Kyle 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?
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.