An Honesty Epidemic

That seems to be the thread in three things I've read today.

I find bracing honesty so very refreshing.

First up is this article from the Billings Gazette, my hometown newspaper. There are a number of school choice bills before the Montana legislature this term, and the teacher's union is forcefully opposing them. And in the midst of the opposition comes union leader Eric Feaver, who had this to say:

I hate to see any child leave our public schools,” Feaver says. “We’re all a part of the whole. The charter school movement breaks us up into cosmic parts, like we don’t belong to each other. […] The whole purpose of (public education) is not just to teach math, or reading […] but to educate us on how to live together, across the board.
Children belong to the collective. Their rightful place is state-coerced public instruction. That's how they'll learn to "live together." No need for parents and communities freely associating for purposes of education. I've always thought the rationale for opposing school choice to be an Orwellian desire for collective power and indoctrination, and it is nice to see Eric Feaver forthrightly saying so.

So three cheers for clearing that up, Eric. And three cheers for freedom, which you so candidly oppose.

The second item is this superb essay by Andrew Ferguson in the Weekly Standard. Really, you must not miss this article. The Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church was not the only one to hold a conclave recently. Last fall a somewhat official conclave of the Magisterium of the Scientific Elite met to discuss their own alarming heresy problem.

To wit: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and host of other big name scientific naturalists got together for a conference on "Moving Naturalism Forward." On the agenda, apparently, was a debate on just how candid they should be in public about the implications of scientific naturalism. On the one hand, naturalism entails pure, inalterable, physical/biological determinism. "You" are not "you." There is no "you." "You" are just a random bundle of nerve endings. You might think you "know" the objective world, but that's illusory. You might think there are things like moral rights and wrongs, but that is purely a blind, arbitrary, evolutionary design feature that enables the survival of the species. From Ferguson's report, these elite academic gatekeepers were astonishingly candid about the sheer nihilism of their own worldview. But they were conflicted, on the other hand, about how and whether to continue keeping the public in the dark. Because naturalism is so deeply corrosive of what used to be called "human nature," they understandably fear the societal consequences of people running around acting like beastly animals, which is, of course, all they are.

I find the bracing honesty refreshing. Translation: Our worldview is nihilism, meaninglessness. This is our credo, our "I believe." Our worldview destroys human nature, the very idea of freedom, the very possibility of morality. But we do not really want to tell people because we do not really want to live in the world as we believe it to be. So very, very brave of them.

Step up to the mic and say it a bit louder, please! Not enough people can hear you.

But this conclave dealt with another problem: how to deal with heretics. Yes, the academic scientific elite is every bit (okay, far more) as authoritarian as the Church Magisterium was imagined to be in the days of Galileo. Specifically, they are wondering what to do with Tom Nagel. One of their own, a celebrated, world-renowned philosopher, has published a book with this shocking subtitle: "Why the Materialist, Neo-Darwinist Conception of Human Nature Is Almost Certainly False." His colleagues are, frankly, apoplectic. This kind of apostasy is beyond the pale. Ferguson details the immense efforts to delegitimize and discredit Nagel, all of which is both unsurprising and very entertaining to read.

Now, Nagel himself is a dedicated atheist, mind you, hardly a raving Young Earth Creationist. I found some more incredibly bracing honesty in Ferguson's piece. Nagel recently wrote:

'I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear' [of religion], he wrote not long ago in an essay called “Evolutionary Naturalism and the Fear of Religion.” 'I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.'
Translation: My atheism has nothing whatsoever to do with my exercise of dispassionate reason. It has everything to do with my deep antipathy for God.

Thanks for clearing that up, Tom. Again: Step up to the mic and say it a bit louder, please! Not enough people can hear you.

Finally, I read the first chapter of French philosopher Luc Ferry's A Brief HIstory of Thought. Much like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, this is a "wholly remarkable book." I've never before seen an introductory philosophy text of any kind, much less one as popular and accessible as Ferry's, admit so candidly to the real issues between philosophy and religion. More specifically, Ferry understands that philosophy is an alternative form of religion; it, too, is seeking "salvation." Religion and philosophy are not two hermetically sealed, distinct disciplines. They are two competing worldviews, competing over the exact same intellectual terrain.

And do you know what the difference is? And why Ferry prefers philosophy?

Not because philosophy has "disproved" God or any such thing.

Because philosophy begins and takes for granted epistemological autonomy, and this is preferable. His honesty is so bracing it takes my breath away. Christianity requires two things at the outset of intellectual engagement: trust and humility. And, therefore, he writes with affirmation that philosophy is, in its essence, "diabolical" (dia-bolos in Greek meaning "the who who divides"). It divides the "vertical link uniting true believers with God." Philosophy is, in its essence, rebellion; it refuses to believe that trust and humility are virtues. Instead,

Salvation must proceed not from an Other - from some Being supposedly transcendent (meaning 'exterior to and superior to' ourselves) - but well and truly from within. Philosophy wants us to get ourselves out of trouble by utilising our own resources, by means of reason alone, with boldness and assurance.
Did I mention Ferry's book was full of bracing honesty? Wow. It's got a lot more honesty in its pages, from what I can see. When was the last time you read a philosopher mock graduate level philosophy programs for virtually ignoring 1,500 years of intellectual thought (i.e., Christendom)!? Answer: You haven't. And so he has a chapter entitled, "The Victory of Christianity Over Greek Philosophy." Seriously? Not Christianity's "accommodation" to Greek philosophy? Victory? Like I say, this is a wholly remarkable book.

I must be getting way too used to lies and cynicism.

I'm not quite sure what to do with all this honesty today.

Brian Mattson