The Guardian described David Foster Wallace as ‘the most brilliant American writer of his generation.‘ Novelist, essayist and Professor of Literature at Pomona College, Claremont California he tragically committed suicide after struggles with depression in 2008.
He is most famous for a commencement speech given to graduation students at Kenyon College, Ohio in which, as you will see below, he describes the reality of idolatry in the lives of all of us and their devastating impact.
In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — the trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.
Recognise that as a reality in your own life? If you want to explore the dangers of idolatry then ‘Counterfeit Gods; When the Empty Promises of Love, Money, and Power Let You Down’ by Tim Keller and Idols by Julian Hardyman are both well worth a read.
Richard Dawkins, the champion of the New Atheism, argues that we should base our lives only on that which is empirically verifiable or rationally provable and yet in this devastating interview Dawkins admits that;
a) He has no idea how likely it is that God doesn’t exist and wouldn’t want to put a figure on it
b) He has no idea how the universe was created
c) He has no idea how life began on earth
d) He suggests that we might be here because aliens put us here!
We are, by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures – NASA Astronomer
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them? (Psalm 8:3-4)
“We are, by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures.. .. If the Universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances indicate the universe was created for man to live in.” John O’Keefe (astronomer at NASA)
“Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say ‘supernatural’) plan.” Arno Penzias (Nobel prize in physics)
“It seems to me that when confronted with the marvels of life and the universe, one must ask why and not just how. The only possible answers are religious. . . . I find a need for God in the universe and in my own life.” Arthur L. Schawlow (Professor of Physics at Stanford University, 1981 Nobel Prize in physics)
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honour.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
7 all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
8 the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
9 LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:5-9)
William Lane Craig is arguably the foremost Christian apologist in the world and he is coming to the UK this autumn on a debating and lecture tour. You would think that leading atheists and representatives of the British Humanist Association, Polly Toynbee, Richard Dawkins and A.C.Grayling would have readily accepted the invitation to debate him and given that they think they have the knock-out arguments, with some relish. Yet, one by one, they have either refused or withdrawn from a debate.
New Atheist, Sam Harris, said of William Lane Craig in his introductory comments at their recent debate;
I’m very happy to be debating Dr. Craig, the one Christian apologist who seems to have put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists. I’ve actually gotten more than a few emails this week, that more or less read, “Brother, please, don’t blow this.” So, you will be the judge.
Christopher Hitchens said ahead of his debate with Craig;
I can tell you that my brothers and sisters, my co-thinkers, in the unbelieving community take him very seriously. He’s thought of as a very tough guy; very rigorous, very scholarly, very thoughtful. I say that without reserve. Normally I don’t get people saying to me ‘good luck tonight’ or ‘don’t let us down’ but with him I do.
Given that Dawkins, Grayling and Toynbee claim to have all the arguments why don’t they run William Lane Craig out of town?
Perhaps, as ‘commonsenseatheist‘ conceded having witnessed a debate between Craig and Christopher Hitchens;
The debate went exactly as I expected. Craig was flawless and unstoppable. Hitchens was rambling and incoherent, with the occasional rhetorical jab. Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child.
I’m not a great one for Youtube videos that mock the views of others and I’m certainly not suggesting that Christians ought to mock or insults all humanists but I do think that the double-standards and hypocrisy (as well as down-right rudeness in some cases) of those who claim to speak in the name of Atheism but refuse to debate Craig should be subject to a degree of mild ridicule.
‘Enjoy’ the video and buy a ticket for one of the debates. Who knows maybe Dawkins will turn up!
I believe myself that his whole life was a search for God, or, for those who prefer less personal terms, for absolute certainty. Indeed, he had first taken up philosophy in the hope of finding proof of the existence of God… Somewhere at the back of my father’s mind, at the bottom of his heart, in the depths of his soul, there was an empty space that had once been filled by God, and he never found anything else to put it in.
Without doubt David Bentley Hart’s book Atheist Delusions The Christian Revolution and its fashionable enemies is the best thing I have read in response to the New Atheism. Less a critique of their views it is a scholarly rebuttal of their scandalous historical revisionism which attempts to present Christianity as a force for evil in the world by a scholarly demonstration of how Christianity transformed every aspect of society.
Hart’s thesis as set out in his introduction is as follows;
Among all the many great transitions that have maked the evoltion of Western civilization..there has only been one – the triumph of Christianity – that can be called in the fullest sense a “revolution”: a truly massive and epochal revision of humaniti’s prevailing vision of reality, so pervasicve in its influence and so vast in its consequences as actually to have a createad a new conception of the world, of history, of human nature, of time, and of the moral good.
Although a ‘historical essay’ more than a philosophical response to the New Atheists he does, along the way, highlight the flawed logic of their thinking. It is a short section on morality in the opening chapter that I would like to quote at some length.
What I find most mystifying in the arguments of the authors I have mentioned [Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins], and of others like them, is the strange presupposition that truly secular society would of its nature be more tolerant and less prone to violence than any society shaped by any form of faith. Given that the modern age of secular governance has been the most savagely and sublimely violent period in human history, by a factor (or body count) of incalculable magnitude, it is hard to identify the grounds for their confidence.
It is not even especially clear why these authors imagine that a world entirely purged of faith would choose to be guided by moral principles remotely similar to their own; and the obscurity becomes especially impenetrable to me in the case of those who seem to believe that a thoroughgoing materialism informed by Darwinian biology might actually aid us in forsaking our “tribalism” or “irrationality” and in choosing instead to live in tolerant concord with one another. After all, the only ideological or political faction that have made any attempt at an ethics consistent with Darwinian science, to this point at least, have been the socialist eugenics movement of the early twentieth century and the Nazi movement that sprang from it. Obviously, stupid or evil social and political movements should not dictate our opinions of scientific discoveries. But it scarcely impugns the epochal genius of Charles Darwin or Alfred Russel Wallace to note that – understood purely as a bare, brute, material event – nature admits of no moral principles at all, and so can provide non; all it can provide is its own “moral” example, which is anything but gentle.
Dennett, who often shows a propensity for moral pronouncements of almost pontifical peremptoriness, and for social prescriptions of the most authoritarian variety, does not delude himself that evolutionary theory is a source of positive moral prescriptions. But there is something delusional nonetheless in his optimistic certainty that human beings will wish to choose altruistic values without invoking transcendent principles. They may do so; but they may also wish to build death camps, and may very well choose to do that instead.
For every ethical theory developed apart from some account of transcendent truth – of, that is, the spiritual or metaphysical foundation of reality – is a fragile fiction, credible only to those sufficiently obstinate in their willing suspension of disbelief. It one does not wish to be convinced, however, a simple “I disagree” or “I refuse” is enough to exhaust the persuasive resources of any purely worldly ethics.
Compassion, pity and charity, as we understand and cherish them, are not objects found in nature, like trees or butterflies or academic philosophers, but are historically contingent conventions of belief and practice, formed by cultural convictions that need never have arisen at all.
They [the New Atheists] are inheritors of a social conscience whose ethical grammar would have been very different had it not been shaped by Christianity’s moral premises…and good sense should prompt them to acknowledge that absolutely nothing ensures that, once Christian beliefs have been finally and fully renounced, those values will not slowly dissolve, to be replaced by others that are coarser, colder, more pragmatic, and more “inhuman.”
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying that it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist–in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless–I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality–namely my idea of justice–was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”
CS Lewis – Mere Christianity
Tomorrow John Lennox debates Peter Singer at Melbourne Town Hall.
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