• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

Mother Nature is One Unreliable Lady

Waterfall

Conservation International has sponsored a series of videos that have become YouTube sensations, garnering millions of views. They feature famous actors—Harrison Ford, Kevin Spacey, Robert Redford, and others—voicing different aspects of the natural world, from the ocean, to the rain forest, to redwood trees. The most striking is the one that presents Mother Nature herself, given voice by Julia Roberts.

They all have more or less the same message, namely, that nature finally doesn’t give a fig for human beings, that it is far greater than we, and will outlast us. Here are some highlights from the Mother’s speech: “I’ve been here for over four and a half billion years, 22,500 times longer than you; I don’t really need people, but people need me.” And “I have fed species greater than you; and I have starved species greater than you.” And “my oceans, my soil, my flowing streams, my forests—they all can take you or leave you.”

I must confess that when I first came across these videos I thought, “just more tree-hugging extremism,” but the more I watched and considered them, the more I became convinced that they are fundamentally right and actually serve to make a point of not inconsiderable theological significance. That nature in all of its beauty and splendor doesn’t finally care about human beings came home to me dramatically many years ago. I was standing in the surf, just off the coast of North Carolina, gazing out to sea and remarking how beautiful the vista was. For just a moment, I turned around to face the shore, and a large wave came up suddenly and knocked me off my feet and, for a few alarming seconds, actually pinned me to the ocean floor. In a moment, it was over and I got back on my feet, but I was shaken. The sea, which just seconds before had beguiled me with its serenity and beauty, had turned on a dime and almost killed me.

The ancients knew this truth, and they expressed it in their mythology. The gods and goddesses of Greece, Rome, and Babylon were basically personifications of the natural necessities: water, the sky, the mountain, the fertile earth, etc. Like the natural elements that they symbolized, these divine figures were fickle in the extreme. One minute, Poseidon smiles on you, and the next minute he sinks your ship; now Zeus is pleased with you, now he sends a thunderbolt to destroy you; Demeter can be a gentle mother, and Demeter can be an avenging enemy. And indeed, so it goes with the ocean, with the weather, and with the soil. But this is precisely why the worship of these natural necessities is always such a dicey business, for the best one can hope for is to mollify these finally indifferent divinities to some degree through worship and sacrifice.

Biblical religion represents something altogether new, a fact signaled in the opening verses of the book of Genesis, where it is emphatically stated that God creates earth, sky, the stars and planets, the animals that move upon the earth and the fishes that inhabit the ocean depths. All of these natural elements were, at one time or another, worshipped as divine. So even as he celebrates them, the author of Genesis is effectively dethroning them, desacralizing them. Nature is wonderful indeed, he is telling us; but it is not God. And the consistent Biblical message is that this Creator God is not like the arbitrary and capricious gods of the ancient world; rather, he is reliable, rock-like in his steadfast love, more dedicated to human beings than a mother is to her child. The entire Scriptural revelation comes to a climax with the claim, in the fourth chapter of John’s first letter, that God simply is love. St. Augustine celebrated this Biblical departure from the ancient worship of nature in a lyrical and visionary passage in his Confessions. He imagines the natural elements coming before him, one by one. Each says to him, “Look higher,” and then, in a great chorus, they gesture toward God and then shout together, “He made us!”

As classical Christianity came to be questioned by some of the intellectual elite in the early modern period, the ancient worship of nature made an unhappy comeback. One thinks of Baruch Spinoza’s blithe equation Deus sive natura (God or nature) and then of the many forms of pantheism that it spawned, from Schleiermacher’s “infinite” to Emerson’s “Oversoul” to George Lucas’s “The Force.” In fact, the return to the classical sense of divinity is on particularly clear display in the “dark” and “light” sides of the Force that play such a vital role in the Star Wars narrative. Though it can be used for good or ill, the Force is finally as indifferent to human beings as is Mother Nature.

And this is why the Julia Roberts video functions as an effective antidote against all forms of nature worship. It vividly reminds us that when we make Mother Nature our ultimate concern, we are turning to an exceptionally cruel and unreliable lady. Though I don’t think this was her intention, Ms. Roberts is urging us to “look higher.”

Bishop Robert Barron

Written by

Bishop Robert Barron is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He is an acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian. He’s America’s first podcasting priest and one of the world’s most innovative teachers of Catholicism. His global, non-profit media ministry called Word On Fire reaches millions of people by utilizing new media to draw people into or back to the Faith. Bishop Barron is also the creator and host of CATHOLICISM, a groundbreaking, 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic Faith. He is the author of several books including Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 2008); The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (Orbis, 2002); and Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image, 2011). Find more of his writing and videos at WordOnFire.org.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Michael Murray

    from the ocean, to the rain forest, to redwood trees.

    No, no, no. It's "From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters". Doesn't anyone remember the Great American Songbook ?

    Seriously I wish people wouldn't anthropomorphise nature. Sure it doesn't care but that's because it isn't the kind of thing that can care. Just like the pavement when I stub my toe. It's not indifferent it's just pavement. I cringe when someone says Gaia.

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    Humanity has a narcissistic mom and an absentee dad, each of which seem to deserve the exact same sort of worship.

    • Mike

      But they are still our parents ;).

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        :D True. Both of them seem like they'd get on just fine without us, but they keep us around for God (or Julia Roberts) knows why.

        • Mike

          YES!

  • Mike

    Ocean waves are natural and a part of nature and they are 'matter in motion' but they are different very different from say palm trees which are also natural part of nature and "matter in motion", what makes the 2 different why do we say the trees are "alive" whereas the waves are not?

  • David Hardy

    By and large, I agree with this article. Nature is not inherently concerned with humanity. On the other hand, learning to harmoniously work with nature can create a nurturing environment (agriculture, as an example). It requires an awareness of and respect for the qualities of nature, and a willingness to conform to it, rather than expect that it conform to us.

    One other point that I think deserves to be touched upon is the personification of nature within the deities. I agree fully that this is the case. However, I would add that, in saying God is love in the New Testament, one highlights the possibility that the Christian God is also a personification: the personification of love. It would then follow that God is socially responsive in a way other deities were not, since he is a personification of the pro-social tendency in people. One of the great metaphors of the Christian Church as that it is the "Body of Christ". This sort of metaphor highlights the social foundation for the Christian concept of God.

    One additional reason I would have for this being a personification, rather than reality, is found in the article itself: God is presented in the Bible as having power over nature, working miraculous events that demonstrate control over natural events. Yet nature does not show any indication that it is guided by love in its actions. The only place I find love as a guiding principle is in living creatures, and love does not lead all or even most people to infer that it is God without having the idea suggested to them (most cultures did not do so, and the increase in people who do is mirrored by the expansion of the religion that did). Thus, it seems to be a personification of a trait of some living creatures, rather than a supreme being with some objective influence that extends beyond living beings.

    • Mike

      Are you saying that identifying God with Love means that God can't exist? or just that ppl posited the idea of "God" to explain "love"?

      • David Hardy

        Are you saying that identifying God with Love means that God can't exist?

        I am not. I do not believe it is impossible that God exists. I believe that the current evidence available does not support the conclusion that God does exist.

        ppl posited the idea of "God" to explain "love"?

        I would not say that, either. First, there is a tendency in humans to struggle at times to separate our own consciousness from our experiences. Early on, this is called "egocentrism". Young children are unable to distinguish that others may not have access to the knowledge that they do. They will also prefer explanations for events that suggest a utility over an actual cause (for example, the chair is there for people to sit on, over an explanation as to how it actually came to be made and placed where it is). Even adults at times show a tendency for this sort of thinking, such as when a frustrated person yells at a mechanical object that is not working. When we anthropomorphize a complex feature, it seems to help in understanding how to relate to it. I would suggest that God in Christianity serves this function in regards to the abstract concept of the community, encompassing also the impulses and behaviors that form, maintain and strengthen a community.

        • Mike

          "the current evidence available"

          interesting bc i see overwhelming evidence but i suspect we have different ideas of what COUNTs are actual evidence.

          it sounds like you think God is some kind of natural tendency of complex societies and i agree that it is in our nature to seek God.

          thx for the exchange.

          ps are you a psychologist?

          • David Hardy

            interesting bc i see overwhelming evidence but i suspect we have different ideas of what COUNTs are actual evidence.

            I would agree in this regard.

            it sounds like you think God is some kind of natural tendency of complex
            societies and i agree that it is in our nature to seek God.

            More a specific expression of certain human tendencies within specific societies. For example, many Eastern cultures are complex, but did not develop the idea of God as it is conceptualized in Christianity. Hinduism has a similar concept, but one that is also different in important ways. Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Shintoism are all examples of how complex societies can understand reality in a way that does not involve a God like the one in Christianity.

            ps are you a psychologist?

            Not a Psychologist, specifically (I do not have a doctorate in Psychology), but I do have significant training and experience related to the field of Psychology. Why do you ask?

          • Mike

            just curious bc you seem to see alot of these issues through the lens of psych. and i've heard that psycho are among the most likely to not believe in God.

          • David Hardy

            i've heard that psycho are among the most likely to not believe in God.

            I appreciate the double meaning by using the word "psycho" to describe the profession. I am not sure if Psychology lends itself to disbelief, but assuming it does, I would ask what this means to you. Does it mean that, as I am in the field, my disbelief, and those of others in the field, can be explained as an unrecognized bias that was received or strengthened through education, or does it indicate that, if one studies human nature through a non-religious lens, the findings support a position of disbelief?

          • Mike

            psycho was an accident not a double entendre ;)

            psych only studies a slice of human culture and in a way which pre-supposes no God so that's abig problem with modern psych that's built in to the system.

            i honestly think that alot of it is explained by group think: just imagine a prominent psycho saying she was an orthodox catholic - she'd be hounded out with pitchforks out of the academy.

          • David Hardy

            psych only studies a slice of human culture and in a way which pre-supposes no God so that's abig problem with modern psych that's built in to the system.

            Psychology does not suppose God or no God: The existence or non-existence of God are claims that lies beyond human nature. However, many qualities of human nature can be used to understand religion, and to evaluate religious claims regarding human nature.

            i honestly think that alot of it is explained by group think: just imagine a prominent psycho saying she was an orthodox catholic - she'd be hounded out with pitchforks out of the academy.

            As I said before, I do not know the ratio of theistic versus atheistic people trained in Psychology, but it is certainly not rare for theistic individuals to enter the field and retain their faith. I work with someone with training equal to my own who is Catholic, and a number of people I went to school with were also theists of various sorts. If anything, discrimination based on religion is viewed in a negative light in the mental health field, not religion itself. That said, some people in the field do shy away from religious discussions, although I suspect this is because it is a very personal subject for many people. Academically, Psychology focuses on empirical data, so a person's religious views would not be viewed as a valid source of evidence to support a concept. As such, it would be rare to bring religious views into a study, unless religious differences and their effects was the subject of the study. Even in these cases, only a naturalistic correlational study would be possible, limiting the implications.

          • Mike

            the interpretations of that emp data it seems to me are often done in a values vacuum which implicitly assumes the truth of naturalism....but i hear you and i think the discipline is adjusting to religions.

            btw check out this series by Ye Old Stat:

            http://tofspot.blogspot.ca/2014/07/in-psearch-of-psyche-some-groundwork.html

            its really good reading.

          • David Hardy

            I would say that Psychology assumes the validity of empiricism, which one might argue also leads to naturalism. On the idea of a values vacuum, Psychology as a field has tried to shy away from assuming values beyond a sort of consequentialism (if people are better able to adapt to and overcome difficult circumstances, or report an increase in quality of life, it is considered good, and the opposite is considered bad). This allows for the ability to assess people using their own value system and the value system of the culture they are part of, rather than try to impose a value set upon them. There are also a range of studies that aim to be more descriptive than prescriptive. For example, how introducing information outside of a person's conscious awareness (priming) affects behavior, or how people naturally seek to test beliefs by looking for evidence that they are true, rather than evidence that they are not true (confirmation bias). These say nothing about values, but rather describe aspects of human nature.

            On the article, I have actually had a discussion with Ye Olde Statistician on the subject. He is a good writer, and offers some interesting ideas. One area I would disagree with him on comes right at the start of the article - that Psychology is unclear about what it is studying. Since the 1950s, Psychology has been the study of behaviors (mental processes included). Much of the rest of the article moves into philosophy that goes beyond this scope. The one point that does seem to fall back into psychology is that not every motion of a living body is a living motion (that is to say, a behavior). However, most of the article is properly philosophy, not psychology.

          • Mike

            "using their own value system and the value system of the culture they are part of, rather than try to impose a value set upon them"

            this was when psych changed (1960-1970?) from what ought to be given human nature to what makes someone "happy" given their own private idea of THEIR nature..it became therapeutic.

            modern psych denies universal human nature and so what's right for me is not for you and so on...but this makes it suspect as a science which is why i think it's been "downgraded" in the publics mind bc it's very much tied to the fashion or mood or the zeitgeist of the age.

          • David Hardy

            this was when psych changed (1960-1970?) from what ought to be given
            human nature to what makes someone "happy" given their own private idea
            of THEIR nature..it became therapeutic.

            I said higher quality of life and adaptation were the standard, not happiness. A Christian, for example, might not report being happy in the conventional sense if he or she is suffering for his or her religion, but still report a high quality of life because of a sense of meaning derived from the suffering. Also, I wonder if you are using therapeutic as a good or bad thing.

            modern psych denies universal human nature

            Not true. Many universal aspects of human nature, such as the aforementioned confirmation bias, as well as the tendency to form moral behavior with certain common features, are seen as universal human tendencies. However, research has also found that, within these tendencies, environmental factors (culture and religion included), allow for variance. In other words, where behaviors are universally or near-universally observed, they are accepted as such. Where they vary across environmental factors (again, such as culture or religion), they are not accepted as universal. The issue here seems to be that you may be looking at a variable (religion) to provide a constant (universal), but religion can be one of the variables that demonstrates a behavior or standard to not be universal. That does not mean that there are not universals. For example, every culture forms ethical concepts, with a degree of similarity. However, differences also occur due to cultural and religious variations. The formation of ethical concepts is a universal. Many of the specifics of ethical standards are not.

          • Mike

            therapeutic in the negative if psych aspires to a science but not if it just wants to help ppl eliminate cognitive dissonance.

            there are still i suspect presumptions that psych makes about "religion" that are unwarranted like that it is ONLY a social cohesion method or that it is REALLY just about coping with the world or whatever you get the picture but from its perspective that is what it is which is fine imho. the issue arises when like in other fields like physics say the psych profession begins to make statements about values or morals which are not in the domain of psych.

            if psych studies human behavior as such and it aspires to sciences standing then it also has to say that the content of values and morals are outside its domain.

          • David Hardy

            therapeutic in the negative if psych aspires to a science but not if it just wants to help ppl eliminate cognitive dissonance.

            I would partially agree. Therapeutic techniques can help with far more than just cognitive dissonance, and one way to test if they work is through research. As it does not seem necessary, I will not go into the limitations of researching the efficacy of therapeutic techniques, beyond acknowledging that they certainly exist. However, many areas of human behavior can be researched beyond just therapeutic effects.

            there are still i suspect presumptions that psych makes about "religion" that are unwarranted like that it is ONLY a social cohesion method or that it is REALLY just about coping with the world or whatever you get the picture

            Some may hold this view, but largely I would suspect the prevailing view is that religion is a part of a person's worldview. Depending on how important religion is to the person, that may make it a central part of how they make meaning of their existence and experiences, as well as play a dominant role in decision making and judgment. As such, it can be seen as much more to a person that the things you describe in Psychology.

            if psych studies human behavior as such and it aspires to sciences standing then it also has to say that the content of values and morals are outside its domain.

            Values, to an extent, I would agree on. Psychology should, at its best, describe human behavior and create the ability to predict outcomes of certain experiences or strategies upon a human, rather than judge the value of the outcome. A possible exception is the guiding principle of adaptability and reported well being, as these do guide efforts to help people adapt to situation and improve quality of life. Morals, on the other hand, are a powerful force in human behavior, and so if Psychology did not take morality as an area of research, it would be neglecting a powerful factor that must be understood to understand the subject of Psychology, which is human behavior. However, morality is researched primarily from the stance of how moral thinking develops, and what a person uses as the basis of the moral judgment, rather than try to determine the "best" moral system.

          • Mike

            i agree with everything you said.

  • Thank you for sharing this theological perspective. One issue that surprises me is the changing characterization of what God is. Here is is simply stated as "love", I am sure I have seen him characterized "being". I think "love" and "being" are slippery concepts without equating them with what is, I expect a concept that is also a mind, goodness, and also a single human being and a rather abstract spirit of some kind. All of these have different labels, I would suggest because they are distinct concepts and not the same thing.

    The other theological concept I see here advanced is that the Catholic understanding of deity is distinct from "nature".

    I can explain my perspective in this regard. I do not and never did consider nature to care, to love, or hate humanity. I do not see any mind, purpose, or intention in the natural world, other than natural animals that develop cognitive capacity. "nature" does not care because it is not and does not have a mind that can care.

    Spinoza was a pantheist, not an atheist. Lucas was writing fiction. Yes, some traditions do consider "nature" to be a god. Atheists do not.

    It would seem the authors of this program were using "Mother Nature" metaphorically to describe the scale of the natural world that is awe inspiring. I don't think nature needs such metaphor to illuminate its beauty and splendour.

    • Mike

      "other than natural animals that develop cognitive capacity"

      so you do then in fact see some "mind, purpose, or intention"? am i being pedantic or semantic or whatever or do you not believe there is ANY purpose?

      • I believe that I have intentions. I believe other minds exist and these have intentions.

        I do not see any designer of minds, or any purpose or intention behind nature.

        • Mike

          Just a quick q then:

          have you ever wondered how intention which you just said you have and i have, could even in principle have arisen out of something that has no intention at all, like nature which you just said has none?

          • Yes I have wondered and I think it is plausible by way of natural selection.

          • Mike

            "natural selection" selection by nature?

            again sounds like you mean that nature has a purpose or goal ie "selecting" for life.

          • Substitute "differential reproductive success" then

          • Mike

            do you mean "success" literally or as some place holder for something else?

          • Michael Murray

            No "natural" as in "not artificial". Artificial selection being a reference by Darwin to things like human breeding of dogs and pigeons and plants to enhance various traits.

          • Mike

            right so something immanent to "nature" a system which "rewards" adaptation and life with more life.

          • No, you have it backwards. It may sound like that to you, but the label "natural selection" refers to a process in which design is achieved without any mind or consciousness directing it for any purpose, by natural forces. It arose in contrast to "artificial selection" which is breeding for a purpose or goal.

          • Mike

            "without any mind or consciousness directing it for any purpose"

            so if that's true then we are 100% accidents of a mindless thoughtless process correct?

          • That would seem to be the case.

          • Mike

            ok fine but then don't speak to me of "morality" of "right and wrong" of "Progress" or other such illusions...right?

          • Why not?

          • Mike

            bc it's just an illusion remember...per your own beliefs morality can only be a useful fiction.

            if what created us has NO purpose or goal and is completely thoughtless and if we are an accident then surely there can not be any real morality or progress in us if we 100% came from something that totally lacks it.

            BTW i think you think that invented morality or illusions of progress are the real thing bc you don't think that "the real" thing can exist in the first place but that just begs the question.

            think of this: if you randomly created a robot you couldn't then fault it for say killing a bunch of ppl could you? if the robot is an accident and was created without ANY purpose or goal it can't do "Bad or Good" can it?

          • "if what created us has NO purpose or goal and is completely thoughtless
            and if we are an accident then surely there can not be any real morality
            or progress in us if we 100% came from something that totally lacks it."

            I disagree. My morality is not based on there being a creator of me or from the creator having a morality. I disagree with your characterization of my morality as an illusion.

            I don't think I invented morality or an illusion of progress. I think my morality is a real thing.

            I would hold robots (artificial intelligences really,) with cognitive capacity and basic knowledge of human culture, morally responsible, but not ultimately morally responsible. I would hold their designers ultimately responsible. Particularly if they did not design the AI's to have instinctual values similar to what most humans do. Similarly with humans, I hold other humans morally responsible for their behaviour, but not ultimately responsible. However, since humans do not have a designer, there is no designer to hold ultimately morally responsible.

          • Mike

            "I would hold robots (artificial intelligences really,) with cognitive capacity and basic knowledge of human culture"

            but i asked you about robots that were made WITHOUT purpose or goal...would you THEN hold them responsible?

          • Then I am afraid I don't know what you mean by "robot". To me that term implies a designer and design implies for a purpose.

          • Mike

            exactly...so imagine we are created by a purposeless process such as you believe in...so in that case we can't be held morally responsible for anything.

            you're the one who insists there is no purpose or goal or meaning in nature, well if it created us then we can't be held responsible for what we do just like a robot that was thrown together haphazardly.

          • Sure we can and do hold each other morally responsible, though there was no designer of us.

            I don't insist that there is no purpose or goal to nature, rather that it is not reasonable to believe there is one.

            There is moral framework and I hold people accountable to those standards. I don't see why a creator is relevant to this question.

            Hint, your move here is to say that my moral framework therefore is subjective or arbitrary because it was not created by a perfect being or something. That I am unwarranted to impose subjective moral framework on others who can have a different subjective morality.

            This would be true if humans did have fundamentally different values underlying their morality, but they don't.

            Moreover, even if there is objective morality grounded in a perfect being who created us to some goal, it is unhelpful, unless we have perfect access to it. We don't, we have only subjective assessments of what it might be. So everyone is actually applying their own subjective moral framework. The difference is, mine bases its standards and principles on more or less universally held values of human well being and freedom. While thiests are also constrained by doctrine, dogma, ancient texts, influenced by religious authority, faith and so on.

          • Mike

            your views respectfully are incoherent imho.

            ok take care and again thx for exhange.

            check out this discussion of consistent atheism:

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2013/08/eliminativism-without-truth-part-i.html

          • Thank you for your opinion. And the exchange.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Neurologist Antonio Damasio's answer to this is that intention/purpose grows out of the necessary proto-purpose of homeostasis. Necessarily appearing from the first cell and carried forward into all subsequent organisms, this simple need to self regulate say ion concentrations (via hydration) glucose levels (via eating) rolls out into heaping up dependent needs. Least action, least energy, use undergirds the nature of those actions that meet those needs.

            The universal self regulation of homeostasis finds use everywhere and for instance results in a neural return to some previous average of all possible parameters. Reward chemicals like dopamine used to encourage say food finding creates a new moving average for rewards and a need to find some rewarding action if not food finding.

            As by-products of evolution we have acquired a wealth of curious aesthetic triggers, simple minded detectors of value, the curve of a woman just so, the big eyes in a small face of a child, the caress or cuddle of an as-if-kin. These aesthetic detectors of value become things that take us from a happy low energy indolence and become like itches needing to be scratched and thereby triggering dopamine (etc.) and keeping up our new moving average of reward hits. Our opportunities for reward multiply as we become more complex entities. Our addiction to reward takes us ever further away from the placid low-energy-use sea squirt, happy to balance its simple books of ion concentration and glucose levels, digesting its own brain as no longer required.

            A decent account of this takes a lot more than here, but I hope you get the idea.

          • Mike

            so purpose or intentionality are mere illusions in your view correct?

            btw you use ALOT of words to describe how intention or the illusion of intention arose, words that pre-suppose intention and purpose which makes me think you are begging the question ie burying the conclusion in your premises and so sneaking in concepts you are not entitled to on your view.

          • Phil Rimmer

            which makes me think you are begging the question ie burying the conclusion in your premises

            Go for it. Argue that case....I don't believe its there.

            What words presuppose intention?

            There are none in my mind. This is evolution creating the aesthetic drivers as proposed by Vilayanur Ramachandran. And the co-option of the two or three billion year old process of homeostasis detailed by Antonio Damasio, repeated at higher levels of neural processes. I may wax as lyrical over the feelings it causes as any Shelley (but, sadly, with none of the quality) but that makes us no less atheist.

            Humans manufacture purpose from these antique stuffs.

          • Mike

            "Humans manufacture purpose"

            right so purpose is a useful fiction but not a real part of nature, correct?

          • Phil Rimmer

            Poems, the need to read them or to write them, justice the need to ask for it and grant it are our doing. They sit on top of less abstract purposes and, going down, upon, ultimately, that least synthetic proto-purpose of homeostasis.

            We and all that we do is a part of nature, but justice couldn't really be inferred as a likely output from it. The heaped up accumulations of purpose rather conceal the lineage.

            The blackbird's personal song is no less of a poem.

          • Mike

            ok i have no idea what you are talking about now.

            anyway, thx for the exchange.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Purpose isn't a fiction, at least, no more than a poem or justice or money are fictions.

            Its mostly what we do. We coin these synthetic facts and then use them in our intellectual currency...like "God", in fact.

            Cheers.

            P.S. What about those words that presuppose intention?

          • Mike

            cheers...take care.

          • Humans manufacture purpose from these antique stuffs.

            What would falsify this claim? The sense here would be that what Damasio (and whomever else) has argued is based on a set of "building blocks", as it were, which are good for where he's actually tested them in a scientific way, but possibly nowhere near good enough for how he has extrapolated to result in something like the sentence I quoted. How do we know whether he's more likely to be right, vs. closer to recapitulating Lord Kelvin's "Two Clouds" speech, on the eve of the quantum revolution?

            Another way to put it is this. Damasio has made a claim here; is it scientific? That is, has it been experimented upon? Sometimes, when folks like Damasio make claims like this, they're extrapolating from science. That's not always a bad thing, but I'd like to see a distinction made, between "stuff that if it were wrong, we'd have to drastically reinterpret our experiments" and "serious extrapolations which may or may not help guide future research".

          • Phil Rimmer

            Damasio has made a claim here; is it scientific?

            Not as I've phrased it, which was for the purpose of pump priming a fuller discussion. I think it is entirely possible to form smaller and staged hypotheses that could be made falsifiable each. In neuropsychology clean experiments are almost impossible, due to the complexities of neural circuitry and perhaps more from simple ethical concerns. AI /synthetic models would allow the feasibility, at least, of these smaller hypotheses to be destruction tested.

            Scientists, particularly younger ones, live in eternal hope of turning a little cloud into a major storm. Funding and glory await the discoverer of profound error. It is the promise of such adventure that inspire many of the best to enter the sciences. The burgeoning history of major upsets has done wonders for having us all take at least one more step back before rushing in.

          • Thanks for the clarification. I would be very interested in knowing what would falsify the idea that "Humans manufacture purpose". Science has done some funky things with 'purpose' (e.g. made it fictional, via teleonomy), making it unclear to me how one would corroborate or falsify such a claim.

          • Phil Rimmer

            As I said I don't think anything could as phrased. (I'm curious why you should simply repeat it.) I do though strongly suspect it is true.

            With a strict definition of tasks, task variants, compound tasks, task list generation, dynamic prioritisation and abandonment, and tests for task novelty, along with a long list of other variable attributes for reward, aesthetic/value evolution heuristics and a variety of stress factors like energy supply variability, ancillary service availabilities (and on and on) AI simulations of initially untasked machines could explore intention, its creation, novelty and effectiveness in a revealing way that could, possibly one day, be matched with real world (human) task challenges.

          • Hmmm, such a strategy seems in danger of defining truth in terms of what is pragmatic. It would be akin to saying that science is merely "puzzle solving", as some interpret Kuhn to have claimed. The tasks humans would undertake would either be merely surviving, or making use of systems which originally evolved merely for surviving. Mere survival does not require truth; it only requires sufficient adaptation to the environment.

            Consider two opposing ways to utilize humans' ability to judge 'better' and 'worse':

            (1) You're trying to constantly produce more of the 'better' result and less of the 'worse' result.

            (2) These 'better' and 'worse' judgments actually track an objectively existing landscape (whether Sam Harris' moral landscape or another is immaterial), albeit noisily.

            In the case of (1), it seems obvious that "Humans manufacture purpose". On the other hand, this seems manifestly false in the case of (2). Of course, humans can do (1) even if (2) is the case; this could result in getting stuck at local maxima. But from the point of view of (2), something is possible—even conceivable—which is not, from the point of view of (1). The quality of intention/​purpose seems to differ greatly between (1) and (2).

            Note that there's no problem with humans evolving to do (2), with purposes emerging that match up with (2), etc. Nevertheless, under (2), with humans acknowledging that (2) obtains, it seems like it would be quite false to say that "Humans manufacture purpose".

          • Phil Rimmer

            Well, again I must give you a part answer. I don't hold with either of your schemes. They impose purpose and they do not reflect, the least energy, homeostatic model of motivation I believe needed to reflect human behaviour. This will require as I indicated "evolved" aesthetic-value defining heuristics. It will need reward mechanisms not directly or just coupled to achieving outcomes (though this as well), but to beginning or planning/computing actions and usefully abandoning actions . A least energy homeostatic model requires that you do as little as your restricted. variable resources suggest, and that seeking of rewards are like itches that must be scratched and whilst rewarding are energetically/resource threatening.

            The point is very much to not impose or expect better or worse outcomes but create human like rolling task lists with least complexity. Creating a realistic, if virtual, delinquent might be an interesting outcome. We are looking for self filling , non imposed task lists with tasks containing novelty.

            This needs more exposition (and possibly many more elements) than I have time for now.

            Edit. No let it stand as is. I can always fill it out as we go along.

          • They impose purpose and they do not reflect, the least energy, homeostatic model of motivation I believe needed to reflect human behaviour.

            I would like to get a feel for what you mean by this. Could you list one or two common intuitions which are well-supported by this model, as well as one or two which are disputed by it?

            It will need reward mechanisms not directly or just coupled to achieving outcomes (though this as well), but to beginning or planning/computing actions and usefully abandoning actions .

            That makes sense. Robert Rosen deals with this matter in his Anticipatory Systems, although I've not read this book of his. However, the management of the in-between state seems to be possibly orthogonal to "Humans manufacture purpose".

            The point is very much to not impose or expect better or worse outcomes but create human like rolling task lists with least complexity.

            How does the word "rolling" function, here? I understand the importance of spending minimal energy, and how that connects to minimal complexity. Incidentally, bleeding-edge research seems antithetical to this, as doing the least amount of work possible is not a recipe for getting a Nobel Prize. If this is wrong, then it's not clear to me what this idea your presenting actually rules out.

          • Phil Rimmer

            I
            would like to get a feel for what you mean by this.

            We need to see intention emerge from more realistic processes and not be imported as a task implied by given ideas of quality.

            By having intermediate drivers, proxies for value accumulated in a variety of ways, we may see complexities more easily arise from systems that more nearly (but not actually!) sit on the edge of chaos. Brains being as complex as they are sit on the edge of stability in this way most possibly to prevent brains locking up from a superabundance of data, dealt with with more linear heuristics. Values must work fairly quickly and have that positive feedback effect of being self reinforcing (a limited positive feedback netting hysteresis) and thereby delivering clarity, but also, elsewhere, as a means of generating a rich set of alternate hypotheses for better opportunities for creative problem solving.

            The homeostatic model replaces the apparent objective need (fixing a problem) into a properly subjective need, and in, for instance, the need for dopamine rewards, the itch builds up until some scratch or other sudden action relieves it. I need to finish this paragraph to get some good enough reward, but the kettle and a mug of tea can deliver reward, not as much but a good enough scratch for now. And though my anxiety levels will need fixing shortly thereafter the Talisker night cap might reset that sufficiently. Rewards though deplete. New anxieties may be learned by simple Hebbian associations of feeling anxious and slipping the cork out of the Talisker bottle, at some point learning that single malts mostly don't defeat anxiety as well as fixing the source of the anxiety.

            I suspect, I should have started further back....

            Rolling...I just intended that the list was approximately got through and new tasks added at the front. I didn't intend cycling. Not a good word given "rolling news"...

          • Thanks for the details. To what extent is this a situation of finding more and more efficient causes, thereby denying the existence of, or negating the need for, any formal or final causes? The general idea I get from what you say is an insistence on 'reductionist' causation, a view shared by Sean Carroll as can be seen in his [rejection of] Downward Causation.

            Your use of "sit on the edge of chaos" and "sit on the edge of stability" intrigue me; where would I go to learn more about this? I am barely acquainted with the concepts of stability and robustness in control theory. The sense I get—which might be totally wrong—is that of being maximally open to new and/or more intricate patterns without going haywire.

            I also wonder whether what you say is accurate for consciousness and subconsciousness, but possibly not for self-consciousness. Is this possibly the case? Self-consciousness certainly seems to make possible things that are not possible with the other two (if they make sense as being distinct from self-consciousness, instead of the same thing in comparison).

          • Phil Rimmer

            I have a lot of homework at the moment. A quick scan of the Sean Carroll has me possibly agree with him. Top and bottom in the brain's case, though, rather begs a question about what is critical and what mere finessing. My favourite parts of the brain are mixing bits where top meets bottom and critical meets finesse; the associative corteces driving metaphorical thinking, perhaps, the hippocampus adding visceral value to memories and the anterior cingulate cortex where fight and flight action meets, now-hang-on-a-minute-lets-put-the-kettle-on-and-think-about-this....(and a sense of humour) reside.

            I see most such philosophising about mental processes becoming increasingly redundant in the face of actual knowledge about brain function. A lot of such theories one way, the other, or neither are going to have to put up or shut up.

            A lot of our concerns about mind are antique, riddled with antique conceptions of its possible form. Free will/determinism is not the question to ask and always nets a botched answer. (On a good day I may co-operate and say I'm a compatabilist....but, so what?) The right questions are... have I thought about this enough to be happy to own all of my actions that result from it? Have I got the right answer? After two affirmatives I should need nothing else.

            Self organised criticality became a proper area of neurological study about 6 years ago when the sensing, computing and mathematical capability first started to come together in adequate forms. The ideas are old but instances of marginal stability had been studied elsewhere (in the cochlear, heart beats, and epilepsy and migraines as an indicator of a line crossed.) Here's a chatty discussion of the (very young) field

            http://www.wired.com/2014/05/criticality-in-biology/

            My view is that consciousness is a marker of current salience and what is framed by it are those details that may go on for longer term storage if they make a re-appearance or two in that same salient frame. It does not in any sense drive actions directly, but acts rather as (part of) an active post hoc narrator. This is the brain generating the categorising, meta data memory tags that make for ready retrieval of memories with their editorialised values (courtesy of the hippocampus) built in. This salience frame gets used for much memory refinement and rehearsal to try and ensure the unconscious brute does what we appear to want.

            Self-consciousness is part of a self model generating process to create compact and up to the second models of ourselves to be used in simulations of future outcomes for known or unknown encounters.

            I'm not sure in either case that self organised criticality has a big role to play...perhaps in quickly getting alternative category tags for memories...perhaps for achieving the monte carlo type analyses we want from simulations of encounters.

            Edit 10 hrs (part of)

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Here is is simply stated as "love", I am sure I have seen him
      characterized "being". I think "love" and "being" are slippery concepts

      See the "convertibility of the transcendentals." Being is convertible with goodness, so that which is Pure Actuality (or Being Itself) must also be Goodness Itself.

  • David Nickol

    It vividly reminds us that when we make Mother Nature our ultimate concern, we are turning to an exceptionally cruel and unreliable lady.

    But the Jewish and Christian view is that God created this exceptionally cruel "lady," and he create everything for humankind. It's all supposed to be for us is it not? We are supposed to arrive at an idea of God through his creation, and his creation is cruel and unreliable.

    • Rob Abney

      I read it as the "lady" can be cruel and unreliable if we make her/nature our ultimate concern, that is, our misplaced concern will cause the indifferent nature to seem cruel and unreliable.

      • David Nickol

        . . . our misplaced concern will cause the indifferent nature to seem cruel and unreliable.

        In it's own way, that is a rather brilliant reading. It's the kind of thing that allows biblical exegetes to find any meaning they want, or for politicians to explain what they "really" meant when they have said something that creates a controversy.

        I disagree with your reading, however. "Mother Nature" is cruel and unreliable whether we make her our ultimate concern or try to ignore her. (Of course, the very concept of "Mother Nature" gets us into difficulties, since there is no such person, so perhaps we ought to speak only of nature, although the personification still is problematic.)

        • Rob Abney

          I don't think there needs to be personification either, just using the common language from the post.
          I'm not try to find meaning that wasn't there, I truly believe that was the meaning Bishop Barron intended.
          The meaning seems to be not to make nature (including ourselves) to be the ultimate concern but to make God our ultimate concern. It doesn't imply that we should ignore nature either because it is our reality.
          But this is similar to the problem of evil discussion, if we anticipate something greater in our future then we look at the present from a different perspective.

          • David Nickol

            The meaning seems to be not to make nature (including ourselves) to be the ultimate concern but to make God our ultimate concern.

            I am sure that is the way Bishop Barron feels, but I don't believe that is what he said. To quote:

            It vividly reminds us that when we make Mother Nature our ultimate concern, we are turning to an exceptionally cruel and unreliable lady.

            You seem to be saying that when we make Mother Nature our ultimate concern, Mother nature is a cruel and unreliable lady, but when we don't make Mother Nature our ultimate concern, she is not a cruel and unreliable lady.

            If we are going to personify nature, then I think it is reasonable to say nature is cruel and unreliable, and that is a fact independent of human actions or wishes.

          • Rob Abney

            I'm not being clear, I don't think we need to personify nature.
            I am saying that nature is cruel and unreliable if that's our ultimate concern, if God is our ultimate concern then nature is just the background to the real story, it's not THE story.

    • Mike

      if there is no God and nature is all there is then i agree it's a total crap shoot a scam a trick a bad joke an evil scheme.

      • In that case, who is the the scammer, the schemer? It could only be our own imaginations, the unrealistic expectations of things never promised to us, that were never real to begin with: Ultimate Purpose, Ultimate Meaning, immortality.

        Also, there could be a god, and still no purpose for you or any humans, such a thing is not entailed by the existence of a god

        • Mike

          purpose is entailed by God but not necessarily by "a god"...but even in that case there's have to be SOME reason why it created us for "no reason".

          classic theism is in the dock not theistic personalism.

      • David Nickol

        if there is no God and nature is all there is then i agree it's a total crap shoot a scam a trick a bad joke an evil scheme.

        When you say, "then I agree," with whom are you agreeing?

        • Mike

          with you...no?

          • David Nickol

            No. If it were somehow proven to me beyond any doubt that there were no God, I don't think it would change most of my basic attitudes. I would continue to love the people I love, enjoy the things that I enjoy, deplore the things that I deplore, and so on. Scams, tricks, jokes, and schemes imply scammers, tricksters, jokesters, and schemers.

            I find the Catholic idea that God will inflict eternal torment on some people in an afterlife more disturbing than the idea that there is no God and no afterlife at all.

          • Mike

            respectfully david and obviously i don't know you but i don't believe you.

            i think that if it were really publicly somehow 100% proved there is no God or gods or any other "conscious" force responsible for the universe then your attitude would change, slowly but it would and i am convinced it would get worse although in that case - since no God - it would just amount to a Different attitude.

            not inflict but you will cause your own demise if you choose to not believe and disobey...you won't recognize heaven and you'll choose hell.

          • David Nickol

            If one can accidentally or mistakenly choose eternal torment, then it would seem to me that God is cruel, and I wouldn't want to bet on heaven being a better place. I do rather lean toward the existence of God, but it is unimaginable to me that an all-good God would inflict eternal torment on even the worst person who ever lived.

          • neil_pogi

            eternal torment, again!! is that all the weapon you have to attack God! i thought atheists don't believe in God. if you don't believe He exists, then why believe in eternal torment?

          • Mike

            depends on what you mean by eternal torment, i suspect you have a hollywood protestant vision in mind.

          • David Nickol

            depends on what you mean by eternal torment, i suspect you have a hollywood protestant vision in mind.

            Could you give me a brief description of the "hollywood protestant" vision of hell that you imagine I have in mind?

            Could you then follow that with your correct (Catholic) vision?

            Here is what I base my comments on. The following is a fairly significant portion of what the Catechism says about hell:

            1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell."

            1034 Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna" of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that he "will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire," and that he will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!"

            1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

            In my previous comment, I should have said eternal punishment instead of eternal torment. So I understand the Catholic concept of hell to include real and eternal punishment.

            Here is the conclusion of the entry on Gehenna from John L. McKenzie's Dictionary of the Bible:

            These passages suggest that the apocalyptic imagery of other NT passages is to be taken for what it is, imagery, and not as strictly literal theological affirmation. The great truths of judgment and punishment are firmly retained throughout the NT, and no theological hypothesis can be biblical with reduces the ultimate destiny of righteousness and wickedness to the same thing; the details of the afterlife, however, are not disclosed except in imagery.

            So I interpret the Catholic viewpoint to be that hell involves eternal punishment. Although the idea of eternal, unquenchable fire may very well be a metaphor, it is a very powerful and shocking metaphor. It clearly implies significant and unending pain. I think for human beings, almost any suffering one can think of (sickness, injury, grief) is mitigated by the knowledge that someday it will be over. But with eternal suffering, there is presumably the knowledge that things will never get better. And there is no way out—not even death.

          • Mike

            "unending pain" in the physical sense.

            well aquinas didn't read it as physical pain.

            if you don't want eternal separation and anguish then don't choose it - the choice is yours.

          • David Nickol

            I would really appreciate answers to the two questions that I asked you:

            Could you give me a brief description of the "hollywood protestant" vision of hell that you imagine I have in mind?

            Could you then follow that with your correct (Catholic) vision?

            And yes, I am taking your advice. I choose not to go to hell.

          • Mike

            you know the view the view that most atheists hold that god is an evil base demiurge capricious etc.

            but the catholic view is goodness itself and so if you don't want to be in union with that you separate yourself and "suffer" eternally.

            good glad you choose wisely.

          • David Nickol

            you know the view the view that most atheists hold that god is an evil base demiurge capricious etc.

            The view that all atheists hold is that God does not exist. But what does your response have to do with the "hollywood protestant" vision of hell?

            but the catholic view is goodness itself and so if you don't want to be in union with that you separate yourself and "suffer" eternally.

            Why do you put the word suffer in scare quotes? Is it Catholic teaching that the damned do not suffer? Or that their only suffering is separation from God? Granted that "eternal fire" may be a metaphor, but I don't think the message of Catholicism is, "Don't worry about the eternal fire of hell. It's only a metaphor." It seems crystal clear that the Catholic Church teaches that hell involves eternal punishment besides separation from God. After all, there are plenty of people alive right now whom the Church would say have already chosen separation from God, and many of them are quite happy. Why should this change after they die?

          • Michael Murray

            If hell is a metaphor what is Pascal's wager about ?

          • David Nickol

            If hell is a metaphor what is Pascal's wager about ?

            It is not hell that is the metaphor, but "eternal fire." To repeat the quote from Dictionary of the Bible:

            These passages suggest that the apocalyptic imagery of other NT passages is to be taken for what it is, imagery, and not as strictly literal theological affirmation. The great truths of judgment and punishment are firmly retained throughout the NT, and no theological hypothesis can be biblical with reduces the ultimate destiny of righteousness and wickedness to the same thing; the details of the afterlife, however, are not disclosed except in imagery.

            It is also often pointed out (by Catholics) that hell is a state, not a place. The old joke was that it would be very easy to combine a hell for dogs with a heaven for fleas.

          • Michael Murray

            OK so there is suffering but we don't know what it consists of. Thanks.

            Hell could also just be too much of a good thing as in the old joke about a fisherman who dies and goes to hell. Satan takes him to a well stocked trout stream and provides him with fishing rods and tackle. He sets to fishing with great enthusiasm wondering why Hell has such a bad press. After landing a few fish he goes to put down his rod and rest. At which point Satan says "oh no, you can't stop".

          • Mike

            they may be "happy" but will nevertheless still suffer.

            Yes if you reject God you will suffer eternally.

          • David Nickol

            I think you are probably a good and amiable person in "real life," but—with all due respect—even the nuns who taught me in early grade school made more of an effort to give reasoned and sensible answers to these kinds of questions. If your goal here is more than simply to entertain yourself—and in all fairness, I see no reason why it has to be—then you have to do more than give simplistic answers to complex questions. Many of the atheists and skeptics here have had solid Catholic educations, and most here know how to check the Catechism and other sources that give pat answers to difficult questions. If you really want to contribute to a dialogue, you're going to have to make an effort to explain what you believe and why you believe it.

          • Mike

            i do this between financial analysis so forgive me.

            look we agree about hell so i am not sure what the issue is.

          • David Nickol

            Let me add that I suppose I can see the point of many kinds of punishment, but I don't see the purpose or point of eternal punishment. Nor do I see why it is necessary to assume that—if there is an afterlife—any human belief or state must be fixed at death. That implies that the ability to gain knowledge and make a free choice ends at death. Why should that be?

          • Rob Abney

            How could you gain knowledge after death? Knowledge is gained through your human capacity, once you die then you no longer have the physical body required to gain new knowledge.
            Damnation is eternal because you died with your will and/or your knowledge opposed to God. God's infinite justice cannot be overruled by his infinite mercy.

          • David Nickol

            How could you gain knowledge after death? Knowledge is gained through your human capacity, once you die then you no longer have the physical body required to gain new knowledge.

            How do the saints in heaven hear you when you pray to them? They don't have ears.

            Damnation is eternal because you died with your will and/or your knowledge opposed to God.

            So there will be no free will in the afterlife? I thought God wanted to be loved freely, and consequently gave human beings free will. Will love in heaven not be freely given?

            God's infinite justice cannot be overruled by his infinite mercy.

            Why is it that his infinite mercy cannot override his infinite justice? And what is just about punishing a mere human for all eternity? What is the point of endless punishment? What is the point of any punishment that does not seek to change a person for the better? Can you honestly say you would punish someone for all eternity? How could even the most wicked person who ever lived deserve eternal punishment? It seems to me that only an infinite offense could merit infinite punishment.

          • Rob Abney

            I can find good answers to all your questions in Aquinas' Summa but it is very difficult to summarize the Summa answers. David, are you very familiar with it?

            Nonetheless, it seems as though you're searching for an answer that allows a separation from God in this natural life to be resolved in the supernatural life. We view God's mercy as being abundant to allow eternal life but you seem to be asking for that mercy to be even more merciful, to allow an absence of faith to be overlooked when you finally have the proof that you are seeking. Perhaps it will work that way but that's not how we have traditionally understood it.

          • David Nickol

            I am familiar enough with the Summa so that if you can find answers to my questions there, I ought to be able to myself (with a lot of help from Google).

            We view God's mercy as being abundant to allow eternal life but you seem to be asking for that mercy to be even more merciful . . . .

            It seems to me that it is impossible to expect more mercy from an infinitely merciful God. You seem to believe his mercy is limited in some way, if only by his justice. I don't see how an all-good, infinitely merciful God would inflict infinite punishment on a finite being. Are you honestly at ease with the idea of human beings condemned to everlasting suffering? How could anyone give informed consent to everlasting suffering? How could anyone choose such a thing?

          • Rob Abney

            "Are you honestly at ease with the idea of human beings condemned to everlasting suffering? How could anyone give informed consent to everlasting suffering? How could anyone choose such a thing?"

            I am not at ease with the idea of everlasting suffering and I hope and pray that no one chooses that. Informed consent is a curious term, we don't believe that anyone who is truly uninformed will be damned but the number of truly uninformed is probably a small number.
            It is admirable that you are concerned that others should not have that consequence, usually the concern is less altruistic and more self-centered.

      • Doug Shaver

        if there is no God and nature is all there is then i agree it's a total crap shoot a scam a trick a bad joke an evil scheme.

        A crap shoot, yes. As for the rest: scams, tricks, jokes, and schemes all presuppose intelligent agency.

        • Mike

          well i think that even a crap shoot implies intelligence heck i think that even chaos implies intelligence.

          • Doug Shaver

            If that's how you perceive intelligence, it could account for some of our disagreements.

          • Mike

            yes i think so. remember it take ALOT of intelligence to come up with a casino.

  • Phil Rimmer

    Nature is more predictable than we are. As agents, we embody far higher densities of output obscuring process. Our cultural "rules" and subsequent processes evolve with astonishing rapidity.

    Our problem is the problem of being culturally set as children, without having insight built in by parents of future children and their needs and the moral imperative of living sustainably. Having just come back from a holiday on the Isle of Skye (think the opening discoverers' landscape of Prometheus) I can claim I truly adore nature but our problem isn't loving nature insufficiently but caring too little for those that follow in our stead.

    • Mike

      when you were there looking out over all that beauty did you feel like it could be the work of a great artist?

      • Phil Rimmer

        No. It was greater than that.

        It was the architect of my aesthetics. The babbling burns endlessly quenched my thirst. The yellow and purple of the flowers and heather spoke of bees and honey. The lofty view across to Raasay and the mainland a secure vantage, the mists a cloak to hide. The bays, sea safe. The hillsides sheep safe. All in there without my conscious knowing and read out again as some kind of nameless, unfathomable perfection.

        Edit. second para added

        • Mike

          in what sense. i am curious...like it even transcends "God" or "artist"?

          • Phil Rimmer

            It (nature, its appearance) made minds (or, through evolution, formed much of their values) not was made by one.

          • neil_pogi

            evolution again!!
            can you explain how the colorful flowers evolved from LUCA :-)

          • Phil Rimmer

            Sure!

            Flowers need to attract insects to them to get pollen spread to other plants and other sex organs. There is a need to out compete with their neighbour plant types and better attract bees and the like. Bees (say) need also to gather the other bait of fructose offered by the plants. They need to identify quickly the plants they best need to go to, thereby not wasting precious energy.

            Both are therefore subjected to complimentary selection pressures that have the plants creating more distinctive (attractive) colours than neighbour species and bees (say) developing appropriate vision to more easily see them. The range of colours is limited to a very narrow band of energy levels (frequencies or colours) for which the photochemistry of vision is possible. (Infrared rapidly becomes too low energy for sensitive, high resolution enough vision to be possible. Ultraviolet colours are used by plants and insects but the Sun is too cool to make enough of it to extend insect/plant colours much above ours. We can predict that any life on a planet around a star with a much higher surface temperature will develop vision with a much broader range of UV colours.)

            We developed very sophisticated colour vision with three different colour sensors (and a fourth non-imaging sensor for iris control and circadian rhythm cuing).(Some people have a fourth colour vision sensor!) This enables us to be better omnivores discerning the red component of fruits with sufficient saccharides in or the green of mould on flesh etc. etc. The list of uses and varieties of colours is long.

          • neil_pogi

            then they were designed, because the flowers knew they are to be pollinated by some insects, and bees know that they are designed to polinate the flowers. i didn't see evolution in action here!

          • Phil Rimmer

            because the flowers knew...

            Sure...Dream on.

            So you don't even understand how evolution works?

          • neil_pogi

            then explain its mechanism for me!

            you don't have any say at all why the flowers need bees and butterflies for pollination.. and why the bees and butterflies know that they are pollinators of flowers? and then you just answer me: 'Sure...Dream on.' so where are your scientific explanations?

          • Mike

            ah interesting so to me you're saying that "nature" is your "god"...fascinating. btw i think you're a pagan.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Not in the least. Like flowers fashion bee vision and bee "aesthetics", this is just evolution doing its thang.

            But...looked at just so, there is a poetry of inter-meshed, selective pressures that sometimes, seemingly, forms a mutuality and a sense of home.

            This poetry, is open-ended and wild/indifferent instead of the claustrophobic and closed world of a creator.

            Nature is not my god in any sense. It is the mindlessness that thrills here. But the accumulating knowledge of mankind is the great mutual adventure that thrills more possibly, the intellectual Castellers we have found ourselves to be. But again no godhead here. It is the building of minds from rocks, water and energy that fascinates...throughout the process.

          • Mike

            maybe we just differ on the defn of god then.

          • Phil Rimmer

            I would never, ever use the word myself. It surely connotes a mind?

          • Mike

            of course.

            but i can't see how you can not call nature your god.

          • Phil Rimmer

            It connotes mind, of which nature has none. Besides, I think I love human society more.

            "god" adds nothing to any description or categorisation of either of my loves.

            Edit @20 mins

            For me Nature in metaphorical terms means "home" more than "god" .

          • Mike

            maybe the key word is worship or stand in awe of...you see in nature what many see in God.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Drink in,capture, share, celebrate..... are more my kind of words.

            I am anti-theist almost entirely as an aesthetic response. Having both death and true freedom makes life all the sweeter, the adventuring the more thrilling. I possibly lack the anxiety to be a stay at home kid (as I see it).

          • Mike

            this makes sense to me...thanks for the honesty.

            many ppl feel the same way.

        • Mike

          those description to me seem to "transcend" the actual things you were seeing...there were qualia there that no materialist philosophy can account for...this is a clue i think.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Sorry but neurologist Vilayanur Ramachandran (and I) are only too happy to put a prosaic mechanism to these observations. Every last one of my descriptions was about the basic need to survive, eat and drink and be safe and prosper.

            Rainbows are not unwoven by knowing that aesthetics are mainly rooted in our material survival. Rather, we have merely taken a step closer to see the detail in the fabric.

          • Mike

            the mechanism may be prosaic but the goal is clearly not as it moved you to feel something transcendent. the mechanism doesn't exhaust the phenomenon or does it?

          • Phil Rimmer

            Transcendent is another word that has little personal meaning. My three billion year old driver to homeostasis and survival feels rather more like profound roots.

            All experiences deplete. Itches are scratched. Freedom is felt most keenly by the prisoner set free. The living poetry of contrasts keep us aesthetically refreshed. Heaven would be hell.

          • Mike

            are you a materialist?

          • Phil Rimmer

            I have a powerful indifference to philosophical positions. So often they have little practical use as filters of facts.

            I cleave to physics, though, if that is any help?

          • Mike

            yeah, i guess....anyway glad to hear you're not a materialist strictly speaking.

      • Doug Shaver

        did you feel like it could be the work of a great artist?

        I get that feeling sometimes. But I don't infer "is" from "could be."

        • neil_pogi

          at least you appreciate the wonders God has endowed for us!
          what if flowers don't have many glaring colors?
          what it would look if all the surroundings are colored black?

          • Doug Shaver

            If anything weren't like it is, it would be different. There are some changes I would like, some I would not like, and some I cannot imagine.

          • neil_pogi

            what are those things that you can't imagine?

          • Doug Shaver

            If I could think of them, then I'd be imagining them. I just assume that the limits of what is possible are not the same as the limits of my imagination.

          • neil_pogi

            because atheists rely on their fanciful imagination rather than facing reality and facts.

        • Mike

          i don't infer "is" as much as i feel very very strongly that "it just has to be".

          • Doug Shaver

            Hmm. It could be, therefore it has to be?
            Doesn't work for me, but . . . different strokes and all that.

          • Mike

            well not just could be but if it doesn't then nothing is.

            ok all the best.

  • Doug Shaver

    The ancients knew this truth [of nature's capriciousness], and they expressed it in their mythology. . . . And the consistent Biblical message is that this Creator God . . . is reliable, rock-like in his steadfast love, more dedicated to human beings than a mother is to her child.

    I don't find that message anywhere except in the Bible. The pagans at least had a theology consistent with observation. They admitted that their gods couldn't be trusted.

    • neil_pogi

      even the israelites after the exile from egypt, they always complain to moses, about their miseries and sufferings (ex: it is better to be slaves in egypt..at least we can eat there 3 times a day). they always distrust God, that's why in one event, moses unwittingly struck the rock and water pours down for them

      • Doug Shaver

        That what the story says.

        • neil_pogi

          that's why they were hsitorical.

          • Doug Shaver

            that's why they were hsitorical.

            So says your dogma. There is no other reason for anyone to think there is any history in the Pentateuch.

          • neil_pogi

            then question the present jews who observe them. the ancients jews who recorded their history.
            how about your atheistic beliefs? did they have supporting evidence to claim their historicity?

  • Peter

    "They all have more or less the same message, namely, that nature finally doesn’t give a fig for human beings, that it is far greater than we, and will outlast us"

    Consciousness represents the pinnacle of complexity in the universe, and we humans are examples of it, together with possibly countless other species across the cosmos now and in the future. The whole of nature, from the inception of the universe to its gradual evolution through the aeons, appears to be arrayed towards greater and greater complexity, culminating in widespread consciousness.

    Insofar as we humans are local representatives of that consciousness, it would seem that nature is subservient to us in the sense that we are the pinnacle of its achievement. All of nature's efforts throughout the aeons will have been channelled and focussed to creating us and others like us.

    Indeed, if we are created in the image and likeness of the Intellect that designed the universe, it is only right that nature be our servant and not our master.