Tone Deaf Factsimians and Their Haudible Godlessness (4.19.09)
Needless to say, I am not impressed with the cognitive firepower of the militant atheist crowd, who strike me as being a few nails shy of a Palestinian ghetto blaster. In fact, in the absence of God, there is no reason to be impressed by anyone or anything, since 1) there is nothing we can know with certainty, 2) loveliness and beauty are simply illusions of the nervous system, and 3) believing untruth is morally indistinguishable from believing truth, since there is no ground for truth or morality anyway.
In London there was a recent debate on the motion, "We'd be better off without religion" (TW: Walt). On one side were three passionate atheists -- including Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens -- on the other, three rather lukewarm sounding theists. They took a vote on the motion both before and after the debate. The vote before was 826 votes for the motion, 681 against, and 364 don't knows; at the end, there were 1,205 for, 778 against and 103 don't knows. In short, the number of people who felt we would be better off without religion started with a substantial majority which increased rather dramatically as a result of the debate.
Very well, then. It's official. God doesn't exist. An angry Marxist writer said so.
Cicero wrote that to not know what happened before you were born is to remain a child forever. Likewise, the ubiquitous problem with these clever atheists is that they haven't read the minutes of the last philosophical meeting -- or any meetings, for that matter. They actually believe that they are starting their inquiry into existence afresh, with no preconceptions borrowed -- or stolen is more like it -- from religion and metaphysics. They might look clever, but they are actually what I call "factsimians," that is, humans who reduce truth to fact and therefore sink beneath their humanness and want to pull you down with them.
Now, as I mentioned at the top, I am impressed neither with the intelligence of the atheists (for intelligence is not intelligent where it "knows" falsehood) nor with any of their arguments, which are all "beneath" the level of that which they are discussing. In other words, we are dealing with the question of "adequation," since the basis of all knowledge is conformity between subject and object. There are empirical questions for which adequation is not particularly problematic, although there are obviously areas where our senses do deceive us -- for example, the sun does not circle the earth.
Then again, perhaps it does. Our naked sense impressions tell us that the earth is the center of the universe and that the sun does indeed circle it. However, rational scientific knowledge tells us that our senses deceive us, and that the earth actually revolves around the sun. However, if we adopt a post-Einsteinian view, it would be equally accurate to say that both views are correct -- just as it is equally correct to say that the earth "falls" to the apple, or that when we drive someplace, our destination arrives at us.
The rational view of the solar system tells us that our senses deceive us and that the earth is not the center of the universe. However, if we transcend mere 19th century scientific rationalism and consider the "post-rational" metaphysics of quantum cosmology, then we understand that the mystics are correct in their unanimous view that the center of the cosmos is both everywhere and nowhere -- or, to paraphrase St. Augustine, the cosmos is a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference nowhere. Philosophically, this is an instance of "returning to the beginning and knowing the joint for the first time," for the premodern Augustine is perfectly in accord with postmodern quantum theory.
I am hardly anti-Science, but if we want to know God, we can just as well "cut out the middle man" of all of the intervening "-isms" down through the centuries -- empiricism, rationalism, positivism, materialism, Darwinism, what have you -- and, like Augustine, use pure metaphysics to arrive at universal theological truths that cannot not be. This is why no discovery of science will ever disprove the existence of God. To the contrary, to the extent that science converges on truth, then it is converging on Truth, which is to say, God. God does not embrace falsehood, whether scientific or religious.
Therefore, whether they care to hear it or not, the scientist's passionate quest for truth is a religious one, so that, with regard to the above debate, "God won." In fact, I would have to read the transcript, but it is even possible that if the theists had won, then God would have lost -- just as the theists win every debate in the Islamic world, thereby defeating God. Likewise, any small victory of Reason in the Islamic world constitutes a rare victory for God in that God-forsaken part of the world.
Now, the fact of the matter is exactly as Schuon says it is: if everyone were capable of understanding metaphysics, there would be no atheists. But they aren't and there are. I do not have to read the transcripts of the debate to know that these atheists are not philosophers properly so-called, and that they do not understand metaphysics. Rather, they're just "clever guys" -- perhaps even "very clever guys" -- with an inevitably incoherent metaphysic that knows how to aggressively and even cynically interrogate, but not how to comprehend, for comprehension takes place on a vertical plane, the existence of which subverts their entire argument.
But this is what atheists do -- the clever ones, anyway -- for it is what all intellectuals do. Because they are clever, they are very good at understanding and internalizing the fashionable abstractions of the day. As a result, they tend to live in their abstractions, and there is no theory more abstract than atheism, for it superimposes an ultimately sterile dogma over the mystery of being. While this ground of being is a mystery, it is not an absurdity because it is infused with the very same logos that illuminates the mind and allows us to comprehend it. We see beauty or know truth because both are logos calling out to logos. To paraphrase George Steiner, if all of the religious loans made to science were called in at once, there would be no science left standing. Most notably, science cannot operate without the principles of transcendent truth and the objective mind capable of knowing -- and loving -- it, for truth is not pursued for its own sake, but because it partakes of the beautiful and the good.
Atheism is not just "ignorance of God," but it inevitably redounds to ignorance of everything, since God is the seal of truth. To cite several obvious example, scientific materialism cannot tell us anything about what energy, or life, or consciousness actually are -- but this does not mean that they do not exist or that humans cannot know what they are by other means, for we have reliable testimony that they are three aspects that converge upon the same entity, sat-chit-ananda, or being-consciousness-bliss. You could proclaim this to a scientific audience, but it would have no meaning within the constraints of the abstract paradigm they superimpose upon reality in order to reduce it to scientific understanding -- which is to say, measurable quantities. You could also say that life is to matter as mind is to brain as God is to existence, but it wouldn't mean much to a scientistic atheist.
In his Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver summarizes the situation; I am paraphrasing from memory, but he wrote that without imagination the world is simply a brute fact -- there is nothing to spiritualize it. In the scientistic flight from the center to the periphery, one becomes lost in details which cannot be integrated in a holistic way. This "downward pull" puts an end to ideational life, as the resultant fragmentation leads to an obsession with parts, and with it, an inability to intuit the whole. Hyper-specialization leads to a kind of cognitive deformity, as the world shrinks in proportion to our quantification of it. As a pathetic compensation, modern man is puffed up with the vanity of being able to describe some minute portion of the world, but this is merely postmodern provincialism of the most naive sort. In the end, the separation of knowledge from religion is the separation of facts and knowledge from the metaphysics that explains them and gives them meaning.
Elsewhere Weaver observed (it is possbible that these are my own notes, not his exact words) that “Truth is an antecedent reality perceived by the intellect and not the senses," and that "immersion in matter makes man unfit to deal with the problems of matter. Facts are substituted for truth, but there is no knowledge at the level of sensation. Facts do not speak for themselves and experience cannot tell us what we are experiencing. The world is our primary datum, but we do not end our days with a wealth of sense impressions.”
But this is how science -- which should be the pursuit of universal truth -- evolves into metaphysical scientism, which denies universals transcending experience, and therefore ends in bonehead relativism. Put another way, science reduces the world to a coherent absurdity, while metaphysics expands it into a coherent non-absurdity. And there is no reason to take anyone seriously who believes existence to be absurd, since anything they can say will be equally absurd. And no one is more proudly absurd than the atheist.
Now, one of the reasons it is pointless to debate the existence of God is that higher realties do not stand out except to those who stand in them. Perhaps an analogy will be helpful. I subscribe to Stereophile magazine, which is the Bible of high-end audio. Some of the equipment they review is insanely expensive, and there is a never-ending debate in the audio community between the "ears" and the "engineers" as to whether the sonic differences detected by the reviewers actually exist. For example, the official view of a rag such as Consumer Reports is that there is no discernible difference in sound quality between a cheap CD player and an expensive one. Rather, the only issue that counts is reliability. Otherwise you're just wasting your money. Not only that, but you're probably either a fool or a mystagogue -- just like someone who believes in God without any empirical evidence.
In many ways, a debate between atheists and theists is between ears and engineers. Regarding the audio debate, the engineers imagine that there must be some kind of formal test or instrument that can objectively measure and quantify the supposed musical differences. However, as John Atkinson notes in the latest issue, "the very act of such testing appears to minimize the listener's detection of things that can be disturbingly audible under more relaxed conditions." In other words, "too often it is as if the listener is being asked to distinguish between subtle color casts on photographic prints while a bright light is shone in his eyes."
You could set up a double blind study, and rapidly shift back and forth between one sound system and another, but this hasn't the slightest relevance, because this is not the way we listen to music. While you might be able to detect sonic differences between the two, you would probably not be able to detect musical differences -- and those are the only ones that matter. To really tell the difference, you must immerse yourself in musical experience, which means "spending ample time engrossed in music that stirs [your] soul."
Since I know a little bit about audio and most people know nothing, friends will occasionally ask me for recommendations when they want to purchase a component. But I can no more answer this question than if someone were to ask, "what religion should I be? I don't want to waste time looking for God. Just tell me where he is, so I can get on with it."
But just as you can have sound with no musicality, you can have religion with no God. The other day I did an audio comparison between the new CD reissue of the American version of Rubber Soul and my audiophile vinyl pressing. But there was "no comparison." While the CD sounds very good, the vinyl just came alive. It did something to me, something tangibly real but undoubtedly immeasurable. There was an additional dimension that I am quite sure no scientific instrument would ever be able to detect. For it was a vivid quality of "life" or "presence" that I felt in my rubbery soul, not in my concrete ears.
Atheists try to listen for God with their scientific instruments, when He can only be heard with discerning ears.