Friday, March 15, 2013

Most Beautifully Various

Thomas Bayes was the Presbyterian pastor who came up with the equation underlying all modern probability theory, but he was also a Nonconforming Christian.

That meant a very particular thing at that particular place and time in human history.  In reading his short essay on God's goodness, I did find myself wondering about how that might have formed and shaped how he thought.

His faith meant that during his lifetime, he was legally a second class citizen of England.   He had chosen not to swear fealty to the state religion of his time, and that made him ineligible for public benefits and public office.

But that also made him free.  As a Christian, Bayes didn't have to hew to any particular and mandated patter of belief or worship.   Having attended a Free Church myself for a while as a kid living in England, I suddenly have a clearer idea of just where that came from.  That peculiar PresbyBaptiMethoCongregationalism of my youth comes from the very corner of Christianity that Bayes inhabited.

It also meant that his view of dogma, doctrine, and orthodoxy would have been shaped by a deep awareness of being different.  Of being outside of the acceptable norm.  And from that place, openness to the new and the different is considerably easier.

As I worked through his 1731 essay on God's goodness, his openness to the creative power of difference surfaces repeatedly.  He resists, in particular, the idea that there is only one way to be Good.   That, from his Nonconforming perspective, seems both oppressive and limiting, and too much like the state religion that tried to enforce a single order.   He writes things like this:
"If the universe were to consist of one uniform sort of beings, however happy they might be, 'tis evident that they could not in some respects enjoy so great happiness as they might by variety..."
As for Creation itself, he sees variation and difference as amazing things, and a necessary part of a loving God's creative power.  As he describes it:
"..a most happy universe is so far from being unbeautifully uniform, that it must be most beautifully various..."
From that place, seeing chaos as creativity and possibility wouldn't have been much of a stretch.  I think Bayes would have liked the multiverse.