Monday Meslier: 117 – Opinion of a Celebrated Theologian


Jean Meslier Portrait

Jean Meslier

Did not a famous theologian recognize the absurdity of admitting the existence of a God and arresting His course? “To us,” he said, “who believe through faith in a true God, an individual substance, there ought to be no trouble in believing everything else.

This first mystery, which is no small matter of itself, once admitted, our reason can not suffer violence in admitting all the rest. As for myself, it is no more trouble to accept a million of things that I do not understand, than to believe the first one.”

Is there anything more contradictory, more impossible, or more mysterious, than the creation of matter by an immaterial Being, who Himself immutable, causes the continual changes that we see in the world? Is there anything more incompatible with all the ideas of common sense than to believe that a good, wise, equitable, and powerful Being presides over nature and directs Himself the movements of a world which is filled with follies, miseries, crimes, and disorders, which He could have foreseen, and by a single word could have prevented or made to disappear? Finally, as soon as we admit a Being so contradictory as the theological God, what right have we to refuse to accept the most improbable fables, the most astonishing miracles, the most profound mysteries?

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Meslier points out one of my favorite things about religion: if you’re so open-minded you’ll believe some of it, you may as well believe anything at all. It makes as much sense to believe that snorting bat’s piss up your nose will cure baldness as to believe that a virgin gave birth, or a burning bush talked, or any of the other foundational tricks accepted as “miracles” by the faithful. Meslier’s attacks are often along epistemological lines: how do we know what we know? And how do we handle the things that we don’t know? Meslier’s answer is to accept that he does not understand some things.

My personal attitude toward miracles is that I won’t accept as a miracle anything that I think Penn and Teller could do. I saw Penn and Teller “disappear” a submarine. I saw Penn saw Teller in half, and – Lo! Teller was made whole again!!  I’ve seen Teller produce not loaves and fishes but entire fire extinguishers out of thin air!  When I watch Penn and Teller do miracles, I am in a state of heightened disbelief: I expect that they are scamming me to produce amazing effects. Yet, when I talk to believers – even in this day of rocket ships and designer molecules – they seem to accept that a young girl in Palestine gave birth without the necessary precondition. “Which is more likely,” Monty Python famously asked in Life of Brian, “that a virgin got pregnant, or that a woman lied and said she hadn’t had sex?”

Comments

  1. Owlmirror says

    My personal attitude toward miracles is that I won’t accept as a miracle anything that I think Penn and Teller could do. I saw Penn and Teller “disappear” a submarine.

    I’ve started being more analytical about magic tricks (without actually studying the trade). There was a video a while back, where a magician did a coin trick that looked like a silver dollar was disappearing behind another silver dollar held in one hand, while re-appearing from behind yet a third silver dollar held in the other hand. And I immediately thought, “Oh, I get it. He tried to make it look like he had at most three coins, when he actually has at least four coins.”

    I saw Penn saw Teller in half, and – Lo! Teller was made whole again!!

    I saw Teller drown (or “drown”) in a transparent box, and was live (and dry) after the intermission. Even then, I noticed that the box had a gap at top big enough for the “flailing” Teller to put his hand through, and I was pretty sure that a breathing tube could go under the wetsuit he was wearing from the hand to the mouth. Penn raised a ruckus, yelling at the audience to “do something!”, and I was thinking “Shouldn’t he be calling for the stage crew to bring a fire axe if something is really going wrong?”

    Yet, when I talk to believers – even in this day of rocket ships and designer molecules – they seem to accept that a young girl in Palestine gave birth without the necessary precondition. “Which is more likely,” Monty Python famously asked in Life of Brian, “that a virgin got pregnant, or that a woman lied and said she hadn’t had sex?”

    The whole virgin birth thing is almost certainly a later addition to the Jesus narrative, regardless of whether Jesus was real or a myth.

    Can you imagine some radical rabbi trying to hit it off with people by telling them that he had been born in Bethlehem without his mother having had sex? It’s kinda telling that it never comes up afterwards in the gospels, like in John 10:30:

    “I and my Father are one” […]
    “The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.”
    “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, . . .”
    . . . ‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.’ And my own mother was that virgin! ← THIS IS NOT ACTUALLY ANYTHING JESUS SAYS

  2. Brian English says

    My starting point, in line with Python, is what’s more likely?

    Of course, some claimed miracles violate laws of physics, etc, so they have a probability of about zero.

    I mean, did the Sun wobble in the sky to the thousands of pilgrims (reports are only a few claimed this), at Fatima and the rest of the Earth do it’s normal orbital dance? Didn’t happen, we all didn’t fly off into space due to inertia. And if one asserts that it was a miracle and only happened at Fatima, then they’re not being rational and are invoking magic.

    And an immaterial, immutable thing interacting with the material. I think that has a massive issue with logic before we get to the first law of thermodynamics.

    Claims about miracles are not historical, because history seeks to give the most probable explanation, as Python says: ‘what’s more likely?’ A miracle is by definition the least likely, or the usual mundane things human’s do?

  3. says

    DonDueed@#3:
    Yeah yeah, but could Penn and/or Teller get pregnant without having sex?

    I’m pretty sure they could do a good enough job to convince the rubes. As has been mentioned, all that stuff was probably grafted onto the story long after, anyway. There seems to be a fondness for diety-men who avoid going through a uterus. Didn’t buddha step out through a hole in his mother’s side, or something?

  4. says

    Brian English@#2:
    And an immaterial, immutable thing interacting with the material. I think that has a massive issue with logic before we get to the first law of thermodynamics.

    Yes!! That’s one of my favorite questions for the faithful: if you’re so sciency about trying to pick over evolution, that’s fine, but let’s hear about your sciency theory of ensoulment. How does that work? How does immaterial control and mesh with material? How are conservation of energy and momentum violated undetectably? (put differently: why can’t we detect the heat signature of the hand of god in action?)

  5. says

    Owlmirror@#1:
    Can you imagine some radical rabbi trying to hit it off with people by telling them that he had been born in Bethlehem without his mother having had sex?

    He’d have been dissected, not worshipped, that’s for sure!

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