Posts Tagged ‘Atheism’

Theism as ‘total rationalism’

December 16, 2013

[There is] another essential logical intuition that recurs in various forms throughout the great theistic metaphysical systems. It is the conviction that in God lies at once the deepest truth of mind and the most universal truth of existence, and that for this reason the world can truly be known by us. Whatever else one might call this vision of things, it is most certainly, in a very real sense, a kind of “total rationalism.” Belief in God, properly understood, allows one to see all that exists — both in its own being and in our knowledge of it — as rational. It may be possible to believe in the materialist view of reality, I suppose, and in some kind of mechanical account of consciousness, but it is a belief that precludes any final trust in the power of reason to reflect the objective truth of nature. I happen to think that a coherent materialist model of mind is an impossibility. I think also that the mechanistic picture of nature is self-evidently false, nothing more than an intellectual adherence to a limited empirical method that has been ineptly mistaken for a complete metaphysical description of reality. I believe that nature is rational, that it possesses inherent meaning, that it even exhibits genuine formal and final causes, and that therefore it can be faithfully mirrored in the intentional, abstractive, formal, and final activity of rational consciousness. If I am wrong about all of those things, however, I think it also clear that what lies outside such beliefs is not some alternative rationalism, some other and more rigorous style of logic, some better way of grasping the truth of things, but only an abandonment of firm belief in any kind of reasoning at all. God explains the existence of the universe despite its ontological contingency, which is something that no form of naturalism can do; but God also explains the transparency of the universe to consciousness, despite its apparent difference from consciousness, as well as the coincidence between reason and reality, and the intentional power of the mind, and the reality of truth as a dimension of existence that is at once objective and subjective. Here, just as in the realm of ontology, atheism is simply another name for radical absurdism…

— David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God.

Hart on atheism

April 18, 2013

It might be that the “New Atheist” phenomenon has fizzled out by now — I haven’t heard much from those quarters since the untimely death of Christopher Hitchens — but if you’ve a lingering interest in such matters let me recommend this lecture by David Bentley Hart. He offers an appraisal of the leading “New Atheists” (Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris), but does us the service of viewing them in a broader historical and cultural context. He wishes they were more like the old atheists (pre-eminently, Nietzsche), and, in a nice ironic reversal, sees them as textbook examples of Nietzsche’s detested “last men”.

The lecture was apparently delivered some time ago — reference is made to Hitchens in the present tense — but it only recently made its way onto YouTube. Some of the content, including an amusing foray into the world of enthymemes, also appeared in Hart’s 2010 essay “Believe It Or Not”. The “video” below is actually just audio ornamented with a photograph. Highly recommended nonetheless.

Adventures in enthymemes

April 27, 2010

In the most recent edition of First Things, David Bentley Hart sallies forth once again against the so-called New Atheists — Dawkins, Hitchens, and the rest of them.  He is not impressed.  His essay is a hilarious savaging  — not of atheism per se, but of the half-baked and (worse) self-satisfied atheism on display at the bookstore these days.  You really owe it to yourself to read him; as usual, he is articulate and entertaining.

There is a melancholy note struck at the essay’s center, however, and that is a kind of sorrow for the poor showing that our contemporary atheists — the most vocal ones, at least — are making.  Their project fails to impress not just because of intellectual sloppiness (though there is that too), but principally because of spiritual torpor: it seems they cannot rouse themselves to thorough commitment to their disbelief.  There is another side to the sadness too, which is that contemporary believers can rarely rouse themselves to thorough commitment to their belief.  Mediocrity afflicts us all, on both sides of the aisle, and that is a sad comment on our times.

These reflections lead Hart to pen a moving appreciation for Friedrich Nietzsche, the great atheist of the Western tradition.  He writes, in part:

Above all, Nietzsche understood how immense the consequences of the rise of Christianity had been, and how immense the consequences of its decline would be as well, and had the intelligence to know he could not fall back on polite moral certitudes to which he no longer had any right. Just as the Christian revolution created a new sensibility by inverting many of the highest values of the pagan past, so the decline of Christianity, Nietzsche knew, portends another, perhaps equally catastrophic shift in moral and cultural consciousness. His famous fable in The Gay Science of the madman who announces God’s death is anything but a hymn of atheist triumphalism. In fact, the madman despairs of the mere atheists — those who merely do not believe — to whom he addresses his terrible proclamation. In their moral contentment, their ease of conscience, he sees an essential oafishness; they do not dread the death of God because they do not grasp that humanity’s heroic and insane act of repudiation has sponged away the horizon, torn down the heavens, left us with only the uncertain resources of our will with which to combat the infinity of meaninglessness that the universe now threatens to become.

I’ve expressed my own appreciation of Nietzsche before, and on similar grounds, but obviously without Hart’s nimble eloquence.

Hart closes his reflections with a few brief remarks about one of the most prolific of the New Atheists, A. C. Grayling.  As it happens, Grayling’s most recent book, Ideas that Matter, has come up for a thoughtful and critical review by John Gray at The National Interest.  This is also worth reading.

Incidentally, Hart’s essay seems to have set the cat among the pigeons.  As I am posting this, it has generated nearly 300 comments.  I haven’t read any of them, and I think that is probably wise.  Avalanches can be deadly.