Are my writings about Darwinism and God (at best) “noble lies” and (at worst) “nakedly political”?
(Note: this entry seques into a second discussion, on the difficulties people have who want to believe in Christianity, but do not.)
Michael M. writes:
I have been a reader of your website for some time, and must admit that it has represented something of a touchstone during a period of my life in which I am coming to re-assess certain foundational elements of my worldview. That said, though the traditionalist view elucidated in your articles is admirably coherent, one gets these sense, reading certain articles, that it requires one to abandon the very element of disinterest that has always seemed to me to be a necessary component of inquiry. One even gets the sense, at times, that traditionalists may be comfortable, from time to time, with employing various “noble lies” in the service of societal cohesion.
For instance, your website makes a thorough case for the premise that a society founded on Christian ideals, including the reality of the Judeo-Christian god, of sin and of the soul, is a far better environment for human beings that one founded on communism, atheism and materialist thought. Similarly, one can also see how the evolutionist worldview could very easily lead to dehumanizing societal structures. That said, the mere fact that a god-based society would be superior to a godless one does not in and of itself mean that the numinous being exists, nor that the world is structured in the way that would be best for us. There remains a possibility that the other order, though blank, terrifying and difficult to construct stable institutions atop, is—however unfortunately—the way things are.
When I read about things like the divinity of Christ or the question of human origins in traditionalist journals, there is a constant undertone of political strife, and the sense that things like evolution are not true—cannot be true—because of the negative effect their associated political ideologies would have on human civilization. One of the first discoveries, though—indeed, probably the first—of any thinking life is that things are not always structured in the ways we might prefer, or in the ways that might benefit us. Sometimes, for vast and complicated reasons, things happen to be formed in frightening, inconvenient and ridiculous ways. Though I may have enough sympathy for the traditionalist view to admit that the assumption of a moral god makes for better human societies than the assumption of various amoral gods, or no gods at all, I am not committed enough to human order to say that I would support pretending the preferable circumstance is true for the sake of human civilization. The truth, and the search for truth, must in my view remain preeminent. For this reason, I find your writings on things like evolution too nakedly political, and for this reason I am not persuaded by their arguments.
You are quite wrong. In my many discussions about whether Darwinian evolution is true, about whether materialist reductionism is true, and about whether God exists, my first and primary focus is always on the question of what is true, not on the question of what the social effects may be of believing or not believing that something is true. Yes, there are conservatives who put their primary emphasis on the social effects of the belief, not on the truth or falsity of the belief. But that is not the case with me. Of course, I also discuss the social and moral effects of believing in Darwinian evolution, or of believing that there is nothing beyond matter. But when I discuss the truth or falsity of these ideas, I do not base the question of their truth or falsity on the moral and social effects of believing or not believing them.
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I think therefore that you are reading my writings through a filter of your own and are not seeing what is really there. And that filter must be very thick, given my many writings on the evolution question that deal solely, and in depth, with whether Darwinian evolution is true, not with the social effects of believing that it is true.
At the same time, the question of the social effects of believing or not believing in Darwinian evolution, of believing or not believing that matter is the only reality, is obviously important and inevitably a part of the discussion. When William Jennings Bryan predicted a hundred years ago that the belief that man is nothing but an animal created by naturalistic forces would lead to moral nihilism, he was right, and the liberals who mocked him were wrong.
And this is where your strict separation between what is true and the effects of believing or disbelieving that something is true (which you call “disinterest”) starts to break down. Let us say for the sake of discussion that God exists, and that he wants us to know and follow him, and that he created us as beings whose true fulfillment is in knowing and following our Creator. If that were the case, then obviously there would be serious consequences for people who deny that God exists.
By contrast, your argument goes as follows: (1) you start by assuming that God doesn’t exist, and (2) you say that while it may be true that believing in a non-existent God is socially beneficial, that’s not necessarily a reason for believing in him.
Fine, good argument. However, I notice that you haven’t stated the converse argument: (1) that God does exist; and (2) that while it may be true that NOT believing in a true God is socially beneficial, that’s not a reason for NOT believing in him.
And I think that the reason that you would not make such an argument is that the statement, “Denying a true God is more morally and socially beneficial than believing a true God,” sounds blatantly implausible.
Who would have the audacity to say that if God exists, and if God created us, and if (as Judaism and Christianity teach) this God who created us wants us to know and follow him, we would be better off denying his existence and not seeking to know and follow him?
The statement is so counter-logical that only an outright God-hater would venture to say it. I think Marx said it. I think Nietzsche said something like it.
My point here is simply this. In the discussion about whether God exists or not, one of the two possibilities raised by that discussion is that God exists; and if God exists, then the question of the social effects of not believing in God is a serious question and cannot be excluded from the discussion.
But to return to the main point, why have you so mis-read my writings so as to characterize them so incorrectly? It seems to me that you are so committed to the view that God does not exist, that you believe that anyone who says that God does exist cannot really believe it to be true, and therefore he must be saying it for secondary reasons, such as fear of the social consequences of not believing it. Your underlying assumption is that it is so obviously true that God does not exist, that anyone who argues that he does exist must be arguing in bad faith. As you said about me, such a person’s arguments are “nakedly political.”
It thus turns out that if there is anyone in this exchange who lacks the proper disinterested attitude, it is you. It turns out that what you really mean by “disinterest” is disbelief in God, since, according to you, only a disbeliever in God can have the proper, disinterested approach to the truth. But in reality you are the one who is driven by an a priori belief, a belief in the non-existence of God, a belief so strong that it makes you perceive my writings as saying the opposite of what they really are saying. [Note: as discussed below, this is stated too positively. It is my theory of why the commenter is saying what he’s saying.]
For more of what I’ve actually said, as distinct from your incorrect and prejudiced view of it, see, in the Word document linked in the sidebar, “VFR articles arranged by topic,” the articles under these headings:
Randomness and purpose, Darwinism and God, are mutually incompatible
Does God (and truth and the good) exist
Materialism versus non-materialism
Brandon F. writes:
What a great response you gave to Michael’s email.
I must say that it might be presumptuous of you to assume that Michael has decided a priori that there is no god whatsoever. It sounds to me like he may be struggling to know the truth and is unafraid to look nakedly, albeit with some mistaken logic with respect to traditionalist arguments, at what the truth is. He certainly doesn’t seem opposed to truth but searching for it. That is why he is reading your blog and others.
I may be projecting my own search into my analysis since I am on a similar path as he (or so it seems). Several years ago I was introduced to Traditionalist philosophies and found them very compelling. I studied much and even eventually entered the Orthodox Church hoping I would find truth through a completely different worldview and lifestyle. As much as I tried I could not compel myself to believe deeply in even the core of Christianity much less the layers of mythology in the Eastern tradition (I do not mean mythology in the typical modern sense as I see it as potentially good and containing truth).
So that leaves me personally in a kind of Traditionalist purgatory. I do recognize that practically a common religion and tradition in a society promotes a healthy civilizational structure. However, I cannot at the same time recognize the reality of an anthropomorphic, conscious god. I do not consider myself an atheist or even agnostic, as I see the evidence of some kind of will in nature. I see plainly that you can’t pour potatoes out of an empty sack. A pseudo-Platonic and Schopenhauerian mix of ontological speculation satisfies my metaphysical needs to a point.
You have said recently that a non-Christian has no place in this civilization (or something like that in your response to the rabid Randian). So where does that leave people like me and Michael? It leaves us in an existential position of disinterestedness and truth seeking (at least I would like to think so).
Your intellectual prowess adds power to your arguments but there is no way you could use that to convince me or many that the Christian doctrine is the ultimate truth. You can of course make a good and convincing argument for god, or at least for something like it. Nothing about life suggests to me that some conscious being is actively participating in the affairs of humanity. Manipulating this or that or staying out of this or that to ultimately bring about some moral-spiritual order.
I am now prepared for your lacerating response. I will be disappointed if you don’t.
First, I agree that nowhere does Michael explicitly state that there is no God. Rather, that was my interpretation of what he was really saying, based on his startling condemnation of my views of Darwinism as “nakedly political,” i.e., as based not on my considered opinion of whether Darwinism is true or not, but on my belief that Darwinism must be rejected because Darwinism is incompatible with religion, and because society needs religion to function well. Why would he have come to a conclusion about me that is so plainly incorrect and so excessively harsh, given the obvious sincerity of my views on the question of the truth or untruth of Darwinism? I felt—though I could be wrong—that the explanation of why he did this was that he objects to the very idea of anyone asserting the truth of God’s existence in any discussion. The fact that I assert it, means to him that I have no real interest in the truth or falsity of, say, Darwinism; and that I am only using that issue to advance my political / moral agenda.
I have not stated it well, but that was what underlay my reading of him.
Second, on your difficulty in believing in Christianity, I began writing a longer reply to you but left it aside. I am very sensitive to the obstacles that can keep a person from believing, and I do not know how one would overcome such obstacles. I personally didn’t strive against obstacles to become a believer, it just opened up to me. It was much more complicated than that, but, in the end, that is what happened. It was a gift, a grace. I don’t know that one can compel oneself to believe in the core of Christianity, any more than one can compel oneself to believe in God. My own experience—which is limited to myself and doesn’t give me any expertise in advising others—is that trying to force oneself to believe in God, or demanding the God reveal himself to you, can be a huge mistake.
Alan Roebuck says that belief in Christian truth is not dependent on the kind of personal experience of opening I had, but that it can be transmitted through argument.
Third, you write:
“You have said recently that a non-Christian has no place in this civilization (or something like that in your response to the rabid Randian).”
I have never said anything like that. I said a person who is a rabid enemy of Christianity is an enemy of our civilization.
I’ve never said that a non-Christian or non-believer has no place in our civilization. I repeat, I have never said that. What I’ve said is that while a non-Christian can be a loyal member of our civilization, he is less able to give an accounting of our civilization than a believer, because he does not share certain experiences and perspectives that are at its core. While Christianity is, in my view, the most important such criterion, it not the only one. There are a variety of qualifications by which one could be a more capable or less capable defender of civilization. Also, being or professing to be a Christian does not make one morally superior. An individual non-believer could be a better and more upright person than an individual believer.
“but there is no way you could use that to convince me or many that the Christian doctrine is the ultimate truth.”
I have never tried to convince anyone that Christian doctrine is the ultimate truth. I have said that I believe that it is the highest truth. But I have never said that other people must believe that. I’m too aware that we cannot will such belief. Also, I do not say to non-believers that they are wrong not to believe in God. If a person doesn’t believe in God, he can’t be made to believe in God, though I do think that through argument people can be made more open to the possibility of God.
What I do condemn are self-described conservatives who positively attack and seek to undermine Christianity and belief in God; to be an anti-Christian conservative is a contradiction in terms. But, again, attacking belief in God is not the same thing as simply stating that one personally doesn’t believe in God, or that one sees no reason to believe in God, or that one finds it impossible to believe in God. But I think that a prominent conservative should refrain even from saying that.
Michael M. writes:
Thank you for your considered reply. I will say, however, that I found it rather surprising; I don’t think anything I said required the import of wild constructions such as “outright god-hater.” I did not start out, as you say, by assuming that God does not exist, but rather from a sort of hopeful agnosticism. It is not my position that God does not exist, and if anything I said implied that I felt this way, well, I suppose I mis-spoke. I don’t think this was the case, though. I must say I feel that your reply degenerated into something of a form-letter against non-believers at points, and since this does not really apply to me (I am not an atheist, though I will say I do feel unable to know quite what sort of God exists), I must take some issue with the overall tone and tenor of your rebuttal. My position remains that the bitterness of the traditionalism v. modernism divide has poisoned the well a bit on this topic.
First, I didn’t say or suggest that you are an “outright god-hater.” I was not talking about you when I was discussing that point and my only example was Marx. So this is another instance of your completely misreading me.
Second, you said my writings about the Darwinian theory of evolution are “nakedly political.” I didn’t say anything that strong or dismissive about you. So I wonder what you are complaining about. What I did say about you (and I added a note saying that this was my theory, not a dogmatic statement, and that I might be wrong) was that the only way to make sense of your criticism was that the very fact that I talk about God and traditional morality and so on makes you assume that anything I say about evolution is tainted by a political agenda. It seemed to me that your subtext is that God does not exist and that anyone who says he does is disqualified from participating in debate on subjects such as evolution.
“My position remains that the bitterness of the traditionalism v. modernism divide has poisoned the well a bit on this topic.”
Did it occur to you that you yourself may have poisoned the well a bit when you said that my extensive critical writings on Darwinian evolution are “nakedly political”?
My position on Darwinism is that it is the biggest scientific fraud in history. I have presented at great length my evidence and arguments for that view, including among other things the inherent logical absurdity of the Darwinian claims and numerous statements from Darwinians themselves admitting, e.g., that they don’t know how new life forms evolve. I suggest that instead of being hung up by my statements about God, you consider my actual arguments about Darwinian evolution, which do not rely on belief in God. As I’ve often said, since Darwinian evolution and God are mutually exclusive, if it is the case that Darwinism is untrue, then God exists. But a belief in God’s existence is not the basis of my criticisms of Darwinian evolution; those criticisms are based on the theory itself.
Vivek G. writes:
Firstly, my congratulations on a high quality exchange. I think there is an important question which needs to be considered, and it is the following: “What should be the natural or reasonable instinct of someone who does not know for sure whether God exists or not?” Should he posit God, or should he deny God? What’s the default answer? What’s the most natural answer? What’s the most reasonable answer?
In my opinion, if one really did not know, one must feel 50-50 about the existence or non-existence of God. But unfortunately, frequently, that does not seem to be the case. More often than not, not believing in the existence of God is assumed to be more natural than believing. And, I think, this is where the trouble begins.
Blessed is the man who says I do not know, for the truth shall be shown to him. But unfortunately, we have no such humility. We do not know, and yet we behave as if we know. Granted that many God-believers may be guilty of such conceit; but there are equally large, if not larger, number of non-believers who have the same conceit. Fair enough up to now. The tragedy is compounded since non-believers (skeptics, agnostics) claim that theirs is the more genuine inquiry into the Truth. While they may be genuine seekers, their assumptions betray lack of balance. For they consider non-existence of God as a more natural assumption.
So it finally boils down to this: Which of the following two is more correct? 1. Until proven otherwise, God does not exist. 2. Until proven otherwise, God does exist. And it is obvious that the statement “I do not know” is different from both of the above. The premises 1 and 2 are subjective assumptions neither of which is obvious, whereas “I do not know” is a statement of fact. Of course, after one knows the truth, the assumptions are not necessary.
Darwinism is another ball game altogether. For example, there is no difference between the following two statements: “Everything happens because of evolution,” and “Everything happens by the will of God.” However, Darwinists consider the former to be a scientific statement while ridiculing the latter as mere faith. It is this dishonesty that has to be kept in mind.
PS: Wishing you a belated greetings on Easter.
It is my long-time position that the only scientific view of evolution is that we do not know how new species and life forms came into existence.
Mercedes D. writes:
In your reply to Brandon F., you wrote:
Alan Roebuck says that belief in Christian truth is not dependent on the kind of personal experience of opening I had, but that it can be transmitted through argument.
I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Roebuck about that. The question of why some people believe in Christianity and others do not has long been a burning issue for me. After many years of studying and pondering that question, I have come to the conclusion that the answer is simple—perhaps too simple for some people to accept.
No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44.)
Thank you for all you do, and please keep up the good work!
And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. (John 6:65.)
My knowledge of this area of Christianity is limited, based only on my personal experience. But my experience corresponds with the passages of John that you’ve quoted.
I will forward your comment to Mr. Roebuck and see how he responds.
A few words to Brandon F. My heart goes out to you, there in your purgatory. I would suggest that, rather than trying to compel yourself to believe in Christianity, you simply pretend that you do in fact believe, and then go through the motions of belief—attendance at the Liturgy, daily prayers, and so forth. The mechanics of Christian life will take care of the rest.
JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis spent much of their adult lives thinking, writing, and talking to each other and their friends about what it means to pretend. Tolkien called it the willing suspension of disbelief. It is familiar to us all as the attitude we take when we settle down in our seats at the movies or the theater, happily preparing to believe for a while in a fiction, and so to step imaginatively into a different world, there to find out what it may have to tell us about our own. When Tolkien finally converted Lewis to Christian belief, it was by appealing to that experience. Both of them were accustomed to imaginative habitation in mythological worlds, including the mythological world of first century Palestine. Tolkien simply suggested to Lewis that he inhabit the Christian mythos, and then seriously entertain the proposition that it was true, true through and through, and of even greater verisimilitude than the mythos he was accustomed as a 20th century Englishman to think was concrete and real—as if Lewis were at the cinema, watching a historical drama, and able to see for himself that the film-makers had got everything exactly right, so that the world presented on screen was the world as it really had been. So Lewis did as his friend suggested. Everything fell suddenly into place, into its due and proper order. His world re-aligned. His notions of the ultimately real no longer argued with His heart’s deepest desire; instead, they agreed with each other. He realized he was home at last.
Now, this could happen for Lewis only because he had had tons of practice at the imaginative move he took, in suspending his disbelief. How do you gain skill at taking up Christianity? You practice. Pascal advised would-be believers who could not escape their habit of skepticism to simply go through the motions of belief. After all, no one who has left childhood behind remembers how to pray. We must learn again from the beginning, without really knowing what it is we are trying to do, or how we shall tell whether we have succeeded in doing it. But in the liturgies of the Church there is distilled the wisdom of many thousands of years about what it is to pray, what it is we must do in order to pray. Just do those things, over and over, without really expecting anything magical to happen. Keep knocking, and it will be opened to you.
That opening will be gradual. A cathedral is built one stone at a time. Decades after I began my journey into Christianity, I keep learning fundamental and crucial things about the faith; ancient wisdom that is new to me, and that I yet recognize as implicit in everything I have ever thought.
“Albert Nock” writes:
You ask who would recommend denying God assuming his existence. I think it most likely that Max Stirner didn’t actually believe in God, but in “The Ego and Its Own” he seems to grant the assumption of his existence while proposing that he will hold himself above God and defy his commands. Also, playing off of Voltaire’s line that if God did not exist it would be necessary to create him, Bakunin proclaimed that if God really existed it would be necessary to destroy him.
Yes, Bakunin, that’s who I was thinking of.
Gilbert B. writes from the Netherlands:
Kristor writes “go through the motions of belief—attendance at the Liturgy, daily prayers, and so forth. The mechanics of Christian life will take care of the rest.”
I did this until I was approximately 15 years old. At that age I lost my belief because of the chilling effect of those “motions” on me!!
Biblical contradictions became more and more discrepant, apologist arguments more and more absurd and, when I finally discarded faith, things became more and more clear.
I left the Church when I was 16. I always felt uneasy in a church, which is after all a dark and secluded place. I experienced the atmosphere inside the church as asphyxiating and creepy, and, as soon as I walked up the aisles to the front, I became intensely cold.
By leaving the church, I have been set free—free from the falsehoods and false truth. After years of embracing the fantasies of Christianity, the internal consistency of an atheist outlook was very comforting to me. An atheist lifestyle makes this life seem infinitely more valuable. This life is lived for itself and should be lived well and fully. We are here to discover our true nature and live by it, not to follow the arbitrary rules of an arbitrary god. While it is difficult to admit that the first decades of one’s life were lived following a lie, it is immensely liberating to see that one’s future is no longer delineated by its rules and expectations!
Sorry this was so long. I just want you to understand what I went through.
I should note that Gilbert B. is not just a non-believer but in recent months has become obsessively hostile to Christianity, and for that reason I stopped posting his comments. But since the above two comments dealt with personal experiences that were relevant to the discussion I have posted them.
Of the various contributions to this area of questions about conserving and expanding traditionalism and its handmaiden, Christianity, one key consideration seems to be missing. The conversation almost invariably, perhaps necessarily, revolves around the thoughts of individuals. This is only natural in a philosophic or political setting such as VFR. But is it not the case that Christendom has persisted largely by its fraternities, practicing families, and church-based communities? Individual members of these groups still may face difficulties of conscious belief but they are not holding forth by naked intellectual grit. They have the support of a Christian community that is close to them, which is increasingly a distant artifact of modern organization with its cherished autonomy and individuation.
Those who have written to you with their stories of what I see as faith not having found them (in spite of their efforts) seem to fit this model. It is a difficult road. I think Kristor’s advice to stick with a regular practice makes sense. Yet if one pursues this in good faith for a number of years, even in suitable company of others faithful, and nothing “clicks,” can we say that some are destined not to be touched by Christ’s Kingdom?
In one of my first messages to you I said I was a Deist. I see now this is not right, that I do not believe that a disinterested God lives through his created universe. There is purpose, and Truth, and myriad other evidences of a natural order that binds us if we have the eyes to see and a mind to listen. The writings of yourself and others on VFR have helped greatly in this progress of thought. Yet salvation and the Resurrection seem strange to me, a sort of anomaly in the scheme of things. I do not reject those ideas, in fact I am open to them, but it feels hypocritical to accept various distinctly Christian tenets without taking on board the central premise of the faith.
I sympathize naturally with those who have posted similar thoughts. A solitary path to faith, unless one is a monk, is one that is often unsupported by friends, family and community. It is like trying to learn fly fishing from a mountain top. Alone.
Alan Roebuck writes:
Mercedes D., disagreeing with what I said (in Mr. Auster’s formulation), that “belief in Christian truth can be transmitted through argumentation,” quotes as her authority the Gospel of John: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” True, the ultimate reason some believe is that God draws them to Himself. But this truth—a truth man cannot discover on his own and which he must therefore receive as revelation—does not contradict the idea that belief can be transmitted through argumentation.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 04, 2010 06:10 PM | Send
This is because God works through secondary as well as primary causes. When God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead, there must have been no physical mechanism. No physical mechanism can resuscitate a corpse that has been decomposing for three days, so God acted without an intermediate cause. But when God makes the rain fall, He does it through secondary causes: the physical mechanisms of weather and climate.
Similarly, God uses rational arguments to cause some people to believe in His existence. And He uses the preaching of the Gospel of salvation from our sins by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to cause some people to come to a saving faith.
True, some people hear the same arguments and the same presentation of the Gospel and do not believe. The ultimate reasons why some are persuaded and some are not cannot be known to man by his own efforts, but the Bible asserts that God makes some people capable of receiving the truth that others reject. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he softens the hearts (i.e, minds) of others, making them capable of receiving the truth.
Rational argumentation is not the ultimate cause, but it is the tangible cause, so to speak. And not only did God foreordain that some would believe, but He also foreordained the means that would bring them to faith.