Feb 222009

I found your email in a blog post on theory of mind and then read your article. First, kudos on your work. I look forward to reading your website. I was compelled to respond to what you wrote, especially since you invited response.

I agree that Atheism is not science. This is, in fact, by definition. I prefer the word “Naturalist” (which C.S. Lewis used) to describe the position that there is no mystery in or behind the universe – modern thinkers may prefer Materialist, or Empiricist. All of these terms describe a worldview which makes certain assumptions based largely on faith.


I find it instructive to take a moment and reflect on the fact that science is materialist by definition in that its object of study is the material. Material-ISM, or Natural-ISM, on the other hand, is the further assertion which says the material (what science studies) is ALL there is. Science does not make such claims per se. Science merely defines its project to be the descriptive project of taking measurements of the material world (Nature). Thus atheism – a doctrine regarding the ontological nature of the supernatural – is by definition, a project whose domain is outside the domain of science.

Atheism, therefore, is a religion – or at least a metaphysics. Science, however, is neither of these. People are surprised to learn that Atheism and Science have nothing to do with each other. This is because people make the mistake of thinking that one can take a position toward the supernatural without engaging in a theory of the supernatural. Atheism takes such a position, Science does not.


I like to say that Agnostics are like Socrates, as they admit what they do not know. Conversely, Atheists are like David Hume, adopting a more radical position, positively asserting that knowledge is impossible (I know for sure that nothing can be known for sure). I like to point out to skeptics, that since they are asking me not to believe what they say, I don’t. By simply taking them at their word, their position is destroyed.

On the other hand, Theology (the study of the nature of God) admits right off the bat that the nature of God remains largely (or at least in part, depending on who you ask) a mystery – not a puzzle, but a mystery. Thus the Religious Faithful are more like Agnostics and Socrates; Fundamentalists, more like Hume. This is an interesting relationship to point out, as most people think Fundamentalist and Religious are more like each other than they are to Agnostic and Atheist, but this is not the case when presented in terms of the epistemological categories above. It is the Fundamentalists and the Atheists which subscribe to the “we know for sure” position. Thus the most heated arguments between “science” and “religion” is most often between “Fundamentalist” and “Atheist.”


For example, regarding science and religion, the Pope is not a science denier, but embraces all truth and teaches that when truth and anything opposing truth collide, truth must always win out, even in the case that scientific truth collides with church teaching. If this “truth” is indeed legitimate, then church teaching must change, and it has. This is the unequivocal position of Catholic teaching. Most people are surprised to hear that the Catholic church does not reject the theory of evolution or the big bang because they think “Catholic” and “Fundamentalist” is the same thing when in fact Catholics and Scientists often stand together in opposing the Fundamentalists. Again, it is the Fundamentalists and the Atheists who are diametrically opposed. This is an important distinction to make when discussing “science and religion.” (I am Catholic so I use Catholics as an example, but I am sure most other faiths would categorize similarly vis-a-vis the opposition to the Fundamentalists on the fringes of any particular faith – as all fundamentalisms make the same basic folly).


At any rate, this is not what I wanted to discuss. What I wanted to ask you is more interesting than these obvious and elementary observations… I wanted to ask you if your understanding is truly that non-locality is really inconsistent with Relativity? My understanding of the idea of quantum non-locality is not so much that something is “communicated,” or that something “travels” instantaneously from point A to point B. Not at all. In fact, it was my understanding that, despite the evidence in support of Bell’s Theorem, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that any sort of faster than light communication (or transmission of information) is possible at all, even using all the (now proven) techniques that allow for non-local interactions across vast distances of space and time.


The concept of “instantaneousness” implies separate events, of course. But I thought the term “non-local” itself was pointing to the idea that the “event” in question is not located “here” vs “there” but that there must be a “here-there” connection (higher dimension?) that makes these separate-seeming places and things (point A, point B) actually not-separate (non-local). I don’t know if this implies a hidden dimension whereby particles that seem to be separated in space are really not? Or whether holographic universe theories may suggest that what appears to us as two separate particles are merely two separate “views” of a single particle? I don’t know, but I was definitely under the impression that the idea of something (information, force, etc) traveling “instantaneously” from point A to point B was NOT a (common? popular? valid?) interpretation of non-local physics.


Or is it?


Lastly, regarding your interest in ethics and morals, I wonder if you have read Alasdair MacIntyre – specifically his book, “After Virtue”? Or perhaps Bernard Lonergan who, as far as I can tell, is trying to make decipherable something along the lines of what Kant may have had in mind with his transcendental deduction. Lonergan describes a Hegelian process by which we can come to understand (and agree and verify) what is indeed “truly so” and also what is “truly good.” It is a theory that describes the process of consciousness that transcends from experiential knowing to intellectual understanding, on to true judgement and finally to responsible decision. All of this follows a dialectical, transcendent process, much like Kant and Hegel described. This requires what Lonergan calls the Transcendental Method, which he describes as 4 stages of consciousness: the empirical, the intellectual, the rational, and the responsible. I have only found a few people familiar with his work, the main thrust of which is found in his book, “Insight,” which focuses on the first of three conversions, which he describes as three ways we orient our consciousness to the world. The first conversion is an intellectual conversion, the second a moral conversion, and the third, a religious conversion.


Anyway, I bring it up as something you may find interesting.

I look forward to reading more of your website. Speaking of which, I just noticed that you have a section on the Brothers Karamazov. I have long been an admirer of


Dostoevsky and have The Grand Inquisitor chapter of the Brothers Karamazov nearly memorized. I find it to be an extraordinarily powerful meditation on the nature of freedom. I see that you use the Marquis de Sade in your discussion. Isn’t it quite extraordinary to read The Grand Inquisitor while considering and studying the French Revolution!


But I would not have focused on Sade as pure evil (I say this having not yet read your exposition), but rather, my tendency here is to focus on the highly intelligent, morally upright, scientifically-oriented, philosophically-advanced men of elite, intellectual society whose only concern was the common good – or does this in fact describe Sade (I am unfamiliar with his particular history)? What I am getting at is to point at something like what Hannah Arendt observed about the banality of evil in her observations about Eichman, and her conclusion about how truly commonplace evil really is, and how common it is under the right circumstances that such evil prospers. After all, isn’t this what the Milgram Experiment showed – that most people have a surprising capacity for evil? Well, yes, of course it is. The banality and commonplace nature of a mother’s capacity for evil is something so shocking that is all that much more difficult to look at, but what else can we conclude from the facts of history, and from the Milgram Experiment itself?


At any rate, the important thing regarding the French Revolution (I believe) is that the Terror resulted from the minds of enlightened, reasonable, rational men in the midst of a most civil nation where great philosophers and scientists seemed to be the very light of the world, resting upon a shining city on a hill. This is the principle irony, the principle lesson that must be learned. Because these men were going to lead the world progressively forward along a human (as opposed to divine) providence. They were fighing for the common good, after all. These men who came to save us, their mission, after all, was to save the world.

This event remains perhaps one of the most important historical events and lessons of our time – but not because it shows us what pure, monstrous evil looks like merely, but how closely the monstrous man and the righteous man can be. And how tragic the results can be when the desire to do good (think of the Grand Inquisitor and his love of humanity) subverts the Divine Project of human freedom in order to do so.


Why in France did things go so badly for their Revolution, while in America we had such a different outcome? It seems to me that the story of the Grand Inquisitor is pointing at an answer.


Well, I have said more than enough. Again, kudos on your work. Consider me a fan.

 Posted by at 6:47 pm

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