Re: [asa] Dawkins, religion, and children

From: Janice Matchett <janmatch@earthlink.net>
Date: Sun May 06 2007 - 15:43:52 EDT

>"Or perhaps the elite in our country, versus the poor and uninsured?
>Did I not read recently that the chasm between rich and poor is
>increasing in the US? .." ~ Pim to David O. at 9:40 May/4/2007
>
>"In the Netherlands, or Sweden where 40 to 80 % of the people are
>atheists or agnostics, people enjoy some of the highest standards of
>living. Somehow we should be careful to not overgeneralize and
>stereotype. In the US up to 40 million people live at some time in
>the year without health insurance. Infant mortality rates are quite
>high. I believe that Cuba's infant mortality rates are lower than
>the US. So are the mortality rates for most eastern european
>countries. Your understanding of politics seems one of little depth
>and much dislike
>for communism. ~ Pim to Moorad Sat, 28 Apr 2007 20:58:00 -0700

@ The Real Solution to Poverty 03 May 2007
http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=050207A

See also: Nassim Taleb's new book The Black Swan,
http://www.amazon.com/Black-Swan-Impact-Highly-Improbable/dp/1400063515
and this interview on audio:
http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2007/04/taleb_on_black.html

>I must ask, Janice, as a prominent biblical figure did, What is
>truth? But he didn't stick around for an answer, whereas I
>will. It's crucial IMO to distinguish between (a) what God knows to
>be the case; and (b) what we merely think God knows to be the case.
>Contrary to what some may think, this is not a relativist view of
>truth, any more than"critical realism" in science is a relativist
>view of truth. Truth exists, but we must be very cautious about
>identifying it with our ideas, pure and simple. The problem with
>culture "wars," IMO, is that Truth is often killled or missing in
>action--or, taken prisoner by the opposite side. If something is
>True, it ought to be admitted whether or not it supports one's
>political, theological, or metaphysical view. I don't see that
>happening often in this particular instance of warfare. ~ Ted
>Davis 01:57 PM 5/4/2007

>"..Religion historically may have been a way of mediating these
>communities, but would it not be fascinating if religion evolved as
>a side effect of community's and individual's survival? In fact,
>that many cultures have found different expressions of their
>religious faith, seems to further show that the role of religion may
>be one of mediation more than about 'absolute truths'. After all,
>how do we recognize absolute truths? Not that we have not tried,
>often with very limited success. .." ~ Pim to David O. Mon, 30 Apr
>2007 10:05:22

@ NIHILISM The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age by Eugene
(Fr. Seraphim) Rose

[snip] ..... The Question of Truth "...But these represent no
more than the spectacular surface of the problem of Nihilism. To
account even for these, once one probes beneath the surface, is by no
means an easy task; but the task we have set for ourselves in this
chapter is broader: to understand the nature of the whole movement of
which these phenomena are but extreme examples.

To do this it will be necessary to avoid two great pitfalls lying on
either side of the path we have chosen, into one or the other of
which most commentators on the Nihilist spirit of our age have
fallen: apology, and diatribe.

Anyone aware of the too-obvious imperfections and evils of modern
civilization that have been the more immediate occasion and cause of
the Nihilist reaction--though we shall see that these too have been
the fruit of an incipient Nihilism--cannot but feel a measure of
sympathy with some, at least, of the men who have participated in
that reaction.

Such sympathy may take the form of pity for men who may, from one
point of view, be seen as innocent "victims" of the conditions
against which their effort has been directed; or again, it may be
expressed in the common opinion that certain types of Nihilist
phenomena have actually a "positive" significance and have a role to
play in some "new development" of history or of man.

The latter attitude, again, is itself one of the more obvious fruits
of the very Nihilism in question here; but the former attitude, at
least, is not entirely devoid of truth or justice. For that very
reason, however, we must be all the more careful not to give it undue
importance. It is all too easy, in the atmosphere of intellectual fog
that pervades Liberal and Humanist circles today, to allow sympathy
for an unfortunate person to pass over into receptivity to his ideas.
The Nihilist, to be sure, is in some sense "sick," and his sickness
is a testimony to the sickness of an age whose best--as well as
worst--elements turn to Nihilism; but sickness is not cured, nor even
properly diagnosed by "sympathy."

In any case there is no such thing as an entirely "innocent victim."

The Nihilist is all too obviously involved in the very sins and guilt
of mankind that have produced the evils of our age; and in taking
arms--as do all Nihilists not only against real or imagined "abuses"
and "injustices" in the social and religious order, but also against
order itself and the Truth that underlies that order, the Nihilist
takes an active part in the work of Satan (for such it is) that can
by no means be explained away by the mythology of the "innocent
victim." No one, in the last analysis, serves Satan against his will.

But if "apology" is far from our intention in these pages, neither is
our aim mere diatribe. It is not sufficient, for example, to condemn
Nazism or Bolshevism for their "barbarism," "gangsterism," or
"anti-intellectualism," and the artistic or literary avant-garde for
their "pessimism" or "exhibitionism"; nor is it enough to defend the
"democracies" in the name of "civilization," "progress," or
"humanism," or for their advocacy of "private property" or "civil
liberties." Such arguments, while some of them possess a certain
justice, are really quite beside the point; the blows of Nihilism
strike too deep, its program is far too radical, to be effectively
countered by them.

Nihilism has error for its root, and error can be conquered only by Truth.

Most of the criticism of Nihilism is not directed to this root at
all, and the reason for this--as we shall see--is that Nihilism has
become, in our time, so widespread and pervasive, has entered so
thoroughly and so deeply into the minds and hearts of all men living
today, that there is no longer any "front" on which it may be fought;
and those who think they are fighting it are most often using its own
weapons, which they in effect turn against themselves.

Some will perhaps object--once they have seen the scope of our
project--that we have set our net too wide: that we have exaggerated
the prevalence of Nihilism or, if not, then that the phenomenon is so
universal as to defy handling at all. We must admit that our task is
an ambitious one, all the more so because of the ambiguity of many
Nihilist phenomena; and indeed, if we were to attempt a thorough
examination of the question our work would never end.

It is possible, however, to set our net wide and still catch the fish
we are after--because it is, after all, a single fish, and a large
one. A complete documentation of Nihilist phenomena is out of the
question; but an examination of the unique Nihilist mentality that
underlies them, and of its indisputable effects and its role in
contemporary history, is surely possible.

We shall attempt here, first, to describe this mentality-in several,
at least, of its most important manifestations-and offer a sketch of
its historical development; and then to probe more deeply into its
meaning and historical program.

But before this can be done, we must know more clearly of what we are
speaking; we must begin, therefore, with a definition of Nihilism.

This task need not detain us long; Nihilism has been defined, and
quite succinctly, by the fount of philosophical Nihilism, Nietzsche.

"That there is no truth; that there is no absolute state of
affairs-no 'thing-in-itself.' This alone is Nihilism, and of the most
extreme kind."[1]

"There is no truth": we have encountered this phrase already more
than once in this book, and it will recur frequently hereafter. For
the question of Nihilism is, most profoundly, a question of truth; it
is, indeed, the question of truth.

But what is truth?

The question is, first of all, one of logic: before we discuss the
content of truth, we must examine its very possibility, and the
conditions of its postulation. And by "truth" we mean, of course--as
Nietzsche's denial of it makes explicit--absolute truth, which we
have already defined as the dimension of the beginning and the end of things.

"Absolute truth": the phrase has, to a generation raised on
skepticism and unaccustomed to serious thought, an antiquated ring.

No one, surely--is the common idea--no one is naive enough to believe
in "absolute truth" any more; all truth, to our enlightened age, is
"relative." The latter expression, let us note-"all truth is
relative"-is the popular translation of Nietzsche's phrase, "there is
no (absolute) truth"; the one doctrine is the foundation of the
Nihilism alike of the masses and of the elite.

"Relative truth" is primarily represented, for our age, by the
knowledge of science, which begins in observation, proceeds by logic,
and progresses in orderly fashion from the known to the unknown. It
is always discursive, contingent, qualified, always expressed in
"relation" to something else, never standing alone, never
categorical, never -absolute."

The unreflective scientific specialist sees no need for any other
kind of knowledge; occupied with the demands of his specialty, he
has, perhaps, neither time nor inclination for "abstract" questions
that inquire, for example, into the basic presuppositions of that
specialty. If he is pressed, or if his mind spontaneously turns to
such questions, the most obvious explanation is usually sufficient to
satisfy his curiosity: all truth is empirical, all truth is relative.

Either statement, of course, is a self-contradiction.

The first statement is itself not empirical at all, but metaphysical;
the second is itself an absolute statement.

The question of absolute truth is raised first of all, for the
critical observer, by such self-contradictions; and the first logical
conclusion to which he must be led is this:, if there is any truth at
all, it cannot be merely "relative." The first principles of modern
science, as of any system of knowledge, are themselves unchangeable
and absolute; if they were not there would be no knowledge at all,
not even the most "reflective" knowledge, for there would be no
criteria by which to classify anything as knowledge or truth.

This axiom has a corollary: the absolute cannot be attained by means
of the relative. That is to say, the first principles of any system
of knowledge cannot be arrived at through the means of that knowledge
itself, but must be given in advance; they are the object, not of
scientific demonstration, but of faith.

We have discussed, in an earlier chapter, the universality of faith,
seeing it as underlying all human activity and knowledge; and we have
seen that faith, if it is not to fall prey to subjective delusions,
must be rooted in truth. It is therefore a legitimate, and indeed
unavoidable question whether the first principles of the scientific
faith--for example, the coherence and uniformity of nature, the
transsubjectivity of human knowledge, the adequacy of reason to draw
conclusions from observation--are founded in absolute truth; if they
are not, they can be no more than unverifiable probabilities.

The "pragmatic" position taken by many scientists and humanists who
cannot be troubled to think about ultimate things--the position that
these principles are no more than experimental hypotheses which
collective experience finds reliable--is surely unsatisfactory; it
may offer a psychological explanation of the faith these principles
inspire, but since it does not establish the foundation of that faith
in truth, it leaves the whole scientific edifice on shifting sands
and provides no sure defense against the irrational winds that
periodically attack it.

In actual fact, however,--whether it be from simple naivete or from a
deeper insight which they cannot justify by argument-most scientists
and humanists undoubtedly believe that their faith has something to
do with the truth of things. Whether this belief is justified or not
is, of course, another question; it is a metaphysical question, and
one thing that is certain is that it is not justified by the rather
primitive metaphysics of most scientists.

Every man, as we have seen, lives by faith; likewise every
man--something less obvious but no less certain--is a metaphysician.

The claim to any knowledge whatever--and no living man can refrain
from this claim--implies a theory and standard of knowledge, and a
notion of what is ultimately knowable and true.

This ultimate truth, whether it be conceived as the Christian God or
simply as the ultimate coherence of things, is a metaphysical first
principle, an absolute truth.

But with the acknowledgement, logically unavoidable, of such a
principle, the theory of the "relativity of truth" collapses, it
itself being revealed as a self-contradictory absolute.

The proclamation of the "relativity of truth" is, thus, what might be
called a "negative metaphysics"--but a metaphysics all the same.
There are several principal forms of "negative metaphysics," and
since each contradicts itself in a slightly different way, and
appeals to a slightly different mentality, it would be wise to devote
a paragraph here to the examination of each. We may divide them into
the two general categories of "realism" and "agnosticism," each of
which in turn may be subdivided into "naive" and "critical."

"Naive realism," or "naturalism," does not precisely deny absolute
truth, but rather makes absolute claims of its own that cannot be
defended. Rejecting any "ideal" or "spiritual" absolute, it claims
the absolute truth of "materialism" and "determinism." This
philosophy is still current in some circles--it is official Marxist
doctrine and is expounded by some unsophisticated scientific thinkers
in the West but the main current of contemporary thought has left it
behind, and it seems today the quaint relic of a simpler, but bygone,
day, the Victorian day when many transferred to "science" the
allegiance and emotions they had once devoted to religion. It is the
impossible formulation of a "scientific" metaphysics--impossible
because science is, by its nature, knowledge of the particular, and
metaphysics is knowledge of what underlies the particular and is
presupposed by it. It is a suicidal philosophy in that the
"materialism" and "determinism" it posits render all philosophy
invalid; since it must insist that philosophy, like everything else,
is "determined," its advocates can only claim that their philosophy,
since it exists, is "inevitable," but not at all that it is "true.'
This philosophy, in fact, if consistent, would do away with the
category of truth altogether; but its adherents, innocent of thought
that is either consistent or profound, seem unaware of this fatal
contradiction. The contradiction may be seen, on a less abstract
level, in the altruistic and idealistic practice of, for example, the
Russian Nihilists of the last century, a practice in flagrant
contradiction of their purely materialistic and egoistic theory;
Vladimir Solovyov cleverly pointed out this discrepancy by ascribing
to them the syllogism, "Man is descended from. monkey, consequently
we shall love one another."

All philosophy presupposes, to some degree, the autonomy of ideas;
philosophical "materialism" is, thus, a species of "idealism." It is
one might say, the self-confession of those whose ideas do not rise
above the obvious, whose thirst for truth is so easily assuaged by
science that they make it into their absolute.

"Critical realism," or "positivism," is the straightforward denial of
metaphysical truth. Proceeding from the same scientific
predisposition as the more naive naturalism, it professes greater
modesty in abandoning the absolute altogether and restricting itself
to "empirical," "relative" truth. We have already noted the
contradiction in this position: the denial of absolute truth is
itself an "absolute truth"; again, as with naturalism, the very
positing of the first principle of positivism is its own refutation.

"Agnosticism," like " realism," may be distinguished as "naive" and
"critical." "Naive" or "doctrinaire agnosticism" posits the absolute
unknowability of any absolute truth. While its claim seems more
modest even than that of positivism, it still quite dearly claims too
much: if it actually knows that the absolute is "unknowable," then
this knowledge is itself "absolute." Such agnosticism is in fact but
a variety of positivism, attempting, with no greater success, to
cover up its contradictions.

Only in "critical" or "pure agnosticism" do we find, at last, what
seems to be a successful renunciation of the absolute; unfortunately,
such renunciation entails the renunciation of everything else and
ends--if it is consistent--in total solipsism. Such agnosticism is
the simple statement of fact: we do not know whether there exists an
absolute truth, or what its nature could be if it did exist; let us,
then--this is the corollary--content ourselves with the empirical,
relative truth we can know. But what is truth? What is knowledge? If
there is no absolute standard by which these are to be measured, they
cannot even be defined. The agnostic, if he acknowledges this
criticism, does not allow it to disturb him; his position is one of
"pragmatism," " experimentalism," "instrumentalism": there is no
truth, but man can survive, can get along in the world, without it.
Such a position has been defended in high places--and in very low
places as well--in our anti-intellectualist century; but the least
one can say of it is that it is intellectually irresponsible. It is
the definitive abandonment of truth, or rather the surrender of truth
to power, whether that power be nation, race, class, comfort, or
whatever other cause is able to absorb the energies men once devoted
to the truth.

The "pragmatist" and the "agnostic" may be quite sincere and
well-meaning; but they only deceive themselves--and others--if they
continue to use the word "truth" to describe what they are seeking.
Their existence, in fact, is testimony to the fact that the search
for truth which has so long animated European man has come to an end.
Four centuries and more of modern thought have been, from one point
of view, an experiment in the possibilities of knowledge open to man,
assuming that there is no Revealed Truth. The conclusion--which
Hume already saw and from which he fled into the comfort of "common
sense" and conventional life, and which the multitudes sense today
without possessing any such secure refuge--the conclusion of this
experiment is an absolute negation: if there is no Revealed Truth,
there is no truth at all; the search for truth outside of Revelation
has come to a dead end. The scientist admits this by restricting
himself to the narrowest of specialties, content if he sees a certain
coherence in a limited aggregate of facts, without troubling himself
over the existence of any truth, large or small; the multitudes
demonstrate it by looking to the scientist, not for truth, but for
the technological applications of a knowledge which has no more than
a practical value, and by looking to other, irrational sources for
the ultimate values men once expected to find in truth. The despotism
of science over practical life is contemporaneous with the advent of
a whole series of pseudo-religious "revelations"; the two are
correlative symptoms of the same malady: the abandonment of truth.

Logic, thus, can take us this far: denial or doubt of absolute truth
leads (if one is consistent and honest) to the abyss of solipsism and
irrationalism; the only position that involves no logical
contradictions is the affirmation of an absolute truth which
underlies and secures all lesser truths; and this absolute truth can
be attained by no relative, human means. At this point logic fails
us, and we must enter an entirely different universe of discourse if
we are to proceed. It is one thing to state that there is no logical
barrier to the affirmation of absolute truth; it is quite another
actually to affirm it. Such an affirmation can be based upon only one
source; the question of truth must come in the end to the question of
Revelation.

The critical mind hesitates at this point. Must we seek from without
what we cannot attain by our own unaided power? It is a blow to
pride--most of all to that pride which passes today for scientific
"humility" that "sits down before fact as a little child" and yet
refuses to acknowledge any arbiter of fact save the proud human
reason. It is, however, a particular revelation--Divine Revelation,
the Christian Revelation--that so repels the rationalist; other
revelations he does not gainsay.

Indeed, the man who does not accept, fully and consciously, a
coherent doctrine of truth such as the Christian Revelation provides,
is forced--if he has any pretensions to knowledge whatever--to seek
such a doctrine elsewhere; this has been the path of modern
philosophy, which has ended in obscurity and confusion because it
would never squarely face the fact that it cannot supply for itself
what can only be given from without. The blindness and confusion of
modern philosophers with regard to first principles and the dimension
of the absolute have been the direct consequence of their own primary
assumption, the non-existence of Revelation; for this assumption in
effect blinded men to the light of the sun and rendered obscure
everything that had once been clear in its light. To one who gropes
in this darkness there is but one path, if he will not be healed of
his blindness; and that is to seek some light amidst the darkness
here below. Many run to the flickering candle of "common sense" and
conventional life and accept--because one must get along somehow--the
current opinions of the social and intellectual circles to which they
belong. But many others, finding this light too dim, flock to the
magic lanterns that project beguiling, multicolored views that are,
if nothing else, distracting, they become devotees of this or the
other political or religious or artistic current that the "spirit of
the age" has thrown into fashion. In fact no one lives but by the
light of some revelation, be it a true or a false one, whether it
serve to enlighten or obscure. He who will not live by the Christian
Revelation must live by a false revelation; and all false revelations
lead to the Abyss.

We began this investigation with the logical question, "what is
truth?" That question may--and must--be framed from an entirely
different point of view. The skeptic Pilate asked the question,
though not in earnest; ironically for him, he asked it of the Truth
Himself "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto
the Father, but by Me."[2] "Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth
shall make you free." [3] Truth in this sense, Truth that confers
eternal life and freedom, cannot be attained by any human means; it
can only be revealed from above by One Who has the power to do so.

The path to this Truth is a narrow one, and most men--because they
travel the "broad" path--miss it. There is no man, however,--for so
the God Who is Truth created him--who does not seek this Truth. We
shall examine, in later chapters, many of the false absolutes, the
false gods men have invented and worshipped in our idolatrous age;
and we shall find that what is perhaps most striking about them is
that every one of them, far from being any "new revelation," is a
dilution, a distortion, a perversion, or a parody of the One Truth
men cannot help but point to even in their error and blasphemy and
pride. The notion of Divine Revelation has been thoroughly
discredited for those who must obey the dictates of the "spirit of
the age"; but it is impossible to extinguish the thirst for truth
which God has implanted in man to lead them to Him, and which can
only be satisfied in the acceptance of His Revelation. Even those who
profess satisfaction with "relative" truths and consider themselves
too "sophisticated" or "honest" or even "humble" to pursue the
absolute--even they tire, eventually, of the fare of unsatisfying
tidbits to which they have arbitrarily confined themselves, and long
for more substantial fare.

The whole food of Christian Truth, however, is accessible only to
faith; and the chief obstacle to such faith is not logic, as the
facile modern view has it, but another and opposed faith. We have
seen indeed, that logic cannot deny absolute truth without denying
itself, the logic that sets itself up against the Christian
Revelation is merely the servant of another "revelation," of a false
"absolute truth": namely Nihilism.

In the following pages we shall characterize as "Nihilists" men of,
as it seems, widely divergent views: humanists, skeptics,
revolutionaries of all hues, artists and philosophers of various
schools; but they are united in a common task. Whether in
positivist "criticism" of Christian truths and institutions,
revolutionary violence against the Old Order, apocalyptic visions of
universal destruction and the advent of a paradise on earth, or
objective scientific labors in the interests of a "better life" in
this world--the tacit assumption being that there is no other
world--their aim is the same: the annihilation of Divine Revelation
and the preparation of a new order in which there shall be no trace
of the "old" view of things, in which Man shall be the only god there
is. [snip] http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/nihilism.html

~ Janice

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