Monday, February 28, 2022

The red bee crosses my path again

My take on the Ukraine thing

Ye hear of wars in far countries, and you say that there will soon be great wars in far countries, but ye know not the hearts of men in your own land.
-- D&C 38:29

I have no take. I have no information.

The Russian news is propaganda. The Ukrainian news is propaganda. The Western news is sure as hell propaganda. I know no one in either country, and even if I did it is unlikely that they would have all that much more reliable information than anyone else.

Everything I see or hear about the situation is presumed fake until proven otherwise. Beyond that, I have no opinion.

What if there was no beginning?

If you could hie to Kolob in the twinkling of an eye
And then continue onward with that same speed to fly,
Do you think that you could ever, through all eternity,
Find out the generation where Gods began to be?

Or see the grand beginning, where space did not extend?
Or view the last creation, where Gods and matter end?
Methinks the Spirit whispers, "No man has found 'pure space,'
Nor seen the outside curtains, where nothing has a place."
-- W. W. Phelps

When did that thinking thing begin to be? If it did never begin to be, then have you always been a thinking thing from eternity; the absurdity whereof I need not confute, till I meet with one who is so void of understanding as to own it.
-- John Locke

In comments to my recent post "Why does God exist?" Bruce Charlton and Francis Berger have both expressed the opinion that beings of some sort have always existed -- not atemporally like Allah, but temporally, with their existence extending back over an infinite expanse of time. Bruce Charlton wrote:

I find it very strange that (apparently) some people find it inconceivable that there should be infinite 'time' in the past leading up to now. I find the opposite impossible to imagine - i.e. that there was ever a beginning before which there was nothing.

I think I have always been like this, since I was a child. Even when I accepted the recent (and constantly changing) scientific theories about the Big Bang as a certain truth, at the back of my mind I always wondered what happened before it - and assumed some kind of eternally expanding and contracting and re-exploding cyclical universe.

The infinite temporal existence of beings -- including God, man, and even the physical elements -- is also the Mormon position, expressed by Joseph Smith in the King Follett Sermon (part 1 part 2), and was my own position until fairly recently. I therefore thought I ought to devote a post to reasons for not believing it. Before doing so, let me state again my meta position that theologies are akin to map projections -- in order to get some things right, you have to omit or distort others; and which projection is "best" depends on what you most care about getting right.

1. Infinite elapsed time

As discussed in my earlier post, the Kalām Cosmological Argument assumes that there can be only two kinds of beings: (1) beings that began to exist a finite amount of time ago; and (2) beings that are atemporal, or "exist outside of time." Everything we know, including the physical universe itself, belongs to the first category; it is therefore necessary to explain their existence by positing a being of the second type, and this is Allah.

The reason given for rejecting a third category -- beings that are temporal but never began to exist -- is that for those beings an infinite amount of time must already have elapsed. They must already be "infinity years old." However, it is impossible for anything to ever be "infinity years old," because time elapses finite step by finite step, and infinity can never be reached by adding up finite quantities.

With the caveat that it is notoriously difficult to think clearly about infinity, I think this argument is in error. It conflates "never began" with "began an infinitely long time ago." Consider by way of analogy the number line of integers. It is infinite, but it would be sloppy thinking to say it extends "from negative infinity, through zero, to positive infinity." There is no such number as "infinity" (negative or positive) on the number line. Of all the infinitely many integers on the line, not a single one of them is infinitely distant from zero.

The present moment corresponds to zero, the past to the negative integers, and the future to the positive ones. If I say that my existence (in one form or another) is infinite in both directions, in precisely the same way that the number line is infinite, does that make me "infinity years old"? No. The Kalām Argument assumes that an infinite amount of time must have elapsed from "the beginning" to the present -- missing the point that there was no beginning. A billion years ago, I existed; and a billion years have elapsed since then. A quadrillion years ago, I existed; and a quadrillion years have elapsed since then. The "infinity" lies in the fact that the statement will be true for absolutely any number I choose, no matter how astronomically large it may be; but every number, without exception, will be a finite distance from the present, and only a finite time will have elapsed since then. Just as you can get from any point on the infinite number line to any other by adding or subtracting a finite quantity, so any distance on the infinite timeline can be traversed without an infinite amount of time elapsing.

So I reject this argument against infinite temporal existence.

2. Unrealized potential

Central to Christianity is the idea that we have the potential to become like God, but that at present we are obviously very, very far from having realized that potential.

How long will it take us to realize our divine potential? A billion years? But we have already existed for a billion billion billion years (or whatever other arbitrarily large number you choose) without realizing that potential. If something has never ever happened through all the countless kalpas of our existence, shouldn't it be pretty obvious by now that it's never going to happen? Thus the thesis that we have always existed would seem to lead to despair.

3. Meaninglessness

If we have always existed, and our existence is not "necessary," then it seems to follow that we exist for absolutely no reason. Our existence has no inherent meaning or purpose but is just a brute fact, no less an "accident" then if we had originated when lightning randomly struck the primordial ooze.

I'm actually okay with this -- I spent a decade of hard atheism getting used to the idea -- but most Christians are obviously not. It is extremely common to hear that atheism makes life meaningless because it means you're an accident and exist for no inherent purpose. No, atheism makes life meaningless because it means you die, not because it means you were born. Meaning and purpose in life come only from our choices, not from the circumstances of our coming into existence.

Still, though, there's something deeply unsatisfying in the idea that existence is irreducibly "random," that we all just happen to exist for no reason at all.

4. Agency is necessary anyway

The "no beginning" scenario would be most appealing to a determinist, who maintains that the state of the universe at any given point in time is determined by its state at the point immediately previous. An infinite past with no beginning would seem to be required by this "all dominoes and no fingers" theory.

If we accept agency, though, then some causal chains at least do not extend back infinitely into the past but terminate in a free choice, an uncaused cause -- and our metaphysics must accommodate that. Since we have this experience of things having a real beginning, and no experience of things having existed forever, it seems reasonable to assume, unless there is some strong reason to assume otherwise, that all things had a beginning, and that that beginning was a free act.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Why does God exist?

Why does anything exist? Because God created it. Right, then -- why does God exist? This is considered a childish question, because it's one of the first things children think to ask about God -- if he created everything, who created him? -- but I don't consider that a point against it. Do we need to know why God exists? No. "I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things" (1 Ne. 11:17). But how we answer the question does have important metaphysical ramifications.

While "proofs of God" properly address the question of how we can know God exists, rather than why he does in fact exist, a few of them also suggest answers to that latter question.

One of these is the Ontological Argument of Anselm, which runs as follows.
  1. Let us give the name "God" to the greatest being we can conceive of.
  2. A being which exists is greater than a being which does not exist.
  3. If God did not exist, then we would be able to conceive of a being greater than this non-existent God -- namely, a God who did exist.
  4. Therefore, "God does not exist" is logically self-contradictory and necessarily false. So God exists. 
By Anselm's reasoning, asking why God exists would be like asking why circles are round. Circles are round because that's what the word circle means. If it weren't round, it wouldn't be a circle. "Some circles are not round" is self-contradictory and therefore necessarily false.

Of course, this is no proof that there actually are any circles. It only means that if there are any circles, all those circles are necessarily round. That necessity is conditional, not absolute.

In the Ontological Argument, though, the predicate in question is not roundness but existence itself, and the necessity is therefore presented as absolute. It isn't, though. Circles are by definition round; therefore, if there is a circle, that circle is necessarily round. God by definition exists; therefore, if there is a God, that God necessarily exists. Since "there is x" and "x exists" are two ways of saying the same thing, this is an uninteresting tautology which applies to everything, not only to God.

The illusion of absolute necessity is created by conflating "thinking of a being as existing" with "thinking of a being which in fact exists." The same sleight of hand can be used to prove that absolutely anything exists. If you think of the Loch Ness monster, you necessarily think of it as living in Loch Ness; therefore, the monster you are thinking of actually lives in Loch Ness. (Of course I believe in the Loch Ness monster; after all, it lives in Loch Ness by definition!) Or think of the scariest werewolf imaginable. Now what's scarier, a werewolf that's just imaginary or one that actually exists? Or, better yet, one that not only exists but is standing behind you right now! Every predicate presupposes existence, and sophistry can "prove" that any P exists by deriving from "P does not exist" the contradiction "P is not P."

If Anselm's argument fails, and it does, can we still maintain (as classical theology generally does) that God "exists necessarily," in contrast to other beings, whose existence is merely contingent? I don't see how. The necessity in question can only be logical necessity, since physical necessity would not apply to the being who created the physical universe itself -- and, well, how can the existence of anything be logically necessary?

I suppose people who reject Anselm's argument (as everyone should) but still insist that God exists necessarily, must think that his existence is logically necessary in some way that we don't yet understand, just as the necessary truth of, say, Euler's identity (e + 1 = 0) is not at all obvious to the layman. Perhaps some future theological Euler will succeed where Anselm failed and demonstrate the logical necessity of God's existence? Can we say with certainty that "God exists" is not true-by-logical-necessity? 

Well, yes. Yes, we can say that. All necessity is conditional and relational. An equation, such as Euler's expression of a necessary relationship among five constants, is the sort of thing that can be logically necessary; and a flat existential statement, such as "There are butterflies in Madagascar" or "God exists" is the sort of thing that can't. I can say with complete confidence that no purely logical argument (with no existential or empirical premises at all) can ever prove the existence of God -- or of anything else for that matter.

So I consider this type of explanation for God's existence -- that he exists because it is impossible that he should not exist -- to be a dead hypothesis. It wouldn't voom if you put four million volts through it. What else is there, then?

The other relevant "proof of God" is what is called the Kalām Cosmological Argument, Kalām being the Muslim counterpart to Scholasticism.
  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause for its coming into being.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause for its coming into being.
If the cause-of-the-universe also had a beginning, then the same logic would apply to it. Therefore we must finally trace all causes back to something that did not have a beginning, and this is Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

This argument is what brought me back around to belief in God after nearly a decade of hard atheism -- but it did so indirectly. In fact, I thought of it not as a conclusive argument but as the Kalām Paradox, and it was the attempt to unravel the paradox that led me to belief first in agency and then in God. Let me retrace some of that thought.

Where Kalām parts ways with Anselm is in the assumption, implicit in the first premise, that God can just exist for no particular reason. Only changes -- comings-into-being -- require causes, and if God has always existed, there is no need to pretend he "exists necessarily" or to give any other reason for his existence. He just does exist, as a brute fact, and that's all there is to say.

But isn't the whole idea of a "Creator" based on the assumption that things don't just exist for no reason at all? Why can't we just say that the universe has always existed, for no particular reason, and leave it at that? That's where the second premise comes in: The universe began to exist. This is asserted not because of any empirical evidence for the Big Bang theory or anything like that, but because the universe is temporal, and time elapses finite interval by finite interval. No process of adding up finite quantities can ever reach an infinity, so it is impossible that an infinite amount of time has already elapsed. Therefore, only a finite amount of time has elapsed, and the universe had a beginning. This makes a lot of potentially debatable assumptions about the nature of time, but let's just accept it for now.

So the universe began to exist, which means it had a cause, God. And in order for this to explain anything, we must assume that God himself has always existed. But didn't we just argue that nothing can "have always existed," since it is impossible for an infinite amount of time to have already elapsed? Isn't that the whole basis of the first premise of the Kalām Argument? Why doesn't the same logic apply to God?

Well, the only way to make God a valid exception is to posit that he is not only everlasting but atemporal. Time does not elapse for God, and there is thus no need for an infinite amount of it to have already elapsed. God exists outside the time stream like, like -- well, no actual atemporal entities come to mind, but I guess he's supposed to be timeless in the way mathematical abstractions and such are, whatever that could possibly mean. Anyway, let's grant it. (For the record, I myself do not believe in atemporal entities, though I do believe in higher dimensions of temporality.)

Now here's the part that turns the Kalām Argument into the Kalām Paradox. God is supposed to be a sufficient cause for the existence of the universe, and God has always existed. How then to account for the fact (assumed in the second premise) that the universe has not always existed? How can a strictly timeless cause have a temporal effect? It can't, obviously.

How, according to the argument, do we escape this paradox? By assuming that God is personal and has free will. The existence of the universe must have been caused not by the existence of God but by a free act of God. As I wrote in my 2012 post "The Kalam Argument,"

I was very impressed with this part when I first read it, since it’s the first real argument I’ve found for the paradoxical idea of free will — of causation without determinism. If the rest of the kalam argument holds, then, yes, it would seem to follow that the universe must be the result of free will.

Thinking about it more deeply, though, I soon came to two conclusions: (1) It's impossible as it stands. If we take seriously the thesis that God is atemporal, then it is true in the very strictest of senses that he cannot change and therefore cannot act. Action just-is an inextricably temporal thing. A God who has already created the universe is different from a God who has not created the universe yet, and that distinction cannot exist without some sort of time. (2) All the explanatory work is done by the (inherently temporal) act, and none of it by the supposed timeless God behind the act. The correct conclusion is not that everything ultimately owes its existence to some incomprehensible timeless Allah, but that everything ultimately owes its existence to an act, or acts, of free will. Goethe's Faust wasn't just playing word games with his translation of John 1:1 but had it exactly right when, after considering and rejecting word, mind, and force, he finally arrived at this:

Mir hilft der Geist! Auf einmal seh' ich Rat
Und schreibe getrost: Im Anfang war die Tat!

The Spirit helps me. Boldly I proceed --
And write: "In the beginning was the deed."

Agency has to be accepted as a primitive metaphysical concept, and as the ultimate origin of absolutely everything. Anselm tries to make logical necessity more fundamental than agency. The Kalām Argument tries to make the "randomness" of brute fact more fundamental. But I maintain that absolutely nothing is more fundamental. God exists for no other reason than that he chose to exist: Im Anfang war die Tat, und die Tat war bei Gott, und Gott war die Tat.

In principle, that one original creative act could be the ultimate cause of everything else. However, there is no reason to postulate only one such act and good reason to assume the opposite. We ourselves have free will, which means that our own ultimate origin might be like that of God.

Joseph Smith, the Prophet, wrote,

Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.

All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.

Behold, here is the agency of man (D&C 93:29-31).

The orthodox interpretation of this is that just as God has always existed, so man -- or the uncreated intelligence at the core of man -- has always existed. I would interpret it differently now. "In the beginning" does not after all imply a beginningless eternity. God was in the beginning. The beginning was an act, and God was in that act, and God was that act. Man, too, was in his own beginning. Man, too, is an agent, and acted himself into existence. Otherwise there is no existence.

Friday, February 25, 2022

The influence of adjacent lines of text: Installment 3

I've been documenting this kind of error in my own reading, where I misread something and then discover that the error was caused by words on the line just above or below the one I was reading. See "A 'Freudian' slip" and "The influence of adjacent lines of text," both from 2018. Here's the latest example:

This is, as I guess is obvious, from a grammar book for students of English as a second language. The sentences are all wrong and are meant to be corrected, which perhaps increases the chance that they will be automatically "corrected" by the brain of a native speaker. When I first glanced at the first numbered sentence, I misread it as "She is a well-endowed figure skater" -- and I think the interpolated word came from the line below, where, just below "well figure," we find "the lower." This is visually very similar to "endowed." The string "owe" is identical, the "l" resembles the ascender from "d," and before that is an "e." The fact that both "well" and "lower" are underlined probably contributed to my brain's combining them. The semantic influence of the word "figure" may also have played a role, since "full-figured" is a similar euphemism to "well-endowed."

Every time I experience one of these errors, I think I should try to design a text that would evoke specific such errors on purpose, a sort of subliminal messaging. I'm not sure if the effect could be induced at all reliably, though; besides the visual features of the text itself, there is also a "Freudian" element in play which would presumably vary from reader to reader.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Not all Goods are compatible. Each person can be uniquely good.

I understand that things are done differently now, but back when I was a Mormon missionary, we had to memorize scripted "Discussions" which were to serve as the basis for our actual discussions with potential converts, and drilling each other on these was part of our morning "companionship study" before going out each day (a "companionship" being a pair of missionaries temporarily assigned to live and work together). It's been more than 20 years, but I can still rattle off the beginning of the First Discussion from memory.

Most people believe in a Supreme Being, although they may call him by different names. We know that God lives. We want to share with you our feelings about him. God is perfect, all-wise, and all-powerful. He is also merciful, kind, and just. We know that we can have faith in him. We can love him with all our hearts.

In those days, all Mormon boys were Boy Scouts and had memorized the Scout Law. So it was that, through the "full of sound financial structure" effect, a rookie missionary once came out with this:

God is perfect, all-wise, and all-powerful. He is also thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

Fortunately, this happened during companionship study, not while actually teaching, and it made us laugh -- but why is it so funny? Isn't it curious that (a) God is understood to be morally perfect; (b) thrift, bravery, cleanliness, and reverence are virtues; and (c) it is ridiculous to ascribe any of those virtues to God? The fact that the missionary's flubbed line elicits laughter is proof that no one, not even God himself, can fully embody all that is good. As I wrote in "Ahuric vs. Devic, and eternal sexual identity,"

In fact, I believe that there are billions and billions of different and complementary ways of being good, and that each of us (potentially) contributes to the Good in a way that is unique and irreplaceable. If one being could fully embody every possible type of good, why would we -- why would anyone other than God himself -- even need to exist?

I think this is the main reason that God places such importance on preserving our free will. To make our full contribution to the Good, it is necessary that we act in harmony with God, but also that we act for ourselves -- as ourselves -- which means not becoming "clear glass through which God can shine" (Eckhart); not doing, saying, and thinking precisely what God or Jesus would do, say, and think (WWJD?); but realizing the Good each in our own unique way. Otherwise, why exist at all? Why not let God shine unfiltered even by clear glass?

As discussed in my post "Lives, the universes, and everything," this applies not only to individuals but to entire worlds and explains why God created so many worlds, including highly imperfect ones like that in which we live. There is no one "best of all possible worlds" (Leibniz) which would manifest all possible goods and nothing bad. In a world of perfect safety and peace, for example, courage could not exist.

I have said before that, although in theory Jesus Christ ought to be the epitome of every virtue, in fact he seems to be an essentially Ahuric rather than Devic character. I think the same must be true of God the Creator, since he created worlds such as our own, where evil is allowed so as to make certain manifestations of Good possible. In "Lucifer, Ahriman, and Ganymede virtue sets," the post which introduced the terms Ahuric and Devic, I characterized Ahuric virtue as "seeking good" and Devic virtue as "avoiding evil." The God who created this world must be fundamentally Ahuric, and Christianity is an Ahuric religion. The Devic religion par excellence, with the explicit goal of ending the suffering of all sentient beings, is Buddhism.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Not the Illuminati; swashbuckling romance

In yesterday's post "Crazy sync: Bardelys the Magnificent," I recount how I had a title randomly selected from a catalog of over 60,000 books and was given Sabatini's Bardelys the Magnificent, and then the next day ran into the name Bardelys the Magnificent again in the comments to a tongue-in-cheek post about the Illuminati. I joked that the sync fairies were trying to tell me to join the Illuminati.

After posting that last night, I listened to part of an interview with Gary Lachman on The Higherside Chats. Lachman told of a precognitive dream he had had which foretold details of the 1994 film The Shadow. Lachman mentioned in passing that a 45 was the Shadow's trademark weapon, and for some unaccountable reason when he said that number, it jumped out at me and seemed very significant. It was as if the word "FORTY-FIVE" had been shouted at ten times the volume of the rest of the conversation (subjectively, I mean; it's not as if I actually had an auditory hallucination to that effect). Afterwards, of all the things that had been discussed on the podcast, what stood out in my memory was that he had said the number 45.

This morning, curious about last night's sync, I ran a Google image search for bardelys the magnificent, and my eyes were drawn to the third and fourth results:

Later in the morning, I met with an adult English student. He has a grammar exercise book that he works on at home, and then when we meet I check his answers and explain whatever needs to be explained. This illustration from the book caught my eye:

The two movie posters in the illustration bear an obvious resemblance to the two Bardelys pictures that had caught my eye earlier. On the left, a man with a plumed hat, baldric, and sword; on the right, a man and a woman holding each other.

And the illustration is from Unit 45 of the grammar book. (We typically go through four or five units each time.)

So, I think I'm going to have to read Bardelys the Magnificent.

Update: Holy shit. So I just published these two posts about Bardelys the Magnificent syncs and, sandwiched between them, an unrelated sync post called "Visualize the devil and he doth appear" -- the title being an adaptation of the proverb "Speak of the devil . . . ."

I just now went to Gutenberg, downloaded Bardelys the Magnificent -- a title so obscure that I am only the 38th person in history to have done so -- and opened it. The first chapter is titled "The Wager" (cf. my tag "The highway is for gamblers"), and the first four words of the novel are: "Speak of the devil."

This is a spooky level of sync even by my rather jaded standards.

Visualize the devil, and he doth appear.

Over at The Magician's Table, I record a striking coincidence or precognition related to the Devil card.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Crazy sync: Bardelys the Magnificent has a feature that will serve up randomly selected titles from their library of over 60,000. Yesterday I had occasion, for my own inscrutable reasons, to use that feature, and the very first title on the list it produced was Bardelys the Magnificent by Rafael Sabatini — a book I’d never heard of by an author I know nothing about.

Today, I read Adam Piggott’s post “An invitation to join the Illuminati,” and one of the comments was by someone using the pseudonym Bardelys the Magnificent.

I think the sync fairies are telling me I need to join the Illuminati.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

That Mormon look

I dreamed that I visited a Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Before the service started, the priest took me aside and asked if I knew any "lost souls from -- " (Here he named a place that sounded Slavic but was unfamiliar to me. I want to fill in the lacuna in my memory with Donbas, but it wasn't that; it was a short name, though, I think two syllables.) -- the idea being that I could introduce these souls to his church.

I told him that I didn't actually know anyone from the Ukraine, although two of my great-grandparents had been from Transcarpathia.

"So you come from an Orthodox family," he said. "That's surprising because" -- I was about to interject that my Ukrainian ancestors had actually been Greek-Rite Catholic, but the priest kept talking -- "from the look of you, I would have guessed that you were a Mormon!"

"I am," I said. "Or was. I guess should really grow an Orthodox beard!"

During the service, I kept thinking about what he had said and wondering how he had known. I hadn't associated with Mormons for 20 years*, and my parents are both converts and couldn't have given me any "Mormon genes." In the end, I decided that spending my formative years among Mormons, I must have permanently acquired certain habitual facial microexpressions which, though not consciously noticeable, gave me a recognizably Mormon look which would probably be with me for the rest of my life.

Thinking back on that now, in the waking state, I think it makes a certain sense and wonder if there is anything to it.

* Although I hadn't consciously noticed it until I wrote this post, I actually had this dream exactly 20 years to the day after my resignation from the CJCLDS.

Note added: Weird coincidence. I posted this dream about visiting a Ukrainian church, and it attracted two comments: one relating a dream about Hitler and the other replying to the first comment with "you're a Jew. Lol."

Later in the day, I was browsing one of Andrew Anglin's super-long meme posts, titled "Toon Tuesday: Honking with Hitler" ("I don't know why it worked out that there are so many Hitler memes today"), and one of the memes was this:

Googling the headline, I find that it's an old news story from 2018. Strange running into it right after that dream.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

It worked for Gandhi

Gandhi's patented method:

  1. Be strictly non-violent.
  2. Defy your enemies in such a way that their only options are to let you win or to resort to violence themselves.
  3. Watch enemy morale evaporate and the tide of public opinion turn in your favor.
It worked in India. Will it work in Canada?

The main difference is that Gandhi's enemies were men of honor, and their own strength in that regard was used against them. The moral jiu-jitsu may not work as well against spineless unprincipled -- the noun I want to add here will likely attract the attention of the hate police, so I'll just have to leave it to your imagination.

As others have been saying for a while now, Trudeau's only hope of winning this is to stage a convincing false-flag, undermining the Gandhi method by creating a virtual reality in which the violence was initiated by the Gandhi side. Multiple factors make a convincing false-flag much more difficult to pull off in this situation than it was, say, in DC last January, but if it's your only hope, it's your only hope. We'll see how it works out for him.

Nothing is over

Thought experiment here: Imagine the Holocaust and all that happened (I know, I know), and imagine that it ended because one day the NSDAP announced that they had successfully brought the Jewish population down to a manageable number, that they no longer posed an existential threat to the German people and their destiny, and that therefore all policies of institutional antisemitism could finally be safely discontinued, at least for the time being. Wow, great news for the Jews, right?

Or imagine that instead of the Emancipation Proclamation, the various States had begun a program of gradually phasing out chattel slavery, saying that advances in agricultural technology were making it less and less economically necessary. What a victory for the abolitionists!

Of course these two imagined changes would be good news rather than bad for the Jews and the blacks, but they wouldn't be victory. The old systems wouldn't have ended, and it would be understood that the concentration camps and slave markets could easily start up again at any time in response to changing circumstances.

In the real world, where slavery in America and the persecution of Jews in Germany are over, they're over because (1) there was widespread repentance, with people acknowledging that the old system had not merely ceased to be expedient but was morally wrong and always had been; and (2) laws were passed to ensure that such things never happened again.

And that's how it is with the birdemic hypochondriarchy. Any easing or removal of totalitarian restrictions, when presented without repentance and in the spirit of "mission accomplished," is good news rather than bad but is not victory. Nothing is over. Not until new Constitutional amendments make it impossible for anything like 2020 to ever happen again. Not until there's a scandal whenever some public figure's old pro-peck tweets are dredged up. Not until people routinely excoriate their political enemies as "literally Fauci."

Thursday, February 10, 2022

God and agency: A point-by-point response to Kristor

He called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken.
-- John 10:35

This is a response to Kristor's Orthosphere post "God is Not Like Other Creators Such as We," expanded from a comment I left there. Kristor defends the traditional Supergod thesis and maintains that it is consistent with real human agency ("free will").

Since this post will basically be a sustained attack on the sort of Christian orthodoxy Kristor represents, let me make it clear at the outset that, while I obviously consider metaphysical and theological questions to be of great importance, I do not believe that they define Christianity. Being a true Christian is essentially a matter of love, loyalty, and taking the side of God and his Christ. It is something of which Christ said little children are not only capable but particularly capable, and therefore it has nothing to do with being a competent theologian or metaphysical philosopher. I believe that there have been not only true Christians but saints with a wide variety of metaphysical and theological beliefs -- which is emphatically not to say that all such beliefs are "equally true," but rather that erroneous beliefs and misconceptions are part and parcel of the human condition and do not disqualify one as a Christian. We must be careful not to conflate the categories heretic and apostate. So I acknowledge Kristor as a true Christian. And while, at the object level, I obviously believe that my own theological beliefs are right and his are wrong -- that is what it means for them to be my beliefs -- at the meta level I recognize that we know in part, we prophesy in part. How dim, how confused, how partial and even ludicrous must be a sheep's conception of the nature, origin, and inner life of its shepherd -- and yet his sheep know his voice, and that is what matters: not to know all the facts about God, but to know God; not to have true beliefs about him, but to be true to him.

Now, on with the sustained attack! The indented words are Kristor's, interspersed with my non-indented responses.

To think that God is limited to the same sort of creation that is possible to us stems from a category error about God, that treats him as a being like us.

To put God and Man in two utterly different and irreconcilable categories is to challenge an absolutely central Christian belief: that Jesus Christ is both Man and God. Jesus also taught that God is our Father, that we, too, are children of God -- "and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17). As I have written elsewhere, if God and Man are utterly different categories, then to say that a particular man is God -- not God disguised as a man, but really a man and really God -- is just as nonsensical as saying that a particular zebra is time.

We creatures can’t create free agents. To think that we can do so is the conceit at the root of strong AI. So, none of our creations can have a jot of freedom. They all express and do only our will, and not their own – however recalcitrant they might appear now and then.

On this we are agreed. Our machines do, ideally, only what we design them to do, and the occasional "recalcitrance" mentioned by Kristor is a result of the fact that we are not the sole cause of the machine's nature and functioning. We make it from pre-existing materials whose nature we can modify only within limits, and it operates in the context of a pre-existing world which provides many influences and inputs that are beyond our control. If it were possible to create a machine from nothing -- and to create not only the machine but the entire world in which it exists and operates -- then that machine would necessarily express and do only the will of its creator.

Now, it is not unusual to hear from critics of Christianity, from the New Atheists, and from apostates of various sorts, that if God created us ex nihilo, as Christians all – following Genesis 1 and John 1 – agree, then we are to him as our tools are to us: what seem to us then like our own acts are really just his acts, that we carry out the way that a computer program performs calculations we would and could perform ourselves, given time; so we have no real agency, no true freedom.

And Mormons! And Romantic Christians! But Kristor presumably classifies us as non-Christian apostates, since he states that all Christians believe that God created us ex nihilo. This doctrine is of course not in the Bible in any unambiguous form, as the proof-texts he cites demonstrate. The verb translated as create in Genesis 1 means primarily to fashion something out of existing materials, and the opening verse may also be translated, "When God began to create the heaven and the earth, the earth was without form and void" -- meaning that he created from chaos, not from nothing at all. John 1 is even more poetic and ambiguous, and it explains "all things were made by him" by adding "without him was not anything made that was made" -- leaving open the possibility that some things were never "made" at all. Of course these passages are consistent with ex nihilo creation as well, and I am not trying to use them as proof-texts of my own. My point is that the ex nihilo theory is just that, a metaphysical theory, and is very far from being a central and undeniable Christian teaching.

They point out, rightly, that the notion we are not free contradicts all our experience; and, furthermore, makes both sin and the sinner’s choice of repentance and his turn to the Lord the motions of a robot – which renders Christianity radically incoherent.


It is a telling argument, which has motivated many minds to depart from faith. But it fails, because it extrapolates the scope of our powers – in particular, our incompetence to create free agents – to God.

No. Extrapolation is empirical and inductive: We observe that no known being is able to create a free agent, and therefore in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, we assume that all unknown beings have a similar inability. No one is making that kind of argument. The argument that no one, not even God, can create a free agent is not an extrapolation from empirical observations but rather a metaphysical argument from first principles. In fact, free will is not empirically observable, except arguably in oneself, and is therefore not susceptible to the sort of extrapolative reasoning Kristor imputes to people like me. We don't observe that none of the machines we create have free will (perhaps my computer freely chooses to do what it is programmed to do, except when it instead chooses to malfunction); we assume it on metaphysical grounds. And those grounds are not dependent on the premise that the machine was created by a finite and contingent being.

That extrapolation doesn’t work. If God is as men have always construed him – is not, i.e., a mere contingent being, thus himself caused by some other(s), at most a god like Apollo – then he is in an utterly different category of being than any other.

No, this does not follow. From the idea that God is an unmoved mover it does not follow that he is the only unmoved mover and thus "in an utterly different category of being." To have free will just is to be an unmoved mover, the terminus of chains of causation, one who acts without being caused to do so by anything or anyone else.

Classical theology essentially argues that agency must exist, because otherwise nothing would ever happen since no chain of causation would ever get started (the world would be "all dominoes and no fingers"), and concludes that there must be a First Cause to set everything in motion. Combining this insight with the reality of human free will, though, we can postulate that God is (in this respect) the same sort of being as we are -- namely, a free agent with the ability to initiate causal chains.

(Of course there is still an obvious sense in which God is, from our perspective, "in a class of his own," making it foolish to extrapolate the details of his nature from those of our own -- but, as I have said, extrapolation is not actually what we are doing in this case.)

Then from the creative limitations of such beings as we, we may not infer *anything at all* about his creative power. And there is no reason whatever to think that a being who (unlike contingent beings such as we) is necessary – and as necessary thus also eternal and the ultimate, first, unmoved mover and cause of all other things, ergo infinitely greater than we, with powers categorically different from and greater than ours – could not create free agents like us, the angels, gods, and demons. Nothing we might infer from our own powers as contingent and thus limited causal agents could possibly warrant such a conclusion about a causal agent who is unlimited.

Again, it is not an inference based on the assumption that God has similar limitations to our own. I doubt whether anyone would really reason in that way, assuming that if we mortals are unable to do a particular thing, then God -- a being vastly more powerful than ourselves -- is likely also unable to do it. Even those like myself who do not presuppose an "omnipotent" Supergod would never confidently assert that any particular thing is impossible for God unless it is logically impossible, impossible even in principle. Extrapolating from our own empirically observed limitations would be silly.

Here's why I believe that God cannot create free agents from nothing. If I am a free agent, then my actions at least are not caused by God and do not come from God. If they were caused by God, they would be his actions, not mine, and I would not be an agent. Therefore, if I am a free agent (or if anyone is), it follows that God is not, as Kristor calls him the "cause of all other things." He didn't create absolutely everything out of absolutely nothing, because at least some things (my free actions) are not his work. They come from somewhere else -- and obviously, if they are truly my actions, what they come from is me. Therefore, however true it may be to say that God is my Father and Creator, he didn't create everything about me, and he didn't create me from nothing. Some aspect of myself comes from outside God and God's creation, is an unmoved mover in its own right -- and is, in that way, like God, a god -- very much "with a small g" for the time being, but potentially a joint-heir with Christ.

None of this is comprehensible within Kristor's metaphysics, with its assumption that God is "necessary" and everything else is "contingent." I reject that whole system of classifying beings, since necessity just-is inherently relative and contingent. Everything which is necessarily true has the form of an if-then: If a is part of b, then b is necessarily greater than a; if P is true, then the negation of P is necessarily false; and so on. Absolute necessity, where the word absolute is used literally, is nonsense. The only explanation of God's supposed "necessary existence" that I have ever seen is Anselm's tautological observation that if God didn't exist, God wouldn't be God -- an example of contingent necessity (for all x, if x is God then x exists) fallaciously presented as absolute, and equally applicable to everything, since every predicate presupposes existence. I attribute the existence of God, and other agents, not to "necessity" but to agency. At bottom, each agent -- each source of free acts, the irreducible core at the heart of each Self or Soul -- exists because it chooses to. (Once an agent exists, it is impossible for it to choose not to exist, so in that sense agents do have a sort of "necessary existence." For more on all this, see my post "On the origin of agents by means of -- agency.") To refuse to accept agency as the ultimate reason for anything, to insist that it be explicable in terms or chance and necessity, is to accept metaphysical premises whose logical conclusion is that agency does not exist.

Which is fortunate, because from that conclusion much incoherence follows. To take just one of them: if our creator is a being like us, then we are beings like him, and so are Moloch, Ahriman, and Azazel. In that case, there are no categorically authoritative moral laws: reality is then rather a moral chaos, or at best a mobocracy, in which the choices and preferences of Lucifer, Adam, and Stalin are just as legitimate as those of YHWH.

If God is "a being like us" in the Osbornean sense of being "just a slob like one of us," just another being with nothing in particular to distinguish him from any other, then of course it does follow that he has no particular moral authority. But no one is making any such claim; if God does not mean, at minimum, "a being vastly greater than any of us," the word has no meaning. Kristor is actually talking about God being "like us" in one very specific sense: that he cannot create a free agent, and neither can we. Is that what makes God a source of "categorically authoritative moral laws" -- his ability to create free agents out of nothing? If there is any logical relationship at all between those two things, it is not exactly an obvious one.

What does make God a source of categorically authoritative moral laws? Well, that's a question to be answered by those who share Kristor's basic metaphysical framework. My own has no more use for "categorically authoritative moral laws" than it has for necessary vs. contingent beings. Morality, like existence, is not about absolute necessity but about agency

Kristor apparently believes that everyone has an absolute moral duty to serve God because God has characteristics xy, and z (including, I gather, the ability to create free agents). My own understanding of morality is that of Joshua: "And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve" (Josh. 24:15). I love, serve, and align myself with God not because I feel myself bound by some categorical moral duty -- some absolute ought magicked up out of is-statements about God by the same logical legerdemain that pretends to derive God's very existence from the law of non-contradiction -- but because I choose to do so.

But, but, but -- isn't that moral chaos? Doesn't that mean that Satan's choices are just as legitimate as God's? Well -- yes. That's why God allows Satan to be Satan and allows us to choose to serve Satan rather than God if we wish. In human society, of course, enforcing a moral consensus is often politically necessary or expedient -- but, as Kristor himself has observed, it would be the height of folly to assume that these same human necessities apply to God. Ultimately, from God's point of view, everyone -- even Satan -- has an absolute "right" to do whatever he wishes. Ultimately, morality really is relative -- relative to one's chosen goal or end. If your goal is Heaven, you should follow Jesus Christ. If your goal is the cessation of all suffering, you should follow the Buddha. If your goal is hell, you should follow the devil. There's no arguing with those ultimate choices; God respects them, and so do I. The only absolutely wrong moral choices are the refusals to choose, the self-defeating attempts to have one's cake and eat it: "Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God . . . yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; . . . and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God" (2 Ne. 28:8).

To think that God is the same sort of being as we – as the king is the same sort of being as his subjects, or as the father is the same sort of being as his son – is to reduce him to our sort of being; and that is to dethrone him qua God, and make him a thing among other things. And that ruins Christianity – ruins all other religions whatever, indeed ruins religion per se; for, it is to suppose that there is no being ultimately worthy of worship, but rather only this or that godling or daimon, whose wrath we must somehow contrive to appease.

As I have already said, "that God is the same sort of being as we . . . as the father is the same sort of being as his son" -- an idea which Kristor rejects because it "ruins Christianity" -- actually is Christianity. The whole point of Christianity is that Jesus Christ, a man, is the Son of God and is the same sort of Being as his Father. There is a religion that teaches that God is utterly and categorically different from man and that to call any man the Son of God is a blasphemy at which "the heavens almost rupture therefrom and the earth splits open and the mountains collapse in devastation" (Sura 19), but that religion is not Christianity.

As for the whole business of "worship" -- and the underlying metaphysical distinctions between dulia and latria and all that -- this is yet another thing that belongs to Kristor's metaphysical world and not my own. I cannot provide my own reasons for why God alone is "ultimately worthy of worship" any more than I can give my own account of "categorically imperative moral laws"; that is to be argued about by people who accept the assumptions that give the question meaning. I will say, though, that to equate all veneration of anyone other than Supergod with "contriving to appease the wrath of a daimon" is offensive and silly and makes no sense even within Kristor's framework. Would he say that the Virgin Mary, say, is capable of creating free agents? And since she is not, does it follow that she can be described as "a thing among another things," or a "daimon, whose wrath we must somehow contrive to appease"? The whole thing is a non sequitur.

Although this whole post is framed as a response to Kristor's, it should be clear by now that my disagreement with him really comes down to having an entirely different set of metaphysical assumptions, and that any engagement or "debate" between people who inhabit such different philosophical universes is basically impossible. I don't expect him to respond to my points or anything like that. I found his post stimulating because it made me think about why I disagree and helped me clarify some of my own metaphysical beliefs to myself. Perhaps my own post will be similarly useful to someone else.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

The joy of discovery

I'm back online and did a bit of desultory blog-browsing. Among the things I read was the Gornahoor post "The Joy of Thinking," which ends with this quotation from Descartes.

I hope that posterity will judge me kindly, not only to the things which I have explained, but also to those which I have intentionally omitted so as to leave to others the pleasure of discovery.

A few hours later, I read this in Whitley Streiber's book The Path.

There is, of course, much I am not saying about this work. I am not saying it so that I will not deny you the thrill of discovery.

Encountering two such similar formulations so close together in time was a synchronicity (though perhaps not as coincidental as it appears; Gornahoor is Gurdjieff's word, and Strieber is also a Gurdjieffian). Nevertheless, I find myself resisting the underlying sentiment. The intentional promotion of ignorance in the name of "pleasure" or "thrills" is and can be nothing but a game. The true joy of discovery comes from discovering something that could not have been communicated, either because it cannot by its nature be communicated, or because it is truly new and had never been thought of before.

Best misattributed quote ever

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Going offline for a while

What the headline says. I won’t be blogging or reading blogs, or even checking my email very often, until further notice. Y’all keep the faith while I’m gone.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Joseph Smith and the CD case

I found this amazing fact while browsing a site offering "Mandela Effect Proof: 31 Events That Prove The Mandela Effect Is Real."

A painting from the 1800’s depicts a man named Joseph Smith showing a CD case to several other individuals. The only problem is CD cases weren’t produced and distributed to public until the year 1982. So how did Joseph Smith get in possession of a CD case more than a 100 years before they were created. The only logical conclusion is time travel. This is another piece of solid evidence proving that time traveler are one of the main contributors to disrupting the timeline and causing these Mandela effect cases.

This is definitely proof that the Mandela Effect is real, because in my timeline a man named Joseph Smith showed people ancient records.

Further evidence:

Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh as one

I was listening to an audio recording of the Book of Mormon, and when it got to the part where Nephi says they "did live upon raw meat ...