Sunday, June 16, 2013

Theology: Bridges to No-Where

I feel that in my word theologians now occupy an equivalent sentiment to 'bridges to nowhere' in economics.

What are bridges to nowhere? They are literally just that, huge pieces of infrastructure that service no real populations. But the important thing is that they cost a lot to build and employ a lot of people. A bridge to nowhere is justified only by it's size and scale and cost of production, not because of the intrinsic benefits of the infrastructure. You also get super-dams, and ghost towns.

They are all symptoms of a design flaw in our political-economy, that is, because we reward politicians in both democratic systems like the US, Japan, UK, Australia and Europe for delivering growth as measured by GNP, or even non-democracies like China.

GNP is a design flaw, in that it's definition is too broad to guaruntee that 'economic growth' actually improves our quality of life. The simplest way to summarise bridges-to-nowhere/ghost-towns/superfluous-dams is to say imagine what voters supposedly cared about was how many apples got eaten.

What you would expect is that the government would create huge 'apple-eating-projects' funded by tax payer money, where millions of apples where grown and shipped in, and vast numbers of people where paid to sit in huge factories eating apples all day.

the effect would be a huge boost in the governments performance in accordance with apple consumption, and as for the rest I hope you can imagine how such a practice is unsustainable and beyond creating jobs and employment and stimulating the apple grower industry, there's no real long term benefit being produced. The benefits are artificial.

I've watched enough 'God Debates' to notice a similar trend. The first is that none of God's official mouthpieces ever participate, they are always theologians. Theologians occupy a periphery of the religious sphere, I'm sure there are many clergy that hold degrees in theology, but a theology doctrate doesn't require you be clergy.

And these are who are left to defend the faith in the rational construct of a debate. The second trend I noticed in the hours of online god debates (and some debates go for hours - plural) is that the 'New Athiests' whom are the prestige defenders of a material universe, all eventually just start ignoring the theologians completely.

My initial reaction was that 'this is cynical, they are turning up to sell and sign books and are abandoning the spirit of the debate.' but at some point during either Hitchens extensive book tour debates or Sam Harris vs. William Lane Craig I looked at my own reactions.

Theologians are at a huge intrinsic disadvantage, they have to argue the affirmative of a non-falsifiable theorem. That is they make the concession that you should have a good reason to believe in god, rather than no-reason at all, pure faith.

It's evident watching a couple of debates (and I've watched a lot, it gets lonely in my studio) you get a sense of the disproportionate effort taken.

Take for example the ontological argument. To make it rigorous takes a long wordy speech in order to create defensible premises. If you present it bare bones, the ontological argument is this 'god by definition is perfect, if he didn't exist he wouldn't be perfect, so by definition he must exist.' the ontological argument has been around at least as long as des cartes, and apparently it adds up, but when presented in a simple form as I have - it is unsatisfying.

The thing is that as technical the language gets, and how detailed the premises are outlined, for me at least the ontological argument never becomes satisfying.

By contrast if you present 'the problem of evil' bare bones, it's still I think quite powerful. Why do bad things happen to good people? If there is a God, why does a fire leave a deer horribly injured and suffering for days before it dies? Once again, to address the problem of evil requires a very taxing level of reasoning, of which I believe the common conclusion is that there 'probably is no god'.

And here is our bridge to nowhere. Deepak Chopra is not a theologist, he's... something alright, but not strictly speaking a theologist. But Sam Harris hit the nail on the head I feel when at the commencement of a debate with Deepak on 'the future of God' Sam Harris made an important distinction.

To paraphrase - there are two discussions you can talk about, you can have a discussion about 'God' that most people believe in and are interested in, essentially an invisible friend who hears prayers and occasionally intervenes in human affairs. Or 'God' an abstract concept that is of no interest to most people but is defined sufficiently to survive reasoned debates, an omnipotent, eternal, benevolent but inscrutable agent.

It's the second God theologians are interested in, know and understand. It's that God they turn up and defend. The major limitation is, that almost nobody cares about or believes in this God. They believe in a God that more closely resembles the bearded parody in the Simpsons cartoons, or the illustration by Michelangelo on the roof of the Sistine Chapel.

Theologians are for debates, to create a god that can be defended in the realms of reason, but unfortunately there are no good ways to defend the God that one learns about in Church, that authority can be derived from.

The debates and the trends within them suggest that nobody, with respect to reason, can defend going to Church and listening to a priest because of the moral authority of scripture. Theologians are employed to conceal the fact that this authority has tanked, in the same way that bridges to nowhere get built to conceal the fact that an economy has tanked.

No comments: