WHAT IS THE NAME OF GOD?

Go to this link -http://www.jaygaskill.com/DecodingDeity.pdf

Hint – Moses experienced a glimpse of a reality so profoundly beyond ordinary human experience that it would have been vividly, but incompletely remembered – like the retinal afterimage of a lightning stroke. Surely, it was a massive information transfer, beyond the normal bandwidth of the human mind.

DAWN IN TWO PARTS

THE ARCH CRUMBLES AT DAWN

AN INTELLECTUAL JOURNEY IN TWO PARTS

PART ONE

Copyright© 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

For permissions & comments, contact the author via email < law@jaygaskill.com >.

By Jay B Gaskill, Attorney At Law

It was no accident that Marxism was erected on the edifice of economic, historical and social materialism.  And it was no accident that Marxism in all its forms has bulldozed the value of individual human dignity, the last bulwark against the dehumanization of humanity.

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The arch-materialist position is running on empty. The persuasive force of that view – that life, the universe and everything is all just stuff, in effect that you, me, and all our hopes and thoughts are nothing but matter and energy – has been groaning under the weight of the information age and the cumulative abuses of the materialists whenever they have achieved political power.

Arch-materialism is not just a love of material things; it is the denial of the moral reality of everything else. In its most malignant form, materialism is a wrecking ball with the clear and present capacity to take down modern civilization.

Values are not just inclinations; they are the living channels of our moral awareness.  The single most harmful consequence of arch-materialism was the demotion of values to emotional states and of morality itself to an emotional construct, a plastic one that the authoritarians among us have molded to fit their ends.  Ideologies are theologies stripped of the universal moral underpinning.

For a thousand years, the morally aware among us have agreed on the core values that sustain civilized life, the prohibitions against stealing, cheating, oath-breaking, assault and murder.  The implications of this consensus are profound. When different human minds separately keep coming up with the same insights, principles and norms, the sense of discovery is a tell.  Discovery is not limited to physics and mathematics.  Discovery is not invention. The core moral principles are discovered, not just made up “by dead white men” or anyone else.

I propose that we have arrived at a new place in the development of thought, one in which we now accept that meaning is also a discovered property of reality, detectable only by conscious, intelligent minds (which also provides us with a pretty good working definition of living, conscious intelligence as the set of faculties of any living organism that detect meaning and significance).  The overly skeptical, arch materialist minds of the post enlightenment sophisticates among us are operating on borrowed skepticism and borrowed time. Their position on center stage is over.  But their naughty adult children, the ones who still tell our real children that “if it feels good, do it” are loose and active, much as the pathogens of a plague survive the rotting corpses that it has already killed.

The late Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (See footnote[1]), wrote about an impossibly powerful computer – “Deep Thought” – that was tasked by mice to discover the “secret of life the universe and everything”. After performing prodigious calculations over eons, Deep Thought finally came up with an answer: The number 42. (See footnote [2])

Adams was telling us the importance of asking the right question.  And Deep Thought’s answer was revelatory. The computer was “at 6’s and 7’s” because the question asked it was ultimately beyond the power of any algorithm or non-living thinking device to answer.

We need to break into the territory where the answers our questions about life the universe and everything are located. In other words, we need to break out of the intellectual trap of arch-materialist thinking; this is the conceit that absolutely everything in and out of our minds can be fully accounted for by material processes.

We humans are stuck at the fault line caused by our own release of acidic skepticism about two and a half centuries ago. The doubt acid was unleashed on the world (I tend to think of Pandora’s Box or the Sorcerer’s Apprentice) by well-meaning intellectuals bent on bringing down entire archaic and oppressive social institutions. When the well-meaning intellectuals unbottled the magic solvent, their main goal was to weaken the support systems of the royalist-clerical autocracy that these intellectuals despised.

Their strategy worked…and then some. An early success (the American Revolution) was followed by an epic cascade of unintended consequences. Once out of the bottle, the acid of comprehensive doubt began dissolving everything of value; the damage went well beyond the targeted institutions.  By the time the doubt virus had infected the modern and postmodern mind, churches were on the ropes, ethics itself was in disarray and the entire civil order was left defenseless.

Human nature so abhors a moral vacuum that something, no matter how repugnant, will always fill it. Without the firewall of faith-anchored morality, invented “scientific” doctrines swiftly gave rise to virulent mass movements.  Among them, Nazi race theory and Marxist human-nature transformation theory filled the moral vacuum with toxic ideologies.  These were faux scientific ideologies, deeply irrational to the core.  Marxism and Nazism acquired the patina of moral authority by default – the great acid flux of doubt had disabled or crippled everything else that we believed in.

The entire skeptical project was founded in a false premise: the notion that the material realm holds all of reality’s secrets. But that very premise, the arch-materialist’s vision – that there exists nothing other than the physical-mechanical – was never deeply examined nor carefully questioned.  It generated a world view that was as fiercely held and doggedly defended as any fundamentalist religion. For a plurality of the dominant intellectuals in the academy, it is still the glorious paradigm of the current age…but not for much longer.

Arch-materialism makes outrageous claims on its face, something akin to the lie that the naked emperor of the fable was clothed in splendorous raiment.  The notion that everything that is or can be is completely reducible to mere “stuff”, to matter and energy, and their processes and interactions, with nothing “left over”, leads to a series of absurdities in which, for example, Mozart’s Requiem can be fully and completely reduced to air pressure fluctuations that induce brain electro-chemical responses in some subjects.

The claims of arch materialism are bankrupt. There is no room in arch-materialism for the “I am” or the “I love” or for the “I ought”, except as you or I might arbitrarily decide. In the world of arch-materialism, our decisions themselves are a sort of ephemeral gloss on the biochemical, bioelectrical fluctuations that we “really” are, and our very consciousness, the sense of being, is a mirage.

This was the single greatest fraud perpetrated on the human family of all time.

More and more of the intelligentsia are coming to their senses; one by one, they are returning to the older, more balanced and more integrated wisdom traditions.  As these newly awakened minds recover from the spell of arch-materialism, a realization dawns:  The mechanistic part of reality, the subject of the physical sciences of measurement and prediction, is just that, a part or phase of the greater scheme.  Meaning cannot be redacted from the picture.  Meaning is not a measurable property of physics, chemistry or the other physical disciplines; nor is it “just made up”.

The recovery from the grip of arch-materialism is almost like waking up from a spell.

The Secrets of Life, the Universe and Everything can be unpacked only when we acknowledge the deep and enduring reality of ongoing creative emergence (See footnote [3]), the essential ontological link between the material and the not-material phases of reality, and the role of our own minds as the bridge state between these two. (See footnote [4]) The gifts moral intelligence and esthetically tuned awareness are among the cognitive tools that were issued our species.  Arch materialism has temporarily disabled us from using these tools to discover the nature of reality and the reality of nature.

If the esthetic is real (and it is), but cannot be captured in the narrow confines of comprehensive materialism; then so it goes for the ethical aspects of reality. And if the esthetic and ethical are real, then so is the spiritual. If meaning exists at all (and it does), then meaning, qua meaning, necessarily exists outside the confines of narrow materialism.  It follows that Reality naturally includes both the material realm of energy, matter and space and the non-material realm of meaning.

Reality in its totality can neither be defined by nor limited by the material realm.  The lowly possum has a bifurcated brain, one in which the huge bandwidth connections between left and right hemispheres (that we smart humans take for granted) are missing.  You can show something to a possum’s left side without the right side “knowing” anything about it.

The artificial bifurcation between the material and spiritual, between the real of the measurable physical and that of un-measurable meaning is a mental disability.  It is as if we humans had decided to emulate the lowly possum.  We need to pursue a mutually correcting dialogue between the two.  For me, one insight opened up all the rest — that the overall integration of reality is a primal fact, the a priori key to further knowledge about life, the universe and everything. We thinking, feeling beings are the interface between these two realms.  We are the venue of the meta-dialogic. There is an overall rational structure to our values that can be mapped.

For those of us who believe that acts of faith can be both reasonable and heuristic (See footnote  [5]), these recovered insights have truly infinite implications, among them: A universe that generates creatures that are capable of apprehending meaning and purpose; is a universe that has meaning and purpose.

To the blind followers of arch materialism, we can do worse than repeat the words of Hamlet – “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

THE CRUMBLING ARCH at DAWN

PART TWO

Why pick on poor, old Marxism?

Feedback from my recent article, The Arch Crumbles at Dawn (where I predict the demise of arch-materialism), included a complaint because I singled out Marxism:  “Please substitute the word capitalism for Marxism. Open your eyes and look at the damage.   …And, what has been the damage of Marxism as opposed to the current state of affairs, and the vampiristic, insatiable appetites of morphing capitalism?”

My article was about values and their Source.  Every social /economic model has its best and worst exemplars.  Communism, at its best, was a drawing room theory adopted by gentle idealists who supported the arts, the wars and wouldn’t hurt a fly; at its worst, Communism was used to create a brutal authoritarian system in which millions were murdered and a productive country was impoverished and enslaved.   At its best, Capitalism honors the human dignity of one’s trading partner and encourages creative innovation; at its worst Capitalism has been a cover story for organized crime,  and the crony capitalism of corrupt elites (really, organized crime by another name) who play ball with liberal and conservative politicians alike.

How many times have you heard an intelligent person assert that “there is no such thing as morality,” or “we determine our own morality” or “life is an accidental event” or “there is no purpose to any of this, just human will”?  These and a thousand other similar sentiments have their roots in philosophical materialism which is arch-materialism dressed up in skepticism.  My article was a fraction of the larger critique that includes Nazism and Islam.  That larger discussion was just touched on with this passage from my first piece –

“Human nature so abhors a moral vacuum that something, no matter how repugnant, will always fill it. Without the firewall of faith-anchored morality, invented “scientific” doctrines swiftly gave rise to virulent mass movements.  Among them, Nazi race theory and Marxist human-nature transformation theory filled the moral vacuum with toxic ideologies.  These were faux scientific ideologies, deeply irrational to the core.  Marxism and Nazism acquired the patina of moral authority by default – the great acid flux of doubt had disabled or crippled everything else that we believed in.”

Marxism was the God(less) Father of all the later forms of modern, “scientific” social reform experiments, from Nazism, Fabian Socialism to the Third World “revolutionary” regimes of Cuba and Venezuela, all of them authoritarian nightmares writ large and small.

Until materialism (in the technical sense I’ve been using the term) took over the political arguments in the public square, the social reform proposals of the day were argued in the context of  well-established moral traditions.  Slavery, for example, was vanquished because of the moral confidence of the abolitionists who relied on a moral tradition, not by throwing over traditional morality itself as was the case of Marxism.

Materialism was the ammunition of “weaponized doubt” (for more on this, see my essay posted at http://jaygaskill.com/WeaponizedDoubt.htm ). This was my term for the acidic skepticism that took down traditional institutions, both bad (royalism) and good (churches), until the playing field was open for truly revolutionary ideas, unconstrained by moral scruples.

Arch-materialism empowered “chemistry” to supersede morality (chemistry is a stand-in for arch-materialism). Dostoevsky said it first. In The Brothers Karamazov, his character, Mitya Karamazov, is in jail talking with his brother. Mitya says that he is “…sorry for God” because, ‘Your Reverence, you must move over a little, chemistry is coming!’” …and he adds, “How…is man to fare after that? Without God and a life to come? After all, that would mean that now all things are lawful, that one may do anything that one likes.”

In that 1880 novel, Dostoevsky nailed the central problem of the modern and postmodern age: the notion that science has displaced God, deep tradition and universal humanism, shunting aside our most trusted sources of moral wisdom.  In this “modern” view, moral truth (if it exists at all) is best explained by anthropology…even chemistry. When Dostoevsky wrote the Brothers, a malignant alternative to traditional morality was gestating right down the street. It was God-hating, bloodthirsty Marxism, the ideology that would destroy Russia and bring the planet to the edge of nuclear winter.  Dostoevsky was a prophet. [6]

Arch-materialism granted permission for “science” to do anything without reference to the overarching moral order.  Arch-materialism necessarily supersedes morality, because without the non-material realm, morality does not exist except in our heads.

With that background, let me return to that much maligned system we now call capitalism, by posing a question. Which would you rather have: a world without Marxism or a world without capitalism? The Chinese will not abandon capitalism because they refuse to starve.  They will try control it (because they fear= it is an agent of regime change) and distort it (into a nationalized, semi-antonymous progress-engine) as long as possible. Russia is basically in the same place.

Karl Marx is credited with naming capitalism (in Das Kapital). More than any other intellectual, Marx cleverly moved the focus away from free individuals engaging in commercial trade to the few, well connected players of the late 1900’s and early 20th century who were tightly allied with powerful politicians and were not above using political power to gain market control.  Many of these “capitalists” were given monopolies by the Crown or government.  This form of “capitalism” is called mercantilism, and it has more in common with China’s state-owned businesses than the realm of free markets and usually bankers. Pure capitalism, in the Milton Friedman sense, requires a political and economic system that abhors force and fraud, and effectively supports honesty in our dealings with each other.  That is why it is still comparatively rare.

Capitalism’s historical excesses are real.  They are the result of human nature.  We are flawed creatures with a predisposition to blatant greed, gross dishonesty, and we are all too eager to succumb to power lures.  The communists were no different.  All social systems must contend with these human tendencies, including the systems modeled on Marxist ideology.  But the authoritarian abuses of Marxism are inherent in its very conception and structure. Marxism is a model of economic governance that is founded on the morally unconstrained, “scientific” remaking of human society (and even human nature). Communism rested on the faux-scientific premise that fixing the very structure of private ownership (eventually abolishing it) will correct all the abuses in society.  Such a conception cannot by its very nature avoid authoritarian abuses so severe that they that should chill the hearts of liberals and conservatives alike.

German National Socialism arose as the dark mirror image of its enemy, Russian Communism. Nazism was founded on an equally loony faux-science, the pernicious notion of a state-run eugenics program aimed at racial superiority – this in contrast with Marx’s scientific social engineering aimed at enforced equality. The socialist project in all its forms (whether Fascist, communist or communist-Lite) is the bastard child of Marxist materialism.

Our culture, indeed the whole modern Western social order, are deeply infected with arch-materialism and its spawn.  Mr. Romney’s 47% gaffe was an echo of Marx’s economic determinist materialism.  And the campaign’s laser-like focus on economic, i.e., narrowly material issues instead of values, was a concession to Karl Marx’s materialism.

Look around you. We are expected by our dominant handlers to seek material things and the attendant status they seem to confer above all other considerations.  Values? Especially moral values rooted in religious and other traditions? Not so much.

The 2008-9 American mortgage debt collapse was sold by our elite opinion makers as mostly a financial malfunction, brought about by well-meaning people caught up in an imprudent bidding bubble.  As if getting something for nothing and getting rich quick without productive effort, as if tricking your fellow investors and nationalizing a Ponzi scheme were not symptoms of a profound moral failure!

The mortgage/banking crisis of 2008-9 was a truly massive moral failure with catastrophic financial consequences for the innocent and guilty alike.  Our elite-run financial system was embarrassed and almost brought down by endemic dishonesty, self-deception and endemic breaches of trust. Many of the same elites have proposed fixing this mess by deflating the value of our obligations (which amounts to theft by stealth in my moral universe), and by treating miscreants and victims alike (the very definition of injustice).

If we fully implement their proposals, another damaging moral failure is certain to follow.  The collapse of materialism and the resurgence of moral values are just in the early stages.  That is why I described this as dawn. When it takes place, our recovery will not be more than another bubble, unless it has a necessary moral component.  When dawn comes, it’s time to get up. We have a lot of work to do.

JBG

Jay B Gaskill

Attorney at Law

A WORKING BIBLIOGRAPHY

Barrow, John D. and Tipler, Frank J.

The Anthropic Cosmological Principle

1988 (1st Ed 1986) Oxford U. ress ISBN 0-19-282147-4 (paperback)

Bohm, David

Wholeness And The Implicate Order

1980 Routledge ISBN 0-7448-0000-5

Buber, Martin

The Eclipse of God

1952 Harper and Brothers

Davies, Paul

About Time

1995 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-79964-9

The Cosmic Blueprint

1988 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-60233-0

The Mind of God

1992 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-68787-5

Denton, Michael J.

Nature’s Destiny

1998 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-684-84509-1

Einstein, Albert

Out Of My Later Years

1950 Philosophical Library

Kant, Immanuel

Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals

1964 Harper & Row (1st H & R Ed 1948, German Ed. @1788)

Monod, Jasques

Chance and Necessity

1971 Alfred Knopf  ISBN 0-394-4661-5-2

Penrose, Roger

The Emperor’s New Mind

1989 Oxford U. Press ISBN0-19-851973-7

The Large, the Small, and the Human Mind (Editor & contributor)

1997 Cambridge U. Press ISBN 0-521-56330-5

Shadows of the Mind

1994 Oxford U. Press ISBN 0-19-853978-9

Plantiga, Alvin C.

God, Freedom, and Evil

1994-1996 W.B. Eerdmans ISBN 0-8028-1731-9

Polkinghorne, John

Belief in God in an Age of Science

1998 Yale U. Press ISBN 0-300-07294-5

Beyond Science, the Wider Human Context

1996 Cambridge ISBN 0-521-62508-4 (paperback)

The Faith of a Physicist

1996 First Fortress Press ISBN 0-8006-2970-1

Reason and Reality, the Relationship Between Science and Theology

1991 Trinity Press ISBN 1-56338-019-6

Serious Talk, Science and Religion in Dialogue

1995 Trinity Press ISBN 1-56338-109-5 (paperback)

Prigogine, Ilya

The End of Certainty, Time Chaos and the New Laws of Nature

1996 Simon and Schuster ISBN 0-684-83705-6

Searle, John

Mind, Brains and Science

1984 Harvard U. Press ISBN 0-674-57631-4 (cloth)

Schweitzer, Albert

The Philosophy of Civilization

1960 Macmillan Paperbacks

Vermes, Pamela

Buber on God and the Perfect Man

1994 Littman Library of Jewish Civilization ISBN 1-874774-22-6


[1] Adams whimsically described the series as a “trilogy in five parts.”

[2] Deep Thought was a computer that was created by the pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent race of beings that appear in our universe as mice. As to the answer 42, Adams (through a character) said, “I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question was.”

[3] Stay in touch with this concept.  Emergence represents the seemingly spontaneous appearance of order in otherwise less ordered systems.  Think of bird flocking behavior and the seeming self-assembly of the constituent molecules essential for living organisms. The phenomenon is well studied, but less comprehensively applied than it can be.  For example, conscious awareness can be understood as an emergent state of higher order in a neural system.  Creative leaps, whether in evolution or thought are examples of emergence.  Of course, much more remains to be said on the topic.

[4] In effect, the entire non-physical realm (thinking of the realm Plato’s forms as a stripped-down precursor) and the realm of physical processes can be understood as phases of the same encompassing reality (i.e., the share the same ontological status, much as matter and energy of solid and gas represent phase states of the same “stuff”.  This is very condensed version of a longer discussion by the author.

[5] Heuristic systems are capable of learning from experience.  Similarly, the necessary faith-exercises  that enable us to rationally deal with the unseen, including the inferential and the partially known, allow us to detect important aspects of reality that arch-materialism conditions us to ignore. For example human trust always requires an exercise of faith. In this sense, arch-materialism is anti-heuristic; it even rejects the faith of scientists that the universe will be intelligible to human reason. The scientist/theologian John Polkinghorne (below) is excellent on this question.

[6] …And so was the poet Matthew Arnold, when he wrote, “The Sea of Faith/Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore/ Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled/ But now I only hear/ Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,/Retreating, to the breath/Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear/And naked shingles of the world.” From Dover Beach (1867). …And so was William butler Yeats: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer/ Things fall apart. the centre cannot hold/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” The Second Coming (1919-20)

THE ARCH CRUMBLES AT DAWN

THE ARCH CRUMBLES AT DAWN

By Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

It was no accident that Marxism was erected on the edifice of economic, historical and social materialism.  And it was no accident that Marxism in all its forms has bulldozed the value of individual human dignity, the last bulwark against the dehumanization of humanity.

[][][]

The arch-materialist position is running on empty. The persuasive force of that view – that life, the universe and everything is all just stuff, in effect that you, me, and all our hopes and thoughts are nothing but matter and energy – has been groaning under the weight of the information age and the cumulative abuses of the materialists whenever they have achieved political power.

This five page essay (with a bibliography) is posted in full on The Policy Think Site as a free PDF download only.

JBG

Commonsense Wisdom for 2013

Thanks to my LDS friends for this Gem from their spiritual leader – GBH

“Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to just be people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old time rail journey…delays…sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling burst of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

― Gordon B. Hinckley

A REFLECTION ON TECHNOLOGY, ETHICS & THE ABYSS

A REFLECTION ON TECHNOLOGY, ETHICS & THE ABYSS

AND ABOUT OUR WAY:

How We Always Lose It Before We Find It

By

Jay B Gaskill

Our moral compass is an irreplaceable gift.  It is our species’ survival advantage in a hostile universe. It is a personal life raft in a toxic culture. Morality is not an arbitrary construct, but an immensely valuable discovery, on a par with that of fire, farming & writing. Applying moral intelligence in the real world is the very essence of moral agency. Moral character is the capacity to do the difficult, right thing especially when faced with consequential choices.  To act in accord with one’s moral compass is very difficult when the very moral ground seems to have fallen away. In a culture characterized by fashionable ambivalence, moral character is more than a virtue; it is a beacon of hope.

I am reminded of a cautionary observation by Albert Speer. He was Hitler’s architect and Reichminister of Defense.  Albert Speer was, by all accounts, a civilized man – before the war.  During the Nuremburg war crimes trials, Speer’s life was spared in favor of life in Spandau Prison.  After some reflection time behind bars, he was able to confess that:

“Basically, I exploited the phenomenon of the technician’s often blind devotion to his task. Because of what seems to be the moral neutrality of technology, these people were without scruples about their activities.” (Albert Speer – “Inside The Third Reich”)

For Speer’s technicians we can substitute scientists, engineers, researchers, artists and even physicians. From 1943 to 1944 the infamous Doctor Joseph Mengele performed human experiments on imprisoned twins at Auschwitz. The twins were injected with dyes into their eyes in attempts to change eye color; some were even sewn together to make conjoined twins. Of about three thousand individual twins, only 100 survived. During the War, at Ravensbruck concentration camp, bones, muscles, and nerves were removed from the subjects without pain management or anesthetics.

I could go on with this dreary and sickening catalogue, but you get the idea. There are so many paths down to the abyss, and Nazi eugenics was just one of them. The “greatest good for the greatest number” left out a wise understanding of the “good”, and left room for the Nazis, the Marxists and others to treat those outside “the greatest number” as disposable things. Utilitarian ethics is a dead end.  The abyss has welcomed civilized people into the darkness before and – unless we recover the capacity for moral intelligence, and the necessary motivation and courage to become moral agents – we will succumb to the abyss again, falling even lower than before.

.

Once again we have lost our way.  This is hardly a novel development in our story; getting lost is part of the human condition.  Our very modernity was not a sufficient bulwark against our own failings.  Is this really surprising?

What is the greatest benefit for those of us who are fortunate enough live in the modern enclaves of Western civilization? Most of us would answer, “Safe, sophisticated comfort”.  And what, we might ask ourselves, holds the greatest peril for us? It is the same answer…safe, sophisticated comfort.

We have so far survived in a turbulent world because of the strong will to live that was instilled into us, and because of the gift of several fruitful biological “technologies” (using that term very broadly), among them: the entire cluster of cognitive faculties and thinking aids we call “reason”, logic, creative imagination, empathy and foresight among them; then the social technologies of  cooperation (including language, of course, but much more than that); and our moral compass without which social cooperation and civilization itself withers and dies.

We are the result of creative processes; we are surrounded by them; and our minds run them.  The creative processes in our minds replicate and recapitulate the creative processes of natural evolution, but at a vastly accelerated rate.  Natural selection has stumbled along over eons, sacrificing entire species (like the obsolete triceratops), but the creative processes of human intelligence move at lightning speed, sacrificing only hypotheses and creative dead-ends.  Creative human intelligence has achieved major innovations over mere days, weeks and years.  While nature took hundreds of millions of years of animal evolution to develop insect and bird flight, we humans developed aircraft and spacecraft in a few centuries[i]. This does not take us outside nature. We are nature, awakened to intelligent self-direction.

So we tend to harbor “king of the universe” conceits, the hubris of a young technological species. We and only we did that, made that or invented that. When we discovered fire…or the wheel…or…the refrigeration principle…or electricity…or atomic power, we naively assumed that these were human inventions.  Yet we still don’t know whether we were the first thinking creatures to arrive and awake in this universe, nor whether even the most improbable and wonderful developments along our path were not prefigured in some way.  But these discovery paths were not accidental or arbitrary. For example, the design features of the human, bird and mammal eyes represent applied versions of a single engineering solution, much as the slipstream form of the fish or the function of the wing have appeared in “nature” before the fundamental idea ever occurred to humankind. Because of the consistency of natural physical laws, engineering solutions are discovered in much the same way that geometrical solutions are discovered.

Why, then do we assume that morality is “made up” (as some insist) as opposed to discovered? Our most important social technology is civilization, a system of exchange and regulation among individuals and groups that has greatly enhanced the prospects of human survival by facilitating institutional memory (a sense of history), sophisticated task specialization and the peaceful exchange of goods and services. But all civilizations do not serve us equally well. The ones held together by a common moral framework do better.  In this sense, the moral compass can be understood as survival-enhancing technology.

The natural evolution of living organisms is governed by a single direction, survival, felt consciously as life-affirmation, or as Schweitzer put it, the universal will-to-live[ii] (the seed of human morality). The processes of human social and cultural evolution needed a more complex guidance system, equally life affirming, but more sophisticated: It is the moral directional axis formed in the mix of moral intelligence and experience, saved to our wisdom data base and available to everyone as the “app” we call the moral compass. If we are to avoid falling into the next abyss, we need to keep two ideas firmly in the foreground of our thoughts at all times:

→ The objective reality of the universal moral compass;

→ The strict necessity of personal moral engagement.

Moral engagement is work.  We are hard-wired to resist unnecessary work in order to conserve energy. It is all too easy to avoid engagement, by denying the insights and directions signaled by our internal moral compass.  But moral engagement is the price of survival.

Moral engagement seems like an onerous duty, in part, because it forces us to make either-or choices. The decision-challenged among us can get trapped in the illusion of passive escape, the notion that delay will make the problem go away.  In practice, delay is almost always a choice on the very merits of the dilemma that the decision-challenged among us sought to avoid.  Except at the threshold choice, to be or not to be, there are always more than two choices in the real world.  Each threshold choice (other than suicide) opens up many more choices. This is not an argument for indecision, but instead should tell us that a binary choice usually means rejecting the bad alternative in favor of the one or category of choices that keep other choices open. [You may recognize this as the argument against suicide.]

Many of our biggest mistakes, especially where technological tasks are concerned, can be traced to a failure to consider all of the later options that are hiding behind that first, deceptively simple binary choice. At the beginning of any project, such later implications are very easy to ignore – remember how Reichminister Speer exploited the amoral enthusiasm of the technicians, engineers and scientists working for the Reich.

Even the simplest, no-brainer choices involve work.  An example relating to technology and ethics will demonstrate what I’m talking about. The threshold decision to protect intellectual property is classic binary choice with real, long term consequences.

A society can choose not to protect intellectual property, or (amounting to the same thing) to declare that the work product of all creative types all belongs to the state.  Secrecy will inevitably result and creative energy will be suffocated.  For me, the contrary decision, to protect intellectual property is the obviously superior policy option.

Suppose that a society does undertake to protect intellectual property in order to encourage creative innovation. America was foremost among 18th century countries to protect intellectual property; and that choice ignited a vital creative engine of progress.  But a whole series of hard policy choices and problems have followed that threshold choice as well.

Every decision, even the seemingly easy ones, confers the duty of continuing attention and engagement.  Once we decided to protect creative intellectual property, other choices surfaced – about the kind of property that can be protected (a song, a novel, trademark, an algorithm, an app, a weapon, a cure, even a human DNA strand), and the length and strength of protection.

A caution looms over all of this: Keeping Speer’s example in mind: Intellectual property rights alone do little to guarantee that the creative spirits among us are not being exploited for dark purposes. Most political power brokers understand that creative communities can be dangerous to them, so they tend to keep these types close, like tamed pets.  The Nazi Peenemunde scientists and the captive Soviet communist composers come immediately to mind.  There are softer, but very effective means of taming the creative ones into tools of the dominant political players – using purse-string controls, ideological group-think and the threat of ostracism.  State subsidization is control and the means of creative suffocation. Protections for individual creative property do not alone guarantee the health of free creative communities.

Merely granting legal protections for intellectual property will never prevent some creative communities from wandering into the abyss on their own. Consider the cynical, amoral creative culture that characterized the pre-Nazi Weimar Republic, a classic example of a creative community poisoned by cynicism and national defeat – a cautionary tale.

The Weimar Republic was viable from 1919 ‘till 1933, ending with Hitler’s ascent to power.  Born during the crippling reparations following Germany’s crushing defeat in WW I, under pressure from left and right, the Weimar Republic experienced a burst of cultural energy characterized by a mood of bleakness and failure (often described as “modernism”) in the literature of geniuses like Brecht and Mann and the atonal music of Berg and Schoenberg, and in the political theories of the so called Critical Theorists.  The critical realist intellectuals belonged to the Marxist Frankfort School.  One prominent thread in the Weimar cultural mix was a Marxist-inspired attack on traditional beauty. The beauty “worship” of romanticism was portrayed as part of the ideology of capitalism (much as religion was denounced as the “opiate of the people”).  One sympathetic writer described the role of “modern” music as a “message of despair”.  The Weimar cultural period, whatever its incidental value to world culture, contained a dominant anti-life ethos that ultimately crippled the very creative process itself, marking the beginning of popular alienation from the “elite arts.” This illustrates the danger of severing the link between the life-affirming moral compass and our creative enterprises.

The failure by the creative community of Weimar to honor moral boundaries and to value life-affirmation undermined the commitment to creative freedom, breeding moral denial and passivity, and opening a pathway to a new authoritarian regime.  This was an early example of a catastrophic loss of confidence in the value of liberal civilization, and the consequences that inevitably follow. Weimar’s moral ambivalence provided an opening for the Hitlerian nightmare. That same loss of confidence is rampant among postmodern Western intellectuals.

This is not a simple situation; nor is there a quick, simple fix.  Both ethical and practical considerations interpenetrate. The choices we thought we made are always up for reconsideration.  Which is another way of saying that life is messy. We need robust creative capabilities and communities to survive and thrive, and they need the life-affirming guidance of a moral compass that supports creativity and individual human dignity.

We live in a real world that resembles episodes from Star Trek: The cultural and technological distance between developed Western countries and other, essentially medieval societies, is about the same as that between the men and women aboard the Starship enterprise and some of the fictional native populations on the planets they visited. Enterprise crew members were under strict orders not to hand out phasers to the natives, let alone any of the heavy duty planet busters.  Unlike those Star Trek crew members, when we screw up, we can’t just call the bridge and say “Beam me up Scotty!”  We comfortable high tech societies are like space aliens stranded on a primitive planet. We can’t leave.

Make no mistake. There are some very, very bad choices where our technological advances are concerned.  These examples come to mind:

  • We have allowed the technologies of mass destruction, like nuclear bombs, to fall under the control of pre-modern minds living in bloody- minded cultures. Letting mobs of these types run around with more “primitive” weapons, like machine guns and RPG’s, was a mistake.  Letting them have WMD’s is in another category entirely – insanity. When our WMD’s technologies fall into the wrong hands, we may not live with the consequences.
  • Western scientists have already allowed organ transplant technologies to spread to brutal regimes. People are being sold for parts in China and in many other places in the world. The “greatest good for the greatest number” left room for those with power to treat those outside “the greatest number” as disposable things.  Utilitarian ethics is now a rationale for evil.
  • Scientists are currently experimenting with new techniques employing pharmacological agents and neurological interventions to alter the core human personality. No one in high-tech’s management circles has apparently read or heeded the warnings in Brave New World [iii]. Scarcely a thought is being given to the looming moral questions: Given how handy those technologies are going to be for authoritarian regimes, there are no safeguards? Is this research line even worth the risks?

As a general rule, the heuristic (learn as you go) feedback models work quite well for us – we try something; we incorporate the experience; sometimes we reassess.  Some of us have learned to exercise caution and always reassess because unintended consequences are inevitable…but not all of us are so prudent  Sometimes it is too late to reassess. Bright line rules are necessary.

We need to practice eternal vigilance because we dare not ever assume that a choice we thought was a good one five years ago can be taken for granted as a good choice today.  We need an ongoing review process well-grounded in ethics.

And that is the rub.  We are living in an ethically confused era.  Putting it another way, our technological communities are morally illiterate because, increasingly, our culture is morally illiterate. Ask yourselves, Can you readily identify where any formal course in ethics and morally informed thinking is required at any level from K-12 through a BA or BS degree? Modern law students are being taught legal ethics (really, professional rules of narrow scope, not core ethics as the term is used here) and for most of them, this will be the first ethics course they will have taken of any kind.

Finding the path we have lost starts with renewing some commitments (or making them for the first time). Here are my top six:

.

  • We keep alive our creative options as a person, as a community and as a species because we understand the dual role of creativity and morality to our survival.
  • We preserve our essential humanity. Therefore, we use machines in the service of humanity; and we never use humans in the service of machines.
  • We never cede our control, our humanity or our human dignity, or that of others, to machines, or algorithms, or tyrants.
  • The protection of human dignity is among our very deepest commitments, as essential to our working moral compass as the injunctions – “Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t assault and don’t murder your fellow human beings.”
  • We hold the image of a small child foremost in our minds and we ask – What kind of a world are we making for her?
  • If we don’t like the answer to the last question, we work to bring about a better one.

If you are reading this and it makes sense, then your parents and mentors did something right.  Never forget our mentors; never forget our childhoods…and never forget that we are now the adults in charge. We are all teachers and mentors, whether for the good by example…or for the bad by default.

JBG

BIBLIOGRAPHY

BUBER —I and Thou by Martin Buber, (1923, 1937, 2010)

KASS —Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity, The Challenge of Bioethics by Leon R. Kass, M. D. (Encounter Books 2002. London & New York)

JOY —Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us, by Bill Joy. (WIRED Magazine April 4, 2000) http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html

LEWIS —The Abolition of Man, by C. S. Lewis (Touchstone 1944, 1947 / 1972, 1975)

“For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.”


[i] To get a sense of the dramatic speed differences between human, cognitive-driven innovation and that of natural selection in nature, note the four century interval between Da Vinci’s 1485 drawings of a flying device and the Wright Brothers powered flight demonstration in 1903. Now note that roughly 50 million years passed while natural selection worked to endow insects with wings and flight technology – from about 400 until 350 million years ago.

[ii] See Albert Schweitzer’s The Philosophy of Civilization (1960 Macmillan).

[iii] Aldus Huxley’s iconic 1931 novel about a dystopia we might yet create is worth another look.

NOTE

The problems and issues I’ve addressed here are sufficiently serious that we urgently need to unite all of us who understand the reality and significance of the moral compass, first in our dialogue, then in common purpose.  Our survival depends on it. Whether we see these issues through a spiritual/religious lens, a secular/atheist lens, or any other lens, we are on the same page provided we are clear enough about the scope and nature of the problem and the depth and character of the solution.

It is reasonable to talk about the moral dimension of our experience without referencing religion, but it is not reasonable to talk about religion without referencing the moral dimension of our experience.  So I have been careful to construct these insights and observations in a way that invites both the religious and the non-religious minds among our ranks to join in the task before us.  In this discussion, the special gift of the non-religious is their outsider’s honesty of observation – the emperor’s new clothes view – about some religious moral pretensions.  The special gift of the religious is exactly the same, their outsider’s honesty of observation – the emperor’s new clothes view – about some secular moral pretensions.

I would be remiss if I failed to disclose my own bias that, whether described as a benign unifying principle, or as a loving creator, it is impossible for me to think of the moral compass as anything less than a gift of profound value by a giver who actually cares about our survival.  There is one ultimate moral question of all time.  It is outside the scope of this short article. It rests at the very center of what I will call the unity-traditions within the world’s great religions.  It is this: Why care about the generations of people who will come after us?  The inability of purely utilitarian, purely secular, and strongly anti-spiritual world-views to provide a satisfying answer to this question is a tell. Our children can smell moral ambivalence and spiritual bankruptcy like a dog can smell fear.

Jay B Gaskill

December, 2012

An Essay on Creativity and The Spirit of Humanity

An Essay on Creativity

And

The Spirit of Humanity

By

Jay B Gaskill

In the Beginning

Modern creative communities are pretty much alienated from religion, except where religious institutions are patrons, and that is an uneasy partnership at best. The prevalent theologies don’t seem to know what to do with our creative activities, especially when they are “simply” fun. Our freely creative activities are divorced from our organized religious practices – the split is as strong as the separation of church and state.

But our life affirming creative activities and our various religious communities are natural allies — there is so much to gain from a spirit of mutual validation and support between these communities.

Why the religious resistance?

Bureaucratic structures are necessary on a mundane level, but they are the natural antagonists of the creative process.  Church bureaucracies are no exception.

The creative process is messy. Creativity withers and dies under a puritanical rule.

The arts are spiritual salvation points for the souls who’re lost in the desert of scientism. Many modern minds are locked into what I am calling the Soulless Machine Universe Paradigm.  The arts – especially poetry and music – often hold the key.

Our ability to apprehend and value esthetics, ethics and the numinous (the good, the beautiful and the holy) as features of reality (as opposed to mere psychological states) are part same suite of faculties wired into conscious being — another divine gift.

Surely there is a deep, vital and natural connection between all the human creative activities that further the “good”, the “beautiful” and the “true” (particularly as they promote and sustain human life, fruitful cooperation, empathy, and joy) and God’s ongoing loving attention. Because I thought that connection was intuitively obvious, imagine my surprise at just how little theological discussion that the miracle of human creativity has actually generated.

Who could read the poetry of the Jesuit Priest, G M. Hopkins, for example, and not actually hear the voice of the Holy Spirit? Especially I think of Gods Grandeur (“The world is charged with the grandeur of God, it will flame out, like shining from shook foil”) and Pied Beauty (Glory be to God for dappled things – for skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow”). And who could see the innocent creative play of a small child coloring and not see evidence of God’s grace.

But it appears that religion is still reluctant to embrace human creative activities.  I believe that this reluctance to embrace human creativity as a general good echoes a much older view.

This is an idea of a static universe, created once and for all based on – I think –a literal reading of the Creation narrative, instead of the allegorical, deeply informative metaphor that it is.  In effect this mindset became naively fixed on a single, massive exercise of Creation, the notion that in the Beginning there was one series of divine-ordered events, the flash creation of the humans, then fall of humanity.  The end of cosmological history became the beginning of the post-fall human narrative.  In this view, the role of creation was complete at a fixed point in time, except for the project of our redemption from the fall.  The notion of human fallenness has a valuable moral force because it captures our potential for evil as well as our predisposition for the good.  But this mindset had the unintended effect of marginalizing human creative activities in art and technology.  They become avocations only, activities to be admired and valued only as recreational diversions unless they operate within a narrowly bounded religious context.

I believe that Humor is a divine gift.  It represents a playful attitude towards the surprising and the unexpected.   Humor and creativity are natural allies.

Emergent Creativity

Think of birds who naturally organize their airborne flock patterns as if there were some overall coordinating avian traffic control officer.  Think of hurricanes, termite mounds (they can look like castles) and stock market patterns.  Think of those “Ahah!” moments when creative inspiration strikes, and a whole set of unconnected thoughts and impressions suddenly and unexpectedly fit together and something entirely new and wonderful is revealed.  All these are examples of higher order emerging from less organized systems – the phenomenon pf emergence, and we might say ‘creative emergence.”

Emergence describes the spontaneous, appearance of complex, stable order within interactive systems in a way that could not be anticipated by a straightforward examination of the constituent elements.

The discovery of the phenomenon of emergence as feature of natural processes was first observed by Aristotle and greatly developed in 20th and 21st studies of complex systems. Emergence provides a powerful key to understanding creative processes in the world. But it also gives us a striking theological insight into the involvement of the divine in the world’s ongoing development.  This insight works whether we focus on the divine agency as architect of original conditions of a universe in which life and humanity can emerge and flourish. This is, after all, a universe and a world wherein fecund generative designs are honored by the creator of all things.

The insight also works to explain manifestations of the divine creative presence in the here and now.

Creative processes in nature and in human culture operate in a zone at the edge of chaos.  If everything were absolutely predetermined by rigid mechanical laws, there would be not room for creative innovation or human choice.  If there were total chaos, there would be no secure, preserved order, no basis for retaining the fruits of creation.  An Anglican-theologian, the former physicist, Sir John Polkinghorne, writes of the need for theology to supplement creation ex nihilo with creatio continua.   Polkinghorne defines the latter as “…the sequential emergence of new possibilities not previously realized, as when life emerged from inanimate matter, consciousness from life, and hominid consciousness from animal consciousness (from his Theology in the Context of Science, p 110, citing P. Clayton’s, Mind and Emergence).

Polkinghorne often repeats the observation of his theologian colleague, Arthur Peackocke – also a scientist – to the effect that “the history of creation is not to be seen as the performance of a fixed score already written in eternity, but an unfolding improvisation in which creatures and their God both participate.”

I am personally persuaded that music, as a communication medium, can carry the language of God without words.  This thesis is partly corroborated by some fascinating biographical pieces of evidence, linking Freud and bin Laden.[1]

Once we accept that the universe, this world, and humanity itself are part of an unfinished project and that the divine presence suffuses and gently influences all of creation in real time, then the processes of creative emergence take on an entirely new cast.

The phenomenon of emergence in nature – including human nature – is God’s paintbrush.

In the largest sense, life itself is an emergent property of the medium of a life-calibrated universe, and conscious being is an emergent property of evolving life forms and creativity is an emergent property of conscious being.  The theology of ongoing creativity is straightforward: It appears that God has chosen to employ emergence, among other tools, and us, to the extent we are able to do God’s work, which includes our creative acts.

I should note that creative includes procreative and re-creative, among its other benign forms.

A human artist creates a beautiful picture by using a novel combination of color and form; a composer works with a pallet of notes and sonorities.  The creative work emerges from the constituent elements – as the sculpture emerges from the stone.  Surely, benign, life-affirming creative inspiration is a holy activity, because there is a loving God in the moment of creation.

Creativity has been carefully channeled, marginalized and occasionally suppressed by various religious traditions and communities over the centuries because of its individualistic character, its disruptive effects, its association with decadence and because of its tendency to distract one from the “truly important.”

Of course there are dangers associated with creativity – it is essentially the same category of dangers associated with the gift of fire and human volition itself.

There are other issues as well.

When someone who is deeply suffering is sharply brought to our attention, the very enjoyment of life (especially as our lives are enhanced or inspired by the life affirming art-forms) is often seen as a guilty indulgence.  Since someone somewhere is always suffering, the celebration of life through art can always be seen as a guilty indulgence.

When we protect children’s innocence, this frequently means that we protect them from disturbing contact with all the suffering in the world so that they can safely and without undue guilt enjoy their fleeting childhood years.

But this same notion of “guilty pleasures”, when taken too seriously and too widely applied, has several side effects, all of them bad, at least in my world view.  Three immediately come to mind:

The open celebration of life affirming art and beauty, as a value in itself, without formal religious trappings, is excluded from the formal religious sphere in favor of explicitly religious art forms. And those dark, “instructive” pieces of art designed to bring us into closer awareness of suffering are endorsed, adopted and openly admired.   Please understand – I’m emphatically not against religious art forms or instructive naturalism as art, but I do believe that the exclusion to which I referred has done something unintentionally harmful.

The creative art communities tend to be alienated from the religious ones in a sort of mirror image of the way that many puritan sects were alienated from the rampant beauty of old Catholicism, rejected as idolatry but also as simply “decadent”.  From time to time, a religious figure will bless a secular undertaking, especially one that served the poor.

When has a major religious figure blessed a rampantly beautiful display of art the purpose of which is the “mere” human enjoyment of life?

The other creative communities, thinking of technological creativity in general and Silicon Valley in particular, have gone beyond mere alienation.  After all, alienation implies a moral disagreement, which in turn implies a morality.  No, the technological creative communities are arriving at a state of indifference.  This is not trivial, because their moral and esthetic alienation have similar consequences.

Art, particularly as it represents beauty and points to something greater than gross materialism, is a pathway from the arid reaches of a dead universe uninhabited by God.

The misuse of art forms for anti-life purposes, like the malogens that infect the post-modern info-swamp, are the dark consequences of the alienation of the artistic, creative communities, and illustrate that creation needs its moral context as much as we living creatures need air and water.

Scientists have been able to directly observe ongoing creative processes in nature, and detect the broad traces of earlier creative processes over the history of the universe.  Social historians, anthropologists and other scholars of the human condition are now able to track a whole series of creative developments in the human condition over the last 50,000 years, from fire and civilized cooperation through the advent of concert music and common worship.
Creative eruptions occur from time to time in the social order.  During these transitional pivot moments, darkness opportunistically converges.

Major Creative Events in History

The Moses-engendered Creative Outbreak [2000 BCE =/- 800]

The establishment of ethically-founded monotheism (a single deity, the source and author of the moral law) was an emergent creative outbreak within tribal polytheism.  The timeframe is impossible difficult fix with any accuracy, but could have taken place within centuries of the Jewish Exodus from their Egyptian captivity around 1312 BCE.

The Athenian Creative Outbreak – [500 BCE – 300 CE]

This was a creative reformation within urban paganism.  The Golden Age of Athens, taken as a whole, represented a huge creative leap in philosophy, mathematics, history, the study of politics, logic, ethics and the beginnings of natural science.

The Christian Creative Outbreak – [25 -350 CE]

This was a creative transformation within Judaism that brought the Torah – in its highest form – to the Western world and helped form Western Civilization.  The echoes and permutations continue into the modern.  The question of the day is whether this creative force will continue in the new millennium.

The Medieval Information-Diffusion Explosion [1400-1600+]

A cluster of creative developments in Europe, including the use of paper and printing technology multiplied literacy, broke the priestly and royal monopoly of the written word, spreading access to information exponentially with profound and lasting effects, including the stimulation of creative thinking and innovation in the arts and sciences through the modern period.

The European Renaissance [1260 – 1640]

This was an powerful emergent creative outbreak in the arts, philosophy and the sciences, the effects of which are still being felt. The renaissance was the seedbed for the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment [1650-1799]

The democratization of information and the recovery the techniques and prestige of reason sparked a series of social and political readjustments that are still under way, leading to the French and American Revolutions, the dissolution of monarchical power structures and many ongoing developments.

The Cyber-Information Explosion [1950- ]

For the first time, the boundary between merely technological innovations, artistic and scientific advances has become completely fluid.  Creativity is seen as an broadband innovative activity embracing art, technology, science and exploration.  The pending question is whether this process will disconnect from the moral order.

Concluding Observations

It is worth emphasizing that Christianity, itself was a creative eruption within Judaism.  Among its effect over the ensuing centuries:  Dethroning the creation-hostile bureaucracies of Rome and the great-wheel pessimistic metaphysics of the East, opening a pathway for the emergence of optimistic, creative civilizations.

So we return to the theology questions, inspired by the need to reconnect creative communities with the larger moral alignment, the spiritual-religious dimension of experience, and to kindle a specifically theological respect for human creative endeavors in all their benign forms.

The theology of creativity is not complicated at all, because it is so experiential and incarnational. Perhaps this was the great gift of the Celtic influence on the developing Christian sensibility.

Human creative play is inherently holy, as long as it is infused with love. The theology flows from a few very fundamental ideas, simply put.  God created humans in the divine image.  That meant, at a minimum, that we were purposely endowed with the capacity for creative powers. To claim otherwise would imply that God accidentally endowed us with this gift or that somehow we stole the power to create from God.

We were created as imperfect realizations of God’s image, remaining subordinate to God’s moral law, though free to err. In other words we were created as children who were expected to grow in both creativity and moral sensibility.

It follows that our gift of the power to create is to be used in coherence with God’s beneficent purposes. When we use our creative powers in that way, we are engaged in an inherently holy activity. We were not created with instant insights into our own nature.  As we have learned more about ourselves, we have discovered the deep connections between our play and creative activities. That connection was put there by our Creator. When the Holy Spirit animates our play and creativity, these things are holy.

JBG

First Published on The Policy Think Site and The i2i Blog

Copyright © 2012 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Forwards, links and quotations with attribution are welcome and encouraged.

Reproduction of this essay for group discussion purposes is free, with the author’s permission.  For permission, comments and all other purposes, please contact the author by email at law@jaygaskill.com.


[1] Dr. Armond Nicholi descrives Freud as hating music.  Another source says that Freud described himself as being ‘ganz unmusikalisch’ (totally unmusical) Despite his much-protested resistance, he could enjoy certain operas and he used musical metaphors in the context of theory and therapy. Freud seemed to feel uneasy without a guide from the more rational part. To be emotionally moved by something without knowing what was moving him or why, was an intrinsically anxious experience. The operas he listened were ‘conversational’ and ‘narrative’ forms of music, which is theorized, provided him with some kind of ‘cognitive control’ over the affective impact of the musical sounds.  Note also that (Wiki source) Bin Laden opposed music on “religious” grounds.

Honoring my father

Me and Dad

When fathers are worth honoring, as was  mine, me must. When not, we must honor fatherhood and the good Dads (as was mine).

An accountant from a small town volunteers to serve in WWII.  Rejected for a hernia, he has it fixed and reapplies.  At the end of the war, he is a captain who tours Europe briefly with his friend, Lieutenant Cohen, then rides the Queen Mary home.  My mother, a schoolteacher, reintroduces him to Baby Jay, now a toddler.

John Gaskill was a kind, generous and jolly soul whose humility concealed genius.  There are few of his type in this postmodern culture.  My brother and I deeply, deeply miss him.

The Pending World-View Realignment, An Optimistic Sketch

The Pending World-View Realignment

An Optimistic Sketch

By

Jay B. Gaskill

NOTE: A PDF download of this article with graphics and live links is available from the Policy Think Site at this LINK: http://jaygaskill.com/PendingRealignment.pdf

The late Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (See footnote[1]), wrote about an impossibly powerful computer – “Deep Thought” – that was tasked by mice to discover the “secret of life the universe and everything”. After performing prodigious calculations over eons, Deep Thought finally came up with an answer: The number 42. (See footnote[2])

Adams was telling us the importance of asking the right question.  And Deep Thought’s answer was revelatory. The computer was “at 6’s and 7’s” because the question asked it was ultimately beyond the power of any algorithm or non-living thinking device to answer.

We need to break into the territory where the answers our questions about life the universe and everything are located. In other words, we need to break out of the intellectual trap of arch-materialist thinking; this is the conceit that absolutely everything in and out of our minds can be fully accounted for by material processes.

We humans are stuck at the fault line caused by our own release of acidic skepticism about two and a half centuries ago. The doubt acid was unleashed on the world (I tend to think of Pandora’s Box or the Sorcerer’s Apprentice) by well-meaning intellectuals bent on bringing down entire archaic and oppressive social institutions. When the well-meaning intellectuals unbottled the magic solvent, their main goal was to weaken the support systems of the royalist-clerical autocracy that these intellectuals despised.

Their strategy worked…and then some. An early success (the American Revolution) was followed by an epic cascade of unintended consequences. Once out of the bottle, the acid of comprehensive doubt began dissolving everything of value; the damage went well beyond the targeted institutions.  By the time the doubt virus had infected the modern and postmodern mind, churches were on the ropes, ethics itself was in disarray and the entire civil order was left defenseless.

Human nature so abhors a moral vacuum that something, no matter how repugnant, will always fill it. Without the firewall of faith-anchored morality, invented “scientific” doctrines swiftly gave rise to virulent mass movements.  Among them, Nazi race theory and Marxist human-nature transformation theory filled the moral vacuum with toxic ideologies.  These were faux scientific ideologies, deeply irrational to the core.  Marxism and Nazism acquired the patina of moral authority by default – the great acid flux of doubt had disabled or crippled everything else that we believed in. (See footnote[3])

The entire skeptical project was founded in a false premise: the notion that the material realm holds all of reality’s secrets. But that very premise, the arch-materialist’s vision – that there exists nothing other than the physical-mechanical – was never deeply examined nor carefully questioned.  It generated a world view that was as fiercely held and doggedly defended as any fundamentalist religion. For a plurality of the dominant intellectuals in the academy, it is still the glorious paradigm of the current age…but not for much longer.

Arch-materialism makes outrageous claims on its face, something akin to the lie that the naked emperor of the fable was clothed in splendorous raiment.  The notion that everything that is or can be is completely reducible to mere “stuff”, to matter and energy, and their processes and interactions, with nothing “left over”, leads to a series of absurdities in which, for example, Mozart’s Requiem can be fully and completely reduced to air pressure fluctuations that induce brain electro-chemical responses in some subjects.

The claims of arch materialism are bankrupt. There is no room in arch-materialism for the “I am” or the “I love” or for the “I ought”, except as you or I might arbitrarily decide. In the world of arch-materialism, our decisions themselves are a sort of ephemeral gloss on the biochemical, bioelectrical fluctuations that we “really” are, and our very consciousness, the sense of being, is a mirage.

This was the single greatest fraud perpetrated on the human family of all time.

More and more of the intelligentsia are coming to their senses; one by one, they are returning to the older, more balanced and more integrated wisdom traditions.  As these newly awakened minds recover from the spell of arch-materialism, a realization dawns:  The mechanistic part of reality, the subject of the physical sciences of measurement and prediction, is just that, a part or phase of the greater scheme.  Meaning cannot be redacted from the picture.  Meaning is not a measurable property of physics, chemistry or the other physical disciplines; nor is it “just made up”.

The recovery from the grip of arch-materialism is almost like waking up from a spell.

The Secrets of Life, the Universe and Everything can be unpacked only when we acknowledge the deep and enduring reality of ongoing creative emergence (See footnote[4]), the essential ontological link between the material and the not-material phases of reality, and the role of our own minds as the bridge state between these two. (See footnote[5]) The gifts moral intelligence and esthetically tuned awareness are among the cognitive tools that were issued our species.  Arch materialism has temporarily disabled us from using these tools to discover the nature of reality and the reality of nature.

If the esthetic is real (and it is), but cannot be captured in the narrow confines of comprehensive materialism; then so it goes for the ethical aspects of reality. And if the esthetic and ethical are real, then so is the spiritual. If meaning exists at all (and it does), then meaning, qua meaning, necessarily exists outside the confines of narrow materialism.  It follows that Reality naturally includes both the material realm of energy, matter and space and the non-material realm of meaning.

Reality in its totality can neither be defined by nor limited by the material realm.

For those of us who believe that acts of faith can be both reasonable and heuristic[6], these recovered insights have truly infinite implications, among them: A universe that generates creatures that are capable of apprehending meaning and purpose; is a universe that has meaning and purpose.

To the blind followers of arch materialism, we can do worse than repeat the words of Hamlet – “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

A Working Bibliography

Barrow, John D. and Tipler, Frank J.

The Anthropic Cosmological Principle

1988 (1st Ed 1986) Oxford U. ress ISBN 0-19-282147-4 (paperback)

Bohm, David

Wholeness And The Implicate Order

1980 Routledge ISBN 0-7448-0000-5

Buber, Martin

The Eclipse of God

1952 Harper and Brothers

Davies, Paul

About Time

1995 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-79964-9

The Cosmic Blueprint

1988 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-60233-0

The Mind of God

1992 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-68787-5

Denton, Michael J.

Nature’s Destiny

1998 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-684-84509-1

Einstein, Albert

Out Of My Later Years

1950 Philosophical Library

Kant, Immanuel

Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals

1964 Harper & Row (1st H & R Ed 1948, German Ed. @1788)

Monod, Jasques

Chance and Necessity

1971 Alfred Knopf  ISBN 0-394-4661-5-2

Penrose, Roger

The Emperor’s New Mind

1989 Oxford U. Press ISBN0-19-851973-7

The Large, the Small, and the Human Mind (Editor & contributor)

1997 Cambridge U. Press ISBN 0-521-56330-5

Shadows of the Mind

1994 Oxford U. Press ISBN 0-19-853978-9

Plantiga, Alvin C.

God, Freedom, and Evil

1994-1996 W.B. Eerdmans ISBN 0-8028-1731-9

Polkinghorne, John

Belief in God in an Age of Science

1998 Yale U. Press ISBN 0-300-07294-5

Beyond Science, the Wider Human Context

1996 Cambridge ISBN 0-521-62508-4 (paperback)

The Faith of a Physicist

1996 First Fortress Press ISBN 0-8006-2970-1

Reason and Reality, the Relationship Between Science and Theology

1991 Trinity Press ISBN 1-56338-019-6

Serious Talk, Science and Religion in Dialogue

1995 Trinity Press ISBN 1-56338-109-5 (paperback)

Prigogine, Ilya

The End of Certainty, Time Chaos and the New Laws of Nature

1996 Simon and Schuster ISBN 0-684-83705-6

Searle, John

Mind, Brains and Science

1984 Harvard U. Press ISBN 0-674-57631-4 (cloth)

Schweitzer, Albert

The Philosophy of Civilization

1960 Macmillan Paperbacks

Vermes, Pamela

Buber on God and the Perfect Man

1994 Littman Library of Jewish Civilization ISBN 1-874774-22-6

Whyte, Lancelot Law

The Next Development in Man

1948, Henry Holt and Company

The Universe of Experience

1974, Harper and Row 06-131821-3 (paper)/ 06-236143-7 (hardback)

By Jay B Gaskill

Escaping the Dead Universe Paradigm http://www.jaygaskill.com/dup.htm

Renaming the Universe http://jaygaskill.com/ReNamingTheUniverse.pdf

A New Social Compact http://www.jaygaskill.com/Compact.pdf

{ – }

Among the most influential authors, I would strongly recommend any of the books by the physicist, the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne and the somewhat obscure scientist-philosopher Lancelot Law Whyte, (he was a correspondent of Albert Einstein, who wrote a recommendation for the cover of Whyte’s “Next Development of Man”).  L. L. Whyte’s prediction in that book (that the next century would represent the collapse of the remaining dualisms in thought, mind-body, among them) is being borne out as I write this.

Copyright 2012 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Author contact: law@jaygaskill.com


[1] Adams whimsically described the series as a “trilogy in five parts.”

[2] Deep Thought was a computer that was created by the pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent race of beings that appear in our universe as mice. As to the answer 42, Adams (through a character) said, “I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question was.”

[3] I exaggerate for effect.  But the intelligent religious ones among us were marginalized and in some instances imprisoned by both Hitler and Stalin.

[4] Stay in touch with this concept.  Emergence represents the seemingly spontaneous appearance of order in otherwise less ordered systems.  Think of bird flocking behavior and the seeming self-assembly of the constituent molecules essential for living organisms. The phenomenon is well studied, but less comprehensively applied than it can be.  For example, conscious awareness can be understood as an emergent state of higher order in a neural system.  Creative leaps, whether in evolution or thought are examples of emergence.  Of course, much more remains to be said on the topic.

[5] In effect, the entire non-physical realm (thinking of the realm Plato’s forms as a stripped-down precursor) and the realm of physical processes can be understood as phases of the same encompassing reality (i.e., the share the same ontological status, much as matter and energy of solid and gas represent phase states of the same “stuff”.  This is very condensed version of a longer discussion by the author.

[6] Heuristic systems are capable of learning from experience.  Similarly, the necessary faith-exercises  that enable us to rationally deal with the unseen, including the inferential and the partially known, allow us to detect important aspects of reality that arch-materialism conditions us to ignore. For example human trust always requires an exercise of faith. In this sense, arch-materialism is anti-heuristic; it even rejects the faith of scientists that the universe will be intelligible to human reason. The scientist/theologian John Polkinghorne is excellent on this question.

RAY BRADBURY DIES…OR NOT

Ray Bradbury 1920-2012 – RIR*

*May he “Rest In Relevance”.

A reflection  by Jay B Gaskill

Wednesday, June 6, 2012.

We’ve lost a great one.  Ray Bradbury died last night.

The American literary giant, Ray Bradbury, often created compelling, poetic parables that will live on much as the suppressed, memorized books did in Fahrenheit 451 .  He was an enchanting storyteller whose work was an integral part of my own formation.

His Book Fahrenheit 451 is itself an extended parable about the oppression of ideas and ideals, the preservation of literature through its virtual incarnation in the memory of readers.

There is a particular chapter that I will not forget.  The book remains a classic, in spite of the fact that Bradbury’s Mars doesn’t exist, except as a compelling myth.  In Ray Bradbury’s vision of Mars, earth colonists (their lives evoke small town 1950’s LA) are beginning to live near the ruins of the mysterious, extinct  original Martians.

In the chapter, “The Martian”, one lonely and empathetic surviving representative of the original inhabitants survives near a small town of colonists.  The creature has the ability to appear as whatever person someone wants. The lost Martian appears to a bereft family by morphing into their long missing child.  The Martian is taken in and loved – no questions asked.  But eventually the child/Martian wanders away where it falls under the spell of other people seeking someone who has been lost.  At the end of the story, we learn that the lonely Martian has been doing this for many other people – driven by loneliness and exile, it seemingly can’t help it.

At the very end, the Martian is surrounded by a crowd, each one of whom has lost someone dear, only to have him or her “return”, then disappear. A name is called, and the Martian briefly becomes the missing loved one.  Different names are shouted out in a chorus and the creature falls to the ground, dying as it tries to morph into each of their conflicting expectations in turn.

The Martian’s fatal flaw is that it wants to become the person someone is longing for because it cannot be true to itself without alienating the same person.

This is a tragic story that reveals the essential futility of the reinvented persona, obsessed with pleasing other at the expense of integrity.

As a teenager, I was lucky to grow up in a place in South-Eastern Idaho where circumstances happily conspired to create a scientist-infused rural culture.  My childhood in Idaho benefited from an unusually large number of newly arrived nuclear scientist and engineers; they were working on the nascent “Atoms for Peace” project that eventually created the reactor designs for the world’s first electric power-generating fission reactors. In those years, I dreamed of being an astronaut.  My recreational reading was saturated with science fiction – Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, A. E. Van Vogt, James Blish, and other writers, all of whom were steeped in the vision of space travel as the inevitable Next Step for our species.  In this milieu, I could see no irreconcilable conflict between the sciences and religion.  Ray Bradbury’s vision space travel moved me.  His was a deeply poetic call to all humans at all times and all places.  His sensibility was authentically and quintessentially American. His writings transcended genre. He will never be forgotten.

Never.

JBG

Copyright 2012 by Jay B Gaskill

A partial Bradbury bibliography

(1947) Dark Carnival

(1951) The Illustrated Man

(1953) The Golden Apples of the Sun

(1955) The October Country

(1959) A Medicine for Melancholy

(1959) The Day It Rained Forever

(1962) The Small Assassin

(1962) R is for Rocket

(1964) The Machineries of Joy

(1965) The Autumn People

(1965) The Vintage Bradbury

(1966) Tomorrow Midnight

(1966) S is for Space

(1966) Twice 22

(1969) I Sing The Body Electric

(1975) Ray Bradbury

(1976) Long After Midnight

(1979) The Fog Horn & Other Stories

(1980) One Timeless Spring

(1980) The Last Circus and the Electrocution

(1980) The Stories of Ray Bradbury

(1981) The Fog Horn and Other Stories

(1983) Dinosaur Tales

(1984) A Memory of Murder

(1985) The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone

(1988) The Toynbee Convector

(1991) The Parrot Who Met Papa

(1991) Selected from Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed

(1996) Quicker Than The Eye

(1997) Driving Blind

(2001) Ray Bradbury Collected Short Stories

(2001) The Playground

(2002) One More for the Road

(2003) Is That You, Herb?

(2004) The Cat’s Pajamas: Stories

(2005) A Sound of Thunder and Other Stories

(2007) The Dragon Who Ate His Tail

(2007) Now and Forever: Somewhere a Band is Playing & Leviathan ’99

(2007) Summer Morning, Summer Night

(2009) We’ll Always Have Paris: Stories

On the Coming Collision Between Human Dignity & Technology

On the Coming Collision Between Human Dignity & Technology

By Jay B Gaskill

This article is available as a PDF file download at this link: http://jaygaskill.com/ReflectionsOnHumanDignity.pdf

As a culture, we have been disarmed.

Grave ethical and moral challenges are now confronting us and the generations that are queued up to follow us; we face radical social changes propelled by radical new technologies; but we are without the tools to cope.  Many of our leaders and their followers have discarded the tools of wisdom, moral courage and faith, not realizing that these are our weapons of self-defense.

Major secular research and technology institutions are hiring “ethicists” to provide them with cover. It seems that morality now so abstruse and alien for them that moral experts need to be sought out by bureaucrats. Just how well cared for is our future when these same bureaucrats aren’t quite sure which experts to hire or what to do with them?

Morality and ethics are far too important to be left to our “official” moralists and ethicists, let alone to the leaders, movers and shakers who probably won’t heed them. It is not too late to recapture and retool our weapons. We’re going to need wisdom, moral courage and faith sooner than anyone realizes.

THE GREAT RETREAT FROM MORALITY

From Matthew Arnold’s poem Dover Beach:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.


And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Technology enhances and extends life.  But technology also has other uses:

Basically, I exploited the phenomenon of the technician’s often blind devotion to his task. Because of what seems to be the moral neutrality of technology, these people were without scruples about their activities. (Albert Speer,)

From Inside the Third Reich by Albert Speer, Hitler’s Reichminister of Defense – and favorite architect

From 1943 to 1944 the infamous doctor Mengele experimented on about fifteen hundred sets of imprisoned twins at Auschwitz. The twins, who were held in custody throughout, suffered horrific invasions of human dignity – the injection of different dyes into their eyes to see whether it would change their color; some twins were even sewn together in a bizarre attempt to make them conjoined twins.  There were three thousand individual human beings. About a hundred got out alive.

From September 1942 to December 1943 human experiments were conducted at the infamous Ravensbrück camp. Whole sections of bones, muscles, and nerves were surgically excised from people without anesthetics – inflicting intense agony, mutilation, and disability, all in the interests of “rational” Nazi scientific inquiry. A “humane” Nazi scientist might have used an anesthetic.  But the casual disregard of human dignity would have been the same.

There is much more of this dreary and sickening catalogue, but you get the idea.

For Speer’s technicians we can substitute the terms, scientist, engineers, researchers and even physicians.

As I write this, hundreds of brilliant technicians are pursuing their assigned tasks with the same enthusiasm, and the same blind devotion to task.  Most of us are sublimely confident that nothing but good things for humanity will result.  This is an unreasonable act of faith.

Consider a scene from somewhere in 12th century Catholic Europe.  A young Lord, in full kit, full of himself and angry, his blood running high, stands over a cowering commoner, intending imminent mayhem. A priest approaches, gets the hot blooded young Lord’s attention and says, “Strike that boy and I will deny you absolution.”  The sword is stayed.  This scene was repeated in various forms during the medieval period. For the period, this was an act of reasonable faith.

Then, in 1882, a young philosopher wrote –

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

Six years after Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche declared that God is dead, Dostoevsky tells another audience, in effect, that “Without god, everything is permitted.”

In the 21st century, the scene with the thuggish lord and the priest cannot be repeated without killing the priest.

When, in 1931, Aldus Huxley wrote the dystopian novel, Brave New World, his dystopia was a stretch for some.

A partial summary

…everyone is happy. Natural reproduction has been done away with and children are created, ‘decanted’ and raised in Hatcheries and Conditioning Centres, where they are divided into five castes (which are further split into ‘Plus’ and ‘Minus’ members) and designed to fulfill predetermined positions within the social and economic strata of the World State. People of these castes make up the majority of human society, and the production of such specialized children bolsters the efficiency and harmony of society, since these people are deliberately limited in their cognitive and physical abilities, as well as the scope of their ambitions and the complexity of their desires, thus rendering them easier to control.

It is no longer a stretch.  Our brave new technologies are fully capable of changing human nature (how much closer we are to Brave New World technology than in the 1930’s). Worse, some of these technological trends threaten to swamp ordinary human decision making processes.

Here is a partial list of the pending, deeply problematic developments that are being presented by new technologies.  A more complete list would be much longer.

  1. Using technology to aid in the political control of human populations
  2. Replacing biological human reproduction with genetic engineering
  3. Cloning humans for body parts
  4. Uploading the minds of immortality-seekers into supercomputers
  5. Remaking the human being into … X
  6. Achieving functional immortality by endless organ replacement and prosthesis – including the brain / mind
  7. Allowing the human control technologies (see 1) to control us
  8. Allowing artificial intelligent beings to replace us

If you doubt that computers (actually algorithms) will be thinking for us any time soon, consider the stock market and credit crash of 2008 as an early warning.  Clever algorithms were used to construct credit instruments, bundling underwater mortgages in a way the ordinarily intelligent people could not readily penetrate the fog to learn that these packages were actually hiding and marketing assets with negative value.  Usually when you bundle a package of toxic waste, coating it with silk with gold thread and sell it for 50 times its real value you are guilty of fraud.  But algorithms can seem to create their own reality.  The AI (artificial intelligence) problem is already with us.

Can morality be sustained without a credible appeal to an ultimate authority that implies some measure of ultimate accountability?

Do we already possess a sufficient reservoir of moral wisdom to straightforwardly address the kinds of issues I’ve just listed above?

In the Appendix to The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis assembled a multi-cultural and multi-millennial compendium of moral precepts; these moral nuggets form part of a commonly held moral system, what some of us still call the Natural (moral) Law. Regrettably, the postmodern ethos rejects the very idea that there could be a natural moral law. Yet a few major moral principles and injunctions have arrived in the current culture more or less intact, where they are recognized by the secular set as “important” and “valuable” though not binding in any ultimate sense.  Two of these come immediately to mind:

(a)    The principle of reciprocity, as in “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (from Leviticus and the discourses of Jesus) or “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another” (Hillel the Elder);

(b)   The principle of greater good, as in “The greatest good for the greatest number is the best guide of all policy and morality” (Jeremy Bentham).

On reflection, we notice that (a) can come in conflict with (b); and that each of these presents unresolved questions of definition, as in – What do we mean by others? What do we mean by the good?

ENTER HUMAN DIGNITY

These pending challenges invite us to explore the reach and power of an ancient but somehow new moral paradigm, the moral obligation to honor human dignity.

Cro-Magnon graves have been uncovered where the deceased persons were interred with carvings and flowers. These date from 40 BCE. And a grave in the Shanindar Cave in Kurdistan-Iraq (excavated 1957-1961) showed similar care, even residual pollen suggesting burial flowers – a burial by Neanderthals 60-80 BCE.

Anthropologists call this patterned mortuary behavior. I call it the first evidence of respect for human dignity.

Human dignity is one of those major ethical precepts that somehow remained implicit, undeveloped and unarticulated for a long, long time.  Such hiddenness is not unprecedented. Even the Christian doctrine of the Trinity did not emerge until long after the Gospels had been in general circulation. Like the Trinity, human dignity is an emergent value- development with both secular and religious iterations.

Human dignity emerged full blown as a major moral precept in the late 18th century and led to a number of important, history changing developments, as we will see.  Because this value was prefigured in our own religious tradition, we might ask ourselves – Why did it take so long?

A Definition

Human dignity comprises the entire set of views in which the very recognition of one’s human status intrinsically confers and/or reveals an irreducible, fundamental value.

Like many crossover ideas, the religious and biblical aspects of human dignity are often neglected, even when they confer more depth and authority.

Ancient Dignity

In ancient times, there was no recognized universal status of human dignity, but there were instances of a limited status that resembled it. The prime example of human dignity was Roman Citizenship, a set of rights that were conferred by the Imperium. It was a hierarchical arrangement at the apex of which was the Emperor who enjoyed maximum dignity.

In ancient Rome, residents of the Roman state could roughly be divided into several classes: A male Roman citizen enjoyed the widest range of privileges and protections.  Female Roman citizens were not allowed to vote or seek elected positions, but had the right to own property, to engage in business, and to obtain a divorce. Citizens of a client state and allies could enjoy Latin Rights, a form of limited citizenship.

Those with Latin Rights were protected by Roman law and were allowed within Latin cities to own land and to make legally enforceable contracts with their citizens, to make a lawful marriage with a resident of any other Latin city, and enjoyed the capacity to acquire citizenship of another Latin state simply by taking up permanent residence there.

Slaves were property. Killing someone else’s slaves was actionable, but killing your own slave was your own business.

The first century apostle Paul was a Roman citizen, an advantage that afforded him protection from the non-Roman mobs, but did not prevent his incarceration.  In ancient times, dignity was a tribal or Imperial status, not a status that was enjoyed by virtue of merely being a human being.

The Process of Universalization

Enter the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 –1804) whose insights gave a universal status to human dignity, elevating the idea that “merely” being human confers moral worth.

In Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals (1985), he developed the notion that utility is trumped by what he called dignity.  In Kant’s schema, everything has either a price (meaning a utilitarian value, as in an economic measure) or a dignity, meaning an inherent, irreducible value, in and itself. You might remember the cynical assertion that “Everything has its price.” Kant’s view disputes this. Quote-

“Whatever has a price can be replaced by something else as its equivalent; on the other hand, whatever is above all price, and therefore admits of no equivalent, has a dignity. But that which constitutes the condition under which alone something can be an end in itself does not have mere relative worth, i.e., price, but an intrinsic worth, i.e., a dignity”. (p. 53)

…Kant also wrote…

“Morality and humanity as capable of it, is that which alone has dignity.” [Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals]

Enter John Locke (1632-1784), and his Second Treatise on Government (1690):

“Being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

“This freedom from absolute, arbitrary power, is so necessary to, and closely joined with a man’s preservation, that he cannot part with it, but by what forfeits his preservation and life together: for a man, not having the power of his own life, cannot, by compact, or his own consent, enslave himself to any one, nor put himself under the absolute, arbitrary power of another, to take away his life, when he pleases. Nobody can give more power than he has himself; and he that cannot take away his own life, cannot give another power over it. Indeed, having by his fault forfeited his own life, by some act that deserves death; he, to whom he has forfeited it, may (when he has him in his power) delay to take it, and make use of him to his own service, and he does him no injury by it: for, whenever he finds the hardship of his slavery outweigh the value of his life, it is in his power, by resisting the will of his master, to draw on himself the death he desires.”

Human dignity is one of those ideas with the power to change history.  The major 18th Century Enlightenment thinkers (among them Locke and Isaac Newton (1642-1727) agreed that the essential humanness of each person trumps tribe, royalty status and other arbitrary, “irrational” categories.

It was no accident that the Enlightenment simultaneously generated the American Revolution (1776) the French Revolution (1789), and the slavery abolition movement (1676-1860).

Christianity (which In my personal theology is a branch of Judaism) escaped the early 1st century tribal boundaries of traditional Judaism and, as a consequence, brought the essential message of the Torah to the world at large.  But that universalizing tendency was effectively stalled on the slavery question until the impetus of the Enlightenment (roughly 1660-1860).

The detached rhetoric of the 18th century secular philosophers awakened a latent moral awareness, and ignited a sleeping moral fervor in 19th century religious communities; the Enlightenment supplied the first spark that became the fire of fierce moral outrage among the American abolitionists of the mid-1800 period, particularly in the USA.

Kant was not a particularly cuddly or social man.  His philosophy was – like most philosophy – somewhat arid and disconnected in tone. Contrast the vivid, earthy language of the bible, or of the inspiring, flesh and blood orators and leaders.

Surely, it’s a stretch to move from language like, “the condition under which alone something can be an end in itself does not have mere relative worth, i.e., price, but an intrinsic worth, i.e., a dignity,” to this legendary eloquence –

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory; victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”

Winston Churchill at the beginning of WWII

This was the voice of a champion of human dignity resolutely facing down a grave peril.

The Need for More

This is why I believe that the postmodern defense of human dignity fails. Human dignity needed Ultimate support in the 19th century struggle against slavery and it needs Ultimate support now, ever more urgently, in a culture saturated with moral ambivalence and skepticism, whose reigning intelligentsia is filled with the condescending dismissal of religion.

From the classic biblical perspective, the very existence of human dignity originates in the status of God as the Creator of all humanity. The divine love of humanity confers a God-derived status for human dignity, uniquely and absolutely important, yet subordinate to the supreme status of the Creator.

  • The human-God relationship marks a bright line boundary against the temptation to idolize mere human institutions, or to deify humanity, qua humanity.
  • That same boundary operates as a bulwark against the ultimately nihilistic claim that humanity can unilaterally create and redefine all value, for and against itself.
  • The “have no other gods before me” injunction of Judeo-Christian monotheism is a bulwark against the worship of human constructs, ideologies, leaders,  races, robots, states or systems, as if these could ever be deities in themselves.
  • To this we can add an essential Judeo-Christian qualification. Human dignity applies and is owed to the individual human person.  This forms a second bulwark against the back-door deification of human institutions like the state, and of the faux scientific utopias like racial purity and Marxist reengineered human nature.

Ideas do change the course of history.  One single idea – that of human dignity as a divine engendered attribute of the human individual, a universal that recognizes no race, gender or imposed status – became the engine of our liberation from all oppressive human institutions, starting with slavery.

The Problem of Definition

The literature of science fiction has provided us with a set of thought experiments that have portrayed intelligent alien beings, sometimes malevolent, sometimes not; alien machines, sometimes malevolent, sometimes not; manufactured humans, cloned humans, and so on.  Almost every current ethical issue that technology is now presenting to us, was prefigured somewhere in our literature. The secular humanist consensus, an amalgam of utilitarian ethics, the golden rule and a vague sense of compassion, has not proved adequate to the challenge. The idea human dignity has suddenly become the indispensable ethical tool. But technology is now raising the threshold definitional element inherent in human dignity. Who or what is truly human?   Thus we are called to address the question of the “other”, whether “what” or “who” and if “who” to decide where and how the notion of human dignity operates.

A related set of definitional issues arise from the biological sciences, especially from the capacity to dissect, assemble, reassemble, replicate and maintain living tissue and organs.  Consider a tissue that biological science has already manipulated or is about to manipulate: Are we addressing a “what”, a “who”?  Even if it is something that defies easy classification, are there consequential ethical implications?  How and by what ethical criteria are they to be addressed?  The work of bio-ethicists like Leon Kass describes some of the ethical concerns that are now being confronted in connection with the market in human body parts, the use of cloned or “harvested” embryos for experiments, and the prospect of crossing seemingly innocuous moral boundaries only to discover that they pose grave implications for future horrific abuses. All this comes in the context of what Albert Speer described as the “moral neutrality” of the enthusiastic technicians and the overriding amoral pressures of money, power and political pandering.

A rapidly emerging set of problematic examples were prefigured in the science fiction literature about robots and thinking machines, and these issues will become real within the future of at least one living generation of humans[1].

Among the new questions all of us must face, armed with whatever moral intelligence and insight we can bring to bear on the issue:

  • Can (and should) technology create any computer or software entity as a living, conscious machine being?
  • If that machine being is made, will it be entitled to the protection afforded by virtue of human dignity?
  • If that machine being is made, will it represent an essential or existential threat to our own human dignity?
  • What should we do and why?

My personal response to these questions in the order they are posed, is:

  • No;
  • No;
  • Yes; and
  • Prepare for a long and difficult moral struggle.

HUMAN DIGNITY REFERENCES & SOURCES

To Kant, we should add the modern humanist, Martin Buber (1878-1965).  His iconic work, “I and Thou” made us aware of the demeaning “I and it” relationship when it takes place between individual people or (as in Nazi Germany) between a dominant people and oppressed victims.

Secular thinkers who have not studied Buber closely tend to miss a key point: Martin Buber contemplated a Trinitarian relationship, “I and thou (lower case) and I and Thou (upper case), in effect two human persons are in relationship with each other and with the divine person.

BIBLICAL SOURCES

From Genesis 1:27

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Psalm 8: 5-7 … you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field…”

From Psalm 139

“O LORD, You have searched me and known me.  You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.

“You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.  It is high, I cannot attain it. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall fall on me,’ even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.

“For You formed my inward parts You covered me in my mother’s womb….”

HUMAN DIGNITY AS A BIBILICAL THEME

Among the biblical themes and elements to unpack and examine as providing ancient support for the idea that honoring human dignity is among the most central of our moral obligations are these–

  • In several biblical accounts, Jesus engages in healings in the form of exorcisms and casting out demons. Moderns dismiss these accounts and therefore miss the deeper message. Anyone who is still paying attention to the degraded and anti-human behavior exhibited by some of our fellow humans is compelled to agree that we still encounter the demonic even in this sophisticated, “modern” age.  One can easily experience the disgust that some of these modern horrors evoke and even (as I often have) indulge the desire to see some of these demonic miscreants quickly destroyed. But what Jesus sought to rescue and preserve was the inherent human – as opposed to demonic – dignity in the afflicted, which is why these stories are worth retelling and reexamining.
  • The interpersonal edicts of the Decalogue – as in do not kill; do honor one’s parents are variations on the same theme: Protect human dignity in this way.
  • The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)… “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all you might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
    • The “No idols” commandment…
  • Jesus’s parables about the lost ones (as in the lost sheep and the lost coin, see Luke below) are – I personally believe- intended to convey that the ultimate value expressed by human dignity means, profoundly and simply, the human dignity of the individual.

WHERE ARE WE GOING AND WITH WHAT TOOLS?

Reason is essential but not sufficient.  I cannot escape the strong sense that if humanity is to survive the new millennium we will need to address the profound need for deeper foundations and deeper motivations than the purely secular views can provide.  Humanity may actually need a religious perspective that strongly supports human dignity just to survive just the current century.

Consider these three elements at play-

[1] Without God, all values are preferential, and what is preferential is optional.

[2] Traditional religious perspectives are profoundly bio centric.

[3] Not every secular view is as strongly pro-human as Genesis.

Science fiction has portrayed apocalyptic struggles of humanity against machine beings and aliens.  From a shallowly humanistic point of view, we are rooting for the home team in these stories, but I can now detect an occasional postmodern undercurrent theme of surrender that would have been almost unthinkable two generations ago.  The current climate of moral ambivalence makes these three questions more and more plausible:

  • Why fight for the good and oppose the evil when you are comfortable and the struggle is inconvenient?
  • Why struggle at all, when the outcome will only affect a later generation, long after you are gone?
  • Why struggle at all when maybe those aliens/machines are just the next wave after humanity?

Why, indeed?

Because if God did form my inward parts and God did cover me in my mother’s womb, then God formed you…her…him…and them as well.

JBG

[] ADDITIONAL REFERENCES []

Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us, by Bill Joy. This is a cautionary, prophetic article by the technologist and scientist who invented some of the basic programs on which the internet depends. It is still available on-line from WIRED Magazine where it first ran in the year 2000. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html

Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals by Immanuel Kant (H J Patton Trans. Harper 1964)

Excerpt from “The Elements of Moral Philosophy”, pp. 114-17,122-23. Copyright ©

1986 by Random House by James Rachels, PHD.

http://public.callutheran.edu/~chenxi/phil345_022.pdf

“Kant believed that morality can be summed up in ~on one ultimate principle from which all our duties and obligations are derived. He called this principle “The Categorical Imperative”.  In “The  Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) he expressed it like this:  ‘Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law’.  However, Kant also gave another formulation of The Categorical Imperative. Later in the same book, he said that the ultimate moral principle may be understood as saying: ‘Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.’”

Kant’s Moral Philosophy, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-moral/

“Most philosophers who find Kant’s views attractive find them so because of the Humanity formulation of the CI (Categorical Imperative). This formulation states that we should never act in such a way that we treat Humanity, whether in ourselves or in others, as a means only but always as an end in itself. This is often seen as introducing the idea of “respect” for persons, for whatever it is that is essential to our Humanity. Kant was clearly right that this and the other formulations bring the CI ‘closer to intuition’ than the Universal Law formula. Intuitively, there seems something wrong with treating human beings as mere instruments with no value beyond this.’

The Abolition of Man, by C. S. Lewis (Touchstone 1944, 1947 / 1972, 1975)

“For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please. (p 70)

Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity, The Challenge of Bioethics by Leon R. Kass, M. D. Encounter Books 2002.

“Paradoxically, worries about dehumanization are sometimes expressed in the fear of super-humanization. That is that man will be “playing God.” This complaint is too facilely dismissed by scientists and non-believers. This concern has meaning, God or no God.”

The Parables of the Lost Sheep and Coin

Luke 15: 3-10

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?  And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’  In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Human dignity is an evolving topic.  Send your thoughts and suggestions to JBG via email – jgaskill@yahoo.com.


[1] See the referenced article by the technologist / scientist Bill Joy.