Saturday, February 22, 2020

Moral Believing Animals

Love the book, hate the title. Yes, we are "creatures", so "animal" is accurate at one level, however it is a dangerous term -- it can lead to genocide, abortion, euthanasia and all manner of depravity. "Beings" would be my preferred term., and a much better representation of the content of the book.

The book makes a strong case for what I believe to the clearest fact of human existence, EVERYTHING we do is "faith based". NOTHING is epistemologically "provable", since our very consciousness, which we don't understand, is running on wetware (our brains) that we also don't understand -- we ALL walk by faith, the only question is "in what"?

Science as we know it can only ever proceed by first placing faith in a set of unprovable cosmological, metaphysical, and epistemological assumptions and commitments." And science as we know it proceeds by hitching its wagon to a set of nineteenth-century general assumptions about civilization, progress, knowledge, and morality. Science may have put a man on the moon (which was itself a morally, politically, and emotionally pregnant endeavor). But we cannot say that science is exempt from the moral and believing character of humans and society. 

We all live a narrative ... a story, founded on nested sets of beliefs that are coupled with other believed relationships, which Smith models as "rafts" (worldviews)  ...

Well-educated moderns are, of course, socialized to see other rafts. We are educated to recognize, tolerate, and appreciate a diversity of perspectives, paradigms, and cultures. At least to a point. For this modern, Mult versioned self is itself, of course, an historically situated position constituted by faith commitments to particular basic assumptions and beliefs-about individuality, autonomy, cosmopolitanism, equality, relativity, self-expression, truth, and so on. And when occasions arise that threaten these trusted assumptions and beliefs, sophisticated, flexible, tolerant, liberal, ... etc. we fight, even to the death.
If you question any of the foundational beliefs of these well-educated moderns however ... by saying that there IS an absolute truth, and it isn't theirs, or that "equality" is a demonstrable metaphysical impossibility, their "tolerance" quickly becomes similar to that of a Muslim jihadi!

So, since faith is all any of us have, our task is to see that we are ALL in a "faith boat" (which itself is likely "floating" in possibly stacked other "boats") and those boats are not "equivalent", nor are any "scientifically true" belief systems that rationally allow us to look down on other belief systems past or present. As believers, our human tendency is to assume that OUR belief system is "enlightened", "progressive", "divinely inspired", "rational", etc.  We are like fish in water not knowing or even having the concept of "wet".
The world we bring into being through believing has for us become fixed, unified, total. We are thus not in the end very different in this condition than the medieval peasant from whom the Enlightenment promised to raise and deliver us.
The point, rather, is that for all of our science, rationality, and technology, we moderns are no less the makers, tellers, and believers of narrative construals of existence, history, and purpose than were our forebears at any other time in human history. But more than that, we not only continue to be animals who make stories but also animals who are made by our stories.
So, we are certain to believe (the question is "in what"! ) -- and tragically, we can easily select a nihilist narrative that life is meaningless and there is no hope beyond this mortal coil -- OR, we can believe that we are unique creations of a loving God with a divine purpose that can be given to us by Grace! (and many of us believe that faith is only through the GIFT of the Holy Spirit). 
Our individual and collective lives come to have meaning and purpose insofar as they join the larger cast of characters enacting, reenacting, and perpetuating the larger narrative. It is by finding ourselves placed within a particular drama that we come to know our role, our part, our lines in life-how we are to act, why, and what meaning that has in a larger scheme of reality.

On page 117, he seems to agree with a theistic, though not specifically Christian belief model: "and so I am inclined to leave the matter here and maintain the parsimonious theistic explanation as my proposed theory."  

 The book makes an excellent sociological / philosophical case that humility is the root of wisdom ... in complete agreement with Socrates and the Bible. It does however make that case in a somewhat technical manner that may be difficult for some.

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