Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Dance with Duality

This post is part of the History of the Devil series from Chapter 1: Good and Evil as Religious Ideas.

Carus begins with this:

THIS WORLD OF OURS is a world of opposites. There is light and shade, there is heat and cold, there is good and evil, there is God and the Devil.

The dualistic conception of nature has been a necessary phase in the evolution of human thought.  HOD, P1, Paul Carus

Dualism, in a nutshell, is the concept of a world of opposites, and usually implies or explicitly states that when you have one option, there will be opposite option.  A Christian trite and weak explanation for the evil in this world is the dualist concept that freewill requires both the ability to do good and to do evil.  Don't worry.  Carus is no believer of dualism

Upon close inspection, it is clear that the concept of Dualism does not actually line up reality, at least not most of it.  Physicists will tell you that there is not light and dark, but light and the absence of light, and there is not heat and cold, but heat and the absence of heat.

What is the opposite of green?  You may think back to the color wheel for a conceptual understanding, but "green" is really nothing more than electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths of around 520–570 nanometers.  So what is the opposite of 520–570 nanometers?

What is the opposite of God?  Certainly, one could say that Satan opposes God, at least in the way that Christianity often frames the relationship, but Satan is far from being God's opposite.  For example, let's take God's alleged characteristic of omnipresence and consider its true opposite.  The opposite being present everywhere is being present nowhere.  While I don't believe Satan to be present anywhere, the common Christian thought is that there is nowhere where Satan isn't trying to ensnare souls.  Christianity has an omnipresent concept of Satan, at least for the realm of earth.

Dualism fails in our reality of continuous, and sometimes discontinuous (quantum), spectrums of manifested matter and energy.  Not every relationship is polar.  In fact, very few are.  Dualism only works as a metaphor, an extremely simplified model.  That said, even primitive models can be useful, as long as we never forget that they are just tools.

Unfortunately, when religions get to the stage of conceptualizing dualism, it is not considered a model, but rather an actuality.  Carus goes on to explain the "necessary phase" in our development coming to be like so:

But the principle of unity dominates the development of thought. Man tries to unify his conceptions in a consistent and harmonious Monism. Accordingly, while the belief in good spirits tended towards the formation of the doctrine of Monotheism, the belief in evil spirits led naturally to the acceptance of a single supreme evil deity, conceived as embodying all that is bad, destructive, and immoral.  HOD, P1, Paul Carus

Interestingly enough, the Judeo-Christian faith is an example where we can see this evolution to dualism in action.  The God of the Old Testament originally wielded the forces of both good and evil, ultimately for His conception of the greater good, but the New Testament largely purges God of those evil roles, making Satan their supreme owner instead.

Christianity usually holds that the Serpent in the Garden of Eden was Satan, despite the obvious clues to the contrary.  With that perspective, they miss the evolution completely, even though the Scripture is often explicitly contrary to a dualist interpretation.

There are several incidents which come to mind to support this evolution to Christian dualism, but for the sake of brevity, I'll leave you with one potent example.  In Deuteronomy 13:1-3, we find:

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. NIV

Right there, in black and white (wink), in the Old Testament God tells us that He will send false prophets to lure the Israelites away from worshiping Him; tempting them to sin and testing their faithfulness to Him.

Now, in the New Testament, in James 1:13-14 we find:

When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. NIV

So instead of God tempting people in the New Testament, Satan gets that job, as we see in 1 Corinthians 7:5:

Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. NIV


  1. Both Dualism and Monism are considered incomplete views in most Buddhisms. Non-Dualism is felt to be yet different again.
    Tis all so confusing.

  2. BTW, light grey font on dark grey background is hard on this old guy's eyes.

  3. The Jewish God can be a real mind-freak. I'm tempted to play "analyst" here and ask what advantage or fitness did this duality model give to people at the time?

    I especially like your line, "Dualism only works as a metaphor, an extremely simplified model. That said, even primitive models can be useful, as long as we never forget that they are just tools."

    I've wondered from time to time if the issue is one of accuracy/precision as much as language and aesthetics. I taught math for years. I've found myself labelling people sometimes as "math-mind" or "not-math-mind". It's horribly primitive, but I swear some people don't want to think in gradients, in rulers, in measures.

    (warning - this is a personal-agenda plug) What stood out the most for me from his intro wasn't the discussion about dualism, but this idea:

    "The God of the future will not be personal, but superpersonal."

    Carus is one heck of a prognosticator! It's what I see happening more and more.

  4. @Sabio
    It is a bit confusing, isn't it?

    I have really neglected aesthetics of this blog in particular. I had changed it to the white-on-gray by selecting a generic template back when I thought there was an issue with the previous template. I've been a little concerned about visibility ever since.

    So how do you like this black-on-gray? It's pretty close to my other blog, which I find to be good. Oh, and that great Jesus Pie you sent me now looks better since I changed the photo background to white.

    Hey, don't get ahead of me! ;-) I'll be posting on Carus' superpersonal God.

    I'm tempted to play "analyst" here and ask what advantage or fitness did this duality model give to people at the time?

    I would encourage you to play analyst. :-) My take is that duality provided a more comfortable and harmonious perception of a perfectly good God. Of course it gets a little messy when you think of God creating Satan and letting him do his worst. But if you can jump that obstacle, like the majority of Christians seem to do today, then Satan can get all of the blame for evil and temptation. It's no longer a good God who does good by doing both good and evil, but rather it's a good God who is so brilliant that He can make even the strategies and devices of Satan ultimately work to His own advantage. If your salvation is with the God who can never do anything bad, then such is a comforting thought indeed.

    I worked for a little while as a math tutor in college, so I can appreciate a little of that point of view of the "math-mind." I was primarily working with remedial students; "not-math-mind." It was very much a conceptual/language/aesthetic issue for many of them, and it was a magical feeling when I could finally make them understand beyond the one answer for the one problem.

  5. (1) That template is a little better. Though I like Black Font on White. More contrast the better.

    (2) Concerning "Dualism":

    "Dualism" is so vague and used so many ways, I don't like it unless it has at least one adjective in front of it to explain what we are talking about. Actually I find it very sloppy to talk about meaningfully. But let me just make up a few examples of different types of uses:

    Ying-Yang Dualism: all pervasive woo-woo dualism. Everything comes from pairs.

    Mind-Body Dualism: There is a soul. The dualism used in Philosophy of mind.

    Religious Dualism: God and Satan

    Moral Dualism: Good and Evil

    Metaphysical Dualism: The notion of seperate-self deeply informs everything. Evaluating everything in categories.

    I'm sure everyone could think of more.

  6. @Sabio
    (1) Well, I've got to have my own quirks, so I'll probably keep the light gray, for now... I like being a little softer on the eyes, and it's a petty show of individualism too. ;-)

    (2) Indeed, both Carus and I were being a little sloppy here. A qualifier makes dualism more manageable.

  7. That is cool, of course. And it is prettier.
    But concerning metaphysic: Metaphysics is such slop to begin with, I fine non-analytic approaches unfruitful unless the two people discussing it are already in agreement -- and then that is just boring.

  8. @Sabio
    Oh, that wasn't a typo. I did mean "petty," but if you think it's prettier too, that's cool.

    "...unfruitful unless the two people discussing it are already in agreement -- and then that is just boring. "

    Ha! Too true. :-)

  9. i alos have a voice