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« Not Learning from Las Vegas | Main | Cochran and Harpending's New One »

December 03, 2008

Razib, Cosmos, Meat

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* GNXP's Razib has kicked off another provocative new blog. Its name -- Secular Right -- pretty much explains its theme: righties who have no religious feelings. The blog's high-powered participants include Heather Mac Donald, John Derbyshire, and Walter Olson.

* Well, that's finally settled.

* Thanks to Will S. for pointing out this fun Table Matters piece about the pleasures of eating meat. Scott Gold argues that meat-eaters are mucho sexier than vegans. Don't skip the linked-to video clip.

* MBlowhard Rewind: I compared the magazines of 1970 to our current crop.

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at December 3, 2008




Comments

The Secular Right idea is tragically, comically stupid. Sometimes, people are so damned stupid that they seem almost to be deliberately setting out to be as wrong as they can be.

Conservatism and traditionalism without a belief in God is rank nonsense. This is the sort of thinking that made people believe that McCain would be a good presidential candidate. Remember? Republicans were supposed to be enthusiastically searching for candidate who wasn't that much of a Republican. As Steve Sailer says: How did that work out?

I am amazed that people think that this is a new idea. Any student of literature knows that this theory... that godlessness is enlightenment... is not new. It is the most common self-deception of intellectuals, and it returns with a vengeance every generation. Any student of pre-revolutionary Russian literature knows this. (To put it in terms that will infuriate "progressives," intellectual pride is the devil's temptation. It works every time.)

Jim Kalb's writing about tradition should be the first stop for people falling for this oldie.

I recommend that people read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Lermentov, Gogol... you'll discover that the same damned "intellectualism" was all the vogue in 18th century Russia. "Only stupid people believe in God." "We're entering a new, enlightened, scientific era in which we must discard the old superstitions." Etc. Etc.

People seem to have a limitless capacity to delude themselves when it comes to this arena.

So, I'll state the obvious. God is the father. Societies that destroy this belief destroy themselves. The religious impulse is absolute essentially to human psychological and moral health. Without God, as Raskolnikov said, why not murder your neighbor and take his stuff?

Conservatives and traditionalists should look to the teachings of Ronald Reagan and John Paul II for guidance. The solution isn't to make conservatism more attractive by making it indistinguishable from liberalism. The solution is to return to the teachings of the masters.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on December 3, 2008 2:52 PM



"I recommend that people read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Lermentov, Gogol... you'll discover that the same damned "intellectualism" was all the vogue in 18th century Russia."

ST, you meant 19th century. Just didn't want anyone confused out there.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on December 3, 2008 3:26 PM



Thanks for the correction, Charlton.

Mark Steyn wrote a very good essay on this very same subject today.

I recommend it.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on December 3, 2008 4:03 PM



My problem with the secular right is that they spend too much of their time tilting at the windmills of magical thinking masquerading as religious thought. God as Sugar Daddy, prayer as a ritualistic way of extracting something from the universe (rains for crops, healing sickness, even peace of mind), that kind of mumbo-jumbo. Religion, while it has enough of that stuff to fill the world twice over, is much, much more than that. Mumbo-jumbo is a preferred human way of dealing with life's challenges. Atheists do it as much as believers. But folk magic/technology is no more the heart of religion than it is the heart of science.

Too much of the secular right just regurgitates old-hat village atheist stuff. That stuff is irrelevant. No-one cares about that crap any more. The secular right--the secular everybody--still needs to account for religious experience, and until they do, disproofs of God's miraculous interventions are just so much expired equine flagellation.

Posted by: PatrickH on December 3, 2008 4:31 PM



Didn't dear razib (whom I like reading) support Obama?

Posted by: MD on December 3, 2008 5:05 PM



I'd like it if the Blessed Razza would stop a column of grey obscuring half the page on his old website. He should rename it "Gene Suppression".

Posted by: dearieme on December 3, 2008 6:48 PM



"So, I'll state the obvious. God is the father."

Well, if God's existence was obvious, then I wouldn't be an atheist. There is no empirical evidence of God's existence. Belief in God requires a lap of faith or a credulity which I wouldn't grant to the rather limited claims of your average used car salesman, let alone run my life by the dicta of any religion ever created.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on December 3, 2008 7:27 PM



Peter, religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) are based on unique historical events. There are some belief systems (I hesitate to call them religions) which are not so self absorbed. Buddhist and Hindu mystics have no problem with modern physics and see no conflict at all between science and their spiritual practices. However, those systems which are bound up in unique historical events are the ones who now appear to be most at odds with scientific and medical discoveries. Do you dismiss any possibility of the existence of god, even if that concept has nothing to do with "the desert dogmas"? Creation is not an important subject among the Eastern spiritual leaders I have met.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on December 3, 2008 8:52 PM



Michael:

I loved your ruminations on Cargo and the WEC.

"In terms of cut-to-the-chase directness, Cargo makes Maxim and People look like magazines from some circumlocutious 19th century."

LOL.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on December 3, 2008 10:40 PM



Dear Charlton:

You asked, "Do you dismiss any possibility of the existence of god, even if that concept has nothing to do with "the desert dogmas"?"

My answer would be yes, except that I do not dismiss the possibiliy of God's existence. It is possible, just as many other extraordinary phenomena are possible, like ghosts or alien abductions. Nevertheless, I know of no proof for the existence of any of them.

The only rational argument for God's existence that has even a momentary appeal is the argument from design. Since acceptance of that argument creates a paradox of infinite regression, it doesn't serve as a satisfactory answer to the question of origins.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on December 3, 2008 10:52 PM



I believe, guys, that you've missed the point.

I wasn't arguing about whether the general population should accept God the father.

I was arguing that it is a political disaster for conservatives to set themselves up as atheists.

This is a rather different argument than the one you are having.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on December 4, 2008 12:04 AM



PLW: Belief in God requires a lap of faith...

Obviously a typo, but I like it. Instead of a leap of faith, which implies a sudden, well, jump, a "lap of faith" gets across that faith is a process, a struggle, even an ordeal. And of course, at the end of the lap, you're back where you started...but you sure do feel different.

I vote "lap of faith" replace "leap of faith" in all theological discussions from henceforth.

Posted by: PatrickH on December 4, 2008 10:37 AM



Not to start a theology flame war, but I must comment on Peter's statements:

There is no empirical evidence of God's existence.

There can't be. If there's a room with eighteen things in it, and an atheist and a theist are asked how many things are in that room, the atheist would answer "eighteen", but the theist wouldn't say, "No, there are nineteen things, the eighteen we see, plus God." God is not a thing, and He is not experienced, or experienceable. He is absolutely prior to everything, including experience. If you see God, you don't. If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.

It is possible, just as many other extraordinary phenomena are possible...

God is not a phenomenon at all.

The only rational argument for God's existence that has even a momentary appeal is the argument from design.

That argument is indeed weak. There cannot be any rational arguments for God's existence, since He is absolutely prior to everything else...including reason. He functions in logical arguments as the unstated premise behind all premises. You can't reason to God, since you reason, if reason you do, from Him.

I'm commenting on Peter's statements because this kind of thing is also done by the secular right people, who make the same kind of points, and the same kind of mistakes.

P.S.I wouldn't be at all surprised if some wiser theists (Clio?) point out that I'm all wet, wet, wet.

Posted by: PatrickH on December 4, 2008 10:50 AM



Patrick, the "God" you just described has no properties that mean anything. Whether or not that God is there makes no difference. It is when that hypothetical non-thing is given attributes that can hypothetically influence the 18 thing-things in our room that you enter the realm of evidence. There would be no meaning to being an atheist who doesn't believe in the "God" you just described.

Posted by: i, squub on December 4, 2008 12:45 PM



Hate to disagree (no actually, that's a lie--I love to disagree). God does not "have properties at all", and eluding/transcending conceptual categories doesn't mean that God doesn't matter. Whether or not that God is there does indeed make a difference, except that he's not "there", not anywhere that can be seen by our eyes, at least. So no wonder people going around squinting their peepers looking for Him don't see anything.

There would be no meaning to being an atheist who doesn't believe in the "God" you just described.

Not quite sure what to make of that, squub. But the tricky move made by atheists consists of denying that there's "evidence" for God, and then confining the possibility space for that evidence to the senses. Atheists are thus safe within a self-reinforcing bubble: the only evidence they'll admit as evidence for God is precisely where you would not find evidence of God.

Atheists are atheists in the sense of not believing in an attribute-laden God, opponents of an often not much more sophisticated view than God as the Old Man in the Sky. Well, okay. They're atheists. So am I, then.

Let them tilt at that windmill and imagine they're getting somewhere. Let them argue about the eighteen things with the people who do think God is number nineteen.

Neither side in that dispute matters. Religious experience, explicitly described over thousands of years by generations, repeatedly points to a God beyond concepts. Atheists who ignore that record are playing it safe, beating up on the fundies, scoring points off the literal-minded.

So what? My point above about the secular right was that they're wasting time with their old-hat "atheist" flapdoodle. I see no reason to change my mind about that.

Posted by: PatrickH on December 4, 2008 1:29 PM



Well, I still think you're all missing the point.

A conservative, by definition, is defined by an interest in preserving human and societal traditions.

In my opinion, the most important of those traditions is religious belief and practice.

Therefore, a person who renounces or ridicules religious tradition is no conservative.

Let liberals destroy religious tradition. The job of conservatives is to preserve that tradition for the next generation.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on December 4, 2008 2:04 PM



It does seem weird for conservatives to play the atheist game, doesn't it?

As for god, the big guy upstairs or the formless Absolute ... The Vedantists have a nice way of dealing with the question. They posit and acknowledge both "saguna Brahman" (the absolute with qualities) and "nirguna Brahman" (the absolute without qualities).

God-with-qualities resembles the God of Christianity -- discussable, sort of like a big Father figure, actively involved in creation, etc. God-without-qualities is the great big pulsing incomprehensible multitudinous interconnectedness of everything and more, about which little if anything can be said, but which we're all smart parts of at the same time. God-with-qualities is semi-comprehensible, and for most people; God-without-qualities can be contacted only via actual mystical experience, and is out of the reach of most people (though we're all emulsified into it/him/her anyway).

Vedanta has a lot going for it -- if I had to choose, I'd call myself a Vedantist. A lot of western scientists and philosophers have found Vedanta appealing. Schrodinger was a Vedantist, and Schopenhauer was mightily impressed by the Upanishads. When I attend talks at the California Vedanta temple I love, the audience is often dotted with scientists from the nearby university.

Read a bit about Vedanta here. And here. This book is a nice, short, and super-easy intro.

FWIW, and not to make too big a deal out of it ... The pulsing multitudinous incomprehensible interconnected etc etc has always been very real and apparent to me. Some of my earliest memories are of being amazed that it wasn't as apparent to other people. It's what motivated my childhood interest in science, and my later interest in the arts. I don't see a lot of evidence for a Christian-style God The Father, but the entire world (and beyond!) seems to me to be definitive evidence of nirguna Brahman, which in turn has always seemed more "real" to me than the everyday-life things most people spend most of their energies attending to. (Not putting them down -- they're important!) When the atheists demand proof of God's existence and look smug, I demand proof of his non-existence and feel twice as smug.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 4, 2008 3:17 PM



Michael Blowhard:

It does seem weird for conservatives to playa the atheist game, doesn't it?

The problem is that these "secular rightists" to which you linked are replacing religion with a quasi-scientific ideology based on taking a fringe scientific position and running it through an additional layer of charlatan (mis)interpretation. This Razib character tries to pass as a scientific expert in the relevant fields, but in fact, he has no qualifications beyond a bachelor's degree and not a day's experience in actual research -- in other words, he's a total dilettante. (Now I guess his fans will start telling me that he's being prevented by the PC establishment from demonstrating his genius by doing some actual scientific work.)

I'm extremely disappointed to see how many people who otherwise seem like fine conservative intellectuals are falling for this. From someone like Derbyshire, I would expect at least some skepticism and caution, but instead, the moment someone shows up and presents an argument that's superficially scientific and also ideologically convenient, he accepts it as Holy Writ with which only deluded or malicious PC-fanatics could ever disagree.

This trend is extremely destructive for conservatism, which is supposed to be about the received wisdom of the tradition, and most definitely not about basing one's ideology and politics on supposedly "scientific" principles. Additionally, they are robbing conservative positions on a variety of issues of any respectability, since they're making it seem like one can disagree with the leftist orthodoxy only if one buys into the entire New Agey DNA-worship and quasi-scienfitic "race realism". These people are telling themselves that with the help of their "science", they can get answers to the Big Questions that are both convenient and true. It's time for Derbyshire to listen to his own message for Obama supporters -- "No, you can't, you bloody fools."

Sorry for the rant, but this really annoys me.

Posted by: Vladimir on December 4, 2008 5:06 PM



"When the atheists demand proof of God's existence and look smug, I demand proof of his non-existence and feel twice as smug."

Ask, but you shall not receive. It's not possible to prove the non-existence of anything. Does the company that offers those college courses on CD you're enamored of offer any on logic?

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on December 4, 2008 8:49 PM



Well, Peter, you should talk to the atheists who routinely assert that the existence of evil demonstrates the impossibility of God. The formal name of the argument, which has a pedigree of centuries, is something like, "The logical argument from the existence of evil to the non-existence of God".

And lots of atheist/agnostic type do the slippery tricky little deek of a move that denies God's existence because they don't "see" "evidence" of His existence while denying that there is "evidence of things unseen". They seem to think that absence of evidence is evidence of absence, with their notion of evidence being faulty...and their notion of absence.

And of course it's possible to prove the non-existence of something: if asserting its existence entails a contradiction, its non-existence has been proven. I mean square circles don't exist, do they? And provably not?

Posted by: PatrickH on December 5, 2008 12:41 PM



Is there anything more tedious than an internet debate re theism vs. atheism? Why doesn't someone just mention Hitler and get it over with?

Oh, wait...

Posted by: Yahmdallah on December 5, 2008 2:53 PM



I'm with Yamdallah on this one. And anyway, I believe (that word!) that we're chemically predisposed to believe/disbelieve. I see this in my kids. My oldest is a born skeptic. My middle child is a born believer. He NEEDS it, truly. It's been an eye-opener to me in the biggest way. Now, needing something is not proof of the something's existence, but it must be acknowledged.

Posted by: JV on December 5, 2008 3:28 PM



Sorry to bore, yamdallah, but I seem to remember you chiming in on the topic yourself. Is it that you've said everything that needs to be said?

Posted by: PatrickH on December 5, 2008 4:11 PM



PatrickH, yes, but then, one day, it occurs that the horse is not only dead, but there is no longer a carcass there to flog.

Btw, it might surprise you that my original participation in such debates was against Christian fundamentalists. The came the atheist fundamentalists, whose fervor was ... more frightening.

Then I saw that Pogo cartoon again. Peace ensued.

Posted by: yahmdallah on December 9, 2008 10:21 PM



Ah, so I too might learn eventually that the horse is dead, and join you in your disdain for theological debate. Until that day, I ask that you adopt a more Christian, which is to say charitable, tone in admonishing those, who like me, have yet to see their way to your level of insight.

Or alternatively, you might elaborate on the reasons for your disdain, instead of tossing out casual dismissals of others' comments here.

Posted by: PatrickH on December 10, 2008 8:50 AM



PatrickH:

Well, Peter, you should talk to the atheists who routinely assert that the existence of evil demonstrates the impossibility of God. The formal name of the argument, which has a pedigree of centuries, is something like, "The logical argument from the existence of evil to the non-existence of God".

This goes back to my point. Gods with specific properties, i.e. the New Testament Christian omnipotent God of love, have properties about which we can talk. Evil, and suffering, are particularly difficult things to reconcile with that particular god's properties.

The Old Testament God that does all the smiting - much easier to contribute to that guy all the evil stuff. Much less difficult to reconcile that guy with the "love" thing, though.

They seem to think that absence of evidence is evidence of absence, with their notion of evidence being faulty...and their notion of absence.

And you may be one of those anti-atheists who (intentionally or otherwise) misinterprets the meaning of atheism. Absence of belief DOES NOT mean belief in absence. I don't believe there's a million dollars buried beneath my house. Doesn't mean I'm making a positive assertion that such a thing couldn't be there. Someone telling me it was there would have to offer me evidence in order for me to go about the nasty business of going looking for it.

Posted by: i, squub on December 10, 2008 4:54 PM






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