Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Atheism, reason and logic

D. R. Khashaba makes some interesting points about the theism/atheism conflict:
Faith as commonly understood is, in my view, a mockery of reason and an insult to human intelligence, and the usual attempts to reconcile faith and reason turn out to be no more than word jugglery or self-deception. But on the other hand, through mere reason we cannot find our way to any reality or any value. Kant had to support and supplement pure reason with practical reason. Kant's followers restored Reason to the Whole to rescue it from its sterile purity. Whitehead put reality and value back into the world by insisting on the integrity of experience. These were all insightful moves. To preserve our dignity and our worth as human beings, we must have unfettered Reason, but it must be Reason with a throbbing heart. I hold that the one way to achieve that object is to find all reality and all value within ourselves. The self-evidence of the reality and value within us is the Faith we need, is the God the believers craved and the unbelievers sacrificed. [emphasis added]
I definitely agree with the first highlighted passage—as attested to by everyone from amateurs such as Kenneth, organizations such as Mere Comments to professional philosophers and theologians such as Swinburne and Plantinga[1]—but I have to object to the second.

Substitute "logic" for "reason" and the second passage becomes uncontroversial: It seems clear that we do not live in a world that is purely logically necessary: There seem to be an infinity of "possible worlds", i.e. internally consistent descriptions of an hypothetical reality which are observably distinct from our own actual universe.

But I think Khashaba is off-base to condemn the entirety of current theism/atheism discussions as shallow, trivial and anemic, and he's pretentious to think that he himself is infusing any lifeblood into the debate. I suspect that he has restricted his reading to academic philosophy, which has very little currency in the real world. It is no surprise that three of the four best-selling atheist authors are scientists (Dawkins and Harris) or journalists (Hitchens). I love the fourth, philosopher Dan Dennett, and I want to have his baby, but he has not led the charge actually confronting the mockery of reason and the insult to human intelligence that is faith and religion. I don't think he has any obligation to do so, and his work is exemplary, but he's definitely not in front.

Most of the actual atheists who participate in the non-academic theism/atheism discourse come from a scientific background, not a philosophy background. And to anyone who understands and values the scientific method "insisting on the integrity of experience" is not Whitehead's idea, but Galileo's and Magellan's, with a five hundred year pedigree.

I will take Khashaba's word for it that the discussion in the academic philosophy community may be shallow, trivial and anemic. I'm not surprised: It took five hundred years for philosophers to even start thinking about science the way scientists think about it, and even Popper got so much wrong that he must be, like Freud, admired mostly for his pioneering spirit rather than his perspicacity.

But the discussion down in the trenches is deep, vigorous and even (in the purely rhetorical sense) somewhat bloody. This discussion isn't in academia, it's in the blogs, the message boards, and the popular press.

The notion that, outside of academia, more than a tiny minority of ordinary atheists advocate the "sterile purity of reason" (i.e. logical necessity) is risible. Such ordinary atheists are often professional scientists and engineers. Almost to a person, they value science and insist on the integrity of experience and the importance of human value. They are motivated not by the illogic of faith (an infinity of ideas can be made merely logical) but by moral and intellectual revulsion against religious bullshit.

[1] I'd mention another philosophy professor, but he's destroyed the evidence of his word jugglery and self-deception.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks,

    I've got two of my "Al Sharpton"'s linking your post now.


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