Atheism before evil

Paul Draper argues that given the distribution of pleasures and pains we observe in the world, the hypothesis of indifference is more likely than theism. The basic fact is our observation of evil, but mine makes me not puzzled not about Draper’s conclusion but about his claim to an initial observation of evil that is not of itself already for or against theism. That some evils are like this might be true, but they are not the only sorts of evil, and the relations between these different sorts are problematic to Draper’s overall argumentative structure.

For reasons that should be clear later I’m stuck using personal examples and so this post will be testimonial-like. That’s unlike most of what gets posted here, but it is what it is.

My wife has insited on natural childbirth for all of our five kids. The pain is prolonged and rips flesh and muscle apart. She has no evidence that anaesthesia causes harm to either mother or child, but she will not use it. After birth, when she’s being sewn up or probed by doctors, she’ll take all the drugs on offer because she sees – I think rightly – an ontological difference between a medical procedure and giving birth.  Medical procedures are responses to disease, corruption or physical defects, but birth is not. Everyone agrees if there is nothing wrong with me, then the doctor has nothing to fix, but my wife observes her situation and does a modus ponens while many others demand the drugs and so are logically commited to the modus tollens. But there isn’t an observation of labor pain that isn’t one of these or another. Either there is something wrong with you (which you should fix if you can) or there isn’t (and so there’s nothing to fix). Your observation of the pain is a result of a pre-existent belief (or absence of belief) about the meaningfulness of natural processes. The analogy from this to a critique of Draper’s argument is pretty clear, but I want to argue that further analogue from observation too.

My wife asks people for prayer intentions in the final weeks of pregnancy and has me read her one intention per contraction. Contractions are intense and painful, but the woman gets a break between most of them (my wife tells jokes between them, or talks to the doctor or the doula, etc.) As the contraction swells up she usually gets a few seconds to prepare, and she starts making the low, controlled working groans that she uses to breathe her way through the next 60-120 seconds. The intention clearly enters into her work and it is clear that the pain becomes a side-effect of a work she is achieving. The intensity of the pain is something anyone seeing her could rejoice in because they can be confident that the intention is being achieved – even if the petitioner didn’t know what they should have intended. That said, it’s not as if my wife is smiling through all this or takes the pain as nothing. She doesn’t think “this is all for the best, I’m one with God” she just thinks “this is hurty and I want it to stop”.  Labor doesn’t become some happy-clappy religious experience just because you choose to make an offering of it. But what becomes clear to anyne who experiences this with her while believing what she believes is that God is most of all present in the world in a consciousness that suffers. Suffering is an energy that one can either harness or allow to dissipate, even if the experience of suffering will be the same whether he does the one or the other.

My goal in babbling about all this is to problematize the idea that pain and suffering are things that God needs to fix. There is an important truth to this if we are considering the beginning or end of the whole human family, i.e. the creation of the first persons called to salvation or the final reward of human life in the eschaton, but the matter is more complex for human life in via. In the same way that our observations of labor pain arise from logically antecedent judgments about nature, our observations about suffering and pain in general are results of logically antecedent judgments about God. We don’t get to view pain or suffering from some non-committed, supposedly scientific or “objective” state.


-Tradition is the opposite of innovation, but both share the common genus of “things irrationally treated as universally good”.  Political groups praising tradition are trading in the same sort of sloganeering as tech firms praising innovation.

-Tradition! Innovation! A Revolution! …In shaving!

-The most remarkable tradition in Catholicism is just that it continued to recite it the creed. This seems banal, but it is not what one would have predicted from a continuance of Old Testament religion. There, observance of Passover disappears for years, the vowels of the tetragrammeton are forgotten (though this happened later), the book of the law is found in the wall and surprises and saddens everyone with what it says (2 Kings 22). Imagine if the Church forgot about the Incarnation for a few centuries before rediscovering it in the process of renovating a cathedral.

-Traditions often become intolerable before we find anything better to replace them with, and to lose them to inferior things is also intolerable.

-Is traditionalism misplaced ancestralism? Rationalized or enlightened ancestor veneration? There is at least one important difference: the ancestor is a definitive historical moment, even where we don’t know how far we are from it or where exactly in history to locate it while the tradition claims to fade back to time out of mind. The tradition arises organically and from many sources while the ancestor just is a single source.

-Most time is cyclical: it’s Friday again, January again, 1:00 again, afternoon again, winter again. We tend to assume that this is not a physical meaning of time, but that scientific time must be either non-existent or linear. Is this only because time is already weird enough without having to understand its circular/linear duality?

Summa version: Mediation III

If all reality is within my mind, then all reality is representative (intentional).

The intentional relates to something other than itself.

Therefore, though any particular intentional thing might relate to another intentional one, all of them cannot (one can’t have a whole made of all relations, whether they are arranged in a circle or go on forever).

So there is some reality outside my mind. Call this intrinsic as opposed to intentional reality.

Short version:

Whatever is in the mind is relative.

the relative depends for its existence on the non-relative.

Therefore, what is in the mind depends on something outside of it.

Let God be the one whose intrinsic reality is greater than mine.*

If God himself were not the cause of my idea of him, then a being with less intrinsic reality than God suffices to explain my idea of him.

But then an idea would have a relation to more than what sufficed to explain its existence,** which is impossible.

Therefore, God exists.


*If there is more than one such thing, the greatest of them.

**There is nothing wrong with an idea having more logical implications than what gave rise to it (like the equality of persons) but we’re not considering logical implications in this argument.





The infinite vs. the whole

So what’s the difference between the integers and the infinite integers? There is nothing in the second that is not in the first, so what in the world can “infinite” add?

When you speak of numerals as infinite you mean something like no point in the enumeration hits the last thing that can be enumerated. This assumes that “infinite” always begins with some part of the integers and denies something of it. If this is right, “infinite” is a judgment about a part or a way of considering something as never whole.


If infinite means “no part is the last one”, then infinite is a claim made about parts.

Though the infinite is never whole, that which is infinite can form a whole. This does not happen by adding something “on the end” or by filling out the rest of the process. There is no end to add things to, nor a “rest of the process” to go through. The whole of which “infinite integers” is a part is just “the integers”; the latter being a whole while the former is never is.


-Ruyer: If an embryo compared itself to chemists and physicists, he’d think they were far less intelligent than he was. They can make Styrofoam, adhesives, film, etc. but he can make legs, nerve endings, trillions of differentiated and coordinated cells…

-Chemistry can make real substances and not just accidental agglomerations, but it can’t make them beautiful or age well. Old marbles can be ruins, old plastics are just garbage.

-If you wanted to study the oration scientifically it would make more sense to understand it though the variations and changes of state in the audio system. These can be reproduced, they occur in a controlled environment, they involve no occult ideas like meaning or consciousness or spook-stuff… “But that’s crazy, we can all tell that audio systems are open systems” – except that hylomorphism unites the instrumental and primary powers into a single entity.

-The hand is a prosthetic for the soul so far as it needs to manipulate the world.

-The audio system is open because there is some initial state which is undefined, namely the vibration of the diaphragm on the microphone. But anything with potency – energy included, since we must always allow that it could have transitioned to its present state from a previous one – satisfies this description.

-Computers are brain prosthetics.

-When you use a blanket you are the one who warms and the one who is warmed.

-There is an “is” that means something like an exchange rate: A dollar is 0.7 shekels (notice that this is commensurate: 0.7 shekels is “nothing other than” a dollar). This is not at all the same sense of “is” which tells us about the thing in question: a dollar is the unit of American currency. Algebraic senses of “is” are, by nature, the first sort. A good deal of nonsense arises from thinking that the first “is” is all there is to know about the second “is”.

-The second “is” has one and only one definition, but the exchange rate “is” can be seen as infinitely richer. The dollar is not just xShekels but yEuros, zYen, aDinars, bPounds…




-Assume Hell was the only thing weighty enough to make cupidity initially undesirable. What does that reveal about cupidity?

-You still have objective morality without God, and not everything is permitted. What you actually get is far more horrible: secular morality, i.e. a comic morality too insubstantial to stand up to any sexual or pecuniary desire. It even shrugs in the face of suicide. A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams. And much poison at the end for a pleasant death. 

-If not for the witness of Christ, we would have taken Hell as a metaphor since the First Century.

-Consider the second commandment not as an imperative but as a declaration of fact: you will love your neighbor as yourself. Dehumanize him and you will act in an inhuman way, and hatred of him manifests self-hatred.

-Contraception negates the connection between love and birth and so negates our existence as an image of the Father and the Son. Ex patre NATUM ante omnia saecula.

-As a vice, self-love is better understood as self-hatred.  



-If reason gives us only probable truths about the world, we can interpret our desire for certitude as a desire for revelation from one “who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

Arguendo, take the most tendentiously antagonistic account of faith as true: belief without evidence. Don’t I want it even under that description? Not being an ideal mind, evidence is usually something I can be deceived about. What if I want a more robust belief than that? You say I wander off into transcendental illusion, I say you are failing to follow out the logic of your desire to know.

-Descartes grounds the cogito on the fact that denying it involved a contradiction. But he then makes a crucial argument:

a.) The cogito established I have absolute certitude about something

b.) Therefore, I have a standard of absolute certitude

c.) This standard is that my ideas are clear and distinct.

The objection to (c) is immediate: “You told us that the cogito is certain because denying it involves a contradiction. Now you are telling us it is certain because it is a clear and distinct idea”. But doesn’t Descartes have a point? We would never be able to judge “A is B involves a contradiction” without a previous insight into A. The principle of contradiction is a moved mover.

Analytic philosophy: (1) They’ve ended up with a system where “intuitions”  means, by default, “suspicious foundational beliefs” or even “things everybody believes with no reason and which are probably false.” (2) In grounding all rationality on the proposition, they occlude the role of insight.

-Hume declared insight a mystery best left unspoken. But there is no comparison between a skeptical philosophy that makes this act of reverence and one that doesn’t.

-With reasoning, the greatest certitude is spoken, distinct, concluded to. With insight, the greatest certitude is unspoken.

-We hide our insights from reasoning. Reasoning is too busy, too profligate. Show it any actuality and it will immediately become fascinated with mere possibilities. We rationally store our deepest insights in the unconscious. The adverb means both “for the good of reason” and “for the sake of truth”.

Nature loves to hide. First, for the reason just given, next, because it executes a rational action without having to reason about it. We shouldn’t be shocked when we put a reasoning-grid over it and miss something.

-Consider this sense of philosophy as “love of wisdom”.  While slumming around Amazon or walking the stacks at a library, you see that text from a philosophical mentor that you’ve never seen before, or never knew was translated, or have never been able to find until now, etc. The sophia of philosophy is also this love of how our mentor thinks.  There is something deeply unphilosophical about someone who lacks this.

The prosthetic singularity

Advances in prosthetic technology all converge on the prosthetic singularity, when the limb will be able to move itself.


Louis XVI was executed today at 10 AM. Norman Malcolm describes the significance of the event by pointing out that at the time of the execution the civilized world had accepted hereditary monarchy for five thousand years. For the last few years I’ve spent the day taking stock of my opinions of the hereditary monarchs* of the ancien régime and the modern/liberal order that replaced them.

I first unearthed my opinion about kings accidentally. I was trying to understand Dawkins’s opinions on God, which are a peculiar mix of utter apathy that turn out to be grounded on contempt, and I hit on the thought that this was more or less how I felt about kings. I’m physically incapable of seeing political authority as conferred by the normal course of birth, which makes me a-monarchist in the same way that Dawkins protests he is atheist – it’s not that he hates or rejects God but that he simply has no feelings about him one way or another. This apathy-which-is-not-contempt is unstable since everyone sees his dispositions to the world as rational, and so unless the other guy insists that his love of God or monarchs is a personality quirk or a sheer matter of taste both Dawkins and I have no choice but to see him as irrational. The more earnestly such a person insists on his reasons, the harder it gets for us to avoid contempt. This is before raising the possibility that the other guy might want us to bow to our King.

Our self-descriptions can be more or less coherently imagined as counter-factual. I have very little trouble imagining what it would be like to work as a store manager or to come from a larger family or even be a protestant, but when I try to imagine what it would be like to be female or extraverted I hit a conceptual wall. What I have to deny is so close to the core of my personality that I can’t conceptualize the sort of self that could transition from one way to another. It’s easier for me to imagine taking the blue pill and waking up in the Matrix than to imagine myself finding it natural to bow to hereditary ruler.

But that doesn’t make me right. I’m suspicious of any opinion that commits me to seeing myself as living on a small island of political rationality, and so I either have to adopt historical relativism about political order or search around for some basis in my self for the rational belief in the justice of hereditary rule. If there is something wrong with it, it is a far more subtle error than I’m taking it to be.

* I stress that it’s precisely as hereditary that the kings fascinate/repulse me. It’s the denial of the justice of hereditary rule that I take as the fundamental sense of the political equality of persons. Only fools think that no one is born more fit to rule than any other – the dispute is over whether the rulers can be justly identified by birth alone, or whether they must be empowered by a process that human beings have set up themselves: a lottery, an election, a rational test of ability, etc. This seems like a small dispute but is of tremendous consequence – it will ultimately determine whether we see nature as a co-partner in human life or not. But if it has no partnership with us, what is it? A sublime and indifferent object we can merely look at? A heap of mere material to be dominated and worked into our schemes? A faceless monster with no intentions at all, much less ones that might incorporate our existence into itself? Perhaps a foolish or delicate creature in need of our protection and oversight? The king is the nexus of nature/birth and human affairs. The equality of modernity is the explicit rejection of just such a nexus, and we have yet to come to terms with what this modernity entails.

The desire to reset the calendar

The logic of the shift to “CE” and “BCE” demands that we reset the calendar since it’s still offensive to have to mark your dates from Jesus even if you don’t call him Lord or Christ. This will happen one of two ways.

1.) We decide to reset the calendar at some arbitrary date. Some sort of agreement gradually builds, probably under the influence of elite opinion, that we will reset our history at some set moment. We fight over some piece of legislation (or not) and it passes to set the calendar over at zero. Newspapers, history textbooks, contracts, public records, and everything else resets to confusion and inconvenience.

2.) We decide some event is so significant that it deserves to be the reference for all other times. The desire that a timeline start at some chief or significant event is the normal way of human action, though variosu exigencies force us to pick an event in human history (the date of the big bang or the congealing of the earth, even if we could get it accurate enough – which we can’t – would leave us with unmanageably large numbers.) So we’re stuck finding a person or event that we want to reckon all time from.

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