Sunday, June 14, 2009

AtF: The End of an Era

We start this week with the worst sentence I’ve come across in After the Flood. Note that I don’t say it’s the worst sentence. I’m pretty sure I’ve yet to plumb those depths. Still:
The Epicurean school, through Lucretius, did attempt' [sic] to wreak a vengeance of sorts, for Lucretius went on to specify an idea that threatened to provide a stumbling-block to classical (i.e. pagan) creationism.
Okay, first of all, seriously, do we need the “classical (i.e. pagan)” at the end of the sentence there? The friggin’ chapter is called “The Knowledge of God Amongst the Early Pagans.” Actually, now that I think about it, the entire name of the chapter we’ve been slogging through is a misnomer. What Cooper or his editor (probably Cooper, since I have a hard time believing there was an editor) means is “The Knowledge of the Christian God Amongst the Early Pagans.” Since that’s the case the chapter should be two sentences long: “There was none. The Christian god didn’t exist yet.” Now, I suppose you could point out that he could be referring to the Jewish god. But Cooper’s not trying to argue for Judaism and the Jewish god doesn’t look a damn thing like the Christian god. Second, it’s about time we put this whole fight between Stoics and Epicureans to bed. De Rerum Natura was the only work of Lucretius that we know of. He died before it was completed and the final version was edited by another. The editor, in a letter to his brother, attributed to the poem “flashes of genius” and “craftsmanship.” And we should suppose the editor knew a thing or two about both. You’ve heard of him, by the way. His name was Quintus Tullius Cicero, but we mostly just know him as Cicero (the pertinent information is right at the top in section 1: Life). Yep. For apparently intractable enemies there seemed to be some amount of respect and admiration between Cicero and Lucretius. I’ll bet Cooper doesn’t even know that if it weren’t for Cicero, we’d never have heard about Lucretius. If he does he certainly doesn’t bring it up. Either way, Cooper goes on. And, in fact, I’m pretty sure that he quickly manages to write an even worse sentence than the one I just said was the worst sentence so far. It’s a good thing I didn’t say I’ve found the worst possible sentence…
Conceding the fact that the materialist's perception of the universe was marred somewhat by the alleged inability of human reason to perceive correctly the nature of the physical universe, Lucretius claimed that creationism likewise had a chink in its philosophical armour when it came to explaining the earth's place in the universe. The classical perception of the universe amongst the Greeks was that it was geocentric, the stars, planets and everything else revolving around a fixed and immovable earth. And Lucretius assumed, wrongly, that this was crucial to the creationist view.
I don’t think that’s actually what happened. Whatever Lucretius is arguing, it’s not what Bill Cooper thinks he’s arguing. I’ve said this so much it feels like I’m a broken record (who, ironically, is listening to The Refreshments’ “Broken Record” at the moment. I suppose it’s fitting, since I’m pretty sure Roger Clyne is a better theologian than Cooper will ever be, and Clyne is a rock singer. Who I happened to meet a couple weeks ago in Milwaukee. He signed my copy of Honky Tonk Union and everything. Nice guy that Roger Clyne. Surprisingly short, though…), but the ancient Greeks and Romans didn’t give a flying crap about the creation/evolution debate because that debate didn’t exist at the time and wouldn’t exist for about two thousand years. Really, though, there’s nothing that better exhibits Cooper’s complete lack, check that, willful ignorance, of classical thought than the fact that he thinks Cicero and Lucretius were arch-enemies when, in fact, Cicero posthumously edited Lucretius’s only written work.* Thereby, we cannot have any point of philosophy that is “crucial to the creationist view.” We can, I suppose, have ideas that are crucial to the Stoic view. And let’s say that the Stoic view really was, as Cooper is about to claim, “[Stoicism] gave a fixed point of reference to the universe, and it was a philosophical concept that allowed the teaching of absolute values.” And I’m sure it’s close enough. Stoicism regarded the universe as being indistinguishable from god and the universe itself as being geocentric, so I suppose it stands to reason that any Stoic philosophy would depend on a geocentric universe. But this casts Lucretius’s claims of a non-centralized universe in a completely different light. Lucretius wasn’t blowing smoke up the our asses about creationism, but in de-centralizing the universe he was actually making a distinct attack against Stoic cosmology and, therefore, Stoic ethics. Therefore, Cooper’s statement “And Lucretius assumed, wrongly, that this was crucial to the creationist view,” is as cogent as Cooper saying, “And Lucretius assumed, wrongly, that this was a valid reason to purchase a Chrysler.”** Anyway, Cooper goes on to offer a couple of random, out of context quotes from Lucretius, which shouldn’t be surprising. I’ll spare you the details, since the only one that really matters is the one about how the universe has no center and we’ve kind of already covered why that actually mattered to Lucretius and the various Stoic philosophers who were so afraid of him that they edited his fucking poem. Cooper then goes on and says this:
To add to the irony, and contrary to all expectations from the materialist camp, when the Copernican revolution finally did arrive in the 16th century, it did not mean the end of creationism for a very good and simple reason. In creationist terms, it matters not a jot whether the earth revolves around the sun or the sun around the earth. For whichever model of the universe is the correct one, the question still remains --Who created it? How did it come into existence and whence came its astonishing degree of order and complexity? These are questions that have been asked by men since the beginning of time. And one of them, named Lucilius, had worked out the answer for himself without any help from either Christian or Jew, attributed the design, creation and maintenance of the universe to that Creator who:
', as Ennius says, "the father both of gods and men", a present and a mighty God. If anyone doubts this, then so far as I can see he might just as well doubt the existence of the sun. For the one is as plain as the other. And if this were not clearly known and manifest to our intelligence, the faith of men would not have remained so constant, would not have deepened with the lapse of time, and taken ever firmer root throughout the ages and the generations of mankind.' (31) [Emphasis Cooper’s. For one thing, emphasis is usually shown with italics...]
Of course at this point Quintus Lucilius Balbus (I mention that because there were at least two Roman philosophers who were known as Lucilius. I’ll bet you Cooper didn’t know that. I’ll also bet he didn’t realize that Cicero was specifically invoking Quintus Lucilius Balbus, nor that he probably wasn’t directly quoting said individual. I don’t know this for a fact, but I strongly suspect that knowledge of things historical and philosophical isn’t actually Cooper’s strong suit***) is operating as a character in Cicero’s De Natura Deorum. Oh, and it shouldn’t surprise you that I decided to find out what he said before the ellipsis, since I don’t trust the things that Cooper puts in to be the truth and, therefore, can’t exactly trust him to only leave out non-essential information. Interestingly enough, the preceding quote is:
Look up to the refulgent heaven above, Which all men call, unanimously, Jove. This is Jupiter, the governor of the world, who rules all things with his nod, and is, as the same Ennius adds[…]
I’ll bet I know why Cooper didn’t add the preceding lines in to his text. Because we all know that everyone looks up to the heavens and sees the evidence of the Christian god. It says so right there in the Bible, after all. Therefore no one could possibly look up at the heavens and see, say, Jove or Odin or an incomprehensibly vast cosmos that began expanding outward from a Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago. Either way, I have absolutely wonderful news for everyone. There is only one paragraph left in Chapter 1. I was going to skip it and say, “We’re done,” but then I made the mistake of reading the damn thing.
But what Lucilius was referring to is the fact that alongside even the very worst aspects of paganism in the ancient world, there was preserved a definite knowledge of God. The value of this lies in the fact that this knowledge existed (and still exists) quite independently of Genesis amidst cultures that were and are entirely antagonistic towards the concept of one God, the Creator of all things. We shall now encounter this same knowledge in the early genealogies and historical records of the early pagan nations, and note that their testimony is unexpected to say the least when we consider what the modernist school has been claiming all these years.
Everything about this is wrong. Every. Gorram.**** Thing. You know what, though? I doubt I have to explain why that is to any of my faithful readers. Hell, I’m pretty sure I don’t have to explain it to someone who has only read this post. However, if you want, you can follow the link to De Natura Deorum and do an in-page search for the quote I put in from Lucilius. You can then read the long-ass paragraph that follows the quote and see that Lucilius (or, more correctly, Cicero through Lucilius) wasn’t arguing for the Christian god, but for Jove. And you can read for yourself that it wasn’t the Christian god v. pagan gods, but Jove against the old beliefs in chimeras and centaurs and other things that obviously didn’t exist in the time of Cicero. Or you can just trust me when I say that. But know that I’m sure enough of my own claims that I’ve given you all the information you need to find the sources I use. And that’s a hell of a lot more than Cooper’s done. I guess it wasn’t mean to say that knowledge of things philosophical and historical isn’t Cooper’s strong suit. It’s a simple statement of fact… Anyway, we shall reconvene next weekend to start in on “Chapter 2: Where to Begin.” My advice would be with a real history course. ----------------------------- *I can’t help but feel I wrote that Cicero edited De Rerum Natura after Cicero’s death here. But I’m going to assume that everyone knows to whom I refer with that “posthumously…” **For the record, I can’t actually come up with a good argument to purchase a Chrysler and many reasons to not do so. (Until next month I’ll still be paying about $70 a month for a 1996 Concorde I haven’t seen in the five years I’ve owned my current car. Yet that Concorde died when I was still making payments and I rolled the principle in to my new car loan. I’ll never buy another Chrysler.) Therefore, I’m smarter than Lucretius. However, I’m pretty sure that this also puts me on Cicero’s side by default and, therefore, Cooper’s side. Dammit. I’ve been in the After the Flood Bizarro World too long. However, I have learned that it’s much easier to win an argument when you put words in the mouths of guys who have been dead for two thousand years and then explain how the words they never actually said and the context they never actually used are wrong. ***Was that mean? It seems kind of mean… ****I’ve been swearing in Firefly recently for some strange reason. I watched it a couple years ago because a certain member of the female gender loved Joss Whedon and thirteen episodes of Firefly seemed like a way easier thing to watch than, like, three hundred seasons of Buffy and Angel. Either way, out of nowhere I started using “gorram” about a month ago. Also, I really should have opted for a more elegant system of footnote marking than multiple asterisks in this post. It’s funny that I bring this up, since I’m actually writing this in Word and haven’t even transferred it over to the Blogspot GUI yet. There’s plenty of time for me to come up with something more elegant. But I won’t. That's how I roll...


PersonalFailure said...

I've been swearing in Firefly for years.

Sniffnoy said...

I don’t know this for a fact, but I strongly suspect that knowledge of things historical and philosophical isn’t actually Cooper’s strong suit***)

He has a strong suit?!

Geds said...


I would argue that dissembling is Cooper's strong suit. Probably his only suit. Chances are the words "moth-eaten" could be used to describe it, though.

Hee hee. I just mixed metaphors. Go me.


Yes, but did you randomly start that a good two and a half years after the last time you watched Firefly and more than a year after the last time you had a decent conversation with the person that caused you to watch it in the first place?

Sniffnoy said...

Rather more of his long suit than his strong suit, it would seem.

Michael Mock said...

I tend to swear in nonsense syllables, which sounds a lot like the cast of Firefly attempting to speak Chinese. I'm not sure why you'd randomly start now, though; I've been doing this off and on for years.

Michael Mock

The Woeful Budgie said...

Re: Firefly, I always thought it'd be kinda cool to train my kid to fall asleep on that command that Simon gives to knock River out (ok, technically Serenity, not Firefly, but still.)

Now I just think it'd be cool if I could get her to sleep.