult to communicate abstract reasoning to someone without the motivation or means to follow the process.
Yet, I failed miserably in my attempt to properly outline my thoughts in that particular thread, which took a rather ugly turn, an unfortunate occurrence for which I take full responsibility. In any case, this post is my attempt to fully explain my original stance, hopefully in a more coherent and understandable manner.
Of course, any argument worthy of being considered must have a method by which it can be proven and disproved. If there is no method by which it can be tested, then it cannot be taken at face value and is therefore only a hypothesis. While hypotheses have merit in their own right, they cannot be taken seriously as proof of anything, as an idea cannot prove itself either right or wrong.
Under the umbrella of this thought is the most classic example: the idea of God’s existence. There are no methods of proof by which the hypothesis of God can be tested. Therefore, the argument that God exists (or doesn’t) is a weak one and will be so until there is a method of testing available to us.
Justifiably, someone in the Facebook war brought up the idea that an argument that cannot be disproved can be strong and used the rotation of the earth around the sun as an example. The problem here, however, is that the hypothesis has already been proven. It has, therefore, been subject to a method of testing now available to humans. In earlier days, the opposite was thought to be true and pretty much everyone thought the sun revolved around the earth. Once we were able to test the idea through technological advancements, we discovered we were wrong. How did we know we were wrong? Because we tested the idea. Just because an idea has a method by which it can be disproved doesn’t mean it will be disproved.
Stated in my original status, the point remains that an argument must have the ability to be countered (not disproved) in order to be a strong argument. If there is no method by which it can be disproved, then there is no method by which it can be proven. This is key to the central point: a method by which it can be disproved. I never said an argument must be falsified in order to be true, since that would be absurd and anyone who thinks that’s what the first statement implied might want to consider a lobotomy. I merely said that a defense must be available, i.e. a method of testing. Again, I take responsibility for the less than ideal wording. However, it means the same thing ultimately and, frankly, no one would posit the alternative theory, so why it was championed so passionately, I’m not sure. I can only assume they did not grasp the nuances of the idea (which, by the way, is not original with me).
I made another attempt in the original line of debate that I still feel is a decent exposition of the thought. It made no difference there, but here it is: “An argument for which there is no defense cannot be taken seriously, either because, 1.) They are choosing to present something that is not in contention [which, by definition, has already been subject to an available method] or, 2.) They are choosing to concoct an idea with an improvable premise for the sole purpose of avoiding opposition.”
The original thought has been around a long time. The idea did not start with me. Renowned thinker Christopher Hitchens has mentioned it, for example. Additionally, it is the strongest complaint about the work of Sigmund Freud, whose theories often rely on circular reasoning which cannot be proven or disproved. He believed that humans keep unconscious, unwanted thoughts and impulses at bay through various mechanisms, such as denial. For example, Freud might suggest to a patient that they are in denial over a given circumstance, e.g. their spouse. The patient might say, “No, I’m not in denial. I love my spouse!” Freud could then say, “Ah, but you just denied it.” Clearly, there is no method to test unconscious thoughts and they are therefore unsubstantiated. However, because of the framework of his argument (theory), he has an answer to the doubter. But it all rests on a faulty premise. You can’t disprove it and, frankly, mounting a defense is largely pointless because it has no solid groundings on which to plant the first flag of attack. This is not what we would call a strong argument, however. It is simply a very clever hypothesis. It is much like saying to a child, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” The child replies, “Yes, because the bridge is only a foot high.” There is simply no way to win this type of argument, but it does not mean it is a strong one.
Another example could be that of a defendant in a murder trial. He may not have a provable alibi, but neither can the prosecution prove his presence at the crime scene. There are no available methods by which either can be proven. Therefore, the suspect gets off through the assumption of innocence and the absence of damning evidence. He is now a free man, but the argument for his innocence was not a particularly strong one and would only have been so had he had a method of proof: “I was at a cocktail party. Here is my invitation and a hundred different people saw me there.” This same method can be used by the prosecution in an attempt to prove the man’s guilt. They would interview the witnesses and, ultimately, realize the man was telling the truth.
This illustrates our key point from earlier in a slightly different way. Just because an idea has a method by which it can be disproved doesn’t mean it will be disproved. But in order to have merit for acceptance either way, a method of testing must exist and be mutually available.