As I doggedly plow through Michael Krasny’s Spiritual Envy, I continue to stumble upon bizarre assertions. Not to overburden my previous post, which has at least the virtue of shape, if not brevity, I thought I’d collect a few of them here.
In musing about change, a constant process that to the believer is at least partly explicable (as a manifestation of God’s will), Krasny says this: “To the atheist, change is simply change and randomly occurs as a result of no higher or invisible purpose, unless it is Darwinian natural selection.” This is wrong in two distinct ways. First, the scientifically inclined atheist understands that there are many natural forces in the universe — gravity, for instance — which operate in non-random ways to produce change. If I drop a bowling ball, its position changes. But the change is certainly not random. Second, natural selection (which is, by the way, only one of two types of selection discussed by Darwin, the other being sexual selection) is not a “higher or invisible purpose.” Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, and other naturalists are quite clear on this point: Evolution has no purpose, neither higher nor lower, neither visible nor invisible. Evolution simply occurs.
Krasny misrepresents atheism (again) and misrepresents the theory of evolution, all in a single sentence. His sheer scope is breathtaking.
Or consider this charming, and more than a little onanistic, Krasnyism: “Unanswerable questions are what make agnosticism understandable, perhaps even laudable.” Unanswerable questions are what make children annoying. Beyond that I’m not willing to go, not without an explanation, which of course Krasny is far too blithe to provide. He’s just tossing off an aphorism, no more. This man is a professional radio interviewer. What we see, in the endless stream of questions in Spiritual Envy, is Krasny interviewing himself — that’s what I mean by “onanistic.”
In the same paragraph, he goes on to say, “Metaphysical enigmas, if anything, appear to be unanswerable and, as a result, an understandable and powerful reason for agnostic thought.” Does that explain the previous sentence? No, it doesn’t. It’s also a tautology. To begin with, metaphysical enigmas don’t just appear to be unanswerable; by definition they are unanswerable. What he’s saying, then, boils down to this: The fact that we don’t and can’t know things provides some justification for a philosophical system that asserts that we don’t and can’t know things.
If indeed we can dignify agnosticism by calling it a system. Krasny’s own brand of agnosticism is anything but systematic.