Portrait of Socrates in marble, 1st century Roman artwork

Rational debates and historical processes

The discovery of ignorance

Is there progress in ideas? And can we achieve progress in thought by rational debates and persuasion? These questions are not easy to answer, most notably because people disagree. Still, some ideas may be better than others. So, how can we achieve progress or can we not? Socrates was a Greek philosopher who pondered this question. He lived around 400 BC and was the founder of the practice of rational debate. Socratic debates are discussions between two or more people with different viewpoints who wish to establish the truth using reasoned arguments. Asking and answering questions is a critical component of this process. It stimulates critical thinking and draws out ideas and underlying presuppositions.

In his dialogues, Socrates acted as if he was ignorant. According to Socrates, admitting one’s ignorance is the first step in acquiring knowledge, and awareness of ignorance is the beginning of wisdom. The discovery of ignorance can wake you up and push you into pursuing knowledge. For instance, the discovery of America, a previously unknown continent, was a shock to the European worldview. There was an entire continent that nobody in Europe had known. It set in motion the Scientific Revolution. European scientists started to ask themselves what more they did not know. They began to investigate anything they could think of.1 After 500 years, science has completely altered the way we live.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Hegel’s dialectic

By the year 1800, the idea of progress was firmly established. The impact of scientific discoveries began to increase and the Industrial Revolution took off. Societies began to change and enlightenment ideas were spreading. The American Revolution followed the Glorious Revolution in England. During the French Revolution, the masses mobilised for the first time, and they ended the corrupt old regime. The armies of Napoleon then spread enlightenment ideas over Europe. It was the time when Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel came up with a scheme for rational arguments. It consists of three stages:

  1. A theory is invented. Hegel calls it the abstract.
  2. The theory is criticised or tested. Hegel calls it the negative.
  3. The criticism and testing lead to a better theory. Hegel calls it the concrete.

Alternatively, the three stages of Hegelian dialectic are presented like so: a thesis, giving rise to its reaction; an antithesis, which contradicts or negates the thesis; and the tension between the two being resolved in the synthesis. You can apply it to rational debates. It works like so. First, someone comes up with a proposition. Then someone else brings in an opposing idea. If both parties have valid concerns and are willing to listen to each other, a rational debate between them can lead to a better understanding of the issue. The new understanding can be a thesis in a new argument. And so, the process can repeat, resulting in the progress of ideas.

An example can illustrate this. Suppose that Adam Smith and Karl Marx meet in a conference hall. Suppose further that a discussion between the two could settle the debate between capitalism and socialism. Smith sets out the thesis. He says that capitalism and free markets are great because they create wealth and distribute goods efficiently. Marx then comes up with the antithesis. He argues that the living conditions for workers are miserable and that capitalism distributes its benefits unfairly. He then says that workers should take control of the factories. Smith then objects by saying that workers are poor entrepreneurs so if workers take over businesses, that will cause a drop in living standards.

If both are willing to consider each other’s ideas and understand the issues at stake, they might concur that capitalism creates wealth but that the plight of workers needs improvement. They could agree on minimum wages, unemployment benefits, workplace safety laws, and state pensions. That is the synthesis. It may work for a while. Then a third individual might enter the debate and say that some people abuse welfare schemes. Another person might argue that economic activity will destroy the planet. That could be the beginning of new discussions that lead to measures to reduce fraud with unemployment benefits and investments in making the economy sustainable.

Hegelian dialectic applied to history

For Hegel, historical development proceeds not in a straight line but in a spiral leading upwards to growth and progress. From the opposition of action and reaction, harmony or synthesis emerges.1 In history, progress often involves conflict, and in many cases, there is not a synthesis but an end to the old ideas. For example, in the second half of the eighteenth century, more and more people felt that slavery was morally wrong. It took nearly a century and civil war in the United States to end slavery. And so, activists, planners, and politicians use Hegelian dialectic to enforce change. The Marxists are a prime example. They believed that capitalism would vanish and that socialism would replace it. The Marxists thought they were helping history by trying to end the capitalist world order.

The conflict between capitalism and socialism turned into a power struggle during the Cold War. The United States and its allies advocated capitalism, while the Soviet Union and its satellites promoted socialism. The capitalist block featured freedom of expression, so there was a public debate and ideas could be tested and improved in a Hegelian fashion. Consequently, governments interfered with markets and created welfare states. Their economies became mixtures of capitalist and socialist elements. In the socialist block, there was no freedom of expression or public debate, so the socialist countries did not enhance their economies with capitalist elements. In the end, the leadership of the Soviet Union realised that its mission of uplifting the working class had failed.

In the nineteenth century, workers did not appear to benefit from capitalism. It was hard to envision how socialism works in practice, so it may have been necessary to try it. The Soviet Union did so for seven decades. With the benefit of hindsight, the flaws of socialism appear evident, but if no one had tried it in practice, they probably were not so obvious. The main issue with socialism is that it can make people passive so that they will not take matters into their own hands and wait for the state to solve their problems. Socialism can work well in specific situations. For instance, healthcare in socialist Cuba is cheap and effective compared to the United States. The life expectancy in the United States and Cuba is nearly the same despite the United States spending more on healthcare per person than any country, while Cuba only spends a fraction of that amount. Once upon a time, market-driven healthcare may also have seemed a great idea. By trying, you can find out.

Some Scandinavian countries are more socialist than the United States, and citizens in those countries appear happier with their lives than Americans. The degree to which socialism can work depends on the social trust and work ethic within a group. Scandinavian countries have a Protestant work ethic and are culturally homogeneous. Cultural homogeneity can promote social trust like in Scandinavia, but not necessarily so. Greece is also culturally homogeneous, but the level of social trust is much lower than in Denmark or Sweden. Hence, culturally diverse countries can develop a high level of social trust, even though that is more difficult because of cultural differences. To make socialism work, people should contribute what they can and take what they need, and the needs should not exceed the contributions. Imposed socialism, like in the Soviet Union, will not work. Scandinavian countries are not as socialist as the Soviet Union once was. Their economies are a mixture of capitalist and socialist elements.

Hegel and dialectic conflict

Ideologies like socialism and capitalism are models that describe how society works or is supposed to work. Models are simplifications or abstractions. Models can help us organise our thoughts and establish which ideas have merit and under what circumstances. But for many people, ideologies are like religions. People who use one model all the time tend to be poor problem solvers. If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Political debates are often about scoring points rather than reasoning and listening to each other in a Socratic fashion. Parties use the Hegelian dialectic as a tool in political conflict. They frame the discussion by using their models and language. In your model, you are right, and your opponent looks stupid. Consequently, there can be no rational discussion between opponents who live in different realities like liberals and conservatives in the United States.

Scientific progress

In science, ideas advance. Thomas Kuhn came up with a scheme to describe scientific progress. He believed that science moves forward by theories replacing each other. Scientists in a specific field often work with a set of hypotheses. You may not be surprised to learn about that. So let’s call one of those theories the Old Theory. The Old Theory works fine in most situations, but sometimes it does not. Scientists at first ignore these exceptions, for instance, unexpected readings on their instruments. At first, they may think that faults cause these readings. As more and more experiments indicate that something is not right with the Old Theory, some scientists start to question it.

Then one of them then comes up with a revolutionary New Theory that explains a lot more than the previous Old Theory, including the unexplained readings on the instruments. At first, most scientists have their doubts because the New Theory is revolutionary. When experiments confirm the New Theory, scientists gradually embrace the New Theory and the Old Theory gets abandoned. In this case, there is also an argument going on between two sides, but the New Theory is superior to the Old Theory. That is most clear in the exact sciences like physics. In social sciences and economics, there is progress in theories but there are also debates between different approaches that appear unresolved.

An example might clarify how it works. Around 1680, Isaac Newton worked out the laws that explain the motion of objects. Newton’s laws tell us how fast objects fall to the ground and how planets orbit around the Sun. Newton presented his laws in a few mathematical formulas so it became possible to calculate how long it would take before a stone hits the ground if you drop it from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

In the centuries that followed, scientists developed more precise instruments and did measurements they could not explain. These were only small deviations from the values calculated with Newton’s formulas so they did not worry much about them at first. They could be errors. But the more precise the instruments grew, the more sure physicists became that something was not right. Albert Einstein then developed a theory that explained these curious readings, but also the motion of objects.

Assessing what to do

A reasoned debate combined with experimenting may be the best way of assessing what to do. Social sciences, including economics, involve human interactions. The number of variables is high and not all are known. That makes it difficult to ascertain causes and effects or to make accurate predictions. And so, experts in these fields make wrong judgements from time to time. It can be dangerous to blindly trust experts, but ignoring them can be even more hazardous. An ignorant person can be right by accident, while an expert can miss out on something. Sometimes, the difference between expert opinion and mere guessing is obscure. That emboldens the ignorant, and it makes the experts cautious.

Experiments can help to ascertain whether or not an assumption or a theory is correct. In social sciences, that may involve experimenting with humans. And that is not always ethical. And so, we should be careful as to the social experiments we engage in.

Reasoned debates are more common in science than in politics but scientists need research budgets provided by businesses and governments. The issues scientists investigate and the outcomes of scientific research can be influenced by the interests of those who fund the research. And so, the results of their research are not always what you might expect from an unbiased investigation.

Even when actions are based on the outcome of rational debates and experimenting, the actions lead to new issues that may need to be resolved in subsequent discussions and trials. The questions that will arise are often difficult to foresee, and it is even harder to think of how they will be resolved. Marx thought he could predict the future. Using Hegel’s dialectic, he thought he could predict how history would play out. Thinking that you know what will happen is a mistake many people make.

Marx believed in progress as Hegel did. Many people think there is progress. Yet, that is not so obvious. That is why conservatives want to keep things the way they are or go back in time to revert things to as they once were. To put it into perspective, if you live in a developed country, you may ask yourself, ‘Are you happier now than your parents were fifty years ago?’

Featured image: Portrait of Socrates in marble, 1st-century Roman artwork. Eric Gaba (2005). Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

1. Hegel’s Understanding of History. Jack Fox-Williams (2020). Philosophy Now. [link]

Book: God is a Woman

Who is God? Until now, this question has remained unresolved. The simulation hypothesis allows for the possibility that God is a post-human individual who uses us for personal entertainment. God might use an avatar to appear as an ordinary human in this world. And so, answering the question may come down to disclosing which people were God in disguise?

All gods are imagined, including the Jewish deity Yahweh. But the worship of Yahweh spread via Christianity and Islam. Half the people in the world now believe that Yahweh, also known as the Father or Allah, is the all-powerful owner of this universe. In a simulation, this is not a mere accident, and this deity may be the veil behind which God is hiding.

This book’s core idea is that Mary Magdalene was an avatar of God. She made Jesus believe that She was Eve reincarnated while Jesus was Adam reincarnated, and that Eve did not come from Adam’s rib but that Adam was Eve’s son, so Adam, and therefore, Jesus were the Son of God. God also married Muhammad, but he did not know that.

Much of the Hebrew Bible is mythical, so the stories about Abraham, Moses, and David could be fictional, but the accounts in the Hebrew Bible are consistent with them being married to God. The history of the Jewish nation may start with Deborah in the era of the Judges. She and other female historical figures may have been God in disguise.

This book addresses the following topics:

  • Why are humans religious, and how did religions evolve?
  • Why this universe could be virtual.
  • Why existing faiths are incorrect, but God can exist.
  • How did the Jewish religion emerge and develop?
  • Who was the historical Jesus?
  • What was the relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus?
  • Was Eve the mother of Adam?
  • What is the role of the Virgin Mary in the greater scheme?
  • Why is Jesus called the Last Adam?
  • Did Jewish patriarchs, prophets, and kings marry God?
  • Did Muhammad marry God?
  • What could be the hidden message in the Quran regarding the number 19?
  • Why are Christians born of God?
  • What is the meaning of God’s love?
  • What was the role of Paul in defining Christianity?
  • How did Christians turn Jesus into God?
  • Why is the Gospel of John so different from the other Gospels?
  • Which historical persons were God in disguise?
  • Has Jesus already returned, and what lessons can we learn from it?
  • Do we live in the end times?

By reading this book, you will discover that it is plausible that God is a post-human woman who uses this world to entertain Herself and that She can appear as an ordinary woman.

You can find it here:

Virgin Mary

The veneration of the Virgin Mary probably existed in early Christianity. In Christian theology, she is the New Eve. God announced that there would be enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). Christians read this as a prophecy predicting the coming of Jesus as the seed of the woman could represent the virgin birth of Jesus. The church fathers may have invented the virgin birth story of Jesus to replace the birth of Adam from Eve. Later developments turned the Virgin Mary into a surrogate mother goddess.

Isis with Horus
Isis with Horus. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Church recognised the Virgin Mary as ‘Mother of God.’ Christians made statues and icons of the Virgin with the child Jesus similar to those of the Egyptian mother goddess Isis with her child Horus. And so, the Mother Goddess Mary, eliminated from the Gospels, may have re-entered the Church via a back door. As Christians prayed to the Virgin, she became a proxy for God.

Saint Mary Bolnichka Icon
Saint Mary Bolnichka Icon.

The Protestant Reformation aims at returning to the scriptural roots of Christianity. And so, Protestants do not venerate the Virgin Mary. For Protestants, the scriptures are the only source. In this way, they may have lost the essence of Christianity. The Mary-with-child imagery could refer to Jesus as the Son of God the Mother. The Virgin Mary appeared more often than Jesus, and she performed more miracles than the other saints. Many Roman Catholics pray to the Virgin Mary rather than God or Jesus.

The Quran dedicates chapter 19 to her. Some Muslims indulge in arcane numerological explanations as to why the number 19 is special because the Quran refers to this number in the chapter named Hidden Secret. And so, the Quran may hold a hidden secret related to this number. Perhaps, the Virgin Mary plays a central role in the greater scheme.

The star and crescent became the symbol of Islam. This symbol has a long history predating Islam as it was associated with a Moon goddess. In the Bible, the Moon refers to the woman and the star to the child (Genesis 37:9). Hence, the Islamic symbol may represent the Madonna with the child Jesus or the relationship between Khadijah bint Khuwaylid and Muhammad. She was fifteen years older, so She could have been his mother.

The St. Mary of Zion Church in Ethiopia is said to contain the Ark of the Covenant. Legend has it that the Ark came to Ethiopia with King Menelik after he visited his father, King Solomon. The Ark of the Covenant symbolises Mary of Zion. The Ark is supposed to be the residence of Yahweh, the God of Israel, but apparently, Her name is Mary.1

Featured image: Madonna and Child, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. Public Domain.

Other images: Isis with Horus. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain; Saint Mary Bolnichka Icon. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

1. Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion. Wikipedia.

The last Adam

Adam is called the Son of God (Luke 3:38), and Jesus is named the Firstborn of all Creation (Colossians 1:15). An obvious question to ask is, was Jesus Adam? The usual interpretation of Jesus being the Firstborn of All Creation is that Jesus already existed with God, even before Creation, and therefore, he was not Adam. The words Firstborn of All Creation suggest that there may be more to it. Jesus could be Adam, and Adam may have been born. A fuller explanation requires an investigation into Jewish and Christian theology, which is the topic of a separate post:

How Jesus became God

An investigation into how Christians turned Jesus in to God.

Paul compared Jesus to Adam. In Romans, he writes, ‘Just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.’ (Romans 5:19) And in 1 Corinthians, he says, ‘As in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive.’ Jesus became the redeemer for Adam’s transgressions. An obvious question is what could have motivated Jesus to sacrifice himself for Adam’s mistakes? His actions are better understood if he believed himself to be Adam. That may be why Paul called Jesus the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45).

Christianity teaches that Jesus existed before Creation, but that may not be what early Christians believed. The likeness of Jesus to Adam in Paul’s early letters may point to an earlier doctrine still prevalent around 55 AD, which could be that Jesus was Adam.

The Quran strengthens the idea that Jesus could be Adam. Jesus was like Adam in the way he was created (Quran 3:59). More importantly, several Quran verses state that God ordered the angels to prostrate before Adam (Quran 2:34, 7:11, 15:28-29, 17:61, 18:50, 20:116, 38:71-74). It is remarkable because angels are higher beings than humans. Satan refused because he did not want to bow for a creature made from dust. The Quran stresses it several times so that it could be significant. As Christians believe that Jesus is the Lord who will command humankind, this suggests that Jesus could be Adam. The Quran also claims that Jesus will return (Quran 43:61).

Latest revision: 23 April 2022

Mohammed receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel

Religious experiences and miracles

The Jewish people still exist after 2,500 years, while they did not have a homeland for most of the time. That is a remarkable feat, most notably because the Jews are supposed to be God’s chosen people. It is also a bit of an enigma that Christianity replaced the existing religions in the Roman Empire. Somehow the message of personal salvation through Christ caught on. A pivotal moment was the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity in 312 AD. He made Christianity the favoured religion in the Roman Empire. A few centuries later, a small band of Arab warriors created an empire stretching from the Atlantic to India, spreading a new religion called Islam. Is it a realistic scenario that the illiterate camel-driver Muhammad became a crafty statesman after he had seen an angel? We only know this world, so we cannot answer that question. Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same deity. Our universe could be a simulation, and the fates of Judaism, Christianity and Islam could be implausible historical developments. In other words, God might be the best explanation. Only, we do not know whether or not these events are plausible.

When Islam arrived on the scene, there already was widespread monotheism as Christians and Zoroastrians in the area believed in an all-powerful creator. Muhammad had met Jews and Christians on his travels, so he was familiar with these religions. Before that, Christianity had faced an uphill struggle. While the Roman state suppressed this religion, pagans left their gods behind and accepted the Christian God as the only true God. And they did so in large numbers. That begs for an explanation, even though the conversion to Christianity was a gradual process that took centuries. The number of Christians increased at an average rate of 2-3% per year between 30 AD and 400 AD. Each Christian may have converted just one or two persons on average, but over time, exponential growth made Christianity grow from 30 followers in 30 AD to 30 million in 400 AD. There appears nothing supernatural about this process until you realise that the most often cited reason for conversions were stories about miracles Christians did.1

An early miracle was Jesus appearing to a few of his followers after his crucifixion. Christians believe that Jesus appeared in the flesh, but perhaps his disciples had visions of him. The New Testament also accounts for some miracles the disciples allegedly performed. These stories may have been exaggerated, but miracles are a consistent theme in Christianity, even today. And so, there may be more to it than science can explain. On message boards, people tell stories about prayers heard and miraculous healings. Chance is not always a plausible explanation. And it seems unlikely that Christians consistently lie about these matters.

Many people have seen the Virgin Mary. She appeared several times in Venezuela. In 1976, she showed herself to Maria Esperanza Medrano de Bianchini, who received special powers. She could tell the future, levitate, and heal the sick. In Egypt, Mary appeared at a Coptic Church between 1983 and 1986. Muslims also have seen her there. There have been many more Virgin Mary appearances. The most notable one was in Portugal at Fatima on 13 October 1917. The sun spun wildly and tumbled down to earth before stopping and returning to its normal position, radiating in indescribable beautiful colours. More than 50,000 people witnessed the miracle. They had gathered in response to a prophecy made by three shepherd children that the Virgin Mary would appear and perform miracles on that date.2

Jesus also appeared from time to time, but less frequently than the Virgin. An intriguing account comes from Kenneth Logie, a preacher of the Pentecostal Holiness Church in Oakland, California, in the 1950s. In April 1954, Logie was preaching at an evening service. During his sermon, the church door opened, and Jesus came walking in, smiling to the left and the right. Then he walked through the pulpit and placed his hand on Logie’s shoulder. Jesus spoke to him in a foreign tongue. Fifty people witnessed the event. Five years later, a woman gave testimony when she suddenly disappeared, and Jesus took her place. He wore sandals and a glistering white robe and had nail marks on his hands. His hands were dripping with oil. After several minutes, Jesus disappeared, and the woman reappeared. Two hundred people have seen it. It was on film as Logie had installed film equipment because strange things were going on.2

In virtual reality, this is possible. When it appears that God has heard your prayer, that could be part of the script. In that case, God did not listen to your prayer. Instead, you were supposed to pray, and the fulfilment of your request was supposed to occur. It is like a meaningful coincidence happening. Many prayers are in vain, so a fulfilled wish does not prove God’s existence. But some stories are incredible, and mere chance seems a poor explanation. And in a simulation, there is little difference between the appearances of Christ, the Virgin Mary, deceased loved ones, UFOs, angels and ghosts.

Feature image: Mohammad receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel. Miniature illustration on vellum from the book Jami’ al-Tawarikh, by Rashid al-Din, published in Tabriz, Persia, 1307 AD. Public Domain.

1. The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World. Bart Ehrman. Simon & Schuster (2018).
2. How Jesus Became God The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher From Galilee. Bart Ehrman. HarperCollins Publishers (2015).