Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Deeply philosophical questions

WARNING: If you don't like to be challenged, you'd better not read this.

I have been philosophizing lately (yes, there is such a word as philosophizing) about the nature of things, including 'god', and these are a few of the questions I have come up with:
  1. With the advent of genetic engineering and advances in science and technology, everything present on earth could in theory be manufactured by humans. Does this mean that humans are equivalent to a 'god' of some kind?

  2. Life is flimsy: Not robust, but easy to corrupt with disease and genetics, and easy to kill. Why would a 'god' make something deemed so important so flimsy?

  3. Most of the infinite expanse of the universe is empty, unordered space, with only small (in comparison with the overall size) areas of more ordered systems. Why would a 'god' waste such resources?

These are sort of rhetorical questions, but if you are in possession of the answers, I'd very much like to hear from you.

I leave you with the riddle of Epicurus (my favourite philosopher):
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

- Epicurus


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding your questions. (Incidentally, I came across your blog while searching for information about the Maori language pack for Ubunbtu; it matched "Ubuntu" and "Maori"). I think it would help if you began by stating the qualities that your god is supposed to possess. It's hard to say anything about what a god would or wouldn't do if you haven't discussed his capabilities and motivations. Next, I'm wondering what specifically you're arguing for or against? For example, are you arguing about the existance of god, whether he created the universe, or about whether he created life on Earth? I guess this ties in with your conception of god, as above.

With the advent of genetic engineering...
Do you mean, we may be able to manufacture everything on earth in the distant future? Certainly we are unable to do this at present.

Life is flimsy...
This depends on the motivation of god. And why is life "deemed so important"?

Most of the infinite expanse of the universe...
"Empty" and "unordered" seem contradictory. Empty space is neither ordered nor unordered. And which parts of space do you think are unordered?

9:27 pm  
Blogger J.L. said...

Hey anon.,

Thanks for the reply. You may note that I am an atheist (as per my profile), and therefore do not believe in a 'higher power' of any sort, including 'god' or otherwise.

Defining 'god'... The definition will vary between religions, but I'd be most used to thinking of a 'god' in the christian sense:

(0. There is no higher being than God.)
1. God is good, not evil.
2. God wants us to be good.
3. God created the earth in 7 days.
4. God can hear and see you at all times and knows your intentions when you are commiting any act.
5. God can manipulate events to have a particular outcome.
6. God's adversary is the Devil, who wants us to disregard God's wishes.
7. We can't see or hear God directly, but the intent of God evident in the answering of prayers, and miracles.
8. If a person lives their life respecting the wishes of God, then they will be rewarded by being allowed entry to 'heaven' when they die.

There are probably more points I could think of, but these are just off the top of my head.

With regard to the 'genetic engineering and manufacture' comment: This is in theory - it's a question of scale. Of course, we (the human race collectively) couldn't actually manufacture everything on earth in a short timeframe (say, the 7 or so days that the bible says) unless we had sufficient numbers of people, materials, machines and knowledge. I'm saying that we have attained the knowledge to do this, but don't have the raw materials or numbers of people or machines - or the need. We can create life in test tubes. Making rock is just a question of heat, pressure and materials.

With regard to the 'Life is flimsy' item, I was questioning a higher being's motivation for creating lifeforms that are easy to kill, and hence that if a higher being deemed life to be precious and worth creating in the first place, would it not be worth making life difficult to end?
To end a life, all we need do is fall from a great enough height, or eat the wrong things, or come into contact with certain chemicals or bacteria. Or we may be unfortunate and have a genetic defect and associated ailments which lead to early death.

With regard to the 'empty and unordered universe' section, I would define an ordered system to be something which contains repetitive, predictable structures and processes - like earth and the sun and other stars. In between these is space, which contains very few particles and some radiation, and has no inherent order. Physics also says that the order in any system will tend to decrease over time (think of smashing a glass of water). In terms of the actual numbers of particles in the universe, there are a vast amount, but mostly they exist as small areas of ordered systems (due to gravity and electrostatic attraction) with incredible distances between them. I suppose what I'm driving at is that it seems illogical to create an entire universe containing huge numbers of small ordered systems and then use only one area to begin life. If a higher being had the power to create such a universe with the intent of populating it with lifeforms, why not build in more control, or structure it more for the benefit of the lifeforms that it was created for?

As I said, I don't know the anwsers, but the questions are thought provoking. I guess that many people - especially christians - would get upset thinking about them, as I have witnessed personally. I don't like being told constantly by christians that 'god' loves me, or that I'm going to hell because of x, y and z, especially when there are invariably discrepancies and contradictions in their arguments.

Glad to hear that you're considering/ using Ubuntu Linux! My experience of Kubuntu (a related offshoot) has been great so far, and I'd definitely recommend it.
And if you can korero in Te Reo, then I salute you - as a Scot, I know what it's like to have your culture taken away from you. I really wish that I had been able to learn Gaelic in school. But that's a subject for another post.

Best Regards,


6:29 pm  
Blogger Matthew Blake said...

That's a completely fascinating quote from Epicurus. Very tough questions, ones that I can only remember people brushing over as a child in church and Christian school.

Thanks for the note on my blog. I've spent a few minutes on the Positive Athiesm website, but haven't had a chance yet to study it more closely. It's interesting, because I've never even heard of such a thing. Athiesm, as it's always been defined to me, necessitates futile thinking. It's interesting to hear the word "positive" in front of it.

I also am intrigued because the tenets seem to be exactly the things that I am sincerely passionate and concerned about pursuing. Society, community, the value of the individual - these things are important to me, and so I'm instantly drawn to that part of the philosophy.

Thanks for the concern, & I will keep in touch as I look into it more.

2:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Absolutely. Creativity is the fundamental nature of the thing we call God. As individualized expressions of this creativity, it is our nature to create as well.

2. We neither begin nor terminate life. That is the mistaken belief of our egotistical, self-important and shortsighted culture.

3. I have no idea in the world.

Thanks for your thoughtful questions.

9:09 am  
Anonymous Peter R. said...

I have a very, very philosophical mind. Maybe too much so. I believe in the possibility of a god but am not convinced that there is or is not one.
I agree with the first point you made about genetic engineering but don't have many meaningful comments on it.
I don't know where 'life is flimsy' comes from but the point you made is very true.
Now, about that Epicurus quote. That kind of thing has crossed my mind but I was never able to think of it so clearly.
This is just a list of philosophical concepts that lurk in my mind.
-What evidence is there of the existence of a god? How is there no god with all those inexplainable things? Some of the following are examples and separate philosophies.
-The beginning of life.
-The beginning of time.
-The first form of matter.
-The first form of energy.
-If matter can't be destroyed or created how did it come to exist? [same point with energy]
-Mental things: What is mind? How do we imagine things? I can build a lot off that one specifically.
-What is 'understanding'? How do some people understand things while others don't? [adding to my complicated point of mentality]
I can't think of any more at the moment but I know there are more in my head.

5:08 pm  

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