Heretic!

I have just finished reading Prof. Matti Leisola’s excellent account of a lifetime in academic research in the field of bio-engineering.  Published earlier in 2018, it provides a fascinating insight into molecular biology, and the clear messages this field presents in relation to the subject of Intelligent Design.

Before I turn to consider the book, I wanted to note in passing the way in which this man and his work is presented on the internet.  First off, you won’t find him on Wikipedia – at least not at first glance.  Given that Wikipedia and its trolls seem to see themselves as the means for validating an individual’s status on the planet, that’s not an insignificant fact.  There is a Finnish Wiki page (Leisola is a Finn) and, having run it through Google Translate, one is able to detect the characteristic imprint of the kind of simplistic reductionism employed by this source:  Leisola is forced into that convenient box labeled ‘creationist’, because everyone knows that such people are anti-science, anti-rational and believe the world is flat.  Creationists are instantly dismissible, with a wave of the hand.

The RationalWiki page does something similar – Leisola is plonked, unceremoniously, on their list of ‘creation scientists’, as if merely appearing there is sufficient evidence of crimes against intellectual endeavour.

And that’s it.  One would not know that Prof. Leisola (born 1947) had published 140 peer-reviewed articles in the field, and won a number of awards in 1987, 1997, 2000 and 2003 for research that places him at the forefront of molecular biology.  His 2018 book, ‘Heretic’ is a retrospective look at a lifetime in research, reflecting upon the nature of his interactions with the scientific community, as his own work on enzymes began to demonstrate the utter inadequacy of Darwinian evolutionary mechanisms as an explanation for what he was finding at a molecular level.  In his conclusions, he is clearly not alone – others, such as James Shapiro, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Chicago, have also understood that the Darwinian paradigm is a busted flush – and actually contributes nothing to the ‘science’ itself.

Leisola realised, quite early in his career, that evolutionary explanations were constructed out of rhetoric and circular reasoning, and – more importantly – provided negligible insight into the fantastically-complex and organised functional components at a cellular level.  His book shows, in careful steps, how his own views developed through a synthesis between his research and the fruits from wider projects such as Encode. He demonstrates that it is perfectly possible to be an ‘intellectually fulfilled’ and productive scientist without having to submit one’s thinking processes to Darwinian dogma.  Look!  No pink unicorns.  No incipient tendency towards flat-earthism.  No pathological desire to smuggle ‘god’ into every research paper, or present the operation of the natural world as an interminable sequence of supernatural events.  These kinds of attribution trot lightly off the tongues of those who view science through the burkha of atheism.

No, what we find is just solid, steady, reliable, reputable science.  As the title of his book suggests, Leisola’s very existence within the academy surely should not be possible, if one were to take the rhetoric of Messrs Dawkins, Coyne or Krauss seriously.  That thinking Christians can deliver such value in scientific terms, without embarrassing themselves through a superfluity of superstition, must surely irk the high priests of the new atheism.  Yet, Leisola pulls it off with consummate ease.  And, more importantly, demonstrates that Intelligent Design (ID) has been a better predictor of scientific outcomes than the prevailing Darwinian orthodoxy.  ‘Junk DNA’ is a classic case in point.  Richard Dawkins’ prediction in 1976 (The Selfish Gene) as well as those of Orgel & Crick (1980), Futuyama (2005), Shermer (2006), Coyne (2009) and Avise (2010) have all been  invalidated by our exploration of the genome and we have arrived at an understanding that correlates with the model which has been consistently articulated by ID theorists.

I close with a brief extract, where Leisola employs the analogy of the early theory of phlogiston, a mysterious substance which was supposedly released during the burning process.  Despite serious doubts about its viability as an explanatory theory, phlogiston was foundational to chemistry education for one and a half centuries.  This, says Leisola, is just like…

The Darwinian theory of evolution (is the phlogiston of our day), festooned with a myriad and growing number of patches.  Evolution is slow and gradual, except when it’s fast.  It is dynamic and created huge changes over time, except when it keeps everything the same for millions of years.  It explains both extreme complexity and elegant simplicity.  It tells us how birds learned to fly and how some lost that ability.  Evolution made cheetahs fast, and turtles slow.  Some creatures it made big and others small; some gloriously beautiful, and some boringly grey.  It forced fish to walk and walking animals to return to the sea.  It diverges except when it converges; it produces exquisitely fine-tuned designs except when it produces junk.  Evolution is random without direction except when it moves towards a target.  Life under evolution is a cruel battlefield except when it demonstrates altruism.  Evolution explains virtues and vice, love and hate, religion and atheism.  And it does all this with a growing number of ancillary hypotheses.  Modern evolution is the Rube Goldberg of theoretical constructs.  And what is the result of all this speculative ingenuity?  Like the defunct theory of phlogiston, it explains everything without explaining anything well.

(Heretic by Prof. Matti Leisola.  (Seattle, Discovery Institute Press, 2018), p. 198)

 

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Tim Peake and the folly of wonder

It is almost like that opening scene in Terry Gilliam’s film, Brazil.  Where the thought police blast a hole through the ceiling of an entirely innocent family, bag the husband up, and drag him away, never to be seen again.  In that dystopian vision, the culprit was a cockroach causing an office printer to malfunction – here, it was Tim Peake’s misplaced sense of wonder about the sheer, jaw-dropping splendour of the earth below him, as he hung in orbit.  Better keep such utterances to yourself – I listened to his comment (during a TV interview) about the mere possibility of a divine creator of the universe, one which he immediately covered over with skeptical caveats, and winced.  “Brace yourself, Tim”, I thought.  This was one of those “I mentioned the war, but I think I got away with it” moments.  Except he didn’t.

For there are those who apparently cannot even tolerate such an understated, tentatively-expressed thought, when articulated so inoffensively by the nation’s favourite astronaut.  Robin McKie is one of them, although in his latest Guardian Opinion piece, be betrays little evidence of either ‘science’ or ‘editing’ in his feature.  No doubt, the irritation in this case is because the atheistical left cannot, with any credibility, emit their usual howls of outrage, drawing on their established patois of ‘ignorant superstition’ and ‘religious bigotry’ as justification.  Within a few paragraphs, Mr McKie is laying into God’s apparently bungled design of the human eye, whereas poor old Tim Peake hadn’t really progressed beyond briefly wondering if there might, after all, be something behind all of this wondrousness.  Yes, better bring him right back down to earth, and remind him just how rubbish everything actually is.  After all (a la Richard Dawkins), if creation looks as if it is pretty special,  that must be some kind of illusion, brought about by blind, purposeless forces.  In the long run, it’s all just landfill, so you’d better get used to it, Tim, and not wax lyrical with those hifalutin thoughts of yours.

I live in hope that, one day, we’re going to decide we’ve had enough of this patronising, dumbed-down atheism, because it assumes that its audience are all idiots.  For Mr McKie is performing the usual alchemy, when constructing his polemic – we leap, with all the balletic grace of an airborne hippo, from ‘intelligent design’ straight to ‘creationism’ in the very next line.  The one does not need to lead to the other – one of my favourite I.D. thinkers could certainly not be accused of the heinous crime of religiosity, and there are no doubt plenty of people who accept the fundamental idea of God as creator, without feeling a need to look into I.D.  And, perhaps it’s almost too obvious to point out, but what we get in this polemic, is something that looks suspiciously like a kind of statement of faith:

In fact, the evolution of the human eye was a basic business.  It evolved from simpler versions that in turn evolved from even simpler eyes that in turn evolved from basic light sensors.

Yep.  Right.  In fact, the very first optical devices appeared in the Cambrian Explosion – and included reflectors, lenses and cornea, and presumably all of that neural malarkey to make use of them.    Nearly every eye design that exists today appeared overnight in geological terms, as fully complete as such optical systems would need to be, to perform their purpose.

Not that we needed to even go there.  Allowing Tim Peake his moment of wonder would hardly endanger the atheistical stranglehold of the nation’s psyche, and might even have been suggestive of qualities such as tolerance and grace.  We could all do with a little more wonder in our lives.

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The Good Pagan

I have a first edition of Rosalind Murray’s 1939 work, The Good Pagan’s Failure.  The author is perhaps better known for her fiction – The Happy Tree is still published by Persephone Books under their iconic design.

Born in 1890 and brought up within the left-leaning ‘pagan’ humanism and Fabianism of George Bernard Shaw and Bertrand Russell, she died in 1967 a convinced Christian, having converted to Roman Catholicism.  Liberal Anglicanism held little attraction for her, for its values and intellectual coherence were about as insubstantial as that of the secular humanism that she became disillusioned with.  Naturalism with vestments is still paganism in a posh frock.

Murray’s book is not one that sits easily with the contemporary style.  Running to 176 pages, it consists of only three chapters and there is no introduction, nor is there an index.  It therefore takes the form of an extended discourse which one has to navigate with some care in order to follow her logic.  There are frequent references to ‘the last war’, and one has to forcibly remind oneself that she is thinking of WW1 – the book is published on the eve of the declaration of war against Hitler’s Germany.  Nevertheless, her description of the prevailing mindset seems apposite:

The contemporary world is atomic in its outlook; dissociated ideas, emotions, sense impressions, are almost deliberately cultivated at the expense of continuous or long-distance considerations; cause and effect, dependence and relation are at a discount, and to the atomic mind, the realisation of such underlying unity is alien and distasteful.

You can see how such a fragmented world has little in reserve to deal with the kind of periodic upsurge of barbarism (a frequent theme in this book) which was about to consume Europe.  And her words ring true in our current climate where human identity is sliced and diced in increasingly surreal and self-contradictory ways, without reference to any kind of coherent bigger picture, merely subject to the imperious demands of paganism.

Murray is clear about her own journey:

Born and brought up among enlightened Pagans, their outlook, and their standards and their values, are those which I first knew, by which I was educated; the Pagan world of limited perfection was that familiar to me, as I grew up.

In maturity I have found enlightened Paganism inadequate to explain life as I see it, inadequate to deal with it as I find it.  The picture presented to me in youth has proved, so it seems to me, a misleading picture, the account of existence offered, a false account; the key with which I was furnished, unlocks no door.

I have found that the Christian world-picture, world-story, explanation, does fit the world that I know and have to live in; the alternative key has, for me, unlocked the door.

Murray is not one who looks back on some kind of mythical ‘golden age’ of Christendom, as if that alone is the ‘proof’ of the failure of enlightened Paganism.  Her view of the characteristics of successive cultures is very far from being idealistic, but she does understand very clearly that the Rationalistic appropriation of Christian ethics has formed one strand of a long-playing dynamic which allows both fascist and communist to play in the same ballpark, and lay claim to a similar terminology.  It is possible to ‘blow’ a bird’s egg whilst leaving only the tiniest pin-prick behind as evidence.  In an age utterly content with the surface appearance of things, the arguments, such as they are allowed to be, play out with little reference to a deeper reality, or the bigger, overarching picture.

In some respects, however, Rosalind Murray is an echo of a lost age.  Whilst her intention is to confront and critique the secular humanism of her youth, and thereby demonstrate its inadequacy as a system of thought, she does so in a remarkably kind and genteel manner.  Her language is marked throughout by economy and understatement.  One senses that she would not survive for long in a culture dominated by the summary brutality of social media, or the proliferation of ‘rights’ activists, each driven by a kind of Neo-darwinian imperative to survive through the demise of others.

Ironically, perhaps, Murray’s best-known work of fiction is still available through a publisher which embodies the very ‘good pagan’ worldview that she saw right through and left behind.

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A Most Welcome Visitation

CraigHazenVisit.001

As Brendan O’Neill recently wrote, our streets have for the last few days been congested in a paroxysm of “mass virtue-signalling”.  The media interviews with participating members of the public are testimony to our liberal education system, judging by the sheer breadth of inarticulate incomprehension on display.  No doubt there’s plenty to dislike about Trump, but we have uncritically welcomed others with far worse crimes under their belts.  It seems that ideology breeds its own kind of myopia.

Thankfully, other American guests slipped into Blighty without requiring the suspension of blimps over the London skyline, and Dr. Craig Hazen from Biola University was a very welcome guest speaker at a hastily-convened evening at Highfields Church on July 7th.  We only had a week’s notice but even so, around fifty folks from churches around Cardiff were able to enjoy Craig’s entertaining and engaging take on comparative religion, as well as the insights derived from his own direct experience of the now lamentably degraded discourse within the USA’s most aggressively secular universities.

Christian Apologetics, as a discipline, is one that engages some folks, but puts others off.  The primary reason for the latter is often the sheer degree of technical detail.  Craig managed to avoid that pitfall entirely, by panning back and focusing on key principles and exploring the kind of logic which ought to bear fruit if open-minded agnostics were seeking to explore spirituality for themselves.  He showed that Christianity:

  1. Is uniquely testable, unlike other mainstream religious or philosophical systems which float free of the kind of evidence which might help you assess their veracity;
  2. Involves a free gift from God – so no complicated rituals, no sitting around in lotus positions, no painful asceticism;
  3. Provides a picture of the world which correlates precisely with what it actually is – no need, for instance, to attempt to dispense with the problem of evil and suffering by labelling it ‘maya’ and pretending that it does not really exist;
  4. Has Jesus right at the centre of it – most other religions wants a piece of Him in some way or another, but within the Christian Gospel is where you heard it all first.

In my last blogpost, I wrote about how the atheist, John Gray, comes to exactly the same conclusion as Craig – namely that Christianity is unlike any other ‘religious’ belief system because it is uniquely testable.  In my next blog, I’ll explore how Gray both giveth and taketh away, where his own appeal to selected authorities effectively denies the open-minded enquirer the means to engage with the claims of Christ, as Craig presented them to us last week.

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Seven Types of Atheism by John Gray (Penguin Random House, 2018)

It is always refreshing to open a new book by John Gray as he is so adept at stripping away much of the white noise which characterises so much atheist discourse, in order to let the reader see clearly right through to the guts of the matter.  This book is a useful contribution in that the author, in his usual incisive style, embarks upon a forensic dissection of the various models of atheism which are imbibed, often in the most uncritical manner possible, by modern secularists.  Gray has identified seven main variants, but much like the proliferation of gender identities (56 and counting on FaceBook), no doubt there will be those amongst the throngs of the godless who will complain that they have been overlooked in what is otherwise a meticulous categorisation.

And John Gray should know.  As a convinced atheist himself, but possessed of an uncannily objective frame of mind, he is able to present these seven models, warts and all.  This is immensely helpful for those of us who are at times baffled by the various permutations of atheist thinking.  And it’s clear that Gray shares a similar bafflement, at least when it comes to the kind of unquestioned presuppositions which appear to underpin most of the more modern variants.  The ‘Seven Types of Atheism’ covered by his treatment are:

  1. The New Atheism (a 19th Century orthodoxy)
  2. Secular Humanism (a Sacred Relic)
  3. A Strange Faith in Science (the abolition of man, evolution vs ethics & transhumanism)
  4. Atheism, Gnosticism and Modern Political Religion (Bockelson, Bolshevism etc)
  5. God-haters (Marquis de Sade and Empson)
  6. Atheism without Progress (Santayana, Conrad et al)
  7. The Atheism of Silence (Schopenhauer, Spinoza & Shestov)

Of these seven variants, Gray is self-confessedly drawn to the last two, and I suspect (judging from the tone of his commentary), it’s the last one which holds the most sway.  This is the bleakest of all possible positions, but it is, I suspect, the most logical, given the starting presuppositions of an atheistic worldview.  It is not a perspective which one encounters very frequently, as most modern atheists are riffing off models 1-5, with (usually) a very heavy emphasis on model 1.  It is this first model which yodels most loudly about its intellectual credentials but which, according to Gray, actually has the flimsiest basis for such pretensions.  In practice, as we observe the secular hegemony attempting to maintain its ascendent position within Western culture, the strands woven into this kind of ideology tend to be drawn most frequently from models 1-4.

I think that John Gray would have enjoyed a constructive exchange with Francis Schaeffer, despite coming to a conclusion about the existence of a Creator-God which is diametrically the opposite of Schaeffer’s conviction.  In his treatment of model 1 (the New Atheism) he demonstrates persuasively how the whole house of cards stands (and therefore falls) upon the philosophical contributions of Henri de Saint-Simon and his disciple Auguste Comte, effectively spawning a new religion in the shadow of Madame Guillotine.  Schaeffer had a world-class mind when it came to excavating the bedrock upon which ideologies are founded.  This backdrop to modern atheism is all-but invisible to its adherents, yet (as Gray states) “…it formed the template for the secular humanism that all evangelical atheists promote today” (p10).  Swiftly, he moves on to demonstrate ‘Why science cannot dispel religion’, an intriguing statement, given that most populist exponents of atheism make precisely the reverse argument.  He gives his reasons at some length and they are actually the mainstream lines of reasoning advanced by Christian philosophers and theologians.  This is neither rocket-science, nor the kind of blinkered metaphysical eccentricity which is supposed to be the unique disability of those ‘faith-heads’ that Dawkins and his cohorts love to revile.  After all, John Gray is singularly uninfected by anything resembling faith when he says, “…unless you believe the human mind mirrors a rational cosmos – the faith of Plato and the Stoics, which helped shape Christianity – science can only be a tool the human animal has invented to deal with a world it cannot fully understand” (p13).  This is perhaps a more nuanced way of restating the profound doubt that Darwin himself articulated in a letter to his friend William Graham Down in July 1881, when he stated “With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the minds of lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.  Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”  If our explanation of origins is (i) undirected, (ii) unintelligent and (iii) solely a product of physical functions of matter, then there can clearly be no hierarchy of ‘science’ over and above ‘religion’, despite all the most optimistic pronouncements of the most devoted disciples of what Gray categorises as a ‘new religion’.

For all these positives, there remain the usual frustrations with Gray’s thinking.  He very correctly identifies the key truth that, uniquely, “…Christianity is liable to falsification by historical fact” and then accurately comments that “In contrast, Christianity will be badly shaken if the received story of Jesus can be shown to be false” (p15), a line of thinking which directly echoes what the Apostle Paul himself argued in 1 Corinthians 15 verses 16-19.  And then, having stated the proposition with admirable clarity, he immediately dives down the rabbit-hole of Enlightenment scepticism, as embodied by the theories of Reimarus (18th C) and Strauss (19th C).  There is nary a reference in the direction of modern scholarship which has systematically exposed the pathology of this form of  scepticism and which instead supplies an abundance of support for the historicity of the New Testament narratives.  This is a surprising defect in a new book, published in the UK only a month or two ago.  It is, however, indicative of the lengths that atheists have to go to, to prop up their ideology, once models 1-5 have been convincingly trashed.  As another  contemporary atheist thinker made clear, in 1997:

“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfil many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.” (Richard Lewontin).

This is a minor, and entirely predictable disappointment, however.  Overall, this book is a model of clarity and rigour, and I do highly recommend it.

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Thankfully, there’s always Easter

IMG_0893Sometimes, it is simply a relief to discover articles embodying the current penchant for secular idiocy within right-wing organs of public opinion, such as The Telegraph.  Linda Woodhead’s daft, and profoundly uninformed piece in the 27th March edition, entitled ‘Is Jesus the latest – or was he the first – victim of #MeToo?’, after the initial irritation, leaves one with a sense that all is right with the world.  Reading a distinctly 21st century fad back into 1st century Palestine makes, oh-so much sense.

After all, as if there is a kind of competition in vacuousness, we then have Simon Jenkins’ rather sad exercise in reductionism in the 30th March edition of The Guardian, entitled ‘Happy Easter to you.  Now let’s nationalise our churches’.

It’s as if Easter has morphed into a kind of special occasion for the triumph of ideology over sensible enquiry and discourse, but at least it is reassuring to be reminded that this is not a market that the Left has entirely cornered.  Give it time.

You can virtually guarantee that the liberal media will bulge like overripe plums with this kind of guff at Easter time.  Perhaps one should be relieved that they find it impossible to let the occasion pass without some sort of baseless sermonising; it is encouraging that we have not yet made Christ’s resurrection so anodyne that it may be ignored with impunity.  Simon Jenkins does not content himself with merely another shallow observation about declines in attendance within the established church.  No, as a self-professed ‘non-worshipper’, he is not slow in his demand that ‘our churches’ should be nationalised.  The pathology of appropriation appears undiminished over the passing years.

The sadness of this kind of material lies not in the nature of the criticism, but rather in the apparent inability of these writers to consider matters with any degree of rigour.  Linda Woodhead may be ‘Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University’, but you’d never be aware of that simply from the content of her article in The Telegraph.  Perhaps she is just another example of political ideology masquerading as academic competence within our universities, contexts which increasingly appear to be more driven by politics than by academic enquiry.  Perhaps sociology is a discipline which lives within its own little silo and specialises in ignoring reputable academic texts.  Perish the thought.

Alongside the sadness lies an inevitable frustration.  If one seeks to assess this material with any kind of thoughtful critique, one is spoiled for choice.  The quality of this channel of public discourse is now so profoundly denatured, that the act of engagement itself becomes a stretched and unproductive exercise.  Where does one start?  The path of sanity lies in consigning all of it to the bin, and hoping that it may not be recycled in any intelligible format.  But the kind of marxist ideology running through Simon Jenkins’ article should not be allowed to pass unchallenged, especially when it is so reflective of the kinds of agenda played out by Stalin and Mao.  Jenkins argues that “…churches should be at the beating heart of each community – but a secular heart, as well as a religious one.”

It is difficult to imagine that such a comment could have been made without some kind of awareness of historic trends within Anglicanism.  Firstly, these buildings did, historically, represent the ‘beating heart’ of the community, and the nature of that heart was, essentially, a religious one.  Without that vital faith, there would have been none of these buildings whose emptiness Jenkins decries, and it is difficult to discern any residual ‘beating heart’ within a secularised culture that would be sufficient to sustain them if communities simply comprise ‘non-worshippers’ such as the author.  The problem of these buildings is all wrapped up in the decline of the impulse which created them in the first place, and repurposing will solve nothing – unless the secularists have in mind delegating that function to islamists.

And secondly, speaking as someone who has been a reasonably regular partaker of Anglican services over the last forty years, it would be difficult to overstate the degree to which the ‘religious’ heart has already been replaced with the mechanical, secular alternative.  Agreed, there are pockets of resistance to this trend, but in so many instances what one encounters are the forms and the words which have been hollowed out from the inside.  Scratch the surface, and the values underneath are often secular values, the responses to culture are secular responses, the underlying beliefs owe more to secular ideology than anything one might associate with Christian belief.  Secularism has already done it’s job – that’s why those buildings lie empty on Sundays, and throughout the week.  There’s a whole lot more to Christianity, than a kind of communal articulation of the words of the liturgy, especially when those words no longer reflect the convictions of so many of the clergy.  Besides which, we’ve been there before:  Christian universities have, in many instances, been exhorted to ‘share’ their spaces with secularists, and we all know where that ended up.

Thankfully, there are many other churches which do not mirror the narrative of decline that Simon Jenkins appears to revel in – and many of them were built to support astounding revivals of biblical Christianity at a time when a kind of proto-secularism was attempting to shut down the religious life of the nation.  Thankfully, there is always Easter.

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The take-down of Jordan Peterson

It’s fair to say that many of us were caught on the hop by the phenomenon that is Jordan C. Peterson.  My own initial response, whilst knowing precious little else about him, was one of amusement when I encountered a few YouTube videos which demonstrated his preternatural ability to deal with the kind of politically-correct banalities which have pervaded our academic institutions.  Latterly, I have followed his debates with various groups, generally on the theme of academic freedoms, and was (of course) entranced by that TV interview with Channel 4 journalist, Cathy Newman, which was like a kind of ideological train-wreck, in slow-motion.  Within the left/secular hegemony which now dominates our universities, people seem to be losing their jobs for a lot less than this, yet Peterson doesn’t seem to care who he offends – and, for a while at least, he appears to be getting away with it.  Coming from a Christian tradition, where the challenging of authorities and power-groups has been very much central to evangelical thought, it is hard not to warm to the man even though I struggle to know where to place him.

Nathan J. Robinson, Editor of the leftwing ‘Current Affairs’ magazine doesn’t share my struggles, but then he is so keen to parade his apparently clear insights into Peterson – insights which run contrary to a wide range of authorities that he is happy to reference – that I am forced to conclude that he must be privy to a special kind of divine inspiration which has passed the rest of us by.  Either that, or there’s a whole lot or virtue signalling going on in his March 14th piece, entitled The Intellectual We Deserve.  Perish the thought.

I’ve read a fair bit of Peterson, and it would be true to say that I don’t find him easy.  I’ve listened to rather more of him, and I find that a whole lot easier to follow – but what Robinson is attempting is a kind of hatchet-job, sufficient to satisfy the leftwing faithful, but which somehow manages to miss the point.  Caleb Terekhov’s frustratingly brief analysis of Robinson’s piece does accurately identify the tactics that are deployed by the author: poisoning the well, the use of cherry-picked or uncited or out-of-context quotes, making a variety of unsupported claims and wilfully mis-interpreting passages in Peterson’s writings.  He is quite right – I’ve verified those extracts and it is difficult to conclude anything other than that Robinson is quite deliberately misrepresenting Peterson to the faithful.

In some areas, however, Robinson is quite correct.  Credit where credit’s due.  Cathy Newman did spend much of that Channel 4 interview putting words into Peterson’s mouth, but then that kind of tactic, within that media channel, is hardly a surprising rarity.  What was surprising was how unfazed Peterson was by it all, and how congenial his responses were in the face of a belligerent interview technique that has been crafted over the years in order to silence and demonise dissenters.  He is also quite correct when he says, “But here the left and academia actually bear a decent share of blame” and “…we need to think seriously about what has gone wrong.”  Given that on the Venn diagram of influences on culture, the terms ‘left’ and ‘academia’ now largely overlap, the failure that he describes is more a cultural void that someone like Peterson is speaking into, because the other voices are, relatively speaking, merely white noise.  And thirdly, Robinson is correct that “…you can’t escape politics”.  I suspect that he wouldn’t question that state of affairs, but I think that I would.   A hundred years ago, you might have successfully escaped politics, but that is no longer a possibility.  As the Christian worldview has been rolled back by the secularists, what has filled the void has been politics, to such an extent that it is now almost impossible to say anything at all, without someone accusing you of political biases – even if one was unaware of it at the time.  And, over time, that political infill is becoming increasingly depleted of intellectual content, to such an extent that it could well be replaced by militant Islam.  I, for one, welcome the fallout from Peterson’s interventions if they do at least highlight the intellectual vapidity at the heart of the current consensus and perhaps cause us to consider how much we have lost under the secularists.

Of course, in being ‘right’ in these observations, Robinson is conveying relatively little in terms of new information – a shortcoming which is almost identical to the one that he insists on castigating Peterson for, repeatedly, throughout his article.  He clearly dislikes Peterson’s use of abstruse terminology, and whilst I agree that it does not make the man easier to understand, it’s worth noting that he (Robinson) makes no allowance for the fact that Peterson is a devoted student of Jungian psychology.  The diagrams which Robinson deprecates (“They are masterpieces of unprovable gibberish”) are a direct product of that area of study, one that I am quite happy to admit that I am largely ignorant of.  Robinson deals with his own ignorance either by ignoring it, or by pretending that it is Peterson’s fault.  There are in fact plenty of “masterpieces of unprovable gibberish” out there, and for around a century, many of them have dominated our academic institutions.  Increasingly, we are seeing the variants of Darwinism as one example, plus also the various ideological offshoots which have come to exercise a degree of intellectual authority out of all proportion to their evidential basis.  In that latter connection, may I commend to you Wendell Berry’s excellent essay on E. O. Wilson’s Consilience (entitled ‘Life is a Miracle:  An essay against modern superstition’)?  It would be great if our secular overlords were as finely attuned to all kinds of ‘unprovable gibberish’, and the academy might then be able to get itself back into some kind of intellectual order.

It is true to say that there are moments when Peterson’s terminology lapses into an almost liturgical rhythm.  Robinson gives us a few examples and then belittles them by stating, “These are pompous, biblical ways of saying…”  This is one diagnostic of the left/secularist’s antipathy towards Peterson, for he certainly does resort to a great deal of biblical analogy and there are those for whom even the articulation of such words is a kind of affliction of their comfortable atheism.  It must be one of the unforgivable sins to be seen quoting a biblical construct without then immediately consigning it to the naughty step.  Of course, Peterson references biblical examples, (a) because they are familiar to him, and (b) because he feels that in some way they are symbolic of his Jungian psychology.  There is a pragmatism to this kind of allusion – it is not, I suspect, driven by any personal convictions about the Bible or the nature of God, but rather simply because he feels that it works.  In a culture where pragmatism is everything, you would have thought that this might pass with relatively little comment, but when one reads the negative reviews of his book, one realises that anyone who treats the Bible as in any way authoritative must be demonised.

I do not therefore believe that, for all of his admirable qualities, Jordan Peterson is a modern-day equivalent of Martin Luther, nailing his ’12 Rules for Life’ to the door of the Cathedral of Political Correctness.  I think that, on balance, people would be better off reading this book than by not reading it, and if it does help people to question the relativistic pap that they are being force-fed through the media, and think about what it means to lead an ethically good life, then that would be a huge step forwards from where the secularists have taken us.  But that, on its own, is not enough:  Peterson hints at how much more we need to do.

 

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