Though a primary mover is the most complex and thus (given Occam’s razor) the least likely of all possible solutions to the particular problem of how we got here, I can’t prove it true or false, and there’s nothing to really discuss about it.
If Daniel Dennett is right — that there’s a human genetic need for religion — then I’d like to imagine that my atheism is proof of evolutionary biology in action.
There may be no purpose, but its always good to have a mission. And I know of one fine allegory for an excellent mission should you choose to charge yourself with one: Carlos Castaneda’s series of books about his training with a Yaqui indian mystic named Don Juan. There’s a lot of controversy about these books being represented as nonfiction. But if you dispense with that representation, and instead take their stories as allegories, they’re quite lovely.
At the end of The Eagle’s Gift, Don Juan reveals to his student that there’s no point to existence. That we’re given our brief 70-100 years of consciousness by something the mystics call “The Eagle,” named for it’s cold, killer demeanor. And when we die, the eagle gobbles our consciousness right back up again.
He explains that the mystics, to give thanks to the eagle for the brief bout of consciousness they’re granted, attempt to widen their consciousness as much as possible. This provides a particularly delicious meal for the eagle when it gobbles one up at the end of one’s life.
And that, to me, is a fine mission.
My Comment: The sentence “I can’t prove it true or false, and there’s nothing really to discuss about it” either is a run on sentence of two unconnected thoughts, or it supposes that those matters which cannot be proved true nor false merit no discussion.
Yet this second interpretation of the sentence surely cannot be correct, since the proposition (that we should not discuss matters unable to be proved true or proved false) is itself not vulnerable to being proved true nor proved false — it is a statement of opinion, preference, or obligation, not of fact — and therefore by its own logic is unworthy of discussion.
Mr. Savage surely means only that he is bored by the topic, not that the topic itself is unworthy of discussion. Because, if not, we are lead to an absurd conlcusion. Basically everything outside the physical and mathematical sciences would also fall into the interdict of being unworthy of discussion. Also, the final paragraphs report ideas that cannot be proved true nor false, and indeed are self-identified as mystical ideas. If they were unworthy of discussion, Mr. Savage would not be discussing them.
Mr. Savage holds it to be more discussion-worthy than speculations about Aristotle’s (or Aquinas’) Prime Mover to reflect on a myth or poetic metaphor he describes as a lovely allegory — which is, namely, that life is meaningless, but our attempts to expand our consciousness provide gustatory and transient pleasure for a anthropophagic if not Lovecraftian Demiurge who created us. The more we fill our brains and hearts and souls with wisdom and compassion, enlightenment and love, the more succulent it is when the Lowerarchy sups on our brains and souls. Our purpose in this purposeless life is to be food for the vermin.
That this, to him, is a finer mission than the attempts of, I am tempted to suppose, Mother Teresa of Calcutta to express the Love of God by caring for the utmost poor and laving the tortured limbs of lepers casts a doubtful light on his logic or his judgment.
I would be so bold as to venture that a Hedonist living for transient pleasures, who goes into the darkness of nonbeing surfeited with vice, wine cup sloshing in one hand and concubine giggling in the other by dying of a heart attack in an orgy; or else a Stoic living for the unsentimental exercise of his duties, and perishing, perhaps at his own hand as Socrates or Cato, or perhaps when facing fearful odds, as Horatio or Mucius Scaevola, but with dry-eyed indifference to pain and death; either or both of these hopeless philosophers pass away for a more noble cause than feeding the maw of a monstrous and sardonic Crow.
There are many modern thinkers who have neither the melancholy dignity of a pagan who dies for Odin, hoping to die a second time at Ragnarok facing without hope the roaring and stupid giants of ice and the triumph of the darkness; nor the divine grace of a Saint who dies for Christ, hoping to live a second time after Armageddon, facing with joy the bliss of eternity, and the final defeat of darkness.
At least a pagan can say “all men, being mortal, must die; therefore spend your life in preparation for death, that you might leave behind, for a season, a name worthy of recollection, which is the only part of you that can survive the grave.” That sentiment has a certain cold gravity to it.
In contrast, to affirm the worthiness of being more yummy to vermin that eat you if you have lived your life worthily and well is a frivolous, perhaps even the most frivolous of affirmation of worth.
And “expanding one’s consciousness” is one of the few means recognized by moderns of achieving worthiness of life. It is a narrowly selfish conceit of worthiness, without the heroic love of glory of Horatio, or the sacrificial love of Mother Teresa, or the sagacious integrity of Socrates, who at least taught love of wisdom, helped the poor, or defended the ashes of his fathers and the altars of his gods. It is, in other words, a most narrowminded and closedminded approach to living a worthy life, an expansion that never reaches anywhere worth going.
There also may be an error (if I understood him correctly) in Mr. Savage’s application of Occam’s razor to the problem discussed: Occam’s razor is that an explanation which does not multiply entities unnecessarily is to be preferred to one that does. The question here is whether the complexity, order, harmony, and beauty of creation, including man and the moral and intellectual nature of man, is more elegantly explained by a creator who has these properties which He shared into His creation, or is more elegantly explained by a blind natural process which brings forth all laws of nature (this natural process somehow existing logically and causally prior to all natural processes, including itself). For the first explanation, we need to posit a God, whom every theologian from Aristotle to Aquinas assures us is simple and eternal; for the second we need to posit something like the Hypertime of Hawkman comics, so as to have a natural place for the processes of nature to reside during the “time before” the Big Bang, or “time beyond” or “time aside from” the Big Bang, since the Big Bang apparently started time.
At first glance, the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle seems a simpler explanation, and gives a place where all things, including the beauty and moral order of the universe, to come from. In the second explanation, all things come from nothing for no reason, and things that seem to exist in the universe, such as moral order and beauty, are illusions produced by accident by a defect of human consciousness. This is not a simpler explanation.
Mr. Savage also briefly mentions, as a list of the things the ‘intolerant’ religions oppose, and by this display their bigotry and lack of enlightenment, ‘birth control education.’ Without going into the logic behind sexual reproduction and sexual morality, I will here only raise the question whether birth control indoctrination is a policy that serves even a secular state, in these days when the West is suffering from cataclysmic underpopulation.
I also will propose that Daniel Dennett’s theory that religion is an epiphenomenon of an innate genetic need is (1) unscientific rubbish (2) arrogant rubbish (3) fails to explain how atheists, such as C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and yours truly, went from being opponents of theism to apologists for Christianity without suffering a corresponding genetic change. Since the agnostics and atheists of the world are being outbred by the sinister forces of Islam and Catholicism, at first blush it would seem that atheism, if it is a genetic mutation, is not something natural selection selects. Mr. Savage would like to pretend, like a character from a comic book, that he is Homo Superior, a New Man, a Magneto, who has made a genetic breakthrough into the realm of the Superman or Ubermensch.
I leave it to others to determine, each man to his own satisfaction, whether the postcapitalist Soviet Union or postmodern England, or any other officially anti-religious or non-religious society has equaled the accomplishments of pagan or Christian lands and centuries, either by the cold standards of Darwin, which measures only fecundity and fitness to survive, or by the more human standards of examining the fruits of their civilization, sublime arts, superior sciences, productive industries, virtue, decency, peace and justice, including the virtue of toleration. Those not wedded to the dogma of the inferiority of Christendom can see the contrast with no further urging from me; those so wedded will not see it no matter my words, therefore I need say no more on this point.
I suggest that Occam’s Razor urges a simpler explanation, which is, namely, that man’s genetic nature, also called his fallen nature, or his innate predisposition to pride and sin and arrogance and folly, leads him to reject that belief in a supernatural judgment of moral norms which is otherwise universal among all men of all nations and generations.
I submit that I have just as much scientific evidence for my theory that atheism is a genetic defect than for Mr. Dennett’s theory that theism is a genetic defect —in both cases, the scientific evidence that any genetic factor alters the non-instinctive and cognitive content of thought is exactly zero. It is a myth the dim among the Brights delight to tell themselves to buoy up their intellectual and ethical inferiority to the saints and sages of Christian and pagan history. Since a myth cannot be proved true nor false, it is not worth discussing.