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Spirituality for the Skeptic




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POST MODERN NIHILISM
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POSTMODERN NIHILISM

BEYOND FAITH & DOUBT

Postmodern thought is popular among linguistic philosophy and the social sciences as well as the arts today and is trickling down through the educated population.  It is a current form of sophistry that goes beyond  faith by claiming all knowledge is relative.  It goes beyond doubt by claiming every concept is true; but only within the context of its own social construct or language game.  Hence knowledge is here seen as fragmented - i.e. there are many relative, subjective "truths", but no objective truths exist. There are no absolutes.  Here even science is considered naught but a modern mythology, no more valid than the myths of old.
 
Such thought has the power of being at least partially true.  For many cherished beliefs are products of ignorant superstition, outmoded convention, and false indoctrination by the powers that be.  Because such beliefs are culturally conditioned they do remain relative.  So let us now critically examine the traditional subjects of beauty, goodness, and truth to see just how relative or objective they can be.
 
WHAT IS TRUTH?
 
This is the question Pontius Pilate asked Jesus before he pronounced sentence. Jesus gave no answer.  Then what is truth today?  How true are the facts of history or science?  Post-modern historians like Foucault reminded us that history is written by the dominant culture, leaving out the many histories of the defeated, the poor, the oppressed.  Philosophers of science like Lyotard and Feyerabend question the very foundation of science itself.  For instance corporate industry and the military will finance certain areas of research or technology while other areas remain ignored.  Also some scientific concepts once thought true are now proven false.  Deconstructionists like Derrida question the ultimate validity of reason itself.
 
Lest we destroy even enlightened faith and take skepticism beyond the lunatic fringe, some order is called for here.  It's true that authority can be deceitful or mistaken, intuition can be mere conditioned response, reason can have false premises, and facts need interpretation.  But it is also true that reason when supported by facts has given us fruitful knowledge. 
 
Historical documents along with palentological or archeological finds cover not all of history but help solidify that which is claimed.  Science extends our senses with powerful instruments and our reasoning with sophisticated math and computers to discover things that could never be known before.  And the success of scientific technology proves its correspondence to reality per se. We might question the morality of technology, but that has nothing to do with its truth - i.e. its direct correspondence to reality.
 
Therefore science has been proven the best objective instrument for approaching truth.  But can ultimate truth ever be found?  Perhaps ultimate truth is asymptotic - i.e. like the speed of light or absolute zero Kelvin it can forever be approached but never grasped totally.  But strange things happen when we approach near to such limits. Approaching lightspeed: mass increases toward infinity and time itself slows down.  Approaching absolute zero: friction disappears, cold paradoxically moves toward heat, and helium liquiefies but pours upward.
 
However, perhaps ultimate truth can finally be grasped even beyond the asymptotic.  Physicists are currently working on the "Theory of Everything" - i.e. a grand unified theory synthesizing relativity with quantum gravity to find the ultimate unity in all nature's forces.  On the other hand, religious mystics from all eras and cultures have testified to profoundly experiencing such oneness in grand climactic union with the divine.  Could the farthest reaches of objective knowledge and the profoundest depths of subjective experience be but two sides to the same door?  (See the Mystic link.)
 
WHAT IS GOODNESS?
 
It was important to establish a basis for truth.  For without a way to truth we could never know what is good.  Schools  of thought like postmodernism served their purpose by revealing relative concepts of right and wrong in different cultures.  They neglected to mention such beliefs become relative because they are based not on verifiable facts or rational criteria but on ignorant superstitions, outworn conventions, and arbitrary laws.
 
Although our civilization has yet far to go in morality, we no longer burn witches or sacrifice children because we finally learned such practices are based on superstition and reap no factual benefits at all.  We found it inhumane to keep slaves, and are also learning not to oppress women and minorities. 
 
Knowledge helps a society create and maintain social contracts to protect all its citizens.  But beyond knowledge alone, there is the inherent empathy, exemplified by the universal Golden Rule, which judges the social contract with regard to the oppressed. 
 
However: tyranny, plutocracy, superstition, and brainwashing of the masses still has strong hold even in civilizations like our own.  We remain instinctively tribal; greed and power-lust continue to rule the many.  But our shrinking world and horrendous weapons make it vital to follow the Golden Rule beyond tribe and nation.  The consequence of not so doing is the destruction of civilization as we know it.
 
So the nihilists and relativists who claim moral statements as naught but emotive cries, are not only dangerously out of sync with morality, but totally out of touch with reality as well.  Aside from the relative false moralities, to refrain from committing destruction and harm upon others is now vital to our very survival and well being as a species.
 
WHAT IS BEAUTY?
 
Even the non intellectual lay person will now say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  But new discoveries have found this dictum not exactly true.  It's true that man-made beauty is certainly in the relative eye of the beholder.  We see such relativism in the art- works, styles, and fashions of different cultures and throughout different eras. 
 
However, the beauty of nature is not relative on this earth.  Regardless of their art, the aborigine and the tired business man can enjoy the same sunset.  Whereas visual art is still-life and performing arts are relatively pleasing to experience, nature non relatively presents movement, touch, taste, smell, and sound as well as its vivid shapes and colors all in one dynamic panorama that can be enjoyed by all.  Moreover, it is the primal home and source from which we emerged.
 
 
And although human styles and fashions differ markedly relative to different cultures and times, there is a constant that cuts through all such artificial enhancement.  That constant is the appearance of good health: e.g. shining hair, glowing skin, firm muscles, or a curvaceous figure.  For the choice of a healthy mate is vital for the successful evolution of a species, including our own.  We are even unconsciously attracted to geometrical signs of good health such as facial symmetry and a .7 waist to hip ratio in women.  (See Survival of the Prettiest 1999,
by Nancy Etcoff.) 
 
And what has beauty to do with goodness or truth?  Nature and health are our source of survival and attract us through beauty; therefore such attraction is beneficial, therefore good.  Also there is the inner beauty emanated by a loving attitude of empathy and compassion toward one's fellow beings.  And as for truth:  Scientists and mathematicians often find their greatest discoveries through choosing the most eloquent and symmetrical - i.e. beautiful - equations.  It appears nature's laws most often work in symmetric harmony and beauty as well
 
THEN IS THERE PURPOSE IN THE COSMOS?
 
It is fashionable in postmodern and even scientific circles to claim life, consciousness, and cosmic order as purely accidental, therefore meaningless.  For instance instead of marveling at life's evolution from inanimate matter on through the ever-progressive complexity from microbes on up to conscious beings,some scientists like to point out the evolutionary dead ends and the rare regressions of particular species.  But that is like describing a competition by focusing only on the players who were injured and removed from the game. 
 
Neither does citing natural selection of random genes explain away such complexity.  Obviously, fit genes must prevail; but randomness is another term for chaos.  So how does just chaotic randomness alone produce fit genes in the first place?  DNA by itself is an impossibly complex set of molecules for mere randomness to create.  How much more incredible for a chaotic hodge podge to evolve from microbe through ever increasing complexity to self conscious intelligence?  There would have to be not random chaos but orderly potentials from which natural selection could choose. 
 
To fully realize nature's proneness toward progressive complexity, we should take a far vaster God's eye view of our cosmos.  From nothing of which we can conceive the universe came into being: first as pure energy, then as infinitesimal quarks and sub particles - or perhaps 11 dimensional space ripples or "strings".  Later there were simple hydrogen or helium gasses, which finally condensed into proto-galactic clusters.  From such clusters galaxies and mega-galaxies of stars were formed.  Within the infernos of stars the elements became increasingly complex, then  exploded into even complexer elements that formed planetary systems, some of which evolved ever more complex life.
 
So even the inanimate universe itself evolved into ever more progressive complexity before our attempt to explain away life's evolution.  Now in studies of systems, chaos, and complexity terms like "self organization" and "complexification" must be used.  And these terms now best explain the overall function or purpose of the cosmos per se - i.e. to become all it can possibly be.  And since we are a part of this cosmos, that motto should fit our own lives as well...
 
 

MANIFESTATIONS OF THE MYSTERY

THE BOOK OF THOMAS THE DOUBTER


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