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Friday, April 15, 2005

Atheists and Faith

At the meeting last Wednesday (I encourage all who did not attend to read my magnificent notes below) I overheard the end of the table talking about faith. The point they brought up, and the point of this post, is the idea that in reality, Atheism requires as much a faith as Christianity.

I disagree. Though I did not say anything then, I would like to spark a conversation on the topic now.

First and foremost, when we talk about faith, it is my understanding that we are talking about much more than simply a belief. For example, I believe that the equation2 + 2 = 4, is correct, but certainly, we would not call that belief, faith. Or, for a less self evident example I believe that the places in the world we refer to as France and China exist, though I have not ever seen them. At least in a common (non epistemological - those people are CRAZY) setting, I would say that my belief is not faith.

Faith, as I understand it, is the word we use to describe a type of belief we find to be held without reason. Not to say the belief is illogical, just taken as true without the standard most people place on believing the truth of something. So, for example: I have a GPA that is too low, and my writing sample won’t be up to parr to get into UCLA. Someone may say to me, I have faith you will get into UCLA for Grad school. Though it isn’t reasonable to believe I will make the cut, it isn’t a logical impossibility. To further emphasize my point, if someone were to say something like, “I have faith you will get into Cal State LA”, I would be a bit insulted, as Cal State LA is a bottom of the line fall back program for me.

Anyway, if you talk about the Atheist having faith, you are talking about the Atheist making an unjustified irrational judgement based on the evidence given to him. Or, at least, as unreasonable as the judgement and belief held by a Christian (the belief in God we normally call faith).

This of course, presupposes that the conclusion the Atheist has drawn from the evidence is irrational or unreasonable. But that seems true only from a Christian or perhaps agnostic perspective, and even then, I would say a limited Christian perspective. Certainly, the Atheist doesn’t believe his conclusion can’t be rationally justified. Quite the contrary. The Atheist finds his conclusion to be the most rational explanation. Simply choosing not to allow for the possibility of a beings existence for which there is no evidence for seems prudent. For example, there is no evidence for the existence of a unicorn. That doesn’t mean unicorns don’t exist. It is logically possible that such a creature does in fact exist. But I think we would be reluctant to tell the person who does not believe in the existence of unicorns they have FAITH unicorns don’t exist.

So at least, we can understand why the Atheist would not say he had faith in the nonexistence of God.

But then, some say there are compelling arguments which state that the Atheist is wrong. That the evidence clearly shows that one is justified in believing in at least some theistic perspective. John showed us some of those arguments in his side of the debate on The Argument from Intelligent design, a week ago. If you believe those arguments to be sound I wouldn’t say you had faith in a deity (if that is what the argument leads to), I would say your belief would be justified. I would disagree with your conclusions, but I wouldn’t say your belief in those conclusions meant you had faith in your answer.

Where I do think the idea of faith comes in is when we start extrapolating on the properties of these deities; properties they do not need to have given their role in explaining the evidence presented. So, if you want to say the systems of nature couldn’t rationally be the product of evolutionary force, thus there must be some designer, I would grant you that belief as being one that had nothing to do with faith. It might be a reasonable conclusion. But to then say this being was all good, that seems like a leap that is not reasonable. Nothing about being an intelligent designer means you are all good or all knowing. In this brief case, you would have FAITH this designer was God.

So, to back track, I wouldn’t say that simply being an Atheist or a Theist is a belief I would catagorize as one of faith, given you have compelling arguments to justify your claim. However, the jump to Christianity does seem to be a jump of faith. There are compelling argument that would make the postulation of such a God unnecessary. Moreover there seem to be classic problems that surround the existence of such a God.

It is in this way I feel the belief in the traditional Christian God can be called faith, while a belief in the non existence of God cannot be.

Did I miss the boat? I am sure I will know soon...

10 Comments:

Blogger Bernie said...

"god is dead."-nietzsche (not to be taken out of context)

Next topic.

for the sake of argument(a weak one):
What reasonable evidence do you have that you are not a brain in the vat? -or is it just faith.

No more god talk unless someone provides me with proof and by proof I mean alcohol.

Bernie

1:11 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Based on your definition of "Faith" I would say that you didnt miss the boat at all. And if you did, dont worry about it. Boat rides suck and theres always someone who looks like there about to puke all over the place. However, if it was me you were quoting, I think I may have said something closer along the lines of Athiesm being a belief, not specifically a faith. From my perspective, any talk about the definate existence or non-existence of god is outside human capacity. To me it seems as if it will be forever unknown.

"Its not in your job to stay in the fog. I dont have a god complex...you have a simple god." Sage Francis

1:07 PM  
Anonymous David Alvarez said...

I just graduated but I still think that I would like to contriubute something to this discussion. This is an interesting topic. I think that the author intends to treat these ideas fairly and clearly. Therefore, I will attempt to do the same.

First, you would appear to be correct in saying that theism, taken in a basic form, is not necessarily a matter of faith. Those who are adept at argumentation and reasoning can discover the existence of God without a direct revelation. This is seen in antiquity on many occasions (Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Posidonius, etc.). However, many or most people are either metaphysically inept or they do not have the time or will to commit themselves to the task.

However correct this is, I find at least two things with which I have to disagree. The first is the way you describe faith. Kierkegaard says faith is the absolute subjective certainty in an objective absurdity. I think that something like this is what people consider faith to be. However, this is not accurate (no disrespect to Kierkegaard). It is more accurate and in line with the original conception that faith is (to borrow the form of K.'s definition) the absolute subjective certainty in an objective sublimnity. Recall Kant's ideas on the sublime. That which inspires both admiration and horror do to its infinity and absoluteness. "As high as the Heavens are above the Earth, so are My ways above your ways" is the appropriate quote from the Bible. This is a description of how humanity (in each person) encounters the Absolute. There is nothing contradictory in the Absolute but it boggles the mind. The knight of faith (to borrow from Kierkegaard again) meets God as God and this encounter elicits two reactions. The first is admiration or love for the goodness, beauty, and perfection/truth of the divine. The second is the reaction of shock or horror or fear or an overwhelming feeling of disporportionality as the knight recognizes the infinite depths of the Divine. This is what is called by the mystics the Abyss of God. One cannot plumb its depths. It is beyond a total encapsulization by our linguistic/cognitive faculties. It is not that we cannot understand it or that it is in a different language, rather it is too much. It is like a gigantic hamburger. You can definitely digest it, but you cannot take more than a nibble. It is too big to get your teeth around. Basically, faith is a sort of direct knowledge of an infinite object. It is rational in its content and communicable as metaphor. This is not to say that the metaphors are somehow dismissible simply because they are metaphors. They are truths that, while true in themselves, point toward or illuminate a truth of greater (in fact infinite)proportion. It is unfair and off topic to describe faith as other than it is. Simply because post-Reformation theology is often very anti-rational does not mean that the content of theology and faith is absurd or non-rational. Recall that the Gospel of St. John speaks of Jesus Christ (the object of Christian faith) as logos. This can be seen as truth or word, but it is best described as Divine Reason. This is clear when we place ourselves in the historical millieu of the ancient world around 200 BC to 200 AD. The Hellenic philosophers understood logos as the rational principle that ordered the world. Some saw logos as an emmanation from God. Others saw it as an aspect of God. Nonetheless, it is the reason by which all logical things are ordered and all reality is framed. Thus the Gospel writer, building on this truth, describes Jesus Christ as the logos and says that this logos is not diostinct from God and in fact that it is the idea of God himself held up as the exemplary idea for creation. Therefore it is unhistorical and very conedescending to speak of faith as illogical or absurd even if some ill advised and confused Christians do in fact do this.

Now, given the nature of faith, I think it is appropriate to examine the expression "leap of faith". You say that theism, if supported by good arguments, would be a rational thing. However, when we move from theism to Christianity, we encounter the need for a jump or a leap of faith. I can only think that the reason for saying that this move to religious belief is a leap is that you think that it is a move that is unjustified, either accidentally or necessarily. However, I do not think that this is needed. I think that understoiod properly, we see that faith lies in the acceptance and acknowledgement of a truth that is greater than can be linguistically/cognitively expressed. I think that you perhaps are implicitly suggesting that a person's subjective ability is the determinating factor of rationality. In other words, if we follow this line of thought, something is rational if it makes sense to me. I have to disagree completely. I would say that there is a better metaphor for the movement of belief based on "normal" experience and belief based on experience of the Absolute. This might be called a letting go or a humbling of self as the determinant. It is moving from "I am the center of the universe" to "the Absolute is center of the universe". Acceptance or honesty seems to be the needed element in the movement to faith. Maturity or completion or fulfillment is needed. It is like the story of Copernicus. We thought the Earth was the center of the universe. Copernicus found that instead that the sun was the center (at least of the solar system). This was the copernican revolution. It did not abandon the logic or truth of the Ptolemaic era but rather corrected its mistakes, sharpened its focus, and revealed the greater truth. Faith is the ultimate copernican revololution that is the inheritance of all human beings. Based more on reason and truth than anything that has come before it.

Lastly, there are lots of good arguments for God's existence and for many of His attributes such as Goodness, perfection, infinity, necessity, immutability, intelligence and personhood. However, I have written too much today already and I'll come back to this if interest in this topic persits. If one faces these arguments, one is hard pressed to remain logically in atheism or agnosticism. The fact that the CSUN phil dept does not have more to do with theistic philosophy is hardly an argument against it.

12:48 PM  
Blogger jes said...

Lastly, there are lots of good arguments for God's existence and "for many of His attributes such as Goodness, perfection, infinity, necessity, immutability, intelligence and personhood. However, I have written too much today already and I'll come back to this if interest in this topic persits. If one faces these arguments, one is hard pressed to remain logically in atheism or agnosticism"

David. This is a bold statement.
I would love to hear how you support it.

-jes

12:53 PM  
Blogger jes said...

"I think that you perhaps are implicitly suggesting that a person's subjective ability is the determinating factor of rationality. In other words, if we follow this line of thought, something is rational if it makes sense to me."

I don't think I was saying that at all. Rational things do make sense to me, but that does not make them rational.

12:55 PM  
Blogger jes said...

David. given your definition, Atheists still don't have faith, right?

1:30 PM  
Anonymous david said...

I am glad that this topic is still active. You made three different statements and I will try to address them.

First, you maintain that you were not saying that "A is rational only if A makes sense to me." Good. I am sometimes worried that people, while not intending to do so, slide into this position without noticing it themselves. It is, I have noticed, very easy to see irrationality in the position of one with whom you fundamentally disagree. There is a saying that no one misrepresents an idea as badly as a non-adherent. However, you do note that a belief can be entirely rational in its content but held with insufficient evidence or reason. However, you also said that if someone was to charge the atheist with having faith in his/her beliefs, then that would be tantamount to saying that the belief that there is no God is "an unjustified irrational judgement." It is possible that here you were still only referring to the unreasonableness of affirming some proposition without suffieicent evidence or support, etc. It merely seemed to me that you were saying that to have faith in something, one has to have given assent to an irrational idea AND have done so on epistemologically unsatifactory grounds. This seems to to conflict with the rest of what you said so I guess I simply was reading too much into this part of your statement.

You also aksed whether or not I thought that on my definition, an atheist can be said to have faith or not. I would have to say that in the strict sense, absolutely not. An atheist has no faith. The atheist is lacking in two vital components that are requisite for faith. The first of course is the belief that God exists and that God has certain discernible characteristics. I think Porf. Kellenberger(I apologize if I misspelled his name)said that this might be called the "Belief THAT God." This might be what Anton Flew (again I probably mispelled something here) is said to have recently acquired. Secondly there is the relational/positional move or change that must be undergone. This was what I called the coperican revolution of faith. This is what I think Prof. K called the "Belief IN God" and the difference is striking. Faith requires belief that God is real but should not be confused with a simple metaphysical claim. As the Bible says, the devils believe and tremble, yet it is not maintained that they have faith.

However, if I may suggest that while the atheist does not have true faith, it might be maintained that atheism demands a sort of worldly or what I might call Kierkegaardian faith. This "faith" is the unreasonable affirmation of a proposition that cannot be supported by sufficient evidence. The critic might point out that while perhaps there is nothing irrational in the idea of atheism, nonetheless it is not the case that atheists have supported their position sufficiently to make their claim acceptable. Now this is assuming that the dictrines of atheism are reasonable in and of themselves which is something that I am not convinced. However, for the moment, if we simply look at the idea that there is no God, I find several possible problems. First, there is the need to show that the arguments for God are all insufficient which is not something that has been done. Many are hotly contested, but not defeated. Secondly, there is the need to clarify what is meant when one says that there is no God. This is not the same as the agnostic who refuses to pass judgement one way or the other. This person only has to say "I do not know and thus do not believe that there is a God and neither do I believe that there is no God". The atheist affirms that there is no God. He or she says that this knowledge is possessed by him/her. However, in saying that there is no God, this does not end the story. If an atheist says there is no God, he or she is implicitly positing some other metaphysical vision. God functions as an explanation or support to much of the universe. The atheist must account for phenomena such as intelligence, life, consciousness, morality, religious experience, the idea of infinity, order or law, teleology, evolution, mysticism, motion, contingency, the perfect, meaning, as well as the actual existence of the cosmos itself. This requires a different or alternative metaphysical schema and this is where the idea that atheists have as much faith as any religious believer comes in. The ideas that the atheist must affirm in order to account for the cosmos are fraught with problems at the very least. I would have to say that there are actual logical impossibilities. What is the cosmos and how did it orginate? What can account for the existence of the cosmos itself? A big bang or some other temporal origin? The problems here for the atheist are evident. How and why the big bang? How does one account for the pre-bang reality? This must also be explained and the atheist will have to keep reaching back indefinitely. However, if the atheist says the cosmos is eternal or that it had no point of origin, then it still is the case that it must be accounted for. This is the idea of horizontal versus vertical causality or contingency. What can account for an non-orginating universe? Not our experience or our science. Neither can or logic or theoretical reason. As Aristotle once said, we live in a world of generation and corruption. One things arises and another passes, sort of like what the Buddhists say (dependent arising). However, since each of these events or moments is unnecessary or dependent, the cycle as a whole is unnecessary. What roots or grounds it in being? Definitely not human beings. The atheist tries to push the problem back further and further but never succeeds in solving or even treating with the actual question. However, the atheist, for whatever reason, decides that he or she still knows that there is no God and that the cosmos is such that it can be metaphysically possible and real even though there is no way of showing this to be the case. Thus the atheist says that which is unfounded is nonetheless the case. By the idea of faith that you presented and which most people in casual talk perhaps mean, the atheist has great faith and little reason for his or her confidence. However, as I said, the atheist position is more perilous than simoply lacking epistemological justification. It is fundamentally irrational and cannot be given a positve exposition without encountering contradiction or ignoring impossibilities. The arguements for God's existence often expose this fault. I briefly touched upon the arguments from causality and from contingency. There are many others, such as that from motion, good and evil, moral obligation, degrees of perfection, order, law, teleology, desire for happiness, the idea of the absolute, the reality of any possible necessary being, complexity, and others. A good place to see some (aposteriori) arguments is to look in Thomas Aquinas (either in Summa Theologica or Summa Contra Gentiles) for his so-called Five Ways of proving God's existence. Anslem's argument (a priori) is interesting and has a checkered past. I would look at Anselm, Aquinas (who was against it), Descartes-Spinoza-Liebniz (who were for it), Kant (who was against it), and Platinga (who is for it). If interest in this topic continues I will try (when I have more time) to show how at least some of the arguments work.

I concluded last time by saying that atheists and agnostics are hard pressed to remain in their respective positions when faced with a logical examination of the arguemnts. I did not mean to put the two catagories in the exact same boat. Atheist are the ones I was really speaking about. I think that they are the ones who will need to adjust or remain in "faith" as it were. The agnostic on the other hand might conceivably not even trust his or her own reason or sensations and thus be sort of trapped in a solipsism. The skeptic (that is the true and earnest skeptic) has a hard time believing in God but also has a hard time believing anything. However, some agonstics simply have not seen good reasons for believing that God exists. They will, I believe, need to either accept God's reality or enter into a sort of Sartrean bad faith.

Prof. Mutombo N'Kulu-N'Sengha once mentioned a statement that he believed came from Voltaire- In the idea of God there are difficulties but in the idea that there is no God there are absurdities. This sums my position pretty well.

1:57 PM  
Blogger jes said...

“However, you do note that a belief can be entirely rational in its content but held with insufficient evidence or reason.”

I didn’t mean to say that. I think if you have an answer from the best explanation, it is rational to hold it as being true. I don’t think I would call it faith to believe even if you don’t have to have empirical evidence of it.

“The critic might point out that while perhaps there is nothing irrational in the idea of atheism, nonetheless it is not the case that atheists have supported their position sufficiently to make their claim acceptable.”

How do you figure? I think Atheists, myself included have made a great case. All the problem you mentioned can be explained without postulating the existence of at least a Christian God. Even the problem of first cause doesn’t lend itself to a Christian God.

“First, there is the need to show that the arguments for God are all insufficient which is not something that has been done.”

Don’t sound so surprised. Most of the arguments left can only be defeated with evidence there is not God. But such evidence would not exist. I can’t show you evidence of something that does not exist. If you invent the parameters for a creature for which there is no evidence for, who also seems to fit neatly around some of the problems you mentioned, there wouldn’t be an argument compelling enough to change your mind.

That is the problem with believing God. You can believe in the natural world, and still believe in God. If you work it right, there is no conflict. In fact, God might serve as a great filler for some of the problems we have trouble explaining. How could anyone possibly defeat arguments which would require physical evidence there is no God.

Of course, the way to “prove” the existence of God is to show he must exist (the argument from cosmology is a nice attempt.) But morality, intelligent life, religious experience (whatever that is) are all explained by the Atheist in a manner that seems much more probable than the almighty God.

“Secondly, there is the need to clarify what is meant when one says that there is no God.”

I think you have a mistaken idea of what an Atheist says. The atheist says there is no evidence to support the idea that God exists. Certainly if an Atheist was presented with compelling evidence of God, it would take faith to NOT believe. But I have yet to see that evidence.


"God functions as an explanation or support to much of the universe. The atheist must account for phenomena such as intelligence, life, consciousness, morality, religious experience, the idea of infinity, order or law, teleology, evolution, mysticism, motion, contingency, the perfect, meaning, as well as the actual existence of the cosmos itself. This requires a different or alternative metaphysical schema and this is where the idea that atheists have as much faith as any religious believer comes in."


Then I have no idea what it means to have faith. I believe all of those events have natural explanations of some sort. If that means I have faith in the natural, fine. But that doesn’t seem to be a common usage of the word faith.


“ The ideas that the atheist must affirm in order to account for the cosmos are fraught with problems at the very least. I would have to say that there are actual logical impossibilities. What is the cosmos and how did it orginate? What can account for the existence of the cosmos itself? A big bang or some other temporal origin? The problems here for the atheist are evident. How and why the big bang? How does one account for the pre-bang reality? This must also be explained and the atheist will have to keep reaching back indefinitely. However, if the atheist says the cosmos is eternal or that it had no point of origin, then it still is the case that it must be accounted for. This is the idea of horizontal versus vertical causality or contingency. What can account for an non-orginating universe? Not our experience or our science. Neither can or logic or theoretical reason. As Aristotle once said, we live in a world of generation and corruption. One things arises and another passes, sort of like what the Buddhists say (dependent arising). However, since each of these events or moments is unnecessary or dependent, the cycle as a whole is unnecessary. What roots or grounds it in being? Definitely not human beings. The atheist tries to push the problem back further and further but never succeeds in solving or even treating with the actual question. However, the atheist, for whatever reason, decides that he or she still knows that there is no God and that the cosmos is such that it can be metaphysically possible and real even though there is no way of showing this to be the case. Thus the atheist says that which is unfounded is nonetheless the case”

Yes, the Atheist has a problem here. But so does the Theist. The idea that God could exist for all eternity seems as problematic to me as the idea that the universe could. Simply because you stated that God MUST have this property, otherwise we have no good explanation seems weak. Why not say the same for the universe, and simply profess our ignorance on the properties of material substances. And certainly, you would not want to say God was both his own cause and effect.

BESIDES even IF the universe needed a creator, that doesn’t mean that creator is God, in the way you and I understand him. You just don’t have me convinced on this point.


.” By the idea of faith that you presented and which most people in casual talk perhaps mean, the atheist has great faith and little reason for his or her confidence.”

This statement is bold. Also, it seems false. There seems to be great reasons to suggest the way the universe is does not need a (Christian, at least) God to support it. There seems to be one main problem for the Atheist (cosmology) and it is as problematic for the Theist.

“It is fundamentally irrational and cannot be given a positve exposition without encountering contradiction or ignoring impossibilities.”

? Again, this just seems false.

“Prof. Mutombo N'Kulu-N'Sengha once mentioned a statement that he believed came from Voltaire- In the idea of God there are difficulties but in the idea that there is no God there are absurdities. This sums my position pretty well.”

I’m sure it does. I’m not sure he is right.

9:14 AM  
Anonymous David said...

I am glad to see that this column is still active. Most people seem to lose interest in a specific topic so easily these days.

Anyway, to address your points, I first would like to respond to your comment about empirical evidence. I agree that a position can be justified at times even if it lacks empirical evidence. In some cases, the matter at hand is not immediately in the realm of the empirical. Logical and metaphysical issues often move beyond sense perception. Sometimes a purely rational argument is all that is appropriate.

Secondly, you say that atheism is able to handle the problems that theists have traditionally laid at its doorstep. I do not deny that atheists have provided answers but I do deny that they are sufficient. Many of these so-called solutions are filled with conjecture and tainted with a scientistic myopia that imperils any reasonable metaphysics. In fact, many atheists are, so to speak, the intellectual descendents of those thinkers who declared metaphyics impossible and irrelevant. I think that any group that limits reality, in their own minds at least, to that which is directly observable is doomed to failure in grabbing a hold of the whole of reality. They will, it seems, be trapped within the realm of phenomena forever. Either skepticism or the sort of unwarranted confidence, which I called the atheist's "faith" will be the only possibilities available to this school of thought. A good example might be had in the way many atheists believe that evolution can do away with the need for a Creator. Approaching the scriptures in the same ill-informed manner as the most anti-intellectual fundamentalists, these atheists think that a theory which purports to account for the way in which biological organisms changed through time could substitute for the metaphysical cause or justifcation of these beings. The theory is not meant to do this and it cannot. Like all scientific theories, it shows the how, not the why. Yet atheists wil often push ahead, seeming oblivious that this sort of position is as untenable as it is unnecessary. Blind faith, molded from the wish for reality to mirror their own desires, is plainly evident.

Next you say that it is impossible to provide evidence that something does not exist. However, the theist is not demanding that the atheist provide a sort of empirical evidence that God is non-existent. Like you say, that is ridiculous. However, just as the arguments for God deal with ideas such as necessity, probability, etc., it is not unreasonable to ask the atheist to provide argumentation to show that God is, say, logically impossible. God is posited, whether by traditional Christian, Jewish, and Islamic philosophers as a necessary being whose essence is identical with His existence. This is to say that God is held up as the necessary Being. It is also peraps worth considering the idea that if a necessary being is possible, then it necessarily attains. If the atheist could show that a necessary being is not possible, then that would be a good, if not brilliant argument against the theistic position. I think that an attempt at this sort is found in the Problem of Evil. Atheists claim that God, as conceived by the Hebraic monotheists is incompatable with the reality of evil in the cosmos. Now, the answer to this problem has be given at since the time of St. Augustine (involving free will, the nature of humanity, and the final telos of human existence) and so I do not think that this is really a serious threat to God's reality. Yet the argument is the right sort of objection or proof that, if succesful might have been able to bolster an attack against theism. It is therefore mistaken to object that God is impossible to disprove empirically. I think Kierkegaard has a good discussion of this in his book Concluding Unscientific Postscript that is definitely worth looking into.

You say that it might be possible to produce a coherent picture in which God and nature do not conflict. You even say that God can possibly function as a explanation of much of nature. I agree, perhaps obviously, but I would like to say that not only is the theist going to claim that God and nature can coherently co-exist, it is impossible that nature should exist at all without God. Nature simply cannot provide its own justification. It is unnecessary and exhibits the attributes of impermanence. Thus, it is the atheist that has the impossible task of justifying reality without God. Of course, the atheist could simply acknowledge nature as a brute fact, but this avoids the issue rather than addressing it. An astronomer could limit the scope of research and knowledge to that which is formally proper to the science. That is fine and well within the rights of the astronomer. However, he or she should not try to attack the physics when physicists provide the more fundamental explanation of astronomy in terms of physics, a more basic discipline. The same is true for the empiricist when he or she faces the metaphysician.

Next you claim that I have misunderstoiod what is meant by atheism. I said that atheism is the position which claims that God does not exist. You claim that atheism, rather, is the belief that the evidence or proof of God's existence does not actually support this belief. However, I must disagree. That is not what atheism is or what the word means. You seem to be mixing agnosticism with atheism. Granted the agnostic and the atheist would probably agree that there is not suffcient support for the idea that God exists. Yet the agnostic does not rule out the idea of God. He or she also, at least if he or she is truly agnostic and not just an atheist in disguise, does not find the idea that God does not exist to be sufficiently supported. This is agnosticism. Agnostic derives from the word gnosis and the prefix a-. A- of course means "not" or "no". Gnosis means knowledge or understanding. Thus the word means one who is without knowledge. An agnostic is one who is ignorant on a particular topic. Thus he or she suspends judgement until the time comes when more evidence or argumentation is presented. On the other hand, an atheist believes that there is not God. Perhaps the reason for this belief is, as you mentioned, that the atheist believes that the arguments for God do not sufficiently support His existence. However, this is not sufficient justification. It is in no way proven philosophically that something is not the case simply because an argument does not wor or evidence does not do what it was meant to do. An atheist must provide reasons as to why God could not exist or why there is a much better theory that can account for everything in reality that God is suppposed to accont for. This is not forthcoming. Thus I must say that, along with Bertrand Russell, that it is not really likely that one will ever encounter an atheist who can justify his or her position. Rather, as he said of himself, philosophically speaking one can either be a theist or an agnostic. This does not mean that some agnostics are really atheists in their practical mind but when they put on their philosopher's hat, they cannot maintain their pre-philosophical beliefs.

You say that if the theist is justified claiming all sorts of metaphysical properties for God (necessity, eternity, uncaused being, etc.) why could not the atheist do so for the cosmos. Well I think that this is simple. If the atheist wants to do this, fine, but he or she will no longer be an atheist in the full sense of the term. If we attribute those necessary qualities which have been attributed to God instead to the cosmos, then we have become pantheists. We can say that all that exists is the cosmos and that it has the attributes, necessary self-existence, eternity, uncaused being, infinite motion, etc but this cosmos is not the universe of the material atheist but of the Hindu. We have avoided the Bible or the Qur'an perhaps but have not come to rest in the annals of material atheism. Rather we are now in the reralm of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Vedanta. This is the school of thought led by Shankara and Ramanuja. (The Indian philosophy class there at CSUN is very interesting and definitely worth taking.) This ontology is in opposition to both the monotheistic and the atheistic. In fact, I would be so bold as to say that there are really only two tenable ontological schemes- monotheism or pantheism (monism). Material atheism or scientific atheism simply cannot answer the questions that philosophy asks when given the chance to move behind and beyond mere external sense data.

Lastly, you say that it seems false that that atheism should be an irrational or unjustifiable thesis. Perhaps to some people it does "seem" false to say this. Yet everything that a person holds as being true "seems" true. Otherwise they would not hold it to be true. However, we commonly find ourselves having to face the fact that we have been mistaken, sometimes grossly so. Atheism may seem true to the atheist (obviously) yet this must be weighed against the fact that pantheism seems true to the pantheist and monotheism seems true to the monotheist. To either of these last two people, the tenets of atheism seem false. I believe that they are false and that they defy logic and reason. Athesim is, I believe, a pre-philosophical belief or attitude that tries in vain to justify itself philosophically.

2:13 AM  
Blogger jes said...

David,

I have to disagree with your idea of what it means to be an atheist. Atheists do not believe that there could be no God ever, under any circumstances. That would be absurd. It would be denying evidence before one had seen it. None of the writings on Atheism I have read suggest the idea of God is simply impossible and God can never exist ever, in ANY form. You couldn’t intelligently say that. What atheists do say is that they believe that the evidence NOW does not support the existence of God. Hence A (without) Theist (Belief in God. I don’t see the contradiction in terms there. Consider this example, a culture who has never heard, nor had the concept of God (or even consider babies). Wouldn’t they be Atheists? They wouldn’t deny that God could exist ever - yet they would still lack belief. (Perhaps, what you are getting at, is people who deny the common conception of God, all powerful/knowledgeable yadda yadda, and deny those properties are possible, thus this conception of God must not exist. If that is the case part of the Atheists problem is finding a stationary definition of the word God, based on some reason why that definition (presumably a list of properties) must be so).

Given this definition of Atheist, Atheists and Agnostics are VERY different, as Agnostics do not believe there is sufficient evidence to make a claim about God one way or the other. Atheists do make that claim. If we cannot agree on this point, further discussion is simply worthless.

Again, you talk about the arguments of Atheism lacking in some places. So do arguments for theism. Each one has a compelling response from the Atheist (in turn, responded to by the theist). The arguments on either side of the religious coin seem shady enough to not convince even the smartest of the smart one way or the other. Unless of course you deny one can be an Atheist and smart. But that just seems like it’s cheating, don’t you think?

Also, you talk a lot about science not being able to justify itself, and shows the how but not the why. This is only a problem if you assume there is a why. I for one, do not think the universe needs an explanation as to why. I do not need a cosmic purpose. There is no reason I should exist. So what? You claim this answer avoids the issue, instead of solves it. I would agree IF there was a problem to avoid. Besides, even if I did need a why, I am not necessarily committed to God, (unless your definition of a good “why” demands some sort of spiritual or God like components, which seems to be guilty of a bit of unjustified presupposition).

You want reasons from the Atheist explaining why God does not have to exist. I don’t’ think this is the job of the Atheist. All I have to do is show that the existence of God isn’t necessary. Similar to the idea that I cannot tell you why a Unicorn cannot exist for me to believe it does not exist. I simply state why I do not think it has to. I understand this is a weaker position, and one you may find frustrating. But I can’t possibly think of an argument showing God CANNOT under any circumstances exist. Nor can I think of an argument showing a unicorn CANNOT under any circumstances exist. However, I believe in neither.

Also, come up with an iron clad definition with justification of the word God for me to argue with. That seems to be most of the problems regarding arguments specifically AGAINST God.

You also said that if a necessary being is possible, then it necessarily attains. In other words, if we have a being that must exist, then it exists? It seems all this argument says is that God is necessary, so he must exist. If that is what this statement says, then ok, I agree But whether or not God is necessary is the question at hand.. You still have work to do to get to do to show God necessarily exists.

I don’t know what to tell you Dave. You seem convinced that Atheists contradict themselves. However, the only real claim I see to support this is the idea that Atheists don’t have a WHY to the scientific HOW. Aside from the problems with simply assuming there is a WHY to speak of, getting from HOW to God is quite a jump that at least needs some back up.

If I have missed the other argument showing where an Atheist essentially says something along the lines of “A and not A” or “If A, then B. A therefore C” then please do me a favor and spell it out clearly for me.

Otherwise, I remain unconvinced.

10:09 AM  

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