left biblioblography: April 2007

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Allegories Gone Wild - The Sins of the Fathers

As everyone's aware, the old doctrine (read: big-gaping-hole-in-the-theory-we-need-to-make-an-excuse-for) of limbo has been pretty much discarded by Catholic theology.

As I grew up Catholic, I don't recall much of this nonsense. If it got taught to me, it was very much the equivalent of water through a sieve - it didn't stick. I was too busy growing up, enjoying my childhood, etc.

I looked up the word (I do this often: I look words up constantly, even though I'm fairly confident I know the meaning already).

So when I did, there was a facet that most people haven't taken a gander at. (See? Double-checking your facts can take you off on some intriguing voyages on occasion.)

Much like the West Indian dance it shares a name with, it takes a bit of a limber spine to measure up to the bar.

I speak of course of the limbus patrum ("fathers' limbo"), where apparently all the Old Testament 'saints' were confined, until the 'Messiah' came on down and released them.

The answers.com entry says this:

The concept of the limbo of the fathers (limbus patrum) is that people who lived good lives but died before Jesus' Resurrection did not go to heaven, but rather had to wait for Christ to open heaven's gates. This concept of limbo affirms that one can get into heaven only through Jesus Christ but does not portray Moses, etc., as being punished eternally in hell.

So where on earth did they dredge this...interesting story up from?

From here (Lazarus and Dives):

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
(Translation according to the King James Version of the Bible)

How does anyone derive the concept of limbo from this quick tale? Simple, really: allegory. That dreaded meme that has so tangled our lives, that it's like random ivy growing over the walls of our minds.

But of course, there's no boilerplate anyone can agree on:

"Christians debate what the story says about the afterlife. Most Christians believe in particular judgment and see the story as consistent with it. Eastern Orthodox Christians see the story as consistent with their belief in Hades, where the righteous and unrighteous alike await the resurrection of the dead. (The word translated as hell in the story is Hades.) Western Christians usually interpret Lazarus as being in heaven or limbo and the rich man in hell.

"Instead of particular judgment, some Christians believe in soul sleep and general judgment only. Proponents of general judgment, for example Seventh-day Adventists and Christian Universalists, argue that this is a parable referring to Jewish and Gentile views of the Messiah. Other advocates of general judgment simply say that it is a parable that is devoted to morality, not the afterlife.

"In the secular view, the story represents the 1st-century Jewish belief in sheol ("Hades" in Greek, as in this passage). Sheol was said to be where all (or almost all) the dead went. In sheol, some would rest in peace and others would suffer while waiting for Judgment Day. in this story, Lazarus and the rich man both go to sheol, where the dead are divided according to their virtue. Lazarus goes to the place of comfort with Abraham while Dives is tortured in fire."

(For the more intrepid reader, here's a bizarre extrapolation of the whole thing, riddled with errors.)

This alleged event where Jesus descended into the bowels of Sheol is also termed the Harrowing of Hell - it's a great little story if you believe that sort of thing: damnation, redemption, salvation, and wrongs made right. But of course the believers bypass the obvious.

That is, if the 'fathers' were beloved, is this how an all-loving deity treats them? True enough, Gehenna and Sheol are different, but the separation of the concepts are nuanced at best.

"Hey, you loyal adherents, can you hang around for a few thousand years and eat dirt, while I sort out this whole 'original sin' mess?"

Did he pass out bibs? Recipes for some variety? Pipe in some heavenly music to fritter away the centuries?

Is this the guy you want to work for?

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Wrestling With The Eternal - A Brief Foray Into The Quantum Idiocy

AtomicSymbol

I recently had a bit of a soiree (more of a skirmish, actually) here, and it got ridiculous fairly quickly.

Fellow by the name of niran (interestingly enough, the name translates in Thai to 'eternal' - hmmm, sounds like a vested interest) - and it would be amusing, if it weren't so common in the blogosphere.

Came blaring on from another blog, laid out his premises, and when there wasn't an instant response, tried to derive victory from a lack of reply.

Typical.

From then on, said theist began trying to (what I call) dictating the premises.

Swearing was indicative of an inability to debate, he kept dragging out the Hilbert Hotel analogy, and began gloating at length about his 'triumph' (not that there was any to be found).

Most folks just walked away in disgust. He brought no evidence: he changed definitions to suit his purpose: name-dropped a number of atheists, and talked smack FOR them: all sorts of adolescent folderol.

Here's where he screwed the pooch:

Brilliant, no? Still want to continue this utterly unscientific tomfoolery? I'll try and say this politely. I've no problem with the conservation of energy. Your deductions however based on conservation of energy violate the law of conservation of matter. That means.... the deductions are wrong!! You said matter can be destroyed. If you read the above definition, you'll realise that it cannot. Name calling doesn't take away from the fact that your position is just plain wrong. It's just bad science, that's all. Pick up the pieces and fight another day mate. You've been destroyed.

Not only is the claim that I was 'utterly destroyed' bad form, but matter can indeed be destroyed. I did stipulate (several times, in fact) that energy can't be destroyed, but no matter (pun intended) how often I pointed out that the two weren't the same, this daft fellow kept equivocating like mad.

The only error I made (that I can tell), was that I tried to stay strictly within the bounds of thermodynamics, employing the KIS principle (Keep It Simple). So I began digging around elsewhere.

Surprise! I was right.

Witness:

"This leads to a different equation for continuum dynamics, as compared with general relativity. For a perfect fluid, this alternative dynamics predicts tenuous amounts of matter production or destruction, by a reversible exchange with the gravitational field. This exchange is completely determined by the dynamical equation and the scalar equation of the gravitational field. In contrast, the usual equation for relativistic continuum dynamics allows matter production only if some additional field is assumed, and the production rate must be phenomenologically postulated."

And:

"Matter can be created and destroyed in accordance to Einstein's equation E=mc^2.
This requires a re-think of the Principle of Conservation of Energy...
Energy can not be created or destroyed it changes from one form to another (which includes mass).
As for atoms having a life span, radioactive atoms certainly do have a life span, but non-radioactive atoms appear to have an infinite life... unless protons start decaying (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/proton_deca... but their half-life is approximately 10^32 years... some 10^22 times older than the universe."

Oh, and here as well:

"Physicist Charles Seife defines zero-point energy as: "The energy caused by the spontaneous creation and destruction of subatomic particles, even in the deepest vacuum. It is a prime suspect for the cause of the cosmological constant.""

Let's just never mind the atomic bomb, or perhaps any matter that enters a sun's corona, no?

Oh, and one more:

"Cosmic rays, he has time & again told the world, are born of the creation of matter in interstellar space. Last week in London, before most of the world's greatest physicists, Dr. Millikan was ready to admit, and did admit, that cosmic rays seem to be offspring of destruction as well as of creation."

I believe those four examples will be sufficient for now. I feel inordinately (but not insufferably) proud of myself, and I can rest easy, knowing that I put the kibosh on this nonsense.

Bis interimitur qui suis armis perit - He is doubly destroyed who perishes by his own arms. (Syrus)

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Profiles In Atheism - The Freelance Educator

"Prodicus of Ceos (Greek: Πρόδικος Pródikos, (c. 465 - 415) was a Greek philosopher, part of the first generation of Sophists. He was a Sophist in the full sense of a professional freelance educator."

"He came to Athens as ambassador from Ceos, and became known as a speaker and a teacher. Like Protagoras, he professed to train his pupils for domestic and civic service; but it would appear that, while Protagoras's chief instruments of education were rhetoric and style, Prodicus made linguistics prominent in his curriculum. Several of Plato's dialogues focus upon Prodicus' linguistic theory, and his insistence upon the correct use of names. There seems to have been a standing joke about the difference between his one-drachma and fifty-drachma lecture. In the Cratylus (384b) Socrates says that if he could have afforded the fifty drachmas he would now be an expert on "the correctness of names." In several of the Platonic dialogues Socrates appears as the friend and companion of Prodicus, which reveals at least that the two did have close personal relations, and that Socrates did attend at least a few of his lectures. "For Socrates, correct language was the prerequisite for correct living (including an efficient government). But Prodicus, though his linguistic teaching undoubtedly included semantic distinctions between ethical terms, had stopped at the threshold. The complete art of logoi embraced nothing less than the whole of philosophy." [2]

"While the essence of his teaching seems to have been linguistic, the Suda identifies Prodicus rather as "a natural philosopher and Sophist." In addition, Galen, includes him in a list of writers on nature. Galen also writes that he brought the linguistic discipline to bear on physiological terms. If Prodicus did contribute to natural philosophy there are no extant texts or testimonials that would illuminate his contributions.

"Much of the content, if not the actual words, of one of his rhetorical displays are known today. The speech was apparently a fable detailing the education of Heracles by Virtue. The text of the fable is to be found in the "Memorabilia" of Xenophon.

"Prodicus' outlook, like those of his fellow Sophists, was humanistic, and he interpreted religion through the framework of naturalism. His theory was that primitive man was so impressed with the gifts nature provided him for the furtherance of his life that he believed them to be the discovery of gods or themselves to embody the godhead. This theory was not only remarkable for its rationalism but for its discernment of a close connection between religion and agriculture."

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Opening The Doors of Misperception

(Crossposted at Gods4suckers.net)

(Due apologies to Aldous Huxley and William Blake)

triangle

"If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through' narrow chinks of his cavern." - Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

In some ongoing debates, I've noticed a distinct tendency on everyone's part to codify specific issues that seem to defy logic, i.e., quantum physics, thermodynamics, etc.

So this is directed at everyone - and hopefully, it'll set a few bulbs off, or refresh a memory or two.

When viewing specific topics (see examples given), our anthropic filters seem to befuddle us to no end. I have heard more than one mention that the 2nd law of thermodynamics doesn't seem to apply on a broader scale than our limited perceptions, for instance.

I say that no law is immutable, nor is it beyond breaking. This doesn't render the law violate: in a universe of flux, stasis is stagnation.

Here, I'll break it down to layman's (layperson's? Gah, I loathe political correctness!) terms.

Here in California (at least in my neck of the woods), the legal speed limit on the highways is 65 mph. If, however, you were to take a drive down I-880, you'll see innumerable instances of that law being broken. The law is still in effect. It's a matter of enforcement (though a black-and-white on the shoulder, writing a ticket, will indeed force other drivers to slow way down).

To take the simile further, if for instance, I don't own a car and/or have a CDL, the law is still in effect, but it doesn't apply to me in any way, shape, or form. I am, to abuse a phrase, above that particular law (or below, or outside of it, if anyone chooses to be overly pedantic about the bloody thing).

That being said, the other misperception we all labor under is one of straight lines.

Perfect example: in the ongoing debate of evolution vs. creationism, the latter inevitably takes the position that being human is the pinnacle of life, when in fact, evolution demonstrates that is simply not the case.

Another perfect example (one we are all prone to), is the straight line. Bear with me here.

Ever heard the phrase, 'Think outside the box'? I'm not overly fond of buzzwords or catchphrases, but cogitate for a minute. You never hear it as 'Think outside the sphere', do you? Why is that?

Because we are creatures of straight lines and angles. We have a system of counting by 10s (our digits: let's not get started on binary, octal or hexadecimal!), our limbs are lines, with angles at the joints. So just from this observation, we think linear. Sometimes, grudgingly, cyclically as well ('All nice things are round, like the universe and a baby's butt', as Chesterton phrased it so nicely).

So, springing from the basis of that observation, we tend to view things as a linear progression (point A to point B).

Then we hit the snags in modal thinking. When we observe something (say, like the 2nd law of thermodynamics), we posit an A-to-B sequence. When in actuality, the 2nd law sometimes doesn't go all the way to B, but stops halfway, and just sits there. In some cases, it'll actually go backwards. On the rare occasion, it'll skip B entirely, and go to point C (here, I will gladly take examples from the resident kibitzers - I don't doubt it happens, but an example can be found, I'm sure). At this juncture, many of us will scratch our heads, and say "What in the world...?"

Evolution's another problem, especially dealing with creationists (who are even MORE prone to this blinkered approach). I (almost) never tire of explaining to them that evolution isn't a linear progression: I compare it to a pool of observable phenomenon (yes, I know, a tree is a better example, and I'm striving to avoid the B-word).

In both circumstances, evolution and the 2nd law (sometimes) don't obey a set number of sequences. More to the point, while there is some predictability in either data set, there will be (and are) exceptions to the rule(s).

In the case of evolution, atavisms, and in the case of thermodynamics, gravitational interactions, for two examples.

So, to nutshell:

  1. Let's think non-linear (H.P Lovecraft's 'non-Euclidean' space-time continuums springs to mind), and
  2. Until the High Court of Quantum Correctness tosses out the laws of thermodynamics, I intend to abide by them.

"Exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis" - “The exception confirms the rule in the cases not excepted.”

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Nihilo Nihil Fit - More Fun With Thermodynamics

(Crossposted at Gods4suckers.net)

The theist's song:

"I got plenty of nothing
And nothing is plenty for me." Frank Sinatra, I Got Plenty O' Nothin'

The atheist's song:

"Nothing from nothing leaves nothing
You gotta have something to be with me
Nothing from nothing leaves nothing
You gotta have something to be with me."

- Billy Preston, Nothing From Nothing

Here's another flashcard - use it to your heart's content.

I've run into this nonsense on the 'Net more often than I care to - it's simply semantical wordplay, and really, fairly ridiculous.

We constantly hear this crap about the 'Uncaused Cause'. Or 'How did the universe pop into being?'

Sophistry is the word that comes to mind.

The Internet abounds with amateur armchair philosophers (I count myself amongst them) - as if the ability to regurgitate some stream-of-consciousness is validation in and of itself, like for instance, this clown.

I call him a clown, because he blathers on about the 'Uncaused Cause', with all the tired canards of stereotypes, and a witless ignorance of science.

I watched this debate unfold, and just shook my head. It's just too easy to debunk this.

So let's debone the red herring, and fry it up for tonight's dinner, shall we?

The First Law of Thermodynamics (aka the Conservation of Energy) stipulates that energy can't be destroyed - that it only changes. So, unless there's some scientific evidence to state otherwise, we will need to presuppose that energy is infinite in nature.

There - Herr Herring is now descaled. Now to fillet it:

As of May of last year (hat tip to Stardust for this one), apparently there was a contracting universe prior to this one.

According to some proposals, the Big Bang is a repeating cycle. Universes might expand, then shrink back to a point, then expand again. Thus the “bang” would be really more like a bounce.

So, infinite regress is back in the fold. Energy is infinite: the universe, not. Critical philosophers, rejoice!

There you go - science adheres to the complete opposite of exnihilation. Logic demands no less, and neither should we.

Newsflash: it's the religious who claim something from nothing.

And nothing's plenty for them.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mt. Blanco - Creationism's Going To The Dogs

I came across this the other day - utterly amusing, utterly daft.

DINOSAUR EATEN BY DOG!

Did you see the story a few months ago about a fossil dog-like animal found in China that had the remains of a baby dinosaur, a Psittacosaurus, inside its stomach contents?! Its true.

"Oh, you gotta be kiddin' me!" you say? Sadly, no. Note the wordage: 'dog-like animal'.

Mt. Blanco Museum was privileged, recently, to re-restore and mount one of these very interesting little dinosaurs.  See the previous story here.

The 'previous story' is actually a few scattered photos of how they prepped the fossil.

Stan Lutz did a very nice job on welding the frame for all this animal's tiny bones.

I doubt this'll make any 60 Minutes news stories.

THEY'RE FOR SALE. If anyone is interested, Mt. Blanco can provide you with a re-restored and mounted specimen of one of these amazing animals for around $10,000. Our mounts have movable heads and the bones all come off for transport in sections.

Get your very own portable fossils! Great for cocktail parties and bar-b-ques! Be the first on your block to own one! Comes with a full set of Ginsu knives, and several copies of 'Darwinian Fairy Tales' (damn, but distribution is LOW!).

NOTE, not long after the first dog-like animal was found, a much larger one was discovered. What this says about the old theory of mammals only being small rodents when dinosaurs filled the earth is no longer valid. Plus, you should know that a beaver-like animal fossil has now been found in China in the Jurassic sediments. This too makes the old theory of mammal evolution very outmoded.

So let's see if I've got this straight: you (the 'museum') provides absolutely no proof outside of two examples (no photos, no external news stories, a few pics of a mounted skeleton), and the foundation of biology (evolution) just comes tumbling down! (Old theories are allowed to be scotched, without destroying the entire field, ya know.)

This isn't a museum, it's a sideshow freak bally.

If you just do a little research, the whole 'theory' comes right apart at the seams.

From here:

"Another fossil from the Yixian Formation provides direct evidence of Psittacosaurus as a prey animal. One skeleton of Repenomamus giganticus, a large, aquatic triconodont mammal, is preserved with the remains of a juvenile Psittacosaurus in its abdominal cavity. Several of the juvenile's bones are still articulated, indicating that the carnivorous mammal swallowed its prey in large chunks. This specimen is notable in that it is the first known example of Mesozoic mammals preying on live dinosaurs.[26] Heavy predation on juvenile Psittacosaurus may have resulted in R-selection, the production of more numerous offspring to counteract this loss."

Note that the Repenomamus was the critter who ate Psittacosaurus' young.

Now, for the REAL reason the dinosaurs became extinct (and how the mammals are to blame!):

Ha-HA!

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Profiles in Atheism - His Majesty The King

Here's a rarity - a member of European royalty who was an atheist. Again, I learned of this via Will Durant History of Philosophy.

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"Frederick II or Frederick the Great, 1712–86, king of Prussia (1740–86), son and successor of Frederick William I.

"Early Life

"Frederick's coarse and tyrannical father despised the prince, who showed a taste for French art and literature and no interest in government and war. At the age of 18 Frederick, who had been repeatedly humiliated and ill-treated, planned to escape to England. He was arrested, imprisoned, and forced to witness the beheading of his friend and accomplice, Lieutenant Katte. Frederick submitted to his father and was released. In 1733, at his father's request, he married Elizabeth of Brunswick-Bevern, but he separated from her shortly afterward and for the rest of his life showed no interest in women.

"Prince Frederick spent the next few years at Rheinsberg, where he wrote his Anti-Machiavel, an idealistic refutation of Machiavelli, and began his long correspondence with Voltaire. His period of relative inactivity ended with his accession to the throne in 1740, after which Frederick immediately showed the qualities of leadership and decision that were to characterize his reign.

"Foreign Affairs

"In the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48) against Maria Theresa, Frederick invaded Silesia without warning, simultaneously offering his aid to Maria Theresa if she ceded a portion of Silesia to him. A brilliant campaigner, Frederick acted with utter disregard of his allies, notably France, and twice concluded separate peace treaties with Maria Theresa (1742, 1745), both times securing Upper and Lower Silesia for Prussia.

In the Seven Years War (1756–63), possession of Silesia was again in dispute; Maria Theresa wished to recover it, and Frederick faced a strong coalition including Austria, Russia, and France. England was his only strong ally. Victorious at Rossbach and Leuthen (1757), he was routed (1759) at Kunersdorf by the Austro-Russian forces, who in 1760 occupied Berlin. In that dark period, it is said, Frederick was on the verge of suicide. However, the accession (1762) of his admirer, Peter III of Russia, took Russia out of the war and opened Frederick's way to victory.

"The Peace of Hubertusburg (1763) left Frederick his previous conquests and made Prussia the foremost military power in Europe. He was brilliantly assisted by his principal generals, Seydlitz, James Keith, Ferdinand of Brunswick, Hans Joachim von Zieten, and others. Frederick is widely recognized as the 18th century's greatest general and military strategist. His tactics were studied and admired by Napoleon Bonaparte and exerted great influence on the art of warfare.

"After the peace of 1763 Frederick promoted an alliance with Russia, which had nearly defeated him in the Seven Years War. The establishment of a Russo-Prussian alliance prepared the way for the eventual dismemberment of Poland. By the first partition of Poland (see Poland, partitions of) in 1772, Frederick vastly expanded the limits of Prussia. His rivalry with Austria persisted. He opposed any attempts by Austria to extend its power within the Holy Roman Empire and instigated the War of the Bavarian Succession (1778–79) to prevent Austrian annexation of Bavaria. He also created (1785) the Fürstenbund [league of princes] to check Austrian schemes.

"Internal Affairs

"Frederick continued his father's fundamental domestic policies. His first care was the strength and discipline of his army. An “enlightened despot,” he instituted important legal and penal reforms, set up trade monopolies to create new industries, forwarded education, and accomplished internal improvements such as drainage projects, roads, and canals. Though he improved the lot of his own serfs, the nobility had more control over their peasants after his reign than before.

"Character

"Frederick was tolerant in religious matters, personally professing atheism to his intimates. Cold and curt, he relaxed only during his famous midnight suppers at Sans Souci, his residence at Potsdam. There he was surrounded by a group of educated men, mostly French, that included at times Voltaire (who broke with him in 1753 but who later resumed his friendship from a safe distance), d'Alembert, La Mettrie, and Maupertuis.

"Frederick's wit was corrosive and icy. He wrote inconsequential poetry and remarkable prose on politics, history, military science, philosophy, law, and literature. Nearly all his writings were in French. He failed to appreciate such men as Lessing and Goethe, who were among his most ardent admirers. A pupil of Quantz, he played the flute creditably, and he composed marches, concertos for the flute, and other pieces. Frederick's personal appearance in his later years—small, sharp-featured, untidy, and snuff-stained—has become part of the legend of “Old Fritz.” He was succeeded by his nephew, Frederick William II."

Some quotes, of course:

I think it better to keep a profound silence with regard to the Christian fables, which are canonized by their antiquity and the credulity of absurd and insipid people. — Frederick the Great, Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), transl. Richard Aldington, letter 37 from Frederick to Voltaire, June 1738.

[N]either antiquity nor any other nation has imagined a more atrocious and blasphemous absurdity than that of eating God. … This is how Christians treat the autocrat of the universe. — Frederick the Great, Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), transl. Richard Aldington, letter 215 from Frederick to Voltaire, 19 March 1776.

For further reading, here is a web site dedicated to King Frederick.

Till the next post, then.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

That Dark Grimoire of God

It is a book that is indeed a grimoire, a book of spells that casts a curtain of glamour upon the mind of the recipient, a pale shadow that smothers reason, throttles logic, and tosses sense to the ravening wolves. Yes: I speak of that book that I can only say with a mixture of sneer and disgust, the holy bible. Its rhetoric bewitches the believer; its intricate verbal dance that hypnotizes; the powerful lure of its false promises that elevate the follower to some mysterious higher plane of moral superiority.

Personally, I try to adhere to those Elvis Costello lyrics: "I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused." But my sense of humor seems deficient whenever I read through its pages, and my eyes start from my sockets at some new outrage, some new idiocy, and some new atrocity that defies belief.

Mine is an argument from outrage. I admit this freely, to any who would contest it. Does this detract from any of my points? No. Does this invalidate anything I may say against this demonic tome? No. And yet somehow, somewhere, some fanatic uses this as a talking point to subtract all sense from the argument.

If I were to believe in a Devil, a dark prince, a personified principle of evil made flesh, then this is his work. The savagery contained within is enough to weaken the knees of the stout, and tremble the bowels of those with intestinal fortitude.

For the acts perpetrated in its name, the pages should be made of flesh, and the ink to print it made of blood. It is falsehood made printed fact, barbarism in black and white, a specious substitute for sense, common or otherwise. Let the crimson tides recede, and sink that book within the bloody waters.

It makes of man a worm, a worthless piece of cosmic detritus. It tells man he was born defective, and can only rise above the defect by praising that which made him so insignificant, so utterly unworthy. Humanity is no Thalidomide baby, to be cured of its deformity by the laying on of abstract hands. Nor is my species beneath contempt. We can be foolish: no doubt. We can be introversive, self-absorbed to the point of asininities: no argument. We can be cruel, divisive, and there have been those among us who have been evil, this is true.

But these are problems that can be evolved beyond: these are issues that can be resolved, with work. But in no way, shape, or form, is my species beholden to some invisible being that strangely ceased to step into our affairs ever so long ago.

Part of the issue with religion of any sort, is that as herd animals, pack animals if you prefer, we have an instinctive need to belong to something larger than ourselves. But that is all it is: an instinct. All else is buffoonery; all else is detriment and detritus.

And all any one of us ever truly needs, we have within us. We have but to stop searching outside of ourselves, and do more than just glance: each of us needs to look deeply within. To rise above the knee-jerk response of reptilian ganglia, and rise above our feral instincts, and let our potential breathe freely and fulfill itself. All else is dross; all else is dreck.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Oedipus Rex Revisited - Id, Ego, and Superego And The Ongoing Efforts of Ontological Atheism

I have been reading a paper by one Professor Paul C. Vitz, entitled The Psychology of Atheism.

For the most part, I find it terribly casuistic - riddled with presuppositionalism, fallacies, and drawing extensively on Freudian pathos. He keeps the biblical quotes to a discreet minimum, but as this is a diatribe directed at the non-religious, some were bound to slip in. His full book on Freud can be found on the first link supplied above.

(This is a really long one - my apologies.)

First, the intro.

The title of this paper, "The Psychology of Atheism," may seem strange. Certainly, my psychological colleagues have found it odd and even, I might add, a little disturbing. After all, psychology, since its founding roughly a century ago, has often focused on the opposite topic-namely the psychology of religious belief. Indeed, in many respects the origins of modern psychology are intimately bound up with the psychologists who explicitly proposed interpretations of belief in God.

Personally, I find it more than a bit odd, that after thousands of years, no one can seem to pinpoint a more exacting definition of this deity, let alone prove that it exists.

William James and Sigmund Freud, for example, were both personally and professionally deeply involved in the topic. Recall The Will to Believe by James, as well as his still famous Varieties of Religious Experience. These two works are devoted to an attempt at understanding belief as the result of psychological, that is natural, causes. James might have been sympathetic to religion, but his own position was one of doubt and skepticism and his writings were part of psychology's general undermining of religious faith. As for Sigmund Freud, his critiques of religion, in particular Christianity, are well known and will be discussed in some detail later. For now, it is enough to remember how deeply involved Freud and his thought have been with the question of God and religion.

Anybody who scans William James' works can glean that he was far more than simply 'sympathetic': he even experimented on himself (with psychotropic's, no less) in an effort to plumb the depths of mysticism. So there's strawman #1.

Given the close involvement between the founding of much of psychology and a critical interpretation of religion, it should not be surprising that most psychologists view with some alarm any attempt to propose a psychology of atheism. At the very least such a project puts many psychologists on the defensive and gives them some taste of their own medicine. Psychologists are always observing and interpreting others and it is high time that some of them learn from their own personal experience what it is like to be put under the microscope of psychological theory and experiment. Regardless, I hope to show that the psychological concepts used quite effectively to interpret religion are two- edged swords that can also be used to interpret atheism. Sauce for the believer is equally sauce for the unbeliever.

That's all fine and dandy. One might note that not all psychologists are atheists: the methodology is more often materialistic, but I think there's a false dichotomy in there somewhere.

Before beginning, however, I wish to make two points bearing on the underlying assumption of my remarks. First, I assume that the major barriers to belief in God are not rational but-in a general sense- can be called psychological. I do not wish to offend the many distinguished philosophers-both believers and nonbelievers-in this audience, but I am quite convinced that for every person strongly swayed by rational argument there are many, many more affected by nonrational psychological factors.

He qualifies it - a distinct effort to seem bipartisan.

The human heart-no one can truly fathom it or know all its deceits, but at least it is the proper task of the psychologist to try. Thus, to begin, I propose that neurotic psychological barriers to belief in God are of great importance. What some of these might be I will mention shortly. For believers, therefore, it is important to keep in mind that psychological motives and pressures that one is often unaware of, often lie behind unbelief.

The rational proposition, as I see it, is not to believe or disbelieve - it's to weigh whatever evidence is on the table, and decide. It's a two-edged sword, as Vitz says: there are also motives and pressures that lie behind belief itself as well.

One of the earliest theorists of the unconscious, St. Paul, wrote, "I can will what is right, but I cannot do it . . . I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind . . ." (Rom. 7:18, 23). Thus, it seems to me sound theology as well as sound psychology that psychological factors can be impediments to belief as well as behavior, and that these may often be unconscious factors as well. Further, as a corollary it is reasonable to propose that people vary greatly in the extent to which these factors are present in their lives. Some of us have been blessed with an upbringing, a temperament, social environment, and other gifts that have made belief in God a much easier thing than many who have suffered more or have been raised in a spiritually impoverished environment or had other difficulties with which to cope. Scripture makes it clear that many children-even into the third or fourth generation-suffer from the sins of their fathers, including the sins of fathers who may have been believers. In short, my first point is that some people have much more serious psychological barriers to belief than others, a point consistent with the scriptures' clear statement that we are not to judge others, however much we are called to correct evil.

Right out the door, he quotes the bible. An appeal to authority from someone who, by all rights was not a 'theorist of the unconscious'. He bypasses all the corollary evidence of people who have actually lived and thrived in these 'blessed' environments, who have come to their unbelief via rational means.

My second point as qualification is that in spite of serious difficulties to belief, all of us still have a free choice to accept God or reject Him. This qualification is not in contradiction to the first. Perhaps a little elaboration will make this clearer. One person, as a consequence of his particular past, present environment, etc., may find it much harder than most people to believe in God. But presumably, at any moment, certainly at many times, he can choose to move toward God or to move away. One man may start with so many barriers that even after years of slowly choosing to move toward God he may still not be there. Some may die before they reach belief. We assume they will be judged-like all of us- on how far they traveled toward God and how well they loved others-on how well they did with what they had. Likewise, another man without psychological difficulties at all is still free to reject God, and no doubt many do. Thus, although the ultimate issue is one of the will and our sinful nature, it is still possible to investigate those psychological factors that predispose one to unbelief, that make the road to belief in God especially long and hard.

The hypothesis (which remains all throughout the treatise) that his deity does indeed exist - hence, my accusation of presuppositionalism. I understand that this is an approach from belief, it is (to this point) entirely one-sided, and decidedly unscientific.

The Psychology of Atheism: Social and Personal Motives

There seems to be a widespread assumption throughout much of the Western intellectual community that belief in God is based on all kinds of irrational immature needs and wishes, but atheism or skepticism is derived from a rational, no- nonsense appraisal of the way things really are. To begin a critique of this assumption, I start with my own case history.

Well, we can compare case histories. The major problem with this approach is confirmation bias - which is why anecdotal evidence is considered sketchy at best.

As some of you know, after a rather weak, wishy-washy Christian upbringing, I became an atheist in college in the 1950s and remained so throughout graduate school and my first years as a young experimental psychologist on the faculty at New York University. That is, I am an adult convert or, more technically, a reconvert to Christianity who came back to the faith, much to his surprise, in my late thirties in the very secular environment of academic psychology in New York City.

I am not going into this to bore you with parts of my life story, but to note that through reflection on my own experience it is now clear to me that my reasons for becoming and for remaining an atheist-skeptic from about age 18 to 38 were superficial, irrational, and largely without intellectual or moral integrity. Furthermore, I am convinced that my motives were, and still are, commonplace today among intellectuals, especially social scientists.

This is an old canard: 'I used to be one of them, ergo, this qualifies me to diagnose them.' I might add, that there are quite a few more theists-to-atheists than the reverse. Ipse dixit.

[...]

General socialization. An important influence on me in my youth was a significant social unease. I was somewhat embarrassed to be from the Midwest, for it seemed terribly dull, narrow, and provincial. There was certainly nothing romantic or impressive about being from Cincinnati, Ohio and from a vague mixed German-English-Swiss background. Terribly middle class. Further, besides escape from a dull, and according to me unworthy, socially embarrassing past, I wanted to take part in, in fact to be comfortable in, the new, exciting, even glamorous, secular world into which I was moving.

So he faults peer pressure? I have always felt, that those who bow to the wishes of those around them, are oftentimes the weakest of individuals. A true philosopher isn't a sycophant - rather, a person of strong words and character.

I am sure that similar motives have strongly influenced the lives of countless upwardly mobile young people in the last two centuries. Consider Voltaire, who moved into the glittery, aristocratic, sophisticated world of Paris, and who always felt embarrassed about his provincial and nonaristocratic origin; or the Jewish ghettos that so many assimilating Jews have fled, or the latest young arrival in New York, embarrassed about his fundamentalist parents. This kind of socialization pressure has pushed many away from belief in God and all that this belief is associated with for them.

Ahem: Voltaire was many, many things, but an unbeliever wasn't one of them. He was renounced by some of the Encyclopediasts of the time for believing in a god of any sort. Hardly an atheist, and the hidden comparison of Vitz juxtaposed with Voltaire is terribly lame. To assume that he fell under the influence of peer pressure is to negate everything he accomplished. He spoke against not only organized religion, but against much of the common folklore - he was even exiled from France. So no, poor analogy.

I remember a small seminar in graduate school where almost every member there at some time expressed this kind of embarrassment and response to the pressures of socialization into "modern life." One student was trying to escape his Southern Baptist background, another a small town Mormon environment, a third was trying to get out of a very Jewish Brooklyn ghetto, and the fourth was me.

Embarrassed about where they came from? Sounds terribly neurotic to me, but I'm no psychologist.

Specific socialization. Another major reason for my wanting to become an atheist was that I desired to be accepted by the powerful and influential scientists in the field of psychology. In particular, I wanted to be accepted by my professors in graduate school. As a graduate student I was thoroughly socialized by the specific "culture" of academic research psychology. My professors at Stanford, however much they might disagree on psychological theory, were, as far as I could tell, united in only two things-their intense personal career ambition and their rejection of religion. As the psalmist says, ". . . The man greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord. In the pride of his countenance the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, 'There is no God'" (Psalm 10:3-4).

This, I might point out, is Stanford. However, I note that there's no name-dropping or finger-pointing: a nice, generalized broad brush is applied.

In this environment, just as I had learned how to dress like a college student by putting on the right clothes, I also learned to "think" like a proper psychologist by putting on the right-that is, atheistic-ideas and attitudes.

More peer pressure. Ho-hum.

Personal convenience. Finally, in this list of superficial, but nevertheless, strong irrational pressures to become an atheist, I must list simple personal convenience. The fact is that it is quite inconvenient to be a serious believer in today's powerful secular and neo-pagan world. I would have had to give up many pleasures and a good deal of time.

And here he applies yet another broad brush: the world at large is by no means secular or neo-pagan. A brush-up on current events would be useful here. Very simply, it's the old canard: "You just don't want to give up your hedonistic ways!" As evidenced by the following paragraph.

Without going into details it is not hard to imagine the sexual pleasures that would have to be rejected if I became a serious believer. And then I also knew it would cost me time and some money. There would be church services, church groups, time for prayer and scripture reading, time spent helping others. I was already too busy. Obviously, becoming religious would be a real inconvenience.

As opposed to, say, a pan-satyrical lifestyle, with all the liver failures, STDs, and shortened life-spans? Please.

Now perhaps you think that such reasons are restricted to especially callow young men-like me in my twenties. However, such reasoning is not so restricted. Here I will take up the case of Mortimer Adler, a well known American philosopher, writer, and intellectual who has spent much of his life thinking about God and religious topics. One of his most recent books is titled How to Think About God: A Guide for the 20th Century Pagan (1980). In this work, Adler presses the argument for the existence of God very strongly and by the latter chapters he is very close to accepting the living God. Yet he pulls back and remains among "the vast company of the religiously uncommitted" (Graddy, 1982). But Adler leaves the impression that this decision is more one of will than of intellect. As one of his reviewers notes (Graddy, 1982), Adler confirms this impression in his autobiography, Philosopher at Large (1976). There, while investigating his reasons for twice stopping short of a full religious commitment, he writes that the answer "lies in the state of one's will, not in the state of one's mind." Adler goes on to comment that to become seriously religious "would require a radical change in my way of life . . ." and "The simple truth of the matter is that I did not wish to live up to being a genuinely religious person" (Graddy, p. 24).

Strawman #2: Mortimer Adler's motives are not every atheist's motives. Adler became fervently religious about one year prior to his death (perhaps there are no 'psychologists in foxholes').

There you have it! A remarkably honest and conscious admission that being "a genuinely religious person" would be too much trouble, too inconvenient. I can't but assume that such are the shallow reasons behind many an unbeliever's position.

Really. It's terribly inconvenient to be an atheist in this day and age. We forego the intense religious social networks that have been built over the ages, we take the risk of being exiled, banished, social pariahs, etc. Really, these fallacies of the unrepresentative samples are just...embarrassing.

In summary, because of my social needs to assimilate, because of my professional needs to be accepted as part of academic psychology, and because of my personal needs for a convenient lifestyle-for all these needs atheism was simply the best policy. Looking back on these motives, I can honestly say that a return to atheism has all the appeal of a return to adolescence.[2]

If you bend to public demand, I can't say you have very strong character, but that's just me.

The Psychology of Atheism: Psychoanalytic Motives

"As is generally known, the central Freudian criticism of belief in God is that such a belief is untrustworthy because of its psychological origin. That is, God is a projection of our own intense, unconscious desires; He is a wish fulfillment derived from childish needs for protection and security. Since these wishes are largely unconscious, any denial of such an interpretation is to be given little credence. It should be noted that in developing this kind of critique, Freud has raised the ad hominem argument to one of wide influence. It is in The Future of an Illusion (1927, 1961) that Freud makes his position clearest:

"[R]eligious ideas have arisen from the same needs as have all the other achievements of civilization: from the necessity of defending oneself against the crushing superior force of nature. (p. 21)"

Observation as ad hominem: what a surprise.

Therefore, religious beliefs are:

illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest

and most urgent wishes of mankind . . . As we

already know, the terrifying impression of

helplessness in childhood aroused the need for

protection-for protection through love-which

was provided by the father . . . Thus the benevolent rule of a divine Providence allays our fear of the danger of life. (p. 30)

Let us look at this argument carefully, for in spite of the enthusiastic acceptance of it by so many uncritical atheists and skeptics, it is really a very weak position.

It's hardly weak - I'd say it was evolutionary.

In the first paragraph Freud fails to note that his arguments against religious belief are, in his own words, equally valid against all the achievements of civilization, including psychoanalysis itself. That is, if the psychic origin of an intellectual achievement invalidates its truth value, then physics, biology, much less psychoanalysis itself, are vulnerable to the same charge.

This is simply ridiculous. Religion hardly qualifies as an achievement, for one: for another, it's the equivalent of damning astronomy for having its roots in astrology. How physics and biology stem from childhood neuroses is a mystery indeed.

In the second paragraph Freud makes another strange claim, namely that the oldest and most urgent wishes of mankind are for the loving protecting guidance of a powerful loving Father, for divine Providence. However, if these wishes were as strong and ancient as he claims, one would expect pre-Christian religion to have strongly emphasized God as a benevolent father. In general, this was far from the case for the pagan religion of the Mediterranean world-and, for example, is still not the case for such popular religions as Buddhism and for much of Hinduism. Indeed, Judaism and most especially Christianity are in many respects distinctive in the emphasis on God as a loving Father.

Wow, Vitz's strong suit is obviously not religious history. Atum-Ra? Ahriman? Brahma? Judaism had emphasis on God as a loving father? Talk about confirmation bias.

However, let us put these two intellectual gaffes aside and turn to another understanding of his projection theory. It can be shown that this theory is not really an integral part of psychoanalysis- and, thus cannot claim fundamental support from psychoanalytic theory. It is essentially an autonomous argument. Actually, Freud's critical attitude toward and rejection of religion is rooted in his personal predilections and is a kind of meta psychoanalysis-or background framework which is not well connected to his more specifically clinical concepts. (This separation or autonomy with respect to most psychoanalytic theory very likely accounts for its influence outside of psychoanalysis.) There are two pieces of evidence for this interpretation of the projection theory.

As I've amply demonstrated (I, an undegreed layman, no less!), these are by no means 'intellectual gaffes'. Onwards.

The first is that this theory had been clearly articulated many years earlier by Ludwig Feuerbach in his book The Essence of Christianity (1841, 1957). Feuerbach's interpretation was well-known in European intellectual circles, and Freud, as a youth, read Feuerbach avidly (see Gedo & Pollock, 1976, pp. 47, 350). Here are some representative quotes from Feuerbach which make this clear:

What man misses- whether this be an articulate and therefore conscious, or an unconscious, need-that is his God. (1841, 1957, p. 33)

Man projects his nature into the world outside himself before he finds it in himself. (p. 11)

To live in projected dream-images is the essence of religion. Religion sacrifices reality to the projected dream. . . (p. 49)

Many other quotes could be provided in which Feuerbach describes religion in "Freudian" terms such as wish-fulfillment, etc. What Freud did with this argument was to revive it in a more eloquent form, and publish it at a later time when the audience desiring to hear such a theory was much larger. And, of course, somehow the findings and theory of psychoanalysis were implied as giving the theory strong support. The Feuerbachian character of Freud's Illusion position is also demonstrated by such notions as "the crushing superior force of nature" and the "terrifying impression of helplessness in childhood," which are not psychoanalytic in terminology or in meaning.

Wait: you can't declare either 'notion' as devoid of meaning, unless you can demonstrate that. Calling an oxen a cow doesn't mean it metamorphs into the label. As to 'a superior force of nature', I'm sure any of us can name at least one. As to 'helplessness in childhood' - has this professor ever suffered as a child at the hands of a larger bully? What errant crap.

The other piece of evidence for the nonpsychoanalytic basis of the projection theory comes directly from Freud, who explicitly says so himself. In a letter of 1927 to his friend Oskar Pfister (an early psychoanalyst, and believing Protestant pastor), Freud wrote:

Let us be quite clear on the point that the views expressed in my book (The Future of an Illusion) form no part of analytic theory. They are my personal views. (Freud/Pfister, 1963, p. 117).

There is one other somewhat different interpretation of belief in God which Freud also developed, but although this has a very modest psychoanalytic character, it is really an adaptation of Feuerbachian projection theory. This is Freud's relatively neglected interpretation of the ego ideal. The super-ego, including the ego ideal is the "heir of the Oedipus complex," representing a projection of an idealized father-and presumably of God the Father (see Freud, 1923, 1962, pp. 26-28; p. 38).

So now hold on here: earlier, Vitz claims that atheism is at the root of all psychoanalysis, goes on at length about Freud, but Sigmund stipulates in his own words that his views on religion (and I quote) "Form no part of analytic theory". Confused yet? So am I.

I might also note, that the dear professor seems to be guilty of quote-mining:

From the The Future of an Illusion Wiki entry:

"Freud, who spent his life trying to destroy illusions and complete what Max Weber called the "disenchantment of the world," seems to hesitate when it comes to the future of religious phenomena. He says he is in favor of "retaining the religious doctrinal system as the basis of education and of man's communal life." Just as Charles Maurras at the time defended Catholicism as an element of political order in spite of his naturalist positivism, Freud, in spite of his atheism, defended Christian education (the teaching of religion was required in Austrian schools) "which is so important for the safeguarding of civilization."

The difficulty here is that the ego ideal did not really receive great attention or development within Freud's writings. Furthermore, it is easily interpreted as an adoption of Feuerbach's projection theory. Thus, we can conclude that psychoanalysis does not in actuality provide significant theoretical concepts for characterizing belief in God as neurotic. Freud either used Feuerbach's much older projection or illusion theory or incorporated Feuerbach in his notion of the ego ideal. Presumably, this is the reason Freud acknowledged to Pfister that his Illusion book was not a true part of psychoanalysis.

Ummm...newsflash: projection is a valid psychological modality. So all this is idle speculation. Note that there's no valid debunking of Feuerbach (just a brief speculative sketch, later), just Freud (the latter whom, by the way, is very much in disrepute anyways, even being that he was the father of psychoanalysis).

Atheism as Oedipal Wish Fulfillment

Nevertheless, Freud is quite right to worry that a belief can be an illusion because it derives from powerful wishes- from unconscious, childish needs. The irony is that he clearly did provide a very powerful, new way to understand the neurotic basis of atheism. (For a detailed development of this position see Vitz and Gartner, 1984a, b; Vitz, 1986, in press.)

'Turnabout is fair play', I suppose

The Oedipus Complex

The central concept in Freud's work, aside from the unconscious, is the now well-known Oedipus Complex. In the case of male personality development, the essential features of this complex are the following: Roughly in the age period of three to six the boy develops a strong sexual desire for the mother. At the same time the boy develops an intense hatred and fear of the father, and a desire to supplant him, a "craving for power." This hatred is based on the boy's knowledge that the father, with his greater size and strength, stands in the way of his desire. The child's fear of the father may explicitly be a fear of castration by the father, but more typically, it has a less specific character. The son does not really kill the father, of course, but patricide is assumed to be a common preoccupation of his fantasies and dreams. The "resolution" of the complex is supposed to occur through the boy's recognition that he cannot replace the father, and through fear of castration, which eventually leads the boy to identify with the father, to identify with the aggressor, and to repress the original frightening components of the complex.

Most of this, as I've said before, has fallen into disrepute. For something that Vitz stipulates as the core of Freud's atheism, old Sigmund devoted very little of his writings to it. For a more exacting, nuanced version on the Oedipus Rex Complex (herein referred to as ORC), read here. Whether Vitz was indulging in simplistic reductionism, or was encapsulating for a brief talk remains unclear: I'd ascribe the latter, but for his obvious bias.

It is important to keep in mind that, according to Freud, the Oedipus complex is never truly resolved, and is capable of activation at later periods-almost always, for example, at puberty. Thus the powerful ingredients of murderous hate and of incestuous sexual desire within a family context are never in fact removed. Instead, they are covered over and repressed. Freud expresses the neurotic potential of this situation:

The Oedipus-complex is the actual nucleus of neuroses . . . What remains of the complex in the unconscious represents the disposition to the later development of neuroses in the adult (Freud, 1919, Standard Edition, 17, p. 193; also 1905, S.E. 7, p. 226ff.; 1909, S.E., 11, p. 47).

In short, all human neuroses derive from this complex. Obviously, in most cases, this potential is not expressed in any seriously neurotic manner. Instead it shows up in attitudes toward authority, in dreams, slips of the tongue, transient irrationalities, etc.

Now wait just a minute: can the good professor make up his mind? He ascribes all neuroses to the ORC, when Freud, by his own words stipulates that it wasn't anywhere near being a core value. I've searched for this quote online - and it only appears in Vitz's writings. It is possible that Freud said it, but I'd like to confirm it within context.

Now, in postulating a universal Oedipus complex as the origin of all our neuroses, Freud inadvertently developed a straightforward rationale for understanding the wish-fulfilling origin of rejecting God. After all, the Oedipus complex is unconscious, it is established in childhood and, above all, its dominant motive is hatred of the father and the desire for him not to exist, especially as represented by the desire to overthrow or kill the father. Freud regularly described God as a psychological equivalent to the father, and so a natural expression of Oedipal motivation would be powerful, unconscious desires for the nonexistence of God. Therefore, in the Freudian framework, atheism is an illusion caused by the Oedipal desire to kill the father and replace him with oneself. To act as if God does not exist is an obvious, not so subtle disguise for a wish to kill Him, much the same way as in a dream, the image of a parent going away or disappearing can represent such a wish: "God is dead" is simply an undisguised Oedipal wish-fulfillment.

That is strawman #3, see the commentary above this paragraph.

It is certainly not hard to understand the Oedipal character of so much contemporary atheism and skepticism. Hugh Heffner, even James Bond, with their rejection of God plus their countless girls, are so obviously living out Freud's Oedipal and primal rebellion (e.g., Totem and Taboo). So are countless other skeptics who live out variations of the same scenario of exploitative sexual permissiveness combined with narcissistic self-worship.

Oh, no doubt. I wonder where Dennet, PZ Meyers, Dawkins and their cohorts secrete their little harems? Who historically had harems, anyways? Solomon springs to mind. Some ancient caliphs, no doubt. Mormons. Statistics show that religious folks have more morality issues than non-religious. (Psst! James Bond is a fictional character.)

And, of course, the Oedipal dream is not only to kill the father and possess the mother or other women in the group but also to displace him. Modern atheism has attempted to accomplish this. Now man, not God, is the consciously specified ultimate source of goodness and power in the universe. Humanistic philosophies glorify him and his "potential" much the same way religion glorifies the Creator. We have devolved from one God to many gods to everyone a god. In essence, man-through his narcissism and Oedipal wishes-has tried to succeed where Satan failed, by seating himself on the throne of God. Thanks to Freud it is now easier to understand the deeply neurotic, thoroughly untrustworthy psychology of this unbelief.

And of course, Old Scratch Hisself rises from this lop-sided analysis, whispering his sweet nothings in our collective ears. Obviously, this is the Tu Quoque writ large: that is, accusing the opposition of like behavior. Most atheists I'm aware of posit that we are the repository of all things good, but only in relation to our own species, hardly the universe. I'm with Feuerbach on this one: we're just projecting ourselves onto the universe, and trying to remake it in our own image.

One interesting example of the Oedipal motivation proposed here is that of Voltaire, a leading skeptic about all things religious who denied the Christian and Jewish notion of a personal God-of God as a Father. Voltaire was a theist or deist who believed in a cosmic, depersonalized God of unknown character.

Nice to qualify that post ex facto. I say it's pretty easy to depersonalize someone who never makes an appearance, but what do I know?

The psychologically important thing about Voltaire is that he strongly rejected his father-so much that he rejected his father's name and took the name "Voltaire." It is not exactly certain where the new name came from but one widely held interpretation is that it was constructed from the letters of his mother's last name. When Voltaire was in his early twenties (in 1718), he published a play entitled "Oedipus" (Edipe), the first one of his plays to be publicly performed. The play itself recounts the classic legend with heavy allusions to religious and political rebellion. Throughout his life, Voltaire (like Freud) toyed with the idea that he was not his father's son. He apparently felt the desire to be from a higher, more aristocratic family than his actual middle-class background. (A major expression of this concern with having a more worthy father is the play Candide.) In short, Voltaire's hostility to his own father, his religious rejection of God the Father, and his political rejection of the king-an acknowledged father figure-are all reflections of the same basic needs. Psychologically speaking, Voltaire's rebellion against his father and against God are easily interpretable as Oedipal wish fulfillment, as comforting illusions, and therefore, following Freud, as beliefs and attitudes unworthy of a mature mind.

Voltaire, as I've stated before, didn't reject the concept of a father-god: instead, he relegated it to an abstract concept, which is hardly the same as outright denial.

Diderot, the great Encyclopaedist and an avowed atheist-indeed he is one of the founding brothers of modern atheism-also had both Oedipal preoccupation and insight. Freud approvingly quotes Diderot's anticipatory observation:

If the little savage were left to himself, preserving all his foolishness and adding to the small sense of a child in the cradle the violent passions of a man of thirty, he would strangle his father and lie with his mother (from Le neveau de Rameau; quoted by Freud in Lecture XXI of his Introductory Lectures (1916- 1917), S.E., 16, pp. 331-338).

How odd it is, that there's no dissection of Diderot's filial affiliations: probably because of embarrassment, since Denis was raised by Jesuits. Oh, wait! He was an orphan too! Hold on: aren't the Jesuits notoriously draconian? Hmmm...

The Psychology of Atheism: The Theory of Defective Father

I am well aware of the fact that there is good reason to give only limited acceptance to Freud's Oedipal theory. In any case, it is my view that although the Oedipus complex is valid for some, the theory is far from being a universal representation of unconscious motivation. Since there is need for deeper understanding of atheism and since I don't know of any theoretical framework-except the Oedipal one-I am forced to sketch out a model of my own, or really to develop an undeveloped thesis of Freud. In his essay on Leonardo Da Vinci, Freud made the following remark:

Psychoanalysis, which has taught us the intimate connection between the father complex and belief in God, has shown us that the personal God is logically nothing but an exalted father, and daily demonstrates to us how youthful persons lose their religious belief as soon as the authority of the father breaks down (Leonardo Da Vinci, 1910, 1947 p. 98).

Ah, so now he posits that Freud's ORC theories were underdeveloped. Really, burying this deep within the central thesis instead of defining it at the outset is really...disingenuous. I've not read the abstract, but as I understand it, Freud was analyzing Da Vinci in an effort to see if the man was gay.

Short version: the OCR is uni-directional, and directed only at atheists.

This statement makes no assumptions about unconscious sexual desires for the mother, or even about presumed universal competitive hatred focused on the father. Instead he makes the simple easily understandable claim that once a child or youth is disappointed in and loses his or her respect for their earthly father, then belief in their heavenly Father becomes impossible. There are, of course, many ways that a father can lose his authority and seriously disappoint a child. Some of these ways-for which clinical evidence is given below-are:

  1. He can be present but obviously weak, cowardly, and unworthy of respect- even if otherwise pleasant or "nice."
  2. He can be present but physically, sexually, or psychologically abusive.
  3. He can be absent through death or by abandoning or leaving the family.
Taken all together these proposed determinants of atheism will be called the "defective father" hypothesis. To support the validity of this approach, I will conclude by providing case history material from the lives of prominent atheists, for it was in reading the biographies of atheists that this hypothesis first struck me.

So, by using Freud's theories, the attack on atheism begins.

We begin with Sigmund Freud's relationship to his father. That Freud's father, Jacob, was a deep disappointment-or worse-is generally agreed to by his biographers. (For the supporting biographical material on Freud see, for example, Krull, 1979, and Vitz, 1983, 1986.) Specifically, his father was a weak man unable to financially provide for his family. [...]The connection of Jacob to God and religion was also present for his son. Jacob was involved in a kind of reform Judaism when Freud was a child, the two of them spent hours reading the Bible together, and later Jacob became increasingly involved in reading the Talmud and in discussing Jewish scripture. In short, this weak, rather passive "nice guy," this schlemiel, was clearly connected to Judaism and God, and also to a serious lack of courage and quite possibly to sexual perversion and other weaknesses very painful to young Sigmund.

I'm skipping over some of this (hence, the ellipsis), as I have

  1. No desire to develop an apology for Freud,
  2. I adhere more closely to Jung than Freud, and
  3. Freud was a coke addict: thus, his preoccupation with sexuality as a core value.

Very briefly, other famous atheists seem to have had a similar relationship to their fathers. Karl Marx made it clear that he didn't respect his father. An important part in this was that his father converted to Christianity-not out of any religious conviction-but out of a desire to make life easier. He assimilated for convenience. In doing this Marx's father broke an old family tradition. He was the first in his family who did not become a rabbi; indeed, Karl Marx came from a long line of rabbis on both sides of his family.

That's nice: I put no stock in Marx either.

Ludwig Feuerbach's father did something that very easily could have deeply hurt his son. When Feuerbach was about 13, his father left his family and openly took up living with another woman in a different town. This was in Germany in the early 1800s and such a public rejection would have been a scandal and deeply rejecting to young Ludwig-and, of course, to his mother and the other children.

This 'it's all an emotional response' is so...Freudian.

Let us jump 100 years or so and look at the life of one of America's best known atheists-Madelyn Murray O' Hair. Here I will quote from her son's recent book on what life was like in his family when he was a child. (Murray, 1982) The book opens when he is 8-years-old: "We rarely did anything together as a family. Hatred between my grandfather and mother barred such wholesome scenes." (p. 7) He writes that he really didn't know why his mother hated her father so much-but hate him she did, for the opening chapter records a very ugly fight in which she attempts to kill her father with a 10-inch butcher knife. Madelyn failed but screamed, "I'll see you dead. I'll get you yet. I'll walk on your grave!" (p. 8)

Whatever the cause of O'Hair's intense hatred of her father, it is clear from this book that it was deep and that it went back into her childhood-and at least psychological (e.g. p. 11) and possibly physical abuse is a plausible cause.

Note that Vitz doesn't delve any deeper into the subject past two centuries or so. Madelyn Murray O' Hair - obviously an American phenomenon, obviously not someone I hold in high esteem.

Besides abuse, rejection, or cowardice, one way in which a father can be seriously defective is simply by not being there. Many children, of course, interpret death of their father as a kind of betrayal or an act of desertion. In this respect it is remarkable that the pattern of a dead father is so common in the lives of many prominent atheists.

Everyone dies, sport. Are there some feelings of betrayal for some of us? Sure - but until you do an in-depth study of more than a few famous folks (like say, modern-day atheists), this is idle speculation and gossip.

Baron d'Holbach (born Paul Henri Thiry), the French rationalist and probably the first public atheist, is apparently an orphan by the age of 13 and living with his uncle. (From whom he took the new name Holbach.) Bertrand Russell's father died when young Bertrand was 4-years-old; Nietzsche was the same age as Russell when he lost his father; Sartre's father died before Sartre was born and Camus was a year old when he lost his father. (The above biographical information was taken from standard reference sources.) Obviously, much more evidence needs to be obtained on the "defective father" hypothesis. But the information already available is substantial; it is unlikely to be an accident.

I might point out Josh McDowell's rather longish description of his own father and their relationship - how his dad was such a disgusting drunk, they had to tie him up in the barn when company came over. McDowell is now a Bible literalist. Psychoanalyze that, if you please.

The psychology of how a dead or nonexistent father could lay an emotional base for atheism might not seem clear at first glance. But, after all, if one's own father is absent or so weak as to die, or so untrustworthy as to desert, then it is not hard to place the same attribute on your heavenly Father.

That same deity that refuses to manifest itself here in our lives? Deadbeat deity, I always say.

Finally, there is also the early personal experience of suffering, of death, of evil, sometimes combined with anger at God for allowing it to happen. Any early anger at God for the loss of a father and the subsequent suffering is still another and different psychology of unbelief, but one closely related to that of the defective father.

It's easy to see said father as defective or absent, especially when the world seems blind and less than benign.

Some of this psychology is captured in Russell Baker's recent autobiography. (Baker, 1982) Russell Baker is the well-known journalist and humorous writer for the New York Times. His father was taken to the hospital and died there suddenly when young Russell was five. Baker wept and sorrowed and spoke to the family housekeeper, Bessie:

. . . For the first time I thought seriously about God. Between sobs I told Bessie that if God could do things like this to people, then God was hateful and I had no more use for Him.

Bessie told me about the peace of Heaven and the joy of being among the angels and the happiness of my father who was already there. The argument failed to quiet my rage.

"God loves us all just like His own children," Bessie said.

"If God loves me, why did He make my father die?"

Bessie said that I would understand someday, but she was only partly right. That afternoon, though I couldn't have phrased it this way then, I decided that God was a lot less interested in people than anybody in Morrisonville was willing to admit. That day I decided that God was not entirely to be trusted.

After that I never cried again with any real conviction, nor expected much of anyone's God except indifference, nor loved deeply without fear that it would cost me dearly in pain. At the age of five I had become a skeptic . . . (Growing Up, p. 61).

First steps shouldn't be confused with the underlying root in all cases.

Let me conclude by noting that however prevalent the superficial motives for being an atheist, there still remain in many instances the deep and disturbing psychological sources as well. However easy it may be to state the hypothesis of the "defective father," we must not forget the difficulty, the pain, and complexity that lie behind each individual case. And for those whose atheism has been conditioned by a father who rejected, who denied, who hated, who manipulated, or who physically or sexually abused them, there must be understanding and compassion. Certainly for a child to be forced to hate his own father-or even to despair because of his father's weaknesses is a great tragedy. After all, the child only wants to love his father. For any unbeliever whose atheism is grounded in such experience, the believer, blessed by God's love, should pray most especially that ultimately they will both meet in heaven. Meet and embrace and experience great joy. If so, perhaps the former atheist will experience even more joy than the believer. For, in addition to the happiness of the believer, the atheist will have that extra increment that comes from his surprise at finding himself surrounded by joy in, of all places, his Father's house.

So, summary: there's a 'some Christian must've hurt you deeply in the past' buried inside the Freudian ORC (which is a joke wrapped inside an absurdity, in my humble opinion), a distinctly one-sided application of a theory that was never fully fleshed out by its originator. True, Vitz is actually somewhat credentialed in his field, but my next question would be, is he a member of the APA? What is his stance on that association? I might also note, that there is (although not in every case) possibly 'superficial' as well as 'deep and disturbing psychological sources' for being religious as well. I'd be interested in his psychological profiles of such 'false' Christians like Manson, Jones, etc.

Of course, in today's pop-psychology (read: pseudo-quackery), everyone's a 'bruised inner child', and 'mommy/daddy didn't hug me enough', or the disappointment one feels when they discover their heroes had/have feet of clay, this sort of pablum passes as 'insightful' when in fact, it really isn't. When atheism is inserted into the DSM, I might be a little more inclined to listen to him, but not much.

Ticking off the logical fallacies:

Poisoning the well
Strawmen (at least three that I can count)
Tu quoque
False dichotomy
Appeal to authority
Ipse dixit
Appeal to numbers
Petitio Principii
Frozen Abstraction (rejection of god)
Context dropping
False cause (post hoc ergo propter hoc)

Let me know if I missed any.

Till the next post, then.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Profiles In Atheism - The French Physician

I stumbled across this fellow inadvertently - I am reading the Story of Philosophy by Will Durant - it turns out the physician in question was a contemporary of Voltaire.

"Julien Offray de La Mettrie, (December 25, 1709 - November 11,1751) was a French physician and philosopher, the earliest of the materialist writers of the Enlightenment. He has been claimed as a founder of cognitive science.

Life and work

"He was born at Saint-Malo. After studying theology in the Jansenist schools for some years, he suddenly decided to adopt the profession of medicine. In 1733 he went to Leiden to study under Boerhaave, and in 1742 returned to Paris, where he obtained the appointment of surgeon to the guards. During an attack of fever he made observations on himself with reference to the action of quickened circulation upon thought, which led him to the conclusion that physical phenomena were to be accounted for as the effects of organic changes in the brain and nervous system. This conclusion he worked out in his earliest philosophical work, the Histoire naturelle de l'âme (1745). So great was the outcry caused by its publication that La Mettrie was forced to take refuge in Leiden, where he developed his doctrines still more boldly and completely, and with great originality, in L'Homme machine (Eng. trans., London, 1750; ed. with introd. and notes, J. Asszat, 1865), and L'Homme plante, treatises based upon principles of the most consistently materialistic character. The ethics of these principles were worked out in Discours sur le bonheur, La Volupté, and L'Art de jouir, in which the end of life is found in the pleasures of the senses, and virtue is reduced to self-love. Atheism is the only means of ensuring the happiness of the world, which has been rendered impossible by the wars brought about by theologians, under the excuse of an inexistent "soul". When death comes, the farce is over (la farce est jouée), therefore let us take our pleasure while we can. La Mettrie has been called the Aristippus of modern materialism. So strong was the feeling against him that in 1748 he was compelled to quit the Netherlands for Berlin, where Frederick the Great not only allowed him to practise as a physician, but appointed him court reader. There La Mettrie wrote his major book "Discours sur le bonheur" (1748), which caused the "ban" by leading enlightenment thinkers as Voltaire, Diderot, D'Holbach. His collected Oeuvres philosophiques appeared after his death in several editions, published in London, Berlin and Amsterdam respectively.

Death

"La Mettrie's celebration of sensual pleasure was said to have resulted in his early death. Those who disagreed with La Mettrie's philosophy used his death to claim that atheistic sensuality justifiably results in an untimely demise.

"The French ambassador Tirconnel was very grateful to La Mettrie for curing him of an illness. A feast was given to celebrate the recovery. It is claimed that La Mettrie wanted to show either his power of gluttony or his strong constitution by devouring a large quantity of pâte aux truffes. As a result, he developed a fever, became delirious, and died.

"Frederick the Great gave the funeral oration. He declared, "La Mettrie died in the house of Milord Tirconnel, the French plenipotentiary, whom he had restored to life. It seems that the disease, knowing with whom it had to deal, was cunning enough to attack him first by the brain, in order to destroy him the more surely. A violent fever with fierce delirium came on. The invalid was obliged to have recourse to the science of his colleagues, but he failed to find the succor that his own skill had so often afforded as well to himself as to the public." However, in a confidential letter to the Markgräfin von Bayreuth, Frederick wrote," He was merry, a good devil, a good doctor, and a very bad author. By not reading his books, one can be very content." He then mentioned that La Mettrie had indigestion from the pheasant paste. The actual cause of his death, however, was the bloodletting that La Mettrie had prescribed for himself. Frederick asserted that the German doctors did not condone bleeding a patient, and La Mettrie was trying to prove them wrong. At the time of his death, he was survived by a 5 year old daughter and his wife."

For more reading: 'Man A Machine'. He tends to use the word 'soul' overmuch, but a fuller reading of the material shows that he believed in no such thing. Frederick was right, however: his writing style is a tad stilted.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Blogging Code of Conduct Is Out - Whooo, boy!

Due to a lady blogger's death threats (I reported on that here), a gentleman named Tim O'Reilly has his first draft out on the Blogger's Code of Conduct.

So, as usual, it takes the actions of a few eggsuckers to wreck it for everyone else. Here's the badge:


Here's the draft:

We celebrate the blogosphere because it embraces frank and open conversation. But frankness does not have to mean lack of civility. We present this Blogger Code of Conduct in hopes that it helps create a culture that encourages both personal expression and constructive conversation.

1. We take responsibility for our own words and for the comments we allow on our blog.

We are committed to the "Civility Enforced" standard: we will not post unacceptable content, and we'll delete comments that contain it.

We define unacceptable content as anything included or linked to that:
- is being used to abuse, harass, stalk, or threaten others
- is libelous, knowingly false, ad-hominem, or misrepresents another person,
- infringes upon a copyright or trademark
- violates an obligation of confidentiality
- violates the privacy of others

We define and determine what is "unacceptable content" on a case-by-case basis, and our definitions are not limited to this list. If we delete a comment or link, we will say so and explain why. [We reserve the right to change these standards at any time with no notice.]

2. We won't say anything online that we wouldn't say in person.

3. We connect privately before we respond publicly.

When we encounter conflicts and misrepresentation in the blogosphere, we make every effort to talk privately and directly to the person(s) involved--or find an intermediary who can do so--before we publish any posts or comments about the issue.

4. When we believe someone is unfairly attacking another, we take action.

When someone who is publishing comments or blog postings that are offensive, we'll tell them so (privately, if possible--see above) and ask them to publicly make amends.
If those published comments could be construed as a threat, and the perpetrator doesn't withdraw them and apologize, we will cooperate with law enforcement to protect the target of the threat.

5. We do not allow anonymous comments.

We require commenters to supply a valid email address before they can post, though we allow commenters to identify themselves with an alias, rather than their real name.

6. We ignore the trolls.

We prefer not to respond to nasty comments about us or our blog, as long as they don't veer into abuse or libel. We believe that feeding the trolls only encourages them--"Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it." Ignoring public attacks is often the best way to contain them.

I doubt that I'll adhere to much of it.

#1 - I'm big on taking responsibility, but I can't really 'control' commenters. Presently, I'm moderating (again), since some mentally defective yahoo decides to drop by sporadically and make asinine commentary (poo-poo pee-pee, I said boobie! I can hear Beavis 'n Butthead sniggering in the background), but I intend to turn it back off at some date in time (hopefully, my 'nemesis' will have passed puberty by then). Hmmm...I'll have to think on that.

#2 - Yes, I'm big on that. You betcha, I'd not say it online without saying it face-to-face.

#3 - See, I don't get an email address on 'other' or anonymous, so that's out.

#4 - That depends. Most of my readers are pretty capable of defending themselves.

#5 - This is sounding better as I think about it.

#6 - Nuh-uh. I actually enjoy wrestling in the mud with trolls (I fancy that most of them cry 'uncle' by the time I'm done with them, but they rarely bother me here).

So, any thoughts?

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