PERENNIAL QUESTIONS

In the 13th ENCYCLICAL ON FAITH AND REASON, according to media reports, Pope John Paul II is concerned that "modern philosophy has lost confidence in reason."  The Pope fears that ". . . the search for ULTIMATE (my upper case) truth seems often to be neglected."  Commendably the Pope ". . . urged philosophers, theologians, and people in the pews to keep using human reason. . . ."  Unfortunately, he added, ". . .to seek ultimate truth--not just to examine facts and technological data."  He suggested that philosophers should be reasoning about the following "metaphysical" questions, which have been asked and reasoned about for thousands of years to no avail, "Who am I?" "Where have I come from and where am I going?" "Why is there evil?" and "What is there after this life?

I find it impossible to understand what the Pope means by " reason" when he asks us to apply it to questions, which cannot be verified, in order "to find Ultimate truth."
If the Pope's admonition is meant to suggest a new approach (i.e., use of more reason), it is a back-handed way of recommending that we hold on to old (and unverifiable) ideas.
      To paraphrase Einstein, we should be more frightened of old ideas than of new ones.
If there is one thing philosophers have learned in the history of philosophy, it is that finding ultimate truth is a will o' the wisp.
      According to centuries of available evidence, neither reason nor observation of facts, alone or together, can possibly determine ULTIMATE truth or knowledge.
      Only knowing one hundred percent of all that can be known in the past, present, and future would make that possible.
It was long ago determined that the search for truth and knowledge requires both reason and facts.
      Reason alone results only in hypothetical conclusions.
      Reasoning about facts, which includes the meanings we attribute to words, however, would bring us to such conclusions as, "If God is not corporeal, i.e., not matter/energy, then he has no brain and consequently cannot be all-knowing, not alone all-good, all-powerful, and all-present."
      Is this what the Pope wants us to discover?
As far as I know, few (if any) philosophers deny the existence of truth.
      We affirm only that there is no way possible to obtain ultimate, i.e., absolute, truth and knowledge.
As for reason and faith being complementary, this is true if there is faith (i.e., trust and confidence) based on evidence,

     certainly not if faith is based on the absence of or in spite of evidence.
      Blindly believing in any claim, theistic or secular, verifies nothing.
For some of us the first three questions, below, are very easy to answer and are hardly metaphysical.
The fourth is intellectually unanswerable since it asks us to seek facts about the "supernatural," a word that excludes the possibility of experiencing facts.
Let's apply some reasoning to the Pope's four questions bearing in mind that it cannot be done in a vacuum of facts, in an absence of an examination of the language, and without an examination of the assumptions underlying his questions.                          

"Who am I?"
This question historically was, and generally still is, founded on the contention that the soul (psuch) is "who I am."

     A few words, then, about the historical and evolutionary attributions of meanings of the term, 'soul,' should be enlightening.
     An explication of the history of meanings attributed to the term, 'soul,' is far too complex to present here. 

     Suffice it to say that initially it appeared to designate merely the fact of being alive.  "Being alive" was interpreted to include anything human or otherwise by dint of "motion."  

     Through the evolution of its uses and attributions of meanings, any combination of activity, or characteristics, quantitative or qualitative, at any time, were considered to be evidence  of "soul."  

     Eventually it was and is considered by believers in theism to be some mystical "entity" or substance, destined to flee from the body of a living being upon death to reside eternally on some theistically supernatural dimension. 

     Undoubtedly this concept was inherited from Platonian dialogues in which the soul was described as an eternally pure metaphysical entity once hosted by, in "Stargate fashion" a physical being, becoming contaminated.
      After a succession of such earthly contaminations, was destined to inhabit an entity better or worse, depending on the life style of its immediately previous host.
      Surely as an artistic endeavor it made for interesting reading, but such a concept has long lost any value from the point of view of truth and knowledge.
      After all, the brain, as one scientist described it, is "an intricate web of electrical and nerve connections."
      This is certainly verified by the fact that scientists can now use electro-magnetic impulses and artificial implants in the brain to "mentally" activate a computer.
      So much for a metaphysical soul. 
      And this is only the beginning of developing "cyborgs" that will be superior to human beings.
      The next step will be advanced computer enhanced brains.
However, the average person, who is not concerned with such matters or of esoteric philosophic issues or who is not imbued with indoctrinated and unverifiable theistic concepts, might ask, "What do you mean?"
      Or, he may proceed to give his surname.
      Or he might offer information about his profession, his family, and relatives.
      Or, he may speak of his hobbies and interests, his ambitions.
      Or, he might offer an intellectual reply: "I'm the totality of my experiences."
      He may give a profound reply: "I'm an evolving person from moment to moment in process from birth to death."
" Where have I come from and where am I going?"
Just as water emerges from hydrogen and oxygen, seeing emerges from the right quantity and kind of matter, hearing also.
      I (i.e., my body, life, and mind) have emerged from the bowels of the universe, first through the formation of the earth, then through the sperm of my father and egg and womb of my mother, nurtured by their experiences, my "village," and by the matter and chemicals in the earth, consumed through plants and other food products.
      This is as it was with our ancestors before us.
      And as with them, we shall return to our ultimate origin, the earth, or in Biblical terms, ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
To think otherwise is to dredge up troglodytic fantasies long shown to be nonsense.
"Why is there evil?"
We shall not, here, delve into the meanings we attribute to the term.
     In theological terms, evil exists because one's all-powerful God makes it possible, allows it, and even actively practiced it; see: Jer 4:10 and 15:18; 2 Thess. 2:11; and Ezek. 14:9.
      Consider His murdering everyone on earth except Noah and his family and two (or nine?) of every other type of living creature on earth!
     Consider, also, His allowing Satan to exist eternally.
      If these examples of God's evil propensity are metaphors or the question conceives evil as a metaphysical force or is asking, "Why does God make evil possible and permit it?" all answers to such theistic questions are conjecture or unverifiable dogma, and, therefore, intellectual nonsense.
In realistic terms evil exists because most of us are born as grabbing animals with an instinct to survive.
      Some of us are born with abnormal emergent qualities that prevent us from being civilized by nurturing influences, others because they were not nurtured properly, some by a naturally intense and uncontrollable need for power or the pleasure of hurting others.
      A (non-metaphysical) lobotomy could eviscerate all such evil tendencies as does death.
"What is there after this life?"
This concept was probably conceived by our distant ancestors, confusing dormancy with death, who saw "dead" plant life spring forth in full bloom again in the change of seasons.
      Moreover, claims of after-death experiences are ignorant of or ignore the fact that the brain is still functioning according to the physical laws of this universe.
      If by "after this life" it means being "brain dead," this question makes the unfounded and unverifiable assumption that there may be "something" (some form of ethereal life in another space-time dimension) other than the physical/energy conditions which enabled and enables our existence in the first place.
      This question, too, is intellectually unanswerable.

Added: December 6, 1998

Much of what man has accomplished could not have been accomplished in the absence of faith.  Why, then, do you have such an aversion to it?

If you had studied my homepage carefully, you would not have asked this question.
I do not have an aversion to faith.
In fact I possess a very strong sense of faith.
However, I do have an aversion to the abuse of language, CONDITIONED faith, the teaching of false and/or untestable and unfalsifiable "information," and the blind acceptance of claims that cannot be verified.
Moreover, the problem lies in what is meant by the term 'faith' when it is used by various individuals and particularly institutions.
The problem lies, also, in who uses it and to what purpose.
The use of the term often underlies a specific agenda.
Following are some of the ways in which we use the term:
      1) Have faith in yourself.  (Have confidence in yourself.)
      2) Have faith in your spouse.  (Trust your spouse, or believe that your spouse is not cheating on you.)
      3) Keep the faith baby!  (This use can mean whatever you wish it to mean; possibly: "Don't give up your system of blind beliefs.")
      4) Have faith in God.  [Blindly accept His existence and trust that He will do what (He thinks) is best for you.]
      5) Be faithful.  (Don't cheat.  Be loyal.  Do your duty.  Live up to your vows.  Do what is expected of you.)
      6) Don't be unfaithful.  (Don't cheat or be disloyal.)
      7) You have to accept it on faith.  [Accept as true what is not known to be true, i.e., intuitive (no evidence) belief.]
      8) Positivists have faith in the principle of verifiability, i.e., evidence.  (An opponent of Positivism means "blind faith.")
In SOME of the above the term is a religious, theistic, and even secular euphemism for unquestioning blind acceptance.
It is too often an admonition to accept claims, particularly theistic claims WITHOUT and/or IN SPITE of evidence.
Such an admonition often carries the weight of centuries-old established religions, the tacit threat of eternal punishment, and guilt-producing language.
For various reasons, such a use of the term is one of the most damaging forms of ignorance -- discussed elsewhere in this homepage.
Underlying them all is the fact that it hides one's ignorance from one's self.
If one wishes to learn to use the term 'faith' properly, one must first learn the ways in which faith is conditioned or established.
FAITH WITHOUT EVIDENCE and FAITH IN SPITE OF EVIDENCE:
      These are accomplished through a process of physiological conditioning, resulting in a conditioned psychological state of mind.
      The process is analogous to Pavlov's conditioning his dog, with the ringing of a bell, to lap up a bowl whether it is full or empty.
      Today, lower animals are trained (read: conditioned) for the entertainment world.
      In the case of conditioning theistic faith in human beings, the long and complex process begins on the date of birth when mother exclaims, "My God, what a beautiful baby!"
      Proponents of a major religion say, "Give us your child for ten years and he will be ours forever."
      They, however, use the euphemistic term, 'indoctrinating' instead of 'conditioning.'
      From that day forward, one hears the term a "million" times along with concomitant theistic explanations, meanings, and terms like 'Heaven,' 'Hell,' 'angels,' 'Purgatory,' 'Satan,' 'sin,' and the like.
      As well, one is offered the reward of going to heaven for being good, or in some religions, being a terrorist suicide bomber with 80 virgins awaiting him in "heaven." Or one is threatened with being sent to Hell for not having faith in God.
      These are a few of the conditioning linguistic "bells," besides countless others, that are used to make you believe and respond as the conditioner CAUSES you to.
      Such beliefs are held and responses performed in the absence of reason and knowledge on the part of the one being conditioned.
      One has no choice in whether or not to believe.
      If you are already "on the fence," then it is likely that some striking event like the tragic death of a loved one may be the "last straw" in the evolutionary process taking place in your mind in causing you to refuse to accept blindly claims that cannot be verified.
      If you are a zealot, a true or born-again believer, or if you believe that your all-good God will always do what (He thinks) is good for you, whatever catastrophe, tragedy, disease, or suffering He may impose upon you, you will, in blind faith, attribute it to, "God has His reasons."
      What, then, of your faith in the nature of God's "Goodness"?
      Only an extensive and intensive education, into the attributed meanings of that term, especially its uses in theistic linguistic claims, will expose the non-epistemic and non-ontological nature of such claims.
      As a result of such education the learning and understanding that takes place in examining the meanings of words is an evolutionary process leading one, forever after, to reject as truth and knowledge what cannot be verified.
      Choice of what to believe now depends upon faith (trust or confidence) in available evidence.
      No longer will one's mindset be subject to conditioned blind acceptance.
      The so-called truths (dogmas and edicts) of theism rarely, if ever, change.
      If they do, they are changed with another edict or by a vote of those in power.
      Truth and knowledge are dependent upon probable evidence, which is open-ended in character, and cannot be determined by edict or a vote.
FAITH BASED ON EVIDENCE:
      Faith, here, means trust and confidence based on evidence -- not blind acceptance.
      Choice IS involved here.
      If one discovers (has evidence) that one's spouse has been UNfaithful, one has a choice of whether to trust that spouse again.
      My very strong faith in science is based on the fact that in my 93 years I have seen the evidence that when science (not an individual scientist who is fallible) makes predictions, they are fulfilled and verified.
      When a theory or hypothesis turns out to be weak or wrong, it is scientists who discover the weakness or error.
      The most noble characteristic of science is its self-corrective character.
      No one scientist can declare truth or knowledge without the community of scientists, throughout the world, being concerned that his claim be severely scrutinized through repeated tests, experimentation, and verification.
      Were it to happen that science too often made predictions that never came to fruition, I would choose not to trust and have confidence, i.e., have faith, in it.

1997 by Pasqual S. Schievella