Zhainan asked me some time ago to follow up in my post about atheism, so here are my views. I apologize for the delay but I wasn’t in the right mood until today. Today it’s Sunday and it feels proper.
There’s a quote in Aldous Huxley’s best novel, that says:
If you’ve never had a religious experience, it’s folly to believe in God. You might as well believe in the excellence of oysters, when you can’t eat them without being sick
Well I have never had one. I am not a faith person; in fact I find the concept quite abhorrent, personally. Still, as I said in my last post, the fact that I find no need for religion doesn’t mean that there is no God. In fact there can be no sound philosophy without an idea of the transcendent. Logic as a system requires a first cause, if it is to be true. And as we all want logic to be true, we might as well think there is some fancy creator out there. That doesn’t mean that we all should go back to sing in latin at Church every Sunday. Criticism of particular religions is on the whole very justified. But the fact that all religions are false doesn’t imply that there’s nothing out there.
This is the logical critique of atheism. Then there’s the psychological critique. Why would anyone deny there’s some kind of God, and an afterlife? What do you gain by that? The atheists logic is as faulty as the theists’. But the theists at least do some good by promoting hierarchy and a moral life. What’s the point of atheism though? Why spoil all the fun of life? Do people enjoy thinking that once you die you just disappear and there’s nothing else? Nihilism, taken seriously, can only create misery and sadness. And most people agree with it these days. Of course most people don’t take it seriously, and while asserting that there’s no God they go on with their animal instincts and enjoy life as it is. But there’s actually a few unlucky people who actually get to stare at the abyss. Yet they keep preaching a depressing cult of nothingness. I can’t fathom how can they wake up every morning thinking: Cool, there’s 40 years left until I vanish, everything I do is pointless and without consequence!
See that my point is that we can’t know anything about the transcendent. I’m with Kant on this. We can’t know anything beside this world’s experiences. And we shouldn’t try. Since we decided in the 18th century that we can’t know much about God, and stopped caring, well we got modern science, fact based scholarship. Fact based medicine. To use God in scientific theories is cheating. In the same way that using HNU or other liberal dogmas in social science is cheating; it’s unfalsifiable and doesn’t produce useful theories. We need more empiricism, not less.
Now some people don’t agree that we can’t know anything about God. The fact that I’ve never had a religious experience doesn’t mean that nobody ever has. Well there’s a point to that. For all the absurdities of mainstream religion, well Pascal or Chesterton were very smart people, also very pious. When you see that logic requires a transcendent reality, well it’s obvious that any inquisitive mind would want to know something about it, see Newton or Gödel’s mysticism. So there might be something to mysticism, that I am humble enough to admit. Still for every mystic Newton or Leonardo there are many Saint Theresas or Sufi charlatans who also claim to have ‘seen’ the mystical truth. As I said in the opening, I haven’t had the experience, so I can’t really tell. I am open to the idea, in a philosophical way. My teenage years were basically spent in binge reading of Aldous Huxley and Arthur Schopenhauer’s books. Both were mildly empiricist men who lashed against the sophistry of their day. Yet they also, later in their lives, became very open to mysticism; Huxley seeking the truth in psychedelic drugs, Schopenhauer reading on Indian philosophy.
But they didn’t make much of it. The problem with mysticism is, although I can’t deny its possibility as a matter of philosophical soundness; it’s quite obvious that it has been rather useless. It might not be certain, but I stand on my point that we can’t know about the other world, and we shouldn’t try. Newton could have come up with relativity if he hadn’t lost so many of his years in theology. I don’t mind, in fact it might be very natural that good mathematicians and physicists come to the conclusion that there is a higher power. But science, and all scholarly work, should have atheism as its working framework. It’s not true, but its good for work. God won’t punish you for trying to understand its creation without mentioning him.
But he will punish all of us if you deny its existence. Society at large should be theist. It produces good morals and happy people. We just need a new religion that takes Bell Curves into account, encourages eugenics and makes space colonization the final mission of mankind. If someone has a mystical vision about it, please let me know. I’m all ears.
PS: Notwithstanding everything written above, everybody should read this link from Zhainan’s. Makes you think like few things can.