is there a god?

J Krishnamuti says

In the case of the tree the object is before our eyes, and the word refers to the tree by universal agreement. Now with the word god there is nothing to which it refers, so each man can create his own image of that for which there is no reference.

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wise sayings

by Zera Yacob, philosopher (1599-1692)

on fasting and absconding certain foods for religious ends

God does not order absurdities such as ‘‘Eat this, do not eat this; today eat, tomorrow do not eat, do not  eat meat today, eat it tomorrow. . . neither did God say to the Mohammedians: ‘eat during the night, but do not eat during the day.’ ’’

human beings are all equal because they are all endowed with intelligence and are fated to die.

Truth occurs only when all persons agree on a given matter or value.

On obligations

Thus, the first foundational obligation of human beings is to love others as you would yourself, and not to do to others what you would not do to yourself.

On men

‘‘There are four kinds of men. The person who knows and teaches, he himself being educated: he is a scholar; ask him questions and learn from him. The person who knows and does not teach, although he is a scholar: he is intelligent; remember him. The person who does not know but teaches: he is in need of guidance; teach him and guide him. The person who does not know and does not want to learn: he is a fool; keep away from him.’’

On wisdom

Wisdom is not good if the action is not good.

On sorrow

Sorrow is of two kinds. One type is that of conscience: the rational soul becomes sad out of lack of knowledge. The animal soul feels sorry out of lack of food and drink and the like.

the problem of evil

a solution, somewhat

for those who are not so philosophically inclined, the problem stated simply, reads

  1. If an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient god exists, then evil does not.
  2. There is evil in the world.
  3. Therefore, an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient god does not exist.

I am not here to give a new or novel solution but present the solution suggested by Rousseau in Emile as given in the essay of the Savoyard Vicar and ask for your views on the same, whether it is adequate and answers adequately the problem as stated above.

He has the Vicar say

There exists no other evil in nature than what you either do or suffer, and you are equally the author of both. A general evil could exist only in disorder, but in the system of nature I see an established order, which is never disturbed. Particular evil exists only in the sentiment of the suffering being; and this sentiment is not given to man by nature, but is of his own acquisition. Pain and sorrow have but little hold on those who, unaccustomed to reflection, have neither memory nor foresight.

and that

God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. He cannot be mischievous or wicked without hurting himself. A being capable of doing every thing cannot will to do any thing but what is good. He who is infinitely good, therefore, because he is infinitely powerful, must also be supremely just, otherwise he would be inconsistent with himself. For that love of order which produces it we call goodness, and that love of order which preserves it is called justice.

which is to deny the very existence of evil and to reduce it to our passions or judgments. That is to say, evil is a product of our imagination and if we were only to think right, the problem wouldn’t exist. In this view, then, natural evil as elucidated in Rowe’s evidentiary argument doesn’t exist, that is, the death of a bird in a forest fire is not an evil.

The Vicar says of man (moral evil), that

His powers, however, are at the same time so limited and confined, that the use he makes of his liberty is not of importance enough to disturb the general order of the universe. The evil done by man falls upon his own head, without making any change in the system of the world, – without hindering the human species from being preserved in spite of themselves.

In essence, the Vicar has argued that evil, in so far as it exists, is only in our heads and even if we conceded this much it is too minute to affect the nature of things.

Do you agree with the Vicar or is this solution problematic?

 

African Religion and Philosophy

by Canon John Mbiti

This is a good introductory book to students on African religion. It is short on philosophy though. In any case, the only time he talks about anything close to philosophy is when he talks about African time and the concept of evil, justice and ethics, on this, shortly.

It seems to me however, that at some point his ideas of god, African gods, is coloured by his christian beliefs. It is Christianity that has an abstract or unnamed god. The Egyptians named their gods and one would expect, at least, named gods if the idea of god was not an abstract thing among traditional societies in Africa.

There seems to be a thin line between secular and religious authority. In fact, this distinction doesn’t even come into play. There is no sphere of life, per Mbiti, that is not religious or doesn’t involve religious feeling.

I am not sure I agree with Mbiti that there was no irreligiousness in African traditional societies. This, in my view is erroneous and should be worthy of study. In every age there have always been people skeptical of the traditions, including the religious ideas active in their times. So of interest to me is how skepticism was articulated.

His comments on evil, ethics and justice I found to be quite interesting and it is to that we now turn.

He writes for example about the Ankore who do not feel they can offend god because god is the final principle or among the Azande, Akan and so on who believe god has no influence on people’s morals.

Among the Bavenda, they believe in a god who punishes the community for the infractions of the chief.

Among the Nuer, he tells us, there is a belief that to be proud of one’s wealth may offend god causing them to take away cattle and children.

What I find deeply disturbing is the belief among some communities that never or rarely does a person or being of higher status do what constitutes an offence against a person of lower status. It is this belief or principle that supports the argument that god cannot commit evil against his creation.

The belief on restitution is however quite interesting. African life is earthbound, very much so. Mbiti tells us that according to most African peoples, god punishes in this life. The gods are concerned with the moral life of mankind and that with a few exceptions, there is no belief that a person is punished in the hereafter for what they do in this life.

I am not sure of the source of his next point concerning the Africans view of humanity in totality. He says to most peoples, no person is inherently good or bad but acts in ways which are good when they act in conformity with the mores of the community and bad if contrary. So for example, in a society that does not forbid sleeping with another’s wife, to do so is not bad unless there is a breach, maybe sleeping with a person’s wife not in your age group or cohort.

To expand on this, he argues in African societies, morality is more ‘societary’ than spiritual. It is a morality of conduct rather than a morality of being, that is, it defines what a person does rather than what they are. That is to say, a person is what he is because of what he does rather than he does what he does because of what he is. Kindness is not a virtue unless someone is kind.

Moving away from the above considerations, I found his comments on secularism, communism and capitalism interesting, and I will quote it extensively

[]In their extreme positions, these -isms despise, reject and even oppose religion. They are movements away from religion, and it is this which makes them relevant to any discussion on religion.

Secularism has an undermining effect upon religion, but it may well be to the good of religion if the latter injects religious principles into secular life instead of waging a war against secularism.

Capitalism, he writes, is anti-religious when it exploits man to such a degree that he becomes simply a tool or robot and loses his humanity. If capitalism reduces man to the material level only, then it has contradicted the religious image of man which in all traditions, depicts man as both physical and spiritual.

And as I mentioned earlier, I am not sure of some of the views Mbiti expressed were not coloured by his Christianity. At the end of thos work he writes or rather wrote

I consider traditional religions, Islam and other religious systems to be preparatory and even essential ground in the search for the ultimate. But only Christianity has the terrible responsibility of pointing the way to that ultimate identity, foundation and source of security.

I should in passing that he saw schools as breeding or recruitment grounds for churches and was for the idea that schools should be used to indoctrinate.

On free will

First a thought experiment

Buridan’s Ass

an ass

A donkey who is much happier than the one in our experiment. (Wikimedia Commons)

Variations on this experiment date back to antiquity, this formulation was named after the philosopher Jean Buridan, whose views on determinism it ridicules.

Imagine a donkey placed precisely between two identical bales of hay. The donkey has no free will, and always acts in the most rational manner. However, as both bales are equidistant from the donkey and offer the same nourishment, neither choice is better than the other.

Question: How can it choose? Does it choose at all, or does it stand still until it starves?

If choices are made based on which action is the more rational one or on other environmental factors, the ass will starve to death trying to decide on which to eat- as both options are equally rational and indistinguishable from one another. If the ass does make a choice, then the facts of the matter couldn’t be all that determined the outcome, so some element of random chance or free will may have been involved.

It poses a problem for deterministic theories as it does seem absurd to suppose that the ass would stand still forever. Determinists remain split on the problem that the ass poses. Spinoza famously dismissed it while others accept that the donkey would starve to death. Others argue that there is always some element of a choice that differentiates it from another one.

and a guardian article