Secular Right | Reality & Reason

May/10

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Atheists are “vincibly ignorant”

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Joe Carter at First Things, The Vincible Ignorance of Atheism:

Even as a fervent believer I can acknowledge that skepticism and atheism can be inspired by the reasons Hart lists. But I fail to understand how that makes them noble, precious, or necessary traditions. Indeed, I wish Christians would recognize just the opposite: We have to abandon the politically correct notion that atheism is intellectually respectable.

Historically speaking, this concession to the greatest lie in the universe is a rather recent development. While there have always been people who deny the existence of a deity, it has not been a prominent view among intellectuals, much less a serious alternative to Christian theism. What previous cultures instinctively understood, and that we in turn have forgotten, is that atheism is a form of (self-imposed) intellectual dysfunction, a lack of epistemic virtue, or—to borrow a term from my Catholic friends—a case of vincible ignorance.

Let me do a substitution on the part I have emphasized: While there have always been people who deny the existence of Allah, it has not been a prominent view among intellectuals, much less a serious alternative to Muslim theism. For much of the history of the West there were strong social sanctions against public expressions of atheism. And quite often the sanctions were not simply matters of ostracism, they were of capital consequence. The last person executed in the British Isles for atheism suffered such a punishment around ~1700 (see How the Scots Invented the Modern World). There were almost certainly many atheists at the commanding heights of intellect in the pre-modern era in the West, but they would certainly not be open about their views lest they suffer extreme punishment. Additionally, in an era where written works were copied in religious institutions the likelihood of atheistic arguments being transcribed seem rather low (there were already pre-Christian works, such as those of Lucretius, which were useful as examples to refute). A window into the atheists at the heights of intellect who we know nothing of may be someone such as Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne, who flourished in a time of transition between the old and new regime in regards to freedom of conscience. He was a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church, but his clerical career was a matter of self-interest, not genuine belief. His materialism and atheism was so well known that the king of France vetoed his advancement within the Church because he believed that de Brienne’s lack of belief in Christianity rendered his aspirations to becoming a prince of the Church unseemly.

But we don’t have just the West as an example. In both India and China many intellectuals have long been skeptical of theism. Granted, this does not mean that the majority of intellectuals were atheists, but the atheist position has not been without defenders. The Confucian sage Xun Zi was arguably a materialist, whose defense of the propriety of religious ritual was purely instrumental. Even those Chinese scholars who were more open to supernaturalism than Xun Zi often found Christian theism to be beneath their consideration, reflecting a more primitive mindset.

39 comments

  • nadezhda · May 13, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    Apparently Mr Carter is himself invincibly ignorant.

  • Snippet · May 14, 2010 at 5:16 am

    One could argue (sort of) that the categorical rejection of even the possibility of the existence of something that could be called a “deity” – an above-it-all/before-it-all/after-it-all outside of space and time intelligence/awareness/consciousness is intellectually weak.

    I suppose, one could.

    But the idea that it is “ignorant” to question the existence of any of the identified deities (none of whom have stooped to the level of actually clarifying their existence) seems just a wee bit … defensive.

  • A-Bax · May 14, 2010 at 8:46 am

    I saw this on Dreher’s site, and it nearly made my blood boil.

    “Christian Theism” – So the argument is being made that lack of belief in virgin birth, resurrection, 3=1 god(head), is a form of intellectual dysfunction?

    The most charitable interpretation I can see here is that until the historical David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, the argument-from-design really did have some power.

    Hume’s Dialogues utterly devastated the argument-from-design (for the Christian worldview), and a century later we had an empirical theory that could explain the appearance of design without invoking a designer.

    Yet, a century and a half after Darwin, and nearly 3 centuries after Hume, belief in the (Christian) god on rationalist grounds simply showcases stupidity or ignorance. Most Christian believers understand that their belief is an act of *faith* precisely because reason simply doesn’t get you to sky-gods, arch-angels, demons, and a man-child-god-zombie. It just doesn’t.

    Joe Carter is either dumb, ignorant, or supremely arrogant. Take your pick.

  • Susan · May 14, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Well I waded through the entire essay by Carter, and what I took from it is the contention that God exists because St. Paul says so. That’s the proof. Did I get that right?

  • The Divine Conspiracy Blog » Blog Archive » Atheism · May 14, 2010 at 10:29 am

    [...] The Secular Right responds here. Posted in Atheism | No Comments » Leave a [...]

  • kurt9 · May 14, 2010 at 10:34 am

    I’m sure it has never occurred to Joe Carter that it is people of his ilk that has created the militant atheists in the first place. It is this arrogant in your face attitude that Christian have, that they are right and everyone else is wrong, that creates the hostility towards them in the first place. Then, they have the temerity to complain about how “hostile” atheists and others are towards Christians.

  • trajan23 · May 14, 2010 at 11:51 am

    Razib, just curious, but how high of a bar are you setting for atheism?Do you require a complete rejection of any kind of “supernatural” forces and miraculous events?Or are you counting “soft” atheism (A la Lucretious, with his “detached” gods)? If the previous, how many pre-modern “hard” atheists would you say pass muster?

    Before you jump to any conclusions about me, let me simply state that I find Carter’s comments ludicrous. It is just that “atheism” (Sorry about the scare quotes”)is a fraught concept (after all, some of the Graeco-Roman pagans called the early Christians atheists), rather like monotheism.

  • Susan · May 14, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    Carter seems to be positing that blind faith is the highest manifestation of intellect. Or that blind faith is the highest manifestation of reason.

    I need a drink.

  • Narr · May 14, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    In re A-Bax’s cooment: Mr. Carter sounds like all three. Why chose one?

  • J. · May 14, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    Stupid, naive and/or irrational atheists are not unknown (e.g. Bill Maher, if not Hitchens most of the time). Stupid, naive and/or irrational theists outnumber them greatly. For one Rowan Williams there are a 1000 baptist-monkeys chanting rapture days from the Book of Revelation, or a similar number of imams issuing fatwas against western scientists.

    It might be recalled that Hume of DCNR does not exactly refute Design, or even theism. He suggests (or Philo does, usually taken to be Hume speaking) first cause arguments and design arguments are not necessarily true, and have no relation to judeo-christianity, or to any particular religion–one cannot prove there is one God, or one thousand. But Hume does grant the possibility of Deism of some sort.

  • Author comment by David Hume · May 14, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Do you require a complete rejection of any kind of “supernatural” forces and miraculous events?

    no.

  • Snippet · May 14, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    … “atheism” (Sorry about the scare quotes”)is a fraught concept (after all, some of the Graeco-Roman pagans called the early Christians atheists), rather like monotheism.

    It is as “fraught” as you want it to be.

    The least fraught sort of atheism is the sort that goes like this:

    I’ll believe in ANY god(s) when I find the evidence persuasive.

    Sounds like the Graeco-Roman definition of “atheism” was:

    Uninclined to believe in our pantheon.

    It is not the definition held by contemporary atheists.

  • kurt9 · May 14, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    I am open-minded to the possibility that the universe may, in fact, be the artifact of an advanced civilization or being. What I do not believe in at all is the notion of a “personal” or anthropomorphic god. I think this notion silly.

  • Snippet · May 15, 2010 at 7:27 am

    kurt9,

    The “personal or anthropomorphic” God thing is, of course, the crux (sorry) of the problem.

    The meta causer of causes, outside of time/space, too good to exist, watches-from-a-distance-and-hopes-we-do-the-right-thing, can’t be seen or measured in ANY way… God is really impossible to refute.

    This God, is the one the ID people and the super duper metaphysicians with their super duper arguments are defending.

    NOT any sort of God who actually interacts in any sort of clear way.

    So, I just say, fine, you have proven the existence of a non-interactive God. Congratulations.

    Now, about Jehovah…

  • b.a. · May 15, 2010 at 7:41 am

    Yeah, it’s not like as an atheist that I can never at a later point believe in a supernatural deity. It is just that right now I choose to believe that none exists since there is no persuasive evidence that such a beast is real, let alone evidence which would lead people to believe they have detailed and specific knowledge of the make-up and internal mindset of said deity(the almighty says do not eat such and such food on this day of the week etc.)

    I don’t believe in a “god” or all powerful being, because there is no proof that one exists. Therefore, the logical position for me is to believe that one doesn’t exist…until I see some verifiable evidence to the contrary.

  • Kevembuangga · May 15, 2010 at 7:45 am

    I am open-minded to the possibility that the universe may, in fact, be the artifact of an advanced civilization or being.

    LOL, Yeah, advanced indeed!
    Able to manage the most minute details:
    Avogadro’s number x Total mass of the universe.
    God probably has a bit of trouble with his “control room” too.
    Religion is paranoid insanity, period.

  • kurt9 · May 15, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Snippet,

    So, I just say, fine, you have proven the existence of a non-interactive God. Congratulations.

    Your reading comprehension needs improvement. I did not say that I believe in this concept of god, let alone have proven its existence. I said that I was open-minded to the possibility that such an advanced intelligence exists, even though for the most part, I do not think such an entity exists.

  • Snippet · May 15, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    kurt9,

    By “you,” I meant the sort the sort of Christian apologist who is impressed with his (her) own metaphysical dance.

    As far as you (as in kurt9) go, all I meant to say was that I agreed that there has been no proof of a “personal” god, as you had said.

    I realize how this misunderstanding was made possible by Satan, who caused me to write poorly.

    He tends to do that a lot.

  • Mark in Spokane · May 15, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    Not to defend the thesis of the piece, but I would make two comments. First, atheist apologists usually don’t strike religious believers as very credible because most of the time such apologists are incredibly ignorant of theology, religious history and religious philosophy. Epistemic closure.

    Second, blaming the monks for refusing to transcribe classical works that were hostile to the Christian tradition or to theism in general is an example of such ignorance. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the medieval manuscript tradition will know that Christian monks copied pagan works — including Lucretius — and that virtually all of the copies of classical texts from the pagan world we have exist because of Christian monks (and Muslim scholars too) copied those texts. These religious belivers copied pagan texts, non-theist texts, erotic poetry (Ovid and Catallus, for example), with tremendous devotion to preserving those texts for the future. Virtually every classical text we have we have because of those Christian monks, starting with St. Benedict and lasting all the way through the High Middle Ages. Aristotle’s preservation has much to do with the work of Muslim scholars during the peak of Islamic civilization during the Middle Ages as well.

  • Snippet · May 15, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Apologetics is a term that refers to the defense of beliefs that are not supported by evidence.

    There is no such thing as astrophysics apologists, for example. The term makes no sense.

    An atheist (to beat a dead horse) is simply someone waiting for the evidence to show up. Nothing to apologize for there, either.

    Atheists vary in their knowledge of theology, of course, but since most atheists are evidentiarily oriented, there “ignorance” (or active hostility towards) theology is understandable.

    Theology is not credible to many atheists, because it tends to come across as an elaborate, and in many cases impressively sophisticated, rationalization, rather than a hard headed quest for facts.

    Also (to beat another dead horse), the best theology can do really is to crack open the door very very slightly on the possibility that there may be some uber-intelligence floating above it all that we can never comprehend.

    If there is an evidence/logic-based theology in defense of any particular “personal” god, it has been concealed very carefully.

  • Author comment by David Hume · May 16, 2010 at 3:59 am

    Second, blaming the monks for refusing to transcribe classical works that were hostile to the Christian tradition or to theism in general is an example of such ignorance. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the medieval manuscript tradition will know that Christian monks copied pagan works — including Lucretius — and that virtually all of the copies of classical texts from the pagan world we have exist because of Christian monks (and Muslim scholars too) copied those texts. These religious belivers copied pagan texts, non-theist texts, erotic poetry (Ovid and Catallus, for example), with tremendous devotion to preserving those texts for the future. Virtually every classical text we have we have because of those Christian monks, starting with St. Benedict and lasting all the way through the High Middle Ages. Aristotle’s preservation has much to do with the work of Muslim scholars during the peak of Islamic civilization during the Middle Ages as well.

    mark, DID YOU READ MY POST? what kind of commenter cites lucretius to refute my ignorance WHEN I CITED THE PRESERVATION OF LUCRETIUS IN MY POST. jesus, and i’m not a retard to go blaming the monks. my point is that even if there were medieval scholastics who had atheistic opinions in a time where labor for transcription was precious they wouldn’t copy what they perceived as heretical or offensive unless there was major didactic purpose. since there were plenty of those arguments from antiquity there wasn’t a didactic purpose. don’t lecture me about classical history. if you read my posts you’ll be aware that i know quite a bit about that, and my interests in the area of transcription and preservation go deep enough that i dig out monographs on the sabians of haran and their critical role in the abbasid house of wisdom.

    christ. if you take your interlocutors for fools the only discourse you’ll have will be quite foolish (granted, many of the commenters who show up on on this weblog are stupid, but that’s pretty typical on the web).

  • J. · May 16, 2010 at 7:36 am

    If there is an evidence/logic-based theology in defense of any particular “personal” god, it has been concealed very carefully.

    Well, one might ask whether evidentialism holds in all cases (that’s not to approve of religious fundamentalists, but to play…mystic’s advocate for a few nano-seconds). Most humans probably don’t base their decision to believe purely on the scriptural evidence. Many have been…conditioned as christians (muslims, jew, hindus, etc)–that’s what they were taught to believe. And a church offers comforts, business connections, safety, choir practice, pancake breakfasts, etc. A purely truth functional approach to religion often misses the point

    SRsters probably don’t care for Marx–and he had issues–but he understood that social function of religion. His comment re “religion as opium of the masses” didn’t mean that it was all BS–rather religion offers some respite (and a great deal of superstition as well). Theists don’t want their little worlds rocked by realism, Darwinist or otherwise. Their faith offers a rallying cry–whether it’s boneheaded baptists or mormons barking about pre-verts or Lamanites, or jihadists waging war against infidels…Herd mind, in Nietzschean terms.

  • Susan · May 16, 2010 at 8:00 am

    I always assumed religion was invented as a form of crowd control by those who recognized that a lot, if not most, people have “spiritual” yearnings, and exploited that fact. Sure, mine’s a simplistic explanation, but the basic message certainly of Christianity is “behave…or else.”

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · May 16, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Nice to see Lucretius get a mention. Was there such a good literary/imaginative exposition of atheism between him and Nietzsche?

  • Snippet · May 16, 2010 at 10:25 am

    >>> I always assumed religion was invented as a form of crowd control by those who recognized that a lot, if not most, people have “spiritual” yearnings, and exploited that fact. Sure, mine’s a simplistic explanation, but the basic message certainly of Christianity is “behave…or else.”

    FWIW, I think this is close, but I don’t think that it was orchestrated by overlords who realized people need religion.

    I think (pace Nicholas Wade) that religion evolved as a strategy that worked better than the alternative at cohesivizing societies.

    However, I do think there has been (and continues to be) a fair amount of insincere religiousity on the part of some people at the top (Barack Obama??) who believe it is necessary to model behavior/beliefs that they think their intellectual inferiors should follow.

  • Snippet · May 16, 2010 at 10:27 am

    J.

    Good point. Many people are religious as the result of personal experience, and that personal experience – mystical, spiritual… – is their evidence.

    And, if the experience is sufficiently powerful, it’s all the evidence a lot people need.

  • Susan · May 16, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Snippet, I don’t think we’ll have an openly atheist/agnostic/apatheistic president in the foreseeable future. I’m sure we’ve HAD ones who’ve been closet non-believers or doubters–or just indifferent to the whole schmear. Obama may be one of those, despite the fact that he’s apparently made more references to Jesus in his public utterances than did his predecessor. If the majority of the electorate insists that a candidate have a religious affiliation, then any candidate who came right out and identified him or herself as an atheist or agnostic would self-destruct in the polls.

    It would be great if someone running for office could say: “Hey, I don’t happen to be religious, but I certainly have no objection to anyone else’s beliefs as long as they don’t entail flying large planes into tall buildings or taking a machete to intransigent cartoonists.” But I can’t see that happening soon.

  • Kevembuangga · May 16, 2010 at 11:04 am

    @Snippet

    Doesn’t saying “there may be some uber-intelligence floating above it all that we can never comprehend.” implies that you know what intelligence IS even if you cannot comprehend its working?
    If so, could you please explain what intelligence is or at least how you recognize it?
    I am very much interested in knowing that if you can help.
    If this is only the usual empty blather from religionists I would be very disappointed. :-)

  • Kevembuangga · May 16, 2010 at 11:20 am

    @Susan

    If the majority of the electorate insists that a candidate have a religious affiliation, then any candidate who came right out and identified him or herself as an atheist or agnostic would self-destruct in the polls.

    That’s the “nice” side of democracy, power to the morons (by proxy).

  • b.a. · May 16, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    @Kevembuangga

    Saying that something “may be possible” is not the same as saying you believe it to be, or that it definitively is so(which is what religionists actually do.) Saying that it “may be” doesn’t imply anything other than that one has curiosity and imagination about the unknown. There are lower lifeforms out there(microbes, insects etc) which don’t have the capacity to comprehend our existence as humans. Therefore, it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that there could be exponentially higher lifeforms that we as humans do not have the means to comprehend. The realm of possibilities however, is a ginormous place, filled mostly with things that turn out not to be the case. That’s why it’s better to remain on the side of the evidence,(in this case Atheism) especially in the context of religion, because support for the detailed claims of specific faiths rests on some of the flimsiest proof imaginable(parables, hearsay, gossip among ancient uneducated peoples)but that doesn’t mean one should stop being curious altogether. Still, I would prefer if religious people didn’t demand to have the outrageous doctrines and hokey customs of their far-fetched beliefs incorporated into public policy(and with such self assuredness!) but rather they would take their individual religion for what it is, one of many highly unlikely possibilities.

  • Snippet · May 16, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    >>> @Snippet

    Doesn’t saying “there may be some uber-intelligence floating above it all that we can never comprehend.” implies that you know what intelligence IS even if you cannot comprehend its working?

    I don’t have any sophisticated definition of intelligence, assuming (naively??) that it’s a pretty well understood concept.

    If I had to define it, I suppose that, for the sake of this particular discussion, I’d try something like: “The ability to create a universe.”

  • Snippet · May 16, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    Susan,

    You never know how long it will take for an open atheist to be president-able.

    Things tend to move fast sometimes.

    Remember the Soviet Union?

    That thing fell in the blink of an eye. At least that’s the way it felt to this guy, whose youth was tortured by fears of nuclear winter, domino effects, and all that good stuff.

    But, for the record, I “feel” (squish word) that Obama’s religion isn’t totally sincere.

    Just a whiff I get sometimes.

    I can’t P-R-O-V-E it, so by my own standards, I better just keep my mouth shut.

    Forget I said anything.

  • Kevembuangga · May 16, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    @Snippet

    I don’t have any sophisticated definition of intelligence, assuming (naively??) that it’s a pretty well understood concept.

    Oh! I see, like pornography! :-)
    So, basically you admit you don’t know what you are talking about, using words without being able to give a semblance of meaning.
    I suppose the word “god” is also a pretty well understood concept.

    Also:

    If I had to define it, I suppose that, for the sake of this particular discussion, I’d try something like: “The ability to create a universe.”

    Nice circular definition.
    As I expected, empty blather, no content, just emotional overtones.
    Remember, the Muslims beat you at that…

  • Mark in Spokane · May 17, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Susan,

    I think that your approach by an atheist candidate would be refreshing and very positive development for our polity. The fundamental questions when candidates for office present themselves to the electorate should regard: 1) their fidelity to our system of government — will they protect and defend our constitutional order, both separating church from state and protecting freedom of religion (for example); and 2) their concrete policy ideas for governance. Insofar as they can provide a positive answer to #1, their religious views or lack thereof are irrelevant. Now, a Hitchens/Dawikins type atheist, who proposes that the State remove the children of religious believers from the parents’ home in order to forcibly indoctrinate them into atheism — well, such a politician (besides being electorally non-viable in any decent society) wouldn’t pass the constitutional muster.

    Mr. Hume,

    I did read your post, particularly your language here:

    “Additionally, in an era where written works were copied in religious institutions the likelihood of atheistic arguments being transcribed seem rather low (there were already pre-Christian works, such as those of Lucretius, which were useful as examples to refute).”

    I still dispute your point — there is significant evidence within the medieval manuscript tradition (and you can read Christian scholars like C.S. Lewis in his scholarly work and Christopher Dawson in his work on the formation of the western humanist culture) who went out of their way to preserve arguments from pagan and non-theist antiquity, not simply so they could refute the arguments, but that they might be preserved for the future. As hard as it is for some to admit, many of the medievals had a love for learning and inquiry every bit as great as moderns do. Thomas Aquinas, for example, went out of his way to discuss the works of pagan and Muslim writers, yes partly to refute them, but also to validate them and to foster discussion in the academic circles of the West at the time. It is because of those monks — and their love of learning, not just their hope to mine proof texts from the past to refute — that we have virtually all of the classical patrimony. And they did copy atheist arguments, Mr. Hume — the manuscripts and the margins are full of them. Part of the problem, and we know this from reading Aristotle and Plato, is that there weren’t that many atheists in the classical world either.

  • Author comment by David Hume · May 17, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    mark, you’re kind of being an asshole. i’m not saying many of the things you impute to me. e.g.,:”As hard as it is for some to admit, many of the medievals had a love for learning and inquiry every bit as great as moderns do. ” where the fuck did i say anything that would elicit that? how can you think that i’m as retarded to think this? or are you arguing with others in the “some” despite responding specifically to me? no wonder you included a specious section on the preservation of lucretius in your comment despite the fact that i mention the preservation of lucretius itself. is this some form of obscure argumentation which i’m ignorant of where you cite data which don’t bear on your interlocutors’ points?

    i’m not saying anything about the medieval scholastic love of learning, or not. i’m making a note of the limitations of time & labor which would skew what we know about antiquity. this is obvious. economics assumes scarcity. the arabs did not translate many of the humanistic works of the ancients. they didn’t care for them nearly as much as they did for philosophy and proto-science. with limited time and labor such choices are going to occur. it is thanks to the byzantines that we have the ancient plays of sophocles and such. similarly, the carolingian translation effort is one reason why we have so many latin works (naturally the arabs and greeks were not going to focus on latin works unless there was a translation into an eastern language). these periods also serve as major choke points. aquinas’ love of learning is somewhat irrelevant, as the abbassid and carolingian choke points (and the byzantine one of the 10th century) are going to define what he has access too. 99+% of classical works are lost to us. that’s pretty clear since the works we have constantly cite works, or extract them, which we have no copies of but which were obviously widely circulated in antiquity.

    now, you can assert that there’d be no bias in transcription and copying before the printing press. that’s fine. but i object to you arguing with strawmen mark. he who makes of their interlocutors retards shall be mired in retarded arguments (and yes, this includes the new atheists quite often too, as per your original argument. but as someone interested in classical and medieval history because of pure intellectual interest, i find your imputations offensive and tiresome. it seems to me that you wanted to get into an argument which i didn’t make convenient, but you pretend that i’m a retard anyway to facilitate that).

  • Mark in Spokane · May 17, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    First, why are you using offensive language in your replies? Granted this is your blog (in part), but to refer to me with crude language when I have not used such crude language to begin with is really uncalled for. Civility, sir. That’s what I was always raised to believe was a conservative virtue regardless of one’s theological or metaphysical convictions.

    Second, I am not saying you are “retarded.” First, I would never use such a phrase or term to describe someone, as per my first point. I am shocked, really, that you would even use the word like this. I understand the young folks throw the word around, but really, that doesn’t make its use right.

    Third, you yourself are creating more than a bit of a strawman here in your response to my points. I am not arguing there was no “bias in transcription and copying” — simply that there is no evidence that there was some monkish attempt to doctor the record of what we have. Was much of the classical patrimony lost? Yes. But if one looks through the medieval copies of the classical texts we do have (and the marginalia of those copies as well — often the really interesting stuff that one learns from the manuscripts are from the margins!) there isn’t any evidence of intentional scrubbing or deliberate attempts to push texts out of memory. If one looks, for example, at the early Catholic monastic tradition (really early, Augustine and John Cassian and Benedict) one sees a deliberate move to preserve classical pagan texts that were contrary to the teachings of the Catholic faith. Boethius (a Catholic layman), for example, who was considered a saint in the medieval church, worked mightily at this act of preservation.

    You have now changed your argument at bit, arguing for scarcity of resources as the basis of why texts were lost. And I think that this assertion is quite right — texts were lost because of finite human resources and time. That was not, however, your original assertion — the assertion I initially replied to. That assertion was that the monks preserved atheistic arguments from antiquity only to have examples to refute. As you put it (this is the second time I have quoted your actual language, btw):

    “Additionally, in an era where written works were copied in religious institutions the likelihood of atheistic arguments being transcribed seem rather low (there were already pre-Christian works, such as those of Lucretius, which were useful as examples to refute).”

    That’s a different argument that mere scarcity of resources — it states that the purpose of Christian transcription of the classical atheist patrimony (such as it was, which wasn’t much) as being guided by collecting “examples to refute.” I think that is simply wrong. Christian monks copied all sorts of stuff — and wrote in even more stuff in the margins of the manuscripts — that indicates they weren’t, for the most part, engaging in an attempt to purge the memory of Western civilization. Did some monks in some obscure monastery seek to do so? I would concede for sake of argument that they did so. But did the mainstream monastic tradition (the Benedictines, Augustinians, the various eastern Orthodox monasteries, etc.)? There isn’t any evidence for that, and in fact the evidence is quite the contrary.

    For the most part, the monks weren’t simply preserving texts as a way to argue in favor of theism against atheism — “ah, look at those godless pagans like Lucretius, poor souls just didn’t have the light of the Gospel” — instead they were doing something much more ambitious, much more noble, much more humanistic, and (I would argue) much more Christian: they were seeking to preserve the heritage of a decaying civilization, both the parts they agreed with and the parts they didn’t. They were engaged in an inherently conservative effort. They should get the credit for that, even if one disagrees with the validity of their religious views.

  • Author comment by David Hume · May 17, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    there isn’t any evidence of intentional scrubbing or deliberate attempts to push texts out of memory.

    I NEVER SAID THAT! i’m being offensive with you because i’m offended by your restatement of what i’m trying to say in a way that mistates what i’m trying to say. i’m calling you an asshole because i hate commenters like you. i really detest you. my point in engaging in comments isn’t to win arguments, it’s to learn. but when people like you twist what i’m saying, i think you’re lying by rewriting what i’m saying, i get really enraged. REALLY FUCKING ENRAGED. i hate the moronic arguments people have on the web to score points. you’re fucking talking to an atheist who reads books like Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years in 2 days because i’m interested in the topic. do you know how much shit like what you’re doing enrages me? you’re totally misrepresenting the gist of a few sentences. totally misrepresenting, and refusing to admit that’s what you did. you’re doing it sincerely because you think i meant X when i mean Y, but when called on it you continue to engage in mind-reading as to what i meant in those few sentences.

    you obviously misunderstood what i was getting at. when i use a word like “likelihood” i’m indicating a bias of unspecified quantity, not some massive conspiracy or necessary conscious rational act. have i cleared this up? your original citation of lucretius was bizarre in the extreme. why did you do that? is that a stock response you have?

    as for the source of my rage, i do not believe in an afterlife. i become enraged having to waste my time with people, and i feel my time wasted. i feel i’m marching toward oblivion, and having to engage someone who i feel is purposely misrepresenting me to score points uses precious time where i could be learning from people. you don’t think you’re misrepresenting me, but you are doing that if you continue to assert i said X when i indicate i didn’t mean to say that all. though perhaps you think language is totally transparent and never subject to interpretation!

    i’m sure you have a legit beef with ignorant atheists who don’t know what they’re talking about. i am not one of those. i’m not boasting, i know a shit-load about church history, and read a fair amount on the topic. instead of giving me the benefit of the doubt you continued to misrepresent my mild assertions to the extreme to make your point. fine. and with that, i’m ending this exchange and plan never to respond to you again.

  • Snippet · May 18, 2010 at 5:39 am

    Time to make the switch to decaf?

  • Mark in Spokane · May 18, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Well, sorry to read that the exchange is over. Or not, given the tone you’ve chosen to take. The ad hominum, etc., really isn’t very flattering — to you, not to me. Unremarkably, I feel not one bit more any of the things that you called me than I did before you called me any of them. And, equally unremarkably, I walk away no more impressed with your knowledge of theology than I was before, and in fact less impressed due to your need to resort to obscenity to make a point. That is never a sign of confidence, IMHO.

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