The initial four exchanges between Cliff and Tyler (Tyler's first two letters, and Cliff's responses to each) were published in the June, 2000, issue of Positive Atheism Magazine. Thus, these four works have been corrected for grammar, spelling and punctuation (though Tyler is a fine writer and his work didn't need much editing at all). Also, a few irrelevant paragraphs were deleted from Cliff's second response. This section now reads exactly as the print edition has it.

 

Quote Graphic Rule
Transparent Spacer

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tyler McMillen"
Subject: Re: The value of truth.
Date: Sunday, July 16, 2000 4:59 PM

This is a tough one because I cannot simply resort to some tradition or scripture (most of which are likely to place a high priority upon practicing truthfulness -- or at least give lip-service to it), but I must use my own powers to explain why I think striving for truthfulness is my top priority in any philosophical discussion.

Perhaps some of these religious traditions played a role in my early training, or that of my parents and their parents, which ultimately influenced why I presently value truthfulness. My parents are exceedingly honest people, telling the truth even when doing so would cause us disadvantage, but the whole picture came out better when we were truthful, and possibly because we were being truthful. Of course, all of us would have told a flat-out lie if that was what it took to, for example, prevent the unjust killing of an innocent victim. Methinks most religious folks would do the same, and I've even heard preachers say this right from the pulpit: the classic example is that of hiding a victim in your closet while an assailant asks, "Where is she?"

I will say right up front that I encountered some liars at a very young age. I detested them at the time and I recall them with disdain today. When I encounter liars today, I experience the same feelings that I had when I was a little boy -- the same feelings I have always experienced. I have also found that lying doesn't work as well as truthfulness in the long run. Thus, my preference for truthfulness is practical in at least one sense.

I also was deeply moved after reading discussions on truthfulness by Gandhi and Gora, by Thomas Paine, and by Joseph Lewis. These "traditional" figures have influenced me profoundly. All of them (and many others) placed a very high value on truthfulness. Thus, my preference for truthfulness is, in another sense, based upon tradition.

Finally, I really like the feeling of knowing that I have been honest. I place a very high value on dignity, and dishonesty can destroy this dignity within me. Thus, my preference for truthfulness is, in this sense, a matter of personal taste.

I'm sure I have other reasons, but these are the ones I can bring to mind right now.

Short Graphic Rule

Notice that I use the word truthfulness whenever I can, trying to indicate that I never mean something metaphysical when I use the word truth. When I say "truth" I mean "truthfulness," I mean telling the truth as best you can and facing the truth when you encounter it. This is my ideal, not only in a philosophical discussion but (as far as I can get away with it) in my day-to-day affairs.

First of all, what is a discussion but an attempt to communicate a message, and to communicate it as accurately and as effectively as possible? Truthfulness is important even to someone who is trying to communicate falsehood. In other words, even liars have an interest in accuracy of reporting; when falsehood has been crafted with precision, it needs to be stated just so, and one element of truthfulness, accuracy, is involved in conveying the story (though accuracy is missing from the content of the story).

Liberal Scientific Method is a public discussion that says its purpose is to acquire a more accurate picture of our environment and of the past. Thus, one of the ultimate joys in truthful science (so I am told) is to have one of your pet theories overturned by new evidence.

Short Graphic Rule

Science is the ideal discussion -- communication at its finest, I think -- and this is where truthfulness is most crucial. Many of us live in the real world where some people lie and cheat and even kill to get the advantage. Most of us, in our everyday lives, are somewhere between the outright cheat and the scientist seeking knowledge of reality.

Most people at least try to be honest, but reality sometimes demands that we withhold certain facts. I often invoke the "none-of-your-business clause" when holding casual conversations; the United States Constitution gives citizens the right not to testify against themselves, the right to remain silent when charged with a crime.

Sure, some people like to exaggerate when telling stories about their past and when they wish others to think they have value or strength. Some even wish to paint the picture that they are truthful (sometimes speaking of a metaphysically undefinable and capitalized "Truth"). But how could deception be an advantage in a serious discussion, especially if being caught in an exaggeration or other falsehood could upset your entire situation (even if you are in the right on all other accounts)? Perhaps I might resort to something like this if I were trying to accomplish something through the conversation, but only if all dignified resources are exhausted and even a few less-than-dignified tricks had been tried.

Should one lie from the outset when trying to accomplish something (such as seeking justice with a business or a government agency)? Some say yes. I prefer to think about that real hard before I use deception as my first resort. If I don't think I can get the government or business to act, I need to re-examine whether what I want warrants the effort or expense I will likely expend. This is particularly applicable if part of that "expense" involves the indignity of my being dishonest. Whenever I lie, it costs me.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tyler McMillen"
Subject: Re:
Date: Friday, July 21, 2000 8:48 AM

It's okay. I just spent the bulk of the day waiting for individuals and organizations to not return important phone calls, and working on my second response for the second John Love-Jensen letter and a few other things. This discussion with a pantheist is doing me a world of good at examining my own views and is helping me to hammer down a few points on the "weak" versus "strong" definitions for atheism. I hope to make some inroads toward rewriting the "What Is Atheism?" portion of our Frequently Asked Questions section.
 

Lemme think about this one. There is such thing as desiring truth but being deceived.
 

Here is a common problem with dogs and cats (and probably other mammals): When the newborn is placed into a small cage and left there, it ends up not liking anything but the cage (and I've seen this both with lab animals and with purebreds that were raised by irresponsible kennel owners). A former lab cat only likes its little cage, so keep the cage there for the cat and you'll get along fine. Not much of a pet, though.

If I am right, six months may not be too late, if they get on it right away and hire a good trainer for the dog. The trainer should be able to tell if this is the problem and also if it can be fixed. I wish your friend luck.

Could it be that this also holds true (to some extent) with the human mind? If a small child is taught dogma and never taught how to explore and think and reason, the adult will be perfectly happy in his or her little "cage" of dogma, and will fear thinking for oneself. Methinks there is something to the Jesuit Theory: "Give me the child until he is seven, and I will show you the man." In other words, these first seven years, according to the Jesuits (and many others), are crucial imprinting years.

Theodore Drange put a small section in his book Nonbelief and Evil where he discusses what he called "The Mumbo-Jumbo Theory." (I briefly discuss this idea in my April, 1999, column of the same name.) According to Drange, many people grow up being told to repeat certain statements and also to assert that they believe those statements. Many never bother to examine what they are stating they believe. Drange says people say they believe something, but do not actually believe it, because what they say is impossible -- it is mumbo-jumbo -- and nobody can believe nonsense, according to Drange's definition for belief.

So, if caging an animal can cripple it, can caging a human mind with dogma and superstitious fear cripple it as well? At this, the meddlers of this world begin to sound reasonable to me. But interfering with the way others raise their children is not really how a Free Society works. I can only hope that enough individual teachers and school curricula catch enough children early and inspire enough kids toward critical thinking.
 

I also admitted that tradition plays a role in my valuing truthfulness.

All my reasons involved one or more of these three aspects: (1) utility (which can be objectively demonstrated -- or at least objectively refuted); (2) personal taste (and mine is the final word on any matter involving my personal taste); (3) tradition (which involves but is not limited to the notion of truth being unquestionably or intrinsically valuable in what you call the Kantian sense).

I started my first response by deliberately avoiding what you describe as the Kantian angle. (I cannot satisfy myself with resting on truth being unquestionably or intrinsically valuable unless I am prepared to explain why no further probing is in order.) Then I found myself needing to avoid the strict utilitarian angle, as well, because I think it is the strongest and most obvious reason for valuing truthfulness. But I avoided utilitarian arguments in order to goad my mind into searching for other explanations for why I value truth, and I immediately came up with the childhood story. Ultimately, I came up with personal taste and tradition in combination with the utilitarian angle.

Take my word for it: admitting to some of these things was no easy deal!
 

I don't think I'm begging the question, here: I stated that I place a high value on truthfulness, and you asked me to defend my position (or, at minimum, explain it). Since I am not really begging the question but actually place a high value on truthfulness, the memories of the kids and the cousins pulling my leg as a child immediately came to mind -- along with the words of Paine and Gandhi, and along with my having had overall good luck with being truthful -- and I knew exactly why I value truthfulness. I may not be able to put this into English very concisely (I certainly could not reduce it to a bumper sticker and may not be able to reduce it to the size of one of my monthly columns, but I can "see" why I value truthfulness.

As for an objective reason, I don't think any value can be objective except in the context of a consensus (such as the Blue Book listing for the value of a used car). But a consensus is simply a whole collection of subjectivity run through an agreed-upon equation of some sort. No value judgement is objective in any real sense.
 

Well, it may not be drivel, but I think some of my reasons are metaphysical in the classic sense of the term: "metaphysical: 1. relating to metaphysics: relating to the philosophical study of the nature of being and beings or a philosophical system resulting from such study" (Encarta World English Dictionary). Perhaps you were thinking of the fifth definition: "5. supernatural: originating not in the physical world but somewhere outside it a metaphysical explanation of beauty and goodness" (Encarta World English Dictionary).
 

This is truthfulness, and this is why I try to specify the term truthfulness instead of truth whenever I can get away with it. I don't want anybody to think I am talking about some abstraction (some "Truth" with a capital "T") when in fact I am simply talking about not lying to people.

We try the best we can, anyway. I agree: we are not striving for anything in the "perfect but unreal" Platonic sense. We are simply doing the best we can with what we've got, and we are defining "the best we can" as incorporating a high value on truthfulness (among other things).

I suspect that most people -- religious and atheistic -- are this way, and that only a small minority of people practice dishonesty without restraint. Too bad so many of us get hung up on whether somebody else believes or disbelieves in this or that deity.
 

Do you think there might be some middle ground, here?

Do you think there might even be more to it than this? In other words, are we limited to choosing between Kant's intrinsic value and meager utilitarian value?
 

No. If truthfulness has any intrinsic value (which I doubt), this value cannot mean much to us in the real world. Truthfulness can only have value in respect to ourselves, and in respect to the situations we find ourselves in. This is why I avoided the intrinsic angle and emphasized utility over personal taste and tradition (though in my case, taste and tradition may play a stronger role than I like to admit).

This only sounds strange if we are accustomed to thinking Platonically (the notion that what we think we experience is but an imperfect shadow-representation of some perfect but experientially unattainable ideal). Christianity is replete with this stuff when it talks about sin "missing the mark" and about Jesus being a sinless (that is, perfect) man and Paul's war between flesh and spirit. Robert Anton Wilson commented on the notion of Platonic perfection by describing the chicken coop that is but an imperfect representation of the ideal (model; template) chicken coop (out there, somewhere). If this is the case, then the chickens are but imperfect representations of the ideal (Platonic) chickens -- and the chicken shit on the ground is but an imperfect representation of ideal chicken shit! Use your imagination, because that's the only realm where you will find perfect chicken shit!

This is my big beef with the doctrine of a sinless or perfect Jesus. It is devious in that it presents an unrealistic goal and asks Christians to strive for it anyway. There is no perfection; I have, for the most part, removed the word perfect from my vocabulary (though not perfectly). I denounced the notion of perfection when I said, "I am a perfect specimen of the human race in that I am perfectly human" (my e-mail signature for several years).

So, when you first asked your question, I immediately suppressed my initial urge to find an intrinsic value in truthfulness. Although I would be hard-pressed to give a slick explanation as to why, I just knew that this was not what I was looking for in answering your question. I do appreciate the fact that you bothered to ponder this aspect of the question, though. Perhaps I should ponder it and try to come up with a better reason as to why this is not the answer. The problem is that I was not raised with a Platonic outlook, but was raised an atheist and trained to see the world as entirely material and subject to the laws of cause and effect and to the laws of the conservation of energy: you don't get something for nothing.

The first chapter to Richard Robinson's An Atheist's Values is a wonderfully detailed study of this very question as it relates to the question "What is good?" (in section 1.3, beginning with the part that starts, "I come now to a fourth rewriting of Plato's question" -- but read the whole chapter as it is a real page-turner). He explores the notion of intrinsic goodness by imagining something completely isolated from everything and asking if we can see whether there is good or bad in it intrinsically. After dismissing this notion, Robinson then discusses choices (personal taste, anyone?) and finally concludes that we are really dealing with the least evil as opposed to the most good. I don't know how this would relate to the question of why I value truthfulness, but your comment reminded me of this part of Robinson's discussion on truthfulness. I'm not sure I understand the point of the Nietzsche quotation, though.
 

Sure. If Pat Robertson becomes Dictator and mandates religion for all citizens, and if Mormonism is on his official list of approved religions, I might consider Mormonism for purely pragmatic reasons (though not out of any sense of aesthetic, and certainly never out of respect for truthfulness).

Victor J. Stenger mentions that when we first developed the cities, it was imperative to our survival that we keep the populace in order. Superstitious fear is easily the most efficient and effective method for doing this, so religion evolved as a survival tool: those clans that used religion were more likely to survive than those that did not. Stenger then notes that in loyalistic clans, those who tend toward credulity and obedience thrived, and those who tended toward independent thinking and rebellion were ostracized or executed. The Old Testament even has a law that mandates the stoning of a rebellious son (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).

If the tendencies toward either credulity or independent thinking are even partly genetic, Stenger argues, then credulity has been "naturally selected" into our species for over ten thousand years since the formation of the cities (though I would call it an unnatural selection, of sorts, since it was contrived).

Stenger finally suggests that credulity and tribal loyalty is as potentially harmful to human survival in our global community today as it was beneficial in the cities of the past. Unfortunately, even in this day of science and knowledge, humans are left with this inexplicably powerful tendency to fall for the most groundless of claims. However, I can see how credulity can enhance certain elements of people's lives, especially the social elements that involve tribal loyalty.

If there is a large tribe in America today that still thrives on loyalty to the totem, it's the Utah Mormons. Think of the isolation and wholesale rejection and persecution of Mormonism's original followers. They were hounded from New York south to Missouri, where Smith's murder immediately split the clan in two (so they now had two enemies: each other and everyone else). The Missouri Mormons eventually gained some respect among general Protestantism for their Trinitarian views, but Brigham Young's group was so far out the stage coached didn't even go there. They still haven't found acceptance within even mainstream Christianity except within the political groups comprising the Religious Right -- and even then they are accepted on only a superficial level and only for their political views and the power that the entire movement can gain through the Mormons' support. Mormonism is prime for thriving on tribal loyalty like almost no other group in America can be. Methinks you couldn't have picked a better example to make your point.

However, we must remember that with Mormonism, we are talking about religious beliefs, not day-to-day social situations such as business deals and family commitments. Mormons, like everybody else, tend to be (for the most part) very honest in their dealings and in other tasks that amount to living life. It is only in their religious beliefs that they begin to raise the eyebrows of their fellow humans. This is a point I've been making lately: The question of whether or not a god exists is the stupidest topic we could possibly fight over. Thus, I urge atheists to forget this one in day-to-day life and to seek out all the similarities we have with our fellow humans who happen to be theists. I reserve my discussion of the god question for forums such as this one, and only seek understanding, dignity, and civil liberties for atheists in my everyday life.

But as with almost every religion, you must state that you believe in a certain Absurd Dogma in order to be accepted into the clan. The doctrine that is the most crucial to being accepted by the others is inevitably something that any outsider would call laughingly ludicrous, often prompting outsiders to marvel over how anyone could possibly believe such rubbish. (Drange's Mumbo-Jumbo Theory, anyone?) I can only wonder why this is: perhaps it has something to do with preventing all of humanity from becoming one of the elite; perhaps this is the true test of loyalty, that you would abandon even your sense of truthfulness in order to join the clan. I cannot really comment on this one and will leave it to another to speculate.

However, I do know, from first-hand experience, that it is possible to train oneself to think that he or she believes the Absurd Dogma. One can look his or her coworker or family member right in the eye, recite the Absurd Dogma, and then assert that he or she believes the Absurd Dogma to be true. This is how I can have so much patience with theists when the question does come up in my day-to-day life: everybody who believes something thinks he or she has a perfectly valid reason for believing that way. I respect this fact (without having to respect the belief itself), and I have found this policy to be very beneficial to my social life. I no longer feel the urge to be a bigoted atheist.
 

It is cold and lonely out here. One can only grow when living in a tough environment (such as one fostered by intellectual independence) and left to fend for oneself -- either that, or else fall apart, as you said, in which case, the survival instinct would likely drive you to find a clan and let them do your thinking for you.

Also, I have experienced organized atheism wherein we'd get together each week, pat ourselves on the back, and then criticize the outsiders (the religious folks). This weekly exercise was often so intellectually lame that it taxed my patience; it was not unlike the Mormon meetings you described, except that this meeting had someone controlling the discussion. I remained with the group only because I'd wanted to become involved in the various separationist actions that were so often discussed (but so seldom pulled off) and because I'd hoped to attain a position wherein I could effect some change within the group (such as eliminating the weekly regimen of tribal loyalism and drilled-in anti-theist rhetoric).

So, the absence of theism does not necessarily lead to the absence of a clannish mind set. What you are talking about goes much further than this. I will admit, though, that most religious dogmas are designed to promote a tendency toward exclusivism.

As for sticking to truthfulness and how doing so can seriously impair one's social life, I was complaining to a reader about how often I am completely misunderstood by others, often seen as being dishonest rather than the honest man I seek to be. She replied:

I see you as brave and beautiful Cliff. People like you always get their asses kicked. And there is little if any reward, except that which drops out of the sky on some given day in the form of love freely given to a friend, without expectation of anything more than the pleasure of the giving.

When you are brilliant, you must expect to be misunderstood. When you see a thing clearly, you must expect to be called blind. If you stand apart, you stand alone. You become a target for the ignorant because you scare the shit out of them. Your motives are pure Cliff. Purity is the most misinterpreted and most misunderstood thing in the world.

Much of my respect for truthfulness may have come from my having come to terms with just how cold and lonely it is on this speck of dust called Earth. It's not easy to see it this way, but that's what I see when I open my eyes and look to see what is out there. Our universe is here by happenstance and has no ultimate purpose. Our earth is just the right distance from just the right sized star and self-replicating molecules formed (possibly more than once) and organism developed through the intelligent design of natural selection. Almost like the growth of a tumor (on an evolutionary scale) the neocortex of one or two species of primates blossomed forth and made it possible for at least one organism to ask questions such as "Why do you value truth?"

The nervous system: purpose lies here and here alone; it lies not within the context of the entire universe but within the mind of the beholder. In the same way, the value of truthfulness (or any other value) lies square within the heart of the one placing the value upon it.

In his novel "Centennial," James A. Michener depicts a young brave who valued this malleable, yellow-colored metal he'd find in the streams of Colorado because it was so easy to press into his bullet mold. That's all gold meant to this man: it was easy to make bullets with and it was pretty to look at. Only after he shot a white man with his musket and the doctor pulled out a solid gold slug did the brave (and his people) learn that others placed a completely different value upon this metal.

I guess I value truthfulness over love and money, because instead of twisting my friend's arm to take me out tonight and buy me dinner and drinks and spend the evening in her presence, I instead chose to stay here and catch up on my work (answering these letters) because technically I blew off this date when I failed to commit to it a couple of days ago when the offer was made. So, she found something else to do with her time. If I botched it, I botched it. Sniveling about it might have restored the evening but it wouldn't have been dignified of me to act this way. I could not be happy about it -- not that I'm very happy right now, it's just that this is how my mind works and how I prefer to do things.
 

Though I am very tempted to go along with you on this one, I can't. I discussed name-calling in one of the Johan Grahn letters. Besides, thinking that way can be very depressing, and I'd rather laugh at Limbaugh's jazzed-up version of "Born Free" and get busy writing and publishing counter-arguments to some of the more irresponsible claims generated by Rush and his ilk. (I will, however, get off some vicarious laffs by letting you call him an idiot on my forum.)
 

I agree that truth is stranger than fiction, as would Randy Cassingham of "This is True" and Chuck Shepherd of "News of the Weird." Both contribute material to our magazine, and both write columns documenting the stranger news stories that grace the pages of our local newspapers.
 

I'm predicting they can't without entering into the realm of the fifth definition for the word metaphysical, the one involving the supernatural. Besides the pragmatic angle, which is still somewhat subjective, I suspect that the only way one could place any objective value on truth is to make something up. This would be fabricating an answer, wouldn't it? And wouldn't that be untruthful? Hmmm!

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule
Graphic Rule 3
Graphic Rule

From Readers

From:
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM_The_Value_Of_Truthfulness__9603
Date: Sunday, July 16, 2000 6:14 AM

On this subject I compare myself to my brother and sister, who are devoutly religious. I believe we all have a need of truth, in order to feel secure in our surroundings, and be able to protect ourselves. Sometimes we have to trust others with our security, especially when very young. If this works well, we may continue to trust others and their ideas about the unknowable. If our trust is often or traumatically misplaced, it may intensify our need for truth, so we have more control over our own security.

This process may actually start with our inborn personalities. Optmists are definitely more successful than pessimists, and inspire more favorable treatment by others.

Truth is also addictive. When you are surprised by a truism, you are eager to be surprised again, as long as it doesn't threaten a strong sense of security -- faith. Some of us are well used to feeling insecure and so are not frightened by truth.

Graphic Rule

From: "Dorman Blazer"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: Truth and Truthfulness: Metaphysical? Utilitarian? Other?
Date: Wednesday, July 12, 2000 6:47 AM

"Truth and Truthfulness" means to me the elimination of magical concepts. The following quotes address that issue. The original context of the quote "Matter moves itself" explains itself within the context of its author. Voltaire missed this quote in his synopsis -- he did not review this material.

Quotes from Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam are included after review of Superstition In All Ages.

Using the concept of "English Prime" tends to eliminate statements that would otherwise be untrue. Where possible, the use of the "is" verb and its derivatives is avoided in any comments. That which is in ( ) is not original text.

[NOTE: English Prime was invented by Count Alfred Korzybski, father of General Semantics, and was later pondered in detail by Robert Anton Wilson in his book Quantum Psychology and other pieces. In it, all statements are worded as observations, and the notion of an ultimate reality is not discussed (as we cannot observe or describe any ultimate reality, so we discuss only our observations, and then admit that our observations are just that -- observations).
-- Cliff]

This following book is available at Amazon.com as Superstition in All Ages. It supports the concepts of science, but puts science as examiner of religious beliefs.

Originally published New York, Peter Eckler Publishing Company 1920.
copyright 1878, by Miss Anna Knoop
publisher's preface dated May 21, 1889
main text starts:

COMMON SENSE.

page 45

Detexit quo dolose Vaticinandi furore sacerdores mysteria, illis saepe ignota, audactur publicant. -- Petron, Satyr.

I. -- APOLOGUE.

There is a vast empire governed by a monarch, whose conduct does but confound the minds of the subjects, He desires to be known, loved, respected and obeyed, but he never shows himself; everything tends to make uncertain the notions which we are able to form about him. The people subjected to his power have only such ideas of the character and the laws of their invisible sovereign as his ministers give them; these suit, however, because they themselves have no idea of their master, for his master are impenetrable, and his views and his qualities are totally incomprehensible; moreover, his ministers disagree among themselves in regard to the orders which they pretend emanated from the sovereign whose organs they claim to be; they announce them diversely in each province of the empire; they discredit and treat each other as impostors and liars; the decrees and ordinances which they promulgate are obscure; they are enigmas, made not to be understood or divined....

Page 140

To claim that the souls of men will be happy or unhappy after the death of the body, is to pretend that man will be able to see without eyes, to hear without ears, to taste without a palate, to smell without a nose, and to feel without hands and without skin. Nations who believe themselves very rational, adopt, nevertheless, such ideas.

page 64

The unprejudiced philosopher sees nothing in the wonders of nature but permanent and invariable law; nothing but the necessary effects of different combinations of diversified substance.

XXXVII. -- THE WONDERS OF NATURE EXPLAIN THEMSELVES BY NATURAL CAUSES.

Is there anything more surprising than the logic of so many profound doctors, who instead of acknowledging the little light they have upon natural agencies, seek outside of nature -- that is to say, in imaginary regions -- an agent less understood than this nature, of which they can at least form some idea? To say that God is the author of the phenomena that we see, is to not attributing them to an occult cause? What is God? What is a spirit? They are cause of which we have no idea. (note: term scientist was not yet in common usage) Sages! study nature and her laws; and when you can from them unravel the action of natural cause, do not go in search of supernatural causes, which, very far from enlightening your ideas, will but entangle them more and more and make it impossible for you to understand yourselves.

page 65 (note: continued)

XXXVIII. -- CONTINUATION.

Nature, you say, is totally inexplicable without a God; that is to say, in order to explain what you understand so little, you need a cause which you do not understand at all. (note: compare with and to Occam's Razor) You pretend to make clear that which is obscure, by magnifying its obscurity. You think you have untied a knot by multiplying knots. Enthusiastic philosophers, in order to prive to us the existence of a God, you copy complete treatises on botany; you inter into minute details of the parts of the human body; you ascend into the air to contemplate the revolutions of the stars; you return then to earth to admire the course of the waters; you fly into ecstasies over butterflies, insects, polyps, organized atoms, in which you think to find the greatness of your God; all these things will not prove the existence of this God; they will only prove that you have not the ideas which you should have of the immense variety of cause and effects that can produce the infinitely diversified combinations, of which the universe is the assemblage. This will prove that you ignore nature, that you have no idea of her resources when you judge her incapable of producing a multitude of forms and beings, of which your eyes, even by the aid of the microscope, see but the least part; finally, this will prove, that not being able to know the sensible and comprehensible agents, you find it easier to have recourse to a word, by which you designate an agent, of whom it will always be impossible for you to form any true idea. (note: continued onto page 66)

XXXIX. -- THE WORLD HAS NOT BEEN CREATED, AND MATTER MOVES BY ITSELF.

They tell us gravely that there is no effect without a cause; they repeat to us very often that the world did not create itself. But the universe is a cause, not an effect; it is not a work, has not been made, because it was impossible that it should be made. The world has always been (note: the evidence and sciences we have were yet to develop), its existence is necessary. It is the cause of itself. Nature, whose essence is visibly acting and producing, in order to fulfill her functions, as we see she does, needs no invisible motor far more unknown than herself. Matter moves by it own energy, by the necessary result of its heterogeneity; the diversity of its movements or of its ways of acting, constitute only the diversity of substances; we distinguish one being from another but by the diversity of the impressions or movements which they communicate to our organs.

XL. -- CONTINUATION.

You see that everything in nature is in a state of activity, and you pretend that nature of itself is dead and without energy! You believe that all this, acting of itself, has need of a motor! Well!who is this motor? It is a spirit, that is to say, an absolutely incomprehensible and contradictory being. Conclude then I say to you, that matter acts of itself, and cease to reason about your spiritual motor, which has nothing that is necessary to put it into motion. Return from your useless excursions; come down from an imaginary into a real world; take hold of second cause; leave to theologians the "First Cause," of which nature has need in order to produce all the effects which you see.

(note: page 67 continued)

XLI. -- OTHER PROOFS THAT MOTION IS IN THE ESSENCE OF MATTER, AND THAT IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO SUPPOSE A SPIRITUAL MOTOR.

It is but by the diversity of impressions or of effects which substances or bodies make upon us that we feel them, that we have perceptions and ideas of them, that we distinguish them one from another, that we assign to them peculiarities. Moreover, in order to perceive or to feel an object, this object must act upon our organs; this object can not act upon us without exciting some motion in us; it can not produce any motion in us if it is not itself in motion (people miss this concept in the examination myths -- observation involves the use of energy). As soon as I see an object, my eyes, must be struck by it; I can not conceive of light and vision without a motion in the luminous, extended, and colored body which communicates itself to my eye, or which acts upon my retina. As soon as I smell a body, my olfactory nerve must be irritated or put into motion by the parts exhaled from odorous body. As soon as I hear a sound, the tympanum of my ear must (continued page 68) be struck by the air put in motion by a sonorous body, which could not act if it was not moved of itself. From which it follows, evidently, that motion I can neither feel, see, distinguish, compare, nor judge the body, nor even occupy my thought with any matter whatever, It is said in the schools, that the essence of a being is that from which flow all the properties of that being. Now then, it is evident that all the properties of bodies or of substances of which we have ideas, are due to the motion which alone informs us of their existence, and gives us the first conceptions of it. I can not be informed or assured of my existence but by the motions which I experience within myself. I am compelled to conclude that motion is as essential to matter as its extension, and that it can not be conceived of without it. If one persists in caviling about the evidences which prove to us that motion is an essential property of matter, he must at least acknowledge that substance which seemed dead or deprived of all energy, take motion of themselves as soon as they are brought within the proper distance to act upon each other. Pyrophorus, when enclosed in a bottle or deprived of contact with air, can not take fire, by itself, but it burns as soon as exposed to the air. (note: correct citation) Flour and water cause fermentation as soon as they are mixed. (note: author not aware of yeast) Thus dead substances engender motion of themselves. Matter has then the power to move itself, and nature, in order to act, does not need a motor whose essence would hinder its activity.

Page 283

Superstition in All Ages abstract by Voltaire begins.

Note: Voltaire neglects to summarize or include concepts of matter and energy. Voltaire does do a good interpretation of the introduction.

I. -- OF RELIGIONS.

As there is no one religious denomination which does not pretend to be truly founded upon the authority of God, and entirely exempt from all the errors and impositions which are found in the others, it is for those who purpose to establish the truth of the faith of their sect, to show, by clear and convincing proofs, that it is of Divine origin; as this is lacking, we must conclude that it is but of human invention, and full of errors and deceptions; for it is incredible that an Omnipotent and Infinitely good God would have desired to give laws and ordinances to men, and not have wished them to bear better authenticated marks of truth, than those of the numerous impostors. Moreover, there is not one of our Christ-worshiper, of whatever sect he may be, who can make us see, by convincing proofs, that his religion is exclusively of Divine origin; and for want of such proof they

page 284

have been for many centuries contesting this subject among themselves, even to persecuting each other by fire and sword to maintain their opinions; there is, however, not one sect of them all which could convince and persuade the others by such witnesses of truth; this certainly would not be, if they had, on one side or the other, convincing proofs of Divine origin. For, as no one of any religious sect, enlightened and of; good faith, pretends to hold and to favor error and falsehood; and as, on the contrary, each, on his side, pretends to sustain truth, the true means of banishing all errors, and of uniting all men in peace in the same sentiments and in the same form of religion, would be to produce convincing proofs and testimonies of the truth; and thus show that such religion is of Divine origin, and not any of the others; then each one would accept this truth; and no person would dare to question these testimonies, or sustain the side of error and imposition, least he should be, at the same time, confounded by contrary proofs: but, as these proofs are not found in any religion, it gives to impostors occasion to invent and boldly sustain all kinds of falsehoods ....(abstract ends page 339).

The following is a separate work.

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (circa C.E. 1000) as interpreted by Edward Fitzgerald (circa 1860)

XXVIII With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with my own hand labour'd it to grow:
And this was all the Harvest that I reap'd --
"I came like Water, and like Wind I go."

XXIII
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust Descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer and -- sans End!

LX
And strange to tell, among the Earthen Lot
Some could articulate, while others not:
And suddenly one more impatient cried --
"Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?"

LII
And that inverted Bowl we call the Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop't we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to It for help -- for it
Rolls on impotently as Thou or I.

LVII
Oh Thou who didst with Pitfall and with Gin
Beset the Road I was to wander in,
Thou wilt not with Predestination round
Enmesh me, and impute my Fall to Sin?

Pitfall and Gin -- trap and snare

LVII
Oh Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,
And who with Eden did devise the Snake,
For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
Is blacken'd, Man's forgiveness give -- and take!

Graphic Rule

Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.