This post is in reference to this post and this one, and the comment thread to each. Each gives the background to what I hope to discuss here. I give these references for context. Anyone can read each and see the context in which each statement I will note here was made. I want to make sure that everyone understands that I am not pulling anything out of context, but using it in the sense it was being made (even if there was a lot of misunderstanding at the same time). If anyone thinks such is not the case, I invite them to please show how the context is not what I thought or how I misunderstood what was being stated (I could very well have). I do suggest anyone read the referenced posts and comment threads before or in conjunction with this post.
I am really interested in what I see going on here. I see something being conceded in one conversation (that we have something extra or a “world beyond” the purely material available to all people, so we can show that even a naturalistic narrative could potentially produce what we see in the creation and evolution of western music and song), but then taken back in another (that there is nothing extra to love, it is complex- yes, but “hardly a mystery”). So here I’m not interested in the assertions I made regarding music or mystery in either post, what I’m interested in now is what it exposed as to the reasoning process used to address each area by Bernard.
First, let’s look at the “love is hardly a mystery” statement. I think Bernard finally realized how insufficient it was to claim there was hardly any mystery to love. Thus, he thought it better to say there were aspects to love that were “unknowable.” Fine. If something has aspects to that are unknowable, there is mystery, right? In my mind this was a semantic detail only. I noted I was fine with using the term “unknowable” instead of “mystery”. I’m happy to say that the Trinity is unknowable like love is unknowable, which is to say we can never know either exhaustively or in the same way we can know a pumpkin, or dark matter or gravity. Still, he was then even unhappy with me agreeing to use the word “unknowable”. Why? My suspicion is this—because he means it (correct me if I’m wrong Bernard) in the sense of “we don’t know now, but we will at some point”—when I mean it as truly unknowable in any sort of final or exhaustive way, thus the mystery. In other words, in this life, we will never-ever know what love or the Trinity means completely—there will always be some mystery- some unknown aspect left over, a remainder. This is true now and will be true a thousand years from now. If Bernard thinks we will eventually figure love out and it will be completely knowable (like a pumpkin), he should just say so. But to admit such would be to claim at the same time that everything is reducible to the physical or material. As an agnostic, Bernard cannot go there so I’m not sure how he can resolve this conflicting line of thought.
To complicate matters though, we have Bernard saying that a pumpkin is like love in complexity but that there is “more” to love than a pumpkin. I certainly agree with the “more” aspect. But I have a rational for that, I believe in God, transcendence, a platonic reality. Here is the telling statement:
“But, you say there is more to love’s mystery than the pumpkin. Fair enough. So do I.” -Bernard
There it is- the word “more”. I think we will get around to people finally conceding that physical objects are not “like” abstract concepts like love, meaning, purpose, beauty, and the good, even though we may “naturally” and physically experience all those things, thus, there are clear category differences, so I’m going to let that go.
As a side note, the “complexity” part is not very helpful. Yes love is extremely complex, but not in the way a modern internal combustion engine is complex or a nuclear power plant or a corn maze. Love can’t be compared to the complexity of something in a completely different philosophical category of “being” or “thing”. With most very complex physical objects, we can break them down piece by piece, even down to their atomic structure. For obvious reasons, we cannot do this with love, meaning, purpose, beauty, and the good. Otherwise, a person is saying there is no difference between a nuclear power plant and a person or between a pumpkin and love other than complexity. Such would be a heavily disputed philosophical assertion and one only a philosophical naturalist could make.
If one is saying the only difference is the level of complexity but that both are the same category of thing (measurable/perceptible-in the same way a pumpkin is), then one is simply arguing the naturalist/atheist view. Bernard has told us there is a difference, but then he seems to begin to understand the problem this creates and tries to then claim they are the same thing— just both unknowable and complex, in the same sense-same category of thing. He still hasn’t resolved this discrepancy, this philosophical category error. It is interesting that it took two different blog posts to reveal this conundrum, which I think is a problem for all serious atheists/agnostics.
So, where does that leave us? Well, it goes further. Bernard has made an amazing claim here when he notes:
“If physical means only measurable or perceptible, then most if not all non-believers would believe in a world beyond this narrow boundary. This type of mystery…”
First, I’m not sure what else “physical” could mean except the measurable and perceptible, right? Anyway, I don’t think JP or Burk (correct me if I am wrong) believes there is something beyond the measurable or perceptible, because that is exactly where God could exist, right? But notice that is where love (also beauty, meaning, and the good) would exist too and the capacity for artistic creation. Yes, we experience love, meaning, purpose, and beauty, but such is not measurable or perceptible as physical objects/forces in and of themselves, such as we would pick up on a seismograph, brain scan or radar. I doubt anyone would argue (other than a naturalist/atheist) that we can reduce love to the physiological changes in our bodies and outward behavior alone. So once that door (that there is something beyond the narrow boundary of the measurable and perceptible) is open we would have to concede that God could indeed possibly exist. Such is why most atheists want to leave that door closed. But Bernard has opened it (he had to—to try and make his point that such aspects were also available to the atheist in regards to this quote:
“If you remove the spiritual and metaphysical aspects from the history of song, there isn’t much left.”
Plus, we should note that as an agnostic, it makes sense for Bernard to believe there is something “more”, something beyond this “narrow” boundary and thus why he is agnostic. He doesn’t claim to know what this “more” is, so he is agnostic, but he recognizes a “more” and is thus not an atheist. Further, that is why this “more” and this “beyond” is mysterious and somewhat unknowable. Unfortunately, this “more” is not open to the atheist and why we can then see that as a group probably would not have produced (I would argue anyway) certain forms of music and certain types of songs, because: “If you remove the spiritual and metaphysical aspects from the history of song, there isn’t much left.” Again though, let’s put that aside. The interesting point here has become this “world beyond” that is needed in one conversation, but taken back (love is “hardly a mystery”) in another.
So here are some questions I would like Bernard to address if he is willing. Due to space and time, he may find it easier to do so on his own blog or one he creates just for this purpose, but we will leave that to him. I would caution however that I would rather not get into a voluminous comment marathon for one blog post. Also, I would ask that Bernard respond to my specific questions below before making any general sort of response, as too often, I’ve noticed in the past, it simply allows for the substance of the post to never be addressed. So let me be clear: I will answer as many questions and points Bernard wishes to ask as to this post; I will even, if needed, devote an entire post to do so. However, I would ask he first respond to the following questions and points in a substantive manner. So here we go:
“But, you say there is more to love’s mystery than the pumpkin. Fair enough. So do I.”-Bernard
1. I agree. I think that this “more” is a spiritual/platonic/transcendent reality. But, what does this “more” consist of for you? If one is saying the only difference is the level of complexity but that both are the same category of thing (measurable/perceptible-in the same way a pumpkin is), then one is simply arguing the naturalist view. If you are, just say so. If not though, if you agree there is this “more” then why do you ask me to explain the difference between the mystery of love and that of a pumpkin, when you yourself are claiming there is one? What is the difference then between love and a pumpkin? A pumpkin is not complex in the same way love is complex, right (or maybe you agree with the naturalist and think it is)? So what is the difference, what is the “more” unless you are just arguing the naturalist/atheist line and simply saying love is “more” complex than a pumpkin but the same category of thing?
Just a side note here, the first-person example of a “sneeze” as being what love is like utterly and completely fails. It’s not even worthy of comment really. Like the example of hunger, a sneeze is a purely physiological reflex that does not involve choice, free will, reason, reflection, differences of personality, culture, time, the full complexity of our emotions and other variations that are peculiar to being human. One might as well say that love is like the first-person experience of passing gas or urinating. To say such is to “reduce” love to the purely physical, which begs the question. Where is the “more” then? Love is a first person experience but not like hunger or sneezing (even when we say someone “hungers” for love, we know there is a difference from what is meant by that poetic, metaphorical description and actual physical hunger), in any significant manner whatsoever. The first-person experience to sneezing is so unbelievably trivial, in comparison to the first-person experience of love (and all that has been written or depicted regarding that wonderful mystery), that we can only hope this example or analogy will be dropped swiftly. It is an embarrassing comparison and beneath Bernard’s obvious intelligence and depth—it was probably thrown out there in a moment of distraction.
2. Do you agree there are differences between the mysteries physical objects hold as opposed to non-physical concepts like love? In other words, I’m sure you would agree we cannot see love on radar or reduce love to a brain scan, right? Or, perhaps you don’t agree? A naturalist/atheist could not agree there were any substantive or ontological differences between the two or any difference (a “more”) that referenced the spiritual or metaphysical.
Here are some questions regarding this statement:
“If physical means only measurable or perceptible, then most if not all non-believers would believe in a world beyond this narrow boundary. This type of mystery…”-Bernard
3. Please explain exactly what you mean by your above statement and how you are using the word “mystery” in the context of your statement.
4. This seems to be the same “narrow boundary” imposed by the empiricist, true?
5. While I think most people do believe what you are pointing out (“a world beyond”), I don’t think most atheists do. For instance, I don’t think Burk or JP do. Do you agree?
At one point you further clarified the above quote thus:
“…you’ve misread me. I’ve not made the leap from the existence of a world beyond our conception, to the conclusion that creativity (music in this case) is not entirely physical. Such a leap would require either evidence, or at the very least an interesting logical construction, and both elude me at this point.”
6. This “clarification” doesn’t make sense to me. I’m assuming you included yourself in your first statement above and still believe there is a world “beyond” the purely measurable and perceptible, and you were noting this to show that non-believers could also then build spiritual and metaphysical aspects into song as well, right? Well, what “evidence” would you accept then that wasn’t measurable or perceptible, as you put it in your clarification above?
7. Further, are you arguing that creativity is entirely physical, since otherwise it’s a “leap” that requires evidence and such “eludes” you? Is that your argument? A naturalist/atheist would also say that evidence and any logical argument eluded them too, right?
8. At one point in the comments you wrote this: “However, looking for mysteries where none exist, seems less useful.” In the context of the atheist’s post regarding mystery, can you give an example of where you think someone is looking for a mystery where none need exist? If you cannot, then how is your statement relevant to the post? You must have been referencing something someone thought a mystery in the post.
While Bernard ponders those questions, here is what I think happened. I think Bernard was caught in a contradiction of his own making, wanting there to be “a world beyond” only the physical to show the quote regarding the spiritual and metaphysical aspects to song was false. At the same time however, he wanted to show that love could also be like other physical objects or physical processes, a pumpkin for instance, and thus no appeal was needed to anything beyond the physical to counter my assertion the Trinity was a mystery just like love is a mystery. For some reason I think Bernard was sure the use of the word “mystery” was an attempt to smuggle in the supernatural or God. Do I believe in those things, of course, as any casual reader of this blog would know. I made fairly clear what I meant—it came in my response to Burk in the comment section where I noted that the Trinity is a mystery just like love is. Here is what I wrote:
“You are confusing two different things. Dark energy and gravity are natural mysteries. The Trinity is a mystery like love is a mystery.”
This bothered Bernard because clearly he wanted to show that there was no mystery to love (“love is hardly a mystery”- he told us) and thus my Trinity comparison would fail, but all that has done is get him in trouble in relation to the “spiritual and metaphysical’ aspects pertinent to the conversation regarding music and song, where he needed the “world beyond”- the “more” than the purely measurable and perceptible.
Also, I should just say that I never have to smuggle or sneak God or the supernatural into anything. That is the work of religious fundamentalists. I see existence as entirely spiritual, with the material being the visible manifestation of such just as the body is the outward form of the soul. I would think this rather obvious to anyone who has perused my blog for any length of time.
Even if all of physical existence finds its origin and existence in God, the “ground of all being”, and there is a spiritual aspect to existence, there is still an inherent personal aspect to love and the Trinity that doesn’t exist as to physical forces or objects. Even if we say, “I love nature”, nature (the pumpkin) does not love us back or recognize our love. We never mean we love nature in the same way we mean we love our family, friends, children, spouses, God, and so forth. There is an inherent obvious difference here between natural mysteries, their unknowable aspect, and those associated with the love we have for others or God.
To recap: First we were told by Bernard that there was “hardly” anything mysterious about love. Then, we were told that there was “more” to the mystery of love than that of a pumpkin (What mystery? Does anyone believe the pumpkin still holds great mysteries—ones spoken of in song, poetry, literature or even science?) Further, we still haven’t been told by Bernard how there is “more” to the mystery of love (which I agree there is) than that of a pumpkin or what he means. If he was saying the “more” is just that love is a more complex but still physically based process, emotion, chemical reaction, neurons firing, what-have-you, he would simply be parroting the naturalist view. He would still be reducing love to something purely physical-just more or less complex. I don’t believe he can take that view, because then he would not be agnostic but a naturalist/atheist.
Second, a philosophical naturalist believes the physical/material is all that exists—it is inherently atheistic. If Bernard doesn’t allow for some remainder, something left over beyond the purely physical/material, something “more”, then there is no difference in what he is arguing and what a naturalist/atheist would argue. See the problem? We were also told, at the same time, in reference to the music issue that there was a “world beyond” the purely measurable and perceptible (which is a “narrow” boundary). Hopefully we can see here that two different tracks of thought, like two trains, have collided because only one of these trains can be on the same track at the same time. There is either something “more” (beyond mere complexity) or there is “hardly” a mystery to love at all, and all will or can be known eventually through our own efforts (science, I guess?). It can’t be both of these things however.
We will find out more regarding what Bernard really believes if he is willing to address the above questions. At some points, Bernard’s comments seem to suggest he knows love to be something that can be, or will eventually be, explained in purely natural or scientific terms, without recourse to any metaphysical, transcendent, platonic, or spiritual component or argument. But as an agnostic, he can’t know that—that would presume those aspects did not exist. Those are the very components and arguments that go to God existing or not—or objective morals existing. Whether those aspects exist as to love too, he must claim ignorance to remain agnostic.
Anyway, perhaps I have completely misunderstood everything Bernard was telling us. Always a possibility. If so, I’m sure Bernard will set us straight.
I should say this as well. I’m not trying to “catch” Bernard here or prove I am right and he is wrong. Frankly, I could care less. If Bernard wants to believe love songs and music as we know those things (the different forms) could have been produced by a naturalistic narrative, fine. I disagree. That was a minor point in a “Friday Roundup” post, which is an informal rambling regarding items of interest to me and not a substantive post. But the other issues that have arisen in his defense of that musing are much more interesting—and revealing—thus this post (what was also very revealing, which was picked up by Ron, was the example of unalienable human rights given at one point, with the quick qualification of those rights perhaps not being “universal”—chew on that for a while—do some humans not have those rights?). And if he wants to believe there really is no difference between the mystery of love and that of a pumpkin, or assert they are both unknowable in the same way (different level of complexity is all, which is still a reduction to the physical alone), then frankly I feel sorry for anyone whose world-view/narrative would constrain them (“narrow boundary”) to believe such a thing. On one level, it is comical (I keep imagining a man telling his girlfriend his love for her is complex, unknowable, mysterious, like that of a pumpkin), on another though, very sad. Putting all that aside, what I’m hoping for Bernard to see here is how contradicting a purely empirical world-view/narrative can be when one tries to address the areas brought up in the two posts (love, mystery, certainty, and the spiritual and metaphysical aspects to music/creativity). I think the contradictions and inconsistencies are there and very telling.
If he is willing, I look forward to Bernard’s responses.