Some first thoughts on a theology. I have stated before:
In the modern age of hyper-specialization of the sciences, it is not at all obvious that there should be anything that "connects it all together" but I will argue that there should be. Basically, science - natural philosophy - consists of rules describing the structure and unfolding of the physical world. Some of these rules are geometrical (as in the principle that two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time), some of these rules are causal (as in the law of inertia which is deduced by thought-experimental extrapolation of real experiments) and some of them are merely correlational (as in the law of gravity* and a great deal of the other laws of physics that are, today, taken to be facts of reality on par with the geometrical or causal facts of physics).
In addition to these rules, modern science consists of a body of methods for uncovering the facts of relations between things. Rules and methods comprise "what is known", that is, that knowledge which has been distilled as far as it can be with the state-of-the-art techniques. But what rules and methods govern the discovery of the rules and methods for use in science? The answer is, necessarily, none. For if there were, these would then just become a part of the body of rules and methods we have already described. Hence - until human beings attain Absolute omniscience - there must reside in back of scientific knowledge (rules and methods knowledge, "left-brain knowledge" if you will) a permanent residue of human experience which is unsystematic, that is, mystical. I say "mystical" because it is a mystery. By definition, it's a mystery. It works, yet we have no idea how. That's the definition of a mystery.
At the time, I was investigating astrology as a connecting-tissue for human knowledge. I think that astrology can certainly play this role. More generally, it is now my view that what I refer to as original religion
is what plays this role. Original religion is either folk religion or religion that has direct roots in folk religion. By "direct roots" I mean specifically to exclude the proselytic religions, the aggressive "convert or die" and "convert or burn in hell" religions. These religions do have some distant, long-lost roots in folk religion - mostly co-opted and stolen for non-religious purposes
- but they are not themselves original religions. Instead, they are memes. They are self-replicating ideas that spread for the sake of spreading and no longer have a connection to human welfare or dignity. Original religion was the servant of man. But man serves the religious memes. In this respect, the Dawkinsian critique of religion is justified.
At this point, I have no plans to delve into an excavation of original religion. However, I have thoughts about what sort of theology might be an appropriate companion to original religious practice.
One of the terms that Mises uses from time to time is "the Absolute." By the Absolute, he means that entity which has absolute certainty in what it knows, that exists absolutely (not contingent upon laws, as physical objects are). This is very much like the omnimax God of the Scholastics - all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present.
I have given an argument above showing that mystical knowledge is an ineradicable category of human knowledge. In a similar fashion, we can derive an argument showing that the Absolute is an ineradicable category of human existence - if I ask "why is there existing?", any answer I give will itself depend on real entities. These real entities are either among the things which we first asked "why is there existing?", in which case, we are going in circles. Or, they are not among the things we first asked about, but which we now know are existing, thus, the problem has only been made more difficult. We must now ask why these additional entities are existing. Ad nauseum. This is actually a corollary of the ineradicable fact of mystical knowledge, since we can always reframe an ontological question in terms of knowledge... what we know exists and how we know it exists, etc.
Nevertheless, we are curious, so we will still ask: what can be said of the mystical? What can be said of the Absolute? The only possible answer is nothing and everything. For everything that is true and real must necessarily partake in the Absolute... after all, all knowledge is One, all existence is One. If there is more truth than we can know, if there exists more than we can manipulate and apprehend - and it would be foolhardy to assume otherwise - then everything that is true, is true of this Absolute. And everything that exists, exists as part of the Absolute.
Perhaps an illustration might help. Imagine we were Neanderthals instead of human beings. But we somehow began to advance out of the Stone Age and eventually developed Neanderthal science. Being less intelligent than the humans we wiped out eons ago, we are not able to do the kind of science that humans would have achieved. For example, humans would have discovered atoms and subatomic quarks, but we can only discover molecules and basic chemical reactions. Yet humans would have understood that molecules and basic chemical reactions partake in a deeper reality, hidden to Neanderthal science, a reality of atoms and subatomic quarks. Now, imagine that we are humans (which we are) and that we have in our distant evolutionary past wiped out a much more intelligent species, a species that is as much more intelligent than us, as we are than Neanderthals. What would the Science of these more intelligent beings have perceived? What reality below atoms and subatomic quarks, and so on, would their science have penetrated to? Ad nauseum.
So, here we see the first step of Jacob's ladder... the gnostic conception of a great chain of being extending out from the lowest inanimate objects up to human beings, and on to other, higher beings and "in the limit" to something we can only refer to as The Absolute or the Unknowable.
Which brings me to the first thing we can say about the Absolute: that it is unknowable. In fact, it is Unknowable not only to human beings, but to hypothetical super-advanced aliens or super-intelligent species that we wiped out long ago... because however intelligent these beings are, their intelligence is finite and they must come to this same conclusion regarding the limitations of their own knowledge. Thus, we can conclude something else about the Absolute: that it is knowable only to itself.
Having established these few elementary statements about the Absolute - something that just a few paragraphs ago seemed utterly hopeless - we see that a theology is not a complete waste of time. In fact, it is quite profitable precisely because it helps us reason about the limitations of our own power and knowledge.
But we really are at the limits - a quick observation will show this. Having asserted that the Absolute is unknowable by a part of itself (us and any other existing intelligent beings) and knowable only to itself, we have essentially asserted a paradox: the Absolute is knowable and unknowable. Paradoxes are everywhere here - in fact, I don't think we can correctly state anything about the Absolute that is not a paradox. It is us and not us. It is order and chaos. It acts and does not act. It is somewhere and nowhere. It is one and many. Etc. This pattern of paradox is present in many theological traditions, including those of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and many others. This suggests that we're thinking along the right lines because we're all arriving at the same dead-end no matter where we start.
Besides helping us reason about our own limitations, what good is such a theology? In another thread, I've spoken about ultimate ends... the Supreme Impulse (reproduction), survival, psychological satisfaction (ataraxia), etc. Can we connect our theology with our theory of virtue in a compelling way? I believe we can... through love
What is love? That's a difficult question... so difficult, in fact, that it's harder than the toughest questions like ... what is true? or what is real? Alain de Botton gently chides philosophers for avoiding this question like the plague in his TV episode on Schopenhauer
But to understand why love is such an important part of the world, I think we need to look at the "crime scenes" where the word Love keeps turning up. What kinds of things cause us to invoke this word? Romance. Sex. Marriage. Children. Family. Provision. Protection. Nurturing. Deep friendship. Charity. Sacrifice. Worship. Awe. There are others, but I've tried to list some of the big ones. Is there any pattern here, or is it completely random? I think it is not completely random and I think that these parts of our existence where the word "Love" is frequently invoked are top-heavy among our ultimate ends. These are all parts of human existence that are closely related to the Supreme Impulse, to survival, to safety and provision. All of these things take precedence over our own peace-of-mind... in short, they are more powerful than our own will. And how often do we see love characterized in precisely this way? Love is always something that can't be helped and can't be predicted. It strikes like lightning and it grips the soul.
But love is not magic. It did not arise in disconnection with the substance of what makes us human. In fact, love is a very practical thing. It is intimately woven into our need to survive and reproduce. Thus, we see that love is actually an essential part of the evolutionary principle. We can only understand human love because we are only human. But this does not mean that the principle itself does not transcend humans and affect all things. In fact, I am going to posit that love does, indeed, infuse all things because love is to life what energy is to the laws of physics... it is the motive-force of life itself. It's what makes life go
... and this is true of all life, however non-obvious it may be.
Since it is true of all life, it must be true even of a hypothetical alien race or super-intelligent being. Any being that exists must be driven by love. Hence, we again see before us the first step of Jacob's ladder, leading up through the great chain of being to the Absolute. And now we know why the great religions agree: God is Love. The Absolute is love. And the opposite of love is not malevolence, it is exhaustion. Remember that we have said that love is the life-force, it is what makes life go. Its opposite, then, is not malevolence, but the exhaustion of life-force... that which brings death. And as we have seen that what can be correctly said of the Absolute is always in the form of a paradox, we see immediately that the Absolute is both love and exhaustion. Love is breathing in; breathing out is exhaustion. Both are necessary to life and the exhaustion of life itself is intimately connected to the birth of new life.
Thus we see that theology is not wholly impractical. It helps us reason about our own limitations, as well as it helps us connect with that which is indifferent to us... to embrace that which transcends our control and overrides our will.