Sunday, October 1, 2017

Atheism, Utopianism, Tyranny, Creation: A Damaged Debate

Let me introduce this thread with one of my last comments on it:

ERIC M.: Nothing I hate so much as disrespect for dialogue, whether in the form of direct censorship or attempts to efface or erase the record of dialogue that took place, especially when the dialogue was worthwhile. And so, to everyone still here, I'm saddened and angered that Allan H., after writing that he respects me as a debate partner, and whose own ideas I've often praised, has decided out of the blue to unfriend me and also to delete all his comments in this thread. It is deeply disappointing.

Is Allan maybe ashamed that he got called out on certain fallacies? So censorship of the record is the correct answer? Sorry, but all I can say is: Atheist values. It's not the first time I've been hit in just this way. The worst of it was a poet I admired a few years back, whose work I’d written about, but who saw nothing in deleting my comments from threads on his wall when I even so much as touched on religion or questioned his arguments. An atheist who admired the New Atheist bunch, he assumed ethics just meant shutting up religious people. And we Christians are supposedly the ones who censor and close down debate.

It’s happened to me a handful of times since, but Allan’s unfriending this time, suddenly and with the erasure of all his comments, is really a disappointment.

Because of Allan’s sudden disappearance and self-erasure, our long discussion was left on my wall with holes all over it. Yet another broken dialogue.

Still, I decided I wanted to salvage it as best I could, and so have written in what I remember of his remarks. No, my versions of his arguments might not be as sharp as his were, and they are briefer. But I’ve no choice. While our spat was going on, I knew I’d eventually want a record of it; and when, returned from a trip a week or so later, I went to my computer to save it, I found all his arguments gone, and he himself no longer a contact.

[Update: I’ve still no explanation for Allan's sudden disappearance, although I did learn later from a mutual friend that Allan had in fact completely deleted his Facebook account. So perhaps my initial anger was a bit misplaced? Perhaps. But I don’t think completely.

When you engage in dialogue with people, then decide to erase the whole history of those dialogues by clicking DELETE ALL, you are, whether you know it or not, deleting their access to that dialogue as well.]

Eric Mader

Atheism, Utopianism, Tyranny, Creation

On Sept. 9th, I posted the following image, from the Freedom From Atheism Foundation:

Details from image:

Aboriginal Religion
Yakubu Gowon (1966-75) Nigeria
Kills 1.1 million

Mengitsu Haile Mariam (1974-91) Ethiopia
Kills: 1.5 million

Kim Il Sung (1948-94) North Korea
Kills: 1.6 million

Pol Pot (1963-81) Cambodia
Kills: 1.7 million

Ismail Enver Pasha (1913-19)
Kills: 2.5 Million

Hideki Tojo (1941-44) Japan
Kills: 5 million

Leopold II of Belgium (1865-1909)
Kills: 15 million

Racial Nationalist
Adolf Hitler (1934-45) Germany
Kills: 17 million

Joseph Stalin (1922-53) USSR
Kills: 23 million

Mao Zedong (1942-76) China
Kills: 78 million

This FFAF post links an article by Dinesh D’Souza.

The thread began with Allan’s first comment:

ALLAN H.: [Another anti-atheist post. Really, Eric, this is beneath you. It is not atheism that leads to mass murder. Rather, any ideology or “-ism” can do so. The problem is that people don’t know they have the possibility of not listening to authority. I they are taught to think for themselves, they can refuse orders to commit atrocities. The real problem is people NOT thinking for themselves, people submitting to arbitrary authorities that gain a following by reference to some ideology. Leave atheism out of it.]

ERIC M.: Allan H.: In fact I partly agree with you. But with reservations having to do with the question of how ethics might be grounded. Also, in our modern West, it's atheists who have always been more apt to be become fellow travelers of utopianism: that fatal pipe dream that we can remake society from scratch, and that our remake would be an improvement.

In terms of religious communities, this is how these atheists always sound: "Since Utopia obviously hasn't arrived, and since religion remains part and parcel of our current flawed community, and since moreover religions are OLD and our project is to birth the NEW, which is of course the GOOD and the NECESSARY, because it will bring the PROGRESS we foresee, this all means that religions (read: religious people) must be expunged."

Like it or not, such thinking is still an integral part of our progressives' general world view, and given an illiberal turn, which is very possible, indeed already happening, this thinking could easily again become weaponized. Or rather: re-weaponized.

After 1) the problem of grounding any workable ethics and 2) the link between atheism and utopian projects, I might also mention 3) the fact that there are now many serious scholars who wonder if our liberal order could even survive without maintaining its Judeo-Christian roots. Our Western liberalism, with its stress on human rights, arose and flourished in the Christian West. This is not merely a random historical accident.

But if I continue to post against atheists, especially if I continue to underline the societal collapse and horror that has come when officially atheistic parties gain control of the state, there's yet another reason. And it's that it's still common to hear people say: "Religions and conflicts over religion have caused more wars and killed more people than anything else in history." I just heard my father say this last time I visited him. It's typically one of the first cliches to come up in barroom discussions of religion vs. secularism.

The problem with this cliche, of course, is that it's patently false. The above meme does a bit to underline how, especially in modernity, this cliche is actually worse than false. Because the truth happens to be quite the opposite. No ideology has gassed, tortured and executed more human beings than those great experiments in "scientific" socialism called Marxist-Leninism and Maoism. A second place prize, in terms of sheer number of dead, has to go to the "scientific" racism of the Third Reich. It is modern utopian fantasies of a perfect society, combined with a rejection of the traditional culture of the society in question, that has killed by far the most of our fellow humans.

And now again in 2017, look, it's "scientific" thinking on the definition of the human person that allows for increasing application of “mercy killing” of the elderly, infirm or mentally deficient. This is happening in Europe as I write, and in Canada, and there's no telling where it will lead, once social and economic pressures increase, as they will. I'm utterly against it. On Christian grounds.

But secular ethics, like it or not, has always tended to make more and more room for the “practical”. Against this, Christianity, I am glad to say, is not practical. That child who will be born with Down syndrome? She must not be aborted, says the Christian. She is a human person, a soul linked to a body. It's not any medical panel or state institution’s right to declare on her "quality of life" and snuff her out, supposedly in her own interest. Likewise with the elderly. I predict we'll be seeing more and more people disposed of because, ultimately, they are judged to be impractical to have around. You heard it here first.

But one more thing. Being religious, I'm supposedly the one who is intolerant. And yet isn't it odd that among the fellow Christians I keep in touch with, a few of them on Facebook, I have never yet heard one say anything along the lines of "These atheists need to be wiped out." Or: "These secularists need to be removed from society, then we can get back to building a healthy culture." I never hear religious people talk this way. I never even hear them say that atheists should be censored or jailed.

It's quite the contrary with atheists. Just last year, I caught a liberal friend of mine weighing in to the effect that "It's time we finally scrub all these Christians out of American society for good."

"Scrub"? That's a metaphor from the realm of hygiene. As in cleansing. As in, yes, precisely what Hitler said of the Jews.

Another friend, and you know him, just last month weighed in here on Facebook with the keen comment: "All religious people should be locked away in a closet and the key should be tossed. After 3,000 years we'll come back, and we can talk." That's our friend Michael A.’s take. Myself, I've never argued that atheists or SJW extremists should be "locked away in a closet". To say religious people should be locked away is bigoted, offensive--a serious offense against the basic rules of our civilization.

And it reveals something about whoever could write such a sentence. Somewhere in his noggin, and it's not far from the surface, he really does seem to believe that religious people are a kind of cancer on the social order. That if they were all gone, things would start to get better and sanity and reason would reign. The question of how to make them gone is just a matter of practical application. The Soviets got to work on such practical business when our great-grandparents were around: millions murdered, sent to the gulag, etc.

The sentence "Religious people should be locked away in a closet" is not really that different from "Wouldn't it be great if we just got rid of all these Jews?" I find both sentences about equally amusing.

So I'm supposed to NOT be critical of atheists, when even among my more liberal-minded atheist friends this kind of "cleansing" shit appears regularly?

Yes, sure, Michael will say he's joking, just mouthing off. But I'd argue there's more to it than that. It's the New Atheism that has set the ground for this kind of "We need these people to shut up now" approach. Michael's only excuse, I think, is that he repeatedly rails against humans in general as a cancer. Still, his point is clear: Humans would not be quite the cancer they are if only the religious among them were gotten out of the way.

I have no problem with atheists or secularists being around. In my mind, they're just folks playing with a deck that's short a few cards. I'll continue debating and discussing with them, but wouldn't imagine that they're eventually going to disappear from the social order. I'd never dream of scrubbing them from society. Quite differently, many many atheists and secularists clearly DO imagine that religions will eventually die out. It's part of the shallow ideology "History = Progress" that they've inherited from Enlightenment culture. The unselfconscious but persistent notion that progress means old things are necessarily replaced by new things and that the replacement is always good.

And so religions will be replaced by MTV, I suppose. Or Community Ethics Brigades, something along the lines of the Red Guards. "You'll know it's Progress because they'll have smart phones!"

Ever notice how in nearly all science fiction movies the characters don't really follow any religion? That's because, don't you know--"In the future, religion won't exist anymore."


Ever notice also how in science fiction movies the characters don't ever shit or eat either? That's because, don't you know--"In the future people won't need to shit or eat. Those things are part of the old present. In the future we'll all wear cool uniforms and talk in a dry, scientific way. Because it will all be, you know, really SCIENTIFIC."

Pardon me if I’m not impressed by such childish stuff.

Myself I don't think evil decreases with More Science or new technological advances. With digital culture, we may finally have to conclude that the opposite is true: Our digital technology, this pervasive connectedness and speed of communication, is making us more of a threat.

The human animal remains the same, as subject to ideology and groupthink and mania as he or she ever was.

If I have faith in the Christian vision of humanity, it is in part because it is more beautiful, deeper and more variegated than the other visions on offer. It links my thought and daily perception to a communal experience that reaches back through Europe into the ancient world, and it provides me lenses that reveal more than the lenses of the various secular ideologies I've studied. Aside from this, of course, is the fact that I believe in God--a One God glimpsed by the ancient Israelites as well as by some of the earliest of Greek philosophers. Xenophanes, Heraclitus.

Cheers, all.

ALLAN H.: [Who are you kidding about Christians not wanting to cleanse society of atheists? I’ve many times, on atheist chat boards, had to deal with Christians throwing out the most violent rhetoric. Aside from the common “You’re all going to hell anyway” refrain, which in my mind pretty much sums up just how loving and ethical Christianity leads people to be.

Further, how is it you manage to ignore Christian utopianists? Of course Christians are guilty of the same kind of utopian thinking when they project a perfect society in which everyone believes in their god. Christian Fundamentalists believe in a utopia in which everyone accepts and practices Christianity, often expressed as a "return to" a state or order of things with a dogmatic hierarchy that is often sexist and classist. And look at our Muslim utopianists. You don’t find ISIS, a religious movement, to be murderously utopian?

Finally, not all atheists subscribe to radical utopian projects, so your attack against atheism as a an intellectual position is unwarranted. And as for scientism, it's not an inherent element of atheism. Scientism is just a quasi-religious belief in the power of science to ultimately explain all phenomenon and decisively disprove the existence of any supernatural entities or forces. Though atheists don’t believe it likely that any supernatural entities exist, many of them doubt that science will ever be able to prove this.]

ERIC M.: I don’t doubt you’ve experienced verbal violence from some Christians in heated discussion with atheists. I don't doubt that it happens, but as I don't spend time on atheist chat boards I rarely see it. But note: Verbal violence is one thing. Enacting large scale cleansing operations, with gulags or gas chambers, is quite another.

Myself I don't think I argued above or elsewhere that all atheists are subscribers to radical utopian projects. Rather, I argued that if you find aggressive utopian projects in the modern world, the kind of political projects that typically lead quickly to mass graves, then you'll find that atheists are massively represented in the ranks of the radicals, or that atheism or anti-religion is one of the key elements of the project. I don't think this can be denied. And thus I find atheism combined with scientism a very serious modern threat because, of course, there's the empirical evidence of the last century. Try to deny that evidence all you want.

Nazism sought to displace both the Lutheran and Catholic churches as spiritual center of German culture and put in their place a cult of the German race that was based on supposedly scientific racial theories. In Russia, the displacement was of Orthodox Christianity with a scientific theory of history. The atheism in Nazism was not as explicit as with the Soviets, or at least not at the start, but the program to repurpose the churches as sites for the worship of Hilter and the Volk are very well documented. Both Soviet and Maoist utopianism were, of course, explicitly atheist.

What’s more, you seem to be mischaracterizing a key term in our discussion. You accuse me of ignoring Christian and Muslim utopianists, but in the large picture, this is to misrepresent utopianism. Especially with Christianity, the claim in itself is incoherent.

Utopianism refers to attempts to create a perfect society on earth. This is not something Christianity has ever believed in. The point of Christianity is that the historical realm is fatally fallen, sin cannot be reformed or legislated away, and that only God could radically transform our condition. By definition, utopians are people who believe otherwise: that if we reorganize production, law, thinking, etc., we humans ourselves could bring about a Utopia. There were, especially in the 19th century, small Christian communities characterized as "utopian", but these were mainly a matter of breakaway groups trying to build separate communities in which Christian life could flourish. They were not aimed at "remaking the world” according to some new social plan, which they would have considered, theologically speaking, an impossibility, a project akin to the Tower of Babel. In short, there wasn't the totalizing vision we normally label utopian.

So if you want to claim utopianism is also a Christian threat, just as it has proven a threat from atheistic, pro-"science" utopianists, point me to your examples. Where are the mass graves? And please don't try to change the subject to war, because, again, wars, such as the Crusades, are not examples of trying to create a Utopia on earth.

You write: "Christian Fundamentalists believe in a utopia in which everyone accepts and practices Christianity, often expressed as a 'return to' a state or order of things with a dogmatic hierarchy that is often sexist and classist." Sorry, but that is not a utopia. That would just be a Christian society of a certain kind. And again, these fundamentalists have not organized cadres of armed thugs to take over any Western government and impose their vision by slaughtering those who think differently. Even aggressive fundamentalists recognize that they must spread the faith through persuasion.

The ISIS caliphate is a different matter. Here I think you might argue for a utopian vision. So there's that. Islam doesn't have quite the notion of humanity's fallenness that Christianity does.

The other term I think you seriously mischaracterize is scientism. You call it “a quasi-religious belief in the power of science to ultimately explain all phenomenon and decisively disprove the existence of any supernatural entities or forces." I don't think that's what scientism is. The quasi-religious part is right, but the desire to "explain all phenomena" is of course shared by science and scientism. I don't think that desire is a bad thing, by any means. It's what science seeks to do.

Scientism is the uncritical application of scientific method to areas where science can't really apply. It's the uncritical belief that science can give humans not just knowledge of the physical universe, but also guidance in social norms, ethics, etc. The problem is obvious: Empirically-derived knowledge of what this or that thing is as a material entity cannot tell human beings how they should live. Scientism can offer no ethics, because the empirical findings will always have to be supplemented by ideology. Scientists know that science can inform ethical decisions, but cannot provide the criteria of what is ethical or unethical. Those who subscribe to scientism (and the New Atheists, especially Richard Dawkins, are the poster kids here) forget this basic philosophical truth.

Good to read your comments, as always.

Cf. on Scientism

MICHAEL A.: Sometimes I feel Eric Mader and Allan H. are the same person. Alter egos having some slap and tickle. As for the mass murders above, the communists included, I would say: Not in the name of atheism.

JEROME K.: My guess would be that the numbers in the image above were strongly be influenced by the vast number of people under their control or sway and how many True Believers (a la Eric Hoffer) they had in their ranks.

ERIC M.: Jerome: Yes, a fair point. And though it was long long ago that I read Hoffer, I'm glad you mentioned him. Because those True Believers, as Hoffer knew, are recruited from the ranks of people who suffer a deficit of meaning, who aren't able to find meaning in human society as it is. For them meaning and validation (Hoffer considered pride a key motivator) could only come in company with the zealots out to overturn that social order in which they felt meaningless. Hoffer probably would have plenty to say on the rise of both the alt-right and the SJW left in the US: mirror images of each other, in my view.

Would love to hear what you might say about Allan's vs. my points above. And maybe you've a few ideas on what poses the most danger to Western liberal order at present. If you've time, of course. My burning question at present is: Will a diet of consumerism and selfie love, combined with decreasing economic opportunities, not lead almost inevitably to a huge demographic ready to be converted as True Believers in the Hoffer sense? Isn't it already happening?

MICHAEL A.: The concept of the God gene comes to mind. The vast majority of sapiens believe in an invisible, omnipotent, omniscient entity that has an obsessive fascination with what we do on earth.

Anthropocentric is the word of the day again. The hubris of mankind won't ever cease to amaze me.

Science fiction often has a world or worlds with no religion because, well ye know, Eric Mader, religion has totally failed to bring us together as a species. It's a failure--like communism, Marxism, I'd venture democracy too, etc.

We've outgrown religion in those movies. If only.

Geronticide (and voluntary suicide of the aged) and infanticide have been with us since the beginning. Nothing to do with atheistic parties.

I absolutely do not believe in me "noggin" that it'd be better if religious people were all gone. I think religious people are deluded. It isn't their fault. Bless.

ERIC M.: Of course everything will fail to bring us together as a species. But again, I don't think it was religion's goal to bring us together, or at least it was never assumed in most religious traditions that all the world would be brought together. Not so with Marxism or democracy.

I think you're deluded. But it isn't your fault either. And in any case, I don't think you should be locked away in a closet. At least not quite yet.

MICHAEL A.: Claptrap! The goal of the monotheisms has, for the most part, been to convert or kill the nonbelievers. Once they become threatened, they fight.

And btw, on the original post, there is no mention of the millions of native North and South Americans murdered by the righteous, brave, God-fearing white folk. In whose name? You guessed it in one! Praise Jehovah!

ERIC M.: In the name of the King of Spain. But of course you've a good point. In North America it was mostly slow expansion, land grabbing, often brutal and two-faced, but in South America--enslavement, destruction of the native cultures.

MICHAEL A.: Which country has polluted this unique planet more than any other? God's chosen one of course. The good old Christian U S of A.

MICHAEL A.: Faith is fiction (delusional and sometimes funny). Science is science. These are empirical truths.

ERIC M.: Is that so? Impressive that you can define these two things so concisely. All the many books and philosophical papers--we don't need them. We just say: "Faith is fiction. Science is science."

You could have saved a lot thinkers an amazing amount of trouble if you'd have showed up earlier.

MICHAEL A.: If the god gene is real, and I suspect it is, then billions of people have spent a lifetime thinking about their existence. Worthwhile no doubt. Out of this contemplation, serious debate on the origins of life and our place in the universe has awakened.

Time to move on, Eric. If it's in your DNA, I can't help you. Boohoo!

ERIC M.: Speaking of moving on, and of what science has brought us, the argument that our universe is created, and that there is a creator, has never been stronger than in the past couple decades. Serious secular-minded scientists, among them Stephen Hawking, acknowledge this. Note that this thesis makes no claim about which religious tradition gets it right, or even if religion is the right matrix through which to understand creation; it makes no claim as to the ultimate purpose of life. It merely makes the claim that the universe we're in appears to be a created artifact. Do you know this thesis, and how uncannily grounded it has suddenly become in the best of what hard science has shown us?

Most people I debate on these questions are amazingly stuck in the 19th c. as far as their general understanding of what science is.

Now here's a little article that lays out some of the metrics. I've posted this article before, but not sure either you or Allan took the time to read it. I'm not so much interested in the biological arguments on cell structure, but more on the first part of the article, on the physical universe and the fact that it does host life. Also, don't bother to try to dismiss the article because of who wrote it. Look at the contents, at the factual data. The multiverse vs. created universe debate is what concerns me. Theists have long been accused of making "God of the gaps" arguments. I consider the multiverse theory to be clearly an "atheism of the gaps" argument. Why? Because the only evidence its supporters have for their claim is the deeply troubling "coincidence" that the physical parameters of our universe are hospitable to life. The multiverse is a mythical entity invented to dull the sting of the fine-tuning science now allows us to see in the actual universe.

Worth a read, as it gathers some of the main arguments.

Cf. The Return of the God Hypothesis

JEROME K.: Eric: 1) This is a heavy argument to wade into, but let me start by saying I always recommend Hoffer's True Believer since he makes the point that whether one be Marxist, religious, nationalist, etc., one can try to find a lost identity and self worth in a cause; it transcends but also fits the religious/science debate because of that. Just as I recommend Mircea Eliade's work Sacred and the Profane as something that applies as well outside religious circles; i.e. for true Elvis fans, Graceland is the center, and the sacred. What this comes to is understanding the difference of how we forge paradigms in the realms of physics and metaphysics.

2) (What follows will be partly a plug for and brief summary of points in my most recent book, The Paradigms that Guide Our Lives and Drive Our Souls. The religious/science debate gets confusing since it comes from two different realms that we live in (the third realm is phenomenology) namely physics and metaphysics. In physics we discover and forge our paradigms as we learn the "laws of nature,” etc. Unfortunately, physics tells us nothing about teleology and meaning or purpose in life. For that we have to go to metaphysics, where things cannot be proven as in physics but by which we try to determine how we should live in community. Here we are in a realm of faith whether we are religious or atheists--that is the key that has to be realized. Agnostics generally hold off judgment and sit on the fence--acceptable, but one eventually has to make some sort of community decision. In metaphysics we don't discover paradigms like we do in physics: instead after our faith decision/choice we try to build them from faith, presupposition, past teachings/experiences, etc., whether we be atheists or religious. Religious people have an advantage since they have elaborate systems answering anomalies; atheists lack such as they seek to build a humanistic community. Hope that is not too confusing. Remember there is a third realm, phenomenology--very subjective, but very real as well.

ALLAN H.: [Jerome: Which would seem to suggest that all constructs of reality are equal, yes? That one cannot presume to judge other cultures or a different reality construct.]

ERIC M.: Jerome: A very concise outline with a lot of overlaps on how I see these issues as well.

I read The True Believer long ago, and really should read it again. Back then it formed for me, along with Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem and Crane Brinton's The Anatomy of Revolution, a kind of quick Master Course in the dynamics of tyranny. Hoffer and Arendt present very different theses, but both offer crucial portraits of different types that end up part of tyranny's machinery. I haven't read Eliade.

I'm glad you plugged your book, because I'll be putting it into my next shopping cart. Given what you've laid out in these comments, it sounds useful as a schematics of how we construct and negotiate meaning, and I suspect the tripartite structure might reveal much. And you work as well into phenomenological questions, where I've some grounding, being a student coming out of a Comparative Literature department where Heidegger (pro and contra) was all the rage. I’m looking forward to it.

Your remarks are congenial besides because, in what you define as the metaphysical, you make a point I keep trying to make but that regularly falls flat. Namely: "Just because you, [Dave or Lisa or Mike], don't subscribe to a religious understanding doesn't mean you are not reading the world in basically mythological terms. Because you are. You have partly constructed and partly been indoctrinated in an ideological system, a myth construct, that you don't even suspect. You assume your thinking is just 'perception' or 'obvious' when it is in fact a semiotic construct not all that different from any other, including any religious or political construct any human has made at any time in history."

I think you can get my meaning, though most people I debate, especially online, do not. They assume they are just being "objective”. Not willing to struggle with philosophical problems, which is hard work, they don't end up facing up to the tentativeness and (usually) bland conformity of their own metaphysics. Led by the nose.

Of course what you call the metaphysical level has huge overlap with the religious and ideological and mythical--that in fact with a few shifts of emphasis we're talking about the same cognitive realm. "Metaphysical" being a good general designation.

I'm getting ready to head out of town, so won't continue this discussion for now. But thanks all for weighing in.

One more point for Allan H.: Myself I believe all humans have value, that it is wise we recognize them as having equal value in terms of law and right to life and liberty, but I don't think this means that all constructed "realities" are thus equal. I'd say they're clearly not equal, but that the challenge of judging among them arises from the fact that no one is really qualified to do so. As no one, and certainly no committee, can escape the blindnesses of their own reality construct, it is impossible to establish an objective ground at this level. Which doesn't mean we don't constantly make such judgments, just that we can't claim objectivity.

I think radical relativism, i.e. the "All reality constructs are therefore equal" stance, is a way some people try to avoid the conundrum, but ultimately no one really lives by this belief, and philosophically it's a cop-out, aside from being self-contradictory. After all, what if I say: "You claim all reality constructs are equal. My own reality construct says 'No, you're wrong.' You have to acknowledge my position as equal to yours."

This very conundrum is a kind of nutshell image of what current Western liberalism goes through when it claims to respect and welcome all cultures equally. There's a logical incoherence that liberals can't manage to face up to, mainly because they believe their own culture is somehow "neutral". Cue Europe and its current predictable malaise over mass immigration from the Muslim world.

ALLAN H. [weighs in with an initial response on the “God Hypothesis” link, arguing that the interpretation of the data is tendentious, that the data doesn’t necessarily suggest the universe was created to host life, that vast stretches of the universe can’t host life in any case.]

ERIC M.: I’ll have to reply in depth later as to your arguments on the structure of the universe(s). In any case, as often, medieval Catholic thinkers were already dealing with many of the logical problems: How a Medieval Philosopher Dreamed Up the 'Multiverse'

ALLAN H. [posts a lengthy few paragraphs on the, in his mind, particular evil of the Catholic Church. His focus (surprise!) is on reproductive rights and the Church’s teachings against abortion and birth control. Allan underlines that especially in the African context, where many people take the Church’s teachings seriously and where HIV is a particular threat, the Catholic Church can only be seen as “pure evil”.

Allan goes on to say that the Church’s teachings against abortion are grounded in nothing but myths and an abstruse and convoluted logic which is used as a cover to pull the wool over people’s eyes.]

ERIC M.: Allan: My Church runs hospitals and clinics all over Africa, caring for the sick and needy, as well as schools and universities, educating the next generations. It also runs myriad charities in service to the elderly, the displaced, refugees. In all these areas the Catholic Church is one of the continent's major providers. What's more, Christianity has been in Africa as long as it has been in Europe; if we're talking Western Europe, it has been in Africa longer.

Many African nations are finally pulling out of the rut of the just post-colonial period, and for some of these countries, I'm quite optimistic. My African friends here in Taiwan, most of them Catholic, most of them from West Africa, are among the sharpest, most mature people I know: centered and wise; principled and dedicated; and not overly impressed by American liberals who imagine themselves in a position to teach Africa about sex and family life.

In fact, my African friends see America as a culture in steep decline: a culture that lives for consumption, that is media-obsessed, sex-obsessed; a culture many of whose young people aren't much interested in building families. When I've listened in to their discussions of politics in their respective home countries, the focus is typically on which party's policies can actually be implemented, how these policies will help or hurt the economy or which parts of the economy, which party is doing the best to fight corruption, etc. When I'm around Americans talking politics, by comparison, the focus tends to be quite otherwise. Last time I was with Americans talking politics, the topic shifted quickly to trans soldiers in the military.

The Catholic Church's teaching on issues of sex, marriage and family actually has much more in common with the thinking of many African cultures than does the mainstream liberalism now dominant in the US. You imply that, as a "religious" teaching, the Church's stance against artificial birth control must be mysterious and convoluted. I'm not sure you even know what it is. I could state it in a few sentences:

1) By our observation, we recognize that like many species the human species is divided into two sexes, male and female, and the evident telos, or ultimate purpose, of this sexual division is the reproduction of the species.

2) Being that new life is a good, and that the ultimate purpose of sex is clearly new life, intentionally interfering in that purpose by artificial means is a perversion and deformation of the gift of sex.

3) Sexual relations should occur only in the context of marriage, to allow for the raising of any new life that comes about, and those sexual relations must always be open to the possibility of new life.

You may agree with this teaching or not. But you could only call it "convoluted logic" if you were particularly stupid. Notice also that none of it has anything to do with "bowing down" to some "mysterious" ecclesiastical doctrine, again to use your language. Rather, it’s very direct and grounded, earthy even, the only real metaphysical elements being the recognition that 1) we should respect an evident ultimate purpose, and 2) we should recognize our sexuality as a gift.

A lot of Catholic teaching is like this. Of course reference is made to Scripture as well, but the doctrinal argumentation, the philosophical buttressing of what the Church teaches, is often very straightforward. Which is not to say that it is easy to live according to such teaching.

You write of religious institutions or approaches as if they were all sheer madness, but you yourself flail about without showing that you even know what you're writing on. You write of Christianity as if it worked something like Aztec religion or Babylonian magic. Who is the mad one here? In any case, you are clearly quite mad in the other sense of the term: i.e. angry.

Perhaps it's because you are very dedicated to Africans living in poverty, and you're sorry to see that this poverty might be exacerbated by lack of birth control. I'm guessing you contribute to various secular charities because of your concern for the plight of Africans, right?

As I'm heading out soon, I'll say one more thing. I began this discussion by pointing out the evident horror brought into the world by atheistic utopian projects, and pointed especially to the systematic disappearing of millions of people by, especially, the communist ideologues. I was talking of arrest, torture, enslavement, and murder of tens of millions in the name of "scientific" ideologies of which anti-religion was a central plank. To me it's kind of odd to note that the first time you utter the word "evil" in this whole discussion is when you want to criticize the Catholic Church for being against condoms. This oddity could only arise from a serious, deep-seated resentment against all things Christian (your memes certainly suggest it), or from a pretty weak ability to distinguish magnitudes of evil. I'm talking the gulags, the millions murdered during the Cultural Revolution in China--and your example of "evil" is that my Church teaches against extramarital sex and condom use? Are these really commensurate horrors?

It's sadly typical of Western liberals, especially in the English-speaking world, to think morals or ethics refers largely to questions of sex.

Q: Who can have sex and when?
A: Anyone, anywhere!
Q: Who can say what is or isn’t right in sexual behavior?
A: No one!
Q: How many genders are there, 52 or 94?
A: We’re still counting!

Right here we have about 90% of what American liberals think ethics is about. And any institution that dares answer these questions otherwise MUST be insane, right? MUST be mumbling inanities that have to be bludgeoned into youth because they have no grounding in reality, right? MUST be just trying to mesmerize with convoluted logic.

Sorry, but I’m not so impressed by your notions of where the real evil resides.

PAIGE W.: Eric: An excellent, excellent, excellent reply! Thank you. And so on point. Let me count the ways.

ERIC M.: Thanks, Paige.

ALLAN H.: [doesn’t address my points re: Africa or Catholic teachings on sex; returns to the claim, this time worded differently, that Christianity is “utopian” and equally dangerous as any atheist ideology on record. Reiterates criticisms of “The God Hypothesis”, argues that there’s nothing in science that supports Christian doctrines like the Trinity or the Resurrection, etc.]

ERIC M.: Setting some high ethical standard in this or that realm is not the same as "utopian". Look up the word utopianism and see how it's used.

As for the "Christian slant" of the paper, just read the facts presented, the physical facts. And they are facts; they are what recent science has revealed. These facts don't point to anything specifically Christian by any means. All they point to is fine-tuned design of a physical matrix in which the rise of life is possible AT ALL. And that is improbable to the point of uncanny. But Christian? If I put on my skeptic’s cap, for all we know from such data, I might equally speculate that the universe is a sort of computer program created by some alien intelligence for kicks. But you do recognize that already with Big Bang cosmology, the argument for creation of one sort or another got a boost. Which is why the Soviets forbade teaching Big Bang cosmology.

From a scientific point of view, to me the whole question hinges on the viability of multiverse theory. To the extent that theory is just a reaction to growing evidence of the mind-bogglingly narrow parameters necessary for life to emerge, then it is little more than scientific myth-making, a form of stubborn materialist wishful thinking. All those who keep insisting that 1) empirical evidence is everything, and that 2) empirical evidence supports only a universe that arose randomly, without design, are revealed suddenly with their pants down, in a monstrous contradiction. Until of course they can provide empirical evidence of the multiverse. Which they may eventually be able to do. But until then, their smugness is unwarranted.

ALLAN H.: [argues that the universe is massive in scale, that life cannot exist in vast stretches of it, that it is absurdly anthropocentric to assume the universe was created to allow for the rise of humanity, and that the physical constants are significantly different in different regions of the universe. NOTE: I think this last point is simply false.]

ERIC M.: The basic physical laws of the universe are constant across it. So I’m not sure what your point is.

1) In terms of cosmology, I never claimed a universe created for specifically human life, but only that the argument for a universe created within parameters to allow for the rise of life, in whatever form, is persuasive, given the staggering improbability that the physical constants would be set as they are, i.e. just right.

2) I think your concern with the size of the universe, that vast stretches of it may well not have life or allow for it, is irrelevant. Why? Because size and distance, like time, are realities within this universe, but not necessarily relevant outside it: they may offer no challenge or even experiential (?) relevance to the creating intelligence, whatever that intelligence may be. What's more, we inevitably think space and time on human scale, which makes light years impressive to us, but may not to a superior intelligence. As for the problem of whether that creating intelligence "cares" about life, all we could infer, from the fine-tuning hypothesis, is that it cared enough to create a universe set to allow for life.

I don't think my speculations in 1) and 2) here can be called religious, do you? I don't think I'm promoting some "religious ideology" with such speculations, but rather believe they follow reasonably, if only as speculations, from the evidence.

Will be busy for awhile, but it was, as always, interesting.

ALLAN H.: [further comments on Christian “utopianism”]

ERIC M.: Again you bring up utopianism. I still think you are misusing this word, in ways I thought I’d explained. Let me add the following: Christians would never assume that a world in which everyone was Christian and did their best to follow the faith would be a perfect world. No, it would still be full of sin and suffering and disorder. Because, again, humans cannot create a perfect world from within the human condition, which is by definition fallen. This is what makes Christianity particularly resistant to utopianisms. You really need to finally get this point.

Put in the simplest terms, the utopianist is convinced that humanity can be significantly improved via some radical and sweeping social overhaul. The Christian knows that this is nonsense, that no matter what laws or new economic relations are enacted, precisely the same spectrum of sins will reappear in slightly different costumes.

MICHAEL A.: Mother Theresa was a murdering bitch!

ERIC M.: Hitting the bottle already, Mike? It’s not even dinner time.

PAUL W.: Have you read The Missionary Position, Eric? You should.

ERIC M.: Haven’t read it, but I do know of it. I was aware Michael was likely basing his comment on that book, but this fact doesn't mean 1) he wasn't hitting the bottle, or 2) his remark is any less a non sequitur.

STEVE M.: Well, I did in fact read as much as I could on this thread. So, I may have been the one to argue that "Christians" should be eradicated, or some sort of argument that was a few dance steps away, but normally, I tend to say "religionists". And typically, I don't tend to feel that my meaning is for all the practitioners, just the ones that want to change what I think is fairly obvious facts into their version of facts. In general, I think that any sort of dogmatic view tends to bend, eventually, to the extreme, as the dogma itself is addictive, and with addictions it always takes more of the juice to meet the need. When I burn the religionist doctrines in effigy, it is most often because they have crossed some boundary that I feel is part and parcel of what culturally is now, or should be, sacrosanct. Sometimes I ask, “Why aren't all Christians like Eric Mader?" Then I remember, “Oh yeah, he is against legalizing gay marriage, because of ancient times, and since ancient times is the basis for now, so ancient times wins.” Can you pass the refrigerated meats when you are done making your point? There is no clear cut "atheism" in my view, and if I am to believe Eric, when I get into a debate here in my local community with people who argue that it is THEIR CHRISTIANITY that informs them that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, and thus it must be taught in schools, because well, “Everyone has an opinion and that makes them all equal” . . . there are no clear-cut "Christians" either. Because many Christians don’t argue in this lame way about science. Not sure if this post is entirely coherent, but I am working now, so I hope what it conveys, basically, is that there are no One Size Fits All religionists or atheists, and we are shaped by the immediate and local experiences we have. I don't know many Christians like Eric anymore, but sense that back in the '80s they were the norm. I suppose atheism is gone the same route.

ERIC M.: I don't suspect I'd recognize the facts you find "obvious" as really being obvious. Also I don't think any ideological group, however eccentric in their "facts", should be eradicated. To suggest otherwise is to break the liberal project. In fact, the only grounds for eradication is when some group takes it into their heads to break that project through violent overthrow. For example, again, ISIS, or, with more time and power, our SJW crowd. I don't object to SSM because of "ancient" thinking. After all, most of the world, now in 2017, still rejects SSM. As we Westerners did through most of our modern history. You need to get out more often. As in: Out of the US. Still, thanks for the kudos. I agree the increasing extremism from all corners needs to be defused. But probably won't be.

STEVE M.: I may not have been clear. Ignorance is what needs to be eradicated. What ignorance is, is probably problematic to ascertain. People should not be eradicated. I think there are many obvious things that you would agree with. I will provide some examples: The Earth was created in seven days is a theory, as is the idea of how the solar system was created. Likewise evolution is a theory. “Theory” means (according to those who feel they should be taught as equally relevant in schools) “not proven”--and therefore equal in stature. Sort of like "opinion" on what tastes better, chocolate or vanilla? There are more. There was no such thing as dinosaurs. Or, there were dinosaurs, but they lived alongside man. Or, there were dinosaurs, but they existed inside of the 10,000 years that the Earth has existed. I think all of these sorts of notions you would find obviously flawed. When you very lucidly stated your views on what the religious views of Scripture were in the premodern world, and how the ancients never presumed Scripture was a science textbook, I was blown away. I recalled how many of my friends in high school and years prior had that ability. In America, that way of thinking is dead on many levels. Now, for many of these people, the Bible is to be read LITERALLY like the Wall Street Journal. And if it is not read that way, then it is, they think, being subjected to flawed interpretation. Except the literalists here are not using any kind of traditional interpretive approach (like those you sketched out in your essay) but simply claiming “This is what literally happened because the Bible can’t be inaccurate.” Or worse, they are turning their suppositions as to what the Bible is into a Political Action Committee, linked to the Republican Party, and meanwhile ignoring the golden rule of Jesus Christ.

ERIC M.: A couple points. First, these young earthers do not represent a serious threat to society, and in any case the level of understanding of evolutionary theory even of the vast majority who accept it as true, as I do, is pitiful. In short, you may think the young earthers annoying fools, but if you go and question Americans in general on the basic mechanisms of evolution, how random mutations and selection drive it, you will find nine out of ten can't even explain it. I'be had many instances of smart alec secularists assuming that I don't believe in evolution that, when we actually begin to discuss it, reveal kind of embarrassingly that they don't even get the basic theory. Second, in my view, all of this comes round to a sad but unavoidable truth: America is basically a failed state when it comes to education. This holds across the board: history, civics, science, religious education from the churches (what we call catechesis). Our contemporary America is a failed state.

STEVE M.: I hear you man. Not a threat. Until your kid has to attend the school that has teachers that insist on ignorance as truth, and are responsible for teaching mythology as equal to fact. Probably explains a few other reasons America has divorced itself from facts in the political realm too: they must do so if they want to maintain their cherished beliefs.

ERIC M.: No, I disagree with you here. Both theories of creation and evolutionary theory could be taught with rigor, but in America, there is no rigor, virtually no homework, and so virtually nothing is taught. I know whereof I speak. I teach in a country [Taiwan] whose kids know how to study, whose parents and teachers consider the process very important, and intellectually speaking my 13-year-olds could eat most American 16-year-olds as a pre-breakfast snack. I've seen them do just that.

STEVE M.: Eric: Although I have no issue with your comments on American education, regarding creationism and evolution you are dead wrong. 100% incorrect. There is no circumstance, except in a religion or mythology class, where creationism can or should be taught. Period. It is not science on any level, and is nothing more than pure myth.

ERIC M.: I don’t think the biblical account should be taught as science. But as for creationism per se, namely the theory that the universe was created by a superior intelligence, I think you might change your tune if you carefully read through the link I posted above titled “The Return of the God Hypothesis”. Recent developments in physics and biology have made this question look very different than it did a few decades ago.

ALLAN H. [posts a video of a lecture by a professor in the “Christ Myth” camp, with the comment that “I seriously think people aren’t skeptical enough as regards the question of Jesus’ supposed existence.” I can’t recall the video’s title, so can’t link it here.]

ERIC M.: Re: the Christ myth theory. No, Allan, and really, you should know better. Why? Because the vast majority of qualified scholars of the period, religious or atheist or otherwise, recognize Jesus was a historical figure. This is not in the least controversial.

As for the reliability of the Gospel accounts, that's a whole different matter and much more complex. Scholars basically agree on a handful of facts as certain: he came from Galilee, he gathered followers, he was crucified by the Romans.

In serious scholarship, the Christ myth theory is fringe, only kept alive because there's a willing audience for it. I find it borderline offensive, because there are myriad ancient figures for whom we have far less textual evidence but whose existence is not in doubt. And so, by all means doubt the miracles, doubt Christian teaching on what Jesus meant, but there was a radical peasant itinerant teacher named Yeshua at the origin. I could go on at great length, as I've spent years on the history, but am typing on a keypad and am besides, as of today, am on vacation in Paris, so I’ve better things to do.

See here for an overview of the scholarly consensus: The Historicity of Jesus

ALLAN H.: [There is no good reason not to doubt the existence of Jesus. Just because millions of believers worldwide choose to believe he existed, thus providing a reason for scholars to go along with the belief, does not decide the matter. To refuse to raise the question is anti-intellectual. I think you are letting your religious commitments undermine your objectivity.]

ERIC M.: Allan: Here you're just being dumb, and frankly you're way out of your league. The vast majority of scholars of the period, most of whom are not in fact Christian, accept Jesus' historical existence. Scholars, well upwards of 95%, accept Jesus was a historical figure. That millions of believers also accept it is irrelevant here. Only the fact that trained historians of the period, with their own rigorous methodological tools, accept Jesus' historicity--this alone should be decisive for you in judging likelihood. Unless of course you yourself are anti-intellectual.

STEVE M.: I just read the Wikipedia link, and see the point. Historical vs. historicity. As for the historical, that is all debated. It is not, that he said this, or did this or that. Those points are all questionable. But that there is a historical figure behind it all--that is what the scholars agree on. He may not have gone by the same name, nor done the things he is claimed to have done by others, but there was in fact someone who lived. From my perspective, Eric, this is a far cry from what Christians claim, but hey, since the standard of existence here is so low, compared to the standard for claimed statements, actions, and meaning--sure, there was a Jesus.

ALLAN H.: [Yeah, no kidding. It coulda happened. He could have been this guy or another guy with a different name. But there was a guy.]

ERIC M.: Yes, Steve, that’s the basic difference between historicity and questions about the “historical Jesus.” My point re: the “Christ myth theory” is that it’s fringe. Aside from the fact that it doesn’t hold up to the kind of records we have of Jesus: the imprint left in the Gospels. They are not texts about a mythical figure, but clearly texts about a historical person.

And Allan: The question of Jesus’ name, that you’re quibbling on here, is just dumb. In ancient Hebrew the modern name "Jesus" doesn't exist. The name is Yeshua, identical to our Joshua. Identical to the Joshua of the Old Testament.

PAUL W.: "Josh". Imagine if that was the savior's name.

ERIC M.: As for the historical Jesus, if I put on my secular historian’s cap, my own view is that most of the parables represent a core authentic tradition. Why? Because there is a unique genius and concision, a unique and utterly odd philosophical vision, a voice different from any other ancient voice, and there would be no likelihood of different followers inventing these parables.

Anyhow, I'm not wasting further time on this. It's only pigheadedness, and a misunderstanding of how ancient historians work, that leads to the spread of the Christ myth theory. The theory might have made some sense in the 19th c., but our methodology and ability to understand the records has sharpened enormously in the meantime.

ALLAN H.: [Nothing that Jesus supposedly taught was not taught previously by other ancient figures.]

ERIC M.: No. You're dead wrong. Many key teachings are utterly new, and there are utterly different stresses, as well as a unique linguistic register in which it was all conveyed.

ALLAN H.: [Yeah, OK. But as for the consensus of historians, their methods may be wrong, the consensus might change. There’s no way they can be so certain on the historicity. They might be wrong. Happens all the time with humans. And I find the reasons for skepticism to be compelling. But whatever.]

ERIC M.: What’s your career, Allan?

ALLAN H.: [I’m in IT security, assessing risk to systems and predicting risks.]

ERIC M.: OK, so say I spend fifteen hours of my life reading up on IT security, then watch a handful of videos on it, then come into your office and start telling you how almost everyone in your profession, including you, has got it wrong. And when you point out that, “Well, it's not quite what you think, Eric, there are complex reasons why your arguments don't really hold water,” I reply with, "Yeah, OK. Whatever. Humans are wrong sometimes, and you might be wrong on this too. Anyhow. But whatever."

This is what you're doing here.

STEVE M.: if you walked into my office and said the same, I would smile and laugh and then assume that your fresh eyes might be better than me and my colleagues. I would also presume that although you don't understand the underpinnings of why things are the way they are in IT, where I also work, you might still have a lot to contribute. I would also leave that room, and demand of my profession a way to make it impossible for your critiques to be shut up. I would demand this of my profession because nothing frustrates me more than the failures of my profession.

ERIC M.: Hey, appreciate the confidence, Steve! I’ll be in your office soon.

But the problem is, in scholarship, underpinnings are everything. Real historians don't offer a product for an ever-changing market. They offer understanding, and understanding ancient texts is a very tricky business, because ancient genres and our genres, which is to say assumptions about what a text is supposed to accomplish, are radically different. In the twentieth century especially, scholars began to grasp how truly foreign these ancient texts were.

My dull eyes are off to breakfast, so I can't elaborate further.

ALLAN H.: [Eric: We are going to continue to disagree on this question of Jesus’ historicity, as with many other things. That’s just the way it is. You’ve ultimately left me unconvinced of most of your key points here.

Still, I hope our disagreements don’t become grounds for personal animosity. I consider you a very worthy challenger, often with the sharpest of arguments, and found much in this debate well worth my while. I hope you can accept both the disagreement and my respect simultaneously.]

ERIC M.: Fully agreed as to your approach to these challenges, Allan. And thank you for the kind words. I also recognize you as a clearly serious debater, and a damn good writer besides, and it's a delight to take on your arguments. Of course you have my respect. I’d write more now, but have to head out.

My novel A Taipei Mutt is now in print. The Asian capital unmuzzled.


nnnnn said...

You do understand that all of the evidence you're describing is COMPLETELY explained by the fact that Allan deleted his Facebook account... right?

Scenario 1: Allan goes through your thread, meticulously deleting each and every one of his comments (presumably while cackling evilly at his successful undermining of the very concept of dialogue), then unfriends you, then, later, deletes his Facebook account.

(Last I checked, it takes two clicks to delete each comment, so that would have been quite a time commitment to scrub his existence from such a lengthy thread....)

Scenario 2: Allan simply deletes his Facebook account. Per the expected behavior of Facebook, all comments he's ever written, anywhere in Facebook, vanish.

Ockham's Razor, along with Hanlon's Razor (and probably many other razors), and/or just a simple assumption of good faith in your opponents, all point to Scenario 2.

Eric, you have this habit of lunging for the " 'leftists' are awful" explanation for anything that distresses you. ("Atheist values", really?)
The first thing of yours I ever read involved your bemoaning the fact that your erstwhile liberal friends were distancing themselves from you or cutting contact. Hint: This may be why. You're really failing the 'good faith' test here. Your knee jerks, and you don't pause to think about other, boring, quotidian, innocent explanations for things that upset you.

You seem like a decent person, smart and witty, thoughtful when you're not in one of your blind spots. In other words: I'm inclined to believe we'd hit it off in real life. But your online persona is kind of miserable, and I don't think you're doing "the concept of dialogue" any favors with the way you react in these instances.

As ever, I'm just a random internet commenter. You don't know me from Allan. :-) So do with this what you will.

Eric Mader said...


First let me say that I appreciate your comments, as you do make a few good points, and one of them regarding my "knee-jerk" reactions now and then. But everyone is susceptible to this, nnnnns included, as demonstrated in part by the over-the-top aspects of your very comments here.

For one thing, I myself eventually realized that Allan's disappearance from this thread was likely a result of his deleting his account. I indicated that possibility in the "Update" at the top of the post, but probably didn't do so clearly or definitively enough. Anyhow, that realization is why I even posted the Update, admitting that maybe I shouldn't have gotten so angry. I've reworded the Update a bit to make it clearer. In any case, I think my comments on dialogue are still valid.

There are elements in the context of all this you don't have access to. Such as months of Allan's constant bitter posts and memes against anything and everything Christian. With this background, and with all the experiences of censorship I've had over the years, I think I'm well within my rights to speak of "atheist values" here. I've been subjected countless times to the "Just delete whatever the Christians say" tactic online. It's an integral part of recent thinking in some quarters on free speech--namely that open debate isn't as important as trumpeting the Progress that "We" know is needed.

Second, you cite my criticisms of Allan as an example of me grabbing for my "LEFTISTS ARE AWFUL!" axe. Here it's you making an assumption. Because Allan isn't really a leftist. In fact a lot of my dialogue with Allan in the recent year had been on just how dangerous our left has become. I think this agreement on key political points accounted for his relative cordiality when discussing religion with me directly in debate.

Anyhow, nnnnn, always good to hear from you. I also suspect I'd get on well with you.

I do think are leftists are almost uniformly awful, and