Kelly responds to Dinesh D’Souza and his “What atheists Kant refute” drivel.
The question of the nature of reality is one that likely will never go away. There will always be those who support the belief that this mysterious “something” exists, and there will be those on the opposing side. We must work with the tools available to us, and those just happen to be limited to our five innate senses and the knowledge that we have gained through science and reason.
In Dinesh D’Souza’s recent piece for Christian Science Monitor, “What Atheists Kan’t Refute”, he asks why we should believe that “reality” is all there is, but the question should be, “Why should we believe otherwise?” Empirical evidence is the basis and foundation for all human advancements. All technological, scientific, and medical discoveries have been made using these faculties. Nobody would dare to base a monumental decision on anything other than evidence in their daily lives, yet they are expected to do so with regards to this one matter—one that, according to D’Souza’s religion, would be the most important decision anybody could ever make.
One of the most frequently held misconceptions that continues to be used in defense of Christianity is that atheism is a new concept. They argue that the lax moral ethos of society has created a brand-new generation of god-bashers. While it may seem that atheism is having a resurgence of sorts, it is in no way a new phenomenon. Ironically, he not only uses this argument, but then gives demonstrable proof of its falsity.
Convincing the general public that atheism is a new wave of immorality spawned by a materialistic culture is a powerful piece of propaganda. The use of Enlightenment era Kantian argumentation as the backbone of his piece shows that the battle between believers and rationalists has been raging for centuries at least and makes his previous statement seem strangely out of place. (Obviously, he wouldn’t want to mention that this has been happening since the inception of Christianity.)
His self-contradictory statements here are but the beginning of a disturbingly convoluted argument. He states, “The Fallacy of the Enlightenment is the glib assumption that there is only one limit to what human beings can know: reality itself.” What definition of “reality” is he using here? How exactly does one go about attaining knowledge of something that isn’t real? The debate between the “Rationalists” and the “Idealists” was much more complex than D’Souza’s practically dishonest representation of it.
He presents conclusions from Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” as if they were definitive. Any amateur student of philosophy surely understands that one person’s ideas, even if that one person is Immanuel Kant, are not necessarily axiomatic. Kant argued in support of his belief that the five senses were insufficient tools with which to ascertain truth in regards to metaphysical claims. While this is a philosophically valid concept, it is not scientifically valid.
Kant’s philosophical ideology separates the world into the phenomenal and the noumenal. The noumenal world is essentially an agnostic one, but D’Souza would lead the reader to believe otherwise. He can’t even contemplate the notion that just as we atheists cannot perceive the noumenal realm, neither can he. We don’t have knowledge of every possibility in the universe; nevertheless, all major religions claim to have the corner on special knowledge of this supposedly unknowable world. It gets even more oxymoronic when D’Souza claims that one cannot equate experience and reality, but belongs to a religion that is based on having a “personal relationship” with Jesus. He even goes as far as admitting that it will be easier for religious people to understand this because they know that “[t]he spiritual reality constitutes the only permanent reality there is.” I wonder how he knows this since he cannot trust his senses to accurately reflect the nature of reality and has no access to this “spiritual reality”.
D’Souza’s entire piece is a collection of conundrums designed to confuse the reader and shift the burden of proof onto the non-believers. Kant says there is no reason to not believe in that which you cannot know; D’Souza wants you to believe that lack of knowledge provides sufficient reason to believe. He accuses atheists of “foolishly [presuming]” that reason is the proper method for ascertaining knowledge, and then claims to have knowledge of a “reality” about which it is impossible to know anything. I have two words for this kind of absurdity: utter drivel. “Reality isn’t all that there is, but the spiritual reality is the real reality.” “Experience and sensory input isn’t valid as a method to acquire knowledge of reality, but Jesus is real because I feel him in my heart and you can’t prove he’s not there.” The title should have been “What I Can’t Prove but You Should Believe.”
by: Kelly O’Connor
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This piece is part of a year long series (ends Oct 31, 2008) that Kelly of the Rational Response Squad will be writing to address theist talking heads in the media. Kelly is a Psychology major, co-host of the RRS Radio show, and has been featured on ABC debating Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort. All articles may be reprinted in any major media publication or any blog. All articles will be submitted by Kelly or an assistant to the major media outlet that initially published the story as well as to the author of the original piece(when possible). Reprints are encouraged in blogs and must link to source. Reprints in media will be thanked in our book, so please alert us if you repost any story. Media outlets may shorten articles if necessary without removing context. Upon completion, a book and documentary will be made about the year (ending Oct. 31, 2008) and our plight to have dishonest argumentation countered with rational and factual answers in the press. If you would like Kelly to address any major media story from a theist talking head, please post a link to the article in her blog. We welcome messages from leading atheists asking us to refute stories attacking them and their views. At the end of the year the writings will be given some bulk, some supporting citations, and edits from a publisher to be compiled in a book. The book will include a documentary DVD shot from Sapient’s vantage point as he works alongside Kelly, asking her questions about the project as it moves along.