MEANING, INTELLIGIBILITY, MORALITY, AND GOD: A CONVERSATION WITH JOSHUA RASMUSSEN, PART 2

by Daniel A. Kaufman

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The second of a two-part conversation with Joshua Rasmussen of Azusa Pacific University on a broad variety of issues, related to the meaning of life, morality, the intelligibility of the world, and God. Technical difficulties interrupted us, so the conversation is being presented in two parts.

01:10 Does longevity add value, cont’d. 09:35 Morality and God 16:35 Morality and Consciousness 24:25 Dan: God cannot provide explanations for anything 50:40 Obligation and God

18 comments

  1. Dan, you are scoring a goal against your own side here. You make the claim that we don’t see the need for a sense of transcendence and then later, you say you can now better see the point of mortality, because as you get older the world gets more frustrating. When people experience transcendent meaning, it makes it easier to deal with the chaos and frustration,doesn’t it?
    You describe yourself as fed up with inventing narratives about your life that don’t fit with the reality, and you brilliantly describe what it is like to deal with your parents mortality and at the same time you are describing an experience that very many people go through. You appear not to want to understand the way that this is a basic kind of experience that you share with other people. Of course we are all alone suffering through our lives. “Out out, brief candle.” But what makes life richer and more meaningful is exactly understanding how it connects with common human themes. That way we gain a richer experience out of it all. The transcendent part enriches us by connecting what we are going through with the rest of the world, from animals to people, to eco-systems to the universe. I really don’t see why you are making this into a philosophical issue, since it really has to do with what your life means to you. It’s one thing to reject transcendence as a go-to intuition pump for solving philosophical problems and quite another to reject it in your own life.

    1. You appear not to want to understand the way that this is a basic kind of experience that you share with other people

      – – – –

      This could be one of the most condescending and stupidest things anyone has said to me in a long time. Bravo.

      1. In the above podcast video you describe your negative experience dealing with your aging parents, you describe your need to eschew transcendence wherever it rears its ugly head. You describe a recent history of the deconstruction of your personal sense of a greater meaning to your life, and an acceptance of mortality as a possible relief from this crazy world we live in now. Myself, I have gone through a similar process: my father died of congestive heart failure last december and the previous four years he had blown hundreds of thousands of dollars on a vanity publishing venture, publishing substandard material that took away and undermined his legitimate achievements. It was enraging and frustrating for me and the rest of my family. I too have spent a lot of time reassessing my life and not coming up happy about it. But to go all out radically existentialist and say there is no greater meaning and at the same time describe feelings of emptiness,weariness, and defeat gives an appearance that you are avoiding understanding how your experience relates to others, and thus evading the transcendent.

        1. There is no evasion, and there is no transcendent. And I’m not avoiding anything. I have thought and written extensively on these matters here and have been invited to do so for other publications. I have just signed a contract to contribute a book chapter on this very topic, based on my essay for 3:16.

          I am being honest and transparent and am talking about these things precisely because most people won’t. Your responses to me have been rude and condescending, and I won’t discuss it with you further. Let it go.

      2. Sorry I said it that way. I didn’t mean to condescend or insult you. I should have said “It seems to me, that by rejecting transcendence you are rejecting a shared understanding of these life issues.” I understand that the way I come across may seem too aggressive, but I wish you would not dismiss me out of hand. I will try to tone it down a notch. This whole issue of whether transcendence exists or not is of vital importance to me, and I would love to debate with you in real time via video, but I can imagine what you think of that idea. It frustrates me seeing you debate with Theists about this when I think you should be debating a humanist. Job said “God, why are you persecuting a righteous man?” And you seem to me to be saying: “Forget about God, the meaning I thought was there isn’t. And by the way, there is no transcendence!” I’m saying there is transcendence, and it is in our experience of shared understanding of meaning.

        1. I have no interest in debating you or anyone else on this. My aim has never been to talk religious or spiritual people out of their “transcendent.” I certainly wasn’t trying to do that with Josh, and it would have been futile if I was.

          I am simply writing and talking my way through issues that I am confronting now. I am trying to explain not just why *I* find the “transcendent” unhelpful and even detrimental, but why I think it is a bad idea. I don’t know why this is so threatening or “frustrating” to you. Think and live whatever and however you like. No one makes you read these essays.

          I disagreed with a bunch of things in EJ’s latest. But as it was clearly a meditation and reflection what is the point of arguing with it? Or trying to talk him out of it?

          There’s nothing wrong with just letting people’s statements stand as they are.

          1. I’m sorry I’ve come across as rude. I’ll make an extra effort to tone it down from now on. I’m also sorry you don’t want to discuss transcendence. What if I wrote something for this blog on the subject instead?

  2. Value is a function or ” the affective sensibility.”
    Value is a “kind of consciousness” that has “positive states or negative states.”
    We have a “self-reflective awareness of pleasure and pain” based on a “nervous system capacity” based on a “naturalistic state.” Pleasure is positive, pain in negative.

    Clearly then, value is inherently an emotional state. To understand value one must be emotional. Intelligence, as an objective unbiased mental acumen, is inherently inadequate/incapable to apprehend value. Our emotional mind is a mental function “designed” to apprehend value and its many real world manifestations in human experience.

    The “language” of the emotional mind is not the mental state of linguistic words (intellectual) but the mental state of corporistic “sense” and “feelings.” Words can’t apprehend value. Value is inherently a feeling.

    Such emotional mental function (as well as intellectual function) is inherently ordered and a manifestation of the “natural” manifest order of things.

    What is God? God IS the order of things. God IS meaning (the order of things). Nature has observable order and that order IS God. “Nature” is just a renaming of “God” but has the same essential meaning. If E = mc2. God is in the “=” sign. Our nervous system has order based on the natural order of the universe and thus of necessity expresses the divine order (a tautology).

    Thus value is a manifest expression of the natural order of things, of manifest reality, of God. Morality is inherently an expression of value which is itself an expression of nature and thus an expression of the divine. One must be passionate to be knowledgable of such order and thus of nature and of the divine.

  3. Very good dialogue:

    That we came to this point of reflexive consciousness with the capacity to talk into our own ears all the way from rocks ‘n gas is a source of wonder. The growth in complexity of the material base has reached that level where information is information for itself. The advaitic vedanta has it that consciousness pervades/transfuses all this and that the material base is not itself conscious by nature. At that level cybernetic control far ahead of the earlier technology of persuasion by the use of rhetoric becomes possible. What previously was a spontaneous eruption of mass hysteria can be evoked by those skilled in the art of the ‘nudge’ as for instance the British Government’s use of psy ops in their covid campaign.
    https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/behavioural-insights-team

    Consider the outrage feedback mechanism used by hashtag posses which achieves a bogus homeostasis when a victim is torn apart by maenads.

    How can we limit our programability? The sages recommend turning to the source of identity, the single unchanging thing in the flux of life, consciousness itself. Use the very feedback aspect of our material nature to move us away from bemusement. Pranayama, mantra, ritual and philosophical inquiry should become habitual to facilitate the movement through the learning levels from rote to context to altering context and finally to the apophatic.

    1. I’m curious as to how consciousness could pervade everything but the material base would not be conscious by nature. Is that the material base isn’t self-conscious or sapient or what have you? If so, then OK, but it’s common for adherents of panpsychism in philosophy to ascribe only a very low level of sentience to nature itself.

      And in any case, if consciousness is the most fundamental aspect, and pervades everything, then I’m not sure how the material is held apart from that. And FWIW my understanding is that Advaita Vedanta is a form of panpsychism, though it’s admittedly not super easy to categorize.

      Thanks,

      1. Jay Jeffers:
        In advaita the mind is the body pervaded by consciousness. It reflects consciousness. The pure materiality of the body sets it apart from panpsychism. The philosophy behind it is a transcendental hypothesis or an attempt to describe how things must fundamentally be for things to appear as they do. Therefore if you only admit ‘matters of fact’ and ‘relations of ideas’ advaita will have no traction noetically. It originates as a response to the aporia/impasse of how the object somehow comes to be in the subject as a perception and that this perception reflects how things really are. This is very much the starting point of Plato and Aristotle with their realisms. Epistemologically advaita is a realism.

  4. Well, after the heights attained in Part 1, Part 2 sped quickly to the very basement of possible intelligibility. Rasmussen spewed a veritable fog of weasel language disguised as some sort of philosophy.

    “Brewer’s Dictionary of 20th Century Phrase and Fable defines weasel words as “words of convenient ambiguity, or an evasive statement from which the original meaning has been sucked or retracted”. The term-originated in a short story in an American magazine in 1900, intriguingly entitled Stained-Glass Polltical Platform: “Why, weasel words are words that suck the life of the words next to them, just as a weasel sucks the egg and leaves the shell.”” https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/weasel-words-an-impulse-to-confess-the-truth-1.88882

    “A weasel word, or anonymous authority, is an informal term for words and phrases aimed at creating an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said, when in fact only a vague or ambiguous claim has been communicated. Examples include the phrases “some people say”, “most people think”, and “researchers believe.” Using weasel words may allow one to later deny any specific meaning if the statement is challenged, because the statement was never specific in the first place.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weasel_word

    I have no doubt that Rasmussen actually believes in what he is saying; I just don’t buy that he actually understands what he is saying. In place of understanding, what we have is a set of words linked through a respected (but not uncontroversial) historical genealogy – mind, consciousness, god, morality, etc. – cobbled together with contemporary buzz-phrases borrowed from popular pseudo-science and fringe academia – “our best science is joining with what a lot of philosophers who have been working on the philosophy of mind have been saying about the irreducibility of consciousness” – “our best science” – ” a lot of philosophers” – vague puffing filling up the space of needed argumentation. How can one assert that mind can be found in even rocks unless one has a working definition of “mind” that is defeasible through practical experiment and application? But the moment when he asserted that the brain developed out of consciousness (not the other way around – I’m not sure you noticed that one, Dan, you were busy working out a thought) – well, that tells the whole story. If consciousness precedes matter, then of course there must be god, because that is part and parcel with possible ascriptions of the Divine. Which means that arguments are effectively at an end – all that follows is polite conversation. Rasmussen is quietly but persistently trying to get us to accept premises that make his irrational assertions seem like reasonable arguments. They just are not.

    He says he’s not a pan-psychist? Yeah, I didn’t vote for Joe Biden, I just checked a box by his name on the ballot; it could have been something more valuable, I was just letting the pen think its way into communicating with the paper.

    I’m sorry, but from Rasmussen, I really hear the voice of an adolescent who just won’t give up his fairy tales, but who won’t redevelop them as novels for mature readers either. Disappointing, to say the least.

    1. EJ, I pressed him on all of these issues. Please remember that he is a professor at an explicitly Christian university and is a Christian himself, who does a good deal of apologetics.

      I was not expecting otherwise from him. Do you really think he’ll just drop his deepest commitments? What I like about him is that he is honest, fair, does not proselytize, and really does try to engage with his interlocutor. With someone like him, what I look for is to find places where we might either come to some agreement or discover useful disagreements.

      I have to be able to talk to people like this, or else we’re all just sitting in trenches, shooting each other.

  5. Yeah, I get most of that; but it’s the ‘weaseling’ that got to me. Apologetics are easier to sympathize with, or at least respect, when they are straight up front. I just get a sense that Joshua wants reason to gel into a mushy ‘everything is everything’ justification for his beliefs (that could then, presumably, persuade others to it); and I don’t think it works, and – *from his own perspective” – I don’t think it’s necessary.

    I remember a dialogue between Christopher Hitchens and an Italian Catholic bishop who said that he accepted the scientific explanations of the natural universe, and Hitchens was frustrated, since, from his perspective, such explanations preclude the possibility of belief in a Divinity, and the bishop said that his faith wasn’t driven by a desire for explanations, but by having fallen in love with Christ. That is not enough to persuade this lapsed catholic/ non-theist to share that faith; but I respect that it is true to the bishop’s experience. One doesn’t argue with one in love, even should that love be misplaced – that is for the lover to discover.

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