For background to the following, see here, here, and here especially the comment sections. This post is a continuation of that conversation.
What I am about to describe, I think, is the experience of the vast majority of people in all times and cultures. This is how I think we all (or most) come to our conclusions regarding any metaphysical question and certainly moral or ethical questions, which are always derivative of the greater narratives we inhabit.
Most people whether brought up in a religious home and culture or not, when they become old enough to make their own life choices regarding metaphysical/religious beliefs, what is true, and so on, normally then go through a holistic process of trying to figure those things out. This is a life-long process really. We never figure it all out. We are all within this process right now and at all times, whether we realize it or not.
This holistic process involves reflecting upon their life experiences, education, culture, understanding of science, reading, conversing with others, the use of reason and logic, and other similar factors (sources available to all of us). As they do this, they will also begin to see that they already inhabited a narrative handed to them from their family and culture. Through this holistic process, they will either see that narrative confirmed even further, changed, or perhaps completely dismantled. This is where we see Christians no longer believing or atheists becoming believers. But out of this process, many will come to believe there is more to existence than the physical alone. Some will come to the opposite conclusion—that the physical is all that exists. Or they may come to a place of agnosticism, they don’t know either way, and remain open. But the vast majority of people over time and in all places have concluded there is more to existence than the physical alone. Regardless the conclusion, we might call this initial process Step One.
Out of this process, let’s consider a hypothetical person who comes to the conclusion there is more to existence than the physical alone. Once they have concluded such it makes sense they would investigate further, and in fact, this is what most people do and have been doing for millennium. Such a person would begin to read about the world religions and philosophies. They would talk to the people in those faiths, world-views. They would visit their churches/temples/gatherings/classes and try to understand each one better. They might even take some religious studies or philosophy courses. They would reflect upon how the various teachings and understandings would apply to their own lives and what that might mean. They would reflect upon how the various teachings might be understood given what we know from science, philosophy, the humanities, the political/economic and other disciplines. They would reflect upon what these various narratives have produced historically and are producing now in the way of cultural artifacts. They would reflect internally, regarding what type person this narrative seems to produce and how they felt about that. Do they wish to become that type person? Most importantly, they would reflect upon if they thought this narrative to be true. This is something every serious thinking person on the planet has done or is in the process of doing. We will call this Step Two.
Now, nowhere in this entire process, Step One or Step Two, is there a clash with science. None. Zero. Why? Because if people living, reading, thinking, and moving through this holistic process of learning (which could really be called just “life” and learning) entails a clash with science—then the entire human race has been clashing with science and is clashing every second!
This hypothetical person is still seeking and hasn’t made a decision. He has only concluded there is more to this life than the physical alone and is now investigating further using that same holistic process (and Bernard conceded just doing so doesn’t clash with science). There isn’t a reasonable person on the planet who would assert that somewhere in the above learning process (that every thinking person goes through) that there is a clash with science. The only way one could bring up a supposed clash, would be after the person made a decision and it would depend upon what his decision was and what beliefs followed from it, and that would be an entirely different discussion.
Thus, to the question of sources, the claim we can know nothing specific regarding the spiritual, and information “getting in” our brains, I am done with that nonsense. We all have the same sources whether those sources are ultimately true or not, and it “gets in” our brains in the same way for all of us (I’m assuming a person can read, talk, think, and so on—I know, these are crazy assumptions, but there they are) as noted above. This is so obvious, the fact I would need to even note the above is mind-boggling. So, I am not going to insult anyone’s intelligence any further discussing sources available to all of us and how information “gets in” our brains (Now, it could be that Bernard has meant something completely different by “getting in” our brains than reading, listening, and other normal means. If so, he has never made that clear or I never understood what he meant. Either way, he should have been able to explain it by now and those normal means is all I’ve ever meant by “getting in”).
So moving pass the obvious, let’s get closer to where the problem truly lies. Bernard assumes if the beliefs of Christians are true, then they must clash with science, or to put it another way, that the science is wrong. That is the disputed question. I don’t believe that to be true. I think that is false information that has gotten into Bernard’s brain somehow. The mistake Bernard is making is that he assumes philosophical naturalism/physicalism to be, “science”, which it is not. Those who think such are really ascribing to “scientism”. I’ve noted this over and over but Bernard refuses to concede the distinction. He thinks this is about science. I think it’s about philosophical interpretations of the science. And this is really the issue here. He is right about a clash. There are clashes. But they are philosophical clashes, not ones of science. Over and over however he has made it clear this is about “science” and not philosophical differences.
As an aside, I think I know why he cannot concede this point. He needs this to be about “science” because that is the authority in his life. It is the same when fundamentalists believe the Bible is under attack or if someone disagrees with their interpretations of the Bible. They need to make it about the “Bible” rather than the fact people disagree as to what the Bible means, because then their view is also just another interpretation and not the settled interpretation. “Science” and “the Bible” become sticks these people wave around like weapons and they cannot divorce their interpretations from either—they see them as the same—as if they were speaking for “science” or “the Bible”. It becomes very unsettling for them to learn otherwise. No matter how unsettling however, I think we will eventually see that Bernard’s views here are not settled science, but simply his own personal faith-based philosophical views.
So, back to the point, let’s take two hypothetical people who have gone through the same holistic process noted above. They are finally ready to make a decision regarding which narrative they believe is true. They then plan to inhabit that narrative, to live as if it were true and to see the world through that narrative. As noted already, up to this point, there can be no clash with science because no decisions have been made—even Bernard agreed here (which means, by the way, there were sources and the information did “get in”).
Person A comes to believe the Christian narrative is the narrative he wants to inhabit, but not in the orthodox sense. He thought this man Jesus, if he truly lived, was very wise. But, he doesn’t believe in any of the miracles, or that Jesus was God in flesh, or in the resurrection, but he does believe Jesus was a very wise and kind man and he wants to live in that way too. So he concludes that when it comes to ethics and morality, he wants to follow the example of Jesus, which would include loving one’s enemies, being against torture, and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Oh, and by the way, I just answered how a person can come to see love as a moral subjective good).
Now, where in the above was there a clash with science? Nowhere.
Person B also comes to believe the Christian narrative is the narrative he wants to inhabit, but in the orthodox sense. He thought this man Jesus was wise as well but much more than just a wise man. He believes the miracles happened, and that Jesus was God in the flesh. He believes Jesus was resurrected and is God (in Trinity). He believes in what has been passed down through the oral tradition of the Church and those who came before him. He believes what scientists, scholars, philosophers, and theologians who also believe have written as to why they think these things true as well. And he too concludes that when it comes to ethics and morality, he wants to follow the example of Jesus, which would include loving one’s enemies, being against torture, and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Oh, and by the way, I just answered how a person can come to see love as a moral objective good—the person may be right, they may be wrong, but this is certainly a way to come to that conclusion).
Now, where in the above is there a clash with science, not as to the conclusions (which I agree could be open to a clash), which differ from the first man, but as to the process? As to the process, if the first man did nothing to clash with science, then neither did the second man. What possibly changed as to “brain states” and physics just because they came to different philosophical conclusions? Nothing—how ridiculous to think otherwise. Each one followed the same holistic process but simply concluded differently. Clearly, simply disagreeing and coming to different philosophical/belief conclusions is not a clash with science. We would have to look at the conclusions themselves to decide that issue.
What does that leave then? Do the conclusions/beliefs clash with science? No. They clash with philosophical naturalism/materialism/physicalism. And that is another discussion. Now, why Bernard didn’t start here, I have no idea. My sense is he is trying to hang on to the agnostic title, while at the same time making sure we could never make any specific claims regarding God or the spiritual. Well, good luck with that. That option is gone now. We can and we do (whether they are true or not is another issue—but that issue applies to Bernard as well as to his claim we can know nothing specific about God or the spiritual). We can know something about this spiritual reality and its qualities through the sources available to all of us as noted above, regardless the fact what we think we know could turn out to be false (or true).
Anyway, like most, I have gone through (and I am still going through) this same holistic process (again, in case anyone missed it, this is how I came to conclude what I have as to ethics and morality and it is the same way Bernard (or anyone) has concluded whatever he has as to ethics and morality). And, thus my belief that love is mysterious in a way hunger is not and why I think torture wrong (intrinsically—not just culturally, or by law, or by emotion) and loving our neighbors an objective moral good. Each is derivative of my belief in God and the Christian narrative. Do those beliefs clash with science? No. Otherwise one would be claiming that “science” had proven God does not exist. And my belief in God is not based solely upon the Bible, but on the entire holistic process. I believed there was a spiritual aspect to existence, something more than just the physical, before I even came to the Bible. The Bible simply gave me information regarding the specifics, the qualities, to that spiritual world, for instance, that God is love (so much for the claim there are no sources—there are, to claim otherwise or that if they are true they will clash with science is to beg the question). How could a belief that God is love clash with science? We know the process of reading it in the Bible, thinking about it, doesn’t clash with science. The only clash would be if science had anything to say regarding God existing or not. It doesn’t.
I think I know where Bernard really wanted to go in this conversation and why he didn’t I have no idea as it would have saved a lot of time. My next post will unpack where I think he wanted to go and what I think he was “really” saying all this time and I think I will show that even there, he comes up short. We won’t see a clash with science, only philosophical naturalism/physicalism, which I’ve never denied.