Wednesday, April 12, 2017

On the Meta-Cosmic Rights, Duties, and Limitations of Atheism

Time only for a very brief post. Let's get right to it!

In a way, theism and atheism have a mutually supporting relationship; for just as dopey religions and religious arguments can prompt one to become an atheist, likewise, the intellectually negligible arguments of Bill Maher or Richard "Vanilla Thunder" Dawkins are often the most compelling case for theism.

And since neither can be proved -- at least with the weapons of rationalism -- we are back to the unavoidable leap of faith: the very faith the rationalist finds so offensive.

Now, atheism has its rights. That being the case, it not only has corresponding duties, but the duties are necessarily prior to the rights. The duty, of course, is to Truth -- not just the lower case truth of rationalism, but the Truth of which rationalism is a prolongation or echo.

What are we supposed to do with our reason in the face of an unreasonable or frankly idiotic religion? Schuon writes that man has "legitimate needs for causality raised by certain dogmas, at least when these are taken literally..."

As such, one can scarcely "begrudge anyone for being scandalized by the stupidities and the crimes perpetrated in the name of religion," or even by the outward "antinomies between the different creeds."

However, an intellectually honest atheist will not only concede that "excesses and abuses are a part of human nature," but acknowledge with embarrassment that the apostles of pure reason -- e.g., "scientific socialism" -- have an even worse track record of excesses and abuses.

Is there a way to arbitrate between an absurcular atheism and an extravagant theism? Both camps sacrifice consistency to completeness (a la Gödel), but is there an approach to reality that is both consistent and complete?

Yes and no. Think about the fact that we can even know and understand Gödel's theorems, something a computer cannot do in principle:

1) Computing machines are essentially formal systems.

2) Gödel has shown that there are sentences—Gödel sentences—that can't be proven within a formal system, but that humans can see to be true.

3) Therefore, humans can do something that computers can't do, namely, recognise the truth of Gödel sentences.

To the extent that a rationalist understands Gödel and still clings to his rationalism, he has rendered himself an irrationalist.

In this context, you could say that religions are "theories," so to speak (or visions), of the Complete and Consistent Object that reason can only know partially, or "through a glass, darkly," as the gag goes.

But fortunately, there are ways of knowing that transcend mere (lower case) reason. Indeed, I would say that man is entitled to an explanation that satisfies the demands of his Total Intelligence.

But as Schuon writes, "Only metaphysics can resolve [the] enigmas which faith imposes upon the believer," a faith which at the same time reflects "a certain instinct for the essential and for the supernatural."

To be continued...

5 comments:

mushroom said...

One of the challenges to theism is the behavior of theists. The same can be said about atheists. We exist in the realm of uncertainty, almost like quantum life, while claiming that we can explain it.

Gagdad Bob said...

At least theists have a good explanation for man's chronic underachievement. And his occasional achievements, come to think of it.

julie said...

However, an intellectually honest atheist will not only concede that "excesses and abuses are a part of human nature," but acknowledge with embarrassment that the apostles of pure reason -- e.g., "scientific socialism" -- have an even worse track record of excesses and abuses.

When I was a disbeliever, I always wondered why it should matter to me what anyone else thought about religion. Clearly religious belief serves an evolutionary purpose, and in the grand scheme of things what difference does it make what literally anyone thinks about the whys of the cosmos anyway? Materially speaking, we are all just dust waiting to be obliterated such that we may as well never have existed anyway. So what if some people choose to spend their sentient hours thinking there's a grand plan to it all? If atheism is true, then nothing matters. Eventually the world will end, and the universe will go on for a while until it doesn't, and the fact that there was ever something instead of nothing will go unnoticed by anything. With all that in mind, proselytizing atheism seems pretty ridiculous.

Thank God it's not true, though. And thank God that instead of believing in nothing, I get to have a sweet conversation with my little one about heaven, and how we can know a little about it by the way we love each other herebelow.

Van Harvey said...

"Richard "Vanilla Thunder" Dawkins..."

:-) It's the little pleasures that help us through.

Gagdad Bob said...

Darryl "Chocolate Thunder" Dawkins is probably too obscure a reference.