Monday, September 28, 2009

"Shadow", Chapter 8, Part 1

"When I am free," she said, "I shall found my own sect. I will tell everyone that its wisdom was revealed to me during my sojourn among the torturers. They'll listen to that." I asked what her teachings would be. "That there is no agathodaemon or afterlife. That the mind is extinguished in death as in sleep, yet more so." "But who will you say revealed that to you?" She shook her head, then rested her pointed chin upon one hand, a pose that showed off the graceful line of her neck admirably. "I haven't decided yet. An angel of ice, perhaps. Or a ghost. Which do you think best?" "Isn't there a contradiction in that?" "Precisely." Her voice was rich with the pleasure the question gave her. "In that contradiction will reside the appeal of this new belief. One can't found a novel theology on Nothing, and nothing is so secure a foundation as a contradiction. Look at the great successes of the past - they say their deities are the masters of all the universes, and yet that they require grandmothers to defend them, as if they were children frightened by poultry. Or that the authority that punishes no one while there exists a chance for reformation will punish everyone when there is no possibility anyone will become the better for it."
Agathodaemon: "A benevolent spirit as opposed to a cacodemon (an evil daemon)... A good spirit/demon that was worshipped by the ancient Egyptians. He had the shape of a serpent with a human head. The flying serpents or dragons venerated by ancient peoples were also called Agathodemons, or good genies." "In ancient Greek religion, Agathos Daimon or Agathodaemon (Greek: αγαθος δαιμων, "very good spirit") was a daemon or presiding spirit of the vineyards and grainfields and a personal companion spirit, similar to the Roman genius, ensuring good luck, health and wisdom." This might seem to be an attack on theology, and it may even be. Anyone who wants all their beliefs to be logical and self-consistent has to be frustrated into bad-mouthing religions every now and then. Of course, there are two types of people here:
  • people who want all their beliefs to be logical and self-consistent, and are frustrated that faith in contradictory things is required: their faith is an imperfect thing. This includes most people, from all religions (including atheism, as I'll argue below).
  • people who think that all their beliefs are logical and self-consistent, and therefore you are a fool for disagreeing with them. These people are fundamentalists (again I include atheists), and should be avoided if possible.
Here's a good page on Aquinas' 5 proofs of the existence of God. One of the pages linking off it shows that a couple of the proofs depend on the axiom "nothing comes from nothing." All you need to do is change the axiom to "the universe came from nothing" and you've just proved the atheistic conclusion. The author of that page views both these proofs as question-begging. There is also a link to a refutation of that. You can see how frustration might accrue. One of my friends recently posted the quote "What is asserted without reason, may be denied without reason." This is a nice summary of the last paragraph. I get the bad feeling that when atheists use that quote, there's an undercurrent that their lack of reason is much more reasonable than your lack of reason. So their axiom is much more reasonable than yours. Let's look at the above axiom of atheism, "something came from nothing:"
  1. Never in my life have I seen that.
  2. Most atheists have a great (dare I say spiritual?) respect for the economy and beauty of physical law. One of the key axioms of all current physical sciences is "something cannot come from nothing." In fact, a theory is not considered economical and beautiful until it satisfies this axiom. So the key axiom of atheism and a key axiom of science (and common sense) are contradictory. No shame in that, it justs means that atheists are as frustrated as everybody else.
  3. There is a quote by Carl Sagan "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." It expresses normal skepticism, which some people think is synonymous with atheism (atheists, mostly). Seeing as how the claim that the universe came from nothing is fairly extraordinary, I'd say atheists have some 'splaining to do.
Atheism as a theology is minimalistic, since the claim "God doesn't exist" is much simpler than the claims a religion makes. That's just because for something to be called a religion is has to weigh in on not only the origin of the universe, but morality, the exact nature of God, free will, governance, jurisprudence, eating habits, etc. etc. Naturally your average religion has more contradictions than atheism. But considering the huge contradiction above, I think that atheism would rack up its fair share of inconsistencies if it tried to tie together all those subjects. Whether or not a religion should try to deal with all these things is another question. was starting to snow, fluffy flakes as big as the end of my thumb sifting so slowly through the air that it seemed they must have been falling for years. There was no wind, and we could hear the creaking our boots made in breaking through the familiar world's new, thin disguise.
Nothing to say, just beautiful writing.

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