Thursday, August 21, 2008

If there is no God (Part III)

In this post I thought I would tackle Prager's claims that without God there is a cultural deterioration in terms of art, language, and the equation of the value of animals with people (I'll leave "hubris" for another post). I happen to agree that all these are indeed disturbing aspects in today's world but I would put the blame not on the absence of God but the general irrationality of the culture. Interestingly, Prager argues that it is the absence of belief in God that leads to this irrationality. He writes:
Without God, people in the West often become less, not more, rational. It was largely the secular, not the religious, who believed in the utterly irrational doctrine of Marxism. It was largely the secular, not the religious, who believed that men's and women's natures are basically the same, that perceived differences between the sexes are all socially induced. Religious people in Judeo-Christian countries largely confine their irrational beliefs to religious beliefs (theology), while the secular, without religion to enable the non-rational to express itself, end up applying their irrational beliefs to society, where such irrationalities do immense harm.
There are several problems with Prager's above claims. The first and foremost is that it portrays a deep ignorance of the history of philosophy. All the secular irrational doctrines had their origin in religious and theistic thinkers that severely undermined the efficacy of reason. Philosophers such Rene Descartes (a Catholic) and Immanuel Kant (a Lutheran), among others, did much to undermine reason and the secular thinkers that followed them simply pushed their ideas to their logical conclusion with the ultimate result being the absurdities of 20th century philosophy. The result of the decay of philosophy was a deterioration in all the humanities and arts. As philosophers claimed to have conclusively shown that no absolutes and no standards existed, it is no surprise to see the obvious results on art and language.

But there is no reason to think that secular rational and principled people that speak politely, produce great art, and think clearly about important issues cannot exist. I dare say I know quite a few myself. The culture does not have to continue to be dominated by ugliness, coarseness and irrationality but it seems to me that substituting one kind of irrationality for another is hardly a reasonable solution.

As to the particular irrationality of regarding humans and animals of equal value, I don't think that opinion is limited to secular thinkers. Certain religions of the East also take this view. If one understands that value for human beings depends on holding man's life as the standard and man's happiness as the goal of life, then I think there's really no issue at all. Admittedly this is not self-evident but thanks to Ayn Rand, the means of establishing objective values has been achieved. Animals may have value for man, but they are not of the same value to man as man.

This series concludes with Part IV.

Update 8/24/2008: Added link to Part IV.


madmax said...

Excellent series of posts. I really enjoyed them. Prager, like most conservatives is totally blind to the origin of today's irrational ideas. Since I dived in and started really reading a variety of conservative thinkers I have noticed that almost all of them ascribe today's irrationalism to Classical Liberalism believe it or not.

None of them link it to Post-Modern philosophy and then link that back to the German/Continental counter-Enlightenment which itself stemmed from a failure of the rationalists and the empiricists to ground reason. They see Post-Modernism as the inevitable outgrowth of secular pro-individualist thought. Because Post-Modernism is all about fulfilling individual desires you see. Its what happens when the individual sees "nothing higher than himself", yada, yada, yada. Conservative understanding of philosophic history is a mess.

They argue that the thinkers that attacked or undermined religion, chiefly the dreaded Darwin (who is the most reviled figure amongst conservatives - we'll know that Objectivism is winning when conservatives hate Ayn Rand more than Charles Darwin), are responsible for the rise of "liberalism."

The thinking goes that Darwin led to materialism and reductionism and these lead to relativism and the robbing of mankind's "divinely ordained glory", relativism led to egalitarianism and the worship of sameness and thus cultural self-loathing. In conclusion then, unlimited reason and unrestrained individualism have robbed the West of the ability to defend itself and have made it vulnerable to Islam, demographic decline, cultural debasement, etc, etc, etc..

So it is ultimately secularism that they attack and many conservatives are trying to make the dividing line between conservatives and liberals one of religion vs secularism. Its a scary development. We have our work cut out for us.

Gideon said...

Thanks for the praise! What you say about Conservatives is quite right. They condemn the Enlightenment and talk about the "so-called Dark Ages". Arguably, those two points are all one needs to know about them to make a judgement, if one understands history.

madmax said...

"Thanks for the praise!"

My pleasure. I have been following your blog for a few years now. You always post good stuff.

"What you say about Conservatives is quite right. They condemn the Enlightenment and talk about the "so-called Dark Ages"."

This is something that shocked me initially because I thought that Conservatives were far better than they are. Here is a statement by a religious Conservative that I found that captures the Enlightenment hatred and Medieval worship which characterizes so much of Conservative thought:

"Modern liberalism is a battle against pervading injustice, discrimination, and inequality. Therefore every advance of liberalism must be seen as an advance against a horrible past.

This is not a wholly new approach. It goes back to the Renaissance, which announced itself as a rebirth out of the previous darkness. Meaning that a thousand years of European history, during which Christian Europe was built up from nothing and created as a civilization, was dismissed as darkness and superstition, a mere contemptible interlude between the classical past and the reborn present. The Enlightenment did the same: it brought light where before there was darkness, implying contempt for everything that came before. So this sin of despising the past is deeply built into the West, it's not just a feature of modern liberalism."

There is so much wrong with that quote that you could dissect it for pages. But you get the point. And its not just religious Conservatives that make the same point. David Horrowitz has written basically the same thing.

The Conservatives link the Enlightenment with Classical Liberalism and see *that* as the enemy that needs to be turned back. They literally want to set the clock back a thousand years. This is what we are up against.

Burgess Laughlin said...

> "Interestingly, Prager argues that it is the absence of belief in God that leads to this irrationality."

One argument I have heard from Christians for this supposed cause and effect relationship is this:

1. Through revelation, God offers us the benefit of his infallible Divine Reason as a guide.

2. Man has "human reason," which is a gift from God, but one can choose to set it aside; and even when used, it is fallible and limited, thus requiring guidance.

3. When man abandons God, man abandons Divine Reason and therefore eventually human reason. Nihilism results.

You can see this sort of argument, often implicit, in works such as Pope John Paul II's Faith and Reason (Fides et Ratio), 1998. Man, he says there, goes astray (as in Post-Modernism, which the pope denounces) when man abandons faith (in God's Word) as a guide for human reason.