Pan-what’s-it-ism

Because of the sort of books I read, I keep coming across these words and have never really understood the difference (or it doesn’t stick): panpsychism, pantheism and panentheism. Fortuitously, Christian de Quincey explains in his book Blind Spots. I’ve added links to Wikipedia, which has good definitions and background.

Pan is an ancient Greek word meaning ‘whole’ or ‘all of’.

Panpsychism is a philosophical belief about mind, meaning that all of nature possesses mind. Consciousness is in every thing.

Pantheism is a theological belief about the nature of God or gods. It argues that God and nature are essentially the same. God is immanent in nature.

Panentheism takes pantheism a step further – God is in all of nature, but also beyond nature. God is both transcendent and imminent in nature.

Panpsychism is consistent with pantheism, but less so with panentheism because that transcendent God lies beyond its concept.

As de Quincey points out, the important thing to take away is that God/nature is an ongoing, evolving, neverending creative process, and we are each a co-creative part thereof. Materialism is a dead duck, and atheism seems somehow irrelevant.

Isaac Newton, Mystic

Isaac Newton is generally seen as a key founder of modern science, via his major work Principia Mathematica and theory of gravity – which led on to the theory of the ‘clockwork universe’ and much of the modern materialist/atheistic world view.

Newton was indeed a great polymath. What is less known is that his work was inspired by his studies of religion and mysticism, which were at least as important to him as the natural sciences. The idea of a clockwork universe would have been anathema to Newton, as would the idea of atheism.

This is all explained in Edi Bilimoria’s well-researched article ‘Newton’ in the current issue of Paradigm Explorer, magazine of the Scientific and Medical Network.

Interestingly, Newton’s gravity and its attraction were ‘a purely mathematical concept involving no consideration of real and primary physical or mechanical causes’ – which is why his book is about ‘mathematics’ and not ‘mechanics’.

As Edi explains, Newton’s religious ideas were well developed and have little in common with the Christianity of the time, being more related to the view that God is everywhere immanent and transcendent. Quoting Newton himself:

[God] endures forever , and is everywhere present; and by existing always and everywhere, he constitutes duration and space. In him are all things contained and moved…

Of course, many modern scientists have come to a similar viewpoint on the importance of religion. For example, that more modern polymath Albert Einstein:

“Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”

Edi’s article is well worth reading.

Thank God for Atheists?

I was intrigued by the title of Simon Marlow’s article in the Oct-Dec 2016 issue of the magazine The Beacon, published by the Lucis Trust. Marlow explores the ‘new atheism’ of modern times, exemplified by authors such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, putting them in [what is for me] a helpful context.

There are three facets, which I will cover under the following three headings.

Atheism as an expression of materialism

There is a contrast between two views of materialism:

  1. that of those such as Helena Blavatsky, who see all as one, encompassing spirituality, so that “Matter is spirit at its lowest form of manifestation and spirit is matter at its highest”.
  2. that of many modern scientists, who see matter as what we can perceive with our physical senses and equipment. Matter is primary and consciousness is an effect of material activity.

Whichever view is adopted, Marlow notes that there is still a strong ethical and empathetic focus in many professed atheists, such as Bertrand Russel, philosopher Peter Singer. However, the second perspective can lead to a rather bleak outlook on life as being without meaning.

Atheism as an antidote to religious superstition and scriptural realism

It is observable that religions have often in history, and today, become distorted from their original inspiration to regarding the religious institution and its scriptures as of paramount importance, rather than how people live their lives. Such fundamentalism has caused or contributed to many wars over history, obviously including much modern terrorism.

It was the time of the Enlightenment and the rise of science that put forward reason as a counterweight to the unhealthy state of religions at the time. This has done great service in breaking the hold of religious traditions on the mind of humanity, leading to the modern explosion of technology, social interaction and knowledge.

Modern atheism lies within this tradition, so the debate initiated by them is of value, so long as their atheism in variant 2 does not seek to discredit all that is not within this limited paradigm.

Atheism from an esoteric perspective

Esoterically, we are in the process of a great transition from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius. The new atheism is undoubtedly part of this process in helping to release humanity from the hold of the old religions and their fundamentalist aspects.

But again this must not replace the old fundamentalism with a new one of its own – a new atheism that denies the inner world of human beings. Marlow quotes one of the ‘new atheists’ Sam Harris: “there is a place for the sacred in our lives”.

There seems to be a sort of convergence with progressive elements of the modern religious world whose “religious life is not one of dogmatic assertion, rather an exploration and journey into new truth… their natural home  is the core value… of service… beauty… sacredness…”.

Conclusion

I’ve just given an idea of what’s in Marlow’s article. You need to read it to understand more.

The point is that maybe the atheists and the religionists could reach an accommodation in their common search for truth, so long as both avoid the fundamentalist pitfall.

 

Defences of Atheism 

My previous post on atheism provoked quite a lot of comments. Atheists are obviously very attached to their position.

A lot of the discussion came from my asking, what is this god you don’t believe in. It seems to come down to not accepting that there is some superior being, a sort of philosophical Brexit, taking back control by the new god science from sclerotic old religion.

This still appears to me a rather limited perspective. What about the mystery that always lies at the heart of existence – such as the uncaused cause that came before the big bang. What about the reality of spiritual experience, attested by the personal experience of so many over the ages. What about the inner of things, eg consciousness, that cannot be explained by materialistic outers.

An immanent and transcendent one God offers one perspective that would relate to all these. I’m not saying I believe or have faith in this perspective, but it does appear a valid position. I’m more inclined to the view that consciousness is as much part of reality as matter, ie everything has inner and outer, the whole being a mysterious evolutionary  emergence (see eg Steve McIntosh’s book in recent post). I’m still open/agnostic to the concept of the one God.

I’m not clear whether atheism has anything to say here, other than cling to its scientific materialistic certainty. But no doubt I’m misrepresenting atheism and some kind person will enlighten me!

Atheism

“Atheism turns out to be too simple.
If the whole universe has no meaning,
we should never have found out that it has no meaning…”

C.S. Lewis

I could never see the point of atheism. What exactly was it that you were supposed not to believe in? Most atheists seemed to have a concept of a God that they thought was manifestly ridiculous, so they chose not to believe in ‘him’.

It was a sort of rejection of religion, and yet appears to be a sort of religion itself, based on faith and belief in a negative. (Some atheists, eg American Atheists, suggest that athiesm is a ‘lack of belief in Gods or supernatural beings’ – surely itself a sort of belief.) The agnostic perspective always seemed to make far more sense to me, and modern perspectives on spirituality even more so.

Does this matter? Well, along with atheism you often find the package of materialism and secularism – and the rejection of the inner of things. All is outer, and there is this wierd belief that eventually inners (consciousness) will be explained by some future development of our understanding of outers, through science naturally.

And along with this secular materialism has come an evolutionism based on self interest, an economics without values, a denigrating and despoiling of the natural world, totalitarian governments determined to stamp out religion, an existential philosophy of despair,… Yes, it matters.

See also my posts on materialism and religion.

While writing this I came across this useful website critiquing the atheist position as essentially indefensible (from a Christian perspective).

Education of a materialist

My school years centred around the 1950s in Lincoln. Science was king. I well remember the reverence accorded to white-coated boffins on the television (when we eventually got one). What they said was treated as gospel. The pressure from teachers was for the sciences. This was the future, what the country needed. Humanities were second best, for those with no aptitude for science.

Religion was singing in morning assembly, and when we kids were sent to the Methodist chapel on Sundays. The minister warned us of the dangers of alcohol, while parents kept away and did the garden. Yet we loved the occasional lay preacher who came with song and speeches that stirred our soul with their passion. Except we had no concept of soul.

Spirituality was something we secretly found out about through reading library books. It seemed to be all to do with séances, ouija ouija boards and magic. It was not talked about in polite society, and definitely not recognised as valid by science.

So I emerged from the education system with an essentially materialistic scientific viewpoint, deeply sceptical of religion, and uncomprehending of spirituality. After studying mathematics, I took up what was then called computer science and soon became information systems engineering. I joined the everyday world of industry, married and started a family.

But I always had intimations that there might be something more, choosing the label ‘agnostic’ if pressed on my beliefs [atheism seemed to me to be irrational bravado].

This post is an extract from an article I wrote in 2002 on Science and Spirituality. Refer to that article if you want to read more of the story and how I eventually came to embrace spirituality as central to life.

Featured image of space scientist Dr Robert Goddard in 1924 by NASA, via Wikimedia Commons