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April 13, 2007

Alexandra and Jim Blog Again

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I'm thrilled to see that two blogging pioneers are blogging again. At Out of Lascaux, Alexandra made smart and freewheeling observations about art, and gave wonderful short art-history lessons. As one of the very first -- if not the very first -- culturebloggers, she paved the way for the rest of us, wrote with a lot of personality, and was always one of my favorite blog-addictions. I see that she has now taken up an interest in quilting. What fun: I'll be learning a little something about a great artform I know less than zilch about.

Right Reason's Max Goss points out that Jim Ryan is blogging once again too. I started reading Jim's Philosoblog at about the same time that I discovered Out of Lascaux. Both weren't just delights but inspirations -- they helped me realize that real people could use blogs to be direct about what they had to say. Don't laugh: Only four or five years ago, blogging still seemed like an outlandish and dicey new development. Alexandra and Jim deserve lots of credit for, along with their other virtues, audacity and guts. Anyway, Jim combines brains and common sense in a way that I find hard to resist. He's a former philosophy professor who is also, and miraculously, a down-to-earth and intellectually generous guy.

Michael Blowhard sez "Go visit! You'll get to know some lovely and insightful minds."

Slightly off-topic, Michael Blowhard also sez "Go read this fab piece by Roger Scruton!" It's a response to the Richard Dawkinses of the world, and an attempt to make the case for religion. I think it's pretty brilliant.



posted by Michael at April 13, 2007


Scruton's a sharp guy, and make some good points. Generally, religious believers come out on top in debates with militant atheists, not necessarily because they are right, but because they at least take the atheist case seriously (I know of very few religious people with an IQ of over 70 who have not doubted at least some time in their lives), whereas many atheists base their view of religion on an almost comic misrepresentation of religious belief. Whether any religions are true or not, they have called forth from humans some of the most profound emotions and thoughts our species has ever experienced, for both good and ill. One would think that such a phenomenon would deserve more respect than "Oh yeah? If God is omnipotent, can He make a rock so big, he can't move it Himself?".

Posted by: tschafer on April 13, 2007 2:36 PM

Michael – Interesting blog links. Some of these were previously unknown to me. Now I have more stuff to bookmark and read whenever I have a free moment.

None of Scruton’s comments particularly resonates with me. I don’t think that it addresses Dawkins’ objections, or even adequately addresses reality. Interestingly enough, it says much about why some people need religion, but bypasses the tricky question of the existence of a directing deity, or whether some people’s needs have any rational basis.

The one thing that I did find provocative was Scruton’s assertion of the need for “a humility in the face of creation.” This idea that a religious human being is properly humble comes up quite a lot (columnist and blogger Andrew Sullivan has also used the idea as part of his justification for the need for religion). From my perspective, this only says that some people have a deep need to believe in the continued existence and guidance of a parent or other authority figure in their lives. Perhaps this is a remnant of a time when hominid societies were more instinctively hierarchical, with dominant alpha males and females more actively directing the daily life of the group. The need to believe in a deity who is Lord or The Father might be nothing more than the remnant of an atavistic trait common to apes and humans. But the cold hard fact is that both the arrogant and the humble will come to the same end – death.

Similarly, I agree that “there is nothing irrational in looking for these [transcendental] places, or in the thought that we find them by locating what is sacred – sacred words, sacred texts, sacred rituals.” But it is irrational to assume that just because we wish for something to exist, then it must be so. A belief in a deity, Santa Claus, or UFOs is little more than a variety of the same kind of fantasy wish fulfillment that informs the lives of many people.

Posted by: Alec on April 15, 2007 3:14 AM

Interesting points, Alec. Certainly "it is irrational to assume that just because we wish for something to exist, then it must be so" but I've never met a religious person who said, "God must exist because I want him to exist". Most religious believers have reasons for their faith. You or I certainly don't have to buy into those reasons, but I'm not sure that the whole massive phenomenon of religion can be dismissed as "fantasy wish fulfillment".

Posted by: tschafer on April 15, 2007 9:31 AM

Tschafer – Most religious believers have reasons for their faith.

Ultimately, religious believers abandon, dismiss, ignore or belittle “reason” and fall back on a “leap of faith,” or other transcendental arguments. Kinda like the Pope’s recent pronouncement that reason and science just does not suffice, in his puerile attack on evolution:

Scruton doesn’t so much offer a reason for religious faith but offers the sop that appeals to some conservatives, that religion is a glue that holds a society together and provides a code of conduct. But he also talks about a need that people have to search for reasons, answers to ultimate questions, etc. But the assumption that people who think this way is that there must be an answer, and that their wishes will be fulfilled somehow. The notion that people have a need to believe in a deity or something transcendent comes up a lot in an occasional blog dialog between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan, much of which can be found here:

I’ve had religious people ask me stuff like “Don’t you need to believe in something?” confusing atheism with nihilism, or asking “Don’t you want to go to heaven when you die?” which sounds to me a lot like fantasy wish fulfillment.

Posted by: Alec on April 16, 2007 2:34 AM

Discussions of this sort seem to suffer from an absence of ground-rules, or something.

Before we examine religion, I think we would need to agree on what our purpose is in the examination.

For example, if we examine religion from a Darwinian perspective, it is easy to see that a belief can be adaptive regardless of whether or not it is true. Indeed, from a radical Darwinian perspective, truth or falsehood are absolutely irrelevant.

As I have grown older, I have become more deeply aware of what I would call a religious consciousness. This has nothing to do with any particular religion, or any claim to either revelation or empirical truth. It's simply being ever more fully aware of two propositions that seem to describe the fundamental facts of my life:

Q. What is at stake?
A. The life and happiness of everyone that I care for.
Q. How much control do I have over the situation?
A. Very little.

It seems to me that to the extent that I wasn't aware of the problem posed here, I wasn't fully alive. Having children was a great advance in my consciousness, and, I would say, in my alive-ness.

The truth or falsehood (whatever the concepts of truth or faleshood might mean in considering such a question, which seems far more problematical to me than you seem to be assuming) of any particular religion seems entirely beside the point to me in the situation in which I find myself.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 17, 2007 10:52 PM

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