Monday, October 24, 2005

Conversations with God, part 1

Since we're on the subject of the power of words, I thought I'd post a review I did of a New Age book a few years ago. In this book, written by Neale Donald Walsch, he claims that we all create our own reality by the power of our thoughts, words, and deeds. It's interesting that in Bill Gothard's book, he said God could've created the universe with his thoughts, but he chose to use words, and then in NDW's book, he claims that we can all create reality with both our thoughts and our words. Gothard's book wasn't half as crazy as Walsch's book, though, as you'll see if you decide to read this whole review.

This was a long review, so we'll be on this book at least for two weeks--maybe three, depending on how much of it I decide to post each day. That works out great for me, because I'm still too busy with school to do any writing for the blog. And here we go...

How I came to read this book

I was having a discussion on a message board about the nature of truth, and the person I was talking with [who was a Unitarian Universalist in case you want to know] insisted that truth is relative, and that we each create our own reality. Since truth is relative, he argued, those who make absolute truth claims are flawed in their thinking. I pointed out what seemed to me to be a flaw in his own thinking, which is that if truth is relative, a person who makes an absolute truth claim can't be mistaken because the claim would be absolutely true for him. By saying that those who disagree with the claim that "truth is relative" are flawed in their thinking, he was assuming that his claim was absolutely true. He was contradicting himself, because the only way a person can be mistaken in their claim is if there is some objective truth. If truth is relative, then the claim itself is only true for the person who makes the claim, but the person I was talking to was working with the assumption that "truth is relative" is an absolute truth, since he argued that those who disagreed with it were flawed in their thinking. His claim was self-refuting. I tried to point out the flaw in his thinking, and that's when he directed me to this book. He told me I would just have to read it for myself.

The person who let me borrow this book [who was also a Unitarian Universalist] told me that I'd "need to suspend this everything-has-to-be-logically-consistent point of view," which for me was a red flag. If you have to abandon logical consistency in order to hear what an author is saying, then that ought to clue you in on the fact that the book is irrational nonsense. And having read the book, I have found that irrational nonsense is exactly what it is. I don't know when I've read a book so full of contradictions before. That's my major complaint about the book, so I'll spend some time in this review going over some of them. I don't think I'm being unfair in my criticism, either, because I'm using the same standards the author used to criticize other views. He criticizes Christianity for not allowing you to ask logical questions which challenge the Christian worldview (p.64), and he criticizes people in general who complain about 40,000 people dying of hunger each day while at the same time bringing 50,000 people a day into the world by saying, "It is a plan which totally lacks logic or reason" (p.49) Apparently, the author thinks there's some value in logic and reason, and since he holds other viewpoints to those standards, I think it's appropriate for me to hold Walsch's book to those same standards. Of course even here he's inconsistent. He writes, "Every heart which earnestly asks, Which is the path to God? is shown. Each is given a heartfelt truth. Come to Me along the path of your heart, not through a journey of your mind. You will never find Me in your mind. In order to truly know God, you have to be out of your mind" (p.94). So should we take a rational approach to religious subjects or not? Apparently, we shouldn't when we look at Walsch's religion, but we should when looking at every other religion. It's a double standard.

As I was reading the book, I was looking for statements or assumptions about the nature of truth and reality. There was certainly plenty in the book about us creating our own reality, but nothing at all explicit about the nature of truth—whether truth is relative or absolute. There were a few statements which vaguely implied that truth is relative (e.g. "If you want to know what's true for you about something, look to how you're feeling about it" p.3), but the vast majority of the book seemed to be working with the assumption that truth is objective and absolute (e.g. "That's the problem with truth. The truth is relentless. It won't leave you alone. It keeps creeping up on you from every side, showing you what's really so. That can be annoying" p.140). There was a particular worldview which was being expressed, and which the author obviously thought was true and that corresponded with reality. I did not get the impression that the author was merely expressing what was true from his point of view, because he even went so far as to say that those who disagree are wrong.

The author did use phrases such as "the world of the relative" and "the world of the absolute," but he did not appear to be talking about the nature of truth in those passages. The "world of the relative," according to the author, is the world in which we live. The "world of the absolute" is the world in which God lives. For anything to exist in the world of the relative, it must exist relative to its opposite. For example, for love to exist, fear must exist also, since fear is the opposite of love. There also seemed to be another sense in which this is the "world of the relative." When God says that he built relativity into the universe, I got the impression that he was talking about Einstein's general and special theories of relativity, neither of which have anything to do with the nature of truth.

to be continued...

Part 2


At 10/24/2005 1:13 PM , Blogger Steve said...

Sam - I dont quite understand how things can be absolute in the universe, given the fact that if Gods all powerful he can make anything absolute relative, in theory even his own existence. I've heard you qualify this before by saying that logical absurdities are not an issue for god (like the four sided triangle), but im curious why can we not say that things are all relative, except the logical absurdity of saying the statement itself is relative.

Moreover, I really have trouble with the thinking that "the statement disproves itself" by saying "Everything in the Universe is relative."

Even if we agree that the relativity of the universe is in fact some consistancy in existence, that doesn't establish that anything BUT the statement is absolute.

At 10/24/2005 3:46 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

Not trying to take anything away from Sam's eventual response, though I have two things that come to mind:

(1) First, I think sometime ago there was a discussion between you and Sam regarding the meaning of all-powerful. I think you already hinted at it, but in the discussion a distinction was made between being able to do anything, and being able to do anything logically possible. I think most Christians would subscribe to the second definition, meaning that God could not "make anything absolute relative," because it would be logically impossible for Him (like the 4-sided triangle).

(2) Second, there's a difference between the statements "Everything in the Universe is relative" and "Everything in the Universe except this statement is relative." The first statement is self-refuting but you are right, that does not automatically make the second one self-refuting also. They are difference propositions.

(Though, here is something: in order for the statement "everything in the Universe except this statement is relative" to be absolutely true, logic (which the statement fundamentally relies on) must be absolutely true as well, because if logic were relative, then all statements that used logic would have to be relative too. So, in order for the statement to not be relative, logic must also not be relative. But if logic is not relative, then there is something not relative besides the statement itself. Therefore, the second statement is also self-refuting.)

At 10/24/2005 4:03 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

What Dale said.

At 10/24/2005 6:34 PM , Blogger Steve said...

Dale, Sam

I see what you're saying but my confusion stems from the fact that a) saying the statement is self refuting does not establish that the universe is not relative, only that one cannot make the logical claim "everything is relative"

however you just said yourself that the claim "god is all powerful" doesn't include logical absurdities like four sided triangles.

so what im getting out here, is why does the self refuting statement, a logical absurdity, not get the same pass that you give to God and allow for the fact that everything is relative save for the fact that everything is relative?

At 10/24/2005 6:36 PM , Blogger Steve said...

moreover, you only get away with the self refuting angle if you say "Everything is relative"

saying "The Universe is relative" only is self refuting if the universe includes the statement which you assert.

At 10/24/2005 8:13 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I'm not really even sure what you'd mean by saying the universe is relative. If you grant that there's at least one thing that is not relative, then it seems reasonable to think that some things are relative and some things are not. That's consistent with what I think. I think some things are relative and some things are not.

But I don't know how you'd go about arguing that everything is relative except one statement. To make an argument like that, it seems to me you'd have to smuggling in a few more non-relative statements.

To just claim that everything except one statement is relative seems arbitrary to me.


At 10/24/2005 11:33 PM , Blogger Steve said...

but what thing are you talking about? The statement "the Universe is relative"?

You are necessarily assuming that the statement is a thing in the Universe, correct?

At 10/25/2005 12:58 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


Things like, "Toys R US is on the right," are relative, because they could be on the left for somebody headed in the opposite direction. Before you can say that anything is relative, you have to say relative to what. Usually, when people say "truth is relative," they mean a thing is true if somebody believes it. I would only agree with that when we're talking about subjective truths. "Ice cream tastes good" may be true for one person, but not for another, for example.


At 10/25/2005 12:46 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

Unless I've missed something, I think I will agree that if the proposition "Everything in the universe is relative" exists outside the universe, then the statement is not self-refuting, since the statement does not include itself in its scope.

But what are the implications that you are trying to derive from this, Steve?

At 10/25/2005 1:49 PM , Blogger Steve said...

i think that calling the universe is relative a self refuting statement people are trying to argue that the universe is absolute and objective, and therefore creating the foundations for a God.

I dont think a simple thought experiment such as a logically self refuting statement should be able to prove that. Therefore, I was attempting to establish the distance between arguing a statement is self refuting and the universe is absolute.

At 10/26/2005 1:47 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

Even if can't be true that everything in the universe is relative, it doesn't follow that everything in the universe must then be absolute and objective. It would still be possible that some things in the universe are relative, while some things are not (as Sam pointed out).

I think it is on those things in the universe which are not relative (i.e. objective) that people can build a case for God. It's not necessary to show that everything is objective to do that.

Also, self-refuting statements are more than simple thought experiments. A self-refuting statement is necessarily false, because contained in it is a defeator to what it is claiming to be true.

So, when you say the universe is relative (assuming the statement is contained in the universe), then you've just proved the claim wrong by just thinking it. In response you would say that the universe could still be relative, but it's just that I can not show it. I would agree with that, but that's no different than a situation where one refutes all the arguments of a geocentric Earth, but the defender of it responds, "ah, but it's still possible that everything revolves around the Earth, but I just can't prove it!"

That is perfectly correct, but since you have no arguments for it, then I have no reason to believe that to be the case. In fact, it is much more reasonable to not believe it, especially if there is some evidence pointing the other way.

The same can be said of relativism. If you can't show it to be so (e.g. if the statement is self-refuting), then I have no reason to believe it to be the case. It's still possible that the universe is completely relative, but you're going to have to offer some non-contradictory arguments before I can seriously consider the claim.

This reminds me of the solipsism issue, and the possibility that we're actually in a dreamworld controlled by a demon. I may never be able to know if that is the case (it's possible), but that does not mean I have to seriously consider it.

In fact, it is quite unreasonable to believe, as Sam would say, and I think the same can be said about the possibility of a completely relative universe which I can not prove without contradicting myself.

Even if I grant the possibility that the statement exists outside the universe, I would like to know how one would prove the statement true, that the universe is absolutely relative. I grant that it is possible, but there is a substantial difference between possibility and plausibility. In fact, I think there is enough counterevidence, like our deepest intutions, which show that the claim is false -- that there are at least some things in the universe which are objective (and not relative), like the existence of an objective, external world, that our memories are objectively real things, and that 2+2=4.


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