Creationist Wisdom #641: The Philosophy Teacher

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Hutchinson News of Hutchinson, Kansas. According to Wikipedia, Hutchinson has been home to salt mines since 1887, thus its nickname of “Salt City.” The letter is titled Atheism is un-American. Good title, huh? The newspaper has a comments feature.

Unless the letter-writer is a politician, preacher, or other public figure, we won’t embarrass or promote him by using his full name. But this one is worthy of full-name treatment. He’s Jim Schinstock, described as “a retired philosophy instructor.” We Googled around and learned that he was a philosophy instructor at Hutchinson Community College. Excerpts from his letter will be enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!

Recent events, especially the Paris and Mali bombings, have caused some people to return to the thoughts of some classical atheists, particularly Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre. Neither “proved” God’s non-existence, which is logically impossible, but both said they saw no evidence for His existence. My philosophy classes struggled with this question, too.

Fair enough. Then he says:

Although there are better reasons to believe in God’s existence, we Americans often like to use “bottom line” thinking. Using that logic leads me to conclude that atheism is un-American.

What causes Jim to reach that conclusion? Let’s read on:

Atheism is un-American because it is impractical, and if there is an adjective that best describes most Americans’ philosophical point of view, it would be “pragmatic” or “practical.” Simply put, it “works” to believe in someone or something else beyond and outside our personal existence.

It works? That requires some explaining. Jim continues:

As a human community we have learned certain things from our collective experience.

Jim then gives us a long and detailed list of the things we’ve learned. We’ll shorten his list and leave out the details — except for the first item, because we want to give you a good idea of Jim’s thinking:

• We are helpless in the face of natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis and tornadoes. Manmade devastations like terrorist attacks and wars often leave us feeling weak and helpless. But religion assures us that we are not helpless because divine assistance is always available. God created the world and He is in charge. And if He doesn’t alter these events, He is always available to give us strength to face whatever calamities that may befall us.

The rest of Jim’s list is like that. Here are some of his additional items, greatly abbreviated:

• The universe is unjust. Nature shows no distinctions between good and evil people, between the just and the unjust. Rain falls on both the just and the unjust. Disasters strike us all implacably and equally. But religion assures us that this picture is false by assuring us that there is a cosmic system that is absolutely just.

• The universe is blind and uncaring. We humans may think that we are important, but there is nothing in nature that supports our specialness. … Religion paints another picture.

• The universe is capricious and unpredictable, just a collection of disconnected, random occurrences, showing no particular pattern, rhyme or reason. But our human brains have evolved to crave order, and if none appears evident, we try to impose our own order.

• We are mortal. We are born, live our few brief years, then die. In between, we get sick, grow old and bury loved ones. Is that all there is? Not so, religion assures us.

• There are no grounds for hope. The universe is running down, civilizations fall and disintegrate, and the whole of human history is purposeless. Religion gives a resounding “No!” to this bleak and dismal prognosis.

That’s how religion “works.” Then, at the end, Jim summarizes:

In other words, to me religion shows us a world where there is no death, where someone is in charge of things, where there is a plan for the world and human history, where each of us is valuable and significant, where justice prevails (now or later). We inhabit a universe and world where we are loved and supported, empathized with and understood; a world where we can dream and know that our dreams are not in vain.

So there you are, dear reader. That’s what they teach in philosophy class in a Kansas community college. Now you know why atheism is un-American.

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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22 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #641: The Philosophy Teacher

  1. Eddie Janssen

    Mad cow disease is the first thing that comes to mind.

  2. michaelfugate

    Post-modernism meets the American dream – facts, I don’t need no stinking’ facts, I need a good inspirational narrative. Human exceptionalism Christian exceptionalism American exceptionalism all rolled into “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and every other cheap cliché.

  3. He’s basically delusional all the way to the medical sense, and he wishes on a star that there is a heaven!

  4. So, all of us atheists should embrace … Islam?

  5. Jim says “In other words, to me religion shows us a world where there is no death”.

    Jim may be hooked on the eternal life sugar cube. I wonder what Jim’s feelings are concerning truth in advertising regulations?

  6. Jim the philosopher demonstrates why so many scientists ignore philosophers. And Jimbo, as Steve Ruis above implied, is it just your sky fairy that does all these wonderful, invisible things, or will any of the thousands of gods people have invented do just as well?

  7. So it is practical for the social animal homo sapiens to interpret natural events as socially caused? E.g. God quaked Haiti’s earth because Voodoo is devilish.

    Sounds more like capitulating to our failings and being intellectually lazy than being practical to me.

    Mr. Schinstock, is that American?

  8. We are helpless in the face of natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis and tornadoes. Manmade devastations like terrorist attacks and wars often leave us feeling weak and helpless. But religion assures us that we are not helpless because divine assistance is always available. God created the world and He is in charge. And if He doesn’t alter these events, He is always available to give us strength to face whatever calamities that may befall us.

    FIFY!

  9. Jim Schinstock philosophises:

    our human brains have evolved to crave order, and if none appears evident, we try to impose our own order

    even if that means making up feel-good fairy tales!

    There is no Santa Claus. Get over it, and embrace adulthood!

  10. abeastwood asks,
    “And Jimbo, as Steve Ruis above implied, is it just your sky fairy that does all these wonderful, invisible things, or will any of the thousands of gods people have invented do just as well?”

    Well, since Jimbo says it’s merely religion that does all these miraculous(?) feel-goods; i.e., it’s just all in our minds, any religion that one believes in should do the trick.

    So with that in mind, just send $49.95 + shipping & handling for the RSG Miracle Talisman. Guaranteed to make you feel better no matter what evils befall you. For an extra $9.95 you can get the Deluxe Gold-Plated Special Limited Edition, with its own Certificate of Authenticity.

    The RSG Miracle Talisman has been endorsed by ALL Republican 2016 Presidential candidates, as well as two-thirds of the House and Senate.
    (What’s that you say? What kind of a deal did I have to cut them? Why, I’m appalled that you would even dare to ask such a question!)

  11. michaelfugate

    Does make me think of Voltaire’s “Candide” making fun of Leibniz’s theodicy – it really is the best of all possible worlds and even better when we die. What more could one hope for?

  12. I’m sure Ted Cruz would readily agree with Jim, atheists are unfit to be President so Cruz says.

    Jim offers nothing new that Neanderthals already believed.

    Hey, as a sidelight, here’s a science test that I bet old Jim would flunk;

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/are-you-science-literate-take-our-quiz-and-find-out_5620117ce4b069b4e1fb70e3?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592&ref=yfp

  13. “religion shows us a world where there is no death”
    A horrible idea. Like Farrokh Bulsara sang: who wants to live forever? Not me.

    “where justice prevails”
    Justice? Auschwitz commander Rudolf Höss converted, confessed, repented and put his faith in Jesus’ hands. Most of his 1,5 million victims, jews, didn’t. According to christian atonement doctrine Höss sits hand in hand with the christian god now, while his victims don’t. I cannot help picturing Höss singing the hymn “s***w the jews” in Heaven.

  14. @David K: I especially enjoyed question 11. Perhaps someone should send the test to our friend Ol’Hambo!
    I had a measly 37/44.

  15. @DavidK: Thanks for sharing the Huffpost science quiz! Just curious — how’d you do? I had to guess on one answer, but luckily, I got it right. It was the one about what part of the brain controls movement. 27 years of teaching science finally pays off!

    What’s heartening is to see how many of the questions were answered correctly by a high percentage (usually >90%) of the participants. But then, I guess that would be expected, given the demographics of the Huffpost’s readership. There were only a few questions where a majority of there respondents were wrong.

  16. @retiredsciguy
    Pretty good, I missed a couple easy ones, I should have known better.

  17. Ceteris Paribus

    I live here in Kansas, within an hour’s drive of Philosopher Jim’s hangout Institution of Higher Learning. Probably if you went up to “Hutch” and rounded up Jim and 99 other anonymous Kansans chosen at random, you would likely find that Jim’s particular flavor of psychopathy was pretty much representative of the herd.

    As an educated and caring scholar, Jim was just much better prepared to put it all in writing for his newspaper, and graciously saving his cohorts from the bother of swiping one of those little pencils and envelopes from the back of their church pew to write the story. We in Kansas can at least be thankful for that.

  18. Dave Luckett

    Since Jim’s entire screed consists of arguments from (unsubstantiated) consequence, I wonder where on earth he trained in logic and rhetoric, which is supposed to happen long before we get to epistemology. I had never taken wishful thinking on this massive a scale to be part of the cultural inheritance of Americans.

    Jesus said that you shouldn’t scatter pearls before swine. Jim seems to be more in the business of slinging swill, which would imply that he knows his customers only too well.

  19. • The universe is unjust. Nature shows no distinctions between good and evil people, between the just and the unjust. Rain falls on both the just and the unjust. Disasters strike us all implacably and equally. But religion assures us that this picture is false by assuring us that there is a cosmic system that is absolutely just.

    • The universe is blind and uncaring. We humans may think that we are important, but there is nothing in nature that supports our specialness. … Religion paints another picture.

    Religion says one thing and the reality is the opposite.

    My conclusion is that religion is wrong. The philosophy instructor somehow concludes from that religion is right!

  20. Jim Schinstock opines:

    [To] me religion shows us a world where there is no death, where someone is in charge of things, where there is a plan for the world and human history, where each of us is valuable and significant, where justice prevails (now or later). We inhabit a universe and world where we are loved and supported, empathized with and understood; a world where we can dream and know that our dreams are not in vain.

    Fine. So how does that make atheism un-American? How does it make religion true?
    Schinstock rabbits on, offering this nugget about what atheists supposedly believe:

    The universe is capricious and unpredictable, just a collection of disconnected, random occurrences, showing no particular pattern, rhyme or reason.

    No atheist believes any such foolish thing. Atheists believe in natural laws, including those of causality and probability. But Jim continues his critique:

    But our human brains have evolved to crave order, and if none appears evident, we try to impose our own order.

    That can be demonstrated. Human beings see faces in clouds, in smudges on walls and so on. And there are Rorschach inkblots.

    Science seeks order “where none is apparent” on the assumption that there is order, whether God-given or not. Religion simply assumes order comes from the divine.

  21. @Eric Lipps
    They are still fighting Lucretius De rerum natura, the materialism of random motions of atoms.
    The haven’t had a new idea since the 18th century.

  22. Reflectory writes Sounds more like capitulating to our failings and being intellectually lazy than being practical to me.

    Mr. Schinstock, is that American?

    Unfortunately for many of us, the answer is yes, that is American.