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Monday, December 26, 2005

Killing the Antithesis

The New Year is soon upon us. It's a time to start anew, look back to what we've done and seek to improve. This blog was founded on the premise of attacking the Christian side of the materialist/Christian antithesis. Now I'm going to kill the Christian worldview, by driving a rhetorical sword through its heart.

I don't really worry about opposing opinions about this. Since Christians love persecution, sacrifice and death, I daresay that they should like this as well.

But first, is the antithesis really that important ? We obviously think it is, because that's what we write about. But I don't think we can really escape having a worldview, because we are naturally curious and have a need to take a position about the nature of our existence and our place in the universe. Even to deny that these kinds of truths exist and that we fabricate our answers using inter-subjective processes is in itself a worldview (post-modernism). So anyone who is the least bit interested in what life is all about takes a side on this issue, even though one may not necessarily know what these sides are all about.

As a fervent representative of the materialist side, let me tell you what both worldviews mean to me.

When the Christian says "materialism is false", he says this as a result of a worldview which places God as the metaphysical center of all things. More specifically, a worldview which considers man as the opposite and the enemy of nature and the natural, a special creation set apart from all the animals, where natural law and induction are nullified by divine consciousness, and where there is no morality, purpose and meaning, only divine whim. In the Christian worldview, man is inherently evil can only be "cleansed" by the divine whim, and is at the mercy of a divine plan he cannot possibly understand.

The Christian's place in the universe is that of both slave to divine whim and slavemaster to those inferior to himself on the social hierarchy established by Christianity (Jesus first, then the religious and political authorities, then men, then women, then their slaves). Man's place in the universe is that of a supernatural spirit which has no causal connections to the universe, and can only understand said universe because of the divine whim.

In the Christian worldview, this life is "wordly", wicked, useless, Satanic, immoral. Only a devotion to the supernatural realm and its "other life" can bring salvation and righteousness. Because of this, values do not exist. Our only moral role is to stop other people from living their lives in a non-Christian way (anti-values), and the only valid political order is theocratic, with Christian beliefs and anti-values at the core.

When I say "I am a materialist", I say this as the result of a worldview which considers man as part of a causal, knowable universe, where natural laws and induction hold (and are not subverted by some "supernatural cause"), and where morality, purpose and meaning are possible bececause of that very causality and knowability. My worldview says man is an animal, but a noble animal, capable of the highest good as well as the vilest evil.

It also says that my place in the universe is that of an epistemic agent no different from any other structure of matter in the universe, an animal with a genome that evolved like any other, but with the capacity of awareness and knowledge given to me through biological evolution, the most wonderful and powerful process in the universe.

In my worldview, this life is something to be pursued, because there is nothing else. People should not hate others or sacrifice themselves in the name of a non-existing "other life". I have no right to tell other people how to live their life, as long as they follow the same rule. All individuals should be free to pursue their lives, their personal values, in the way they desire.

And that's why, while I can appreciate the many Christians who are practical atheists and don't share the Christian worldview, I'll never have any respect for those who do. They are my cultural enemies. I know their epistemic malady comes from their education or life experiences, and I feel compassion for their botched lives, but compassion can never restore the peace and progress that Christianity and other monotheisms, polytheisms and pantheonisms have taken away.


Short blogging hiatus for me. Hope you had a good Christmas, and have a happy New Year. Keep peace and good will in your heart.

Post a Comment


12 Comments:

At 12/27/2005 11:31 AM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

I like how you mentioned anti-values. I think its important to differentiate between values and anti-values the same way that its important to differentiate between positive and negative rights.

Most people dont know the difference, and will look at an anti-value as just a value.

 
At 12/27/2005 2:14 PM, Blogger BlackSun declaimed...

"I can appreciate the many Christians who are practical atheists and don't share the Christian worldview."

Well said, Francois. I think we have to keep in mind that it is the belief we take issue with, not the rituals or social functions of religion. It is when they try to declare the supernatural to be "real" that we have the problem.

I may take issue as a matter of taste or preference the idea of attending church. I don't like romantic comedies, but I don't judge someone who does.

What's important to me is getting a religious person to acknowledge that their particular brand of 'faith' is an entertainment choice, and nothing more.

 
At 1/08/2006 1:17 PM, Blogger ScienceDave declaimed...

Interesting.

However, I don't think there's one shred of evidence that monotheisms or polytheisms have robbed us of anything that a perfectly atheist materialist worldview would open up. Of the science and technology we have, a great majority must have come from believers of some stripe since most people through history have been thus.

Conversely, ostensibly materialist and athiest societies under stalin and mao were responsible for human suffering unparalleled in history. Their athiestic materialism may not be the cause, but if you take exception to these cases as proving nothing, I think you understand why I must (respectfully) call bullshit on the premise that religion has kept us from much. Repressive rulers sometimes call themselves the Church, the State, the Reich, or most nauseatingly 'the people'. The golden future time by which they justify their hegemony may be otherworldly or material. It's the same bullshit.

You also recognize Christians who are 'practical atheists' as cultural enemies. What is your judgement on Marxists, extreme Greens, and other secular ideologues who are very much religious people in the same 'practical sense'? Some of these are every bit as willing to make commitments on the basis of very questionable ontology, and I oppose them, while supporting some of their practical insights. Or are only irrational Christians worthy of your emnity?

At the risk of giving you leave to dismiss all I say, I should point out that I am a Christian, and though I do not recognize myself in your description, I read a lot of atheist blogs and other works because I think that some of the critique is valid, and helps me to reform myself. If I'm a bigot, if I am not loving people, if I am unreasonable, if I am superstitious, then it's not right, and I welcome the opportunity to change.

Not all Christians are fundies. I happen to be a scientist, too (PhD in organic chemistry). I tend toward a mythological reading of much of the bible.

My main goal in life is to love and serve others, thereby loving and serving God, and to try to understand the world as Jesus did: that God is near, that we see God only in others, and we have to work hard to do good for one another to make the world better, and that it is very difficult to keep ourselves thus aligned, so we need to forgive and keep trying. Doing so for one another is a reflection of God doing so for us.

There is plenty to take the superstitious and holier-than-thou to task for without overstating your case, which I think you have. But I see plenty of evidence (a la Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained that religion is a human wiring issue, enough so to make me think you are essentially pissing up a rope, regardless of the ontological basis you have for your commitments. Rhetorical swords nothwithstanding.

And sans a few bits of faith about this ontological basis, as a scientist, I share an appreciation of the way the material world works, and don't think that it is constantly tweaked by a shining man on a throne in the sky. I have faith in some stuff I can't prove that I think reveals how I ought to treat people, that I think reveals how I am most happy, sacrificing of myself in the hopes of more for all of us. I don't think any sane reading of Christianity makes it a death cult, but not fearing death and hoping for more has lead a lot of us to give up on life. A tragic mistake as I see it.

Nevertheless, cultural enemies or not, I think you perform a great service to those of us who are believers, and I thank you for your honesty and clear thought. Keep goosing.

 
At 1/08/2006 1:38 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

Communists are not materialists. They believe in a transcendent entity that exists apart from individuals (the "common good"), which justifies any atrocity. Communist is collectivist, and in that regard is no different from Christianity.

I am an individualist. I don't believe in "common good" of any kind, religious or political. So don't try to stick me with the horror of communism, Christian.

 
At 1/08/2006 1:40 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

By the way, stupid Christian, did you miss this part ?

"I have no right to tell other people how to live their life, as long as they follow the same rule."

 
At 1/08/2006 6:47 PM, Blogger ScienceDave declaimed...

No, Intelligent Atheist, I caught it. Your attitude sort of belies the sentiment, but OK.

Dialectical Materialism is at the base of marxism, so forgive me for taking them at their word. I doubt I'd get much traction with you defining the philosophical terms we could use to argue about whether communists fit the 'materialist' bill or not, but if you want to, shoot. I may be stupid, but I have a fair amount of philosophical training, so I'll do my best.

I'm not blaming you for communism. I am, however, still looking for any evidence that not having religion in the mix would provide us with "peace and progress". I'd have to ignore a lot of history to claim that religion has been a regressive force. But the burden of proof is on you, since you made the statement. Unless it's an article of faith, and it wouldn't be sporting of me to hold you to a standard that I myself don't adhere to.

I mentioned that I am a Christian because I wanted the cards on the table, but will argue with any rules the floor demands. If that's stupid, fine. But I'm not preaching, I'm taking issue with a point you made. If all you want to do is use rude names, I'm man enough to go away. But it is an interesting claim, and I'd like to see you defend it.

 
At 1/08/2006 6:51 PM, Blogger ScienceDave declaimed...

My goof. I meant to say that I'd have to ignore history to claim that religion has not been a regressive force.

 
At 1/08/2006 9:01 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

I think my entry makes very clear what I think of your worldview, and by extension of any objections you might have.

 
At 1/09/2006 11:02 AM, Blogger ScienceDave declaimed...

'Kay.

'Nanny nanny boo boo' is less of a defense than I expected, though. So I accept that it is an article of faith for you . You just asserted that somehow Christianity and other theisms have deprived the world of peace and progress that the universal acceptance of libertarian atheism would have opened up. You may be right- but it's left to someone less choked on his own self-unrighteousness to defend it.

My "Worldview" -a term I usually only hear bandied about by fundamentalists- is scientific, almost exclusively. How extreme must one be to assume that some faith poisons all ability to reason? Or that a commitment to faith (the details of which you remain ignorant) magically renders one incapable of raising objections to dubious claims about history, claims that even an enlightened atheist could raise. Hmm.

Prejudice is a timesaver, though, no doubt. Telling you I was a Christian revealed more about you than me, Francois. What I think of your worldview, sir, is that you don't have the nads to engage anyone willing to stand up to you without flinging feces and making ad hominems (viz. your vitriolic and remarkably content-free comments).

I didn't come in prejudiced, and I know and love a lot of atheists (many of whom might be surprised to find out that I'm a God-botherer). Your original post was compelling. Not completely convincing, and if all you got is venom for someone looking to understand why you think something is true, you aren't goosing anybody but yourself and your personal atheist amen corner.

 
At 1/25/2006 4:38 AM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

"I accept that it is an article of faith for you"

You must absolutely be awarded some kind of prize for missing the point so badly.

 
At 3/04/2006 1:12 PM, Blogger Barry declaimed...

From your claim that Christianity "considers man as the opposite and the enemy of nature and the natural" to "my place in the universe is that of an epistemic agent no different from any other structure of matter in the universe" your formulation of what is a Christian worldview is simply false. In logic, it's called the straw man fallacy. In almost every statement you make about what Christianity says, you err and then proceed to attack it? Attack away, but none of this touches Christian things and so no Christian antithesis has fallen here. Couple examples. "The Christian's place in the universe is that of both slave to divine whim... ". But Jesus said "No longer do I call you servants for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." John 15:15 and in Galatians 4:5 it's written "you are no longer a slave, but a son,and if a son, then an heir through God." Only the unbeliever is a slave; "Whoever commits sin is the servant of sin; and the servant does not abide in the house forever, but the Son abides forever. If the Son therefore makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Or "In the Christian worldview, man is inherently evil can only be "cleansed" by the divine whim,...."

Whim? "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" Matt26:34 and "in order to make known the riches of his glory, which he has prepared beforehand for glory -even us whom has had called..."
Rom 9;24

You continue, "....and is at the mercy of a divine plan he cannot possibly understand". But Jesus said " To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear, but not understand" Mark 4:11 We understand it, though you may not. Because you do not, your straw man is not a Christian one and we wouldn't claim to be defending that and would even join you in attacking it.

 
At 3/04/2006 1:21 PM, Blogger Barry declaimed...

I couldn't pass on this: "When I say "I am a materialist", I say this as the result of a worldview which considers man as part of a causal, knowable universe, where natural laws and induction hold (and are not subverted by some "supernatural cause"), and where morality, purpose and meaning are possible bececause of that very causality and knowability."

On what grounds does a materialist, who sees a godless universe of materialistic stuff moving in random chance motion, appeal to induction? Induction presupposes a universe where the future will be like the past, where immaterial laws at work keep stuff behaving in predictable ways. Where do such immaterial and unchangeble laws come from on your worldview? Why will 1+1=2 tomorrow like it does today if all the universe is, is just matter in motion? And why is 1+1=2 the same on Jupiter as Mars as Earth? No matter where or when, such laws are immutable and constant. A materialist has nothing in his worldview to account for this. He knows THAT it is true, but has no justification for it.

"Causal"? Whence causal? How does the uniformity of nature, including the immaterial laws of cause and effect, fit in to any wordview that stipulates there are only material things? And that those are random and not according to purpose?

The difference between materialism and Christianity is not that "natural laws and induction hold" but that the Christian worldview can account for why that is so, and materialism can not.

Whence "morality" on a materialist worldview? How do we get "evil" out of random stuff in motion? Where in materialism is it a law at all places and at all times to all people in all cultures that is it always immoral to torture babies? We both agree that it is wrong, but the Christian worldview can account for why that is so, whereas materialism is simply bankrupt on the matter.

 

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