Nothing of the Gaps?

This post is a direct response to the post The Nothing of the Gaps at the Two Catholic Men and a Blog blog.

Sometimes I like to have a peek over the picket fence to see what is going on in the apologetics corner. I'm never disappointed by the results, and by never I mean always.

The post in question states the following:
“Any thinking Christian will, of course, acknowledge the many secondary causes that exist in all of reality, but God as the first cause of all things material and immaterial is a non-negotiable dogma. Likewise, a strict materialist or strong atheist will recognize secondary causes, but do they not essentially defer to “nothing” as the ultimate answer to certain gaps? So we end up with "the nothing of the gaps".”

Luckily, I have an answer handy about essentially deferring to the nothing of the gaps. Do atheists do it? No. What is the nothing of the gaps anyway? It seems to me that Ben thinks that not having an answer is an invalid position, that saying we don't know means we are wrong and someone who claims an answer is more right, whatever that may mean.

Ben goes on to give examples. Which I will address in turn:

The Gap from Meaning:

Since you've read the post, I won't quote the whole thing, but his essential objection to atheists being able to create their own meaning is that "meaning is received, not made. ". His argument for meaning being received, not made is unknown. There is no argument for that. We are forced to conclude that Ben just sees meaning this way based on his own subjective interpretation of meaning, or maybe based on what Ratzinger has said. Unfortunately, Ratzinger holds no authority on this blog. 

If you want to read more about atheism and meaning, I've written quite a bit about that

The Gap from Goodness:

Ben asks the imaginary atheist:
“Q: What is the ultimate source for the good, the beautiful and the true?”

He imagines atheists saying “nothing”, but I object to the question itself. Why are we to believe that there is an ultimate source for anything in the first place? If we had found that beauty is biological would that count as an ultimate source? I’m not sure what the requirements would be for an ultimate source, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Ben was setting up a question that could really only have one answer based on his understanding of the question, and that is “god”.

The Gap from Intelligence:

Ben asks where the intelligibility of the universe comes from, and answers on behalf of his imaginary atheist that the answer should be nothing. Once again I need to emphasize that each of these questions can be answered simply if we say that we don’t know. Is the universe truly intelligible, or do we see from our simple ape existence a mirage of intelligibility? What is apparent is intelligible, but underlying that things might become “queerer than we can suppose”. As far as real intelligibility is concerned, there are serious challenges to human reason in the form of philosophical problems and problems of perception that make the universe kind of weird. We still see the sun as “rising” even though we know it doesn’t. We still develop small superstitions even though we know they are rationally unfounded. Maybe there is a limit to intelligibility, and maybe when people like Ben approach that limit, they inject a 50cc dose of theology to obscure the reality that we are in a strange place we barely understand for reasons unknown based on things we may never be able to comprehend. 

Finally, Ben says “Today’s “progressive” thinking is that a highly ordered and intelligible universe must clearly come from mindlessness…clearly. One might call this having an irrational "faith" in chance.”

I don’t know where he has been looking, but the argument has never been that the universe clearly comes from mindlessness. The argument is that we don’t possess adequate information to draw the conclusion that it is a mind. In the absence of such information, saying it is a mind is not responsible. I just wonder what is so great about a mind, and I wonder if elephants believe the universe was made with a trunk? We just cannot draw these far reaching conclusions about the nature of literally everything without having a lot more information, and blaming people for finding such overreached conclusions unconvincing isn’t going to help either.

Hillary Clinton Doesn't Understand Corruption

Hillary Clinton shaking hands with George Soros, a wealthy donor to her campaign
I have been following the US presidential election with keen interest. Usually I don't, and I didn't really care about the Obama elections. The difference this time around is that Bernie Sanders is making things interesting, and raising issues that I believe affect not only the US, but all of us.

The article "Clinton blasts Wall Street, but still draws millions in contributions" on The Washington Post, details Clinton's relationship with the financial industry, and quotes some of her responses to the accusation that she is being influenced by her financiers. First, it is a fact that she is receiving a lot of money from the financial industry, and that her increased criticism of them did not stem the tide of dollars flowing toward her campaign. Her response to the accusation?

“Anybody who knows me, who thinks they can influence me, name anything they’ve influenced me on. Just name one thing,”

I don't write about U.S. politics, but this quote, to me, reflects a deeper misunderstanding of the nature of corrupt politics. An excellent book that illuminated the topic to me was Bad Pharma, by Ben Goldacre. Goldacre writes about the pharmaceutical industry, and how they get their way around regulation. Far from surreptitious suitcases of money passing under tables, corruption is much more insidious. What campaign contributors are paying for is not to let a list of policies they wrote to be put into effect, or having veto on bills that could be negative to them, it's about friendship.

These donors are friends of Clinton, and friends do what friends do. They move in the same social circles. They go to the same dinner parties. They have the opportunity to sell their point of view to a political candidate in their circles. This very same audience is not afforded to those with other points of view, who aren't allowed a seat at the dinner table. Clinton may not realise this, but the friends she keeps shapes the way she looks at the world, and it is no surprise that what they want to shape in her worldview agrees with theirs. To their eyes, they are not corrupt either. They are merely supporting someone with whom they agree. Influence needn't be direct and conspicuous to work. 

These friendships usually have invisible strings attached. There is an unspoken agreement of what is acceptable and what is not. Without even seeing these strings, it is likely that Clinton will move according to where they tug. Sanders on the other hand, receives donations from common people, so by the same logic, the public is tugging at his strings. This is exactly what voters want in a candidate. Clinton may represent voters to a good degree, but will she have dinner with you, an ordinary voter? Will she have dinner with the CFO of the bank that is exploiting you? Are you comfortable with the answers to those questions?

You may believe you are not influenced by someone else, but if they shower you with compliments and boat loads of cash, it isn't hard to form a favourable opinion about them, and by extension to give more weight to what they have to say as opposed to those who disagree with them. If you have to be tough on them, won't you try to reason with them to find compromise? I can't say that I wouldn't. I don't have enough faith in the objectivity of the human animal to think that getting millions in contributions, or hundreds of thousands of dollars just for speaking, will not skew the opinion of any human being. So unless Clinton is a Vulcan, resigned completely to logical thought, I wouldn't bet money, and even less so a vote that she will not be influenced by her wealthy donors. I'll end this post with a quote from Bal Das, one of her wealthy donors, which I think speaks for itself:

She is not saying anything that someone deeply involved in the financial services sector would disagree with.