"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Postscript (in praise of S.T. Joshi)

I also should say, publicly and for the record, that S. T. Joshi, America's foremost Lovecraft scholar, deserves a medal or a MacArthur grant or an endowed chair at Harvard or something. I suspect his politics are at sharp variance with mine, and I know his reasonably militant atheism would rub many members of this group the wrong way . . . but he has brilliantly rehabilitated Lovecraft in the eyes of the scholarly community. And he has thought deeply and well about the philosophical implications of weird fiction generally, and of Lovecraft's "cosmic terror" more specifically.

The "cosmic" perspective--the idea of human insignificance--is a philosophically-legitimate grounding for the atheist's world-view. It is far more convincing, at least to me, than Selfish Gene-style evolutionary reductionism. Evolution doesn't necessarily exclude religion, though it tends strongly to favor Deism; but man's existential insignificance, as expressed powerfully by Lovecraft, generally does. It's hard to give much credence to the notion that a loving God has a plan for every field mouse and every cold virus. . . So I can see how Joshi's studies of Lovecraft might have led him toward atheism (or, conversely, why he might have been attracted to Lovecraft in the first place). I think this tends to sit uneasily with Joshi's Left-of-center political beliefs (at least, insofar as I can ascertain them), but--hey--no one ever said scholars need to be consistent.

(Joshi edited the Machen book I mentioned in my previous post; and I thought I'd publicly acknowledge my admiration for him here.)


Devang said...

"Selfish Gene-style evolutionary reductionism" has never been used as a grounding for atheism. Natural Law? Possibly. Atheism? No. The Selfish Gene was about behavior and biology, religion is not excluded or forbidden by our biology for obvious reasons.

There is nothing inconsistent about "human insignificance" and left-of-center political beliefs. The Selfish Gene affirmed my left-of-center beliefs, but that's just because some of the scientific arguments made the case for altruism. It could just as easily affirm a theist or right-of-center POV too, as long as you agreed with the science. I thought every conservative was a compassionate conservative, or was I wrong there?

David S. Bloch said...

Richard Dawkins has just published a book called "The God Delusion." That book sets forth Dawkins's case against religion in explicitly biological/biochemical terms, and I'd characterize it as very much of a piece with his "The Selfish Gene." So Dawkins might not like the word "reductionism," but I think he'd have to cop to the rest of it.