Sunday, January 31, 2010

Although They Claimed To Be Rational, They Became Irrational

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man of the man who has never been able to conceive of the Atlantic as anything more than so many million tons of cold salt water as he quiped about the person who interprets his world strictly from a material perspective. Any feelings of awe that might be experienced by a man standing next to such a vast body of water are simply explained away by that man as nothing more than electrical currents shooting around in the brain. His feelings are then meaningless, just as is his existence.

God has granted man with this ability to reason, but man has taken that ability and applied it in ways that are… well, unreasonable. It would seem that as man’s knowledge about his world increases, so does his willingness to believe that his world is all there is. Using his increased knowledge as a springboard he attempts to make a leap from his increased knowledge about his physical world to determining how man ought to be, but in so doing he falls into the chasm of the irrational, for it does not follow that merely because man learns how his world works, that he also knows why his world works-or why it exists either for that matter-for his conclusions about what he ought to do or be are based, not on what he has learned, but instead on the mere fact that he has learned. It is not reasonable to conclude that "survival of the fittest" would in any way suggest that we ought to “save and protect the weak". It is irrational to be shocked and appalled when, after mandating that “survival of the fittest”, be taught exclusively to the next generation in our educational institutions as the only rationally acceptable bases for our existence, when that generation conducts itself as if it is true.

The irrationality of man's attempted leap can also be seen in what we are told ought to be legislated, educated, and sacrificed in our lives. From seemingly every cultural institution and corner we are flooded with an ever increasing array of causes that involve everything from feeding the poor to saving the planet.  These causes are begging for our participation and the realignment of our society. Never is an explanation as to why we ought to devote and sacrifice our lives to these causes given beyond the end for which the causes exist. All of these irrational causes seem to have one thing in common. They seem to be herding humanity toward some ultimately irrational utopian vision; the hope, one might suppose, being that those utopian ends will one day finally be achieved for some future generation before the sun burns out.

But then the sun burns out.

Yet we are told that belief in the existence of a creator is irrational. But by denying the existence of a creator, we have also denied any rational bases upon which to conclude that man ought to do anything at all except eat, drink and be merry through any means available or necessary during his short time of ultimately meaningless consciousness, for these are the very things his evolved mind tells him to do; and the grave is his reward weather he does them or not. It would only seem rational therefore for the rational mind to say, why not? For this reason, it should be no surprise that man’s “causes” ultimately begin to look and feel more and more like the religions that are so despised for being irrational.

This may also explain the abysmal success rate for many such causes as well, for staying true to the materialism that animates the causes; success is judged solely by material. Success is seen then as the spiritually-impoverished wealthy successfully mandating that material wealth be taken by force from other spiritually-impoverished wealthy for the purposes of divvying the booty for the exaltation and enrichment of the takers and pittances for the spiritually and materially impoverished. Never mind the long term ramifications of lost dignity, destroyed families, drug abuse, illiteracy, suicides, fatherlessness, hopelessness, lawlessness, and dilapidated and deteriorating inner cities where the recipients of this kind of guilt-assuaging materialistic pittances are retained. That such maladies are the result of spiritual problems that ever more material cannot alleviate is lost on those who are themselves spiritually-impoverished. The rational mind might would want to stop and consider the results of the materialist’s crusade, but then again, that would be a rational thing to do.

So round and round the irrational vortex society spirals in its irrational denial that man is the handy work of his creator God. And with its denial that it is reasonable and rational to think that there is more to life than our small minds can grasp, so goes the denial of our only hope, a hope that can ultimately compel the hearts and minds of men to real and true greatness and goodness, the hope that we were all created for a purpose, and that there is way more to life than mere material gratification can fulfill.

27 comments:

Susan said...

Prasie God for the simplicity of Faith in a Him as my Triune God: Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

Stan said...

Well written. You need to write more often. ;)

Nancy said...

Cake gazing...always leads to a bite....even if just a little one...

ExPatMatt said...

Dan,

That was a very nicely written piece, I have to say.

One beef that I have is with this bit;

"It is not reasonable to conclude that "survival of the fittest" would in any way suggest that we ought to “save and protect the weak"."

You are, of course, right. It is irrational to think that a description of how nature operates should be taken as a suggestion of how we ought to live. So it's a good job that nobody is advocating that, isn't it? Although, you seem to think they are.

To clarify, even Richard Dawkins (as staunch a Darwinist as you can find) says that the descriptions of nature that Darwin wrote about should never be taken as prescriptions of how people should behave.

You continue;

"It is irrational to be shocked and appalled when, after mandating that “survival of the fittest”, be taught exclusively to the next generation in our educational institutions as the only rationally acceptable bases for our existence, when that generation conducts itself as if it is true."

Again, 'survival of the fittest' is a shorthand description of how nature operates. Do you disagree that the members of a species that are 'fittest' for survival are the ones that tend to survive? If so, what is your basis for your disagreement?

And, once again, just because we do see this in nature and just because we teach what we see in nature in science classes, this in no way is a prescription for how people ought to behave in a society that is about more than instinct and survival.

Do you think we should avoid teaching that male lions often cannibalize the young from other males as a way to ensure that their genes are the ones that are passed on? I mean, kids could take this to mean that they ought to go out and eat some babies right away, right?

Regards,

Jeremy D. Troxler said...

Dan,

Great work as always. Two quotes came to mind immediately when reading your article. One by Lewis, I think, and one by Ravi from a number of his presentations.

Lewis remarked of how if humankind today are just cosmic accidents with no good reason why we are here as opposed to not being here, then those who would propound materialistic explanations for everythings are merely one cosmic accident giving an explanation to another cosmic accident. I think that speaks to your comments on eliminating the supernatural but imposing some level of "oughtness" to our actions.

Which leads me to the Ravi comment, which paraphrased goes something like, 'when we eliminate God someone must take His place. It will be some men who will be God, and eventually some man, the clinched fist or the phallus; Hitler or Hugh Heffner.' When discussions of virtuous behavior comes up we are taken to local law enforcement or preservation of society to 'dictate' to everyone how to behave such that we don't just destroy ourselves. That, however, is no basis for the idea that one "ought" to do the 'right' thing. Morality just becomes a mockery under such a system.

One more from G.K. Chesterton this time worth thinking about. He said that if God is removed, the danger is not that man will believe in nothing, but that man will believe anything.

Great post.

Dan said...

Mat

Thank you for the complement, and I really mean that.

The point of this post was to counter the assertion of the irrationality of the belief in God by demonstrating that the atheists have their own issues with the irrational.

I keep meaning to do a post on the underlying foundation of your questions. It involves the irrational position from which the atheist makes his argument. I personally like to call it an ex nihilo-or from nothing-argument. Beckwith and Koukl subtitled their book "Relativism" with "Feet Planted Firmly in Mid-Air" which is also based on this point.

I think most people see or experience the God argument from the perspective of the trench they occupy. The A-Theist trench asserts that there is no God. But by making this assertion, they exhaust themselves. They have nothing left from which to assert any prescription at all, unless they resort to violence, then we are back to might makes right, in which case it would then logically follow that right at any given time would depend on who holds the might.

An attempt to prescribe anything at all otherwise then becomes a leap, even if someone like Dawkins prescribes that it would be wrong to prescribe. The rational question would seem always to be "says who"?

Now I am quick to say that these are not necessarily arguments for the existence of God, only the ramifications of there being no God; ramifications that I find atheists attempting to mitigate by borrowing concepts of good and evil from the Theist's camp.

I will use some of your questions as an example:

1. "So it's a good job that nobody is advocating that, isn't it?

From an atheist's perspective the word good here, in terms of universal good, begs for a reference point. I could actually make the argument that it is bad to advocate that we help the weak for they will pollute the gene pool. Who's to ultimately say that that would be wrong? Moreover, this is a good like giving a person a set of crutches after breaking their legs. Why not just not break their legs in the first place? Besides, it is not rational to teach that life is meaningless and that it is wrong to behave as if life is meaningless?

2. Dawkins says that the descriptions of nature that Darwin wrote about should never be taken as prescriptions of how people should behave.

Who is Dawkins to make such a prescription?

3. "this in no way is a prescription for how people ought to behave..."

So then it would not be wrong if people did behave in this way, which I contend that some do.

4. ...in a society that is about more than instinct and survival."

How do you arrive at this conclusion?

5"I mean, kids could take this to mean that they ought to go out and eat some babies right away, right?"

Who's to say that it would be wrong if they did?


Personally,I was challenged to pray when confronted with these very truths-truths that are rational-to pray and ask God to reveal himself to me. I did, because I felt that I really needed to know.

Dan said...

Jeremy

Thanks for your insightful comment. I haven't read the Lewis perspective on cosmic accidents, or the Zacharias one either.

Silverfiddle said...

Wow! Nicely said. C.S. Lewis was a brilliant man. You have profited handsomely from reading him.

Joe said...

I Corinthians 1:27ff: "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong."

Those who think themselves wise are universally exposed to be otherwise.

Dan said...

Silver Fiddle, good to see you round these parts. Yes, Lewis was a brilliant man indeed.

Joe,

I'm sure you recognized the title from Romans 1:22.

ExPatMatt said...

Dan,

"Thank you for the complement, and I really mean that."

Well, you can't really thank me for doing something good, can you? I mean it's coming from a place of irrationality, so it doesn't really mean anything, right? ;)

Onwards...

"The point of this post was to counter the assertion of the irrationality of the belief in God"

I'll stop you there to say that I find nothing irrational in believing in a god. Honestly. Nothing irrational about concluding that there's a higher intelligence at play in the universe. I do think that believing in the 'Young Earth' version of the Christian God is irrational though, because it does not comport with reality.

"I keep meaning to do a post on the underlying foundation of your questions."

Please do!

"I think most people see or experience the God argument from the perspective of the trench they occupy."

Yep, people certainly are saddled by their biases.

"The A-Theist trench asserts that there is no God."

Well....kind of. Some atheists do assert 'there is no God' but most atheists (that I know, anyway) merely lack a belief in gods as oppose to actively asserting that they don't exist. [minor quibble]

"But by making this assertion, they exhaust themselves. They have nothing left from which to assert any prescription at all, unless they resort to violence"

WHAT?! Where did that come from? Could you please explain this almighty leap of yours?


"then we are back to might makes right"

Which is the basis for your belief system - God is the mightiest and therefore the rightiest being in existence, right? He is to be feared, right?

"in which case it would then logically follow that right at any given time would depend on who holds the might."

I think your logic is broken.

Continued in Part 2....

ExPatMatt said...

Part 2:

"An attempt to prescribe anything at all otherwise then becomes a leap, even if someone like Dawkins prescribes that it would be wrong to prescribe. The rational question would seem always to be "says who"?"

You're confusing me now. Simple definitions in language are sufficient to say that descriptions are not prescriptions. Nothing wrong with telling things as being the way they are and keeping that distinct from proposing that things 'ought' to be any way at all.

"Now I am quick to say that these are not necessarily arguments for the existence of God, only the ramifications of there being no God;"

I'm not sure that you're accurately representing the position of those who live as if there's no God. [whether or not there is or isn't one]

"ramifications that I find atheists attempting to mitigate by borrowing concepts of good and evil from the Theist's camp."

Good and evil are just words we use to describe behaviour.

1. "So it's a good job that nobody is advocating that, isn't it?

"From an atheist's perspective the word good here, in terms of universal good, begs for a reference point..."

You know, 'good' isn't always about morality. If I say; 'Mmmm, that cake was good!' I am merely making a subjective comment about whether or not I enjoyed the cake; I don't need a universal cake-o-meter to measure the 'goodness' of the cake against.

2. Dawkins says that the descriptions of nature that Darwin wrote about should never be taken as prescriptions of how people should behave.

"Who is Dawkins to make such a prescription?"

I wasn't saying that we should all do what Dawkins says, I was refuting the idea that Darwinists think that 'survival of the fittest' should be applied to social dynamics. That's all.

3. "this in no way is a prescription for how people ought to behave..."

"So then it would not be wrong if people did behave in this way, which I contend that some do."

I'm not saying it is right or wrong, I'm merely saying that a description is not a prescription - why is that so hard to understand?

4. ...in a society that is about more than instinct and survival."

"How do you arrive at this conclusion?"

When was the last time you had to hunt your own food?

5. "I mean, kids could take this to mean that they ought to go out and eat some babies right away, right?"

"Who's to say that it would be wrong if they did?"

Once again, I wasn't making a right/wrong judgment, I was refuting the implication that description = prescription.

To repeat my earlier question;
Do you disagree that the members of a species that are 'fittest' for survival are the ones that tend to survive? If so, what is your basis for your disagreement?

Cheers,

Dan said...

Just so there's no misunderstanding over different meanings of the same word, I think of prescribe as to dictate (Webster's synonym) rules..., like "we can't use "survival of the fittest" as a basis for a prescription of how people should live. Anytime someone says people ought not, or ought to, I see that as a prescription.

ExPatMatt said...

I'm fine with that definition.

Dan said...

Mat

I hope we can continue this conversation in a few days. I have grown quite fund of our exchanges, but I will be away from a computer terminal for a little more than a week.

ExPatMatt said...

Dan,

It's such a shame when 'real' life gets in the way of a good blog-debate, eh?

Take care man, speak soon.

Matt

Jon said...

Great job expounding Lewis' maxim, "Is can never lead to ought." I enjoyed reading your post. I am also currently reading That Hideous Strength, which takes the material from The Abolition of Man and applies it in narrative form. I hope to do a review on it soon, but until then, may it be enough for me to state that it is a book worth reading.

christian soldier said...

Enjoy yourself and come back refreshed!
It'll take me awhile to read your 'dialogue' w/ ExPatMatt...:-)
C-CS

Craig and Heather said...

Interesting piece, Dan.


The Darwinists are right, you know. Survival of the Fittest is a reality. ;)

They just refuse to look far enough up the "food chain" in order to be able to see Who is the last one standing. And He IS a merciful victor in that He's offered shelter and true life to anyone who wants it.

The earth is "dying" and has been since the introduction of sin.

While I can easily ignore the "green agenda" hype and most political causes, my heart absolutely breaks over all of the people who are suffering from famines and war and disease.

Obviously, man is not going to eradicate the effects of sin with feeble attempts at rebuilding a Babel-esque utopia. And I know we have to go through this phase of "labor" before Christ returns.

But still, it's disturbing---

Heather

ExPatMatt said...

Heather,

"The Darwinists are right, you know. Survival of the Fittest is a reality. ;)

They just refuse to look far enough up the "food chain" in order to be able to see Who is the last one standing."


Are you suggesting that God is an individual in a breeding population that is subject to selective environmental pressures? I don't think I've ever heard Him described that way before!

Just a wee joke.

"Obviously, man is not going to eradicate the effects of sin with feeble attempts at rebuilding a Babel-esque utopia."

Shouldn't stop us from trying though, should it?
We are talking about the effects of sin, not an attempt to eradicate sin itself - there's nothing unBiblical about that, is there?

"And I know we have to go through this phase of "labor" before Christ returns."

Any idea when that will be?

Cheers,

Craig and Heather said...

Are you suggesting that God is an individual in a breeding population that is subject to selective environmental pressures? I don't think I've ever heard Him described that way before!

Just a wee joke.


I'm a wee bit amused ;)


Shouldn't stop us from trying though, should it?
We are talking about the effects of sin, not an attempt to eradicate sin itself - there's nothing unBiblical about that, is there?


First, I'm going to define "sin" because most people will simply say it's the evil things we do. If you have a Bible handy, you can read in Romans 1 that the wrong things we do actually come from a thankless, rebellious attitude toward God. Namely, the root problem is the desire to be one's own authority.

The multiple *sins* people commit are simply the resultant effects of an attitude of rebellion. I'm not excusing wrongdoing--just pinpointing the source.

In a largely secular group, it's necessary to manage the effects (acts) of sin(rebellion) because sin-deadened hearts are capable of unbelievable levels of wickedness. Appropriate laws can provide incentive to behave well.
Believers in Christ are forgiven and learning from the Holy Spirit but we are still imperfect. So, even though we desire to measure up to God's standard we generally can benefit from external reminder as well.

To more directly answer your question: It is not unbiblical for a society to demand of individuals or groups physical/financial reimbursement for the causing of harm to others.

However, when we toss out God's standard, it allows for pretty much anyone to step up with an alternative idea of what "sin" is. History testifies to the reality that a godless society tends to lend itself easily to either anarchy or oppression by tyrannical rulers who must forcefully maintain their own standard of right and wrong. These developments can actually compound the sin problem rather than bring relief.


We could look at sin effect management (as opposed to reconciliation with Christ) this way:

If you were diagnosed with lung cancer, would you prefer to just manage the symptoms or would you be hoping to find someone who knew of a permanent cure?

I would suspect that most people would be willing to pay any price and go through any amount of unpleasant (but necessary) treatment if they KNEW that the physician with whom they were dealing would ultimately bring about complete healing.

Jesus Christ is the master physician with an offer of forgiveness, discipline and eternal life to those who truly recognize their need and ask Him to save them.

Any idea when that will be?

Nah. I'm not into date setting.

But I think it is interesting that Jesus used birth terms when speaking of His return. In normal human labor, there are several distinct phases which range from local and tolerable to intense, and fully engaged with no relief between contractions. Personally, I've had labors range between 2.5 and 10 hours. Some women go for days.

There are "signs". But it is not possible to predict precisely when the baby will finally emerge. We're told to be ready always, though--just like the expectant mom who keeps a bag packed in order to be prepared to leave for the hospital at any time.

Even those who die before Christ returns will stand before Him as either a welcome friend or vanquished enemy.

Take care.

Heather

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Susannah said...

This is an exquisite post, Danny. Thank you.

"That such maladies are the result of spiritual problems that ever more material cannot alleviate is lost on those who are themselves spiritually-impoverished."

Ah, such wisdom. And this is our bottom line, isn't it?

Susannah said...

Whasssuupp Dan?? Where ya been?

Hope all is well!

Dan said...

Hi Susan and thanks for asking. I hope to start posting again soon. All is well here.

El Cerdo Ignatius said...

Dan! Glad to hear you're well. Looking forward to your return to this space.

Dan said...

Thanks ECI, Good to hear from you.