Saturday, April 19, 2008

Cool Site - The Global Spiral

I can't remember how I discovered this site now, but I've been wanting to mention it for about a week now.

The Global Spiral

The Global Spiral is a monthly online magazine dedicated to the mission and vision of Metanexus Institute. Metanexus is a not-for-profit organization that promotes transdisciplinary research into profound questions of human meaning and purpose with the aim of transforming our educational, religious, and civic institutions.

The present moment, with its ever-accelerating technological development, instantaneous global communication, and unprecedented interaction among cultures, presents remarkable possibilities for enhancing the common good. However, despite the increase in the quantity and diversity of our knowledge, our understanding of ourselves and our world is becoming ever more fragmented. This fragmentation lies at the root of many of the current threats to our well-being and the well-being of our planet.

The Global Spiral addresses this problem by offering transformative, transdisciplinary content that is not just about the life of the mind, but about paying mind to the whole of life. We do this through…

  • Incisive articles written by scholars whose thought transcends disciplinary divisions
  • Penetrating book reviews
  • Original works of art that expand our understanding of foundational questions
  • Current news and events from Metanexus network partners around the globe
  • Engaging Interviews with luminary scholars
  • Multimedia downloads

Our main areas of exploration include:

  • “Science and Religion dialogue” as symptom of the fragmentation of knowledge
  • The rediscovery and retrieval of human meaning and purpose
  • Navigating the clash of civilizations and cultures through transdisciplinary scholarship and dialogue
  • New possibilities for metaphysics
  • The urgency of authenticity
  • The self, soul, and personhood
  • Nature and Humanity
  • Faith and Reason

Their new issue has some very interesting articles. Here are a couple.

Science and a Significant Being Theodicy

Nelson Pike, in the introduction to his book “God and Evil,” states the problem of evil thusly:

If God is omnipotent, then He could prevent evil if He wanted to. And if God is perfectly good, then He would want to prevent evil if He could. Thus, if God exists and is both omnipotent and perfectly good, then there exists a being who could prevent evil if he wanted to, and who would want to prevent evil if he could. And if this last is true, how can there be so many evils in the world? (1964:1)

No problem has been more perplexing for the theist than this one. In the prophetic words of Hume, “nothing can shake the solidity of this reasoning, so short, so clear, so decisive.”

How to Make Amends by Adam Scott Miller

Of course the theist can “solve” the problem by sacrificing one or more of God’s defining attributes; omniscience,omnipotence or benevolence. But what would be left would no longer be the God of traditional theism, the God of the Judeo, Christian, Islamic tradition. The remaining shell of a god would be of little interest to human beings because he could be of little or no help to us in this world.

Since this solution has never been acceptable to theists they have sought instead solutions to the problem that would preserve God’s defining attributes. These “explanations” of evil, that would still allow for the existence of the God of traditional theism are called theodicies. Traditionally these theodicies have taken two forms: (1) Some have sought to solve the problem of evil by trying to show that there really is no evil in this world and thus there really is no problem. (2) The majority of them have accepted the existence of evil but have sought to show that evil plays a positive, and perhaps even necessary role in human life. As might be imagined these traditional theodicies have come under severe criticism in the history of philosophy, and justly so. They crumble under serious philosophical reflection. Further, it is not just the atheist who sees the weakness in these theodicies. Most believers intuitively sense that there are problems with them when a tragedy befalls a friend, a family member, or themselves. It would be a positive development if we could rid theistic discourse of these traditional theodicies once and for all.

Read the rest.

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Theism, Atheism and Non-Theism in Buddhism

There are several opinions on the theistic status of Buddhism with the descriptions of Buddhism ranging from atheistic, non theistic to theistic. The fundamental philosophy of Buddhism seems to deny the concept of a personal God, although it is controversial whether Buddhism denies an impersonal form of God. Buddhist scholar Nyanaponika Thera1 suggested that conceptions of impersonal godhead such as world soul are excluded from Buddhism and this has been explained on teachings related to unsubstantiality or non-self. Despite this, Buddhism does provide an exposition on different higher and lower realms of existence even though the focus is on impermanence. That way Buddhism could be described as pantheism associated with all forms of existence. Considering a pantheist explanation, which is highly probable in Buddhist philosophy, Buddhism could be considered as theistic instead of atheistic. In a review article on the work of W.C. Smith, Robert Florida2 pointed out that Smith argued that Buddhists do believe in God. Smith of course, takes a broader view of what it means to be an atheist and suggests that an atheist has lost all hope and has no sense of justice, truth or beauty. Smith may have stretched the definition of atheism a bit too far, which should strictly mean, ‘no belief in God or no belief that God or gods exist’. Smith argues for a theistic basis of Buddhism considering the Buddhist concepts of nirvana and the concept of dharma as parallel to the Western concept of God or divinity3 .

Mahayana Buddhism went a bit further by accepting Buddha as the God and William James4 has pointed out that Buddha himself standing as God as accepted by some Buddhist followers suggests that Buddhism is atheistic5 . However this again is a problematic argument as accepting Buddha as God could mean that Buddhism is theistic and atheistic at the same time! Yet Mahayana Buddhism is a later version of Buddhism and the Theravada school still follows the teachings of Buddha in its essence6 . Some scholars have used the term ‘non-theistic’ to define Buddhism as atheism could mean a wider range of vices and theism is too focused on God and especially the concept of a personal God. In the West, the concept of God, largely framed by Christianity is a personal concept representing a super human being. This is largely against the spirit of Buddhism which emphasizes karma or an individual’s own actions. Divine control or providence, according to Buddhism can easily suggest that individuals are not responsible for their moral or ethical actions and this would be bad for moral development of human beings7 . Some scholars have suggested that God in Buddhism simply means enlightened beings or Buddhas rather than any other supreme being, so individuals are capable of gaining Buddhahood when they achieve true enlightenment and impart the knowledge to others. Buddhism through the ages has worshipped many such gradations of Buddha despite the fact that there is no belief of God in Buddhism. The focus is on personal karma, or one’s own actions rather than being overtly dependent on God, and also one’s efforts towards nirvana or enlightenment and the emphasis is also on jnana through meditative reflection and striving towards higher refinement of consciousness, salvation and deliverance 8. The main reason for which Buddha wanted to avoid God seems to be an emphasis on one’s own moral efforts and strife or aims towards moral and spiritual fulfillment. By eschewing the idea of God, individuals take more personal moral responsibility for their actions and thus Buddhism is about independence and attaining morality not by praying or dependence on divine providence but by one’s own efforts and actions. The ultimate goal is to attain salvation through constant efforts, morally correct behavior and meditation.

Read the rest.


Anonymous said...

sweet! thanks to the heads up on this. looks very interesting. bookmarked. too bad i can't find an RSS link the site tho. did i just miss it?


william harryman said...

I didn't see an RSS link, so I just signed up for the email updates.