November 28, 2006

Here, in college, it was more sophisticated, of course; you were supposed to imitate the teacher in such a way as to convince the teacher you were not imitating, but taking the essence of the instruction and going ahead with it on your own. That got you A’s. Originality on the other hand could get you anything-from A to F. The whole grading system cautioned against it.

– From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig


November 27, 2006

“Make an outline of the proof of the existence of God.”

Only in CIE.

My 3rd CIE Paper

November 8, 2006

Enjoy this preview of my upcoming CIE Paper. I’ll post the final copy when it’s done. Until then, enjoy.

Will Christianity Outgrow Its Childhood?
In the modern world, a many situations offer a threat to humanity. However, perhaps the most egregious of these is religious fundamentalism. The Western World (America especially) has no problem seeing the craziness of Muslim’s. What we do have a problem doing, though, is seeing that very same craziness in our own backyard: in the square states. In Kansas, where evolution has been banned, on and off, over the past century. In the megachurches of America, where preachers wrap messages of materialism and sadism in nice love-clothe.

Now, admittedly, there are MANY well intentioned Christians. I have no doubt that the vast majority of Christians would not act in bad faith if they knew that they were doing so. What they don’t know is that they are. That different faiths abound, and acting like there aren’t is a silly thing to do.

But before we go condemning Christianity, it is important that we take a step back and look at the larger picture. That bigger picture is the goal of this paper, asking not whether or not Christianity is a childish religion, but whether the masses that practice it will ever move beyond the childish fascination with creator gods and apocalyptic deaths.

What is the larger picture? Simply put, that picture involves evolution, interestingly the bane of Christian Fundamentalism. Ironically, this may also be the only hope to save Christianity form itself. Basically, when speaking of evolution in this context, we will explore Christianity in a developmental context, as both a social institution and as a worldview held by the people who practice it.

A great deal of this paper will be a simplification and application of the ideas proposed by Ken Wilber in Integral Spirituality (among numerous other works) regarding the place of spirituality, and by extension religion, in the modern and postmodern world.

The bulk of Wilber’s work in this area can be seen as anthropological: he examines societies and tries to categorize them. However, he goes beyond the typical approach of lumping to instead form a cogent picture of what a truly integral framework might look like. The greatly simplify his work for this paper, humans go through 3 major developmental stages: pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional. Pre-conventionality deals with “me” and with egocentric. Conventionality (where most of modern Christianity now resides) focuses on “us” and has a more ethnocentric slant. Finally, the next stop, though in no way the final stop, along the path is at the post-conventional, a place emphasized by focus on “all of us” and on worldcentric issues.

Another way to think of this development in less abstract terms is to view the growth of a person from a baby, to a child, to an adolescent, to an adult. As a baby, the baby has no choice but to be egocentric, focused on the very tactile world around himself. In fact, at this stage, the child and his surroundings are completely undifferentiated: the child literally does not know that he and it are different. Moving through childhood, the child continues to differentiate and integrate itself and its surroundings until it reaches a more ethnocentric view of the world, focusing on himself, his family, his friends, his nation, etc. Basically, this is the “Boyscout/Girlscout” age of conformity. The child unites itself to some higher purpose outside of itself and in the process loses its individuality to the group. Think Hitler. Think the Ku Klux Klan. Think nation-states. Finally (or hopefully), the child eventually reaches adolescence, a time of great turmoil physically, mentally, and emotionally. For our cases, let’s just focus on the mental side (the other two would be entire papers unto themselves). As a teenager, a young man might find himself suddenly fighting his parents, fighting his teachers, and fighting with himself. Identity with the group loses its importance, even as some regress to more group identification under the sway of peer pressure. Suddenly, the most important issue is to make one’s own way in the world. To get beyond the labels and just be themself. Finally, in adulthood, the healthy adult integrates all of these components into a healthy individual, where healthy means an individuated self integrated into a larger world context.

Now, why say this? Basically, because ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny (regardless of the fact that this theory, in biology is bullshit). As discussed in Up from Eden and The Atman Project, the development of civilizations follow very closely the development of individuals, as it must since civilization is merely the intersubjective representation of the subjective experience of an individual. So, if we take the basic model of pre-conventional to conventional to post conventional, or even more illustrative, the view of a person going through stages of development, and apply it to the development of a culture, in this case Christianity, we may draw some very interesting comparisons.

It’s important to note that the fact that Christianity went through stages of development does not mean that Jesus himself was not post-conventional. That’s the thing about developmental filters and by proxy social norms: they influence what they interpret.

Clearly Christianity comes in any number of flavors: the infant ones (think vodoo based Christianity or the Rapture-based violence), the childhood ones (Churches, the current Pope claiming Catholicism is the one and only way [Boyscouts, anyone?), or the adult variety (Deism, rational Christianity, any of those numerous nummy flavors). But let’s go into more detail with the second two types of Christianity, since they involve the two types most commonly found in the world.
“Traditional” Christianity has very little tradition about it. Sure, Saint Paul made some great comments. But he didn’t match up at all with Jesus. Unfortunately, those red highlighted words often get ignored in the sea of black around Paul’s letters. So, regardless of the lack of tradition (blah blah blah this doesn’t matter). Christianity at the traditional phase is how we commonly think of it: churches, fundamentalists, a strict adherence to moral codes, and a belief that Jesus is the only one Way and Truth and Light.

This quote’s a continuation of yesterday’s quote in a way.

After my CIE professor asks, “Haven’t any of you ever tried meditating?”

“No, my mind’s to busy!”

“I could never do that, I think a billion thoughts a second!”

“My heads too filled with junk!”

That’s the eqivalent of an obese person saying, “I could never exercise, I’m too heavy!”

If you don’t want to meditate, fine. But admit the real reasons: a lack of interest or a lack of self-discipline. Not because you’re mind’s too busy. EVERYONE’S mind is too busy. That’s the whole point.


Quote of the Day

October 2, 2006

While discussing the Bhagavad Gita in my CIE Class:

VERY Christian girl: Wait, if they don’t have a Bible, where do their religious ideas come from?

Click. At least, I’d hope that causes some sort of click in her head. Yes, religion is made by man. Regardless of whether or not there is some higher power (which is debatable), man still had to write down the words sometime.

I feel a little bad “making fun” of her. But at the same time, if we just allow ourselves to swim in “multiculturalism,” the world is screwed.

Oh, and it turns out I’m the only one with Buddhist inclinations in my CIE class. Well, almost. I, and a fellow XC member, agree that life is suffering. Maybe it has to do with all those long runs…

The Blue Chair Analogy

September 21, 2006

Today was a fun day in my humanities class. A very fun day. Why? Because we did some hard core philosophizing. And you all know how I love philosophizing.

We discussed Plato’s Euthyphro (if you haven’t read it, I wouldn’t advise, but if you have, god bless you!). The whole point of this dialogue, in a nutshell, is to define piety and impiety. Though, in the end, Socrates (the protagonist of Euth.) spins Euthyphro on his head so much that he doesn’t even know which way is north.

I won’t bore you with all the intricicacies of Plato’s / Socrates’ argument. To be honest, the arguments don’t interest me. Except for one.

Socrates poses the question, “Do the gods love something because it is pious, or is that thing pious because the gods love it.” Now, if you’re like me, at this point you’re scratching your head and going “huh?” Just read that a few more times and it should sink in.

Sunk in yet? If not, let me explain in normal (read useful) language. He’s asking something to the affect of “did that A paper get an A because it IS an A paper, or is it an A paper because it got that grade?” Does the “A-ness” precede the grading of it (you know when you start seeing hyphenated words with -ness attached that your in philosophy land).

Sure, whatever, who cares. Platonic ideals and all that jazz. What’s the real world application (because god knows philosophy is no good unless you can do something with it).

Lets take the original example that Plato gave: Do the gods love something because it is pious, or is that thing pious because the gods love it. If it’s the latter, then we need to gods in order to tell what is pious or what isn’t. If it’s the former, quite frankly, then we don’t need the gods. We too can tell if something is pious via reason.

This led in my class to the question of how something could “just be pious” without something (preferably a god) making it so. A confusing question, I must admit. At least, when looked at from a mythic religious creator perspective. It sounds like the nontheist is making the “turtle” argument (it’s turtles all the way up and all the way down) when they say that humans are “just that way” (ie they can tell right from wrong because they just can).

This is where I stepped in and did a little scientific heavy lifting (I’m the “skeptic” of the class). I pointed to a blue chair and gave the common philosophical question of, “Is that chair blue because there is an inherent quality of blueness in it, or because we percieve it to be blue.” Let me make a clarifying statement: I’m not talking about linguistics here. That would be an entirely different argument. I’m not talking about the fact that the word “blue” is completely socially constructed and that we have no way of knowing if you and I even see the same “blue” and that the word blue doesn’t even exist in the physical world.

I’m talking about the blue that you see. The blue that arises in your consciousness. That blue doesn’t exist either. Think about it. Yes, the certain wavelength of light does exist. But the color blue that we perceive has correlates to that wavelength, but does not in any way define that wavelength. We just evolved (or our eyes evolved) to see the color “blue” when that wavelength strikes them. Another animal may see something completely different from the blue we see. Other animals may hear and smell in “blue.” (for more on this, check out Dawkins’ brilliant exposition on the reality of how we view the world vs. how the world actually is). [Note: We could say that some people (the colorblind) don’t see the color blue at all, but that’s a defect of their biology, therefore leading to a different subjective reality.]

Therefore, and this is the crux of the argument about morals I’m about to make, even though there is no color blue as we perceive it “out there” in the objective universe, that does not mean that we cannot agree on the color blue. Our common biology allows us to define certain objects giving off a certain wavelength of light as blue.

Now, let me propose an (imperfect) analogy. Just as the color blue does not exist in the objective universe, the ideas of piety and impiety (or good and evil) do not exist in the objective universe. But this does not mean that we cannot agree, due to our common biology and culture, about certain gradations of good and evil. Though it may not be “objectively” good to not kill another person, thanks to our shared biological intuitions and social norms, we can agree on certain “rights and wrongs” just as we can agree on the color blue. Add to that the “color-blindness” angle, and we can see how some people just aren’t good. They go out and kill with no moral pangs at all. This is not mean we throw the good of all humanity out just because these few people have a moral “defect.”

And thus the argument of “how can one be good without god” falls to the wayside.

At least, it would if I could articulate the argument in my head into a slightly more cogent one on paper.

And yes, it is more complicated than that (to quote Ze Frank). But I’m only covering the physiosocial angle. All the other angles I leave for you to explore.

I hope you enjoyed this jaunt through philosophy land. And you thought philosophy was completely useless! Silly! :)


I think that CIE is going to give me tons of great material for my blog. I mean, tons of it. Which makes perfect sense, because CIE stands for “Common Intellectual Experience.” And my blog is nothing if not common, and only slightly intellectual.

Anyway, lets talk about laws. More importantly, moral laws. Why do we do what we do? Why do we label one thing bad and one thing good? Simple question, right?

What are our options? The most prevalent answer is, “Well, duh, God gave us the laws as written down in our sacred texts. He told someone to do something, so we do it. ‘Nuff said.”

Option two: we someone have an innate moral goodness in us. As the one question on an AP Bio test said, “Humans are inherently perfect and do not need to evolve anymore.” In other words, all men are angels.

Option three: men are both good and bad. Our moral norms result from years of psycho-social-biological evolution. Things like altruism, the golden rule, and love result out of the evolutionary process itself because they lend an advantage to humanity. They just MAKE SENSE.

Option four: there is a general trend towards complexity in the universe. For this complexity to occur, humans must move beyond “red in tooth and claw” and begin to follow written down codes of conduct and laws. We act better because it’s in the very nature of the universe for this to happen (eventually). Every time we help someone out that can’t return the favor, we act in accordance with some kosmic principle.

Now, you can pick and choose out of those options. Let me just say I lean towards some mix of option three and four. Option one makes no sense, unless you believe in a higher power that writes malevolent writs on stone tablets. Couldn’t he just MAKE us do what he wants? “But God works in mysterious ways!” In that case, better to just take him out of the picture. Not to say he doesn’t exist. Just to say that he doesn’t add anything to the discussion.

Option two makes a little sense, except for the obvious fact that humans do horrible things. We rape. We pillage. We steal. We cheat on tests. We are NOT angels. We are NOT the apex of evolution. To hold the view that humans are somehow non-animal is folly. We aren’t a blank slate to write the greatness of the future on (wouldn’t that greatness come from the past anyway?). We have billions of years of evolutionary history hardwired into our biology.

Three makes sense from a physicalist view. Yes, we do have laws. But someone had to write those laws down (if we take God out of the picture). So, how did that person come up with the laws. Doesn’t it make sense that most of us originally followed these laws anyway, and that someone wrote them down so that EVERYONE (even the lowest common denominator) would follow the laws. Not to say that these laws don’t evolve. What’s okay in ancient Mesopatamia is NOT okay in 21st century America.

Add a dash of theory four in and you have a teleological theory saying that we move towards higher levels of “goodness.” Not that we’ll ever be perfect, but that we strive towards perfection. Why? Because that’s the way the universe is going. Despite the second law of thermodynamics, we find quarks to atoms to molecules to macromolecules to cells to organisms to humans to families to cities to civilizations. If that’s not teleological, then I don’t know what is.

I just had to get this all out. When the CIE teacher asked mw why I thought I was moral, I said, “Because I feel good when I do good and feel bad when I do bad.” Then she asked, “Well, why do you feel that way?” I replied, sheepishly, “Because that’s how we evolved.” I felt like that was a lame explanation. So here’s the real McCoy. My real explanation. The one I would have liked to give, given the time.

Thanks for reading.