Second stage thinking erodes religious belief?
I discovered this article in a post of Lynda Giddens on Google+. As you are probably aware I am a believer in God, but what most people fail to appreciate is that I do not believe in anthropomorphising God. I will anthropomorphise many things: my computer; my toaster; my electric fan – all in a sense of fun, but I feel it is inappropriate to anthropomorphise something that is greater than the entirety of existence by an order of infinity. I therefore had to say something and record it for you to read, mostly on account of the fact that I can’t keep my trap shut.
I am afraid I shall have to disagree with the conclusion that people seem to be drawing across the net that this means that God only exists for those who don’t apply their minds to thinking about it. It is a shame I can’t find the full text anywhere as it looks like a good read. I have no doubt that the original creators of the study have done assiduous work in reaching their conclusions but science is largely not an occupation of second stage thinking. Science is generally the slow and plodding crunching of data. There is usually someone at the top applying the data to the development of an understanding of hypotheses that will require second stage thinking but for the most part drones are needed to carry out tedious tasks and be as impartial as possible, which requires the suppression of second stage thinking.
However, that is not the point I wish to make.
While the vast majority of people do get by on mere faith this does cause the problem that the vast majority of people therefore passionately hold ideas of which they have little understanding. At the top of the field though there are a lot of people who do apply a lot of second stage thinking. A typical subsection of the religious community is probably very similar to a typical cross section of the scientific community. I would imagine that a kind of social brownian motion would occur that would lead to rough dispersal of average numbers of different personality types in all areas of thinking whether secular or religious.
An immense amount of thought has been put into religion by those members of a religion who have a tendency to philosophy. And lets not forget that the name by which science was originally known was ‘natural philosophy’. Ask the average follower of secular beliefs something like “how does evolution or nuclear fission work?” and you would simply get a regurgitation of facts read in a newspaper or book if you were lucky. Very few people would have applied a great deal of thought. The vast majority of people would rather watch ‘Jersey Shore’ or ‘The Only Way is Essex’ than sit and think about something in depth, and this goes for those with religious and secular acceptance.
Those who do think about it do so in incredible depth though. Steven Hawkings does nothing but think in the scientist’s camp. When I was in college for the first time I was given the initial choice in the small college I attended of studying sociology, law or theology. I chose law because I felt it would be of most use but whilst making my choice I sat in to observe a theology class. I was very surprised at quite how hard an option it was. The vocabulary and thought processes of the theologians was intimidating, and this was to me who had himself applied days, weeks and even months to the consideration of the nature of how God might best be described.
A lot depends upon how you define God. Many people have a tendency to anthropomorphise God. This is a tendency which is difficult to escape as this is how many of us are brought up and even if it is in contrast to our actual belief system we will obviously have difficulty in breaking out of this mode and will often tend to use personal pronouns to refer to ‘him’. Of course the idea that there is some kind of omnipotent white bearded man in the sky whose personal appearance and mental processes just happen to be just like those reached by a primate floating on a rock through space after millions of year of evolution is patently absurd. If there were such a being then it would have been subject to entirely different environmental stressors and would have evolved in an entirely different matter, except of course this is God we are talking about so he was already there eternally before the existence of the universe. What he was doing in this time is anyone’s guess. As he is supposedly omniscient I suppose he could have been using all that time watching previews of Doctor Who and the Simpsons. However even these would run out eventually in infinity so he had to create the universe. Not a very sensible view of a deity.
Like all modes of thought religious belief has evolved over the centuries. I think that the people who originally conceived the idea of religion may have known what they were thinking about but due to the crudities and limitations of language at the time could not articulate their beliefs and so preferred to simply tell people that faith was necessary. Baruch Spinoza was one of the philosophers who first managed to deliver a view of a panentheistic God that was more in line with the sort of thing that a secular mind would be able to accept. He is mentioned in Wikipedia as having said: “Whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived.” “Individual things are nothing but modifications of the attributes of God, or modes by which the attributes of God are expressed in a fixed and definite manner.” Albert Einstein named Spinoza as being the philosopher who had most influenced his world view. Einstein considered himself to be a secular panentheist, i.e. a scientist who did have faith in something with a nature of infinity.
Ludwig Wittgenstein was another philosophical thinker with a powerful mind. He began his career as a mathematician of phenomenal ability. He is best known for his Tractatus Logico Philosophicus which was named to evoke its relationship to Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico Philosophicus. What Wittgenstein was essentially doing was dragging Spinoza’s views, formed in the 17th century atmosphere of religious fervour, into the largely secular 20th century. Although Wittgenstein viewed his work as almost completely misunderstood by his contemporaries it was accepted as an incredibly important work by many of the deep thinkers of the first half of the century.
Even in the 20th century Wittgenstein was forced to bemoan the limitations of language despite its massive improvement in sophistication since the days of the proclaimed avatars. He wrote a letter to Bertrand Russell in which he said, “The main point is the theory of what can be expressed (gesagt) by prop[osition]s—i.e. by language—(and, which comes to the same thing, what can be thought) and what can not be expressed by pro[position]s, but only shown (gezeigt); which, I believe, is the cardinal problem of philosophy.”
In line with this at the end of his Tractatus Wittgenstein said “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen.
When Wittgenstein was later invited to lecture at Cambridge the thing that stood in his way was that he did not have a PhD. Bertrand Russell told him that his Tractatus was sufficient to submit as a thesis so he gave it in to be examined. At the end of the defence he told the examiners not to worry, he knew they would not understand it. After having read it one of them is recorded to have said “I myself consider that this is a work of genius; but, even if I am completely mistaken and it is nothing of the sort, it is well above the standard required for the Ph.D. degree.”
So in light of this and much more beside I have to say that I do not think that disbelief in God is a reflection of higher thinking and that belief in God is a reflection of failing to think to such a level. Most people do no know most things. They simply follow the people who do know, this applies in the secular as well as the religious world.
Posted on April 28, 2012, in Philosophy and tagged Bertrand Russell, Cambridge, God, panentheism, Philosophy, tractatus logicus philosophicus, unitheism, wittgenstein. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.