Posts Tagged ‘Postmodernism’

Chunky Mark on the Hyperreal Smears and Attacks on Jeremy Corbyn

July 19, 2016

This is another worthwhile and entirely accurate rant from Chunky Mark, the Artist Taxi Driver. Chunky Mark’s standard rhetorical device is shouty rants, in which there are isolated moments of quiet reflection on a given point. But, as this piece shows, he’s also very well informed in the literature of philosophy and media manipulation in the era of postmodernism, quoting Nietzsche, Plato, Jean Baudrillard, and Umberto Eco’s theory of the hyperreal. Oh yes, and he has a few digs at Pokémon Go as well, as an example of the latter.

This rants starts out with the Chunky Artist explaining Nietzsche’s theory that humans lived apart from reality, and that the representation we had of it in our minds was only a construct. He talks about how the media have tried to smear and distort everything Jeremy Corbyn has said. This follows a report from the London School of Economics, that found that 75 per cent – three quarters – of what was said about Jeremy Corbyn in the media was false, and that a third of this rubbish came from his fellows in the Parliamentary Labour Party. He notes that Owen Jones wrote a piece in the Guardian before all this broke out stating that if Corbyn was elected, there’d be a firestorm. And there has. Chunky Mark defends Corbyn’s supporters from the accusation that they are a ‘cult’. He states that it is not like the worship of Jesus or Buddha. His supporters are well aware of his faults, such as the fact that he isn’t a good speaker. They support him not because of who he is, but because of his ideas. He puts people first, and is against Trident, the nuclear submarine system. He is not like the rest of the political parties and the media – the Tories and Blairite New Labour, who put corporations and the rich first, who give money to wealthy tax dodgers in the Cayman Islands. And so the media has to smear him, producing a false image of the type described by Plato and then by the French postmodernist, Jean Baudrillard, a Virtual Reality, like Pokémon Go. They seek to infantilise people to destroy their support for Corbyn, comparing his supporters to a Trotskyite rabble wearing donkey jackets, hippies stinking of patchouli oil and waving joss sticks. They, the media gurus and PR manipulators, know how afraid people are of appearing on the outside, of being left out of the crowd, and so they attempt to smear and marginalise Corbyn and his supporters. Because they think differently. They do not accept the post-Thatcher consensus, and believe another world is possible.

All this is true. I don’t agree with Chunky Mark’s comments about Jesus and Buddha, as both of these figures did stress compassion to the poor and unfortunate. But I take the wider point he was trying to make, that it wasn’t about Corbyn himself but his ideas. And he’s right: they are a threat to the media establishment, the Tories and New Labour, because he and his supporters threaten corporate profit and power, because they value prosperity, dignity and health for the poor and ordinary people, not for the rich few. Hence the lies, smears and distortions. All to keep the Thatcherite consensus shored up for just a little while longer.

Moral Relativism in Totalitarian Dictatorships

May 30, 2013

Sir Isaiah Berlin, Vico and the Origins of the Rejection of Absolute Moral Values

One of the defining features of contemporary Postmodernism is its rejection of an absolute, transcendent morality. All societies are seen as equally valid in their worldviews, and attempts to evaluate them according to a particular system of morality are attacked as both philosophically incorrect and immoral. Indeed, the belief in an objective morality is viewed as one of the components of western imperialism and the horrific totalitarianisms of the 20th century. The attitude is not new, and certainly not pointless. The view that each period of history possessed its own unique morality goes back to the 17th -18th century philosopher, Giambattista Vico. In his book, Scienza Nuova (New Science), published in 1725, Vico argued that human history was divided into distinct cultural periods, so these periods could only be properly understood on their own terms. Vico’s view was championed after the War by the great British philosopher, Sir Isaiah Berlin. Berlin was horrified at the absolute moral authority claimed and demanded by the Fascist and Communist regimes. He was a leading figure during the Cold War of the 1950s to trace, explain and attack their ideological roots. He was particularly instrumental in making contact with an supporting some of the leading Soviet dissidents. Berlin attempted to counter their claims to absolute moral authority by denying the existence of absolute, unviersal moral values. He attempted to avoid the opposite pitfall of moral nihilism by stating that there were, however, certain values that acted as if they possessed a universal validity. One of these, for example, is the obvious injunction against killing innocents.

Franz Boas and Anthropological Opposition to Nazism and Racism

The view that every culture possesses its own unique worldview, and should be appreciated and assessed according to its values, rather than those of the West, was also pioneered by Franz Boas. Boas was a German anthropologist who migrated to America before the Second World War. He worked extensively among the Native American peoples, including the Inuit. Boas was Jewish, and had been driven out of his homeland by the Nazis. He formulated his rejection of a dominant, universal morality as a way of attacking the racist morality promoted by and supporting the Nazi regime. At the same time, he also sought to protect indigenous peoples against the assaults on their culture by Western civilisation under the view that such peoples were also morally and culturally inferior.

Moral Relativism in Hegel and Nietzschean Nihilism

In fact, the modern rejection of eternal, univeral moral values predates Berlin. It emerged in the 19th century in Hegelian philosophy and Nietzsche’s atheist existentialism. The attitude that there were no universal moral values, and that morality was relative, became increasingly strong after the First World War. Many Western intellectuals felt that the horrific carnage had discredited Western culture and the moral systems that had justified such mass slaughter. It was because of this background of cultural and moral relativism that Einsteins’s Theory of Relativity, which in fact has nothing to say about morality, was seized on by some philosophers as scientific justification for the absence of universal moral values.

Hegel viewed history as created through a process of dialectical change, as nations and cultures rose, fell and were superseded by higher cultures. As nations, states and cultures changed, so did ideas, and so there could be no universal ethical system. Furthermore, some events were beneficial even though they could not be justified by conventional morality. For example, those sympathetic to the Anglo-Saxons would argue that the Norman Conquest was immoral. Nevertheless, the Conquest also brought cultural and political advances and improvements. The dialectal process thus validated the Norman Conquest, even though the Conquest itself, by the standards of conventional morality, could be seen as morally wrong.

Apart from Hegel, Neitzsche also argued that without God, there were no objective moral standards. The individual was therefore free to create his own morals through heroic acts of will.

Hegel’s philosophy, although authoritarian, was developed to justify the new ascendant position of the Prussian monarchy after the Napoleonic Wars. The new Germany of the Hohenzollerns was, in his view, the culmination of the dialectal process. Nietzsche himself was a defender of aristocratic values, who despised the nationalism of the Wihelmine monarchy and the new mass politics. Despite their personal politics, elements of Hegelian philosophy became incorporated into Fascism and Communism, while Italian Fascism also contained the same atheist existentialism. Mussolini had been a radical Socialist before the foundation of the Fascist party and its alliance with and absorbtion of aggressively anti-socialist movements and parties. Even then, the party still contained radical socialist and particularly anarcho-syndicalist elements. These took their inspiration from the French Syndalist writer, Georges Sorel. Sorel considered that in the absence of universal moral values, what mattered was emotion and struggle. It was only in revolutionary conflict that the individual became truly free. This irrationalism thus served to justify the Fascist use of force and governments by elites, who rejected conventional morality.

Marx, Lenin and Moral Relativism

Marx followed Hegel in rejecting the existence of universal moral values. According to his doctrine of dialectal materialism, cultures and moral values were merely the ideological superstructure created by the economic basis of society. As the economic systems changed, so did a society’s culture and moral code. Moreover, each culture’s system of morality was appropriate for its period of economic and historical development. R.N. Carew Hunt in his examination of Communist ideology, The Theory and Practive of Communism, notes that the Communist Manifesto is the most powerful indictment of capitalism. It does not, however, condemn it as a morally wrong or unjust. When it does describe capitalism as exploitive, it is simply as a system of social relations, rather than a moral judgement. He quotes Marx’s own statement of Communist morality in his Ant-Duhring:

‘We therefore reject every attempt to impose on us any moral dogma whatsoever as an eternal, ultimate, and for ever immutable moral law on the pretext that the moral world too has its permanent principles which transcend history and the differences between nations. We maintain on the contrary that all former moral theories are the product, in the last analysis, of the economic stage which society had reached at that particular epoch. And as society has hitherto moved in class antagonisms, morality was always a class morality; it has either justified the domination and the interests of the ruling class, or, as soon as the oppressed class has become powerful enough, it has represented the revolt against this domination and the future interests of the oppressed. That in this process there has on teh whole been progress in morality, as in all other branches of human knowledge, cannot be doubted. But we have not yet passed beyond class morality. A really human morality which transcends class antagonisms and their legacies in thought becomes possible only at a stage of society whicdh has not only overcome class contradictions but has even forgotten them in practical life.’

Lenin’s own view of Marxist morality was expressed in his Address to the 3rd Congress of the Russian Young Communist League of 2nd October 1920:

‘Is there such a thing as Communist ethics? Is there such a thing as Communist morality? Of course there is. It is often made to appear that we have no ethics of our own; and very often the bourgeoisie accuse us Communists of repudiating all ethics. This is a method of throwing dust in the eyes of the workers and peasants.

In what sense doe we repudiate ethics and morality?

In the sense that it is preached by the bourgeoisie, who derived ethics from God’s commandments … Or instead of deriving ethics from the commandments of God, they derived them from idealist or semi-idealist phrases, which always amounted to something very similar to God’s commandments. We repudiate all morality derived from non-human and non-class concepts. We say that it is a deception, a fraud in the interests of the landlords and capitalists. We say that our morality is entirely subordinated to the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat. Our morality is derived from the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat…The class struggle is still continuing…We subordinate our communist morality to this task. We say: morality is what serves to destroy the old exploiting society and to unite all the toilers around the proletariat, which is creating a new communist society .. We do not believe in an eternal morality’.

Communist Morality Justified Brutality, against Judeo-Christian Values in British Ethical Socialism

The result was a highly utilitarian moral attitude which justified deceit, assassination and mass murder on the grounds that this assisted the Revolution and the Soviet system as the worker’s state. As the quotes from Lenin makes blatantly clearly, Communist morality was completely opposed to Western religious values. This amoral attitude to politics and human life and worth was condemned by members of the democratic left, such as Harold Laski, and Christian Socialists such as Kingsley Martin. In the June 1946 issue of New Statesman, Martin declared that Soviet morality was completely opposed to the Greco-Roman-Christiain tradition that stressed the innate value of the individual moral conscience. Christian socialism was a strong element in the British Labour party. Reviewing a history of the British working class’ reading over a decade ago, The Spectator stated that it wasn’t surprising that Communism didn’t get very far in Wales, considering that most of the members of the Welsh Labour party in the 1920 were churchgoing Christians who listed their favourite book as the Bible. As a result, the Russian Communists sneered at the Labour part for its ethical socialism. This was held to provide an insufficient basis for socialism, unlike Marx’s ‘scientific socialism’. If anything, the opposite was true.

Moral Relativism Does Not Prevent, But Can Even Support Totalitarianism

Now this does not mean that there is anything inherently totalitarian about moral relativism. Indeed, it is now used to justify opposition and resistance to Western imperialism and exploitation. It does not, however, provide a secure basis for the protection of those economic or ethnic groups seen as most vulnerable to such treatment.If there are no universal moral values, then it can also be argued that totalitarian regimes and movements also cannot be condemned for their brutal treatment of the poor, political opponents, and the subjugation or extermination of different races or cultures. Indeed, Marx and Engels looked forward to the disappearance of backward ethnic groups, like the Celts in Britain and France, and Basques in Spain as Capitalism advanced. When the various slavonic peoples in the German and Austro-Hungarian Empire revolted in the home of gaining independence in 1848, they condemned them as a threat to their own working-class movement and looked forward to a racial war against them. Their statement there presages the mass deportations and persecution of various ethnic minorities, including Cossacks, Ukrainians, Jews and some of the Caucasian Muslim peoples by the Stalinist state. And as it has been shown, moral relativism formed part of Italian Fascist and Russian Communist ideology.

Ability of Objective Morality to Defend Different Culture’s Right to Existence and Dignity

In fact you don’t need moral relativism to defend the rights of different peoples to dignity and the value of their culture. The very existence of human rights, including the rights of different ethnic groups to existence and the possession of their own culture, is based on the idea of an objective morality. All that is needed is to accept that each culture also has its own intrinsic moral value. One can and should be able to argue that certain aspects of another culture are objectively wrong, such as those institutions that may also brutalise and exploit women and outsiders to that culture. One can also recognise that these aspects do not necessarily invalidate the whole of that culture, or justify the brutalisation or extermination of its people.

Sources

R.N. Carew Hunt, The Theory and Practice of Communism (Harmondsworth: Pelican 1950)

David Fernbach (ed.), Karl Marx: The Revolutions of 1848 (Harmondsworth: Penguin/ New Left Review 1973)

The Seizure of Power – this study of the rise of Italian Fascism and Mussolini’s coup.

Nietzsche, Nihilism and the ‘Shadows of God’

March 24, 2008

Friedrich Nietzsche is undoubtedly one of the foremost atheist philosophers and perhaps the one who most strongly represented the 19th century attack on God. Although atheism long predated his assault on theism in general and Christianity in particular, Nietzsche’s vehement declaration that ‘God is dead’ in a series of books sent a philosophical shockwave through Europe. Previous atheist works, such as those of the French philosophes, had argued for atheism as a liberating force while often still accepting the existence of objective moral values that could be discovered by human reason, a reason freed from belief in God. Nietzsche challenged this assumption. In his attack on Christian morality, Nietzsche attempted a thorough exploration of what it actually meant to live in a Godless universe. Instead of the optimistic belief in continuing progress of the philosophes and Positivists, Nietzsche instead argued instead that in the absence of God, there were no objective moral values and the universe itself was inherently meaningless. It was a profoundly pessimistic view, and one from which the human mind instinctively draws back. While conceptions of morality vary from age to age and generation to generation, nevertheless people instinctively insist that some moral must be absolute, such as the injunctions against killing and lying. As for an inherent meaning in the cosmos, atheist philosophers such as Sartre argued that humanity was now free to invent its own meaning. Yet whether one agrees with Nietzsche’s analysis or not, his discussion of the philosophical implications of atheism far beyond the mere question of the existence of God – how it affects, or can affect, every aspect of human life and endeavour, is still immensely relevant to the debate about atheism. Recent critiques of the arguments by New Atheists like Sam Harris, for example, by Dinesh D’Souza have cited Nietzsche. So an examination of Nietzsche’s basic conception of atheism and his violent rejection of Christianity and morality is timely here.

Nietzsche’s View of Theism as a Disease

Despite the marked difference between Nietzsche’s nihilism and the positivism of the New Atheists, there are a number of striking similarities. Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins claim to be arguing in favour of science when they attack theism. Nietzsche similarly claimed to be critiquing theism from a scientific standpoint, considering himself to be a physiologist or psychologist examining the unconscious reasons why people say what they do. 1 In his discussion of truth from the perspective of life, Nietzsche constructed a series of typologies of humanity based on physiology, environmental and temperamental conditions. 2 Indeed, he declared that all moral values needed to be critiqued from the perspective of physiology and medical science.

‘In fact all tables of values – all ‘you out to’s’ – which we know from history or ethnological research, in any case, first require a physiological examination and interpretive explication, before even a psychological one; similarly, all of them stand in need of a critique from the side of medical science.’ 3

Like some contemporary atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, who regard theism as a disease or disorder, Nietzsche similarly rejected theism, and particularly Christianity, as a source of depression and spiritual debilitation, and that God had to be killed in order to restore health and self-confidence. 4 ‘He perceives taht the human society surrounding him is in a diseased spiritual state, and that something needs to be done, lest the entire species waste away.’ 5 Nietzsche’s sentiments here are very strongly similar to some of the claims by contemporary atheists that theism is somehow harmful to the species, or humanity needs to evolve out of theism. Part of Nietzsche’s rejection of God was based on his belief that theistic religion repressed healthy biological energies. In the case of Christianity, it was the sexual energies that were repressed. The Rational Response Squad notoriously provoked a storm of controversy by describing theism as a ‘mind disorder’. While even other atheists attacked them for this, their views here are exactly the same as Nietzsche.

‘As far as Nietzsche can see, this theistic outlook amounts to a form of madness, and he reasons that the kind of sickness with which he sees the European Christian as having been infected is a mental illness.’ 6 

Rejection of Absolute Truth In Nietzsche

Where Nietzsche differs from contemporary atheists is that while many contemporary atheists deny that the absence of God has any bearing on objective truth or morality, Nietzsche believed that without God there was no single, objective truth or set of moral values. Indeed, Nietzsche was resolutely opposed to any dogmatic philosophical or scientific concepts that did claim to be objectively true. Thus Nietzsche rejected concepts such as eternally enduring substances, matter and Platonic forms. He denounced these concepts as ‘shadows of God’, ideas that act like God in that they similarly claim to be the absolute foundation of the universe and its contents. 7 Scholars of Nietzsche have also suggested that these ‘shadows of God’ could also be expanded to include notions such as ‘laws of nature’ and definitions of human nature that set limits upon or imprison humanity within distinct notions of the human condition. 8 

This rejection of any single, dogmatically true conception of the universe was based on a vehement rejection of any kind of anthropomorophism of the cosmos. Nietzsche followed Hume, Feuerbach and the ancient Greek philosopher, Xenophanes, in considering that God was merely a projection of human concerns and qualities. However, expanded this rejection of anthropomorphism to the universe itself. He strongly rejected anthropocentric interpretations of reality, comparing them to ants in a forest who similarly believed that the forest was for them. 9 Far from being a universe of order, the cosmos was instead based on chaos.

‘The overall character of the world is, to the contrary, in all eternity chaos – not in the sense of any necessity that is missing, but an absence of order, structuring, form, beauty, wisdom, and everything else named by our aesthetic, human constructions’. 10

The universe was not just beyond or outside human aesthetic constructs, but also based very much on chance. ‘Nature, considered artistically, is no model. It exaggerates, it distorts, it leaves holes. Nature is chance.’ 11

Like conceptions of the universe, objective truth also was, for Nietzsche, merely another anthropomorphism without any real validity.

‘What, then, is truth? A maneuverable army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms – in short, a summation of human relationships which have been poetically and rhetorically heightened, transposed, and embellished, and which, after long use by a people, are considered to be solid, canonical, and binding: truths are illusions whose true nature has been forgotten.’ 12

Nietzsche’s Rejection of Objective Moral Values

For Nietzsche, the absence of God and objective truth and humanity’s existence in a meaningless, fundamentally unknowable universe, meant that not only were all moral values merely social constructions, but even immoral acts were valid from the perspective of life – when they aided the individual’s continued existence or social advancement. For example, lying is traditionally considered immoral. Yet Nietzsche considered that weaker and less robust people often maintained themselves by lying, flattery and other forms of deception, so from the perspective of survival, lying was not entirely objectionable for those whose circumstances necessitated it. 13 Indeed, Nietzsche considered that humans were primarily motivated by a will to power, and that traditional moral principles, such as those against lying and harming and exploiting others, were opposed to human biology.

‘Life operates essentially, namely, in its basic functions, with injury, violation, exploitation, destruction, and cannot at all be concived without this character. One must stand by an even further thought: that, from the highest biological standpoint, legal conditions can only be anomalous conditions, as partial restrictions upon the actual life-will, which is a will for power.’ 14

Nietzsche and Suffering

Contemporary scholars of Nietsche note that although there is a very definite sense that might makes right in his works, Nietzsche’s philosophy is also one of being able to transcend and transform oneself and ones values to become a stronger person. 15 Nietzsche was strongly aware of humanity’s insignificance in the atheist conception of the cosmos. In the absence of God, the problem of evil for Nietzsche was not how God could let evil occur, but ‘the more frightening problem of how to say “yes” to a world where there is no God to work against evil, and where there is no justice.’ 16 Nietzsche conception of the universe as a place of suffering in which one must test one’s strength has suggested to scholars that he designed his philosophy not for the brutal and insensitive, who suffer less under cruel conditions, but for those who were potentially strong-willed, but also cultivated and caring. 17 

Nietzsche and the Nazis

Nietzsche’s philosophy is also strongly associated, at least in the popular view, with the Nazis through his celebration of the superman and the will to power. The association of Nietzsche with militant German nationalism began in the 19th century when his cousin, Elizabeth Forster-Nietsche, issued an edition of his writings under the title The Will to Power. During the Third Reich, his sister attempted to approach Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini to help spread his ideas. In 1934 the Nazis issued a propaganda photograph showing Hitler gazing at a bust of Nietzsche during his visit to the Nietzsche archive in Weimar. 18 The association between Nietzsche’s ideas and Nazi ideology was reinforced still further by the title of Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda film of the Nuremberg rally, Triumph of the Will. The perceived link between Nietzsche and the Nazis has been strongly criticised and refuted, however. Nietzsche himself was a vehement critic of the Germans and despised the nationalism of Wilhelmine Germany. When Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche published her edition of his works, with a very strong nationalist bias, he commented that he wrote his books ‘only for people who like to sit and think, no more’. He was not particularly anti-semitic, and while Thus Spake Zarathustra celebrated the warrior and was issued by the German government to soldiers in the trenches during the First World War along with the Bible as inspirational reading, Nietzsche’s own view of the warrior was that of the idealised heroic warrior of ancient Greece, rather than modern soldiers who massacre unarmed civilians. 19 Nietzsche hated mass politics, and his philosophy was too individualistic to support the totalitarian ideology of the Nazis. Historians such as Joachim C. Fest have noted that Hitler was far more influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer, and that only severely edited versions of Nietzsche’s works were published during the Third Reich.

Nevertheless, Nietzsche’s vehement hatred towards Christianity has been compared to the Nazis hatred of the Jews and other racial groups. ‘Sometimes when reading Nietzsche, one feels that in his worst moments, the psychological venom with which he attacked Christians was comparable to the venom with which Hitler attacked the Jewish people. It is from the same bottle of poison that rabid racists attack those who are unlike them, and  religious fanatics attack those who stand opposed to their doctrinal expansion.’ 20 Unlike the Nazis, however, Nietzsche mostly advocated peaceful solutions to what he perceived as contemporary problems which involved merely a change in worldview and self-improvement through an emphasis on personal strength and aesthetic appreciation. 21 Indeed, the Nazis themselves and their aggression can be seen as psychologically weak and inferior from a Nietzschean perspective that considers that the truly strong individual can nevertheless still flourish and not feel threatened by the type of society, like Weimar Germany, which threatened the Nazis. 22

Nietzche’s Influence on Contemporary French Philosophy

Regardless of Nietzsche’s perceived connection with the Nazis, he has influenced 20th century and contemporary French philosophy, including existentialists such as Sartre and Camus. His statement in Human, All-Too-Human, that ‘everything, though, has become; there are no eternal facts: just as much as there are no absolute truths’ formed the basis for Postmodernism. 23 Nietzsche’s rejection of a single authority and unique worldview for historical philosophizing influenced Georges Bataille, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Luce Irigaray, Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida. 24

Similarity Between Nietzsche’s Views on Cosmic Meaninglessness and those of Monod and Weinberg

Some of the pronouncements made by contemporary atheist scientists are also very similar to statements made by Nietzsche, even though there may be no direct influence. The French evolutionary biologist, Jacques Monod, who signed the 1975 Humanist Manifesto, declared that the message of of science was that humanity was a gypsy on the boundary of an alien world. 25  Monod considered that the emergence of humanity was entirely due to chance, stating that

‘Immanence is alien to modern science. Destiny is written as and while, not before, it happens … The universe was not pregnant with life nor the biosphere with man. Our number came up in the Monte Carlo game. Is it surprsing that, like the person who has just made a million at the casino, we should feel strange and a little unreal?’ 26

The great American cosmologist, Steven Weinberg, has similarly remarked that humanity is merely an insignificant part of a vast, meaningless universe.

‘It is very hard to realise that this all is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. It is even harder to realise taht this persent universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.’ 27 Nietzsche expressed a similar bleak, cosmic pessimism at the beginning of his essay, ‘On Truth and Lie in a Morally-Disengaged Sense’, stating

‘In some isolated corner of the cosmos, poured out shimmeringly into uncountable solar systems, there was once a star upon which clever animals invented knowledge. It was the most arrogant and hypocritical minute of “world history”: but it was only a minute. After nature drew a few breaths, the star grew stiff with cold, and the clever animals had to die.’ 28

In fact the view of humanity as an alien, out of place in the universe, has been challenged by science. It has been remarked that evolutionary biologists have been demonstrating for over a century that humanity was born here and should acknowledge the cosmos as their native home. 29 Humans are natural products of the world, and so, like other creatures in the cosmos, are intrinsic to it. 30

Intelligibility of the Cosmos

Despite these apparent points of contact between Monod, Weinberg and Nietzsche, however, there are immense differences. Rather than believing in an unknowable cosmos, such as that imagined by Nietzsche, Monod and Weinberg would argue strongly that science gives a unique access to objective truth about the nature of the world. From the Nietzschean standpoint, any attempt to ascribe a particular character to the cosmos, or make dogmatic statements about its fundamental nature, is an anthropomorphic projection comparable to the process by which humans invented God. The physical laws and models of the universe created by Monod and Weinberg are, in the Nietzschean view, shadows of God fulfilling the same conceptual role in human ideology as God. Thus, ironically, in the Nietzschean view atheists like Monod and Weinberg, in their conception of an intelligible, universe, aren’t atheist enough.

Criticisms of Nietzsche

In fact Nietzsche’s philosophy is vulnerable to criticism on a number of fundamental points. It is fatally flawed in the sense that it is basically self-contradictory. Nietzschean philosophy states that there is no fundamental truth about the world and no objective worldview or morality. Yet for Nietzschean philosophy to be valid, it has to be fundamentally and objectively true, something which it denies.

Furthermore, for all his claims to rationality and scientific methodology, Nietzsche’s approach was literary and poetic rather than entirely scientific and rationalistic. Nietzsche was opposed to exclusive and excessively rationalistic thought and ‘to any science devoid of art, to any purely literalistic, non-literary, non-poetic approach to understanding the world’. 31

Nietzsche’s family circumstances also seem to bear out the suggestion of the Christian psychologist, Paul Vitz, that people turn to atheism due to the breakdown of their families and particularly a poor relationship with their father. Nietzsche himself loved his father, a Lutheran minister, and his early years centred around his father’s church and pastor’s house, which was situated only a few meters away. In his teens Nietzsche wrote music strongly influenced by the style of that of the contemporary Lutheran Church.  However, Nietzsche’s father died when he was four, and his two year old brother only six months later. It’s possible that the grief caused by this loss was important in generating Nietzsche’s atheism. ‘Nietzsche’s early childhood experiences presented him with an understanding of death that could easily be transposed into reflections on the “death of God,” if only because the Christian God is a superhuman father figure.’ 32

There is also the point that rather than being an unintelligible chaos as imagined by Nietzsche, science instead has discovered the universe to be intelligible and ordered. T.H. Huxley himself stated that ‘if imagination is used within the limits laid down by science, disorder is unimaginable.’ 33 For people of faith, this order present in the cosmos is due to it being the product of a transcendent Creator, and the belief that this is case was one of the causes of the rise of science in Europe. Paul Davies has pointed out in his 1983 The Mind of God that the scientific investigation of nature was justified in renaissance Europe through the argument that nature was the creation of a rational God and therefore displayed this order. 34 Eugene Wigner, one of the founders of Quantum physics, remarked on the ‘unreasonable successfulness of mathematics’ in describing the universe. The British physicist Sir James Jeans similarly considered that it was little short of miraculous that an insignificant creature such as humanity, briefly occurring in the immensity of the cosmos, should possess a mind that could map the universe. Humanity was able to do this because the universe conformed to the same mathematical framework that humanity had constructed, and so bore witness to a mind that had kinship with humanity’s own. 35 The Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose similarly argued in his 1985 Shadows of the Mind that the best explanation for the beauty and structure of mathematics was that they were somehow given by God. Instead of inventing equations and formulae, mathematicians instead discovered the mathematical creations of God. 36

Conclusion: Intelligibility of the Cosmos Supports the Existence of a Rational God

If the universe was unintelligible, then Nietzsche’s rejection of any attempt to define its fundamental characteristics as mere anthropomorphism could be justified. However, its intelligibility suggests that both it and humanity have a common origin as creations of God. The former Quantum physicist and Anglican priest, John Polkinghorne, in his 1988 Science and Creation: A Search for Understanding, stated that

‘If the deep-seated congruence of the rationality present in our minds with the rationality present in the world is to find a true explanation it must surely lie in some more profound reason which is the ground of both. Such a reason would be provided by the Rationality of a Creator.’ 37 Thus, science, far from supporting the meaningless universe of chaos envisaged by Nietzsche, instead to people of faith continues to point to a meaningful cosmos of divine order, and a transcendent rationality which humans share with the author of that cosmos. In this view, Monod and Weinberg are also wrong for viewing the cosmos as meaningless like Nietzsche despite their rejection of Nietzsche’s view that the cosmos has not objective nature.

Notes

1. Robert Wicks, Nietzsche (Oxford, One World 2002), p. 39.

2. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 43.

3. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, cited in Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 43.

4. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 54.

5. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 57.

6. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 56.

7. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 65.

8. Wicks, Nietzsche, pp. 65-6.

9. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 66.

10. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, cited in Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 68.

11. Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, cited in Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 68.

12. Nietzsche, ‘On Truth and Lie in a Morally-Disengaged Sense’, cited in Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 44.

13. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 42.

14. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, cited in Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 70.

15. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 73.

16. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 75.

17. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 77.

18. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 125.

19. Wicks, Nietzsche, pp. 128, 129.

20. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 131.

21. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 131.

22. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 134.

23. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 140.

24. Wicks, Nietzsche, pp. 136-44.

25. Mary Midgeley, Evolution as a Religion: Strange Hopes and Stranger Fears (London, Methuen 1985), p. 76.

26. Midgeley, Evolution as a Religion, p. 88.

27. Midgeley, Evolution as a Religion, p. 88.

28. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 74.

29. Midgeley, Evolution as a Religion, p. 76.

30. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 148.

31. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 38.

32. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 51.

33. Wicks, Nietzsche, p. 79.

34. Alister McGrath, The Science of God (London, T& T Clark International, 2004), p. 67.

35. C.E.M. Joad, Philosophical Aspects of Modern Science (London, Unwin 1963), p. 48.

36. McGrath, The Science of God, p. 116.

37. John Polkinghorne, Science and Creation: The Search for Understanding (London, SPCK 1988), p. 22, cited in McGrath, The Science of God, p. 60.