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8635Re: [Death To Religion] An Idea for Discussion

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  • Peter M.K. Chan
    Jul 6, 2003
      Hi Maurice,

      What a surprise for me to be honored with such a calm and collected piece of reflective commentary on the question that I posted quite a number of days ago. Unlike some of the others whom I have ‘met’ over the last couple of weeks, you have enabled me listen and learn.

      You have also pointed to the right spot. The either/or question that I posted is somewhat out of date and slightly off the mark. As a matter of fact, I did not realize that this is so until after reactions came. I did not know that the eternity of the universe as a motif is again in the running. I thought that the Big Bang is already in the driver’s seat.

      I have already acknowledged, as you know, that I am an agnostic. When I read what material science is telling us about the wondrous working of material nature, I still could not help wondering what else may still lie in the unknown and what the ultimate wherewithal of it all might eventually be. This gut tendency of mine, I do realize, may have more to do with the Christian tradition from which I came (given the fact not all are prone to feel in the same way). For this reason, I also have the tendency to treat the whole theism-atheism debate less seriously as either a committed theist or atheist would.

      For this reason, I must also say that I am more anti-theism than pro-atheism, if you know what I mean. As to your thinking about starting a discussion of your own and to use the question that I posted as a bait of sorts, you are certain welcome to do so -- especially if you think that for reason of its leak (not airtight) it could bring about some productive exchange of views, at least within atheism itself. As to my saying that if the idea of a personal soul in a personal hereafter is sunk, theism would also loss most of its emotional attractions, it is also up to you to leave it in or take it out. Doing the latter would to give your participants a more single-minded focus. Doing the former may bring in some interest crossfire.

      But I would still hold that a convincing campaign against the existence of disembodied souls could be an effective way of devaluing theism into a South American currency, at least in the long haul. You and I, amongst a minority of others, might have opted out on the basis of reason. The immortality crowd is not like you and me. Most of them are not seekers of truth, but policy takers to insure for the welfare of their souls in the hereafter. Surprise the staunchest of them with a question or two on this issue, one is likely to encounter some hesitancy if not Freudian slips (what then is the use of believing in god). It is true that the two issues are not theoretically related, but it should not be overlooked that they are strategically related in an emotional way. And if the war against theism is ever to be won, a decisive battle on grounds of pure reason alone is not going to be sufficient.

      Yes, I am an easterner – a Chinese as a matter of fact. I have retired for some five years now and have written my book—explaining why the soul theory is redundant, and that only materialism is able to offer a theory of mind that is consistent with all the commonsensical, clinical, and neurological facts. It is my way of squaring myself with what I have left dangling at the back of my mind for the last thirty years. Yes, I am much older now, but I guess still not too old -- ready to stage a battle or two if and when called upon.

      I appreciate your taken the time out from your busy schedule to say hello. And I think I have found another kindred mind with kindred temper on this worldwide web. So until next time, my friend, I wish you all the best in whatever you do.

      Peter (M.K. Chan)

      Maurice Temples <mctempedocles@...> wrote:Hello Peter M.K. Chan,

      I have been holding your post in my inbox as I
      wanted to respond to it, but have been so busy on
      another group that I haven't had time. However, just
      this evening that other group seems to have completely
      disappeared from yahoo's board. I can't explain it.
      Anyway, I wanted first to compliment you for one of
      the more literate posts I have seen. You bring up
      many ideas worth a great deal of discussion. I have
      not read your book, and may never find time to -- I
      work way too many hours. However, if we should become
      involved in discussion, I'm sure you will fill me in
      as we go.

      I went to the members section of the group to
      look up your profile. It is as cryptic as mine. I
      take it you are in an eastern country. If you don't
      mind my asking, how old are you? You seem to have a
      good grounding in a wide range of subjects, and some
      insights which are, shall we say, beyond the ordinary.

      Anyway, on to some preliminary comments about
      your post. In your first paragraph, you offer a
      choice of two positions: that the universe came from
      something, or that it came from nothing. You offer
      the latter as a characterization of atheism. Now,
      there are divergent points here. The first, of which
      I'm sure you're aware, is that the traditional
      Judeo-Christian story (rather than the atheist story)
      is that the universe came from nothing -- "all was
      without form, and void," meaning empty, or
      nothingness. Conversely, the atheist story (if it can
      be said that there is one) merely follows the
      scientific cosmology that the observable universe came
      from something, to wit, the "Big Bang." Now, though
      that is the opposite of what you are saying, I do want
      to say that I understand what you were getting at, and
      don't wish to cavil over it.

      Another point about this, though, I do want to
      address. You offer a choice of two positions: that
      the universe came from something, or that it came from
      nothing. That leaves a third position entirely out of
      the picture. That position is that the universe did
      not "come from" anything, which is to say that it had
      no origin, no beginning. This is not a view which is
      commonly encountered, but nonetheless is a valid
      position. The view, whether theistic or scientific,
      that the universe had to have an origin corresponds to
      the "First Cause" or "Prime Mover" arguments, which
      have been shown to be unsound. Further, these are
      based in cause-and-effect thinking, which may be sound
      when dealing with material things in the universe but
      nevertheless may not be sound when dealing with the
      universe qua universe, or as a whole, or in dealing
      with the immaterial things in the universe. (Now, to
      avoid confusion about "immaterial things in the
      universe," I am not proposing any theistic or
      supernatural qualities. I'm atheist to the core. But
      I find even atheists confused when first confronted
      with this idea. However, it's an entire discussion in
      itself, so I'll not expand on it any more here.)
      However, the position that the universe had no origin
      and therefore has always been is sound, and further,
      is disprovable -- all one has to do is show an origin.
      Religion can't do this: all religion has to go on is
      faith and fable. But, unfortunately, even physics as
      it stands today can't entirely do it, as the
      mathematics break down and don't apply prior to the
      first few microseconds following a postulated "big
      bang." That is, the nature of the singularity can
      only be surmised. What I am suggesting, then, is that
      a third position, one involving a paradigm shift, must
      be considered in addition to the two you originally

      In a manner of speaking, you have brushed up
      against these ideas, though, I think, without
      realizing it. Let me quote you: **To think that there
      > are really rational grounds to opt for one rather
      > than the other has only reflected the presumptive
      > nature of our human kind. It would be of no use for
      > the traditional atheist to pound the table and
      > assert repeatedly that the agency and power of
      > material substance is all there are. For even if it
      > were so, who is he to say that there is really
      > nothing else besides the material causal system that
      > human awareness has come to apprehend, and its
      > scientific instruments are able to detect. Any
      > atheist who thinks so is perhaps just as dogmatic as
      > the theistic position that he is trying to
      overturn.** Here, you address both our presumptive
      nature (why just one or the other? why not a third?)
      and the immaterial aspects of the universe (although
      science does in fact address these, contrary to
      popular belief).

      You go on to discuss how the arrogance of theism
      might be dislodged by disarming the notion of a
      detachable soul. Among atheists, it means little to
      discuss the soul. But with believers, I have yet to
      find anything, any line of reasoning or argumentation
      that has any predictable effectiveness. I have seen
      believers deconvert and become atheists, but it has
      always been through their own questioning and
      examinations rather than from outside demonstrations
      of reason. Just a couple of factors which mitigate
      against deconverting believers are that belief in the
      supernatural may have an evolutionary basis and,
      belief in the supernatural provides an explanation
      with no explanatory power which in turn allows the
      believer to tailor his worldview in whatever way is
      most supportive to him, regardless of reason.

      This last addresses the "religious feeling."
      Feuerbach said that God is the outward expression of
      man's inward nature. Insofar as man is driven by
      emotions arising in the subconscious, he consciously
      constructs from some of those feelings the idea and
      ideal of gods. There is a difference between
      religious feeling and what may be called "religious
      rationalism," that is, theology *and* theosophy.
      There is also what might be called religious
      materialism, which is the physical expression of
      religious rationalism through behaviors such as rites,
      sacraments, commandments, writings, iconology and
      symbology, etc. Efforts to unseat belief generally
      are active along the lines of religious materialism
      and religious rationalism. Generally, those efforts
      have only a sporadic effect. They leave unaddressed
      the religious feeling, and unless that is addressed
      they will continue to be only sporadically effective.
      Those who deconvert do so, I think, because they take
      it upon themselves to address their own religious
      feelings and come to realize, even if not in so many
      words, that they themselves are the expression of
      their own inner nature rather than some god-construct.

      I think you've opened the door to what could
      provide many good discussions. However, this
      particular board seems to be almost dead. If you're
      of a mind to discuss, we can continue it here and
      perhaps things will liven up a bit. At the moment,
      though, I am considering starting a new group to
      discuss philosophy both in general and in particular
      regarding atheism and religion. I'm very busy, so I'm
      still trying to decide if I have the time to devote to
      managing a group. If I do decide to go through with a
      new group, would you mind if I post your letter (and
      my response) to get things started?

      Thank you for a provocative post, and I'll be
      waiting to hear from you.


      --- "Peter M.K. Chan" <mkchanpeter@...>
      > Hello Everyone:
      > I would like to contribute the following string of
      > thoughts for further discussion.
      > If atheism is taken as a denial of theism and its
      > characterization of God that religious folks
      > espoused, I am as atheistic as any. But if atheism
      > is taken as the belief that the universe must have
      > come from nothing, I am more of an agnostic than an
      > atheist. For between the belief that ??the universe
      > had come from nothing?? and its converse, I am more
      > inclined to think that ??it must have come from
      > something or other?? even though we do not know
      > what. Call this agnostic a-theism.
      > Some are likely to point out, I am sure, that this
      > kind of a-theism would still run into an indefinite
      > regress. If X is that something we know not what,
      > the question as to its source would still arise To
      > put the problem in the traditional theistic context,
      > what created God, and what created the creator of
      > God, and so on and so forth. For this reason, it has
      > become a second nature of sorts for a traditional
      > atheist to point out that this game about ultimate
      > origin is better played by invoking nothing
      > whatsoever right from the start, or ??nothingness??
      > if you like. However, I think it is also open to an
      > agnostic a-theist to argue that if God is taken as
      > that unknown ultimate mystery of the universe, it
      > could also serve as a boundary concept beyond which
      > one cannot go. As such, it would also stop the run
      > into an indefinite regress. Thus, the traditional
      > question of what comes before God need not arise.
      > The benefit of this position, let me also point out,
      > is to avert the
      > counter-intuitive belief that something could have
      > come from nothing at all.
      > Understood in this way, the difference between
      > traditional atheism and the agnostic a-theistic
      > position is this. While the former espouses the
      > belief that the universe could not have come from
      > nothing (that it has simply popped out of nothing),
      > the latter would rather hold (in consonant with the
      > commonsensical belief) that something must have come
      > from something or other, (even though we are not in
      > the position to ascertain what that might be). But
      > there is no need to waste any more than on this
      > difference until kingdom come. To think that there
      > are really rational grounds to opt for one rather
      > than the other has only reflected the presumptive
      > nature of our human kind. It would be of no use for
      > the traditional atheist to pound the table and
      > assert repeatedly that the agency and power of
      > material substance is all there are. For even if it
      > were so, who is he to say that there is really
      > nothing else besides the material causal system that
      > human awareness has come to apprehend, and its
      > scientific instruments are able to detect. Any
      > atheist who thinks so is perhaps just as dogmatic as
      > the theistic position that he is trying to overturn.
      > What may be more productive, I believe, is to
      > concentrate on the question of how the arrogance of
      > theism (with it claims concerning the intrinsic
      > nature of God and His ways) could in fact be more
      > effectively dislodged. What I should like to propose
      > is that it is to let him know that the belief in the
      > existence of a personal hereafter (detachable souls)
      > as propagated by all established religions of the
      > world is actually suspect. What I am suggesting is
      > that if it were to be shown that a human being is
      > not really the composite of a mortal body and an
      > immortal soul, the traditional fervor for theism
      > would in due course die down. You see, most
      > religious folks or folk-theists are really more
      > concerned about their personal hereafter than what
      > they depict as God. This latter is of no use to them
      > if there are actually no personal souls to be saved
      > or condemned. As such, it would also become
      > something that they will need to try and defend. It
      > therefore appears to me that it is only when this
      > soul-less fact is generally realized that the
      > atheists and his agnostic allies would have an
      > easier time. That is to say, the theist??s
      > psychological inclination toward saving the soul by
      > defending theism would also be de-motivated.
      > I also believe that there is a commonsensical but
      > conclusive argument to show that all theories of
      > personal souls are not intelligible for what they
      > are about. For those who are interested in knowing
      > what this argument might be, I would invite them to
      > visit me at
      > http://www.geocities.com/themysteryofmind
      > to see how this lure of religious dualism could in
      > fact be disposed, as well as to how the theists
      > could be further deprived of his motivation to live
      > and die on his dogmatism about the intrinsic nature
      > and plan of God, as he has been brainwashed to
      > believe.
      > Yes, I am referring to a book that I have just
      > published. But it is not my intention to try and
      > influence anyone to buy my book. The whole thing is
      > on-line for anyone to browse though if he or she has
      > the time. Besides, parts of it could be difficult
      > reading for those who are not philosophically
      > initiated, the philosophy of mind in particular. My
      > greater satisfaction would be to know that this new
      > dimension or battlefront could actually be ignited
      > in the war against the dogmatism of all established
      > theism. And that as a result, more people would come
      > to see more clearly that it does not really take a
      > soul to have a mind.
      > Yours sincerely,
      > Peter M.K. Chan

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