Tag Archives: theism

Atheist Faith in Reason as a Relic from Theism…


believe_800My problems with modern atheism are completely different from what most atheists assume they are. I say that not only as a Christian, but my inner atheist completely agrees with that, and is often the most frustrated part of me when I’m reading the ‘new atheists’ for example.

I actually don’t have much problems with people accepting accepting the possibility of atheism (the belief in absence of God). But a negative belief in God is not at all the only thing most modern atheism is about. Most of it is more built on a foundation of  a positive belief in reason, logic and science, which are often given a likewise inerrancy as fundamentalist Christians gives to the bible.

And I wile already have a problem with an an absolute faith in human reason when looking from a Christian paradigm (I think modernists on all sides, from Christian fundamentalists to new atheists have way too much unsubstantiated faith in it), I must say that in a paradigm without Rational Creator an unspoken belief that human reason can come to infallible truths is completely out of place and utterly naive. I will explain later what I mean with that.

My other problem with atheism is the assumed materialist worldview that from my experience not that very plausible. I won’t be easily gaslighted into the idea that the supernatural world does not exist. (I do even think that the way in which the universe manifests itself in such an non-magical way to most modern Western is some sort of magical trick, but that’s another story.)
I won’t even go into the problem that reason and abstract thought are way too transcendent and immaterial for a consistent materialistic worldview now, that might be for another time.

To explain why I have a big problem with combining materialism (the idea that the matter that we can observe scientifically is all there is) and absolute rationalism, and think  such a combination completely untenable and tautological I have to put onDSC03152 my atheist hat and explain this more from the inside…

(I put on my atheist hat now, which is actually an orthodox Pastafarian colander..)

To start we assume that there is no Rational Creator God behind this world. I do explicitly mean a Rational Supreme Being here that is behind the universe/multiverse as Creator and Sustainer here, and lower gods, spirits or body thetans are completely irrelevant here.
So whatever the source of all this is what we see and know, there is no such thing as a Creator! This means that we humans are just a species of apes wandering around on a tiny rock planet circling around a yellow dwarf star. We evolved without any plan into what we are somehow in a universe that wasn’t made for us. All of our reason and logic, and everything based on them is this just a by-product of processes in which our forefathers adapted themselves to their environment in order to survive the law of the jungle.

If  those ideas sound completely counter-intuitive to you, as a believer for example, I still ask you to try to consider the paradigm that I’m proposing here for now and try for now to climb into it and see the consequences of it.  (This is always the best option when encountering another worldview btw.)

When it comes to trusting our human reason we clearly have 2 problems :

– There is no reason at all to trust that the universe itself is fashioned in such a way can be reasonably understood by any rational being.
– Neither is there any reason to trust that the reason of our evolved brains has any way of accurately describing the world we live in, even if the universe would by some magic -otherwise than the will of a Rational Creator- be rational and intelligible to an actual rational being.

So once we let go of the notion that there’s a Rational Creator behind the Universe, which we might do because it indeed seems to be a bit of wishful thinking, we should be very very careful with trusting our own reason. There is no guarantee at all that there is any chance that  our reason and logic will really be able to nail Reality for us.
If we’re really intellectually honest we will have to be very humble intellectually, and letting go of the idea Rational Creator (or even believing in an irrational Creator if anyone wants to go there) also means that forms of modernist faith in reason and empiricism are nothing but naive relics of theism, and its faith in a rational universe that stems from a belief in a Rational Source behind the Universe, as Christians, other monotheists, Platonists and Hindus would do.
There simply is no reason to trust human reason very much, let alone think that our thought systems built on it can be absolute, objective or have any degree of infallibility…. The universe is a place not made for humans, and there is no guarantee except for wishful thinking that we will be able to really understand it. Reality can be bended into a lot of explanatory frames, which if good enough will all work.

But we’ll never be able to really pin down Reality.

Science indeed does a good job in making explanations and offering working models about the parts of Reality that are most accessible to us, but even those are approximations and will never be more than that. Yes it can be trusted up to a certain point, but always in the utmost humbleness and scepticism. It’s not because something works that it is true. The Ptolemaic geocentric cosmology was rationally sound and worked too.

Add to that the placebo-factor with the Newtonian law that something that’s in a certain state will remain in that state until enough energy is used to change the state (a brain or a society will remain in a paradigm unless it really can’t otherwise) and people stay in imperfect paradigms all the time because they can’t otherwise. Well, and every paradigm is imperfect anyway. Just get used to it.

So let’s go back to my basic point:  believing that reason al logic will ever enable us to completely understand the Reality in which we find ourself is nothing but a relic from the optimism of a theistic worldview that believes in a Rational Creator. We delude ourself with self-conceit if we trust too much in our human reason. The universe is basically absurd, and any certainty about the nature of the universe and our own rationality in another way is wishful thinking.

As atheists, Nietzsche and Camus were certainly onto something. The new atheists and any rationalist or logical positivist are just holding on to naive leftovers from theism in their reliance on how much both our reason, logic, and the intelligibility of the universe itself can be trusted.

(I take my hat in my hand and wonder if it it still belongs on my head when saying the following:)

And here I cchaosan only fall back into the  metaparadigm beyond chaos magick. (If you don’t know what I mean by that, please read this post here.) Groundless postmodern paradigm shifting combined with the power of belief to find the best working worldview is the only thing that remains for me here. Yes, I can use belief in reason as a paradigm, but it’s still a make-believe game that needs a lof of belief from my side to really make it work. 

I couldn’t go back to belief in reason here. I can’t go back to belief in progress. I can’t go back.  Reality is absurd and not made for us, and having faith in human reason and logic or in the rationality and intelligibility of the universe is utterly a form of self-deceit, but it’s a nice placebo.
Choosing the most soothing paradigm and remaining in it for as long as it’s lasting is the only solution to not slide into madness though.

(I put off the atheist hat now)

But I still go with Lewis, and not with Lovecraft. We are slightly irrational and confused beings in a world that has a Rational Source, and not more or less good and normal beings in a world that is utterly irrational, alien and dark behind the facade.

In the end I might be a notorious paradigm shifter, but I’m not (and have never been) a completely groundless postmodernist, rather a probably slightly crypto-Platonist/Aristotelian Christian with a healthy dose of humbleness about human capacities, so I still have the option to believe in reason and logic (even though they are in no way absolutely reliable). By the way, I’m a Christian because of Christ, and glimpses of a Love more Real than this whole universe. Not because of rational arguments and apologetics.

This might still be a very conscious choice though, because both possibilities seem equally plausible, unlike an enlightenment atheism that relies on an almost absolute faith in reason, logic and science in a materialist universe. That’d be, if I actually do follow reason here, too absurd even for a completely absurd universe.
I’m not naive enough for that.

So what do you think?

peace

Bram

 

 

fallible language II: How (not) to speak of God, Orthodox style


“He [God] cannot be numbered among ‘beings,’ not because hè does not exist, but because He transcends all beings and even being itself.” – St. John the Damascene

People who have been following this blog for a while will have noticed earlier that I’m flirting sometimes with Orthodox theology and the ideas of the Church fathers. It’s very interesting sometimes to look at Christianity from a perspective that’s really different from yours I guess… And I must say, sometimes it even feels more natural and logical what those old saints (literally!) say than some of the stuff I’ve grown up with or that I’ve encountered online from more protestant traditions. I have noticed that I especially have nothing at all with Calvinism, dispensationalism and modern-pragmatic evangelicalism (think purpose driven stuff)… The more people try to convince me they are the real Christian faith, the less I am interested in Christianity I’m afraid.

So this week I was rereading some chapters  of a book about Orthodoxy (Light from the Christian East, by James R. Payton Jr., which I recommend!) written about the differences between Eastern and Western Christianity, and something reminded me of the words of Chesterton that I quoted last weekend:

Whenever a man says to another, “Prove your case; defend your faith,” he is assuming the infallibility of language: that is to say, he is assuming that a man has a word for every reality in earth, or heaven, or hell.

One of things where this becomes a real problem is in our speaking about the Ultimate Reality, which we call God. God is by definition a difficult subject to speak of as a human, because He is the whole Other, the Creator of All we know, and what words derived from what we know in creation can be used to describe the Eternal Creator? But still some people seem to be able to explain and map out everything there is to say about God… What a small and impotent God it is, that can exist completely in someone’s theology!

So I’ve always tried to had a more humble approach in speaking and thinking about God, something which I appreciate enormous in some parts of the emergent conversation, but it’s not at all like the postmoderns have invented this. It is probably as old as Christianity itself, and I actually quite liked the Orthodox perspective, as described here by James Payton:

These Orthodox distinctives invite us to deepen our recognition of the chasm that separates all of creation—even human beings—from God. Too often in Western Christian thinking, God has be-come another member in some category of thought—although the most exalted member, to be sure. Whether it is in a chain of being or as one bound by some laws (of logic, morality or whatever), we too often subsume God into a category with creatures. He is not bound by what binds us. Were we to keep that constantly in mind, we would unquestionably speak more humbly about him and avoid many problems provoked by our own careless thought. This would not result in an unpredictable tyrant being unleashed in the realm of our discussions: Orthodoxy re-minds us that the one who is absolutely distinct from us is ever near us in an immanence we cannot begin to fathom. We live and move and have our being in him—the one who sustains us in every moment because of his love for his creation. Rather than another member to include in sophisticated discussion and subject to our theodicies, God is our Creator who loves us and calls us unto himself.

What we can know about God has a direct influence on what we can say about God. In orthodoxy there is a distinction between positive theology (what we can say about God), also called cathophatic theology, and negative or apophatic theology. The second one is much more important in Orthodoxy, because what we can say about God is actually quite limited.

I think we as Western Christians can and should learn a lot about this humbleness… Even the enlightenment project will fail, and it might have given us mighty works of science and technology, it doesn’t give us much advantage in approaching God. Quite the opposite even: we though we could understand, describe and tame everything, and we’ve lost God in that. We went from realism/nominalism in scholasticism over the protestant form of scholasticism to liberal Christianity, which led to deism and finally atheism…

Now if we could get back to where we took the wrong turn, accept that God is bigger than what we can think of or explain in human terms derived from all things created (which is all we can know as humans) and develop a more humble way of doing theology.

Sometimes the only thing possible is be still, and know that He Is!

shalom

Bram