In today’s NY Times, David Brooks’s column seems almost enlightened but there is an undercurrent of dishonesty about it.
He characterizes the debate about the Nature of God as being between two groups of fundamentalists. One group – the assertive atheists – believes that there is no evidence for gods or souls and that the nature of religious experience can be explained by neuroscience and evolutionary accidents. The other group believes that understanding the brain …merely adds to our appreciation of the entity that created it.
David puts himself firmly in the second camp by using the arguments from the first camp almost verbatim. That’s a neat trick if you can pull it off and he nearly got away with it. I had to read the article three times to untangle the threads.
I don’t want to get too snarky on David because, aside from the fact that he is every liberal’s favourite conservative, he is making an argument that both Einstein and Spinoza have used before him. I wish I understood that argument better because, to me, it seems to advocate both having your cake and eating it.
David (and Albert, and Baruch) seem to be saying that atheists have it all wrong because they don’t acknowledge the transcendental nature of love and the laughter of children and the Gilmour’s solo at the start of Shine on You Crazy Diamond. I can’t speak for all atheists but, I do. Really, I do. I just think that transcendence comes from within not from some external entity.
Just three weeks ago, I wished I knew how Alan Kay felt and Lo! Alan Kay left a comment (Alan Kay!!!!-Ed). Today, I wish I knew what David Brooks means. If he leaves a comment, I’ll pledge allegiance to his God (the God which is in the laughter of children). (If Baruch or Albert leave a comment, I’ll take up the cloth-Ed).
Anyway. Go read the article because it’s very good despite the dishonesty. Pretend you didn’t see the bit where he juxtaposes Selfish Genes with deep instincts for fairness, empathy because David clearly knows better and it was probably an inside joke or meant ironically or something.
Here’s the best bit which he probably lifted straight from the New Atheist Manifesto(tm)…
First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships. Second, underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions. Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when they transcend boundaries and overflow with love. Fourth, God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.
…except that last bit. I believe in the laughter of children too. I just don’t think we enhance our understanding by calling it God.
By the end of the article, David seems to be channeling Sam Harris but the important thing is that David is not taking sides. He’s too clever for that. Too clever by half.