Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sittin' on the dock o' the bay…

…watching a year roll away.

I haven't written much lately, because I've been in a tough spot the last month, at least. I have, however, been "out and about" from time to time on other blogs, chiefly, a dwindling thread at Ben's Xanga blog.

It's late, and I'm tired, so I will only post some snippets of my interaction with him, pretty raw, but hopefully the points still come across for blog standards.

"… you seem to want to raise some shared standard of "goodness" (i.e., some axiom or core of rules) over God, in order for Him to "earn" the label, but this is precisely what eucharistic Christianity rejects. God Himself constitutes goodness, not voluntaristically, but ontologically, and goodness is given to mankind only iconically, in Christ, not legally, in "pure reason."

"As for the goodness of God being predicated on His sheer aseity, well, yes, that's a major foundation of Christian ethics. All things that exist are good insofar as they partake of God's being qua Actus Purus. Even the devil is not wholly evil, since he at least exists. Hence, evil is not real; it is a void, a lack, an absence of a properly ordained good in nature. The constancy of moral opposition to evil in Christianity, which you maladroitly wield as some kind of rapier against me, is predicated entirely on the eternity of the Good One. As long as God exists, anything that detracts from the properly ordained "effulgence" of His glory in creation, is evil. Without God, we have no reason to be perennially bothered by evil. This no more entails that evil "disproves" God's existence than a bouncing foul disproves the existence of base lines in Wrigley Field.

"… The ENTIRE POINT of this debate is the source of goodness. You are getting annoyed by my presentation of the Christian story of goodness, but at the same time you expect me to answer as a Christian. Perhaps you would prefer me leaving aside all the messy details about the Trinity, the Incarnation, sacramental theology, and redemption, so that I can talk from a "merely religious" point of view. Sorry, I'm not that generous. You may not like the Christian story, but you can't call me arbitrary just because I'm sticking to the tenets of my faith.

"Lastly, do you know how tinny and priggish you sound by suggesting humanity is not cared for in ANY meaningful sense? If the world is so bad, why are you still breathing it in? As William Hasker once asked, if the evil of this world truly disproves the goodness of God, why do we still cling to this world? If it were truly an evil world designed by a weak and/or deviant Creator, what goodness in it keeps us from committing suicide? More to the point, what keeps you from killing yourself? Is everything in your cushy, Western life really such a scorching burden? Do you have nothing for which to be grateful? (And if you do have such benefits, to whom are you thankful?) As for the cop out about "starving children in Africa," one must wonder, if life for them really is so awful, why they don't commit mass suicide either. Perhaps the still regnant paternalism and sniffy racism of Western atheology is not to their liking and they can, like all fundamentally healthy groups of human families, see the overriding and undeniable goodness of life in this world of ours. Ever seen "La vita è bella"? Ever read "Crime and Punishment"? Sadly, whiny navelgazing is still a very popular form of reasoning among atheists. One must wonder why, historically, atheism has risen in parallel with worldly comforts and capitalistic hedonism. One would almost suspect God is being blamed for killing the vibe at the orgy and not at all being thanked for the ongoing goods brought forth from creation day after day."

"… I am not a Platonist. I am a hylomorphic "Thomistotelian" (as I like to call it, or an "Aristhomist"), albeit with a significantly chastened "Keefian" form of hylomorphism based on eucharistic ontology. Hylomorphism states that formal order is intrinsically rooted in matter. Matter is no-thing without form, and form does not exist "out there, up there" apart from substantial existence in matter. So we are very much on the same page vis-a-vis the software/hardware analogy.

"This, however, raises profound difficulties for physicalism and naturalistic ethics. To wit, does not a multiply executable program imply a Programmer who is supervenient to the various material instantiations at his disposal? Moreover, does not the evolutionary contingency of "objective morality" nullify the multiple executability of one-and-the-same program? That is, if goodness is not super-naturally objective, then who is to say THIS version of evolved goodness is the same version of goodness on a second run of the biological merry go round? And if "our" objective morality is but one contingent version of countless possible "codes" of goodness for hypothetically diverse sequences of evolved beings, then our morality really is not objective.

"Naturalists, such as Sam Harris in his first book, like to say we should be moral thus and such, since that just pleases our evolved nature better than other (religious) forms of morality. But if you admit from the start that we only happened to evolve as we have, and that human nature is a wax nose which a sufficiently advanced science can tweak pretty much without limit, then WHY SHOULD we heed the ethical instincts we happen to bear? What second-order normativity grounds first-order natural ethics? If there is not some second-order norm, then we have no moral obligation to respect the contingent impulses of our "moral nature." Explaining why we believe in moral behavior does not address the truth or falsity of that moral behavior itself. Hence, evolutionary ethics can only describe how we have come to believe the moral fictions we believe, not prescribe which fictions are actually, objectively good.

"By contrast, if goodness really is an identifiable pattern embedded in matter (as hylomorphism largely suggests), then what grounds the formal identity (i.e., objectivity) of goodness? Does matter itself create its own pattern? If so, how can that pattern be recognized apart from discrete, nominalistic clusters of matter? If not, what orders matter?"

"… your humanism, like that of transhumanists', is just another form of misanthropy. Denigrating what the majority of humanity, both diachronically and synchronically, treasure most, in the name of some abstruse happy-days-ahead technotopianism that seems, wonder of wonders, not only to ring your bell the loudest but also to fit right into your projected lifespan. (Cue Rodney Stark mocking previous technotopians for expecting, in every case, a cybernetic revolution that just happens to fall inside their probable mortality horizon and then going on to predict the same technotopia in his own life horizon.)

"… you concede the match by admitting your "objective morality" is ultimately decided by whoever holds the mic in your "mature conversation" about morality. I see no need to retread what I've already said about the Christocentric ontology and morality, since you have more than once ridiculed it as arbitrary. I appreciate your slightly more irenic tone by the end of this reply, but I hope you can see why I see it as disingenuous. "Sure, your little Eucharistic theology is welcome to the podium… but then we reality-graspers need to get on with saving humanity from its own hopes and nature." As they say, scratch an atheist, find a fundamentalist. You lost your faith in the Gospel because it didn't work fast enough, didn't work efficiently and "rationally" enough; but the whole time, your apostasy is just an attempt to perfect your evangelical desire for redemption by technocratic means. You still bleieve in "sin" and "damnation", but only now you call them "religion" and "piety." You are committed, with a quaintly religious zeal, to save "humanity" (how Platonic of you!) from its naive religiosity, to call it up to the altar of technological perfectibility ex Christo.

"As always, the argument from evil comes down to the rankest, (and yes) most "priggish" form of this basic claim: "Well, if *I* were God, I certainly wouldn't run things this way." The complaint is duly noted, but such a critic not only hoists his Adamic flag of hubris for all to see, but also concedes he has merely aesthetic objections to the Creation of the Holy One. The reason, therefore, that your reference to actual suicides does nothing to touch Hasker's point about the fundamental, and performatively undeniable goodness of the world, is that actual suicides try to have it both ways. To wit, a person driven to suicidal ideation by "natural evil" immediately forfeits the cogency of his/her complaint by offing him/herself, and this because the entire basis for his/her "argument from despair" is mounted on the charmingly naive claim (cf. the Chinese for 以管窺天) that he/she just KNOWS, based on his, uh, vast range of experience, that this world rationally leads the clear-eyed to suicide. But as soon as his veins are empty in the cooling crimson porcelain tub, the world goes on. And others drink beer, make love, cheer for sports, and find solace before the Blessed Sacrament. And the good creation continues, fallen but redeemed, bloody but unbowed in Christ blood. The suicidal atheologian mounts his entire argument on inductive grounds (i.e., the world renders "a good God" unacceptably implausible), but then, conveniently enough, cuts off all further inquiry with his own mortal fiat. Only a non-suicidal atheologian (à la the Sisyphusean Sartre… and his possible closet Catholicism) has the right to KEEP complaining about evil, and this, ironically, only because he KEEPS living long enough for ultimate good to, perhaps, prevail. In either case, of course, the basic anthropocentrism of atheology is evident for all to see. Wee humans complain that their wee experience trumps the grand claims of a good God. Darn it, they say so. The only difference, in this light, between Christians and suicidical atheologians is that the former cling to hope and faith in God as the ballast against the world obvious fallenness, while the latter wallow in the fallenness of the world. We are all morbid cynics, but only Christians are morbid cynics who believe, cynically, scandalously, that the only "salvation" available to mankind comes in the naked, obscene brokenness of man himself offered up to God in Christ."

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