The deep end of the intangible pool
With a cry of “Atheism and Neuroscience be damned!” Theologian Frank Cronin loosed a two part broadside upon godlessness from the National Catholic Register site (here and here). It’s loads of fun, let’s dive in to the deep end of the intangible pool:
“To them (atheists), the struggle for the minds of modern man is now just a matter of time. The conflict raging for the last 500 years is over. All the crucial victories are won. And, religion retreats reeling from these devastating defeats in disgrace. Defeated, disorganized and discouraged, Christianity’s credibility is crushed completely in the eyes of the enlightened elites of the world.”
First let’s congratulate our crafty Christian Mr.Cronin on his padded paragraph’s astounding abundance of alliteration. His next paragraph garrulously glitters with alliterative art as well (really, you should read it, after you’re done with this post of course).
The last few hundred years have shown dramatic improvement in our standards of living. We aren’t without our problems of course. But who would really like to live in an era before the discovery of the germ theory of disease? (Antivaxxers put your hands down!)
These improvements are due to revolutions in our ways of thinking, the advancement of the scientific method and the advancement of the humanities. Wherever new discoveries have been made they have been in the real world and every cause we discover of every event we examine turns out to be natural. Supernatural religion has been in retreat the whole time, often burning what it can as it goes. The gods are being squeezed into ever smaller and smaller gaps and our lives are better for it.
Next I would remind pundits looking to use this trope of atheists doing victory dances on top of Christianity’s supposed soon-to-be grave, that much of the damage to Christianity has been done by Christianity and by Christians themselves. Why should anyone revere stories of virgin births and hellfire and talking asses? Why should we take moralizers seriously when their priest class has become a sick joke and a symbol of exploitation and corruption? Many Christian salesmen (still primarily men) are seen as little more than sanctimonious blowhards who do nothing more than attack gay rights, women’s rights, and science. All one has to do is point to Christianity and laugh, much of the heavy lifting has been done.
But, if religious writers want to give freethinkers some credit ok, but wait — what is this:
“Many of these prominent heralds (atheists) misuse and manipulate reason and science to undermine the credibility and content of the Christian faith. They have used the tools of reason to build their case for an atheistic universe and the weapons of rhetoric to promote their universal perspective to the masses. And, these tools and weapons do not belong to them. They belong to us.”
A case can probably be made that some advocates of freethought have reasoned wrongly. (I might have reasoned wrongly that there would be novel points made in Frank’s essays.) I don’t know exactly what is meant by the “misuse” of reason, unless it’s reasoning contrary to what someone else, like Frank, has deemed true. Then we get something about rhetoric, which is another swipe of some kind, and then it gets exciting. Frank reaches out and GRABS reason from our hands, yells MINE! And claims that it doesn’t belong to us but to Catholics. All this while sincerely believing that his local priest mumbles magic words over crackers and $5.00 wine (the big bottle), turning them, for real not pretend, into the body and blood of some guy that might have existed almost 2,000 years ago, and that there is an elderly Bavarian Gucci shoe enthusiast in Rome who can never be wrong when he speaks very solemnly on particular subjects.
Frank goes on to build his atheism which he will wander around with into his next essay. His argument is that we can’t have what makes us human in a natural universe. Frank asserts that atheists can’t claim reason because HE bought all of it on clearance along with votive candles and holy water, and besides, reason and our emotions are “intangible.” He takes a word meaning “Incapable of being perceived by the senses,” puts reason and rhetoric and all the groovy emotions into it, and says you can’t have it unless you say Uncle, or Father…who art in heaven.
Here, take a look:
“Yet for these atheists, the supposed champions of science, brain activity is all there is. Nothing more. Reason for them is an illusion. For them, reason is intangible; it can’t be seen regardless of the instrument employed. And, if it can’t be seen, then it does not really exist.”
Frank may not want to admit it to himself or to his confessor but brain activity is all there is for him as well. Nobody has ever been observed to live on their own with no brain function. I suspect some people of talking and walking about with very little brain function, that’s a different matter. When our brains cease we cease, no matter how many gods we have shoved into our brainpans.
And as for atheists not buying into the existence of anything we cannot directly see: I guarantee that if I were in a small room with Frank and he let a strong one off, I would hopefully not be able to see what he had done, but I wouldn’t be agnostic about its existence. It would not be evidence for the existence of anything supernatural, only of natural processes telling me that we are animals that are all too human.
Fart jokes are great even if they’re intangible, but let’s move along:
“We must show those who think we are just biochemical machines, who think we are just the current configuration of a material universe, that mankind, like the universe, is both tangible and intangible. We must show them we do not inhabit a universe that is empty, silent, meaningless, purposeless, without order or structure, rhyme or reason.”
The assertion that the natural universe can’t include all of our emotions, reason, and everything we hold dear, and to have these things we must allow a particular supernatural realm into our worldview, is the dirty trick at the bottom of organized religion. It was invented by the first slimy shaman who threatened his tribe with it. Supernatural superstitious religion debases us all with the claim that natural human beings can’t exhibit “real” emotion, “real” reason, “real” values. There must be a ghost in the machine and we must purchase the ghost(s) from the shamans, hucksters, and priests. Religion is a tool used to steal what is good in humanity and sell it back to us with a huge markup.
And I don’t know why church apologists like to assert that atheism is a religion or a church. Why would a religionist spend time decrying a worldview while claiming that that worldview is like their own? Is this a backhanded compliment to atheism or an attempt to insult atheism by dragging it down to the level of a faith? I don’t know what the goal is but Frank goes down that well worn path as he begins his second essay:
“In the Church of the One Truth there are no ceremonies, no sacraments, no saints. There are no cathedrals, no worship, no mass. There are no sacred books, sacred music, sacred creeds. There is no morality, no accountability, no judgment.”
Ooooh, “no morality, no accountability, no judgement,” why that sounds just awful! Of course it does and just like most of the claims in these essays it’s silly. These are all human attributes that are part of most human beings. And we have good reason to think all these things originate in brains and develop differently in different societies because this is what we observe. In fact the objective morality and judgement (forget about accountability Bishop) many religions claim to offer just doesn’t exist, maybe it’s intangible. There are thousands and thousands of Christian sects alone and you will find disagreements over the most minute issues in the same church pew. You will not find objective morality in a religion. You WILL often find arbitrary authoritarianism. If that’s your bag go ahead, buy the ticket and take the ride, I can’t stop you.
His whole attack boils down to a long rant against some form of Eliminative Materialism which Frank may or may not understand, or that he might have invented, and which he equates with atheism. Interestingly he never uses the term “eliminative materialism.” Frank’s essays are a crude job on an atheism he has constructed.
As people subject only to the natural forces of a natural world we experience love, happiness, ecstasy and we use our natural reason and abilities. Everything that we value in the human experience is ours. We can have, and deserve to have all of these things without having to prostrate ourselves before gods or boogeymen and we don’t have to purchase them from priests or theologians. We know that there are no ghosts, no magic, no hells or heavens and we also know that we don’t need them. We, all of us, are enough.