Thursday, September 3, 2009

Reason, Reductionism and Christianity: A Discussion with Talleyrand

Over the last 2 days, I've had some fruitful discussions with "Talleyrand," co-host of the pro-Game website, Seasons of Tumult and Discord. Talleyrand and his partner, Alkibiades (it took me about four times to spell that correctly), seem like open-minded, level-headed young men, so I'm happy to engage them in a dialogue.

Their essay, In Defense of Game, Part One, led to a debate on the subject of Game (naturally), but then it veered off into related subjects (Reason, Reductionism, and Christianity).

Here are some of the highlights...


When it comes to Reductionism, you wrote, “People use that term all over the place to describe something they don’t like and yet I have not found it useful as a term or clearly defined.”

Actually, I think the term Reductionism is UNDER-utilized, and I’m trying to increase its use in my lexicon. Why? Because it’s such a comprehensive term that unites Darwinism, Materialism, and Atheism under the same philosophical umbrella.

Consider: A Darwinist might be a Christian, an anti-Darwin Christian might adopt the Gamer lifestyle, an Atheist might believe in objective morality (think Ayn Rand), a New Ager might believe in “Gaia” but not “God.”

Confused yet? Me too. The point is: People believe in (seemingly) contradictory things. But all of these people – whether they realize it or not – are expressing varying degrees of a reductionist premise.

Needless to say, very few of them are violent nihilists “red in tooth and claw,” but they’ve all incorporated a fair amount of soul-deadening reductionist thinking.

Hence, that’s why I like the term. It’s broad and comprehensive and tackles many different issues.



You raise a few points. I’ll try to address each of them, but if I forget one or two, let me know, and I’ll try again.

On Auster…Personally, I’ve found Auster to be an incredibly intelligent, articulate, and fearless spokesman for conservativism…I do disagree with him (and agree with you, I guess) that when it comes to fighting for Western Civilization in the future, Christianity will be just as much of a burden as an asset. Why? That’s a complicated subject. The blogger “Conservative Swede” has written some good things, though. I’ll provide a link below.

In fact, I should probably mention that I’m not a Christian. Please note that I’m not anti-Christian, per se. And I have no interest in trying to convert people away from Christianity. But I’m not a member of the faith. And so when people try to dismiss my views as Christian apologetics, I have to chuckle inside, because like I said, I’m not a Christian.

As for God and your statement, “I just don’t know where He is going to come from…” That’s also a tough one. I have my own opinions on God, but I’m under no illusion that they will be accepted by the majority of people in my lifetime. Knowing that, our best bet is to help facilitate a more rational and more muscular form of Christianity. I’ve written a few essays on that topic. I’ll posts links at the bottom.

As for Reductionism…I really didn’t understand your paragraph…Clearly, I have no problem with people studying science (I’m a science buff, myself); my problem comes from other people using science as a sledgehammer against spirituality. Yes, that sounds silly, right? Why would people want to do that? But that’s what they’re doing. See the Intelligent Design debate. It’s a great example.

You wrote, “Is it your position that everything should be looked at from a spiritual perspective, or as you prefer a rationally spiritual perspective?”

I only have 2 axioms.

1) Reality exists

2) Reason is the only way to discover and master Reality

Everything flows from that. I’m confident that a person who accepts those axioms will see that Reductionism is false, and that Spirituality is a true, positive factor in our lives.

If you disagree, though, I’m happy to hear your disagreements, and potentially change my viewpoint, as necessary.


The Philosophy of Heather Manning

Why I Am Not a Christian (At Least Not Yet)

A Few Humble Suggestions to Improve the Church

Why Does Christianity Need I.D.?

Is "Conservative Swede" an Oxymoron?



I should probably address your question about why I don’t like Reductionism…

I think Auster’s essay explains it quite well, but I’ll elaborate…

At the risk of sounding over-dramatic, Reductionist thinking can be seen as the “gateway drug” for Darwinism, Materialism, Atheism, and Nihilism (probably in that order)…Reductionism gradually distorts a person’s rational capacity so that things like God, the soul, “the good,” etc. are seen as false, disposable, and even detrimental to a “true, authentic” life free from moral judgment.

Today, Reductionist premises are ubiquitous through our public schools, universities, mass media, popular culture, legal system, and political system…Indeed, probably the only institution in modern society that hasn’t been infected is organized religion…Thank God for that, I guess.

I am 29. I assume you’re around my age. If that’s the case, we are only the second generation to be heavily exposed to Reductionist thinking (with very little resistance from organized religion, in most cases). The first generation was lucky. They lived off the fumes of an earlier Christian/Enlightenment culture. Today, those of us who are under 30 are living off the FUMES OF FUMES.

Again, at the risk of sounding over-dramatic, our generation will either be the one that begins an Intellectual/Spiritual Renaissance, or we will be the first generation in American history to know the twin evils of anarchy and tyranny.

To quote Dostoevsky: “Without God, everything is permitted.” What was true in his time is still true in ours.



Anonymous said...

Even with God everything is permitted. Abraham wanted to kill his son and we applaud him for following God's will.

Todd White said...


Let me start by saying that I'm not a Jew or a Christian, so the story of Abraham - from my perspective - is a work of fiction.

But getting back to Dostoevsky...I think he's fact, if you read his quote literally, "without God, all things are permitted," it's hard to see how there can be a rebuttal.

If there's no transcendental moral code, then - from the individual's perspective - ALL things ARE permitted. Whether the person chooses to engage in what (up until now) has been considered "moral" or "immoral" behavior - is, of course, up to him - but it doesn't change the fact that - since there is no God - he has the freedom to do whatever he wants.

"Moral" or "Immoral" is just another another 21st-century "lifestyle choice."

You wrote, "Even with God, everything is permitted." No way, dude. And the Abraham story will suffice. God did NOT want Abraham to kill his son. As you're aware, God tells Abraham at the last minute NOT to kill him. God was TESTING Abraham. The lesson is: Have faith in God - even in those moments when faith seems silly or even repugnant. And in this case, Abraham's faith WAS rewarded.

The lesson is NOT: "Do whatever you want; everything is permitted."

novaseeker said...

You can't have a transcendent moral code based on "reason" alone, Todd. The only way humans have ever achieved that kind of moral consensus was through organized religion which was socially enforced (and at times legally enforced as well). Morality based on human reason does not lead to consensus -- it leads to debate. Endless debate. Which leads to normal people (i.e., the ones who are not debating) to embrace relativism.

Your generation will not solve this puzzle without organized religion. And organized religion is becoming more fringe like among educated people. I am an Orthodox Christian, but in large part because I was raised as a Christian. For people like you who were not, organized religion is problematic -- fair enough, but you will not be able to collectively reason your way to a moral consensus. It cannot be done. Reason is too much subject to debate (see the history of philosophy) and debate kills objective morality.

Todd White said...

RS: You can't have a transcendent moral code based on "reason" alone, Todd.

TW: To clarify, I wouldn’t claim that a person can have a “transcendent moral code based on ‘reason’ alone. I would say that respect for Reality and the primacy of reason *should be the foundation* of a “moral code.”

Furthermore, I would argue that this idea is consistent with Christianity (even though I’m sure most Christians don't realize that). Think about it: Morality implies choice – the choice to do what is moral or immoral. And what gives us the ability to choose? Reason. A monkey or robot is not condemned or praised for being "moral" or “immoral." And why not? Because they lack reason. Only a human can be “moral” or “immoral” because he – qua human – has the ability to rationally understand what those terms mean and live by them.

RS: “The only way humans have ever achieved that kind of moral consensus was through organized religion which was socially enforced (and at times legally enforced as well).”

TW: As a history lesson, yes, I agree. As an argument for what is inherently “right” or “wrong,” that strikes me as irrelevant.

RS: “Morality based on human reason does not lead to consensus -- it leads to debate. Endless debate.”

TW: I like debate. Personally, I’m not interested in establishing a rigid moral law for society as a whole (although other people are welcome to try, if they so choose). What interests me is a moral code for the individual. A set of principles for good, happy living. And yes, 2 people who share those principles might not have a “consensus” on every issue. But that’s fine. We’re a diverse species. I accept that.

RS: “Which leads to normal people (i.e., the ones who are not debating) to embrace relativism.”

TW: I don’t see why that should happen. If a person sees human diversity as a reason to “embrace relativism,” that strikes me as terrible logic.

TW: “Your generation will not solve this puzzle without organized religion.”

RS: As a practical matter, I think you're almost certainly right. That’s why I wrote above, “Our best bet is to help facilitate a more rational and more muscular form of Christianity.”

RS: “Reason is too much subject to debate (see the history of philosophy) and debate kills objective morality.”

TW: Again, I don’t see why that should be the case. If the free exchange of ideas “kills objective morality,” then we’re all in big trouble. Also, I should mention that from an historical perspective, reason has been given the shaft by philosophers. I can think of only 2 philosophers who prized reason: Aristotle and Ayn Rand. Everyone else denigrated reason: Kant, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heiddeger, Rorty, the whole gang. One last note: One could also say that “Religion – by definition – may not ‘kill objective morality,’ but in imposing dogma by force, it certainly kills a lot of human beings.”