Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Making of Twaddle

Attempting to summarize some of the back and forth in the comments today, Mike observed as follows:

I must say that after reading all this I conclude that I'm looking at two very different philosophies that ideally arrive at the same result.
(1) There is no God. Therefore it is up to us to do what is right and make the best of our time on earth. We may get screwed over, but that's life.
(2) God has a plan, but we are unable to comprehend it and so cannot hope to abide by it. Therefore it is up to us to do what is right and make the best of our time on earth.We may get screwed over,but that's life. [emphasis mine]
I have seen discussions of this sort land at approximately this point, but I don't think this one has. This one has veered a different (familiar) direction, and I think the trajectory owes to the highlighted section: God has a plan, but we are unable to comprehend it and so cannot hope to abide by it. Commenter Zombie has been very emphatic about the first clause (that god has a plan), and when pressed, he has retreated to the second clause (that we are unable to comprehend it), and that has allowed him to evade anything as definite as the third clause (that we know what to do).

My attempt has been to get to an understanding of what this plan is. Zombie claims he doesn't know, but the way he has expressed this not-knowing has been hand-waving about the "human" ideas of perfection and benevolence as distinct, he asserts, from the "godly" versions of these. How dare we apply "human" versions of these ideas to god, he keeps asking.

Well, if god's perfection and benevolence are of some rarefied form that is, in principle, beyond our reach, then we're in the free fall of equivocation. To be clear: I understand perfect and benevolent as they are regularly used in English sentences, but I have no idea what to make of the super-charged "godly" variants that don't, Zombie assures us, connect with what we find in everyday spoken and written English. I've asked, but he hasn't answered.

But do notice that he has not, for all this professed ignorance, retreated from the underlying claim that god deserves our respect, admiration, and obedience.

So the resting point seems to be a familiar muddle: that god should be obeyed even as god cannot be understood. God is good, but good doesn't mean what you might think it means. In fact, it doesn't mean anything you'll ever understand, no matter how long or how persistently you try to track it down, because god is working at a much higher level while we're stuck down here at the kids' table.

Likewise: god loves you, but according to no love you'll ever relate to; god is benevolent, but not according to your regular idea of benevolent. Etcetera.

Which is to say, finally, nothing of any value whatsoever. A telltale sign of a discussion that has landed precisely nowhere is the insistence that words no longer mean what they did when the conversation began, and yet won't be redefined.

This has been an exercise in watching the manufacture of twaddle. I think I'd rather watch sausage being made: at least sausage can be used at the end, and I concede that even as a vegetarian.


mikesdak said...

Spot on,Dale. After thinking about it more, I realize that I was jumping the gun a bit with my conclusion, trying to anticipate where I hoped the conversation was going. Frankly it seemed to going in circles, which is usually what happens with discussions of that nature.

Dale said...

Mike, I think you had it right, but you were assuming that the conclusion would be drawn from the premises. If we don't know anything about god's alleged plan (premise), there's no point in pretending we know what god wants (conclusion). The other commenter liked the premise but didn't like the conclusion. So off we went in circles.

Thanks for tuning in, as always.