A Strictly Derivative Proposition

Seven Seals

For discussion: Atheism is a strictly derivative proposition. If every single theist of every kind were at last one day to die off, leaving a human population of atheists only – the atheistic proposition would still, historically, conceptually, and grammatically be a strictly derivative proposition. Being a derivative proposition, atheism is necessarily prone to resentment, and what atheism resents is the originality of theism, or theism’s firstness, whose status it can never usurp. Indeed, atheism can have no status at all, not even its derivative status, except for the prior existence of theism. Whereas atheism is clearly derivative of theism, it is difficult to imagine how a subsequent theism might ever derive itself from an original atheism. There would be nothing, in the first place, to negate, and therefore nothing to serve as the basis for a derivation. Such resentment, attaching necessarily to its embarrassing structural character, would explain the vehemence and petulance of atheism. Lucretius, following Epicurus, was probably wise to reject outright atheism for his brand of theistic minimalism, never denying the being of the gods, but declaring their non-intervention policy with respect to humanity. Even for Lucretius, however, imitating the gods – following the model of their blitheness – remained a desideratum.*

Atheism’s debt to theism resembles the debt of any attempt to dethrone metaphysics to the selfsame metaphysics that it would dethrone.  The abolition of the axioms is left finally with its own lame axiom, just the one, complete with the embarrassing negation, dangling from the proposition like a wet tail.  Nietzsche’s God who is Dead, for example, must previously have been Alive, an irritation concerning which Nietzsche seems to have been aware, to credit him with that much, at least.  (Was Nietzsche really an atheist?  In his own description he was a Dionysiac, pitching Dionysus against Christ.)

In their pursuit of firstness, derivative propositions are always-already checked.

Of course the bland terms theism and atheism, to put them in their proper order, are not quite adequate.  The Theos against which atheism pits itself is never Huitzilopotchli or Istustaya, Sol Invictus or Domna Luna; it is invariably the Christian Trinity.  The atheism of our age (and it is not clear that atheism can claim any previous age) is simply another form of the pervasive and resentful anti-Christianity, which spurns the Christian remonstrance to give up resentment, and which has been angrily present in Western society since the Parisian Blutrausch of 1789.

[*A minor mystery of antiquity is the sudden disappearance of the Epicureans, who had constituted a major segment of the Imperial citizenry all over the Empire, in the middle of the Third Century.  The most plausible explanation for their abrupt departure from the scene was offered by Walter Pater in his novel Marius the Epicurean (1885): In rejecting the sacrificial gods, the Epicureans were already extremely close to Christianity, to which they converted very nearly en masse.]

25 thoughts on “A Strictly Derivative Proposition

  1. Pingback: A Strictly Derivative Proposition | Neoreactive

  2. There are atheists and atheists from white to black and every shade of gray. There are theists and theists from white to black and every shade of gray. Labels are a very crude way of trying to define people.

    • By label, I assume that you mean word, but label is a highly editorial word for word. My dear Kaptonok – words are the only things that we have with which we might make definitions. I fail to see what your remark has do do with my paragraphs. In future, please try to make a point, or I will not approve the comment.

  3. A mildly malignant blend of obfuscation and misrepresentation, laughable except for the unfortunate fact that the choir to whom the author is speaking will smirk and nod and think, “So true, so very true.”

    • Mr. Howe, your remark is (pardon me for having to say so) exactly of the type that I expected to see. I make an argument, syllogistic in its structure, and rather than attempting to refute it, which would require an effort, you accuse me of making smoke and lying. Please tell me, as succinctly as you are able, how I have made smoke and how I have lied. I want specifics and should you not provide them, I will not admit your comment.

      By the way, I speak to no choir. I speak for myself. Insofar as I have an audience, that is a happy incident. Truths are not made by choirs.

  4. Indeed, atheism can have no status at all, not even its derivative status, except for the prior existence of theism.

    I know! Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to distance ourselves from such silly superstitious ideas?

    But theism doesn’t require atheism, of course; it only requires a certain amount of credulity and gullibility. As for the understanding the roots of assigning agency – supernatural or natural – that requires a biological and not theological investigation if one wishes to actually gain any knowledge about it… something most of today’s theists tend to shun on principle..

    • Based on the remarks already in this thread and the copious and numerous ones in Kristor’s recent thread, credulity and gullibility can be charged against the boilerplate of atheism.

      How is it that you know that “understanding the roots of… agency [whether] natural or supernatural… requires a biological and not a theological investigation”? Is it because biologists say so? Is it because you say so? What is the basis of the claim, if not something supernatural, that has been revealed to you prior to the naturalistic procedure whose outcome, somehow, you know in advance? Your assertion is a classic case of the modern prejudice – that only science, as modernity has conceived it since the Eighteenth Century, can provide real knowledge, everything else being false. That is not an argument; it is a fixed and completely unscientific position.

      No one at The Orthosphere will “shun [science] on principle.” The evidence suggests, however, that most atheists shun the science of theology on principle, have never studied it, and therefore know nothing of what they speak when they address it.

      PS. I repaired the formatting flaw in your comment.

  5. Pingback: Atheism’s Stubborn Lack of Originality « The Thinking Housewife

  6. If there were a human population for atheists only, we wouldn’t need the word “atheism”. Similarly, if no one ate meat, we would not need a word for “vegetarian”. So, yes, atheism is derivative in that sense.

    I really don’t see how atheism resents the “firstness” of theism. I have never seen any atheist complaining about theism for coming first. Also, atheism represents a very, very broad group of people, who resent different things, have different beliefs, and have different attitudes about theism.

    I would hazard a guess that the biggest reason English speaking atheists resent Christianity is that Christianity is the religion that gets shoved down their throats the most commonly. In the USA, it’s Christianity’s moral values that people are trying to make into law. I can only imagine how different the religious environment is in, say, Saudi Arabia. For atheists living in Utah, I imagine there is more resentment towards Mormons, specifically. Whereas I don’t think I have ever once heard an atheist complaining about Wiccans, who generally keep their religion to themselves and don’t proselytize or force their religious values on others. I could imagine a skeptic objecting to Wiccan beliefs on the grounds that they probably aren’t true, but most skeptics have better things to do with their time (e.g. countering untrue beliefs which are actually causing harm, such as the anti-vaxxer claim that vaccines cause autism).

    • The hypothesis was not an atheist-only population that drops out of the sky without a precursor theist population; it was a die-off of theists leaving only atheists. The word atheist would, in that case, still have its meaning, ineradicably. If you wanted to hypothesize an atheist-only population that dropped out of the sky without a precursor theist population, how could you then argue against the God-proposition, which is at least that plausible?

      • No, I meant any population of only atheists. If there aren’t any theists hanging around, what need is there to define oneself in contrast to theists? Sure, the theist/atheist thing would still hang around as part of history, but I doubt people would be defining themselves in terms of not believing what some ancient people believed. How many people do you know who go around calling themselves monotheists all the time? [Only Monophysites, Atheists, and Muslims.] Who considers “monotheist” as an important word to use when describing themselves? [I do – I’m a Trinitarian.] I rarely ever see that word come up, except in circumstances such as philosophical/theological debate or when talking to a polytheist, and most of the time not even then. And yet polytheism used to be very common among many ancient peoples.

        “If there aren’t any theists hanging around, what need is there to define oneself in contrast to theists?” If there is no truth hanging around, what need is there to… Dude, your atheism is so 2015!

        And if polytheism ceased to exist, people would use the word “monotheism” even less, perhaps to the point of it dropping out of the language entirely, eventually. People wouldn’t be defining themselves by the number of gods they believe in if everyone believed in only one. They’d define themselves by what sort of beliefs they hold about that one god.

        “People wouldn’t be defining themselves by the number of gods they believe in if everyone believed in only one.” Good God, man, think it through. Christians define themselves by the number of gods in which they believe: Three (in One). That is in contrast to Islam, which only believes in one. Islam, like atheism, has no Father, whose filial imitation we should non-resentfully imitate, no Son, whose submission to human judgment is unprecedented in religion, and no Paraclete, to advocate for victims.

        Besides, no word has its meaning ineradicably. [Really? What about “No.” Are you one of those guys who thinks it means “Yes.”] Language changes drastically over time. People invent new words, stop using old ones, and change the meaning and form of words. Give the process a few centuries, and the old language will be very difficult to understand for speakers of the new. Give it a few millenia [sic], and the old language will be completely incomprehensible to speakers of the new.

        You agree then, that there is much, because it stems from the past, that you do not understand?

        And I am making no argument for the plausibility of an atheist-only population, theist precursor or no. In fact, I think both are highly implausible. But if you grant one exists for the sake of argument (which is not the same as hypothesizing), I highly doubt they would feel a need to keep the word “atheist” around.

        What you’re saying is that if the Turks had succeeded in killing off all Armenians, the word Armenian would have disappeared from the language because there would have been no more need for it. As Hillary Clinton said of Benghazi: “What difference does it make? It’s history.”

        You write: “No word has its meaning ineradicably. Language changes drastically over time.” This type of pronouncement is why I identify atheism with radical nominalism. If language consisted only in change, nothing would ever have any meaning; we would not be able to understand one another, not even for a few seconds. Language is the relation of change and permanency. The comprehensibility of any language is related to the permanency of its core vocabulary. In the Indo-European Family of languages, the words for father, mother, son, daughter, sister, brother, and God have barely changed for ten thousand years. Maybe you regard fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, sisters, and brothers as implausible, just as you regard God.

        Congratulations on being okay with eradication. That is what I expect from atheists. (TFB)

      • TFB, there is a huge difference between language change and genocide. You’re the only one who’s brought up the latter.

        Not so. When you change the word Armenian from someone who speaks Armenian and practices Christianity, to a thing that is non-human, whom you may kill, you facilitate genocide.

        And no, words like “father” have not stayed constant over time. The words “stride” and “saunter” can both be used to mean “walk”, but both words have different shades of meaning. “Stride” is a more assured walk, and “saunter” is a more relaxed walk. Those different shades of meaning change over time, and one word for walk might fall into disuse and disappear from the language, while another might be invented. This also applies to words like “father”.

        Stride comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning contention or armed combat. It is cognate with the German Streit. Saunter comes from the French sainte-terre, or “holy ground,” and it originally meant making a pilgrimage to a shrine – Chaucer’s “ferne halwes.” (See the Prologue to Caunterbury Tales.) Please get your facts straight before you commit yourself to contention.

        Language is a highly dynamic thing. It is always changing, and its meaning is determined by how it is used. If a particular concept is both universal to and important to human life, then virtually all languages will have a word for that concept. For example, concepts like water or family or a person’s leg. But even these words differ from one language to another, and over time. For example, the Japanese word for “leg” also includes the foot as part of the leg. Basically, words change whether or not there is any change in the concept the words are meant to describe.

        “Meaning is determined by how it is used.” As opposed to what it means – is that what you intend? To press the point, in 1916, the Turks changed the meaning of the word Armenian from a human being and fellow citizen who spoke Armenian and who practiced Christianity into a thing that could be killed. Hurrah for language-change!

        And if there is a word for a particular concept in a language (let’s use “cactus” as an example), but the people using that language have little need to refer to this concept (for example, because they have moved to a place where there are no cacti), then that word might fall into disuse or even disappear from the language entirely.

        Just like the word God.

        Also, congratulations on being okay with twisting around atheists’ words to make them fit in with your bad expectations. This isn’t what I expect from theists, but it’s always very annoying when it’s what I get.

        Atheists need no help from me in the twisting of words. (TFB)

    • We don’t hear much from atheists complaining about Islam which is more adamantly shoved down throats under the threat of cutting them. Indeed many atheists seem quite enthused about Islam.

      • I call on the atheist correspondents in this thread to denounce Islam. And David Duke.

      • I haven’t seen any atheists enthused about Islam. Care to show me an example?

        Personally, I think there are a great many problems with Islam, from extremist suicide bombers [the non-extremist suicide bombers are swell blokes] to Muslim countries which execute or imprison gay men or apostates. Personally, I don’t often speak out against Islam because I’m not very familiar with the issues with it, aside from some of the extremists that make the news. And Islam isn’t the religion getting shoved down the throats of most English speaking atheists, so it makes sense that fewer of them would talk about it.

        “I haven’t seen any atheists enthused about Islam.” I have – the entire political establishments of France, Sweden, and Germany. And the Obama administration.

        “Personally, I think there are a great many problems with Islam, from extremist suicide bombers to Muslim countries which execute or imprison gay men or apostates.” How about killing, raping, and enslaving Christians? Do you have a problem with that? How about cutting their throats? It happens every day. Considering the reality of the particular killing-method of cutting throats, what does the archly rhetorical phrase, “shoving it down throats,” mean?

      • TFB, I think Alex defined “shoving down the throats” above as (in the USA) Christianity’s moral values people are *trying to* make into law. Of course atheists don’t *try to* make atheist moral values into law because everyone knows atheists don’t believe in moral values, notwithstanding the implication of their complaints being that it is bad, wrong, unjust etc. for Christians to try to make their moral values into law.

      • First I’ve heard of the Obama administration being atheistic. Also, the entire political establishment of France, Sweden, and Germany isn’t something I have more than a passing familiarity with, so it doesn’t really work well as an example for me. [Wow! Did you really write that?] Is there something you could link to, preferably with the actual words of atheists being enthused about Islam?

        “How about killing, raping, and enslaving Christians? Do you have a problem with that? How about cutting their throats? It happens every day.”

        I absolutely have a problem with that. Why wouldn’t I?

        “First I’ve heard of the Obama administration being atheistic.” Oh, man!

        “I absolutely have a problem with that. Why wouldn’t I?” So you sympathize with Christian believers and find the deeds of their Muslim persecutors abhorrent, yes?

      • “’I absolutely have a problem with that. Why wouldn’t I?’ So you sympathize with Christian believers and find the deeds of their Muslim persecutors abhorrent, yes?”

        Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. I find it abhorrent when Christians are killed in the name of Islam.

        Then we are on the same side. (TFB)

  7. If you wish to understand why we assign agency, then the right place to look isn’t deeply into one’s navel and claim divine insight. It’s where we can empirically show the link between this effect with certain neurochemical and material functioning in – of all places – the brain.

    The navel is a piece of bodily matter, like the brain. It has a function, like the brain. What is it that you are arguing is nothing but a “neurochemical” process? God? Consciousness? Science?

    Shocking, I know. Whodathunk?

    Shocking? Hardly. Material reductionism is practically mandatory for modern people, like you. It belongs to the intellectual conformism of the age, and it is exactly what I foresaw you invoking at some point. (Theists can construct experiments, just like physicists!)

    The basis of this claim I make is that with each passing year, we are gathering all kinds of data and producing explanatory models that work consistently and reliably for everyone everywhere all the time about the brain and how it functions. We’ve learned more in the past 20 years in neuroscience about the human brain and its functioning than all theology combined for millennium. (Demons? Seriously?)

    O, Progress! The record of science is the regular overturning of hypotheses. As far as mere science is concerned, I am quite sure that the Twenty-Fifth Century will look back on the Twenty-First and laugh its head off. Even supposing we learned everything that there is to know about the brain – what would that have to do with the being or non-being of God?

    Now, you might miss that clue [I miss nothing] about which field – biology or theology for our comparison – grants us some accumulation of knowledge, but I think biology in this area is a field of study that continues to produce knowledge and not dogma about our brains and produces real insight into all of its emergent properties… emergent properties long considered ‘evidence’ for some divine creator and intervening God (that is to say, a vastness of complete ignorance into which the God-addled like to insert all kinds of supernatural explanations utterly divorced from any links to reality and completely devoid of any applicable derived knowledge). And this is demonstrable independent of any ‘modern prejudice’ (that is to say, denialist code for ‘compelling evidence producing applicable knowledge’) you presume I must have to make such a claim. Calling it ‘prejudice’ doesn’t make it so.

    No – being a prejudice makes it a prejudice. It was Christian Theology, by the way, that cleared men’s minds of demons and imps and made the way for actual science. Modern science, too, is in this way a derivative proposition. “God-addled.” Is that like matter-addled?

    There is no ‘science’ of theology (natural philosophy a pre-cursor but still not a method we call ‘science’; there are only more claims misrepresented as equivalent ‘explanations’ that are equivalent in all ways to assertions, assumption, and attribution imposed on reality as if descriptive of it but exempt by special fiat from reality’s arbitration of them. That’s your ‘science’ of theology. It is a broken methodology that never has, does not, and probably never shall produce one jot or title of applicable knowledge about reality it purports to describe. And you can test this yourself: think of one bit of knowledge produced solely from religious belief used efficaciously in some application, therapy, or technology.

    Science means knowledge. Of course there is knowledge of God. But thank you for taking my bait! “Application, therapy, or technology.” That is the limit, I guess, of the atheist world.

    What you call ‘modern prejudice’ is, in fact, critical thinking that recognizes that the only method that works reliably and consistently well enough to produce knowledge about the reality we share is ‘science’… a method and not a product that you use every day and with complete confidence to allow you to navigate reality successfully. That’s why you don’t sacrifice a chicken or make burnt offerings to find your misplaced car keys. You actually get up and use the material available to you to accomplish that which no amount of religious belief will favourably resolve. And you know it. But look how willing you are to make a special exemption for your religious claims – and only your religious claims? That, too,, is a clue…

    I have worked as a member of university faculties since 1985. I know all about “critical thinking.” I am unimpressed. More than that, I am deeply disappointed in your usage of the term. While disagreeing with you and finding your attempts at counterargument somewhat inadequate, I was holding out hope that you would not sink that low. I was once where you are, but there was no Slough of Critical Thinking in those days. I fear that that Slough is impassable once a fellow mires himself in it

    “Only method.” – That is the giveaway of cheapness in your discourse.


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  9. Tildeb, I have always wanted to know – and have never, not once – received a comprehensible answer to the question, What is critical thinking? I am especially curious how it differs from thinking, whether it takes place in the brain or the mind, and what the neurochemical explanation of it might be. We needn’t be confined in this thread to the God/Not-God debate. As far as that goes, “Critical Thinkers” invariably turn out to be atheists, so I can only infer that there is a close connection between the concepts. Explain that to me. Again, what is the difference between the brain and the mind? Atheists seem always to have brains, exclusively, rather than minds. Indulge me. I am waiting. And waiting… And waiting…

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