Friday, March 31, 2006

Our Values, Faith, and the War

I have faith that good always prevails over evil and that the values our Nation has always cherished and defended--ordered liberty, democratic institutions, the separation of powers, the dignity of human life, personal autonomy, and the rule of law--will succeed wherever people can come together to support them. So lately I have grown very tired of listening to the interminable anti-war rants of those who claim that these values of ours are not universal, that they are somehow unique to us, and that others around the world aren't capable of handling them or wouldn't select them for themselves if given the chance.

If we don't believe that all men and women around the world deserve freedom, and if we don't believe that democracy is a good way to secure the same, then America stands for nothing. Some things are just True, even if we can't quite figure out the exact contours of the truth: True adherence to the principle of separation of powers always works to block the rise of tyranny. Voting, if properly conducted, always works to check the concentration and abuse of power. Some societies have selected systems of government that are inferior to others in that they don't serve the interests of human dignity and autonomy. We may judge other governments this way, but it is simply not our place to judge whether a society could "handle" liberty and freedom if given the opportunity to try it out. They deserve it ab initio, no matter what.

Personal autonomy flows from the concept of human dignity, which in turn flows from the concept that we are designed and created--and if one truly believes that God did indeed create mankind, the justifiability of any military action to defend liberty wherever liberty is truly threatened is unquestionable. This is true even if the defense must be selective because of limited resources and other important objectives. It is no argument to say that a military action to oust an Adolf Hitler or a Saddam Hussein is not just and correct simply because we do not simultaneously challenge Joseph Stalin or Kim Jung Il in a like manner.

And it is a sign of an utterly superficial understanding of Western history to claim that America is seeking 'empire,' or is 'taking over' other countries just for oil (whatever this ridiculous blanket assertion people toss around even means), or has any desire at all to 'conquer' anyone else. Did we oust the Nazis and establish American empire? Or did we aid the rebuilding countries, help them set up democratic governments, and withdraw (save to the extent they invited us to stay in light of the Soviet threat)? Did we go into Vietnam for any reason other than to stop the (at least) feared spread of a God-hating ideology that is undeniably responsible for the deaths--by famine, purge, and oppression--of over 100 million of our fellow humans? Do we have 50,000 troops in South Korea to maintain our Empire, or to hold back the North, which would subsume and destroy the democracy in the South in a matter of days were we not there, even if only as a nuclear trip-wire?

To those who don't support our mission in the broader Middle East, including Afghanistan and Iraq, I ask: What is your alternative? Would you allow the Arab world to march further down the path of tyranny, instability and economic ruin, to the point where destitute Muslims have absolutely nothing to live for but a bastardized version of their faith, along with a heartfelt desire to destroy those they believe are responsible for their situation--the infidel West? Would you allow that to happen even as Middle Eastern tyrants and terrorists leaders collude and seek weapons of mass destruction that can kill millions with a single detonation? What would you have America do?

I'd do what the President did and what politicians rarely ever do: Come up with a long-term solution. Long-term solutions are always difficult to implement because of our natural tendency to wish problems away and act the part of the ostrich--the tendency resulting in the so-called "peace" movement (as if peace can be achieved by merely wishing it was so). But the President is more realistic, and he made a tough (and correct choice). He made a choice that honors our American values and the universal idea they represent, the idea of human dignity and autonomy for every man and woman, whatever their faith or creed or nationality.

We are fertilizing two blossoming flowers in the desert--we are arming two democracies that embrace unity, tolerance, and a moderate version of Islam in the Middle East. We are arming them against the terrorists and against the tyrants and against the fundamentalists who, in their heart of hearts, desire destitution in the Middle East because it serves their megalomaniacal purposes and their crazed vision for Islamic Empire (which is really just their own thirst for power).

If we succeed in creating two stable, prosperous, unified democracies in the heart of the Middle East, liberal-leaning Muslims all over the region will have cause to be brave, and fundamentalist governments and terrorists will have lost. That's why our enemy fights so vehemently to stop us in Iraq. Iran and the terrorists are linked arm-in-arm against the greatest threat they've faced yet--the prospect of stable, peaceful, respectful, and moderate, powerful, armed government in their midst. That is real change and a real vision for the future of the Middle East.

So I truly thank God for our President and his courage in the face of uneducated, short-sighted politicians and demagogues, and I thank God for our troops. And, because we are on the side of Good, I have faith we will ultimately prevail.

A Dialogue--Dice, Quantum Mechanics, Morality, and Christianity

E: Einstein said, "God does not play dice." That was his response to the quantum-mechanics physicists in his day that insisted the universe is all probabilities--that you can't determine he position of any particle with certainty, only predict with a probability. What do you think?

M: I think he was right, but not how he thought he was right. Instead, I say God is dice.

E: OK, I don't think I agree. But let's follow this analogy for a bit. If God is the dice, who rolls them?

M: It is the nature of the dice to roll.

E: Who observes the outcome?

M: God.

E: Ah, but then you admit God is separate from the dice.

M: No, observer and observed are one and the same, two qualities of the same principle. God is dice, and everything is in the dice.

E: Everything is in the dicedo you mean to say that all is probability, or rather that all of reality is situated within God?

M: Both. I don't think the one could be true without the other.

E: But then is God probability?

M: Yes and no. God exists--he cannot not exist--but still, you never know how the dice will roll. There is fixed past but only potential future.

E: Does that mean those within God only have potential future?

M: Yes.

E: And we are within God?

M: I think all creation is, but that is not the same as saying God is all creation.

E: OK, so we all only have potentiality. The dice are real and certain just like the past is certain. But they are also only probability--what they roll in the future is not known, even to God. This is what you are saying?

M: Yes.

E: But the dice are fixed. In the past and the present and the future.

M: Hence the only unchanging quality of God is his existence.

E: Doesn't that admit imperfection?

M: No, it only admits that perfection may change.

E: If perfection may change, how can we guide our lives?

M: As we learn, and God changes and learns about us according to the natural laws that define God and the Universe, the principles become clearer.

E: So you say that there are principles that are immutable and above God.

M: No, there are principles that are immutable and with God--all potentiality is oriented toward them, or should be, and only God can see themthe forms, as Plato called them, I suppose.

E: What of the Dice?

M: No analogy can capture the Truth perfectly, but it is a useful mental aid which we have now surpassed, except to say "that the dice should roll" might be analogous to an immutable principle.

E: Let's get back to the observer and the observed. You say that they are the same.

M: Yes.

E: But I can see you, you are separate, and we are not the same.

M: Not in a way that you can observe--if it is true that observer and observed are the same, then the moment you observe me, we constitute something of a unity, a single "quantum," if you will, that is different slightly from how we were before we interacted.

E: If that is so, one cannot observe or measure anything. And yet I have the sensation of separation.

M: An illusion--our powers of observation are really powers of interaction.

E: Prove it.

M: Quantum Mechanics haswe know that a particle of light is not a particle nor a wave, but rather a localized potentiality wavein normal terms, a paradox, something between a particle and a wave, until it is observedand then when observed it takes on the characteristics of either a particle or a wave. The observer changes it, forces it to choose, so to speak, at least for the time it is being observed. And its movement can only be predicted via potentiality, but not measured because measuring changes it. This is mathematically and experimentally demonstrable.

E: I have heard of this. But if this is true, then how can we know anything for certain?

M: We are constantly interacting with everything around us, so we are "forcing" everything to choose, creating quantum unity, if you will, as we observe, or rather, interact.

E: But you said the dice were certain.

M: Yes, insofar as only probability is certain--probability and how things have come out in the past. The present exists but is fleeting. The future is potentiality. God lays out potentiality.

E: OK, but then as things unfold and change and are in flux, there seems to me there can be no morality--all is changing and relative. In such a universe and with such a conception of God, how can we determine right from wrong?

M: Step back for a moment. In Quantum Mechanics, the only thing that is absolutely true is the mathematical description of the Quantum and the formulas predicting probabilities. The math is incontrovertible and never changes. But the outcomes do. So too in the universe are there immutable principles that govern all and are pure and true like mathematical equations. They are Plato's forms, our unchanging morality, God's definition--he calls us to them, to follow them, but we have free will. There is only probability that we will or will not heed his call, just as there is only probability that a certain electron will be in a certain place at a certain time.

E: Then mind and body are different and separate--you just said principles are separate from the actual existence of things and matter and the way it unfolds.

M: Again, yes and no (sensing a pattern?). Principles exist as God does and all is within them. So there is separateness in them in that they are immutable, just like the fact that the dice exist. But again, the outcomes cannot be predicted, even though the formula or principle does.

E: OK, so you claim to be a Christian. Christians hold that good is separate from evil and that God is beyond all, and all knowing.

M: God knows all the principles. He knows the unifying formula. He knows which way we should go and God calls us to it (as we are lesser, we can't see the formula, the purpose, the aim). But what God does not know is if we will follow his callingthe universe was a risk God took. And God learns about his creation as we make choiceswe are also lesser creators in that our choices solidify our potential futures into a single, immutable past.

E: What of Jesus Christ?

M: Well, he fits right in. The God of the Israelites was different from the God of JesusGod chose to send a part of him to experience human life and make human choices, to join in his creation in a qualitative way--and God suffered. He sacrificed. He experienced humanity. He paid for our sins.

E: Ah, but if he "paid for our sins," then God is subject to an immutable law requiring justice--requiring payment for our debts. He couldn't just declare a general amnesty?

M: Maybe, maybe not. Justice may be a defining principle that should play out but won't necessarily. So God chose to make the world more Just by sending his Son to "pay" for mankind's transgressions. But more importantly, Jesus was God on earth, a way for us to interact with God, a way to feel God's calling and a way for God to encourage us to follow his Ways rather than sinful ways.

E: What of eternal life?

M: We spoke of principles and forms. These exist, but are just formslike a mathematical equation. When we die, I suspect we continue having subjective experience, just on another plane. A plane where, perhaps, we can see the truth of the forms more fully. But only God will ever completely understand the forms. I suspect that we are all contingent on whether God wants us to exist--even after death. If we choose the wrong path, we may just cease to be.

E: Ah, but won't our observing the forms change them?

M: Good point. I misspoke. No one can "see" the forms, no one can interact with them. Can you interact with a mathematical concept? Not really. Only understanding pertains. And only God understands fully. I suspect our understanding will be expanded when we die and our being moves off in a spatial direction we can't see.

E: You are losing me, but I sense truth in this--it seems right that, at the same time, all is potential, but all is still real. So I guess we've covered a lot of ground--Christianity, quantum mechanics, Plato's metaphysics, ethics, the nature of God and eternity.

M: I'm losing me. But that's because our powers of observation--or rather, interaction--limit us. We are not God, though we are within him. See, all those things you list, they are all the same thing, I think. They are the dice.

E: Ah, you mean just because we can't know something doesn't mean it isn't true. And so God is the only being who cannot not know.

M: Now you get it. At least, you sense it.

E: And that's key too: Sense, the qualitative partmusic is beautiful, but I don't know why; a sunset is too, though I can't measure its beauty.

M: Right, you experience it. So, like everything else, there are dual qualities of one thing: the physical, or past, or fixed; and the palpable, unmeasurable, potentiality.

E: I think I know God exists because of this: there is no reason for music to be beautiful.

M: I agree. But maybe that's just because we don't understand the reason. We may someday, either in this life as humans progress, or after we die. But that doesn't refute your point. It affirms it.

E: Yes.

M: Perhaps qualia, the "feeling" part of things, is our impression of potentialities and our limited understanding of the forms--the more something is like the form, the perfect ideal equation, that which only God knows, the more we sense its beauty, its rightness--so beauty and Good are also just facets of the same thing.

E: So a beautiful woman is not just beautiful to me because of the survival instinct and necessity of procreation?

M: That may be one reason, but insofar as that drive corresponds to a proper path for our potentialities, that is beautiful too. But also, the form, the appearance, the symmetry--it may reflect the divine. And we sense that. So too in music--some is more divine, some is less.

E: Sensing. Feeling. That's a lot like believing.

M: Yes, when you consider all is changing and within God, faith is just like reasonor rather, there is no reason not to have faith, and there is no faith that can exist without reason. Our feeling of the beauty of the sunset reflects God, and praising that beauty is praising and having faith in God.

E: Ah. But back to musicyou said some could be "less divine." What would it mean to be "less"?

M: Well, given that there is a path God calls us to, there is another pathlesser, incorrect. That must be true, right?

E: I believe so. So you mean to say it's the baser qualities--pleasure seeking, lack of what we sense are virtues--music that plays to those rather than invoking a sense of beauty and appreciation, that kind of music is less divine.

M: Yes, I think so. Hereto our theory ties into Christianity again--Lucifer made a wrong choice, and fell from God's favor, so he plays his part, leading us astray. Temptation is the ugly made attractive because Satan distorts potentialities for us just as God lays them out for us. But Lucifer is lesser.

E: That's disconcerting--Truth won't conquer in the end? Evil could win?

M: Well, there is a chance. But God is higher, and Lucifer is a lesser creation. So the chance is slim. But then, this makes our morality and the need for it make sensenothing is predetermined, just probability, and so it really matters if we choose rightly or wrongly. God learns and changes as a result of those choices.

E: Could we end up destroying God?

M: No, only his creationus. And the universe, perhaps. That which is within God.

E: So I see now how prayer could work, and meditation, and spirituality--when we interact with each other, we change each other, so we are all linked in a way, at least for a fleeting moment, but we retain some of the change, and the past is solidified. But also, we are separate actors. And how I act really does effect the rest of the creation.

M: Yes. And maybe one of those immutable principles has something to do with "what goes around comes around."

E: Maybe. I better go start making up for my solidified, not-so-stellar past.

M: Me too. And I best get back to work, lest I solidify a forced resignation.

E: OK, we'll pick this up again another time.

I'm Back

Try to contain your excitement. Really, keep it down. But I am back, and I'll be posting my thoughts on politics and philosophy here as time allows. I've also recovered and reposted the more interesting essays (in my opinion, at least) from 2004 and 2005.