Interesting Quotes

I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about human life, including everything about the human mind… This is a somewhat ridiculous situation… [I]t is just as irrational to be influenced in one’s beliefs by the hope that God does not exist as by the hope that God does exist. (Thomas Nagel)

Secular theorists often assume they know what a religious argument is like: they present it as a crude prescription from God, backed up with threat of hellfire, derived from general or particular revelation, and they contrast it with the elegant complexity of a philosophical argument by Rawls (say) or Dworkin. With this image in mind, they think it obvious that religious argument should be excluded from public life… But those who have bothered to make themselves familiar with existing religious-based arguments in modern political theory know that this is mostly a travesty… (Jeremy Waldron)

Due to the typical attitude of the contemporary naturalist… the vast majority of naturalist philosophers have come to hold (since the late 1960s) an unjustified belief in naturalism. Their justifications have been defeated by arguments developed by theistic philosophers, and now naturalist philosophers, for the most part, live in darkness about the justification for naturalism. They may have a true belief in naturalism, but they have no knowledge that naturalism is true since they do not have an undefeated justification for their belief. If naturalism is true, then their belief in naturalism is accidentally true. (Quentin Smith)

What makes these quotes interesting is that Nagel and Smith are atheists and while I don’t know what Waldron believes, he hardly seems a zealot either way. But Nagel and Smith are what I call honest atheists. Unlike Nagel and Smith, the typical atheist and, for instance the creationist, will both tell you they are simply following the evidence. That both are unwilling to admit there is something greater and deeper going on here than simply their appeal to the evidence reveals their lack of any sort of sophisticated sensibility about such things, let alone their complete disregard for philosophy or science.

These True Believers who have never met a doubt they couldn’t easily dismiss live in that land of certainty and know-it-all blather. That the world may not be as simple, as plain, as straight, as linear, and as sequential as they believe is lost on all fundamentalists whether of the secular or religious stripe.

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9 Responses to Interesting Quotes

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Mr. Smith sounds intriguing.

    The problem is that we are dealing with uncertainty and ignorance- quite possibly ignorance that will never ever be lifted- about ultimate causes, origins of the universe, etc.

    The answer to such problems is not to posit a god, or magical external realm, or whatever else pops to mind, but rather to admit ignorance and avoid further speculation, unless one has a of framework of knowledge from which to take baby steps outwards, like scientific cosmologists do.

    Sometimes the answer is not worth making up. The problem is not just fundamentalists, but also the easy answers of traditional theology, which fail to stand up to any scrutiny. Why persist in such wooliness?

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  2. Burk Braun says:

    I take it back.. Mr. Smith reads like a complete fruitcake. It just goes to show how bereft of sense modern (academic) philosophy is, on both sides of the theism divide, by and large. Calling Plantinga's arguments on the topic a “defeater” is absurdly charitable, indeed nonsensical.

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  3. frthomas says:

    “That both are unwilling to admit there is something greater and deeper going on here than simply their appeal to the evidence reveals their lack of any sort of sophisticated sensibility about such things, let alone their complete disregard for philosophy or science.”

    SO TRUE… What makes a zealot a zealot is not the evidence but the conviction (faith?) of the one who “believes” be they scientist or theologian. That conviction does not grow out of the evidence or the “little gray cells.” It grows in the heart and issues from that mysterious location that science will never “locate” but cannot deny the power of in the history of mankind.

    With all due respect, Burk, you are a zealot. From where does your zeal originate? To say that it issues from the “evidence” denys that you have the ability to stand over against the evidence and make a choice about it — for or against. Where is the conviction located? In the recesses of the brain?! NOT!! Nope…

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  4. Burk Braun says:

    frthomas, you may be interested in a blog I will put up this weekend- on the sense of certainty- its psychological existence and origins.

    Anyhow, attempting to evade my cognitive limitations … when Darrell claims that “something” “deeper” is going on, what does that refer to, pray tell? Do we know anything about it? No, we don't. At best, we have an intuition that has never been borne out in any of its past predictions or characterizations, and whose object remains the most abjectly “hidden” realm, studiously unconnected with anything reliably discernable or testable. It is a story about a void.

    It isn't I who have the faith here. I am the skeptic of faith. Naturalism may well be insufficient to explain all, but everything beyond it is, to date, pure fable and myth, with clear psychological origins. Worship that if you wish.

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  5. frthomas says:

    The “something deeper is going on” that Darrell refers to means the existence of the human soul. This soul is not simply the operations of an identifiable set of brain functions. And, by the way, we know a lot about it. Scientific knowledge? Is that the source of our knowledge of the “something deeper?” No. It is the human narrative that teaches us about the “something deeper.” That narrative is not simply an empirical narrative. It is a spiritual narrative as well. You may “believe” that spiritual narrative is mythic and without basis in fact. But, you cannot deny its existence and essential character. You must allow and provide for it as part of the “evidence” of human existence. That must be very inconvenient for you as a “devoted scientist.”

    And, YES, it IS you who have faith here. You are devoted and disciplined worshipper at the altar of science. Your dedication and “without a doubt” attitude betray your religiosity. Your skepticism is not about what YOU believe in it is about what I believe in. Your skepticism is not comprehensive. You skepticism does not (conveniently) apply to you. That is what we call a “double standard.” If you applied the same definitions to yourself that you apply to your group of villains it might be helpful to this discussion. Are you willing to see your untiring devotion to science as religious? I wonder. (By the way, Darrell has, to his credit, on repeated occasions exhibited such self-criticism.)

    Finally, if there is anything that is myth and fable in this discussion it is the contention that the human soul and the witness to the “something deeper” in EVERY civilization and human record is not legitimate. That a “thinking/reasoning” person could make such a contention is astounding to me. But, I respect your right to make such a contention. Making it with such devoted fervor just proves that the contention you are making is false. Keep proving yourself wrong by continuing to devotedly adhering to your scientific position if you wish.

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  6. Burk Braun says:

    “This soul is not simply the operations of an identifiable set of brain functions.”

    This is not in agreement with our current knowledge, but rather follows a very traditional faith position with no evidence behind it other than our intuition, driven by the very biology the brain embodies, which keeps its inner details (unconscious) hidden.

    “It is the human narrative that teaches us about the “something deeper. … a spiritual narrative ..”

    Narratives are great -they even exist, as you say- but you are appealing here to fiction.. a Hollywood narrative. What differentiates fiction from fact, for you?

    “Finally, if there is anything that is myth and fable in this discussion it is the contention that the human soul and the witness to the “something deeper” in EVERY civilization and human record is not legitimate.”

    You are mixing terms here. A fictional narrative can function as a perfectly fine cultural basis and religion. You would regard all the non-Christian narratives that way, I assume, in some sense. Such a narrative can even be “legitimate” in many senses. That doesn't make such a narrative true, however, when the truth-maker is reality- i.e. empiricism. The truth-maker for you seems rather to be psychological comfort and adherence to tradition- sterling goals for narrative fiction, but not for natural philosophy.

    Lastly, you seem to define faith as the stubborn insistence of someone who disagrees with you in sticking to their position. That seems like a somewhat deficient definition. A better definition would be belief in things that can not be proven, or which have been even been demonstrated to be highly unlikely and unnecessary (souls, god, supernaturalism, etc.).

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  7. frthomas says:

    “This is not in agreement with our current knowledge…”

    I love that statement. It is so ironic. “Current knowledge?” Really? Of course it isn’t if you define knowledge and reality according to empirical evidence. What about the evidence of the uninterrupted historical narrative that contends that the “something deeper” is real? Obviously that is not legitimate by your criteria. Surprise, surprise.

    “Narratives are great -they even exist, as you say- but you are appealing here to fiction.. a Hollywood narrative. What differentiates fiction from fact, for you?”

    Whether or not the content of the beliefs of the particular group are valid or not, they are part of a larger narrative that contends that the “something deeper” does exist. That was my point which you conveniently side stepped.

    “Lastly, you seem to define faith as the stubborn insistence of someone who disagrees with you in sticking to their position. That seems like a somewhat deficient definition. A better definition would be belief in things that can not be proven, or which have been even been demonstrated to be highly unlikely and unnecessary (souls, god, supernaturalism, etc.).”

    I include “stubborn insistence” as part of faith. A person of faith does “stubbornly” insist on the validity of their position. I believe that if that is ALL that faith is, it is not very mature, but “stubborn insistence” is part of it.

    “which have been demonstrated to be highly unlikely and unnecessary”

    Once again, you have conveniently chosen criteria which will serve you well.The limited criteria you have chosen will always yield the result you desire. I don’t think that is very good scientific method. You are trapped in the limitation of your own scientific rigidity. I thought scientists were great explorers of the “unknown,” willing to venture out beyond what they know rather than forcing things to bend to their preconceived notions. You are displaying the very same devotional rigidity of which you accuse us Christians. Narrow, narrow, narrow. If I didn’t know better I would think I discern some narrow-mindedness. The pot is calling the kettle black, me thinks!!

    I have to say that the content of my faith has changed and matured and undergone massive transformation as I have held it. Has your faith in science and the empirical evidence undergone such transformations? When I say transformation I mean with regard to your chosen frame of reference through which you view and relate to the world and yourself. I do not mean simply the gaining of more information.

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  8. frthomas says:

    Burk,

    Just a P.S.

    There are “brands” or versions of the Christian faith that demonize science. I am not a member of such a group. I repudiate such groups. They are ultimately destructive to the adoption of the faith by the persons to whom they preach. The illegitimate use of the Christian faith to accomplish such an end is dreadfully sad and destructive. I also do not appreciate and repudiate a scientific methodology that believes that it can render religious faith as unnecessary and seeks to do so. The illegitimate use of science to accomplish such an end is sad and destructive. These two groups deserve one another. “Good riddens” to them both. They have twisted and fractured what I believe is supposed to be a relationship of respect and appreciation.

    Before I decided to become a priest, I had two deep ambitions. The first was to be a veterinarian. The second was to be an astrophysicist. If I had another life to live I think I would choose one of them. And, I believe, I would feel completely complete. When I want to experience wonder and awe I don’t just pray, I go pick up a copy of “Scientific American.” When I was in high school I used to spend great amounts of time loving to read both “The Bible” and “Scientific American.” I also deeply treasure as one of the most influential persons in my life, my Physics teacher and Chemistry teachers in from my high school days. They, along with the priests of my childhood and adolescence taught me the value of wonder and expansive thinking in contrast to limitation and rigidity.

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  9. Burk Braun says:

    frthomas-

    Thanks for your explanations, and neither side is trying demonize others, hopefully. Particularly not the side that doesn't even believe in demons(!). The issue is one of philosophical truth, and accuracy in advertising.

    “I also do not appreciate and repudiate a scientific methodology that believes that it can render religious faith as unnecessary and seeks to do so.”

    The question is entirely what form such faith can legitimately take in view of our philosophical knowledge and critical practices. One might as well ask whether the Greek gods are unnecessary, or have been transformed into new uses through our recognition of their artistic and psychological nature. I believe the latter is the direction we are headed.

    You seem to assume a priori that religious faith and science are intellectually compatible. But is that true, especially when the word “religion” has been sufficiently closely defined to mean something explicit? You say you believe in souls, and I can tell you that aside from artistic metaphor, this term has no role in our thinking about how our minds are constituted or how they work. The idea is as obsolete as phlogiston.

    I would urge you to read theologians who take these propositions seriously, like Don Cupitt. It is no use persisting in preaching alternate realities when the one we have is so interesting, all-encompassing, and in need of our care.

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