Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Related Peanuts

To go with Myk's Peanut post, I'll offer a 'trending' video:

I put 'trending' in quotes since, despite 6 million current views, this is what generally all contemplative people have been asking for thousands of years. Although there are countless books and articles, both fiction and non-fiction, written on this subject (some of which Mr. Fry and others may find interesting, informative and/or consoling), it is still a quandary. Maybe I should have placed a spoiler alert before the last sentence.


Big Myk said...

This view is not unique to Fry. See Bart Ehrman: How the Problem of Pain Ruined My Faith. For an older discussion of the issue: Chaptor 4: Rebellion.

James R said...

"This view is not unique to Fry." Well…that was mainly my point, but I love the two references you give. Bart Ehman's piece really captures a lot of my feelings—he parenthetically throws in whole schools of theological thought (including, obliquely, theories of atonement):

(suffering comes as a punishment from God for sin; suffering is a test of faith; suffering is created by cosmic powers aligned against God and his people; suffering is a huge mystery and we have no right to question why it happens; suffering is redemptive and is the means by which God brings salvation; and so on)

I especially like the "and so on". As we know, after WWI practically all theology was caught up on the meaning of suffering with god dying as a result, as Fry would want it.

And the second reference may be the most famous comment on suffering. "Listen! I took the case of children only to make my case clearer. Of the other tears of humanity with which the earth is stacked from its crust to its centre, I will say nothing."

I must read "The Brothers Karamazov" again. Thanks for sharing.

James R said...

Here is how Martin Gardner introduces his chapter (one of two) on evil. This is from his book The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener, which to my surprise was referenced in the Theory of Knowledge book required for the high school International Baccalaureate program.

By the way, Mr. Gardner, the 'recreational mathematician', kept file card notes on philosophy and literature arranged in chronological order. He would attach to the cards tiny flags of different colors relating to six topics of: God, immortality, free will, evil, altruism and the mystery of being. To his (and my) surprise, he found diminishing number of flags on evil as history advanced. Despite 20th century (re: WWI and existentialism) and present day (re: the trending video) concern with the problem of evil, apparently it was a greater concern for the ancients and in medieval times. Well, that makes some sense. Anyway, here are some introductory remarks by Martin Gardner:

"There is no way to say anything new about the problem of evil. It has all been said thousands of times before, in enormous detail, and often with great eloquence. The best I can do is repeat rusty, unsatisfying arguments, all older than Christianity. Not one of these arguments, if it tries to explain why God or the gods permit evil, carries any persuasion for an atheist. At most they serve only to show that theism is not logically inconsistent, perhaps comfort a believer slightly, perhaps make the immensity of evil a bit easier to bear."

Big Myk said...

Perhaps we should go back and look at the origins of the human experience of God and see if the theodicy question even makes any sense. Some time ago, I read a review of a book by James L. Kugel, former professor of Hebrew Literature at Harvard University, called In the Valley of the Shadow: On the Foundations of Religious Belief. Here's the review: Time and Possibilities.

At one point in the book, Kugel asks us to imagine ourselves as our Pleistocene ancesters. Consider a small band of prehistoric hunter-gatherers all too aware of their fragility in the face of the magnitude of what they were up against. “This little group was endlessly overshadowed by all that was outside of them, forever on the receiving end of whatever You — immanent in the great Outside all around — happened to be dishing out,” he tells us. To the hunter-gatherer, the “great Outside” was nearly all-powerful: why shouldn’t it mean to make things happen? “On the contrary,” Kugel writes, “it would require some sort of extraordinarily twisted spirit to look up and not see You, Your hand gloved in cloud and sky, Your voice mingling with cricket song and crashing waves, doing all the things that impinged on the little band’s existence. You were practically everything, and You completely overwhelmed their own little reality.”

Bultmann similarly describes God as the "enigma, the mystery which drives us this way and that and hedges us in.... [A] power [that] plays a cruel game with us, destroying and annihilating..."

Believing in God, Kugel suggests, meant at its most baisc level aligning yourself with the force of the universe, of humbly opening yourself up to its grandeur, more than it meant asserting faith in a particular deity. Says Kugel, "Religion is first of all about fitting into the world...." Pain and suffering is part of what the "great Outside" throws at us. Fry, Erhman and Ivan all err in elevating the primative experience and response to a belief point that that there is some sort of human intentionality behind it all.

James R said...

That must be the hardest part of religion as well as atheism—to refrain from making God human, including human intentionality. How does one align with the universe under those circumstances? We always want to bend it to something we understand a little better. From "An Enigma On Man":

Athena's guise brings beauteous appeal,
Let's science rise, its purpose to reveal
A world that's justifiable in thought.
God's purpose: to reveal a world that's not.

Big Myk said...

I suspect that there is not an idea from all of history that does not find some form of expression in "An Enigma On Man."

James R said...

That may be true, but it embraces an almost laser focus compared to "An Essay On Man".

James R said...

Your last comment, after some thought, has struck me as quite intriguing. The name of the poem, I thought, was bold. Part I, which is entirely finished and stands on its own, directly addresses the question of certainty in life. It seemed appropriate and timely given the rise of science, the god-of-gaps, and the current embrace of empiric knowledge versus the 'irrational' claims of religious teachings and faith. It felt as if mankind was more certain about his universe than at any other time in history.

But your comment raises an interesting point. I'm not sure that your sentiment would be voiced at any other time in history. It is, perhaps, your unique, studied view of the world (which very well could be, since much of the poem is from our discussions), or, could it be that, ironically, in the present time, with all the knowledge we have learned far beyond our ancestors—could it be that we are more lost to the enigma now than ever before?

Pope would never have considered that "there is not an idea from all of history that does not find some form in "An Enigma on Man." Before the 1700's it was understood that the world, man, and all things had a purpose. We barely know what that means today. Nature has sequential 'causes', but no one thinks of the telos of man or nature anymore. As Kugel writes, in earlier times “it would require some sort of extraordinarily twisted spirit to look up and not see You, Your hand gloved in cloud and sky, Your voice mingling with cricket song and crashing waves, doing all the things that impinged on the little band’s existence. You were practically everything, and You completely overwhelmed their own little reality.”

Now, do we look up and see the "You"? the science? Or, the enigma? In this time when we know the most, do we understand the least? Again, I'm not sure this is true or not. Most of the world seems pretty certain that science holds the answers. Is it just a small group of misfits that think an enigma hounds our every step? It certainly would be ironic if that was the prevailing thought today.

Big Myk said...

I have several thoughts here. First, I think people still consider the "Great outside" as "you." You see this most often when people complain about circumstances as if someone deliberately set to harm them. Why else get angry unless there was some intentionality behind the occurrence. They will deny of course that they are blaming someone in particular, but then why get angry at a random occurrence.

Second, Science if anything is fueling the idea that the great outside is enigmatic rather than understood. Gravity does not work at the galactic level as we think it should. Science doesn't seem to understand something as basic as time. Space is unaccountably expanding. And then there is the puzzle of quantum entanglement. It seems that the more we know, the more we don't know.