Suppose you find yourself appalled by humanity’s inhumanity to humanity (and others). And suppose, for the sake of argument, that your diagnosis of why this occurs, and what would avert it, is correct but not widely accepted. Should you despair, and resign yourself to the idea that large-scale barbarity will always be our lot? Or should you adopt one or other of these two hypotheses:
Divine Judgement Hypothesis: The foundation of all existence, which is intelligent and good, will ensure that at some point in either the individual future of each person (after death) or the collective future of all people (at the Millenium) there will be both the ending of all injustice and the defeat or even punishment of its perpetrators.
Final Revolution Hypothesis: At some point in the foreseeable future, a worldwide social movement will struggle against and defeat the social systems which generate human barbarity, and inaugurate a society free of such problems (though by no means free of all problems).
Both of these make the following claims:
- There is some entity of some sort,
- which shares my political feelings and beliefs, and is generally good and rational,
- which will come into conflict with the forces of Bad,
- and win.
Are these claims likely to be true, in the different versions of each offered by the two hypotheses? Are the two hypotheses equally fantastic – one merely a secularised version of the other – or is one a fantasy and one a reasonable hypothesis? Let’s consider each of these four claims in turn.
Is there the sort of entity being postulated? Here the revolutionary has no problem, since we know that political movements among humans, animated by shared feelings, desires, and beliefs, exist.
On the other hand, the religious hypothesis is already facing a major problem: it’s not at all clear that an intelligent creator – a transcendent foundation of existence which is moreover capable of things like knowledge or will – even exists. And it’s also not clear that any available evidence available will tell us, which leaves the belief (or its rejection) dependent on very dubious conceptual arguments, (such as that God’s non-existence would imply a logical contradiction because, non-existence being an imperfection, it would make a perfect being imperfect).
Final Revolution Hypothesis: 1, Divine Judgement Hypothesis: 0
If there is such an entity, does it share my (assumed to be correct) feelings and beliefs? Is it generally rational and good? Here again, the revolutionary hypothesis makes only a demonstrably true claim, that some human social movements share whatever feelings and beliefs are in question (although very strange beliefs, such as the enormous value of all and only purple things, might be an exception).
On the other hand, the religious hypothesis faces a second major problem, usually labelled ‘the problem of evil’. If God is rational and good, and designed and controls the entire world, we would expect the entire world to be rational and good. But what it seems to be is enormously mixed: there are amazingly good things and amazingly bad things mixed in rather indiscriminately.
Of course there are various recorded attempts to respond to this, various ‘theodicies’, but they are generally, in my view, unpersuasive. Whereas in point 1, the problem for theism was the poverty of evidence, the problem here is the richness of evidence – we have such abundant evidence of evil that seems to go far beyond, and be wholly unsuitable to, serving any rational or benign purpose.
Final Revolution Hypothesis: 1, Divine Judgement Hypothesis: 0
If there is such a benign entity, will it necessarily enter into a conclusive conflict (revolution, soul-purging, Armageddon, whatever) with the world’s injustice? This amounts to the question: does a substantial amount of the world’s injustice derive from a cohesive system (whether a social system like ‘capitalism’ or a spiritual system like ‘Satan’s armies’ or ‘original sin’) with mechanisms for maintaining, defending, and replicating itself? If so, a decisive conflict is to be expected; if not, problems may be solved piecemeal and peacefully.
Now, I’m inclined to think that this sort of question is fairly open, in that it does seem to be true that social and psychological systems typically form mechanisms for maintaining themselves, and acquire an active, dynamic inertia. Which particular sorts of systems exist is open to dispute, but neither side is saying anything enormously implausible.
Final Revolution Hypothesis: 0.5, Divine Judgement Hypothesis, 0.5
If such a benign force does enter a decisive conflict with its opponents, why expect it to win – especially since it clearly hasn’t so far?
The religious hypothesis might look like it wins this bout, since God’s omnipotence would seem like good grounds for expecting His eventual victory. But actually I think it runs afoul of the ‘why not already?’ question. What is God waiting for? Presumably He doesn’t need time to build His strength. Is He waiting to ‘discover’ something, to ‘see what humans will do?’ Firstly, why can’t that be known in a flash with infinite powers of knowledge; conversely, if it does take time, why not imagine that it will take another million years?
Or does he want to give humans time to ‘build up spiritual merit’, which He can’t simply bestow? Then if He has allowed us one lifetime each for that, why not suppose that He wishes us to acquire more merit by enduring another million lifetimes after this one? Actually, the only grounds for supposing that something important will change in the near future is the occasional scriptural promise, which isn’t admissible as evidence here.
In short, the trans-historical, cosmic scale of the redeeming force, which secures its ability to triumph, also removes any hope of it actually doing anything in the foreseeable future.
But what about the revolutionary hypothesis? This is probably the biggest challenge: why think that well-meaning socialists or whoever else will, in the foreseeable future, be able to achieve what they’ve so far failed to?
There are two ways this question might be answered. Firstly, there might be grounds for thinking that the revolutionary movement will grow stronger; secondly, there might be grounds for thinking that the system it opposes will grow weaker (or a bit of both).
I’ll try to argue in the third post that there are good reasons to believe this; until that’s been established, I think both hypotheses score ‘0’ here. That leaves a provisional final score of
Final Revolution Hypothesis: 2.5, Divine Judgement Hypothesis: 0.5
Hopefully, grounds can be adduced in the next post for raising the 2.5 to 3.5; for now I’ll just sketch the argument I have in mind.
Suppose that the major factors that determine the strength of a social force can be summarised as:
If we suppose that access to technology is, in the 21st century, either equal, or depends largely on the other three factors, we could argue as follows
- Over the course of history, human beings become progressively more aware and more organised,
- As people become more aware and more organised, they become more able to advance their interests, and
- The hypothesised final revolution is in the interests of the great majority of people.