Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"Scientific" Pantheism?

While trying to read up on pantheism in general, I kept coming across this talk of 'scientific pantheism'. As near as I can tell it's mostly for atheists who want to say they're "spiritual".

One thing I repeatedly bumped into was this sort of talk:

Pantheism believes that we live on in nature where we are re-absorbed, but also in people's memories and in the achievements we leave behind. Therefore we have a powerful incentive to be good and kind to people, and to achieve lasting good in our lives. The kinder we are, the more good we do, the longer will be our "afterlife" in people's memories. If we do harm, then our memory will be execrated.

Yeah... kind of missing where the powerful incentive part shows up.

First there's the angle of, "Oh boy, so if I really do good and luck favors me, I'm remembered for 100 or 1000 or 10000 years instead of 10 years, before being utterly forgotten. Well hey, sign me up!" Not to mention, fictional characters probably have more of an "afterlife" than most people by this yardstick. Compare the number of guys who know and have memories of Joe Barbera to Scooby freaking Doo.

Second, if merely being remembered is desired, then Judas, Hitler, Napoleon and others have some stellar advice on achieving a long-lasting afterlife, and it's not really clear why happy memories are better than ones of hate or fear. This sort of pantheism conceivably can come in misanthrope versions, but this just gets nicely glossed over. I recall how General Woundwort ended up in Watership Down, what the memory was of him, and the comment of what Woundwort would have possibly thought of that very legacy.

Third, to the idea that "we live on in the memories of our loved ones" sort of talk. As mentioned prior, what sort of memories we leave or what we should want to leave is an open question. Also unappreciated is this: It's not just our loved ones who remember us. It's also the people who hate us. What, did the people who thought say.. FDR was an asshole forget all about him when he died? There are people who think that of FDR *now*. How's his afterlife doing?

Mind you, these criticisms are largely restricted to materialistic pantheisms. Idealistic, dualistic, even simulation theoristic versions are another matter, at least on this front. But I have a natural distaste for empty poetics, and that seems to be all that this type of pantheism has going for it.


Ilíon said...

"Pantheism believes that we live on in nature where we are re-absorbed ..."

Dane Cook - Sneezing Atheist

Crude said...

Bwahaha. Thank you. I never saw Dane Cook's standup, but that actually got me grinning.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

And then there's this cutesy nod to materialist "afterlife".

This "unique experiment" wants to "reveal" the "afterlife". Interesting words.

Interesting video, in any event.

Crude said...

Not pictured: The hyenas shitting the elephant out. Or the ivory being used to make the handle of a pool cue carved to look like a barmaid with a huge rack.

Really, we can talk about the efficiency, the design, the usefulness, etc. But "afterlife"? Cutesy nod, indeed.

Ilíon said...

I used to address/denote an obnoxious internet atheist/Darwinist as "Worm-Chow" to remind him that on his view of reality (*) he is really nothing more than food for worms ... after which he'll be nothing but worm-dung.

Oddly, he and his intellectual peers didn't like that.

(*) for he had offered up the deep insight ;-) of the woo-woo-materialism you're examining in the OP.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...


That's hilarious. I think I'm going to adopt that tactic now and then.

I was carpooling in my friend's car once after rowing practice and his little sister was yammering, so he wanted to shut her up. He said, calmly, with a pause midway, "Hey, ____,... your soul is empty." She instantly clammed up and began weeping moments later. He was immensely apologetic, but the point that strikes me now is that it has become "hip" to smash anyone and everyone over the head with deflationary materialism all with the putative aim of "helping" them with reason, but in fact the goal is just a base attempt to shut people up by dehumanizing them. Thoughts?

Ilíon said...

Well, in my case, I was trying to use "shock therapy" to force “Worm-Chow” to see that he was dehumanizing himself and calling it “freedom” and “courage” and “reason.”

The first time, I walked him through the logical implications of his woo-woo materialism – that ultimately, he was claiming to be nothing more than worm-shit. Thereafter, I called him “Worm-Chow.”

Of course, I was also wanting to shut up his obnoxious and reason-free blather.

Crude said...

For my part, I'd skip the shock parts only because really - if I'm dealing with someone who needs that sort of jolting to see reason, my time is best spent elsewhere. I've done enough arguing on the internet to start realizing when I'm dealing with someone who's largely bluffing or posturing, and I figure the only people who can get through to a devoted atheist warrior like that is immediate family and friends.

Still, pantheism of the sort I'm describing is just so plainly ridiculous to me. "Scientific pantheism" is what I see it called. Which makes sense I suppose, since scientists bullshit as much as anyone else.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...


I think your use of the tern is valid in so far as it can help someone see how they are dehumanizing themselves (literally "objectifying" themselves), but Crude's also right that if someone is that far gone, maybe they're just that far gone and it's best to send up a prayer. It's still hilariously on-spot, though: Worm-Chow.


You ever read about Comte's "rational Catholicism"? At least back then secularists were up front about usurping the "religious" role of religion!

And now a quotation, from Chesterton, in honor of Worm-Chow:

"A man can be a Christian to the end of the world, for the simple reason that a man could have been an Atheist from the beginning of it. The materialism of things is on the face of things: it does not require any science to find it out. A man who has lived and loved falls down dead and the worms eat him. That is Materialism, if you like. That is Atheism, if you like. If mankind has believed in spite of that, it can believe in spite of anything. But why our human lot is made any more hopeless because we know the names of the worms who eat him, or the names of all the parts of him that they eat, is to a thoughtful mind somewhat difficult to discover."

Crude said...

A fantastic quote, that. And I think I was dimly aware of at least that general move in the past, but not Comte's role in it. "Secular humanism" to me is a bad joke, even worse than pantheism, and I notice even atheists seem to admit as much in the end. Hence their bit being heavily based on anti-theism, and pro- very little.

(I wonder how much of that is due to how atheists have tried to promote irreligion. 'You shouldn't let your morals be decided by a priest or a holy book! You shouldn't let your actions be decided on by some religious faith!' I imagine that when they turn around and say, "Now, you should adhere to these views of the world! You should listen to what this ethicist says about how to act!" the temptation is to say, 'If I'm not listening to the guys who think they've gleaned a sense of real purpose and value in life, why the hell should I listen to some asshole who admits he hasn't, in fact argues there is none, but wants to tell people what to do anyway?')

Ilíon said...

In my defense, the “Worm-Chow” thing was years ago, and I hadn't yet realized that some people are that willfully blind – that there are people who so hate God (and his people) that they will deny anything (including denying that they themselves exist) and do anything (including destroying others and themselves) rather than simply admit “God is.”

As for the general point of the Chesterton quote, people have understood for thousands of years -- hell, it's even in the Bible -- that men die and become food for worms, just as animals do; and that even the "living on in memory" on which present-day so-called atheists hang their hopes is so much chasing after the wind: “No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.

Men have always understood that if the material world is all there is, if this present life is all we have, then we have nothing and come to nothing. It takes someone in the grip of “now-now-ism” (aka “chronological snobbery”) and in the grip of the awe at his own wonderfulness to imagine that “science” has told us something new about this and has “delivered us from superstition.”