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Atheism Versus Theism


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By Micah Cowan

 

My brother-in-law Tim had some interesting points to make about neurotheology, which he submitted in comments to my posted link to DagoodS’s article, Prove It!. I responded in-thread to most of what he had to say, but some comments he made presented an opportunity to discuss a topic that I believe is worth a separate post, and so here it is.

 

Tim says:

 

The fact that you can measure something like that
[one’s spirituality, via externally observable properties in the brain]
implies to me that atheists and theists should adopt a truce similar to the one Stephen Jay Gould offered between science and religion.

 

I’m very much in favor of this. I have no quarrel with theism, I just don’t personally hold to it. The atheist, if he is honest, cannot lay claim to a certainty of explanation in support of abiogenesis (the spontaneous transition of lifeless matter into living). There are some interesting hypotheses, to be sure, but I’m confident that we will never be able to determine how life really began.

 

Modern scientific inquiry may well bring us to understand how all the matter in the universe came to be: it appears that we may have done so, through the study of quantum mechanics, the veracity of which findings I cannot begin to pretend to be capable of ascertaining. If we have indeed done so, however, we are still left with the unenviable task of determining how the underlying fabric that spawned our matter was itself activated; and whether it was “started” somehow or forms some sort of perpetual motion machine.

 

At some point then, both atheist and theist encounter something which must be eternal in nature, existing forever before, and potentially forever after, the existence of everything of which we are currently aware. Theists presume that this something is intelligent on its own, and call it God. But we have no explanation for what started God, and, I believe, God is no more of an answer than leaving that answer blank, as it has not explained the mystery of something being eternal to any greater satisfaction than we had before we placed God in the answer space. The difference between atheism and theism (without addenda) seems very slight, then, to me, and doesn’t bother me much. I think it can be useful and interesting to debate, but I have no compulsion to convince theists that they are wrong.

 

But theism is not religion. The degree to which I may have a quarrel with religion is proportional to the degree to which that particular flavor of religion encourages the suspension of rational arguments based on what may be observed, in deference to faith; and the suspension of our innate moral sensitivities, in deference to what someone put down in a book. Since my abandonment of Evangelical Christianity, I have become increasingly disturbed by Bible literalism, and the actions, philosophies, sensibilities, and thinking processes of Bible literalists.

 

Basing one’s morality and decision-making upon the Bible is great when the book is saying, “love thy neighbor as thyself,” and proclaiming that the essence of good is to “do justly, love mercy, and walk in humility.” There are many principles that I love and admire from the Bible, and still continue to seek to apply to my life.

 

But using the Bible as the basis for morality is less great when it approves the wholesale slaughter of infants for the mere fact of who their parents were [1 Sam 15:2-3, & various], or of women on the basis of a test for virginity that is not even remotely reliable (that is, the absence of the flow of blood, subsequent to her first act of copulation) [Deut 22:13-21], places women under the subjugation of men, insults and discredits women as being significantly more susceptible to deception than men and unfit for giving instruction to men [1 Tim 2:12-15], and condemns consenting adults for what they may choose to do in the privacy of their own home.

 

Does the cannon of atheism have an equivalent to Matthew 5:16? Should you convince the Jehovah’s Witness at your door to become the next Bertrand Russel, or just take his flyer and bid him cuique suum?

 

Is there such thing as a canon of atheism? :)

 

If there were, Richard Dawkins and Samuel Harris would probably feature prominently. I have not read Harris, and I have mixed feelings regarding Dawkins; in any case, neither of them seem to be the “be and let be” types. :)

 

Let me say this: I would not derive any satisfaction, as many atheists of my acquaintance appear to do in “debating” with religious people, from telling the Witness how very wrong he is, and how my views are vastly superior to his. The Watchtower is a destructive cult, however, and I would be glad for any individual to escape its influence, so I am motivated thereby to attempt to debate beliefs with the open-minded (not a particularly common creature in the Watchtower, given that they apparently forbid the reading or examination of other points of view).

I’m not saying you should let others run roughshod over your beliefs in the public sphere; I’m saying it may be more personally fulfilling to be a pluralist than a polemicist.

 

I doubt it: the idea of pluralism—which to me means the notion that all beliefs are approximately equal in acceptability—leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Which is why I’d have some trouble being a Unitarian Universalist, though I sometimes toy with the idea of attending Unitarian services, and suspect that there may well be some such churches in which I could even be comfortable. I find the Society of Friends to be a more palatable prospect, as it is a fairly mild form of theism, and in some versions of Quakerism I could feel free to substitute a simple humanistic innate inner voice for the concept of The Guiding Light.

 

I don’t hate religion, and I feel no need to convince people that all religion is bad (though I do feel that most religions have some negative aspects), or that Christianity in particular is bad (but see my previous parenthetical remark). I do despise ignorance, and am very motivated to write against that. As my chief encounters with ignorance by far are in connection to my experience with particular brands of my particular former religion, that is undoubtedly where my thoughts, and my writing, is likely to center.

 

To monitor comments posted to this topic, use comment-ful.gif.

 

http://exchristian.net/exchristian/2007/05...sus-theism.html

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Tim says:

 

The fact that you can measure something like that
[one’s spirituality, via externally observable properties in the brain]
implies to me that atheists and theists should adopt a truce similar to the one Stephen Jay Gould offered between science and religion.

 

I’m very much in favor of this. I have no quarrel with theism, I just don’t personally hold to it. The atheist, if he is honest, cannot lay claim to a certainty of explanation in support of abiogenesis (the spontaneous transition of lifeless matter into living). There are some interesting hypotheses, to be sure, but I’m confident that we will never be able to determine how life really began.

 

No, it won't work. Why? You might ask? Well, these people are crazy. They are delusional, and many are paranoid. Those who believe that the majority of the population is being 'persecuted' somehow. Persecuted is having the President of your country tell you that you're not a member of the country. [bush has said this about Atheist before.]

 

It's an unhealthy mindset, and it's also unstable. Pretty much, delusional people are irrational, unpredictable, and sometimes dangerous. Don't think that just because most of them are fine now, that it will forever remain that way. Let's not forget something called the 'Inquisition'.

 

Modern scientific inquiry may well bring us to understand how all the matter in the universe came to be: it appears that we may have done so, through the study of quantum mechanics, the veracity of which findings I cannot begin to pretend to be capable of ascertaining. If we have indeed done so, however, we are still left with the unenviable task of determining how the underlying fabric that spawned our matter was itself activated; and whether it was “started†somehow or forms some sort of perpetual motion machine.

 

At some point then, both atheist and theist encounter something which must be eternal in nature, existing forever before, and potentially forever after, the existence of everything of which we are currently aware. Theists presume that this something is intelligent on its own, and call it God. But we have no explanation for what started God, and, I believe, God is no more of an answer than leaving that answer blank, as it has not explained the mystery of something being eternal to any greater satisfaction than we had before we placed God in the answer space. The difference between atheism and theism (without addenda) seems very slight, then, to me, and doesn’t bother me much. I think it can be useful and interesting to debate, but I have no compulsion to convince theists that they are wrong.

 

I do. I also put my stock more in String Theory, [tiny bands of energy bind together to make up matter. In a nut shell.] as opposed to Invisible Man That Lives In Sky.

 

But theism is not religion. The degree to which I may have a quarrel with religion is proportional to the degree to which that particular flavor of religion encourages the suspension of rational arguments based on what may be observed, in deference to faith; and the suspension of our innate moral sensitivities, in deference to what someone put down in a book. Since my abandonment of Evangelical Christianity, I have become increasingly disturbed by Bible literalism, and the actions, philosophies, sensibilities, and thinking processes of Bible literalists.

 

Basing one’s morality and decision-making upon the Bible is great when the book is saying, “love thy neighbor as thyself,†and proclaiming that the essence of good is to “do justly, love mercy, and walk in humility.†There are many principles that I love and admire from the Bible, and still continue to seek to apply to my life.

 

But using the Bible as the basis for morality is less great when it approves the wholesale slaughter of infants for the mere fact of who their parents were [1 Sam 15:2-3, & various], or of women on the basis of a test for virginity that is not even remotely reliable (that is, the absence of the flow of blood, subsequent to her first act of copulation) [Deut 22:13-21], places women under the subjugation of men, insults and discredits women as being significantly more susceptible to deception than men and unfit for giving instruction to men [1 Tim 2:12-15], and condemns consenting adults for what they may choose to do in the privacy of their own home.

 

 

The Bible doesn't cause the problems, the mistakes in the bible, and the fact they go unnoticed, are a result of the problem, not the cause.

 

 

Does the cannon of atheism have an equivalent to Matthew 5:16? Should you convince the Jehovah’s Witness at your door to become the next Bertrand Russel, or just take his flyer and bid him cuique suum?

 

Is there such thing as a canon of atheism? :)

 

No. Atheism is simply a word to describe someone who does not believe in any God. It doesn't matter what else they believe. I could believe that magic Unicorns with pink hooves that are made of cotton candy live in my dresser drawers and still be an Atheist.

 

There are common beliefs amongst us, but no 'universal truth' beyond there is no god.

 

If there were, Richard Dawkins and Samuel Harris would probably feature prominently. I have not read Harris, and I have mixed feelings regarding Dawkins; in any case, neither of them seem to be the “be and let be†types. :)

 

Let me say this: I would not derive any satisfaction, as many atheists of my acquaintance appear to do in “debating†with religious people, from telling the Witness how very wrong he is, and how my views are vastly superior to his. The Watchtower is a destructive cult, however, and I would be glad for any individual to escape its influence, so I am motivated thereby to attempt to debate beliefs with the open-minded (not a particularly common creature in the Watchtower, given that they apparently forbid the reading or examination of other points of view).

 

These people have proven repeatedly, throughout history, to be very dangerous to others. It is a big issue that must be handled with care. We're dealing with a very large number of delusional people, and it has a huge negative impact on society. It should be noted, that ridding ourselves of it isn't going to create a Utopia of wonder either. There are still a lot of other problems to deal with. It would, however, make the world a better and more livable place. I'm speaking about all theist here, not just Christians.

 

I’m not saying you should let others run roughshod over your beliefs in the public sphere; I’m saying it may be more personally fulfilling to be a pluralist than a polemicist.

 

I doubt it: the idea of pluralismâ€â€which to me means the notion that all beliefs are approximately equal in acceptabilityâ€â€leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Which is why I’d have some trouble being a Unitarian Universalist, though I sometimes toy with the idea of attending Unitarian services, and suspect that there may well be some such churches in which I could even be comfortable. I find the Society of Friends to be a more palatable prospect, as it is a fairly mild form of theism, and in some versions of Quakerism I could feel free to substitute a simple humanistic innate inner voice for the concept of The Guiding Light.

 

I don’t accept the currently fashionable assertion that any view is automatically as worthy of respect as any equal and opposite view. My view is that the moon is made of rock. If someone says to me “Well, you haven’t been there, have you? You haven’t seen it for yourself, so my view that it is made of Norwegian Beaver Cheese is equally valid†- then I can’t even be bothered to argue. There is such a thing as the burden of proof, and in the case of god, as in the case of the composition of the moon, this has shifted radically. God used to be the best explanation we’d got, and we’ve now got vastly better ones. God is no longer an explanation of anything, but has instead become something that would itself need an insurmountable amount of explaining. So I don’t think that being convinced that there is no god is as irrational or arrogant a point of view as belief that there is. I don’t think the matter calls for even-handedness at all. - Sir Douglas Adams

 

I don’t hate religion, and I feel no need to convince people that all religion is bad (though I do feel that most religions have some negative aspects), or that Christianity in particular is bad (but see my previous parenthetical remark). I do despise ignorance, and am very motivated to write against that. As my chief encounters with ignorance by far are in connection to my experience with particular brands of my particular former religion, that is undoubtedly where my thoughts, and my writing, is likely to center.

 

I hate religion, not religious people. Though, I do have trouble dealing with the excessively crazy ones. Nor do I think myself superior to most of them. There are a few I do feel I'm better than, but more in a horrifed pity kind of way, because it's so bad. To put it simply, I don't feel the need to respect their beliefs, any more than they feel the need to respect mine. Which is to say, not at all. So, I'd say we're on equal footing. Religion isn't a topic I bring up, but I will respond to anyone who tries to tell me what I should think, and threatens me with fire and torment if I don't. It's pushy, rude, and insensitive to interrupt normal daily activity with foolish tripe about risen joy and what 'You'd better believe'. To those who are courtious about it, I return the favor and politely decline. I'm not an attack dog after all, but I won't be shoved around, or have people try to shove 'truth' down my throat with the butt end of their Italian on a Stick either.

 

To monitor comments posted to this topic, use comment-ful.gif.

 

http://exchristian.net/exchristian/2007/05...sus-theism.html

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"The Bible doesn't cause the problems, the mistakes in the bible, and the fact they go unnoticed, are a result of the problem, not the cause."

 

It's not that they're unnoticed, it's that they're ignored... papered over...lied about...

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Honestly, as I go deeper into my deconversion I don't care either way. I thought I was an atheist, but I can't totally say, definitively, that there is nothing more than this. I'm still open to the possibility. But I'm definitely not agnostic or Theist either. So, really, I could careless about religion. It is one facet of life that does not matter to me. For some people it is about being in a group. Well, there are plenty of groups to be apart of and they don't deal with the discussion of an imaginary being.

 

I do hate organized religion and fundies need to lose some influence on this country...But, overall, I don't care.

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I thought I was an atheist, but I can't totally say, definitively, that there is nothing more than this.

 

I fail to see a correlation here. I can't "totally, definitively" say there's "nothing more than this" either--but that has absolutely nothing to do with my atheism.

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Honestly, as I go deeper into my deconversion I don't care either way. I thought I was an atheist, but I can't totally say, definitively, that there is nothing more than this. I'm still open to the possibility.

So am I, but that's as far as it can go, since there is no possible way to find out. That matter is therefore irrelevant. In this, the only conscious reality that I know, I can therefore still say that I'm atheist.

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