My Karma ran over your Dogma

The Euthyphro dilemma is found in Plato‘s dialogue Euthyphro, in which Socrates asks Euthyphro, “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?

This has had major implications from a morality standpoint since this question posted by Plato can be reworded as follows – Is a deed a good deed because the deed itself is good or is it good because an external agency (i.e. GOD) says it is good. As stated by Plato,  this dilemma gives rise to TWO HORNS

a) FIRST HORN – A good deed is good because the deed ITSELF is good. In this case, God is NOT needed for morality since the deed’s goodness stands by itself. It does NOT need an external Agency. So this means limited Omnipotence i.e. Morality is possible WITHOUT God.

b) SECOND HORN – A good deed is good because GOD (external Agency) deemed it as good. In this case, Morality is arbitrary since any deed can be deemed as good by God. God can very well claim something like murder is a good deed. Omnibenevolence is compromised here.

Now I realize that there have been responses by Apologists like Dr. William Lane Craig to this which can be best described as weak. His claim is  – ” God simply is the ultimate Good and it is God’s nature to be the Ultimate Good”. This is weak since now we have pushed the problem from “good” to “nature”. Thanks to Dr. Craig’s line of argument we can restate this as:

  1. Does God have control over his Nature or
  2. Does He not have control over his Nature

If 1. it is Arbitrariness and if 2. it is Impotence! We are essentially back to where we started.

Having been brought up in the Hindu tradition I wondered if the Euthyphro Dilemma can also be applied to Karma? Karma is an important religious and philosophical concept in Hinduism. The Bhagavad Gita cites Karma Yoga or the Yoga of Action as one of the paths to Salvation. There are also other accounts of how “karmic balance” is used as the basis to explain the concept of Reincarnation i.e. Karmic Deeds from a prior life shape your current life. The explanation is if you are a child born into suffering and/or poverty it is because of your negative karmic action balance from a prior life.

Here is how I would like to pose the Euthyphro Argument:

a) Is a Karmic deed a good/ moral deed because the DEED ITSELF is good/moral?  OR

b) Is a Karmic deed a good/moral deed because an EXTERNAL Agent (i.e. GOD) deems so.

If a) then the Law of Karma does not have the necessity for an External Agent. If b) then the External Agent is arbitrary (like the Second Horn above).

While acting in a “selfless” manner and performing actions to improve the well being of others, as a concept is great, it can hardly constitute as a basis for religious morality and as a sufficient explanation for Reincarnation (in Hinduism). Here are my issues:

  • What is the standard for Karmic Actions? How does one determine selfless actions?
  • Who is keeping the “tally” or score for these actions? Remember if a Karmic Deed is good by itself then there is no GOD who is keeping this score. So how does this all work?
  • Where is the proof that performing Karmic Actions (by whichever definition) results in Salvation? What is the defined as Salvation here?
  • Where is the proof of Reincarnation? If negative Karmic balance from a prior life is a determinant for your experiences of your current life where is the proof?
  • And how do you explain force majeure events such as tsunamis; earthquakes etc.  from a karmic balance standpoint? Is there is different approach to “community karma”

You can see the issues are self-evident. At the risk of repeating myself  – living a life of good actions and altruistic deeds is a noble endeavor.

However one must be very careful not to conflate this with the promise of SALVATION!


From ID to IDK – God of the Gaps

A frequent argument from Apologists is, ” How did something come from nothing?” i.e. what caused the Big Bang. This argument takes various forms and usually gets inserted into the Cosmological Argument and/or Teleological Argument. From a historical perspective, there have been multiple versions of this, from the Kalaam Cosmological Argument to Thomas of Aquinas’s Five Ways.  There have been numerous debates between Atheists and Apologists on this topic and the crux of the question always comes to, “How did something come from nothing”?

To which I respond, “How did you know there was nothing”?. Let me explain. Assume you are driving in a remote area, late evening. All of a sudden you see a flying object in the sky. The object defies all normal description of planes and/or spacecrafts. You are pretty certain there is no military base close by. You see the spacecraft do maneuvers that are not within your understanding of what an aircraft would do. You have two potential options on how to assess this experience.

a) I think I saw something that probably defied explanation but I am not sure what it is i.e. IDK – I Don’t Know

b) OR I am very certain that I have witnessed a UFO sighting and I am pretty sure it was aliens from a different world

You see the problem? It is human nature to seek an explanation for everything. Our basic need is to find a reason why and if we cannot find a natural explanation we fix that with a supernatural explanation.

Let us further unpack the “Something from Nothing” Argument. Theists claim that there has to be an external powerful entity (i.e. God) that caused the Big Bang. This entity basically started from the conditions of Ex Nihilo and kick-started the Big Bang.  We have a few issues with this line of argument:

  1. There is the problem of Infinite Regress i.e. now we are left with the problem of trying to find who created God. Apologists try to make a deft move by stating that we don’t need to explain who created God since God exists outside of space and time but that typically does not sell since causality still needs to be addressed
  2. How do we know that an Agent created the Big Bang? There could have been multiple Big Bangs that could have started at the same time or there could have been a Big Chill or cool down prior to the big bang or there could have been a localized big bang. The fact that we currently do NOT understand what the cause, does not mean that we get to insert “divinity” into the equation
  3. Finally, we know that we are on a collision course with the Andromeda Galaxy (per Christopher Hitchens) and in the next million or so years there is a whole lot of nothingness coming to us! So the bigger question is why will there be nothing coming very very soon (in galactic timeline)

The broader point is why does the theist not have the humility to say – I DON’T KNOW! Science continues to break barriers and explain so much. To put this in perspective, we know more in the last 80 years that we have known ever since Neaderthal man. The pace and speed of how we understand the universe is changing at tremendous speed. There is no time or place for bronze age uneditable books or worldviews. (as Christopher Hitchens puts it):

The “something from nothing” argument is played out. It has been presented in so many different variations and forms but it always ends up in NOTHING!


The Swiss Army Knife or the Utility Argument for Religion & Faith

I have always wondered what basis people use for the Utility Argument for religion. I get this more from my Hindu and Buddist friends.  Here are a few examples of how this goes:

a) I do not profess to the dogmas of religion and religious practice. I consider religion a spiritual journey that gives me inner peace.

b) I belong to a mission/church/temple/sect etc. and it gives me a sense of belonging and community.

c) I perform religious ceremonies or practices more to bring my friends and family together and am not really doing it as part of any belief framework.

d) (My Favorite) – I pray since it gives me inner peace and hey it is not like I am asking you to do the same.

e) And finally look at all the charity and humanitarian work going on with the churches and temples. Wouldnt you want to be part of something noble that makes a difference in people’s lives.

So basically it is religion “lite”. I see a few interesting issues and let us unpack this. There need to be some basic guidelines we need to operate under. Everyone is entitled to believe in what they like and feel comfortable with as long as:

  • You are not proselytizing
  • You are not shaping public policy 
  • You are not shaping education policy in public schools
  • You are not providing charity with a precondition of acceptance into your religious worldview

As Sam Harris puts it, ” beliefs matter and individual beliefs matter”. There is a monumental difference between what “feels good” vs what is true. Remember the definition of Faith is acceptance of a proposition with LACK of evidence.  If your practices provide you “utility” and do not violate the above guidelines that is ok …..but it still does not make it TRUE!

There are a lot of institutions that are providing charitable programs and funding without the slant of religion (ex. OXFAM; Doctors without Borders).

Outcome-based prayer has been proven to be ineffective via multiple studies. If the answer is “I am praying to calm my mind and not really ask for any outcomes from a theistic deity” then all you are really doing is meditation!

There is a myriad of ways that you can foster a sense of community. It can be based on interests or it can be based on activities. My point is being part of a church or a temple is not the ONLY option to meaningfully participate in a community.

And by the way, most of these people who will tell you that their approach to religion is a benign, mild spiritual approach have their children in Sunday school/classes learning inane mythological stories and dogmatic practices. Apparently, the utility and spiritual approach that they profess is not germane for their children. This double standard is evident in the Hindu Missions where (in Sunday school) children are being fed this tripe while at the same time the adults are having a “spiritual” discussion on the meaning of life and religious concepts.

I only wish that people would understand that they can get all the utility value that they perceive is being provided by religion, without it.

But then this is wishful thinking……