Intelligent Design

George Weigel on How We Got Here

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Weigel takes to the pages of First Things and informs us that the United States has arrived at its sorry state because we have paid insufficient heed to Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde:

For Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde diagnosed a primary cause of our current distress over half a century ago. 

Böckenförde was a German constitutional law scholar whose “dictum” is familiar to, if often ignored by, political scientists: “The liberal secularized state lives on conditions that it cannot guarantee itself.” Put another way, the liberal institutions of a modern democracy—free speech, a free press, freedom of association, universal adult suffrage, majority rule and protection of minority rights, religious freedom, and so forth—rely for their credibility, and their tensile strength under pressure, on cultural foundations those liberal institutions cannot, by themselves, create or defend. Thus American democracy is not, and can never be, a machine that runs by itself. The cultural and moral lubricants of the machinery—indeed, the very rationale for this kind of machinery rather than some other kind—must come from somewhere else.

For over two centuries in the United States, that “somewhere else” was a public moral culture formed by biblical religion and natural law philosophy. Biblical religion taught Americans the built-in dignity and value of every human person as a person, irrespective of condition. The philosophy of the natural law taught Americans that there are moral truths inscribed in the world and in us, that we can know those truths by reason, and that knowing them teaches us our duties. 

I would go further. It is not just that we have failed to remember that our polity is built on a foundation of religion and natural law philosophy. The problem is far worse than that. The nation’s intellectual elite have actively hammered away at that foundation for over 50 years and attempted (and failed) to replace the foundation with theories rooted in metaphysical materialism. Is it any wonder the foundation appears to be crumbling?

24 Replies to “George Weigel on How We Got Here

  1. 1
    john_a_designer says:

    I think the whole problem centers on the idea of human rights. To understand the problem we need to focus on two basic questions: (1) What are human rights and (2) from where do they originate?

    What are human rights? I would argue very simply that human rights are universal moral obligations. That is every human being living anywhere at any time in history has certain fundamental rights.

    From where do they originate? It seems to me that in our current cultural milieu there are two competing possibilities: (A) Human rights are human inventions; or (B) human rights have some kind of transcendent cause or grounding.

    The problem is that modern secular progressive society which presently dominates American culture is still working on the long standing traditional assumption that human right are universal moral obligations that transcend space, time and culture but also they are human inventions. But how could such an origin be transcendent and morally binding? Unfortunately modern secular thinkers don’t seem to grasp the moral dilemma and logical contradictions with their thinking. But maybe they don’t really want to. The idea of human rights is intrinsically very powerful and it can be used to frame some very persuasive rhetorical arguments– that is the arguments sound so good and logical, whether they really are or not.

  2. 2
    Truthfreedom says:

    Atheism : The Big 3-Century Year Old Scam.
    Materialism Subverts Itself .

    Thank you Barry.

  3. 3
    Eugene says:

    This observation is 100% correct. Absent a unifying religion, democracies are then trivially hijackable by any power willing to spend enough time and money to brainwash the populace in the desired direction. We have now reached the point where 50%+ of the US population has been “converted” to the new religion of Progressivism.

    “For anyone who is alone, without god and without a master, the weight of days is dreadful. Hence one must choose a master, God being out of style.” —Albert Camus, La Chute, 1956

  4. 4
    Truthfreedom says:

    Sunday Morning in the Cathedral of Science

    Seated in the front pew, my folded hands piously resting upon a worn copy of Newton’s Principia, I hear from the choir loft the voices of neuroscience graduate students droning their mantra, “The brain is the mind; The brain is the mind; The brain is the mind.”[1]

    The mantra becomes the astonishing hypothesis in the Sunday morning sermon preached by the Reverend Francis Harry Compton Crick, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA: “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”[2] With index finger pointing heavenward, Reverend Crick bellows the crux of the sermon: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.”[3]

    https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2016/07/materialism-false-god-modern-science.html

  5. 5
    john_a_designer says:

    This is something I have said on this site several different times before that’s worth repeating again:

    I try to avoid getting involved in discussions or debates with any of our regular interlocutors because I don’t believe they are being intellectually or ethically honest. The logic here is really very basic and straightforward: If there are no true interpersonal moral standards or obligations how can we trust anything anyone says or asserts? I don’t think that we can. To have an honest discussion or debate you need some kind of interpersonal, or “transcendent,” standard of truth and honesty– even if it’s a traditional or some kind of “conventional” standard. Why would I trust somebody else’s subjective standard for honesty and truth when he starts out by arguing there is no standard of truth or honesty?

    In other words, telling the truth and being honest only makes sense if there is an objective standard of truth and honesty. That’s a self-evident truth, therefore, any viable system of morality must be based on the fact that there really is moral truth and moral truth obligates us to be truthful and honest.

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:

    BA, beautiful find on cultural buttresses of constitutional democracy. KF

  7. 7
    Truthfreedom says:

    5 John_a_designer

    The logic here is really very basic and straightforward:

    According to “naturalism”:
    1. Logic is material (“neurons”/ “neurochemicals”)
    2. Matter is mutable (changes)
    Therefore: logic is subjected to change.
    Logic is then no longer im-mutable.
    Materialism LITERALLY destroys and invalidates LOGIC. (“Universal”)
    Materialism is self-refuting, therefore, IT is a FALSE WORLDVIEW.
    Defending logic (truth) is costing us many casualties.
    And the war is escalating.

  8. 8
    john_a_designer says:

    Retired Notre Dame Professor of philosophy, Alvin Plantinga has said that he considers the moral argument to be the best argument for the existence of God. C.S. Lewis would have agreed, but he actually takes the argument one step further. In Mere Christianity Lewis claims it was the moral argument that caused him to reconsider Christian theism and abandon atheism. He writes:

    “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”

    I could list a number of atheists who tacitly agree with Lewis here (Dawkins, Russell, Ruse, Provine, Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche etc.) but they argue that since the universe is all that exists there not only is not a basis for interpersonal morality and human rights, there never can be.

    However, not all atheists would agree that God or some other kind of transcendent standard is necessary to ground moral values and duties, and that objective moral values can exist without God. The question they need to answer is, how?

    For example, Sam Harris, one of the so-called “new atheists”, has written a book entitled, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values.

    In an interview several years ago with Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, Harris laid out some of his reasons for writing his book.

    “I think the biggest challenge we’re facing is finding some way to create a global civilization based on shared values. We have to converge on the same kind of economic and political and social goals and so forth. We have to begin giving similar answers to the most important questions in human life; and the only way forward to do that I see is to begin to talk about morality and human values very much in the context of our growing scientific understanding of ourselves in the world….”

    Well those are commendable goals. They all sound very reasonable and they all pull at our heart strings. But how is Harris going to accomplish those goals?

    “Morality and value clearly relates to human and animal well-being,” Harris explains, “and our well-being emerges out of the laws of nature; it depends on the way the universe is…. all of these domains fall within the purview of science.”

    However, right out of the gate Harris got himself in trouble. He begins making the same mistakes others have made by trying to base a system morality on nature. He does not do the proper philosophical due diligence to even get his argument off the ground.

    For example, Harris does not explain how our morals and ethics (which are purposeful) can be grounded by a purposeless natural process. By definition naturalistic Darwinian evolution is purposeless. But a universal and objective moral or ethical sense cannot be explained without purpose. So, how then does a purposeless process give rise to purpose? When Harris says that “our well-being emerges out of the laws of nature; it depends on the way the universe is…” he is making the claim that the universe has a goal and a purpose, namely, human well-being. That simply doesn’t fit with the kind of atheistic naturalism he professes to believe in.

    Harris also stumbles, maybe out of ignorance, on the problem, first identified by David Hume, of ‘how one derives an ought from an is?’ Darwinian evolution is about survival of the fittest– the strong dominating the weak. So, on the one hand, you have a will-to-power ethic where the powerful make up all the rules; or on the other, anarchic kind or moral relativism. If survival of the fittest is the only real goal of natural evolution then obviously the former, will-to-power ethic, is the better choice. So if the powerful make up the rules so that they can freely exploit the weak who is to say that is wrong?

    Thirdly as a committed materialist Harris is also a committed determinist. But he is not just your typical garden variety determinist he is an absolute determinist who rejects not only freewill but any kind of compatibilism. But with such a view Harris has not just dug himself into a hole, but he has fallen into a bottomless pit from which there is no escape. “Ought” implies can. But if all my thoughts, desires, beliefs and actions can be reduced to a neurophysiology that allows no room for any kind of intentionality or free choice, how can I be held morally responsible for any of my actions or behavior? I don’t see that Harris has any way out.

    Finally, Harris concedes that his proposal is still a work in progress. In other words, someday science may be able to define human morality. Internet blogger Richard Deem observes, “Contrary to the book’s subtitle, Harris doesn’t even attempt to show how science could be used to determine moral values. Instead, he is constantly referring to possible future scientific research that might aid in such a determination.” In other words, someday science might able to ground moral values. For now, I guess, you will just need to accept it by faith.

  9. 9
    Truthfreedom says:

    John_a_designer

    What an excellent post @8. Alvin Plantinga is a powerhouse.

    By definition Darwinian evolution is “purposeless”

    1. Only minds can understand “definitions”.
    2. Mind (“brain”)
    3. Brain (“matter”)
    4. Matter changes.
    Therefore: definitions (“matter”) change.
    Conclusion: “purposelesness” is a changeable (material) concept. It has no fixed meaning.
    Incoherence.

  10. 10
    john_a_designer says:

    We need to ask the question: How am I morally obligated to respect someone else’s made-up moral opinion or group think?

    That’s all members of the secular progressive left really have are made up moral opinions that they cannot defend rationally.

    Human made-up moral opinions cannot be the basis for interpersonal moral obligation or universal human rights because there is no objective way to determine whose made-up opinion is right and who is wrong or which ideas are good, bad, better or best. That requires some kind of transcendent standard.

    If everyone recognized this fact I think we would still be okay. The problem is that the secular progressive left treats the latest moral fad or trend as if it’s a new moral absolute and genuine moral progress. That’s because for some reason we are hard wired to think that way. In other words, what good is morality if there is no such thing a morally binding obligation? Or, what real good or value are human rights if no one is really obligated to respect those rights?

  11. 11
    PaV says:

    Around 1830, Alexis deToqueville said (Democracy in America) that no matter how wonderful our federal and state constitutions might be, what make democracy work in America was the “religious character of the people.”

    Faith pushes back the Evil One. Over the last seventy years–and our political establishment has been a part of this because they fear nuclear war more than anything else, faith has been under attack and has faded. In its absence, the Devil appears. We see him in Antifa and BLM.

    This is a pivotal moment for this country. In the hands of the godless, we will have our own French Revolution.

    I’ve been waiting for the appearance of the “guillotine.” It has now made its appearance (it’s on T-shirts now and threatened against Jeff Bezos).

    It’s either Heaven or Hell for our country. What will we choose? You who are atheists, will you choose hell instead of God?

  12. 12
    Truthfreedom says:

    PaV

    In its absence (Faith), the Devil appears. We see him in Antifa and BLM.

    -And abortion (up to birth even)
    -Pornography (sexual immorality)
    -Being force-fed blatant lies (gay “marriages”)
    -Bullying those who do not complain
    -Nature deification
    -General ugliness (architecture, art, clothing…)

    What should a “monkey” aspire to? Nothing (apart from some fleeting moments of “pleasure”). And to be a good soil fertilizer.

  13. 13
    john_a_designer says:

    One of the more consequential and disturbing things secular progressive left has done is the manipulative way they have redefined the word tolerance. Tolerance is now understood as being able to tolerate everyone except those people with whom you disagree. However, that is exactly opposite of the way tolerance has been historically or “classically” defined. But if you are a moral and epistemological relativist you can define terms any way you want, even if they don’t make any sense at all.

    Following up from my comment above, here’s a pertinent quote by Charles Murray, from an article by Denyse O’Leary of “News,” which illustrates the way the meaning of the term tolerance has shifted.

    “The German-born Herbert Marcuse was a brilliant and controversial philosopher whose writing became almost a sacred text for new-left intellectuals of the 1960s and 1970s. Nowadays, his best-known work is the essay “Repressive Tolerance.” There he sets out the argument that the downshouters are putting into practice.

    For Marcuse, the fact that liberal democracies made tolerance an absolute virtue posed a problem. If society includes two groups, one powerful and one weak, then tolerating the ideas of both will mean that the voice and influence of the strong will always be greater. To treat the arguments of both sides with equal respect “mainly serves the protection and preservation of a repressive society.” That is why, for Marcuse, tolerance is antithetical to genuine democracy and thus “repressive.” … That is why tolerance, unless it discriminates, will always be repressive.

    Marcuse is quite clear that the academy must also swallow the tough medicine he prescribes: “Here, too, in the education of those who are not yet maturely integrated, in the mind of the young, the ground for liberating tolerance is still to be created.” Today’s campus downshouters, whether they have read Marcuse or not, have plainly undertaken his project.”

    https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/the-war-on-intellectual-freedom/19663

    However, it appears that the vast majority of activists on the secular-progressive left continue to use the term “tolerant” even though it has lost all its meaning. If tolerance does not mean respecting the rights of those you disagree with ideologically, does it really mean anything? Apparently for the left, which fond of redefining words so they are “politically correct”, it still has some propaganda value– some dishonest, disingenuous propaganda value. Of course, if they were honest they would have to describe themselves as intolerant. But obviously, rhetorically and emotively (which from their POV is all that is important) that doesn’t come across quite right.

    It’s hard to see how any democratic society can survive for very long if there is no true tolerance and all we are left with is a raw power struggle.

  14. 14
    vividbleau says:

    “ Put another way, the liberal institutions of a modern democracy—free speech, a free press, freedom of association, universal adult suffrage, majority rule and protection of minority rights, religious freedom, and so forth—rely for their credibility, and their tensile strength under pressure, on cultural foundations those liberal institutions cannot, by themselves, create or defend.”

    Bingo!!!
    This is the hinge upon which everything turns in a Democratic Republic.
    Someone said the other day that what we are witnessing is like the demonstrations in the 1960’s and early 70s and we survived that but what we are seeing is not like that. In the 60s and early 70s the culture had not changed but the culture upon that which produced the enlightenment and liberal democratic ideals have been destroyed. We are reaping the whirlwind sowed by our educational institutions upon our children and grandchildren. They have been taught that America is a wicked and evil country from its beginning.

    Mark my words we have crossed the Rubicon. The fight for freedom will be waged in the streets. Things are going to get very ugly.

    Vivid

  15. 15
    john_a_designer says:

    In an article about the “indefensible killing… of George Floyd, following closely after the release [of an earlier] video showing the killing of Ahmaud Arbery,” Peter Kirsenow (NR 6/4/20) argues that “the riots are a result of the [false] narrative that the Floyd and Arbery killings are but the latest of increasing examples of innocent blacks being disproportionately shot by white cops and targeted by racist white civilians. The narrative is played hourly on cable news shows. It’s embellished by major newspapers across the country…

    The facts he argues makes it clear that this ideological narrative is not just untrue but very biased.

    Here are a few of the points Kirsenow makes based on some recent statistics:

    First, ”the data make clear that blacks are, indeed, overrepresented among victims of police shootings, but underrepresented relative to black overrepresentation in crime, particularly violent crime.”

    For example:

    In 2016, 466 whites were killed by police; 233 blacks were killed by police.

    Whites are 76.5 percent of the U.S. population (including Hispanics); blacks are 13.4 percent of the U.S. population.

    [However, whites] commit 59 percent of violent crimes (defined as murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, aggravated assault); blacks commit 37.5 percent of violent crimes.

    One out of 8,511 blacks is arrested for murder; one in 58,582 whites is arrested for murder.

    Blacks are approximately 6.8 times more likely than whites to be arrested for murder.

    https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/flames-from-false-narratives/?utm_source=recirc-desktop&utm_medium=homepage&utm_campaign=river&utm_content=featured-content-trending&utm_term=first

    Then as far as cop killings:

    Black males are responsible for 42 percent of cop killings in the last decade.

    In 2015, a cop was 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male was likely to be killed by a cop…

    None of this is meant in any way to excuse the horrific, criminal and unjust killing of George Floyd. However, the response to his death which has resulted, among other things in the looting, destruction and burning of minority owned businesses is not only inexcusable and disproportional but just plain wrong. If anything justice is about proportionality. Mob violence fuelled by a false narrative is anything but proportional, rational or JUST.

  16. 16
    kairosfocus says:

    Vivid, my concern is much like yours, with a background focus on geostrategic import. KF

  17. 17
    john_a_designer says:

    Someone once said that politics is downstream from culture. I think there’s a lot of truth to that. However, that brings up another question: what is culture downstream from? Culture is downstream from world view– what people think, and think they know and believe about the world including things like society, religion and nature. A number of evolutionists and philosophers committed to a Darwinian world view have proclaimed that there is no basis or foundation for morality or ethics (Russell, Mackie, Provine, Ruse, Dawkins etc.) If there is no foundation for morality then there is no foundation for fundamental human rights. The result is that people start inventing new rights without any rhyme or reason. The problem is they still naively cling to the belief that “rights” are universal and absolute. But the problem with that is there is no foundation for morality or human rights from a naturalistic/materialistic world view, so they can’t be universal and absolute. Therefore, you have people, primarily on the political left, trying to impose their subjective moral opinions on everyone else as if they were universal and absolute.

    Democracy can’t survive if it’s based on coercion and not persuasion. U.S. society has been slowly sliding down the path of coercive politics which jettison what we have learned from our history and traditions.

  18. 18
    Truthfreedom says:

    17 John_a_designer
    Excellent (again).
    Atheistic “materialism” is nihilist (it can not even ground reason, being self-defeating and utterly incoherent).
    And ex-nihilo, nihil fit.
    Atheistic materialism is a dead-end. It has nothing to offer to humanity.
    Let’s bury it.

  19. 19
    Heartlander says:

    Another view on how we got here:

    The War on Americaby Kevin Portteus, September 2, 2020

  20. 20
    vividbleau says:

    Heartlander
    Great article. He does a masterful job of articulating what I was referring to when I posted this

    “Bingo!!!
    This is the hinge upon which everything turns in a Democratic Republic.
    Someone said the other day that what we are witnessing is like the demonstrations in the 1960’s and early 70s and we survived that but what we are seeing is not like that. In the 60s and early 70s the culture had not changed but the culture upon that which produced the enlightenment and liberal democratic ideals have been destroyed. We are reaping the whirlwind sowed by our educational institutions upon our children and grandchildren. They have been taught that America is a wicked and evil country from its beginning.

    Mark my words we have crossed the Rubicon. The fight for freedom will be waged in the streets. Things are going to get very ugly.”

    Yes we are at war and right now my side is losing, and yes it’s going to get ugly because many of us are not going down without a fight. Get a gun because your going to need it IMO for self defense.

    Vivid

  21. 21
    Truthfreedom says:

    Vividbleau

    Yes we are at war.

    Of course we are 🙁 It has been a war waged against the West (Christianity) since at least 2 generations.
    It is a power struggle, not a single intelligent person is mistaken about it.
    The marxist pest has been incesantly, fervorously, preaching its gospel at Universities, schools and using all entertainment available: cinemas, newspapers, comics, TV, music…

    The sermon being preached: love thy homosexuality/ general sexual depravity/ “purposelesness” and add to the mix a generous amount of false victimism: women “oppression”, gay “oppression”, transgender “oppression”, blacks/ minorities “oppression”, “mother nature” (lol) “oppression”, etc… Oh, and the best part of the sermon: love thy glorified murdering of your own children (disguised under the more “palatable” word “abortion” and bastardized into a “right”).

    The advent of the Internet has changed the landscape (the flux of information here is faster and freer: anyone can start a blog in minutes and dare to speak their minds -almost- freely). So remaining silent and bullied is no longer an obligation.

    And here we are. And yes, we have crossed the Rubicon and it is going to get uglier. Rubicon means “red” (from the latin). As in blood. There is going to be blood almost inevitably.

    Every meat-robot for itself.

  22. 22
    Heartlander says:

    Vividbleau,

    These are the “Democrat riots” – they own them. Democrat politicians at all levels have sanctioned the rioting. Biden’s campaign staffers paid to bail out rioters in Minneapolis. Kamala Harris was urging donations to get further violent offenders out, and declaring protesters “should not” let up. The riots are happening and being allowed to continue in Democrat districts with Democrat mayors and city council members. The rioters themselves are the fringe of the Democrat Party.

    The Black Lives Matter movement started under President Obama and Vice President Biden when they allowed the Ferguson riots to continue under its false narrative. “Hands up – don’t shoot!” is still chanted to this day. The DNC had 4 days and not once denounced the violent riots currently happening. Michelle Obama even sounded the dog-whistle at the DNC when she she stated “If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don’t make a change in this election. If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it.” And Hillary Clinton is urging Biden not to concede “under any circumstances”.

    The Left controls the higher education and lower education who created these Marxist radicals. They control the media – the propaganda branch for the Democrats – who don’t even send reporters out to cover many of the riots because they don’t want to disrupt their “peaceful protest” narrative. And when they do, it’s sadly humorous with the reporting of “peaceful protesters” as buildings burn with gun-fire in the background. If this was Trumps fault, why would they call these riots “peaceful protests”? They wouldn’t…

    Yep, the Democrats own this. It is the Democrat riots.

  23. 23
    Truthfreedom says:

    But first and foremost, destroy Christ.
    To install the marxist-scientist “upgrade”, you need first to wipe out the “old” order.

  24. 24
    BobRyan says:

    Truthfreedom @ 21

    This has been happening for far longer than 2 generations. The first shot happened about a century ago. They started to teach precedence for the first time, in place of the wording of the law.

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