Mark 9:24

Truth even in desecration

In On Atheism on July 27, 2011 at 7:22 am

Looking again at PZ Myers’ desecration of the Eucharist, we here more, albeit smaller, nuggets of truth:

By the way, I didn’t want to single out just the cracker, so I nailed it to a few ripped-out pages from the Qur’an and The God Delusion. They are just paper. Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet.

Without faith --- trust --- in even one particular other, we marvel only at our distorted self-image.

Regarding the comments about a cracker, we should respond as Peter Kreeft:

Our enemies are not anti-Catholic bigots who want to crucify us. They are the ones we’re trying to save. They are our patients, not our disease. Our word for them is Christ’s: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We say this of the Chinese communist totalitarians who imprison and persecute Catholics, and to the Sudanese Muslim terrorists who enslave and murder Catholics. They are not our enemies, they are our patients. We are Christ’s nurses. The patients think the nurses are their enemies, but the nurses know better.

Kreeft is at times too snarky and polemical for my taste, but in this he hit the nail on the head. Again, there is at least a little truth everywhere.

Myers, for his part, is right to say that The God Delusion certainly must not be held sacred, and not for the reasons an atheist might think I mean.

To offer worship to someone who is not God is absolutely wrong — this negative prohibition is phrased as a positive commandment in the Decalogue. Atheists must agree: Insofar as a thing is from God it is worthy of respect, insofar it is not it is not. The disagreement between Christians and atheists is not in the principle but in its mootness. As Lewis wrote:

But surely the reason we do not execute witches is that we do not believe there are such things. If we did — if we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather, surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did. There is no difference of moral principle here: the difference is simply about matter of fact. It may be a great advance in knowledge not to believe in witches: there is no moral, advance in not executing them when you do not think they are there. You would not call a man humane for ceasing to set mousetraps if he did so because he believed there were no mice in the house.

Meyers is also right to imply, as he does, that to be an atheist the way he means it is to be alone. Universal skeptics — heretofore “atheists,” as that is shorter and, in any case, Meyers’ chosen label— must rely on no other man, for, in another true observation, men are fallible. Now the falsehood: You can only rely on only your intellect and senses insofar as you can trust them. Problematically, much of modern philosophy posits that things are not knowable and that you cannot trust your senses, and all of modern philosophy save a few neo-Thomists and Aristotelians deny the common-sense Four Causes. This leaves the thorough atheist not only alone but blind and deaf and despairing of faculties, constantly second-guessing whether he can really disprove the absurdity that is the Cartesian demon. If universal skepticism is the standard, there is no place for knowing truth — how can you trust your senses or your intellect if your intellect reminds you that you are not infallible? how do you even begin to correct it if you have no truth around against which you measure yourself? — and there is no place for trust.

Dictionary atheism when allied to the standard of universal skepticism — anything when allied to universal skepticism — is a kind of sadness and despair like Sartre or a madness and megalomania like Nietzsche. Despair or pride: This is not good for anyone by any stretch of the imagination except insofar as it is honest.

  1. Ben wrote:
    >Problematically, much of modern philosophy posits that things are not knowable and that you cannot trust your senses…

    Well, yes. Modern philosophy is a mess. So was ancient philosophy: there are not just one or four elements, as so many of the ancient philosophers thought, for example.

    In both cases, the problem lay in too great a reliance on arm-chair reasoning, which turns out not to work very well, and too little willingness to test their ideas by detailed observations, measurements, and experiments.

    After all, as the recent PhilPapers poll ( ) showed, there seems to be *nothing* on which philosophers actually agree. On the other hand, there is an enormous amount on which scientists agree.

    Science and only science has arrived at profound, non-obvious truths about reality that cut across cultural boundaries: science is the same in New Delhi as in London, in Beijing as in Los Angeles.

    Science trumps theology and philosophy.

    If a parent refuses to allow her child to have antibiotics because she has faith in prayer alone, most people nowadays, even Christians, view her as irresponsible: a court may even order treatment. But, if a parent chooses not to pray for a sick child but does give the kid the prescribed antibiotics, no one thinks much about it.

    To put it bluntly, even Christians nowadays view prayer as optional, but science as real.

    Religion is just a private fantasy that makes people feel good. Science is real.

    It’s pretty funny that you think that the failure of modern philosophy “leaves the thorough atheist not only alone but blind and deaf and despairing of faculties…”


    Very, very few atheists give a gnat’s whiskers about modern philosophy, and many of us who do have an interest in philosophy have enormous contempt for modern philosophy.

    No, the root of modern atheism, more than anything else, is not philosophy but science.

    And, even most Christians have more faith in science than in God.

    As indeed they should.


    • Thank you for your insights.

      I certainly agree that most atheists are no philosophers in any sense. I saw one make the outstanding comment that “philosophy is theology is superstition.” Two non-sequiturs in all of five words!

      It’s funny that you should single out the five elements in ancient philosophy. That is not bad philosophy for the same reason a cat cannot be called a bad dog, bad though it may be. It was not of what we would consider philosophy at all. This is, rather, bad natural philosophy — what we would call science. Conflating the two into “philosophy” gives people the entirely wrong idea about what was said and why. Moreover, if ancient science is bad, then what of modern science?

      If we grant the qualitative difference between Bacon and Aristotle, we still have the problem of scientists being fundamentally wrong very often. Just as Aristotle was wrong, so was Galileo: The Sun is not the center of the universe any more than five elements compose it. To posit that modern science does not have this problem, we must define modern as “well since Steady State, hardly a psuedoscience, was discredited,” and be constantly updating that definition. If we do this, though, we dodge the question with equivocation.

      Science is no replacement for philosophy. As I’ve mentioned before, It answers only hows and cannot answer whys. Modernity’s natural philosophers tack hard against the love of wisdom. It may seem that the two are going to collide, but this is as impossible as a ghost colliding with a wall. There is nothing so clear or solid in science that it can possibly collide with the clearer, solider philosophy of Aristotle. I firmly believe that the only casualty of the two meeting will be the bad science which is hidden among proponents of philosophy and the bad philosophy which is hidden among proponents of science.

      • Well, Ben, I have to give you credit for your enthusiasm in your eagerness to embrace evil!

        But of course ancient philosophers with their nonsense about four elements were not simply failed natural scientists. The distinction between philosophy and science is not its object of study but its method of study: armchair speculation vs. true investigation of reality via observation and experiment.

        And, of course, in that sense, the person you quote is entirely correct: indeed, “philosophy is theology is superstition” in the sense that they use the same method and have the same success in attaining truth – i.e., no success at all.

        As to your statement, “Science is no replacement for philosophy. As I’ve mentioned before, It answers only hows and cannot answer whys.”

        There are no “whys,” Ben. Humans have “whys”: i.e., we create purposes, meanings, etc. One of the fundamental problems with pre-scientific modes of thought was their tendency to ascribe meanings and purposes to non-conscious beings. They’re not there.

        The universe has no purpose, no meaning.

        Get used to it.

        Oh, I forgot – you are psychologically unable to. That is why you are a True Believer.


      • By the way, Ben, it is foolish to quote the wikipedia on any contentious issue. The wikipedia is constructed so that any fool or crook can easily hack it. This constantly occurs on contentious issues: it has even happened, strangely enough, in physics, when some crack-pot wants to push his personal idiocy.

        So, the wikipedia is no authority at all.

  2. Thank you for your insights. I note your debt to Sartre in saying the universe is absurd. This is indeed an answer, but there is something hugely dissatisfying about it I can’t quite pinpoint.

    Wikipedia is shorthand for real research, and a jumping point for real resources. I didn’t intend it as authoritative.

    In any case, as you’re a physicist, I was wondering what exactly you thought of my take on the premises behind Chaos Theory. No Courtier’s Reply, now. I don’t make more of myself than I am, but I think this is a useful meditation on Chaos Theory.

    • Ben wrote to me:
      >I note your debt to Sartre in saying the universe is absurd.

      Boy, Ben! You sure do like putting words into other people’s mouths: typical True Believer, I fear.

      Nope, no debt to Sartre at all. I despise the guy, a weaselly little apologist for Stalinism. And a crying little whiner. Can’t get much worse than that, can you?

      No, I do not agree with Sartre and I did not say the universe is “absurd.”

      What I said was:
      >The universe has no purpose, no meaning.

      I see nothing “absurd” there. After all, a rock has no meaning either – that does not make the rock “absurd.” The rock just is.

      It’s nasty little whiners like Sartre who see this as absurd.

      See – you keep assuming, again and again and again, that we atheists think things we just do not think. You know, instead of assuming I agreed with Sartre, you could have just asked me!

      You also wrote:
      >Wikipedia is shorthand for real research, and a jumping point for real resources.

      No, it’s not. On contentious issues, wikipedia tends to just be a source of propaganda from whomever last hacked it.

      Ben also wrote:
      >In any case, as you’re a physicist, I was wondering what exactly you thought of my take on the premises behind Chaos Theory.

      I thought you were way, way off base. The word “chaos” in “chaos theory” has a very technical meaning that had almost nothing to do with what you were talking about. Sorry.

      Admittedly, they chose the word “chaos” to give what is really some rather dry work in applied mathematics a bit of pizzazz. But, still, you should not have assumed that you could guess what “chaos theory” was really about. You guessed wrong.

      By the way, “chaos theory” is much, much less important than you would think from the popular press. It’s a very minor part of modern science and math. About all it boils down to at a practical level is that they cannot predict the weather a month in advance.

      And, of course, everyone already knew that!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: