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The Atheists and the Thought that Ends All Thought

In a recent post, I talked about Richard Dawkins’ discussion in his Delusion about why children gravitate towards fantasy and myth, etc, and alluded to GK Chesterton’s arguments about the ‘thought that ends all thought.’  This sentiment emerges in Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy in a chapter appropriately called The Suicide of Thought.  The previous post was cross posted at the ChristianPost.com and the atheists there seem determined to put a bullet right between the eyes of their own putative rationalism.

One commentator says,

“The brain is primed for all kinds of nonsense, religion being only one form of nonsense.

By this logic, the commentator’s own brain is likewise primed for all kinds of nonsense.  We may suppose that his atheism itself is only ‘one form of nonsense.’

The next commentator says,

Children (who are born into a religion through a sheer coincidence of being born to a particular set of parent, in a particular part of the world, at a particular point in time) are indoctrinated by being told that they belong to a group of people that believe a certain set of ideas about life and the universe, on no evidence whatsoever

and

And I fully expect that a central theme running through the book will be a philosophy of being open minded but skeptical, and of basing our beliefs on evidence and reason.

As to the first statement, let us consider the irony of a raw skeptic such as Dawkins producing books for skeptical parents to use in raising their skeptical children.  Surely, those children are born into their atheism through sheer coincidence of being born to a particular set of parents… etc?  And as for the second, the notion that ‘basing our beliefs on evidence and reason’ is a function of our brain that Dawkins and Shermer and many other atheists contend is ‘primed for nonsense’ and ‘primed for religion.’  In short, the argument, if true, undercuts the rationality of their own position, placing their own views in the category of ‘nonsense’ and ‘religion.’

Unless atheists exclude their own brains from the category of ‘brains.’  The gent says, “The brain is primed for all kinds of nonsense” but in order for this not to be a self-defeating thought, he can only actually mean, “The brains of religious people are primed…”  If it includes all brains, it surely means the speaker’s brain as well, so why should we take anything seriously from someone who is primed for nonsense?  But if he excludes his brain, he engages in circular reasoning and special pleading.  You know, engages in rampant irrationality without any awareness he is doing so.

Similarly, when Dawkins talks about people being ‘primed for religion’ he surely thinks that he himself is one of those persons.  (Indeed, in his Delusion, he gives an example of his own misfiring brain when he was a youngster).  But by labeling this as a misfire, and including himself, he has fallen into the trap of reductionism, distilling his argument into soupy brain matter that can’t be blamed for leaking out of the right ear any more than it can be blamed for leaking out the left.  This is a violation of what I call the golden rule of epistemology:  any conclusion which, if believed to be true, calls into question your own reasoning that brought you to that conclusion, must be discarded out of hand.

These two atheists, like Dawkins and Shermer, are compelled by their logic and arguments and world view to march like lemmings off of the epistemological-killing cliff.

And this is why 9 times out of 10, you should never care- not even a little bit- what any given atheist says.   In the examples of the commentators, they are not even aware of what they are doing.  These mental giants are positively oblivious to what their argument implies about their own brains and, consequently, arguments.   Such a person is completely beyond all help by any Christian apologist.  They are beyond the reach of logic and argument, not merely because their own logic and argument represents the death of logic and argument, but because they are unaware of the fact that THAT WOULD BE BAD and that THEY ARE DOING IT.   We could almost get along with someone that admitted that their worldview led to the death of knowledge itself but this was preferred to a worldview that has God at its center.

Chesterton here again puts it well, and in his chapter of the aforementioned book titled “The Maniac” he illustrates why it is useless to try to argue with people locked into that sort of madness.  Here is an extended excerpt:

For we must remember that the materialist philosophy (whether true or not) is certainly much more limiting than any religion. In one sense, of course, all intelligent ideas are narrow. They cannot be broader than themselves.  A Christian is only restricted in the same sense that an atheist is restricted. He cannot think Christianity false and continue to be a Christian; and the atheist cannot think atheism false and continue to be an atheist.  But as it happens, there is a very special sense in which materialism has more restrictions than spiritualism. Mr. McCabe thinks me a slave because I am not allowed to believe in determinism.  I think Mr. McCabe a slave because he is not allowed to believe in fairies.  But if we examine the two vetoes we shall see that his is really much more of a pure veto than mine. The Christian is quite free to believe that there is a considerable amount of settled order and inevitable development in the universe. But the materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle.  Poor Mr. McCabe is not allowed to retain even the tiniest imp, though it might be hiding in a pimpernel.  The Christian admits that the universe is manifold and even miscellaneous, just as a sane man knows that he is complex.  The sane man knows that he has a touch of the beast, a touch of the devil, a touch of the saint, a touch of the citizen. Nay, the really sane man knows that he has a touch of the madman. But the materialist’s world is quite simple and solid, just as the madman is quite sure he is sane.  The materialist is sure that history has been simply and solely a chain of causation, just as the interesting person before mentioned is quite sure that he is simply and solely a chicken.  Materialists and madmen never have doubts.

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2 Responses to The Atheists and the Thought that Ends All Thought

  1. Simply because the human brain has a whole array of ways in which it can misperceive and misunderstand the world, doesn’t mean that it does in all cases.

    The best mechanism we as a species have developed as a way to minimize the role played by our own inherent bias is science. Good scientific research makes its assumptions explicit, states clearly the data on which it is making its conclusions, makes that data freely available to others, and depends for its acceptance on other people being able to duplicate its results. Research conducted in this way has produced technological and economic benefits unimaginable to people in former ages.

    However, all that such research can say about the existence or otherwise of God is that none of the experiments so far designed to be reproducible tests of the influence of God in this world, have yet thrown up evidence of His existence. Some people, like Dawkins, take the extra step beyond this of declaring that God does not exist; other people, preferring to remain religious, declare this kind of rationality inadequate to detecting God; a third kind remain open to God’s existence being proven or disproven at some time in the future by a better experimental design.

    I don’t think it’s clear here which of those three groups are being more “irrational”. What is clear is that human beings on the whole crave more certainty on the matter than science is currently able to give them.

  2. The fact the human brain can fall into error easily is exactly *why* they advocate their skepticism. Yes, this applies to them too as they would agree. It seems you think the fact the human brain can fall into error means it must though, and they would not agree. I would agree that both Dawkins and Shermer can fall into this too. They could also stand to acknowledge their failings a bit more, but this is a problem that applies to most people, not just them.

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