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“Are Apostates Reliable?”

“Are Apostates Reliable?” January 13, 2022

 

Duomo de Torino
Turin Cathedral, in Italy — where, incidentally, the famous Shroud of Turin is kept and where Massimo Introvigne is based
(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

 

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Many years ago, I helped to host the Italian Catholic attorney and sociologist of religion Massimo Introvigne when he visited Brigham Young University.  Here are a couple of interesting little articles that Dr. Introvigne has recently posted:

 

“Are Apostates Reliable? 1. The Problem of Apostasy: Apostates are ex-members of religions or religious movements who become sworn enemies of the faith they have left. They have existed for centuries.”

 

“Are Apostates Reliable? 2. False Apostates: Some who claim to have been members of a religion or movement, and privy to its secrets, are simply lying.”

 

“Are Apostates Reliable? 3. Disaffiliation and Captivity Narratives: There is a substantial difference between the scholarly study of disaffiliation and anti-cult tales which resembles old stories of white maidens kidnapped by Native Americans.”

 

“Are Apostates Reliable? 4. Not All Ex-Members Are Apostates: Unfortunately, media often confuse two very different categories, ex-members of religious organizations and apostates. Most ex-members are not apostates.”

 

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Alexander “Alex” Rosenberg is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Duke University and co-director of the Duke Center for Philosophy of Biology.  He is also the author of a 20111 book entitled The Atheist’s Guide to Reality (W. W. Norton & Company).  I think it’s interesting to get a sense of what he and his fellow believers have to say.  Here’s one brief passage:

 

“Our core morality isn’t true, right, correct, and neither is any other. Nature just seduced us into thinking it’s right.” (Rosenberg, Atheist’s Guide, 109.)

 

“[C]ultivate an Epicurean detachment. This is a disposition recommended by Epicurus, a Greek philosopher of the fourth century BC” who “believed that everything was basically atoms moving on determined paths forever. The physical facts, he rightly held, fix all the facts, and that made him an atheist. Epicurus held that there was nothing more to the mind than physical matter and that immortality was out of the question. He equated the morally good with pleasure and evil with pain.”  (Rosenberg, Atheist’s Guide, 313)

 

“[N]o one does wrong freely, so no one should really be punished.”  (Rosenberg, Atheist’s Guide, 299)

 

“In a world where physics fixes all the facts, it’s hard to see how there could be room for moral facts.”  (Rosenberg, Atheist’s Guide, 94–95.)

 

Bill Nye, the well-known so-called “science guy,” puts it pretty straightforwardly, speaking in the first person singular for all of humankind:  “I’m a speck on a speck orbiting a speck among other specks amongst still other specks in the middle of specklessness! I am insignificant! I suck.”  (Bill Nye, “The Best Idea We’ve Had So Far,” The Humanist [10 December 2010], www.thehumanist.com/magazine/november-december-2010/features/best-idea-weve-far)

 

And here are some thoughts — or, anyway, some annotated particle events — from the theoretical physicist and science writer Brian Greene. “[W]hen our particles . . . act, it seems to us that their collective behaviors emerge from our autonomous choices.” Actually, though, “our thoughts and behaviors” are “fully governed by physical law.” Accordingly, our personal freedom is mere mythology — purely a “psychological mirage”

 

I found these passages at https://www.equip.org/article/the-menace-of-modern-materialism/.  They suggest some interesting further reading for one of my longterm projects.

 

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Militant atheists often deride religious believers as dominated by “magical thinking.”  Yet, as a very short article in the March 2015 issue of The  Atlantic reported, many atheists themselves are, very likely, prone to precisely such “superstition”:

 

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/the-science-of-superstition/384962/

 

And you might enjoy this little item, as well:

 

http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp/2008/01/23/atheists-who-believe-in-astrol/

 

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But let’s change our focus a bit.

 

Just try visualizing for a moment how vast our solar system is.  This item is one of the best things I’ve ever seen for getting a sense of the sheer vastness of space:

 

http://joshworth.com/dev/pixelspace/pixelspace_solarsystem.html

 

And consider this, as well.  If it doesn’t leave you feeling at least a little bit humble and awed, you probably need to slow down and reflect a bit:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74IsySs3RGU

 

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In fact, let’s think some cheerier thoughts:

 

“Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but both look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect.”  Freeman Dyson (b. 1923-2020), English-born theoretical physicist and mathematician, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey

 

“Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean.”  (Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks [1948-2020])

 

“Our culture is obsessed with youth because we have lost the ancient knowledge that growth never stops. We are not transient, momentary mistakes in the cosmos — evolutionary curiosities that rise like mayflies, swarm for a day, and are gone. We are players who are here to stay, and the universe was built with us in mind. We reflect it, with our deepest loves and loftiest aspirations, just as it reflects us.”  (Eben Alexander, MD; author of Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife [2012])

 

I published a Deseret News column several years ago entitled “The Mystery of the Orderliness of the Universe.”

 

It drew considerable mockery from certain atheists.  One in particular, a dogmatic fellow with scientific pretensions who was based at the time in Florida, from which he’d been periodically spewing contempt for me for about five years by then, pronounced what I wrote “childish.”  He reserved his particular scorn, though, for the penultimate sentence of my column, which concludes by expressing the suspicion “that, in fact, the universe isn’t merely brute, mindless matter, but is suffused throughout with mind or consciousness.”

 

He didn’t make any particular effort to accurately understand what I was getting at, but immediately connected it with what he regarded as “New Age” nonsense.  (In fact, the hypothesis that I entertain on this matter is distinct from the idea he was mocking.  But I doubt that he would care much.)  It’s the kind of thing, he sneered, that represents “deep insight” in my shallow little mind.  My column revealed me to be “carrying on the proud tradition of the willfully ignorant.”

 

Whatever.

 

I happened, shortly thereafter, to be doing a little background reading on Freeman Dyson, the very prominent Anglo-American mathematical physicist whom I’ve already mentioned above.  (I recommend his book Disturbing the Universe, among other things.)  And, while doing so, I came across this remark from Professor Dyson:

 

“To me, to worship God means to recognize that mind and intelligence are woven into the fabric of our universe in a way that altogether surpasses our comprehension.”

 

Now, that seems rather like what I said.

 

Of course, it also sounds rather like what my column had already quoted the Nobel physics laureate Eugene Wigner as saying:

 

“Wigner, however, although he had been raised as a secular Jew, eventually developed an interest in the Vedanta philosophical school of Hinduism, and especially in its teaching that the universe is pervaded throughout by mind. ‘It was not possible,’ he wrote, reflecting on his work in quantum theory, ‘to formulate the laws in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.’”

 

I’m small potatoes, obviously.  But it takes remarkable self-confidence, I think, not merely to disagree with Freeman Dyson and Eugene Wigner but to dismiss both of them (and I could have mentioned Albert Einstein, as well) as “childish,” shallow, unscientific, and “willfully ignorant.”  To brush what they thought mysterious and significant off as neither significant nor mysterious at all and to ridicule anybody who thinks otherwise as just plain silly.

 

Oh well.  As Jane Austen’s Mr. Bennett says, “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

 

 


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