Yesterday reader Magnus made an excellent point: "On the commute I read an article about the co-evolution of the dog. It seems man's best friend has lost a part of its brain that kept much of its wolf instincts. On the other hand [paw?], it has gained the ability to understand pointing. When we point at something, a fellow human automatically transfers its attention to the object we point to, rather than just staring at the hand. So does a dog with just a little training. Wolves do not, and neither do chimps or any other species known to man.
"I wonder if 'religiosity' is not something equivalent. We have gained an ability to understand God's pointing and this alone can replace a multitude of instincts that would be necessary if living apart from God.
"Imagine a dog trying to explain the concept of pointing to a wolf. The wolf would just look dumbly and say: 'It's a hand. No matter how it moves, it is still just a hand. Can we eat it already?'"
I replied that, in a way, the capacity to point and to understand pointing is everything
, for it is what lifts us out of our engulfment in matter and imprisonment in the senses. It is the essence of Polanyi
's philosophy, what he calls the distinction between subsidiary (the finger) and focal (the moon) knowledge. The obligatory atheist is essentially fixated on the finger while barking at the moon.
Continuing along the lines of yesterday's theme, how does one establish faith, anyway? For me, it really started not so much with me
knowing, but knowing with increasing certainty that someone else
knew. By immersing myself in that person's knowledge and reading their wrotetrails, I eventually came to assimilate a bit of personal knowledge, but that's another storey of a complex ediface.
When you think about it, most of our knowledge of reality ultimately falls into this category. For example, few of us really have much personal understanding of economics, so we put our faith in someone else who seems to know, and who appeals to our Reason. A leftist will put his faith in a Paul Krugman or Robert Reich, while I put my faith in Tom Sowell or Friedrich Hayek. Immediately you realize that many people who profess to know what they are talking about, really don’t -- not just the “followers” (necessarily) but the experts themselves.
Thus, despite my rudimentary knowledge of economics, if Tom Sowell is right, then I know much more about economics than Paul Krugman does. (Here I am using “know” in the naively old-fashioned way of connoting truth; we need a different word for all the untrue things that people, especially experts and wackademics such as Krugman, “know”... maybe the opposite of know, which is w-o-n-k... Krugman is not a knower, but a big wonker. But you knew that already.)
Given what I have outlined, if the Creator exists, then the most humble and unsophisticated churchgoer who has an intuitive acceptance and understanding of that to which faith points, knows infinitely more -- literally -- than a Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, to cite a couple of famous godless wonkers.
But atheism is an outrageously grandiose enterprise. One thing you notice immediately is the false humility of the atheist, who at once ridicules the notion that human beings are of any cosmic significance whatsoever, and then proceeds to confidently reveal the Ultimate Truth of existence to the rest of us. In my view, any being that may possess Ultimate Truth -- even if it is only to set Ultimate Limits on what the Mind may know, as does the atheist -- is pretty special. Such a being is
most definitely “the center of the universe,” but only if we shift our perspective from a horizontal to a vertical view -- which is demanded by the atheist’s own metaphysic.
That is, if you begin with the premise that all is random and that everything is equally meaningless, then you truly have a horizontal cosmos with no possibility of rising above it and knowing any objective truth. Not only are human beings not the center in such a flatland cosmos, but there is no possibility of a center or of knowedge. Nothing points to anything else.
However, verticality implies hierarchy, origin, and increased centration as we ascend the scale. Imagine a pyramid, with each level representing a new degree of complexity and depth in the cosmos. On the bottom floor there is mere matter or energy. On top of that is a second floor, biology. Obviously biology is a narrower subset of matter, but it is not “off to the side” like a little growth, but right at the center -- if viewed vertically.
Likewise, human psychological and spiritual development represent increased degrees of both verticality and centration, which is why God is the only entity that can truly say “I AM” with a straight face. According to Rabbi Mo, we cannot see this face -- and therefore know I AM -- and live.
And this is why the key to spiritual growth -- and vision -- is to “die before you get old and die,” so Pete Towenshend was half right. In ether worlds, ego death -- or transcendence, if you prefer -- is the road to the toppermost of the poppermost of the universe, the center and Origin of existence, the mysterious within of withinness, the Truth of truth, the El Supremo at the Top of the Stairs, the Starman Waiting in the Sky, for all hierarchies are conditioned top to bottom, and there is no incomplete hierarchy.
Atheists are bothered by such ideas. Again, they do not merely reject metaphysics, they are hostile to it. An anonymous poster on Dr. Sanity
confessed that “this is something which never ceases to bug me”:
“While it is true that this universe is indeed marvelous, beautiful, coherent and logical, vast and detailed, and so on, it is also very clear (or at least should be by now) that it's not set up for our benefit. Mankind is not the center of the universe. We're not it's focus. (Every time people stumble over this fact, they react in shock and indignation). It is not adapted to suit us. Rather, mankind is adapted to be able to survive in the universe.)”
I would respond: who says the universe is beautiful? Is that true? Why should a universe in which we are completely beside the point convey its beauty to us? In order for something to be beautiful or true, mustn’t there be a subject capable of knowing those things? In other words, the cosmos is neither true nor beautiful without a subject that may love beauty and know truth. If we are not the focus - -and therefore center -- of the world’s beauty and truth, what is? As Magnus suggested yesterday, the cosmos is always pointing
at something else, and only humans are able to discern the direction and content of this pointing. For example, other animals merely see a world, not the beauty or truth that radiate through it.
It reminds me of what liberals say about Iraq having nothing to do with the war on global jihad. Oh really? Then why are terrorists from all over the world flocking there? You may not think it is the center of the war on Islamofascism, but Islamofascists certainly do.
Likewise, you may not think that human beings are the center of cosmic truth and beauty, but the cosmos clearly feels otherwise. You are the only way for the cosmos to say "I AM... and damn, I sure am beautiful. And dignified. And coherent" (and whatever other category you choose to add). Our ways of knowing the the cosmos are freakishly adapted to the way it is -- unlike other animals, who cannot escape their subjectivity and know objective truth about existence.
Another commenter on Dr. Sanity said that “My schema starts with the fact that the Universe -- a concept of the Everything, not just our little Steven Hawking, Big Bang Universe -- is infinite.”
Hold it right there, wonker. Your schema actually begins with the faith that there is
a cosmos -- a strict totality of coherently interacting objects and events, despite the fact that you have never seen it -- and a mysterious ability to know the truth of this cosmic order, to have a tacit vision of where the cosmic finger is pointing.
As I have mentioned before, the philosopher of science Stanley Jaki
pointed out that philosophers constantly get into trouble because they try to get to second base before they have gotten to first. As all baseball fans know, “you can’t steal first base.” But this is what philosophers habitually do.
Therefore, once this larcenous wonker has assumed first base, he proceeds to steal second and third: the cosmos “never ‘began’, and nothing can be ‘outside’ of it. So I consider the concept of the ‘Supernatural’ to be literal nonsense -- a connection of words which look sensible, but are not, unless the term refers to something actually going on within the Universe. Or unless it refers to the Universe itself.”
There you go. He has stolen home without ever having hit a real ball. He possesses Truth -- which is by definition supernatural -- without having to acknowledge that inconvenient fact. For every physicist worth his NaCl knows that nature herself is supernatural. Every great mathematician is a platonist, either explicitly or implicitly. This is the great truth disclosed by Gödel’s theorems
, which demonstrate that any logical system can be either complete or consistent, but not both. But Gödel never intended for this fact to be used as a blunt instrument by deconstructionists to undermine the reality of truth. Rather, he was merely attempting to account for the obvious fact that human knowing vastly exceeds the limits of reason. Duh!
Most of the comments left by angry atheists yesterday (actually, it was now last year) on Dr. Sanity -- for example, those of the aptly named "Arational Human" -- were either logically self-refuting or were adequately addressed by other commenters. There was one other comment by Lionel, who wrote that,
“The concept of god is a grab bag of inconsistent floating abstractions that is intended to stop thought and rational discussion.... That is what I hate and will do whatever I can to undercut its existence. I hate it because its anti-mind, anti-reason, anti-human, and anti-life. Reason, reality, and logic are of prime importance to me. Emotion is simply the way we experience our values. God, being a nonexistent, has nothing to do with it one way or the other.”
If Lionel wishes to be logically consistent, then he must concede that his hatred of God is nothing more than “the way he experiences his values.” He claims to hate God because the concept is “anti-mind, anti-reason, anti-human, and anti-life.” In each case, his emotional rejection of God causes him to invert reality and to believe things that are patently illogical and untrue.
For reason is only a faculty of knowing something indirectly in the absence of direct vision, while God is known directly, the same way one knows one is alive, perceives reality, or is aware of free will. In order to see something, it is not necessary to logically prove the existence of sight. Many of the most important truths are known simply by their “superabundance of clarity,” by pure intellect, not by the reason which us its servant. Reason is not Intelligence in itself
, only an instrument of intelligence. Few things create more mischief than reason in the hands of an unintelligent or immoral wonker.
Likewise, any form of pure rationalism is an attack on mind itself, because it reduces the cause -- intelligence -- to an effect -- reason. In the words of Schuon, rationalism is “perhaps the most intelligent way of being unintelligent.” For “Existence is a reality in some respects comparable to a living organism; it cannot with impunity be reduced, in man’s consciousness... to proportions that do violence to its nature; pulsations of the 'extra-rational' pass through it from every quarter. Now religion and all forms of supra-rational wisdom belong to this extra-rational order, the presence of which we observe around us, unless we are blinded by a mathematician’s prejudice; to attempt to treat existence as a purely arithmetical and physical reality is to falsify it in relation to ourselves and within ourselves, and in the end it is to blow it to pieces.”
Not for nothing did Richard Weaver
say that “every attack upon religion is inevitably an attack upon mind.” Naturally there are many forms of stupid religion, for there is nothing touched by humans wonkers that cannot be made stupid. But at least religion as such does not exclude the possibility and priority of Intelligence, and therefore, Truth.