On the Same Page: Camel with Hammers

I’ve recently discovered Dan Fincke’s Camels with Hammers blog, which is very much on the same page as me. Here’s a lovely exchange about how atheists can be religious without compromising their materialism and how different people react to this. As a response to a personal plea it covers things from a more personal angle than I often do, and even the things I do discuss are put in better words than I can manage.


– The Spiritual Materialist


Problems for my Stance

One of my favourite things about Darwin’s On the Origin of Species is that he devotes a chapter on difficulties on the theory, another favourite thing is that their have been few objections since that aren’t found already predicted by him.

Following him I won’t just publish things that support Spiritual Materialism on this blog, but also things that don’t. Whether to argue against them or simply admit I have problems. Here are a couple I’ve come across in the past week.

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Spiritual Materialism Around the Web: Sigfried Gold & Jules Evans

I worry my blog sometimes makes me sound like I’m more original than I am, fighting a lonely crusade. I don’t believe this for a minute, others have thought similar things for a long time. I intend this to be a regular segment (let me know if you’ve suggestion for a punchier title) here’s what others have been saying on spiritual materialism, or close approximations.

The Washington Post has an article on Sigfried Gold, an atheist who prays for the placebo effect and the rise of atheist spirituality in my native Britain! It’s not clear how Gold came to start praying, whether he read about research on it or came to it through subjective exploration.


Jules Evans, author of the splendid and highly recommended Philosophy for Life, has written about the study of subjective states associated with religious practice throughout history, with special mention to my favourite historical psychologist, William James.


I plan a look at similar ideas that thinkers have had in the past in a future post.

– The Spiritual Materialist

An Inquiry into Robert Pirsig’s Works Part II: Notes on Lila: An Inquiry into Morals

Having devoted his first book laying out the idea of ‘Quality’, which I interpret as ‘the internal reality of the mind’, Pirsig uses his second book to develop Quality into a ‘Metaphysics of Quality’. This metaphysics divides subjective reality into the antagonistic Static Quality (convention) and Dynamic Quality; that is the new, the here and now of instinct or reasoning/intellect. Confusingly Dynamic Quality is, I think, pretty synonymous with ‘Quality’ in his first book; the cutting edge of experience. Each Quality can be overlaid to Pirsig’s hierarchy of value patterns, which are:

  1. Intellectual patterns
  2. Social or societal patterns
  3. Biological patterns
  4. Inorganic patterns

Each pattern is ‘more moral’ than the pattern below and tries to free itself from it and so tries to overcome it and curtail its tendencies. Pirsig makes no justification as to any of this: why is one more moral than the other? Why in that particular order? He attacks the cultural context of science (fairly), but that hierarchy of moral patterns is surely an outcome of the culture it was written in too? He does condemn cultural relativism (laudably in my opinion), so it is noticeable that he does not apply the same criticism to his own ideas. It is a hierarchy that crops up again and again in philosophy, going at least as far back as Plato, who believed the pursuit of philosophy (and intellectual pattern) was the highest calling of the human spirit.

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An Inquiry into Robert Pirsig’s Works Part I: Notes on Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

Robert Pirsig is responsible for the best selling philosophy book of all time Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values and his much less read follow-up Lila: An Inquiry into Morals. Much has been written on his ideas, including many an undergraduate dissertation. They had a huge influence on me in developing my ideas about spiritual materialism. Over a couple of posts, taking each book in turn, originally written a couple of years ago, I present what I think he is trying to say and you can see how my ideas developed. Continue reading