Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Step Two: the page 49 conundrum

'When, however, the perfectly logical assumption is suggested that underneath the material world and life as we see it, there is an All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence, right there our perverse streak comes to the surface and we laboriously set out to convince ourselves it isn't so. We read wordy books and indulge in windy arguments, thinking we believe this universe needs no God to explain it. Were our contentions true, it would follow that life originated out of nothing, means nothing, and proceeds nowhere.' (Alcoholics Anonymous, 49:0)

Here goes with an argument quite as windy as Bill's glorious ramblings in We Agnostics.

His logic here is this:
(1) A universe without God (= 'All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence') is one where (a) life originates out of nothing, (b) means nothing, and (c) proceeds nowhere.
(2) (a), (b), and (c) are untrue.
(3) Therefore, an 'All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence', i.e. God, exists.

There are several problems with this.

Firstly, (a) is true, scientifically. There was a point at which, on this planet, no life existed. The origins of life, biologically speaking, are indeed explainable without God. Whether 'God' is behind this sparking of life is moot.

Secondly, with regard to (b), the experience of any alcoholic coming into AA is quite specifically that life means absolutely nothing at all—life has been hopeless, pointless suffering for quite some time. In fact, if life still means something, you may not be at rock bottom, yet.

Thirdly, with regard to (c), the idea of 'life' having no destination but simply being a continuum guided by randomness and the laws of physics, like molecules bouncing off each within a liquid, occasionally causing chemical reactions, is not, to anyone in the state described by (b), implausible: au contraire, it is far more logical than the idea that life has some kind of teleological destination.

In fact, in the world of science, the explanation of phenomena in terms of teleology ('any philosophical account which holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that design and purpose analogous to that found in human actions are inherent also in the rest of nature') was rejected in 1620 by Francis Bacon on the grounds that the truth or falsehood of teleological explanations are beyond the ability of human perception and understanding to judge. I buy that. So has science, for the last four hundred years or so. Bill should have read up a bit on this.

So, we have a problem, Wilson.

The basis for Bill's 'logical assumption' is, from the point of view of the newcomer, totally flawed. Far from proving that God exists, Bill has actually done the opposite.

Oops.

Except, Bill is quite right.

And the reason is this:

When I came to AA, life had no meaning. Life was pointless. Life originated in nothing. Life was going nowhere.

However: I was bothered by this observation.

Now, if this were true—if life were truly meaningless, why would I be bothered by it?

Being 'bothered' implies a conflict; the conflict was this: beneath the surface reality of pointlessness was a dim awareness that this 'pointlessness' was not the way things 'ought to be'. The sense that things should have a point is beyond logic, beyond experience, and, I presume, beyond mere biology. And, however pessimistic or nihilistic I became, I could never be comfortable with this conclusion.

If, in truth, nothing meant anything, then there was nothing to worry about, right? There was, however, the unavoidable sense that the pointlessness I felt was not inherent to life but stemmed from my failure to find a point which did indeed exist, somewhere out there—or in here (points at chest).

I could not, therefore, resolve this conflict in favour of pointlessness. There was an immovable grit of hope which was the source of the conflict.

Furthermore, I saw people in AA who matched this description:

'People of faith have a logical idea of what life is all about. Actually, we used to have no reasonable conception whatever. We used to amuse ourselves by cynically dissecting spiritual beliefs and practices when we might have observed that many spiritually-minded persons of all races, colors, and creeds were demonstrating a degree of stability, happiness and usefulness which we should have sought ourselves.' (49:2)

The truth was, I saw this hope in you.

I find it hilarious that Bill is following the line that one cannot possibly begin to believe in God unless one has obtained a satisfactory explanation of the universe ('thinking we believe this universe needs no God to explain it'—he presumes that explaining the universe is our paramount goal in Step Two, the riddle which must be solved before we can get off the starting blocks).

I could not, and cannot, explain the happiness of others (and, now, of myself) unless there IS 'something' 'underneath the material world and life as we see it'. That was the satisfactory explanation that I sought.

And that 'something' (which we can comfortably and conveniently call 'God') is the light at the end of the tunnel in Step Two. That 'something' incontrovertibly existed.

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