Descartes 1st meditation

The 9rules Network recently started communities, which is basically a way of categorizing their existing members into discussion groups around various topics. My site is a member of several of these, including design and religion. I write quite frequently about the web, with CSS tutorials and whatnot, and do a fair bit of ranting about what is wrong with the American church.

Another category in which I am interested is philosophy. So, if you are reading this and are disappointed that it doesn't pertain to the web, fear not - we will resume our regularly scheduled programming shortly. The 9rules philosophy community members agreed that we would all read and respond to Descarte's First Meditation, so here are my thoughts…

I think, therefore I blog. 😉

First, a little background on Descartes: He was a philosopher who proposed ideas that flew in the face of those in power at the time, namely the church. While the popular canonized belief of most denominations is salvation by grace alone, Descartes contested that mankind is essentially good and therefore need not be dependent on any higher power.

He saw reason as the primary indication of being, ie - If I am self conscious of my existence, then surely I must exist. This was his biggest mistake, both acknowledging human fallibility, and yet adhering the notion that our minds contain the capacity for absolutely infallible perception.

In his first meditation, he reasons with himself and the reader about the origins of the supernatural. He constantly questioned not only the nature of the universe, but his own perception of it. To quote Green Day, "Sometimes I give myself the creeps. Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me."

The one thing that kept Descartes on-track was the one thing he could be sure of - the most basic mathematical logic, such as Algebra or Geometry…

For whether I am awake or dreaming, it remains true that two and three make five, and that a square has but four sides; nor does it seem possible that truths so apparent can ever fall under a suspicion of falsity.

I respect him for being able to cut through a lot of the surrounding distractions of life, and focus on what is objective and measurable. This is one of the reasons that web standards interest me so much. Even within mainstream Evangelicalism there is much debate and political infighting. To me, the W3C(World Wide Web Consortium) validator is a beacon of objectivity. This was my solace at seminary, when theological discussion would digress into religious diatribe. Yet, like Descartes, I know that there is more than just what we can tangibly percieve.

Nevertheless, the belief that there is a God who is all powerful, and who created me, such as I am, has, for a long time, obtained steady possession of my mind… But perhaps Deity has not been willing that I should be thus deceived, for he is said to be supremely good. If, however, it were repugnant to the goodness of Deity to have created me subject to constant deception, it would seem likewise to be contrary to his goodness to allow me to be occasionally deceived; and yet it is clear that this is permitted.

He reasoned that if we rightly ascribe to God all goodness, and yet sometimes we fall into deception, than surely this must be by some flaw in God's design. He is partially right in his assumption, in that earthly deception can happen. However, it was never God's intention that it would become so. We know from Genesis chapter 3 that Eve was decieved (hey, that rhymes). Descartes acknowledges the possibility of evil, but attributes it too much power.

I will suppose, then, not that Deity, who is sovereignly good and the fountain of truth, but that some malignant demon, who is at once exceedingly potent and deceitful, has employed all his artifice to deceive me; I will suppose that the sky, the air, the earth, colors, figures, sounds, and all external things, are nothing better than the illusions of dreams, by means of which this being has laid snares for my credulity.

If we are operating under the assumption that from good stems creation and life, and from evil stems destruction, then to assume that evil has laid a snare through the creation itself is erroneous. The Biblical worldview would contend that evil exists within what was once a perfect world, because mankind gave it a foot-hold. If you recall the Matrix, Agent Smith explains this to Morpheus - that of all living creatures, humans are the only ones who destroy nature and each other with such ferocity. It is we who are flawed, not God's plan.

Descartes was right to challenge his own perceptions. However, he mistakenly in uttered his now famous phrase "I think, therefore I am." If you readily acknowledge that you are from time to time decieved, then basing your entire worldview on that which you can percieve is a dangerous assumption.

For who is to say that you are right? What if another should think differently? This line of reasoning lends itself to pluralsim and situational ethics. It is only through seeking the guidance of Deity as the Northern star that we can gain our bearing. Christ came to be that guiding light, that we would not live our lives mired in confusion. So, while it's good to ask tough questions, we must do so in genuine pursuit of real answers.

Far too often, philosophers get caught up in circular reasoning, and use their confounded lack of conclusions as a basis for writing off the existence of God. Explanations for the entire universe come not from within our own finite minds, but from a higher intelligence. I like to think of it this way: We are all figments of God's imagination, not the other way around. In short, do not be afraid to wonder, because if you are truely looking for God, he will find you.