God


A Definition of Monism

Metaphysical monism is an ancient problem which still continues to this day, at least for some. A definition of monism can be framed quite succinctly; monism states that there is just one kind of thing that exists in the universe, everything is thus reducible to this one thing.

The earliest form of this problem was in ancient Greece. The Greeks had a scientific belief that the world was made up of earth, fire, air and water. What they attempted to understand was whether these four constituents of the universe were ultimate, or was there something more fundamental that underpinned or gave rise to them. They were asking, “Is the world made up of earth, fire, air and water or is the world made up of just one thing that can appear as earth, fire, air and water.”

From our modern post scientific perspective such a view can seem rather primitive. We know for example that the four primitive substances of the ancient Greeks are all reducible to molecules and atoms. We can continue the reduction to protons and neutrons and still further to quarks, or at least to quarks and electrons. The problem has been solved then, or at least the problem as the Greeks saw it has been solved. The debate concerning monism is still alive for some, though in a different format.

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Understanding Spinoza (part 3): Freedom and Necessity

When understanding Spinoza we discover that the most profound conclusion from his philosophy is to be found in Part I, Proposition XXIX.

‘In the nature of things nothing contingent is admitted, but all things are determined by the necessity of divine nature to exist and act in a certain way.’

There are a number of ideas and concepts wrapped up in this sentence and Spinoza’s philosophy is probably best explained by understanding what this one proposition entails. The first point to note is that Spinoza wants to make the assumption that all things are caused by other things. Basically there is a causal explanation for anything that exists. The one exception to this is the universe itself, which can only be self caused. There can only be one existing thing that is self caused, as was argued in the part 2 of Understanding Spinoza..

Now to say that a thing is determined is to say that the existence of a thing is caused by something else. In the case of inanimate objects such a position is without doubt. A table is caused by outside agents crafting the design; the table’s existence is fully determined by causes external to that table. With living and thinking creatures the certainty that all is externally caused is less obvious. We can say that I am determined by my parent’s acquaintance for example. My ideas and habits are caused by my past life experience. The events that have caused me to be how I am currently are outside of me. But can I then claim that I am free to make my own choices? Surely there is a case to state that my ability to be truly free depends on my past experience and that my education and training will determine my capability for truly free thinking.

There is more Part 3 of Understanding Spinoza here

Understanding Spinoza (Part 2)

This post is to develop further towards understanding Spinoza’s metaphysics and to look at the crucial ideas he raises. Spinoza’s main work, The Ethics, in effect introduces a set of definitions and elucidations of each of the fundamental notions of substance, cause, attribute, freedom and necessity, explaining each in terms of the others. When Spinoza has defined these logically connected notions he defines what it is he means by God or nature.

An important point is that Spinoza does not present his definitions as one arbitrary set of alternative possible definitions. Rather he insists that to conceive the world in any other way than this is to be involved in contradiction, or to be using words without any clear meaning attached to them. It is the interconnectedness of Spinoza’s definitions that gives force to his position.

In understanding the universe the notion of substance is a good place to start. What actually exists? The story of understanding the world can be viewed as one which is attempting to answer this one question. In answering the ‘what exists?’ challenge we have to unravel the world into those things that exist by necessity and those things that exist as modifications or attributes of necessity. In stripping substance down to its fundamental and necessary components we can get a true understanding of reality. Those things that exist but are not fundamental are attributes of substance.

There is more Part 2 of Understanding Spinoza here

Understanding Spinoza

If you are ever going to get more than a brief understanding of pantheism then it is vital to get to grips with understanding Spinoza. Spinoza was not the first pantheist, but he is probably the most influential pantheist since the time of the enlightenment. The decline of theism and the rise of alternative beliefs can be traced back directly and indirectly to Spinoza. He was not only a chief architect in the rise and success of science; he was also a fundamental force behind the gradual decline of theological authority. Understanding Spinoza is not easy, but the difficulties involved in grasping his ideas are no less worthy of making the effort.

If you were to take a random page and quote form Spinoza’s main work, the ethics, you will no doubt find a sentence in which you understand all of the individual words. Yet I am reasonably sure that you would also find a sentence which is seemingly incomprehensible too. For example: The first axiom that Spinoza presents is “Everything which exists, exists either in itself or in something else.”

An axiom is something that is assumed to be self evidently true, so Spinoza must have presented this axiom as something which he believed to be one of nature’s ultimate and self evident truths. The whole of Spinoza’s philosophy is set out in this way. He begins with a set of definitions, which he then uses to write his axioms. He then moves to working out how the universe must be given his definitions and on the assumption that his axioms are in fact true. To that extent his work is a work in logic, similar to a Euclidean system. It is probably the case that if you were to agree and accept just one of his axioms then you are logically committed to accepting his other axioms which follow rationally and necessarily from each other. In doing this Spinoza creates a set of principles and consequently a metaphysical system which he considers to be how the universe must be.

There is more Understanding Spinoza here

Define Pantheism

Pantheism is one of the oldest belief systems there is which purports to offer an overall view about the nature of the universe. It is a metaphysical scheme that is robust to criticism more than most and a worldview which is often supported by intellectuals and scientists. How we define pantheism can allow for a very broad range of beliefs under the pantheism umbrella; it allows for a material interpretation as well as spiritual interpretations and dualist accounts. Before investigating the precise nature of pantheism, we should first offer an account of how to define pantheism.

When we define pantheism we have a long history of belief to work from. We also have many different varieties that we can use as a resource. Pantheist groups have existed within all the major religions, independently from organised religion and sometimes even atheist groups have claimed to hold a pantheist system of how to understand the universe. So how can we define pantheism to accommodate such a wide range of beliefs?

The Most Interesting Worldview

Pantheism, in its most simple expression, is the belief that God and the universe is the same thing. For most people the implications of such a statement are not immediately obvious, the common response is often a “so what.” Richard Dawkins accuses pantheism of being no more than sexed up atheism, which is a very simplistic philosophical view whilst Einstein, Carl Sagan, Kurt Godel amongst others were often heard to be speaking of God with the implication that it was the Pantheist God to which they were referring.

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Verification and Falsification

The process of science is undertaken through two similar but distinct paths; verification and falsification. The two, though different, have more similarities than they have differences. Verification and falsification are based on two strands of knowing something; these are empirical data and rationality.

Empirical knowledge is basically that knowledge which is presented to our senses. Direct empirical knowledge is generally considered reliable and so is a route to knowledge. If I can report that there is a white thing in front of me that appears to have the characteristics of a wall, then it is reasonable to assume that I am standing in front of a wall.
Taking a step away from this direct knowledge does lead us away from certainty. For example, if I was to claim that yesterday I had a wall experience then I am adding another category of explanation to my wall experience, that of memory. A remembered experience is not as reliable as a current experience. But a current sensory experience is one of the best and most reliable chunks of knowledge that we can have.

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Physics and God

It is often claimed that physics and God are attempts at explaining the same thing. That thing is the universe. The four big questions of existence are: “Why are the laws of nature what they are? Why does the universe consist of the things it does? How did those things arise? How did the universe achieve its organization?” Physics and God are both used as methods to answer these four questions.

In my previous post I touched on the issue of pre-Christian beliefs and made the point that Pagans were very disposed to truth seeking. The Ancient Greeks left behind a massive volume of literature which is still relevant today. The two most notable writers of the period Aristotle and Plato are essential reading for anybody who seeks to probe the ultimate questions. Yet with the coming of Christianity they were cast aside and ignored. Though modern science sprouted out of Christian Europe, we could mount an argument that it was due to the legacy of the Greeks and despite Christian philosophy that enlightenment came. Christianity waged war against the Paganism it replaced, and it dragged its feet (and still does) against the scientific thinking that has all but replaced Christianity. Pagan philosophy and science both seek to discover the truth in a way that Christianity does not.

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