Alex’s Heresies – embracing a physical reality

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Comment: Very Short Introductions – book recommendation

What is ideology or poststructuralism? Are the relationships between science and religions always conflicting? I read extensively over a range of subjects – society, people, beliefs, science, and religion and therefore approach many academic disciplines unfamiliar to me. A Very Short Introduction books from Oxford University Press, OUP, offer to excellent quick introductions to academic subjects for the thoughtful reader (sounds pompous doesn’t it?). Each book are authored by an academic from the field and typically under 200 pages and pocketable. I’ve just finished Science and Religion by John Dixon, highly recommended, and now have started Ideology by Michael Freeden. The OUP site is http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/category/academic/series/general/vsi.do?sortby=bookTitleAscend.

A second recommendation is UK online bookseller is Book Depository (http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/) who offer free overseas postage to many countries in the world. I have purchased books from the Very Short Introduction series for around AU$7.50 to AU$9.00 delivered into Australia. Local pricing is around $24.00. Typically I have Amazon open at the same time to compare pricing when purchasing, but free postage makes all the difference!

Alex McCullie

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Presentation: Progressive Christianity

This week I had the pleasure of presenting a public lecture, The Re-Imaging of Christianity - Progressive Christianity to the Atheist Society, Melbourne, Australia. The best part for me was a very stimulating question and answer time after the lecture. It showed the diversity of views and not just a “simple” don’t believe in God.

Alex McCullie

Here is a summary of the presentation:
Atheist Society talk Sep 2009: Progressive Christianity (new web page)

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Comment: Me vs It – A Human Delusion

One of the great challenges for intellectual thought is resolving the apparent dissonance between our rich inner lives in which we play starring roles, our first person view, and our relative insignificance in the external world, the third-person view.

Religions have attempted the resolution by positing real external analogues of our inner world. Separate non-physical personalities, with intentionality and purpose, like human-type god or gods, evil and good spirits, existent heaven and hell, and angels are comforting projections of our internal world onto an indifferent, largely inanimate world, thereby harmonising it with our internal lives. To be credible, though, these projections needed to be consistent with our every-day perceptions. So they had to be invisible and physically indetectable, essential qualities for any credibility. Religions then relied on human wish-fulfilment to take care of the rest.

Philosophy similarly has struggled with this first-person/third-person dichotomy with dualisms, idealism and realism/anti-realism, mind-body problems and conflicts between free-will and causal determinism to name a few. As an example, the mind-body problem seems to revolve around two questions. Firstly, how can a purely physical explanation of the brain, chemicals, electricity, neurons firing, truly reflect my rich inner life, and, secondly, how does a separate consciousness, sounding similar to religious-like projections, actually manipulate the physical body, without resorting to another higher-order projection like god?

The sciences, on the other hand, avoid the problem by simply taking a third-party view with humans being part, often small, of a much broader reality.  Look at cosmology to see our relative insignificance. So most sciences are not in the first-person business, though, perhaps, psychology sits part-way in the continuum. The success, credibility and consequent influence of science have created serious problems for human-centred explanations from religion and philosophy. Today most people live in a truly scientific-world view, at least in the countries of Western Europe as well as Australia, New Zealand and US to name a few.

The problem for religions and philosophy, in their 2500 to 4500 years of effort, is that they have been remarkably unsuccessful at solving the dilemma. At the same time science with its strictly third-party perspective has been devastatingly successful over the last 200 years at telling more about the world we inhabit. This assessment is based on science’s ability to generate reliable knowledge. Criticisms, often from religious and philosophical sources, about uses of the resulting technologies seem irreverent to this assessment. Human uses of the knowledge genuinely raise important issues to be addressed separately.

Therefore we need to change our reliance of the authenticity of our inner first person to meet new realities of the twenty-first century. We should question whether god or gods, consciousness, soul, free-will, morality, spirituality and the mind are simply constructs, rather than separate ontological realities, to make an indifferent physical reality seem more palatable to over-inflated senses of self-worth.

Alex McCullie

PS Try this thought experiment. What was God doing more than 150,000 years ago before any recognisable humans evolved on this planet? Did morality, angels, satan, the Word, after Earth’s formation? Or could they simply be our creations?

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