Against the Monotheists “Occam’s Razor”

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Often, monotheists will end up invoking Occam’s Razor, a theory at its most basic principle summed up as “the simplest theory is most likely to be correct,” as a defense for their belief (or lack thereof) and as an attack against polytheism. Here I shall dissect their use of Occam’s Razor to show that monotheism is not “simpler” or “more likely” than polytheism in any way, but rather the opposite.

 

Through reason

Firstly, Occam’s Razor at its most basic principle is “All things being equal; the simplest theory is better”… But all things are not equal. With polytheism, there is more power in the theory, as it has more explanatory and predictive power.

  • Polytheism is more functional as a different deity means a different approach to life, and thus you may not have a guarantee of favor with all of the Gods based on your relation with them. You may be brilliant in economic ventures due to having a secure relation with Hermes, but you might find yourself poor at martial skills due to not having as strong of a relation with Ares.
  • Despite being faced with diverse human religious experience globally that would indicate multiple deities, monotheism ignores this and enforces a belief in only one God, which invalidates the religious experience of others by denying theirs. This makes monotheism require special bargaining because of its atheism which requires one to accept evidence that supports their conclusion but reject any that doesn’t. As such, monotheism has no weight because it claims other Gods do not exist or are merely demons due to its atheistic tendencies which creates a negative inference. A polytheist, however, can use the theory of pragmatic truth and see all religious experience as true, since proper polytheists believe all divinity and thus accept all religious experience. Polytheism thus best accounts for religious experience by abductive reasoning, as the polytheist explanation is less ad hoc and has more explanatory and predictability power.
    • Accepting the existence of all divinities also gives a better explanation of the great diversity in the world. If creation were only shaped by one deity, then all created things would be identical, and no great diversity would exist in the world. Rather, there is a great plurality and diversity between humans, animals, cultures, languages, and morality globally, which proves that different Gods shaped different beings.
    • The case for a plurality of worship is further seen with Platonism, a polytheistic philosophy, as endorsed by the philosopher Iamblichus. Iamblichus states that the Gods are monoeides, meaning “in the form of singularity,” a term that Plato uses for the Good. This means that the Gods have a singular divine essence first, before they are individuals, as unity preceeds multiplicity. This makes the Gods more unitary and emanatory as manifestations of their divine source, functioning as horizontal extensions of the same power which ultimately leads back to that unity. This singular divine essence gives support to the plurality of worship, as it means there are many ways to approach and worship the divine.

 

Through definition

The claim that one God is simpler is, in itself, inaccurate. It can be easily countered.

  • A single God by definition is not more likely, as a single God would still be unavoidably complex and beyond the realm of the mind, and thus as likely as a more numerous amount of Gods. Due to this, a single God would thus be on the same footing as a numerous amount of Gods, since a single God is already unavoidably complex in nature. Gods are not simple; a deity’s existence isn’t tied to the human mind’s ability to wrap itself around that existence.
    • One may try to counter this by claiming that there is only one God who “absorbs all” or that all the Gods “are an aspect of one,” however this is still polytheism in itself since you are imposing dualism by splitting divinity. When you split divinity, you merely make “God” a class term, which polytheists have always understood. As such, doctrines such as this (e.g., pantheism or “immanent monotheism”) just become a form of polytheism.

 

Bibliography

Butler, Edward P., Dr. Essays on a Polytheistic Philosophy of Religion. New York: Phaidra Editions, 2014.

Butler, Edward P., Dr. “ Monotheism is Atheism, and some thoughts on Vedanta · EPButler.” Storify. Accessed May 19, 2017. https://storify.com/EPButler/monotheism-is-atheism-and-some-thoughts-on-vedanta

Dillon, Steven. The Case for Polytheism. Place of publication not identified: Iff Books, 2015.

Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus, and Wilmer Cave. Wright. The works of emperor Julian. London: Heinemann etc., 1962.

Greer, John Michael. A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry Into Polytheism. Tucson, AZ: ADF Pub., 2005.

Iamblichus. De Mysteriis. Translated by Emma C. Clarke, John M. Dillon and Jackson P. Hershbell. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003.

Kupperman, Jeffrey S. Living theurgy: a course in Iamblichus philosophy, theology and theurgy. London: Avalonia, 2014.

Many gods, One logic. Directed by Epified. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KWM7P1K1mU.

Plato, and Benjamin Jowett. The Complete Works of Plato. United States: Akasha Pub., 2008.

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Pragmatic approach of Polytheism

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After meeting my friend Edward Butler, I’ve come to learn that a degree of pragmatism is necessary for polytheism. Not only is it proper to accept the existence of all Gods, but it is more effective than the attempt to discount religious experience by monotheists.

The positivity of experience means no experience can invalidate another. One can experience but only one God and one God alone, but if you infer from this that there is no other God and that this is “the only God,” then you’ve hit a stump. By doing this, you’ve invalidated the experiences of others and made a negative inference. The negativity of the inference makes it ontologically inferior to the positive experience of myself or another. You can’t discount someone else’s religious experience while still putting forth a claim that your own is real.

When you deny the existence of other people’s Gods, you weaken the case for your own. If you suddenly decide to call another person’s religious experience fake, especially if from a set of long-standing religions, then what value are your own? The existence of your own Gods is reduced to subjective choice, merely based on your own experience as if it were the only experience, instead of affirmation over the existence of Gods. Theism, properly understood, is just polytheim. In the words of Edward Butler, “deny any divinity, and you deny all divinity.”

As such, a polytheist can use the theory of pragmatic truth and can see all religious experience as true, as a polytheist can believe in a potentially infinite amount of Gods and is thus able to accept all religious experience as true. That is not to say “worship every God,” as you can ignore Gods (and polytheists do it all the time), but rather I am saying accept the existence of all divinity.

Due to that, a pragmatic approach can be taken when tackling monotheism, as monotheism needs special bargaining since it just invalidates all other religious experience as “false” but puts forth a claim that its own religious experience is true. This, funny enough, shows doctrines such as monotheism, which is the worship of one God which involves a distinct denial of all other Gods, can be deemed a form of atheism that merely flirts with religious experience based on its denial of all divinity except one based on religious experience that is only with that particular.

 

Bibliography

Butler, Edward P., Dr. Essays on a Polytheistic Philosophy of Religion. New York: Phaidra Editions, 2014.

Butler, Edward P., Dr. “ Monotheism is Atheism, and some thoughts on Vedanta · EPButler.” Storify. Accessed May 19, 2017. https://storify.com/EPButler/monotheism-is-atheism-and-some-thoughts-on-vedanta

James, William. The varieties of religious experience: a study in human nature: being the Gifford Lectures on natural religion delivered at Edinburgh in 1901-1902. United States: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.

James, William. Pluralistic universe. Place of publication not identified: Hardpress Publishing, 2012.

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Rationalism and Empiricism in harmony

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Rationalism and Empiricism are two concepts in epistemology that seem to oppose each other directly. The former is based on the concept of apriori knowledge such as innate ideas, deduction, and reason. The latter is dependent on aposteriori knowledge, which is a type of knowledge not dependent on innate ideas but rather on induction and sense perception. I propose that these two seemingly opposing ideas are not only in harmony but are both necessary to understanding the greater universe and religion. One cannot be independent of the other; both are necessary.

 

Empiricism is necessary

If you look to the Gods, their essential essence is beyond the material realm altogether. However, simultaneously, empiricism is necessary because our experience with the divine is empirical. We do not experience their intelligible essence, which is so beyond us and near impossible to determine, but rather we can only see their activities, and even those tend to be viewed second hand (as they manifest in nature, not, in any obvious way, immediately from their hands). As such, empiricism is necessary to understand the divine in our material universe.

 

Rationalism is necessary

There exists a problem with solely relying on empirical evidence and assuming there are no such things as nonmaterial beings, such as deities and greater kinds, based on that; empiricism relies on materialism. Materialism assumes that things that cannot be empirically weighed cannot exist. The problem with that assumption is that it’s something that in itself cannot be empirically supported. You cannot prove a negative; and as such, materialism suffers from a weak, and unrecognized, metaphysics.

Sole reliance on our senses isn’t intelligent since our senses can be easily deceived. We can bear witness to false things and optical illusions, or even simply make mistakes when trying to learn the truth. As such, sense perception isn’t something to be solely depended on to understand the truth.

Math, for example, can be understood apriori. We understand that Pythagoras’ theorem is true for all triangles, despite not needing to test every triangle. Math and logical truths aren’t true because of our senses, but rather because of reason’s ability to connect ideas, or Forms. The idea is eternal and unchangable since the idea isn’t dependent on anything physical for its existence. Whether or not a physical triangle is drawn, Pythagoras’ theorem still holds true.

Though we only can only bear witness to the Gods’ activities, we must use reason and deduction to truly understand the divine, to the best of our ability.

 

Conclusion

Though pure reason is to be stressed over empiricism, empiricism still has its uses in understanding the divine and the universe around us, and as such both rationalism and empiricism are necessary for understanding the cosmos.

 

(Special thanks to Jeffrey S. Kupperman for heavily inspiring me with this!)

 

Bibliography

EsEinsteinium03. YouTube. January 21, 2014. Accessed November 14, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1g8wjsEQyw.

Markie, Peter. “Rationalism vs. Empiricism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. July 06, 2017. Accessed November 14, 2017. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rationalism-empiricism/.

Kupperman, Jeffrey S. “Living Theurgy: a course in Iamblichus Philosophy, Theology and Theurgy”. London: Avalonia, 2014.

Plato, and Benjamin Jowett. The complete works of Plato. United States?: Akasha Pub., 2008.

Yount, David J. Empiricism versus Rationalism. 2013. Accessed November 14, 2017. http://www.mesacc.edu/~davpy35701/text/empm-v-ratm.html.

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The blessed divine on Mount Kasios

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Mount Kasios, known as Jebel al-ʾAqraʿ (جبل الأقرع‎‎) in modern Arabic, is known to be a sacred mountain in Syria that hosts great divine power. It has been recognized by many names- such as Mount Hazzi by the Hurrians and Mount Sapan by the Canaanites. The sacred site can be understood as a “Mount Olympus of the Near East,” and in ancient times it was considered a sacred home of the storm deity Baʿal Zaphon, known to the Hellenes as Zeus Kasios, and His sister ʿAnat along with the other deities. In mythology, it is this location where a great battle between Zeus Kasios and a sea-serpent entity identified by the Greeks as the monster Typhon took place. The temple of Zeus Kasios was described as being “dark with clouds,” and the deity is described to appear as a dark-bearded figure.

The site is known for many miracles. On 114/115 ACE Emperor Trajan was spared from a catastrophic earthquake that struck Antioch and gave great offerings to the God as thanks. On 129 ACE Emperor Hadrian climbed the mountain in the darkness of night to witness the dawn at its summit. As he prepared to honor the God with a sacrifice, a lightning bolt at the peak flashed and killed both the animal victim as well as the attendant who was about to slaughter it. Emperor Julian also experienced the deity, however in a much more personal experience.

On spring of 363 ACE, the divine Emperor Julian took the route to Mount Kasios to bear witness to the early dawn and give worship and provide a sacrifice to Zeus. The sun rose, and in broad daylight, it is written by Libanius that Julian received an epiphanic vision from the God, and “saw the God and after seeing him… received advice.” It is here that Zeus, “[as] one of the immortals descended from heaven, took [Julian] by the hair, spoke to him, and after listening to [Zeus’] answer [Julian] departed.”

 

Bibliography

Brown, John Pairman. Israel and Hellas: Vol. 3 : The legacy of Iranian imperialism and the individual. Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 2001.

Fox, Robin Lane. Travelling Heroes: In the Epic Age of Homer. New York: Vintage Books, 2010.

Kalleres, Dayna S. “A City of Religious Pluralism and Spiritual Ambiguity.” City of Demons, 2014, 25-50. doi:10.1525/california/9780520276475.003.0001.

Libanius. Selected works: The Julianic orations. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987.

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Are the Gods Omni[something]?

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Bust of Zeus-Ammon, in the British Museum.

During a conversation with my friend Jeffrey S. Kupperman, the topic of divine omnipotence came up. It led to an interesting discussion. In short, properly understood, no deity is omnipotent, or “all powerful” in traditional Hellenism, and in general, the concept doesn’t really make a lot of sense if we attempt to take it literally. From a relative perspective, we might say Zeus-Helios, the Celestial Demiurge, as the most powerful deity, is in effect all powerful in that He has power over all the other Gods. But that’s not really “all-powerful” in the sense that we’re talking about. So if we want to describe a God as omnipotent, what can we do? We could challenge the notion of what “all-powerful” actually means. For instance…

  • First Option: We could define omnipotence as meaning “can do absolutely anything whatsoever.” This doesn’t make much sense; can God microwave a hot pocket so hot even He cannot eat it? This is logically impossible because if God is all-powerful, God should be able to do this, but simultaneously it doesn’t make any sense because being all-powerful God should be able to eat any hot pocket, regardless of hotness.
  • Second Option: We could define omnipotence as “being able to do anything that can logically be done.” While this fixes our too-hot hot pocket problem, it isn’t exactly “all-powerful” in a sense we’re discussing though, so once again, we’re stuck.

 

This second option seems, realistically, better, and leads to the development of a third option; to acknowledge that the conception of theistic Deity as being all good, all knowing, all present, and all powerful is third-rate theology, only meant to give something that cannot be understood characteristics that we can somewhat grasp, but makes sure we don’t conflate Deity with just really powerful people by putting “all” (omni) in front of each descriptor.

The Celestial Demiurge isn’t all good or all knowing or all powerful, etc., The Demiurge is the Demiurge, and does exactly what He is supposed to do. His essence (and the essence of the Gods) as Iamblichus tells us, is nearly impossible to determine; we can only see His actions, and even those are by large only viewed second hand, most often manifesting from nature rather than immediately from His hand.

Not even the One, which is the Good itself, can be said to be omnibenevolent, or “all good.” In Platonic ontology, the source of a quality is itself beyond that quality. An analogy of this is a bucket pouring out water: the bucket holds the water because it is beyond the water; it doesn’t turn into water particles. This essentially means that the Good, as the source of all good, is beyond all good. The Good is good because everything desires participation in it; however the Good doesn’t desire participation in anything because it is above (ontologically prior to) all things.

Likewise, the Demiurge is simply the Demiurge, and does exactly what He is meant to do; create order. Zeus isn’t all powerful in the sense that mainstream Western Abrahamics think that YHWH is. There is no creation ex nihilo, as the Demiurge, our universal creator, would need something infinite and eternal to draw on to craft. After all, the word Demiurge quite literally means “craftsman,” and the craftsman needs materials to work on and shape. Matter (hyle) comes from the One, and Aion, the first manifestation of Being, is described the creative power that the Demiurge draws from to craft the cosmos out of the primordial chaos that Plato’s Timaeus describes. The Demiurge’s does exactly what His role entails; create order.

For a close analogy, we can look to Kemetic theology with the concepts of Ma’at and Isfet for a comparison.

  • Isfet is negative and chaotic disorder.
  • Ma’at is order, which we’ve established that the Gods bring.

Apophis is the embodiment of Isfet and is born from Ra’s umbilical cord; meaning it’s merely something that comes as a result of Ra’s ordering of the cosmos – something that has a negative existence; without Being (Ousia). It doesn’t have an independent existence, and this is further evident with how it’s easily slain by the Gods each and every day without fail in mythology. As such, Isfet is analogous to evil in a Platonist sense: chaotic and negative disorder. Now, we’ve already dismantled the traditional Abrahamic view of God, and can thus conclude that good isn’t the typical “light side” of the Good vs. Evil dichotomy. I’ve already written how evil doesn’t exist as a positive, but Good most certainly does.

This means that Good is, ultimately, order. What we see in the Good is an emphasis on harmony and alignment with the Good. The Demiurge’s job is ordering of the cosmos, and order is something that is, ultimately, good. The Good is harmony; the Good is Order. This is what the Demiurge brought when He ordered the cosmos out of chaos. To achieve henosis, union with the One, is to take your proper place in this order.

Hence, great and divine thinkers such as the divine Plato, and even the Iranian prophet Zarathustra, said that we best serve the Gods by assisting them or being helpful. We help the divine by fulfilling tasks which benefit humankind, which spreads the Good; which as we understand, is order. Hence while omnibenevolence is useless as a term, it can be understood that the essential nature of the divine is one of benevolence.

 

(Special thanks to Jeffrey S. Kupperman for heavily inspiring me with this!)

 

Bibliography

Kupperman, Jeffrey S. Living theurgy: a course in Iamblichus philosophy, theology and theurgy. London: Avalonia, 2014.

Nasios, Angelo. “The Hearth of Hellenism: We Don’t have Relationships with the Gods, or Do We?” Agora. July 14, 2017. Accessed August 11, 2017. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2017/07/hearth-hellenism-2/

Plato. Plato Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo. Translated by G. M. A. Grube and John M. Cooper. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 2002.

Plato, and Benjamin Jowett. The complete works of Plato. United States?: Akasha Pub., 2008.

Proclus, and E. R. Dodds. The Elements of Theology: A Revised Text with Translation, Introduction, and Commentary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004.

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