God Strikes Back

Nancy C. and Peter N. (TableAus Jan-Feb, 2004) made some comments on Part A of my Philosophical Reflections on religion(TableAus Nov-Dec, 2003). Some of their ideas are addressed in Parts B & C, but I respond to some of their points here.

Nancy: there was a proliferation of words such as reason, knowledge and observable:

In questions of fact, what else do we have to deal with? In questions of fact, there is nothing outside the realm of reason applied to the observable, other than feelings and assertions. But I have shown why these are not tools of cognition – and presumably Nancy agrees, as she seems unswayed by mine!

Nancy: I don’t think I found the word “spirit” anywhere. (No, I’m not speaking of mysticism or superstition):

Nancy doesn’t say what she does mean by spirit. I have defined it as “consciousness”, and have stressed the importance of its “care and feeding” numerous times – e.g. when discussing ethics, art, love and happiness. I am disappointed that Nancy has read Philosophical Reflections with the “intent to appreciate”, yet missed this. As for religion, it is premature to discuss “spiritual” issues before the factual ones pertaining to its validity – unless one thinks that one’s spirit has no nature and can be fed as well by falsehoods as by truth, so the truth doesn’t matter.

Nancy: Robin’s philosophy appears to be based on pure egoism:

No, pure egoism is one of its conclusions, not its basis. I am again disappointed that Nancy can say egoism is unsafe and “tragic” after reading Philosophical Reflections. One’s self interest can only lie in rationality, which is inseparable from such virtues as honesty, integrity and justice. Nancy argues egoism is bad because some alleged practitioners are nasty people – then forgives religion for all the far more dreadful things done in its name.

Nancy: the one basic ethical necessity: “Love your neighbour [as yourself]”:

Why should you? Without a reason, that’s just a blank assertion. With a reason, Nancy is back in my world and shouldn’t criticise me for talking about reason and evidence. And what if my neighbour doesn’t deserve to be loved? What if he gets pleasure out of killing, which he firmly believes sends people to Heaven? Do I honour his faith and feelings and let him kill my family out of love for him – or kill him first if I must, because I egoistically value my family more? No, “love your neighbour” is either a prescription for sacrifice of the good to the evil, or gets interpreted away to “treat your neighbour justly”. And we don’t need religion for the latter, as it follows from the objective, selfish ethics I have described.

Peter: Mensa is running this anti-religious line dressed up as Philosophical Reflections:

Mensa as an organisation has no opinions but expects its members to have plenty, so I’m doing exactly that. As the Editor noted, nobody is forced to read my articles or believe them, or is prevented from responding to them or investing their time in their own series of articles. If a “balance” of opposing views is desired, I believe it is the task of those who care to provide it. Indeed, I see no “balance” in Peter’s own letter. Peter seems righteously offended by my views without caring that his views might offend me just as much. So are some views more holy than others? Also, if someone can defend their views, why would they feel “trampled” by opposing views? And if they can’t defend their views, by what right can they silence others?

Peter: It seems not to have occurred to Robin to wonder that not all religious people are stupid:

I did not say that all religious people are stupid. However it takes little observation of the world to see that intelligence does not make people immune from errors in thinking or believing weird things for invalid reasons. This is just one of the reasons why philosophy is important. And why the intelligence of the adherents of any belief is largely irrelevant to its validity.

Peter: Not mentioned is that the absence of God is an unprovable proposition:

Not mentioned by Peter is that any denial of the claim “Your God is really Satan in disguise, whose worshippers will burn in hell for eternity” is equally “unprovable”. Arbitrary claims are not an improvement over claims amenable to disproof, they are worthless.

Peter: The main point is that my view is a theory but your view is arbitrary and hence meaningless:

The arbitrariness of a claim is not decided by subjective opinion, but by the rules of reason. Something is arbitrary not if someone says so, but if, either by admission or on analysis, there is no valid evidence for it.

Peter: The base assumption that experience must only be of natural phenomena is a circular argument:

It is not I who “assume” that experience must only be of natural phenomena, but the defenders of religion who evaded their lack of objective evidence by hiding their gods in an unobservable supernatural realm – thus evading the Scylla of disproof by leaping into the Charybdis of the arbitrary.

Peter: Faith is part of religion, but also non-religion (ever flown in a plane?):

It is not faith that makes an aeroplane fly, but years of objective thinking: the rigourous application of reason to the evidence of the senses and the placing of facts before wishful thinking. It is not faith that gets you in an aeroplane, but the knowledge that objective thought is efficacious even in making thousands of tons of metal fly, and the knowledge based on facts that while there is a risk in everything you do, the risk of dying in an air crash is tiny and much less than other accepted risks.

Finally, for the record, I don’t believe I’ve ever called Nancy “soft-headed”, as I’m not in the habit of using that term – so she might need to seek elsewhere for the giver of that particular compliment!

© 2004 Robin Craig: first published in TableAus.