Saturday, May 23, 2015

Does Atheism Truly Lead to Nihilism?

A popular assumption among theists in American culture today is that atheism and nihilism are somehow inherently joined at the hip. As Steve Hays of Triablogue puts it in a recent blog entry, “atheism entails moral and existential nihilism.”

According to this belief, if one is an atheist, then he is either an outright nihilist, or at best a nihilist in denial. Atheism is assumed by Christians to have so irresistible a gravitational pull to nihilism that escape is not possible. Given this, it is further reasoned, theism is to be preferred as though it prevailed by default, without the need to show that any of its tenets are objectively true. If you don’t want to be a nihilist, you’ll have to be a theist, and since every form of theism other than Christianity is supposedly invalid, Christianity is characterized as the only viable alternative to nihilism. These assumptions, as self-serving as they are for the apologetic program, are often re-asserted by believers to keep them alive and consequently provide a source of consolation for the converted. It’s one of the locks that evangelists put on the door to keep believers in the fold.

To be sure, many outspoken atheists are completely unhelpful in correcting this misguided view since they frequently supply the theists’ confirmation bias with ready offerings which only serve to reinforce it. But in fact, unbeknownst to these atheists (as well as the theists who equate atheism with nihilism), they are more often than not borrowing from the Christian worldview, having accepted a number of its core features (e.g., the human mind is impotent, reason is “the greatest enemy that faith has,” absolutes can be possible only if they are a product of some dictatorial authority – e.g., the state, man is naturally predisposed to wrongdoing and injustice and therefore must be subservient to authority, selfishness is evil, sacrifice is virtuous, accepting the unearned is the proper path to a moral future, the good of others is one’s standard of morality, man has a “duty” to obey authority, etc.). With mundane and disappointing predictability, atheists who concede that “moral and existential nihilism” is an inevitable consequence of atheism will be caught carrying such borrowed Christian capital.

Christians who link atheism with nihilism do not consider the matter in such terms since, on the one hand, they are not inclined to understanding worldviews in terms of rational analysis, and on the other, doing so would not further their narrative and also implicate their own worldview’s fundamentals for what they are. Instead, they tend to stick to surface trivialities which can be easily construed as confirmation of their maligning bias against atheism as such and to treat the matter as though it boiled down to “either you believe in the god I imagine, or you’re some kind of moral and intellectual reprobate.” It’s the same kind of tribalism that has torn humanity apart for millennia dressed up in a tawdry guise of pretending to have found all the answers to mankind’s woes while ignoring the devastation and stagnation that religion always brings when it is implemented politically and aligned with state power.

And of course, if quotes from particular atheists can be found to support such a link, so much the better; they will be pushed to the front of the line while anything that does not play into such a narrative will be ignored.

But once we start comparing the philosophical features and implications of religion with those of nihilism, we start to see the kind of kinship that theists would love to be able to peg to atheism as such, but cannot.

Before we delve deeper into this matter, let’s get a definition of nihilism on the table. According to The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy.
Notice the positively affirmed distinctives here: “all values are baseless,” “nothing can be known or communicated,” condemnation of existence, “an impulse to destroy,” etc. Presumably one would have to accept these premises, either implicitly or explicitly, in order to qualify as a nihilist.

Contrast this with atheism. Atheism is essentially nothing more than the absence of god-belief. In this sense, atheism and non-theism are essentially synonymous: while theism is belief in a god (esp. the belief that a god exists), atheism is the negation of this – i.e., the absence of such a belief. Lacking a belief in something, either real or merely imaginary, is not equivalent to a positively affirmed position on anything. For instance, if I lack belief in Santa Claus, one cannot infer from this that I think knowledge is achievable or unachievable, that effort is productive or futile, that relationships with others are important or unworthy, that marriage is sacred or stupid, etc. It could be the case that I have never heard of Santa Claus to begin with (and thus cannot possibly have the belief that Santa Claus is real) and that I have never formulated any opinions on the achievability of knowledge, the nature of effort, the importance of relationships, the value of marriage, etc.

Similarly with atheism: if I do not believe that any gods exist, one cannot infer from this that I therefore believe that “all values are baseless” or that “nothing can be known or communicated.” To make such inferences one would need some positive evidence in support of attributing such positions to me, but my lacking a belief in any gods does not constitute such positive evidence. But it’s entirely possible that a person has never encountered god-belief claims while being very much convinced that values do have a legitimate basis and that things can be known and communicated. Or, as is the case with me, I may have very good reasons to reject theism while wholly embracing the achievability of knowledge, the relevance of values to human life, the ability to know and communicate, etc. In short, there is no logically binding connection linking atheism as such with the distinctives characterizing nihilism.

So the claim that “atheism entails moral and existential nihilism” essentially means that no atheist thinks that values have any basis or that anything can be known or communicated, that every atheist is overcome with “extreme pessimism” and “condemns existence,” that no atheists believe in anything or have any loyalties, that every atheist has “no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy.” On the face of it, such a claim seems utterly absurd. But clinging to absurdities is nothing new to the religious mind. So it should not surprise us that theists associating nihilism with non-belief in their gods would put in a conspicuously weak showing when it comes to arguing for such a claim.

It must be emphasized at this point that atheism as such is not a worldview and thus does not affirm any positively informed philosophical positions about the world, about man, about knowledge, about morality, etc. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, while not consistent with itself, confirms this interpretation when it defines the term ‘atheist’ as follows:
The term “atheist” describes a person who does not believe that God or a divine being exists.
On this understanding, atheism is simply a contrastive concept denoting the absence of belief in a god or gods, and as such this concept is useful to distinguish those who are not theistic from those who are theistic, particularly when the latter category is a sizeable portion of a population, as in the case of the United States.

When one identifies himself as an atheist, he’s only telling us what he does not believe; it does not tell us what he does believe or hold to be true. As Dr. Leonard Peikoff points out in his lecture Religion vs. America:
"Atheism" is a negative; it means not believing in God - which leaves wide open what you do believe in.
And the range of philosophies open to atheists is quite diverse. There are atheists who are dialectical materialists just as there are atheists who are Objectivists. A comparison of Objectivism with dialectical materialism will reveal just how broad the spectrum of worldviews available to atheists really is. It’s even possible for an atheist to hold mystical notions not entirely different from Christianity. For example, Buddhism, a religion which predates Christianity by several centuries, is non-theistic, and certain parallels between Christianity and Buddhism have been frequently cited (e.g., life continues after death, certain teachings like the “golden rule,” concern for “the poor,” the ethics of sacrifice, etc.). Some have even suggested that certain Buddhist teachings, since they predated Christianity by hundreds of years, may have influenced Christianity and were even co-opted by the younger religion in the form of teachings attributed to Jesus.

So to underscore the point: in the truest sense of the term, atheism as such does not affirm a commitment to any particular view about reality, man, knowledge, moral values, etc. This means that no particular positive philosophical view is inherent to atheism. Quite simply, like it or not, atheism is not a philosophical code. This does not imply that atheists (i.e., individuals who do not believe in any gods) necessarily lack a philosophical code. Most have amassed a hodgepodge of imprinting from their surrounding culture, inheriting many assumptions from religion along the way (or never fully shaking them off if they once were religious) without giving much if any attention to integrating their views in any systematic, non-contradictory manner. In this way, many atheists are, like many religionists as well, intellectual mongrels at best.

By contrast, nihilism is in fact a position, not merely a negation or contrast to a position, and as such it makes a number of affirmative assessments about man or reality or both, for example that life is pointless, that nothing really matters, that there is no such thing as moral values, that “despair” is the only proper outcome of any investigation into human nature and life, etc. A lack of a belief in a god or gods (i.e., atheism) does not commit one to any of these positions, either logically or hereditarily, any more than a lack of belief in Islam’s Allah or Buddhism’s Avalokitesvara does. Atheism as such is just as compatible with nihilism as it is with any non-theistic form of anti-nihilistic philosophy, such as Objectivism.

Consider the Age of Enlightenment. Boiled down to its philosophical essence, the Age of Enlightenment – aka the Age of Reason – constituted not only a rejection of the religious view of the world (notice the success that the separation of state and religion has enjoyed in the west since the Age of Enlightenment), but also an embrace of the rational view of the world (so far as this was feasible at the time). It was during the Enlightenment that thinkers demonstrated the power of the human mind when they adopted reason as their source to knowledge and their standard of judgment. (It may be argued that it was primarily because the Enlightenment thinkers failed to adopt reason as their only guide to action that they failed in constructing a consistently rational worldview.) Thus while many Enlightenment thinkers may have still retained certain religious beliefs (as the vast majority of thinkers of the time did), the implicit tenor of their approach to matters of science and knowledge was overtly pro-reason and, therefore, anti-religious. Their effectual rejection of religion did not lead them to nihilism, nor would it have had they adopted a wholly consistent rational approach to knowledge, life and social policy.

A nihilistic view of the world usually begins with a nihilistic view of man. Unfortunately there has been no shortage of philosophers who have apparently made it their mission in life to destroy confidence in the human mind. This tendency can be found in both religion and its secular variants. One such thinker was David Hume. Publishing his book A Treatise of Human Nature in 1739 – a little more than a decade after the death of Sir Isaac Newton (who demonstrated par excellence the immense power of inductive reasoning), Hume shows how a man who does not really want to understand how his own mind works can talk himself into corners of ignorance, concluding that one cannot be certain that a door he just passed through still exists unless he turns and looks directly at it. In his attempt to answer Hume’s radical skepticism, Immanuel Kant gleefully deepened the plunge into the bottomless labyrinth of self-inflicted irrationality in an express effort to make room for faith. And since then things have only continued to get ever worse in the philosophy departments, funded by institutional theft from the populaces which are forced to support them.

Nihilism is at its root a consequence of the choice, conscious or otherwise, to give up on the human mind. It is ultimately a negation of the conceptual level of cognition, the severing of concepts from the perceptual level of consciousness brought to its logical conclusion. This does not mean that we cannot learn how to operate our cell phones or withdraw money from an ATM, or how to get to the mountains for a holiday getaway. Rather, this has to do with crippling our ability to discover and understand the important fundamentals of philosophy which provide a rational framework for our lives by means of firsthand reasoning. Nihilism essentially says that your mind is impotent, for whatever reason, and consequently to acquire knowledge you must accept it from a revealing authority – a god or a state – in passive resignation.

Religion and nihilism, then, are just two sides of the same coin. In fact, nihilism is the ultimate starting point for an adult religious believer. Those who for whatever reason adopt a nihilistic view of themselves and the world will either continue on with it, or find it unsatisfactory for some reason and consequently look to find answers. Christianity can with varying degrees of facility prey upon an adult thinker if he accepts, however implicitly, certain notions on some unseen authority’s mere say so, such as the premises that the human mind is not only ineffectual, but inherently predisposed against the truth (cf. “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness” – Romans 1:18 et al.), that he cannot achieve the good on his own (cf. “there is none that doeth good, no, not one” – Romans 3:12; “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” – Isaiah 64:6 et al.), that there is something wrong with being human simply because one is human (cf. “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” – Romans 5:12), etc. Christianity requires such nihilism to take over a mind before it can move in and set up shop.

Nihilism breeds the presumption that there’s nothing one can do about his predicament of deficiency and depravity, for this is something he has inherited from the reality he was born into. Like Christianity, nihilism implies that one is ultimately helpless if left to his own devices. It also treats man as though he were a passive participant in his own life, pushed hither and thither either by angels or demons as a cog in a giant wheel called “God’s plan,” or by one’s “environment” and whatever mechanism of intervention implemented by the state. If there’s something actually wrong with an individual, it’s essentially congenital, a “sin,” a deficiency as a matter of a birthright that he did not choose. Either way, the nihilist can’t help but see himself as inherently a victim of circumstances beyond his control, but guilty at the same time by virtue of heredity as well as for crimes he’s encouraged to imagine himself having committed.

Ultimately, since there’s nothing an individual himself can do about his situation (again, his righteousnesses are as “filthy rags”), someone else must come to the rescue, someone else must pay, someone else must be sacrificed. In the case of Christianity, this someone else is Jesus, the “fully God, fully man” who died on the cross in order to bury man’s sin and guilt once and for all (even though sin seems to persist with each passing year). In the case of an authoritarian state, this someone else is the nameless “society,” something no less imaginary than the Christian believer’s Jesus.

So like Christianity, nihilism holds that the human mind is impotent to discover and validate knowledge. Hence, for Christianity, we need truths to be “revealed” to us by some supernatural being; in nihilism, we need the state to dictate its whims. Since on either view answers to life’s fundamental questions cannot be ascertained by investigating the world we find here before us by looking outward, we must look elsewhere, namely to the supernatural or the equally imaginary “State,” neither of which can be objectively discovered by looking outward.

We can see how this plays out in today’s political spectrum in the pitting of liberals against conservatives. If you’ve ever suspected that there’s more in common between these two tribal factions than either side lets on, you’re right. Has anyone else ever noticed how the modern state is becoming more and more like the god imagined by Christianity’s faithful? Like the Christian god is supposed to be, the state today has become an all-knowing, all-seeing voyeur-authority whose scrutiny is inescapable and irresistible. It holds total power over the individual and, if it so desires, will punish every infraction or offer clemency, but only with a price. It demands unquestioning obedience and has the ability to destroy lives. Whether it’s Hurricane Katrina or an audit by the IRS, either way your goose is cooked.

The underlying worldview of both sides, today’s conservatives and the liberal left, point unequivocally towards such an almighty authoritarian leviathan. The dirty little secret is that, philosophically they are joined at the hip. Both sides have renounced reason as the epistemological standard for knowledge, morality and judgment. And this is clear in both sides’ unmistakable embrace of authoritarianism. The liberals endorse the authority of an almighty state while the conservatives endorse the authority of an almighty god. This further plays out in terms of their respective approaches to sanctions: the authority of an almighty state pursues its ends by crippling men through material sanctions: taxation, regulation, subsidies, penalties, etc., ultimately through the threat of a gun; the authority of an almighty god pursues its ends by crippling men through psychological sanctions: guilt, fear, obedience, humility, etc., through the threat of eternal damnation. Both have ultimately the very same thing in common: the subjugation of the individual to someone else’s will. The only question becomes: who gets to him first?

So I would argue not only that nihilism is compatible with at least some atheistic philosophies as well as theism, but also that nihilism is a fundamental view of man which, once accepted, can lead one to either some form of religion or a secular variant of the same which shares religion’s inherent anti-reality, anti-man and anti-rational proclivities. Nihilism, then, can be said to be the handmaiden of authoritarianism, either religious or secular.

The nihilistic bond between religion and its secular counterparts should not be so difficult to grasp. If nihilism is essentially the view that the human mind is impotent (and all the fallout that this implies regarding his mind, his life, his values, etc.), that one cannot discover facts and truths, moral or otherwise, by means of reason, then clearly the religious view of the world as well as its secular variants have a fundamental presumption of nihilism in common with one another.

Both religion and its secular variants (i.e., those secular worldviews which reject reason in favor of some form of authoritarianism in the spheres of knowledge and morality) require the individual to surrender his rational faculties and place his faith in authority figures to issue or “reveal” the truth to him, a truth which he cannot discover and validate on his own so-called “unaided reason.” He has to be told that murdering and lying and stealing are wrong. Why are they wrong? Because an authority figure says so, that’s why. He has to be told that he is his brother’s keeper, and that if he happens to be well off, he has a duty to help those who are not so well off. Why is this the case? Because an authority figure says so. He has to be told that governing his choices and actions by self-interest is vicious and that the virtuous thing to do is to be willing to sacrifice himself to strangers simply because they have not earned what he has earned. Why is this the case? Because an authority figure says so. He has to be told that he should be willing either to die or to kill if he is commanded to do so. Why is this the case? Because an authority figure says so.

Both the state-worship of the liberals and the supernatural-worship of the conservatives, then, share several fundamental tenets in common, namely:
- the abnegation of the sovereignty of one’s own mind
- the subjugation of the individual to authority
- the renunciation of the human mind as ultimately impotent
- the duty to sacrifice one’s own self-interest
- the duty to concern oneself with others
Put briefly, both the liberals (i.e., secularized religionists) and the conservatives (supernatural religionists), advocate the very same thing boiled down to one single tripartite directive to the individual, which is:
1. Surrender your mind
2. Surrender your values
3. Surrender your life
On each fundamental, then, the commonality between the liberals and the conservatives is: obedience to authoritarianism, whether it is the state or the Christian god. Let us ask:
How often does one find the folks on Christian apologetic blogs advocating and defending reason as the proper epistemological method for man’s mind, as the proper standard of judgment, and as the proper guide to an individual’s choices and actions?
Answer: BLANK OUT.

Let us also ask:
If I have reason, why do I need someone to tell me what to believe?
If I have reason, why do I need someone to tell me what to think?
If I have reason, why do I need someone to tell me what I need?
If I have reason, why do I need someone to tell me what to do?

Question: What’s present in all this?

Answer: Subordination to authority and renunciation of rational self-interest.

What’s missing in all this?

Answer: Commitment to reason and resolve to further one’s own interests.

Here’s another question: What specifically does the bible say about values? There are a few passing references to values (see for example here), but merely using the word ‘value’ here and there is vastly insufficient to constitute a self-consciously developed axiology. Where does Jesus talk about values? What are values according to what the bible teaches, why might they be important, what is their purpose, and whom are they supposed to benefit (if anyone)? And how can any pro-value teaching be reconciled with a worldview which condemns selfishness, treats self-sacrifice as though it were virtuous, and offers “not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42) as the model for proper human behavior? Jesus did not issue a bill of rights, but rather a list of duties. But I have already shown that the very notion of “duties” is hostile to values (see specifically my blog entry Craig’s Eight Arguments for God, Part VII: “God is the best explanation of objective moral values and duties”). So even if Christians might argue that values do have some basis according to Christian teaching, this is of no avail to the morally ambitious individual if he is expected to be willing to sacrifice his values on someone else’s command.

By contrast to both Christianity and the “mainstream atheism” which occupies apologists’ fixation, Objectivists have the Objectivist ethics. According to this set of teachings, the nature of man’s life is the basis of objective values. Man is a biological organism, and as such he faces a fundamental alternative: life vs. death. Certain things and actions are good for man’s life while other things and other actions are not good for his life. The nature of man’s life and the conditions which make his life possible are not subjective projections which can be wished into being, nor can they be affected or altered by commandments. Essentially, man needs values if he wants to live. Objective morality is the application of reason to the task of living. Such moral theory is objective because it is based on and informed by facts relevant to man’s life and the nature of his consciousness, namely a consciousness capable of forming concepts and identifying and integrating facts in conceptual form. The bible does not offer a morality based on facts, but rather a behavioral code based on supernatural (i.e., imaginary) commandments. (For more on this, see my blog entry The Moral Code of Life.)

It is because Objectivist constitutes a full frontal counterexample to the notion that “atheism entails moral and existential nihilism” that theistic apologists are at a loss as to how to overcome its teachings as the proper alternative both to theism as well as “mainstream atheism.” This is why theists who stump for the atheism=nihilism viewpoint, typically shy away from discussing the philosophy of Objectivism in their conversations. And the reason why this is the case is simple: Objectivism, even though it is atheistic, does not confirm their talking points. Apologists are happy to quote atheist philosophers to support their characterization of atheism, but only so far as the passages which they quote support that characterization. Apologists will not be able to quote Objectivist sources which confirm the view that atheism is inherently nihilistic. On the contrary, Objectivism proves such a characterization to be completely false, which is why apologists are happy to ignore anything that Objectivism does in fact affirm. At best, when confronted with Objectivism as an alternative to “mainstream atheism” (to the degree that there is such a beast), apologists can be expected to attribute non-Objectivist views to Objectivism without ever demonstrating that such attributions accurately represent Objectivist positions. But if Objectivism were truly nihilistic, such caricature and misrepresentation would not be necessary.

Of course, Christians have a most embarrassing problem on their hands when it comes to accounting for the rise of nihilism in western culture, and not only because their worldview systemically feasts on nihilistic presumptions and has enjoyed tremendous influence over the development of western culture. Like other forms of mysticism, Christianity is ultimately wholly deterministic, and this stands to reason: if an omnipotent, omniscient and infallible mind created the universe and directs everything that exists and occurs within it (cf. Van Til, “God controls whatsoever comes to pass,” The Defense of the Faith, 3rd ed., p. 160), then naturally everything that happens is whatever the omnipotent, omniscient and infallible mind wants to take place. So, logically, if nihilism starts to crop up in western culture, this must be the result of “God’s will”: the Christian god must have, for all eternity, wanted nihilism to make its popular appearance at this point in time, for whatever whimsical reason it might have intended for it. Put simply, nihilism as the cultural force that it has become today, thanks in fact to the lingering influence of mysticism on a culture that has struggled to extract itself from the influence of religion for centuries, must have been part of “God’s plan” all along.

Consequently, for Christians to rail against nihilism and its influence in western culture today is, to put it bluntly, to offer outright criticism of the Christian god’s chosen handling of the affairs of men on earth. The view that things are wrong or unhealthy in western or any other human civilization, is to say that whatever force is governing the affairs of men on earth is doing something wrong. If men are essentially nothing more than puppets, a moral judgment against men is implicit condemnation of their puppeteer.

If Christians really believe that the increasing pervasiveness of nihilism in western civilization is a bad thing, why don’t they direct their complaints to the imaginary being which their religion has them portray as the “ultimate cause” of everything that exists in the first place? To scorn human beings for the state of affairs that they purportedly find so dissatisfying is quite cowardly; they’re merely getting sore at the effects of the cause rather than at the cause itself. In effect, they are condemning a house for burning down while praising the arsonist for his skill and “grace.” So by condemning secularists for any nihilistic tendencies they might have, is in fact tantamount to a confession that theists really don’t believe what they claim to believe in the first place.

So it should be clear that the claim that “atheism entails moral and existential nihilism” is demonstrably false and is only repeated as a device intended to malign non-Christians and erect an iron curtain of sorts to keep believers from straying from the faith and discovering that the rational life is far more preferable and rewarding.

In a follow-up entry on this topic, I will interact with some statements made by an apologist who continually promulgates the notion that atheism is inherently nihilistic.

By Dawson Bethrick


praestans said...

Hello Dawson

Just to be the Jesus' advocat -

How does wun know wun's reason is valid?

Is reason subjectiv? My reason is better than yours ie 'mor' valid?

Is it sentient so as to be an arbiter?


Justin Hall said...

I am going to assume English is not your primary language and that is alright. However just as a friendly critique, it is not "wun's" It is spelled "one's"

I cant say how Dawson will respond but if someone where to ask me how do I know if my reason is valid I would reply that I know on a case by case examination of my conclusions with an eye to how closely they comport to observable reality.

Bahnsen Burner said...

I think first it needs to be clarified what exactly is being asked here. Is this question about reason as such? Or, is it a question about a specific application of reason? Solid, unassailable answers to either question are certainly available, but only on a pro-reason basis. It should be noted also that attempts to attack such pro-reason answers to such questions always reduce to stolen concepts.

Quite typically, presuppers are asking questions of this nature, not because they are actually interested in reason, but because they want a "gottcha" moment.

If presuppositionalists (like Sye & co.) really understood reason - particularly the relationship between the conceptual and the perceptual levels of cognition - such questions would not persist as they do among presuppositionalists. They're only interested in destroying confidence in the human mind so that they can move in with their mystical fantasies. In this very way they are parasitical and predatory.

As for the question you've asked, praestans, I would be happy to address it if you could clarify it given the points I've raised here.


Anonymous said...

I doubt that praestans is a presuppositionalist. He/She was rather presenting some objections as the press-up would, to get a better understanding of how Dawson answers those things. Also, the phonetic spelling seems to be more of a style than a handicap.

Anyway. Glad to see your writings Dawson.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Thanks, photo, for your comments. As always, your thoughts are welcome, as are those of others.

I don't think praestans is a presupper either. He's commented here before, and for the most part I gather that his views are at least sympathetic to those expressed here. I think he was just raising questions for argument's sake. Also, I'm guessing that he was simply trying to affect a drawl as a background persona to the would-be arguments/queries that might come from actual apologists. No matter, I'm happy to get questions of this sort. In due course, assuming I have time (it's quite limited), I will post an entry on the matter.

As for me, my transition to life back in the States is nearly complete. I've landed a permanent full-time job and begin tomorrow. I'm very happy about that!

Justin, email me when you can. I'm in the PDX area. Let's try to find an opportunity to meet. I have more transitions over the next few weeks (a friend visiting from overseas and relocating to new lodgings), but perhaps we can schedule a meet-up.


Justin Hall said...

I emailed you! Also working on my video response to Peter Pike today as I have it off.

Justin Hall said...

The response to Peter Pike is done and up at my youtube channel.

Justin Hall said...

oops, sorry disregard the earlier link. I had to repost the vid at this link. The audio was way too low.

samonedo said...

Whatching people reasoning against reason is always funny. But I don't think they have reason hehehe

praestans said...

yes, thank you. just to clarify I'm new to this philosophising (not being pejoritiv). I'm an arabist, and once heard ayn rand rant against arabs - I thought: what an ignorant racist cow! it This put me right off. I don't care for racial groupings anyway...I always ask who the first arab/jew/black was. it's all utter guff. and yaron brooks has continued this...if more palestinians are brought under colonisation, the sooner they'll realise how better it is...or something to that effect..

where is this big bumper book of reason so I can read about it? does perception precede conception?

Things have been deemd 'reasonable' in the past but now we know them untrue.
my perception has been rong in the past.

Are people who excel at psychometric tests better at reasoning?

I wonder what reason has to say about dreams. does reason diminish

I suppose I'm seeking congent answers to the usual presup chestnuts: how do you know your reason is valid.

Spelling: I think the spelling conventions are an insult to reason. webster/oed the canonisers of perversity need chuking in the bin. it's more reasonable to spell 'one' 'wun'. I'v rambl'd so I'l stop. If Dosn can extract a question or two from this, all the better.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Alife,

I’m somewhat at a loss for words… That doesn’t happen to me very often. Lots going on in your comment. Is everything okay?

You say you’re “an arabist.” What exactly is that?

You said you “once heard ayn rand rant against arabs” – can you cite where she did this?

You say you “don't care for racial groupings anyway,” but at the same time you’re “an arabist”?

You write “yaron brooks has continued this...if more palestinians are brought under colonisation, the sooner they'll realise how better it is...or something to that effect..”

I’ve listened to a lot of Brook’s lectures. I’ve never heard him advocate “colonisation.” On the contrary, he seems consistently pro-liberty to me. Perhaps you’re interpreting his words differently?

You ask: “where is this big bumper book of reason so I can read about it?”

What exactly are you looking for?

You ask: “does perception precede conception?”

Do you mean conceptualization? Or fertilization of an egg?

You wrote: “Things have been deemd 'reasonable' in the past but now we know them untrue.”

Yes, that’s true. And in every case, the correction has come via reason.

You wrote: “my perception has been rong in the past.”

Can you give an example or three?

You ask: “Are people who excel at psychometric tests better at reasoning?”

I have no idea.

You wrote: “I wonder what reason has to say about dreams.”

I have my own theory of dreams, but I’d prefer to get input from experts in neurology before developing it.

You wrote: “does reason diminish”

Are you using ‘diminish’ reflexively here?

You wrote: “I suppose I'm seeking congent answers to the usual presup chestnuts: how do you know your reason is valid.”

I’ve got some writing projects planned to roll out this summer. If you’re interested this, stick around.

You expressed frustration over spelling in English. You’re not the first! But what can you do?


David Barwick said...

Praestans, I think your comment is a great example of why we DO have spelling conventions. I think you have reasonable questions, but your comment is unclear precisely because your words are often unclear.

I thenk grum@ticl cunvichns r sumtimez to rijd, but speshly n a ritn 4m thay r mportnt 2 cumunekshn.

praestans said...

Hello Dawson

Thank you [plural] for replying - sorry for the stream-of-consciousness finnegan's wak-ish comment.

[As it happens I'm reading Anthony Burgess's Kingdom of the Wicked. Stupendus. But I digres.]

I'll try n respect conventional spelling (>70% -a brobdingnagian improvement). Reminds me'v reaching into a drum full'v offal at the local butchers once in order to feed a cat we had...

'An Arabist' - I take this wurd to mean a specialist in the Arabic Language.
I mean the academic sort rather than any cloak n dagger / cia-esque imperialist shadowy types.
I like classical arabic. But disdain at racial groupings. All this 'african-american' hyfnating seems mere codswollup.

Ayn Rand: it was on Donohue:
Yaron Brook: I daresay it was here (at question time methinks) :

Has Ayn or Yaron castigated 'American' imperialism anywhere?

Isn't to conceptualise the same as to conceiv (but minus the egg entry bit)?
prhaps conceptualise is *the* vurb in philosophy.

u write: '...correction has come via reason'

Could correction keep coming? Surely it's never a one-off?

I mean to say could that correction be itself subjict to correction, ad infinitum?

I daresay. And why du we need correction in the first place?

All this might be rich pickings for the jesusists: the fall [I don't mean autumn], peccatism, tulip theology...not to mention for the islamic purnisus ubscurantism.

It's ever about making pepl feel gilty about being human, then they'r easily cuntrolab..if I'm not beingovrly cunspiratorial...

I'l leav it ther.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Alif,

I must admit that I’m finding it rather difficult to follow your chain of thought in your comments. Are you doing this on purpose for some reason?

You adduce two links – one to an interview with Ayn Rand and another featuring Yaron Brook – apparently in defense of the charge that Rand ranted against Arabs and Brook advocated colonialist or imperialist measures. Perhaps this link ( will help enlighten you on these matters. If this is not sufficient, you’ll have to be more specific on what you want to discuss and what you expect of me.

You asked: “Has Ayn or Yaron castigated 'American' imperialism anywhere?”

I am neither Rand’s nor Brook’s chronicler, so I’m not sure why you’ve come to me with this question. You may find some of the information in the above link helpful. I would also suggest examining the essays which the above-linked article quotes.

As for “’American’ imperialism,” I’m reminded of an occasion years ago when a young college grad (she had been attending Berkeley) of Korean ancestry made a loud statement at a dinner in a fine restaurant in which she said she afraid of walking down a dark street at night in San Francisco and getting raped by a bunch of “white guys.” Was I to interpret this as meaning that she’d rather be raped by a group of guys who were not white? Rand advocated for a system of individual rights, a system in which individuals were protected from thugs, whether acting alone or in groups or under the flag of a state. So I’m not really clear what specifically you’re looking for, or why.

In the interview with Donahue, Rand was explicit that she thought “America’s foreign policy has been disgraceful for years” – this was back in 1979 or 1980. I doubt her opinion of America’s foreign policy would have improved if she had lived to see what has happened since that time.

As for Rand referring to Israel’s enemies generally as “almost totally primitive savages who have not changed for years” (she probably meant centuries here – the Arab world seems to have sat out the Renaissance), if you’d like to argue otherwise, by all means have the floor.


praestans said...

Hullo Dawsun [the 'u' is a vast impruvment I dersay]

"Arabs seems to have sat out the renaissance" would you really say that about Ibn al-Haytham, Ibn Rushd, ibn Hayyan or likes - and let's not forget Persians like Ibn Sena, Al-Raze and the Academy of Gundishapur before the obscurantism of islam took hold.

But being 'Arab' or 'Persian' is surely incidental. There are good human beings and bad ones. I wish Rand had said this - her rant really is unbecoming.
Goodness, I'm certain some in the US 'are sitting out' the Renaissance even as I write. [But why is it cald a *re*-birth? Is that another way'v saying 'born again'?!

As it happens, I heard Onkar Ghate talking about capitalism sumwer- I wonder whot he'd make of the following wurk:


May I ask you to respond to my question in the previus post please: how du we no that reason's frut is tru? You state we currect reason with reason. Fine. But why must there be a need to currect first off? Reason then seems a spanner. A mere tool. How du we no that the nut we scru is tru, so tu speak?



Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Alif,

You listed a number of ancient personalities (thanks!). Here is some detail on each (from Wikipedia):

Ibn al-Haytham (ca. 965-1040) was “an Arab, Muslim, polymath and philosopher who made significant contributions to the principles of optics, astronomy, mathematics, meteorology, visual perception and the scientific method.”

Ibn Rushd (also Averroës) (1126-1198) was “a medieval Andalusian polymath” who “wrote on logic, Aristotelian and Islamic philosophy, theology, the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence, psychology, political and Andalusian classical music theory, geography, mathematics, and the mediæval sciences of medicine, astronomy, physics, and celestial mechanics.”

ibn Hayyan (987-1075) was “a Muslim historian from Al-Andalus.”

Ibn Sena (also Avicenna) (980-1037) was “a Persian polymath and jurist who is regarded as one of the most significant thinkers and writers of the Islamic Golden Age” who composed some 450 works (the guy was busy!).

Al-Raze (854-925) was “a Persian polymath, physician, alchemist and chemist, philosopher and important figure in the history of medicine.”

The Academy of Gundishapur was “one of the three Sasanian centers of education (Ctesiphon, Resaina, Gundeshapur) and academy of learning in the city of Gundeshapur, Iran during late antiquity, the intellectual center of the Sasanian Empire” (6th and 7th centuries), a culture which only curious historians likely remember.

Judging by the dates given here, none of the thinkers/institutions named here came on the scene during or after the Renaissance (which started in the 14th century and developed through the 17th century, culminating in the Age of Reason in the 18th century). This is entirely consistent with my comment that the "*the Arab world* seems to have sat out the Renaissance," for none of the thinkers listed here had the benefit of post-Renaissance intellectual rejuvenation. That you do not name any Arab thinkers since the time of the Renaissance is itself rather telling and only helps to confirm my point.

I’m curious, though: What specifically did any of these thinkers say about the relationship between consciousness and its objects? Or: Did they say anything about this explicitly to begin with? That would be my first question.

But regardless, my generalization does not disallow the one-off exception here and there. After all, it is merely a generalization, and if you want to challenge it directly, you’ll need to do more than cite a few intellectuals here and there who stand out above the vast seas of mystic Islamophiles; you would have to challenge it on its own terms – i.e., as a generality. Islam is as primitive as it gets, and it has a very strong foothold in the Arab world (thanks in part not only to religiously influenced states, but also the prevailing cultures there).


Bahnsen Burner said...

But I agree that “being ‘Arab’ or ‘Persian’ is surely incidental,” up to a point anyway. Growing up in a culture, especially one which coercively reinforces its norms (to the point of execution as a penalty for deviating in some cases; consider the fate of homosexuals in ISIS-infested communities), inculcates in an individual certain inclinations that may be very difficult to overcome, even if one strongly desires to do so. If you’re born and raised in Saudi Arabia, for example, what are the chances that you’ll become an Objectivist? I don’t know, but I suspect it’s infinitesimally small, if not less. (Just checking the audience of my blog by country in order, after the USA comes Russia, then Germany, then the UK, then Ukraine, then France, Canada, Poland, Austria and Ireland. Go figure! No Arab nations… not that I’m surprised…)

You wrote: “There are good human beings and bad ones. I wish Rand had said this - her rant really is unbecoming.”

I wish you’d learn to get over your immediate emotional reactions to statements Rand may have made and learn to understand the principles of her philosophy. But that’s me.

I suggest that you look at the philosophy she laid out rather than brood over some off-the-cuff statement she may have made here or there.

And yes, you’re certainly correct in supposing that many in the west (USA included) are sitting out the Renaissance.

You asked: “But why is it cald a *re*-birth? Is that another way'v saying 'born again'?!”

The Renaissance was not a “rebirth” in the sense that Christianity informs this term. It is not a turning away from the world, from one’s own nature as a biological organism, from reason, but rather a re-discovery of reason, a man-centered epistemology, science, this-worldly values and pursuits. We don’t find that in Christianity. We also don’t find it in Islam.

You wrote: “I heard Onkar Ghate talking about capitalism sumwer- I wonder whot he'd make of the following work”

You’d have to contact Ghate and ask him. I would not dare speak for him. He’s light years ahead of little ol’ me.

You wrote: “May I ask you to respond to my question in the previus post please: how du we no that reason's frut is tru? You state we currect reason with reason. Fine. But why must there be a need to currect first off? Reason then seems a spanner. A mere tool. How du we no that the nut we scru is tru, so tu speak?”

Reason is our faculty of identifying and integrating perceptual input. Correction is needed when we make an error in identifying objects of our consciousness. It is by means of reason that we discover that an error has been made, and it is also by means of reason that we correct the error. The error is not within reason as such (such that reason itself needs to be corrected), but within instances of our *application* of reason, or our departure from it.

Hope that helps!


praestans said...

Sup Dawz

[How's my american inglish?]

Thanks. I'l course from end to beginning.

You write: it's by means of reason that we discover that an errur has been made.

yes, that's not moot.

But can't I point out that it is possibl that such a discovery itself may turn out to be erroneus. Any application of reason is no guarantor of the soundness of that application.

you write 'our departure from it' here is your 'it' referring to 'reason'?

But even if there is no departure whatsoever from reason there is *still* the possibility of errur - each consecutiv application deemd correct abrogating the one befor as erroneous.

Now I'm wundring about objectivism and 'probableness' not black and whites. I daresay you'v written on this elsewhere.

Right-O - I'l cease being 'emotional' with Rand, and look at her philosophy (or rather her discovery of 'Objectivism')

I regularly read Arabic a-gnostic and a-theist sites - things'r looking up. a lot more than five years ago. so better translation tools may make you a star yet in the Mid-East. A real 'nahDah' soon

The Renaissance was a European thing - my point was that Arabs and Persians were doing the fruits of the renaissance in their own time. Unfortunately since the 11th century religion has taken hold and they've sat in obscurantism.

There is some connectivity between both human outputs


The term 'islamic' is more geographic rather than credal. Many translators were non-muslim.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Alif:

“[How's my american inglish?]”

I’d say it’s pretty [sic].

Alif: “can't I point out that it is possibl that such a discovery itself may turn out to be erroneus.”

If by your question you mean, can we suspect that we have discovered an error in our reasoning that in fact turns out not to be an error, of course: errors are subject to being misidentified just as sound conclusions are. This is not uncommon for me when performing complex tasks, such as processing a sales order: at some point I may think I’ve made an error, but when I go back and check, I find that I did everything correctly. Proper application of reason doesn’t always guarantee certainty.

Alif: “Any application of reason is no guarantor of the soundness of that application.”

It’s important to keep in mind why specifically we need reason in the first place, namely: (a) we are not omniscient but yet we need knowledge in order to live, and (b) we are not infallible – we can make errors. Thus we need an epistemological standard to guide us toward accurate knowledge of reality.

Alif: “you write 'our departure from it' here is your 'it' referring to 'reason'?”


Alif: “But even if there is no departure whatsoever from reason there is *still* the possibility of errur - each consecutiv application deemd correct abrogating the one befor as erroneous.”

Then I suggest we be extra-careful. Deal?

Alif: “I regularly read Arabic a-gnostic and a-theist sites - things'r looking up. a lot more than five years ago.”

I hope you’re right, but I’m not ready to hold my breath yet.

Alif: “so better translation tools may make you a star yet in the Mid-East. A real 'nahDah' soon”

I’ll have to take your word for it.

Alif: “The Renaissance was a European thing - my point was that Arabs and Persians were doing the fruits of the renaissance in their own time. Unfortunately since the 11th century religion has taken hold and they've sat in obscurantism.”

I think you’re right. Prior to the Renaissance, there were, here and there, occasional brights who came on the scene and left their imprint in history, however eroded it may be today. I’m not expert on the history of the region, but my understanding is that Aristotelian influence had longer staying power in northern Africa than it did in Europe up until its rediscovery and the beginning of the Renaissance. In both cases, religion chased it out of sight.

Alif: “The term 'islamic' is more geographic rather than credal.”