A Letter to a Friend- An Incoherent, Poorly-Written, and Obsequiously Long Argument Against Atheism
I hope you will forgive me for several of the arguments I made in the previous discussion; I briefly read over the last several messages of October in order to formulate my response, and I realized that given the developments I have observed over the last several months, many of the arguments I put forth were complete and utter bullshit mainly contending against you in order to disagree. You will find immense hypocrisy in my following message, if you were to judge it as a product of the same mind that wrote the last message. But a different mind composes the message which shall follow, though it is a mind evolved directly from the mind of October. If there is a single glaring continuity, a single nucleotide whose position has not shifted in the chains of my life, it is an unshaking belief in the order of the natural world being resultant of a greater and more imperceptible supernatural order which is not provable by the senses or, indeed, reason. Hume would dismiss the notion immediately. I presume you will too. And there is where I find the greatest error in your line of thinking, from my observation: a total dismissal of that which is not provable by the scientific method or your own benevolence towards sentient life, never mind the precedent established in previous centuries, never mind the fact that the greatest minds which carried the torch of science through certain dark centuries did not dismiss the irrational to the degree which you find appropriate. I would almost argue that your moral perspective on the Universe and man’s position in it attempts to become the perfect morality, the immutable code, the single tool which by its very nature can never be misused by a mind intelligent enough. I would think that you would see the historical results of such codes, including but not limited to the teachings of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of Republicanism, and the materialistic mysticism of Communism- three moral universal codes professed by their propagators to be perfections, the seals of history! And proved, in subsequent centuries, to be merely the sheaths of history’s swords. Moreover, it seems that the truths you seek are progressive, and linked to science- truths not of eternity, but of the future. While not bad in itself and in some ways very good in itself, it does bear the conclusion that we, in our generation, are the most advanced Mankind which has ever walked this Earth, not just in science but in our mannerisms, in our social progress, in our systems. And while you will not admit to this and will probably vigorously defend yourself against this attack of mine, it seems that you hold that in our century, the human condition is uplifted and in a better state than at any time or place previously, and that we shall continue to advance beyond this, our progeny lifting the banners which we, at our deaths, must drop. It seems that you practice the hubris of decadent civilizations on the cusp of their fall- that we know things our ancestors did not know, that we are better and more vigilant than those who we replaced, that we won’t make their mistakes. Wishfully thought, in my opinion, if I judge correctly. But enough attack, for you have never attacked me in similar manner, and in any case it is revealing of insecurity on my part. I will now praise the rightness of a certain strand of your thought. The natural world. The natural world in all its diversity, complexity, insanity and irrationality, sanity and rationality- order and chaos, chaos and order- or better said, order, yet chaos; chaos, yet order. I might proceed to describe, in style reminiscent of that of John Muir, the wonders of the natural world which particularly astound me; but I will not, as you are more than familiar with all of them and the processes which drive them to a degree I can only grasp in a dream, and I will not seek to be the greater where I am clearly the inferior. Out of personal interest, I will tend to and fix my glaring lack of knowledge eventually. But for the moment, I will suffice to argue that awe of nature and sheer amazement that things work the way they do is one of the greatest sensations available for us to experience. And this sensation has, over the course of my adventures in the cathedrals of the mountains and the temples of the forests and the catacombs of the deserts and the altar of the sea, prompted in me deeper thoughts than mere inquiries into structure and function. I dare not question the sanctity of scientific truth, which is for the most part impeccably accurate and explanatory of all those little questions a person of an adult mind might pose, and find answer to on the convenient little exhibit signs ubiquitous in our national parks. Yet as my good friend Mr. Muir would pose, Mr. Muir being a scientist himself, there are innumerable questions which would be posed by the mind of a child, which could be answered not so much by the equations and relations known by science, but by the flowery words of prose and poetry. What a ridiculous notion! Yet you know this as well as or perhaps better than I, that some things which are beautiful are not beautiful for any functional reason- they simply ARE. What IS the beauty in nature we all see? It is fascinating, certainly, especially if one has a scientific knowledge of that which he observes. But what of primitive man, who has none of the blessings (or curses) of civilization, and emerging scarred from the latest tribal war, summits a mountain after a rainstorm, and sees exactly that which we of civilization see on our hikes and escapades? A beautiful scene evocative of a world not quite our own? There is not so much the Rousseau or Montaigne in me to praise this primitive man’s superior morality- indeed, he is no less sinful and probably moreso than most of us, as he must lie and cheat to survive just as much as he must cooperate- but his HUMANITY, his sense of questioning which cannot quite be answered by science, nonetheless remains. It is a question which I still wonder every time I am blessed with a walk in the woods however short. I have strayed from the topic quite a bit, and so I return. I hope I have established that I believe the world which we inhabit is governed by the laws of science, the laws of nature, and that in their interactions with each other and upon the things and processes they create, they create the reality which we inhabit. We have a certain tendency to be in awe, and a certain tendency to see beauty; yet though that thirst is insatiable, a somewhat more satiable appetite is a desire to understand the laws which work the beauty we see. It is probably much more driven by practical incentives, but it is nonetheless there. And this being said, if there is anything which can be said to truly be progressive, something which truly does advance and can never be set back, only slowed, it is science. Human beings being the creative and analytical creatures they are, it comes as no surprise that they tinker and explore and write and think and discuss, and in the history of their dominion on this Earth have uncovered a multitude of its secrets, and learned to utilize the secrets of reality in ways practically useful, which is called technology. I will not bore you with any more talk on this, as you are at the forefront of the current endeavors of science and hold a much more piercing understanding than I. I will merely bring up a question of advancement of knowledge and what that says about human knowledge: For millennia, the science of the Western world accepted the geocentric Universe as true. And indeed, the astronomical and physical knowledge which this understanding provided were sufficient to advance science to greater levels than any age before, and what is more, the philosophy of the world was founded upon the presumptions of this geocentric universe. Fast-forward some years, and the heliocentric Universe overtook the old model with proofs newly discovered; and the advancement of the rest of science followed, in navigation and astronomy, in physics, in all those sciences which influence our understanding of the natural world. Mankind now being torn from his former position at the center of all, philosophy, too, adapted to this new understanding of science, and affected the currents of history as philosophy tends to do. In this time, the science of the earthly world, too, advanced, and the former dualistic notions of mass and void slowly became replaced by more advanced understandings of the particles of reality. And so knowledge of our universe was procured, slowly at times, quickly at times. After an astronomical burst of astronomical activity, a theory of the basic structure of things was put forth in Newtonian Physics; and for hundreds of years, the laws of Newtonian Physics were accepted as standard laws of science. The other sciences and technologies benefited fruitfully from these innovations, and Man developed more and more tools by which he might benefit and improve, destroy and subjugate, his fellow man; with these trends, the situation of literature and art, economics and politics, even man himself, shifted into the trends we still see today. And science kept moving. Newtonian Physics had been the dominant understanding for centuries, ever since Kant’s marriage of Rationalism and Empiricism saved it from Hume’s meddlings at the end of the 18th Century. But advances in technology and brought more information still into the sights of the scientists, more things still to explain; and beknownst to us all, Dr. Einstein invalidated Newton’s Physics with the Theory of General Relativity. Perhaps he did not invalidate it, for Newton’s Physics still tend to work under certain conditions; but he proved that the laws set down by Newton are not the laws that drive the nature of the Universe, that things are more complex still. Since Einstein’s time, the secrets of nuclear energy have been discerned by the minds of science, though not by the paranoid public; the material making up life has been coded and in some cases manipulated; and beyond these, our telescopes peer farther and farther out to the far reaches of the known Universe, and our microscopes and their associated tools peer farther down into the natures of the building blocks of the building blocks of the building blocks of matter. Science is followed by technology, by society, by economy and politics, by military science and business development, by public policies and individual capabilities, by art, literature, and philosophy. And thus, it is inevitable that although the human condition remains constant, the situations of human societies will invariably develop with new discoveries every year, every epoch. Thus humans shall have more tools to change their lives; though take these tools away, and they are nothing more than naked apes with minds and souls. Ack! I diverge again! But I hope to make this point clear- the state in which any human finds himself will be different for every human. The Heraclitan remark could not be more clear; for all the world’s a river, but at every given place and in every given moment it is changed from every other given place and moment. And the changes differ especially from epoch to epoch and era to era, particularly in societies which have broken through to the constant progress of science. This being said, the understanding which civilization and science hold of the natural world will constantly progress! Will there ever be a time when our descendants have figured it all out? Someday in the distant future, is it possible that all the world’s mysteries shall be known to them, and in their supreme wisdom, they shall be content to bask in their ultimate wisdom and cease to act or strive? An interesting thought experiment; and I suppose the students of probability would assure me that YES, there is a chance that the day will come. But I am of the opinion, that though science can discern much, it will never discern all. We will always be learning more, exploring more, discovering more, reasoning more; and no field will ever be truly fully conquered, else it actually become obsolete, as astrology and alchemy did so long ago. This is all to say, that in the perspective of Man and Mankind at least, though we might always strive, we shall never in this life know all there is to know. Though we may know much, we shall never know all. But that is observing our subjective understanding of the Universe. When observing the objective truth of the Universe, it could be said that no matter what Mankind does, no matter how much Mankind learns, no matter how far his analysis takes him, and no matter how much certain situations change due to his observations, the actual forces which move and shake the Universe we inhabit do not change; they are as invisible sprites, leaving drops of ambrosia upon the lotus leaves for the weary travelers passing through; the travelers, tasting heaven, speculate on the nature of the food left for them; further thought reveals that it is unique to this particular grove; new measurements show that it was only found at a certain height on the plants; new deliberations illuminate its chemical composition; romantic discussions attribute an intelligence to the placement; and all the while, as the travelers grow more intelligent as they ponder the mysterious ambrosia they have found, the sprites snicker to themselves, knowing that though the travelers will come ever closer to the truth behind the matter through science and their reason, they will never in this life come to know the full and utter truth of the nature of the drops. We are the travelers, in our short times on Earth exploring the mysteries of nature and building upon the works of our forefathers to discover its secrets. (Those who choose such a path at least, yourself included.) But though we compile with the whole of Mankind and Antiquity the information requisite to understand certain aspects of truth, we can never know the full truth; certain questions remain unanswered, problems for our posterity to solve. And they confront the same dilemma; though they can advance, perhaps astronomically, they are still short of knowing the full, untarnished truth. Yet the natural world does not change. Although we blubbering, avaricious, licentious, smelly, and sewage-producing human creatures tickle our own prides thinking ourselves wise, the fact is that if a meteor struck our planet and destroyed every last one of our termitic race, the natural world would continue to operate just as it always had before in our absence. Though there is no human left to understand it, it still works in exactly the ways it did before. There is an unchanging reality which our absence or presence bears no effect upon, as we are but is products and its proofs. Our science observes it; our science examines it; our science attempts to explain its mysteries, as best as it is able. But that unchanging truth is complex to the point that regardless of how far human rationalism develops in the far-distant future, the mind of man will never comprehend in entirety the workings of this vast and magnificent Universe we inhabit. And here I present my understanding of Natural Law; or Eternal Principle; or Divine Command. A scientific man, a philosophical man, a religious man, each has their own respective name for it; but the three terms I have listed are, in effect, the same thing. I shall explain the theory here. My previous attempt to respond to your message involved a lengthy discussion of this topic, but for the sake of relative laconicity I will strive to be less tedious. Science can explain much, but not all, and never will explain all. There comes a point beyond which the reason of Man cannot go. (Indeed, the reason of most of Mankind cannot even reach several key points developed in the history of science.) The universe is simply too complex. And it is after this that Natural Law, or Eternal Principle, or Divine Command, is not only the explanatory mechanism by which we can explain such complexity; no, beyond this point, and indeed permeating throughout all reality, Natural Law, or Eternal Principle, or Divine Command, is TRUTH in the purest sense, a principle true everywhere and at all times, holding this Universe together and defining what is real. I see a Universe of infinite chaos; no two things are exactly the same, and though actions may be predicted, they must be predicted by means of chance and probability, for determinism is never fully accurate, and cause-and-effect is more complex than cause-and-effect. Though a general prediction of how things turn out is typically accurate, the more complex the reaction and the longer the sequence of time, the more complicated the prediction must become, and the lower the accuracy must be. Nothing is certain; the art of prediction is the art of narrowing out the impossible and determining the possible, and from the possible, discerning the probable. What is more, in all things’ reactions with each other in this infinite space of the Universe, in locales as big as the intergalactic level and as small as the sub-particular level, reactions and interactions tend to be violent and result in random ordering rather than the careful, tidy hedgerows you might find in urban England. This trend is manifested at all levels and all places in all things throughout this Universe, and therefore I argue that chaos is infinite, and a definite characteristic of the Universe which we inhabit. Yet, I see a Universe of infinite order; all things which are real follow the same tendencies, are composed of the same building blocks, are liable to the same problems and party to the same solutions; and of course these vary from class of things to class of things, but in a wider sense they follow the general laws of nature, and moreover, there is a natural system of recycling whereby everything of this Universe is composed of the same ‘stuff.’ “From the dust you have come; and to the dust you shall return.” And across time and space, it is quite obvious that not much has changed; the laws of physics, for example, and the laws of relativity, did not spring into existence upon their respective discoveries, but went on affecting matter and energy from the time of the Primeval Atom and the Big Bang to the present day, and no impending reason threatens to cause them to cease acting in the future. Moreover, from one end of our galaxy to the other, the same laws of nature apply, and those same laws apply in every galaxy we have encountered. Indeed, the universal and timeless sameness has made our exploration of the Universe a great deal easier than it might have been. In this sense, I hope I have conveyed the notion that the nature of our Universe is the same at all points, and has been the same at all these points for all time. Thus, I hope to manifest my thesis of the theory, that there are certain rules and principles which govern activity of all things in this universe, from the biggest to the smallest and the smallest to the biggest. I understand that the physics of stars differs immensely from the physics of particles; but nonetheless, attempts are in progress to reconcile such differences and seek common laws between the systems, and thus establish a sort of truth, if one is possible. And not only the things of the traditional world of physics are influenced these laws, but EVERYTHING, especially including life as we know it on Earth! My thesis, then, is as follows: There are certain objective principles which are true at all times and in all places in our Universe, and they, in their interactions with each other, create Reality as we know it, influencing that Reality and governing its ways; and to these Laws there is no recourse, for they do not define what things CANNOT do, but how they act. These Laws might be called Natural Law, or Eternal Principle, or Divine Command, and towards them Science, Philosophy, and Religion always will strive to advance, for it is unique of human beings to strive to know the truth; yet human beings will never know the truth as it is, as these objective Laws are unknowable to them. These Laws determine all which is possible. Everything that has ever happened falls into the realm of possibility; everything that will ever happen will, too. All else is in the realm of the impossible. But the objective principles known as Natural Law, Eternal Principle, or Divine Command define the possible, and are too subtle and pristine for the human mind to know, as human beings are fundamentally only parts of this grand reality of things. Though human beings may know aspects of the truth, they may never know the fullness of all truth. The thesis ends there. I suppose you see its glaring flaw; that there is no account for the human imagination, and for human dreams of the impossible, and for human idealism. I hope my next sections can explain my understanding of this phenomenon. If the Natural Laws create all reality, and reality is as disturbingly and irrationally schizophrenic as it is, capable of great beauty and great ugliness, then to call the Universe or Human Nature unchangeably one or the other is probably a relatively inaccurate statement. This does not mean that either is neutral, as we know it; it simply means that as we perceive the world, everything has its shrouds of good and of bad, at certain levels, and nothing is good for everyone; and especially, nothing lasts forever. The cruelty of competition and the cruelty of time make our world imperfect; and it ought to be seen that nothing can be done to perfect it. There is no Heaven on Earth; nor, for that matter, in the heavens visible to our eyes. Yet humans have a natural tendency to judge that reality by a standard of perfection, as though they know what perfection is and they have a sense of right and wrong based on a perfection not of this world. Could it be? Could it be that they do? I here posit, that God in the Heavenly world planted in Man a seed of knowledge of perfection; and that despite existing in the very real world of pain and suffering and joy and happiness where we live, the perfect Utopia of the Kingdom of Heaven is present in the mind of every human being, and the sense of justice and righteousness which tends to come out in good situations is resultant of this pure seed in our nature. I asked once, “What makes us human, and what separates us from the beasts? For in many ways we are very much like the beasts.” I heard many responses that seemed satisfactory: “We are endowed with conscience and sentience;” “We have an imagination;” “We search for truth;” “We are dissatisfied with the Circle of Life and seek to escape it, to a better world;” “We bury our dead;” “We see beauty;” But in the end, it seems to me that a knowledge that this world is imperfect gleaned from an inner desire for the Kingdom of Heaven is the headwaters from which all those other cascades gush forth, and our humanity is an inexplicable phenomenon, perhaps understandable by evolution to a degree; but in its irrationality, faith is requisite for understanding, where reason will not tread. I stated that the Laws true to all things can be variously called Natural Law in the scientific sense, Eternal Principle in the philosophical sense, and Divine Command in the religious sense. The scientist, when asked about these laws, might list a few possibilities of certain candidates for true and eternal laws. When asked why these are candidates, he might respond “Because they were true every time they were tested.” When asked why they were true, he might respond “Because they clearly are eternal principles, natural laws!” When further pressed he might deliver a lengthy scientific oration on the soundness of his theory, detailing the scientific traditions which he draws upon. When pressed yet further as to why these principles are always true, he might finally respond, exasperated, “They are true because they are true; we have found them to be true, and never to be false; and therefore they are always true. That is the limit of this science; we have found the secrets of the Universe! And we can press no further!” Thus is expressed the limitation of science, were it ever to reach this point. The philosopher and the theologian offer somewhat more interesting answers to the same question. The philosopher, being pressed in the same way, would likely proceed to deliver a monologue understandable only by his associates, and just barely at that. But depending on his preferred school of thought, he may arrive at one of several outcomes; were he of the Existentialist school, he might finally determine that the laws, though always true in all places, were fundamentally meaningless to the individual, who would still be required to arrive at happiness on his own and by his own efforts, merely using the said laws as aids in any physical components of the larger spiritual quest. A Pragmatist would be unconcerned with the Laws for the most part, concerning himself chiefly with the effects he could effect through them, mainly desiring to create new and better realities and realizing that a benign understanding would help him to use them well. The Nihilist, seeing that these Laws are functional and do not imply any sort of morality in themselves, would rejoice and proceed to seek pleasure and happiness by any possible means. Materialists would perhaps dismiss these laws on the very outset, noting that although they affect all matter, they are not of matter and can only be theorized about, not observed; and while they might pay them lip service, they would not seriously take them as a component of the Universe in which we live. Idealists would likely view these Laws as constructs of the mind, important to the individual only insofar as they directly impacted that individual’s thought, and would counsel individuals to make use of them in order to discover who they are and what their purpose is. But regardless of the rainbow of differing responses from differing schools of thought, I seriously doubt that any philosophical tradition in general would do much more than acknowledge these laws as eternal principles and proceed to do what they tend to do with their thought. I turn, then, to the religious tradition, to the theologians. Were theologians to be asked of the significance of the laws stated, I predict that after a brief endorsement of their faith’s particular conception of the metaphysical universe, they would proceed to deliver the following dialogue: “The laws of science only go so far. For they can explain much; but at the end of every one of their explanations, there is the question: Why? And to a point, science, answers each why with another scientific process. But eventually a point is reached where the answer is ‘Because it is so.’ To this is asked, ‘Why is it so?’ ‘Because because.’ A laughably ineffective answer, this shows the limits of human reason; beyond this must be a great leap of faith, which by its nature is easily prey to the hand of cunning reason.” At this point, the more scientifically minded monks and priests of all religions add “Scientists themselves posit that there is no evidence that the laws of nature, as we know them today in our Universe, were in effect before the Big Bang, in the time before the Primeval Atom. This does not say ‘God Created the Universe!!!!’ It merely brings up the notion that things were not always the way they are in this reality that we know. They were formerly different, and because of causation and chance, there must be at least some sort of reason why they were once different. ‘Because because’ is not a sufficient explanation.” Then all the theologians and religious thinkers, scientific and non-scientific alike, might say something along the lines of: “We believe that these eternal laws of nature which govern the Universe we inhabit were written, at the beginning of time, by a supreme intelligence, who designed them as he saw fit, for his own purposes unbeknownst to us, who are mere products of his Creation. Yet the beauty of our humanity is that he placed within us a certain seed of aspiration to a better world, a certain disdain for the effects of these laws which govern our Universe and create not only its beauties but its imperfections. He placed within us a measure of right and wrong, and when judging right we judge by the measure of a perfect world that does not exist in our Universe. Therefore our consciences are testament to the Heaven in which the Maker resides; and not satisfied with the imperfections and limitations of Earth, there is a natural desire in the hearts of men for a perfection, which is unattainable in the perfection of our Universe, and attainable only in Heaven. This perfect afterlife, common to nearly all faiths, unites the general aspirations of Mankind, whether they know it or not, unless they reject it and demand Heaven on Earth. The corruptions and clashes of religions are the result of history and culture, and religions being human institutions, it is inevitable that they shall corrupt and clash. But they serve as the basic human vehicle for an organized search for that which cannot be discovered by science or reason, but by intuition and passion alone.” In my understanding, all religions of the world do effectively the same thing- this life being drastically imperfect and unfair, they offer a route to a perfect life after this one; more generally, they are the foundation of moral codes and social orders. However unjust the two preceding institutions may tend to become in practice, they nonetheless contribute to the stability and culture of societies. All this being said, it seems to me that the religions of the world all seek to explain the same phenomenon common to the human experience- the perception of a supernatural world beyond this one. It seems that such a world could be explained rationally, without the mores of culture and history to weigh down any individual’s perspective. In all rational thought, the Deists are probably the closest to an accurate conception of an omniscient, omnipotent God as he actually is; yet the Deists are deficient to the Theists in at least one regard: The Theists turn belief into a human experience, with all the benefits associated, and have the pleasure of a semi-personal relationship with the Creator, however irrational, a desire common to the human experience since primeval times. The Deists, in their rational scrutiny, are unable to enjoy this pleasure while on Earth. Religion without culture, though it may be rationally more accurate, seems to me to be spiritually dissatisfying. If I seem to have grown more optimistic about the human condition and more proud of human nature as I have spoken of its desires in a religious sense, I assure you I have not. A Saudi friend of mine, a devout Muslim, put it quite eloquently for being new to English. I paraphrase: “Religion, though admittedly a source of social tyranny, is also a wonderful preserver of social order, and when practiced honestly, a font of individual integrity which lifts the individual from malaise into spiritual balance.” I am sure I will find occasion to detail to you my understanding of the human condition in a secular sense sometime in this conversation, and otherwise I may write a Facebook essay on it sometime this semester. I have bored you with a lengthy, inaccurate, pretentious and hubris-filled discourse on the nature and purposes of religions, and have likely caused you to doubt not only my rationality but also my sanity. I shall therefore do my best to end this letter as efficaciously as possible, and will proceed to the final section, a section dedicated to my original goal in this reply: a defense of Christianity. Your contempt for Christianity and the hypocrisy it exhibits sounds to me like the following thought process: “Christianity, when thought about in a totally rational manner, is schizophrenic; and as a sociopath who is nice guy every other day is still a sociopath, Christianity ought to be judged by its failures and its hypocrisies, rather than by its strengths and its contributions. The God of Christianity is odious. If he exists, he ought not be worshipped, because he is odious. But because he is odious, it is more likely that he does not exist, and was more likely a construct of an imperfect people. If the God of Christianity does not exist, it seems that there is no God, for any God who could be worshipped by humans would take on the form of the God of Christianity. Therefore there is no God. Man’s mind is the highest and noblest intelligence so far known in this Universe, and it can discern morality and practice virtue in the absence of religion- in fact, only in the absence of religion is it truly free, and thus only in the absence of religion can it truly know truth. Therefore I will never again fall for the trap of Christianity, and will seek to develop my understanding of morality free of the constraints of religion and metaphysics- Red, the blood of angry men, Black, the dark of ages past, Red, a world about to dawn, Black, the night that ends at last!” Let me know whether or not my understanding of your position is correct; if it is not please correct me. Then I will defend Christianity, once I understand your position. […]
On a final note, I find your insistence on the rightness of your worldview to be just as arrogant as those of the innumerable Christians who stand on street corners and shout at people to repent. I do not think myself to be superior to you or of greater mental capacity than you in any way. I will cling to my mindvirus while you discover enlightenment and frolick in the flowers with your pig and octopus brethren.