My Response

19 06 2012

I wrote this response to a comment back when I first started this blog (and shortly before I dis-allowed any and all comments). Of the seven comments I received before nixing that possibility for all future readers, six were supportive. I thought I’d post my response to the comment that wasn’t, anticipating what I’ve suspected for awhile: that most of the people who read this blog don’t agree with my position. But like my literary crush, Flannery O’Connor, once said: “To the deaf you must shout, and to the almost-blind you must draw large and startling figures.”

Thanks for your comments. We clearly see things from a different perspective, but I appreciate your (mostly) thoughtful critique. This blog is indeed an informal forum to express my thoughts, and I intend to keep it that way. You believe I’m lacking a good deal of perspective, but after reading your entire response, I’m forced to conclude that what you mean by “lacking a good deal of perspective” is that I don’t agree with yours, which you quite clearly believe has a good deal of perspective.

I’m unclear how your writing to me has anything to do with my logic and underlying assumptions. Total non sequitir. I’d contend that it’s *what* you write, and not *that* you wrote, that will determine to what degree my logic may be faulty. You then say that “generalization is unnecessary and does more to weaken your argument than strengthen it,” which to me sounds like a generalization. Be that as it may, I don’t generalize about any group in my first three paragraphs. In the fourth paragraph I chastise science in general as the final arbiter to truth. Nothing wrong with that (and I’m surprised you think so, being as you generalize about religious people throughout the rest of your response…. something about a pot and kettle come to mind here).

And yes, I do find a philosophical enemy in the atheist’s position. That’s the whole point of my blog. I think the notion that there is no God is not merely a neutral stance philosophically, but a hostile one religiously. And yes, I believe the atheists are every bit as religious as the next religion. But that wasn’t my idea. Read Hume, or Charles Taylor, or any number of other well-regarded folks who have much to say about this idea. I think promoting a life bereft of transcendence is not only philosophically bankrupt, I think it’s morally culpable, for all the reasons (and many others besides) that I list in previous posts. And for what it’s worth, the “New Atheists” is what they call themselves. And yes, they bunch themselves in a self-identified group. Hence my generalizations about them. They invite it.

You say you find many parallels between the New Atheist position and “common Christian positions,” but since you don’t elaborate, I have no idea what you mean by that statement. You do, however, write that “science as a thought or approach is not unreliable when it comes to ‘human values’.” This makes absolutely no sense. Even scientists will tell you that the whole point of the scientific method is to be a dispassionate observer of tangible, physical objects that can be measured, manipulated, and understood. Since when did “human values” meet that criteria?? This is precisely why science has absolutely nothing to say on the matter. The question is above its pay-grade. When scientists try to be arbiters of human values (just like when theologians try to be scientists), it fails miserably. This is why, of course, we’ve had the division between the sciences and the liberal arts. It’s a division of labor, with scientific epistemologies used for one purpose and philosophical and religious epistemologies used for another. Indeed, there have been “glaring moral mistakes that have been made in religion’s name,” but that’s not what I’m addressing here (I bring it up elsewhere). And for what it’s worth, your statement “understanding the properties of matter, creation of energy in a system, and workings of fission are not what created the atomic bomb” is as disingenuous as the argument that states, “Guns don’t kill people. People do.” Has it occurred to you that precisely this point (the scientists’ complicity in the atomic bomb) is what drove Einstein and others to protest its development, and one of the things he himself struggled with profoundly for the rest of his life? You speak out of two sides of your mouth. You indicate that science is not unreliable when it comes to human values, but then you state a scant few lines later that science had nothing to do with the human values involved in introducing the world to the atomic bomb. And furthermore, if science is, as you state it, a “mere rationalization for the pain, suffering, war or any other poor ‘human value’,” then wouldn’t you say it’s culpable morally? I mean, unless you think it’s okay to rationalize those things. I certainly hope not.

You then write, “The bold new world where the actual high priests sooth our minds cognitively and make us happy emotionally so we can all walk around like perfectly happy little [insert religion name]‘s, always obeying the perfect rules of the perfect future society. Sounds a lot like the second coming; do most Christians know just how ridiculous this sounds? … In fact it seems to me that Harris’ utilitarian utopia sounds a LOT like Christian after-life. Minus the dying part. But who can be said to be living without pain and persecution, right?” You couldn’t be more mistaken. No one I know or respect refers to Heaven as a place where we’ll walk around like happy little zombies in a perfect society. No, Harris’s utopia sounds like hell to me. It’s a far cry from the second coming, where God comes to take final account of his creation and redeem it in justice and love. Apparently, however, any happy ending sounds like lunacy to you, so I suppose I give you leave with your cynicism-qua-disengaged wisdom. What else can I do, right? Good luck with that.

I could go on and on, but I just don’t have the time or desire to engage your response any further. I’ll end with this. You write, “As an aside, I’m not sure what is missing if one comes across (and presumably is) “perfectly reasonable, totally rational, even really smart.” What else is needed to prove a point?” This is where we must part company. Many people can sound perfectly reasonable (I don’t share your parenthetical presumption, by the way), totally rational, and really smart, but they can also be dead wrong. Have you seen “Enron. The Smartest Guys in the Room”? Or have you heard the endless drivel of the neo-con right? Or even been in an argument where you were proven wrong? A lot of people, in other words, can sound reasonable, rational, and smart. But that doesn’t make them right. That’s one of the basic premises of philosophy, in fact, that two people can come together with reasonable positions that are diametrically opposed, and then debate each other to arrive at a truth. Happens every day, all over the world. So yes, there is much potentially missing from a position that is rational, reasonable, and smart. Like the truth, for example.

P.S. I’ve received many responses and do no publish any, good or bad. I let the posts stand for themselves. I’m not interested in turning this site into one of those balkanizations of moral philosophy and religious bigotry (of any stripe). But as you see here, I do try to engage those who show interest. You, of course, may respond to this response, but I will likely leave you with the last word, as I have many more important things to do. Like you said before, this is just an informal blog meant to express my thoughts and opinions. Good luck with everything.

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