October 22, 2005

On Foundations 

Finally I found time to write an extensive article, and this one is going to be juicy: it deals with the foundations of my view of the world.

I am a mechanist agnostic.

Whether God exists or not, cannot be demonstrated deductively. This means, it takes an act of faith, of belief, to accept either of the propositions.

I do not have a precise belief in this regard; but I firmly believe that an eventual God is irrelevant in the universe and material reality. If a God does exist, he created the universe but after this initial act ceased to interfere, completely, and left the whole thing to evolve spontaneously (this kind of entity is also known as Fred). He does not send messengers, he does not inspire humans, he does not send sons or other relatives among us. He watches, or something like that. In my most cynical moments, I think that maybe Fred is having a riot of fun watching how we struggle to cope with this crazy world.

This means that my world to function requires only the Laws of Nature. No supernatural entities, no intelligent designers, no universal justice or destiny are needed. This world is mechanistic, and there is beauty to be found even there; in the perfect hexagonal symmetry of a benzene molecule or the awesome sight of a distant galaxy. And we have the means to study this universe, but often it isn't trivial, and it is likely that some questions will never be answered.

Of course, it makes no sense to worship Fred, because he does not listen to prayer; does not dispense punishment or rewards; he offers no example, counsel or comfort.
He also does not give any moral or ethical teaching.

There is only one ethical system that can logically emerge from this view: utilitarianism - the way that nature works. And indeed, I am an utilitarist, but not a pure one. I think that there are values (life, liberty, happiness, honour) which trump at least some utilitarian considerations. But in the end, I am an ethical cynic too. This is a rather complicated situation to be in, because it takes quite a lot of system analysis to take difficult ethical decisions. It would be much simpler to read into a book and find the answer to any question, but it doesn't work for me.

I was raised as a Catholic, but I found that my belief grew weaker and weaker, to the point that all the those (which are in great part good, anyway) teachings just washed over me without having any effect.

In a sense, I am a moral relativist: I believe that there is no absolute truth regarding what is good and what is evil. But I am also very distant from the post-modernist relativists: they think that all actions have equal moral value; all ethical systems are equivalent, and thus trying to convince others to change their ways, casting judgements, or simply criticizing another ethical system is utterly wrong.

Instead, I think that actions have different moral value, that certain ethical systems are inferior or superior. I reserve to myself the right to criticize any other ethical system, and while I normally don't try to "convert" other people, if they try to force their beliefs upon me I will fight back.

This is why I often disagree with Christians and others, even regarding our common enemy (the partly casual Islamo-tranzist coalition): where they see a moral imperative, I see utilitarian considerations (not that I do not have moral imperatives, however). Where they see sins I see a different lifestyle, that I can largely tolerate. Where they see the power and will of God, I see the Laws of Nature at work.

Now please notice that I only exposed my position. I know better than trying to convince others (theists, mainly, but also militant atheists) that I am right and they are wrong. I would greatly appreciate if my readers did not try to convert me in turn.


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