My Axioms by Guest Essayist Chas Warren (rebuttal by Merwin)
Guest Essayist / Chas Warren
Introduction of the Guest Essayist...
Chas Warren is someone I have become acquainted with on FaceBook, and since making our acquaintance I have grown to consider him a good friend.
We do not agree on everything, obviously, but I have a great
admiration for his intellect and heart, and he tolerates me affably.
I have asked him to be a guest Essayist for this posting, and I hope
he will consider more episodes in the future.
My Axioms by Chas Warren
What is knowledge? I've asked myself that question for decades, and never found an answer that satisfied. Seeking answers seems to me like mountain climbing; you ascend a peak, only to find yourself at the base of another mountain. This metaphor is cliche, but pondering it made me wonder about the base of all of my beliefs. What do I believe to be self-evident, to be true without sustaining evidence? What are my axioms?
I realized straightway that I had axioms about axioms, which I decided it might be instructive to list and briefly analyze.
Everyone has them.
Not all of them can be true.
Most are inherited.
Some are the result of careful cogitation.
Some of them are secret.
Some of them aren't axioms.
EVERYONE HAS THEM. This doesn't seem contentious. I don't personally know anyone who doesn't take it for granted that their feet will meet supportive earth when they stride forward, or that the sun will rise tomorrow.
NOT ALL OF THEM CAN BE TRUE. This is a relatively noncontroversial axiom. Two antithetical statements cannot both be true at the same time, which means that if your axiom is the antithesis of mine, one of the axioms is wrong.
MOST ARE INHERITED. The majority of axioms you learned from your parents, your church, or some other source you consider unimpeachable. You accepted them uncritically.
SOME ARE THE RESULT OF CAREFUL COGITATION. A few axioms you derived or discovered yourself.
SOME OF THEM ARE SECRET. Some of your axioms are secret only to yourself, some only to others, and some to everyone. Many of us have known racists who didn't believe that they were, because they concealed it from themselves.
SOME OF THEM AREN'T AXIOMS. If you don't sincerely believe it, then it isn't an axiom.
Those are my axiomatic beliefs concerning axioms. I might have others, hidden from me, or I might have others that I currently fail to recall. Now I can return to the question: what are my axioms?
There is nothing but nature.
Mind is a physiological process.
The scientific method is the most useful invention of humankind.
Human experience is untrustworthy.
Zealotry is the most serious combatable danger facing humankind.
Evolution is the most plausible explanation for the existence of humankind.
THEE IS NOTHING BUT NATURE. In other words, nature is the "whole show." There are no miracles; there is no supernatural; there is no paranormal. Any anomalous phenomenon is a natural occurrence not yet explained or described by science.
MIND IS A PHYSIOLOGICAL PROCESS. This axiom has so many consequences that to investigate them all would require hundreds or even thousands of pages. First, it dismisses soul and/or spirit. Death of the body and the death of consciousness become equivalent, with no personality or element of consciousness surviving.
THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD IS THE MOST USEFUL INVENTION OF HUMANKIND. Scientific method empowers science -- because it eventually discards prevailing dogma when a better theory appears - as the only tool of humankind that perpetually improves itself.
HUMAN EXPERIENCE IS UNTRUSTWORTHY. Our senses deceive us, our memories are fragile and open to manipulation, and we too often believe what is comfortable rather than what is most likely.
ZEALOTRY IS THE MOST SERIOUS COMBATABLE DANGER FACING HUMANKIND. Whether it is, or was, the zealotry of Islamists, of fundamentalist Christians, of Stalinists, of Nazis, of Maoists, of the followers of Pol Pot, of Aum Shinrikyo, this scourge of blind fanaticism and allegiance to doctrine is the preeminent preventable danger to our species.
EVOLUTION IS THE MOST PLAUSIBLE EXPLANATION FOR THE EXISTENCE OF HUMANKIND. This axiom also has many consequences. First, it implies that human behavior is a product of evolution, which has far too many ramifications concerning morality and ethics to discuss here.
Those are my axioms. I've ascended a peak, looked down, seen a summit, looked up, seen another summit. But I've taken notes on the way, and those notes are what you are now reading. Discuss, disseminate, enjoy.
Well, we certainly disagree on "the big point", that, of the existence
of God. And rather than go off on a huge rabbit trail of defending my beliefs, I would like to simply ask a few questions about three points in your essay that seem a bit sticky.
There is nothing but nature.
Mind is a physiological process.
Human experience is untrustworthy.
"THERE IS NOTHING BUT NATURE. In other words, nature is the "whole show." There are no miracles; there is no supernatural; there is no paranormal. Any anomalous phenomenon is a natural occurrence not yet explained or described by science."
"MIND IS A PHYSIOLOGICAL PROCESS. This axiom has so many consequences that to investigate them all would require hundreds or even thousands of pages. First, it dismisses soul and/or spirit. Death of the body and the death of consciousness become equivalent, with no personality or element of consciousness surviving."
"HUMAN EXPERIENCE IS UNTRUSTWORTHY. Our senses deceive us, our memories are fragile and open to manipulation, and we too often believe what is comfortable rather than what is most likely."
My questions deal primarily with the last of these three, which brings the first two along in the light of it. However for the sake of grins and giggles let me address each of these in sequence, now numbering 1, 2, & 3.
1) THERE IS NOTHING BUT NATURE...
Corresponding question... Where is your scientific proof for your assertion and therefore your axiom.
2) a. First, it dismisses soul and/or spirit.
b. Death of the body and the death of consciousness become equivalent, with no personality or element of consciousness surviving.
Corresponding questions for 2) a. & b.. Where is your scientific proof for your assertions and therefore your axiom.
3) HUMAN EXPERIENCE IS UNTRUSTWORTHY. Our senses deceive us, our memories are fragile and open to manipulation, and we too often believe what is comfortable rather than what is most likely.
Corresponding question... Excellent point, would then the Human experience and description of said experience, apply in the discipline of science... or is this discipline somehow "miraculously" immune to the influences of the human condition?
Because my friend it seems to me you cannot have it both ways... the human condition by your estimation is the only source for the appreciation and development of science and it can't be trusted. Your way desperately depends solely, on the human condition.
And the way of faith (trust in God), does not.
Especially in light of your, "we too often believe what is comfortable rather than what is most likely".
I would counter that, with the atheist or agnostic, it is ever so likely, that many of these would rather maintain the comfort of being their own god, than deal with what they assume or have been taught are the legalistic requirements of belief in Jesus.
After all, why give up one's hedonistic liberties for the bondage of what they have concluded or have been told, is the requirements of salvation?
In my opinion, it is too bad that they do not apply the aspect of your axiom that declares... "HUMAN EXPERIENCE IS UNTRUSTWORTHY" and eschew the pulpit, and or, the barroom rhetoric that paints God as a thunderbolt wielding meany, or sin punishing spaghetti monster in the sky.
You said it my friend... man cannot be trusted and that includes the Godless self-sufficiency, available in most "scientific" endeavors currently in power.
Final word by Chas Warren
I will try to answer your questions in order; my apologies if that isn't what ultimately happens.
You ask of my THERE IS NOTHING BUT NATURE axiom, "Where is your scientific proof[?]" and I answer that I have none. An axiom requires no proof. That is largely what makes it an axiom.
However, I did arrive at this axiom after careful cogitation and observation. I didn't learn it from my parents, my church, or some other source that I consider unimpeachable. I didn't adopt it uncritically.
To share fully this axiom's source would take longer than either of us have, but I can sum it up thusly: I've spent over 30 years (no hyperbole) investigating claims of the miraculous, the supernatural, and the paranormal, but never found anything that qualified as a legitimate example of any of those things. Yes, I've kept an open mind. Yes, my standards of evidence have been exacting.This leads me to jump to my HUMAN EXPERIENCE IS UNTRUSTWORTHY axiom...
It is because human experience is untrustworthy that my standards of evidence are strict, and why I strenuously defend the scientific method. I see no contradiction. None of us have any choice but to measure the world except through human experience, which means that, as we take these measurements, we should be especially careful.
I now turn to MIND IS A PHYSIOLOGICAL PROCESS. Being axiomatic, it requires no proof. Still, it obviously has its origin, and it is reasonable that I share that origin here.
As in my investigation of claims of the miraculous/supernatural/paranormal, I have discovered no evidence that mind is anything more than a consequence of the anatomy and the physiology of the brain. I see no evidence requiring that mind be differentiated from soul/conscience/consciousness/personality. They logically seem aspects of the same physiological process. When I hammer a spike into the brain, all of these things are affected in the same way.
I have no desire to become my own god. I don't lust after hedonistic liberties, or even after godless self-sufficiency. I would be thrilled if all of my axioms -- and all of the beliefs that they support -- were proven false. However, I want them to topple honestly, without catering to self-deceit or wishful thinking. For me, at this time, my axiomatic edifice is sturdy. But I'll implode the cornerstone with my own hands, given sufficient evidence that it needs to come down.