Friday, November 13, 2015

Something Splendid Has Taken Leave Of Our Culture

I don't recall if this is one of the videos I've posted before, David Bentley Hart on the intellectual vacuity of the neo-atheists and, when he mentions them the late 19th-20-21st century variety of popular atheism.

He pretty much demolishes the predictable names, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris (who he notes is such a lightweight that there isn't any reason to go into much refutation) and Dennett whose tediousness makes pointing out his massive philosophical incompetence somewhat moot if the topic is the popular conception of such things.  He includes a scant mention of Bertrand Russell who, I have to say, since more of his writing has been available to read online is probably the figure who, for me, has fallen the farthest.  That could be because he, as a logician, was able to cobble together many semblances of arguments against religion but which fall apart when looked at more closely and when fact checked are more in keeping with the dishonest cherry picking and characterization that is so obvious with a non-logician such as Dawkins or Hitchens.

As I once pointed out in a post responding to a popular atheist source claiming Francis Bacon for atheism, he said

It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion. For while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them, confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity.

Bacon, of course, took the difference between truth and falsehood seriously, something which is mandatory for someone who takes the Hebrew religious tradition seriously must do, something which, when the concept of sin is rejected, goes out the window.  After that everything is all a matter of what sells, not what's true.  With atheism, once the vestigial cultural habit of truth goes out of your familial tradition - and here I will remind you that Bertrand Russell was the product of he British aristocracy - everything turns into a PR campaign selling slogans and narratives, intellectual procedures and algorithms which have a fixed result as their goal, not an open-ended process in which you are to discern whatever truth lies at the end of it.  Wisdom is the product of wise guys and facile talkers, and in that we find the intellectual origin of online chatter and the cheapened and hypocritical politics as played by cynical wonks and players.

Compare that orientation with a reading from the Catholic liturgy the other day, from The Book of Wisdom

In Wisdom is a spirit
intelligent, holy, unique,
Manifold, subtle, agile,
clear, unstained, certain,
Not baneful, loving the good, keen,
unhampered, beneficent, kindly,
Firm, secure, tranquil,
all-powerful, all-seeing,
And pervading all spirits,
though they be intelligent, pure and very subtle.
For Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion,
and she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity.
For she is an aura of the might of God
and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty;
therefore nought that is sullied enters into her.
For she is the refulgence of eternal light,
the spotless mirror of the power of God,
the image of his goodness.
And she, who is one, can do all things,
and renews everything while herself perduring;
And passing into holy souls from age to age,
she produces friends of God and prophets.
For there is nought God loves, be it not one who dwells with Wisdom.
For she is fairer than the sun
and surpasses every constellation of the stars.
Compared to light, she takes precedence;
for that, indeed, night supplants,
but wickedness prevails not over Wisdom.

Indeed, she reaches from end to end mightily
and governs all things well.

Which culture do you think is more likely to value the truth to look for it as hard as possible, as hard as necessary to find it as opposed to resting with what you want to be true?


  1. Pity his remarks aren't written down; I'll have to find the time to sit and listen to them.

    He speaks from a deep reservoir of knowledge informed by history and tradition. Most of the on-line atheists I encounter speak from sheer ignorance, imagining the world no bigger than the bubble of the intellect. I actually read a comment the other day claiming the Romans put holly on their doors at Saturnalia, so Christians did, too, to avoid persecution.

    I didn't do the research necessary to confirm that holly as known in England doesn't grow in Italy (I only assume it doesn't, until I'm proven wrong; and by "grows" I mean is native, not that it can't be transplanted), but I found the reference on a website in a Google search.

    A well-research and reliable website, of course; something about the history of Xmas at about the scholarly level of the History Channel. And yet here it was repeated as gospel and one more proof that Xmas is a pagan holiday, taken over by the Popes. A stupid and baseless idea straight from American Puritanism (you can thank Increase Mather for much of it). The irony of ignorant atheists quoting a Puritan who was slandering the Catholics is lost, of course.

    Because that would require more knowledge than you can find on the internet. I saw a report on PBS Newshour about a man who wants children to learn without teachers, just by collaboration and having internet access. It was pitched as a challenge to teachers and the education system. The word "disruptive" wasn't used, but strongly implied.

    I shudder to think what a generation educated solely by the internet would produce. For one thing, who would write the truly intelligent things needed on the internet? If all you know comes from the internet, and the internet can't tell you much of anything worth knowing, how do you add to that body of knowledge?

    I've seen that future just in the comments I read on the internet daily. Ignorance is not bliss;it just produces ignorant outrage. An outrage convinced its ignorance is all it needs to know.

  2. Reading that brilliant idea of students just, you know, somehow, absorbing knowledge from the internet makes me shudder like I did when Bill Clinton invited the glitterarti of Hollywood to help him build the American culture. Somehow thinking about that right now makes me remember what I read about Demi Moore who after playing Hester Prynne lashed back at the critics of the movie that it didn't matter because no one ever read the book.

    No One Ever Read The Book, it could be a title for a future study of this period in Western culture.

    I really do think that the realization that the large majority of atheists I've ever read or encountered don't care enough about the truth to even see evidence that is laid out in front of their eyes is a major breakthrough in understanding the phenomenon. It ties together so much of why they are so wrong about so much. I wouldn't claim it's unknown among other groups but it is ubiquitious among atheists, most of whom have been to high school and at least some college. Some, like the ones DBH discusses, having advanced, allegedly academic degrees. I am always shocked at the parochialism that isn't uncommon among scientists. The idea of a liberal education would seem to have gone out the window for so many of them.

  3. "Liberal education" is regularly derided as a waste of money and resources. Hence Rubio's comment at the last debate about philosophers v. welders. One involves training you can get in 6 months (cheap education!), one involves lifelong learning among people who will teach you to truly think critically and deeply rationally (even if you only study Aquinas). The latter, of course, has become a waste of public resources, which was Rubio's real point.

    1. In studying the continuing influence of natural selection on social and political thinking, the idea that it was a waste of money and wealth to educate the economic underclass, never mind on the basis of ethnicity, was something that developed out of peoples' reading of Origin of Species within a decade of its publication. Haeckel in The History of Creation was already extending that to include the alleged futility of efforts to educate and improve the standard of living of entire continents of people in 1867. The arguments of Herrenstein and Murray in The Bell Jar are remarkably similar to those made by the eugenicists a hundred years earlier, the same for the racist eugenics of Arthur Jensen that Francis Crick was such a champion of.

      That such a debased view of people would produce a culture among an elite, such as scientists, which not only disregarded the value of people but also the intellectual culture and even the intellectual basis of science, was something that Francis Bacon warned was a consequence of atheism in that short essay of his I linked to above. I haven't gone back to look at it but I seem to recall he traced the history that insight much earlier, perhaps to the late Roman period.

      Got to get back to work.

    2. The parallels between America (especially) and Rome are particularly worrisome.