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Just because Marxism has lost its sense of purpose, it doesn’t mean that ID must as well

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A Book Review of John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York, Critique of Intelligent Design: Materialism versus Creationism from Antiquity to the Present (Monthly Review Press, 2008).

There are many interesting features of this book, authored by academic Marxists (or at least people who used to be Marxists) and published by a historically Marxist press. The argument is presented as a critical intellectual history, which, while clearly written from a committed ‘materialist’ standpoint, is quite nuanced. But from the standpoint of ID defenders, the book’s most interesting feature is that the authors gladly embrace ID’s demonised image of its opponents. So those who remain sceptical of ID rhetoric that connects Epicurus, Darwin, Marx and Freud as part of a vast ‘materialist’ conspiracy should be silenced by what transpires in these pages: Yes, such scary two-dimensional materialists do really seem to exist – and they write books like this.

Things could be worse. The authors, to their credit, do not indulge in the ‘new atheist’ pastime of diagnosing religious belief as a mental disorder with a possible genetic basis. Rather, they stay on more familiar Marxist ground of arguing that religion serves a deep human need that nevertheless should be overcome if we are truly to mature as a species. However, other than a blind faith in whatever direction science happens to take us, the authors never make clear what such maturity would amount to. Considering that they’re supposed to be Marxists, they are surprisingly dumb to the tension involved in claiming that we are capable of ‘developing’ in an ultimately purposeless universe. Yet, their commitment to radical contingency goes so far as to embrace Stephen Jay Gould’s notion that replaying the tape of life would likely result in a completely different natural history – that is, pointlessness with a vengeance.

The ancient Greek therapeutic philosopher Epicurus functions as an intellectual polestar for the text. Marx did his Ph.D. on Epicurus and was especially taken by the Epicurean project of disabusing people of the existence of gods. It is probably the source of the more general Marxist strategy of ‘demystifying’ ideologies. However, the authors presume that a straight arrow of influence runs from Epicurus to modern science to Marx. Here they fail to take seriously the therapeutic dimension of Epicureanism. Epicurus basically believed that fear of the gods was a major source of unnecessary anxiety. Once people stopped believing, they would realize that their lives are not so momentous, which would then enable them to adapt more effectively to circumstances over which they have relatively little control.

While the authors make much of Epicurus’ materialist metaphysics (which he undoubtedly held), what mattered more was his overriding sense of the randomness of nature. Thus, to ‘free’ oneself of belief in the gods was not meant to empower the patient to take responsibility for nature and penetrate its mysteries. On the contrary, Epicurus wanted his patients to be ‘free’ in the sense of being relieved of fictional burdens that prevent them from leading peaceful vegetative lives. How Freud described Leninism – an ‘infantile neurosis’ – is probably how Epicurus would have described the ceaseless striving associated that is common to Christianity, modern science and Marxism itself. It is more than a little ironic – not to mention disappointing — that I need to point this out to Marxists, who after all are the ones who normally demand that we consider how ideas work in practice.

But this criticism should also alert ID supporters to beware of any blanket condemnations of a general philosophy like ‘materialism’ (which in ID circles, at least, seems to be used to capture something both moral and metaphysical). Here the book’s black-and-white presentation of the ‘Materialism versus Creationism’ narrative means that the authors fail to consider the changing conception of materialism, even within the lifetimes of Marx and Engels. The authors lean heavily on early Marxist writings, which polemically counterposes materialism to Christian supernaturalism very much as the authors themselves do. However, materialism underwent a significant metamorphosis in the 19th century, especially in the physical sciences. It is captured in the history of the concept of ‘energy’, understood as matter’s organizational principle, which in the 20th century expanded into the modern concept of information. The authors neglect this side of the story – but the original Marxists did not. Indeed, Engels actually rated the Unitarian preacher and chemist Joseph Priestley – someone whose views were much closer to ID than to Epicurus – above any of the 18th century French materialists in understanding the ‘dynamic’ character of matter.

Of course, I’m not saying that Engels converted to Christianity in old age, but rather that Marxists have always required a conception of matter much more purposeful – dare I say ‘intelligent’ – than dumb Epicurean atoms to get their own account of human emancipation off the ground. This is why Marxists usually took their Darwin with large doses of Lamarck – sometimes with disastrous consequences (e.g. the Soviet agricultural policy known as Lysenkoism, not discussed here, perhaps unsurprisingly). When the authors mention, almost in passing, that the only thing Marx didn’t like about Darwin was his reliance on Thomas Malthus (Darwin’s inspiration for the theory of natural selection), alert readers should think twice about just how committed Marx was to Darwin. In any case, I rather doubt that Marx and Engels would have had any reason to believe in a planned anything (revolution, economy, etc.), if their materialism entailed the level of chance entailed by, say, Gould’s replayed tape of natural history. In that respect, the book under review represents a very decadent form of Marxism – one that has been abstracted from any sense of purpose that it might have once had.

15 Replies to “Just because Marxism has lost its sense of purpose, it doesn’t mean that ID must as well

  1. 1
    allanius says:

    You are right. The number one weakness in “dialectical materialism” is that it isn’t materialism at all. It’s a negative form of Idealism.

    Marx told the old, old story without knowing it. He thought he was a thoroughly modern man, but really he was just as much of a dreamer as Plato and just as dependent on negation as a means of escaping his unhappiness and obtaining his ideal.

    The idea that Marx somehow brought Hegel to full flower is too funny for words. Marx hated Hegel and used his notion of the forward-propelling negation to annihilate the static synthesis of being and nothingness.

    Negation leads to radical transformation and redemption, according to our Sage. Sound familiar? Sure. It’s the same dreamy nonsense we heard from Plato, Calvin, Descartes, Nietzsche.

    You start out with Capitalist Man, and lo, he is evil, consumed with greed and a lust to do That Which Is Oppressive to his fellow beings. But do away with private property and socialize the means of production and Poof! This same evil creature is magically transformed and becomes just as good a person as…well, Marx and Engels.

    Because really, that’s what Idealism in all of its protean forms is about—moral vanity. Some folks just can’t get over how wonderful they are can’t resist the temptation to highlight this wonderfulness by making the rest of us aware of our shortcomings.

    The Great Negation is the theme of the Modern age. Hopefully at some point we’ll wake up and realize how utterly pointless and dreary it all was.

  2. 2
    Rude says:

    Of course, I’m not saying that Engels converted to Christianity in old age, but rather that Marxists have always required a conception of matter much more purposeful – dare I say ‘intelligent’ – than dumb Epicurean atoms to get their own account of human emancipation off the ground.

    My mentor in linguistics was an ardent Darwinist with a Marxist background. He had majored in biology before getting into linguistics, yet was emphatic that without what he called Aristotle’s anima—by which he meant the will to live—there would be no Darwinism. He claimed that Ernst Mayr held to the same view.

    This man riled his colleagues with his emphasis on intention—“even chickens have intention.” He challenged Chomsky’s claim that one could describe grammar without recourse to meaning/function. His own teleological approach, he said, was rooted in Darwinism as driven by this anima which, he hoped, would someday find a materialist explanation.

    Intelligent Design challenges both claims. There is no chance and necessity explanation for Aristotle’s anima nor for the evolution of life on this planet.

    I wonder—maybe what you’ve been hinting at can be encapsulated by this question: Can design produce design? Is it algorithms all the way down? Or is an intentional soul fundamental to reality? Is it, at some elemental level, irreducible mind? This, I believe, is the argument in Angus Menuge’s “Agents Under Fire: Materialism and the Rationality of Science.”

    So I don’t think ID is leaving out the philosophy—there’s some good stuff out there and more on the way.

  3. 3
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    This article makes a good point. Not all materialisms are the same. Marxism differs greatly from ancient Epicureanism and atomism in a number of respects, some of which the article has pointed out. And the most problematic features of Marxism don’t come from its materialism. A wise professor once put it this way: “Marxism is the last of the great Christian heresies”. The understanding of history in Marxism, like the understanding of history in most modern thought, is of history as progress. But the notion of history as progress is a secularization of the Christian idea of time. The tremendous fervor with which modern people believe in “progress” (whether they are on the Marxist left or the capitalist right) is ultimately owed to Christianity. True, the doctrine of progress is a secularized distortion of the Christian notion of time. Nonetheless, it is pretty safe to say: no Christianity, no Marxism. In contrast, Marxism would have been unthinkable in the world of antiquity.

    Crude materialism is too easy a target. People like Dawkins are easily spotted and refuted. Much harder for Christians to handle are the modern doctrines which are intertwined with the history of Christian thought. Such doctrines are also often much more destructive than ancient materialism was. The Epicureans were mostly a calm, quiet lot who bothered no one and preached their doctrines only to the philosophically inclined. The Marxists, on the other hand, whose materialism was bound up with a secularized view of history as progress, sought to transform the world with a religious zeal that had the emotional intensity of millennialism and the moral indignation of the Hebrew prophets. It was precisely what made Marxism different from ancient materialism – the almost Messianic expectations it inculcated – that made it so fanatical, so totalitarian, and so wicked. And that dark side of Marxism came not from ancient paganism but from aspects of Christianity itself.

    In this light, one of the comments above seems bizarre. Someone wrote that Plato was “dreamy”. Plato was not “dreamy”. Plato was a hard-bitten realist with very little expectation of “progress” either in human nature or in social life overall. It is quasi-Messianic expectations about historical progress that are “dreamy”, and also dangerous. And in Western thought, there is only one possible source for such expectations.

  4. 4

    Lynn White wrote “The victory of Christianity over paganism was the greatest psychic revolution in the history of our culture. It has become fashionable today to say that, for better or worse, we live in the “post-Christian age.” Certainly the forms of our thinking and language have largely ceased to be Christian, but to my eye the substance often remains amazingly akin to that of the past. Our daily habits of action, for example, are dominated by an implicit faith in perpetual progress which was unknown either to Greco- Roman antiquity or to the Orient. It is rooted in, and is indefensible apart from, Judeo- Christian theology. The fact that Communists share it merely helps to show what can be demonstrated on many other grounds: that Marxism, like Islam, is a Judeo-Christian heresy. We continue today to live, as we have lived for about 1700 years, very largely in a context of Christian axioms.”

    There are aspects of Lynn White’s argument that I don’t agree with, but he does make some valid points. But I think too Dawkins atheism is a Judeo-Christian heresy because he doesn’t deny the Christian concept of truth and values.

    Robin Attfield has compared the history of a belief in divine grace with a millenial edge which gradually was replaced with a belief in human centred progress through the enlightenment. Augustine had argued that man was completely incapable of self improvement and totally dependent on divine grace – while I think Augustine made a mistake about the level of grace – philosophers slowly reduced grace to nothing and believed that mankind could make progress through human endeavour alone. (Robin Attfield, The Ethics of Environmental Concern, University of Georgia Press, 1991, pp.69-75) This was also discussed in my book Restoring the Ethics of Creation

    As I have said before, there are aspects of Greek and Roman paganism (and in the comparitive Hindu caste system) that were (and are) deeply class ridden. This is brought out in Plato’s Republic and his call for an idea city state ruled by Philosopher Kings, the general populace was reduced to productive workers. Slavery was also permissible in Greek-Roman society and widespread. (even if the Plato purists would disagree we ought to ask how people have interpretted Plato through history – as for instance Karl Popper has done in The Open Society and its Enemies Vol. I – the spell of Plato – Vol II The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx and the Aftermath”).

    The teachings of Christ turn class on its head, where the ‘first shall be last.’

    I really don’t think you can make the charge that Christianity is to blame for the dark side of Marxism – it seems to me that it was more Plato’s ideal city state that influenced Marx together with the enlightenment’s rather arrogant belief in human centred progress once devine grace had been denied. Admittidly the Greek’s tended to have a depressing cyclical view of history, while Christianity was full of hope for a better future. However, I don’t think it fair to blame millenialism for that dark side even if that influenced Marx through a belief in human centred progress that denied grace.

    Interestingly, there are two cities in Revelation – mystery Babylon and the New Jerusalem with an age old stuggle between the two.

  5. 5
    Steve Fuller says:


    Why you don’t simply concede Cudworth’s point on historical grounds – and say it doesn’t represent Christian influence at its finest? Christianity has inspired a long tradition of the millenarian uprising of the masses, much of it quite violent. Of course, it’s always called ‘heretical’ but that merely means the established authorities don’t like it. And it’s hard to deny – in terms of the style of action and the rhetoric – that Marxists learned much of their political practice from such movements. Moreover, not all of it has been bad. Liberation theology in Latin America is an attempt to return the compliment.

    To try to blame any of this on Plato or any of the pagans is disingenuous. Like any powerful movement, Christianity has inspired both good and harm – I happen to think much more of the former but the latter also needs to be admitted. I say this because I believe that in the coming culture wars, the people who accept a version of human salvation – sacred or secular – Christian, Muslim or Marxist – should be on the same side against those who insist, on putatively naturalistic grounds, on re-defining that we live in a purposeless universe, where what we do now really doesn’t matter in the ultimate scheme of things. So there is need for reconciliation in the ranks. For Christians to see aspects of themselves in the excesses of Marxism is a good step forward. If books like Foster et al.’s is not indicative of a spiritual crisis in Marxism, I don’t know what is.

  6. 6
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Mr. Sibley is right to mention Lynn White as someone who holds a view similar to my own. Also, I agree with Mr. Sibley that there is an important difference between the modern secular view of progress and the authentic Christian understanding of the meaningfulness of time, as found for example in Augustine.

    Nonetheless, I’m afraid I’m having trouble understanding some of Mr. Sibley’s points.

    First, he says that Plato’s Republic is “deeply class ridden”. Aside from the fact that Plato’s imaginary Republic does not represent Plato’s practical political recommendations, and aside from the fact that in that imaginary Republic the inherited aspect of class is challenged (a child born to upper-class parents who is unfit to rule is put in the working class, and a child who, though born to working-class parents, is fit to rule, is put into the upper classes), and aside from the fact that the classes in the Republic (has Mr. Sibley read it?) are quite different from what we think of as classes, since the ruling classes, far from being wealthy, are denied all luxuries and live a Spartan existence, whereas the more industrious members of the working class may become quite wealthy, there is a deep problem reconciling Plato’s alleged emphasis on class with Mr. Sibley’s belief that “Plato’s ideal city state” influenced Marx. Let’s suppose that Plato endorsed the most blatantly classist model of society ever. Well, Marx’s goal (has Mr. Sibley read the Communist Manifesto?), Marx’s “ideal state”, was a classless society, a perfect socialism in which all economic control of one group of citizens over another would be abolished, and in which the state as a coercive power would have withered away. If Plato is the classist, statist thinker that Mr. Sibley makes him out to be, how could he possibly have been the inspiration of Marx, who wanted to abolish classes and states?

    Second, Mr. Sibley tells us that “the history of a belief in divine grace with a millennial edge which gradually was replaced with a belief in human centred progress through the enlightenment”. That is, Mr. Sibley affirms that genuine Christianity was replaced with a false, secularized version. And he protests that genuine Christianity is not, in his view, “to blame” for Marxism, because the Christian themes in Marxism are not the original, genuine religious teaching of Christianity. This sounds reasonable. But then, when addressing the objection that Plato may not teach some of the bad things that later people have said that he teaches, Mr. Sibley says: “even if the Plato purists would disagree, we ought to ask how people have interpreted Plato through history”. This is puzzling. I presume that by “Plato purists” Mr. Sibley means those who count only Plato’s own teaching as truly Platonic; but then he goes on to say that we must give due weight to later interpretations of Plato, mentioning in particular one interpretation (Popper’s) in which Plato is represented as effectively advocating totalitarianism. So it is all right to misrepresent Plato’s thought by letting later writers speak inaccurately for Plato, but it is not all right to misrepresent Christianity by interpreting it through later writers, such as Hegel and Marx, who misappropriated Christian ideas? What this means is that in the case of Christianity, we are duty-bound to “get behind” the erroneous liberal, Enlightenment, and Marxist versions of Christianity, and recover the original teaching, but in the case of Plato, we have no such obligation; it is quite acceptable to ignore what Plato wrote, or even to not read him at all, while adopting travesties of his thought by uncommonly dense British and American professors (like Popper). This sounds like a double standard to me.

    A final question for Mr. Sibley is this: what evidence does he have that the Greeks found a cyclical view of history “depressing”? Clearly HE finds it depressing, but does he have evidence from primary texts that the Greeks found it so?

  7. 7

    I am sceptical that anyone can really know Plato’s intentions in his writing as they were I believe carefully hidden. I have studied bits of Plato, but not all of it. I have been studying Hume’s Dialogue’s in depth and it is clear that Hume’s real view is carefully hidden and it would seem this was the purpose of a dialogue – to allow the writer to conceal his own opinion as was the case with Cicero.

    There does seem to be a deliberate ambiguity in the concept of nature, which can support both atheism and pantheism. This comes out in Spinoza’s thinking, and when you scratch beneath the surface it is evident in many philosophers thinking. Hume’s character Philo argued from both an Epicurean and pantheistic worldview where order need not come from a mind, but there might be some ‘vegetative’ power in the world organising it from within. Hitler’s writing border along the same lines where ‘God Almighty’ can be seen as the process of evolution. What about Marx, Haeckel, etc?

    Steve mentions the development in science of the concept of ‘energy’ perhaps as an ordering principle, but how is that different to Erasmus Darwin’s pantheistic concept of a source or power of generation? Stuart Kaufmann wants to use the word ‘God’ to help explain complexity perhaps as a 4th law of thermodynamics. I can’t help but see in this the sort of pantheism that was under the surface of many enlightenment philosophers where nature and God are synonymous. The same philosophers were the ones who denied grace in favour of a belief in human progress and at best some sort of impersonal force at work in nature.

    I also do not believe that Marxism was ever a classless system. Many communist societies were ruled by political elites. Was that Marx’s intention? I wouldn’t like to say at this point.

    Thomas makes a valid point that to be fair we should judge Christianity by Christ, and Platonism by Plato, not what others have done with it subsequently. However, while I can access Christ’s teachings, that admittedly were often deliberately obscure, they are made clear through saints John, Paul and Peter, but with Plato I find it much harder to get to the bottom of exactly what he was saying because of the ambiguity.

    Steve – of course I recognise that Christianity has not always followed Christ’s commandments of love, who could seriously deny that? Although Christianity has been influenced by Plato and Aristotle through much of its history, together with a misunderstanding of the application of the Mosiac Law in the present day, and failure to understand God’s grace in Christ. I also recognise that a belief in progress stemmed out of millennialism. However, belief in the certainty of human centred progress also meant a denial of grace. As a Christian from a charismatic background the concept of grace is very important, although hard to define, but it has to do with God’s beneficent activity in the world. For me, as a Christian, science should be pursued within that context. Both deists and Unitarians seemed to have little interest in seeing God’s grace outworking in the present day – or at best it is an impersonal force in nature – or am I wrong on that? This is the crux of the matter as I see it; whether God is a personal, loving, interested being who wants to have a meaningful relationship with mankind, or is he some vague impersonal force where people must make their own way in life without God’s love?

    If ID wants to embrace everyone from Henry Morris to Erasmus Darwin to Marx and Engels then what is distinctly intelligent about it? ID could just become a theory of vague order along the lines of Hume’s ‘vegetative’ world as another form of evolutionary change with a bit of spirituality attached. However, it is the strong analogy to human intelligence that Behe and others have highlighted from molecular machines, i.e. ATP synthase motors that run on electric currents, Kinesin molecules that walk utilising ATP, that I believe gives ID a strong intelligent, theistic edge.

    Basically, would we not lose the ‘I’ of ‘ID’ ? That doesn’t mean that a movement of General Order as ‘GO’ or ‘D’ couldn’t work alongside ID, just that it has been seen through the history of philosophy as a separate argument to ‘ID’, it was certainly separate in Hume’s Dialogues. (I think though that Richard Swinburne though would claim that all order must stem from a mind).

  8. 8
    Steve Fuller says:


    You raise a lot of important issues and the brevity of my response is not meant to slight them but just to lay down some markers.

    I’m just as much opposed to pantheism as you are, and for many of the same reasons you are. This is why I privilege the Abrahamic religions (and all of their offspring, however secular and deviant) over all the other religions. After all, it’s patently obvious that one could accept Darwinism and believe in God in some vague ‘natural force’ sort of sense that pantheists endorse. But you are right that there is much more to play for in our conception of God.

    You raise the example of energy. And you’re right about the pantheistic uses of the concept, starting from Spinoza’s ‘conatus’. But the history of that concept – and I apologize for invoking history – is quite interesting because it began as God’s literal imparting of a spirit to a body in time, with the understanding that it will face resistance along its trajectory as it realizes its potential. (The resonances to both ethics and physics are intended.) What kept the Marxists in the Abrahamic camp – rather than dissolving into Spinoza’s pantheism – is that they continued to believe that the order in which things happen matter, and from it we shall learn how to make the next step. The trajectory of human history is intrinsically meaningful. This is why when Foster et al. embrace Gould’s radical contingency view of evolution, they’ve surrendered to the opposition. From Gould’s perspective, the value that we place on our own history is little more than a superstitious belief in a chance trajectory. And I think this was Darwin’s considered view as well.

    Now you’re right about the problems that Unitarians and Deists face with the doctrine of Grace. I don’t claim to have solved this problem but I think a first step is to take seriously that these nonconformist Christians believed (200+ years ago) that (largely courtesy of Newton) humanity was on the verge of maturity as a species – and that God recognized us as being in that state. This does not mean a complete severance of our emotional bonds with God but a recognition that we are now capable of creating our own reality and making our own mistakes and seeking guidance from God when necessary to whatever effect God deems appropriate. We don’t really have a good sociology of parent-child relations once the child has long left home and done reasonably well for him/herself. But I think that the generally positive but mixed feelings on both sides of such a situation captures where Unitarians and Deists are coming from emotionally. They definitely don’t see God as the parent they would have liked to have but rather as the one who is able to take a positive but ultimately critical view of their lives, ideally spurring them to be better.

    One issue that is especially important to me is that I don’t want atheists claiming Unitarians and Deists for their own simply because they denounced established churches. A distinctive feature of the history of Christianity, for which Protestantism deserves full credit, is precisely its repeated denunciation of institutional structures that impede the free flow of the message that all of humanity is privileged by virtue of having been created in the image and likeness of God. Unitarianism and Deism are just a late stage of that trajectory.

  9. 9
    Frost122585 says:

    The interesting thing to me, that all three Marx, Freud and Darwin shared is a belief in empirical empirailism. I know that sounds trite but the focus of all three claims to manifest in the “obvious” nature of matter. Take Marx- who pointed out the physical inequities regarding wealth and power- or Freud who say behaviors as the source by which we are to diagnose “disorder”- or Darwin who along with his bones and beaks saw physical proof of his theory.

    I think the question of materialism is “what is its counter part?” And to that you and I may answer “spiritualism.” To define the spiritual in an ontological sense has to do with purpose and direction. In human terms you would use the word “decision.” This is where the physical and metaphysical become gray and “information” – or “context” now takes over as the only proper way of looking at ontology though epistemology- we may not what actually “is“ but at least we know what we ourselves think. That is where we realize that all things are not a product of mind but that all things exist only if there is a mind designed to manifest that which is existence. In this sense materialism is just a categorical tool of the mind- that is to say, matter is the abstraction while mind is the primary reality. Then comes the difficult job of separating mind from matter- because if matter is all that exists then what is mind? If mind is just a manifestation of matter than what is it about matter that allows for mind- how does the molecular composition of a mutton chop eventually find itself evolved enough to write Hamlet? And chance is obviously an inadequate mechanism especially since it is not really a mechanism at all as a “chance“ is not a materialistic thing hence its existence cannot be shewn by matter- but by only by what matter seems to do. So the chicken and the egg question is “does mind precede matter or matter, mind”- Those in favor of mind will have a tough time pointing to an example of mind existing without matter- and those who say matter is primary reality will not be able to point to an example where matter “existed” without mind. Existence is a phenomenon of consciousness as is perception- but neither can be found within a granite rock.

    In any event what you really have is materialism vs spiritualism- and mind is the vehicle of spiritualism while matter is the vehicle of materialism. Freud, Marx and Darwin are shared in the belief that spiritualism was false and useless if not contained within a materialist context- while Aquinas, Socrates, Plato, and may others see spiritualism as the primary reality and matter as it’s illusory subsidiary. Notice however that mind is not exactly analogical to spirit as matter is to material. Mind once again is self referential and is experienced by self- but spirituality is a qualitative designation that implies purposive. What is perhaps most interesting in the three fields of economics, evolution and Psychology – is the need to understand direction. What is it that makes us human as opposed to animal? What is it that drives us to be economically successful? What is it that makes us think and do what we do? All of these questions are ultimately one of spirtual nature. What is it inside of us that makes us … “us.” The materilist tries to explain this through constraints and materist, empirically based, third person, stories. The spirutalist however points to the inner – the spirit – the soul the self- the purpose behind the action. That is the primary place where the two camps diverge.

    Kant interestingly enough tried to hold truth in both views while not championing either- as for Kant his primary reality was “experience”- hence he was the first to write in phenomenology – his being critical phenomenology.- and in my opinion while it is very useful it is still incomplete. I favor the primary reality which is defined as spiritual and of mind. Through experience the world to me is indeed teleological though its imperfects remain purposive that is like a dramatic or meaningful story.

    In my view Freud, Marx and Darwin suffered because of their incomplete and inadequate philosophical framework in that they failed to realize the role they played in their own physical world- that is they were all the while purposelessly working towards an ultimately meaningless objective- they had no reason to care other than the fact that they cared. If they were so smart you would think they would have seen though that and focused their attention on more enjoyable things. The “know it alls” had no idea what they were doing- though that was the question they all struggled to answer, each from their own slightly different perspective. It wasn’t that they were pro materialists but that they were in reality… anti-spiritualists. Being against anything is easy- but the hole in your thinking does inevitably rear it’s ugly head.

  10. 10
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    This is an interesting discussion. I will respond in this post both to Mr. Sibley and Mr. Fuller.

    Mr. Sibley (#7) makes several points that I agree with. For example, I have never been able to see any substantial difference between the “pantheism” in which Spinoza is supposed to have believed, and atheism. And I am not defending the views of Erasmus Darwin, Stuart Kaufmann, or Hume. I further agree with him that Deists and Unitarians do not speak of God as interacting with the world in an ongoing way, as traditional Christianity asserts. Finally, I agree with him that ID as presented by Behe and others does tend to point to a divine intelligence and seems quite compatible with traditional Christianity.

    However, in making his valid points, Mr. Sibley displays a misunderstanding of some points that Mr. Fuller and I have been making. Mr. Sibley writes:

    “If ID wants to embrace everyone from Henry Morris to Erasmus Darwin to Marx and Engels then what is distinctly intelligent about it?”

    Mr. Fuller did not bring up Erasmus Darwin, and his point about Marxism was not that Marx believed in ID or even that Marx believed in God. Mr. Fuller’s point was that Marxism was spiritually driven by a progressive faith which ultimately came from Christianity.

    Mr. Fuller also says (#8), quite correctly I believe, that Deism and Unitarianism are best understood as the logical continuance of the trajectory of modern Protestantism. I am inclined to disagree with Mr. Fuller regarding his evaluation of this modern trajectory: he seems to think it a valid or even intended development of Christian creation doctrine, and hence praiseworthy, whereas I tend to see it as a deviation from the original intention, blurring the important distinction between the creator and the creature. I also disagree with his apparent implication that this modern secularized Christianity is the best theological framework in which to set intelligent design theory. But his valid historical point is that in the modern world, almost every major current of thought has been shaped, directly or indirectly, by Christianity, and that the dynamism (for good or for ill) of the modern world is owed largely to its Christian origins. In some cases that dynamism can be traced more precisely to Protestant origins. “Conservative” Christians often rail against the evils of modernity, but they rarely understand how much Protestantism, through its shaping of the modern mind, contributed to the modernity which they deplore. I don’t think that Mr. Sibley has seen what Mr. Fuller is driving at here.

    Regarding Marx, I was not referring to the actual practice of Communist countries. I was referring to Marx’s stated goal of a classless socialist society. That’s contrary to the rigid class structure which Mr. Sibley imputes to Plato. So Marx’s goal was not inspired by Plato, if Plato held the authoritarian views that Mr. Sibley claims he did. I don’t understand how Mr. Sibley can have missed this, if he’s read any of Marx.

    Mr. Sibley’s views of Plato and Marx appear to have been acquired secondhand, especially from the writings of Karl Popper. I am not familiar with Popper’s comments on Marx, but his understanding of Plato is based on what one might call a literalistic reading of the Republic. No one can now take such a reading seriously. I recommend that Mr. Sibley take his volume of Popper to the nearest used bookstore, and trade it in for a copy of The Republic of Plato (translated with an interpretive essay), by Allan Bloom.

  11. 11
    allanius says:

    Now, Thomas; don’t get your knickers in a knot. All philosophers who believe in dramatic transformations in human existence, leading to any type of utopian existence, are in fact “dreamy’’—because this is impossible.

    Sure, Plato, Calvin and Marx are all “hard-bitten realists” in one sense: they were highly disillusioned with existence. This is why Hegel referred to Idealism in any form as the product of the “unhappy consciousness.” They all believed that there was no real goodness in being—that its apparent goodness was nothing more than an illusion.

    But all three also claimed it was possible to transcend this lack of goodness simply by negating existence and leaping over by mystical means to some hazily defined higher realm. For Plato, those mystical means were intellect; for Calvin, “grace”; for Marx, revolution. In all three instances, a miraculous intervention was claimed to have the power to transform depraved existence and make it truly good.

    Plato’s exalted realm of pure intellect is a dream because no mortal can attain it; because even Socrates was made of matter as well as mind and could not prevent his intellectual inferiors from hauling him off in shame and putting him to death. Calvin’s sainthood is a dream because holiness is not purely exterior. Marx’s utopia of happy believers is a dream because men are—well, men.

    All three were dreamers in the sense that they proclaimed the possibility of things that were not possible. Capiche?

    As for the wistful notion voiced elsewhere that Marxists and IDist may someday join hands and become one in the crusade against crude materialism—sorry. It takes two to tango.

  12. 12
    Adel DiBagno says:


    All three were dreamers in the sense that they proclaimed the possibility of things that were not possible. Capiche?

    Che peccato!

    “capisce,” please.

  13. 13
    Steve Fuller says:


    You really short-change utopian thought, at least in two ways:

    (1) Plato, Calvin and Marx didn’t propose anything mystical. In fact, each of them – in his own inimitable way – laid out the process by which a radical change in world-order was to be brought about. And obviously it appeared persuasive to the various people who tried to bring it about over a long period.
    (2) Yes, they all failed in their own way. But it doesn’t follow that everything they proposed is to blame. If we are to learn from history, we have to be continually engaging in a ‘wheat-and-chaff’ exercise, which is what the Hegelian dialectic was supposed to be about.

    Empirical failure is never grounds for concluding impossibility.

  14. 14
    allanius says:

    You know, Steve, another interesting example of the phenomenon you’re describing is Sartre’s “Transcendence of the Ego.” Commentators think it’s about some sort of break with Husserl, but I don’t buy that. Sartre can’t have anything in common with Husserl, at least not if he understands him. No, I have a sneaking suspicion that the “ego” that’s being transcended is Freud’s middle term–lots of clues in the text.

    Seems Sartre still wanted to believe in the superman and could not quite bring himself to accept Freud’s truly materialistic ratio. Which raises a lot of interesting questions. What exactly is materialism that’s not materialism? Transcendence without a transcendent? etc.

    And by the way, I’m not really dismissive of Idealism in the way you seem to think. What I’m dismissive of is the notion promulgated by philosophers that intellect has the power to identify the good of happiness; that intellect is a transcendent power.

    My own prejudices on this subject are informed by the following statement: “Those who love are born of God and know God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

    I believe there is a path forward from our current crisis–but not through intellect and its divided pathways of real and ideal, immanence and transcendence. I believe the path forward lies in another direction entirely.

  15. 15
    tribune7 says:

    Well said, Allanius

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