Is God talk an example of a more general class of error that we want to avoid?
What is it about God talk that causes problems, and are there other sorts of reasoning, or approaches to life, that we should be objecting to?
Other replies in this Nontheistic Friends' email thread are interesting.
Hi Os, Anita and All,
(I was an active attender at Portland, Oregon's Multnomah Monthly Meeting (unprogrammed Quaker Meeting) when writing this thesis, as well as living in that place's progressive/radical vision (Portland's), while at Reed in the first half of the 1980s - which inform my thinking, I'd say).
As an evolutionary biologically-inclined NtFriend, I see God language as a meme (replicating cultural unit) emerging somewhere in the history of the development of a few of all 7,943 languages (http://glottolog.org/
glottolog/language), where language was only first written down beginning about 5,500 years ago (beginning as tokens impressed on clay tablets, and first as a form of bookkeeping in one main theory). And with Richard Dawkins (https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins), and perhaps other people on this NtF list, I see God as a kind of delusion, and God-language as an expression of this.
So in the case of Nontheist Friends, I'd say, yes "God talk [is] an example of a more general class of error that we want to avoid], Os.
(Thanks for the NtFriendly caring in both of your writings, Os and Anita!)
Is talk about God (or belief in God, or reports of the experience of God) an example of a more general error? What is it about this talk that causes problems?
I do not write seeking agreement but to encourage Friends to study the question. In a trusting community like ours, we can be open about our views and then get on with our work.
I see God as an attempt to explain what is observed in terms that are not themselves observed and not clearly related to what is observed. This is an error that occurs again and again throughout the human intellectual effort.
Plato described our condition as that of a person chained in a cave who only sees shadows cast by events in a world out of view. Aristotle pointed out that speculation about an unseen world cannot explain what is seen but humankind has followed Plato into unseen realms.
There are many examples of the resort to fictional realms to explain what we observe. An afterlife is used to motivate people and to justify their suffering today. Humans are described as separate from the rest of nature, as spiritual beings as well as physical ones. Worse, what is hidden from us is more important, it is pure, eternal, gives life to dead matter and meaning to life. We say people play the piano well because they have musical ability but the only evidence for the ability is the piano playing. We say ADHD explains why a person runs around the room but the only evidence for the syndrome is the evidence which it is supposed to explain. Like Plato, we invoke imagined realms in an effort to make sense of what we see.
This is built into our language: we say “It is raining” but there is no “It” that rains, there is only raining. We speculate about a self that governs our actions, an “I” that acts, but we only observe actions. We do not need governors in our universe, neither on the scale of galaxies nor of people.
Quakers love to appeal to invented worlds. It is said our faith leads to our actions, but the variety of Quaker faiths that have accompanied Quaker action is astounding. The history of human faith is so full of imaginative dramatization, and of error, that we are led to question whether the emphasis on faith is misplaced: perhaps faith comes along afterward as an attempt to make sense of our actions.
Of course, it usually causes no harm to talk metaphorically. This is fine if we do it with eyes open, for instance dropping metaphors when a more specific description is called for, and not insisting others adopt our metaphors.
There could be many reasons why reference to unseen worlds is popular. It is easier to move words than objects. It is easy to defend arguments about what can never be observed. This approach provides answers when we are uncomfortable without them. And it seems to work well enough. It certainly serves the interest of those making claims about unseen worlds behind us said to be responsible for what is before us.
God is just one issue of many. I am confident that in good time environmental explanations based on observing the wall before us will replace explanations based on imagining realms out of sight behind us. This will be true of Quakers as it is of evolution.
NTFs are a diverse group, as diverse as Quakers in general. We need not agree as we join in building a RSoFs open to all.
Os and NtFs,
As I write this from Stanford University, there are many Chinese people visiting as tourists, and, it's possibly in Chinese languages, as one example, that God language has not found root or historical emergence, by way of example and comparison.
If historians of NtF friends are going to begin to write about NtF history, I hope they will enjoy and engage in a focused way the archives of our email correspondence.
Apart from God language, I'm far more interested in learning eliciting the neurophysiology of loving bliss brain chemistry naturally (when and as we want it for 9 hours per day without side effects), - and emerging from a NtF and thus an evolutionary biologically informed reading of an aspect of transcendence/wonder/joy/
ecstasy (that doesn't also somehow reify/deify a possible alpha human primate into something abstract or language/symbols).
"Is talk about God (or belief in God, or reports of the experience of God) an example of a more general error? What is it about this talk that causes problems?"
The error here from my perspective might be a lack of understanding of evolutionary biology by believers, as well as education about evolution among Quakers. Not only can and has God Talk instantiated power relations (Ruether, Sexism and God Talk, 1983), but it leads to all kinds of curious misunderstandings about human psychology too, as I think and experience this as a Friend.
Nevertheless I'm sympathetic with and appreciative of the pragmatic caring that Quakers have engaged in historically, partly informed by an understanding of the inner light in all, especially the poor, as emerging out of what I what I'd call (and have called in these emails over the years) a de facto relaxation response - centering down - in Friends' Meetings over 350 years (in my experiential interpretation).
Thank you, Os.
Friendly cheers, Scott