Sketches on Atheism

Mischievous genius

media_l_1375038Ever wondered what mischievous genius looks like? Eyes left. This is Dr. Maarten Boudry, a research fellow at Ghent University’s Department of Philosopy & Moral Sciences, and although I’m nearly two years late in on this story, he’s my new hero. In one finely tuned act of disciplined madness this magnificent package of humanist kickass demonstrated that Christian theologians have not only removed themselves so far from reality that they can no longer even recognise it, they also simply don’t care. This, of course, is not news to those of us inhabiting the more rational world, but Boudry actually tested it, and like lab rats with 90% of their brains re-routed to a pair of damp woollen socks the Christian philosophers performed their reality-evading trick on cue; and by doing so they did nothing but confirm Thomas Paine’s sophic 1794 observation:

“The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on nothing; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing.” (Thomas Paine, The Age Of Reason)

The experiment (first published by the always exceptional Jerry A. Coyne, a friend of Boudry) was simple enough: write an utterly nonsensical, anti-Darwin lecture abstract full of theological gibberish and submit it to two Christian philosophy conferences, including the Reformational Philosophy Association’s “The Future of Creation Order.” Now there’s no easy way of elaborating on this other than to say the abstract made less sense than a poem penned by a stoned buffy-headed marmoset using only a vacuum cleaner as a quill. Astonishingly though, the abstract was accepted without a moment’s hesitation and Boudry’s alter ego, Robert A. Maundy of the fictitious College of the Holy Cross, was slotted in as a speaker at both conferences… invitations he (of course) declined after announcing it all a hoax.

Now there simply aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe how awesome this 394 word slice of mesmerising mindlessness is, so get comfortable and prepare your brain for one the finest unhinged carnival rides it’s ever going to experience; a ride Christian theologians believed made perfect sense:

The Paradoxes of Darwinian Disorder.

Towards an Ontological Reaffirmation of Order and Transcendence.

Robert A. Maundy, College of the Holy Cross, Reno, Nevada

In the Darwinian perspective, order is not immanent in reality, but it is a self-affirming aspect of reality in so far as it is experienced by situated subjects. However, it is not so much reality that is self-affirming, but the creative order structuring reality which manifests itself to us. Being-whole, as opposed to being-one, underwrites our fundamental sense of locatedness and particularity in the universe. The valuation of order qua meaningful order, rather than order-in-itself, has been thoroughly objectified in the Darwinian worldview. This process of de-contextualization and reification of meaning has ultimately led to the establishment of ‘dis-order’ rather than ‘this-order’. As a result, Darwinian materialism confronts us with an eradication of meaning from the phenomenological experience of reality. Negative theology however suggests a revaluation of disorder as a necessary precondition of order, as that without which order could not be thought of in an orderly fashion. In that sense, dis-order dissolves into the manifestations of order transcending the materialist realm. Indeed, order becomes only transparent qua order in so far as it is situated against a background of chaos and meaninglessness. This binary opposition between order and dis-order, or between order and that which disrupts order, embodies a central paradox of Darwinian thinking. As Whitehead suggests, reality is not composed of disordered material substances, but as serially-ordered events that are experienced in a subjectively meaningful way. The question is not what structures order, but what structure is imposed on our transcendent conception of order. By narrowly focusing on the disorderly state of present-being, or the “incoherence of a primordial multiplicity”, as John Haught put it, Darwinian materialists lose sense of the ultimate order unfolding in the not-yet-being. Contrary to what Dawkins asserts, if we reframe our sense of locatedness of existence within a the space of radical contingency of spiritual destiny, then absolute order reemerges as an ontological possibility. The discourse of dis-order always already incorporates a creative moment that allows the self to transcend the context in which it finds itself, but also to find solace and responsiveness in an absolute Order which both engenders and withholds meaning. Creation is the condition of possibility of discourse which, in turn, evokes itself as presenting creation itself. Darwinian discourse is therefore just an emanation of the absolute discourse of dis-order, and not the other way around, as crude materialists such as Dawkins suggest.

Postscript: I’ve since been in contact with Boudry regarding the reaction of conference organisers after the hoax was revealed. Below is Maarten’s emails of the 13th and 14th of May, 2013

Thanks for your email, though surely you bestow too much honor on my humble hoax! 🙂 To answer your question: some theologians were outraged and accused me of dishonesty and abuse of academic trust, other theologians were blaming the organizers of the conference for not seeing through this obvious nonsense. Still others claimed that Jerry Coyne and I had missed very subtle distinctions between theology and Reformational philosophy. I plead guilty, though I can’t speak for Jerry. The conference board tried to ignore the kerfuffle as much as possible, though chairman Gerrit Glas has been noted for saying that, although the abstract puzzled him a bit, he gave it the benenit of the doubt, because after all postmodern writing are “often impenetrable”. Amen to that!

Best,

M.

You´re right: when I submitted the abstract, I thought I had pushed it too far, and that anyone with two neurons to rub together would see through it (I mean, seriously, that word pun with dis-order and this-order). It´s not just that the structure of the argument is unclear — literally every sentence is sheer nonsense. For me it was an exercise in writing pseudo-profundities with evocative language. As it turns out, it’s not easy to keep meaningful interpretations at bay. Your brain (or mine in any case) wants to construct a coherent narrative, so the trick is not to think about the previous sentences, but rather to focus on the grammar and syntax, and freely associate with the jargon of Sophisticated Theology. As soon as some part started to make sense, I went out of the window. The quote by John Haught is real, and appears in God after Darwin, if I’m not mistaken.

Best,

M.

 

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125 thoughts on “Mischievous genius

    • And that was precisely his point. But then again, “we reframe our sense of locatedness of existence within a the space of radical contingency of spiritual destiny, then absolute order reemerges as an ontological possibility” seems to make perfect sense, doesn’t it 🙂

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    • “the … radical contingency of spiritual destiny” lol that is fanfrickintastic. the ideas of contingency and destiny completely contradict each other … par for the course in the religious mind I suppose …

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    • Huh? Hardly. I remember learning about him in school, in a couple different classes actually. One was in connection with the Revolution of course, and another with respect to American literature. Maybe he isn’t lauded as much as you and I think he should be, but ignored? No.

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      • I actually rather like it when people make up words; All words were made up at one point, after all. If the person you’re speaking to understands what you’re saying, well, isn’t that the essence of communication? Besides, “locatedness” is fun to say out loud. Really, go ahead. Try it. Locatedness. Locatedness. It’s like biting into good soft french bread with a chewy crust. Hahaha

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m glad I wasn’t supposed to understand it, because I stopped reading after “the valuation of qua…” and was briefly ashamed of myself. And now I am happy again. 🙂

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    • Well done Charlie Bucket… You passed! You passed the rational human test! Now take that winners smile and proceed through the door over there on the left, and enjoy reality!

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  2. Sometimes, your posts make my pregnant brain feel stupid. I’m glad that I read some other comments on here to realize that the article actually made no sense. I was extra worried for a minute there!

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  3. Honey, they only read the title: Darwin Sucks. The rest was just icing. This was great man. Thanks for the aneurism.

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  4. It seems to me his whole point–in jesting of course–was that materialism doesn’t acknowledge a transcendent conception of reality. And that it is not so much about the empirical structure of order but the metaphysical idea of absolute order that is truly essential and meaningful for human existence.

    However, most of it is just nonsensical gibberish and a number of sentences in the faked abstract are only relevant to the idea above tangentially.

    Of course, the two Christian philosophy conferences should be properly humiliated for admitting the abstract. Did the two conferences have a response for why they admitted it, John?

    Regards

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    • Persto, I’m going to pretend i understood your first 75 words and just say, Uh hah, and hope you don’t ask for any clarification. 😉

      Not sure if there was a response. I wanted to contact Boudry (or even Coyne) but I couldn’t find an email and gave up. I’d be interested to hear if there was one… If I find out I’ll post an update.

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  5. Are you guys all a wee bit … dim? It makes perfect sense to me.

    Further more, oogle fweet twerble blip blip vladda-badda-BOOM! Und Gott schrtike das speegels in Lemurian armpitta brods danken anal twitch …

    There. Now I’ve explained it in terms so basic even you abject mental failures can understand; if you still don’t got it I give up.

    (SCOTTIE: beam me back up, please …)

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    • I think the general modus operandi for theologians is to beat the listener’s brain into submission using a mallet called “confusion.” This, of course, makes perfect sense as the promoters of any and all religious gibberish are holding nothing but an empty box.

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      • George Santayana, of the “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” quote, also hath said, “Nonsense is so good only because common sense is so limited”. Yo ho ho !

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      • Faith~! Ya gotta have faith.
        And to anyone brought up on the Holy Burble or the Holey Koran your quoted passage makes perfect sense.

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  6. It is nice to see triple B in action (bullshite baffles brains). It is unfortunate that Philosophy and other disciplines can descend into waggly prose strangling ouroboroses o’ doom so quickly.

    The above subterfuge would not as easy to pull off if one of the goals of philosophy was clear thinking and reasonable arguments as opposed to the word wanking that is far too common today.

    Lamentations about the state of philosophy is in aside, such an abstract couldn’t happen to a more deserving subset of individuals. 🙂

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  7. A more finely written example of pseudo-scientific theological blather may have never before been penned. lol

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  8. I was here…….but didn’t read. Just looked at the pictures. 🙂
    Thanks for your note of inquiry. Really miss being here and the fun. Plan to do some reading for a few days. Not sure if I feel like jumping back in yet, but I do feel better…..due to all the prayers and woo.

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  9. It seems unfortunate and incoherent that such an abstract is genuine of much contemporary ‘post-modernists’ and this hoax reveals much about the impression management that goes on in so many circles, not just academic (ha ha) ones. The world is full of this drive towards complexity. No-one in any kind of powerful position likes straightforward and simple. The reasons are many but mostly complexity is a tool of oppression designed to obscure clear thinking.

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    • Very well said. People are odd beasts, shy to admit they don’t understand something for fear of looking stupid. It’s a personality flaw which is easy to prey on. We all suffer from it, but i do at least try to raise my hand when i’m honestly confused.

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  10. I thought: Let me stroll through this site again and show John I am interested. I will find a blog post I haven’t read and give a like….real friendly like.
    Scroll scroll scroll.
    Got to the bottom of the post and found I had already liked it.
    Confess I didn’t read it for the 2nd time. 😦 But I did see mention of Jerry Cohn and I do read there sometimes. That should be sufficient I think.

    Like

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