Friday, January 4, 2008

Addendum to previous: What I said in the Times

The question is: when, in the evolutionary process, was the soul inserted? Other life forms do not have them; we think we do. Is this entirely imaginary? It can't be proved by science; you believe it or you don't. (I don't, and have fights with all my friends, and they all believe devoutly in both evolution and the soul.)

But the reality or unreality, as objectively provable, has nothing to do with Religion. Religion is not God; it is all about human societies. It may or may not be true, but that isn't necessary for it to be useful. Religion has produced so much of what society found, and continues to find, valuable, and the objective (not a member of any organized religion) observer finds most interesting in the human-created universe: the architecture, the music, the painting, the poetry, the prose, the theater, the traditions of learning and debate - not to mention a selfless attitude among many religious and a place to hang out and feel part of "family" with other people at least once a week. Far too useful. God, the question of God, is only an excuse to be human. Soul food, you might say.

I agree with everyone who blames the debate on lousy reading habits and low teaching standards in this society.


Francesca said...

Glad you posted your comment on your own blog. I did't want to plow through 300 plus posts, either.

Well thought-out and beautifully put, as always.

(and my word-verification looks like an obscure Turkish food item.)

David said...

We're settling nicely into North Carolina and enjoying the warmer weather. Job, house, lack of traffic, resources all good.

I followed your e-mail back to your blog for the first time since the chaos started (moving to NC, not the Iowa Caucasus or whatever they call it). I especially enjoyed your Hannukah post and memories of the Cloisters, which is a wonderful place both in midwinter and in late spring. I always thought the Rockefellers built the joint basically to impress girls*, which is what I used it for. The matching nunnery on the other side of the river was a clever touch too. It's always useful to allude to chastity in some way during a seduction. Gives you that air of sincerity and higher purpose to help break down the defenses.

I want to challenge your statement that other life forms don't have souls. Where on earth or other orb did that come from? I read an essay a few years back by an astronomer whose back-of-the-envelope calculations suggested that independent evolution of life is pretty much a certainty. He laid out some assumptions about the odds of each chain in the process occuring, e.g. if we know that lightning, methane and water can make even a few molecules of amino acids, what are the chances of those molecules lining up to form a rudimentary chain of DNA? Then he showed that there are so many worlds out there that this must be happening pretty much all the time in a number of places. OK, so there are life forms out there, and some of them must be at or beyond our capabilities - physical, mental, spiritual, ....

Even if we don't look to other worlds, who's to say that a dog doesn't have a soul? Dogs can be just as loving as humans, just not as clever in social settings. And if a dog, why not a cockroach? A vile, smelly, disgustingly dirty soul that carries demonic diseases, but a soul nonetheless. And then on down to paramecia and viruses and perhaps prions and even large peptides?

Why draw an arbitrary line? That seems so Catholic: "Life begins at the exact moment little Johnny Spermatozoa gets his nose into the micropore of big ol' Bertha the Ovum." One moment, those complex megamolecular structures are just meaningless cells doomed to oblivion and the next, Boom!, the very same materials are fodder for catechism lessons and tithing and ritual sacrifice.

It seems to me that there's no such thing as profane, except that we label it so. It's all divine. OK, that's pantheism. I was taught that religions evolved too - from animism to polytheism to monotheism (pause to remember Ikhnaten, PBOH) and then to Christianity. From the immediate (worship the little bit of divine we can see in our everyday human lives) to the abstract (separate gods for wisdom, war, power, etc.) to the infinite (one god or God for everything)to the transcendent (merging the infinite with the everyday human). I asked a Sikh a long time ago how he resolved the difference between Islamic monotheism and Hindu polytheism. He answered, "One god in many forms." I'd like to be more inclusive than that - one god encompassing all forms. Let's worship the infinite and the everyday at the same time. My old fishing buddy the Presbyterian minister called me a "holy shit literalist." OK, I can live with that.

There's an area of mathematics that explores this too. How many infinities can there be? OK, if your infinity concept means only "endless," there can be an infinite number of infinities, such as parallel infinitely long lines, or all the concentric circles that will fit within any given circle. However, if you go to a super-infinity, meaning "all-encompassing," then there can be only one. The one all-encompassing one, or One. If this universe has parallel universes in dimensions we can't see, then there is still a super-universe, meaning the sum of all universes.

So the one God who encompasses all gods is the same God that spins the galaxies is the same God that makes every combination of two hydrogen nuclei and one oxygen nucleus behave like a water molecule. Maybe we can't understand the soul of God because it's too big for us. Maybe that soul is God himself/herself/itself. Maybe the soul of the water molecule is too small for us to see. Maybe that soul is the water molecule itself. Maybe we can't see our own soul because we're too close to it. Maybe that soul is ourself.

*OK, also to show the Europeans how classy we Americans can be. "Castles? Yeah, we got castles. YOURS, ha ha hah!"