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The Pressures of being an Intellectual

Posted by Jerry on November 11, 2011

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Tehelka Magazine

The pressures of being an editorial columnist, journalist, or some kind of published intellectual can put real strain on your abilities to reach rational, honest conclusions. Because, in this information age, we interact within a massive marketplace of ideas–a market that is constantly and rapidly updating itself with newer, better, more provocative, more sensational ideas.

Thus, to really stand out–to win, to be noticed in this marketplace of ideas–especially, if you are in the business of peddling some and your survival depends on being noticed for your ideas, one has to either be a savant genius and genuinely innovative or be at least an imitative provocateur.

Ashis Nandy of the Tehelka is an example of the latter. It appears that he has succumbed to the pressures of grabbing eyeballs in this fiercely competitive marketplace of ideas by resorting to gymnastics–of the mental and provocative kind. His latest piece is particularly demonstrative and revealing.

In an article titled “The Pursuit of Happiness and other Absurd Ideas“, Nandy picks three ideas that he regards as particularly egregious and poisonous to human civilization: (a) pursuit of happiness; (b) progress; (c) secularism.

Now, if your hoping to encounter some definitions of these terms, you will be disappointed. Nandy proceeds blithely through these ideas without ever pinning down their exact meanings or how he uses them.

To begin with, Nandy makes this highly debatable–even untrue–statement: “Our value systems, even in India, are increasingly based on reason. Which is why, perhaps, we constantly feel like we are a country sitting on a tinderbox — riots, terrorism, insurgency, discontent.”

First, it is unclear what he means by “reason” in the claim that India’s value systems are increasingly based on reason. Next, given a common sense understanding of “reason”–as the faculty of human consciousness to identify, evaluate, and integrate the facts of reality–his statement is squarely false. If anything, the world–and India included–is marching towards irrationality, mysticism, new age spiritualism, whim-worship and hedonism, and overall irrationality than anything resembling reason. The global economic crises and the European bankruptcies are arguably great demonstrations of what short-term, hedonistic irrationality gets you.

What’s more interesting is that three of the four consequences Nandy cites here of the use of reason, namely, riots, terrorism, and insurgency, are all actually variants of the use of force. Now, any sensible analysis of force will reveal to you that force is the destroyer of reason. Nandy would perhaps retort here that it is precisely our reason that has convinced us of some superior “right” to use force against other people. For instance, some religious groups have somehow reached a “conviction” that their use of force is justified.

But that line of argument is fallacious. Force and reason are opposites. The ability to reason (to think, to evaluate, and to choose) ends immediately when a gun is pointed at you. A gun is a command to action, not a syllogism to persuade. It appeals to your fears not to your reason. Indeed, as it is empirically evident and proven for any honest person to see, it is only when reason, dialog, discussion, persuasion, and argumentation is abandoned that force becomes the means of settling disagreements.

Having disparaged reason, Nandy proceeds to attack the three “poisonous” values of pursuit of happiness, progress, and secularism. This is where the article derails from any semblance of intellectual rigor and enters into the territory of the absurd. Indeed, the absurdities leap out of the screen at you. For example, in explaining the origins of the idea of happiness, the author states that “all societies deny the idea of death”. Really? Which one? He does not say.

What he does say, immediately thereafter, is this: “In successful capitalist societies–bereft of religion, afterlife, rebirth, or any of the philosophies that transcend death–the panic [about death] is profound.”

That should qualify as the most uneducated statement of the year. If any country can be considered as a successful “capitalist” country, it has to be the United States of America more than any other–and this is also perhaps of all advanced economies the only country most rooted in the faith of Christianity, in the Protestant ethic, in the belief in life after death, salvation and damnation, and the transcendence of this material world!

Nandy goes on to make another risible claim: that “Both the disease called unhappiness and the determined search for happiness afflict the more developed societies.” Meanwhile, in the world of his own mind, the under-developed societies of repressive Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Nigeria, Somalia, Burma, etc. are veritable paradises of–what?

“Happiness, like school uniforms, has now become compulsory,” he says. Is he implying that the ideal human condition need not be one of “happiness”? Is Nandy suggesting that a human life lived in unhappiness or banality is just as optionally preferable as a life of happiness? If you answered NO to be charitable to the author, you are wrong. He explicitly states his intention, saying: “We need to be practical and reconcile to live in this imperfect world with our normal unhappiness.”

Yes, my dear readers. He just said that we should learn to live happily with our unhappy lives. Whatever that means.

National Socialist Workers' Party of Denmark

Nazism

If you think Nandy is just innocently unwise, again you would be wrong. Nandy belies a high degree shrewdness and sophistry. As evidence, note that immediately after citing history’s two most murderous, collectivist, tyrannical regimes–Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany–as examples of societies that enforced “utopian” happiness and thereby inflected untold atrocities upon its people, he goes on to allude that the modern conception of (poisonous) happiness is an outgrowth of the philosophy of individualism. The mental gymnastics that is required to at once connect the epitome of collectivistic horror with the philosophy of individual freedom, self-autonomy, and liberty is not possible without some intentional sophistry at play.

To be charitable, the author does introduce a brilliantly benevolent, correct, and pleasant thought into his otherwise vapid article; unfortunately, the thought is not his. “According to philosopher KJ Shah, the strength of a human relationship should be measured not by the absence of quarrels, but by how much quarrelling the relationship can take.”

The implication of this view–correctly–is that happy people are not unmoored by momentary disappointments. That happiness is not an experience of the moment, but an orientation towards life. Sadly, however, the author is unable to see that such an orientation towards life as that of happy people is not possible without reason–without a philosophy that promotes the exercise of the rational faculty. As the philosopher Ayn Rand noted correctly, happiness cannot be achieved by the pursuit of irrational whims and hedonistic pleasures of the moment. A rational man projects the task of happiness across the entire span of his lifetime. Thus, he seeks his happiness not in the mindless fraudulent pleasures of the moment (although he may choose to indulge in legitimate relaxation), but in the experience of a joy that comes without penalty, guilt, shame, or contradiction. Happiness is the state of consciousness that comes with achieving the non-contradictory values of one’s life.

Indeed, from a psychological perspective, happiness is an important signal about the successful state of our lives. It is the emotional barometer of human consciousness, which informs us about our success at living life. Happiness and suffering are parallel indicators about the physical issue of life or death, pain or pleasure.

Moving on to his criticism of “Progress,” Nandy states that progress is the major source of violence globally. He says we should “hang our heads in shame when using” the word Progress. Again, his distortions are unbelievably confounding. In his attack on the concept of progress, he raises yet again the repressive regimes of Soviet Russia, China, as Cambodia as examples to fight his case. However, the connection that he wishes to forge between these regimes and progress is one that is founded on non-essentials, and is therefore simply untenable. The common ideology that underlies these regimes is not simply “progress” as a vague, general goal–but a *specific* approach to achieving their own conception of progress, namely, a collectivized, classless, communist society achieved by force and revolution. This is diametrically opposed to the classical liberal and democratic approach, which also had as its goal “progress” for the human condition. The results are evident and history has offered its verdict.

The author conflates the failures of socialist ideologies with the legitimate and praise-worthy goals of human progress–without, notably, ever defining what he means by progress. Then, he identifies a phantom relationship between secularism and the genocides of socialist regimes, such as that of the Soviet Union, North Korea, and Khmer Rouge. Perhaps, he is blind to the fact that National Socialism (Nazism)–the originator of one of the most hateful periods of human history–was virulently anti-secular, anti-atheistic. It

Nazi German propaganda poster: "Danzig is...

was at the same time socialistic and religious. The Reich, or the German State, cloaked in Christianity, was elevated to divine status with the blessings of Hegel, Heidegger, and Nietzsche. If the modern Catholic Church is seen as a benevolent and benign dictatorship, the Nazi regime was an evil and violent one.

One should also wonder if the perpetrators of the Crusades, Inquisitions, Islamic wars, and other religious wars had access to the kinds of modern weaponry, would the scale of their murders be just as vast?

Ultimately, what drives maniacal men to genocide is not and cannot be a “belief in non-belief” — or atheism. It has always been a belief in some assertion–either that of the Divine God or the Divine State or the Superiority of the Collective.

But Nandy is apparently convinced about something that’s paradoxical (and perhaps because it is so, given his antipathy towards reason): he believes that any desirable society must bypass the idea of progress because progress is essentially “anti-life.”

Now, to take that seriously, one would first have to know what he defines as “progress,” because in the general understanding of the term, progress means the general enhancement of the living condition. To illustrate it simply, if the average human life span in the 18th century was 30 years, today it is 70. And that is progress. Period.

Turning to the “third killer in [the author’s] violent lexicon,” we are confronted with an insidious analysis of “secularism.”

SecularismIn a very disconcerting claim, the author argues that one must not keep religion and politics separate. However, quickly, the reader realizes that the author does not really understand the full implications of what he advocates. At one point, you are even confused about the author’s take on secularism–does he hate it or like it? Because after disparaging it for a while, the author appears to defend secularism when he refers to the “hindutva” movement–claiming that Hindutva is actually secular. Wikipedia describes Hindutva as a Hindu Nationalist movement. So, is he implying that Hindutva is as good as secular or as poisonous as secular?

Indeed, much of this article is a (deliberate or not?) mix of conflated terms, inaccurate and ill-defined usages of words, and flat-out contradictions of ideas.

It appears to me that Nandy gunned for a shock-treatment approach to writing this piece, by employing “toxic” vocabulary to describe values that are–in the right spirit–actually some of the pillars of a civilized society. Perhaps he did this so that he could gain some eyeballs, shock a few people, and win a few uncritical nods at the seeming profundity of it all. To this end, the author achieves the goals. But he does so at the cost of exposing the goals themselves and at the risk of our evaluating such pursuits and such methods of trying to appear “intellectual.”

Posted in Atheism, Culture, General Work/Life, India, My Theories and Ideas, On Collectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Story behind Our Entry into the Atlas Shrugged Video Contest

Posted by Jerry on December 20, 2010

My friends and I submitted the “Sixth Sense” video. Admittedly, the philosophy and concept behind the video is not easily accessible at first–beyond the most obvious message to “Think”; so, I’ll just give a brief explanation of our thoughts that went into creating the script of the movie and then the movie itself.

First, when we decided the enter the contest, we decided to stay away from the political and economic themes of Atlas Shrugged, for the following reasons:

1) These themes are difficult to capture on a personal and emotionally-connective level.
2) It’s easy to get preachy with such themes
3) It’s the most obvious and superficial interpretation of Atlas Shrugged
4) We were sure that political and economic themes would be the ones most commonly captured by other videos in the contest.

Hence, I decided to first identify the core theme of AS, namely: The role of man’s mind in existence.

From there, I began thinking of themes most directly relevant and affecting to me (and my friends) here in India. We thought of themes like the right to free speech (but dismissed it because it didn’t convey powerful images to us in our minds, without being preachy).

We thought of the struggle of Indian youth in asserting their goals and lives in a collectivist society like India (for example, publicly open gay men like myself face some kinds of resistance almost regularly in our lives). We dropped this idea because–again, we didn’t think it hit the core of Atlas Shrugged, would be difficult to execute, may not be relevant to a global or Western audience, and we wanted to avoid an ambitious project that would turn out sloppy.

Finally, I hit upon the idea of contrasting Mysticism versus Reality. Specifically, I wanted to contrast Eastern Mysticism versus a rational view of the world, since Eastern Mysticism is attractive many many people in the West as well. So, I sat through the night and typed up a 6-page long concept paper explaining all the major premises of eastern mysticism (primacy of consciousness, One-ness of Being, illusion of reality, etc.) and debunking their arguments with strong rational, logical, and objective counter-arguments.

Essentially, my concept paper came down strongly and harshly against the side of mysticism and how mysticism makes the act of living effectively and productively impossible–and reiterated the role of the mind as our *only* competent tool of survival in this world.

In the interest of full disclosure, the filmmaker that I was working with is himself a believer in mysticism (as is very common in India). He was very uncomfortable working on such a script. Therefore, the scripwriter in our team tempered the concept-note heavily by introducing a less controversial path to conveying a similar message (albeit, invariably and through no fault of hers, losing some impact of the original message along the way). She conceived of the brilliant metaphor of the five senses–which, when used effectively and in tandem with the “sixth sense”, namely, our minds–can make our life in this world tremendously more efficacious and *human*.

Thus, was born the concept of the Sixth Sense.

The script thereafter went through several more changes by the filmmaker and the scriptwriter.

To explain the final video, the voice over is of the adult character who is reflecting on her childhood. The concept of the five senses is intended to allude to how we generally take the competence of our senses as valid, but *not* the competence of our mind as valid (we accept any truths said by scriptures, priests, collectives, parents, cultures, etc.). Our message is to not surrender the mind to the various “conspiracy theories” of mystics and collectivists. The theme of our video is the competence of our mind, which we have dubbed as “The Sixth Sense” as a deliberate subversion of the mystic’s claim of “extrasensory” or “sixth sense” connection to higher truths.

For successful living, you must trust in the competence of your mind to achieve a successful life.

Watch our video, and if you like it, please do vote for it.

http://wildfireapp.com/website/6/contests/42465/voteable_entries/12473666?order=recency

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Movies, Mumbai, My Friends, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Consistent Irrationality

Posted by Jerry on March 28, 2008

Most people function on a mix of rational and irrational ideas in their lives. There are only two ways you can survive: either you be consistently rational and act accordingly or you allow for instances of irrationality and hope that you will luckily escape the consequences of it or have someone else (usually, the government or rational neighbors) bail you out from the mess of your own creation.

It is only the human mind that can harbor contradictions, because it has free will—and since external reality does not permit such a mix of contradictions, the extent to which a person functions on irrationalities and contradiction, to that extent he is at war with reality.

Religion is fundamentally irrational. To the extent that you practice your religion consistently, it won’t be long before you either seriously or fatally harm yourself or someone else. It is the inescapable nature of reality. Here are just a couple of examples that highlight this principle manifesting in reality (from John Enright’s blog):

An eleven-year old girl is dead because her parents refused to take her to the doctor for a treatable condition. Instead, they chose to pray to god for a healing to occur. When, miraculously, no healing occured, and the child’s condition worsened over 30 days until she eventually succumbed to her death, her parents said that they did not pray with enough faith. Not to accept defeat in their battle against reality, the girl’s mother has now vowed to pray for her daughter’s resurrection:

An 11-year-old girl died after her parents prayed for healing rather than seek medical help for a treatable form of diabetes, police said Tuesday.

Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin said Madeline Neumann died Sunday in Weston, just outside Wausau.

“She got sicker and sicker until she was dead,” he said.

Vergin said an autopsy determined the girl died from diabetic ketoacidosis, an ailment that left her with too little insulin in her body, and she had probably been ill for about 30 days, suffering symptoms like nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness.

The girl’s parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, attributed the death to “apparently they didn’t have enough faith,” the police chief said.

They believed the key to healing “was it was better to keep praying. Call more people to help pray,” he said.

The mother believes the girl could still be resurrected, the police chief said.

A very troubling aspect of this story is that the government’s child services division apparently finds nothing alarming about these parents’ behavior and its implications to their three other daughters. The dead child–whose death was directly caused by the faith and irrationality of her parents–has three siblings between the ages of 13 and 16.

The girl has three siblings, ranging in age from 13 to 16, the police chief said.

“They are still in the home,” he said. “There is no reason to remove them. There is no abuse or signs of abuse that we can see.”

In another account of a battle against reality, a father allegedly placed his infant baby in a microwave oven to burn; his wife explains that her husband was under the influence of Satan, who had taken advantage of a “weak moment.” Through some means, the wife acquired the knowledge that Satan was angry at her husband for choosing to become a Christian preacher. Therefore, Satan compelled her husband to put their infant child in the microwave, shut the door, turn it on, and watch as the baby suffered serious burns.

The wife of this demon-haunted man, however, does admit to an interesting fact:

Mauldin said her husband had a mental disability and her efforts to get him help have failed.

Those who claim that religion is not something to be made fun of are correct in one sense. Religion cannot be taken so lightly as to be made fun of; know that the believers are not taking their religion lightly–and to the degree that they are not, we shouldn’t either, because life hangs in the balance. Religion should be criticized, denounded, and condemned as strongly as the practitioners who practice it hold their faith.

The pernicious death-premise of religion is hardly recognized by even most secular folks and atheists. While the secularists and atheists are content with rejecting religious beliefs, many of them often acknowledge that some people need religion and that religion can certainly provide a path to a virtuous and moral lifestyle. Indeed, many atheists share the same moral code that religion prescribes! Religion is seen as a guide to virtuous living that can be secularized, which is the insidious nature of this form of irrationality—it hides under the garb of universal virtue. 

A majority of people in the world (including many atheists) consider only religious people to be some of the most virtuous people on this planet. Think Teresa of Calcutta. How many people believe that Teresa was lacking in any significant moral virtue? I’d venture to say—very few. How many think she was downright evil?

Do you see my point? 

====

UPDATE: Yahoo! News and the Associated Press have just posted a more detailed account of the 11-year old girl’s death, including interviews with the parents and some relatives. Here are some of the details missing from the original link I posted in my article above:

An autopsy showed Madeline Neumann died Sunday of diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition that left too little insulin in her body, Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin said.

She had probably been ill for about a month, suffering symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness, the chief said Wednesday, noting that he expects to complete the investigation by Friday and forward the results to the district attorney.

The girl’s mother, Leilani Neumann, said that she and her family believe in the Bible and that healing comes from God, but that they do not belong to an organized religion or faith, are not fanatics and have nothing against doctors.

She insisted her youngest child, a wiry girl known to wear her straight brown hair in a ponytail, was in good health until recently.

“We just noticed a tiredness within the past two weeks,” she said Wednesday. “And then just the day before and that day (she died), it suddenly just went to a more serious situation. We stayed fast in prayer then. We believed that she would recover. We saw signs that to us, it looked like she was recovering.”

Her daughter — who hadn’t seen a doctor since she got some shots as a 3-year-old, according to Vergin — had no fever and there was warmth in her body, she said.

The girl’s father, Dale Neumann, a former police officer, said he started CPR “as soon as the breath of life left” his daughter’s body.

Family members elsewhere called authorities to seek help for the girl.

“My sister-in-law, she’s very religious, she believes in faith instead of doctors …,” the girl’s aunt told a sheriff’s dispatcher Sunday afternoon in a call from California. “And she called my mother-in-law today … and she explained to us that she believes her daughter’s in a coma now and she’s relying on faith.”

The dispatcher got more information from the caller and asked whether an ambulance should be sent.

“Please,” the woman replied. “I mean, she’s refusing. She’s going to fight it. … We’ve been trying to get her to take her to the hospital for a week, a few days now.”

The aunt called back with more information on the family’s location, emergency logs show. Family friends also made a 911 call from the home. Police and paramedics arrived within minutes and immediately called for an ambulance that took her to a hospital.

But less than an hour after authorities reached the home, Madeline — a bright student who left public school for home schooling this semester — was declared dead.

She is survived by her parents and three older siblings.

“We are remaining strong for our children,” Leilani Neumann said. “Only our faith in God is giving us strength at this time.”

The Neumanns said they moved from California to a modern, middle-class home in woodsy Weston, just outside Wassau in central Wisconsin, about two years ago to open a coffee shop and be closer to other relatives. A basketball hoop is set up in the driveway.

Leilani Neumann said she and her husband are not worried about the investigation because “our lives are in God’s hands. We know we did not do anything criminal. We know we did the best for our daughter we knew how to do.”

Posted in Atheism, Culture, Objectivism, Philosophy, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Get Crucified in Style

Posted by Jerry on March 20, 2008

On Obloggers, Paul Hsieh alerts us to “some important safety tips for those who plan to be crucified this weekend.” (Lol!)

==Excerpts:

This Holy Week, the thousands of guilt stricken or pious worshippers who will flay the skin off their backs, and the handful who will crucify themselves, are encouraged to get a tetanus shot first and be sure to use a clean whip or nails.

“Getting deep cut wounds during whippings or lashings is inevitable and being so exposed during the course of the penitence, with all the
heat and dust blowing in the wind, welcomes all sorts of infections and bacteria like tetanus,” he explained.

Re-enactments of the Passion of Christ are common in many parts of the mostly Roman Catholic Philippines but frowned upon by the church
authorities.

In San Fernando City 23 people, including two women, have signed up to re-enact the crucifixion at three “improvised Golgothas” around town.
Four of them will use real nails.

The city government’s website trumpets the preparations.

“The City Health Office (CHO) autoclaved all the nails to be used and will administer anti-tetanus vaccine to all the “Cristos” to ensure
their protection from possible infection,” it points out. City officials will conduct an inspection of the Golgothas on Thursday.

Some 23 people, including two women, plan to reenact the crucifixion. The festival is sponsored by Coca-cola and a company called Smart
Telecommunications.

In a break from the original tradition, penitents are encouraged to “bring enough drinking water for the whole course of the pilgrimage to
avoid dehydration, rather than buy bottled drinking water from unfamiliar sources.”

There is also government advice for the many tourists and spectators who attend the events.

“It is also better to bring self-prepared foods such as sandwiches, not only to save money, but also to avoid getting diseases such as
diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid after eating food bought from street vendors,” the health secretary suggested.

============

Just imagine, instead of asking for myrrh, Jesus would have called out for “some Coke please.” WHAT BRAND ENDORSEMENT THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN!! Coke would officially have replaced wine in all the chalices of Catholic churches!

Posted in Atheism, Culture, General Work/Life, Humor, Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Deriving Atheism from Philosophy

Posted by Jerry on March 14, 2008

It is a matter of fact that science can never disprove the existence of God. The tools of science–experimentation, observation, and empiricism–are inherently inadequate for the job. At best, empiricists can only reach approximations of certainty–and can claim, like Richard Dawkins does, that they have a very high degree of certainty that god does not exist.

This, however, does not indicate any weakness in the position of atheism as such; rather, it highlights the fact that science is inferior to philosophy and that philosophy is and should be the foundation of all scientific thought. Once reason and objectivity are evicted from their epistemological base in philosophy, a free floating set of rules like that of pragmatism and relativism or a blinded philosophy like that of the skepticism is spawned: neither of these philosophies can agree on what can be known or indeed whether anything at all can be known.

As Ayn Rand said: “Science was born as a result and consequence of philosophy; it cannot survive without a philosophical (particularly epistemological) base. If philosophy perishes, science will be next to go. It is philosophy that defines and establishes the epistemological criteria to guide human knowledge in general and specific sciences in particular.”

It is philosophy that reveals to man the proper methods of thinking and the laws governing sensible, valid, and rational thought. In other words, it is philosophy that identifies the axioms of knowledge and the non-contradictory nature of existence, and then devises the epistemic rules of thinking (logic) that mimic the nature of existence. 

The lack of absolute certainty in the non-existence of god actually indicates the categorical confusion of metaphysics and nature that scientists like Dawkins commit. Atheism is often reinterpreted as being a naturalistic worldview; and although this is not false, it has resulted in the belief that atheism is actually a position reached at the end of a personal scientific and empiric quest. And often, this is indeed how many people become atheists: they start with their studies in evolutionary science, physics, or astronomy; they begin to ask the right questions and push for honest answers; they examine claims of miracles and seek scientific explanations; and eventually, they reach a point where atheism becomes the only plausible and default position to hold. Quite correctly, they see no empiric evidence to believe in the supernatural.

However, such atheists arrive at their conclusion through very weak and fundamentally unsubstantiated grounds. Indeed, such atheists can never deny that the next scientifically inexplicable event may suddenly turn them into theists or agnostics: in fact, some atheists (misguidedly) consider such “open-mindedness” in the face of an inexplicable even to be a sign of honorable intellectual honesty–the mark of a skeptic who is even proudly skeptical of atheism.

In essence, such atheists hold their belief at the mercy of the next concrete event, discovery, alleged sighting, or claim that would dictate whether or not they remain atheists or turn into agnostics.

The only way to rescue this unhinged concept of atheism from total collapse into subjectivism is to extract it from the domain of science and place it back where it belongs–in philosophy.

The position of atheism is a particularly philosophical position, not a scientific one. This is because atheism belongs to a subset of ideological positions, namely, the ideological position pertaining to metaphysics and spiritual belief. Particularly, atheism is the ideological position that holds as fact that there is no god. The only way to ascertain the validity of this assertion is by applying the laws revealed by philosophy, not by the implementation of any empiric, experimental, or observational method of scientific enquiry. In other words, the only permanent path to atheism is one primarily or fundamentally grounded on rational philosophical enquiry, not a scientific one.

Ayn Rand identified that existence exists and that existence is identity. It is on the basis of these fundamental and irrefutable metaphysical axioms that we know–with absolute certainty–that god does not, and indeed cannot, exist.

Existence is identity; that is, to be is to be something. A thing cannot be and not-be at the same time: this is a law that identifies a fact of existence. The supernatural not only means something outside of our Earth or our galaxy, but literally outside of everything in the Universe, including the Universe itself. Therefore, to be supernatural is literally to be outside existence qua existence, since existence is the totality of all that exists. Therefore, for the supernatural to exist, it must not exist. Therefore, the supernatural does not exist.

Likewise, if god is omniscient, then he must know everything; but then he cannot know what it is like to not know something. Therefore, god is an omniscient being who does not know everything. Therefore, god does not exist.

Likewise, if god is omnipotent, then he should be able to do anything; but god cannot kill himself. Therefore, god is an omnipotent being who cannot do everything. Therefore, god does not exist.

Likewise, if god is infinite, then he must transcend space, time, and measurement; but then he cannot have an identity–or be an entity–because to exist is to be an entity (to be is to be something; like the Universe is itself an entity). Therefore, god is an entity who is not an entity. A is non-A. Therefore, god cannot exist.

Likewise, if god is intelligent, then he must be rational, logical, and sensible. In other words, god would also have to obey the laws of rationality and logic; but then, our use of logic and reason above has demonstrated that were such an entity to exist, he would have to be full of contradictions; since logic does not permit contradictions, and contradictions do not exist, god does not exist.

And so on…

It is only at the end of such personal philosophical enquiry in the context of metaphysics–by employing the tools of logic and reason and holding objectivity as the standard of knowledge–that absolute atheism can be arrived at. And this pure atheism is immune to whatever claims or random events that may give someone a sense of wonderment or of being inexplicable. This kind of atheism knows that there is–and can be–no gods.

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Culture, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments »

The Sword of Wafa Sultan

Posted by Jerry on March 7, 2008

Syrian-born political commentator and American psychiatrist, Wafa Sultan, speaks with the ferocity of a sword-wielding soldier in the battlefield of ideas.

“I have decided to fight Islam; please pay attention to my statement; to fight Islam, not the political Islam, not the militant Islam, not the radical Islam, not the Wahhabi Islam, but Islam itself… Islam has never been misunderstood, Islam is the problem…. (Muslims) have to realize that they have only two choices: to change or to be crushed.”

This video of her interview on Al-Jazeera is a must-see:

http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/1704.htm

Go to fullsize imageWhen Islamic barbarism was revealed in the wake of the Danish cartoons fiasco, Wafa Sultan and members from the Ayn Rand Institute got together on panel discussions across the United States to stand up against the Islamic threat to freedom, liberty, and western civilization. The ARI website has the video of one their events in which Wafa Sultan participated:

Totalitarian Islam’s Threat to the West
A panel discussion featuring Daniel Pipes, Yaron Brook and Wafa Sultan
Recorded April 12, 2007
View video playback (requires RealPlayer®)
Part 1 (55 min.)
Part 2 (60 min.)

Watch more videos of this brave woman. [HT: Rule of Reason]

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Culture, Islamo-loony, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Are You Afraid of Ayn Rand?

Posted by Jerry on January 7, 2008

It is well-known that Ayn Rand’s name elicits sharp and extreme reactions–either positive or negative. But the extremely dishonest lengths to which those who hate Ayn Rand go to smear her name, attack her philosophy, and discredit her impact is simply puzzling. Are these people actually afraid of Ayn Rand? Are they afraid of identifying what their reaction to her philosophy reveals about themselves?

The National Review has had a history of spreading lies about Ayn Rand; they are committed to smearing her legacy–this seems to be their raison d’etre. Here is their latest attack by Michael Novak, writing about atheists and their various beliefs:

Those relativists and nihilists who do believe, as Nietzsche warned, that the “death of God” has also meant the death of trust in reason and science and objective rules of morality. Such atheists, therefore, may for arbitrary reasons choose to live for their own pleasure, or for the joy of exercising brute power and will. This is the kind of moral nihilism that communist and fascist regimes depended upon, to justify the brutal use of power. It appears, also, to be the kind of atheism that Ayn Rand commended. [bold added]

Let’s take this point by point:

According to Novak, the kind of atheism Ayn Rand advocated had no “trust in reason and science and objective rules of morality.” However, here’s just a sample of what Ayn Rand in fact had to say about reason, science, objectivity, and morality:

I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.

This—the supremacy of reason—was, is and will be the primary concern of my work, and the essence of Objectivism. 

To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason—Purpose—Self-esteem.

Reason is the only objective means of communication and of understanding among men; when men deal with one another by means of reason, reality is their objective standard and frame of reference. But when men claim to possess supernatural means of knowledge, no persuasion, communication or understanding are possible.

Ethics is an objective, metaphysical necessity of man’s survival

The concept of objectivity contains the reason why the question “Who decides what is right or wrong?” is wrong. Nobody “decides.” Nature does not decide—it merely is; man does not decide, in issues of knowledge, he merely observes that which is. When it comes to applying his knowledge, man decides what he chooses to do, according to what he has learned, remembering that the basic principle of rational action in all aspects of human existence, is: “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” This means that man does not create reality and can achieve his values only by making his decisions consonant with the facts of reality.

Then, Novak declares that Ayn Rand’s philosophy is a mixture of nihilism and hedonism, where people may choose to live for any arbitrary reason, or for the “joy of exercising brute power and will.”

Here is what Ayn Rand actually states about hedonism:

I am profoundly opposed to the philosophy of hedonism. Hedonism is the doctrine which holds that the good is whatever gives you pleasure and, therefore, pleasure is the standard of morality. Objectivism holds that the good must be defined by a rational standard of value, that pleasure is not a first cause, but only a consequence, that only the pleasure which proceeds from a rational value judgment can be regarded as moral, that pleasure, as such, is not a guide to action nor a standard of morality. To say that pleasure should be the standard of morality simply means that whichever values you happen to have chosen, consciously or subconsciously, rationally or irrationally, are right and moral. This means that you are to be guided by chance feelings, emotions and whims, not by your mind. My philosophy is the opposite of hedonism. I hold that one cannot achieve happiness by random, arbitrary or subjective means. One can achieve happiness only on the basis of rational values. By rational values, I do not mean anything that a man may arbitrarily or blindly declare to be rational. It is the province of morality, of the science of ethics, to define for men what is a rational standard and what are the rational values to pursue.

To declare, as the ethical hedonists do, that “the proper value is whatever gives you pleasure” is to declare that “the proper value is whatever you happen to value”—which is an act of intellectual and philosophical abdication, an act which merely proclaims the futility of ethics and invites all men to play it deuces wild.

And about brute power or force:

Whatever may be open to disagreement, there is one act of evil that may not, the act that no man may commit against others and no man may sanction or forgive. So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate—do you hear me? no man may start—the use of physical force against others.

To interpose the threat of physical destruction between a man and his perception of reality, is to negate and paralyze his means of survival; to force him to act against his own judgment, is like forcing him to act against his own sight. Whoever, to whatever purpose or extent, initiates the use of force, is a killer acting on the premise of death in a manner wider than murder: the premise of destroying man’s capacity to live.

Do not open your mouth to tell me that your mind has convinced you of your right to force my mind. Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins.

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Culture, Objectivism, Philosophy, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Ideological Allies

Posted by Jerry on November 23, 2007

At the culmination of a convoluted debate that’s been raging on this thread, the commentor Db0 finally stated some premises explicitly. The commentor is an atheist, moral subjectivist, collectivist, and is obviously influenced by evolutionary empiricism a la Dawkins, Hitchen, et al. to a great extent.

The fact that a person is an atheist does not say anything about his commitment to rationality. This is what undercuts Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkin’s attempts to blame all evils on religion and argue that Hitler et al. were not in fact atheists. The point is it simply does not matter whether you’re an atheist or not.

Picking your ideological allies just based on atheism–or, to use another prime example, the non-initiation of force principle–is a fundamental error. This is why Objectivists refuse to align with ideologies that on the face of it seem reasonable but are fundamentally incomplete or flawed: like secular humanism, naturalism, evolutionary empiricism, libertarianism, and others.

If you read the comment thread on that post, you will notice how the influence of evolutionary empiricism is infused in Db0’s view of morality. Db0 commits the naturalistic fallacy of arguing from the view that what is given by nature is the way it should be. Notice the dismissal of the volitional faculty of man’s mind to make choices autonomously.

I do believe that this is the side-effect of Dawkins et al. who have been so vocal in criticizing the morality offered by religion but have not been able to provide a consistent, robust, and rational alternative instead. They are creating a vacuum in morality, which permits people like Db0 to conclude that morality is ultimately a fabrication of society, the fad of the day, the need of a pack, subjectivist, relativistic, etc. In essence, while throwing out the dogmatic morality of religion, they throw out the notion of objective morality itself.

Somewhere in all this there is a lesson for those Objectivists who seem to think that libertarians are a benign bunch of people who share pretty much the same views; the religious libertarian Ron Paul may not be quite your ally as you think he is.

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Culture, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Being God Just Ain’t Fun Anymore

Posted by Jerry on September 21, 2007

*sigh* The things people do to their gods. If you thought that atheists were sacrilegious, then you haven’t really thought hard enough. Religious believers do the most inane things to their gods.

Every year at this time in India, Lord Ganpity (also known as Ganesha), the beloved elephant-god with a pot-belly and an eating disorder, is dumped into the seas in a mass frenzy of ritualistic hedonism. I feel sad for poor, drowning Ganpity, who clearly cannot keep his heavy body afloat and therefore drowns in no time, only to be recast into an idol the following year and dumped yet again! Ouch! Meanwhile, the Indians who create a spectacular fiasco out of the whole activity, are loud, drunk, boisterous, and generally clueless about their surroundings: Lord Ganesha be damned… err.. drowned!

And then here’s a Christian politician in the United States who is taking god to court! He is suing god for being a reckless deity, for being careless about his creation, and for allowing suffering and calamities to befall this earth. Oh boy. I wonder what lines of defense will god mount. And who’s sitting on the jury? Is Satan allowed?

UPDATE!!

People, I am NOT making this up; and this is NOT from The Onion. This is for real!

A legislator who filed a lawsuit against God has gotten something he might not have expected: a response. One of two court filings from “God” came Wednesday under otherworldly circumstances, according to John Friend, clerk of the Douglas County District Court in Omaha.

“This one miraculously appeared on the counter. It just all of a sudden was here — poof!” Friend said.

State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha sued God last week, seeking a permanent injunction against the Almighty for making terroristic threats, inspiring fear and causing “widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants.”

Chambers, a self-proclaimed agnostic who often criticizes Christians, said his filing was triggered by a federal lawsuit he considers frivolous. He said he’s trying to makes the point that anybody can sue anybody.

Not so, says “God.” His response argues that the defendant is immune from some earthly laws and the court lacks jurisdiction.

It adds that blaming God for human oppression and suffering misses an important point.

“I created man and woman with free will and next to the promise of immortal life, free will is my greatest gift to you,” according to the response, as read by Friend.

There was no contact information on the filing, although St. Michael the Archangel is listed as a witness, Friend said.

A second response from “God” disputing Chambers’ allegations lists a phone number for a Corpus Christi law office. A message left for that office was not immediately returned Thursday.

Attempts to reach Chambers by phone and at his Capitol office Thursday were unsuccessful.

—————

That’s it. God exists! I need to confess! I have sinned!

Posted in Atheism, Culture, General Work/Life, Humor, India, Mumbai, Personal, Religion, Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

The Road to Atheism

Posted by Jerry on September 17, 2007

In my recent post on Mother Teresa, I passingly mentioned the question I had come across randomly on some atheist website. The question was why do we never hear of an amputee’s limb being miraculously regenerated or regrown through the power of prayer or supernatural intervention.

Interestingly enough, there’s a whole website dedicated to this question and to all of its implications–and it’s called “Why Won’t God Heal Amputees?Thomas Stone (of the EpistemeLinks project fame) brought this site to my attention in a private e-mail. He specifically says that the videos on the site are a must-see. I visited the site to briefly glance at its contents; here are some juicy bits that I found! 🙂

No matter how many people pray. No matter how sincere those people are. No matter how much they believe. No matter how devout and deserving the recipient… Prayer does not restore the severed limbs of amputees. You can electronically search through all the medical journals ever written — there is no documented case of an amputated leg being restored spontaneously. And we know that God ignores the prayers of amputees through our own observations of the world around us. If God were answering the prayers of amputees to regenerate their lost limbs, we would be seeing amputated legs growing back every day.

What are we seeing here? It is not that God sometimes answers the prayers of amputees, and sometimes does not. Instead, in this situation there is a very clear line. God never answers the prayers of amputees. It would appear, to an unbiased observer, that God is singling out amputees and purposefully ignoring them.

[M]any believers will say, “God always answers prayers, but sometimes his answer is ‘no.’ If your prayer does not fit with God’s will, then God will say ‘no’ to you.” This feels odd because God’s answer to every amputee is always “no” when it comes to regenerating lost limbs. Jesus says, “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” He does not say, “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it, unless you are praying about an amputated limb, in which case I will always reject your prayer.” Jesus also says, “Nothing will be impossible to you,” and regenerating a limb should therefore be possible. The fact that God refuses to answer every prayer to regenerate a lost limb seems strange, doesn’t it?

Now, since we are on the topic of God and his obvious non-existence, I am reminded of an early paper I wrote in college for my “Critiques of Christianity” course in Theology. That paper was my first official exploration into the territory of mild atheism. Frankly, I was glad to write that paper because it forced me to revisit my already ambivalent feelings toward Christianity and come down conclusively on any one side of belief or unbelief.

I extensively researched source material for the paper, including materials from Catholic apologists from Boston University (the writers of the famous Handbook…), Micheal Martin’s “Case Against Chrisitianity,” several books on Theodicy, Soteriology, and Christology, whose author names I cannot remember now. 

One of the points of argument I made in my paper regarding the Resurrection story of Jesus was that Jesus was not the only one to have allegedly resurrected from the dead according to the Gospels. One of the Gospels explicitly states that when Jesus died on the cross, the earth split, rocks rolled off the tombs, and dead people resurrected in large numbers and went into the city to spread the word of God.

So, apparently, Jesus was not the only one to self-resurrect from the dead; but for some reason, he got the most publicity for his stunt. 

In any case, by the end of my paper, I had surprised myself by the strongly anti-christian and anti-God-incarnate conclusions I reached. I’ll also admit that I was worried by my conclusions at that time. I was still emotionally religious; but my paper had just forced me to rationally confront my emotional predilection. My emotional need to cling to beliefs I was familiar with and which I had thoroughly internalized over all my life created a sense of discomfort against the honesty of my rational conclusions.

My emotional responses of fear, discomfort, and uncertainty stemmed from the deeply engrained irrational beliefs that I held and wanted to protect. I feared that I may be guilty of grevious blasphemy against God because of my rational conclusions. Note that my rational conclusions were so new to me that they had yet to be internalized and integrated into my subsconscious mind and “reprogram” my emotional responses. Thus, I was essentially feeling the philosophy I had held at that time. I was afraid for my “soul” because of my rational but sacrilegious words.

I don’t exactly remember how, but eventually I overcame my emotional responses of fear and my emotional attachment to religious belief. I suspect it came about gradually with my increased immersion into the study of religious belief and rational philosophy. Importantly, I can note from my experience that the greatest hurdle in overcoming religious belief is overcoming my own fear–fear of supernatural retribution, fear of unknown spiritual and philosophical exploration, fear of losing your emotional comfort zone, fear of having no moral and ideological framework without religion, etc. Note that the variety of this emotional response all stem from an unfounded and irrational philosophical premise–that reality does not have primacy (the primacy of supernatural consciousness) and that man’s consciousness is inept and incompetent in dealing with and facing reality.

Truly, being an atheist is a very liberating and exultant feeling, of a magnitude greater than any religious experience, because it does not dull after the momentary high of a religious experience; it is a feeling that characterizes your very approach to life and existence.

Posted in Atheism, Culture, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Personal, Philosophy, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Richard Dawkins is not an Atheist

Posted by Jerry on September 11, 2007

Richard Dawkins would make such a good atheist. No, he isn’t one already. Dawkins, by his own admission, cannot properly lay claim to the label of “atheist.”

In The God Delusion, Dawkins places his brand of de facto atheism at number 6 along a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 is “strong theist” and 7 is “strong atheist.”

“I am an agnostic,” Dawkins says, “only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.”

Dawkins asserts that strong atheism (of the magnitude of 7 on his belief scale) is not possible because “reason alone could not propel one to the conviction that anything definitely does not exist. [Hence,] I count myself in category 6”, where 6 represents:

Very low probability [of God existing], but short of zero. De facto atheist. “I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”

This is why I said earlier that Richard Dawkins needs Objectivism. Being primarily a scientist, Dawkins finds himself constrained by the compulsion to be empirical in his claims, according to which absolute certainty is equated with or close to being dogmatic, and skepticism is touted as the hallmark of free thought.

This intellectual impediment imputed by the philosophies of empiricism and skepticism is the result of several flawed premises. Absolute certainty is considered impossible because the human means of gaining knowledge is regarded as inherently biased or frail. The premise of this complaint is that omniscience is the ideal epistemological standard and the absence of an organ of consciousness (i.e., a vacuum) is the ideal method of awareness. Consequently, the notion of “absolute certainty” arises from these flawed premises–“absolute” means a-contextual and a result of omniscient awareness and human knowledge is flawed because it is obtained by our faculty of consciousness. 

Objectivism identifies the fact that all human knowledge is contextual and relational, i.e., all knowledge is necessarily internally related within and across specific domains; every bit of knowledge relates in some manner with every other. This epistemological principle is a direct reflection of the metaphysical fact of existence: there is only one reality, and no aspect of existence can exist wholly independent of everything else.

Given that all knowledge is contextual, the notion of absolute certainty, too, can only be meaningful within a specific context. There can be no absolutes that has no relation with any other bit of knowledge–and by derivation–independent of all reality. To hold such a notion of “absolute certainty” is to contradict the unified nature of both the epistemological and metaphysical domains.

An important implication of the above, therefore, is that once absolute certainty is achieved within a specific context, no future information pertaining to and arising within that context can contradict the prior certain knowledge. All properly contextualized truth is absolute. For example, therefore, once the absolute validity of the primacy of existence is grasped, all claims to the primacy of consciousness can be rejected absolutely. Further, since all knowledge is related, the primacy of existence bears important relations with other premises, viz. the identity of existents, the nature of consciousness, the law of causality, the absence of randomness, etc.

Thus, Objectivism rejects the claim that man must have omniscient knowledge to achieve certainty or reject the existence of god, fairies, demons, etc. For example, one does not need to draw every possible square and every possible circle of different parameters to conclude that a squared-circle is an impossible figure. The concepts “square” and “circle” preclude such a possibility. Concepts–like the rest of knowledge–are relational; they are formed by the human consciousness in a specific context related to reality.

Therefore, if knowledge and concepts in man’s mind are relational, then they cannot have internal contradictions–they have to remain in internal harmony. Hence, the method of conceptual cognition that reflects the harmonious nature of non-contradictory knowledge in man’s mind is logic, i.e., the method of non-contradictory identification.

Thus, Objectivism reveals to us the powerful mechanism of logical identification that we can use to achieve certainty. Using this method of logical identification, Objectivists like myself, Diana Hsieh, and Greg Perkins have tackled the specific God-concepts (in the context of the nature of existence) and revealed its inherent logical contradictions–with the same force of rational conviction by which we say that a squared-circle is impossible. Insofar as God is defined as an intelligent, supernatural being, God’s existence is not just highly improbable, but impossible. Other definitions of God–such as God is energy, God is nature, etc.–are at best meaningless. If you wish to claim that the energy of a burning cake of cow dung is god, then you are delusional, your god is useless and not worthy of attention, and I am the incarnation of Batman. If God is nature, then the Indians defecating and urinating by the roadside must surely be going to hell! 🙂

Thus, while Richard Dawkins likes to exploit his image of being one of the foremost atheistic scientist to sell his books and remain in the center of religious debate, by his own admission and by his own philosophy, he is unable to fully embrace the pure certainty of atheism.

And no, atheism cannot merely be defined as “unbelief” or “lack of belief” in god. Definitions–to be meaningful–have to be precise. To define atheism merely as “unbelief” is to render the concept so broad as to be meaningless, because by such a definition most of us would be atheists–the retarded, the uneducated, and little children; in sum, anyone who has no belief in god for reasons like impeded intellect, lack of education, and being too young to know anything is an atheist.

Atheism has to be defined as an assertive statement of knowledge–not belief–that the existence of god and any supernatural being is false and impossible.

____________

A reader commented below that atheism should indeed be defined as a broad term and not specific. I realize I did not provide an explicit argument for my position in the post; I felt it was unnecessary and self-evident. Since I am obviously mistaken in assuming, I provide my response to the commentor here to explicate the reason behind why I insist on a specific definition of atheism:

To appreciate the reason why atheism needs to have a specific denotation and not a broad and vague connotation, one has to understand that atheism is a *subset* of a type of ideological position, namely, the ideological position pertaining to metaphysics and spiritual belief. In that context, your analogy of atheism and liquid is false. The concept “liquid” is intended to denote a particular atomic/molecular state and contrast it with the atomic/molecular state of solids and gases. A proper analogy would be to compare the conceptual level of “liquid” with the concept of “ideology” or “belief”.

Just as water is subsumed under the concept “liquid” (i.e., it is in the subset of liquids), atheism is subsumed under the concept “ideology” or “belief.” Therefore, just as water is particularly specific in denotation, atheism must also be particularly specific in denotation.

Since atheism is a subset of “belief”, it must necessarily denote an ideological position adopted by the believer. Therefore, a retarded person or an infant cannot be properly called an atheist (under a proper definition of atheism) because they do not possess the faculties necessary to adopt any particular ideological belief. It would be as nonsensical as calling all new born babies followers of Zoroastrianism! Just as you wouldn’t give a specific ideological label to babies (of Scientology, say), you wouldn’t properly give them the ideological label of “atheism.”

Any ideological position has to be consciously adopted by a thinking being. An acceptance of an ideology denotes an acceptance of a truth; all truth resides only within the minds of conceptual beings. Therefore, the label atheism–as an ideological position pertaining to metaphysics–must reside in the minds of conceptual beings and must be defined as a positive knowledge or grasp of a metaphysical fact. If you don’t have that grasp, then you are either defined as an agnostic or a theist.

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Books, General Work/Life, India, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | 62 Comments »

Journal Entry: On Heaven and Hell

Posted by Jerry on September 7, 2007

[Below is one of the entries from the philosophy journal I used to keep while I was in college. I do not, anymore, necessarily subscribe to any/all of the views mentioned in it; it would be inaccurate to even say that I subscribed to all of these views at the time of writing—about five years ago. You may notice several glaring logical fallacies and inconsistencies in them. Feel free to point them out in the comments.]

“Heaven is not a place where all your desires are fulfilled, where there is joy forever, where there are lots of food, great tasting wine, riches, and gold,” I heard a student say this during one of the Christian prayer group meetings on campus. The student went on to say what heaven actually is like; he quoted some verses from the New Testament. He said that heaven is finding eternal joy in the worship and glory of God.

I just happened to be passing by the hallway when I heard all of this. And the first thing that struck me was, if heaven really was that, then it surely must be the most boring place ever! I mean, I just can’t see myself doing something for eternity—the same something forever! I don’t see how there can be eternal happiness in praising God, boosting His ego, telling Him things He should already be aware of—and doing it forever!

Nevertheless, now as I think more of it, I remember my mom saying something like this when I was a kid. She said that the soul will be sooo overjoyed at being in the presence of an almighty God, that all its praises and worship would seem inadequate—and therefore, the soul would basically spend all eternity trying to overcome the inadequacy. I guess it’s something like a struggle forever. The awesomeness of God will highly overwhelm the soul that the only basic endeavor left within the soul—its basic desire—would be to unceasingly glorify the awesome, mighty God. And in doing that, the soul would find all joy.

This innocent and devoutly religious view held by my mother seems to have much emotional appeal. I’m sure there are many other Christians in the world who believe similarly in terms of what it means to be in heaven. However, upon closely scrutinizing a belief like that, one can come up with some interesting questions and reveal some inherent problems.

First, and the most basic problem I have with this view, is—what is the ultimate purpose of all this? What is the goal? Does God merely play this whole stunt of watching us live, suffer, enjoy, die, and then either take us to heaven or throw us in hell for a sadistic or ego-bolstering purpose? So that when the good guys go to heaven, all they do is inflate His ego for eternity? What is the reason for doing this? As a child, I had no probs with this belief, but now I need more reason and clarification. What is the purpose of a heaven and hell? If you say that they serve to administer justice, well then fine. Those that go to hell suffer for their wrong-doings, and those in heaven enjoy the fruits of a good life. But why have it for eternity? How just is it for God to punish human souls for eternity for finite crimes committed in a spatio-temporally finite world?

Among the many responses the apologetics give us in answer to the above problem is that Hell is eternal but not infinite. They say that there are limits or levels in hell. All of this seems absurd to me! First, how do they know all this? Second, so what difference does it make? The soul will still have to spend an eternity of suffering in hell, no matter what “level” of hell they’re in! Another response to the same question, they say that Hell is privation of God—a no-God situation that causes immense torture to the soul. They say that physical pain comes in intensities, but the privation of God is total. There is a clear contradiction between their first and second responses. They say that Hell has levels, then they say Hell is total privation of God. So what is it?—Different levels within a total privation of God? What does that even mean? So, in a totally “no-God” Hell, I can be at a level of low suffering, where I don’t really really suffer too much from the absence of God—or I could be in a moderate intensity level hell, wherein I kinda sorta miss having God around and it troubles me slightly—or I could be damned to the worst level of Hell, where I TERRIBLY miss God, and His privation is total upon me that tortures me immensely. Does all of this actually sound sane? This is like believing in really crazy stuff! And what about the problem of omniscience?—Since God is supposed to be omniscient, He can’t really be missing in Hell; but if He is missing, then you have a God that is not entirely in all places at all times. And in the opposite case, you have a God who is in Hell, along with the Devil and the rest of the sinners!

Anyway, going back to the problems with believing in heavenly joy the way I explained before—it seems like once you are in heaven, all you do is praise God. However, if one’s praises of God can never still be adequate enough, then basically the soul is engaged in a futile endeavor of trying to give God all the praises that He is worth by doing it for eternity. But the very idea of doing something for eternity means you never stop doing it or never reach a point where you have given enough praise. If this is so, then how compatible is this view with the notion that heaven is a place of fulfillment and satisfaction and rest and peace and no more desires? If the soul is never satisfied with the amount of praises it can give, then technically, heaven is not a place of total satisfaction. In other words, there is desire and lacking in heaven, too.

Also, does this view of souls praising God unendingly fit with the idea that there is happiness in doing that? I mean, if there is happiness in praising God, then there should also be avenues for sadness or neutrality or other feelings while NOT praising God and while doing other activities in heaven (whatever they may be), assuming that souls in heaven have the free will to praise God or not. So, if a soul chooses not to praise God, it will not be happy; but then would it be okay for the soul to remain in heaven in that case? I mean, can a soul experience sadness, anger, fear, frustration, boredom, etc. in a place like heaven? I would think that it should be able to experience other emotions just like it can experience the emotion of happiness. Why not, if it is a free soul?

Anyway, another question on my mind right now is, what does it mean for a soul to “experience” temporal feeling and emotions like happiness in heaven and pain or anger in hell? What are its “tools” or “organs” of experiencing these sensations and emotions? Can there be any logical way we can think of to explain how a soul could experience feelings—or whether it is even possible for it to do so? How can we associate the experiences of a soul as consequences of the actions of its body? I mean, like if I am a sinner and I die—how do I exactly get punished for it?—By having my soul get thrown into hell. But how can one associate that soul suffering in hell as “MY” soul suffering the consequences of “MY” actions? These seem to be very complicated questions, and I would have to probably write another journal entry focusing only on these issues.

However, just as a superficial and quick explanation, I’m going to tackle some of those questions now. I think we can take the analogy of dreams. In our dreams, we live out strange and fantastic worlds where many of our known natural laws don’t seem to exist or function. Nevertheless, in such fantastic dream worlds, we are able to use our physical and natural five senses to experience our dream worlds. For example, in our dreams, we can experience smell, the taste of great food, feel the touch of an angel, see the flight of an elephant, hear the songs of the ducks, etc. All of our senses work as well as if in the real world to make our dreams so believable and actual to us. This is how we experience a strange world in our nights, which does not really exist. Similarly, the after-life, heaven, and hell are like dream worlds and out souls move into those worlds and experience those worlds in a similar fashion with our five senses even though the physical is absent. Similarly, also, the soul is experiencing the consequences of the actions of the human being and can be associated in a relationship analogous to the physical person asleep on the bed with the active dream character alive in the person’s mind. Just as the dreamer is also the ‘dreamee’ or the character experiencing the different dream world, so is the soul the same thing as the human being who preceded it.

Posted in Atheism, Journal Entries, My Theories and Ideas, Personal, Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Teresa: The Tormented Saint

Posted by Jerry on September 5, 2007

From Yahoo! News, an Indian woman who claimed to have been miraculously cured of “lumpy cancer” by Mother Teresa is now angry that she is being ignored and abandoned by the Catholic nuns. Manica Besra accuses the nuns of using her miracle story to secure the beatification of Teresa and then abandoning her after their purposes were fulfilled.

It was Besra’s alleged miracle cure from a “lumpy” tumour… that led to the Vatican clearing the way for Mother Teresa’s beatification in October 2003.

“My hut was frequented by nuns of the Missionaries of Charity before the beatification of Mother Teresa,” Besra said.

“They made of lot of promises to me and assured me of financial help for my livelihood and my children’s education,” she claimed, adding that she was also escorted to the Vatican for the beatification ceremony.

“After that, they forgot me,” said Besra, tears welling up in her eyes.

With the small piece of family land mortgaged to a village money lender years ago, Besra said she is struggling to survive.

“I am now living in penury. My husband is sick. My children have stopped going to school as I have no money. I have to work in the fields to feed my husband and five children,” said Besra, clad in a torn yellow sari.

When she has no work, her children — four sons and a daughter — go to bed hungry.

Well, my suggestion to Besra is to just keep the faith and pray for a miracle everyday, to help herself and her family survive till she arrives at whatever end that God has destined for her.

This story reminds me of an interesting observation I came across on some atheist website: If there’re so many miraculous cures occuring even today, how is it that we never hear of an amputee growing out a new, fully developed, and healthy limb?

On a related note, Teresa’s personal letters that were made public recently reveal that the saintly nun experienced a prolonged crisis of faith; for almost 50 years of her life, Teresa had experienced a sense of darkness and inner void. She said she did not feel the presence of God whatsoever. At one point, she even doubted the very existence of God. Notably, this experience of an utter absence of God was suppressed by her public statements to the contrary.

She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. “The smile,” she writes, is “a mask” or “a cloak that covers everything.” Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. “I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love,” she remarks to an adviser. “If you were [there], you would have said, ‘What hypocrisy.'”

Says the Rev. James Martin, an editor at the Jesuit magazine America and the author of My Life with the Saints, a book that dealt with far briefer reports in 2003 of Teresa’s doubts: “I’ve never read a saint’s life where the saint has such an intense spiritual darkness. No one knew she was that tormented.”

Many Catholic theologians have interpreted this spiritual darkness as an indicative sign of the true sainthood of Teresa. They claim that many saints have to live through tormented periods in their lives on earth as the price for forging a most intimate bond with God.

A depiction of St Francis receiving the Stigmata, by Cigoli.  Rays of light are seen emanating from Christ to pierce St Francis's hands.This theory echoes the Catholic interpretation of people allegedly afflicted with the stigmata–spiritually induced physical wounds on the hands and feet resembling those of Jesus on the cross. The explanation given is that the ones closest to a spiritual union with God are also the ones most spiritually tormented and physically afflicted. Whether this affliction and torment result from the will of Satan or of God is not clearly identified. There have been very few people with such wounds who have been officially declared by the Catholic Church to be stigmatists. Probably the most famous one of them is Saint Francis of Assisi. 

Posted in Atheism, Culture, India, Religion, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

God’s Cognitive Abilities

Posted by Jerry on August 28, 2007

Assume that God exists. Assume that God is omniscient, i.e., he knows all things at all times.

Then, God would not be able to have any kind of language that bears any resemblance to any currently known or imagined language in the universe.

Concepts are used by a consciousness to think, create abstractions, convey ideas, and facilitate communication. Concepts are abtractions that refer to a wide range of concretes. The particular purpose of creating concepts is to provide non-omniscient minds with unit-economy.

An omniscient mind does not need to unit-economize, since at any given moment, it can actually hold all the possible particular concretes of information in existence simultaneously. Therefore, an omniscient mind would not need to think in conceptual terms, which are the basis of cognition and language. In other words, an omniscient being would not have any kind of language at all, since a language requires the use of concepts.

For example, God would not be able to speak of a “table,” since the concept “table” refers not to a particular concrete table but to a wide range of entities whose differences in measurement have been omitted and similarities have been distilled upon a conceptual common denominator, i.e., concept “table” = a flat surface with supports. Since God can hold any infinite number of concretes at the same time, he does not need to use the concept “table.”

Moreover, since language is a tool of cognition, God would not be able to even imagine the concept “table”; appropriate to his kind of consciousness, God would always imagine the exact, particular, specific, concrete table that he needs to refer to (albeit quite easily for him), not to the general conceptual category of “tables.”

Basically, since God is not a conceptual being, he cannot think conceptually nor speak conceptually, but can only function on the level of particulars, concretes, specifics. In other words, God’s consciousness functions at the intellectual level equivalent to that of an infant who is just newly discovering the world around it.

(P.S. Yes, one could argue that conceptual abilities can be subsumed under an omniscient consciousness, but only to the extent that it will be rendered useless and superfluous.) 

Update: The most simple proof against the existence of god is this: Because we exist, because existence exists, God cannot possibly exist. 

Posted in Atheism, My Theories and Ideas, Personal, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Bold Atheists Quotes

Posted by Jerry on June 26, 2007

Taken from this article, here are some powerful atheist quotes to rile up the religious believers out there and give ammunition to atheists. Enjoy!

Aristotle: “Men create the gods after their own images.”

Arthur Schopenhauer: “Religions are like glow-worms. They need darkness in order to shine.” 

Santayana: “Fear first created the gods.”

Blaise Pascal: “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

Napoleon: “Religion keeps the poor from murdering the rich.”

Issac Asimov: “The Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.”

Thomas Paine describes the Bible as “a book of lies and contradictions, the work of a demon” more than “the word of God,” and denounced its “obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries . . . the unrelenting vindictiveness.”

Voltaire: The Bible is “what fools have written, what imbeciles command, what rogues teach.”

Robert Ingersoll: The Bible presents a “God who upholds slavery, commands soldiers to kill women and babies, supports polygamy, persecutes people for their opinions, and punishes unbelievers forever.”

Victor Hugo: “Every step that the intelligence of Europe has taken has been in spite of the clerical party.”

Samuel Butler: “[If] God wants us to do a thing, he should make his wishes sufficiently clear. Sensible people will wait till he has done this before paying much attention to him.” 

Émile Zola: “Civilization will not attain to its perfection until the last stone from the last church falls on the last priest!”

Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg: “Anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.”

===

I have the greatest respect for the brave Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire, Paine, and Hugo, who made such bold claims and conducted groundbreaking works in their respective fields, which were instrumental in having Europe emerge from the dark ages. In contrast to their time, we live today in an incredibly advanced age of technology and philosophical thought that offer formidable reasons to eliminate our dependence on the psychological crutch of a supernatural being; and yet, we are witnesses to a rise in religious fervor and fundamentalism instead of a decline.

Posted in Atheism, Culture, Favorite Quotes, General Work/Life, Philosophy, Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

Catholic Church Evicts Newborn Infants

Posted by Jerry on April 22, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI has just decided to forcefully evict newborn babies from their centuries-old abode–the limbo–and transfer them directly to heaven.

This was foreshadowed by the previous pope’s troubled conscience that wondered if it was right to condemn innocent cherubs to an unending ETERNITY of meandering in a limbo, with absolutely no possibility of having a union of God. Indeed, this blog made a note of this issue in December 2005 when the previous pope raised this matter for his Church to consider.

Now, reaching a decision that serves as a massive public relations coup for the Catholic Church and for God, the current pope has decided to shut the gates of limbo forever and fling open the gates of heaven for little tiny tots–and parents around the world are delighted by this news. For over thousands of years, virtually every reigning pope–who allegedly holds the keys to the other side–refused babies entry into heaven.

According to Catholic doctrine, even God has no power (or enough mercy) to permit babies into heaven because these innocent little cherubs were in fact TAINTED WITH ORIGINAL SIN!! Clearly, the pope could not allow such sin-stained creatures to get near the perfectly pure brilliance and radiance of God!

But all that is history now. With this new ruling, the pope has effectively granted permission for ORIGINAL SIN to enter heaven in the form of these deceptively innocent-looking babies. You can be sure that the souls of all deceased babies are currently being transported from limbo to heaven on the backs of androgynous angels with huge wings. This is certainly a momentous event in the eternal history of God’s existence.

[HT: John Enright]

Posted in Atheism, General Work/Life, Humor, Personal | 5 Comments »

Omniscient Knowledge: A Consequence of Mind-Body Duality

Posted by Jerry on April 7, 2007

It seems that the most fundamental motivator of philosophical inquiry and religious speculation is the problem of knowledge: how do we know, can we know, and how can we be sure that we know. Indeed, the fear of not being able to know undercuts much of religious and secular philosophy: since we are not omniscient beings, we can never arrive at any truths with certainty. This view not only casts an epistemological doubt on man’s rational faculty but also projects man as a weak, incompetent, frightful creature at the mercy of nature and unknown forces that he can never comprehend fully or accurately. [See this related post for an elaboration of how terms of perfection with regard to humans are couched.]

 

In replacement of man’s limited and weak epistemic tool (the mind), religion offers the epistemological method of knowledge via alleged revelation, faith, dogma, doctrine, and subjective, mystical experience. At the root of this method lies the dogmatic rejection of the human capacity to acquire true knowledge with reason and sense modalities. Religion begins fundamentally at the premise of rejecting man’s methods and tools of knowing, and replaces it with the premise of faith, i.e., holding belief without the need for, and even contrary to, evidence.

 

Much of philosophy–particularly and most explicitly, modern philosophy from the time of Descartes–has also exhibited this dogmatic mistrust of man’s capacity to have true knowledge. According to these philosophies, man’s existence (if at all acknowledged) was regarded as antagonistic to reality, that man was fundamentally at odds with and disconnected from nature. This view stemmed from a traditional and long-standing “problem” in philosophy known as the mind-body duality. According to this view, the mind was purely mental and belonged to a different realm of existence with absolutely no physical qualities, whereas the rest of nature–including the corporal human body–belonged to the realm of reality, and that both these realms were irreducible primaries and their exact nature of interaction was incomprehensible.

 

Philosophers like Hume and Kant enshrined this doctrine of dissection into their philosophies as a description of actual reality, of things-as-they-are.

 

Thus, the argument remained that since man is a thinking being whose mental state is ineffable, non-physical, and fundamentally different from anything else in the world, man is essentially removed from reality and can never perceive reality, or things-as-they-are, directly. All knowledge, these philosophies postulated, are either illusions, self-projected creations of the mind, or only things-as-they-appear.

 

In this manner, both religion and philosophy solidified the dogma of man’s incapacity to have true knowledge of the world.

 

To reject this dualism of the mind and the body, materialist and reductionist philosophers postulated that fundamentally there is no such thing as consciousness–that there is nothing irreducibly mental–and that all things can be explained by reduction to physical elements or processes. In the process, these philosophers did not reject the dissection of man into mind and body but indeed proceeded to split him in half and discard the other (mental) half away by insisting that it is illusory.

 

As philosopher John Searle points out, “One of the weirdest features of recent intellectual life was the idea that consciousness–in the literal sense of qualitative, subjective states and processes–was not important, that somehow it did not matter” (Mind: A Brief Introduction).

 

Despite this intellectual trend, in fact, materialism, and all its variations of reductionism, physicalism, behaviorism, and identity theory, is relatively easy to reject: fundamentally, in every denial of consciousness its very existence is necessarily presumed. There can be no discussion of theories without the presumption that a conscious mind is developing and grappling with the many theories of consciousness.

 

However, dualism–that the mental and the physical are different realms of existence–is more complex. How can man’s consciousness–his mental state–be aware of physical entities or have causal effects on the physical world? How is the gap between man’s mind and the physical world bridged?

 

In other words, according to dualism, man–by virtue of his mind–was irreparably separated from the physical world. Religion postulates faith and mystical experience as the epistemological tool to bridge this gap.

 

This alleged inability to have true knowledge conceded, and indeed propagated, by philosophers fueled religious belief; religionists self-righteously declared that man is limited in knowledge; he cannot know everything; this is his weakness; man’s wisdom is bounded; no matter how much man achieves in science and technology, his wisdom is worse than the foolishness of God. God is beyond man’s ability to comprehend because man cannot even comprehend his own world and the universe entirely.

 

Thus, both secular philosophies and religions were hand-in-glove in denouncing man’s mind, reason, and sense modalities in being able to perceive reality. In fact, as Rand aptly stated, these philosophies and religions declared that because man has eyes, he cannot see; because he has ears, he cannot hear.

 

When Rand said she was reversing centuries of bad philosophy, she was not overstating her case. At least tracing it back to Descartes, Searle says that “the philosophy of mind is unique… in that all of the most famous and influential theories [in the subject] are false” (Mind).

 

Rand’s unequivocal rejection of all forms of dualism and materialism was unprecedented in philosophy. In a most simplistic sense, Rand’s method was to honestly observe reality and describe it as accurately as possible, while ignoring all historical and philosophical precedents that made such honest descriptions of reality virtually impossible. She made her theories, her concepts, her vocabulary, fit reality; not the other way around.

 

Rand correctly pointed out that man is as natural–and constituent of this nature–as the rest of existence is; and that man and reality are not on antagonistic terms. Rand argued that man’s consciousness is as much a part of this reality as his body is, and his consciousness has developed from the same “stuff” of existence as the rest of nature did; and by virtue of this fact, man’s consciousness is in fact nature’s metaphysically given tool by which he perceives the external world.

 

Rand held that consciousness was certainly mental, individual, and personal, but that every mental aspect and process has a “physical and material component” (Sciabarra; Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical) She viewed consciousness as a higher level description of lower level processes in the brain. “She argues that consciousness operates under conditions of materiality and sensuous corporeality” (The Russian Radical).

 

For Rand, the unity of mind and body implied that man’s mind was efficacious in action and competent in epistemological activity. Further, given the unity of man and nature, Rand realized that man’s sense modalities are developed naturally to be fully and sufficiently equipped to explore the external world. “Rand defends the validity of the senses as an axiomatic proposition, for our sense organs have no capacity to misrepresent the facts of reality” (The Russian Radical). Errors in representing reality, Rand pointed out, occur not at the sensory level and are not made by our sense organs but at the perceptual and cognitive level made by our epistemic processes.

 

This gave Rand even more reason to argue for the competency of man’s rational process in weeding out errors of perception, unlike faith which does not grant man this ability.

 

For example, a straight stick that appears bent in water is not an error of made by our visual senses, nor is it proof of an insurmountable chasm between things-as-they-are (a straight stick in the water) and things-as-they-appear-to-us (a bent stick in the water). According to Peikoff, “a perception is a product of both the sense organ and the [external] object” (The Russian Radical). Thus, the stick appears bent in water because it is the form in which the stick is perceived by our visual senses within and influenced by that particular context or environment (water).

 

Rand’s philosophical method reveals at least one more thing in addition to honest commitment to the facts of reality; it reveals a certain sense of pride in being human and knowing that as human beings we are efficacious and competent beings who can change this world for our benefit. This is reflected in Rand’s “benevolent universe” premise: that man and reality are not antagonistic, and that we are efficacious, productive beings who are fully equipped to live and flourish qua man and achieve happiness in this world–and most importantly, that we are worthy of all these things in this world.

 

Throughout history, when man was being condemned because he cannot “know everything,” Rand argued that “knowing everything” as a standard has to be unequivocally rejected as a worthlessly mystical notion inappropriate in and in violation of reality. With the rejection of the false premise that the mind and the body are two separate and distinct realms, Rand was also able to reject the notion of omniscient knowledge–that is, knowledge absolutely unbounded by metaphysical requirements, contexts, or necessities–as mystical, in contradiction with reality, and worthless in the context of man’s epistemic capacities.

 

When philosophers were dissecting man into various metaphysical categories and permanently divorcing him from the external world, Rand reinstated man’s rightful place as an integrated being of mind and body, spirit and flesh engaged in a wholly congruent relationship with the external world.

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif | Leave a Comment »

Atheist Methodology

Posted by Jerry on March 28, 2007

As I was browsing through some WordPress blogs, I came across this one article that postulated a five-point theses for why God’s existence is more likely a fact than the randomness of scientific theories on nature. In the article, I found the same old and tired arguments against atheism. I also realized that the atheistic position that was being presented is indeed a more commonly held one–it is an atheism of the empiricist kind, of the kind that Richard Dawkins propounds–a non-rigorous, shallow position that does not believe in the certain truth of its position, but merely hopes that it is true because–by all appearances–it seems true. Contrast this with the Objectivist epistemology that provides a remarkably solid grounding for its atheistic position as a properly logical and factual position.

Anyway, I decided to leave a fairly long comment on that article, tackling every issue raised by the five points. If you’re interested in reading the entire five-point theses and my rebuttal, you can go to that site directly. Below, I have reproduced my comment, with minor revisions to make it appropriate for a stand-alone post, in order to point out that the way I define and defend my atheism is rather different from the kinds typically proposed:

There is an ancient bromide, at least from the time of Aquinas, that religion and science do not inherently collide. In fact, this false premise has so often been spouted with such an air of dignified righteousness that people have eventually come to accept it as a truth. Religionists derive psychological comfort from this premise because it allows them to decieve themselves into thinking that they are not really anti-science–that science and religion are not mutually incomptabile.

Further, contrary to your claim, science is not solely based on proof. Proof is what science seeks to arrive at in order to validate its theories. Often, even in the absence of conclusive proofs, there are theories that are held scientifically because of the method by which these theories were constructed. The fundamental difference between science and religion is not the end result (i.e., proofs or answers) but the epistemological *method* of arriving at those answers. Science is fundamentally different from religion in the *approach* it takes to finding answers (or proofs). Science uses reason. Religion demands faith. That is the essential and crucial difference, and which is also fundamentally why science and religion cannot be compatible.

Whatever conclusions that science and religion reach, they might be complementary or non-contradictory, but the conclusions are arrived at through radically contradictory approaches. Where reason is the guiding principle, faith has no room. And where faith is the epistemological method, no reason is required.

You said that science does not address the question of “why”? Indeed, that is a huge fallacy. The concept “why” is squarely based on the concept of reason because asking “why” implies a search for some explanation, some reason; therefore, the concept “why” most properly resides within the domain of science. In fact, in direct contradiction to what you said, “why” is incompatible with religion because religion says you should not ask “why,” merely accept matters on faith, as divine revelation, as dogma, as God’s spoken word.

With regard to your notion of first cause, existence cannot be “caused” into existence; indeed to think along these lines is to succumb to the common mode of human thinking without knowing it. Humans like to think of causes and effects and a series of events. Our brains like making connections and patterns; this has been amply demonstrated in experiments by Gestalt psychologists.

A proper epistemology reveals that “cause” is a concept that hierarchically depends on existence in the first place. Thus, you cannot extract “cause” from the domain of existence in order to enquire what “caused” existence in the first place. Existence is primary and axiomatic; “cause” and causality are concepts that are only relevant within existence. There is no such thing as a “cause” of existence, nor is there anything “outside” existence because any such existent would then become part of reality, i.e., existence. Further, non-existence does not exist by definition, and don’t imagine it as some black void because that is not what non-existence is. By definition, human consciousness is incapable of imagining non-existence.

To claim that since nature is random, our minds and consciousness must also be random and therefore nothing has any meaning or sense or purpose is to commit the logical fallacy of composition. This fallacy, as described by philosopher John Searle, is of attributing the properties of the parts of a system to the whole system. The apparent randomness of non-conscious phenomena and of nature in general does not imply that conscious phenomena is also random. Free will, determinism, and randomness are not logically exclusive or contradictory. Further, as Ayn Rand pointed out, what appears random to our minds is merely the application of the law of identity to actions. All existents have a certain identity and will act in accordance to its nature. Just as it is in the identity of non-conscious phenomena to act in a way determined by its nature, so is it in the nature of man’s consciousness to act volitionally–which is free will, metaphysically determined.

Your final two points are based on mystical premises of what you think God wants of humans and why you think God made humans the way He did. Frankly, if there indeed were a god, I would consider it rather presumptuous of you to claim some insight into His reasons for and wishes of His creation.

Finally, as a last point, just because you might find some phenomena currently inexplicable to the human mind, on that basis alone, there is no reason to postulate the existence of a supernatural Being. Ignorance is not a ticket for God’s existence.

Visit my category link for “Atheism” to read more articles on this topic.

Posted in Atheism, My Theories and Ideas, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif | 3 Comments »

A Matter of Truth

Posted by Jerry on March 14, 2007

I started out writing the post below as a method of clarifying my thoughts on and understanding the matter of Objectivism’s position on truths versus facts. Specifically, I started out wondering whether the concepts “truth” and ”fact” can be used interchangeably. As I finished writing the post, I realized that the two concepts share an unbalanced relationship: all truths are facts (truths are a species of facts existing in somebody’s consciousness), but facts just are. More fundamentally, truth is a concept that hierarchically depends on the concept of fact. In other words, truth (in one’s mind) is ascertained by correspondence to a fact (in reality).

 

Thus, to answer my own question, the concepts “truth” and “fact” can be used interchangeably only when referring to an idea that is known to be true, and never in any other situation.

 

According to Objectivism, truth is the grasp of a fact by a conceptual consciousness; thus, that which is true is mind-dependent because it requires a knower, but that which is a fact is mind-independent because it remains a fact regardless of the existence of a conscious knower. Thus, all that is true is, by definition, also known, but not all facts are necessarily known. All truths are necessarily true and not false, but facts are neither true nor false.

 

Moreover, not all that is known is also necessarily true. Thus, things that are merely *known* (having knowledge of) can fall within varying degrees of certainty; however, known truths are always held with certainty because (and to the extent that) they correspond to metaphysical facts. Once new truths are grasped from the discovery of new facts, knowledge is modified, recitified, or radically overhauled; but old truths continue to remain true so long as they are grounded in reality.

 

Now, Objectivism also rejects the idea that “truth” is a matter of propositions. In other words, propositions in and of themselves cannot be assessed to be true or untrue unless it is verified by a rational consciousness in relation to facts (reality). Thus, Objectivists reject propositions like “There may or may not be an alien living somewhere in the universe” as true. Since the content of this proposition reveals no evidence of a verification of a metaphysical fact by a rational consciousness, the status of this proposition can–according to Objectivism–only properly be regarded as “arbitrary,” and not “true.”

 

This was also Ayn Rand’s approach to the question of the existence of God. In an interview (with Phil Donahue), she was asked why she did not believe in God. Rand responded, very simply, because she had not found any evidence to do so. Now, to a non-philosophical layperson, this response might appear rather flippant or superficial or lacking of any cognitive exercise at seriously tackling the matter. However, to an Objectivist, Rand’s response is perfectly consistent with her philosophic method and exemplifies her epistemological process (psycho-epistemology). To her, the proposition “God exists” does not meet the definition of “truth,” i.e., the grasp of a metaphysical fact by a conceptual consciousness. The proposition reveals the discovery of no metaphysical fact that has been verified by a rational mind, and therefore, is an arbitrary statement. Indeed, to even consider “God exists” as a possibility requires a certain amount of metaphysically verified truths corroborating the proposition, without such corroboration, it remains neither a possibility nor a probability–only, arbitrary, much like “Batman exists.”

 

Update: My comment below in response to Akhil’s is particularly noteworthy in explicating the above matter. Hence, I include it here as part of the post itself:

Rand stated that facts are neither true nor false; facts just *are*. She argued that truth is an epistemological concept, whereas facts belong to metaphysics, to the way things are, regardless of anyone being able to perceive it or not. In other words, there are no truths if there were no intelligent consciousness, but there are (will continue to be) facts.

Thus, I came to understand that the concepts fact and truth cannot properly be used interchangeably in all instances, and moreover, that the term “truth” does not apply to statements or propositions that are not borne out of a relationship between reality (facts) and consciousness.

In other words, statements like “There are 12 crows flying in the sky right now,” are neither true nor false, since to claim that it is either (true or false) would imply that an intelligent consciousness has indeed established a relationship between that statement and the fact (of crows flying) in reality. However, unless this is indeed done by someone, the statement is strictly arbitrary and cannot be properly said to be either true or false (and therefore, neither can it be said to be a fact).

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif | 7 Comments »

Bertrand Russell Needs Objectivism

Posted by Jerry on October 27, 2006

Bertran Russell was engaged in a debate with Father FC Copleston on BBC sometime in 1948. The topic was about proving the existence of God. Russell declares his position to be “agnostic”–even though, for all practical purposes, he lived as an atheist. Atleast Russell was being logically consistent with his premises, unlike Dawkins who slyly wishes to have his cake and eat it too.

Anyway, Russell manages to hold his ground considerably until they venture into the topic of morality. At this point, I was simply shocked at the mess of an ‘argument’ that Russell was propounding. Throughout the debate, his logical positivist influences are rather evident. But in the excerpt below, he relativism is blatant, and so is his flimsy philosophy of basing morality on feelings:

[Russell is denoted by “R” and Father Copleston is denoted by “C”]

R: You see, I feel that some things are good and that other things are bad. I love the things that are good, that I think are good, and I hate the things that I think are bad. I don’t say that these things are good because they participate in the Divine goodness.

C: Yes, but what’s your justification for distinguishing between good and bad or how do you view the distinction between them?

R: I don’t have any justification any more than I have when I distinguish between blue and yellow. What is my justification for distinguishing between blue and yellow? I can see they are different.

C: Well, that is an excellent justification, I agree. You distinguish blue and yellow by seeing them, so you distinguish good and bad by what faculty?

R: By my feelings.

C: By your feelings. Well, that’s what I was asking. You think that good and evil have reference simply to feeling?

R: Well, why does one type of object look yellow and another look blue? I can more or less give an answer to that thanks to the physicists, and as to why I think one sort of thing good and another evil, probably there is an answer of the same sort, but it hasn’t been gone into in the same way and I couldn’t give it [to] you.

C: Well, let’s take the behavior of the Commandant of Belsen. That appears to you as undesirable and evil and to me too. To Adolf Hitler we suppose it appeared as something good and desirable, I suppose you’d have to admit that for Hitler it was good and for you it is evil.

R: No, I shouldn’t quite go so far as that. I mean, I think people can make mistakes in that as they can in other things. if you have jaundice you see things yellow that are not yellow. You’re making a mistake.

C: Yes, one can make mistakes, but can you make a mistake if it’s simply a question of reference to a feeling or emotion? Surely Hitler would be the only possible judge of what appealed to his emotions.

R: It would be quite right to say that it appealed to his emotions, but you can say various things about that among others, that if that sort of thing makes that sort of appeal to Hitler’s emotions, then Hitler makes quite a different appeal to my emotions.

C: Granted. But there’s no objective criterion outside feeling then for condemning the conduct of the Commandant of Belsen, in your view?

R: No more than there is for the color-blind person who’s in exactly the same state. Why do we intellectually condemn the color-blind man? Isn’t it because he’s in the minority?

C: Well, do you accept any moral obligation?

R: Well, I should have to answer at considerable length to answer that. Practically speaking — yes. Theoretically speaking I should have to define moral obligation rather carefully.

C: Well, do you think that the word “ought” simply has an emotional connotation?

R: No, I don’t think that, because you see, as I was saying a moment ago, one has to take account of the effects, and I think right conduct is that which would probably produce the greatest possible balance in intrinsic value of all the acts possible in the circumstances, and you’ve got to take account of the probable effects of your action in considering what is right.

C: Well, I brought in moral obligation because I think that one can approach the question of God’s existence in that way. The vast majority of the human race will make, and always have made, some distinction between right and wrong. The vast majority I think has some consciousness of an obligation in the moral sphere. It’s my opinion that the perception of values and the consciousness of moral law and obligation are best explained through the hypothesis of a transcendent ground of value and of an author of the moral law. I do mean by “author of the moral law” an arbitrary author of the moral law. I think, in fact, that those modern atheists who have argued in a converse way “there is no God; therefore, there are no absolute values and no absolute law,” are quite logical.

R: I don’t like the word “absolute.” I don’t think there is anything absolute whatever. The moral law, for example, is always changing. At one period in the development of the human race, almost everybody thought cannibalism was a duty.

Woah! In contrast to Russell’s meandering philosophizing above, Rand’s moral theories–in fact, the whole of Objectivism–is simply a remarkable achievement. The following are some relevant statements excerpted from Leonard Peikoff’s Fact and Value that very explicitly, logically, coherently, and correctly elucidates the Objectivist approach to moral judgements, i.e., judgements of good and evil. Fundamentally, Objectivism shows that it is not only possible to reach objective moral judgements but also that it is absolutely crucial to one’s own life to do so.

Objectivism holds that value is objective (not intrinsic or subjective); value is based on and derives from the facts of reality (it does not derive from mystic authority or from whim, personal or social). Reality, we holdalong with the decision to remain in it, i.e., to stay alivedictates and demands an entire code of values.

The good, therefore, is a species of the true. The evil is a species of the false. Or: values are a type of facts; they are facts considered in relation to the choice to live.

In the objective approach, since every fact bears on the choice to live, every truth necessarily entails a value-judgment, and every value-judgment necessarily presupposes a truth. As Ayn Rand states the point in “The Objectivist Ethics”: “Knowledge, for any conscious organism, is the means of survival; to a living consciousness, every ‘is‘ implies an ‘ought.'”

Just as one must distinguish between good and bad in relation to the realm of nature, so one must distinguish between good and bad in relation to the realm of man. In Objectivist terms, this means a single fundamental issue: in the human realm, one must distinguish the rational from the irrational.

[Credit to Marcus via SOLO for the link to the entire debate transcript.]

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Objectivism, Philosophy, Rights and Morality | 1 Comment »

 
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