Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Recommendation: Atheist Delusions

David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies is undeniably the most provocative book that I have ever read. His evaluation of the present in view of his adroit reconstruction of history has revolutionized the way I view the sweeping movements of history and the status of modern man. Here is a sample that I hope will commend the book to you:

There is, after all, nothing inherently reasonable in the conviction that all of reality is simply an accidental confluence of physical causes, without any transcendent source or end. Materialism is not a fact of experience or a deduction of logic; it is a metaphysical prejudice, nothing more, and one that is arguably more irrational than almost any other. In general, the unalterably convinced materialist is a kind of childishly complacent fundamentalist, so fervently, unreflectively, and rapturously committed to the materialist vision of reality that if he or she should encounter any problem -- logical or experiential -- that might call its premises into question, or even merely encounter a limit beyond which those premises lose their explanatory power, he or she is simply unable to recognize it. Richard Dawkins is a perfect example; he does not hesitate, for instance, to claim that "natural selection is the ultimate explanation for our existence." But this is a silly assertion and merely reveals that Dawkins does not understand the words he is using. The question of existence does not concern how it is that the present arrangement of the world came about, from causes already internal to the world, but how it is that anything (including any cause) can exist at all. This question Darwin and Wallace never addressed, nor were ever so hopelessly confused as to think they had. It is a question that no theoretical or experimental science could ever answer, for it is qualitatively different from the kind of questions that the physical sciences are competent to address. Even if theoretical physics should one day discover the most basic laws upon which the fabric of space and time is woven, or evolutionary biology the most elementary phylogenic forms of terrestrial life, or palaeontology an utterly seamless genealogy of every species, still we shall not have thereby drawn one inch nearer to a solution of the mystery of existence. No matter how fundamental or simple the level reached by the scientist -- protoplasm, amino acids, molecules, subatomic particles, quantum events, unified physical laws, a primordial singularity, mere logical possibilities -- existence is something else altogether. Even the simplest of things, and even the most basic of principle, must first of all be, and nothing within the universe of contingent things (nor even the universe itself, even if it were somehow "eternal") can be intelligibly conceived of as the source or explanation of its own being...

...One can, I imagine, consider the nature of reality with genuine probity and conclude that the material order is all that is. One can also, however, and with perhaps better logic, conclude that materialism is a grossly incoherent superstition; that the strict materialist is something of a benighted and pitiable savage, blinded by an irrational commitment to a logically impossible position; and that every "primitive" who looks at the world about him and wonders what god has made it is a profounder thinker than the convinced atheist who would dismiss such question as infantile.

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