This article is a response to Kristor’s article “The Impotence of Atheism“.
I really liked Kristor’s article. I think that we Christian reactionaries are often aware of the fact that nominalism is an important part of via moderna, but we don’t mention coherentism so often. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, in the domain of epistemology, coherentism is the denial of basic beliefs (i.e. things that are axiomatically true, true by inferred necessity). Its opposite is called foundationalism, which accepts basic beliefs.
Kristor writes about atheism being “Not wrong; not uninformative; often utile; but, just inadequate”. Albeit I really despise the anthropological and spiritual beliefs that are the logical consequences of atheism, I agree with a friend of mine (David P. Withun) who said that atheism is not so much wrong as it is incomplete. The same goes for coherentism and modernistic theories of knowledge like empiricism and rationalism – they are not bad in obtaining true (or valid) data about the cosmos, but they miss some important stuff, the basic beliefs, on which we can build an ordered cosmos where man can live a meaningful, worthy and purposeful life.
I find foundationalism important for the intellectual life of Christians. While spiritually and existentially it is important for us to connect with Christ and not with an abstraction, I think that an act of will is not enough to convince a sincerely truth-seeking person to become a Christian. A leap of faith may be intellectually interpreted and justified, it doesn’t have to be unjustifiably absurd, otherwise it would be just as meaningless to make it as not to make it. If one is hanging on a bridge between atheism, nihilism and nominalist insanity on the one side, and theism, meaningfulness and metaphysical realism on the other, and one yearns for the truth yet cannot obtain it in a coherentist fashion, then the leap of faith may just as well be an adoption of foundationalism, making the existence of objective meaning, worth and purpose axiomatic (because they are a necessity for us humans and for our endeavours). This may as well be expressed in a more existential fashion, as I (among many others) have done it before. As foundationalism has an existential side, that means that it may as well contain an existential and intellectual struggle. One atheist empiricist with whom I once talked said to me that he would love if all these things that I say are true by necessity were true indeed, but that he cannot accept that because there was a lack of certitude, that he’d rather shut the door to both infinite wisdom and infinite error (i.e. uncertain and unverifiable knowledge) than open it to both. I think there is a real struggle in this, for indeed, once one deals with the truth as studied in domains outside of science and mathematics, one deals with much less concrete and less certain pieces of data – for example the faculties of the soul, or how universals manifest themselves in particulars, or the nature of the beautiful and the sublime. One must recognize that it is indeed a leap of faith that one takes, once one recognizes basic beliefs.
Kristor writes “This is why the juridical question is efficacious against an atheist. Just keep asking “Why?””. I think here we are getting to the point. Without the axiomatic presumption of objective meaning, worth and purpose, things such as the following are justified in no manner whatsoever: the knowledge and the search for truth, the survival of the human individual or the species, the holding onto one or more values. All these things are either true/desirable by necessity or absolutely arbitrary. If we adopt the latter position, this makes them unjustified.
I will insert, here, a small tip on the ontological argument that the greatest of all beings needs to exist otherwise it would not be the greatest. As we see, the ontological argument uses a more foundationalist than an evidence-based approach. It is usually rejected by atheists, but I think that a Spinozist, a Nietzschean, or a modern stoic, may actually find a way to agree with the reasoning of the argument.
Imagine now that good is not that which designates what we traditionally perceive as “the Good” but that the good is all that is – the cosmos, fate, all things happening, necessary and inevitable. Thus we find that the cosmos is God and that the premise that God’s existence is self-evident is not contradicted.
I would have much more respect for a naturalist who argues like this than for one who simply denies the self-evident existence of God – because the former shows that he understands the ontological argument, while the latter is an adherent of via moderna with no understanding of the genius of the via antiqua he opposes. Of course, if fate/the cosmos are in fact eternal and that in which all else exists and takes place, then we still live in a disorderly cosmos with no inherent meaning, worth or purpose for humans. But the purpose of my statement that pantheism is superior to Enlightenment atheism is that, is to demonstrate the philosophical worthlessness of Enlightenment philosophy, for it is philosophy done in the fashion of via moderna that has no practical use for us humans.
Pierre Hadot, the author of the wonderful “Philosophy as a Way of Life”, writes in the same book:
“…at least since the time of Socrates, the choice of a way of life has not being located at the end of the process of philosophical activity, like a kind of accessory or appendix. On the contrary, it stands at the beginning, in a complex interrelation with critical reaction to other existential attitudes, with a global vision of a certain way of living and of seeing the world…This existential option, in turn, implies a certain vision of the world, and the task of philosophical discourse will therefore be to reveal and rationally justify this existential option, as well as this representation of the world. Theoretical philosophical discourse is thus born from this initial existential option, and it leads back to it, in so far as – by means of its logical and persuasive force, and the action it tries to exert upon the interlocutor – it incites both masters and disciples to live in genuine conformity with their initial choice. In other words, it is, in a way, the application of a certain ideal of life.”
The nihilism and anthropological and spiritual bankruptcy of modernity come precisely from the fact that Enlightenment philosophy (and also mediocrities like the New Atheists) does philosophy as we do science – in a detached way, completely independent of the needs, desires and aspirations of humans. And this is, basically, how we got to today’s functional specialization within society, and how things such as science, ethics, religiosity and literature seem to lack a minimum of cohesion. And the response to this impractical world-view and organisation of society is in what we Christians differ from modern gnostics, occultists and (to a lesser extent?) stoics. We make the leap of faith and submit our wills to an all-loving God who is the Way, the Truth and the Light. The gnostics follow the “path of the left hand”, they embrace the cosmos as perceived by modernity – chaotic and indifferent, and decide to seek godhood, power and freedom.
A scientist and a mathematician who recognize the objective validity of human reason are, without realizing it, making a metaphysical claim. And Nietzsche and the post-modernists knew only too well that if one is to be a naturalist, then one is to dispense also with the idea that reason is a principle objectively valid on a cosmic scale.
It is for the sake of sanity that most secular people do not (fully) embrace vitalism or something of the sorts. If only they saw that our espousal of foundationalism is simply the next step towards sanity.
- David Withun – “Sins Against Philosophy”
- C. S. Lewis – “The Abolition of Man”
- V. de Plevna – “Where the case of our Holy Faith is strongest”