Barrel Strength

Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Barrel Strength - Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Allah is Dead: Rebecca Bynum on Islam

Rebecca Bynum is the author of a slim volume called “Allah is Dead: Why Islam is not a religion.” Every person concerned with what this thing is, ought to read it. Bynum characterizes Islam as something which is not essentially a religion, though it talks a lot about God, but as a totalitarian and essentially  immoral system of social organization which abolishes religion and morality, as we have understood those terms. The only thing left is material and outward obedience to a system, but which is deadly to all conceptions of an inner spiritual life.

Her point is that religion, properly conceived,  is taking a bad rap because many people conflate Islam with all religions and fail to understand why all religion leaves doors open that Islam declares to be shut forever. She calls it a “duck-billed platypus” of a religion, one so different from all others that its true nature is confusing to those brought up in any other, including secular humanism

I have spoken about this before. Robert Reilly’s The Closing of the Muslim Mind demonstrates the baneful effects of Islam’s conjecture that God is holding  together the entire universe at every instance and in every molecule. Everything, I mean everything, is God’s will. If I win the battle, if I lose the battle, if I torture you to death, or you torture me to death: it is all God’s will. Thus morality does not stand apart from history and judges it; morality is revealed in history, and whatever wins, is God’s will. Reilly demonstrates how Islam committed intellectual suicide a long time ago; Bynum shows how modern western society is so defenceless against Islam’s claims.

The most dangerous aspect of Islam is that it strikes western societies at the time when they have largely abandoned the Christianity that gave them the confidence to pursue science, and to assert human rights.

Our behaviour and our culture are shaped by our conception of the Deity. If God is in some sense knowable, and if he has established laws or regularities that govern the physical properties of the universe, then two things are open to us: theology and science. It is a fact that science as we understand it is the unique property of Christian civilization, precisely because priests and scientists alike believe in the rational intelligibility of nature. [Space does not permit arguing this truth at greater length. To those who do not believe it, I suggest they read more about the history of science]. To the extent that God is knowable, we can model ourselves on the loving, orderly, creative God who lets us find out for ourselves what the right path should be. Freedom to sin and freedom to find the truth are at the core of Christianity. We are not automatons.

These two doors onto the universe and what lies beyond it have been slammed shut by Islam. God is essentially unknowable in any sense,  he does not love us, and his rule is caprice. As we form ourselves on the idea of the good, and hence of the ultimate good, God, so we form our behaviour and culture. If Islamic rule at the patriarchal familial and political level is capricious, immoral, violent, and frenzied, it is merely the reflection of their idea of God.

In Bynum’s opening chapter there is a line about the Western reaction to these unpleasant truths:

As the light of truth shines upon reality and defines the outlines of evil, it is inevitable that some should mistake the bearers of this truth as the source of their fear, the fear of the necessity for a decision, and lash out at those defining the conflict as evil dividers of humanity. For as secularists and Muslims themselves learn about the truth about Islam’s bloody doctrine and history, they must each individually make a moral decision and this they wish to avoid at all costs ….In the absence of truth, there is no necessity for division; therefore, truth itself becomes the enemy and secularists and some religionists unwittingly become emotional defenders of lies.

Allah is Dead is a far better book than I can tell you about here. I recommend it for its clear and deep analysis of how much trouble we are in. The fault, in short, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves, and Islam is merely the opportunistic pathogen striking the body of western civilization, weakened as it is by a failure of belief.



The Nationalization of the Family

Your meme for today is the phrase Mark Steyn is touting as the catch-all explanation for Western cultural decline: the nationalization of the family.

My problem with Steyn is a complete inability to think of any better explanation when I read him.

The lure of cosmic cultural pessimism is strong, and the 20th and 21st centuries offer much confirmation that Western civilization is in the tank.

But for every Spengler, or David Bentley Hart, life offers rational optimists, like Matt Ridley. And to tell you the truth, I do not know where I sit between these uncomfortable prophets of doom and the dwellers in the sunny uplands of improvement.

The obvious point is that the physical circumstances of life are improving for all, and the cultural milieu in which we live is largely the wasteland of post-Christianity. And some react to the wasteland by going for the black and white certainties of Islam.

Multicultiuralism and anti-whitism have left us defenceless before the Ebola of religions.


An important funding source for neuro-imaging via MRIs will no longer fund studies concerned with showing which parts of the brain light up when certain activities are engaged. The funding source is the James S. McDonnell Foundation.  The reason why it will not longer do so was given thus:

“Proposals proposing to use functional imaging to identify the ‘neural correlates’ of cognitive or behavioral tasks (for example, mapping the parts of the brain that ‘light up’ when different groups of subjects play chess, solve physics problems, or choose apples over oranges) are not funded through this program. In general, JSMF and its expert advisors have taken an unfavorable view of .  .  . functional imaging studies using poorly characterized tasks as proxies for complex behavioral issues involving empathy, moral judgments, or social decision-making.”

The heartland of neuroimaging has decided that areas of the brain lighting up tell us nothing about empathy, judgments, and decision-making. Bravo! Another blow against neurotwaddle.

The most significant critic of neurotwaddle, a man who is himself a physician and an atheist, is Raymond Tallis. Tallis has written several important critiques of materialist reductionism – the “we are nothing but a bunch of neurons” school, in which  Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Crick and their useful idiot Hitchens are to be found.

I found an article of Tallis’ on the same subject in the New Humanist magazine of January 2010. It is worth reading. Tallis finds all talk of neuroimaging techniques identifying “God-spots” in the brain as utter rubbish.

At first sight, it might seem that a humanist atheist like me should welcome the reduction of religious belief to tingles in parts of the brain. It will be evident now why I do not. The idea of God is the greatest, though possibly the most destructive, idea that mankind has ever entertained. The notion that all there is originated from and is controlled by a Maker is a profound and distinctively human response to the amazing fact that the world makes sense. This response is more, not less, extraordinary for the fact that it has no foundation in truth and, indeed, God is a logically impossible object.

How mighty are the works of man and how much more impressive when they are founded on an idea to which nothing corresponds! Cutting this idea down to size, by neurologising and Darwinising it, is to deal not only religion but also humanity a terrible blow. It undermines our uniqueness and denies our ability, shared by no other creature, to distance ourselves from nature. In defending religious belief against neuro-evolutionary reductionism, atheist humanists and theists have a common cause, and in reductive naturalism, a common adversary.

Readers will know I am not an atheist; I find greater truth in belief, and I find works like David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness  Bliss more persuasive than Tallis’ non-materialist humanism. For me, Tallis is on a narrow ledge between materialist reductionsim, which he rightly rejects, and belief in a supernatural ordering Creator, in whom we move and have our being. But that is possibly a matter of taste, and is certainly not a matter for compulsion. His attacks on neurotwaddle are more welcome because he is an atheist.

Here is David Bentley Hart on the issue of reductionism – the school of thought that asserts “we are nothing but _________ neurons, genes, dancing atoms (pick one)”.

 Once more, the physicalist reduction of any phenomenon to purely material forces explains nothing if one cannot then reconstruct the phenomenon from its material basis without invoking any higher causes; but this no computation picture of human thought can ever do. Symbols exist only from above, as it were, in the consciousness looking downward along that path of descent, acting always as a higher cause upon material reality. Looking up from the opposite direction, from below to above, one finds only an intraversible abyss, separating the intentional nullity of matter from the intentional plenitude of mind. It is an absolute error to imagine that the electrical activity in a computer is itself a computation….All computation is ontologically dependent on consciousness.” (p.223)

Ontologically” means “having to do with being itself”, an idea more easily rendered in Greek than English.

A parting shot from Hart:

The mechanical picture of reality, which is the metaphysical frame within which we pursue or conquest of nature, is one that forecloses, arbitrarily and peremptorily , a great number of questions that a rational culture should leave open”.

There are vast questions that should be left open. Raise a ragged cheer for a rational culture!



Those tolerant pagans

Few are more bigoted in European circles than the fashionably anti-Christian. How safe! How trendy! Gaia approves!. The Post reports the case of a Canadian Christian being  rudely treated by a group of self-styled Norwegian pagans.  Her internship with Norwegian wilderness outfitters who lead expeditions in the British Columbia.

“The Norse background of most of the guys at the management level means that we are not a Christian organization, and most of us see Christianity as having destroyed our culture, tradition, and way of life,” Amaruk’s hiring manager, Olaf Amundsen, wrote last month to Vancouver-area job applicant Bethany Paquette, the first in a series of bizarre, angry emails sent from company officials in Norway.

According to a complaint she has since filed with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal (BCHRT), Ms. Paquette’s Christian education cost her an “assistant guide internship” position at Amaruk.

She received a snarky letter back from the head of the outfitting group, who explained that, since they “embraced diversity”, they could not hire someone who had been to Trinity Western University. The rest of the management of the Norwegian outfitters piled on with further emails of derision and contempt.

A lack of irony is a marked feature of bigotry. And the more unconscious the bigotry, the greater the self-righteousness.

The human resources director of the Norwegian firm, Amaruk, sent this beauty:


And an hour later, Ms. Paquette received yet another snide note, this one from Amaruk’s human resources boss. “You are free to your own opinions and to live your life as you see fit, but you have no right to force your opinions onto others and control their innate behaviour,” it read.

Uh, dudes, she merely sent an application for an unpaid position. Who is forcing opinions on others here? The macho fags of Amaruk or the Canadian applicant for an internship?

Everyone has 481 servants

Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist is an important book, which describes the effect on humanity of the burning of fossil fuels. Largely its effect is benign and constructive. It has largely abolished the grinding poverty of all ages before Europe in the 19th century.

Every one of us has more servants at our disposal than Le Roi Soleil, Louis XIV, who had some 481, I seem to recall from Ridley’s book. The point of burning fossil fuels is to increase the energy available to each man, woman and child on the planet, both personally in what one can consume individually but more importantly, systemically in what society can use, such as streetlights, elevators, subways, heating and air conditioning of public spaces.

I would like to dwell for a moment however on the downside of the life of ease brought to us courtesy of fossil fuel consumption. I am not for a second proposing that a more virtuous existence can be found – on a broad social basis –  by using less energy. Personal abstention may well by fine, such as living by a lake in Finland or Canada at a low level of energy consumption, and some tribes, such as Amish and Hutterites, manage with a much more selective uptake of technology. For me, and for billions of my fellow humans, living with less energy when you need it constitutes poverty. We all desire to escape from it, and the enlightened wish to rescue their fellow humans from the disease, ignorance, brutality, and hopelessness that seem to be the essence of poverty.

If Theodore Dalrymple is right in his many castigations of the culture of poverty in the British idle classes, there is something to be said for a more stringent existence. His argument is that the former white working class of England and Scotland has been ruined by technological change leading to unemployment, and then, by a process of subsidization of this idleness, made available by general modern levels of taxation, and the prosperity on which taxation depends, the welfare state is producing people who do not believe in anything, do not toilet train their infants, do not believe in education, deliberately make bad choices in their sexual partners and produce more welfare children by several absent layabout fathers, avoid marriage, do not pick up the garbage they leave in their front yards,  do not cook and do not know how to cook, and, in short, are engaged in terminal cultural decline, abetted by a middle class industry of social minders whose jobs would disappear if the lazy fuck-heads would get religion, sober up, put on a white shirt, and look for a job.

In essence,  Dalrymple’s critique of poverty in the United Kingdom is that it is a spiritual and intellectual impoverishment brought about by modern wealth, that can afford to keep 15% of the nation idle and dissipated, and do nothing about it. By doing nothing I mean: do not attack it directly with spiritual and rigorous measures, by shaming, by forced work, by authoritarian interventions, by evangelical Christianity.

Two works by authors of entirely different dispositions have also addressed this problem. One is the socialist historian Richard Tawney, whose The Agrarian Problem in the 16th Century observed that, in Elizabethan England, some 20% of the population were beggars, wandering the roads and committing crimes, and threatening the social order. Tawney decried the Protestant Reformation and the effects of enclosures – denying the poor access to common land on which to graze their animals or plant a crop – as the basis of the crisis. Monasteries and Catholic orders had done what they could to alleviate the condition of the poor. The same layabouts as populate the lowest classes today were not contained at home with television and alcohol in the sixteenth century. With the abolition of the alms-giving institutions by the Reformation, the underclass was set loose to wander. The second historian who has addressed the issue of what England did with its illiterate layabouts – albeit in a different time – was Gertrude Himmelfarb, an American, whose book The Demoralization of Society and others has argued that the “Victorians” have been unjustly maligned for their efforts to rescue the lowest classes of England by a program of virtue.

… the Victorian virtues – prudence, temperance, industriousness, decency, responsibility – were thoroughly pedestrian. “They depended on no special breeding, talent, sensibility, or even money. They were common, everyday virtues, within the capacity of ordinary people. They were the virtues of citizens, not of heroes or saints – and of citizens of democratic countries, not aristocratic ones.”[15] Himmelfarb has argued “for the reintroduction of traditional values (she prefers the term ‘virtues’), such as shame, responsibility, chastity, and self-reliance, into American political life and policy-making”

So does Dalrymple.

Once again I find myself starting out by thinking one thing and realizing that it is an error. Maybe, I thought,  the problem of a layabout lowest class could be fixed in an environment where there was less available energy, where obesity was a disease of the idle rich rather than the idle poor. Maybe, I thought, when people actually have to work to eat, the habits of virtue could be instilled. Yet a few minutes of thinking remind me that poverty is not a matter of lack of wealth – if it were it could be and has been fixed. Poverty is a spiritual condition. When everyone has a shelter, a television set, heating, and the possibility of education, the fact remains that a significant proportion of the population dwell in darkness, and seem to prefer to live that way.  They are subsidized to remain that way. Removing the subsidies would put them on the streets, like the sturdy beggars of Elizabethan and later epochs of English history were, without solving the problem.

If I may borrow freely from the Wikipedia article on Theodore Dalrymple,  the pen name of Anthony Daniels,the problems look like this:

  • The cause of much contemporary misery in Western countries – criminality, domestic violence, drug addiction, aggressive youths, hooliganism, broken families – is the nihilistic, decadent and/or self-destructive behaviour of people who do not know how to live. Both the smoothing over of this behaviour, and the medicalisation of the problems that emerge as a corollary of this behaviour, are forms of indifference. Someone has to tell those people, patiently and with understanding for the particulars of the case, that they have to live differently.[15]
  • Poverty does not explain aggressive, criminal and self-destructive behaviour. In an African slum you will find among the very poor, living in dreadful circumstances, dignity and decency in abundance, which are painfully lacking in an average English suburb, although its inhabitants are much wealthier.[16]
  • An attitude characterised by gratefulness and having obligations towards others has been replaced – with awful consequences – by an awareness of “rights” and a sense of entitlement, without responsibilities. This leads to resentment as the rights become violated by parents, authorities, bureaucracies and others in general.[17]
  • One of the things that makes Islam attractive to young westernised Muslim men is the opportunity it gives them to dominate women.[18]
  • Technocratic or bureaucratic solutions to the problems of mankind produce disasters in cases where the nature of man is the root cause of those problems.
  • It is a myth, when going “cold turkey” from an opiate such as heroin, that the withdrawal symptoms are virtually unbearable; they are in fact hardly worse than flu.[19][20]
  • Criminality is much more often the cause of drug addiction than its consequence.
  • Sentimentality, which is becoming entrenched in British society, is “the progenitor, the godparent, the midwife of brutality”.[21]
  • High culture and refined aesthetic tastes are worth defending, and despite the protestations of non-judgmentalists who say all expression is equal, they are superior to popular culture.[22][23][24]
  • The ideology of the Welfare State is used to diminish personal responsibility. Erosion of personal responsibility makes people dependent on institutions and favours the existence of a threatening and vulnerable underclass.
  • Moral relativism can easily be a trick of an egotistical mind to silence the voice of conscience.[25]
  • Multiculturalism and cultural relativism are at odds with common sense.[26]
  • The decline of civilised behaviour – self-restraint, modesty, zeal, humility, irony, detachment – ruins social and personal life.[27]
  • The root cause of our contemporary cultural poverty is intellectual dishonesty. First, the intellectuals (more specifically, left-wing ones) have destroyed the foundation of culture, and second, they refuse to acknowledge it by resorting to the caves of political correctness.
  • Beyond and above all other nations in the world, Britain is the place where all the evils summarised above are most clearly manifest.

Even with 481 servants per person, as measured in terms of kilowatts of disposable energy, poverty is not being cured. Trying to fix poverty by wealth transfers alone is yet another case of what I call trying to lift the gross national product with a set of tongs. Some seeds fall on stony ground, as we are reminded by Jesus in another context.

Thomas Nagel again

Thomas Nagel shocked the philosophical world in 2012 with a book called Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. I was reminded of him because of David Bentley Hart, subject of my last posting below.

Hart is a committed Christian and Nagel is an atheist. They are looking at the same mountain from different sides, one from the side of beginning to see what the mountain might really be, and the other from the side of a clear vision of what it is. For each, it is the mysterious mountain.

To Nagel, the question to be explained is whether the account given by Darwinists to man’s capacity for moral reasoning is true. If we have evolved, as everyone admits, then what is our capacity to grasp the difference between good and bad in any fundamental way? Oh yes we can tell the difference between pleasure and pain all right, but is pain really bad or have we just evolved to feel that way? The answer turns on what you mean by “really”.

Nagel got himself into trouble with some quarters by saying that we know that pleasure and pain are good or bad in themselves and we are so constituted that we know this difference really, not just because we have evolved to avoid one and seek the other. This is what is called a realist view: realist in the sense that we truly apprehend the world, and are not confused by demons who actually hold our brains in vats, while we experience this three-dimensional illusion of the world, à la Matrix movies.

Nagel concludes that the Darwinian picture must be incomplete.

The historical question is about our origins: What must the universe and the evolutionary process be like to have generated such beings? Both these questions seem to require some alternative to materialist naturalism and its Darwinian application to biology, but what are the possibilities? (at p.112)

To which David Bentley Hart would say to Nagel, “well done, you are starting to ask the right questions”. Hart takes a view that I share, namely that consciousness is primary and the material universe is secondary:

Once again: We cannot encounter the world without encountering  at the same time the being of the world, which is a mystery that can never be dispelled by any physical explanation of reality, inasmuch as it is a mystery logically prior to and in excess of the physical order. We cannot encounter the world, furthermore, except in the luminous medium of intentional and unified consciousness, which defies every reduction to purely physiological causes, but which also clearly corresponds to an essential intelligibility in  being itself”. (pp.297-298)

In brief:

  • physical explanations do not explain the mystery of being;
  • we cannot experience the world apart from consciousness, which cannot be reduced to material causes; and
  • the world is intelligible.

To which Hart would add, all religions, at all times, have asserted as much.

Below, on a related matter, Hart discusses his disappointments with the atheists: Dennet, Hitchens, and others. Hart’s style is high, wry and dry, and one could wish for a littel more oomph in the presentation, but he is bombing from a great height: the B-52 airstrike so high the newly dead never heard it.

Harper and Putin; Putin and Holy Mother Russia

Our Prime Minister has been leading the charge against Putin’s land grab. In this Mr. Harper is to be commended for doing best what Harper does: calling out the world from moral torpor to assert the supremacy of right. So ten points to our Prime Minister. Yet his assertion that Putin is acting out of a Cold War mentality is, I believe, in error. The Crimean incident is produced from a deeper well of history than the Cold War, which was the temporary arrangement between victorious parliamentary capitalist powers and the victorious communist power to divide the world among them, 1945-1990, after the defeat of national-socialism. Matthew Fisher in the Post quotes Harper saying:

“We simply, as a world, cannot afford the risk of Europe going back to being a continent where people seize territory, where they make claims on other neighbouring countries, where the bigger military powers are prepared to invade their neighbours or carve off pieces,” Mr. Harper said.

However much I agree with the Prime Minister, and I do, this is not the whole story. Something much larger is going on My take on Putin is to listen to what the Russian leader says he is doing, rather than to what westerners say he is doing. In that regard Father Raymond de Souza provides a deeper insight into the Russian psyche than any understanding predicated in Russia as an old failed-communist state. It is to Russia as the only Orthodox Christian political power of consequence that we must refer.

“To understand the reason behind [the referendum result] it is enough to know the history of Crimea and what Russia and Crimea have always meant for each other,” Putin said. “Everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride. This is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.” In 988, Vladimir was baptized in the Crimean coastal city of Khersones (Chersonesos) and the date marks the beginning of Russian Christianity. After his baptism in Crimea, Vladimir’s family was baptized in Kyiv. Russia thus finds its cultural and national roots in the baptism of Kievan Rus’. When Putin says it is Orthodoxy that unites Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, he is placing himself in a line that stretches back a millennium to events that took place not in Moscow, but in Kyiv and Crimea — hence the importance of Ukraine in Putin’s politics.

This struggle between Latin Christendom and Orthodox Christendom goes back a thousand years. I do not say that the struggle is religious in origin, though it may be. I mean only to say that the antipathy to the West in Russia is of long standing.The divisions between us are not of recent invention. The myths that animate Russian culture centre on the resistance of Orthodoxy to the pretensions of the Roman Church (i.e. the Papacy) to Christian supremacy, as much as they do the resistance to Islamic oppression from the Tatar Mongols and the Turks. This brings me to the demographic catastrophe besetting Russia. Every year Putin loses hundreds of thousands of Russians from failure to reproduce, from premature deaths, from abortions. The Russian birth rate is collapsing. Something must be done to make Russians want to breed; and belief is the main reason why people bring forth children into the world. If that need to believe is to be animated once again, the only reasonable candidate for the task is the Orthodox Church. It is both the tool at hand and is fully embedded in Russian national consciousness. What, you ask, is the relationship between fertility of civilizations and faith? Is that not a stretch?  Not if you read “How Civilizations Die: and Why Islam is Dying Too”, by David Goldman, who makes a persuasive case that it is religious faith that peoples the world, and that nothing else suffices. Goldman cites the United Nations population division statistics (at p.233) to show that Russia’s population decline from its 2010 level to what it will be in 2100, on constant fertility, will be 53.3% – more than half of the current population. Imagine a Canada where the prediction of Canadian population would go from 33 million now to 16 million 90 years from now. Goldman invites us to think about larger issues than our hedonic culture allows. As he writes:

“The problem of cultural survival, – the possibility that a people (or a majority of a people) might cling to a backward or even barbaric culture, because that culture offers them a bulwark against mortality, – does not occur to Enlightenment political philosophy”

Tsar Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has a much much larger problem to address that western economic sanctions. He has to rekindle religious faith in a land from which it was excluded by force of arms, massacres, prison camps, and relentless materialist propaganda (à la Dawkins backed up by secret police) for eighty-five years. he has to get Russians breeding again, and that means to stop drinking, smoking and carrying on, and turn to producing babies in stable families. It is a huge turnaround. It can only begin with the restoration of faith in themselves, in their Church, and in their God. Putin intends just that. 450px-Russian_Total_Fertility_Rates




And what kind of oppression is this Christian pastor concerned about?

You guessed it. While hundreds of Christians are murdered by Islamic fanatics in Nigeria, the religion editor of Huffington Post is exercized by the persecution of gay Nigerians by other -presumably Christian – Nigerians.

To continue with the piece by Raymond Ibrahim cited previously on the New York Times’ coverage of Boko Haram

Thus, from a purely demographic point of view, we may deduce that for every one man who gets exposed as a homosexual in the privacy of his own home, and killed for it, thousands of Christians expose themselves as infidels whenever they openly congregate and worship inside churches, as they do every Sunday, and get killed for it.

Based on numbers alone, then—assuming the NYT can agree that all human lives are equal, that the life of the Christian is equal in value to the life of the homosexual—the dramatically much bigger story has long been the relentless and genocidal jihad on Nigeria’s millions of Christians.

After a few days’ absence from the blog, this morning was a target-rich environment. As Raymond Ibrahim says:”The script must always prevail: reality be damned”. Islam=religion of peace; homophobia=evil.

I am beginning to like this Pope

Pope Francis is changing the subject. Good for him. The Church may be right on a number of issues on which modern society has strayed like lost sheep It will do no good to harp upon secondary- and tertiary-level doctrines until people recover the essential message, which is of God’s redeeming love for man. As Tolstoy said: “All that I ever learned, I learned through love”.

Or in the words of the man himself:

“I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.”

I liked Benedict too, for different reasons. I am just grateful that a succession of  heads of the world’s largest Church are actual believing Christians. Sometimes the light gets through the cracks. I wish I could be so sure about the Anglican Church.

Edward Feser, unleashed

Readers will be aware that the world of philosophers has been scandalized by Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, that the legions of materialists have been affronted by one of their school calmly asserting he sees no reason to think that Darwinian explanations for consciousness are in the least persuasive.

It gets better. Edward Feser, who is a young,  handsome professor of philosophy at the Pasadena City College in California, has thrown down the gauntlet to the Dawkins, Dennett,Hitchens, Harris crowd of reductive materialists, who maintain, roughly speaking, that there is no God, there is no soul, you are only matter and its motions, and if you have awareness, that is merely your neural network jiggling.

As I have long maintained, the problem with the materialist position is that they cannot explain awareness, attention, or whatever it is the characterizes mental life. This was the gist of Nagel’s dissent from reductve materialism in Mind and Cosmos, and for which crime the apes in the university zoo hurl shit at him.

Feser is a Roman Catholic, which means he supports the older  interpretation of reality we received from Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas to the effect that the mind can truly thoughpartly grasp reality, that it is not a brain in a vat like the people in the Matrix, that we can truly have objective knowledge, even if incomplete, and that knowledge is not all just sense impression filtered through our emotional inclinations.

The essence of Feser’s rejection of the modern school (modern since the time of René Descartes) is that these are matters of reason, not faith.

I cite from his book, The Last Superstition:

(at page 5)

“The suggestion that human reason can be accounted for in purely materialistic terms has, historically speaking, been regarded by most philosophers as a logical absurdity, a demonstrable falsehood. Within the western classical philosophiocal tradition, belief in the existence of God and the falsity of materialism has generally been thought to rest firmly and squarely on reason, not “faith”.”

His ambitions in his book The Last Superstition are large. He maintains that the ‘war between science and religion’ is really a war between two philosophical worldviews, and not at bottom a scientific or theological dispute at all. (p.12)

The conflict, then, is not over any actual results or discoveries of science, but rather over more fundamental philosophical questions of what sorts of results or discoveries will be allowed to count as “scientific” in the first place.

I look forward to reading more,and will keep you advised on developments. In the meantime, Feser’s blog discusses the Thomas Nagel controversy in entertaining detail.

I have not seen so entertaining a book of philosophical importance since Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae: large, loud, deeply learned, and an absolutely fearless assault on various contemporary idols.