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Wednesday, 26 September 2012


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That's all very well, but what if everyone chose to behave as if Allah existed and Mahomet was his Prophet?

Then so be it, DM, it's called evolution which, as you know well, has no aims or purposes. However, I think I am safe in forecasting that Islam, like all the great monotheistic religions, will gradually disintegrate in this modern age. Indeed, that gloomy perception is part of the reason for the militant attitude of the Mullahs but they are all, in the words of Pte. Fraser, "doomed"! The muslims will lose belief but will continue as if Allah was real. Thinking about it, perhaps that will finally bring an end to wars of religion.

David, with respect I think on this occasion you'd have been better to fall asleep without pondering.

CofE schools are highly popular because they provide a better education, not because of the religious aspect. (And if anyone replies that it's because the parents are a self-selected group of nice well-behaved middle-class etc etc, well I am not disputing that at all, but having a school full of those people allows a better atmosphere for decent education to occur, if nothing else.)

And if one more religio-apologist tries to tell me that without God I would not know that it's best to be nice to small children, not kill people or take their stuff, etc, I will do such things - what they are I know not, but they shall be the terror of the earth.

My dear Lear, ooops, sorry, I mean, Andrew, yes I realise that you, personally, do not require the services of a 'God in the sky' but you must widen your gaze. Zillions of people, in the past and still today, do require such an authority figure (or figment, if you prefer). However, under the scientific assault of the last 200-odd years more and more of those people are feeling the lack of authority and the results can be seen reeling around our streets on Saturday nights and shagging for Britain up every dark alley! And why wouldn't they? There is no-one to instil a different code. And what makes you so certain that being nice to small children is "A Good Thing"? Indeed, what do you mean by "Good"? And who told you?

I've read quite a bit about that Ferdinand Mount book and I'm looking forward to reading it.

" So in the absence, or non-existence, of the Almighty, where-in lies the authority thought to be necessary for the maintainance of morality? And almost instantaneously a further question arises, how is that morality continues at all?

How indeed?

You will, Robert, I promise you!

Thanks, JK.

There was a study (can't remember where) that purported to show that poor(ish) people who went to church were better off than people who didn't. Not just in middle class England but elsewhere where the majority of people were poor. A few moments thought suggests that being a little bit more focussed, a little more avoiding booze and drugs, a little more alignment with middle-class aims is likely to do you good. Too much focus will of course turn you into a prig - whether God exists or not. If you are rich you can ignore Church - Haydock Park much more fun.

Off topic - have you noticed how no government regulator ever does the job it is paid to do - except the tax department. The latest examples are dragging feet over a teacher-pupil snuggle-up and the ignoring of reported abuse of young people up in Rochdale. Add to the list Libor, FSA, Bank of England and CQC and I do wonder if this is deliberate policy.

Dammit, Roger, you'll have to take over this blog if you keep pre-empting my thoughts. Just this morning as I was driving to the swimming pool and listening to the radio reporting on the obvious gross dereliction of duty - to say nothing of commonsense - on the part of the authorities in Rochdale, I, too, thought of the long list of recent failures by those set above us and a blog post began to ferment!

Back to religion. I think there is a good argument to be made in favour of Christian virtues on the grounds of utility. - life simply goes smoother if you do not lie, cheat, steal, murder and suchlike.

" life simply goes smoother if you do not lie, cheat, steal, murder and suchlike."

Especially if you refrain from coveting. It's a bad bugger, coveting.

Weeeeell, I've done a bit of coveting in my time but it never went any further. Does that count as sin - yes, I rather think it does - oh well!

Hello Mr Duff!

“there is no intellectually satisfying argument to support the existence of God”

False, if you mean in general. Some of the greatest intellects of all time have found the arguments not just satisfying but compelling. Given some non-theological and Aristotelian-like understanding of the workings of nature, for instance, the theological arguments of Aquinas work. But if you mean specifically in your case, perhaps you could say what you find intellectually unsatisfying about them.

“even . . . Christian theists are reduced to admitting, albeit proudly, that their belief is founded on emotion”

In this age of emotivism-irrationalism, it is hardly surprising that theists as well as atheists found their beliefs on emotion. It is nothing to be proud of. If rationality is ever again reasserted, men will look back on our age and blush with shame.

Speaking of irrationalism: why would people live as if God existed if they believed that he did not? Moreover, how could they do so? If it is possible at all, then it is only by taking another step into the realm of rational incoherence to which our age is bizarrely attracted.

For an excellent introduction to Aquinas, you can read the books and other works of Edward Feser, one of his modern defenders. A good book that gives some idea of where we are and how we got here morally speaking is Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue.

Deogolwulf, let me begin by saying what a genuine pleasure it is to read you on these pages again. Also, it is entirely fitting because you are, in a sense, 'the onlie begetter' of my, er, 'mission statement' which stands proudly at my masthead.

Returning late-ish yesterday evening, you had me scrabbling for my philosophy books to bone up on Thomas Aquinas et al and not being used to that sort of rapid study I went to bed with a headache! However, today, sir, despite my tremors of nervousness I intend to take on you - and Tom! I will do so in a new post but, due to domestic pressures, it will be this afternoon.

In the meantime, I urge you to read the first link I provide in the post above for a very honest and eloquent defence of emotion as the essence of belief in God. I do not possess it myself but I can see (and it is a delicious paradox) that love, the most fundamental of *emotions* is essential in Christianity, after all, "God is love"!

But more later.

Francis Spufford’s essay would have been better titled self-referentially as “The Trouble with Fideists”.

You claim: “emotion [is] the essence of belief in God.” And I say: not for a rational man, it isn’t. Mind you, I am having trouble understanding what you mean by the sentence. By “the essence of” do you in fact mean “the motive for”? By “emotion” do you mean something irrational? Are you suggesting that belief in God is irrational, a flight of fancy, a mere feeling without existential reference, and so on? If so, why pay it any respect? Merely for its personal and social utility?

Emotions have their place, but if they are habitually at odds with reason and reality, then they constitute a disorder. If an emotional disposition towards a belief in God is at odds with reason and reality, then it is a disorder. So the question is: is belief in God at odds with reason and reality? Forget emotion.

Also, I thought the question here was about belief in God and not about the theological teachings of Christianity in particular - which are probably more complicated than you realise. I am pretty certain it would be heretical to believe that God is love where "love" simply means a human emotion.

Oh dear, I thought I was in trouble and now I know it! And I don't just mean that I am late back from this morning's business and have been reminded by the Memsahib that we are out again in an hour so I will not be able to keep my promise to write a new post today on this tricky subject, but also because it is obvious that it will be necessary to compose it very, very carefully!

However, I will leave you this short thought, Deogolwulf, with which you may beat me later: I would *guess* that human nature is roughly split 50:50 between emotion and reason. Why would you place so much faith(!) in one above the other, particularly when you consider the history of the 20th century in which zillions perished in aid of carefully reasoned political theories from which men of emotion simply recoiled in disgust?

But more tomorrow - I promise!

“Why would you place so much faith(!) in one above the other?”

If I consider whether natural selection is an underlying principle of the natural world, I do not consult my emotions. Would you expect me to? I am a baffled by your question. I am a human, that is, a rational animal. It is my duty according to my nature to be rational, and it is yours also.

“zillions perished in aid of carefully reasoned political theories . . .”

Reason and (logical) reasoning are not the same thing (and instrumental rationalism combined with a political ideal is something else besides). Here is some careful and perfectly-valid reasoning:

All things in orbit are made of cheese.
The moon is in orbit.
The moon is made of cheese.

But reasonable and rational? Since the premises of communism, for instance, are wrong, the most careful and perfectly-valid reasoning therefrom will lead to wrong conclusions.

“. . . from which men of emotion simply recoiled in disgust”

And? If nothing is right or wrong, then the mere fact that “men of emotion” emote or recoil in disgust at the deliberate slaughter of innocents is of no moral import. But if one understands that there is indeed right and wrong, and that the deliberate slaughter of innocents is wrong, then one has already taken the first step out of the swamp of emotion onto the firm understanding that morality is primarily a matter of rationality not emotion, and that emotion is to be rationally-ordered to what is right. The mere fact that people recoil in disgust or outrage at something does not tell you whether the object of their aversion is wrong or whether they are morally justified in their disgust or outrage. Committed leftists spend half their lives outraged at the wrong things.

It is curious that you give the name “men of emotion” to men who recoiled in disgust at events in the twentieth century but not to those who revelled or felt proud to take part in them. You should surely find that “men of emotion”, far from recoiling, were proudly taking part in mass-murder — our airmen not the least among them.

Deogolwulf, I have just written the new post I promised and my garden awaits, trembling, my attention, so let me quickly deal with your points.

Reason: Given the history of the rise and subsequent fall of so many reasoned hypotheses I am surprised that you, as an eminently intelligent man, would place so much faith in them. For myself, my scepticism is not confined to global warming! Of course, I do not ignore scientific reasoning but neither do I swallow it whole. As for what I might call, in general terms, 'philosophic' reasoning, well there, given the whole squabbling, disagreeable, contradictory history of the process, you would have to be a fool to accept any version except on a temporary basis. Or to put it another way, I would hesitate to buy a second-hand car from a philosopher offering me absolute and irrefutable proofs of its reliability!

Emotion: And that leaves the other 'half' of Man's nature - emotion. That, I would suggest, is the same sort of mixture of reliable/unreliable as reason. Love of country is an emotion, with a dash of reason added, but only a fool would swallow it whole - my country right or wrong, for example.

"Given the history of the rise and subsequent fall of so many reasoned hypotheses I am surprised that you, as an eminently intelligent man, would place so much faith in them."

Aquinas's arguments for the existence of God are not of the character of scientific hypotheses; they are metaphysical (broadly-logical) proofs. Whether you accept the premises is another matter, although, having read you post, it is clear you don't know what the premises are!

If you don't trust reason, then there is no point in my having a rational argument with you. You are to be persuaded by what? Emotion and violence?

"Broadly logical" is a very good description and quite rightly ignores any attempt to be too specific concerning a set of self-styled 'proofs'! I discuss, or rather, ramble on about, the idea of what I call the 'Prime Mover' in my latest post. This notion is close to the heart of Aquinas and in my view is a very good hypothesis but not a sufficient one because there is another hypothesis equally attractive to a reasoning man, that of infinite existence - I gather Russell was an advocate. In a position in which two apparently strong explanations exist then a reasoning man would hesitate to choose between them - not least because there might exist a third option awaiting our discovery. Unlike you I am not passionately emotional about either!

What I am curious about, Deogolwulf, is why you think there must be a choice between reason and emotion. And why do you automatically assume that violence is linked to emotion? Love is an emotion, and moreover, one that is highly praised and valued by Christians. In making, perhaps the most important decision of our lives, that is, choosing a partner, we tend to rely on emotion more than reason and I for one would be exceedingly hard-pressed to come up with a set of logical syllogisms upon which to make my choice.

(I have just been advised that you have left a comment on my new post and from a glance at the opening sentence it looks as though I am in trouble! Perhaps we should continue our conversation up there from now on.)

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