Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cosmology and World Views--A Primer

World Views, Including Metaphysical Naturalism

Speaking generally, what is commonly referred to as a "world view" used to be called "cosmology." Cosmology still exists, as a field in astrological metaphysics, and as a very specialized branch of general metaphysics. Because it is metaphysics, any statements about the world, the universe, and life and its meaning, are cosmological statements.

"Where Hawking sees science as writing God out of the picture, others take a different view. Physicist Paul Davies, for example, has written that the beauty and order of the laws of physics themselves suggests there must be something behind those laws, something driving the mathematical beauty and order in the universe."

Even as the purview of astronomers and physicists, as the paragraph above demonstrates, when the subject arises of how the universe came to be what it is, God winds up in the picture.

In Cosmology and Religion we read in the first sentence: "There is an ongoing battle in the United States between Young Earth Creationists and the scientific community over the teaching of evolutionary biology." This shows that cosmology is about more than astro-physics.

We also read that, "Catholics outnumber Young Earth Creationists by a large factor, and the Catholic Church has no objection to either Big Bang cosmology or evolutionary biology, which they regard as the mechanisms used by God to create the Universe and the living things within it. (See the text of a talk by Dr. George Coyne, SJ)" [It is non-Catholics who are determined to inject creationism and the resultant cosmology into the public sphere, breaking--sometimes purposefully, sometimes only incidentally--the separation of church and state.]

Cosmology, being metaphsyics, deals with a combination of nature and the supernatural. However, in Christianity's beginnings, "The early Christian tradition expresses a profound ambivalence regarding the natural world."

In the medieval ages, "The people, the bulk of Europe's population, were especially critical. They did not understand the fineries of theological thought. Nor did they understand Church government. They complained about the un-Christian lives of the higher clergy. [ ] To make matters worse, none of the people understood Latin. If and when they bothered to attend mass, they heard strange words uttered while the clergy conducted rituals and ceremonies which they clearly did not understand. If the Middle Ages was the age of Christendom, or a Christian Kingdom in Europe, then just what did it mean to be a Christian? [ ] The people began to recognize their need for their own Gospel -- they sought their own Christ, not the Christ manufactured by Rome." The History Guide Lecture 3

The Reformation, the creation of this protestant movement, was the peoples' attempt at creating a cosmology of their own. They understood the world in which they lived through different eyes than that of the Roman Church, though they did not understand Latin, could not read English, had no English Bible because it was outlawed, and they certainly didn't understand astro-physics.

There is, however, reason to take the astro-physics out of cosmology. "The Bible was written to show us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go." - Cardinal Baronius (1598), a quote cited by Galileo.
The Cardinal's cosmology included a creator, but he accepted the physics of "how the heavens go" because how they went was in his "God's plan".

It is almost a lost cause for creationists to hope astro-physics will lose its place as the dominant force in cosmology. There has been much more made of astro-physics than of religion in cosmology, in the era of modern science. But in the era of modern evangelical movements, the wall of separation between church and state is crumbling, like a brick wall too-long covered by vines whose tentacles have broken the mortar. Tentacles such as "faith-based initiatives" backed by government funds, the approval of sharia-compliant takaful insurance, and Muslim demands for time to pray five times a day during working hours are destroying the Constitution's mandate that government "make no law respecting the establishment of religion.
"Establishment" has two definitions; the one we are most familiar with means "creation", but the other means "that which exists," as in "The establishment called the Protestant Church..." A synonym is "organization," as in "faith-based organizations." When government gives funds to "faith-based initiatives," or upholds the right of Muslims to place their work on the backs of non-Muslims five times a day or to have approved takaful insurance that will be used to finance jihadism--then the government has made laws respecting the current establishments of religions. There is no parsing in the Constitution over which definition of "establishment" is meant. The cosmology of astro-physics could lose out to evangelical establishments of religion if they begin to gain the same ground as Islam and faith-based establishments.
According to the American Policy Center, the United States is only two states short
of obliterating what is left of our government's policy of protecting the separation of church and state. [see The Last Thing We Need]
My opening statement about cosmology sometimes being equivalent with "world view" probably made a few people laugh out loud, believing I was either naive or misinformed. The standard sort of cosmology since Galileo has been of the following nature, if not of the pre-eminant level set by the Massachusets Institute of Technology; some of it has been of the standard we could call "bunk":

"Observational tests of the standard cosmological model during the last decade have ushered in a new era of precision cosmology. The standard model is specified by the size, spatial geometry (open, closed, or flat), and composition of the universe as well as the nature and statistical properties of the small-amplitude initial fluctuations that seeded the formation of galaxies and large scale structure in the universe. Astrophysical cosmology focuses on measuring the parameters of the standard model and studying the formation, evolution, and properties of cosmic structures. These structures include not only galaxies and the larger structures in which they congregate but also the supermassive black holes at their cores and the gas between galaxies."

That is what astrophysical cosmology focuses on. It is why the work of Galileo to demonstrate the truth of the work of Copernicus is called the "Copernican Revolution." That revolution set the western world on its ear, challenging the idea of Earth as being at the center of the universe, and changed the whole concept of what we knew of the world, and metaphysically of our place in it.

It is the concept of "our place in the universe" that gives rise to the equivalency between cosmology and "world view."

"The ancient Greeks introduced the concept that the Earth is a sphere at the center of the universe. The moon, sun and stars are all imbedded in transparent spheres which rotated around the earth. Heaven and God were viewed as existing at an extremely great distance from earth. They were even beyond the outermost sphere, which contains the stars." Religious Tolerance.Org

In An Apology of Raymond Sebond, the philosopher and author Montaigne, (1533-1592) who popularized the essay in his book "Essays", which is still widely influential today, wrote:

"Presumption is our natural and original disease. The most wretched and frail of all creatures is man, and withal the proudest. He feels and sees himself lodged here in the dirt and filth of the world, nailed and rivetted to the worst and deadest part of the universe, in the lowest story of the house, the most remote from the heavenly arch, with animals of the worst condition of the three; and yet in his imagination will be placing himself above the circle of the moon, and bringing the heavens under his feet."

This is what is meant when comparing cosmology to "world view." If Montaign did not weld together the construction of the world as "the worst and deadest part of the universe" by using his metaphysical (world) view of it, it would not have been a cosmological statement. Cosmology, therefore, is no more than welding together one's metaphysics with his/her understanding of the construction of the universe. This view can of the construction of can be totally hidden, implicit, but it must be there to be called a "world view."

So, world views do not always contain references to the construction of universe, though by necessity a world view is always about the meaning of existence, whether one takes the objective view, as in "God made it," or whether one takes the subjective view, as in "The world is a rotten place to live."

When a person speaks about the meaning of existence, be it only his or her own existence, the existence of a village or of a nation, or the existence of existence itself, it is always implicitly or explicitly cosmological.

This is the reason that a reader can perceive an author's cosmology, i.e., his/her world view and thereby his/her metaphysics--and often the author's epistemology--if the reader is astute enough to perceive it. With Montaign's piece, his world view (through the eyes of an earlier author, Raymond Sebond,) is clear.

As "The early Christian tradition expresses a profound ambivalence regarding the natural world," one might wonder when this changed. It changed when "Abelard, Aquinas and Dante helped to construct a world view which placed Reason and Faith at the center of man's quest for truth." The History Guide Lecture 3

"Although Thomism -- as the thought of Aquinas is known -- was eclectic to the core it can be said with certainty that the greatest influence upon his thought was the philosophy of Aristotle whom Aquinas simply referred to as 'The Philosopher.' [ ] Aquinas studied Aristotle like no other man had before or since and he used Aristotle to justify his entire thinking. Aquinas' theory of knowledge is not a vision of divine truth -- you might expect that coming from this very Christian saint. Rather, his theory of knowledge is a sober statement of how men know the world. Man is a rational animal and the world can be understood by human reason. A being endowed with reason, man can understand the universe. But as an animal, man can know only that which he can experience with his senses. This is Aristotelianism to the core." The History Guide Lecture 28

Aquinas told the Christian world that "God plays. God creates playing. And man should play if he is to live as humanly as possible and to know reality, since it is created by God's playfulness. The enunciation of these theses - fundamental in Aquinas's world-view -" was taken immediately to heart. The first recorded instance of a man climbing a mountain just because it was there took place less than two years after Aquinas told men to love the world they lived in, even though he also told them in the Summa Contra Gentiles they must seek heaven after death because "it is not possible for man's happiness to be in this life."

But he set the future of the Christian world view, of man's place in the physical universe, as the direct opposite of seeing and feeling himself "lodged here in the dirt and filth of the world, nailed and rivetted to the worst and deadest part of the universe, in the lowest story of the house, the most remote from the heavenly arch, with animals of the worst condition of the three..."

This change in attitude is one reason the Christian world view is so much different than the Muslim world view:

"The key to the Muslim worldview is the word 'Islam' itself. It is an Arabic word, a kind of verbal noun which Muslims love to tell you means 'submission' (similarly, 'Muslim' means 'one who submits'). Its importance lies in the fact that it defines how Muslims understand the relationship that God intends should exist between Himself and man. The verb form is typically used of a person laying down his arms in defeat; he 'makes peace' or 'submits.' This same idea comes out in the principal synonyms for God and man used in the Qur'an: Rabb ("Lord") and 'abd ("slave"). Five times a day Muslims must address God in prayer as 'Lord of the worlds,' in the words of the first Sura of the Qur'an, and prostrate themselves to the earth as His 'slaves.'

That explanation of the Muslim world view is very familiar to the Christian world, but I didn't like having to take it from the website of Pat Robertson, whom I despise. However, all the Muslim sites I could discover paint a very different picture of Muslim cosmology from the one the west sees, with Muslims prostrating themselves five times a day, forcing their women to cover themselves, and with such anecdotal Muslim quotations coming to light, such as, "Muslim women are happiest under their husbands' boots."

On the contrary, Muslim writers paint a rosy picture of Islam, wherein "Islam originale is not a religion that breeds the miser, the cruel, the coward, the intellectually indigent, or the depraved; it is the religion that nurtures the benevolent, the compassionate, the brave, the enlightened, and the pious. In short, it is the religion of the emancipated spiritual elite." Intellect and Reason in the Islamic Worldview Babak Ayazifar

After reading that piece by Ayazifar, I wondered how seemingly most of the Islamic world can appear so miserly, cruel, cowardly, intellectually indigent, and depraved, to western eyes. It may have something do with Islam's inclusion into their world view a concept known as shura:

"Shura is basically a decision making process -- consultative decision making -- that is considered either obligatory or desirable by Islamic scholars. Those scholars who choose to emphasize the Quranic verse: "..and consult with them on the matter" (3:159) consider shura as obligatory, but those scholars who emphasize the verse wherein "those who conduct their affairs by counsel" (43:38) are praised, consider shura as desirable."

What shura translates into for Islam is the doctrine that public opinion is a process of consultation, and what the majority of Muslims believe becomes the "truth," of their civilization, "truth" which we would call "dogma" in Christianity, but it comes from the bottom up, not from the top down. Shura is the principle reason Islam does little to stop those Muslims we call terrorists; public opinion of jihad is virtually acceptable to all of Islam, and Muslims see the point of it. They also see Muslim law in it.

The world view, the cosmology, of Metaphysical Naturalism (MN) can be summed up by:
--its doctrine that individual sovereignty in politics is the only starting point in determining freedom, and that its antithesis, "the common good", begins instead from the sovereignty of "the people": and that who "the people" are is always controlled by who is in political power, leaving the individual out of the picture completely;

--the doctrine of laissez faire capitalism as the concomitant right of individual sovereignty, in economics;
--the doctrine that existence (as opposed to "this present universe") has existed always and infinitely in time--not as a supernatural creation where there was once nothing--and that this doctrine is the default position of the fact of reality itself;
--that the mind and the soul are born tabula rasa and as that they perish with the body, and are formed as the sum of all the experiences of one's individual existence, including the epistemic rationality behind the logic one chooses, logic by which to obey the laws of existence in order to control nature as he/she finds it--and therefore that men have free and libertarian will--as its doctrine of metaphysics;
--and that force against other men is acceptable only in a moment of self-defence, as its doctrine in ethics.

As for scientific naturalism (SN), it would seem to be opposed to MN in most aspects, except the aspect that in metaphysics supernaturalism does not exist. Justice seems to take a back seat to compassion, if justice can be administered without punishment that is also retributive, punishment that "teaches" the convicted person nothing.

SN naturalism believes the soul can only be supernatural and therefore believes it does not exist, and that what we seem to perceive as the soul is merely the emotional reaction of the chemicals and electricity, i.e., the physiology, of the human being, and that anyone who believes he has a soul is mistaken.

In politics and economics I can only surmise that they must be "compassionate", which leaves out the possibility of individual sovereignty and capitalism, which require "rugged individualism" and the proper use of one's mental and physical capacities. Since not all men are created equal in these respects, the "compassionate" reaction is to attempt to level any playing fields, bringing the more endowed down to the level of those less endowed. This is hardly compassionate to those who are more endowed, so compassion cannot be the standard by which SN assigns to any doctrine, including that of justice.

To conclude: every civilization, every nation, every state, every religion, cult, brotherhood, sisterhood, fraternity and sorority, and every individual, such as Dante, de Sade, Aquinas, Einstein, Mao Tse Tung, Hitler, every Pope, Bush and Obama have their own sense of life. Each sense of life is directly attributable, implicitly, unconsciously, or explicitly and consciously, to what is believed about the nature of nature, i.e., the nature of the universe, of the existence of the supernatural (or not), of the existence of any design in the universe, of the nature of existence itself, and of the purpose of the life of man.

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