Posts tagged ‘absurdity’

July 29th, 2011

Existential Absurdity in the Sciences

by Max Andrews

Given the natural order of universe and its cause and effect network, perhaps redemption and reconciliation from absurdity can be found in biology or physics.  For example, consider an adult salmon’s biologically given capacity to swim upstream and mate.  In this case the end at which the adult salmon’s activity aims is not, or anyway need not be, valuable, it is simply the end with which it was endowed by nature.[1]  The same may be true with human life.  The notion may not be too far-gone since many philosophers and scientists find their meaning, value, and purpose in nature.  Friedrich Nietzsche based his teleology and understanding of truth in biology.  If this universe [or multiverse] is all that exists it seems that this scientific driven teleology may not be sufficient.

Nobel prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg provided a self-comforting dialogue in The First Three Minutes suggesting that his own research in the field of physics has provided himself with meaning, value, and purpose.  Paradoxically, he believes that the more he learns about the universe, the lesser of an ultimate meaning it has.[2]

Physicist Victor Stenger seems to agree with Weinberg’s understanding of the purpose as it relates to reality.  In his book, God the Failed Hypothesis, he displays a rather existential reflection when he ponders the universe and reality.  He believes that if God created matter with humanity in mind, then it was not done so for a purpose.[3]  The universe is so vast and hostile to life and the parameters for existence of humanity are incredibly slim.  Earth is a rarity.  This notion of absurdity is not as introspective as the philosophers may see it; rather, it is an inference based on his observation on the physical realm.  What is similar between the philosopher’s inference and Stenger’s is that they encounter a breakdown of rationality, Camus’ alienation and disappearance of reason. Like Camus, he becomes aware of the sheer absurdity of his existence.

In contrast to Weinberg and Stenger, it should be understood that because the universe is meaningful could any meaning or rationality be derived thereof.  The glory of mathematics and human art manifests a genius.  Just as Albert Einstein pondered the striking fact that the universe is comprehensible, that mathematics illuminates nature by mapping forms of order as small as particles and strings and as broad as universe [or multiverse] itself.  On secularized grounds, why should nature make sense?  Why should there be any connection whatsoever between the highly abstract, formal relationships of numbers and figures and the order of nature?  Why is nature amenable to mathematical analysis?[4]  By all human experience, it would be irrational to infer that, in a continual state of becoming, there is no meaning behind the order observed in nature.

It would serve well for one to be reminded that humanity did not construct the order behind the abstract and the physical.  The order of the universe is prior to and independent of man’s attempts to understand it.  That is why theories must be tested against nature.  Man is not the creator of order, but at best, discerners of order—not only for humanity’s own existence but also for the perfection of understanding.[5]

            [1] Michael Smith, “Is That All There Is?” Journal of Ethics 10 (January 2006):  83.

            [2] Steven Weinberg, The First Three Minutes (London:  Andre Deutsch, 1977), 154-155.

            [3] Victor Stenger, God the Failed Hypothesis (Amherst, NY:  Prometheus, 2008), 137-164.

            [4] Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt, A Meaningful World (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 2006), 27.

            [5] Ibid., 244.

July 25th, 2011

Existential Absurdity

by Max Andrews

Absurdity is an understanding or a concept in which the individual is superfluous.  This superfluity of being is due to having no allotted place in any necessary scheme of things. Some people invent teleologies in an attempt to lend things a place in overarching schemes but it is an illusion.[1]  According to Albert Camus, man has a longing for reason.  In this world people have understood that there is “irrationality” to reality thus a “despair of true knowledge.”  There still remains a longing for reason despite the recognition of absurdity.  From this, absurdity is born.[2] Camus recognized that man needs to understand this despair and come to terms with it.  His teleology was simply to live life together with others and love one another.

Absurdity is the denial of teleology.  It is a result of alienation.  If there is a connection or intimacy within the self, a lack of angst, it is difficult for absurdity to follow.  The same is true for an alienation between others and God.  Teleology is the only savior to absurdity.  The problem at hand is identifying what can provide such teleology, and if that provision is made, does it actually work?  Is it a binding teleology?

June 13th, 2011

Devotions With The Imprecatory Psalms

by Max Andrews

I’ve been stuck in the Psalms all year.  Every once in a while I travel to other passages sporadically throughout the Bible, but for the past seven months or so I cannot seem to find my way out of the Psalms.  As I laid in bed last night I flipped through some old notes of mine and began to read and think.  I woke up this morning and read a few psalms.  Then I decided to read the imprecatory psalms.  Now, I know this isn’t a term heard often but the imprecatory psalms are the psalms that make requests or desires known to God that are… well… evil.  Here’s a few.

Let death come deceitfully upon them; let them go down alive to Sheol, for evil is in their dwelling, in their midst.  Ps. 55.15

O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth… Ps. 58.6

May they be blotted out of the book of life and may they not be recorded with the righteous. Ps. 69.28

Let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. Ps. 109.9

How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock. Ps. 137.9

I would encourage you to go to these passages and read them yourself.  Understand the contexts in which these words and thoughts were expressed.  Let’s not be too quick to say, “There’s no wrong in this!”,  “This is the Word of God, these Psalms cannot be evil!”  I’m not saying the psalms are evil, I’m saying that aspects of what are being expressed are evil.  The psalmist, David for the most part, is desiring justice and vengeance.  He wants them to have death be surprised upon them, for them to be buried alive, for their teeth to be knocked out, for them not to receive salvation, and for their children to die in the manner in which his people’s children have been murdered.  I’m just guessing but if I had not set up these imprecatory psalms in a biblical context already you would think that they were pretty evil–no?

So what do we do with these psalms?  We recognize them for what they are–honest.  God’s intention for these were not to be taken as these desires being pure and good.  God’s response to these are, “Yes, that’s right. I’m glad that you see that’s evil.”  Allow time to meditate and reflect on this.  How often do you find yourself desiring such thoughts on others?  Granted, you have not had the same experiences that inspired these desires, but you’ve probably had the same desires.  Manifestations of our heart and will must not be identical in its originating context to be the same manifestations of emotion and feelings.  Being in the world means that we must experience the tensions of life, not get rid of them.  Jesus didn’t come to earth and push the Easy Button to atone for this absurdity.  Jesus came to earth, lived and experienced the same temptations, tensions, problems, and absurdities that we face.  We happen to fall short in our response to these tensions and absurdities.  We respond as David does, though we are honest, we do not channel it properly.  Imagine God responding, “Yes, I’m glad you know these are evil. What will you do now?”  I think David collects himself after many of the psalms only for it to have it happen again.  He relies on God.  He’s obedient to God.  Justice, salvation, blessings… all these rest with God.  We want to chime in and tell God what to do and how to do it–and if it were the case that we got it our way, this is what it would look like.

I’ve come to the realization that I’m not so different in heart and mind from the psalmist who has such evil desires.  I need to learn to experience these tensions and problems properly.  It’s hard to say, but I don’t want the quick fix antidotes.  Experiencing these tensions, persevering through absurdity, and repeating the cycle again when we fail until it is all overcome by Jesus is the process we call sanctification.  When you find yourself in a situation when your prayer simply comes out as, “AHH!” trust that the Holy Spirit knows exactly what you mean and what you need (Rom. 8.27).  With this I will end with Romans 12.