Jabberwockians Part 3: J’s, Theists, and Causes

This is a continuation of Part 2, which can be read here.

The great majority of Western people usually speak and imply that there is only one deity. Many go as far as to claim that their “god” is also the cause or creator of everything that exists — and which will exist, of all creatures yet unborn and those that no longer are. Frankly, I don’t know how they know this, how they can be so sure in this matter, how they get to have this all inclusive knowledge or where and how they found the key to this treasure-trove.
A particular version of this deistic belief claims that their god not only programmed and planned the universe as we have come to know it so far, but that their deity also has plans to dismantle it at some time in the future. It is part of an apocalyptic vision — which is not shared by all deists — and is distinctly Jabberwockian, as previously defined. So it is argued that there was a beginning, perhaps a prelude to the show, there will also be an end-play, a Gotterdamerung. The “gods” will move out and find a better playing field but before they do so they will curse our world. Something to look forward to, especially when “all those arms and legs and heads chopped off in a battle, shall join together in the latter day” (Henry V Act IV, Scene 1) — a happy end game for some and perdition for most others.

Those who deny the fantasy I have just described and who claim that the world is as it is, that it may have had some sort of beginning and may well have some sort of grande finale but that — in sum — all else is fantasy and delusion, are AJ’s! These non-believers are often reviled and called “a-theist” (“a” for “anti ”). Atheists, we are told, will face particularly severe punishments and retributions (perdition) by an otherwise benevolent deity in the afterworld, since their denial of a god is a particularly heinous crime which demands heavy retributions.

I will take my chances.

However, not all J’s are theists. It is perfectly possible to construct a vision of the world without having a vision of a maker or a first cause. Deists have to face an epistemic question: “What set of circumstances destroys a particular thesis, including that of deism?” The point about J’s is that they claim rights to populate the world with their creatures whereas their opponents enforce rules of inclusion and exclusion and thereafter remain forever watchful that these rules are strictly followed by all players. AJ’s insist on spelling out rules for inclusion and exclusion and that one states clearly out under what conditions one is permitted to replace one position by another. Not all visions, according to this credo, have equal legitimacy.

What is the strong card in the deist’s pack? What set of circumstance, in their view, would undermine their deist position? The general public is growing in numbers as well as in its level of education/sophistication — and for this reason is probably more influenced by pragmatics than by first principles. But the general public have been tutored to follow rules of method and therefore every now and then question whether a viewpoint now touted was arrived at by following such “accepted rules”.

I suspect that we are more tuned into the idea that some positions are more valid than others, which means, that when two viewpoints conflict there is a tendency to rally around the most favoured position until ultimately this position becomes a flag-bearer. Woe unto us! The recent debates between creationists and traditional evolution-oriented biologists, for example, could continue for some time yet, provided that the issues discussed have empirical entailments which can make a difference to both parties. Current debates between the parties do not appear to have quality, but the debates are too esoteric, too convoluted to influence and sway public opinion or change mind-sets at all. In that sense, the debates may be irrelevant.

However there is a variety of beliefs which falls into its own class. I have called these Ajabberwockisms. These are beliefs that the Jabberwock and others, such as the pushmi-pullyu described in Dr. Dolittle, do not necessarily exist beyond the imagination. They are fictional characters, imaginary objects. Our imagination consists of conjectures about such objects, creatures and events, but the conjectures also have to be vindicated, and the possibility that these exist has to be independently established.

Not always an easy task. “If only I could see what bites me!” That which bites is sensed, but may not be visible yet. It has taken a few hundred thousand years to fulfill this wish by humans. Do other living things pine away for lack of adequate devices for observing things? Probably not. However, the Jabberwockists have develop persuasive arguments to support and strengthen their claims. Furthermore they meet regularly at scientific conferences to reaffirm their beliefs, their causes which bind them — and their creed. Some are dressed to look like Druids, but others go about their daily business in normal attire, although they may carry a copy of Lewis Carroll’s great poem in their proverbial briefcases or in their trouser pockets or handbags in modern miniature editions, together with their smart-phones and similar memory devices.

What are the distinguishing features of Jabberwocky beliefs? First and foremost that all questions can be answered — often conclusively answered — regardless of the nature of the question. If one wants or needs an explanation, the Jabberwockists have one well-prepared. Their answers take the simple form of asserting that in addition to standard replies to any question there is always the answer that a special being exists who already has the answer to any question posed.

So the art lies in the articulation of a question, not in finding its answer. When in doubt one has permission from the priests to invent a series of beings, called “causes” which when well selected will provide an appropriate framework for a question.

The astute reader will recognize that this approach has a catch: one can always phrase a question in a manner which suggests its answer. The question is not necessarily directed to getting an unexpected reply. On the contrary: only those issues can be legitimately raised to which ready-made answers already exist. It is more like saying, “did you already know that such and such is the case?” Thus, one starts all enquiries by assuming that the answer is already known — but not handy!

The most famous example come from our most famous and rightly exalted thinker: Socrates, who demonstrated that we already know what there is to know about basic principles. When these principles are applied we can generate all solutions.

It is easy to conclude that we know all we need to know. But the message had dreadful and alarming practical consequences, including that there is no basis for discovery, only for uncovering secrets. We learn how to do things, but we discover what there is to know. The two are distiquishable and should not be confused.

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