COLUMN: An Old Absolute Newly Discovered – (A continuing series) — Part 7 – Rationalist atheism and the demise of its philosophical base. In addition to other reasons given in this series, one more reason why an overwhelming number of smart, intelligent and well-educated people do not take seriously the rant of modern rationalist atheism is because this particular brand of atheism is for the most part stuck in the rut of the now virtually obsolete Enlightenment era, the so-called “Age of Reason.” In this Part 7 and in Part 8, we will learn a lot about the Enlightenment Age of Reason and how it is that rationalist atheism still clings to the rapidly disappearing legacy of this age.
In passing, and with respect to historical “ages” or “eras,” history at this point finds the West in a crucial phase of cultural, philosophical and political transition. Based on several published accounts I have seen, I sense that new and powerful secular philosophies, led by different postmodern thinkers, have been steadily moving in a revolutionary direction of sweeping away remnants of Enlightenment era legacy and forging new secular “realities.”
While it is impossible to predict with any kind of precise specificity, at this point of ongoing transition, what these new secular realities will bring in their mature (or established) phase, I at least suspect that they will give rise to a new kind of antagonism between the secular world and conservative religion.
In any case, it appears to me that, in their maturity, these new secular realities are destined to become far-reaching in their impact, starting from academia and surging beyond to all major institutions. In fact, this envisioned widespread secular movement is already well underway in academia, where it is said that Enlightenment philosophy “lies in ruins” (more on this is to be shown below).
As to leading thinkers who are responsible for the current revolutionary ferment in philosophy, two of the most recent and outstanding names that come to mind are Richard Rorty (1931-2007), American professor of Philosophy, and the Jewish-French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004). Although both Rorty and Derrida have recently passed away, they succeeded before leaving this world, and now through their writings, in establishing a movement that has acquired a significant following and influence in academia, a following that is chiefly responsible for the current state of demise of the Enlightenment philosophic legacy.
This emerging new movement, which is now being called “postmodernist antifoundationalism,” has in a powerful way put whatever vestiges are left of Enlightenment rationalism forcefully on the defensive, steadily losing ground and credibility. Thus, the secular “hounds” which in the past had been barking against religion are now fighting among themselves, with unintended benefits accruing to the point of view espoused in this series. In any case, the Enlightenment era is that proud and strong, rationalist era of the past on whose legacy rationalist atheism leans on.
As a historical period, the Enlightenment Age of Reason occurred, in its initial phase of establishment in the West, approximately from the mid 1600s to the late or end of the 1700s. Two other eras are now in the process of bringing to an end whatever remnants of influence are left in the West of the Enlightenment Age of Reason. The two new eras now on the rise and superseding liberalism’s Enlightenment principles, are (1) the Post-modern and (2) the Quantum Eras, both of which are now with us in a curious co-existence.
THE ENLIGHTENMENT AND THE NON-RATIONAL
Starting with Part 2 of this series, I began to explain what I have been referring to as the “Philosophy of the Non-rational.” My intent was to impress upon my readers that I view what I call “THE NON-RATIONAL” as a principle (or “law”) of existence, analogous to what the law of gravity, for example, is in physical nature. In explaining and defining this non-rational as a principle or law, I am saying that the non-rational is essentially a principle in existence that always looms over any rational effort being envisioned or pursued by human beings, regardless of what ideology they hold.
As such, this non-rational is ever-poised to frustrate, trouble, harass, defeat or destroy such a rational effort; this would include that effort by which all human beings seek rationally not only to improve their life environment and circumstances but also to secure and prolong their very existence on this earth (see Part 2 for more on this). This, if you will, can be referred to as the “tactics” of the non-rational; the principle is UNIVERSAL.
In the Enlightenment Age of Reason, for example, we have a major case in point were we see the tactics of the non-rational unfold in a grand historical scale against a rational and rationalistic undertaking. As a major historical event, the Enlightenment Era involved the birth of a highly rational, intellectual, anti-religion movement. This RATIONALIST movement arose and progressed relatively successfully for a very long period of history. A vital part of Enlightenment philosophy involved the belief in the perfectibility of human beings and their societies through science and reason and a vision of seeing the emergence of utopian societies and a united world in which universal peace prevailed. The lyrics of John Lennon’s song “Imagine” very aptly describes this utopian dream of the Enlightenment.
As it stands now, the core of our current, established secular institutions in the West is Enlightenment-inspired, while at the same time this core finds itself under attack as to its rationalist presuppositions. Just barely hanging on philosophically, this Enlightenment-inspired core is now in the process of being debunked, overrun and overtaken by anarchistic, counter-rationalist, atheist, “post-modern” philosophies.
But if we can place the mid-point of the Enlightenment’s days of glory and establishment roughly at about the beginning of the 1700s, we can say that from that mid-point, the non-rational waited approximately two centuries before it began striking hard at Enlightenment rationalism and its utopian dreams. I can say this, first of all, because, as already explained in Part 4 with respect to postmodernism, and as I will show further on with respect to Quantum, both the Post-modern and Quantum Eras which are now “deconstructing” and superseding rationalist Enlightenment principles are essentially non-rational events in one sense or another; as such, they are counter- Enlightenment (i.e., counter-rationalist).
Secondly, I can say what I did because these two non-rational events (Post-modern and Quantum) began striking against Enlightenment Era rationalist ideology at about the start of the 1900s when these events (one in philosophy and one in science) sprung out their most significant and immediate beginnings. I say all this without even mentioning and elaborating on the counter-Enlightenment (i.e., counter-utopian) events of the first brutal world war and the bloody Bolshevik revolutions in Russia that began ABOUT THE SAME TIME as the Post-modern and Quantum eras (more on this will be said in Part 8).
Given the above, we can see that the non-rational can be extremely patient; this is part of its tactics. A rationalistic enterprise may be cruising along quite happily and prosperous, even for centuries, then, suddenly, the non-rational strikes.
In the section immediately following below, we will consider more detail on what characterizes the Post-modern and Quantum Eras which are now deconstructing and superseding rationalist Enlightenment principles.
THE POST-MODERN ERA
The Post-modern Era is an era where non-rational relativism dominates (see Part 4 of this series for more detail on Postmodernism). Relativism has been defined as “a theory, especially in ethics or aesthetics, which asserts that conceptions of truth and moral values are not absolute but are relative to the persons or groups holding them.” The Post-modern Era has important roots in the counter-Enlightenment, counter-rationalist philosophies that flourished in the 1800s. These philosophies are found, for example, in the works of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). The works of Nietzsche are primarily responsible for the movement at the start of the 1900s that eventually led to contemporary postmodern philosophy, of which Rorty and Derrida have been the leading thinkers.
Schopenhauer is particularly noteworthy in that the counter-rationalist philosophy he espoused to express his view of reality, resonates with the philosophy of the non-rational being espoused in this series. However, unlike the theistically hopeful non-rational philosophy found here, the philosophy of Schopenhauer was atheistic and full of profound, gloomy pessimism. Schopenhauer did, however, seek to admonish his readers about ways they could find to transcend the gloomy and absurd, non-rational futility that Schopenhauer, as an atheist, saw in life. See, for example, the following brief description of Schopenhauer’s philosophy given online by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
“Among 19th century philosophers, Arthur Schopenhauer was among the first to contend that at its core, the universe is not a rational place. Inspired by Plato and Kant, both of whom regarded the world as being more amenable to reason, Schopenhauer developed their philosophies into an instinct-recognizing and ultimately ascetic outlook, emphasizing that in the face of a world filled with endless strife, we ought to minimize our natural desires [so as] to achieve a more tranquil frame of mind and a disposition towards universal beneficence. Often considered to be a thoroughgoing pessimist, Schopenhauer in fact advocated ways – via artistic, moral and ascetic forms of awareness – to overcome [or transcend] a frustration-filled and fundamentally painful human condition. Since his death in 1860, his philosophy has had a special attraction for those who wonder about life’s meaning, along with those engaged in music, literature, and the visual arts. ”
Unfortunately, Schopenhauer’s call for people to follow an ascetic way of life so as to transcend the non-rational in existence is hardly the kind of advice that today’s addicted hedonistic culture would be receptive to.
THE QUANTUM ERA
The Quantum Era had its start around the end of the 1800s with discoveries made in that field of physics which studies atoms and its particles and is now referred to as “Quantum Mechanics.” These “quantum” discoveries in science brought with them a profound, revolutionary and counter-rationalistic impact that has extended well beyond the realm of science. In the next part of this series, much text will be devoted to Quantum Mechanics as we see the implications, as here described, that quantum theory is having on biblical interpretation and on the meaning of the SUPERNATURAL.
SOME PRELIMINARY COMMENTS ON THE ENLIGHTENMENT
With respect to the Enlightenment Era (the era on which rationalist atheism leans so heavily) J. Judd Owen, political science professor at Emory University, had something relevant to say about the obsolescence of this era. In the first chapter of his “Religion and the Demise of Liberal Rationalism” (published by the University of Chicago Press: 2001), Professor Owen offered the following assessment with respect to the liberal atheistic boast of rationalist atheism:
“The liberal doctrines concerning religion were the product of the Age of Reason, or the Enlightenment. These doctrines were the cornerstone of the Enlightenment’s political philosophy, as well as its political project. Today, belief in the comprehensive philosophic teaching of the Enlightenment appears to lie in ruins, and few hope that any other comprehensive philosophy could successfully replace it. This despair is, to a considerable extent, due to a radical critique of reason as such. According to this critique, there are no [self-] evident and certain principles in either natural, moral, or political science [that would substantiate Enlightenment rationalism’s presumed dominance or supremacy of reason].”
Also the following from Owen:
“Challenges to liberalism’s original self-understanding as the most rational and enlightened achievement of humankind are as old as liberalism itself. Arguably the most fundamental of these challenges [against rationalist liberalism] began over a hundred years ago when Nietzsche attempted to undermine liberalism’s rationalist grounding by a radical critique of reason as such. The critique that Nietzsche began has a complicated history, but never before has it been so pervasive and influential in the West and particularly in the United States. The form of this critique that has gained such currency in political theory as elsewhere in the academy commonly goes by the name of antifoundationalism [the central characteristic of post-modernism; see above here, and Part 4 of this series], which asserts that no claim to knowledge is founded in the one [objective, presumed to exist] truth. All claims to knowledge are from a particular human, all too human perspective [i.e. subjective, relativistic, individualistic], or are socially constructed. There is nothing [universal-absolute] to which we can appeal in order to settle the most profound human disagreements, and thus there is no possibility that the awesome variety of conflicting opinions about the things most important to human beings, including the best political order, can be transcended toward universal and objective knowledge. The original claim that liberalism is grounded in natural right and reason and therefore the claim that [such liberalism grounded in such natural right and reason] is universally legitimate ARE NAÃVE and even ARROGANT FICTIONS [emphasis added].”
Clearly then, what Professor Owen is saying is essentially the same thing I have been trying in this series to put across to my readers, namely, that the first of two main pillars of rationalist atheism, that is, a presumed real existence of a universally authoritative “REASON,” is a pure FICTION and MYTH that naive atheists are espousing with comic arrogance: How ironic, laughable and humiliating is the fact that the very thing [i.e., a universal REASON] which rationalist atheists lean on to replace their presumed non-existent god is itself non-existent; IT IS A TOTAL FANTASY, a myth that began and is founded in the Enlightenment or so-called “Age of Reason.”
It is precisely because the post-modern arguments being made against Enlightenment-inspired rationalism are so powerfully compelling, and rationally so, that this rationalism finds itself getting a beating at its own game and overwhelmingly on the defensive. Thus, what religion could not accomplish against rationalist and atheistic liberalism is being made up by the effectively powerful post-modern polemics against rationalist liberalism. In this sense we can say that religion has gratuitously acquired an unintended and unexpected ally in postmodernism; well, at least up to a point, since in most other aspects, postmodernism, in its own brand of non-rationalist atheism, is just as much against religion as it is against rationalism (for my own reaction to postmodernism, see Part 4).
But with respect to the fiction of liberalism’s REASON, it must be made clear that it is not reason itself or the reasoning process that is being viewed here as a fantasy. Within its limits, when they are realistically recognized and acknowledged, there is nothing wrong with reason; it is invaluable and indispensable as such; I try to apply it here myself, while at the same time being mindful of its limitations. However, it is rather the notion that reason is a dominant universal-absolute which is the actual fantasy.
Furthermore, with respect to reason or the reasoning process, the actual universal-absolute is the NON-RATIONAL that is inherent in the subjectivity in every person to which reason or the reasoning process always remains subject and subordinate. This is true because, under the irremovable and absolute power of the non-rational in each individual’s subjectivity, no two persons necessarily view the world and/or interprets reality exactly the same way.
I am aware that, in order to get around the post-modern counter-rationalist arguments, some liberal, rationalist and atheist humanists have insisted that it is not an absolute REASON that they advocate; it is instead, as some of these have said, a “tentative” one. In other words, according to this position, a rationalist atheist’s concept of REASON is that which turns out to be the best that human reason, guided and confirmed by the findings of empirical science, can provide at a given point in time as being the truth about reality. Such “tentative truth” is tentative in the sense that it is one which is subject to change as scientific knowledge changes in the process of discovering new truths about reality that might conflict with “prior truth.” But this means that such “new truths” will have proven “prior truths” to have been a deception at best or a delusion at worst.
However, the obvious problem with this position is the fact that if we are only talking about a TENTATIVE reason which can only give us TENTATIVE knowledge of truths that are subject to change as scientific knowledge changes, then anything such “tentative reason” tells us is true at a given point in time cannot be guaranteed or relied on to be in fact the final truth about anything at any point in time, because later on it may be proven wrong by new scientific discoveries concerning Nature (or the nature of the world); and this can go on and on without end, with knowledge always being tentative and unstable, without any possible guarantee to be the final truth.
Thus, under the “tentative reason” conception, science becomes, not a producer of certain truth about reality, but something like a blind man fumbling and stumbling around trying to lead other blind ones who are relying on the one blind man’s efforts to learn what is the truth about reality. In short, it is a case of the blind leading the blind.
Moreover, and with respect to a “tentative reason” based on ever-changing scientific knowledge, such “tentative reason” presupposes that scientific knowledge, at any given point or stage in the process of getting to “know” reality, can be relied on to provide certain and truthful knowledge of reality. As it turns out, when we learn what the fundamental empirical science of Quantum Physics is telling us about what it already knows for certain about “reality,” we find it saying (as we will learn more and more from here on) that every individual observer “creates” the very reality they observe (even the reality they want and/or expect to see), and all they can actually observe prevents them from ever being able to know, at any point in time, present or future, what objective reality in truth actually is.
There are, for example, experiments in Quantum Physics, such as the famous “dual slit” experiment (you can see this in a YouTube video), which show electrons as appearing to be playing a spooky game of visual trickery with the experimenters, as if the electrons actually know when their behavior is being observed. As soon as the electrons “become aware” they are being observed, they immediately change their behavior. There are other such mystic-like, magic-like occurrences now well-known and documented in Quantum Mechanics.
So this means that even when liberal rationalists appeal to empirical science to buttress their reliance on a so-called “tentative reason” so as to give them some sense of security or certainty about such reason, science can only reply by saying, “You are looking at the wrong place to find certainty; we can only give you unpredictable probabilities concerning reality, mystic-magical types of findings, ‘Schrodinger’s cat’ who can be dead and alive at the same time, an object that can be at two different places at the same time, Heisenberg’s ‘uncertainty principle’ where if you know where something is, you can’t know it’s speed and if you know its speed, you can’t know where it is, and other experimental findings that are akin to mysticism.”
Thus the biblical God has shut up every one of us, irremediably and hopelessly behind a veil of uncertainty, so as to leave us but only one choice for freedom from “blindness,” namely, faith in the words of his prophets, who declare with authority, “Thus says the LORD!” Such declarations cuts over the uncertainty of frail and limited human reason, the uncertainty of science and the non-rational in human subjectivity. Because the scope of the subject would be too much to deal with here, we will deal with the question of “empirical proofs” behind this assertion in Part 11 of this series.
But, in any case, as it has now been demonstrated, the notion of a universal reason, even a tentative one based on empirical scientific findings, to establish a final, unquestionable and reliable truthful judgment of universal right or wrong about anything ideological is a total fantasy. This is in addition to the fact that no two persons, even two rationalist atheists, NECESSARILY begin the reasoning process from the same identical premises or assumptions; at times, these assumptions may be so buried in the subconscious that they are never rationally and/or explicitly articulated; they may even be so non-rational that they simply cannot, for that reason alone, be articulated.
Furthermore, if there is no absolute sovereign god who is universally accepted, then there is no universally authoritative tribunal ACCEPTABLE TO EVERY PERSON to which one can appeal to determine right from wrong anyone’s starting assumptions or world view. The brute force of fascist dictatorship then becomes the only alternative left to produce absolute conformity to a given view which someone’s presumptuous “correct reason” comes up with.
But the fantasy of rationalist atheism does not just take in its non-existent First Pillar of REASON as universal-absolute, it also includes, as we will see more and more in what is to come, its Second Pillar of SCIENCE. Thus, relative to what modern science and contemporary academics are aware of in our current Post-modern and Quantum Age, the Enlightenment era was a primitive, actually un-enlightened age in Western civilization that can now only bring embarrassment to modern, cutting-edge science and academics.
Cutting edge science in particular finds itself hemmed in by its own finding of what is now being referred to, among other things, as the quantum world of physical reality, a world so weird, NON-RATIONAL, and spooky that now for over a hundred years, not a single scientist has been able to explain or make rational sense of it: The much-quoted, insightful and renowned physicist, Richard Feynman (1918-1988), said, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands Quantum Mechanics.” The topic of quantum theory will be more fully addressed in Part 10 of this series.
Clearly then, just as REASON does not rule in our current NON-RATIONAL age of Post-modern RELATIVISM, REASON does not rule either in our current age of NON-RATIONAL Quantum Science. The quantum world of physical reality is so weird and non-rational that scientists now see it as beyond hope of it ever being rationally understood. For example, University of California physicists and professors Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner, in their book, “Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness,” published by Oxford University Press (2006), have referred descriptively in page 36 to “quantum mechanics, where the challenge is to explain observations that force us [scientists] TO DENY STRAIGHTFORWARD PHYSICAL REALITY” (emphasis added).
You rationalist atheist types out there, try rationally to explain this state of affairs where your so- highly-adulated science has now reached a point that it is forced to “deny physical reality.” Try credibly to explain this, especially in view of the fact that all major attempts by the most brilliant of rationalist scientists, including the renowned, brainy scientist Albert Einstein, to overcome the non-rationality in quantum mechanics in its studies of the atomic structure of physical reality, have only ended in further confirming the innate, inseparable, and inherent quality of the NON-RATIONAL within the material substance of all physical reality.
This means that all of PHYSICAL NATURE (or reality) is non-rational to the core (“If quantum mechanics is right,” said Einstein, “then the world is crazy”). Einstein was correct, the whole of our physical world of reality is non-rational “crazy” since physical nature is made up of atoms, and the bizarre (or “crazy”) nature of the atomic structure of all physical matter is what the empirical findings of quantum mechanics has confirmed to us. This deserves special emphasis.
We must emphasize how significant is the fact that since quantum mechanics reveals the nature of physical reality at its foundation, that is, the atomic structure of all physical matter everywhere (including our human bodies), and atomic structure is the common foundation of all physical matter studied by all empirical sciences, like a domino effect, the findings of quantum mechanics inescapably carry profound implications for all scientific enterprise and for what is the essential nature of the physical universe.
Given the above, we are now well-prepared to go on to Part 8 where we will examine more closely the ancient and obsolete Enlightenment roots of rationalist atheism. It is important that we examine at least the basic elements and formative events that made the Enlightenment era what it was. With modern, rationalist atheism drawing its inspiration and basing itself for the most part as it does on what this era stood for, insofar as its views on reason and science is concerned, we will then see clearly what an utterly irrelevant, decrepit and antiquated fossil rationalist atheism is.
[tags]author John Garrison, rationalist atheism, Enlightenment era, age of reason[/tags]