The Impotence of Atheism

It’s not that atheist explanations are wrong, so much as that, qua explanations, they are in the final analysis simply impotent. At bottom, they have no basis in necessity. So, at bottom, they end up able to say no more than, “this is the way things happened; er, that’s all.” They are descriptions, rather than explanations. Not wrong; not uninformative; often utile; but, just inadequate. Atheist explanations cannot close the deal; for, they have no ultimate cash value.

This is why the juridical question is efficacious against an atheist. Just keep asking “Why?” Eventually, he will be forced to reply with an exasperated, “Because that’s just the way it is; there is no further explanation.” So saying, he cannot but reveal his unreason; which, as sapping the very foundations of his doctrine, so vitiates the whole structure thereof – and so, could he but see, ruins it utterly.

It may be objected that the theist foundation of explanation is in a way just as arbitrary and ‘brute’ as that of the atheist. The atheist says, “this is the way the world is, and that’s all there is to say about it;” meanwhile the theist says, “this is the way that God is, and that’s all there is to say about it.” How is one of these moves better than the other? Indeed, don’t they amount to the same thing, in the end, if God is among the things that exist, and thus a member of the world in the broadest sense?

From our perspective, so it certainly seems to be. We come into the world and find that it is the way it is, and that God is the way he is, and that’s all there is to it. Indeed, by the definition of “God,” there can be no explanation for God, for nothing is prior to him, that might explain him.

Nevertheless the theist explanation of things does have one key advantage over the atheist, reductionist explanation: it completes, in the sense that it terminates upon necessity. This the atheist explanation cannot ever do. The theist ends by saying, “this, or something very like this, is just the way things must be, in logic, and by definition, and so by metaphysical necessity.” The atheist explanation terminates upon radical ignorance: upon, “no idea.” Under atheism, all and any of this might not have come to pass, and whether or not it did, there could be no explanation for any bit of it: it *just happened.*

For the theist, everything happens for a reason, even if he can’t see what it is. Everything is for him therefore intelligible, at least in principle. For the atheist, on the other hand, nothing that happens bottoms out in a reason that cannot be controverted, and so nothing can be intelligible.

The theist lives in an ordered world. It is ordered ex hypothesi, whether or not he can himself discern that order. So he can confront the inevitable mess and tragedy of life with confidence, and equanimity. The atheist lives in a world impervious to the very notion of order. The atheist turn cannot therefore be rationally completed – so that atheists must live and act by means of an incessant resort to myriad unprincipled exceptions. As a motion of the reason, it is forestalled ab initio, as the antithesis thereof. Thus even when things are going swimmingly for the atheist, he cannot ever feel quite settled, but is rather always somewhat bedeviled by cognitive dissonance and the anxiety it engenders.

Pity the poor atheists! So lost are they, and adrift! We should all pray for them that they may be relieved of their sufferings.

43 thoughts on “The Impotence of Atheism

  1. Your post reminds me of something Noah Webster wrote concerning the influx of immigrants to the country during his time. Webster wrote that “many of them come here with violent prejudices against arbitrary government, and they seem to make no great distinction between arbitrary government and a government of laws founded on free elections.”

    My citation of the Webster quote is not my way of promoting Representative Republicanism as the “ideal” form of government (Lord knows my thinking on the subject has gone through something of a transformation of late), but just an example of an analogous situation in which the athiest/immigrant is unable to see, due to his deeply held, learned (violent) prejudices against it, the value of ordered govern-ment founded on legitimate principles, which he considers to be completely arbitrary in many ways, again, due to his predispositions about exercises and forms of governmental powers. So, too, the atheist sees nothing but complete arbitrariness in the theistic, biblical-Christian world view.

    I guess that is why many atheists are radical libertarians politically speaking.

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  3. @Kristor – In arguing that God is philosophically necessary, you are arguing for a God of philosophical necessity – but this is, as you say, generic philosophical theism, rather than Christianity. As Pascal realized at his revelation, this is not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – and it is that personal, loving God we must know to be Christian.

    It is allegiance to the personhood of God (specifically Jesus Christ) that is necessary to be a Christian. The ‘philosophical God’ is an optional extra.

    Some Christians also believe that the God of A, I & J is also the necessary God of deist philosophy – but that has always been a tiny minority of Christians, since very few people can understand the philosophical argument for such a God (and among those who can understand it, some deny the necessity of the philosophical argument).

    In sum, I think your argument is over inclusive – because it doesn’t only deny the validity of atheism, but also denies the faith of most real Christians, past and present.

    • The post is about philosophical explanation, not faith or the spiritual life. Obviously our love does not depend on our understanding of the beloved; ditto, a fortiori, for our worship. To proceed efficaciously, we need not understand the object of love, devotion or worship, or indeed of acts of any sort, howsoever simple. You don’t need to understand an automobile completely in order to use it properly. Indeed, a complete account of the automobile, *or anything else,* is beyond the logical capacity of any formal language or system of explanation.

      Thus it is simply inapposite to logical fact – to the nature of thought per se – to expect that our philosophical explanations should account tidily for every aspect of experience, let alone that they should do so simply, and without posing perplexities, complexities and conundra of their own (viz., QM). Explanations too, after all, are themselves explananda. Thought itself is a mystery.

      Nevertheless a system of explanation that does not terminate upon necessity (at least in principle) is logically arbitrary, and thus philosophically impotent and unsatisfactory. It cannot provide what we want from an explanation. I.e., it’s a bad explanation. And a bad explanation, like a bad map, is worse than useless, for it can lead us badly astray, when our native dead reckoning might have preserved us from error. E.g., it can guide us down a way that the map says is Christianity, but that in fact is Arianism and the contravention of the revelation that Jesus is God, rather than just a creature.

  4. How much really “terminates upon necessity” even in Christianity? Non-theistic explanations terminate in seemingly arbitrary physical constants (speed of light, Planck’s constant, etc.) and contingent events (the Big Bang). Christianity gives no explanation of why these constants and events are necessary, other than that God chose them to be so for some unknown reason, and God himself necessarily exists.

    • It’s a legitimate question. The Laws of Nature do not appear to be necessary, since it seems possible to run causally coherent worlds using different settings for the Laws. Laws then are contingent upon *something or other* that is not contingent. It is difficult for us to see exactly how that contingency operates – such sight may be impossible except sub specie aeternitatis – but we can see *that* it operates, and that it *must.* That suffices to establish the termination on necessity.

  5. The Perfect Man of the Bible represents the necessary termination point in the total degeneration of the genuine white Supremacist. Only Perfection serves as solution to the “infinite regress” of atheism BECAUSE only Perfection, whether conceptual (he who will do all right) or empirical (Jesus Christ), WILL NOT duplicate/replicate. This is the First Law of Perfection: nonduplication/nonreplication. Our relationship with The Perfect Man represents our gateway out of the “infinite regress.” Our orientation must change from a vision of The Perfect Man as imposition and therefore provoking our desired liberation to a vision of The Perfect Man as the very reprieve that grants us empirical access to genuine free will.

  6. I’m sorry. I’ve just realized that I’ve forgotten too much the differences among reasons, purposes, and causes ro make the point I wanted to make.

  7. @Kristor

    I think the ultimate and true point you may be making could be that atheism does not provide any answers *even by its own criteria*. With this I agree!

    So that the atheist will argue that he is a moral creature because he lives by ‘a morality’ – just not a morality that is underwritten by god. But if asked why this morality should apply to other people, or why he should care at all about anybody or anything rather than himself, the answer will either be some kind of utilitarianism or a switch to attack the question/ questioner as absurd or immoral.

    Atheism reduces to hedonism, even the most moralistic justification reduces to to doing ‘what makes me feel good’ – and the most refined, altruistic, long-termist atheist merely prides himself on the fact that he feels good only when other people feel good – but why me, personally, ‘feeling good about things’ should be the ultimate ethical bottom-line in a universe comprising billions of people is inexplicable from an atheist perspective: has been, is now, always will be inexplicable.

    So an atheist morality is not so much immoral, or incoherent, as just not any kind of morality at all.

    (The same applies to all Darwinian explanations of morality – they are just not explanations of morality *at all* – but are disguised hedonic explanations substituted for morality.)

    This tormented me in my decades as an atheist – the recognition that my deepest moral convictions, including those I would suffer or maybe die for, could not be justified by anything stronger than ‘this is how I feel about it’ – and then there was the fact that I might feel differently about it sometime in the future, and that maybe the vast majority of other people did feel differently about it – and maybe I should be working on myself so I would feel differently about things!

    Thus, for atheists, moral disagreement often terminates in therapy – as, analogously, in the Soviet Union, where political dissent was seen as psychosis and treated with antipsychotic drugs. (Drugs that did not and do not – in reality – cure psychosis, but demotivate, and make dozy and docile. So ‘the problem’ – for the state – was indeed ‘cured’).

    We get the same in the modern secular Leftist state: those who disagree on moral grounds are treated with ‘therapy’ – such as mandatory ‘sensitivity training’ (i.e. indoctrination or brainwashing) – for example, this was the experience of several of my friends and colleagues such as Geoffrey Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa – who have been subjected to mass media hate campaigns for PC ‘gaffes’ (a gaffe = accidentally telling a forbidden truth. They were forced to undergo PC moral indoctrination – on pain of being sacked in public disgrace – up to the point that the indocrinators were satisfied with the results.).

    To loop back to the main point – I wholly agree that atheism is necessarily irrational as an explanation of virtue, truth or beauty – in the sense that it is not an explanation of these *at all*; but reduces them all down to something somewhere on the pleasure-sufffering axis

    I guess this is something we would both agree on.

  8. Was contemplating a reply, but it seems pointless — you’ve constructed a closed system of thought that is impervious to outside argument. Congratulations, I guess.

    You seem to believe that the only way one could not be a theist is through some kind of obstinate effort to avoid acknowledging a self-evident truth. Now, about 80% of philosophers and 95% of scientists are atheists. That is an awful lot of obstinancy. Of course truth is not determined by voting, but doesn’t it give you pause to realize there are so many presumably intelligent people who don’t see the world the way you do?

    • That’s correct. As St. Paul describes it in Romans 1, “by their unrighteousness they suppress the truth”. All men are born with the knowledge of the allegiance they owe God and can see the evidence for His existence in the created world. Many reject it.

      As for closed systems of thought — all systems of thought are closed, that’s what makes it a system. To put it another way: what evidence could be presented that would cause you to discard the axioms of your belief system? By definition, axioms are what we use to understand facts, not the other way around. Any system of epistemology will come down to a circular argument at some point. The question is how well the logical conclusions you can reach from it explains what you observe.

    • Your argument is absurd, especially taking into account the very nature of the toxic age we live in. Scientists of the west especially, do not go into their field of study with open minds and then, based on their ‘work’, decide whether to believe in God or not. They are often ALREADY atheists. Atheists are simply more likely to go into the profane sciences as professions than theists are.The same is true of philosophy.
      We also have a scientific climate in which being a theist is likely to severely hinder your advancement in the profession. I can guarantee North Korean nuclear scientists are very smart people, and they are 100% atheist, but this is a result of culture and peer pressure, not study.

      In the Last Age, man will think himself to be at an intellectual apex, to have solved life’s mysteries. He will be rich beyond his ancestors’ wildest dreams in material wealth. He will scoff at all things sacred and spiritual in favor of carnal knowledge and pleasure. And yet, in the words of Muggeridge, he will have “educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction”. Man may think he has climbed a mountain, when in fact he has fallen off a cliff. Intelligence in this age does not mean the same thing as in ages past.

      • Yes… “Intelligence” in our age = self-annihilator or “preacher” of self-annihilation via an all-accepting indiscriminacy (toleration + nondiscrimination) which then evidences our true “equality.” The “intelligent” people are engaged in a process of self-annihilation which is obscured initially by the thrill of a new created self. Yet, over time, the creative inspiration needed to conjure up a new self diminishes and the ease in which one can now destroy his latest unworthy created self BECOMES the primary manner in which the individuals proves his demand for CHANGE. For the whites of the West, the process of self-annihilation is now what “we” do to prove “we” are truly “free.”

      • Precisely, thordaddy.

        It seems the penultimate civilization that supposedly has the world all figured out, is the civilization that ties its own noose. The message of the West to the ‘uneducated’ masses of the world appears to be, “if you were smart like us, you’d kill yourself”.

      • It wasn’t even an argument. It was a suggestion to Kristor that he reexamine his closed system of thought.

        We also have a scientific climate in which being a theist is likely to severely hinder your advancement in the profession.

        Given that director of the NIH is a very vocal theist, I kind of doubt the truth of the above.

        He will scoff at all things sacred and spiritual in favor of carnal knowledge and pleasure.

        Oh noes, not the pleasure.

        The idea that the sacred and the pleasurable are in opposition is one of those pathologies of the West that is thankfully getting tossed on the ash heap of history. I’m not sure why some people are so eager to hold on to it.

      • A.morphous: I reexamine my understandings all the time. And I do take seriously the arguments of intelligent atheists, both philosophers and scientists. But what I find in such men, again and again, is that they simply don’t understand the terms of the arguments they think they are refuting. So they often tilt at quintains – and even so, they often miss. They so often make really basic mistakes, such as thinking that the quantum vacuum is nothing. I don’t know why this is so. But clever people are notoriously able to convince themselves of really silly, counterfactual things, such as eliminative materialism and anthropogenic global warming.

        So, no: I don’t worry too much that so many intelligent men are atheists.

        The tradition of the West has always been that the sacred and the pleasant are not in conflict, *provided they are rightly ordered,* with holiness emphasized over mere pleasure. Who seeks pleasure first will end up living a disordered life, and will miss out on the greatest pleasures of all: those that are to be had from holiness and righteousness. Moreover, he will soon find that his enjoyment of mere pleasure has turned to ashes in his mouth. Who seeks first the holy, on the other hand, will live the sanest, most pleasant life a man can live, ceteris paribus – and will enjoy all such pleasures as are just and proper to him.

        This has been the fundamental ethical doctrine of the West from the very beginning: from the Nicomachean Ethics, Aurelius, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes right down to the present day, when study after study finds that it is the religiously observant, traditionally moral people who succeed at life. The righteous devout are generally more successful, along all dimensions of worldly success, than their secular contemporaries. It’s not just that they tend to be more prosperous, raise more children, raise more successful children, are healthier, saner, live longer, are more active, and so forth, but that they are *happier.*

      • Pleasures, carnal in nature, are more often than not in opposition to the sacred, not that that word actually means anything to the atheist since his world is mere matter in motion. The two forms of the true realization of manhood are heroism and asceticism. Both involve the sacrifice of earthly pleasures in pursuit of a more divine wholeness and a connection with that which transcends the fleeting fancies of flesh.

        And no, this knowledge of a fundamental truth is not being tossed in an ash-heap because truth only goes out of style, it is never destroyed. It is being disregarded by societies that are already in terminal decline. As Thordaddy pointed out, these are decadent countries that are already on demographic deathwatch. How many Swedes will there be left in 2100 I wonder. Time will tell.

    • Please notice that a.morphous does not give any argument in favor of his position. None whatsoever. Because saying “we are the majority” is not an argument. There was a time that the existence of tectonic plates were only defended by a minority of scientists. So what?

      Most scientists and philosophers in the story of the world have been theists. Not only in Western culture.

      The fact that atheism has dominated the intellectual debate in a very short interval (the last decades) of a specific culture proves nothing because truth is not determined by majority voting. And even if it was, we are the majority.

      But yes, Vox Day’s “The irrational atheist” (which can be downloaded free) explains this better than I could.

      • Yes, this is why René Guénon referred to them as ‘the profane sciences’, because they have indeed been profaned by atheists. The entire usurpation represented by the Enlightenment is atheistic in nature even if many of its initial adherents declared religiosity.

        The meme of ‘settled science’ is perhaps the greatest indicator that you’re not dealing with what would historically be deemed scientific minds. They speak of settled science but science is never settled, it is in constant motion, an eternal revolution. This is why elevating it to such a pride of place in a given society (something De Maistre warned against) leads to a society that is itself in constant revolution, and therefore in a constant state of decay

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  10. The two forms of the true realization of manhood are heroism and asceticism.

    Which is why the greatest of warriors have historically been warrior-monks. Even those warriors who were not strictly speaking “monks” had elements of it within them. The Sacred warrior, IS the archetypal warrior.

    Today, the Vikings are usually the stand in figure for the carnal warrior, but even of the heathen norseman, the greatest of them were the Jomsvikings, a brotherhood of warriors dedicated to the Allfather, Odin. In some ways they were even a precursor to the later monastic orders of the High medieval period (who were the greatest examplars of Knighthood).

    Muslim jihadists, Hindu and Zoroastrian warriors, etc.

    I don’t think I even need to bring up the far east, what with their martial artists, Shaolin monks, Zen samurai, and so on and so forth.

    • Your history is very much spot on, Manwe. The Traditional Spirit, with few exceptions has a very similar manifestation across cultures, faiths, and time throughout the higher ages. It is what we might call a ‘universal’.

      • Recognizing certain metaphysical realities that are recognized as true across various cultures is a little different from the grand claim that all religions have a very tangible common origin. I don’t go that far, however it does seem that the Word of Tradition and its accompanying characteristic imprints on disparate cultures has a commonality and this is a good example of it. I am not a Hindu but I recognize it as a Traditional religion that does outline some truths in common with Christianity. An entire book may be false, but this does not entail every sentence within being a lie. Manhood and womanhood are areas of commonality in the Traditional religions, both those that have survived and those that have not.

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  12. I returned to the Catholic faith and the Great Tradition by way of the Perennialist writings of the “Traditionalist School”. Since then, I have come to see the difficulty in maintaining both Christian orthodoxy and the so called “transcendent unity of religions.” But, as Mark said, I still hold to the view that there are, indeed, certain metaphysical realities that are recognizable across cultures- what Perennialists call “Tradition”. In connection to this, a subject that has been of great interest to me is the relationship between the mysticisms of the nondual “jnanic” traditions of the East and the theistic “bhaktic” traditions of the West. I am by no means an adherent of a sentimental and intellectually arid ecumenism, nevertheless, to my lights, I still perceive something like a “Perennial Philosophy”. I think the American conservative writer, Irving Babbit, and the other “New Humanist” writers of the early 20th century, were, perhaps, thinking in terms of this kind of “universalism”- what Catholics would call “Spermatikos Logos”.

    • I’m a cautious fan of perennialism, though I recognize it isn’t perfect nor correct at the core. It was just curious to see anyone sound like that in this neck of the interwebs. They have a great deal to offer anyone seriously pursuing normal living, but so far as I’ve seen, only me and the amerika.org guy Brett Stevens even know they’re around or write like we’ve read them.

      • I think perennialism claims too much, but should not be dismissed entirely, so I often use another word to describe my view tentatively as ‘modest hermetic Christianity’, the principle of which is named after Hermes Trismegistus, a pagan prophet who predated Christianity, but was said by several early Christian thinkers to have actually foreseen the coming of the Faith. He had posited that due to the very wholeness of the Universe in its single Creator, great theological truths pervaded Traditional religions, even if often in a misinterpreted or exaggerated form, or even in a perverted form through the worship of higher entities that had fallen from God (demons), but were still made by Him and as such were part of a cosmic order. At the end however, the one true religion would emerge.

        I do believe Traditional Christianity is the final faith, the one true faith and the doctrine for salvation beyond this world.

      • Both the early Christians and the Essenes from whom Christianity seems to have sprung regarded their cult as the remnant and restoration of the true religion of Israel and his forefathers, Abraham, Noah, Shem, and Adam – the original and true cult of man. It was with the confusion of tongues at Babel that cultures and cults were likewise confused. Christianity is the Great Unconfusion – we could equivalently call her the Great Fusion – in which all the truths of other religions are to be found purified, reconciled and properly integrated. Eventually then, all other cults must either recognize their fulfillment in the Church, and join her, or else wither and die; for Truth will out. Christianity is the once and future queen of man.

    • Perennialists overcomplicate it. The overlap is very simple: reducing your own ego. Not making yourself the center of your world. Adopting an external, not self-centered viewpoint. Feeling small and insignificant – and the liberation, joy and humor that brings.

      Taking your duties seriously, but NOT taking yourself seriously.

      Evola & co. overcomplicated this very simple thing. Every religion is a set of unnecessary complications built on top of the Buddhist theory of the self/ego.

      This is very easily observable. Stupid Christians pray to God to heal them. Intelligent Christians pray to God to help them not care whether they are healed or not. The more intelligent a Christian is, the more he is closer to this simple root of all religions. Lewis with his idea that the gates of hell are closed from the inside got very ,very close. Chesterton almost, with his realization that sin is a lot like madness: they both are about self-centeredness, but he missed the simple answer more than Lewis because he needed a common-sense, anthropomorphic myth of a God more than Lewis did.

      • I am rather with those stupid Christians. They are more honest, straightforward and childlike in their attitude. They believe in the universe of miracles. I think God likes such people. That’s why He often send messages through children or poor, uneducated people. I believe those old ladies murmuring rosary in churches may be the only force that holds back His wrath.

        Compare with the world of so called intelligent Christians or other people from your example. It holds together due to handy deception called religion. But the intelligent people know it’s a mere fairy-tale for masses. They know the world has no sense or meaning. One could object that such a world works just in spite of itself but, hey, logic and reason are just another facade or layer of deception. We have the secret knowledge, we are the elite.

        Some of them, the more spiritually orientated also know that self is another deception, a convenient lie. But suffering seems to be real or at least inconvenient. Solution? Indifference! Let’s be detached from the issues of the world. Having no inherent meaning everything is just self-interest or self-centeredness but these are not real either. So let’s not be self-centered. We don’t care if our wounds are healed. This is the real freedom and happiness. But wait, isn’t it another just trick of the self? Perhaps, instead of “self-free” we got “free-self”, a real monster…

  13. This is actually something intelligent atheists agree with. Sir Roger Penrose says more or less this in The Emperors New Mind. This is the Anthropic Principle: things are this way, because if they would be different we wouldn’t be around to ponder them. This is, of course, not causality, it does not say that we MUST be around and therefore things MUST be this way. This is actually a very elegant way to avoid answering the question: just rejoice that things are this way, because otherwise you would not be around here to ask this question and share this ale with me.

    It would be an explanation only of the many-worlds explanation of quantum physics would turn out to be right: there are many, many other universes where things are different, but they are not suitable to intelligent life so nobody asks these questions in them.

  14. In my experience, most Westerners who are attracted to Eastern thought ( I was such a one) end up sanitizing it to such an extent that it ceases to be a sacred science and becomes merely an alternative form of psychology. This represents a grave error- to reduce the spiritual to the psychic.

    • It’s common knowledge that when ignorant western dolts try to adopt Buddhism or Hinduism, or (God help us) Feng Shui, only hilarity can ensue. It’s a trendy thing, to try and seem interesting. Thankfully it is such an obvious intellectual embarrassment, there’s little chance of it becoming more than a fad.

  15. I am coming late to this discussion. I find much to agree with. I reject atheism, of course. And I agree with Bruce about the God of Abraham. And I agree with a.morphous that Kristor has created an internally-consistent argument that is nevertheless unconvincing to many people of reasonable intelligence.

    But it should be noted that Atheism has been a powerful and destructive force in human history, and its force is not yet spent. It currently seems to be driven by hedonism, another powerful force.

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