Online reading group and book discussion forum
  HOME ENTER FORUMS OUR BOOKS LINKS DONATE ADVERTISE CONTACT  
View unanswered posts | View active topics It is currently Tue Aug 20, 2019 4:03 pm





Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 4 posts ] • Topic evaluate: Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average. 
Chapter 4 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis 
Author Message
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
Online
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame

BookTalk.org Owner
Diamond Contributor 3

Joined: May 2002
Posts: 16122
Location: Florida
Thanks: 3465
Thanked: 1310 times in 1035 posts
Gender: Male
Country: United States (us)

 Chapter 4 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis
Chapter 4
Finding Purpose in a Godless World
by Ralph Lewis


Please discuss Chapter 6 of Finding Purpose in a Godless World by Ralph Lewis in this thread.



Wed Aug 01, 2018 11:57 pm
Profile Email WWW
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
Reading Addict


Joined: May 2011
Posts: 1354
Thanks: 1415
Thanked: 670 times in 544 posts
Gender: None specified

Post Re: Chapter 4 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis
This is a bit more of a catch-all chapter, discussing "persistence" of belief that the universe has purpose, but from several angles. One of them is modernity - Lewis talks about Kant calling for "maturity" of outlook in which people "dare to know" and to think for themselves, and in which science gradually challenged more and more of the raw interpretations which feed people's inferences in religious beliefs.

He talks also about how people who accept a basically modern view of the world, or who reject traditional religion, still insist on belief in a higher power, or a purposeful universe, or life after death.

He begins with a New Age framework, in which a client was influenced by Deepak Chopra and other authors arguing that the mind creates a person's reality. Lewis doesn't go into the reasoning behind such notions, and I think it is pretty clear that the strong form taught by Chopra and others is not only unfounded but dangerous. His client, Liam, illustrated this extreme version but also illustrated some of the underlying emotional issues. When his wife faced life-threatening cancer, he thought of it as caused by some loss of harmonic resonance in their chakras, probably brought on by an incident earlier in their relationship. He blamed himself, essentially, and spent many late nights trying to find alternative cures for cancer shift to, leading him to fall down on the job of caring for their children.

When Lewis urged him to accept that the causes were essentially random, Liam found that "nihilistic", turning this tragedy in their life into something meaningless and, Lewis says more seriously, out of their control. Later he came to accept the cancer being outside their control, and to focus on proper care for the children. Lewis concluded that his effort to confront Liam's irrationality was "mis-timed."

Another issue he takes into some depth is our "Death Anxiety" and the persistent conclusion that consciousness survives after our death. He favorably cites researchers who believe this is essentially a construct of the ability we acquire as children to recognize that when adults go away, they will come back. That they have a life somewhere else. It's an interesting insight: it does take work to be able to imagine the absent person, and the higher brain which gives mammals (and possibly only mammals) the ability to think about abstractions is intimately tied to this ability to think about absent people as if they were real.

I'm not sure that satisfactorily tells why we get over other extensions of our abstraction abilities, but not so much this one, and apparently Lewis wants more as well, going into other theories about why we imagine the person continuing after death. Mind-body duality is one: the mind doesn't have any obvious physical construction involved in it, and people tend to think of it as operating separately from physical processes. This may be rooted, according to one writer, in the separate development of concrete understanding of physicality versus more complex understanding of social processes. In fact the world exists, for a given individual, in a certain sense within the person's mind, so Lewis also argues that egocentricity makes it difficult for us to imagine the world going on if our mind is not there to perceive it.

I think he misses the obvious one that people hallucinate ghosts. Mostly these are not full-blown "appearances" so much as the "corner of the eye" phenomenon, similar to when you are in a completely new city and keep thinking you are seeing someone you have seen before (but just can't think where). Or at least I do. After a loved one dies it is common for people to think they caught a glimpse of the person reflected in a shop window or disappearing into a crowd. Thai people's sightings are influenced by others, to the point where if one person sees the ghost of the departed, others will report seeing them in the same place in the room.

Yet another topic that gets more than a passing treatment here is the recent development of "assertive atheism" and the surprisingly rapid increase in "nones" from 16 percent in 2007 to 23 percent of the U.S. in 2014. (Not necessarily the same methodology). His main point about it seems to be that many of these "nones" are not exactly atheists, but continue to believe in some Higher Power or Higher Purpose in life.

I would say my major disagreement with Lewis is on a minor section in which he talks about people wanting to be "told how to live." I am one of those people who sees structure in public events as a positive thing, for the most part, and I like having a program laid out. I get a lot of emotional strength from being part of a group singing "We Shall Overcome" or some other purposeful song. Lewis casts "ritual" in the light of people wanting to be told how to live, but I think he is skipping over the "intersubjectivity" of public activities, and the desire for a group to be doing a thing together.



Wed Sep 05, 2018 12:51 pm
Profile Email
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame

Gold Contributor

Joined: Oct 2005
Posts: 5785
Location: Canberra
Thanks: 2244
Thanked: 2181 times in 1649 posts
Gender: Male
Country: Australia (au)

Post Re: Chapter 4 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis
Notions of a purposeful universe can be presented in a scientific way. My reading of this problem is that just as the day and year provide meaningful structures of time, so too there are much slower cycles that embed a natural framework of purpose. And furthermore, these natural cycles, seen in physical patterns of glaciation over millions of years, also provide a framework that can help explain core mythological ideas in religions like Christianity.

The problem that Lewis well explains is that New Age writers like Chopra and Tolle inspire new forms of magical thinking. People imagine natural frameworks as justifying the new trend to be ‘spiritual but not religious’, enabling the invocation of a higher power for miraculous healing. The story of Liam, wrongly imagining he can use chakras for healing cancer, illustrates the dangers in this mode of thinking.

Despite that, the opposite danger is that people can view all wholistic spirituality with disdain. Practices such as yoga and meditation do have healing power, even if this is much less than people like Liam imagine. Aspiring to attunement to the universe can be a valuable aid to mental health, even if it is of little avail in curing cancer.

Lewis usefully explains how acceptance of randomness can be liberating. This can be understood against the line from the bible, the truth shall set you free. If in truth, causal processes in the world do involve a high level of random chance, then constructing false patterns constitutes a form of mental bondage, constraining our understanding in a deluded imaginary construct that causes suffering, what Buddhism calls a false attachment, and what Ecclesiastes calls vanity.

Recognising that the real big patterns of time provide a purpose for life in my view sets a framework in which myths about a personal God can be better interpreted. The problem, as Lewis well articulates, is the psychological tendency to imagine such natural purpose in far more powerful and personal terms than the evidence indicates. But I think there is also a reactive problem, that scientific people tend to be too sceptical about the meaning of myth, arguing that the falsity of popular magical understanding illustrates that the universe is entirely random, and discounting the actual evidence of real patterns.

Lewis wrongly infers from his medical observation that much cancer is random that the universe is utterly random, ignoring the obvious evidence of orderly cosmic patterns that have been decisive to enable human evolution. It is true, contra to his assertion, that accepting that the universe is random would make life meaningless. For example, what if time were random - day, day, night, night, night, day, instead of the non-random diurnal pattern of night always following day?

This ridiculous example shows how a non-random reality provides meaning and purpose in life. And we can use this ordered nature of reality to build a more comprehensive sense of meaning, aiming to see how religious myth has evolved to explain orderly observations. But the valuable scientific input is that we should not claim patterns exist when they don’t. We should have a scientific world view, using evidence to find patterns. The problem that Lewis usefully sets out is how a scientific mentality engages with the meaning of life.

There is a ‘Mary versus Martha’ dimension in Lewis’s account of Liam and Angie. Liam wants to be a Mary, sitting at the feet of the master to imbibe spiritual wisdom, while Lewis counsels him to be a Martha, looking after the practical needs of his sick wife and their young children. While this example is sound, there is a risk of using it as a general parable to discount the value of spiritual wisdom.


_________________
http://rtulip.net


The following user would like to thank Robert Tulip for this post:
Harry Marks
Wed Sep 05, 2018 3:28 pm
Profile Email WWW
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
Reading Addict


Joined: May 2011
Posts: 1354
Thanks: 1415
Thanked: 670 times in 544 posts
Gender: None specified

Post Re: Chapter 4 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis
Robert Tulip wrote:
Notions of a purposeful universe can be presented in a scientific way. My reading of this problem is that just as the day and year provide meaningful structures of time, so too there are much slower cycles that embed a natural framework of purpose. And furthermore, these natural cycles, seen in physical patterns of glaciation over millions of years, also provide a framework that can help explain core mythological ideas in religions like Christianity.

The problem that Lewis well explains is that New Age writers like Chopra and Tolle inspire new forms of magical thinking.

I just saw, on Amazon, a book entitled "Everything Happens for a Reason, and Other Lies I have Loved." It made me think of this book, and your comments. I really like your version of a purposeful universe. I consider myself an "arc of history" liberal. That democracy is a skill, which, once learned, is hard to unlearn. That checks and balances are self-reinforcing because there are not enough predators out there, and predators are not willing enough to cooperate, to overcome people's natural dignity and mutual respect. This is obviously not even related, at least in ideology, to your sense of the orderliness of the universe, yet both approach "purposeful" in a way that is reassuring without offering a false sense of control.

Magical thinking is a short-cut to emotional comfort. It is not a wise one, since the thinking is likely to turn out false on any matter that really matters to us. Of course one may not know - one may adjust the chakras and end up cured for some totally separate reason, and conclude that the chakras did it. But then the next time the disappointment will be even worse.

I think we can get deep reassurance from a sense of purpose in the universe without having to have the emotional comfort of magical thinking. That's an example of a spiritual "technology."

Robert Tulip wrote:
Despite that, the opposite danger is that people can view all wholistic spirituality with disdain. Practices such as yoga and meditation do have healing power, even if this is much less than people like Liam imagine. Aspiring to attunement to the universe can be a valuable aid to mental health, even if it is of little avail in curing cancer.
Well said. And aspiring to attunement to the universe can be a common enterprise around which community can be built. Many "nones" are finding that in yoga these days. Though maybe not as many as one finds at the gym.

I find myself dissatisfied with Eastern mystical versions of wholistic spirituality for a variety of reasons, but in the end I think it is a viable path. There are lots of loose threads hanging out which a skeptic can use to base "disdain" on. I just wish there were more of the guides who are good at translating and helping appreciate, without having to take the attitude that they are explaining "The Final Version of Truth." The three presentations I have been able to get through are Huston Smith's, from long ago, and "Wherever You Go, There You Are," plus several books by Thich Nhat Hanh, which take a nicely light-touch approach of offering insight, not Final Truth.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Lewis usefully explains how acceptance of randomness can be liberating.
...constructing false patterns constitutes a form of mental bondage, constraining our understanding in a deluded imaginary construct that causes suffering, what Buddhism calls a false attachment, and what Ecclesiastes calls vanity.
Well, that's the problem with control, isn't it? Western society has empowered people to an extent never seen before in the world, but those whose plans and commitments don't work out can be very harsh on themselves because they wanted to believe the matter was in their hands.

One solution is to get very good at sorting out the probabilities, but if in the end the probabilities say a false belief makes it more likely that the believer will succeed, only a certain kind of person will be able to convince herself to believe in spite of the falsity. This is the "Small business illusion" (I only just named it, so don't Google it) where, by convincing herself that the odds don't apply to her, the entrepreneur increases the chances of actually succeeding.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Lewis wrongly infers from his medical observation that much cancer is random that the universe is utterly random, ignoring the obvious evidence of orderly cosmic patterns that have been decisive to enable human evolution. It is true, contra to his assertion, that accepting that the universe is random would make life meaningless.

I thought his point, which probably could have been stated more clearly, was that the universe takes no special interest in me. The physical processes are not arranged either to help me or to hurt me, and coincidences do not reflect intentions by secret processes. Your point is well taken that the predictability of the universe is highly valuable to us, probably much more valuable than we are capable of grasping. But it is not any more predictable or under control for one person than it is for another.

This anti-egotistical reciprocity (I get the same treatment from fate that you get) is probably related to morality in some fundamental way, since morality is about reciprocity of applicability of rules. Yet there plainly is a lack of justice, which Rawls tried to undo with his "veil of ignorance", about who is born into nurturing families, and high-education societies, and the gender that is privileged, etc. We cannot help but see this injustice of life's providence, and I wonder if that isn't behind the resentment that is the second stage of reaction to terminal illness.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The problem that Lewis usefully sets out is how a scientific mentality engages with the meaning of life.
Yes, I think that would be a fulfilling version of Lewis engaging the question of the title. A good way to ask the question, it seems to me, is the issue he has already raised about how, and when, to raise the factual issues that will help move a person out of emotionally harmful thought patterns. It may be that these need to have "alternative emotional structures" to offer along with the more factual perspective.

Robert Tulip wrote:
There is a ‘Mary versus Martha’ dimension in Lewis’s account of Liam and Angie. Liam wants to be a Mary, sitting at the feet of the master to imbibe spiritual wisdom, while Lewis counsels him to be a Martha, looking after the practical needs of his sick wife and their young children. While this example is sound, there is a risk of using it as a general parable to discount the value of spiritual wisdom.
While I agree about the potential pitfall, and I think Michael Shermer has himself failed to seek wisdom in his obsession with rationality, I am not sure you are reading Liam right. He spent many nights, for example, researching cures instead of doing more spiritual things of relating to his family. Maybe he just sat at the feet of the wrong master, or in other words had his theology wrong.



The following user would like to thank Harry Marks for this post:
Robert Tulip
Thu Sep 06, 2018 11:13 am
Profile Email
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 4 posts ] • Topic evaluate: Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average. 



Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:



Site Resources 
HELPFUL INFO:
Forum Rules & Tips
Frequently Asked Questions
BBCode Explained
Author Interview Transcripts
Be a Book Discussion Leader!

IDEAS FOR WHAT TO READ:
Bestsellers
Book Awards
• Book Reviews
• Online Books
• Team Picks
Newspaper Book Sections

WHERE TO BUY BOOKS:
• Great resource pages are coming!

BEHIND THE BOOKS:
• Great resource pages are coming!

PROMOTE YOUR BOOK!
Advertise on BookTalk.org
How To Promote Your Book





BookTalk.org is a thriving book discussion forum, online reading group or book club. We read and talk about both fiction and non-fiction books as a community. Our forums are open to anyone in the world. While discussing books is our passion we also have active forums for talking about poetry, short stories, writing and authors. Our general discussion forum section includes forums for discussing science, religion, philosophy, politics, history, current events, arts, entertainment and more. We hope you join us!


Navigation 
MAIN NAVIGATION

HOMEFORUMSOUR BOOKSAUTHOR INTERVIEWSADVERTISELINKSFAQDONATETERMS OF USEPRIVACY POLICYSITEMAP

OTHER PAGES WORTH EXPLORING
Banned Book ListOnline Reading GroupTop 10 Atheism Books

Copyright © BookTalk.org 2002-2019. All rights reserved.
Display Pagerank