A man was walking home one dark and foggy night. As he groped his way
through the murk he nearly tripped over someone crawling around by a lamp
post. "What are you doing?" asked the traveller. "I’m looking for my keys."
Replied the other. "Are you sure you lost them here?" asked the first man.
"I’m not sure at all," came the reply, "but if I haven’t lost them near this
lamp I don’t stand a chance of finding them." (Richard Seel)
Quantum theology doesn't stand a chance as a worldview for its keys are not near The Light.
They say that at infinite density and infinite space-time curvature the
general theory collapses. They say that quantum conditions of indeterminacy and nonlocality are indescribable. I'm not smart enough to grasp the math and physics which are applied to such assertions regarding our "early moments" and "deep structures" and thus, as a layperson, can't imagine why "in principle" a next generation Hawking clone might not contrive a theory of everything which makes the necessary corrections in the equations describing the special and general theories of relativity and of quantum mechanics.
Inveterate pigeonholer that I am, I systematize "my questions" into the
subjects of who, what, when, where, how, why and that and into the objects of truth, beauty and goodness.
In the domain of science, which is the realm of space-time-matter-energy(where-when-what-how), in principle, I cannot conceive of any questions which science cannot answer.
I consider the realm of meaning (why) to be the domain of philosophy, the realm of ultimacy (who) to be the domain of theology and the realm of the existential (that) to be the domain of mysticism.
I find myself, as a subject, as a de facto scientist, philosopher,
theologian and mystic, using these subjects of science, philosophy,
theology and mysticism to confront those objects of truth, beauty and
goodness with the questions: of truth, what can I know?; of beauty, what may I hope for?; and of goodness, what must I do?
I have discovered that whether as scientist, philosopher, theologian or
mystic, my language is always metaphorical and my presuppositions are
On my life's journey, my first question was "Is the universe friendly?' and my raison d'etre was discovering what I may hope for and then realizing those aspirations. My next question was "What can I know?" and, more precisely, "What can I know about what I may hope for?".
Answers to my questions came from a cacophony of voices, all claiming a
privileged epistemology. Each epistemology had something to say about what I could know, what I may hope for and what I must do. Each epistemology sprang forth from a community structure which supported creed, cult and code:
creed being their doctrines by which they sought to transmit the truths
cult being their rituals by which they sought to celebrate the beauty
and code being their laws by which they sought to preserve the good they'd discovered.
Those community structures' creeds, cults and codes comprised worldviews which were undergirded by manifold and varied metaphysical presuppositions.
In essense, the worldviews seemed derived from epistemological
presuppositions which were themselves derived from ontological
What are the nature and grounds of our knowledge about truth, beauty and goodness? especially with reference to the limits and validity of that knowldege? Don't certain ontological presuppositions almost algorithmically yield this epistemology or that? And then, what's the distance from an epistemology to a worldview?
Finally, which really comes first for most of us: ontology, epistemology or worldview?
Well, for most of us, worldview comes first, gifted us by our parents or society, immersed in this or that culture. Our worldview is the pilot flying the plane. Our epistemology consists both of the plane's windows and of the instrumentation with which we navigate (notwithstanding many are not instrument-rated and therefore don't fare well in much of life's stormy weather) and is pretty much taken for granted as all we've got upon boarding the plane. Our ontology is not flying first class and is usually in the baggage compartment (not the overhead within reach) if it wasn't left behind altogether or misrouted.
With all of that in mind, I return to the question: what can I know about what I may hope for? Do the worldviews have anything to say about these most insistent urgings? Well, of course, they do. They are the cacophony of voices I adverted to earlier, generally grouped as those of scientists, philosophers, theologians and mystics. Okay, they have something to say but it might be useful to ask the following questions before we proceed:
What, exactly,is science unable to answer in principle?
What, exactly,is philosophy unable to answer in principle?
What, exactly,is theology unable to answer in principle?
What, exactly,is mysticism unable to answer in principle?
I believe that, in principle, worldviews are unable to answer ontological questions.
Whether we frame up the question as that of body-mind,
natural-supernatural, monism-dualism, materialism-spiritualism, the answer will elude us, and it is not a matter where some Kuhnian paradigm shift could help us find this lost baggage or lamp-light more area wherein we can search for these lost keys. However, neither is it a matter where we throw up our hands in surrender and give up our Kantian questions.
What are we to do?
Here emerges our third question of the Kantian triad: what must I do?
As one might suspect, the worldviews are not lacking suggestions here either. None but nihilism abandon the journey altogether. All persevere in their pilgrimage toward truth, beauty and goodness.
This inability to answer the big ontological question is not a defect of science because it is not even a problem of science. At the same time, neither is it a defect or problem of philosophy (though it is a topic), theology or mysticism, at least not if we define problem as a testable hypothesis.
All good sciences, all useful philosophies, all great theologies and any authentic mysticisms (espeically mysticisms by their very nature), conceal by deliberate occultation that which belongs to mystery, that which is beyond the power to discover, understand or explain.
Occultation is not, however, a closing of the eyes or an ending of the search. It simply recognizes that, due to the very fundamental nature of reality, human beings cannot fully embrace mystery but that we can penetrate mystery (and it us) and that while our search is not going to be for answers, still, it can very much be for clues.
I believe the case can be made that, for all of the great scientists, philosophers, theologians and mystics, the quest was their grail, the journey was their destination.
There need be no artificial epistemological barriers then between science, philosophy, theology and mysticism. There should be no talk of exclusive domains or privileged epistemologies. Give 'em all a go at the time-honored Kantian interrogatories and test their clues in the crucible of life's experiences!
So, rather than look for the answer to our original question: "what can I know about what I may hope for?", we search for clues. Our search for clues reveals that most of the great traditions/worldviews (scientific,
philosophical, theological and mystical) do give us clues that
"hang-together" fairly well.
Immersed as they are in mystery, shrouded as they are by occultations, the only way we can judge their clues as "hanging together" is by their internal coherence and external congruence.
What the masses seem to have found over the millenia is that individuals and communities can indeed make their way through this journey of life, pretty much successfully I'd say, by following the clues provided as regarding "what they can know about what they hope for and must do".
These clues are transmitted through stories and are metanarratives consisting of myths which, literally true or not, nevertheless, seem to evoke appropriate responses to reality. As human subjects we respond to these stories, inwardly attuned to their objects of truth, beauty and goodness.
Each metanarrative is immersed in a cultural milieu and enmeshed in a
plethora of anthropological, linguistic, social, political, economic and geograhical webs, inextricably intertwined and entangled, one in the other. They aren't just abstract ideas but ways of living, moving and having being in the world. Therefore, our ability to extract their clues is almost hopelessly dependent on the degree of our immersion in each respective metanarrative.
Likewise, their efficacy in addressing the issues of theodicy, morality and aesthetics is also quite often related to the degree of one's immersion in the given metanarrative's cultural milieu. No small wonder we've described the voices as cacophonous. No small task is global dialogue.
Where do we go from here?
With so many options, perhaps our one of our main tasks is falsifiability.
Let's look across the years and across the traditions, of science and
philosophy and theology and mysticism, and search for common clues they ALL have given with respect to what paths NOT to take.
Avoiding the following insidious "isms", I believe, makes for better
religion and better science and are all pretty much grounded in the notion that the great ontological question is occulted for all metanarratives leaving us all epistemologically humbled (except maybe for Hawking and Tipler).
Having never established firm footing, ontologically, for our methodological presuppositions we especially eschew those
presuppositions of substance (eg. materialism) even as we use our worldviews to substantiate our fundamental trust in uncertain reality so as not to proceed paradoxically and unsubstantiated.
While humble, we can proceed confidently, largely due to the storytelling of our ancestors and the metanarratives they've nurtured.
The first "ism" that comes to mind, whether for the scientist or
theologian, is *dogmatism*. Neither science nor religion has made great
strides forward in elaborating efficacious metanarratives when arrogant. In articulating religious truth, doctrine too often decays into dogmatism. Science, for its part, knows the perils of *positivism* and radical *empiricism*; *skepticism* is dogmatism's bedfellow on the other extreme.
All worldviews, even science, have their rituals and cults, established
forms and observances, ceremonials and formalities, which can decay into *ritualism* and magic.
In following our rites and methodologies, we can encounter anomalies (difficult to explain phenomena). It is a perilous path to draw sweeping conclusions from anomalous experiences whether in religion or science: There is the "God of the Gaps" pitfall which can tempt believers while scientists often fall prey to making cursory and summary dismissals based on presuppositions of substance and not of method. Neither *materialism* nor *idealism* find universal acceptance among the world's great metanarratives, grounded as they are in a priori metaphysical presuppositions which are unknowable in principle.
All worldviews can "do" ethics and formulate moral codes. All can suffer the deterioration of laws into *legalism*. Deontologies can be
authoritative or nonauthoritative, depending on intrinsic or extrinsic
validating factors. Strict, literal and excessive conformity to religious and moral and legal codifications is decried as pharisaical and hypocritical and dehumanizing by most people of large intelligence and profound goodwill.
Precisely because of worldviews' deep immersion in cultural milieus,
interreligious dialogue participants discourage any thoughts of a false
*irenicism* (easy peace and reconciliation between worldviews) or facile *syncretism* (a blending of worldviews to a wimpy least common
denominator). Neither do they applaud *indifferentism* which concludes that all paths are equally efficacious because, in the first place, they are so culturally-immersed and "jumping" from one worldview to another can therefore jeopardize a religious "hopper"'s psychological equilibrium. Additionally, such an attitude offends the principles of "right speech" and humankind's perennial search for the clues to our existence with its desire to always get to the most nearly perfect articulation of those clues we can possibly find.
As scientists and philosophers, theologians and mystics, we seek
satisfaction of all of our needs: intellectually, emotionally,
aesthetically and morally; we pursue truth, beauty and goodness. Whatever our endeavor, we move forward with head and heart, seeking to avoid various imbalances. Our ways of knowing can come from the via positiva or negativa, from the kataphatic or apophatic approach, from verifiability or falsifiability. We can approach from the head or from the heart, the speculative or the affective.
Among the worldviews, universally:
we are admonished to avoid an overemphasis on the speculative and
we are admonished to avoid an overemphasis on the affective and kataphatic: *pietism*;
we are admonished to avoid an overemphasis on the speculative and
apophatic: *encratism*; and
we are admonished to avoid an overemphasis on the affective and apophatic:*quietism*.
Where do we go from here?
The question persists. There's a lot of room for maneuvering, an ocean of mystery which we can swim in but not drink in fully.
Most people on our planet will not chart new courses or plumb new depths but will remain afloat albeit anchored to their worldview of origin. They will drink from the wells of the time-honored and great traditions and, if they go deep enough, will find we are all drinking from one primal stream, from the "sacred depths of nature".
If they go deep enough into their own traditions and, at the same time, avoid the insidious "isms" outlined above, they will resurface ready for authentic dialogue. They will awaken to our solidarity and compassion will ensue.
Perhaps it will be that, in the very act of coming together to dialogue, we will create a new metanarrative of unity of mission and diversity of ministry.
Perhaps we will strike the balance between eros (which asks:
what's in it for me?) and ethos (which asks: what's in it for others?)
guided by the logos (which asks for a balance between the two). In our
pursuit of beauty and eros, of goodness and ethos, of truth and logos,
we'll avoid extreme *hedonism*, severe *asceticism* and arrogant
*gnosticism* which claims an esoteric knowledge not readily available to others.
The worldviews are very much noted for their divergent and characteristic outlooks on being. The discussion above would suggest an ontological stalemate with respect to these outlooks. Be that as it may, I have no hesitancy in directly addressing the issue of whether or not humankind's search for meaning can be satisfied by an understanding of being that is immanent versus transcendent, existential versus theological, impersonal versus personal, natural versus supernatural.
Whatever the attributes of being might be, both our ancient and contemporary understandings of nature are sufficient to satisfy our search for meaning and transcendence.
I say this for several reasons.
Foremost, because of the occultation of the fundamental nature of being and the epistemological humility this fact of ontology elicits, we can
confidently and with conviction continue our search for clues and no
philosophy, ideology or worldview has the necessary metaphysical
undergirdings to methodologically foreclose on our opportunities to wonder and to hope. The quest remains our grail, the journey our destination.
Also, because we already have the proof of this assertion in the pudding. There have always been non-transcendent worldviews, admittedly of divergent ontological, teleological and eschatological outlooks. They have approached being only immanently, only existentially, only impersonally and only naturally (whether atheistically, nontheistically or pantheistically) and their creeds, cults, codes and community structures have "hung-together" quite satisfactorily; they've been internally coherent and externally congruent within their given cultural milieus.
Lastly, I personally come from a tradition of origin that views being
immanently and transcendently, impersonally and personally, existentially and theologically, naturally and supernaturally, that approaches it apophatically and kataphatically, and that recognizes and affirms the moral goodness (read salvific efficacy) found in the other traditions and all people of goodwill. Through an anthropological theological method, my tradition imputes an implicit faith to peoples of these traditions, specifically, and to all individuals of goodwill, generally. It would take a cynical form of arrogance for my tradition to suggest, on one hand, that these traditions' approaches to meaning are, in a sense, sufficient, while, on the other hand, suggesting that the adherents of these traditions are nonetheless somehow
And so, however insatiable my search may be for Being that is transcendent, personal, theological and supernatural, how can I deny the testimony of legions of others who tell me they have been satisfied, have thoroughly slaked their thirst for meaning with no need for supernatural constructs or abstractions of transcendence?
This is not to deny the metaethical question of whether or not all others can quaff deeply from the same nontranscendent metaphysical concoction and come away similarly satisfied. There will always be movies suggesting this is "as good as it gets" and beer commercials claiming "it don't get no better than this", but there will always be those shaking their heads claiming it's all nonsense. Therefore, it would also take a cynical form of arrogance to deny the testimony of legions of those of explicit faith who claim their search for meaning can only be satisfied by transcendence.
If not for my previously voiced objections to irenicism, syncretism and
indifferentism, superficially it would seem like the natural course would be, for the sake of harmony and metaethical congruence, for Western Civilization to move progressively from exclusivistic Christocentrism to inclusivistic Christocentrism (which it truly has, in large measure) to inclusivistic theocentrism (and this game is very much afoot) to religious anthropocentrism to religious naturalism. The whole world (cosmos) could operate from the same meta-meta-narrative and meta-ethics would be a much more straightforward discipline. Yes, we could all simply learn more math and physics from Hawking et al and they could even reframe our philosophical and theological questions (beginning with why there is something rather than nothing; their answer seems to be that nothingness as a condition is unstable and has a tendency to decay into something).
Again, this is not going to happen for reasons I well-articulated regarding irenicism, syncretism and indifferentism. It is also not likely to happen because people of explicit versus implicit versus no faith at all are not similarly motivated to do good; they are drawn to truth and beauty, to be sure, but their reasons for "behaving well" are motivated by very disparate incentives, disparities resulting from very long-established, divergent worldviews and from different stages of moral development, not just individually but culturally.
This hasn't taken us anywhere other than to suggest that I predict that
meta-ethical considerations will tend to dominate the discussions regarding whether or not nature is enough and Hawking and Tipler can succeed in making their physics normative.
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