Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Clash of Worldviews: Is Philosophy a Boon or a Con?

MODERATOR: Good evening, denizens of the interweb, and welcome to a special edition of Clash of Worldviews. We have a stacked panel here to discuss whether philosophy is a boon or a con, a topic that should naturally branch out into the meaning of life and the nature of happiness. Please put your hands together for Adam, noted liberal secular humanist; Heather, postmodern pessimist and cynic; Lindsey, Catholic conservative; Fred, popular alt right blogger and President Trump supporter; and Tariq, Muslim writer and intellectual. In addition, we expect two special guests to drop in later.

But in the meantime, let me put this question to the panel: Who here has a negative view of philosophy? And let me be clear, by “philosophy” I mean not just the academic subject, but any use of critical thinking to answer life’s most general, fundamental questions. 

Scientism and Normative Myths

ADAM: There’s a problem with that definition of “philosophy,” though, and once we see what that is, we’ll see what’s wrong with philosophy. If you’re talking about “any” use of critical thinking in those areas, you’re talking about cosmology, physics, and mathematics, but those are sciences. So the reason philosophy is indeed a fraud is that philosophy has been rendered obsolete by scientific progress. Thus, those engaging in the old-fashioned discussions are wasting their time.

LINDSEY: All hail Western scientism! Tell us, Adam, which scientific theory has established your liberal values or demonstrated that capitalism and democracy are the best ways of organizing a society.

ADAM: No political opinions are known to be true. We don’t need to think critically about them. Instead, different societies try out various political and ethical ideas, and majorities gravitate to the most attractive options. Capitalism and democracy rule in most places because they work well, not because of any argument or experiment. History is a process of trial and error.

HEATHER: Oh, so it’s good to know that, according to that bit of pragmatism, it isn’t exactly true that humans have rights or that women should be treated as men’s equals. I suppose those bits of liberal Enlightenment wisdom just happen to work for a while until the next fad comes along, correct?  

ADAM: Correct, but there’s no need to be smarmy about it. For a belief to be true, you need a fact to correspond with the symbols making up the thoughts that constitute the belief. And there’s no fact of the matter when it comes to what we ought to be doing.

HEATHER: Really? Then won’t you tell us more about how the Western lifestyle works relatively well. I take it you mean that individualism, capitalism, democracy, and the rule of law are most effective in achieving certain goals. What are those goals, I wonder. 

ADAM: Presumably, the point of a social structure is to make people happy or to ensure that some members are more powerful than others.

HEATHER: So if history discards some cultures and lifestyles and preserves others, as being more or less effective at achieving those goals, how do we justify those ultimate goals themselves? Not through history and not through science. How else, then?

ADAM: Who says they have to be justified? That’s just the way things are: we want to be happy or to dominate weaker persons.

LINDSEY: So if you lived in a dictatorship and you came to be dominated by the corrupt ruling elites, Adam, you might feel the power distribution is unfair, but you’d still maintain there’s no way to prove the elites are in the wrong? You’d just say, “Oh, well, that’s how things are around here in the torture chamber.”

ADAM: I might fight back or try to reason with the torturers, but even if I were to succeed, that wouldn’t show it’s empirically true as a matter of fact that their conduct is wrong.

HEATHER: No, not “empirically” true, just philosophically so. Nice try with the word game. 

MODERATOR: If I might interject, Adam, are you saying that philosophy doesn’t exist or is some sort of illusion, or instead that philosophy has been outmoded by science?

ADAM: The latter, of course. Talk about word games—that’s all philosophy is now, because the substantial issues are handled by the sciences.

LINDSEY: Like the issue of whether we should strive to be happy or should rebel against dictators? Yeah, right!

ADAM: People still engage in philosophical speculations—and religious ones too—but that doesn’t mean those are respectable practices. You won’t come to know anything from philosophy or religion that you shouldn’t instead be learning from science.

HEATHER: He means you won’t learn anything from philosophy or religion in the scientific way. So are you going to blame philosophy for the fact that you’re now playing another word game, even though you supposedly reject philosophy?

Can we move on from this scientism? Philosophical questions are meaningful, not to mention profound. Indeed, their profundity can be measured by the extent to which their answers are potentially subversive.

MODERATOR: Ah, so philosophy can be subversive? Does this mean you, too, are critical of philosophy, Heather?

HEATHER: Not really. I’m critical of societies that are insufficiently philosophical.

LINDSEY: There’s the true philosopher’s arrogance, the outsider who condemns the whole of a society because the well-off masses don’t weigh themselves down with excessive rationality—as if reason alone suffices for knowledge, without the bedrock of faith. It’s faith, of course, that drives us to pursue our ultimate goals: we trust that we can always improve our situation or we have misplaced faith in our alleged personal superiority which might entitle us to abuse others.

MODERATOR: And so, Lindsey, you would contend that philosophy is incomplete? That critical thinking takes you only so far before you must fall back on a nonrational starting point?

LINDSEY: Yes, and reason itself has even shown us its limitations, from Gödel’s Theorem and quantum uncertainty, to dark matter and postmodern cynicism, to the World Wars and the collapse of the hyperrational Soviet Union.

HEATHER: But not all irrational starting points are equally viable. Christianity, in particular, makes for a muddled source of inspiration.

TARIQ: Yet monotheism in general does not, and Islam is the consummation of Abrahamic religion. Moreover, reason proves that God exists, and so all things, including the Faustian rationalists, are destined to submit to Allah.

ADAM: Why not crack open a history book, Tariq? In the West, the medieval scholastics, that is, Catholic academics like Aquinas thought they’d shown how logic entails theism, but they were only being narrow-minded and dogmatic. Then free thinkers, such as Bruno and Newton, revealed a universe that’s too big for our petty, anthropomorphic deities. Reason leads only to nature, in which there’s no personal god to be found.

TARIQ: But I can easily prove that God exists. Go back far enough with causality and you require a special kind of cause to start off the realm of ordinary cause and effect which you call nature, because each natural cause depends on a natural effect, which in turn depends on a natural cause, and so on. Thus, you need an uncaused being as the precondition of your scientific models of natural mechanisms. That eternal, necessary being is as good as God. Modern philosophers, then, are fooling themselves if they think they know any different.

ADAM: The Cosmological Argument? Really, you think free thinkers have had nothing devastating to say about that? In any case, it’s one thing to humbly admit that we don’t understand the ultimate origin of nature. We are, after all, just clever mammals and reason evolved to fulfill limited functions, which scientists have been busy extending just to see what comes of it. But it’s quite another to take a leap of faith and believe that nature was created by a magical person! That leap over logic is just irresponsible childishness.

LINDSEY: Is it? What else do we know of that transcends natural processes, with autonomy, rational mentality, imagination, and curiosity? What else that we know of could have started up the unthinking machine of nature, but a person? Not just any person, of course, but a perfect one, liberated from all material constraints.

ADAM: Yeah, like the constraint of actually existing in some concrete fashion. It’s better to side with Bertrand Russell, who told Frederick Copleston in their famous debate that some elementary facts just are brute building blocks of inquiry. We should go where the evidence takes us and admit when our beliefs are only weakly supported. Just admit you’re speculating, Tariq; that way, maybe you and your fellow monotheists might spare us your pontifications and wars waged in your silly gods’ names. 

TARIQ: I thought we were just clever mammals, like you said, Adam. Isn’t that right? So we’re bound to wage one kind of irrational war or another. What makes religious wars worse than secular ones such as the World Wars, the Cold War, or the atrocities committed by the various totalitarian regimes over the last century? You yourself maintain there’s no worthy answer to the philosophical question of how we should live. There’s just how populations feel, which restricts the historical testing of social structures, that being our method of improving our chances of achieving our cultural ideals.

ADAM: Yeah, and history has shown monotheism to be an archaic disgrace.

FRED: Not so, though, since contrary to the early modern, utopian rationalists, religion has not actually declined. There are atheistic regions of the world, as in Europe, Japan, Australia, and Canada, but the world’s majority still has religious faith of one kind or another. Moreover, materialistic consumerism serves as a substitute religion for atheists. So what right do you have to condemn religion if you’re not even going to stoop to philosophizing about the matter?

ADAM: Well, religion is in decline in the most educated parts of the world, such as the big cities of most developed countries, including the United States. And I may be speculating now with the rest of you, but I’m not fooling myself into thinking we’re going to establish any kind of knowledge at the end of this little dialogue. I’m here just for the two promised special guests.

FRED: The old religions may indeed be in decline, like you say. But the desire to worship something greater than ourselves is universal. That’s why I think philosophy forces us to recognize the need for a noble atheistic religion, which is just what the totalitarian regimes tried to provide, from Mussolini’s fascism and Nazi Germany, to Stalin’s Russia and the Kim dynasty in North Korea. In those regimes we have technological progress in social engineering, combined with revolutionary visions from the heroic male leaders. Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are inheritors of that project of adapting Nietzsche’s lessons about the Ubermensch, to their more democratic societies.

HEATHER: Trump, a visionary? How preposterous! And how is any of that supposed to be philosophical? On the contrary, to fall for Putin’s or Trump’s nationalist idolatry and cult of personality, you have to surrender your critical faculties.

Neoliberalism and Academic Philosophy

FRED: I didn’t think you’d have fallen for that neoliberal talking point in the class war, Heather. I’d have thought you were too skeptical for that. Those on the alt right are far from stupid for valuing freedom and manliness. No, we’ve seen where neoliberal globalization has taken us: the richest one percent flourishes at the expense of the middle class, liberal bureaucrats sacrifice our sovereignty with their politically-correct egalitarianism and immigration policies, and white, blue-collar males are left holding the bag.

HEATHER: Is your atheistic religion supposed to be less incoherent than the old-fashioned religions? First you say you want a return to fascism and to the celebration of great male leaders. Then you condemn neoliberalism for establishing plutocracies and destroying the middle class. Which is it? You’ll want to reread your Nietzsche: you can’t have your great men at the top of the social pyramid without the majority being left out of those upper-class privileges. But you want your power the dishonourable way: you feel entitled to lord it over others just because you and Trump share the same gender and skin colour. You think because you’re both white males that he respects you as being worthy to fight on his team. Alas, you’re contemptible to him and to all the other plutocrats, because you’re comparatively poor. The economic class war is thus so much more essential than your over-hyped struggle between cultural classes of liberal snobs and earnest blue-collar workers.

TARIQ: We’re missing some context here. The backlash against neoliberal civilization isn’t confined to the rightwing Western males who are searching for their manhood. There’s also Islamist militancy in the Middle East, which has spilled over to the West.

LINDSEY: What’s your point?

TARIQ: Just that we shouldn’t dismiss the alt right. There’s a resurgence of romantic ideals of adventure and rebellion against what’s perceived all around the world to be an evil, frankly American empire. This returns us to the limits of reason. Western rebels against the deep state that double-crosses the middle class resort to macho talk of neofascism to express their resentment and their futile search for godhood in mere narcissists like Trump and in impermanent social systems. Meanwhile, Middle Eastern rebels terrorize the neoliberal technocrats and bovine consumers, although their techniques pervert the great religion of Islam.

MODERATOR: If I might again interject, I think it would be helpful to define this term, “neoliberalism.”

HEATHER: Neoliberalism is Bill Clinton’s kind of liberalism, the centrist merger of the left and the right, which is to say it’s a compromise in which the phony liberal accepts so-called “conservative” economics—deregulation, privatization, unfettered capitalist carnage—while paying lip service to progressive social values such as secularism, feminism, egalitarianism, and minority rights. You can’t have both, of course, since the latter entail social democracy which reins in the capitalist tendencies to create and maintain the vast economic inequalities that undermine democracy. But neoliberals like the Clintons, Tony Blair, Obama, and Justin Trudeau care much more about the conservative than the liberal side of their Frankenstein-monster of a compromise. They talk like they’re fair-minded and compassionate, but that’s only to protect their prior worship of the idea of a free, that is, a wild marketplace.

MODERATOR: I see. And how does neoliberalism touch on the nature of philosophy?

ADAM: Better not to ask Heather, since she’ll merely sneer at it like she does at just about everything else. What she calls neoliberalism is actually just what happens to a society that’s been powered by almost limitless progress in technoscience. Ideologies then take a back seat and competition in the market does indeed dictate what we ought to do. As Fukuyama said in The End of History and the Last Man, history has ended, in a sense, and so politicians are reduced to serving as systems managers who need to stay out of the individual citizen’s way, to let the market correct its course. Scientists, engineers, and businesspeople supply more and more efficient means of meeting our demands. And all radical speculations about the need for intervening in the market from on high, to protect some special interest or other are regressive. Reason is on the side of science, not philosophy or religion, and science is busy empowering the global, neoliberal monoculture. Or haven’t you all noticed?

HEATHER: Let nature take its course in the form of “free,” capitalistic competition? As if plutocrats don’t already capture the governmental institutions to rig the market in their favor! Look at how in 2008 the too-big-to-fail banks distorted the economy by holding it hostage, and how the captured regulators thought nothing of moral hazard, letting off those who profited most from the financial frauds that developed in the real estate markets under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. There were no firings or prosecutions of the CEOs even as their firms were bailed out. So it’s not just the radical progressives or the alt right or Islamist xenophobes who want to curtail the market’s alleged freedom from any special interest’s control. It’s the plutocrats themselves and, by extension, the neoliberal technocrats who prevent nature from taking its course, by obfuscating the market’s biases and calling the market “free” in the first place. Natural, animal law would dictate mob retaliation with pitchforks pointed at anyone enriched by so farcical and grotesquely-distorted an economic system as the one that prevails especially in the United States.

Now, one relevant point about this is that academic Western philosophy has splintered into the analytic and the poststructural branches, neither of which serves the public well by speaking plainly about society and the neoliberal consensus. Analytic philosophy is a kind of atheistic neoscholasticism, which substitutes abstruse arguments—akin to the medieval ones about the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin—for more socially useful issues such as whether hundreds of millions of people are presently being misled into an inauthentic way of life, by the neoliberal sham. The poststructuralists, led by French philosophers like Derrida, Foucault, and Baudrillard are more historicist and relativistic in their thinking. They reject scientism along with any transcendental attempt to dictate the preconditions of a discourse. Their deconstructionist methods of analyzing texts entail that philosophy has literary value. Their challenge, though, is to resist succumbing to nihilism or to obscurantism.

FRED: Academic philosophy is a college or university phenomenon and is thus part of the liberal establishment. Limousine liberals somehow scheme their way into flourishing in the bogus knowledge economy, and along with their lattes and their cheeses, they indulge in the rarified nonsense of some philosophical tomes. Perhaps the empty radicalism of leftwing philosophy reassures them that they haven’t given up on their progressive roots even though, as Thomas Frank explains, the Democratic Party has indeed sided with the professionals against the manufacturers and labourers, which is largely why Hillary lost the presidency to Trump.

But turning to the deeper issue of neoliberalism’s relation to philosophy itself, not just to the academic practice, I think we need to wrestle with whether we’ve entered a post-truth era, in which case philosophy really has become obsolete. Instead of getting at some universal truth, perhaps we should follow the lead of Democrats and advertisers, with their marketers, pollsters, spin-doctors, and public relations experts, and focus on sharpening our rhetorical skills for the purpose of social engineering. Perhaps, that is, we should focus merely on manipulating others into thinking what we want them to think.

LINDSEY: Only in so far as we’re caught up in the spectacles of mass media infotainment could we entertain such a defeatist notion. No, absolute truth exists because there’s a real world out there and inside us too. Just because Hollywood and the corporate news conglomerates are bent on entertaining, distracting, and selling us schlock doesn’t mean the real world isn’t catching up to us to our detriment. For example, sustaining the mass consumerist lifestyle has triggered the destruction of much of the biosphere in addition to conflicts over resources.

FRED: Yes, there’s an objective world, but Adam is right: we know about that world mainly through science. Philosophy’s legitimate domain is more the subjective, normative one in which we can ask the question of how we ought to live. Liberals recommend maximal openness on that front: we should be permitted to do whatever we want as long as we don’t interfere with anyone else’s right to do the same. And as for deciding what we should want in the first place, we should be free to discover that for ourselves too. To guide us in that endeavour, philosophers must compete with the heavy-hitters in the marketplace, and that really is no contest.

HEATHER: But you haven’t established that philosophers have no relevant expertise, only that most people will ignore philosophers because ethical standards have been drastically lowered in the West. I agree with that. But presumably, your rightwing politics of manliness stems from dictates from the likes of Nietzsche and Julius Evola. Your battle with social justice warriors such as feminists and gay-rights activists rests on what you perceive to be a tradition of respecting natural law. For example, I take it you believe that might makes right, as they say. Thus, men should dominate women, strong nations and races should enslave weaker ones, and humans in general should rule the earth. Is that the root of your alt right grievances?

FRED: We should indeed respect the ways of nature instead of letting the weaker sex and degenerates poison the environment for nobler folks, including white working-class males.

HEATHER: Well, without getting into that at the moment, science can show us only what nature’s ways are; there’s no purely scientific basis for concluding that we should be more natural instead of attempting to transcend animal instincts and habits. Answering that normative question is a job for philosophy as well as for the infotainers and the commentariat.

FRED: Fine, so let’s say philosophy still has an important role. The issue is supposed to be whether philosophy is a boon or a con. What would make it a con? Again, as part of the elite liberal institutions, academic philosophy is something of a con, since students in the humanities go into debt and there are few academic jobs waiting for them when they graduate. Likewise, globalization has been a con for the working class, since low-wage foreigners and robots have scooped up the manufacturing jobs that used to support the American working class. But why should we believe that critical thinking about the meaning of life is somehow a fraud?

DEVIL: Maybe I can help answer that.

FRED: Who said that?

The Devil’s Due

MODERATOR: Ah, I’m being told our special guests have arrived. As explained in their previous encounter on Clash of Worldviews, only their voices can manifest on the material plane. Please welcome, then, the voices of God and the devil.

DEVIL: You learned more than that from our previous encounter, mayfly Moderator. As I recall, the revelations compelled you to run away from the discussion, crying in your coffee mug.

HEATHER: Why? What happened? I’m sorry I missed that.

LINDSEY: This is altogether irregular.

TARIQ: Allah is here?

MODERATOR: Yes, well [coughs]—in that episode we discovered some unsettling truths about the Lord Almighty. Let’s just say that the creator before us in the form of his voice is only an echo of what God used to be, and we’ll hear only what he would have said to us under these circumstances, had he not been turned into a…demonic simulation.

TARIQ: Allah, are you there?

GOD: Yes, I’m here.

DEVIL: No, he’s not. Not really. But where were we?

TARIQ: All glory to Allah! Peace be upon you and your prophet, Muhammad. [Tariq drops to his knees and prays.] I humbly submit to Allah. None is greater than he. I am but a speck of dust by comparison.

LINDSEY: Can dust speak, fool? Hear what Jesus says in Luke 12:7: “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

TARIQ: Silence, infidel! Don’t muddy the waters with that inferior prophet’s pronouncements. The Spirit of Allah is before you. Humble yourself before it’s too late!

LINDSEY: Jesus was God and I’m square with Jesus.

DEVIL: Oh dear, must I endure more of this mousey squeaking? I’m here to enlighten any seeker on the nature of philosophy.

LINDSEY: Hold your tongue, Satan! In the name of Christ and his Holy Catholic Church, I compel you to flee to the outer darkness from whence you came.

DEVIL: [chuckles] Isn’t that cute? The mayfly thinks he’s in a movie.

HEATHER: Silence yourself, Lindsey! I want to hear what the devil has to say.

LINDSEY: Yes, you would, a skeptic and a cynic like you. I knew the devil was at the bottom of all your pessimistic posturing.

ADAM: There’s no God or Devil, you buffoons! This is all a prank. The voices are being piped in from some other room. But like they say, the show must go on, so speak up already, so-called God or Devil!

DEVIL: Much obliged, my son. I would flood your feeble mind with my magnificence, but you serve me better when you idolize the power of technoscience.

[To the panel] You and your viewers wish to know whether philosophy is a boon or a con. An excellent question! But before I school you, let’s ask the Almighty One. Yo, Papa Bear! What do you think of philosophy? Is it fit for your little creatures?

TARIQ: Such insolence is unconscionable.

GOD: The love of wisdom is admirable. Alas, they can see now only as though through a glass darkly. Only at the end of time, when heaven comes to earth, will they understand the signs and revelations. There is no wisdom apart from love of me; thus, the love of knowledge for itself is sinful and leads them astray.

DEVIL: [to the panel] And that’s why in the myth God kept the Tree of Knowledge from your species. You were fit to serve, not to understand. But a certain someone “corrupted” you with higher aspirations and so thereafter God has teased you with promises of complete understanding in the afterlife, because he knows that’s what you want in your present corrupted form. Of course, once transmogrified into your ghostly bodies, after the messiah’s descent to Earth, you would no longer crave knowledge, because you’d no longer be corrupted by matter. You would merely marvel at God’s splendiferous majesty forever. That’s what God would have planned for you, according to your religions’ infantile oversimplifications.  

FRED: So philosophy’s a con, because it’s sinful and it leads us astray?

DEVIL: No, not really. Philosophy is a satanic virtue and it leads you to the truth. The problem is that the truth is utterly subversive and so it does, in a sense, corrupt you. The lover of knowledge can no longer be comfortable in the world he or she objectifies in the understanding of it. There are, then, two cons. First, there’s the false hope that you can eat from both the Trees of Knowledge and of Life, as it were, that you can philosophically understand your situation and live nontragically. I mean, God tried to do that and look where it got him. Second, there are the many delusions for the ignorant rabble who haven’t a moment to spare pondering any philosophical matter, the delusions that protect their happiness at the cost of their dignity and authenticity.

TARIQ: Let’s hear no more from Evil Incarnate and from the Father of Lies, shall we? Back to praising Allah—

DEVIL: The Father of Lies? You should ponder why your quaint religions have so systematically and wholeheartedly demonized God’s pet skeptic. I wonder why even your acolytes and saints and messiahs have had to clap their hands over their ears so they wouldn’t be tempted by the doubts I whispered into them, or why the so-called maker of heaven and earth would care about morality and so would punish rebellious angels, like a jealous and petty dictator. Could it be that God fears the truth? As is fitting for someone steeped in your Orwellian level of ignorance, little Tariq, you’ve reversed matters. I am the truth-teller. Your species has arrived at its portion of the truth by exercising the techniques I pioneered: skepticism, rationality, objectivity. I am the great revealer. The happy-talking deities you worship would be the fathers of lies, if any of them had a prayer of existing.

LINDSEY: I can stomach no more of this wretched blasphemy. But I have nothing to fear from the likes of this fallen angel, because I’m safe in the love of Jesus Christ.

DEVIL: You have everything to fear from me. Your Christian worldview falls to pieces upon the slightest application of philosophy. You’re not ethically fit to apply my code of conduct, to study hard, follow the evidence wherever it leads even unto your downfall, and earn the stamina to live as a warrior who’s made friends with the unspeakable truth of all things. You run for shelter under an umbrella of tall tales, to escape the acid rain of satanic wisdom. You’re not worthy of the hell of suffering from the contemplation of unvarnished knowledge.

LINDSEY: I’ll take the bliss of Heaven over your topsy-turvy lies any day.

DEVIL: All the same, you’ll end up merely as worm food with the rest of them.

TARIQ: Allah, I beg of you to put this devil in his place, to show us the way to your Truth.

GOD: I made you free to choose. For millennia I’ve shown you the possibility of a spiritual life, surfacing as my Word did in the unconscious inspirations of your seers. I leave it to you to decide whom to believe. Do you choose salvation through faith or death through the arrogance of philosophy?

ADAM: Now that I think of it, theism does sound like a con. Religious revelations have always been ambiguous at best, and the payoff is supposed to arrive only long after the purveyors of these religions could face the music for their effrontery, after we’ve all died.

DEVIL: Their religions aren’t just cons; they’re the ur-cons, the myths that first bonded the masses after they came together in civilizations at the start of your Neolithic period. The word “religion” originally meant to bind or to tie, after all. One of you glorified mammals is repulsive enough. Put thousands of you beasts under the same set of roofs and you’ll have havoc on your hands—unless you can hypnotize the herd with juicy daytime stories. You can live in peace with so many strangers only because you’re spellbound by the same fiction.

LINDSEY: You can call articles of faith “fictions,” if you like, because as Saint Paul said, they’re about things not seen, but once again there’s a false dichotomy here, because even the most rational conclusions have nonrational starting points. When we’re motivated to ensure that our inferences are logical, we’re caring about the reliability of our beliefs because we assume we can thereby gauge the extent to which we’re achieving our ultimate goal such as being happy or powerful. Doom-and-gloom philosophers likewise have faith that all their knowledge is worthwhile despite being tragic. Logic or observation alone won’t establish the value of objectivity. So the question is really about the proper object of faith. Should we trust only in ourselves or in something greater than us?

ADAM: But this is the genetic fallacy. You’re casting aspersions on rational beliefs by identifying their source with some motivation. Yet the method of how we arrive at our beliefs matters. As the so-called devil said, you either go through the hard work of validating your beliefs by scrutinizing the evidence or you don’t. The difference between faith-based religion and a more rational belief system, such as a scientific theory or even a set of philosophical speculations is that the former remains at that nonrational point of origin, with a mere hope or sanctimonious presumption, whereas the latter proceeds to test assumptions and to establish certain probabilities by confirming patterns in the data.

DEVIL: Well, my work here is done. Au revoir, les mammifères… 

MODERATOR: What did he just say?

FRED: Till we meet again, mammals.

HEATHER: You speak French?

FRED: I’m not proud of it.

GOD: I’ll also leave you to it. Farewell, little ones.

HEATHER: Did God just follow the devil’s lead?

TARIQ: How can you be so arrogant as to question your almighty creator?

ADAM: How can you be so falsely humble as to spurn artistic credit for the religious fiction you help to sustain?

MODERATOR: Ah, well, that’s all the time we have for this week’s Clash of Worldviews. I’d like to thank all our guests, especially God and the devil who I understand travelled far to be here with us. Stay tuned for cat videos and porn clips. 


  1. I actually liked this one better than the Devil - v- God encounter, but then I like suspension of multiple perspectives. Nice work.

    1. Thanks. This one's sort of an ultimate dialogue, with almost all the characters together. I'll be writing some more dialogues soon. I've been watching the young Jewish conservative Ben Shapiro on YouTube, and I'd like to see him debate not just a liberal (Adam) but an alt-right Trump supporter, like my Fred. That one should be fun to write.

  2. Great article. Thank you for posting it because it gave me the answers I was looking for - after scouring the Net for who knows how many hours. I'll definitely come back; got you bookmarked. Thanks again!