Against The Normal

Within the Christianity of our time, the great spiritual conflict, unknown to almost all, is between a naturalistic/secular world of modernity and the sacramental world of classical Christianity. The first presumes that a literal take on the world is the most accurate. It tends to assume a closed system of cause and effect, ultimately explainable through science and manageable through technology. Modern Christians, quite innocently, accept this account of the world with the proviso that there is also a God who, on occasion, intervenes within this closed order. The naturalist unbeliever says, “Prove it.”

The sacramental world of classical Christianity speaks a wholly different language. It presumes that the world as we see it is an expression of a greater reality that is unseen. It presumes that everything is a continuing gift and a means of communion with the good God who created it. The meaning and purpose of things is found in that which is not seen, apart from which we can only reach false conclusions. The essential message of Christ, “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” is a proclamation of the primacy of this unseen world and its coming reign in the restoration of all things (apokatastasis, cf. Acts 3:21).

The assumptions of these two worldviews could hardly be more contradictory. The naturalistic/secular model has the advantage of sharing a worldview with contemporary culture. As such, it forms part of what most people would perceive as “common sense” and “normal.” Indeed, the larger portion of Christian believers within that model have no idea that any other Christian worldview exists.

The classical/sacramental worldview was the only Christian worldview for most of the centuries prior to the Reformation. Even then, that worldview was only displaced through revolution and state sponsorship. Nonetheless, the sacramental understanding continues within the life of the Orthodox Church, as well as many segments of Catholicism. Its abiding presence in the Scriptures guarantees that at least a suspicion of “something else” will haunt some modern Christian minds.

An assumption of the secular/naturalist worldview is that information itself is “objective” in character: it is equally accessible to everyone. The classical worldview assumes something quite different. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” Christ says, “for they shall see God.” The Kingdom of God is not an inert object that yields itself to public examination. The knowledge of God and of all spiritual things requires a different mode of seeing and understanding. St. Paul says it this way: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1Co 2:14).

This understanding disturbs the sensibilities of many contemporary Christians. Some go so far as to suggest that it is “gnostic” (by this they mean that the very notion of spiritual knowledge that is less than democratic is suspect). Sola Scriptura is a modern concept that posits the Scriptures as subject to objective interpretation. The Scriptures thus belong to the world of public, democratic debate, whose meaning belongs within the marketplace of opinion. The Scriptures are “my Bible.”

The classical model is, in fact, the teaching found in the Scriptures. It utterly rejects the notion of spiritual knowledge belonging to the same category as the naturalistic/secular world. It clearly understands that the truth of things is perceived only through the heart (nous) and that an inward change is required. It is impossible to encounter the truth and remain unchanged.

The classical model, particularly as found within Orthodoxy, demands repentance and asceticism as a normative part of the spiritual life. These actions do not earn a reward, but are an inherent part of the cleansing of the heart and the possibility of perceiving the truth.

The rationalization (secular/rationalist) of the gospel has also given rise to modern “evangelism.” If no particular change is required in a human being in order to perceive the truth of the gospel, then rational argument and demonstration becomes the order of the day. Indeed, modern evangelism is largely indistinguishable from modern marketing. They were born from the same American social movements.

The classical model tends to be slower in its communication, for what is being transmitted is the fullness of the tradition and the transformation of each human life. Evangelism, in this context, has little to no relationship with marketing. The primary form for the transmission of the gospel is the community of the Church. The Christian faith, in its fullness, is properly only seen in an embodied community of believers living in sacramental union with God through Christ by the Holy Spirit. In the early Church, the catechumenate generally lasted for as much as three years. The formation that took place was seen as an essential preparation for the Christian life. “Making a decision” was almost beside the point.

The struggle between classical/sacramental Christianity and modernity (including its various Christianities) is not a battle over information. The heart of the struggle is for sacramental Christianity to simply remain faithful to what it is. That struggle is significant, simply for the fact that it takes place within a dominant culture that is largely its antithesis.

A complicating factor in this struggle is the fact that the dominant culture (naturalistic/secular) has taken up traditional Christian vocabulary and changed its meaning. This creates a situation in which classical Christianity is in constant need of defining and understanding its own language in contradistinction to the prevailing cultural mind. The most simple terms, “faith, belief, Baptism, Communion, icon, forgiveness, sin, repentance,” are among those things that have to be consistently re-defined. Every conversation outside a certain circle requires this effort, and, even within that circle, things are not always easy.

Such an effort might seem exhausting. The only position of relaxation within the culture is the effortless agreement with what the prevailing permutations tell us on any given day. Human instinct tends towards the effortless life – and the secular mentality constantly reassures us that only the effortless life is normal. Indeed, “normal, ordinary, common,” and such terms, are all words invented by modernity as a self-description. Such concepts are utterly absent from the world of Scripture. Oddly, no one lived a “normal” life until relatively recently.

That which is “normal” is nothing of the sort. It is the purblind self-assurance that all is well when nothing is well.

God have mercy on us.

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The photo shows a marginal pen-and-ink drawing from a letter by Olaf Stapledon, written to his fiance, dated October 3, 1918.

Bertrand Russell: Preliminary Remarks

Bertrand Arthur William Russell was born on May 18, 1872 into a privileged family. His grandfather was Lord John Russell, who was the liberal Prime Minister of Great Britain and the first Earl Russell. Young Bertrand’s early life was traumatic. His mother died when he was two years old and he lost his father before the age of four.

He was then sent to live with his grandparents, Lord and Lady John Russell, but by the time he was six years old, his grandfather also died. Thereafter, his grandmother, who was a strict authoritarian and a very religious woman, raised him.

These early years were filled with prohibitions and rules, and his earliest desires were to free himself from such constraints. His lifelong denial of religion no doubt stems from this early experience. His initial education was at home, which was customary for children of his social class, and later he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he achieved first-class honors in mathematics and philosophy.

He graduated in 1894, and briefly took the position of attaché at the British Embassy in Paris. But he was soon back in England and became a fellow of Trinity College in 1895, just after his first marriage to Alys Pearsall Smith. A year later, in 1896, he published his first book, entitled German Social Democracy, which he wrote after a visit to Berlin.

Russell was interested in all aspects of the human condition, as is apparent from his wide-ranging contributions, and when the First World War broke out, he found himself voicing increasingly controversial political views. He became an active pacifist, which resulted in his dismissal from Trinity College in 1916, and two years later, his views led him even to prison. But he put his imprisonment to good use and wrote the Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, which was published in 1919.

Since he had no longer had a teaching job, he began to make his living by giving lectures and by writing. His controversial views soon made him famous. In 1919, he visited the newly formed Soviet Union, where he met many of the famous personalities of the Russian Revolution, which he initially supported.

But the visit soured his view of the Socialist movement in Russia and he wrote a scathing attack that very year, entitled Theory and Practice of Bolshevism. By 1921, he had married his second wife, Dora Black, and began to be interested in education. With Dora he created and ran a progressive school and wrote On Education (1926) and a few later, Education and the Social Order (1932).

In 1931, he became the 3rd Earl of Russell, and five years later got a divorce and married his third wife, Patricia Spence in 1936. By this time, he was extremely interested in morality and wrote about the subject in his controversial book Marriage and Morals (1932).

He had moved to New York to teach at City College, but he was dismissed from this position because of his views on sexuality (he advocated a version of free love, where sex was not bound up with questions of morality). When Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, Russell began to question his own pacifism and by 1939 had firmly rejected it, and campaigned hard for the overthrow of Nazism right to the end of the Second World War.

By 1944, he was back in England from the United States, and his teaching position at Trinity College was restored to him, and was granted the Order of Merit. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1950. During this time, he wrote several important books, such as, An Enquiry into Meaning and Truth (1940), Human Knowledge: Its Scopes and Limits (1948).

His best-known work from this time is History of Western Philosophy (1945). As well, he continued writing controversial pieces on social, moral and religious issues. Most of these were collected and published in 1957 as Why I Am Not A Christian.

From 1949 onwards, he was actively involved in advocating nuclear disarmament. In 1961, along with his fourth and final wife, Edith Finch, he was again put into prison for inciting civil disobedience to oppose nuclear warfare. He spent his final years in North Wales, actively writing to the very last. He died on February 2, 1970.

His range of interests took in the various spheres of human endeavor and thought, for not only was he engaged with mathematics, philosophy, science, logic and the theory of meaning, but he was deeply interested in political activism, feminism, education, nuclear disarmament, and he was a ceaseless opponent of communism. His ideas have greatly influenced the world we live in.

So pervasive is his influence that contemporary culture has seamlessly subsumed the ideas he introduced so that we no longer recognize his impact.

For example, his ideas have forever changed, on a fundamental level, the way philosophy is done, the way logic is dealt with, the way mathematics and science are understood, the view we hold of morality, marriage, the nuclear family, and even the various attempts to stop the spread of nuclear arms – all these concepts owe their beginnings to Russell.

At the very heart of Russell’s thought lies the concept, first elucidated in The Principles of Mathematics, that analysis can lead to truth. By analysis he means the breaking up of a complex expression or thought in order to get at its simpler components, which in turn will reveal the meaning or truth.

Thus, the method involves moving from the larger to the more specific, from the macro to the micro. Russell arrived at this process by suggesting that mathematics and natural languages derived from logic. He extended his approach and stated that the structure of logic could be a useful tool in helping us understand the human experience, which in turn would lead to the working out of disputes.

Thus, in A History of Western Philosophy he shows how the structure of logic is consistent with the way the world works, namely that reality itself is paralleled in logic.

Therefore, this blending of logic and the need to arrive at the truth of reality highlights the second important concern for Russell, namely, metaphysics. In fact, both logic and metaphysics unite and give philosophy its unique approach to uncover truth, which for Russell leads to the understanding of the universe and us. It is this concept that he explores fully in Our Knowledge of the External World.

Although logic is essential to Russell’s philosophy, it is not synonymous with it. Rather, philosophy is to be seen as a larger construct, which certainly begins with logic, but ends with mysticism. It is certainly true that Russell denied the authority of organized religion all his life and preferred to live a life outside prescribed dogmas.

Nevertheless, he recognized the essential mystery that surrounds life, both in its particular representation in the life of humankind and in the larger sphere, namely, in the life of the universe. It is precisely this mysticism that disallowed him an ultimate denial of God existence, and therefore Russell never called himself an atheist; rather he labeled himself an avowed agnostic, or someone who does not know, and cannot know, whether God exists or not.

Thus, in philosophy he found a quest far greater than that embodied by religion or science, and he described this process in Mysticism and Logic.

 

The photo shows, “New York Movie,” By Edward Hopper, painted in 1939.

Atheism Is Rebellion

Atheism is rebellion – it is hardly a methodology of thought, truth, or even science. Unknown to its cheerleaders is the fact that atheism cannot overcome apoptosis – it is programed to commit suicide. Its genetic contradiction kills it. This is why atheism is now regarded as a genetic mutation, slotted for destruction.

Its death sentence – is simply this – it cannot build an equitable, just and good society in which humans will want to live. Morality is not brain-washing. As recent studies clearly, infants come equipped with a sense of right and wrong. In other words, the Socratic tradition had it right all along.

While nature has its own innate laws, described by science – humans are born with natural law. In other words, because humans are naturally moral, there is God.

Thus the entire effort of “proving” God by quantifiable methods is a false one. Ludwig Wittgenstein said it best, at the end of his Tractatus: “…if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all.”

To try to answer these problems (why a human has worth, purpose and meaning) with quantifiable methods (which is Scientism) is useless. Again, Wittgenstein points out that each is purpose-specific; it cannot be extended into all areas of life. If it is, then he says, “language goes on a holiday.” Thus, scientism is simply illogical, because it cannot be rational, and therefore wrong. Simone Weil understood this clearly, for she observed: “Science is not a fruit of the spirit of truth.”

And because of moral law, atheism is also not true. Since modernity is an age of confusion, because it is an age of relativism, truth is defined as opinion, personal preference, choice, or taste. Thus, atheism is simply all that – it is not a verifiable, quantifiable fact.

Each time, an attempt is made to disprove, or prove God, by way of science, language goes on a holiday. Therefore, atheism can only be opinion, taste, preference, choice, which is the only viable explanation possible.

Atheism also seeks to replace religion – and it simply does not have the logical means to accomplish what it seeks. It is deficient in a viable language that will satisfactorily explain the “problems of life.” And “language” means ideas.

If atheism truly wants to replace religion, then it must abandon the language of science and create one that properly explains why each human life is valuable, purposeful and meaningful. Humans as creatures with an innate natural law continually need these explanations. They do not only scientific ones, which can only be true according to their own purpose of quantification.

But since atheism is scientism, it is inherently unable to formulate a language for morality- because the result would then be religion. This is the fatal flaw. Death is the only possibility. It is like asking a tree to find a way to use dental floss.

Given this problem, the only possible way out for atheism is to do what Nietzsche does – declare the death of God – and then entirely abandon morality. To fully recognize that man is only an animal, and nothing ever more, destined for the dust, like any animal dead in the forest.

Second, atheism must fully embrace Hitlerism (this term is preferable to Nazism which was the political and social practice of Hitlerism. Nazism is dead, but Hitlerism is alive and well – and embodied by every atheist, whether s/he understands this or not).

This means that atheism needs to accept what a life without God fully entails. And that life cannot then be based upon morality, since that is simply brain-washing and an expression of weakness – that life must be based upon the full consequences of man being an animal – existing “beyond good and evil.” It was Simone Weil who very elegantly understood this connection and identified it.

So, here is the challenge for atheists – if they actually believe their opinions, tastes, and preferences – they have to accept that they must Hitlerism, which is the best and most accurate (and even courageous) explanation, or program, of living a life without God and denying natural moral law. Therefore, a true atheist must be unapologetically Hitlerian, which alone had the courage to describe what life without God is like.

The corollary to this is another question – after deny God, why do atheists then proceed to live like perfectly decent Christians, worrying about human rights, social justice, tolerance, fairness?

Should they not, instead, be striving to express their will to power – the destruction of the weak, the strengthening of the species, the struggle to survive? There can be no decency in atheism – because that is weakness – and weak animal lives for too long.

There is indeed an adolescent quality to atheists who frolic about having tossed off all authority – perhaps this is why the greatest “thinkers” of atheism tend to be academics – and yet they do not understand the consequences of their “thinking.”

First, atheism is simply a preference, a world-view, an opinion, which is unable to generate a particular type of society in which humans might want to live. Why? Because atheism is no more than a critique of normative thinking; it is not an alternative to it. There is reason why ideas are normative.

Therefore, atheism can only last for the life-time of the individual atheist. And studies by Eric Kaufmann bluntly point out that atheists just do not have enough babies to keep their world-view going into the future. Atheism will die with the atheists. Religious people have more babies, and therefore religion will keep on going.

Atheism needs to answer why this is. Historically, to exist and think without God is alien to what it means to be human. Archaeology points this out continually – even that civilization is not the result of economic forces, but rather of religious worship (as, say, in Gobekli Tepe). Farming, domestication, metallurgy, cities, social hierarchies, culture are the consequences of religion alone. Doubt is neither creative, nor generative – socially or biologically.

Second, the position of atheism is arrived at by way of reason, as expressed in scientism (which says that only quantifiable probabilities exist and are therefore true). But if atheism is correct, then rationality is simply the result of random chance, which is to say, it is the product of pure irrationality. How can rationality be created by irrationality? Atheism provides no answer.

Third, the famous philosophical question – why is there something, when there could be nothing? Physics tell us that all things are forever falling into entropy, which means that all objects prefer to be at rest rather be active.

Therefore, once the first accidental burst of creation happens, and random things get created, why do all things become self-generating? Why does life keep producing more life? Why the instinct for procreation, which is an on-going waste of energy, given that entropy is the normal state? In other words, why does life need to keep on going?

Fourth, if atheism is correct, then why must humans continue to exist on the earth? They have been nothing but trouble, and highly destructive to boot. Why did nature (which is viewed as all-wise) carry on with this experiment? What good have humans ever done to the planet?

Fifth, if atheism is correct, then man is certainly animal. But why would nature, in her wisdom, let evolve a creature that is so utterly unsuited to live in nature? All man has is intellect, with which to fashion the earth into a world in which he alone can exist. Why this disconnect creature and natural world?

Such unresolved questions also build internal contradictions within atheism. For example, why is it that atheists first deny the existence of God and regard religion as ignorance, superstition, and barbarity which has oppressed and imprisoned mankind, but then promptly behave, think, act, and live like good Christians? Why can they not embrace and “celebrate” their “animalness?”

An atheist is also a Darwinian nowadays, which means that men and women must be driven by instinct, which is the urge to survive and the will to power. Thus, an atheist must be a powerful predator, who seeks to destroy the weak.

Such is the true calling of an atheist, to be a strong animal, free of morality, which is part of the prison created by religion.

Thus, why live in family groups, why behave decently, why be nice, why worry about “human rights,” why love anyone other than your own self, why object to killing and murder, why not seek to destroy charity work (which only promotes life for the feeble), why have doctors and hospital who prolong life for the sick who should rightly die, why care for the elderly who are useless, why have education for all, why not kill the handicapped and the mentally challenged, why have prisons since criminals are only being good animals and they should be free to win even more power?

Indeed, are there any true atheists in the world?

There was one, and he wrote the best manual for the atheist, liberated from the prison of religion. This book made the author an instant millionaire, with worldwide sales. The appeal of the book was that it laid bare man as a true animal who survived through strength who had no need of God and morality.

The book was Mein Kampf, the author Adolf Hitler, who was a millionaire-writer long before he became the Fuhrer. He did create a purely atheistic culture, in which man the animal reigned supreme. It six years and about fifty million lives to destroy this atheist world. It is Simone Weil who made this insightful connection between atheism and Hitlerism.

But why does modernity need atheism?

First, it captures perfectly the relativist ethos that permeates the world today, with its denial of truth, history, morality in favor of opinion, taste, preference, choice.

Second, by being in a state of denial, atheism is a rebellious throwing off of constraints which has come to define freedom.

Third, as Charles Péguy observed long ago, there really is no such thing as atheism, because what passes for the denial of God is really an “auto-theism,” a deification of the self.

By removing God, man can worship himself. Thus atheism is attractive, because it is validated narcissism, for atheism has no interest in the future – it is merely the mirror with which to gaze upon oneself – in the illusion of an unending present.

The photo shows, “Echo and Narcissus,” John William Waterhouse, painted in 1903.

Self-Annihilation?

Knowledge has been successfully hijacked – because its purpose is no longer truth. We live in a world governed by a particular worldview that no longer sees truth as the foremost necessity to the good life.

This leaves only feelings which alone are truly authentic. In other words, opinions are far better than thought, and reason is merely another system of oppression. All previous pursuits of learning were therefore merely constructs contrived by dominant groups to sustain and extend their power over the oppressed.

Such is the post-truth world that we now inhabit, where reality can only be governed by human emotion, which apparently demands socio-political justice for the “historically” downtrodden and ignored.

This is often labeled as, “postmodernism,” but this is inaccurate. The hydra indeed has many heads.

In fact, it’s best to call it, The Grand-Conglomerate Ideology (GCI), whose texture is woven from divergent threads, namely, Marxism, relativism, feminism, eugenics, corporatism, Stalinism, Hiterlism, Protestantism, secularism, scientism, multiculturalism, atheism, postfoundationalism, naturalism, technologism, transhumanism, transgenderism, environmentalism, progressivism, and nihilism.

The tentacles of this beast reach into all facets of life. The very purpose of western society is now simply an extension of GCI. Nothing lies outside of it. Even our habit of mind no longer makes sense without GCI. Our society exists to justify it, and our politics and laws sustain it. All validations of human existence can now only exist in the purview of GCI.

People may content themselves with one or more threads of its latticework, but that it is merely the play of labels, for each thread leads to the same telos.

And what is that telos – what is the purpose, or chief end of GCI?

Very simply – annihilation, or what the Buddhists call nirvana. We have only to look at the “virtues” which are held up as laudatory – abortion, anti-genderism, anti-nationalism, antinatalism. Why are each of these an inherent good, when each of them also denies humanity its dignity?

But why annihilation? Why the deep loathing of humanity itself? Again, very simply because we have managed to relegate the transcendent into the realm of the ridiculous. In other words, when humanity denies God, it stops being human, and can no longer justify its own existence. Its ideal no longer becomes life (both physical and ghostly), but its very opposite – that is, death.

When we can no longer believe in a panoramic purpose for all of humanity, we veer into a purpose closer to hand – murder in all its manifestations. Why do all tyrants want to kill as many people as possible? Why the carnage of totalitarian states in the twentieth-century?

The spilling of blood is a very necessary element in humanity’s worship of itself. This is why human sacrifice was an essential component of paganism, for the pagan gods were simply extensions of humanity. It’s violence alone that makes us feel human when we no longer know how to look beyond ourselves. All this was once known as, “evil.”

Is this what Simone Weil meant when she called Aristotle “the bad tree that bore bad fruit?” Aristotle turned the human gaze inwards, and by doing so, he mechanized thought, made it a system. All of creation thus became an enclosed system, a self-contained micro-world functioning in an endless plethora of other systems.

But so what? And more importantly, what is to be done (to borrow a phrase form Nikolai Chernyshevsky)?

First question first – so what? In the words of Rémi Brague, “If God doesn’t exist, then why should humanity exist?” We may content ourselves with diversions like saving the planet, or seeking social justice and the like. But this is only delaying the more obvious question – what’s the point of being alive? Should the planet be saved and humanity destroyed?

These may appear to be stark queries, but they do point us to the very heart of our darkness – we no longer really believe that we should continue to exist, because we no longer believe that life has any true purpose. Everything else is a diversion until nirvana.

Second, what is to be done? But to really answer this question we have to accept that humanity actually has a purpose on this planet – and a life beyond it. Fighting the hydra requires far more than clever slogans; it requires that we return value to that which is moral.

Given our deep addiction to “-isms,” we have made ourselves morally bankrupt – in other words, we have made ourselves receptive to all kinds of foolishness, for though we might have displaced God as the giver of meaning, we have been unable to replace him with anything meaningful. None of the “’-isms” can assume the role of god, no matter how hard their valiant followers may try. Therein lies the various conflicts of our time.

As the thought of John Hare shows, humanity cannot be moral without God – it can certainly try (by seeking rights and justice), but it will fail because there is an unbridgeable gap between the human ability for goodness and the human duty to do the good.

Why be good? Ability and duty can only come together via God, in that morality must a purpose – not a reward, but a purpose. Here people often misunderstand God as some dispenser of rewards and punishment. That is a very childish view, though it does serve to advance one strand of GCI (atheism).

Given the omnipresent hydra, humanity must return to its root, which is God. But not any god – only the God of the Judeo-Christian faith. God has made us to live life through morality, and we should live this way because He has made us so. A life outside morality is not human at all – it’s not even bestial. It’s meaningless, for even beasts have meaning. Only man can give himself meaninglessness.

To continue with Hare, we must answer two important questions – Can we be good? And, why should we be good? Neither question can be answered without God.

To return to GCI, it’s now easy to see that it is an attempt to find a substitute for God, an all-inclusive transcendence which might provide some sort of God-less meaning to life.

However, humanity is incapable of providing justification for itself, let alone why it must be good. GCI quickly erodes into tyrannical tribalism, where baser desires of winning and subduing become foremost, because humanity cannot free itself from its condition to create truth. Humanity can only discover truth, not create it.

Likewise, humanity cannot create morality; it can only live within it, or outside it, because it’s one of the necessities of human existence like air and water.

The first step in breaking free from the grip of the hydra is to destroy the ground in which it’s rooted. Since the GCI is rooted in the education system, citizens needs to dismantle the entire education system which has now become nothing mora than an intricate mind-abuse system that destroys the minds of the young.

Parents need to stop sending their children into the maws of this Moloch. They need to stop sacrificing their children upon the high altar of GCI.

Instead, parents need to build independent schools, colleges, universities where their children may once again learn the richer form of human life – one rooted firmly in the morality guaranteed by the Judeo-Christian God.

In other words, parents alone have the ability to starve the monster of CGI to death. Otherwise, the beast will only grow more and more powerful, with each child that it devours. All of society needs to say – enough!

 

The photo shows, “The Death of Chatterton,” by Henry Wallis, painted in 1856.

The Enlightenment Misunderstood, Again

As with Steven Pinker’s earlier The Better Angels of Our Nature, of which this is really an expansion and elucidation, I was frustrated by this book.

On the one hand, Pinker is an able thinker and clear writer, free of much of the ideological cant and distortions of vision that today accompany most writing about society (for society is what this book is about), and he is mostly not afraid to follow his reasoning to its conclusions.

His data on human progress is voluminous, persuasive, and extremely interesting.  On the other hand, Pinker regularly makes gross errors about history, some of little import, but some that undermine the entire thesis of his book—which is that that the Enlightenment is the sole cause of the human progress he illustrates.

I like Pinker for his clarity of mind.  And since I have been reading a steady diet of books whose central claim is that the Enlightenment was a mistake, and moreover I am personally enamored of Reaction, the idea of creating a new thing by reference to the old, it is only fair that I consider the opposite ideas presented as well as possible.

Moreover, this book claims to answer exactly a current question of mine—is the material marvel that is the modern world the child of the Enlightenment?  I was not disappointed; this book is just what the doctor ordered, at least to clarify my own thoughts, though probably not with the result Pinker intended.

He wants to prove the Enlightenment is responsible for everything that is good in the modern world, and every good thing that will be in the future, but he ends up, for the most part, refuting himself on all his key claims.  Still, the ride is interesting enough and that alone makes his book worth reading.

On the second page of his book, Pinker enunciates the core of his argument, by referring to “the Enlightenment principle that we can apply reason and sympathy to enhance human flourishing.”

The next sentence, by implication, defines the Enlightenment further as “the ideals of reason, science, humanism, and progress.”  The following paragraph says the Enlightenment is “also called humanism, the open society, and cosmopolitan or classical liberalism.”

All this creates a somewhat confused definition, but once you read the whole book, it’s evident that to Pinker, the middle sentence is the key—the Enlightenment consists in the primacy to human societies of “reason, science, humanism, and progress.” His book revolves around these four concepts, and we will return to each of these concepts in turn.

Pinker divides his book into three parts.  The first, shortest, part expands on what Pinker means by “the Enlightenment.”  Here, Pinker begins by turning to the driver of all the progress that he details at great length later in the book, namely, the Scientific Revolution.  “The Enlightenment is conventionally placed in the last two-thirds of the 18th century, though it flowed out of the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Reason in the 17th century.”

Given that the term “Age of Reason” is only used in one other place in this book, at the very end in a similar context, while the terms “Enlightenment” and “Scientific Revolution” are used continuously, it seems fair to conclude that Pinker believes that the Scientific Revolution (actually beginning in the 1500s, and possibly earlier, not “in the 17th century”) was the necessary first step that combined with the Enlightenment to produce the benefits of the modern world.

Pinker reinforces this conclusion by summarizing the modern understanding of scientific progress to include entropy, evolution, and information.  Grasping these three underlying drivers of scientific progress, Pinker tells us, allows a more complete approach to scientific understanding, and thus of the Enlightenment.

All this is true.  The problem with this definition of the Enlightenment, though, is that it is all about the Scientific Revolution, from its inception to today, and when you look closely at it, has nothing to do with the Enlightenment.

The Scientific Revolution led to technology, which ultimately (with some other drivers that are endlessly debated) led to the Industrial Revolution, which created nearly all the progress Pinker spends the second part of his book documenting.  But this eliding of the Enlightenment with the Scientific Revolution is the fatal error of Pinker’s entire book—every chapter, and practically every page, is shot through with it.

Pinker claims for the Enlightenment, a system of political and philosophical principles with a nearly exclusive focus on increasing liberty, the advantages of created by the Scientific Revolution, a pre-Enlightenment happening whose success, and whose single-handed creation of the modern world, had essentially nothing to do with the Enlightenment.

Pinker does this because he wishes to advocate for Enlightenment principles (in particular, emancipation and atheism), but justify those principles almost wholly by reference to the achievements of the Scientific Revolution.  This is a neat parlor trick, but intellectually dishonest.

I cannot tell whether Pinker realizes the dishonesty, or merely has wandered so far into the weeds he cannot think clearly.  In either case, the effect is to make some parts of the book fascinating, and others risible.

There are many, many claimed reasons for why the Industrial Revolution occurred, and why it only occurred in the West.  But no serious historian claims that it was the Enlightenment that caused the Industrial Revolution, which is no doubt why Pinker glosses over the supposed linkage and offers no citations tying the Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution (or, for that matter, to the Scientific Revolution).

For a man dedicated to carefully parsing the evidence and linking causal chains through reasoning, this is a glaring omission.  Fortunately for the reader, though, these first philosophical musings, or ramblings, only take up the first thirty-five pages of the book.

The next 300 are an endless, and endlessly fascinating, series of statistical analyses about various forms of (mostly material) progress.  In the final sixty pages, the last third of the book, Pinker returns to philosophy, attempting to synthesize the progress he has demonstrated with his other claimed keystones of the modern world, reason, science, and humanism.

Pinker’s basic point about progress is a broadening of his claims about peace in The Better Angels of Our Nature—that those who think the world is getting worse are wrong, not (mostly) from malice, but from various forms of psychological bias, such as the “Optimism Gap” (people see their own lives as better than other people’s); “Availability Bias” (we make decisions based on data easily available to us, which is often weighted toward the negative); and “Negativity Bias” (it’s easier to imagine how things could be dramatically worse than how they could be dramatically better).

To prove this, Pinker offers fourteen separate chapters, each covering a totally different area of progress, demonstrating that since the Scientific Revolution human conditions have gotten better.

Pinker starts with Life—he shows how life expectancy, both at birth and at later periods of life, has dramatically increased over time—or, rather, since the Industrial Revolution in the West, and since the early twentieth century in much of the rest of the world.  Next is Health, to much the same effect.

In both chapters, Pinker relies heavily on Nobel Prize-winner Angus Deaton’s The Great Escape, a fascinating book.  But Pinker’s philosophical confusion shows up every time he makes other than statistical claims—for example, he tells us that “Deaton notes that even the idea that lies at the core of the Enlightenment—knowledge can make us better off—may come as a revelation” to some (i.e., the non-Western) parts of the world.  There are two problems with this.

First, that is not the “idea that lies at the core of the Enlightenment,” it is in an idea that, in the West, far pre-dated the Enlightenment, as I discuss further below.  More to the immediate point, that’s not what Deaton says (since I have a copy of his book, I checked).

What Deaton actually says is that people in poor countries are often satisfied with their health, not knowing it can be better.  He saying nothing about the Enlightenment, or knowledge in general.  Unfortunately, such appeals to authority are common in Pinker’s book (surprising, since appeal to authority has been identified as a basic logical fallacy for millennia), and when the authority is mis-cited, it makes matters worse.

(The reader’s suspicion is further exacerbated by Pinker’s frequent habit of not offering page cites, just footnotes to books as a whole, though he does give a page cite to Deaton’s book.)

Anyway, Pinker next turns to food (Sustenance), where he again talks about the Scientific Revolution (including its modern continuation in Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution) feeding the world, and then tries to claim that it was an accomplishment of the Enlightenment, and failure to feed people as shown by Stalin’s terror famines was because (supposed) Enlightenment values weren’t honored. That’s a stretch.

Next is wealth, where Pinker focuses on GDP per capita, showing the takeoff since the Industrial Revolution in the West and more recently in some Asian countries, and the reductions in extreme poverty in other countries that have not experienced the same kind of takeoff.

Following is Inequality, which Pinker acutely and subtly analyzes (channeling Thomas Sowell in some cases—you can tell that Pinker is, in many areas, broad-minded by the several times he cites Sowell for different propositions, since Sowell is anathema to doctrinaire leftists).

Then Environment, noting that other than global warming, the environment is doing just fine and shows every sign of doing better in the future, on every metric.

In particular, he notes how resource apocalypses, from Peak Oil to supposed shortages of rare earth elements, are invariably falsified, by technology in general and by hard work enabling us to produce better things with less material.  He also covers Peace, updating his earlier book Better Angels, and Safety, noting the declines in homicides and accidents.  He quickly dismisses Terrorism as a tempest in a teapot.

It’s not just material progress that Pinker covers, although that’s the focus.  It’s also moral progress—we are, among other things, nicer to people.  Less torture, fewer executions, more value assigned to human life and happiness.

True enough, but a necessary leg of Pinker’s entire argument is that there was no significant moral progress prior to the Enlightenment, since prior progress would disprove the causation he claims.  But prior progress in the West was very great, as anyone with any grasp of history knows.

Christianity immediately obviated many of the worst moral behaviors of the Ancient World (variants of which are still common in non-Christian cultures), from infanticide to the Roman practice of starving children to death in sight of a banquet, to distill their organs into love potions that would enhance desire.

Christianity further led to the rule of law and was instrumental in the creation of the institutions that made possible the Scientific Revolution.  All these moves forward, as Pinker documents while glossing over their cause, led to further moral gains.  To hide his embarrassment at these pre-Enlightenment advances, Pinker chants, over and over again, the same trite phrases about “endless religious wars” and repeats boring anecdotes about witchcraft and bearbaiting.

After these convincing chapters (convincing for their substance, at least), Pinker covers some softer topics, somewhat less successfully.  Generally, the less harder-edged and susceptible to statistical analysis the topic, the worse Pinker does in showing that actual progress is being made.

In fairness, though, it is true these softer topics, to the extent one agrees they constitute actual progress comparable to that covered in the earlier chapters, are more tied to actual Enlightenment ideas.

First up is Democracy, which he claims is increasing, but Pinker helps himself over the finish line by defining democracy as basically any good government, one which “threads the needle, exerting just enough force to prevent people from preying on each other without preying on the people itself.”

That, along with other definitional broadening from Karl Popper and John Mueller, means that democracy is redefined as any government with the rule of law and some responsiveness to public opinion.  But in any case, there’s more democracy, however defined, and that’s Progress.

Next is Equal Rights, where Pinker goes full Left, trumpeting all emancipation as good for what ails a society, and all failure to emancipate as evil incarnate (although he seems confused, since what is evil, anyway, to someone who denies the reality of moral abstractions other than utilitarian ones)?

He does try to give a scientific gloss to his philosophical attachment to emancipation, ascribing it to more wealth means more people seek self-actualization, and want the same for others.  This he then extrapolates to a claim that liberal values are spreading everywhere, with a lot of graphs (though we’re never told what “liberal values” are being measured, but by implication they overlap with “emancipative values”).

Then Knowledge (we know more, and we’re getting smarter); Quality of Life (we work less and both the necessities and luxuries of life are cheaper); and Happiness (we are happier, largely because we’re richer, though Deaton covers this much better and more subtly).

Along with Daniel T. Rodgers, Pinker huffily rejects Robert Putnam and others who point to the atomization of American lives as a problem, with the flip response that “Users of the Internet and social media have more contact with friends” and they “remain as satisfied with the number and quality of their friendships as in the decade of Gerald Ford and Happy Days.”

But this is obtuse.  Putnam’s claim wasn’t that people didn’t have friends anymore, it was that the intermediary institutions that were the entire basis of the success of any successful, and in particular, the successful American, society had been completely destroyed, resulting in the cascading baleful effects that Tocqueville and Robert Nisbet had earlier identified and feared.

Pinker totally fails to make this connection, or more likely deliberately obfuscates it (which is probably why he refers to fears of social atomization as a “hysterical misconception”—that’s protesting too much).  Not to mention that Putnam would have told him, too, that the problem was well under way by the time of Gerald Ford, so the 1970s are probably not the best comparison decade to today.

Finally, Pinker points out that Existential Threats, from Y2K to bioterror, are grossly exaggerated.  Sure, we can’t know the future, but on balance, we’re not all likely to wink out of existence next week, or next millennium.

Of the supposed threat from artificial intelligence, he says “the scenario makes about as much sense as the worry that since jet planes have surpassed the flying ability of eagles, someday they will swoop out of the sky and seize our cattle.”  Ha ha.  He’s also heinously sexist.  “There is no law of complex systems that says that intelligent agents must turn into ruthless conquistadors.  Indeed, we know of one highly advanced form of intelligence that evolved without this defect. They’re called women.”

I like all this, and agree with much of it (although I could do without the constant references to Mama Cass and the Beatles, reminding me Pinker is stuck, in many ways, in the 1960s—and he is writing primarily for aging Boomers, staring down both barrels of their mortality, wondering if their lives of self-indulgence were really as pointless as they now seem).

I am mostly a techno-optimist myself.  However, Pinker’s greatest technical error, as opposed to failure of vision, is to believe (like Joseph Tainter) that if it can’t be quantified, it doesn’t exist.  I’m a quantitative guy, personally—I have an MBA with finance and accounting concentrations from the Booth School of Business, and my wife correctly says I view the world as Neo does in the last scenes of The Matrix—as cascading columns of numbers underlying the perceived, but merely surface, reality of things.  Certainly, non-quantifiable views of human flourishing are subject to errors of perception, which is probably why Pinker repeatedly excoriates the Romantics.

But Pinker is too quick to reject that humans seek transcendence, and all the new flavors of Doritos and life extension in the world isn’t going to change that.  “Man shall not live by bread alone.”  Pinker is fond of quoting Jesus, always with a sneer, but he does not offer us that truth, because it scares him, since it cannot be quantified.

But the unquantifiable aspects of progress are a topic too long to get into in this review.  Pinker wraps up Progress by talking about its future. He does this by making totally unsupported claims about the origin of Progress.  “Since the Enlightenment unfolded in the late 18th century, life expectancy across the world has risen from 30 to 71, and in the more fortunate countries to 81.”  “The Enlightenment is working: for two and a half centuries, people have used knowledge to enhance human flourishing.”

Therefore, it’s going to continue, don’t you know?  No logic is offered, just repetition of the mantra of “knowledge” and trying to tie the Enlightenment to the Scientific Revolution by repeatedly mentioning them in the same breath.  It’s not convincing; in fact, it comes across as desperate.

Embedded within all this proof of progress (for proof is what it is—we can quibble, or call it incomplete, but only a fool would say that material progress since the Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revolution has not been immense), is the truth, difficult for some to accept, that all this progress was caused purely by, and until recently only affected, the West.

It is the Western world that has gotten better—and finally, after 400 years, some of those benefits have been adopted by others.  That’s it. This is not a global phenomenon in cause, and it may not be a global phenomenon in effect, if the inferior cultures of the world, for whatever reason, refuse to accept the gifts offered by the Western Scientific Revolution.

Pinker doesn’t make this point, either, though I can see why—it’s inflammatory and distracts from his argument.  (He does admit that his first love, the Enlightenment, was a wholly Western phenomenon, a topic he shuffles away from quickly, mumbling about how ideas have no home, which may be true, but they do have a birthplace.)

There are two topics related to Progress that Pinker avoids like the plague, mentioning them only in passing and in lists of other, related topics.  Those are slavery and abortion.  Why he avoids them is obvious, if you give it a little thought.  Slavery he avoids because all progress toward eradicating it was based on religious belief; the Enlightenment had nothing to do with it.

Slavery had been increasingly frowned upon by the Church, to the point of disappearing in Europe long before the High Middle Ages.  It made a comeback outside Europe with the conquest of the Americas, with intense debate about its morality applied to Africans and Indians within a Christian framework, and it was solely Christian believers in England and America who ultimately pushed for the ending of, and ended, slavery.

Pinker’s beloved Enlightenment had nothing to do with it, and in fact most of his precious Enlightenment thinkers, like Jefferson, were fine with slavery.  This is not convenient to the thesis that religion is poison and the Enlightenment made us all free, so it is glossed over.  For similar reasons, Pinker avoids abortion.  If violence is decreasing, and infanticide is a horror equivalent to public torture-executions, why is abortion OK?  Pinker never explains, and in fact he once lists abortion in a list of bad things in which the United States leads, including homicide and incarceration.

The reader suspects that Pinker is either unable to overcome his own internal cognitive dissonance, or is afraid of no longer being invited to the right parties if he suggests that abortion should be treated as a moral bad.  (In fairness, he did address this in Better Angels, where he admitted that abortion logically is indistinguishable from infanticide.)

Another topic that Pinker studiously avoids is China.  Yes, he mentions China in various sections on Progress.  But since China embodies the very opposite of Enlightenment political thought, in particular “emancipatory values,” its progress is hard to square with Pinker’s thesis that the Enlightenment is solely responsible for all progress.

It is easy to square, though, with China adopting Western science and rejecting Western political values.   Which is exactly what has happened, which suggests those political values are not, in fact, important for, or even related to, progress.  Again, though, the reader is offered no thoughts in this direction.

Pinker only sees two possible threats to ever more progress.  The first is economic stagnation, which he dismisses the possibility of with, in essence, “not going to happen because I say so.”  Not for Pinker grappling with Robert Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth and its claims that productivity is likely to stay low (which he does mention), or Peter Thiel’s lament, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”

Mostly he doesn’t grapple with those arguments because he’s falling all over himself to get to the real threat to progress:  Donald Trump.  Pinker offers an insane list of caricatures and falsehoods about Trump and, more generally, all Republicans, for good measure throwing in pro-Brexit Britons. Did you know that Trump opposes all of Life, Health, Wealth, the Environment, Safety, Peace, Democracy, and more?  That is, Trump is opposed to Progress, and wants to strangle it, then throw its body into a fire and dance naked around it.

Pinker does everything but Photoshop a picture of Trump with a red suit, a tail, horns, and a pitchfork and fold it into the center of his book. This section goes on in this vein at great length, but in the entire book, every few pages, Pinker snarls and foams at the mouth about Trump, attacking him irrelevantly while discussing unrelated topics.  I suppose, like the mad dog he resembles here, Pinker can’t help it, since he very evidently suffers from Trump Derangement Syndrome, which relates to the older Leftist Derangement Syndrome in the same way that Ebola does the common cold.

But it’s at this point that Pinker’s book starts to go off the rails.  Not the stuff about Trump—that’s just boring, and par for the course in these days of #Resistance (though it is certain to make the book date badly, whatever the future holds—authors do themselves no favors by ranting about the politics of the moment in books not about the politics of the moment).

And Pinker generally appears to have none but the most simplistic grasp of politics—not for him any references to any political thinker, from Spartans to Athenians to Machiavelli.  No, it’s his final three chapters, on Reason, Science, and Humanism, that cause Pinker to implode.

This is where Pinker exalts what he claims are the principles of the Enlightenment, without making any attempt to actually show they were the basis of the Enlightenment, re-defining them to avoid the inconvenient truth that reason and science pre-dated the Enlightenment, and Humanism has nothing to do with progress.

As far as reason, Pinker first rambles about various cognitive biases that limit reasoning.  Then he notes that conservatives and liberals are equally subject to these biases.  Having established his impartiality, he throws it in the trash, attacking only conservatives viciously and at length (Jonathan Haidt would be appalled).

He starts by claiming “the first modern conservative, Edmund Burke, suggested that humans were too flawed to think up schemes for improving their condition and were better off sticking with traditions and institutions that kept from the abyss,” which falsely suggests (without quite saying it) that Burke, and by extension all conservatives, are opposed to all reason and therefore all progress (and miscasts Burke, of course).  After various sonorous paragraphs about predictive bias and the like, Pinker returns to “the major enemy of reason in the public sphere today—which is not ignorance, innumeracy, or cognitive biases, but politicization.”

It’s a little bit of a problem that all academia has been politicized by the Left, but the real problem is “a Republican Party that has become synonymous with the extreme right,” which “has undermined the institutions of democracy.”  Only Republicans gerrymander.  Only Republicans “encourage unregulated donations from moneyed interests.”

Only Republicans politicize the Supreme Court.  Only Republicans “shut down the government when their maximum demands aren’t met” (this book went to press before the Democrats did just that three weeks ago to get amnesty for illegal aliens).

But help is on the way!  It’s in the form of “fact checking,” by PolitiFact and Snopes, neutral helpers who can help the virtuous, neutral, public-minded media show the masses the Truth.  Yawn.  Pinker really beclowns himself here; he would have done himself a service by deliberately selecting some non-#Resistance editors, for his book, so he could have avoided demonstrating so effectively the cognitive biases he is only too eager to point out in others.

But the even bigger problem is that reason is not a feature of the Enlightenment. Pinker really, honestly, seems to think reason was invented in 1750.  This is laughable.  Reasoning about first principles, about reason itself, has always characterized the West.

The idea that people were irrational until the Enlightenment is totally bizarre (and for good measure Pinker seems to think anyone living before 1600 was somewhere between credulous and stupid).  An obsessive pursuit of reason in the most refined forms possible has always been the hallmark of the West, starting with the Ancient Greeks, through the Neoplatonists (many Christian); and into its rediscovery in the court of Charlemagne, where Alcuin and Theodulf began the process of re-introducing rigid patterns of reason into the philosophical toolkit of the West.

This pattern continued through the Middle Ages, Early, Middle and High. (Only dolts believe in the “Dark Ages” anymore, and to be fair, Pinker never mentions such a thing—but then, he mentions nothing at all substantive about any era prior to A.D. 1600.)  The Western search for reason (which had no analogue anywhere else on Earth) led directly to the Scientific Revolution, in which the Church played a critical funding and organizational role.

Then that led into the Industrial Revolution.  Where was the Enlightenment in this process?  Nowhere. The Enlightenment was about political reasoning, which is interesting in its own right, and has to do with progress to the extent political change is progress, but not beyond, and most people would rate being able to eat and live as much more important progress than any form of political advancement.

Pinker next (briefly) covers Science, by which he explicitly doesn’t mean to repeat what he said earlier about progress being based on science, but to focus on hostility to science. By this he means that anyone who sees any value to any philosophical system that is not purely based on hard science is a fool.

Most attacked is Leon Kass (who is attacked throughout the book, not just here), but most of the chapter serves for Pinker to channel the British intellectual C. P. Snow (who, along with a physicist named David Deutsch, of whom I have never heard, is cited scores of times in this book).

While Pinker meanders on about the need not to separate science and the humanities, what he is really getting at is that religion must be exterminated.  “The moral worldview of any scientifically literate person—one who is not blinkered by fundamentalism—requires a clean break from religious conceptions of meaning and value.”

Why this should be, precisely, is never explained, any more than Pinker ever explains anywhere in this book what one’s “moral worldview” should be, other than utilitarianism, while simultaneously telling us that it is an absolute certainty that “the fate of the black rhinoceros [is] a significant moral concern” and that a bedrock moral principle is that “life is sacred.”  Anyway, mercifully, this chapter ends quickly.

So Pinker’s chapter on Reason isn’t great, nor is his one on Science.  But they are written with a golden quill by an angel, compared to his chapter on Humanism, by which he means Atheism.  Here, Pinker’s unhinged bigotry is let fly.  Still, he starts slow, saying “The goal of maximizing human flourishing—life, health, happiness, freedom, knowledge, love, richness of experience—may be called humanism.”  So it may be, even if he cribbed that list from Martha Nussbaum (whom he repeatedly praises for making up these types of lists).

So far, fair enough, if simplistic enough.  Then he flips that into a claim that “there is a growing movement called Humanism, which promotes a non-supernatural basis for meaning and ethics: good without God.”  Why this logically follows is anyone’s guess, given that maximizing human flourishing is hardly incompatible with religion, or at least with Christianity.

In fact, most of the human flourishing Pinker documents in his book is the result of, at least in part and often nearly wholly, of Christianity, a direct result of how it created the ethos of the West, whether Pinker wants to admit it or not.

The reader weeps in this chapter.  Howler follows howler.  Throughout the book, it’s clear that Pinker has no grasp of history, and what history he knows, is wrong, but it shows up the most here.  The Golden Rule was “rediscovered in hundreds of moral traditions.”

Of course, Pinker names none, since no religion other than Christianity has ever made the Golden Rule a central or even important principle, and many, like Islam, affirmatively reject it.  (Pinker, to nobody’s surprise, is careful to always respectfully add “the Prophet” before “Mohammed,” while he constantly ridicules and makes sarcastic comments about Jesus, whom he most definitely never refers to as “the Lord Jesus Christ”).

He claims that the Nazis were Christian, among other things not seeming to grasp what “German Christians” were, and more broadly which is a claim that is intellectually and morally equivalent to Holocaust denial.

For this claim, his cited sources are “Hellier 2011,” which if you slog through the Bibliography, is not a book but some random astrophysicist’s personal blog, and a website called EvilBible.com, whose only stated mission, in the first line of the site, is that it is “designed to spread the vicious truth about the Bible.”  (I am not making this up.)  Pinker claims that “starting with the Enlightenment, the West initiated a process (still ongoing) of separating the church from the state [and] carving out a space for secular civil society.”

He glibly rejects all arguments about the “fine tuning” of the universe (which, to be fair, say nothing about the actual characteristics of God) with a faith-based appeal to an unproved and probably unprovable concept, the multiverse, compounding his error with the logical fallacy that because some things amazed us in the past yet were true, things that seem amazing now, like the multiverse, are more likely to be true.

All this gives us a view into the mind of someone who, like a man selling magnets when mesmerism was a thing, desperately flogs his wares twice as hard as the customers drift away, shrieking that if they know what’s good for them, they’ll come back.  The reader really doesn’t believe Pinker when he claims that religion is withering away, because it certainly seems to exercise him out of all proportion to something that is not a threat.

Finally, we can distill the entire problem with this part of the book down to one sentence not directly about religion.  It occurs when Pinker discusses consciousness; he naturally rejects any possibility of mind-body duality and spatters the reader with conclusory statements about the solely materialistic origins of consciousness.

Having offered no evidence (but, as he likes to do, having praised third-rate philosophers like Daniel Dennett at great length), he says “Nothing that we know about consciousness is inconsistent with the understanding that it depends entirely on neural activity.”  Let’s unpack that.  Pinker suggests we have an “understanding”—but he offers no evidence of that at all, including any possible actual mechanism.

He conditions that with a “not inconsistent,” which is another way of saying “I don’t know.”  A more accurate rephrasing would be “We know of no way in which consciousness, which we don’t understand in any meaningful way, could depend for its existence on neural activity, though we may discover one in the future.”  But the sentence he offers sounds like a windup to a successful argument, when in reality it’s just a magician’s trick to distract the reader from the hollowness of Pinker’s rantings.

I suppose the basic problem with this book, other than not proving much, if anything, about the responsibility of the Enlightenment for the modern world, is that Pinker wants to offer readers, and the world, the meaning of life, and he can’t, because he’s a straitjacketed materialist.  He puts at the very beginning of his book an episode of which he is extremely proud—when he answered a student’s philosophical question, “Why should I live?”

Pinker’s answer was that life allowed the student to flourish—to “make the most of your capacity for pleasure and satisfaction,” and to engage in sympathy, able to “enjoy the gift of mutual benevolence with friends, family, and colleagues.”  But she also has “the responsibility to provide to others what you expect for yourself,” which will lead to human progress.  Fine words, but they don’t answer the question, whatever Pinker thinks.

They are circular; they offer things which might be good, or might not, depending on how one views things.  But they don’t respond to the actual query, which is really one about whether there is a transcendent purpose to life.  Pinker thinks he hit the platform with a sledgehammer and rang the bell, when really, he missed and hit his foot.

I can only recommend reading this book for one reason—to load up on ammunition if you are a techno-optimist and need support in arguments with doomsayers, Romantics or those who claim all material progress necessarily violates the teleology of Man.  And if you’re stranded on a desert island, it’s reasonably interesting reading material, in the abstract.  Other than that, this book is a failure.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.
The photo shows, “Le Dernier banquet des Girondins,” by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux, painted in 1860.

God And Science: Three Responses

In our secular world, belief in God is popularly linked with either delusion or dangerous political agendas.

In the West, it’s normal and “rational’ to say that there is no God since no scientific proof for Him exists.

How is a Christian to respond to such a foregone conclusion? Here are three to consider.

 

FIRST RESPONSE: FAULTY REASONING

To ask for proof for all things that are essential to life in order to affirm truth or gain certainty is extremely fuzzy logic. Human beings have always understood and dealt with the world in two ways.

Through science which seeks to explain how the world works, and what kind of patterns exist in nature. And through religion which seeks to explain the meaning and significance of reality.

In other words, the minute we start looking for meaning, we have already entered the realm of religion, or the realm of God, that is, we are always in search of significance and meaning.

There are two types of knowledge in the world: naturalist (or scientific) and idealist (or meaningful).

We cannot use the logic of the one to deal with the other.

For example, science can show, prove and study life on the planet. But it cannot answer this question, which each human beings needs to answer for himself – what is the moral purpose of life?

Naturalistic logic fails immediately, and we must turn to idealist logic which alone can explain meaning.

The logic of idealism deals with things not seen, such as, love, empathy, charity, friendship, hope, and goodness.

Man does not live my bread alone.

 

SECOND RESPONSE: THE MATTER OF TYRANNY

If God continually showed Himself so people would have proof – could we really look to Him for moral guidance? No, we could not. Why? The idea of morality depends upon another essential idea – free will.

If God continually showed up on earth and stopped both moral and natural evil as a demonstration of His power, what kind of creatures would we be? Would we not be slaves only motivated by fear of being found out? Certainly, such fear lies at the heart much human belief. But fear is not part of the equation in Christianity. This is why neither Hell nor Heaven are clearly defined. Here is true wisdom.

But if God is love, then He must be invisible so that we may have the ability to express our free will without hindrance. If God keeps interfering with our expression of freedom by becoming a looming, controlling presence, He becomes a tyrant, and He cannot love us, and we are not really free.

Perfect love and perfect freedom can only exist when individual will has the opportunity to be expressed unhindered. Therefore, God is silent and seemingly absent, so that we come to understand what a moral life is to be lived, not only through teaching but through practice.

 

THIRD RESPONSE: THE STRUCTURE OF GOD

God may choose to be invisible and absent, and yet He is immediately knowable through His structure. What does this mean?

Here we can borrow the logic of science and use it to understand a crucial point. All reality is constructed in a specific way; it has a structure.

There is a grand system, or guidebook to the all life and to the cosmos – something that science is becoming mature enough to understand.

Yes, for the many centuries, science has been childish, and therefore wilful and petulant, happy to rebel and deny God as a delusion.

But things have changed – the complexity of reality, of creation, has forced science to grow up and acknowledge what it has denied – that chaos cannot create order.

There is a grand design to everything. Nothing is random, even if it may at first appear to be so.

From the atom to the largest planets and stars; they all have a structure which gives them not only form and organization but also purpose.

For example, in medical science, the structure of disease must first be mapped; only then can a cure be formulated. And what is a cure? It is a competing structure that unhinges the harmful structure of the disease.

Therefore, nothing that exists is without structure. In other words, being is structure. But notice structure has two aspects: shape and function or purpose.

All things have a shape – and a purpose; they fulfill a role. This twin characteristic of reality is a reflection of God. He has a shape (the structure in which all reality exists – the sum of all life), and He has a purpose (the reason why there is something in the universe when there could be nothing).

The very fact that there is life means that there is God, since life has both shape and function, or purpose.

In these three ways, we see that when people say that there is no “proof” of God, and therefore He is simply a figment of the imagination, they are simply reaching for an easy answer in order to affirm their own moral choices, and these choice are often just emotions. In fact, most atheists are angry at God for some perceived let-down.

The question has nothing to do with God – it has everything to do with what people choose to do with their lives. But such is God’s love that He has generosity of purpose, and room enough in His structure, to permit disbelief and denial.

 

The photo shows, “The Adoration of the Golden Calf,” by Andrea di Leone, painted ca. 1526-1627.

Is Christianity Bad For The Environment?

On Boxing Day, 1966, a medieval historian delivered a paper to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The paper was entitled, “The Historic Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis.” The historian was Lynn White, Jr.

The paper caused quite the stir, and by the time it was published in the March 1967 issue of Science magazine, it was already famous.

So famous that it remains a classic to this day and is used by all who want to further their various environmental agendas by bashing Christianity for being inherently anti-ecological.

In his paper, White made wide-ranging claims, which are nothing more than his own misunderstood or misrepresented notions about Christian history, Christian theology, and the history of ideas. Needless to say, he comes across as not really knowing what he’s actually talking about.

In brief, this is what White claimed to be the “truth”…

  • That the western mind is conditioned to exploit and dominate and degrade nature.
  • That western man views the whole of nature as specifically created for human use (and therefore open to exploitation at all cost).
  • That the western mind forever seeks to control nature because it is indifferent to what nature really is (a living entity).
  • That the only way to stop natural degradation is to work towards changing the western mind to a more eco-friendly one.
  • Therefore, western man is a despot because of the way he has been conditioned to think.
  • How did western man come up with such a wretched mindset –you guessed it…because of Christianity. You see, people read five verses in the Bible (Genesis 1:25-30), and launched into full exploitation mode.
  • White’s solution? Radically change Christianity, or replace it with something more kind and gentle to nature.

As is obvious, this sort of thinking has had a deep and pervasive influence in the West, with Christianity being portrayed as the chief villain, responsible for all kinds of nastiness like, “colonialism,” “patriarchy,” “racism,” “gender-bias,” and even “misogyny.”

Hence the concerted and relentless attacks on Christianity, which the emotional rather than intellectual progeny of White perceive as a roadblock to their Utopia of “green,” “sustainable,” “multicultural,” “gender-neutral,” “matriarchal” life.

But is any of this true?

Many people have tried to take White’s essay to task, but his assumptions are now protected by the hallowed cloak of being a “classic.”

Thus, all critical responses are ultimately ineffectual, since once the influence of a “classic” percolates down into popular mythology, criticisms become ineffectual and thus meaningless.

The critique that follows of White’s shallow understanding and misrepresentation is fully cognizant of its own ultimate pointlessness.

The truly sad consequence of White’s mythologization is that most Christians actually accept what he preaches and try to correct and “update” their received theology.

Of course, the minute you say a theology needs updating, you also fully accept the fact then that said theology cannot be true, because it needs updating to “fit into” what the world has now become. But that’s a side issue for now.

Let’s continue with White.

His arguments and assumptions show that he does not really understand anything outside his own narrow area of specialization (which was medieval technology). But that never really stopped anyone from formulating opinions based on what he thinks he knows, rather than on what he actually knows.

Even in his scholarly works, he is peddling assumptions that have long been proven to be incorrect, or just plain wrong. For example, in his magnum opus, Medieval Technology and Social Change, which is best left on the bookshelf unread.

So, if he can’t even get things right in his own area of expertise, is he really to be trusted when he launches into critiquing and then suggesting “viable” solutions for something he’s not an expert on – like the environment and the western mind?

One should hope not!

For example, he knows nothing about Christian history, Greco-Roman philosophy, Roman Christianity, ancient religions, scriptural hermeneutics.

And he most certainly knows nothing about theology (not even medieval theology – and he was a medievalist), philosophy, Modernism, secularism, Marxism, consumerism and postmodernism (Jacques Derrida’s seminal work, Of Grammatology came out in 1967, the same year as White’s essay).

He needed to have some acquaintance with these varied areas of research in order to actually critique Christianity, but he was tabula rasa. But he forged on regardless.

In fact, all these developments in western thought had a far more devastating role to play in environmental exploitation than five verses in the Book of Genesis.

But when White sits down to write a comprehensive analysis of what is going wrong with the world, his reach is not simply limited, it’s misguided because he can look no further than his own ignorance.

He’s like the Rev. Dean Drone, in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, who overhears someone calling him a “mugwump,” and is to be found, later that evening, going through a book, entitled, Animals of Palestine. When he can’t find the mugwump listed in said book, the reverend decides that this particular animal must have been unknown “in the greater days of Judea.”

Truth is always complex. It only becomes simple when it is misunderstood, or when it is misrepresented.

Rereading White’s highly influential essay half-a-century later make certain things immediately stand out.

There’s the habit of making sweeping statements which barely crawl past the opinion stage.

Things like:

  • that Christianity wrongly destroyed the better pagan view of seeing spirits in nature;
  • that Christianity teaches anthropocentrism and changes nature from sacred to useful;
  • that Christianity enables the exploitation of nature because the religion is indifferent to the “feelings” of natural things;
  • that Christianity bears the entire “burden of guilt” for making the West into a domineering and exploitative force;
  • and that the West needs to find a better religion, or change Christianity so can be “green” and “eco-friendly.”

Let’s have a look at what White is actually saying.

Is it better to have people believing that spirits inhabit everything, and did Christianity actually destroy it?

Briefly, what White is assuming to be “paganism” is actually “shamanism” (which is nature spirituality). He’s again confused.

Greco-Roman paganism was polytheistic, but it was not shamanistic. Yes, it had gods, but that did not translate into some sort of nature spirituality (for now, let’s just point to the Roman arenas where huge number of animals were slaughtered for entertainment)

Nature, in the Greco-Roman world was seen as chaotic and threatening and thus needed to be controlled. In other words, pollution, degradation and exploitation were rife in the pagan world (White knew nothing about it).

White’s heroes, the pagans, were happy carrying out mass deforestation, while horribly polluting water and air and soil with things like the industrial-scale smelting and mining.

So, how did the Romans become such excellent polluters, exploiters and dominators – without first being instructed, in that fine art, by Genesis 1:25-30? White is clueless.

Greco-Roman paganism was exploitative, domineering, and cruel. White is simply erecting a self-serving construct of “good” pagans so he can the more easily bash Christianity. It’s a lot easier that way.

Thinking that there are spirits everywhere does not make you into a green citizen of the world. According to the Roman example, it makes you a very effective manipulator, because you have to continually come up with strategies to control nature so it won’t harm you. You have to control nature so it kill you. Basic human survival.

Next, does Christianity teach anthropocentrism by transferring nature from the “sacred” slot to useful one, which then leads to indifferent to nature? The answer again is, No.

Once again, White doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Anthropocentrism, as the word suggests, is a Greek invention (long before Christianity). It’s what came to be called, “Humanism.”

Or, in the famous words of Protagoras, “Man is the measure of all things.” The Pre-Socratic philosophers, as well as Plato and Aristotle, knew that nature was meaningless – and useless – without the human mind.

On the other hand, Christjanity denies anthropocentrism, because it makes human beings into God’s creation, who exist in an allegorical relationship with nature.

Nature, in the Christian view, forever teaches mankind eternal truths (that’s why it’s allegorical).

This is the view of the Bible and all the Christian theologians, such as, Origen, Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, Meister Eckhart, and many others.

Thus, in the Christian view, nature is not useful, it is didactic – it is a guide, a counselor, an adviser to mankind about the mysteries of God.

This means that a Christian cannot be indifferent and hostile to nature. Such an attitude would be a denial of God’s purpose. How? Because both nature and Scripture are one and the same.

White is simplistic and wrong, because the Christian view of nature is far more sophisticated and caring than he can imagine. He just doesn’t have the proper intellectual background to discuss the issue properly. So, by default he turns to what he actually knows, like Rev Drone.

Next, did Christianity make the West into both “dominating” and “exploitative?” Again, no.

White cannot fathom the fact that any community, any culture, any civilization has the right to clothe and feed itself. Humans cannot exist without dominating and exploiting natural resources.

This is the real problem that all modern environmental activists cannot solve. How a world built according to their “green specifications” will actually feed and clothe itself?

When White extrapolates western negative character traits from Genesis 1:25-30, he is veering into territory that he doesn’t understand.

The real exploitation and domination only begins when the West cuts itself off from Christianity and pretends that it can live rootlessly.

It’s the West’s scientific secularism and atheism which changes nature into an inert thing. Therefore, mankind sets out trying to find uses for what nature has. Exploitation follows, as usefulness ramps up into consumerism, which is an extension of materialism.

Consumerism has only virtue – profit. Here the shadow of Thomas Hobbes looms large, but White can’t notice it.

So, ecological degradation is the by-product of materialism. That is where the blame really lies.

But White is hampered by his own ignorance, and the Rev. Dean Drake has to root around in his own limited knowledge in order to come up with an explanation to a very complex historical process.

As for White’s “solution” of creating a better religion than Christianity, or fixing Christianity so it becomes “better” for him, that’s all just his own fix to a problem that he himself has created.

Of course, if you’re going to say that all the world’s problems come from Genesis 1:25-30, then the fix is easy. Get rid of Genesis 1:25-30.

But what if the problem is far more convoluted than White can even imagine?

How can a man, who shows a very limited understanding of the life of ideas, actually presume to correct, and fix, what he is clueless about?

White has no solutions. He just has a faulty agenda that he wants to push as the “truth.” His “arguments” are nothing but caricatures of thinking.

Here’s the ultimate problem that White faces. He’s trying to prove the historical consequences of five scriptural verses.

In other words, he has veered into proving reception – and he’s both inadequate and incapable for the task.

White best trick is to trundle long-debunked notions, like the “Protestant Work Ethic,” which was invented by Max Weber (who wanted to understand why the West became secular and atheistic).

In other words, White tries to prove his case by relying on false data. And, importantly, he doesn’t even know that it’s false! He thinks it’s all true!

Then, there’s that annoying fact about Christianity outside of Europe – in Africa, and in all (yes, all) parts of Asia.

How come none of these Christians suddenly got into domination and exploitation mode after reading Genesis 1:25-30?

But, lest some social-justice-warriors gleefully leap into the usual Europe-bashing routine, let’s continue with another problem that White cannot address (because he’s clueless that it even exists).

The Genesis creation exists also in Judaism. Surely, given the immense amount of cultural power that White ascribes to Genesis 1:25-30, one would expect that when Jews read these words, say, in Djerba, they might paddle out into the Gulf of Gabès, looking for ways exploit and dominate?

In other words, why do people in other parts of the world react (receive) Genesis 1:25-30 differently from what White imagines? If only the words of this passage have had such a devastating effect?

But…White says nothing about such Genesis-indoctrinated Jews and Christians beyond Europe.

According to White’s scheme of things, these five Bible verses only changed Europeans into the domineering, exploitative sort. Why, of course!

Need we go on? Well, just for a bit longer.

The Genesis story also appears (wait for it…) in the Koran, in the Al-Baqarah section, where Adam is (you guessed it) given dominion over the earth, as Allah’s Caliph (or a sort of Pope), to do as he pleases – and to let loose blood and devastation, as Allah’s angels observe.

But, as might be guessed, White knowns nothing about the Genesis-Koran connection.

So, the reception of the Genesis creation story is not only “Eurocentric” and “Protestant-Work-Ethical.” It is also Asian-and-African Christian, Jewish, and Islamic.

Outside of Europe it seems, Genesis 1:25-30 couldn’t do its usual “conditioning.”

But since White seems not to know about any of this, he can safely assume that it just doesn’t exist.

Then, there’s the larger problem of how the entire book of Genesis has actually been read and understood throughout Christian history.

In Christian theology (another topic that White knows nothing about – but that has never stopped anybody when there’s an ax to grind), the term used in Genesis 1:25-30, “dominion” never meant exploitation or domination (as White assumes – which points to the fact that he’s a literalist – and you can only be a literalist if you don’t know much).

“Whiteism” is the problem with present-day literalists, as well – they read the Bible without any understanding, or knowledge of, the Magisterium, the vast tradition of learning that complements and theologically explains what is contained in the Bible. This is a problem with Protestantism, where people have to make things up as they go along.

White does the same thing – make things up as he goes along, so he can sound convincing.

In fact, in Christian theology, the word “dominion,” in Genesis, refers to controlling the passions of the body which always led to sin.

“Dominion” never had an ecological sense at all. This sense has been added by White.

Historically, Christians read the Bible allegorically, not literally (literalism is the result of secularism, which sees itself as an authority in and of itself).

In fact, when we project a literalist reading of Scripture back into time, we are only demonstrating our own ignorance.

With the rise of secularism, the intellectual tradition of Christianity has all but vanished. This results in the rootlessness of the West, which now sees its own nourishment (Christianity) as poisonous. This attitude is created by the Enlightenment.

It is secularism which launches Europe into exploitation and domination mode – not Christianity.

For example, here’s Joseph Glanvill, writing in 1665 – that the new philosophy (the Enlightenment) offers “ways of captivating Nature, and making her subserve our purposes and designments.” He continues that this will lead to “the Empire of Man over Nature.”

This has nothing to do with Genesis 1:25-30.

By the way, none of these Enlightenment philosophers adds, “I’m getting all this, in case you’re wondering, from Genesis 1:25-30 and so, God wills it, etc.”

It’s highly doubtful that White bothered much with the many, many secular philosophers during and after the Enlightenment.

White was what he was – but the reception of his critique has been long-lived, and therefore his notions need to be challenged and debunked.

Alas, most Christians today have drunk his Kool-Aid and go about lecturing everyone how Christians need to get past the exploitative and domineering message of Genesis 1:25-30.

Sadder still is the fact that both Christians and their critics are deeply ignorant of the history of western ideas.

If we do not know history, we don’t just repeat it, but we stupidly repeat the lies fed to us.

But that is the tale of the modern world – flying off into high moral dudgeon because of the rhetorical force of lies.

What is the real Christian ecological message?

Here it is: “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matthew 6:26).

It is only when this real message of Christianity is forgotten and lost, that exploitation and domination begin.

And if people want to find the ideas that led to exploitation and wilful domination, then they need look no further than secularism.

The spoliation of the earth, and the exploitation of the weak, are both the fruits of the West’s apostasy from its true root – the redemptive message of Christianity.

Without it, the West is lost…”You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Matthew 5:13).

 

 

The photo shows, “Chapel on the Edge of the Wood, ” by Karl Friedrich Lessing, painted in 1839.

Review: Dan Brown’s Origin – Or, Here We Go Again

The bestselling novelist, Dan Brown, has decided to slay yet one more dragon.

Previously, he was busy destroying Jesus, Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church, saints, sanctity. This time, he has far bigger fish to fry…Move over Nietzsche!

In Origin, Brown wants to kill off God, by way of science, because religion is all “a hodgepodge of ancient fictions, fables, and myths,” which science can oh-so easily take apart and sweep into the dustbin of superstition.

This is such a 19th-century argument which keeps getting recycled.

The argument itself is impossible to sustain in the light of history, let alone philosophy, but that has never stopped people like Dan Brown.

The idea that modern-day Christianity is a hangover from simpler times – when people were, well, simple-minded enough to believe all those “fictions” cobbled together from ancient myths – was developed by men such as Hermann Usener, Gerald Massey, and James Frazer.

Of course, by “religion,” Brown really means Christianity. It is highly doubtful that he will ever write any novels that will seek to destroy…say…Allah, Mohammad, Islam…As is common knowledge, Christians and Christianity are an easy target, so let’s have at it – there’s serious money to be made!

But to say, as Brown does, that science will kill off God is being terribly simple-minded – because “religion” and “science” are contrived and monolithic constructs designed by hucksters to elicit the “correct” response – that the former is false and the latter is true.

To set God and science against each other is nothing but a rhetorical trick meant only to benefit Brown’s novel. God and science have never been mutually exclusive, as is often, but wrongly, assumed. Rather, science and God complement each other.

It is in fact Brown’s novels, including Origin, which are “a hodgepodge of ancient fictions, fables, and myths.”

But we should not forget that he’s in the money-making business, and slander and stereotypes pay quite well.

On his way to the bank, however, he will corrupt many minds and waylay many souls with his piffle, as he proselytizes for his own god (Science) and his own religion (Scientism)

To say that science is the only explanation of everything is to diminish science and humanity. Science understands its limits, for it can only serve humanity in a particular way.

Thus, science knows that love is far more than a chemically-induced function of the brain. To say science negates God is to say that mankind needs finite answers that are good forever.

What a terrible wish for the future! As with so much of our culture today, Brown is content drowning in the roils of Presentism – that the past is eternally wrong (because it was not progressive), and the present is eternally right (because we have benefited from progress and thus have achieved all the right answers forever, so what we determine is good and right – is good and right forever).

Here it is important to note that religion has never sought to kill off science, while ever since the Enlightenment, science has always seen itself as a rival of God and has sought all kinds of ways to get rid of him. Here, we should not trundle out old Galileo. The reality of what actually happened is far different than what is popularly repeated, including in Brown’s Origin.

The modern-age is marked by countless attempts to delete God from the memory of man, because God is decried as being harmful, while science is proclaimed to be beneficial – hence the justification that atheism is the true future of mankind – because science is eternally right and God is eternally wrong.

But in the various attempts at this deletion lie endless cruelties and tragedies. Thus, by promoting this narrative of deletion, Brown includes himself in those horrors, because without God he cannot say why they were wrong.

Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao were not Godly men – but they were deeply and profoundly scientific men who sought to create a materialist paradise.

Indeed, Brown’s entire writing career has depended upon offering various arguments for precisely a “better” world without God, and so his arguments are finely aligned with those of Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and so many others.

Further, to say that science alone best serves humanity is to establish tyranny. History is littered with scientific societies that sought to make life better for mankind, but ended in total murder.

It is estimated that in the last century communism (the ultimate commitment to life lived by the dictates of science) killed nearly a 100 million people. That statistic alone should stop the purveyors of scientism, like Brown, dead in their tracks. But it never does.

Origin is thus a hodgepodge of the wildest conspiracy theories, made plausible by the guise of fiction. It’s a clever marketing ploy, really – make people think they’re being “intellectual,” as they wallow in distorted and dumbed-down history, so they can then get through life “enlightened” and scientific.

A little learning is a dangerous thing, Alexander Pope once observed.

Now, let’s dispense with the plot (spoiler alert).

Robert Langdon (Brown’s ubiquitous hero) is invited to attend a lavish premiere of a video presentation in Spain.

This video will cure the world of God, and humanity will at last be free to put all its trust in science. In other words, humans don’t need God any more – everyone is too grown up now to actually believe in such fairy tales (see Usener, Massey, Frazer above).

The creator of this earth-shattering revelation is Langdon’s former student, the fabulously rich and brilliant computer geek, Edmond Kirsch.

But, true to form, the video is never shown, because Kirsch is killed by a navy admiral who heads a sinister cabal of arch-Catholics (Catholic-bashing never goes out of style for Brown), who have made it their life mission to keep people ignorant and therefore in the pews. It’s all up to Langdon once again.

The narrative moves all over Spain, with many long-winded, and mistaken, explanations of intellectual stuff, until Langdon finally gets the job done.

As for God, well, it seems that Kirsch’s video revealed that life on earth is not the result of some designing, eternal mind (God), but came about through natural laws.

That’s all?! This is the earth-shattering revelation?! The word, “bathos” comes to mind. This is supposed to kill God and finally haul ignorant humanity into the bright, clear truth of science? The Pre-Socratics were saying this back in the 6th-century BC!

But, wait. Aren’t laws designs? When we say life happened because of laws, then we are admitting life is actually designed. The Pre-Socratics had figured this out as well.

Now, this is where things get interesting.

Brown’s character, Kirsch, has based his God-defeating argument on the work of a physics professor at MIT, named Jeremy England.

Brown summarizes England’s work in this way – that the “physical principle” responsible for creating life (aka, natural laws) makes God useless. (See comment above about dumbing things down).

At this point, fiction segues into reality – because, in fact, there really is a scientist named, Jeremy England, and he has spoken up and written a very elegant refutation of Brown’s presumptions, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal. The title of this refutation says it all – “Dan Brown Can’t Cite Me to Disprove God.”

The real Professor England, at MIT, does indeed teach physics – and (the ultimate take-down) does indeed believe, not only in God, but in the God of the Bible.

And the supposed “brilliance” of Edmond Kirsch is destroyed by the real Professor England (who truly is brilliant) by one simple observation: “There’s no real science in the book to argue over.”

This raises another obvious question – do people really read Brown’s half-baked musings as actual fact? They must. (The education system has a lot of explaining to do).

But let’s not rush into things…the words of H.L. Mencken come to mind, “No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

In actual fact, science offers glimpses into the never-ending complexity of the natural world and the cosmos.

Such complexity fulfills a purpose, for at the minutest level of each cell, there is encoded information that determines what each tiny component in the vast web of creation must do. Information can only be designed – it cannot be mindless.

To reduce everything down to the level of “science” vs. God is to vastly misunderstand science and God, and sledgehammer both into great globs of dull-wittedness to amuse the hapless.

Professor England then proceeds to mirror Ludwig Wittgenstein when he describes the true nature of scientific inquiry (a description far more compelling than anything Brown can come up with in his entire novel).

England tells us that scientific explanation is about a choice of language – what words, what register, to use in order to describe, quantify, and analyze.

Then England waxes wonderfully Wittgensteinian: “The language of physics can be extremely useful in talking about the world, but it can never address everything that needs to be said about human life.”

Let’s recall Wittgenstein in the Tractus: “…even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all.”

Humans live not by quantification and description – they live by morality, which alone can meet the problems and challenges of life. Science is mindless when it comes to morality. It’s like asking a lawnmower to create a majestic wedding cake.

The problem with science is that it can never answer the question, “Why?” When people like Brown force it to answer this question, science disappears and Scientism enters in – this is better than that – secularism is better than God – half a loaf is better than Heaven. And thus tyranny begins.

Rather, “Why” – is the search for the good, it is the cry of the conscience – it is not the quest for comprehension.

“Why” – is the search for moral clarity, which is that quiet strength, urging us to compassion and love.

Science knows nothing about living, because it cannot understand why we must live.

Currently, the West is possessed by a suicidal hunger. Its itching ears yearn to hear the siren-song of “progress” and “science,” which will lead to some brave new utopia.

Only the return of morality shall exorcize the West and perhaps yet save its soul.

At the heart of Brown’s novel is a frightening worldview – for to be Godless is to be machine-like.

A “science-run” society is nothing other than control by an elite, a priestly class of scientists who always know better than we do, and therefore can tell us how to live and what to think.

Scientism also emboldens the state to legislate behavior and implant, through relentless propaganda, state-sanctioned agendas, which people become used to and then demand as their natural preference.

It was Jacques Ellul who pointed out that propaganda does not flow down from the top. Rather, propaganda is what the people themselves demand. This is the truly frightening aspect of science – people demanding their own enslavement because they’ve been conditioned to think such bondage is the path to a bright future.

In a Godless world, only the Marquis de Sade makes sense – the perpetual satisfaction of all urges, no matter what the cost. In fact, de Sade is the only man in history who fearlessly explored what it truly means to live in this world without God. Even Nietzsche, in the end, balked at that,

To live by the logic of science is not liberty, not progress, not life. Rather, it is submission to the worst form of slavery, namely, a life “beyond good and evil.”

As for God, here is Professor England’s profound observation, which brilliantly destroys Brown’s agenda: “To me, the idea that physics could prove that the God of Abraham is not the creator and ruler of the world reflects a serious misunderstanding – of both the scientific method and the function of the biblical text.”

Brown’s currency is pedalling in falsehoods. How much longer are we going to put up with such privileged elite, who live in their mansions and still have the need to tell us how to live – and even what to believe?

Perhaps in answer, Professor England, asks a far better question: “Do we need to keep learning about God? For my part, in light of everything I know, I am certain that we do.”

 

The photo shows, “An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump,” by Joseph Wright of Derby, painted, 1768.

Atheism Is Dead

Modernity may be summarized by one single ideology – relativism, which aggrandizes the individual by valorizing opinions, choices, tastes, preferences and feelings over ideas, while debasing truth, morality, history and religion.

The lure of relativism has three well-honed hooks – scientism and atheism which together demonstrate and gauge the march of progress.

Progressivism claims that things change for the better over time; and therefore, we are wiser and superior than people living fifty or a hundred years ago because we are the recipients of the benefits of progress.

The modernist project therefore becomes a straightforward one – to clear the road for progress by sweeping away everything that will impede it. The supposed result will be the just society, where a harmonious plurality of individuals will enjoy fruits that are as yet unimaginable.

To achieve this, progressivism understands that the political sphere alone can ensure the achievement of this utopia by way of laws that protect group rights, so that no one is left behind. This is the legalization of identity politics.

Progressivism also readily justifies the current war on statues in the US – because the past is perceived as forever flawed, with nothing to teach and therefore useless to preserve. The past is forever benighted and thus wrong.

And old ideas, like statues, also need to be pulled down and trodden underfoot. Newer ideas are better than old ones, progressivism maintains.

All this is indeed a heady siren song.

For relativism, the worst of these useless monuments of the past is the belief in God, which refuses to let truth, morality and history be easily argued away.

However, here relativism employs another strategy – scientism, which was first elaborated by Auguste Comte.

Since modernity is progressive, science is declared the guarantor of all that is right and therefore believable – and only that which is materially provable therefore exists.

Since science cannot prove the existence of God, then God simply does not exist. This is the strength of atheism, which therefore concludes (via the Cambridge philosophers, such as, Bertrand Russell) that questions about the purpose and value of life are nothing but primitive thinking.

Life has no ultimate purpose or value. Life just is, and nothing more.

Therefore, for the materialists, atheism is the only logical position to hold. But this notion has feet of clay.

For example, at a funeral, the bereaved are not asked to contemplate, say, the Pythagorean theorem, nor given to consider the aorist middle of ancient Greek, as means of consolation and comfort for their loss.

If science has all the answers, why is it deficient in the consolation department?

Aristotle understood this perfectly, for he says, “…all law is universal but for some things it is impossible to make a universal statement which is correct.”

It is also the peculiar habit of humans to see themselves as something greater than the sum of their materiality.

But the habit of the Cambridge philosophers to relegate the non-scientific to the primitive continues, and thus atheism is vaunted as enlightenment.

In this view, science is right, and everything else is superstition, ignorance, and stupidity (the useless dross of history), because knowledge is only that which can be proved with certainty.

Thus, with some regularity, a valiant soul musters himself to finally sweep away God as an unnecessary hang-over from a benighted, barbaric past, when human beings were childish in thought and gullible in worldview.

Of course, for this brave soul, the present, which is fully illumined by the clear light of science and leads to progress contains all the answers that human beings will ever need. Such is the blind arrogance of progressivism.

There is but one slight problem here – when God is deemed non-existent, there is only nothingness which replaces it – because up to today humankind has been unable to come up with an enduring paradigm based upon nothingness that might provide both value and meaning to life.

In other words, atheism is unable to provide a moral conscience. As Rémi Brague has cogently asked, if God does not exist, then why should humanity continue to exist?

The truth that few atheists want to deal with, let alone acknowledge, is this – atheism is dead, despite its triumphal declarations. It can never give humans what they need – civilization, which is rooted in morality rather than material causes.

For example, studies show that infants perceive right and wrong, which means that humans possess natural moral law.

Belief in God is the corollary of this law. Therefore, atheism’s view of religion as superstition is false, and its dream-project of disproving God via science is meaningless, and forever bound to fail.

Science can only express quantification by a purpose-specific methodology. If this methodology and its attendant language are extended to other purposes, the result is babble, because meaning vanishes. Science becomes futile, as at a funeral, in the example above.

How can science explain metaphysics when it can only quantify physics?

Further, atheism posits man as an explanation of man. But as Sartre points out man cannot pass sentence on himself, that is, in whom shall reside the power to pronounce that humans can exist?

This means that saying there is no God, is also saying that there is no morality, because Godlessness inevitably leads to the animal-man.

And here is the crux of the problem – how does the animal-man become worthy of anything more than bio-mass?

The only option left for atheism, then, is to declare both God and morality as nonexistent, and to entirely validate man as an animal, driven by instinct to survive and by the will to power. For what is man without morality? Which is to say, what is man without God?

Here atheism can certainly learn from Nietzsche, but this requires courage – because to live beyond good and evil, to be entirely free from God, is only possible through the complete exertion of the animal-man, which can only be made through strength – not moral qualms.

In a truly Godless society, there can no judgement.

To be an animal-man, then, is not a new experiment. It has been attempted before (Hitlerism, Stalinism, Maoism, and so on).

The honest atheist must fully embrace and then extol a morality-free existence for all human animals. To say that humans are somehow something more than animals is to veer into the Godly.

This means no laws, no society, no kindness, no love – just pure instinct.

Such honesty indeed requires great courage.

Of all the atheists, only the Marquis de Sade  was most the honest because as a philosopher he clearly understood what an atheistic life must be – selfishness, even to the point of utter cruelty and depravity, because there are no divine laws that can be transgressed, no one to answer to, no one to lay down morality.

The true, honest atheist must deny moral natural law, and then fully live out its consequences. The term, “sadism” comes from the Marquis’s name.

If atheists are repulsed by this inevitability, then they are affirming that they are not really atheists, but simply rebellious or fashionable, or “cutting edge,” and that atheism for them is nothing more than a preference, a taste, a personal opinion – a matter of social convenience, or group acceptance.

Real atheists must accept what life without God entails – the full affirmation of the animal-man, obeying instincts to the fullest, because every human being is nothing more than bio-mass to manipulate or destroy by the strongest.

The Marquis de Sade, of course, predates Charles Darwin.

So, here lies the challenge for atheists. If they are true to their assertion that there is no God, they must be Sadean. They cannot deny God and then live like perfectly decent Christians, guided by moral compunction. That is simply being a phony.

This is why, historically, atheists have never gathered together and built a civilization, nor created any of the structures that enable civilization to thrive (hospitals, schools, charities).

Atheism was never an heuristic idea – it was simply an expression of dissatisfaction with the normative in society, or at best a critique – and therefore, it was always marginal to human thought.

But why is there a need for atheism in modernity? Why does modernism hate the cultural “hand” that feeds it (namely, Christianity). Why rant against God, and then demand morality (now called, “rights”)?

Since modernity has become thoroughly relativistic (where truth is simply an opinion), the need grows greater to believe (the prospect of emptiness everywhere is destructive).

And this need for belief turns inwards, to the self, which is then deified and duly worshipped (what is popular culture today, if not constant self-worship).

Thus, most modern atheism is only narcissism (it is not Sadean). Christianity negates narcissism by urging the love of the other, and therefore it is despised.

The historian Herbert Butterfield once observed (he should be read more): “…it is not always realised that belief in God gives us greater elasticity of mind, rescuing us from too great subservience to intermediate principles, whether these are related to nationality or ideology or science… Similarly, Christianity is not tied to regimes – not compelled to regard the existing order as the very end of life and the embodiment of all our values.”

Therefore, true atheism is dead because it is anti-human. And very few have the  courage to heed the call of the animal-man and live the Sadean life.

 

The photo shows, “The Sirens and Ulysses,” painted about 1837, by William Etty.

What Is The Soul?

Does death have meaning?

This may seem an inane or even a pointless question. And yet, an understanding of death determines how humans live. Consider the fact that mankind has come up with only two answers for death.

First, that death has great meaning, because it is the transition to an eternal, extra-corporeal, or spiritual realm. The quality of this everlasting existence is determined by moral choices made by individuals during life on earth. In other words, the life of the soul depends upon morality.

This also means that the role and purpose of civilization becomes twofold: To look after the body and to care for the soul – to ensure that its citizens not only enjoy a happy earthly life but also have the assurance of a happy eternal existence.

humans are innately moral creatures

Civilization has a higher calling than simply managing modes of production, for it also needs to transition into its own eternal form by way of its earthly citizens. Civilization must concern itself with the Kingdom of God.

The second answer, which is more recent, maintains that death is final; there is nothing that comes after. Thus, there is no soul, and death is really meaningless, since it is the final end of life.

This answer dismantles the need for a morality attuned to eternity – and makes civilization into nothing more than civic space where individuals consume and produce, and thus no value is higher than this consumption.

Life is simply the pursuit of individualized pleasure; and the point of civilization is to set up structures that enable the satisfaction of sensual urges and desires.

The contemporary world is struggling with both these answers to the question of the soul.

Those that belong to the second camp justify themselves by asserting that humanity has matured into soullessness – to worry about the soul is to be childish, superstitious, and therefore regressive. Those that worry about the soul are deemed mythologizers whose day has long vanished.

to live the life of the mind, to use reason, by necessity means acknowledging the soul

Those that cultivate the soul, in turn, have history on their side, because mankind has always shown itself at its most refined and the most generous when the soul is not forgotten.

Indeed, where would the West be if it did not worry about the soul throughout its history?

But what is the soul?

The English word “soul” is an ancient one, descending from the Proto-Germanic, *saiwalo, which reaches far back into the Bronze Age. Its Indo-European cousins are the Greek aiolos and the Russian, sila.

During Indo-European antiquity, “soul” likely meant, “speedy,” or “energetic” – that is, the quickening energy of the body. There is no connection between the “soul” and the “sea,” despite popular etymologies.

It was the Greeks who first clarified and identified the immortal part of the human body.

Earlier ancient civilizations (Mesopotamian and Egyptian) also delved into notions of life after death, but their concepts did not gain currency beyond their own particular cultures, because they could not clarify the nature of the soul.

The Greeks however created explanations and ideas that would persist through space and time and thus become universal.

The two terms that they used for the soul were psyche and pneuma. The former gained greater currency (via psych-ology), but the latter actually defined the soul itself.

the contemporary world is struggling with… the question of the soul

The psyche is emotions, understanding and sensibility. Humans, as well as animals, possess psyche, which is also known as the animal-soul. The psyche animates the carnal body and, since it is not immortal, it dies and disappears at the time of death.

The pneuma, on the other hand, is the mind, which is a complex unity of the conscience, reason, and will. Only humans possess the pneuma, or the rational soul, which is immortal, and which therefore continues existence into eternity.

The pneuma is also understood as being the resurrected spirit-body in Christianity, which is not fleshly, but is governed by the Holy Spirit (the Pneuma Hagion), through which it unites with God into eternity.

Christianity collapses the two Greek terms (psyche and pneuma) into one – psyche, which now comes to carry the meaning of the rational-soul.

Thus, true to its Indo-European root, the soul carries still a quickening energy, for it determines not only the quality of an individual’s life, but also the very character of civilization itself.

Further, the soul broaches two deeper questions – how shall we live and what must we do? Is an animal existence enough for human beings?

But to live the life of the mind, to use reason, by necessity means acknowledging the soul.

In the words of Thomas Aquinas: “The human being abounds in diverse types of potential: namely because humanity is on the frontier between spiritual and corporeal creatures, and thus the powers of each are joined in it.”

Civilization has a higher calling than simply managing modes of production

But what is meant by the soul, whose presence or absence delimits how humans live?

The earliest civilizations, Mesopotamian and Egyptian, recorded the first understandings of the meaning of death – that it is a process whereby mankind transitions into its eternal abode, whether among the stars or in the netherworld.

In these early civilizations, both the body and its inherent life-force (the soul) shared in immortality. This explains the grave-goods that were left with the departed.

Eternity and humanity were forever linked, which then justified the importance of morality (the me-s among the Sumerians; the ma’at for the Egyptians), which in turn was established by the gods for the structuring and maintenance of human civilization.

Thus, to live was to practice and follow divine laws. The breaking of such laws had immediate social as well as eternal consequences.

a complex unity of the conscience, reason, and will

It would be easy to say that the first answer affirming the soul is hopeful, while the second one denying the soul is bleak. But that would be misguided.

Rather, what we have are two answers that express the same reality (a hendiadys). In other words, both the denial and affirmation of the soul are really two sides of the same coin.

What coin is that? The coin of faith, or belief. Both answers are, of course, valid because both are expressions of human faith, either in the material or in the spiritual. Is life even possible without belief? Even the denial of belief is belief.

But the results of both beliefs are the important thing. The denial of the soul leads to a grim immediacy, where appetitive satiation is the only goal of life, encapsulated by the fatuous maxim, “Live each day to the fullest.” In other words, self-indulgence is the sole reason for being alive.

To say that each human body houses a soul leads humanity elsewhere – towards morality, for life is not about fulfilment, but about pursuing the truth and, though actions and ideas, adding to the goodness of the world, even if doing so harms or even kills the body.

As stated already, belief in something that survives death has always been part of the human condition until recently, when an unthinking sort of atheism took hold.

Thus it is not surprising that humanity has always cared to construct some version of morality because it lends stability to society and builds civilization, and because it determines how we are to live and what we are to do.

Does the denial of the soul benefit humanity? No, because humans are innately moral creatures, and when they are asked to live without morality, they veer into existential absurdity – in other words, a soulless life of relentless satiation, as embodied by the so-called celebrities of this age.

What, then, is the soul? It is the very essence of what it means to be a human being – in this world and the next. The soul is the summary of that we are and shall be. How shall we want to be summarized? That is the real question of what it means to be a human being.

 

The photo shows, “The Empty Tomb,” painted in 1889, by Mikhail Nesterov.