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Regarding A Pragmatic Answer

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Posted by Harvey on April 30, 2002 20:44:03 UTC

Hi Mario,

***Though I'm sure you didn't mean it, this statement rang incredibly coldly cynical to me. (and I thought that was my job) You are essentially saying that belief in something greater leads to happiness, but it doesn't matter whether or not that greater power exists. All that matters is that you find "meaning" in life. Well, I'm sorry Harv, but meaning apart from reality is hollow and dangerous. Christian Fundamentalists finding meaning in their lives may eventually lead to the banning of the evolution from public schools. Is it so worth an imaginary pat on the back from the universe that we sacrifice all else in favor of satisfaction?***

I didn't say that "it doesn't matter whether or not that greater power exists". What I said is that this belief is perhaps a necessity for human beings to have significant meaning in their lives unless you want the State to actively promote meaning at a social level (e.g., a Communist society). Substituting theism for something else is not that easy. I don't think sponsoring economic satisfaction and extracurricular activities is enough. Wanting 'truth' from the universe is something that is probably beyond our grasp. We have to also have to focus on what works.

***We can't quite grasp the idea that maybe we just don't matter. Maybe the purpose of the universe, if there is one, does not involve us at all. Maybe the universe itself has no purpose, and we're all part of the same headless monstrosity. People can't accept these notions. Human love, human compassion, the joy of staying out until five in the morning with friends, the thrill of your first kiss, the magic of watching your first child born, these things aren't enough for us. We aren't satisfied to appreciate ourselves for our own sake, now we want the universe, too. How incredibly sad.***

Why do you think that is Mario? Do you think it might be because the loss of a loved one (e.g., a child, a parent, a sibling, a spouse, etc) might be a little overwhelming for some folks if they have spent a considerable amount of their life with that person. But, gee, don't worry, Mario and company has an answer, you can find meaning in sports, in humanism, in the art that they created on Saturday. Come on, most people want meaning and reconciliation in their life. People become restless and disturbed if life is seen as objectively meaningless. If that saddens you that this is the case, then I think a society that doesn't believe in this overall theistic meaning to life would make you a lot sadder. Of course, we have examples of such societies (Soviet Union, People's Republic of China, etc.), but somehow I don't think this is the future society you envision.

***Maybe so, but to use this to support the existence of a universal meaning is ludicrous, so again I assume you're not defending the existence of the meaning, but simply the belief in it. If so, Harv, you are a calculating pragmatist beyond compare. Belief for its own sake. I've heard your argument used before, and I can never fathom its foundations. (no offense) To come out and say that "Yeah, my belief is probably wrong, but it makes me happy" is the most doublethinkful statement in the history of the world. I never regret my occasional depression. I would never give them up in favor of an acknowledged placeholder.***

I'm not saying it is wrong or that it lacks defense. Rather, I'm saying it wouldn't make any difference if we care about civilization. There are many places in the world where poverty reigns, but contentment is high because of the beliefs of those people. I once had an invitation by a poor Balinese family to come to their home and share in their Hindu beliefs. They lived on dirt floors and their whole family lived in a small village and in a small hut. They were one of the happiest families I ever met. You know what made them happy? They were content because of their religious beliefs and the joy of being able to obtain meaning in those beliefs. It was a fantastic encounter for me.

Now, a guy named Mario comes along and says "you poor sap, don't you know this is all fiction and that you better get on with your life. Stop believing in fairy tales and live life for the moment, because that's all you got baby." What do you think is going to be the reaction of 5 billion people who have nothing of any physical goods by which to evaluate their lives?

***If you ask me, I would say that reason and faith are mutually exclusive. At least, the philosophical approaches are. Observation and deduction versus intuition? I am perplexed. Sure, most everyone combines a bit of both into their worldview, but at its core, theism and rationality exist in two seperate universes. You can combine the two, only if you really feel like using doublethink again. If you can show me how faith and science are compatible, I'd appreciate it (and be suprised)***

Faith is at the core of science. You can't prove induction, you can't prove any theory of science is right. All we have is the satisfaction that comes with good predictions. This type of satisfaction isn't as different from the satisfaction of that Balinese family that you'd like to think. We feel confident (satisfied) that we can predict many of the actions of nature, but this is all based on our past observations. You need a sense of basic trust that the universe is how it appears (at least enough so that we can feel satisfied to do the kinds of scientific investments that are made).

Mario, it is a great misconception that science has somehow left the human sphere of things like faith, trust, and hope. Scientists constantly show faith in a theory, or trust in their instruments, or hope that their concepts are right. You might say that there is a huge difference in this kind of 'faith, trust, hope' of religion, but again this is not altogether true. There is not one shred of evidence that the universe is as how it appears. Not one shred of evidence. All the evidence is based on our inductive reasoning, but you can't use inductive reasoning to justify inductive reasoning. What justifies inductive reasoning? The only thing that I can think of is pragmatism. That presents a problem. There's more than one interpretation of pragmatism, and how you justify pragmatic practices is completely arbitrary and open to disagreement. I happen to hold a view of pragmatism that holds that meaningful existence is at the center of human existence.

***In this case, we have differing views on the word "ignorant." You say it's anything that hinders survival, I say it's anything that hinders knowledge. I have to say, your definition of the word makes me suspect that you're a closet nihilist. Shouldn't we, as a species, take our head out of the sand every once in a while, even if it means the sun will burn our eyes after centuries of darkness?***

I think you are very naive in your understanding of knowledge. Human knowledge is based solely upon our prejudice of what we thinks works to explain the world. That is, a good explanation gives meaning to our sensory experiences. But, isn't that what a theistic outlook does? It gives meaning to our sensory experiences.

Warm regards, Harv

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