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In Part 2 of our discussion on religion, God and atheism, we dive deeper in why belief in God might be rational - contrary to what atheists believe. But there are many conceptions of God, some more rational than others. Traditional monotheism - taken literally - can't withstand the assault of its critics. The atheists have that going for them. But a naturalistic theism arguably can. And the atheists don't have anything to say about that. In fact, there are some things that probably cannot be accounted for without some sort of divinity: truth, values, even math.

Tune in Saturday, 12:00 pm EDT, as we begin to flesh out what a naturalistic God might be like.

Running Time: 01:26:46

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Here's the transcript of the show:

Harrison: Welcome back to The Truth Perspective everyone, as usual I'm Harrison Koehli and with me is Corey Schenk.

Corey: Hello.

Harrison: And today we're going to be continuing with the conversation from last week on god, religion and universe. Last week we looked at a few topics, one of which was the philosopher Robin Collingwood's ideas about religion and art, and specifically his idea of a religious consciousness which grasps the truth through religious imagery or symbols and that the root of that imagery is in imagination, and by extension we added religious experience, basically, as a way of trying to explain why we're religious. Of course, there are a lot of valid ways of looking at why we're religious. We're just commenting on a couple of them but there are all kinds of ideas that we could get into but we're not going to. For the purposes of our discussion, we're going to focus on these ones.

So one thing that we didn't get into last week in regard to Collingwood's idea is to take a deeper look into this idea of religious experience, because the way Collingwood looks at it's almost as if he kind of writes off the imagery as nothing but imagery, nothing but imagination. The implication being it's purely imaginary, almost like a total fiction. But, when we add in the dimension of religious experience, we can ask is there is even a reality to some of those some of those objects of imagination, some of those imaginary creations. Is there some reality behind either the experience, or some of what shape those experiences take.

So we're going to start with that and see where the discussion takes us from there, with the hope eventually of getting to this alternative idea that plays against the idea that we brought up last week about god being the Cosmic Criminal, as a being that not only breaks the laws of causality but also is a pretty nasty guy because of the problem of evil, a recurring problem in theology. To start out with, let's go into this religious experience. Corey I believe you have a quote from William James. Let's hear that one.

Corey: Yeah, I've got a quote from his book Varieties of Religious Experience on page 54. He had a variety of different testimonies from individuals and how their religious experiences had shaped their lives. On page 54 it reads:

I remember the night, and almost the very spot on the hilltop, where my soul opened out as it were, into the infinite, and there was a rushing together of the two worlds, the inner and the outer. It was deep calling unto deep. The deep that my own struggle had opened up within being, answered by the unfathomable deep without, reaching beyond the stars, I stood alone with him who had made me, and all the beauty and love and sorrow and even temptation. I did not seek him, but felt the perfect unison of my spirit with his. The ordinary sense of things around me faded. For the moment, nothing but an ineffable joy and exultation remained. There was, as I recall it, no sudden change of thought or of belief, except that my early crude conception of god had, as it were, burst into flower. Since that time no discussion that I have heard about the proof of god's existence has been able to shake my faith. Having once felt the presence of god's spirit, I have never lost it again. I'm aware that it may be justly called mystical. I'm not enough acquainted with philosophy to defend it from that, or any other charge. I feel that in writing of it, I have overlaid it in words, rather than put it very clearly to your thought. But, such as it is, I have described it as carefully as I am now am able to do.

Harrison: Well, before we comment on that one, I want to read from a page in Collingwood's book Speculum Mentis, that kind of goes along with that quote, but also kind of contrasts with it a bit. So, he starts:

The assumption that god is a concept, an object of thought, the ultimate reality of philosophical analysis.

The assumption is based on some of the things that he wrote. But he continues,

Now, is this identification of god with the Absolute legitimate? All theology assumes that it is, but it cannot be. God is the holy one, the worshiped, the object of faith. The absolute is reality. the demonstrated, the object of reason. No one can worship the Absolute and no one can prove the existence of god. It is true that many have tried to do both these things, but they have uniformly failed. The proofs of the existence of god form a long and glorious chapter in the history of human thought, but they have always ended by proving something that is not the existence of god.

The attempt to worship the Absolute has been a not uninteresting chapter in the history of religion, and it has always ended in the worship of something that is not the Absolute. The simple religious consciousness is here our best guide. It knows that god is revealed not to the intellect, but to the heart, which means not the practical reason or the emotional faculty, but simply the religious consciousness. God is not known, he is adored. We cannot think him, we can only love and fear him. The simple religious consciousness knows that when philosophers call their ultimate reality by the name of god, they are taking that name in vain, and pretending to be what they are not. They are in fact, as insincere as is a religion which talks of the supreme being. God and the absolute are not identical, but irretrievable distinct, and yet their identical in this sense. God is the imaginative or intuitive form by which the Absolute reveals itself to the religious consciousness.

So, I think we had an example from James' book. First of all is this James or is it just a guy that he's quoting? This guy is describing this ineffable experience. He even says that putting it into words cheapens it. It takes something out of it. There's no way that he can convey that experience through words. Even his previous notions of god were just filler, they were thought, they didn't become real until he had this experience.

So this was what Collingwood's saying. This is a direct speaking to the religious consciousness, it's a connection with or a grasp of the religious consciousness experiencing this thing, like god. I think Collingwood point is that there are two modes of human experience. There are more than two, but he's focusing on two. There's the religious experience of god. When we're speaking of god, we're speaking in a dimension of human experience that is based in this feeling, this very root, basic level of direct experience. When we're talking about god as this supreme being, the ultimate, we're approaching a level of philosophical analysis where we're talking about these things as concepts and ideas that we can understand and comprehend, but they are two different faculties. They are two different ways of knowing something.

To just expand on this guy's experience that he gave, the one you read, Corey, there's actually been a lot of research done on it, but it's not very popularized, or well known. I recently read a book called Paul in Ecstasy, and it's about the presence of religious experience in early Christianity, specifically in the letters of Paul by Colleen Shantz. A lot of the book is just psychological information, tests and experiments that have been done on people about their religious experiences, and they're called altered states of consciousness in the literature.

There are all kinds of different altered states of consciousness. I didn't know how in-depth these things have been studied. They've done tests on which parts of the brain are active in certain different experiences. They've done all kinds of social analysis, such as in which kinds of societies certain religious experiences are more prevalent, in what classes. You'll find that some religious experiences are more prevalent in more so-called oppressed or low-class environment, and some are more prevalent in a higher class, or just based on the social organization. So, you'll have glossolalia, which is speaking in tongues, if I remember correctly. It's more predominant in loosely organized settings. But when you have a more hierarchical structure, you don't see that so much. I can't remember the exact details. That's a book that I want to return to, in the coming months. Some time we'll get into that.

One of the religious experiences that is in the literature is, I believe they call it the Absolute Unified Being. This is an experience I'd say is one that that guy described in that quote. It's this very clear encounter with what is felt as and experienced as an Absolute being that is encompassing the entire creation, basically god. Last week we were talking about why people have historically come up with these ideas of encountering different beings, angels and demons. Well, it's quite obvious that in certain altered states of consciousness, there are experiences in which people encounter these beings exactly as they describe them.

It's similar to near-death experiences where, in different cultures, you'll find that all cultures have near-death experiences but depending on the religion, they'll encounter different beings. The experience will conform with their belief system, basically. So it may be that different people from different cultures and traditions will see different things, but what's universal is they're seeing and experiencing something that is experienced - how else can you say it - as another being. This could be like the example we used last week about the DMT experiences of encountering a stereotypical gray alien, and again, I'm not making any statement as to what value we should place on the actual reality of these events, whether we should take them at face value or if there's something more to them. I think there's something more to them. But it's easy to understand how these ideas came about, because if you look at the experiences people have, why do they think there are demons? Well, because they actually experienced what, to them, was a demon. It's not like they just imagined it and came up with this hypothesis for why something bad happened, "Oh, it must have been this impish, horned, creature out of there," No, people in altered states of consciousness experience this impish, horned demon looking creature, right, then they just wrote about it.

Of course that's no the only explanation. There's going to be all kinds of other stuff going on. But, it's obviously rooted in some kind of experience and all you have to do is look at the literature and read some experiences that people have to see that it makes sense where all this stuff comes from. But, for this one in particular, the absolute unified being, this is the type of experience that blows all of them out of the water. For some moment that may fell like it lasts an eternity, there's an experience of this grand unified being, which people have called god.

I think there are two distinctions that are made, and again, this comes down to some people from some religions are likely to experience one, and other people in other religions are likely to experience the other. Some may experience this unified being, as a being. So this guy knew when he had this experience, that this was an experience of god, in the philosophical language, of the ultimate. But on his level it's an experience, and for that experience, we use the word god. In altered states of consciousness studies they say, absolute unified being, or, if we look at it philosophically, we might say unified ultimate being, supreme being.

Again, we come back to the question of why do people have these experiences, and what is the nature of these experiences. I mentioned Mike Shermer last week, and I'll mention him again, because he's very annoying. He's one of those guys you like to hate. He's a pretty good sport, too, I've heard him interviewed by a couple of people who vehemently disagree with him, and he's always a good sport about being on the show, and not losing his cool. But, still, I disagree with pretty much everything he says. That might be an exaggeration.

But, guys like him would say that these experiences are just stuff going on in your brain, anomalous things in your brain that produce this experience and that there is no grand unified, absolute being that you are experiencing, and that's it, because that's impossible. That's usually what Shermer's arguments come down to, "It's impossible. How can you imagine how that could be the case? Therefore you shouldn't imagine that that could be the case, and therefore it's not true." There's the question. Could there be a level of some type of reality to this experience and what could it be? Could it just be that one person experiences absolute unified being and experiences that as something, maybe they're experiencing what they say they are, or some close approximation of what they're saying they are experiencing? Maybe when people experience strange beings in an altered state of consciousness, maybe those have some degree of reality, that isn't just some electrical signal in your brain like dreaming. Even, then, what is dreaming? We don't understand dreaming. There are so many things about consciousness that we just do not understand. We might get closer if we just change the assumptions that are at the root of our thinking about these sort of things, but really we just don't know.

So just to get that out of the way, whenever one of the skeptics or the atheists tries to write these things off, they don't really know. None of us know. So, I think it would be more profitable in the interests of knowledge, to approach it with an open mind. Could there be a reality to this and what is that reality? Could there be a reality to this, even if we bracket certain things off as impossible?

So, we could take some of the assumptions like the Dawkins and Shermer types take about what is possible in the world, and look at each of those individually and say they're valid or not, and I think some of them are. I totally agree that the philosophical definition of supernaturalism is impossible. I don't think it makes sense to be a supernaturalist in a certain sense. You can have an experience and call it supernatural, and that's fine. It might be a real experience, but I think people should know that when you use the word supernatural, it means above the natural, not natural. I just think that's a dumb place to start. If something exists in the world, if there's reality to something, it's part of the natural world. Why can't we just view naturalism that way? There doesn't need to be a supernaturalism.

I think that's the one of the biggest problems that the new atheists get into. They define supernaturalism in such a way, that they then don't have to look at anything that might be a natural paranormal or parapsychological phenomenon. They just define it out of existence, basically. Could these things be natural? Maybe they are part of the natural world. Maybe these experiences are part of the natural world. Maybe consciousness is part of the natural world in such a way that these things are possible and there isn't any breakage in the laws of causality.

Corey: In last week's show we discussed Collingwood's theory of the mind, and especially it's evolution through history. We talked about how the artist's way of viewing the world was based on beauty, and that in beauty there was some truth, but it wasn't all explicit. It was in the imagination so it contradicted itself. In religion, that imagination became reality. The imaginal forms became reality. We talked about religious experience and the kind of power it had and how you could have that experience and say, "This is reality, the imagination and the forms that came along with it, this is reality." Then in the scientific worldview, Collingwood writes that the theory, the abstract generalized laws of nature are reality. That is an attempt to become explicit about what we know, and I think that right now you can see it carried to an extreme with these new atheists, in terms of making everything abstract and mechanistic, trying to explain everything according to this caricature of human knowledge.

But Collingwood writes, in I believe it was Speculum Mentis, that "When the concrete or historical point of view is achieved after the scientific worldview, this is affected by recognizing and transcending the abstractness of the scientific point of view. Man now sees that even in calling himself a machine he had really been vindicating his own freedom, and in that discovery he grasps this freedom and makes it truly his own." He also writes that "Art rests on the ignoring of reality, religion on the ignoring of thought, science on the ignoring of fact. But with the recognition of fact, everything is recognized that is in a sense, real. The fact as historically determined is the absolute object."

And when we look at these experiences like the one you were talking abou, Harrison, it's a fact that people are experiencing these things. That's the historically determined fact. Once you recognize that, then, rather than defining them out of existence, rather it's in recognizing their reality and trying to just look at them for what they are; historically dependent, in their context, where they occurred, and understanding them from that point of view. It seems like the way forward. It's like Charles Fort's Parade of the Damned. Was that what he called it? {laughter}

Harrison: Yeah something like that {laughter}

Corey: Basically, all the facts that don't fit in to our abstract theories of reality, our abstract general laws of sociology, social psychology and physics. Not to dismiss all the thinking that went into understanding the physical world, but to say "Hey, let's not try to fit everything into some grand theory, in some unified theory," because that is the monotheistic approach, that attempt to create that one, big daddy god of them all theory that explains everything. In fact, we can't do that. It doesn't exist.

Harrison: So what they end up doing is creating a world view which is very good at explaining certain things, but it's very good at explaining a portion of reality. What they end up doing is taking that portion as all of reality, and just explaining away everything else. Basically, all experience that could be termed religious, and I guess we could expand that to just spiritual experiences, or near-death experiences, children remembering past lives, all the way to parapsychology like telepathy and psychokinesis. But, all of that is explained away either as imaginary, or as epiphenomenal, something that is created by the illusion which is created by just your body's natural functioning.

So there's no reality to it. Free will, for example, for a lot of these people is just an illusion. It's just an epiphenomenon. It's something that seems to exist to us but doesn't in reality. To some of these people, even consciousness itself is like that. We only think we're conscious. We only think we have experience, but it's just an epiphenomenon of the electrical activity in our brain. That should be an absurd statement to anyone who's currently conscious, because there's no "as-if" consciousness. "You just think that you're experiencing." Well no, experience is the basic level of experience. If you're experiencing, you can't get below experiencing and try to explain experiencing in terms of something that doesn't have experience. It doesn't make sense and it doesn't work.

But I mentioned that they write these things off as imaginary. That's something that I wanted to get into, that I mentioned in the beginning of the show, Collingwood's conception of religious imagery being based in the imagination in a similar way that art is except that, art will take any object of the imagination and just give it form in a work of art, but religion takes a selection of those images and then declares them to be reality. Now, with the discussion of the experience of that guy that William James quoted, we're asking the question "Could there be some reality behind the imagery, behind these experiences?" Can there be some level of reality to the objects of our imagination, that can't just be written off as imagination?

Corey: Right, can there be an unseen world? Religion as you think of it is how you relate yourself to that unseen world, how you protect yourself for it, you purify yourself, you prepare for the afterlife. It's all about preparing for, or interacting with this unseen realm that influences humanity in some way.

Harrison: There are two things there. One is the existence of this realm. We can make statements of fact about it. We can make like religion does. The distinction if often made between science and religion that science describes what is and religion describes what we ought to do. One has its root in the world and a description of the world, and the other has a goal or aim behind it, as in, what is the proper way to act within that world, which is studied by science.

But within religion, there is an aspect of making claims that presume to explain the world, statements about the way the world is made and about the nature of reality. That's number one. Number two is, knowing that, how do we interact with the world? How do we interact with not only the mundane world around us, but also that supernatural or other realm? So basically, what are the rules of engagement? Those are two separate, but interlinked ideas. We have statements of fact about the nature of reality, and then we have statements of 'should' about how to act within that reality, and with that reality.

Corey: And you could say that religious experiences, not assigning them any value in terms of, "This is the right religious experience" but every time there is some sort of a documented experience like that, it gives you information in some way. It has the potential to give you information about what that reality is.

Harrison: It's data, for sure.

Corey: It's data.

Harrison: This may sound like a non-sequitur, but I think math might be a way into the question about the nature of imagination, and the possible reality of objects of the imagination because there's a debate in the philosophy of mathematics and there has been for generations now.

Corey: Since Pythagoras possibly? {laughter}

Harrison: The debate's been around but these terms of the debate are more of a modern phenomenon. No, I guess the debate's been around forever, ever since math I suppose. How much reality should we give the objects of mathematics? If you think about it, from our modern materialistic worldview, mathematics should be impossible, because the only thing that exists is what we consider physical matter, something that can be manifested in a physical form and then all those bits of matter will interact in ways. When we study the way in which those interact, we find mathematics. But then, it seems that mathematics is also a strictly abstract thing that is true, and which can be engaged in regardless of any observation of the natural world.

For example, you can close your eyes and imagine a mathematical equation, and you can work you way through it, even just very simple addition, subtraction, powers. You have certain symbols that you manipulate and relate to each other in certain set patterns, and it works. The miracle of mathematics is that it works. Not only does it work abstractly, in the sense that no matter which way you do the numbers, you get the answer and everything fits together and works in these very ordered ways, it also works in the real world. I'm not sure if I've mentioned this on the show previously but one of the things that amazes me is oftentimes you'll find a theoretical mathematician who creates this weird, cool theory, and then it's only decades later that some physicist studying some subatomic particle interaction, will then find, "Oh, this interaction actually manifests that equation. That relation of numbers and mathematical objects applies to this physical situation." So in everything from Newton's Laws to advanced quantum physics, there's this mathematics going on behind it that works.

So the question has been, what is the nature of these mathematical objects? Are they real? And can they be real in a material universe? When you look at the philosophers who have been involved in this question, the only justification they can have is "We can't fit mathematical objects in our materialistic worldview so we just have to accept them as a brute fact. We can't explain them, but we can't understand the world without them even though we can't account for them whatsoever." We can't account for the fact that mathematical objects seem to have an objective reality, even if they exist in an abstract space, even though they can only be accessed mentally and abstractly, but at the same time they seem to manifest themselves in physical interactions. So it's actually a big mystery. We can't explain it today, but we used to be able to explain it, because this part of the debate and the question goes back to Aristotle and Plato.

Plato posited a Platonic realm, this other realm where abstract forms could exist. Aristotle didn't like that because he thought that any abstract entity can only exist within an actual entity. The neo-Platonists kind of reconciled the two and said "Where can abstract entities like mathematical objects exist?" Well, they must exist in a mind, because the only things that we know of that can hold abstractions are minds, then where is mathematics?" "Well, it's in the mind of god."

So, traditionally for centuries, the place where these abstractions and numbers seem to be real, but which don't exist physically as numbers, was the mind of god. Now that god is impossible and doesn't exist, we don't have a place to put numbers, and we talk about Platonism we have to answer the question "Where does this abstract realm exist, and how does it interact with our own?" That's a totally speculative question which lot of serious philosophers can't get behind. Where is this transcendent realm? How does it interact with ours. This is the problem with dualism that has raged since Descartes. You have two different types of something? How do you get them to interact? By definition, they can't. So there must be some reconciling of those two realms, the realm of matter and of realm of mind. Let's just say that it makes more sense to posit a universal Cosmic Mind than it does to just write anything of that sort off completely as materialism does.

Corey: So, then what else is in this Divine Mind? There's mathematics, which is part of the Divine Cosmic Mind. What else is there? Logic.

Harrison: Two weeks ago, we were talking about free will, and I brought up the example of breakfast. Well this time I'm going to use donuts instead. You can pick between different donuts, and which one are you going to pick? The only way to make a choice, is if one is weighted as more important that the others. So if you didn't have any feelings for any of these donuts, you wouldn't pick any one of them, because none would stand out from the others. In a sense, if you're going to make a choice, a free choice, as we'd call it, then there needs to be some weight given to the options. That weight is value, and we experience it through feeling, we experience it as value. There's an attraction towards it.

So if there is a Cosmic Mind in which we find eternal objects, like mathematical objects, it would also potentially be the source of values. If you use the example of truth, truth is another abstract thing. When you're looking around the world, you can't find truth in a physical form, right? "Oh, there's that piece of truth, and there's that's that piece of truth, that's that piece of lie." No, there's just stuff. Truth is an abstraction that requires a comparison to an ideal, a norm. It's a mental activity. S where and how does truth exist? If all there is, is matter, then we can't account for truth.

That's something on a fundamental level that materialists either don't comprehend, or haven't thought about. They haven't thought about the logical implications of what they think because if all there exists is matter, you can't have truth, and you can't have science, because what is your yardstick, right? If you have three different theories about something, let's say these theories came out of nowhere, which one is the better theory? In order for one to be better, you have to have a comparison to an ideal that is implicit in that. One has to confirm more to the ideal that the other two. When we say that that ideal is truth, that means that it corresponds to reality. How can you compare reality to this abstract theory without a mind? You can't make any of those comparisons without truth.

I think the reason that most people don't think about it is that it shows how ingrained the truth is to everyone. We know what reality is. We experience it every day. We know what happens when we're not in line with reality. If you think you're walking on a bridge and you're actually walking over the Grand Canyon and plunging to your death, you know what the difference is. One, you're either on a bridge or you're not on a bridge. Truth is the water in which we're swimming, if we were fish. We just can't escape that idea of truth, and that experience of truth, of reality that we encounter.

When we're trying to account for the facts of existence, and the facts of experience, and that would include everything from your everyday waking states of consciousness, to altered states of consciousness, to every kind of mental operation you can engage in, in any kind of mental activity, when you're looking at the grand totality of all of those, there are things which you need to be able to account for. Some of the big ones are mathematics, and just value in general, not even the concept of value, but the experience of value, just value itself. I don't think there's any more basic way of explaining value than just that. It's this feeling of importance. It is an intrinsic sense of importance, of value, and it has an effect on you.

We experience that in life, and life has experienced that for billions of years, that knowledge, that feeling when you're in line with reality, or when you're not, or when you're doing something that's going to be good for you, or when it's going to be bad for you. We experience our potential survival or destruction with our feelings. It expresses itself through emotions.

To bring it all back to the idea of the Cosmic Mind, the organizing principle of truth could only exist in a mind. I'd say that's a working hypothesis in the sense that unless we're going to try to posit something that we have no experience of, we should root it in the things that we actually know exist. We know minds exist, because we have them. Does it make more sense to think of truth having its source in something that isn't a mind, or is the ultimate mind? It makes more sense to posit an ultimate mind than it does to posit that truth is something that is not abstract or mental, that is just physical. That just doesn't make any sense to me.

Corey: When you posit this ultimate mind, do you run into the same problems that the original theists ran into that? This god, this ultimate mind, did that mind create the universe? What does that mind do? Where did we get our minds from? Are we part of that mind?

Harrison: I don't know. I guess that gets back to what we were talking about last week, about creation out of nothing and how the doctrine of creation out of chaos, which was the original Greek and Jewish idea, is that there's a pre-existent world but it's a all chaos. It isn't formed yet. But the existence of a pre-existent world, implies that it is not completely at the whim of the divine mind. You've got a chaotic body, and an organizing mind. When you throw that omnipotence, creation out of nothing idea out of the window, and just look at this idea of a chaos with a mind that directs it and orders it, and brings it into order, then you don't run into the same problems as you do with an omnipotent god, because you can account for free will without having to ask whether god controls all actions, or whether god gave you free will and could interrupt and could take over your mind, but chooses not to, or maybe he does take over your mind. You just get into silly questions that are kind of on the level of how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. We wouldn't even be asking this question if we didn't have this idea of the omnipotent god to begin with.

Here's a way of looking at it. I really like what Peterson has been saying lately about the nature of consciousness. One of the things he says is if you look at consciousness, it seems as if the nature of consciousness is to encounter a sea of possibilities and then choose from those possibilities what to manifest. It's looking into possible futures and then manifesting one of those futures in the present, and that sets you in the direction to meet that ideal future that you're want to live in and that you're heading towards.

If that's the nature of consciousness, if we look in terms of that cosmic consciousness, with that chaos, that unordered chaos that is the world, perhaps it's analogous. So perhaps the cosmic mind actually sees possible worlds, entire worlds, and then makes a decision to see then that decision manifest in the world. Now how might that work?

Is it, world, chaos, you do this? How does that work if god is not omnipotent? I think this is where we get to the idea of the Cosmic King, or the ideal king, in comparison to the Cosmic Criminal. Maybe we can look at that comparison in depth, but looking at it in just one way, the ideal king - and this goes back to Mediterranean traditions like the idea king in Greece and Rome and the entire Mediterranean world back then, Near Eastern as well - is that the ideal king was the best person, the best citizen or inhabitant available of a people who was the most just, the most talented, the best person for the job, essentially and that through their actions, they represented god's will. They were a representative of god on earth.

What did they do? They brought order to the state or to the nation, to the people. They protected the people from disorder and potential chaos of the external world and they promoted the internal harmony of that group. How does a good king do that? What is real power in the human experience? It's persuasion, basically, not in a nasty way, not in a manipulative way but it's basically the presentation of a possibility to an individual consciousness, or to a mass of individual consciousnesses. "Here is a possibility, if you see the value in this possibility, then follow it."

If you imagine a great leader that everyone adores and looks up to, and they present an idea, people are going to naturally say, "Oh yeah, that's a great idea." Maybe it's not, but even if it is, then that's even better. You have a great idea that people should want and just by virtue of this powerful person presenting it, people are persuaded by it, and move towards it. It's not a great analogy, but it would be an analogy for the way a naturalistic god would work in the universe.

So it's not that god can just break through the barriers and cause the laws of causality to go haywire. There are no gaps in which god fits in and does his thing. It's that there's a causal web, a causal network of the entire creation which we study with science, which we experience as reality, and the influence of god is a constant influence within that network. That would be the presentation of possibilities themselves.

Corey: Possibilities in the mental way, like you were talking about - values and mathematics. You're talking about the mind itself is the possibilities. You said Jordan Peterson thought that consciousness was to select possibilities, potentialities and make them reality, out of the billions. But then that consciousness itself only sees them through the mind. That mind in and of itself, we're saying that is G-O-D god not G-A-W-D god,the presentation of all of the possibilities, the potentials that you can choose from.

Harrison: Right. The Cosmic Mind would be the source of those possibilities, but also what gives them force essentially.

Corey: Right.

Harrison: Because if you just imagine possibilities, again you come to the question of "Which possibility is better than the other one? What yardstick do I use?" It's almost like a cosmic telepathy kind of thing. The hypothesis would be that the Cosmic Mind is constantly telepathically projecting the best possibility possible into the minds of all creatures. Whether that creature makes that choice or not, is up to the creature's free will, the conditions surrounding them and their history. In the case of humans, this is a process philosophy viewpoint or a process theology, that god is constantly presenting the ideal aim in any given situation, and that humans are then free either to follow it or potentially to not follow it, and that's free will. You could have humans that totally ignore it, or the message is completely drowned out by other signals, and that could be signals from the past, from habit, or just competing signals where you've developed a taste for something that is not good for the world, not the best possible option.

You just see that in people, it just comes down to everyday life, when you look at some people, and you might say "You're not living up to your potential, you're making a bad choice, you don't have your priorities straight." In that moment that's what that person's priorities are. If they were to sit down and actually think it through, they'd say "Oh, this is a bad choice." Other people can see the situation objectively and say "Objectively, there's a better way that you could be doing this." How do they know? How can you even tell if one thing is better than the other? In a materialistic universe, no one thing is better than another thing. They're all just things. You can't have a physical, material value. Value is mental, abstract thing, it's a comparison. In a materialistic world, one thing is not better than the other but we all know that's not the case. We experience this every day, every instant of our lives is predicated on the idea that some things are better than others, that there is a better way and there is a worse way.

If there is a place for a natural god in the world, it would be as the vivifier and presenter of possibilities. It's a constant wish for the universe to be the best that it can be, just like we might constantly wish for the people we love to be the best they can be, for their own interest and ours, for the interest of everyone, just in service of potentially being better, living in an better world, and ideally, in putting into practice the best of all worlds.

Corey: Yeah. I think that fits the god the father or god the mother, the parental viewpoint that's been around for however many thousands and thousands of years and that for a lot of people, is just common sense. If they think about god for a moment, that's the kind of conception they have. In our mainstream culture, there's just a huge gap that was left by the secular, mechanistic viewpoint that said there's no god. Well once god was gone, there's no place for math, no place for values, no place for consciousness. Then one by one they just kept falling away, falling away, falling away. We've got no refuge for our common sense understanding of what god - not a bearded man in the sky, like we said. Last episode we talked about implicit truths in religion and how they're not explicit. They don't make absolute sense but the implicit truth of god, the father in the sky, that's basically the parent presenting the opportunities, the good parent, the guide through life, that lets you honor your free will to an extent. But there are also consequences in reality. You can't just go willy-nilly. Reality at some point smacks you in the face, sometimes with the baseball bat.

Harrison: {laughter} Well, maybe to wrap up, we can take it back to what we were talking about last week, in terms of the story, the grand narrative, being that there is disorder in the world and god will enter the world to set things right. Taken literally to a modern sensibility, it sounds like nonsense, but there are some deep ideas in there that may have a great degree of truth.

Before getting into that idea I want to make a comment on the father god with the beard thing kind of thing. God might not be an old bearded man, but it may be that an old bearded man is one of the closest representations for how it feels to interact with the supreme being of the cosmos, the mind of the cosmos. There's a fatherly nature to that. The feeling in a child of the interaction with the father may approximate to some degree, the feeling of a human in relation to the mind of the universe. It may be a very apt metaphor. Who know? That would require some actual thinking on the subject, that I don't think has been done to any great degree, or with any great degree of rigor or interest. What is metaphor and why does metaphor work? Why does this religious imagery work? Maybe there's something to that? This may be a fun thing to do and might help us out a bit as a species.

Coming back to the narrative, if we look at this narrative and try not to take it literally, what might it mean? Well, there's a constant state of disorder. The world itself, and humans in particular, are constantly on the edge between chaos and order, we're constantly in negotiation between the two. On the one hand, we're constantly in a state of relative disorder. We can always move towards a direction of order. It's always a possibility and it's what we're constantly striving for. But, there's also periods of greater disorder compared to other times and places. The idea being that there's something wrong and needs to be fixed. Now god will intervene. How will god intervene?

Traditionally that's been thought of in terms of miracles and revelations, revelation being a type of miracle; god intervening, getting into that gap in the causal framework, and having his way with the universe when, actually it may be that there's a reality to that in the sense that the message becomes clear, and the message is constantly being sent. What was it in Firefly, was it? The cosmic signal is always being sent, and there are times where it's that much more important to listen to the signal, and that is felt and experienced as conscience. It's a feeling. It could be more than that. It could be an altered state of consciousness, it could be a very intense and strange experience that carries the message, the main point being that it's a natural phenomenon. Religious experiences and altered states of consciousness are natural phenomena, not that their materialistic but that they are part of the natural world. It's something that's part of our causal framework, part of what we experience.

Corey: It's a part of how we explain the world, like you were saying. If you want to make sense out of the entire world, you need that in your vocabulary really.

Harrison: It needs to be taken into account. Ideally a good philosophy, a good science and a good religion should all take into account all the facts of existence. You can't ignore any facts. That's what you get when you look at the materialists and the atheists. They will ignore and write off certain facts. They will pretend or convince themselves that they're doing so based on sound logic and reasoning and appraisal of evidence but, what it comes down to is that they either don't know what they're talking about, they haven't looked at it, or they have dismissed the phenomenon as impossible, and therefore conclude that the evidence is bad simply because they've already made the judgment that it's impossible.

So they're basically putting the cart before the horse in that case, because they haven't actually looked at the evidence. What you should do is look at the evidence and say "Okay, what can account for that evidence?" Instead of saying "Oh that fact is impossible, therefore that fact didn't happen." You don't get to do if you're pretending to be a sound thinker. Well, with that said, is there anything that we planned on saying that we haven't said yet?

Did you have another William James quote?

Corey: Yeah, I do, and it's relatively interesting. We could look at this in terms of how religion is experienced, the inner life of religion in the most general term, could be the idea that there is an unseen or invisible order our there that we interact with. In order to survive and thrive, we have to be able to harmoniously adjust ourselves to it in some way, or at least acknowledge its existence and be awake and open to it. This is what William James wrote:

The sentiment of reality can indeed attach itself so strongly to our objective belief that our whole life is polarized through and through, so to speak, by the sense of the existence of the thing believed in, and yet that thing, for purpose of definite description, can hardly be said to be present to our mind at all. It is as if a bar of iron, without touch or sight, with no representative faculty whatever, might nevertheless be strongly endowed with an inner capacity for magnetic feeling, and as if, through the various arousals of its magnetism by magnets coming and going in its neighborhood, it might be consciously determined to different attitudes and tendencies. Such a bar of iron could never give you an outward description of the agencies that had caused this.

Yeah, so, you never know. Especially in today's world you never know. Everywhere you go there are just so many crazy ideas floating around. So, you need a good religion.

Harrison: That quote reminded me of what we were talking about in regards to Collingwood last week, just the idea of an aesthetic consciousness and a religious consciousness. When he talks about the two he says it's kind of like knowing on some deep primordial level that isn't explicitly thinking. You feel it, basically. When you hear a great piece of music that really moves you, you can't immediately put into words why that is or what it is about the music that moves you. "Oh, it's was that G sharp over the A that gave it a grand sense of meaning."

Corey: And if you were to say that, you'd lose it.

Harrison: Exactly. It's almost as if something about some of these altered states of consciousness is that they open up or facilitate an experience or a knowing that's on a different level, a different module of consciousness that is maybe more primordial, more primitive, more basic or less complex, less highly ordered than the kind of conscious, rational thinking that we think we have when we're awake. It's something deep, basically. It could be the that subconscious is the actual means by which or...

Corey: The instrument. It plays some instrumental role in detecting.

Harrison: Okay, with that said, I think we'll probably end it there, the overall message being that we may have this idea of god as the literal symbol that we're presented as children and by religious figures. We're presented with this literal image of god but that does not encapsulate or encompass the extent of the possible reality of god. We shouldn't limit ourselves to the symbol and that's what both dogmatic fundamentalists do, and it's also what dogmatic atheists do. They take things literally and don't try to look at things behind the symbol and try to find out what the actual meaning is and how that meaning might have relevance for our lives, and extreme importance for our lives, and for living a life that is not only good, but that is rationally backed up. All the atheists want reasons for believing in certain things. They want a good justification for let's say, believing in a supernatural god. I totally agree with them. I don't think there's any good justification for believing in an omnipotent, supernatural god. Now, that's not to say that there's no value in religious experience, and Michael Shermer would even agree with that. He'd say that these experiences are real, we just don't know the nature of them.

I'd just like to add if we could get rid of the baggage of 1800 years of some pretty dumb philosophical and theological presuppositions, then we might actually be able to come up with a philosophy that can encompass both science and religion in which they can both work without contradicting each other. In my mind at least, that's a way of ordering the mind, which then orders life. It's a way of bringing a little more order to the chaos of our lives. So, I hope that god can do that for you. {laughs} I hope you will bring god into your lives, dear listeners, and pet his giant god-beard, in the process. Is that blasphemous enough? {laugher}

Corey: You're getting there!

Harrison: Well with that said, thanks for tuning in everyone, we'll be back next week for another show with some topic and tune in tomorrow for Behind the Headlines. Take care everyone.

Corey: Thanks for listening, everybody, have a great week.