Monday, January 28, 2008

People = Particles

This brown desk (to borrow John Hick's analogy) has a flat top; but it's also true that it's covered in little dips and bumps, that it's not flat. And a bat would perceive it quite differently, certainly not as brown, and perhaps not even as an object; and even I believe that it's (probably) a fuzzy set of atoms (so that alien nanoprobes, for all their precise observations, would only see, where my table is, such sets of atoms as my table isn't), whence I wonder if it really is one thing...
......But it can be moved about (and it was made) as one thing, so it clearly is; so, there's a pragmatic element to truth (correspondence between our concepts and the cosmos, our words and the world), arising from how we fit our thoughts, our language to reality (even within modern physics). But that shouldn't threaten our common sense realism about ordinary objects. After all, we can even say something about the bat’s view of things: If the bat manages to avoid flying into the (flat, brown) desk, then its view of such things is probably true enough (is good enough for its purposes).
......Similarly, if conceptual frameworks connect animals (via perception) to physical objects much as (on Hick's analogy) religious traditions connect people (via revelation) to God then, much as I know I'm sitting at a brown desk (which, I also know, might not even be an object really), so I might know of the God of Abraham (and that a Buddhist's view, for example, of such knowledge might also be true—not that Buddhists are batty, but there is, for example, an obscure context-sensitivity to the extrapolation of our concepts beyond the mundane).
......After all, most of us aren't like Abraham, aren't actually perceiving much (of the details), but are rather reading descriptions of (what is metaphorically) the brown desk at which Hick sat, writing of how (apparently) contradictory descriptions might not be of different objects; which is an argument (not for Hick's pluralism but) for a range of inclusivisms because surely we should not stop thinking of a flat, brown desk as a desk (as one object) or as brown, or even as flat when using it as a desk (when engaging with it directly).
......That suggests (appropriately obscurely) that even contradictory propositions (with ordinarily well-defined terms) might be true of a being as transcendent (to us much as we are to our dreams) as God; but some could not be, e.g. regarding whether God is a person or impersonal Hick noted how (even something as mundane as) light seems to be both particles and waves, but while light is physically well-modelled by a quantum-mechanical wavefunction (and a desk might be a fuzzy set of similar particles) surely if God is a person then S/he will know that fact directly, and if not then no such awareness (of that fact) would exist.
......Still, the Abrahamic faiths having falsely attributed a gender to God (much as we would naturally attribute physical continuity, rather than atomicity, to water), for example (and saintly believers being equally present in all the well-established traditions, as Hick rightly emphasizes), it does seem unlikely that our own religion would contain an exceptionally penetrating description of God (especially in view of such things as the place of politics in the history of its doctrines, and the traditional view of history and metaphysics generally).

5 comments:

Tanasije Gjorgoski said...

Hi, not connected to the post, but didn't know where to ask... what happened with this blog's feed?

...in reply I said...

Hi, I don't know what feed is, so I turned it off... is that a problem? (It annoyed me to see stuff on my blog that I didn't understand!)

Tanasije Gjorgoski said...

It is the way for people to get notified when you publish new post. They 'subscribe' to your blog via some blog reader (like Google Reader, Bloglines, etc..). I checked, and you had 6 readers that read your blog through Google Reader. Now they are not notified. I also use feed to be notified when there is something is new on your blog, and include it in the power-blogroll aggregator I have on my blog, and which I hope also gets additional readers here.

In short: turn it back on! :)

Enigman said...

Will do (thanks :)

Jeff said...

That's interesting, the idea that Hick and most other so-called pluralists actually only support a range of inclusive positions.
Hick's makes much of Jesus' claim "By their fruits you shall know them" and seems to use the saintliness of adherents as a litmus test for authenticity.
He often says to inclusivists "You're part way there, why not just take the plunge"
It seems to me that it would be just as valid to turn the argument on its head, and say to Hick "You're part way there, why not bite the bullet and own the fact you're actually an inclusivist."
I think he'd probably object that he's looking at salvation/liberation, not some wider epistimic picture. But this, in turn, leads to an important distinction in how we approach a theology of religions:
Are we making claims of pluralism/inclusivism/exclusivism on the basis of eternal destination or on the basis of a wider set of claims about the nature of reality.