Monday, March 19, 2012

Reason Rally

Philosopher Edward Feser discusses the upcoming "Reason Rally" scheduled to be held on the Washington Mall on March 24th. It's to be a gathering of atheists out to demonstrate their profound wish to live life according to the dictates of Reason rather than embracing the spurious superstitions held by religious people.

Feser holds such gatherings in pretty low esteem for reasons he articulates in his post, but the most salient reason, perhaps, is that Reason is often the first casualty of mass demonstrations.

His post is amusing and witty, and he even manages to link the reader to some video that shows the Rally organizers practicing for one of their most popular Rally activities. Of course, Feser says he's just kidding, but given the vitriol on some atheistic web sites one has little trouble imagining a Two-Minutes Hate on the agenda.

Anyway, here's his lede:
I have always hated mobs. Thus I dislike mass demonstrations with their slogans and banners, marches and sit-ins, and all the rest of the obnoxious apparatus of modern protest. Usually the cause is bad, and the participants are ignorant yahoos. But I dislike such rallies even when the cause is good and the participants well-meaning. They may sometimes be necessary, but they are always regrettable and to be avoided if possible.

The reason is that reason is impossible with a crowd. Serious matters require calm reflection, sufficient background knowledge, careful distinctions, the give and take of objections and replies, and always the willingness to submit oneself to superior arguments and objective truth. But the thinking of a crowd is, in the best circumstances, dumbed down, slipshod, and banal; and at its worst there is no madness or evil to which a crowd might not descend. A crowd shouts, chants, emotes, and is always, always demanding this or that -- it is appetitive rather than cognitive.

In a crowd, the rational in rational animal is always in danger of giving way, leaving just the animal, indeed a herd of animals. The individual, or a small group of friends, can dispute with Socrates about the good, the true, and the beautiful. The crowd votes to execute him. The individual, or a small group of disciples, can have their hearts moved by Christ. The crowd shouts for His crucifixion.

How fitting, then, that the Counter-Religion that is the New Atheism has now decided to make of itself a mob. Something called the “Reason Rally” is scheduled for March 24 at the National Mall in Washington, D. C. and the Counter-Prophet Richard Dawkins is headlining as chief rouser of the “rationalist” rabble. The name alone exposes it for the farce that it is -- a “Reason Rally” being (for the reasons just given) somewhat akin to a “Chastity Orgy” or a “Temperance Kegger.” As always, the New Atheist satirizes himself before you can do it for him.
You'll have to read the rest at the link. Meanwhile, I've always been mystified by why atheists claim the banner of Reason, or, more precisely, how they're allowed to get away with it. What, for example is reasonable about:
  • embracing the completely untestable idea that there are an infinite number of universes simply to escape the conclusion that this exquisitely calibrated universe is the product of an intelligent agent.
  • believing that an enormous amount of biological information arose purely by the chance collocation of blind, unguided forces in the form of ancient living cells which then proliferated producing marvels like human consciousness when never in human experience have we ever seen complex specified information produced by anything other than minds.
  • affirming that life is meaningful on one hand while on the other insisting that we're just the accidental by-product of unthinking material forces and that death is the end of our existence.
  • thinking that our moral judgments actually mean something while at the same time asserting that morality is an illusion that has evolved over hundreds of millenia to help us get along.
  • promoting the notion that there are objective human rights which somehow really exist and are not just arbitrary make-believe constructs that we talk about but have no basis for believing in.
Maybe some speaker at the Reason Rally will be able to explain to the assembled unbelievers how they can be rational on the one hand while still believing any of these things on the other. If so, I look forward to hearing it.