Monday, July 9, 2018

So Many Books, So Much Book, So Little Time

This morning I began reading the Swiss theologian Hans Küng's book Does God Exist?  An Answer For Today translated from the German by Edward Quinn.  I haven't finished the second chapter yet but I am going to report that the book as a work of logical and persuasive argument so surpasses The God Delusion and anything else I've ever read which seeks to disprove the existence of God that I'm already going to recommend it.

As a work of scholarship it entirely surpasses that foremost catechism of atheism for today by Dawkins, there is no question as to which book is a more responsible and measured work of scholarship.  Nor is there any question which of the two academics is the more legitimate scholar and advocate for their position.  The index, alone, proves that as Küng's references to major atheist thinkers are more extensive, his addressing of their thoughts deeper than that of Richard Dawkins.

You don't have to take my word for that, in one of the more serious reviews of The God Delusion the geneticist (and student of ultra-atheist ultra-crank Jerry Coyne) H. Allen Orr noted:

The result is The God Delusion, a book that never squarely faces its opponents. You will find no serious examination of Christian or Jewish theology in Dawkins’s book (does he know Augustine rejected biblical literalism in the early fifth century?), no attempt to follow philosophical debates about the nature of religious propositions (are they like ordinary claims about everyday matters?), no effort to appreciate the complex history of interaction between the Church and science (does he know the Church had an important part in the rise of non-Aristotelian science?), and no attempt to understand even the simplest of religious attitudes (does Dawkins really believe, as he says, that Christians should be thrilled to learn they’re terminally ill?).

Instead, Dawkins has written a book that’s distinctly, even defiantly, middlebrow. Dawkins’s intellectual universe appears populated by the likes of Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Carl Sagan, the science popularizer,3 both of whom he cites repeatedly. This is a different group from thinkers like William James and Ludwig Wittgenstein—both of whom lived after Darwin, both of whom struggled with the question of belief, and both of whom had more to say about religion than Adams and Sagan. Dawkins spends much time on what can only be described as intellectual banalities: “Did Jesus have a human father, or was his mother a virgin at the time of his birth? Whether or not there is enough surviving evidence to decide it, this is still a strictly scientific question.”4

The vacuum created by Dawkins’s failure to engage religious thought must be filled by something, and in The God Delusion, it gets filled by extraneous quotation, letters from correspondents, and, most of all, anecdote after anecdote. Dawkins’s discussion of religion’s power to console, for example, is interrupted by the story of the Abbott of Ampleforth’s joy at learning of a friend’s impending death; speculation about why countries, such as the Netherlands, that allow euthanasia are so rare (presumably because of religious prejudice); a nurse who told Dawkins that believers fear death more than nonbelievers do; and the number of days of remission from Purgatory that Pope Pius X allowed cardinals and bishops (two hundred, and fifty, respectively). All this and more in four pages. Gone, it seems, is the Dawkins of The Selfish Gene, a writer who could lead readers through dauntingly difficult arguments and who used anecdotes to illustrate those arguments, not to substitute for them.

I think, having read the unfiltered thoughts of atheists from the supposed cream of the crop to the blog and comment thread dregs over the past two decades, that one thing is clear from reading even this far into Does God Exist? that the best atheist answer for today is trivial pop-culture clap-trap based more in post literacy, TV and media based stupidity and the desire of people to not have religion point out that you shouldn't always have just what you want because sometimes that hurts others.   The best religious answers to that, which I've gained from reading contemporary theology, something I hadn't much done before I was in my sixties, is entirely more intellectually responsible and honest.   If there is one major regret I have in my adulthood, it's the time I wasted reading atheist stuff on this subject.  Küng addresses some of what I've read, Bertrand Russell, A. J. Ayer, Nietzsche, Freud, Haeckel, all three of the Huxleys, etc. most of which, in so far as it concerns the question of God never reached any point I have found to be of lasting persuasive power.

As I've said here before, I have come to the conclusion that the conceptions of belief and knowledge I got as the common cultural habit of thought, which seem to be ubiquitous among the people I encounter are entirely wrong.  You don't come to be convinced of something by some involuntary act of persuasion, you choose to believe it, in the end.  You might not even be aware of making the choice but even the act of logical persuasion even when those are based in empirical evidence depends on your willingness to suspend disbelief, even when you would choose not to or your willingness to accept something without any evidence.  It is the conceit of the secular, educated class that they "know" because of "evidence" but that can't be true because there is no such thing as comprehensive understanding of evidence, you can't even evaluate what you see and hear without some act of choosing how you understand it.  For people my age with failing eyesight, it's something we are reminded of at least several times a week as our perceptions are fooled.  Even those with 20 20 visions have to interpret what they see and they are at times wrong.

I think in the end belief is a choice, I think in our consumer age, our age when the immediate gratification of desires, even those which spread disease, cause unintended and unwanted pregnancies, which injure and destroy other people and creatures and destroy entire environments and the entire biosphere are expressed in the language of rights, the rejection of religion has entirely more to do with the desire to not be burdened by moral considerations, I think that is why intellectuals first started coming up with cover stories for that, I still think a lot of it had to do with university profs and others who wanted to sleep with their students and others who might reject them on the basis of religious belief.  Most of them seem to have been old goats in that regard.  The cover stories of the sins of religion, the largely trumped up or grossly exaggerated sins of religion, which in the atheist doctrine of that covers the innocent as much as the guilty, are a smoke screen.  I have seldom heard them talk about the role that universities, science faculties, economists, money have in all of that evil, whether involving religion or secular governments.   I have seldom heard them talk about the role that atheism has played in the massive genocides and horrific denial of even the most basic of human rights in officially atheist countries with a programmatic attempt to wipe out religious belief.  More than that I have heard excuses made FOR EVEN THE WORST MASS MURDERERS IN HISTORY on the basis of the virtue of their economics.

I have certainly never heard much in the way of atheist rejection of money on the basis that it has played, the love of money being the root of all evil.  Especially if by "money" you include what Paul enumerated as "sins of the flesh", most of which had little if anything to do with sex.

Does God Exist?  Is a long book, far longer than Dawkins' and far more of a challenge.  I don't think I'm going to type it out, though if I find some good arguments relevant to something I'm certain I'll dip into it.  It is a book which seeks to persuade and to give people a reason to choose to believe.  I can't say if I'd read it when I was mired in agnosticism if it would have been the decisive push to choose but I think it probably would have been.  As it was, I had to see the  intellectual and moral depravity, the basic dishonesty of atheism in the new-atheist period to go back and admit that the old, more intellectual atheists were all wet, too.

Oh, I should, in what I guess is fairness, point out that Küng is almost, if not  entirely deficient in making recourse to movie, TV, pop-culture and sci-fi, allusions and claims, which I would guess most of the atheists I encounter would see as a fatal flaw.  He doesn't cite Douglas Adams or quote from the Hitchhiker's Guide, he doesn't cite Carl Sagan's Parade Magazine columnage.


  1. "He doesn't cite Douglas Adams or quote from the Hitchhiker's Guide, he doesn't cite Carl Sagan's Parade Magazine columnage."

    Typical elitist egghead, amirite?

    1. It was one of the things I learned at Eschaton that the new atheism is a manifestation of the decline in intellectual kulcha among the kollege edukated but massively konceited.

  2. I think you keep writing page after page of your drivel is to convince yourself that there is a God, when you know deep down that there is no way you can prove that one exists. You try to place the onus to prove there is no god on Atheists, which is ridiculous. You, as a believer, need to prove that your flying spaghetti monster exists, which of course you can't do. But you keep banging out page after page of complete bullshit, whatever makes you and your boyfriend happy. I can still tell you that when the time comes, you will die and find out there is no afterlife, or heaven. you are just dead. Deal with it.

    1. I'm convinced God is actual, as dear old Gwendolyn Brooks put it. I'm convinced that egalitarian democracy depends, absolutely on people believing that God, you know, as the Declaration of Independence put it, "their Creator" endowed them with rights, rights which materialism and atheism deny are real as they deny he reality of a moral obligation to respect the rights of others - not to mention every other aspect of morality. Any real left which is in opposition to fascistic oppression is dependent on a strong, effective belief in those things and that only comes with a belief that God both endowed all of us with rights and the moral obligation to respect those even when we don't want to.

      Atheism is the death of liberalism, fascism is its inevitable result in politics and society. Fucking Oliver Wendell Holmes jr. really loved that idea, he fantasized in Darwinian terms over how the strong would destroy the weak, those they didn't enslave. That's what atheism brought him to, despite his time in the Union Army. Atheism always devolves into Darwinian-Nietzschean fascism. That's what happens when they call it "communism". In every case.

    2. By the way, do you know just how stupid you sound?

    3. A) Why do you care?
      B) Can you prove that you exist? You might prove your identity, but your existence? Can you define existence? Can you prove that you have Being? Because that is the claim you make when you insist on "proof" of existence. And if you assume no such proof can be shown, how us it shown? You already have your conclusion (shown by the fact you offer no argument). You won't allow anything to challenge that.
      C) Which brings us back to where we started: why do you care? Ad hominem and invective indicate this is personal to you, but why? Can't stand the fact there are people who don't think as you do?

    4. I think most American pseudo-lefty atheism comes from the desire of pseudo-lefties to not be bound by any moral obligations, that and a turf battle among various groups who are hostile to Christianity. Among the sciency type I think a lot of it is fury that there are people in the world who don't figure science rules, man, that science and those who rise high in it aren't the possessors of universal and totally effective knowledge, that everything is in control of science. The Lords of Creation, my biologist sister-in-law used tko call them. She knew how hard it was to really know something about biological topics, that ultimately reductionism is a silly superstition.

      But I think "Zod" just hates and resents Christians on the basis of turf.

    5. I see it as a matter of identity: anyone who disagrees with me challenges my identity, my sense of self. White supremacists fear non-whites on that basis. "White" is such a strong identifier nothing can be allowed to challenge it. "Zod" is functioning at that cognitive level: no argument or engagement, just reaction and resistance.

      Pitiful, really.