Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Lost Atheist: Thomas Nagel's "Cosmic Authority Problem"

Atheist-No-Symbol
Atheist-No-Symbol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A committed atheist wanders off the materialistic reservation and gets smacked-down by fellow tribesmen. What a read!

It's a review in The Weekly Standard of atheist Thomas Nagel's new book Mind and Cosmos with its provocative sub-title: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.

It says some things I've been saying for years (just does it 10X better). One is that materialistic atheism -- because atheism is our day and age is materialistic --  is unlivable and nobody behaves like a materialistic atheist in practice.
Fortunately, materialism is never translated into life as it’s lived. As colleagues and friends, husbands and mothers, wives and fathers, sons and daughters, materialists never put their money where their mouth is. Nobody thinks his daughter is just molecules in motion and nothing but; nobody thinks the Holocaust was evil, but only in a relative, provisional sense. A materialist who lived his life according to his professed convictions—understanding himself to have no moral agency at all, seeing his friends and enemies and family as genetically determined robots—wouldn’t just be a materialist: He’d be a psychopath. 
Another is that when the atheist "kills" God, he kills himself, by which I mean one loses access to what makes us truly human -- the authenticity and reality of noble ideals, aspirations, love, hopes, dreams, etc. We are nothing more than animals scavenging for survival, the product of nothing more than cosmic burps, of no more value or significance than a rock or potato. Yet this contradicts deeply held intuitions about ourselves, intuitions upon which, e.g., the entire Western human rights apparatus has been built.

Nagel's depiction of the philosophically committed materialist-scientist sticking to his beliefs in the face of the evidence before us -- the primary evidence being "us" -- reminds me of the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy or whoever it is pulls back the curtain on the Wizard. All huff and bluff!

His explanation for this? A "cosmic authority problem".

“The priority given to evolutionary naturalism in the face of its implausible conclusions,” he writes, “is due, I think, to the secular consensus that this is the only form of external understanding of ourselves that provides an alternative to theism.”.... 
He calls this intellectual tic “fear of religion.” .... 
“I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear,” he wrote not long ago in an essay called “Evolutionary Naturalism and the Fear of Religion.” “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.” 
Nagel believes this “cosmic authority problem” is widely shared among intellectuals, and I believe him. It accounts for the stubbornness with which they cling to materialism—and for the hostility that greets an intellectual who starts to wander off from the herd. Materialism must be true because it “liberates us from religion.” 

The article even references my favorite philosophers, Ed Feser and Alvin Plantinga.

The question atheists must ask about Thomas Nagel, who has wandered so far from the materialistic fold, is this: Can Thomas Nagel be saved?

And that's the way the Ball bounces.

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41 comments:

Anonymous said...

Peurile claptrap; if you are so desperate to find a "greater meaning" to your existence that you will happily lie to yourself in order to believe self-contradictory nonsense, you gave up the search for truth a long time ago, Richard.
SDC

Alex F said...

I'll have to read this book. I'm not afraid of any knowledge. There is also something clearly wrong with the vast majority of atheists who seem to have some kind of grudge against religion.

RkBall said...

Alex -- good!

newcenturion said...

Interesting read, great post. I wonder why SDC is so very very angry? "Self-contradictory nonsense" Clearly hasn't read THE BOOK.

RkBall said...

I think SDC gets paid by Big Darwin to slag my posts. 25 cents per slag, I figure.

newcenturion said...

Well then, you should be getting a cut :)

Anon1152 said...

I don't understand this supposed intellectual hope that God doesn't exist.

I'm an agnostic. But when I lean towards atheism, I find myself reminded of something Sartre said. He said the he didn't believe in God, but that he found this fact that God didn't exist "very distressing"

newcenturion said...


It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

I appreciate Nagel's honesty. I always believed in God it just made sense to me; however I didn't always follow him. I do know where Nagel's dread of God comes from. He has figured it out: If there is a God then he is our creator, if he is our creator then we are accountable to him. People do not want to be held accountable to a higher power they feel it will inhibit them in some way. I was the same way and chased after all the things that were supposed to bring me happiness. The problem was I was never satiated it was empty and I always felt a tremendous sense of guilt. I knew I had offended God by my words and actions. People wrongly assume God is some sort of a cosmic killjoy. The tragedy is nothing could be further from the truth. It's only when I submitted to a loving God an sought forgiveness thru Jesus Christ that I experienced true freedom, true peace and an inexplicable joy. I have my problems just like everyone else but I also have a God who loves and cares for me.

Joe said...

Well done Richard. Yes the man makes a lot of sense and he completely destroys Same Dumb Comment. Since SDC is just a non-event in a string of non-events it is quite safe to ignore his blatherings.

Joe said...

Well done Richard! You have proven once again that it is perfectly safe to ignore the blather coming from Same Dumb Comment. Since he seems to believe he is a simply a nonevent in a string of nonevents nothing he says or does is of any consequence.

Anonymous said...

Actually, newcenturion, I HAVE read your book of ancient fairy tales, and read it so many times that I am amazed that anyone else can read it without being dumbfounded by the incessant contradictions and baseless claims made in it. And I'm still waiting for that supposed "evidence" you claimed you had a while ago, Joe; why do I suppose it's not going to be worth any more than the "evidence" of a muslim who claims that his cult is the one and only truth, or the evidence of a mormon who claims that his cult is the one and only truth, or the "evidence of a hindu who claims that his cult is the one and only truth?
SDC

RkBall said...

Anon1152. Hey, that's another of my points.

When someone posits there is a loving God who grants eternal life under certain conditions, that is something a rational person should ardently want and wish and hope to be true. It is irrational to revel and gloat in the assertion that there is no such God. It is something that should bring profound sadness if investigated and found to be false.

RkBall said...

newcenturian: Note that SDC has not denied being in the pocket of Big Darwin.

RkBall said...

Joe: What evidence do we have that SDC actually exists, that he's an actual perso?. I think his posts are computer-generated by Big Darwin. Isn't that a simpler explanation? AFter all, we know that computers exist, but what evidence do we have that an SDC exists?

Anonymous said...

Richard, your point here is that it should be considered a "good" thing to lie to yourself, as long as that lie makes you feel better, but I can't see that as being desirable under any circumstance. If it were, you could just tell yourself that you're immensely wealthy because you have a diamond the size of a Cadillac buried in the back yard, you just haven't dug it up; but, no worries, because you "know" it's there. Since I actually CARE about reality, I can't imagine someone deliberately wanting to lie to themselves, and this is part of what is so mind-bogglingly incomprehensible about the religious nut mindset.
BTW, "Big Darwin"?
SDC

newcenturion said...

You know SDC I run into people who claim to have read the bible cover to cover all the time; however when I start asking them about it, I find that they really haven’t read it all. Oh they’ve probably read parts of it, but generally they’re parroting what other people have said or are regurgitating something they’ve read on the internet. Now I'm not saying this is the case with you, but this is usually my experience.

Moreover, most people who claim to have read the bible and say it’s full of contradictions really don’t understand what the "law of contradiction" is and read the bible with a wooden literal interpretation. They don’t realize the bible is like all other literature; it must be read in context. The bible uses allegory and metaphor, it uses vernacular descriptive language. It’s unique in that it’s not only a historical narrative but a theological book as well. I have been a Christian for many years and I consider myself a serious bible student; I admit I struggle with parts of the bible. I read works of the early church fathers to get a historical perspective and I read books written by theologians more learned than I when I get stumped. And I have only scratched the surface of this great book. One thing I can say is the more I read this book AND study it, the more amazing the bible becomes.

So I really don’t get it when people claim to have read it say its "puerile claptrap" full of contradictions. Are we reading the same book here? It has been used as the basis of the Western Civilization, surely it deserves better than “puerile”.

On to the existence of God: I don’t get into this with avowed atheists. One, I find they’re really angry people, and they’re mad at people like me who believe in God. Why? Do they think by calling me stupid and uneducated that all of a sudden I'm going to have an epiphany? Two, they’re not interested in any “evidence” or any meaningful discussion. Their mind is made up, they just want to argue and it quickly degenerates into name calling on both sides. And three, it’s not my job to prove God’s existence to anyone, that’s His job. His existence is self-evident to me by way of general revelation (nature) and the specific revelation (scripture). I would suggest you read the book of Romans Chap one, that'll give you the reasons why most people can't see that evidence. newcenturion out.



Anonymous said...

Perhaps you can explain a simple contradiction for me, then, newcenturion? In "Matthew", it is claimed that a group of women went to the tomb of this cult leader (to do something that is specifically prohibited under Judaism, btw), and when they got there, they saw an "angel" come down, cause an earthquake, scare some guards away, roll the stone blocking this tomb away, and then sit on this stone to tell them that this cult leader's body was no longer in that tomb. In the OTHER three versions of this fable, the woman or women got there to find that the blocking stone had ALREADY been rolled away, with no mention whatsoever of any "earthquake", "guards", or other baloney. So, which is it? Was this stone rolled away BEFORE they/she got there, or AFTER, because you can't have it both ways. Or, the most likely scenario, that this entire fairy tale was simply written generations afterwards by ignorant goat-herders trying to justify their insane beliefs? You either care about truth and reality, or you don't; I know where I stand, and I don't see any reason to lie to myself to try to convince myself otherwise.
SDC

newcenturion said...

Okay I’ll bite just this once… the law of contradiction “The law of contradiction means that two antithetical propositions cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. X cannot be non-X. A thing cannot be and not be simultaneously. And nothing that is true can be self-contradictory or inconsistent with any other truth.” Phillip R. Johnson

Read my last post again about reading the bible.

First off, a serious bible student knows the gospels are not facsimiles of each other. They’re not meant to be. They relate many of the same historical events of Jesus’ life but they are told from a different view point by each author and they are written to different audiences. In Matthew the author has emphasised Jesus “Jewishness”. The gospel of Mark explains Jewish customs to Roman readers and the deity of Christ. Luke was the most detailed gospel account and John was written from an evangelistic view point.

Matthews’ account of events at the tomb do not contradict the other gospels. He chose to emphasise different points of the story. A "contradiction" would be if Matthew said Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, it didn’t happen. Remember the gospels are not copies of each other. That further validates them.

If you and I witnessed a car accident and the police asked us to write a statement would our statements be the same word for word? No, you would write down the information you thought the police should know and I would write down the things I thought were important. We would edit, omit and emphasise certain points of the accident; points we thought the police should know. It doesn’t mean the car accident didn’t happen?

There are many good books out there that deal with supposed bible difficulties. If you're interested I can provide with a few suggestions.

Anonymous said...

And this "tomb" cannot have been simultaneously both OPEN and CLOSED at the time when this woman/these women went there to do something that is prohibited by their cult. That IS a contradiction, no matter how much you wish differently. The unknown author of "Matthew" simply added in made-up details that he thought would add to the "truth" of this fable (as did the others; 62% of "Mark" is repeated verbatim in the following versions, meaning that they were added to in an ancient game of telephone tag). Any police officer who was presented with four accounts claimed to be of "eyewitnesses", that differed from each other as much as these four tales do would know instantly that he was being LIED to. In this particular case, it would be analogous to 3 people claiming an accident between 4 vehicles at a 4-way stop, and a fourth person claiming that one of those vehicles had dropped out of low-earth orbit into the intersection.
SDC

newcenturion said...

I don't think my first response went thru maybe RK is getting sick of me :)

and when they got there, they saw an "angel" come down, cause an earthquake, scare some guards away, roll the stone blocking this tomb away, and then sit on this stone.. In the OTHER three versions of this fable, the woman or women got there to find that the blocking stone had ALREADY been rolled away, with no mention whatsoever of any "earthquake", "guards", or other baloney. So, which is it? Was this stone rolled away BEFORE they/she got there, or AFTER, because you can't have it both ways.

Good question SDC however read Mat again please, because the text does not indicate that the women witnessed and earthquake or saw the angel roll awya the stone. It says:

Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. 2 And behold, a severe earthquake HAD OCCURED(past tense emphasise mine) , for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.

Nowhere in the text does it say the women witnessed the aforementioned. This is the writer’s description of events BEFORE the women arrived. Key phrase "Had occured" so the stone was rolled away BEFORE they got there.

5 The angel said to the women, “[a]Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6 He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.

Since the angel(s) are showing the woman where He lay, the tomb had to be open. This is consistent with the other Gospel narratives.

newcenturion said...

Well I was a cop for 24 years and was trained in statement analysis by a former Mossad Agent. If I got four statements written or otherwise that were exactly the same I KNEW I was being lied to.

Anyway nice talking to you I'm done here, this is not going anywhere, all the best in your quest for "the truth"

RkBall said...

newcent: What do you think of the Statement Analysis blog?

http://www.statement-analysis.blogspot.ca

Anonymous said...

So, newcenturion, you're telling me that this woman/these women told the exact same story to each of Mark, Luke, John, and Matthew, and then they each ran with that story, adding in contradictory bits and pieces as they saw fit? That's the only reasonable conclusion to draw from your claims, since the only supposed "eyewitnesses" to the supposed events at the tomb of this cult leader were apparently these women/this woman. That means that the other writers didn't think that the obvious baloney that "Matthew" added was IMPORTANT enough to mention, correct? Added to this, we have the fact that 62% of "Mark" is repeated VERBATIM in the following versions, meaning that those following versions (including "Matthew") were simply written later using the original as a guide, with various "miraculous" events added to taste. Next, which particular version of your cult's little magic book are you reading that says "had occurred"? My copy of the KJV says "And behold, there was a great earthquake"; who is supposed to be reporting these events if not the woman/women claimed to have witnessed them? I won't hold my breath waiting for an answer, since you obviously don't want to be confused with the sequence of events as presented by your superstition.
SDC

newcenturion said...

Never been...thanks for the link!

Joe said...

Interesting thought there Same Dumb Comment. You think that a textual criticism by Atheist.com is proof positive of your search for irrelevance. After all the article Richard posted holds that any non-believer's thoughts are nonsense since sense only exists in something greater than humans. Nothing greater than mankind = nonsense. Something greater than mankind makes sense. So you, coming from a position of nonsense, are trying to convince people whose philosophy makes sense that they should abandon their sense to take up your nonsense. I guess it just goes to further show that your position is nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Never been to "atheist.com" in my life, Joe, so I have no idea what you're blathering about. This particular contradiction jumped out at me when I read these fairy tales side by side against one another, and I wonder why self-deluded religious nuts don't ALSO see things like this when they read them. What these innumerable contradictions PROVE is that your cult's particular claims are false. As to your other claim (essentially, that something so complex as us simply HAS to have a more complex "creator"), this is nothing more than your ego telling you that you are so important to the universe that there must be an even more complex invisible sky-daddy looking out for you. And that's where your brain comes to a dead stop. If, by necessity, something as complex as US "requires a creator", then ALSO by necessity, something as complex as your imaginary invisible magic man in the sky would ALSO "require a creator", and the only way you loons can try to weasel your way out of that point is via special pleading. Well, via special pleading, I can PROVE that the universe was created by a giant purple bunny rabbit, so your fantasies are worth exactly nothing.
SDC

Joe said...

Pleas Same Dumb Comment stay on topic. The debate is not about textual criticism or the lack thereof by quick internet searches you are so famous for. The debate is about the fact that only with Supernatural Being such as the One we Christians worship does human philosophy make sense. Subtract that Supernatural Being and all human constructs become nonsensical. Since I am on the side which holds that there IS a Supernatural Being and you are on the side that holds there is NO Supernatural Being, I make sense - you make nonsense.

newcenturion said...

Joe you have to remember that old saying ..when you wrestle with a pig both if you get dirty, but only the pig enjoys it.

I think SDC needs to change to his internet handle to Some Angry Dude (SAD) or Same Atheist Comment (SAC) or maybe he could just combine them and call himself Sad Sac. Hahahahaha. Thank you I'll be appearing here all week.... try the veal

Anonymous said...

Dream on, Joe; YOU'RE the one that brought up textual criticism, remember? My point in regards to that is that since your fairy tales even contradict themselves, you are basing your world view on nothing more than fairy tales, fairy tales that have no more substance behind them than the fairy tales of Zeuss and Apollo, of Horus and Isis, of Quetzlcoatl and Chac. If you gave even a wet fart about REALITY, you would realize that your cult's assertions are worth no more than any others.
Have you got the version of your cult's little magic book that says "had occurred", yet, newcenturion, or are you just hoping I didn't notice your lie?
SDC

Joe said...

Oh dear Richard, it would appear that Same Dumb Comment's cheese has fully slipped off of his cracker. He thinks I was the first one to bring up textual criticism which simply goes to show he doesn't even know what textual criticism is. Then again from SDC's nonsensical point of view I suppose that makes sense?!?

newcenturion said...

SDC
Oh I'm a liar now? That would be the NASB . I've presented you with an explanation concerning the text, I have even offered to provide you with other sources to research. You rejected that out of hand. It's evident to me that you have inserted your own presuppositions on scripture, and you are not familiar with the bible. This is why I don't debate people like you. You're intellectually dishonest. You're not interested in what anyone says, or truth, you just want to talk over people. Your mind's made up and you don't want to be confused with the facts. You're arguments are illogical and incoherent. I'm sure if we were discussing this in the same room I wouldn't be able to get a word in. You just want to argue and belittle those of us who believe in Jesus, which in and of itself shows a complete lack of class. The bible says " the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing " I believe it. I know you won't be able to resist getting the last word in...go nuts. I will end with this: I'll pray that God opens your heart to the love and free gift of salvation He offers I have experienced it. Your way is a meaningless existence, no hope, nothing with only a grave and annihilation waiting for you at the end. Make no wonder you seem so angry.

Anonymous said...

If you're going to tell such baldfaced lies, Joe, you might want to do it where someone can't read your previous comments. Let me quote: "You think that a textual criticism by Atheist.com...". So yes, you were the first one to bring up textual criticism, and now you're hoist by your own petard. I see that you can't address the clear contradictions in your cult's fairy tales, so you would rather try to change the subject. Got any of that "evidence" you were beaking off about earlier? I could do with a laugh.
SDC

Anonymous said...

So, newcenturion, what is it that makes you think a rewrite of your cult's little magic book that was written in 1961 is worth any more than any of the earlier, more direct translations? By the time your version had been (re)written, it had been realized that these fables contradicted each other, so they were redone to try to minimize those contradictions. And that's why you nuts cling to your fairy tales like a child clings to their security blanket; you will happily IGNORE the actual words in these fairy tales in order to impose your own made-up version of what you HOPE they say. I hope you can finally be honest enough with yourself to give yourself a straight answer as to why you choose to believe verifiable nonsense written by vermin-infested goat-herders who could only "explain" things by saying "oh, it must be a magic man in the sky".
SDC

Joe said...

You know sometimes I wonder just how many bricks short of a full load SDC really is. Here's a little FYI just for you SDC. Me putting a name to what you were trying (very unsuccessfully I must say) to do. You were attempting to disprove the Biblical accounts by discrediting the source material. That dear SDC is known as textual criticism. Try googling textual criticism.

Anonymous said...

And the fact that your fairy tales contradict each other endlessly proves what, exactly, Joe? That's right, it proves the claims of your cult FALSE. Since the 35,000 different sub-sects of your superstition can't even agree on the tenets of that superstition, it shows that (just as in Roman times) your superstition has an unaccountable draw for fools, children, and idiots. Have you got any of that "evidence", yet, or do you just expect people to believe the voices in your head?
SDC

Joe said...

SDC still didn't read the article which clearly and concisely says an atheist can not know, grasp or understand the truth. That comes as no surprise a Christian because we Worship the Truth while you atheists deny His existence.

Alex F said...

What I don't understand is why you bother with this SDC?

Are you trying to win some converts? Do you expect them to say "Honey! Kids! The God thing is over. I don't know what came over me. Lets just forget whole thing. Geez I feel silly now."

I suppose you get some fulfillment about spreading the good news. They call that evangelism. You might actually enjoy this belittling and castigating but it actually hardens their beliefs. How do you feel when someone comes at you with fire and brimstone and eternal damnation and all that. It makes you stronger doesn't it?

Has it occurred to you that believers have an irresistible urge to be religious? Just what do you hope to accomplish? Do you imagine they will really be better people without God? They would become depressed. -turn to alcohol or suicide.

Imagine someone came up with a perfectly rational reason for you to be Mormon. The reason was so rational to your teacher that you had to believe it or you were crazy and stupid. You are what you are I hope. Nobody can unmake you with simple words and reasons you don't accept can they? They might even convince you to lie to yourself for a time but it will destroy you from the inside.

It's like declaring that wine is the only thing worth drinking and all manner of cups must now be wine glasses. You don't even care if you smash the mugs and glue them back into wine glass shapes, so long as your ideal drink is held by all.

That is what you are asking from these people. Let them be as they are. There is nothing to gain in changing them.

Anonymous said...

You can CLAIM you "worship the truth" all you want to, Joe, but that doesn't mean you actually do so; in actuality, the fact that your cult's little magic book can't even keep it's story straight on its claims proves you do anything BUT "worship the truth", since you will happily ignore what it says whenever it becomes inconvenient for your little bubble of delusion.
SDC

newcenturion said...

You make some good points Alex. SDC is hostile to the things of God, that's the way the unregenerate man is and I'll pray for him because he needs Christ.
We evangelise because Jesus Christ commanded us to. Can you imagine if the first century Christians took the "let’s not bother attitude"?

Secondly it's not my job to change anybody, I can't, that's God's job. He supernaturally changes men's hearts through the hearing of the gospel. I'm just called to be a witness to the gospel; to proclaim it and to tell other's what Jesus has done in my life. And like the first century Christians and all those who have gone before me I proclaim it out of love. Love for God and love for my follow man. I want them to experience the peace and freedom I have in Christ.

Fire and brimstone: Well you can't have good news without bad news right? Hell is an eternity without God. I would remiss in not warning you of the consequences of turning your back on God. If I saw that you were in a burning house and said or did nothing what kind of person would I be? Jesus Christ willing died on a cross to pay the penalty of my and your sin against Him. He, at great cost, pain and suffering bore the penalty of our iniquity to satisfy His wrath on a Roman cross. He reconciled us to Himself when we didn’t deserve it. When we accept Him as Lord and Saviour He no longer sees our sin but he sees His Son’s imputed righteousness.

Anonymous said...

Alex, I bother because the truth is important enough to me that I think it is REPUGNANT to allow these con-men to spread their lies. The fact that they can read their ancient fairy tales and not stop to think "hey, that's not what the other version of this story just said" tells me that they honestly don't care about truth or reality, which I find both amazing and terrifying. That's the sort of mental illness that people like Ahmadinejad use to gloss over absolute immorality. So, are you honest enough to be truthful with yourself, or do you choose to lie to yourself with your fingers crossed behind your back? I know where I stand.
SDC

Alex F said...

I understand both of you. I don't understand why you fight about it.

You can't control anyone's thoughts nor should you if you could. I could tell you that reality rewards those who pursue objective values through rational thought. Do you listen? That's up to you brother. I'm not responsible for your decisions.

Thanks for warning me about the burning house Joe. We are in the same house. Unless the rapture takes you first we will all be consumed eventually. I will pass into that journey/void (more likely a void) unafraid and without remorse.

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"