Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bipedalism, quarks and meaning

Just back from a fantastic six mile run in the amazing fall weather (low 70s, sunny). During my runs (when not running with someone else), I either listen to music, an audiobook or a podcast. This time, it was Krista Tippet's Speaking of Faith program, Mathematics, Purpose and Truth. The program was an interview with Jenna Levin, a theoretical physicist and novelist from Columbia University. The interview (as are all of Tippet's) was engaging, gentle, curious and delightful. But, as sometimes happens when Tippet interviews a person of a purely atheistic perspective, you could her the gentle tugging in Tippet's questions, "you say this, but you seem to be like this, which doesn't really jive with what you said about this". Tippet is far too careful and deliberately non-confrontational to press these points, but they continue to remind me of the source of my faith.

Dr. Levin sees herself to be ultimately rational and honest - a hard-core truth-teller with no agenda other than honesty - a person who, no matter how hard the truth might be to face, would rather face it than cover it up or deny it. These are the kinds of self-characterization and depictions many atheists I encounter present regarding themselves. Yet, all one must do is listen to the interview itself to see that Dr. Levin's pronouncements, while inspiring, humbling, intriguing, fascinating and awesome in the context of a rational, reasonable, intelligible universe and from the perspective of an intellectually and noetically free and rational sentient species, is utterly self-refuting, non-sensical and meaningless from the perspective of nonrational, nonreasoning, deterministic mammals.

The problem I have with this brand of atheism is not the lack of gods - we could all probably do with a bit fewer of those - but the lack of honesty. For honest atheists (though, admittedly, still self-refuting and ultimately incoherent), one has to reach back to Russell or Sartre. These days they all prance about like Dennett and Harris and Dawkins and Hitchens spewing bile about religion and God, while pretending no one notices them feasting at the table of spiritual fruits!

I am a postmodernist in most respects, and believe in individual narratives taking equal if not preferential place over metanarratives, but one should never confuse those ontological forms with philosophical ones. Even in a postmodernist conception, 1+1 still equals 2. And you can't come to reasonable conclusions about the world and claim you form your beliefs on the hard facts of science - while claiming that your can't rightly form a belief at all (but are, instead, determined to believe whatever you believe by forces well beyond your control).

Yes, honesty is the best policy.


Steve said...

Have enjoyed reading this post several times over the past couple of days and am surprised no one else has commented. Just now clicked the links and am impressed with those sites. I'll be delving into them later.

Jeff said...

Steve - I guess it's more of an "geek" post!!