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November 06, 2007

Question everything


Theodore Dalrymple considers a rash of neo-atheist publications. Much to consider as ever. I am particularly taken with his critique of a bone-brained skepticism.

The last of the atheist’s Ten Commandments ends with the following: “Question everything.” Everything? Including the need to question everything, and so on ad infinitum?

Not to belabor the point, but if I questioned whether George Washington died in 1799, I could spend a lifetime trying to prove it and find myself still, at the end of my efforts, having to make a leap, or perhaps several leaps, of faith in order to believe the rather banal fact that I had set out to prove. Metaphysics is like nature: though you throw it out with a pitchfork, yet it always returns. What is confounded here is surely the abstract right to question everything with the actual exercise of that right on all possible occasions. Anyone who did exercise his right on all possible occasions would wind up a short-lived fool.

Though their purpose is a good deal more sinister than mere philosophical fol-de-rol, there could be no more succinct condemnation of those who claim to be "just asking questions".

Here is what I would like to see: Another of Christopher Hitchens' challenge debates with this time with Dalrymple, a non-believer himself. That would be a proper argument.* The above image is Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber (1602) by Juan Sánchez Cotán. Dalrymple puts it in context, as he does some fine thoughts of Joseph Hall, late lord bishop of Exeter and of Norwich.

* As opposed to the usual death-match with half-wits. For example, Dinesh D’Souza & Christopher Hitchens debated “Is Christianity the Problem?” Hitchens has a high opinion of him, one I do not believe is merited given the secondary school debating club rhetoric D'Souza brings to the fight. I will put up with a law of physics being confused with a moral law when I am watching Event Horizon, not in matters of public policy.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at November 6, 2007 06:57 AM


That would be an argument I'd like front row seats for. One might say TD is advocating taking things on faith, but I suppose faith has nothing to do with whether or not something happened on a given day (although things do get complicated with that whole calendar shift).

Posted by: cm [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 6, 2007 08:33 AM

He is certainly arguing against a pointless or disrespectful skepticism. I think he pushes his argument against the Hitch a bit far on both those scores but not, I think, against Dawkins. It is an argument which holds true all the more so against the Gamma level relativism that has taken hold in the universities and, I would argue, the aesthetic and intellectual quagmire of criticism and the arts since the 1940s. Stupidity and Ugliness are our new gods, to be worshiped with braying laughter and the rule of the mob.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 6, 2007 08:47 AM