Kyle Kulinski and Boring Atheism

Mother GooseKyle Kulinski does a podcast called Secular Talk. Despite the fact that he seems so much like the Young Republicans who used to pepper the campus in my college days, he’s really good. And I generally agree with him, although he does often try too hard to balance things. For example, in the email battle between Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky, everything Kulinski said indicated that he believed that Sam Harris missed the whole point of the discussion. (Shocking that Sam Harris would be clueless, I know!) But he still tried to thread the needle and provide cover for Harris, who clearly doesn’t deserve that cover — even in Kulinski’s eyes.

Well, the other day, I was cooking — looking for something to listen to on the YouTube. And I came upon an interesting video with Stephen Fry talking about why he doesn’t believe in God, Stephen Fry Annihilates God. It was interesting, but nothing new: why is there evil in the world. This is such a common complaint that there is a word for the arguments to explain it: theodicy. I agree with Fry, “Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, and stupid god who creates a world which is so filled with injustice and pain?” Indeed. To put it in Dungeons & Dragons terms: why would I worship a god that is lawful-neutral at best?

“Religions are not true because of the metaphor behind them any more than Mother Goose is true because of the metaphor behind it.” —Kyle Kulinski

But you see, there is a problem there: Fry wasn’t making a case against the existence of God; he was making a case against God being worthy of worship. Russell Brand noticed the problem and created his own video, Is There A God? YES! Stephen Fry Proves It. Does Fry actual prove there is a god? Well, let’s just say that Brand could be given the middle name “Fire” and his name would fit him better. But he does make a number of good points.

Kulinski saw it and he wasn’t buying any of it. And I get that. When people like Brand start going on about consciousness and such, they are on very thin ice indeed. But when he quotes Terence McKenna, he’s on rather more solid ground, “Give us one free miracle, and we’ll explain the rest.” I wouldn’t put it like that, of course. But the niggling paradox persists: why does the universe exist? Intellectually, the question is a rat hole that doesn’t have an answer. It isn’t even a scientific question. At best, it is a mathematical one, which doesn’t bode well for a freestanding explanation.

So Kyle Kulinski beats on religion for a while. But he does so by arguing against the normal literalist view of religion. Brand had invoked Joseph Campbell by saying that all religions were true because they operated as metaphor. But Kulinski doesn’t seem to understand what that means. He said, “Religions are not true because of the metaphor behind them any more than Mother Goose is true because of the metaphor behind it.” Except, well, Mother Goose is true in that way. That’s why we still read and delight in the stories.

I find myself in a curious position. When it comes to this stuff, I’m much more in Kulinski’s camp. I don’t see how religion as metaphor saves it. That just allows people to think of morality and ontology in very simplistic, and often dangerous, ways. But Kyle Kulinski isn’t making that argument. In fact, he is making his own faith-based argument that science can explain everything. This is like saying that a hammer can fix any problem. When Brand claims that science can’t answer the “why” question, Kulinski says that it is a dogmatic claim. If it is, it comes from the practitioners of science itself. It is only quite recently that atheists decided that scientific understanding was limitless. Actual scientists understand that it is a tool (A great tool!) with very clear limits.

I would rather have a conversation with Russell Brand than with Kyle Kulinski. While Brand may be fuzzy about a lot of this stuff, he does understand the broader issues involved in these arguments. Kulinski doesn’t appear to understand these issues. And he seems strangely unaware of his own dogmatism. These place him entirely inside the mainstream of the modern atheist movement. Ultimately, it is just so boring! What does the atheist movement offer us? A closed mind on any questions that science is not designed to tackle? Atheism doesn’t have to be boring.

10 thoughts on “Kyle Kulinski and Boring Atheism

  1. Being someone who is mostly an extremely practical person, I rarely care delve deeply into this discussion so I usually just re-read Small Gods and call it a day.

      • Now I wish I had your address as that is one book I give everyone who even looks like they would read it.

        • Don’t worry. I am legend at the local library!

          So are you saying it is a particularly compelling book even relative to the Terry Pratchett oeuvre?

          • Yes, I have gone through three copies of the book and read it at least once a year.

            The discussion between Brutha and Om on why humans worship God is particularly good.

            • That sounds good. I will pick that one up soon. I’m about 2/3 the way through The Truth. Although I don’t see how I can like anything as much, given it is about the more heroic character: newspaper reporters. Although I do wish that Sacharissa had a bit more Rosalind Russell her. Not that she doesn’t have her moments. When she stared down the zombie lawyer I was well pleased. And William took that and ran with it. The two of them make a good pair.

              • It is almost an entirely male book (as in there is one female character but she is mostly referenced by Brutha) so there is little witty repartee between people obviously interested in each other but it works out fine.

                I believe the reason I love it so much is because it explains religion in a way that makes a lot of sense and what God gets from us humans since otherwise, it seems really pointless. Of course I was not raised in a church so I missed much of the Christianity that those who were and all I know I got out of books.

                • It took me well into adulthood to understand what religion is all about. Most churches are not very good at explaining it.

                    • I don’t think it is. But people either assume it is obvious or they are focused on other matters.

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