Back to Contents

 

You have nothing to lose by believing in God… If it doesn't exist you've lost nothing, but if it does – you will go to Heaven.

Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662)

CRITICAL THINKING

HOW TO EXPLAIN EVERYTHING WHILE
EXPLAINING NOTHING

Once upon a time, there lived at the edge of the known world a noble tribe of the Somehowis. Before long, everybody called them Happy Somehowis, for with a smile and goodwill to all they would elucidate the great truths of the Cosmos to anyone, even the poor and the sick…
Where did those great truths come from? The holiest of provenances – the “Mind of Somehow” who had lived in Eternal Clouds since the beginning of time, even before there were any worlds at all...
   Every full moon, a joyous procession of Happy Somehowis would follow their leaders up a mighty mountain – getting so near to Eternal Clouds that a hallowed breath of the “Mind of Somehow” was believed to caress their faces -
At length, a Sacred Decree would thunder down upon the entranced crowd; “Whatever happens, happens SOMEHOW – so hold this true in this world and you shall live happily forever in the next!”
While they could all recognize it as the voice of their highest leader, no one ever doubted that the “Mind of Somehow” was itself gracing their lives with divine omniscience -
Soon, a fervent chorus of “SOMEHOW, SOMEHOW – that's how everything happens!” would echo down the valleys, then turn into ear-splitting shrieks that enthused even the meekest to partake in gallant feats of devotion -
On a way home, those too impatient to await eternal happiness would leap into mile-deep Heavenly Canyon – performing somersaults as their families waved a fond farewell and excited crowds roared. The leaders would nod approvingly…
In the end “Living happily forever is true SOMEHOW!” would be proclaimed to the four corners of the world and everybody felt much strengthened and at peace.

THE STRANGER

Happy Somehowis had long prospered and their monuments to the “Mind of Somehow” were renowned far and wide. Then, one fateful day a Stranger from the edge of the known world approached them not on foot – as had been expected since times immemorial, but riding astride a big metal horse never seen before -
There was fear at first, then cautious curiosity… But within a week, a wave of child-like delight swept over most of the tribe. From distant places they would come – often with babies in arms, gesturing at the big metal horse and giggling. It's believed the more outgoing had even asked questions but at this point, the story fades…
  
To this day, nobody will explain what happened to the Stranger or the big metal horse – it's been a taboo longer then anyone can remember. There're rumours, but it could be just a fickle indigenous lore...
“This scoundrel kept arguing that things don't happen just because we're able to talk about them… Surely, our children had to be protected from this blasphemy”. Such dark muttering had reportedly been overheard from time to time amongst the tribe's hereditary overlords.
But Happy Somehowi elite dismisses its implications; “Our records prove that the Stranger's big metal horse was so intricate it could only have been made by the Devil himself” an Education Ministry official has been quoted recently, “our thoughts and prayers are forever with the Stranger – clearly a victim of the Devil, like we all our people were at the time…”
Their UN ambassador was scathing about growing demands for an inquiry into the fate of the Stranger all that long ago –
“The whole humanity knows how much Happy Somehowis love peace…Are we the ones defying our common “Mind of Somehow” and promoting every kinds of lewdness across the world? No sir - so thank you very much!”

Perhaps the most intriguing of hints came from a wealthy merchant often linked to the leaders. One night – tongue loosened by a drink, he is said to have claimed that hundreds of Happy Somehowis accused of following the Stranger's ideas were secretly tried, then buried alive in mass graves… His grandfather provided the transport – it's been an open secret of the family for decades.
But here, one can't be sure… The authorities insist that the merchant – who committed suicide shortly afterwards, denied making any such statements.
  
But all who were there that night recalled a curious detail… The merchant wept as he recounted a story of Happy Somehowi boy looking for his father amidst the graves… It seems the youngster saw a clenched fist protruding above the ground and after he forced the fingers open, a scrap of paper fell out -
Scrawled in blood, some unfamiliar words were still legible… “FREEDOM”, “CRITICAL THINKING” But once he saw the blackened fingers pointing at him, the boy ran away in panic…

REALITY, ITS WORDS AND NUMBERS

Suppose Reality could think – how would it counter the semantic bluff with which the “SOMEHOW” cultivates ignorance?
First, Reality would have to call Adverb “SOMEHOW” by one of the NOUNS behind which it so cunningly hides – “god, gods, goddesses, Creator, God, Spirit, the Devine, Intelligent Design, Anthropic Principle, etc…”
However, for practical reasons it would need to aggregate those nominally disparate concprts within one generic NOUN – “God”
Subsequently, Reality would need to do no more than fully introduce itself to the hypothetical entity that NOUN “God” purports to represent.

WORDS – A HEAVEN OF POSSIBILITIES

“Sorry Mr. God – the Ministry of Reality doesn't issue permits for miracles from its headquarters…” voice on the phone was becoming testy and God couldn't hide his disappointment…”Why? I'm only trying…”
“Sir…” the receptionist cut him off, “Reality is dual – you need two permits from two different Departments. Am I making myself clear? Not one permit, two permits… two separate documents. Gotta pen?”
God fumbled through his pockets and found a pencil with some chewing gum stuck at the end. Paper, paper… In a flash of inspiration he decided to write the details on a phone booth's wall. “I'm ready…”
“First contact the Department of Linguistic Reality, then Numerical Reality and make certain that both approve your miracle proposal. Let me give you the addresses…” the receptionist paused momentarily.
“Can't you understand it's urgent?” God protested, “I told you I'm trying to end a devastating drought… Many, many millions will perish if I…”
But eventually God wrote down the contact details, aimed a frustrated kick at the phone booth then hailed a cab to The Pearly Gates Estate.
  
Yet having secured an appointment, God was rather pleased the next day with reception at the Department of Linguistic Reality. The Under Secretary himself met God at the foyer, bowing deeply and apologizing for the delay; “Of course, in this situation we mustn't loose time – sir, your proposal will be considered with utmost urgency”

“The permit to cause a miracle - namely RAIN, hereby defined as “medium precipitation between a “shower” (Ref. # 3), and a “downpour” (Ref. # 5)”
There it was – in gold leaf lettering with a purple ribbon weaving through and the crucial “APPROVED” stamp still moist.
Heart pounding, God gently placed the document in a rucksack as burst of applause resounded all over the Department of Linguistic Reality… And so, the nameless masses that had shown Faith in him could now be rewarded with miraculous rain. The rivers would flow again, pastures turn green and before long, there would be food for the starving millions…
Sensing the moment, appreciative staff lined-up for autographs and though much pressed for time, God just couldn't refuse…Soon, even the Secretary felt obliged to descend from the Department's 999 th floor with a thick copy of The Official Dictionary and had God sign its cover. Finally, the Secretary gave him a heartfelt embrace -
“This is going to do a great deal of good. Outstanding – we‘re very proud of you” He patted God on the back and winked; “And good luck with those numbers guys…”

NUMBERS – A QUAGMIRE OF CHANCE

Approaching the Department of Numerical Reality, God felt a distinct sense of unease. The complex of drab, hangar-size buildings seemed abandoned except for an eerie throb that had permeated the bleak surrounds and soon began echoing in his mind like a swarm of gnats… “By golly, let's get this thing approved and I'm out of here double quick”, God sighed.
   An “ENTER” sign flashed above the heavy steel door and God stepped into a hall crammed end to end with rows of computers. A guard glanced at his documents, grimaced and pressed the intercom...
“Another God with a rain permit…” he hollered over the hum of electronic equipment. “Yes sir, I'll send him down right away”.
He pushed God's documents back across the counter and run a finger over several smudged pages… “Office 3, Basement 2”
   Usually charitable to a fault, God felt a bit dismayed by the stark contrast between respective Departments of Reality. The elegant tower of glass and chrome, the tastefully appointed offices, the immaculately groomed staff of Linguistic Department so well versed in civil courtesies…Nothing was too much trouble for them, nothing was impossible – he would appreciate their enthusiasm for eternity.
And now, he had to contend with the Numerical Department – a ramshackle outfit run by arrogant yokels… “I'll grin and bear it, but my noble deed shall come to fruition all the same”, God concluded with good-natured resolve.


True to form, the Assistant Inspector for Numbers on duty that day simply brushed past God's extended hand and pointed to a stool. “The specs?”
Seeing God somewhat baffled, he leaned over, “The numerical structure of a miracle you've submitted to the Linguistics team” he allowed with pained expression, “Comprende?”
The two authorities on the essence of existence scrutinized one another frostily. Assistant Inspector blew a circle of smoke, nonchalantly threw his cigar into a rubbish-filled bin and motioned God to follow… “I want to show you something”
   A curtain at the end wall of Office 3 slid sidewise, revealing an enormous plasma screen. It flickered then a bold message gradually stabilized across its entire width… NO CHANCE MIRACLES PERMITTED!
“A fine motto that my organization is sworn to uphold without fear of favor” Assistant Inspector declared. “Know what it means…?”
“Chance? What's chance got to do with it – I just want to prevent a gigantic catastrophe” God pleaded, “please, millions will die if I don't…”
“Want someone's shoulder to cry on? Go back to those perfumed weasels from Linguistic Reality…in this Department we only look at numbers – not emotions”

Muttering, Assistant Inspector entered a code and the plasma screen came alive with RAIN - so real it could have been raining in front of their eyes. “Is that the one?” he asked God.
“Yes, any rain will be fine – there's no time to loose, the people are dy…”
“Any rain will be fine, any rain will be fine…” Assistant Inspector cut him short contemptuously.
“Every rain in the long history of the Universe had always consisted of a precise number of drops… How many are there in yours…we don't want to end-up with a flood, do we?” he sneered.
  
Assistant Inspector pretended to wait for a reply he knew wouldn't come, lit another cigar and studied a dead fly long stuck on the ceiling -
“Look, even if I did approve your Permit to cause the rain you've just seen on the screen…” he spread his arms in mock exasperation, “your miracle would be but an outcome of chance. That's against the rules – heck, I could loose my pension over this... ”
He pressed a green key and turned to God, “That was one in a hundred and seventy six quintillion possibilities – these are the specifications for rain on my Hyper-Computer right this moment. You've seen one – want to look at the rest…?”

God shrugged, realizing that saving millions of lives wasn't being pursued with the degree of urgency, let alone empathy, he had the right to expect of those in position of responsibility.
He rose dejectedly and looked towards the door. “Thank you for your time” he said softly, offering his hand…
“Not so fast – didn't you read the fine print?” Assistant Inspector shouted, blocking the doorway and agitatedly pointing towards a yellow Addendum page at the end of Permit document.
“Here it is, read Clause 9… Whereas a God proves incapable of submitting non-chance numbers for a proposed miracle, that divine entity irrevocably agrees to be terminated forthwith and in perpetuity”
God put his glasses on… Indeed, there it was in black and white. He smiled with a tinge of irony, realizing that the need to read the fine print didn't only apply to mortals. And after all the aspirations for enriching societies with his benevolence flashed by – now but a torrent of futility, he slumped back into the chair. The two remained silent for a long time…

“Come on, not all is lost…” Assistant Inspector exclaimed with unexpected cordiality, “Look at sub-Clause D of Clause 9 – it still allows you to make a submission for miracles other then rain… Let's see…”
He took two of pennies from his pocket and placed them before God, ”How about arranging these two guys in a non-random manner?”
God contemplated the coins for a while but a feeling of humiliation was by now clouding his omniscient mind… “Non-random manner…NO CHANCE MIRACLES PERMITTED! What had I done to deserve this?” he brooded.
   Suddenly, as hazy outlines of the two pennies danced in his tearful gaze, a foreboding came over God…Could it be true? He often heard of Satan but had consistently dismissed it as silly talk... “The evil in this world comes not from the actions of a malevolent Being – but because too many people are ignoring my own commands” he reassured himself.
But what if he was mistaken – who else but Satan could have contrived the numerical trickery now confounding his divine powers?
   God glanced up... Arms crossed, Assistant Inspector was grinning at him quizzically. “Yes?”
“Are you…” God could bring himself to utter the despised name. “Are you the…the…the Saa-aa-tan?” he stammered, covering his mouth.
“No need to feel embarrassed… “ Assistant Inspector quipped, “Every God who comes here believes this Department is run by Satan and every Satan thinks we're run by God”
He chuckled…“Why, our boss had a Satan here only last week…” he took a few folders out of the drawer, “Here… complete proposal for a world-wide plague. Problem was the applicant couldn't even arrange two lousy viruses other then by chance… Breathtaking cheek!”

WHAT, WHEN, WHERE…

Assistant Inspector drew up a chair opposite God and nodded towards the coins. “How's our little miracle coming along?”
He tapped the desk impatiently… “Place those two pennies anywhere and the Department of Linguistic Reality will probably name a park after you, or perhaps even declare a holiday in your honor …”
God couldn't help but smile in agreement. “Really…” Assistant Inspector's tone changed. “Place those two pennies anywhere and my Department will make damn sure you account for every number you've created!”
“Watch my hands…chance, chance, chance, chance!” he jerked the coins all over the desk, “All positions on this desk correspond to a set of chance numbers… want to create a non-chance position?” God remained stony-faced.
“No need to hold back, sir…”Assistant Inspector ventured, opening a file, “Can you think of a miracle that doesn't consist of the equivalents of those two pennies? What about your rain…” He studiously raised an eyebrow, ticked off the top item and initialed it.
“See that…?” Assistant Inspector pointed at a rusted clock hanging off the wall, but God didn't bother turn around…“Can you think of a miracle that is not in a chance relationship with the numbers continually being generated by that clock”
“Finally, can you think of a miracle that isn't in a chance relationship with every other equivalent of a penny in the entire Universe?”
   Without waiting for an answer, Assistant Inspector annotated each entry, adding; “The applicant declines to observe the clock”. He then stamped the documents and closed the file.

“Phew…so much for your miracle” Assistant Inspector carefully locked the office safe and looked at God with sympathy, “Rain is far too complex – so many drops, all those random numbers to account for…Why didn't you go for something really, really basic?”


“A geometric point…basic enough?” God snapped. Of course – that was it! After all, he was the Master of Infinity, the sole Omniscient and Omnipotent Being in the whole Universe… For the first time his spirits lifted and he now surveyed the dilapidated office imperiously – only to be startled by a slow, mocking handclap…
  
Assistant Inspector ambled towards the Hyper-Computer. “Let's see how it pans out…infinitesimals… Here they are, my little rabbits. Which infinity do you want for your subtracting algorithm?”
God stared blankly. His interlocutor hesitated for a moment then picked up the phone. “Nurse, please come in, I think we've been at it long enough…”.
  
He looked God in the eye …
“Sorry… Any infinitesimal can only emerge from one amongst the potential infinity of infinities – with every other infinity equally capable of creating its own, numerically distinct infinitesimal… So, no matter which way you try to run, good sir, chance inevitably catches up with you”
  
God drew back as he felt a soft touch on his forearm. “It is painless” the nurse assured him “We have plenty of experience”
He thought he had heard; “When you've talked the talk, you've got to walk the walk”, recalled how pretty the nurse's face was – then began to ponder the splendor of permanent, soothing stillness…

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.

Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662) 

Although an improvement on the “You have nothing to loose by believing in God, etc…” piffle, this observation still isn't sufficiently broad.
Monsieur Pascal could just as accurately have said; “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it to perpetuate their hereditary privileges”
Understandably, it's not something that one would shout from the rooftops of 17 th century France - where a scientist needed to foster patronage, or at least acceptance, amongst that country's despotic Aristocracy.
MODERNITY – a product of the last two centuries of Industrial and Secular Revolutions had updated Pascal's initial observation with two other blood-soaked themes -
“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it for the glory of a Nation”
“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it in the name of a Working Class”
Yet in the end, evil has a common thread running through it… For In every era and in every society it had been aimed against Life's innate capacity for DISSENT - the source of CRITICAL THINKING.

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it to suppress CRITICAL THINKING”

 

Back to Top