Monday, 12 October 2009

We become enlightened by giving up beliefs

Adopting and upholding a religious "position" (what sometimes gets called "my beliefs") is the opposite of following a spiritual path. Religion, we might say, is the opposite of spirituality. Religion says: "I know the answer". Spirituality says: "I know the question".

Following a spiritual path is a consequence of laying ourselves open to the mystery at the heart of being. We don't know. There is a mystery at the heart of being. The design of being is such that its origin is deliberately concealed from itself. It is the "impossible question". The question we must ask and then lay ourselves open to the wonder of life, the universe and everything that lies in front of our very eyes. We must listen to the silence. To what the silence is telling us. The silence is answering the question. If I already know what the answer is, then I am disabled from being able to listen to the universe speaking. Before we can converse with god, we must give up thinking that we already know who she is already.

Being fixated on a particular answer to this question cuts off and obscures everything that lies outside of the horizon of that answer.

The spiritual path, the spiritual journey, is a relationship with an horizon, that brings the horizon into ourselves. We make peace with the horizon being beyond the reach of our hands to grasp. But in opening ourselves up to the magnificence of its mystery we come to experience the spiritual horizon as a part of our own being.

The University of California, Berkeley Noted pastor and author Dr. Tim Keller speaks on "Belief in an Age of Skepticism?"



Here's the link back to the original post which may have changed if you are reading this somewhere other than my blog.

Spreading confusion in an age of gods, at 17:36 Dr. Keller puts up a straw-man pseudo self-defeating characterisation of how evolutionary science explains a human tendency to believe in gods. By 20:00-ish he has got to this point: Our "belief forming faculties don't tell you what is there - they only help us to survive". He goes on to say "evolutionary scientists use that scalpel on everything else [except evolutionary science]. I think there's a god... you were just programmed for that. I believe in morality... you were just programmed for that. I believe in evolution..." At 20:37 he looks sideways at the audience and waits for his laugh. It is a cheap trick.

His argument goes on to attempt to say that our belief in evolutionary theory should be subject to the same critique. This is the point at which he loses my vote. This kind of phoney-rational attempt to use rationality to defeat itself is a cheap trick. Either he understands the fallacy of the trick he is using in which case he is deliberately misleading his audience, or he does not understand the fallacy in which case accidentally misleading his audience.

The reason we know evolutionary theory is correct, is not a function of belief, it is a function of evidence. The belief forming capacity provided to us by evolution is only a starting point for the scientific method.

The scientific method goes on from there, rather than relying on that belief forming capacity.
It looks for evidence to support the theory, and looks to see whether any possible state of affairs in the world could falsify the theory. Theories that and not candidates for falsification by the same token equally are not candidates for scientific theories. That's why evolutionary theory passes the test, as does the use of antibiotics to treat bacterial infections.

It equally well explains why the realm of the spiritual cannot either be supported by nor undermined by the scientific method at least its very early days in this endeavour. As yet most crossover between these realms is indirect to at the very least.

The idea that spiritual "beliefs" lead to enlightenment is a misunderstanding. The fixation on beliefs is a barrier to enlightenment. Holding tightly to our beliefs, we fail to see all the wonder of life that is excluded by them.

We become enlightened by giving up beliefs (sometimes by having them forcibly removed from us), not by deliberately taking up new ones. Of course however many beliefs we give up, there are always new ones waiting on the other side of our shattered illusions.

Being human I doubt we can ever be free from beliefs altogether, any more than we can be free from having a body. Maybe that will be possible someday. In the meantime it is useful to appreciate how blind and ignorant we are since that makes the process of having our beliefs destroyed more amenable.

See: My discussion with David Mcleish

If you take what I say here to be a "belief", it might indeed seem to be self contradictory.
But if you take these words to be more like a means of getting from one place to another place it becomes clearer how they manage to do this. Like a move in a game of chess, the move can only happen by virtue of all the previous moves in the game that led up to the pieces being in the particular configuration that they are when you make that move. If the pieces were not in that position, you (a) could not make that move or if you could it would not have the same significance, (b) Making that move would not make any sense. If you think of propositions as being more that routes over a landscape, paths that can be traversed to move from one place to another, (contrasted to rorty's useful tools or the classical idea of language as being representative) then there is no contradiction. What I said here is only a route from one place to another place. There is no requirement to make any claim as to whether it is "true belief" or not, nor whether it is "useful" or not.

Language turns out to not the house of being after all. Rather it is the route-planner of being.

If you think of what is being said as a PATH that leads from one place to another place, rather than being itself a place. In particular it is a PATH that leads to a place in which talking is more about paths than it is about places.

Incidentally, the realm to which I am addressing this, is the realm of the doubtable. We don't need to have beliefs about things which are not doubtable. I don't doubt where the door to the building is, etc. There is no mystery about that.

There is a mystery about why the universe exists as opposed to not existing. This is the kind of domain where it makes sense to have beliefs - or at least you have to practice really really hard to transcend having them.

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