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Animated Pieces of Meat.

May 3, 2009

Rather frequently my Dad sends me a link or article that is well worth reading. (My mom does too, but they are frequently of a much more personal nature)  He recently sent me this one, on why faith is both intelligent and relevant.  Wilson’s most important thought was this:

Materialist atheism says we are just a collection of chemicals. It has no answer whatsoever to the question of how we should be capable of love or heroism or poetry if we are simply animated pieces of meat.

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8 comments

  1. I found this post while poking around wordpress tags, and I just have to comment on this. I’m just going to take on that quote, because so much is wrong with it.

    First off, science actually has some interesting things to say about why we are capable of love and heroism and poetry. It’s interesting material, too lengthy to go into here, but it’s there. It’s incomplete material, too, but that’s the nature of science — we push forward, slowly uncover the facts and understand them. So the claim that “materialist atheism” has no answer whatsoever is simply wrong. We just don’t blindly claim to have an absolute answer. We are also quite comfortable with that lack of certainty. It’s part of the fun of life.

    My other problem is simply this: invoking God or souls or anything supernatural doesn’t answer the question at all. “Why do we love?” “Because God gave us Love.” It says nothing. It says nothing about why, or how, or what. It dodges the question. It has no explanatory power.

    As a final note, “we are simply animated pieces of meat” is a nice piece of rhetoric, but nothing more. I could say that religion teaches that we are “simply animated bits of spirit” and sound equally dismissive. It’s just empty words to attack a position without bothering with substantial critique — or, for that matter, bothering to understand the position being attacked.


  2. DING! And there the fighters go, closing in…and its science with a hook, then a left! Religion with a right, and a block! And 10 million rounds later, this match is anybody’s to call!
    I will say this. Anyone who claims to have the answer to Life, The Universe and Everything(42) is a liar.
    Why are we here? Nobody knows.
    How did we get here? Nobody knows.
    What happens after death? Nobody knows.
    …that doesn’t stop the proliferation of theories.
    So pick your faith-superstition-religion-theory and have at it!
    Peace Love and Maple Syrup.


  3. Gregory: There’s lots of literature out there about how the supernatural imbues life with meaning, and it is more than simply declaring, “Because God puts it there.” You’re right: That’s no explanation.

    Note this also, however. The theistic worldview is not to be confused with the Deistic worldview. We do not believe in God as simply an explanation for how things happen and why the world is at it is. The great monotheistic religions see part of the nature of the divine as being creator & sustainer, but there is much more to theology and its shaping of our worldview than simply that God explains the unknown for us. Many people seem to imagine that if we can come up with a materialist explanation for something, there is no need for God. This is false, because it completely misses the nature of God and the nature of theistic belief.

    Anyway, not everything on both sides of the field is meant to be a decisive, battle-ending quotation. To say that atheistic materialism is incapable of imbuing life with true meaning does not mean it does not try. It means that it simply does not. And since it fails at this, it ultimately means that I’m an animated piece of meat.


    • Well, I’ve seen a lot of that literature, and never come away with any sense that it gave solid reasons why the supernatural imbues life with meaning.

      I’d also note this, for what it’s worth: as an atheist the meaning thing is pretty easy for me. We create our meaning. It’s not like I walk around in a “life is meaningless!” funk. My meaning comes from love and connection, from the curiosity that drives me to understand as much of the world as I can, from the awesome vastness of the universe we are a part of. I actually find it rather repugnant to contemplate some being who would think they had the right to determine meaning for me. Humans have done a pretty darn good job of that all on our own.

      The “animated piece of meat” still seems like nothing more than rhetoric to me. I am human. I have a brain with sophisticated thinking abilities (well, okay, based on my day at work, maybe not all the time :)…). I am a living being, I’ve got this life to live, and that’s wonder enough for me. I just don’t see the bad in that. The quotes phrasing it like that? So negative. I don’t see the negative, I guess is my point. I certainly don’t see how God or the Soul would add to it.


  4. Oh, Matt: We ought never to rule out the possibility of revelation. And if revelation proves true, then we can know the answers.


  5. Revelation…haha. My friend, half the preachers of the world say they have a revelation. Jesus had a revelation, and we crucified him. Moses had a revelation, and his people betrayed it shortly after learning. And then Mohammed had a revelation, and the Children of God have been at it with sticks, stones, broadswords and RPGs since.
    And they were the successful ones. Revelation is just opinion and self-importance most of the time. And when it is genuine, if we can ever know that, chaos ensues.


  6. Wow, I’m glad to see how much discussion this has provoked.
    Gregory, in terms of your first comment. Science has interesting things to say, but I’ve sat through enough psychology classes to know that understanding what happens during these experiences does not answer fundamental questions of why we feel these experiences or why they should matter. One particularly fascinating commentary that has led to my skepticism considering the validity of Scientific “rationality” is Thomas Kuhn’s the structure of scientific revolutions. When you realize that we’ve already had complete reversals of how we understand the way the universe works Science’s ability to explain the deeper things of life seems less adequate, not invalid, just not as complete as I had been led to believe.

    In terms of discussing literature, can we post what we’ve read, even brief selections? The history student in me just wants referrals for my own research.

    Matt, concerning Revelation, we can’t just dismiss it with a laugh. You’ve left the door open for some genuine Revelation which is good. I plan to write a couple of posts based on where this conversation could be headed, but I will say this here. I’ve never been a fan of Pascal’s wager, but to dismiss Revelation entirely without investigation is unfair. I’ve written in the past on the consequences of Christ’s life and death for his followers and why the best explanation for the regrouping of the disciples after His death is that he resurrected. We have to test revelation, and I will join you in mocking the average televangelist with an eye to his own gain. I’m just saying we can’t dismiss it out of hand.


  7. I don’t dismiss Revelation out of hand. My problem though, begins with the book itself. All the very valid concerns about the Bible’s legitimacy nonwithstanding, Revelation is still a particularly difficult book to read and understand. At worst, it is an acid trip gone bad…and I say that with all seriousness, because I wonder sometimes if that is what happened. At best, it is just what it claims to be, revealed knowledge given by God unto man. The trouble though, is that it is very subjective and impossible to pin down, let alone understand well.
    Concerning revelation in general. Is it impossible that God speaks to humans and steers them from time to time? No, of course not. I draw comfort from the belief that He’s keeping a close eye on things, and from time to time nudges humanity in the right direction. That said, we are left with the problem of sorting through the contradictory and unfortunately frequent claims of divine revelation. And here’s where it gets truly depressing. Psychology has in fact proven that it is possible for humans to A) convince themselves of almost anything, B) create self-serving hallucinations to back up their delusions. This comes about particularly in deeply emotional states…like the ones certain sects create as part of religious ritual.
    Finally, and here’s the biggie, most of the revelations usually tend to be not only divisive, but needlessly so, and contrary to “LOVE THY NEIGHBOR.” Now, we might dismiss these ones as the crazies, but then where do we draw the line, and how do we know. I firmly believe that if God wanted us to know something, He would make sure more than one person got the message.
    Peace Love and Maple Syrup…by the by, I’m only back in Toronto for a few days at the beginning of July…don’t make plans to be out of the city.



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