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Chapter 5 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis 
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 Chapter 5 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis
Chapter 5
Finding Purpose in a Godless World
by Ralph Lewis


Please discuss Chapter 5 of Finding Purpose in a Godless World by Ralph Lewis in this thread.



Wed Aug 01, 2018 11:56 pm
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Post Re: Chapter 5 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis
So far this is the first chapter that has really turned me off. It is an example of overreach and "knee-jerk" anti-theism, even though it is fine scientifically.

Lewis addresses three of the "Big Questions" (more, really) which are sometimes thought by theists to require God in order to answer them. He says there are intelligent people who, due to lack of understanding, still consider these arguments persuasive, and I agree in part because I know some.

One is how humans came to be. He does a passable job of explaining evolution in a few pages, and correctly states that "intelligent design" is a natural human interpretation but doesn't fit the evidence well at all. There are so many kludges and other goofs in the fit between organisms and their environment (or their goals, somehow conceived) that "well adapted but settling for far less than optimal" is a much better explanation than "designed for their function." That's a solid argument, but I was left disgusted by Lewis' pretense that it is final and irrefutable, as if watches never break down and "good enough for the purpose" is never the outcome of a design process.

I am much more persuaded by the issues of what science is about, and why these big questions are given importance. Science is about explaining things, and the principles he so carefully elaborates have proven themselves because they work. Design, or special creation in any form, has no explanatory power. It does not lead to any interesting questions about how that works, or further elaborations of the mechanism of design implementation.

So why do people give such importance to their intuition about why there "must have been" a designer? Because we were all raised on "imperialistic" religion which claimed that God will get you if you don't be good, and throw you into eternal torment. Somehow the dots always get connected from a God who "must" exist to a God who enforces right behavior in the world. (Although, interestingly, Newton seems not to have made that connection.) The motivated reasoning is not really about what we think explains things well, but about making our narrative of meaningful choices work.

And of course I think that narrative of meaningful choices (we do the right thing because God says we must, and will toast us if we don't) is a bad one. Or at least, it is deeply flawed theologically, even though it may communicate something essentially helpful to those who are caught in an unfortunate mindset about life itself. More on that some other time.

So then he goes on to cosmology, where my real disgust comes about. The tangled tales of multiverses which he presents as a better alternative than the "fine tuning" argument are the clearest evidence yet available of people's willingness to be just as silly in opposition to theism as theists are in support of it. He gives about one paragraph to the anthropic principle, which settles the issue from a scientific perspective: if we were not in a universe with the parameters "fine tuned" to make life possible, then we would not be here to tell about it. My friend pointed that out to me in middle school. Some may insist that it doesn't matter, and fine-tuning gives "evidence" of a purposeful creator, but that is simply their take on the Big Question involved, and neither proves anything nor suggests any further hypotheses.

But Lewis, like many modern cosmologists, is not satisfied with "we don't know." Instead, he wants to claim that multiverses are "almost required" by the math of inflation and the rest of our current model of the Big Bang. Which is a crock. He admits that there are as yet no testable hypotheses from the multiverse hypothesis, but suggests that some indications may exist that such hypotheses will be developed. Anyone familiar with the sad story of string theory knows that the chances are slim, and that even if some such hypothesis is developed, the theory will adapt to any failure to confirm it with evidence. We are in the labyrinthine world of Jorge Luis Borges, of imaginary worlds elaborated for imaginary goals with evidence as at best a tangential consideration. That Lewis would have presented this as serious science in a book for laypersons without getting a well-rounded perspective on it from the scientific community is essentially a piece of rank tribalism of the type that scientists are faulted for by theistic apologists. I was, shall we say, saddened to see it.

On a related cosmological conundrum, entropy, he is better. He points out that there is no violation (as Young Earth Creationists have claimed there is) of the second law of thermodynamics in the unwinding of the universe from the Big Bang. He gives a reasonably coherent (if not exactly illuminating) explanation of how this goes (I am in no position to criticize - I don't think I could have written it as well as he did). And he doesn't follow some anti-theist popularizer buzzing off into speculative realms inspired by it.

At this point I will admit I haven't read the part about where life originated, but I expect him to re-cap the reading I have done which indicates considerable progress since Harold Urey stuck electrodes in a soup of organic chemicals and got some amino acids out of it. The same basic principles apply: claims that God started it all off give us no handle for scientific investigation, so scientists will keep ignoring them in order to poke and prod until they come up with a more functional explanation.

My basic take is that ever-increasing evidence shows that the God of the Gaps, (i.e. invoking God as the explanation that "must" be true for whatever we don't yet have an explanation of), just doesn't explain anything, and those who want explanations will continue to rely less and less on invoking God. This doesn't deal with people's natural hunger for ultimate explanations, but it underlines the way this hunger has led to distorted thinking more out of a desire to confirm a (deeply flawed) narrative about the meaning of life than because it really is a very good hypothesis.



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Post Re: Chapter 5 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis
Quote:
So then he goes on to cosmology, where my real disgust comes about. The tangled tales of multiverses which he presents as a better alternative than the "fine tuning" argument are the clearest evidence yet available of people's willingness to be just as silly in opposition to theism as theists are in support of it. He gives about one paragraph to the anthropic principle, which settles the issue from a scientific perspective: if we were not in a universe with the parameters "fine tuned" to make life possible, then we would not be here to tell about it. My friend pointed that out to me in middle school. Some may insist that it doesn't matter, and fine-tuning gives "evidence" of a purposeful creator, but that is simply their take on the Big Question involved, and neither proves anything nor suggests any further hypotheses.


Why does the anthropic principle count as a scientific explanation at all if it is essentially nothing more than a truism?



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Post Re: Chapter 5 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis
ant wrote:
Quote:
He gives about one paragraph to the anthropic principle, which settles the issue from a scientific perspective: if we were not in a universe with the parameters "fine tuned" to make life possible, then we would not be here to tell about it. My friend pointed that out to me in middle school. Some may insist that it doesn't matter, and fine-tuning gives "evidence" of a purposeful creator, but that is simply their take on the Big Question involved, and neither proves anything nor suggests any further hypotheses.

Why does the anthropic principle count as a scientific explanation at all if it is essentially nothing more than a truism?
Well, I for one don't think it does count as an explanation. But it does point out the futility of the question from a scientific perspective. What mechanism can one possibly imagine for the selection of the parameters of physical forces (e.g. the ratio of strength of the strong force to strength of electrical force)? If they someday tumble out of an equation relating even more fundamental things, we will still be left with the question of why things work the way they do at the more fundamental level. Science is about uncovering the mechanisms by which things work, not about telling where it all ultimately came from.

I know a guy who thinks the fine-tuning of cosmic parameters is crucial evidence of the existence of God. As we got into a conversation about it, it turned out his reason for thinking this was important is that he had friends who were disappeared, and presumed tortured, in the Argentine repression of the 70s and 80s. He said it would be breaking faith with them not to believe that their torturers would in turn be tortured in Hell. And maybe he is right.



Sat Sep 08, 2018 3:16 pm
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Post Re: Chapter 5 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis
In the section titled The Historical Decline of Religion and the Modern Erosion of Faith in Chapter Five, Lewis presents a short account of core issues in the history of thought, asserting that modern progress toward a more rational society is purely good. This assertion, despite its surface plausibility, shows how modern rationalist atheists deal with religion in a polemical, simplistic and unbalanced way. Lewis is drawing a populist caricature of religion by asserting that the dominant literal claims of the church represent the original ideas of faith, while ignoring the weaknesses of modern rationalism. Too often his argument involves superficial and arrogant assumptions, taking statements that may be reasonable philosophically but then failing to explore how they become problematic when they influence mass political movements.

Lewis cites the magnificent 1784 short essay by Immanuel Kant, titled ‘What Is Enlightenment?’. This was a groundbreaking work of immense influence on philosophy, religion and politics for its justification of the primacy of individual freedom of thought and its rejection of political constraint on scholarship. But Lewis presents a rather distorted picture, using Kant’s ideas to critique the ‘authority given to writings of unsophisticated people in the ancient Near East [with] highly limited narrow knowledge of the world.’

This is reasonable in Kant’s terms as a critique of the political theology of the Church Councils such as the Nicene Creed, but it is wrong to turn that critique into a new myth-making narrative with a total condemnation of the Bible as unsophisticated. For example Lewis says the Bible was written by man not God. That seems fair enough on the surface, but the belittling of religion in this statement is simplistic and misleading, failing to engage with what the original writers saw as the nature of divine inspiration.

Kant’s philosophy is closely related to the politics of the French Revolution of 1789. His focus on rational autonomy had a modern rational liberating purpose, challenging traditional authority of church and king. In this modern theory of history, Kant’s maxim ‘Dare To Know’ is the decisive advance of modern logic over medieval superstition. That challenge had much merit as a critique of the corrupt irrationality of the older society, but looking at the practical application, Lewis is not justified in suggesting Kant’s philosophy supports his atheist attack on religion.

Lewis agrees with Kant’s assertion that having guardians who supervise our thinking is generally a sign of immaturity (translated at the link above as ‘nonage’). Kant’s line here is obviously attractive as a modern scientific liberal ideology, promoting the autonomy of the rational individual against old methods of control such as the medieval systems of serfdom, hierarchy and enforced agreement to a creed. Autonomy is a great moral ideal, but history since Kant has shown how reason can be twisted into its opposite under the fallen forces of human depravity. Irrational beliefs can be cloaked with rational argument, and people can be given autonomy in ways that are destructive. As Kantian autonomy engaged with the realities of politics, it became the basis for steadily degenerating popular lines of thinking.

The communist movement co-opted reason to produce a trajectory from Kant through Marx and Lenin to Stalin, returning to the equation between reason and terror from the French Revolution. Stalin’s anthem The Internationale contained the line ‘reason in revolt now thunders’, a sad parody of the rational vision of the scientific enlightenment. Alongside this communist distortion of reason, rational autonomy also became the basis for an extreme version of individualist politics in western liberal thought, as capitalism celebrated the liberty of the entrepreneur against the combined political action of the working class.

The problem with the Kantian faith in rational autonomy as presented by Lewis is the need to properly address the irrationality of human psychology, such as with the need for most people to hand their autonomy over to leaders whose authority they accept. The ideology of secular reason assumes that seemingly rational ideas are more mature than the obviously irrational ideas of supernatural faith, but such questions are often ambiguous, since faith can conceal a deeper wisdom that is not obvious to scientific investigation, and maturation is a gradual process.

The claim that rational argument should be the basis for all belief can easily blind itself to the propensity for myth in human culture, and the value of mythological presentations, not only in the New Testament story of Jesus Christ but also in modern secular humanism. Any idea once it becomes simplified and accepted by a mass movement acquires the quality of a myth. Like Christianity, secular humanism has equivalents of angels and demons in its unquestioned assumptions, its saints and heretics. Kant’s politics of autonomy is not such a simple advance over medieval control as presented in the enlightenment story. A prime example is the construction of individual identity in modern capitalism, where personal identity is separated from social context as part of a political, economic and cultural story.

There is a tension between the primacy of rational autonomy and Kant’s central principle that knowledge is only ever of things as they appear to us, and never of the thing in itself. Politicians tend to claim to understand things as they are, discarding philosophical doubt, since such absolute claims help in persuading and simplifying for a mass audience. Philosophers may believe that there are no absolutes, but such ambiguity is generally unacceptable in popular ideology.

By sorting perceptions under concepts, knowledge treats observations through a lens of ideology, always bringing an intrinsic selection and distortion of actual unknowable reality. People routinely pretend in making myths that their perceptions of appearance are actual knowledge of reality, in order to have the confidence and certainty required to convince others. The psychology of persuasion takes over from the philosophy of pure knowledge as ideas move into the marketplace of culture.

Where this theoretical tension boils over for Lewis is that in citing Kant’s philosophy of enlightenment, Lewis wrongly disparages the authors of the New Testament as unsophisticated and narrow. Lewis is projecting his perception of modern Christians onto the original source, in a way that is not valid. There is a fallacy at play here, the assumption that what we can see is all there is. We see a bare field and cannot imagine the rich forest that once stood in that place. We see the imperial dogmatic church and cannot conceive the creativity and sophistication of the original authors who wrote the story of Jesus Christ in the midst of an unimaginably rich but lost cultural environment.

So when Lewis cites Kant to say that scientific enlightenment is more mature than Christianity, he is making a modern myth. We should really look at this argument through a hermeneutic of suspicion, in terms of whose interests are served and what the likely consequences of this meme might be. In terms of the Hegelian dialectical triad of the evolution of cultural memes, through thesis, antithesis and synthesis, the bigger framework here is that faith was a thesis to which reason was the antithesis, meaning we now need to develop a new integrating synthesis of faith and reason.

Standing with Kant on one side of the antinomy of faith and reason, modern secular culture is restricted to a partial and inadequate view. Lewis presents a misreading that in more populist hands can lead to bigoted ignorance of the moral lessons of the Bible, wrongly presenting the narrow ignorance of the church as intrinsic to Christian faith.

History has demonstrated the weaknesses of individual autonomy as a framework of human identity. Kant’s ideas of autonomy were formative for both the communist idea of reason and the capitalist idea of liberty, both of which have had problems when taken to extremes. New forms of human identity are needed that learn from the failings of past forms of collective politics, for example in taking combined action to deal with the politics of climate change.

Against Lewis’s critique of faith, the alternative view is that faith reflects deep adaptive wisdom about planetary existence, with stories that have proved immensely durable, stable and fecund. It is dangerous to assert that our perceptions of reality somehow invalidate those traditions. Kant used the amazing discovery of the structure of cosmic reality from Newton’s theory of gravity as his entire foundation for thinking, without fully recognising the extent to which human psychology is far less coherent and rational than Newton’s system.

Lewis mentions that Newton believed his new rational cosmology only made sense when integrated with Christianity. This is a great example of how ideas evolve gradually by building upon precedent, combining tradition with emerging insight. Newton built incrementally upon Copernicus and Galileo and Kepler, just as Stalin built upon Lenin and Kant, even if the former case involved progress while the latter brought degeneration. In each case, the cultural shift is incremental and evolutionary, with just a small part of the overall worldview changing under the pressure of new evidence and thinking.

Ideas may seem progressive when only their benefits are considered, but the theme Lewis seems to ignore is that progressive thinking can take on aspects of older mythologies, coalescing into ideology where partisan culture becomes incapable of courteous and respectful dialogue.


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Post Re: Chapter 5 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis
Robert Tulip wrote:
In the section titled The Historical Decline of Religion and the Modern Erosion of Faith in Chapter Five, Lewis presents a short account of core issues in the history of thought, asserting that modern progress toward a more rational society is purely good.

This tickled my memory of Y.N. Harari asserting that Naziism is a "natural law" religion in the same category with Buddhism and Taoism (!). Harari, who is given to convenient oversimplification for the purpose of making a rhetorical point, points to the eugenicist arguments (unnatural selection, basically) behind the Nazi proposals for large-scale ethnic cleansing. So much for reason, and pretending that emotions are not involved in our "purely rational" processing of political issues.
Robert Tulip wrote:
This assertion, despite its surface plausibility, shows how modern rationalist atheists deal with religion in a polemical, simplistic and unbalanced way. Lewis is drawing a populist caricature of religion by asserting that the dominant literal claims of the church represent the original ideas of faith, while ignoring the weaknesses of modern rationalism. Too often his argument involves superficial and arrogant assumptions, taking statements that may be reasonable philosophically but then failing to explore how they become problematic when they influence mass political movements.
Well, I think this sets out the issue to be sorted out. I am becoming increasingly confident that Lewis will not engage it deeply enough to structure a sound discussion of the matter. But of course that doesn't stop us from discussing it.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Kant’s philosophy is closely related to the politics of the French Revolution of 1789. His focus on rational autonomy had a modern rational liberating purpose, challenging traditional authority of church and king. In this modern theory of history, Kant’s maxim ‘Dare To Know’ is the decisive advance of modern logic over medieval superstition. That challenge had much merit as a critique of the corrupt irrationality of the older society, but looking at the practical application, Lewis is not justified in suggesting Kant’s philosophy supports his atheist attack on religion.
Putting on my Marksist hat, I might suggest that the old order was crumbling for economic reasons, as the pace of human advance picked up and the value of knowledge for its own sake began to be recognizable. Thus the traditional authorities (which were not all that old, really, having been cobbled together from the time of Charlemagne with concepts whose reach and legitimacy were never settled and were already being seriously called into question at the time of the Reformation) had substituted the cross and the threat of Hell for the Roman social technology of mass torture (on, of all things, the cross) but were losing the power to reinforce that system with claims of absolute authority. Kant, and his like-minded cohort of Voltaire, Locke, Smith and the others, did us a great favor by fleshing out how reason might guide a system structured democratically. But as the teachers say, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Lewis agrees with Kant’s assertion that having guardians who supervise our thinking is generally a sign of immaturity (translated at the link above as ‘nonage’). Kant’s line here is obviously attractive as a modern scientific liberal ideology, promoting the autonomy of the rational individual against old methods of control such as the medieval systems of serfdom, hierarchy and enforced agreement to a creed. Autonomy is a great moral ideal, but history since Kant has shown how reason can be twisted into its opposite under the fallen forces of human depravity.
Interestingly, Lewis is trying to "supervise" our thinking. Obviously the critical issue is whether that supervision takes place by force, as when the government of North Carolina ruled six years ago that coastal planning could not take into account any issues more than 30 years forward in time, nor examine projections of issues such as storms and sea levels not based entirely on historical data. The case illustrates the obvious, which is that refusing to allow evidence to be considered can be assumed to be corrupt, which NC's policy certainly was.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Irrational beliefs can be cloaked with rational argument, and people can be given autonomy in ways that are destructive. As Kantian autonomy engaged with the realities of politics, it became the basis for steadily degenerating popular lines of thinking.
The idea is that autonomy is the backstop. As Churchill observed, democracy is the worst form of government ever devised by humanity, except for all the others. Democracy prevents systems of exploitation by force (looking at you, Putin) from growing up, but it does not by itself provide good connections between wisdom and policy. If intellectual leadership does not take seriously the process of communication and guidance, pursuing personal career goals at its expense, for example, then it becomes more likely that popular forces will set its leadership aside in favor of the parochial goals of the "average voter."

Robert Tulip wrote:
rational autonomy also became the basis for an extreme version of individualist politics in western liberal thought, as capitalism celebrated the liberty of the entrepreneur against the combined political action of the working class.
The current failures of liberalism are not easy to attribute to excess individualism, although the social media role may represent a possible route for such an effect, and the flight from dealing with the environment could represent another. I would argue that the main problem with overreliance on rational autonomy has been the abdication of responsibility at the leadership level, a moral failure. First we had the 2008 catastrophe, and now the 2016 catastrophe.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The problem with the Kantian faith in rational autonomy as presented by Lewis is the need to properly address the irrationality of human psychology, such as with the need for most people to hand their autonomy over to leaders whose authority they accept. The ideology of secular reason assumes that seemingly rational ideas are more mature than the obviously irrational ideas of supernatural faith, but such questions are often ambiguous, since faith can conceal a deeper wisdom that is not obvious to scientific investigation, and maturation is a gradual process.
So here's my question. If the intellectual leadership does not have a vocabulary for talking about how to do social policy both effectively and ethically, how will they be able to talk to truck drivers and housewives about it? There should be general agreement on what works and why, and how to test the principles agreed on. And if there isn't, then intellectual leaders should go hide in their debating forums, rather than trying to settle their issues in a freewheeling and increasingly irresponsible "marketplace of ideas."

Robert Tulip wrote:
Any idea once it becomes simplified and accepted by a mass movement acquires the quality of a myth. Like Christianity, secular humanism has equivalents of angels and demons in its unquestioned assumptions, its saints and heretics. Kant’s politics of autonomy is not such a simple advance over medieval control as presented in the enlightenment story. A prime example is the construction of individual identity in modern capitalism, where personal identity is separated from social context as part of a political, economic and cultural story.
Yes, we would all like new technologies to have no complex, unforeseen effects. It is heavily ironic that the political party devoted to stories of "unintended consequences" 40 years ago has now become the party of "please don't look at the unintended consequences behind the curtain."

Robert Tulip wrote:
Politicians tend to claim to understand things as they are, discarding philosophical doubt, since such absolute claims help in persuading and simplifying for a mass audience. Philosophers may believe that there are no absolutes, but such ambiguity is generally unacceptable in popular ideology.
Oh, we are way past that point. Politicians now piss on their mother's grave for the camera to show how bold they are. I agree with you that claims of absolute knowledge, based on nothing more than the preferences of donors, have become a staple of political "discourse." Clearly a large part of the electorate has been seduced into ignoring inconvenient truth for the sake of their own wounded pride.

Robert Tulip wrote:
By sorting perceptions under concepts, knowledge treats observations through a lens of ideology, always bringing an intrinsic selection and distortion of actual unknowable reality. People routinely pretend in making myths that their perceptions of appearance are actual knowledge of reality, in order to have the confidence and certainty required to convince others. The psychology of persuasion takes over from the philosophy of pure knowledge as ideas move into the marketplace of culture.
What you are really talking about is the psychology of manipulation. Persuasion means that people understand the reason for their choice. Proper persuasion means they will not be regretting it soon for reasons of having let themselves be persuaded in someone else's interest rather than their own.

I don't think the intellectual leadership needs to choose an ideology and commit to it. A more flexible worldview can get us a long ways, with an ideological toolkit that encompasses many kinds of insights. In fact a big part of the problem with academia is that the toolkit got restricted for reasons of campus politics (and I don't mean student demonstrations, I mean holding your head up among your colleagues). Not only is there way too much Marxist vapor among the humanities, with no intellectual accountability for it, but there is too little interest in finding common ground across different perspectives.

Robert Tulip wrote:
So when Lewis cites Kant to say that scientific enlightenment is more mature than Christianity, he is making a modern myth. We should really look at this argument through a hermeneutic of suspicion, in terms of whose interests are served and what the likely consequences of this meme might be. In terms of the Hegelian dialectical triad of the evolution of cultural memes, through thesis, antithesis and synthesis, the bigger framework here is that faith was a thesis to which reason was the antithesis, meaning we now need to develop a new integrating synthesis of faith and reason.
That's a pretty interesting perspective. I agree very much about the first two sentences. I am not so confident about a synthesis.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Lewis presents a misreading that in more populist hands can lead to bigoted ignorance of the moral lessons of the Bible, wrongly presenting the narrow ignorance of the church as intrinsic to Christian faith.
I have read on a bit in Jung. He presents the interesting argument that God represents anything ultimate in life: ultimate origins, ultimate implacable fate, ultimate destination, etc. (I think even from his collective unconscious analysis this neglects the true operation of the "hieros gamos" in which the soft embrace of the mother archetype unites with the hard strength and determination of the father archetype, but that is a separate issue.) But it raises the distressing (for me) prospect that mythical forces can only be uncovered by trial and error, and never by reason and intent. Jordan Peterson is a crank, essentially, as was Joseph Campbell. And our next mythology will come from some crank, but there is no guiding the process.

I propose an alternative dialectic between faith and reason. Faith is strengthened by understanding. When our culture is able to give us principles which, if followed, will work, then we are more likely to opt for faith (rather than conflict-seeking and distrust) and its role in making cooperation effective. Thus faith and reason are mutually reinforcing as long as each has a proper respect for the operation of the other.

Many people would read that as a plea for scientists to leave religion alone, but that is not at all what I would suggest. Rather I would argue that the "party of reason" needs to give due respect to the role of values and the need for social processes which cultivate healthy values rather than tearing them down. Much of the "party of reason" instead argues, quite ironically, for simply surrendering all to the embracing hands of science and reason, (you know, the folks who gave us poison gas and atomic bombs), whereupon our values will naturally settle in on humanistic idealism which would never say a crass thing like "one man, one vote, one time." Such a myth is no more reasonable than the "party of faith" argument that if we just keep our faith in the old-time religion of creationism, everyone would behave ethically.



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Thu Sep 13, 2018 7:43 am
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Post Re: Chapter 5 - Finding Purpose in a Godless World - by Ralph Lewis
Robert Tulip wrote:
Lewis is drawing a populist caricature of religion by asserting that the dominant literal claims of the church represent the original ideas of faith, while ignoring the weaknesses of modern rationalism. Too often his argument involves superficial and arrogant assumptions, taking statements that may be reasonable philosophically but then failing to explore how they become problematic when they influence mass political movements.

Lewis agrees with Kant’s assertion that having guardians who supervise our thinking is generally a sign of immaturity (translated at the link above as ‘nonage’). Kant’s line here is obviously attractive as a modern scientific liberal ideology, promoting the autonomy of the rational individual against old methods of control such as the medieval systems of serfdom, hierarchy and enforced agreement to a creed. Autonomy is a great moral ideal, but history since Kant has shown how reason can be twisted into its opposite under the fallen forces of human depravity. Irrational beliefs can be cloaked with rational argument, and people can be given autonomy in ways that are destructive. As Kantian autonomy engaged with the realities of politics, it became the basis for steadily degenerating popular lines of thinking.

Politicians tend to claim to understand things as they are, discarding philosophical doubt, since such absolute claims help in persuading and simplifying for a mass audience. Philosophers may believe that there are no absolutes, but such ambiguity is generally unacceptable in popular ideology.

The psychology of persuasion takes over from the philosophy of pure knowledge as ideas move into the marketplace of culture.

So when Lewis cites Kant to say that scientific enlightenment is more mature than Christianity, he is making a modern myth. We should really look at this argument through a hermeneutic of suspicion, in terms of whose interests are served and what the likely consequences of this meme might be. In terms of the Hegelian dialectical triad of the evolution of cultural memes, through thesis, antithesis and synthesis, the bigger framework here is that faith was a thesis to which reason was the antithesis, meaning we now need to develop a new integrating synthesis of faith and reason.

Standing with Kant on one side of the antinomy of faith and reason, modern secular culture is restricted to a partial and inadequate view. Lewis presents a misreading that in more populist hands can lead to bigoted ignorance of the moral lessons of the Bible, wrongly presenting the narrow ignorance of the church as intrinsic to Christian faith.

History has demonstrated the weaknesses of individual autonomy as a framework of human identity. Kant’s ideas of autonomy were formative for both the communist idea of reason and the capitalist idea of liberty, both of which have had problems when taken to extremes. New forms of human identity are needed that learn from the failings of past forms of collective politics, for example in taking combined action to deal with the politics of climate change.

I have tried to recap the high points of what I think was a very helpful as well as heartfelt inquiry into the faith/reason tension. I made my comment on its dialectic before, and have refrained from commenting on the problem of the ignorant version, combining literalist pretense to certainty with tribalist interpretation in terms of tension between "us" and "them" based on the social system into which the beliefs are woven.

My reason for recapping your discussion is that I ran across a brilliant presentation of the meaning of the Christian faith (from a rather mystical perspective.) The source is
http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.co ... n-why.html
by Richard Beck. He doesn't always view things the way I do, but I think he is asking the same questions that most mainstream Progressive Christians are, with surpassing honesty and intelligence. Here's the post:

Richard Beck wrote:
"So from what I can tell, you are a hard-core Christian. Why?"

One of my students had come by my office to chat with me, to ask a lot of questions, but this was one of them. He was a skeptic, and confused about why someone who seemed so intelligent would be a "hard-core Christian."

I answered, "Yes, totally. I'm a hard-core Christian."

"But why?" He still looked confused.

"For three reasons," I responded.

"First, there is a sacred, hallowed texture to life. There is a spiritual backdrop to life that makes it human and meaningful. This sacred, hallowed texture is what makes values values, the beautiful beautiful, the good good, the evil evil, the wonderful wonderful, the meaningful meaningful, the human human. That this sacred texture exists is the most obvious and practical fact of our lives. And yet, search as the materialists might, this sacred texture will never be spotted in the Periodic Table, in the equations of particle physics, or in the telescopes of the astronomers.

In short, if you watch how humans live--their joys, their sorrows, their art, their values, their dreams, their loves--you'll easily see how this sacred texture is the most obvious fact about the world, more factual than anything Stephen Hawking ever described and more practical than anything Steve Jobs ever created.

"Second, religion is the science of this sacred, hallowed texture, the repository of all our discoveries and the techniques of our investigations. In this, religion is the most factual and practical of all the sciences.

"And third, I must be 'hard-core' about these investigations because, at any moment, the sacred texture is not obvious to me. I lose track of it due to my hurry, laziness, selfishness, ignorance, inattention, and emotions, succumbing to anger or fear. Consequently, noting and discerning the grain of the sacred texture in any moment requires focused attention, vigilance, discipline, training, practice, knowledge, accountability, and commitment. Only the 'hard-core' will be able to see and pick up the thread in the hurry, confusion, chaos, and noise. If you aren't 'hard-core' you'll be jerked around by your desires, ignorance, stress, and the powers-that-be like a puppet on a string, like a leaf blowing in the wind."


He not only expresses well the role of faith, bringing out the aspects that are better experienced with the right-brain process of poetry than with some kind of dialectic, but he is aiming for actual objective truth, in the sense that it is true for everyone in a real sense.

I fear that Lewis is off in a totally different space, where the luminosity, the "sacred texture" of inhabiting our values, is inaccessible. Religion seems always to have been a theory for him, so he has no sense of its importance as a mode of experience rather than a mode of interpretation.



The following user would like to thank Harry Marks for this post:
Robert Tulip
Tue Sep 25, 2018 2:26 pm
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