Friday, March 16, 2007

Exploring the Borderlands

Recent books on atheism and religion have been the focus of much debate recently, which I think is a good thing. It’s no surprise that the debate is dominated by traditional religious believers on the one hand, and those who hold to a traditional materialist strain of atheism on the other. Of course, there is a wide, if seemingly less populated, territory between these views. I think the truth lies in the border regions.

If one is a realist, as I am, about first-person experience and the existence of some degree of freedom, then materialism is inadequate. On the other hand, one’s worldview must be shaped by valid inferences from the success of science. Because of this, I find traditional supernatural entities and interventions highly implausible, and have in the past characterized my own worldview has an enriched or expanded version of naturalism.

My more recent ruminations on modal realism and abstract entities have led me to consider that my realist commitments may actually require a necessary ground of possibilities underlying and penetrating our contingent concrete world. While at the end of the day labels aren't important, it seems as if a commitment to the idea that reality extends beyond our world in this way may get me expelled from the naturalist club.

I’m very reluctant to name this necessary existent “God”, since that unavoidably summons up a cluster of attributes and associations which go far beyond my commitments. But there is no getting around the fact that I may be moving into the vicinity of theism.


Mike Wiest said...

Kind of scary when you leave the established isms and sail out of sight of the shore, eh? At least I imagine that investment bankers could give two turds about whether you're a naturalist...

I'm still exploring myself, but also am not entirely satisfied so far by the naturalist story. There's another blog where the author considers from within panpsychism, whether the whole universe may have an associated unified consciousness of some kind, which he called "The One." (That wasn't you, was it? Sorry I can't remember where I saw that.) He didn't say it, but that would give meaning to the scripture that says we are "made in His image."

I guess this should seem implausible even for a panpsychist because our structured high-level consciousness seems to depend on highly evolved brain machinery that we don't see floating between galaxies.

But it doesn't seem THAT crazy to me anymore, maybe from reading this:

It's a superstring version of Hameroff/Penrose that comes up with an arrow of time and other wonders. The author (Dmitri Nanopoulos) is an atheist, but the theory seems to allow a sort of religious interpretation (to me) whereby our little consciousness has access to something like the eternal global One sitting outside of time. This is maybe the only inkling I've come across that might give scientific meaning to the claims of mystics through the ages that we have some kind of access to the fundamental reality, or the Hindu claim that roughly says "You are God."

I'm not fully endorsing that paper, but if you're teetering on the edge, this paper might give you a little push off the deep end... (Maybe I should mention that it has no connection that I can see with modal realism, though. It's about consciousness.)

Steve said...

I did think about that world-mind idea in an old post (called "the god option" under the theism tag) - but I havent' found the idea compelling.
More recently I was thinking the best case for God would be to identify him/her/it as the
"sum of all possibililites" and/or "the power to instantiate possibilities" - with our actual world being only one tiny subset of all that is possible. On the other hand, since we are grounded this larger reality, it might make sense that the structure of our rational thought reflects the larger metaphsyical terrain of the full "divine" space of possibilities.

I will check out the link. Thanks!