Wholes / Parts

A member of a set is not the set. A set cannot be a member of itself.
@ K. 1998

(I don’t know formal math or formal logic, so I don’t know how it’s usually phrased, but) I know there are such rules.

I mean these modules to be components of a world view. Some have developed far enough to be independent essays. Others are hardly more than notes: work in progress: mini-modules toward a module, toward an essay, the essays all structuring a system, an epistemological system. Some of the parts I believe are good enough to be fractal. That is, the part — through self-similarity across scale — hints of the whole.

Well, for today a fractal part is as far as I expect to get. I don’t start at a beginning: I just sketch one middling part of such an essay.

Umpires can’t expect to see every detail on a field of action: they just have to make a call. Science knows it can’t have all the evidence: that’s why the highest state of its knowledge will always be theory, never proof. The law is recent, shallowly evolved, still mostly feudal in its epistemology. The law talks freely about “proof.” Religious don’t need proof; not even good evidence: they know.

A Greek (as in ancient Greece) has had wisdom attributed to him for saying count no man happy until he’s dead. No subsequent experience with the man can then refute you. My “explanation” of the comment relates the view to the (ongoing) evolution of reason.

In contrast, the religious of the familiar monotheism say that God is good.

And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1,10

My glossary initiates the argument that good and bad are neither things nor places, but rather directions along a spectrum. If a thing is called good, it can only be in relation to some other thing or things that the speaker is judging to belong further back on the negative side of the spectrum. Good can have meaning only in relation to something else being compared: either implicitly or explicitly.

I say … we say Beethoven is a great composer. We say Beethoven’s Symphony #7 is a great symphony. We are moved by it. Transported. We feel strong emotions, some of them identifiable. We feel profound, alternately tranquil and exalted … We know that other symphonies do not move us so.

But what if Beethoven’s 7th were the only symphony, the only music, that we knew? What sense would it make to call it great? Whether of not it made us feel profound, whether or not Beethoven wrote it, whatever name we called it, it would really be the music.

So what is God seeing as “good” in his creation? The whole of it? Wouldn’t that be like saying I’ll put waves in the ocean and they’ll be all crests, no troughs? Or is God seeing the Earth and the Seas to be good in relation to what he’d done a verse of two earlier? The Seas and the Earth are good compared to what I did with the Earth and the Heaven. Or might he be saying The Earth, with its Earth and Seas, is good compared to what I did with Mars: just Mars and those stupid Mars canals. Or is he saying This whole creation: light/dark, Heaven/Earth, Earth/Seas, is better than that Creation I made last week?

How can work be “good” if there is no other work for comparison? Unfortunately for our familiar monotheism, the same problem applies to God Himself. We say that God is good. Compared to what? To what other God that is. Surely he wasn’t comparing Himself to us: at the time to which the utterance is attributed, He hadn’t made any creatures yet, let alone man.

The God of the early Old Testament presents Himself as Chairman of a committee, not the only entity of pre- … Pre-what? Pre-existence? How can you have an entity before the possibility of entity? No, Heaven and Earth cannot have been the start of the cosmos, perhaps not even the start of the universe. (Forget astronomy-based cosmology: this criticism is strictly internal: based on reading the text itself.) The later Bible presents Him as the only God. Then how can he be “good”?

Other latter day theology has it that God is as it were the definition of good. So killing everything except Noah and some representative pairs was good. Telling Abraham to kill his only son with his own hands, tormenting Job, watching John beheaded … are all good. Did He enjoy the crucifixion? Sure, and by definition it was good. (If he didn’t “do” it, he still planned it.) Then why aren’t we good too? It was good for the Jews to kill Canaanite and Philistine. So why wasn’t it good for the Nazis to kill the Jews and the fags?

Well, this hasn’t taken the direction I’d thought when I typed the title an hour ago. I’ll fix it later. For now I’ll just hook back to our wise Greek and his saw. The Greeks were beginning to see the importance of evidence. Can there have been any Cro-Magnon at Lasceaux who didn’t see the importance of evidence? I believe that civilized man invented blindness to evidence. Otherwise, how could the parasites rule the food producers? What civilized institution could withstand a consciousness of evidence? Catholics honor the “honesty” of Jesus at the Temple: then repress any further honesty. Protestants honor the “honesty” of Luther’s reading: then ditto. Scientists honor the honesty of Galileo while themselves looking an awful lot like a Catholic or Lutheran Church to me. Sure they have “honest” readings: their own. How well do they countenance challenging readings? “Galileo” isn’t just in the past. Look beyond the whitewashed stories of Srinivasa Ramanujian in Good Will Hunting and TIME‘s recent paragraph. Soon I’ll report my own experience with scientists in relation to my Macroinformation.

But back to God and the wise Greek:
We say that God is good. But he’s not dead. So how can we tell? OK, Nietzsche says he’s dead. The religious say He Liveth. If He liveth, then the evidence isn’t all in yet. If what He does is good by definition, and if He did all the things the Bible says He did, then why isn’t it good when we do the same things: commit genocide, specicide (not all the millions of species can have been gathered by Noah), break promises …? Why are we so hard on nest parasitism, birds that lay their eggs in another’s nest to gain free and unwitting foster care? Didn’t God do the same with poor Mary? Wasn’t it his kid he put there, not hers?

If God planned Jesus’ actions, or even so much as knew what would happen, and Jesus said he was coming right back with an emphasis such that early Christians didn’t believe they even had to reproduce any more, and two thousand years later, we’re still waiting, still waiting … Imagine a divorce case: OK, the husband says, I’ll pay alimony. Two thousand years later the kids are barefoot, the woman went into an inanition coma 1999.9 years ago. Before the judge, she’d been so grateful: Oh, thank you, Your Honor. Thank you, dear ex-husband. How thankful should she be now in her coma with all her barefoot kids? All she got was a promise. So where’s the actual money?

I started with these very examples in mind but somehow didn’t marshal them to my (I insist) very important title very well. I’ll make the connections better next time. Meantime, why not make them yourself?

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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