Friday, July 20, 2007

Theism v. Atheism

There are debates I'm much happier staying out of. The earnest argument over the existence or non-existence of God is one of them.

As it goes, I have sympathies to elements of both arguments.

I have no sympathy at all, however, for bad arguments.

Within the context of this debate, my problem with many theists is that when they bring out their big trump card argument, the one their sure sews it all up in their favor, their brains suddenly fall out their asses and make an argument so incredibly bad that one can't believe that the vast majority of people on the earth agree with them on this broad principle.


Look at the much discussed What Atheists Can't Answer by Michael Gerson. It's a nicely written piece, but basically argues that God must exist because the world is more depressing if it doesn't. While arguably true, I can't say it adds up to much. Frankly, I think the world is also more depressing without Thor, Santa Claus or Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon, but don't argue that makes them any more real.

Recently Jim Emerson has posted a couple of interesting articles on his blog, The Hitchens/God challenge & The Atheist Film Fest and "There is no god!!!". Both discuss the question of "movies that are explicitly atheistic, that argue against belief not just in religious dogma but in theism itself".

This discussion has brought out some interesting discussion, by atheists, theists and those who make no sign of their own beliefs, or lack thereof within the discussion. In this comment, professed theist Damian Arlyn, makes an excellent point regarding how he views art, "My problem, speaking as a theist, is that I tend to sift all my experiences (including my analysis of art) through the "lens" that God does exist and any ideas to the contrary are mistaken. Thus, when a character says that he/she doesn't believe in God, I interpret that merely as the character saying it and not necessarily the film/filmmaker saying it."

On the other hand, this comment, by theism activist J.G. Lenhart, is idiotic, "Every atheist, evolutionist, religious person, and thinking person believes God exists. Why? Causality. There had to be a First Cause and that First Cause is God." Uh... I guess if you redefine "deity" in the most absurdly broad terms, it does become impossible to not believe that in a deity.

Here, I have changed the definition of "God" from "A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions" to "Something that exists". Now, how can you argue that "something that exists" doesn't exist?

It seems the public's curiosity about atheism is piqued.

Frankly, I think the absolute moral failure of the most vigorously theist president in our nations history. I'm certain that's not fair to the many reasonable and moral theists out in the world, but frankly I think the time has come for atheism to have a legitimate place at the table of debate and not hidden in the fringes and background of discussion.

If the debate continues, theists may have to sharpen their wits. Those old chestnuts only work when your position is the assumed position.

Mind you, I'm not sure the debate itself is worthwhile, by and large, but it's worth noting that the atheists seem to have been building strength and honing their arguments and the theists have grown slow and lazy with their power. If the latter wishes to keep their place at the table amongst those of us somewhere in the middle, they will have to do a lot better.

3 comments:

r_sail said...

Some of my good friends are Christians, and as much as I love them, I wouldn't call them reasonable. At elast not when religion vs evolution comes up.

Bob Turnbull said...

"I have no sympathy at all, however, for bad arguments."

Nicely put Neil. I'm an atheist myself, but what drives me crazy about most of these debates (and I see it on both "sides", though frankly more on the theist side) is the absence of critical or logical thinking.

Now granted, if you are relying on faith to manage your beliefs, then I suppose you aren't using critical/logical thinking to consider all possibilities. You just take it on faith.

I can certainly accept that others wish to do this - it's not for me, but go ahead and believe what you want. But it always spills out into attempts to prove God scientifically or some other such nonsense. Faith and the Scientific Method don't mix.

And yes the argument that God MUST exist since the World would be more depressing without a deity is either imbecilic or purposely, uh...Nah, it's just imbecilic.

This also goes for the statement that in order for humankind to have a purpose there must be a God. Again, there's nothing logical here - just an attempt to brute force what they want to be true. I never quite understood why it's such a big deal to think that through evolution and (previously) the Big Bang, that humankind is simply an accident. A pretty cool and awe inspiring accident - so live life to its fullest. And let's not get into that whole without God there's no moral compass...

Neil Sarver said...

Sail,
I agree. But that doesn't mean it isn't potentially their downfall with the "middle", as it were, if this currently rising debate continues to explode into a serious public discussion.

Bob,
Thank you.

And well said. I also have no interest in taking anything away from what people believe or want to believe. I'd be happy to live and let live or even hear some of why what they believe works for them. It's only when they jump forth with an argument they seem convinced shows the vast intellectual superiority of their belief and dump down something that just leaves me staring blankly at the incredible stupidity...

Like I said, I'm not unsympathetic to many of the basics and am making no attempt to dismiss anyone's beliefs.

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