Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

May 30, 2009

Ravi Zacharias, Socrates’ Daimonion, and Liberation

Filed under: godlessness — codesmithy @ 11:25 pm

Ryan asked:
Have I heard of Ravi Zacharias?

Yes I have. Like Dinesh D’Souza, I have little interest in reading the books he has written. I’ve listened to some lectures of his, although not the one Ryan offered. I couldn‘t make it through the first segment of the one Ryan provided because it runs off the rails from the start. From my limited exposure to Zacharias, my understanding of his argument is that he sees Christianity as the best solution to existential questions.

I basically see this as a repackaging of Pascal’s Wager. I can say my beliefs just don’t work like that. There is something that lets me know when I’m not being honest with myself. Socrates described something similar, which he called a “daimonion.” It literally means “divine something” in Greek, but I don’t know if Socrates literally meant it as a supernatural force. This might just be an instance of language getting in the way of communication. Regardless of whether Socrates believed his “daimonion” to be supernatural, I feel something similar that I don’t ascribe to the supernatural. Like other intangible feelings, it is hard to say if everyone experiences it the same way, or even experiences it at all. Maybe other people don’t have this “daimonion” and can believe whatever they wish to believe. All I am saying is that I have a “voice”, for lack of a better term, that won’t let me do that. It isn’t necessarily loud, but it is very persistent. This “daimonion” is a central part of my inner life. It is a source of doubt. It motivates me to try to learn new things and encourages me to question and verify what I think I know. I don’t know what Zacharias’ suggestion for wrestling with my “daimonion” is, but my “daimonion” recognizes that his is an argument from consequences, and to believe in Christianity, to believe Jesus was literally raised from the dead, the son and part of the tri-union God, born of a virgin, turned water into wine, walked on water etc. because it resolves some existential issues that I face would be the definition of delusional thinking.

From reading what some Christians have written, some seem to be aware of this experience of a “daimonion” as well. Since it tends to erode their faith, they seem to think it is Satan trying to lead them to go astray. Pascal seems to be aware of it as well and suggests to ignore it, and hope that it will go away in time. I consider this repression akin to the church’s repression of sex, and it has similar consequences: needless dysfunction and suffering.

I know this isn’t what apologetics means in this particular context, but I do wish Christian apologists would actually apologize. A good start would be apologizing for the murder of Hypatia of Alexandria who was killed by a Christian mob. If Christ died for our sins, Hypatia died for our ignorance. As a Christian, I don’t know how you could bear the suffering of this woman. She was dragged behind a chariot and flayed. Her quivering limbs tossed into flames. However, as a Christian, you would have to believe that was just the beginning of her torment. Your God tacitly consents for her to suffer an eternity of similar experiences, just as He tacitly consented to suffering she experienced in this life. I ask, what kind of justice is that?

In this respect, it is not enough to just say that the Bible is entirely implausible, which it is. We also need liberate ourselves from the desire to wish it were true. If the Bible were true, it wouldn’t be good news, it would be bad news. It would mean there was a celestial bully who commands that you love and fear Him. He makes you sick and punishes you for not being well. That our sins can be forgiven by sacrificing the innocent. A being exists that can and will convict you of thought crime. A being from which there is no hope of liberation and which you will never be able to overthrow. If you think Oceania in George Orwell’s 1984 was bad, that is nothing compared to heaven and heaven is the best you can hope for. The prospect of eventual annihilation and eternal oblivion is certainly a source of personal anxiety, the supreme existential crisis that Zacharias says Christianity resolves. I’m not arguing that it doesn’t, but as an existential choice, I wish more people recognized what an utterly revolting choice it is. It should be the choice we pick when we have no other options left, and even then with some trepidation and reluctance. Thankfully, there is no credible evidence for believing it to be true, and good reasons for believing it actually false.

We do live in a great age. Our knowledge has progressed that probability of the prospect of sacrificing your liberty and surrendering your conscience in this life in the hope of avoiding eternal torment in favor of suffering an eternal existence in a celestial equivalent of North Korea is so vanishingly small that it is being ignored or outright rejected by a significant and increasing portion of the population in many educated countries. For example, knowing what we know now about chemistry, it is entirely implausible that water can be turned into wine. Knowing what we know now about biology, it is completely implausible that a virgin would give birth to a male offspring.

The underlying reason isn’t that it isn’t just the case that a belief in Jesus requires less faith now, it is that it requires substantially more. Consequently, even from the Christian perspective, I haven’t completely understood the textual basis for condemnation of Thomas the doubter. Jesus said “blessed are those who have not seen yet have believed.” Jesus didn’t say it was required to believe in him without seeing him, he just praised those who could. According to the story, Thomas was one of Jesus’ disciples and presumably witnessed at least a few of Jesus’ other miracles and got a personal visit after Jesus rose from the dead. On the other hand, we are expected to believe, just as reverently, based on hearsay from spotty texts, some of which plagiarize each other, about a guy we’ve never physically met, which tell of implausible events that we have not seen any credible physical evidence for, coming out of a particularly illiterate part of the world and are not collaborated by independent contemporaneous secular accounts. If lots of people got up from their graves and started walking around Jerusalem, one would think someone else would make a note of it, or at least it would be in all of the gospels and not just in Matthew.

To make this point clear, I’ll draw a parallel with homeopathy. I’m not going to accept the fact that water has “memory” of let’s say onion juice, even when we know from chemistry that some of the solutions that so dilute that there is unlikely to be any molecules from the onion juice remaining, and similarly how the water “remembers” the onion juice but presumably forgets the urine, or how this exactly “memory” of onion juice helps these water molecules cure an ailment any better than a regular molecule would. That is to say, how exactly do these water molecules behave differently than other ones that don’t have a recent “memory” of onion juice? Similarly, I’m not going to accept a human man can be born of a virgin until I get a plausible explanation of where the Y-chromosome came from. I would accept parthenogenesis if the offspring were female and people noted the striking resemblances between Mary and her daughter. If this daughter then went on to tell the world about germs, atoms, stars and galaxies, spoke of Neptune and Pluto approximately 2000 years ago, I think we would have good reasons for believing some type unexplained intervention took place. Jesus’ miracles, in contrast, become increasingly discredited and provincial as our knowledge expands. Given the trend, I find it hard not to draw the obvious conclusion.

In summary, I have considered an outline of Ravi Zacharias’ argument. If you feel I am misrepresenting it, I assure you it is completely unintentional and please feel free to correct me in the comments. While I admit Christianity is a solution to the existential crises we all face, I don’t feel the solution that Christianity offers is at all desirable and is among one of the last options that I would choose, even then only if the evidence, logic and reason forced me, and with great reluctance and sorrow, for it would mean we could never be truly free. It would mean as tragic and pointless I find the suffering of poor Hypatia of Alexandria to be as an atheist. As a Christian, I would have to believe it was just an insignificant prelude to the torments the being I am compelled to worship, upon the fear of my own torment and punishment, has in store and will tacitly allow her to endure for all eternity. Thus, I freely thank all that it good that there is not a shred of credible evidence to support such a lamentable state of affairs and there are quite good reasons for believing that it is actually false. If that were not good enough, the reasons for not believing are actually getting sounder as time progresses and our knowledge expands, and I find no reason to believe this trend won’t continue far into the future as well.

This is usually the end of my interest in apologetics for I have no reason to find rationalizations for beliefs I have no desire to have in the first place independent of my “daimonion.” (Although, I occasionally can’t help myself from commenting if an apologist starts making a particularly inane claim.) However, what would convince me in one God over others is physical evidence. For example, someone showing that praying to a particular God produced better outcomes than praying to any other God under suitable controls. It wouldn’t satisfy all my objections, but it wouldn’t be something I could ignore either. This is why I didn’t really mind taking the time to read something like “90 Minutes in Heaven.” Although, I won’t spend all my time doing it, because I find many reports of miracles won’t stand up to even the most modest skepticism. I would rather just read the ones the Christians themselves find the most credible and respond to those. I think “90 Minutes in Heaven” meets that criteria. From the outset, reading apologia, like Zacharias’, just doesn’t interest me because I don’t see how it could even begin to without more evidence. Maybe you could give me some factoid from a book that would pique my interest. For example, maybe there is a book where an archeologist retraces the steps of Jesus in the Bible, finds good historical evidence for the site of the country of Gadarenes and subsequent finds the remains of a large herd of pigs in a sea or what probably was a sea 2000 years ago. Furthermore, the remains can be carbon dated to around Jesus’ time and this author got his results published in a secular peer-reviewed archeological journal thus confirming some basic facts given in the account given Matthew 8 and other gospels. Even this most likely wouldn’t convince me to become a Christian, but it is something I would find interesting to read with evidence I would accept, especially if I could see pictures of the pig bones.

Maybe you consider my refusal to read Zacharias’ book unsatisfactory or disingenuous. I’m sorry if you feel that way, but I can’t possibly read every book any one can demand of me. If you satisfactorily address the above objections, can point to some quotes in which makes it clear I’m misrepresenting Zacharias’ argument, or make a better case for why as to why I will find Zacharias’ book the least bit interesting, I assure you, I will honestly consider it. In my defense, try putting yourself in my shoes, and imagine someone suggesting that you consider the arguments for Baal more carefully. I hope from that perspective, you might consider my position more justified.

May 11, 2009

How Can One Take Terry Eagleton Seriously?

Filed under: books, culture, religion — Tags: — codesmithy @ 10:21 am

Terry Eagleton has a new book called “Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate.” Eagleton is a literature professor and Marxist. So, it comes as a little bit of a surprise that he seeks to defend the theory and practice of religion against its contemporary critics. Nevermind that Marx said religion was the “opiate” of the people and Marx’s philosophy is fundamentally atheistic; it was supposed to be scientific and utopian after all.

What Eagleton represents is someone who embraces the communist caricature of Marxism, a political movement which invented its own mysticism in the guise of dialectic materialism and became a secular equivalent to a toxic religion. Eagleton is a person who sees Jesus as some kind of proto-Marxist. In other words, a man who can only see things as he wishes them to be, not as they are.

Hence, we are faced with the Eagleton conundrum: the only way to protect one’s own irrational dogma is to protect them all. Unfortunately, the insanity of such an endeavor quickly manifests itself in obvious ways, as Eagleton does in his book, conflating Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins into the malevolent spirit he christens “Ditchkins.” Any serious discussion of Eagleton ends with the discovery of this delusional fantasy. Eagleton is no longer arguing against real critics of religion, he is arguing against chimeras of his own imagination.

One might complain about the supposed school-yard mentality of Dawkins and Hitchens. Don’t they know God can be the first cause because He (and it is almost invariably a He despite the fact that there seems to be no good reason why God would have genitalia if He was the only God) is eternal? No, because this issue has never been adequately met by theologians or apologists despite their sophistry and centuries to come up with a satisfactory answer. A theistic God, by definition, must be incredibly complex being and capable of observing, recognizing and resolving issues of unimaginable complexity.

Sure, a theistic God could explain the universe, but it falls well short of a good explanation for the following reason: however unlikely we find the possibility that the universe itself just came into existence by itself, we must admit that possibility that a complex God just popped into existence, or more unfathomably is eternal, and then created the universe is more improbable, and by a considerable degree.

From watching a one of Eagleton’s Yale lectures, it is obvious that he is not defending anything similar to Christianity as laymen practice it. Hence, having Eagleton defend religion is like having Michael Ruse defend science, one is never quite sure they get it. I have a hard time telling what distinction Eagleton would make between God and the numinous. It is quite possible he sees them as one in the same, but stripping the superstition out of religion is not a concession most believers are willing to make.

Eagleton makes the claim that God is not a Yeti. Yes, yetis aren’t invisible, aren’t able to read your thoughts, aren’t immortal, aren’t capable of altering natural laws of the universe, won’t convict you of thought crime, won’t punish you even after you die and don’t have a strange fetish about foreskins.

What Eagleton is clearly engaging in here is the time honored tradition of sophistry. He bemoans Dawkins running around in Oxford circles, and Hitchens in Washington, while simultaneously publishing a book based on lectures he gave at Yale. Yale! When Eagleton starts giving lectures at the atheist equivalents of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, next-door to Liberty University, or the University of Nebraska when resolutions are being drafted against him, then Eagleton will have a leg to stand on. Eagleton’s faux-populist appeal against the supposed elitism of atheists is only effective with a particular brand of unreflective, deluded hypocrites like Eagleton and students at Yale who are well on their way to being crafted in the mould of one of their famous alumni, George W. Bush.

Thus we reach an inescapable conclusion that Eagleton is a coward, a sophist, and a deluded hypocrite. He exists in a fog, with a mind addled by the over-study of pointless subjects. I can only hope he finds the good sense to actually listen and learn, so he might produce something of productive value to our species instead of retarding it by continuing to muddy the intellectual waters.

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