Friday, June 11, 2010

The End of Metaphysics II

In the same week that I read John Derbyshire's article on genomics, I saw Peter Singer's editorial, "Should This be the Last Generation" on the New York Times website. It was the perfect juxtaposition of idea and conclusion. If we embrace the logic of Derbyshire we eventually come to agreement with Singer. This is one of the terrible, unintended consequences of the enlightenment, it takes us to the place of hopelessness. Derbyshire alludes to this as the cost of honesty, he writes, "If self-deception gets more difficult, so will happiness." In other words, religion is a form of "self-deception" that enables us to face life optimistically. And, a "realistic" view of religion forces us to face the music in regard to the end of our existence.

The enlightenment began as a grand liberation movement that was supposed to release human potential. Central to the enlightenment hope was the belief in progress; enlightened science will eliminate disease and extend life spans, enlightened philosophy will end fear, prejudice, and inhibitions, and enlightened politics will create an educated, enlightened citizenry free of the burdens and insecurities of previous generations. The problem is that the leaders of the enlightenment never looked behind the curtain labeled, "the end of religious belief," which was one of their central goals.

The famous British philosopher Bertrand Russell pulls back the curtain for us.

That man is the product of causes which had no provision of the end they were achieving that his origin, his growth, his hopes, his fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collucations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all devotions, all inspiration, all the noon-day brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of our solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins-all these things, if not beyond dispute, are, yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built." ( from A Free Man's Worship)

Peter Singer clearly describes the "unyielding despair" of modern enlightenment faith as he questions the value of human existence. He asks in the editorial if it is right for a couple to bring a child into the world based on the possibility that the child will suffer or contribute to the suffering of others. He asks at a crucial point in the article, "If there were no future generations, there would be much less to feel guilty about." His causes of guilt are such things as over population and global warming.

The irony in all of this is that guilt is an expression of the moral sense in man, it exists in that upper storey of abstractions that includes truth, beauty, goodness, and love. If human consciousness is nothing more than a biological accident, then guilt is as much of an illusion as religion, and ethics is reduced to "only to thine own self be true." It is no wonder that the primary consequence of the enlightenment has been the kind of self-absorbed hedonism we see in American popular culture.

The evolutionary scheme of things provides no explanation for guilt and the other abstractions of human consciousness. Nature only knows survival, the moral arose with the personal and the rational, both of which are unique to humanity. The aspirations to hope, faith, and love are inate, as are conscience and our sense of moral obligation. They stand as a transcendent reality in the midst of an impersonal, material universe.

The Bible declares that men are made in the image of God. It is these inner hopes, desires, and obligations that affirm that claim. How ironic that Peter Singer would invoke an aspect of his nature that he denies, yet which are fundamental to his motives and actions. He has lost all hope in the significance of life because he has lost hope in God, but his sense of obligation to prevent present and future suffering arise from that which is most deeply personal and even spiritual in his nature.

We must never give in to the nihilism of modern thought. We are not a cosmic accident. Too much about us, from consciousness to conscience, are beyond an accidental or natural explanation. We must never give up our hope in God, for goodness and God are linked. Without God there is no good, only darkness, hopelessness and despair. It is not that we embrace a fantasy to give ourselves hope, but that we see the deep need for hope in our hearts as evidence of the God who put it there.


Anonymous said...

Thomas, I came across your blog through a BCOM link. I appreciate your ability to condense the debate into easily understood positions. I have been involved in running dialog with a liberal professor friend of mine about this very point. When you have removed man's relationship with God from humanity it is a hopeless position.

They fill that void with passions such as saving the planet but to what end? The social utopians/nihilists are only prolonging the eventual decline and disappearance of man from the universe. It is a point that you have made very well. Thank you for your efforts.

Brian Dodd

Tom said...

Thank you for the encouragement Brian. I am deeply concerned for this coming generation. They are an Ephesians 2:12 generation, and thus, completely unprepared for the challenges of life.