The Current Tsunamis

3 05 2008

I was thinking the other day about what we occupy our thinking energy with. Most of it is very futile stuff. Stuff that will not matter even in a decade. Quite naturally and very quickly, what we occupy our thinking with becomes what we occupy our physical energy and time with.
Can I earn more money? Are humans ruining the planet? Should we arrange a national lottery? Should I have kids? Where can I get a safe abortion? Which party should I vote for? Can I look younger? Am I pregnant? Can I get thinner? How can I make my staff more productive? How do I get an advantage over my competitors? How do I get to have more sex, safely if possible? Does this make me look fat? Do I have BO? Are we there yet? I wonder what they think about me? …
These are the kinds of questions we have been trained to ask. And we ask them all day long, and most of the night too… But they are the least important questions. The really important questions we do not ask, but why? Could it be that we unconsciously avoid the real questions? I think so, and, as I have said, we have been trained to ask the frivolous questions, and to ask them only.

We humans have always been open to abuse by religion, science, popular culture, peer pressure, the media, and a myriad of other things. It did not matter so much 100 years ago because ideologies were relatively isolated. Ideas would ripple slowly across the planet, doing an equal amount of good and evil. Today they travel with the force, speed and impetus of a tsunami; an ethos tsunami. Or rather an unending series of ever shorter wavelength ethos tsunamis.
Drip feeding new ideas at the rate of generational growth can be wonderfully stimulating, but to be smashed with wave after wave of ideas is devastating. We must force ourselves awake, to think; to look up from the little questions which threaten to drown us. I’m not suggesting that little questions are invalid; little questions are equally valid, they are just secondary. And as CS Lewis pointed out “you cannot get second things by putting them first. You can only get second things by putting first things first.

The word ‘tsunami’ is a good example. I remember about 10 years ago Leonard Sweet produced a book called ‘Soul Tsunami’. When I heard the title I had to look up the word, today very few people, who can read, need to look up the word ‘tsunami’, it has swept over the continents carried on the susceptible and fluid oceans of the world media.
Another example, with much more impact, is our liberal South African Constitution. Influenced and applauded by current ‘democratic’ super-powers. Yet lacking even the simple redemptive processes that would make it a truly democratic constitution (I wrote a post about it, if you don’t know what I mean: Cry the Beleaguered Country)

So, what are the really big questions?
Someone I asked recently said “Why me? More specifically, why am I so special? Why am I alive? What is the REASON for ME as a person to be here on this planet?
I would regard this as the fundamental question of all questions.
Steven Hawking in “A Brief History of Time” said about this question: “If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.
Hawking’s problem here is that the knowledge he is speaking of is intellectual, categoric knowledge. But scientific ‘knowing’, as we have already established, is not the only way of knowing; and answering the question “what is the reason for me?” is hopelessly outside the self-confessed reaches of the scientific method.
If you have even the slightest inkling of an answer to the question “why me?”, the other questions would just about answer themselves.

Here’s another fundamental question: “What’s the point?”
I would rate this question as number 2 on the list of important questions to answer before you die. Let me give you a reason why.
At some point someone asked “Are humans ruining the planet?” Some scientists said, “we might be,” and activists and politicians said “that’s good enough for us and here’s a bunch of rules and guidelines to stop it from happening.” And the Bureaucrats and popular TV talk shows adjusted their song sheets to the key of the new tune.
Now if, instead of getting into a frenzy of activity, someone asked, “what’s the point?” we would have a very different set of behavioural responses.
The planet is doomed anyway, what is the difference if it is now or in a million years? Someone may answer that this may be be the only planet with life. To which the answer is again, “so what?… What’s the point?
It is not a long walk to the most depressing fatalism once we start asking this question. The Stoics and the Epicureans concluded that suicide was a legitimate means of exit… their answer to the question.
Augustine argued the case against suicide using the example of Lucretia the much lauded lady of Roman fable who took her own life after being raped “There is no way out of the dilemma.” Says Augustine. “If she is an adulteress, why all the praise? If chaste, why did she kill herself?” Fatalism is not an acceptable answer to the question. “There is no point” equally cannot be the answer.
Philosophy,” said Dr Michael Eaton recently, “is just an ever increasing scepticism… Post modernism simply means that we are sure that we don’t really know anything… The more you know the more you wish you knew nothing.
The grand conclusion of philosophy is that there is no point to be found in time and space. Possessing intelligence and consciousness is not an end in itself. But this asks more questions than it answers. Why then do we feel such a desperate need to be the object of some purpose larger than ourselves? Why is in not ‘OK’ to simply say “So what, let’s use up the planet ourselves, why restrain ourselves for the sake of some future generation who we don’t even know. The whole planet may be taken out by a meteor anyway and it is going to be destroyed eventually despite our best efforts“?
It’s all in Ecclesiastes if you want to read it, thought through by Solomon 4000 years ago. “There is nothing new, nothing to be gained, no advantage, under the sun.” (“under the sun” is Solomon’s way of saying “here on earth”) and he’s quite right there is no point here on earth, absolutely none. I challenge you to find one that cannot be refuted by logic alone.
Now here’s the clincher: If there is no point at all why do we behave as if there were? As if somehow our reputation will actually matter in a million years.
What’s the Point?” I want to tell you that more people ask this question that you imagine. Now you may be thinking, “didn’t you say that people don’t ask these questions, and this is number 2 on the list.
Yes I did say that, but most people only ask, “what’s the point?” from inside the dilemma of the other questions, they have been trained not to think outside of it. “What’s the point if I can’t earn any more money?” “What’s the point if I can’t have more sex?” “What’s the point if I am fat?” “What’s the point if they think I’m an idiot?” “What’s the point of saving the planet?
People seldom ask “What’s the point of me, us, everything?” We don’t take the question far enough.

Our view of science is the key here. Our view of science will either keep us asking the little questions or force us to ask the big ones (legitimate as the little questions are).
Science claims to deal only with what is provable, or falsifiable, which is a noble pursuit. And so scientists claim to say nothing about what is not provable, or falsifiable. But science does, all the time. There is always a lot of necessary assumption in the science world because of the issues that science is dealing with. Current science has metaphysical implications and requires metaphysical assumptions; and these assumptions rub off, through the current bombardment of idea tsunamis, on absolutely everyone.
Intelligent Design may not be what is defined as ‘science’ but neither is science within it’s own definition anymore. We don’t want intelligent design in the science classroom but are happy to give science as much metaphysical jurisdiction as it wants.
Science can not show how it is that life started nor how it is that reason evolved. How then can it show when a life ends? Yet it is necessarily assumed in science that biology is the same thing as life. Science cannot show how the universe came into being nor it’s purpose. So its beginning is necessarily assumed and it is assumed to be purposeless (I’ve always wondered why having a beginning to the universe is more important than having a purpose to it). We are trained to think in terms of assumptions, to accept them without requiring evidence.

Here are some other fundamental questions:
When I die (not if, when) is that the end of me?
Will anything I do matter in a million years?
Why is there something rather than nothing?
Why are there many, not just one?
Is there a God?
Richard Dawkins attempts an answer to this last question, he says that God is “not very likely“. It is a singularly unhelpful and small minded attempt. Dawkins attempts to answer a big question as if it were a little one. He tries to use science in the form of statistics to answer something with is neither provable nor falsifiable, and for that he wins approval?!?
Every conception is also very unlikely, life itself is highly improbable, universal order is also extremely unlikely; yet here they all are, observable and measurable. The unlikelyness of God is utterly irrelevant to the question, it does not serve as an answer and the sooner we recognise that the better.

So you think that I am trying to convince you to believe what I believe. I am not. I am asking you to ask the questions we have been trained to believe there is no answer to; and to ask them sincerely. I am also asking you to ignore the noise and the distraction of the current idea tsunamis, to lift your head out of the chicken feed and imagine again, beyond your wildest dreams.

Dr RT Kendall said recently, “God offends the mind to reach the heart.
Here is a little question: “How can a just God let people suffer?” Now if God exists only a fool would deny that He does let people suffer, even ‘good’ people; maybe especially ‘good’ people. The Greeks attempted to answer that question by humanising the gods. They imagined their gods having all these powers but subject to their own character weaknesses, these weaknesses translate to the random doses of suffering and blessing we observe.
Dr Kendall’s statement is an excellent, experiential and relational answer to the question; and, like it or not, Kendall’s right.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapter eight) he quoted the Ecclesiastes theme that the whole world, indeed the universe, is subject to meaningless vanity… If you discount God.
Someone once said” “God has the key of all unknown but He will not give it to you, So you had better trust him to open all the doors.
If we leave out God – we are just animals. When we take away from the human the image of God all you have left is animal.

From His hand” is the Ecclesiastical contrast to “under the sun“.




4 responses

3 05 2008

What a thoughtful, beautiful and passionate piece.
Thank you for offering it.

“Here’s another fundamental question: “What’s the point?”
… “There is no point” … cannot be the answer.”

Why not? You, yourself subscribe to this answer later on in this same essay in the following:

“…he’s (Solomon) quite right there is no point here on earth, absolutely none. I challenge you to find one that cannot be refuted by logic alone.”

Is there, then, some ‘point’ not on earth? What is that ‘point’? How does God provide a point?

“People seldom ask “What’s the point of me, us, everything?”

Perhaps not asking the question is what preserves our species. It takes a certain intelligence plus experience of life to be troubled by this question. Goethe thought it took at least 40 years. You are one year early.

“If we leave out God – we are just animals. When we take away from the human the image of God all you have left is animal.”

But are we not, indeed, animals? Is God needed to enforce morality? Cannot morality arise instinctually as one of the mechanisms of evolution to preserve the species? Why is it not possible to live a wholesome, productive and moral life with the knowledge that there is no point to it at all?

4 05 2008

Hi Marvin, thanks for the kind words and, more importantly, the insightful observations & questions.
Someone recently asked me, “If electricity comes from electrons, does morality come from morons?” :^)

Yes we are animals, but are we animals only? Now that is my question.
I think that there is more than enough evidence in to require a good investigation. But (this is a big but), I don’t think Greek style Western scientific method will produce an answer worth having, and when we look we can see why it cannot (ie: not a dig at science).
If someone were to ask me to prove that my wife loved me (which is another way of asking “what is the point of your marriage?” ) what evidence would I present. Nothing that could be tested in a lab, or subject to double blind trials (love may be blind, but it is not double blind). I could not write a paper that would be accepted by a science publication. I am the only person who could be satisfied with the answer… But I am the only one who needs to be satisfied with the answer.
The proof is twofold – it comes in what she continues to say, and what she continues to do.
It is a relational pursuit (not a scientific one). But one would expect it to be, because if there is a point to life then it must be understood equally by children, the mentally challenged, rich, poor, educated and super intelligent. How could it be that an ultimate point to life be understood only by the intelligentsia?

I do not believe that it is reasonable to expect humans to live wholesome, productive and moral lives with the knowledge that there is no ultimate point to them. Yet I accept that many of them do… (that is not the only unreasonable thing that humans do).
I would suggest that people live like they are expecting a point to come – and are bitterly disappointed when it does not. Or rather they live like they’re expecting someone.
I did a funeral about 4 years ago for a 9 year old boy who shot himself because he saw no reason to keep living. This question is asked most by teenagers, in my experience, not by the middle aged. But I suppose that Harley Davidson has gone a long way in bringing some sort of meaning to those who ask the question at 40 :^)

I don’t think that God is “necessary” to enforce morality. Religion will do the trick, or even knowledge. People can be caused to behave, but it is an external causation. But what we are after here is the necessary point to life (if there is one), internal morality, not an external force applied to life, that’s not really ‘morality’. For many hundreds of years general relativity was not necessary either. Yet it turned out to be closer to the truth than Newton’s laws. If true morality is necessarily internal cone can see quite clearly why God is necessarily invisible and unprovable. Well that’s not entirely true. He (like my wife’s love) is not unprovable relationally.

It’s hard to make an evolutional case for morals, reason and personhood (or consciousness if you prefer). Morals are just too similar and universal (The instinctive morals of ants toward eachother in the same nest is no measure because they are equally instinctively immoral towards other ants an other species – that is how we would expect natural selection to work). Reason is particularly unnatural. Reason is always invading nature for the purpose of occupation. Nature’s powerful attempts at the invasion of reason is for the sake of chaos (if chaos can be an end). Lewis puts it this way: if you have tooth ache while you are reading this it will aversely affect your attempts to think about it. So you have the tooth fixed or pulled out or something, why? So that you can think.
It is the same with your garden and your hair. You are continually invading the natural world with your reason. Animals don’t do that sort of thing. It’s irrational to expect it to evolve. Nature is continually attempting (unsuccessfully one would hope) to invade your reason. But not for the purpose of some higher reason, only for the purpose of more nature.
I’m trying to look at reason itself. But if we looked at reason with reason alone then I believe reason would be invisible to us, or at least unhelpful in its own case. One cannot ask one man to be both judge, jury and prosecutor and expect a fair trial.
I think both reason and personhood are already proved to be supernatural – let’s rather say metaphysical. They are certainly not, either of them, natural or animal.
Human beings are animal, but I don’t think we are animal only.

“There is no point” is the answer only if we look “under the sun.” and in that case your question is a good one. Why can it not be the only reason? We may want to believe in a higher power to give meaning to our meager existence, but wanting something to be true is certainly not a good enough reason to believe it to be so.
I say everything “under the sun” but I am excluding two things, reason and personhood. I am excluding them because they are not only “under the sun” but also “from the hand of God”.

Let me give a biblical example. The 10 commandments (indeed almost all of the Old Testament law) are external laws. None of them require an inward morality… except one, the last one “Do not covert.”
Paul says of this law in Romans 7 “…I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.”” Coveting is not stealing nor is it murdering, but it may include the desire to do both without actually doing them. In other words coveting is the one (and only) Old Testament law that requires absolutely no action to be guilty of disobeying. We have to look internally at morality, and we have to look at it with reason, not merely with morality.

Perhaps ignorance has preserved our species, it certainly has preserves all the others. Imagine if lions discovered satellite tracking, marketing, or the internal combustion engine! But that is not a point we can legitimately discuss… because the cat is out of the bag, Pandora’s box is opened and Eve has tasted of the fruit of knowledge. We are not ignorant of the question and have not been for at least 4000 years. We are not a species who either commend or are commended for not asking questions, are we?
So ignorance could not have preserved the species, because we are not ignorant and it’s hard to think of a time that we were.

6 05 2008

“… but wanting something to be true is certainly not a good enough reason to believe it to be so.”

Indeed, true.

” I did a funeral about 4 years ago for a 9 year old boy who shot himself because he saw no reason to keep living.”

That a nine year old shot himself because he was overwhelmed by a philosophical matter is hard to believe. I hope his death was probed more deeply than that!

“So ignorance could not have preserved the species, because we are not ignorant and it’s hard to think of a time that we were.”

I don’t think ignorance preserved the species. Rather, not bothering to ask unanswerable questions is what allows us to savour living.

” What is the REASON for ME as a person to be here on this planet?
…. (is) the fundamental question of all questions.”

There is a more fundamental one. Why is there anything?
It’s discussed in my post:

To help people cope with suffering and to celebrate life’s milestones is a noble undertaking. I respect your work even though I find the narrative underlying it without foundation.

6 05 2008

“That a nine year old shot himself because he was overwhelmed by a philosophical matter is hard to believe. I hope his death was probed more deeply than that!”
Sometimes life forces us to face philosophy that we are not yet equipped to answer.
Yes, it was well investigated.

“I don’t think ignorance preserved the species. Rather, not bothering to ask unanswerable questions is what allows us to savour living.”
Are they not the same thing? The law does not let one off the hook for not bothering to find out what the law is. One goes hungry if one has not bothered to look in the cupboard (even thought it is true though that curiosity both fed and killed the cat). How would we know they are unanswerable until we asked them? Surely every generation has a mandate (certainly a desire) to answer the questions the previous generations considered unanswerable?
I see you spell savour with a ‘u’. Are you originally from England?

“There is a more fundamental one. Why is there anything?”
I think “Why am I here?” is more fundamental because it is both personal and existential, not just existential. I don’t think we can attempt a successful answer of “why is there anything?” before we have discovered a personal purpose.
“Why is there anything?” is a much more tempting question to tackle because it is un-relational, external and we can subject it to the scientific method. But to ask “Why am I here?” is to boldly go where few men have the courage to go. Inside is probably the scariest place to search. An internal scope will reveal things we’d rather not look at, but they are there and must be dealt with.
But I say that without having read your post. Which I will do later today.

Thanks for the discussion! I appreciate your insights Marvin.

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