Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A Very Long Post on Atheism

I came home today to find that one of my posts last night triggered a small debate between two of my readers. Andrew and Julie managed to play nice and I hope it'll stay that way. I'm saying this not because I doubt these two can remain civil, but because the topic that came up - Atheism - can be quite divisive, and I have never articulated my ideas about how I police my comments. You didn't know they're checked? Well, they are. Disagreements are fine as long as everybody is polite. You can argue strongly, but curses and insults will be deleted. The focus should be on the ideas. The post that got things rolling was the one linking to The Anal Philosopher, where he argued that theism can't reasonably be linked to stupidity. I was drawn to the post out of exasperation with some of the stuff that is coming out of some people who really, really don't like President Bush. If you don't like him, that's fine. You'll get another chance to make your appeal in four years. There's no reason to resort to this:
What I’ve had to face is the last three days is this: a desire for competency and respect for political process is a cultural value, as surely as abortion is. My intense belief in the importance of those things is just that, a belief. More to the point, it is a self-serving belief that advances the interests of my own social class. I believe in the importance of competency, knowledge, "best practices" of decision-making because I’ve been trained to be apart of an elite that holds those things to be of importance, and aspires to them as a matter of course. I believe in those things as a way of life, as a part of self and identity, as deeply as any evangelical believes in the spiritual presence of Jesus Christ in all things.
This is not an either/or situation. The writer is simply wrong to frame it as such, and he has likely made the link in order to be intentionally hurtful. The arrogance gets worse:

People living in many of the communities that compromise the red states are there because they could not or would not leave. . . . Why should the love us? We steal their children, we kill their towns. We show the next generation the bright lights of the big city everyday and we ask them to love us for doing so. . . .

Whomever is left in the red states is left because they have no skills which are transportable, because they have no capital to pay for the costs of relocation, because they have no social networks to act as their safety net in the blue-state world, because they have family or friends who are not leaving and they cannot bear to leave, because some dominant person in their life terrorizes them and bullies them into staying. Because they like it where they live and figure nowhere else could be better, even if their aren’t any jobs besides minimum-wage service jobs where they are. Because, . . . , they don’t particularly have any ambitions beyond getting along o.k.

Good grief! This is so full of towering, insulated arrogance and cliche that the mind boggles. Then you pause and it becomes clear that this is most likely sophomoric hyperbole. This is likely a young person caught up in Micheal Mooreland. I read enough reports of that kind of thing that I was happy to find the quote I used as a rebuttal. It was a intended as rebuttal, and not an attack. It was not addressed to anyone in particular. I didn't call anyone dumb - just the opposite, in fact. It was simply 'up for discussion,' as is everything that I post. Andrew (from Bound by Gravity) has responded by saying that he wants to do a post in response to my suggestion that it is useful to understand right and left political divisions as being the result of where a person places ultimate authority (first made here, and re-stated in the post in question). Andrew found my wording unclear in the second post, and he probably has a point. So I'll try to do it better, while admitting that the best direction I can give is to suggest a look at C.S. Lewis' book Mircales, which might not be authoritive, but it is easily available and well written. 2nd try. If you are Left, you are of the opinion that you can pretty much do anything you want. You don't find this alarming because you think humans are naturally good. But what happens when you are confronted with people who violently disagree with you? There can be no appeal to anything objective if you've placed authority in your own breast. So it becomes might makes right. Naturalism could be likened to narcissism just as easily as empiricism. Might makes right is very hard to reconcile with a free society, but there is a more daunting problem with the Left, Naturalistic stance, and that is its inherent mechanistic underpinnings. Andrew has said that he thinks we will someday see how a mechanistic Naturalism has given rise to our free will. I'd like to see this argument because from where I stand, a mechanism giving birth is a more fantastic story than the one that Mary told. Naturalism could give us the illusion of free will, but never the real thing. Ditto for real knowledge. If we think that we really are free, and that we really are engaging reality with our minds, we do so because God has allowed it to happen. If we look at the God premise, we have something that would allow free will and some degree of rationality. We are lead to discuss our differences in terms of what we think the nature of reality is, and how we ought to respond to it. In other words, we discuss God. Now, people do drape themselves in God all the time, and say that God wills this or that. But that is no different from someone who says I will this or that. It is a ruse; a wolf in sheep's clothing quite literally. How do we tell the difference? If millions of people think X about God, and their views do not change much over time and space, then we might say we are on to something. Our limited wisdom accumulates over time, but in the end, God his ways are a mystery, and we do not know him precisely. I look forward to seeing what Andrew might come up with, and out of curiosity I did a little digging on the subject of Atheism myself. While I'm new to Catholicism, I never called myself an Atheist and I was curious to see what Atheist blogs might look like. I was not impressed. Perhaps there are better blogs of that sort out there. For tonight, I want to make some observations about The Raving Atheist (RA). Right off the top, it's a bit weird to list as "hate sites," major Religions, including the Vatican, just because they disagree with Atheism as a philosophy. RA also lists PayPal and RA itself as hate sites. Maybe this passes for that 90's cliche, "quirky" humour. Then again, maybe RA really does hate PayPal and himself. There's nothing in it's philosophy to argue against self hatred or the existence of logic itself. The first assumption of RA is that the author can use logic to disprove the existence of God, which is funny, because I don't see how you can trust in your mind or in logic if they are merely Darwinian adaptations. In my own journey, that was the single most powerful argument that I found. RA simply assumes his thoughts are in order and then uses paradoxes to argue that God can't possibly exist. Even if we give RA his rationality, it has to be pointed out that this is very weak stuff:
5) God's omniscience conflicts with his disembodiedness, since a being without a body could not know how to drive, swim, or perform any activity associated with having a body
The creator of space and time needs first hand experience or he's going to drown in a kiddie pool? The other points in the first section of logic proofs are not much better. They fail to grasp what Monotheism means. RA fails to provide a basis for trusting in rationality, and failure here makes all the other points moot.
Second, Atheism is not merely one possible theological theory among many. Rather, it is the only true, provable theory, and all other religious theories are false and delusional. The mere fact that you believe or have faith that god exists does not make it so, anymore than unicorns, ghosts, leprechauns would exist simply because you believed in them or had faith in them. Nor does the fact that you have a legal right to believe in god prove that god exists. Similarly, the fact that American law purports to be "neutral" as between theism and atheism does not mean that the theories are equally plausible.
This is positively weird. If you have faith in God, you have nothing. But if you have faith in Atheism, and in your own rationality, you have something. Huh? RA fails to address how it is that rationality and freedom emerged from the mechanical universe. And the dogmatism here is creepy. Contrast this with the idea of God as a benevolent mystery.
Third, because there is no god, any attempt to premise moral, social or political doctrine upon a belief in god is fruitless and potentially harmful. Laws, judicial decisions or social policies, which promote, accept or accommodate religious beliefs proceed upon false premises and may have harmful and unfair effects. The law should employ the same standards of logic and evidence in evaluating claims based on religious assertions that it does in adjudicating (and frequently rejecting) claims based on every other type of ideology and belief. In fact, the law should be governed by a militantly rationalistic and atheistic presumption that discourages all forms of irrational and superstitious conduct to the extent it conflicts, as it frequently does, with the general welfare or individual rights.
The law presumes that we are free in our actions. If we were not free, it would make no sense to have a system of law at all. Falsely premised laws are indeed a bad thing, but it does not follow that all law that presumes God exists is bad. If we are wrong about God, we have only proved that our minds are weak. It says nothing about God.
Fourth, any person asserting a special individual right or attempting to dictate social policy based about a belief in god must first 1) define the god, 2) prove that the god exists and 3) demonstrate how the right or policy follows from the belief in god. Because there is no god, nobody will ever be able to do this.
This is simply shifting the burden of proof, and RA has not provided any reasons why we should do so. For me, choosing between 6,000 years of accumulated human wisdom and the world according to RA is pretty easy. So, there's a few thoughts to mull over. They're not original to me, but are some of the better one's I've seen and picked up over the years. They seem solid to me, but I look forward to vetting them through some other minds.

No comments: