Is atheism an act of pride or ignorance? Is it in one's reasoning or one's rejection of reason? Is it a failing of the intellect or will?
Not too long ago, an atheist challenged me to "prove" the maxim, from nothing, nothing comes. He called it something of a fantasy, not a real principle. I had no way of proving that nothing cannot do anything.
It seemed to me this is something only a somewhat crazy man would deny, not even children or the most superstitious people deny it. They may attribute (inappropriately) all sorts of phenomena to supernatural or preternatural causes, but nobody thinks that things happen causelessly, without something, even themselves, making them happen. At the point at which a person denies this, my view is that they are denying the very validity of human reason itself. Logic.
Which is ironic because they will at the same time insist that their position is logical while theism is illogical: but it seems theism of whatever sort (even an atheistic spirituality like Buddhism) is the natural result of allowing the human mind to follow natural intuitions or assumptions that form the whole structure of logic. That nothing can produce only nothing is directly based on the law of non-contradiction. A true nothing is not something that does anything... Even the least sophisticated persons know that to imagine that anything can happen without a cause is nonsense. But many atheists are highly educated people.
Remember that the Bible says: the fool has said in his heart that there is no God. I think this is a reference to the fact that to truly assume atheism beliefs one must first deny one's own fundamental reason.
What say you? Is atheism a spiritual malady, a species of the "sin against the holy spirit" or mere ignorance?
I think you were right not trying to demonstrate the principle of causality. Aristotle wrote that there are metaphysical principles which are intuitively grasped by the intellect and they cannot be "proven" by arguments. You perceive very clearly that, if we accepted that something can arise out of nothing (of course, we are not using here "nothing" in any metaphorical, Buddhist or mystical sense, but metaphysically), then we found ourselves in a deeply irrational, chaotic world. In a world in which you cannot expect reality to be fairly ordered and predictable. A cow can give birth to a galaxy and your atheist acquaintance can wake up tomorrow as a gigantic worm, like in Kafka's short story. Aristotle said that we cannot debate with people who do not accept the principle of non-contradiction, since they deny the truth of their own statements. I guess that is the case. Your acquaintance excluded himself from the community of truth seekers, if he is serious about his views. Aristotle didn't talk to such people, neither do I, unless I'm forced (e.g. I'm asked a question during a philosophical symposium).
But there are atheists who accept the laws of logic and rationality. We can dialogue with them, if they are not insane with anti-religious ideology, like Richard Dawkins who, once a renown biologist, now became a prophet.
Is atheism a mental disease? I considered myself to be an atheist for seven years of my life. But I don't know if I'm a good example. If the majority of atheists are like I was, than it is rather ridiculous than serious. I rejected the faith of my parents during adolescence, mainly because of psychological reasons, the need to establish an identity for myself, distinct from what my parents demanded. I felt there was no God. I felt superior, smarter than others. I was a student of philosophy and took pride in my rejection of superstitions. But God never stopped being a problem for me. The questions used to repeatedly come back and I had to use some of my favourite arguments to exorcise the questions and doubts. I know there are serious philosophers, honest atheists, but I guess there are few of them. I've never met them.
I myself was just a pompous, self-absorbed, unhappy teenager, who needed to feel original and superior. When I had my first experience of God and I realized that I lived in a semi-dream for all those years, I stopped being an atheist in few days. But before that happened I had a hard time being a full atheist, since:
(1) when I had contact with art, especially music, but also poetry, I couldn't help seeing and experiencing a simple fact that this enourmous beauty is somehow out of this world. I couldn't explain this, but when I was listening to Bach and Mozart particularly, I couldn't be an atheist.
(2) I noticed many "coincidences" in my life which seemed like sth more than a mere accident. Because they often stood in my way when I tried to sin more and to drag myself into deeper moral filth, I was angry and I used to joke to myself that there is some bad guy "up there" who tries to meddle with my life. Now I see it was just God's providential care.
But I know that there are countries where the vast majority of young people just doesn't believe in any spiritual reality (U.S. are not one of them, mostly France, Germany, Holland, Belgium - Western Europe). So I think the problem is serious. But it seems that this is not a philosophical rejection of the idea of the Absolute Being. It is just hedonistic, shallow culture, where kids stare into their tablets and smartphones, drink, use drugs and have sex, to deal with the emptiness inside them and around them. This is a disease.
Excellent topic, and a great opening discussion.
My experience has been that many atheists are somewhat like Mt was during his teenage years -- people who are rejecting religion as a phase in their own pursuit of authenticity. This is especially important when their experience of religion has been repressive in some manner.
Many atheists also seem to be reacting to biblical fundamentalism, assuming that scientific theories like evolution are incompatible with Christian belief. Richard Dawkins certainly carries this axe around, even though it's been pointed out to him many times that there are Christian theologies that embrace evolution and find no conflicts between religion and science. Doesn't matter to him, however. He goes right along as though such conversations had never happened.
I think most self-proclaimed atheists are probably agnostics. They are probably in a questioning phase and just haven't sorted things out yet. Some will marry a religious spouse and tag along to services until it rubs off on them; others will eventually return to a more mature version of their childhood religion. Even those who have had no religious upbringing cannot completely shake off the mind's natural tendency to ask ultimate questions. Why should we even ask about such matters if materialism is the ultimate truth?
Hard-core, committed, ideological atheism is seemingly an arrogant, prideful position, for it asserts not simply that one does not believe in God, but that there is no God for anyone to believe in, period. Implied is that everyone who does believe in God is deluded in some manner, and that all these people through history who have claimed to have experienced God were wrong. It also closes off spiritual possibilities that cannot be rationally disproven, thus limiting one to a materialistic view of the cosmos, and, at best, a secular humanistic approach to life. I think this kind of atheism is intellectually dishonest and unteneable, especially in contrast to agnosticism.
I've been considering the role shame (under the pride or ignorance) can play in hard core atheism. Atheism as a defense against religious & cultural shaming.
I find that what you are saying Phil really hits home in my family. I have only 1 relative of the older generation who is still alive. He is a hard-core atheist. He has talked about the shame he experienced in his younger life. Any mention of God, religion & he flies into a tantrum of shaming. For him there is nothing beyond a humanistic view of life and he wants to impose this limitation on every member of the family. Only once I mentioned to him of a life beyond the limitations of his views. I was told I was deluded in need of psychiatric care.This message has been edited. Last edited by: Mary Sue,
That sounds tough, Mary Sue. Sorry to hear it.
You make a good point about a kind of atheism that seems to be more about being "angry with God" for sufferings one has endured. People wonder, "where was God when ___ happened?" Or, "why didn't God come to my aid?" That brings up the age-old theodicy question, of how/why God allows bad things to happen?
There's been so much bad theology around those questions that it's understandable that many would harbor anger toward God. Yet we have only to look at the example of Jesus to see that God would never send harm or evil to anyone. Quite the contrary!
It is this kind I referred to, Phil. They seem to "need" Christianity or theism to be illogical in order for their own world-view to hold together. One even got on a rather comical crusade "preaching" that those arguing the logic of Christianity are like St Thomas, "not believing before seeing". Apparently, only blind faith is faith. Faith that bases itself on some basis of reason before taking the next leap is not faith. It is comical because one wonders why the avowed atheist is concerned about the quality of faith of the believer. And what does he know about true faith when he insists he doesn't have any himself? There is something quite trollish about these types, and I think they must be lying to themselves if they insist they are only waiting for evidence yet act so militant whenever it seems that another answer beyond materialism holds equal or better ground than atheism on the question of reality.
Re. blind faith. It is not widely recognized that until 15th century faith was always connected with reason, it was either support of reason, or supplement for reason, or a higher power of reason. Unfortunately, one of the major disasters coming from the Reformation was Martin Luther's idea of faith. For him faith was more of a "trust", and emotional one, than anything intellectual, since reason for Luther was "the whore". I suppose due to the spread of Protestantism in leading Western countries, like the Great Britain and America, caused a profound shift in the understanding of faith. It became something alien to reason and natural knowledge, so when reason, in its truncated, modern form, gained dominion due to the development of scientific technology, faith was considered more and more obsolete.
Re. atheism needing Christianity. There is an excellent chapter in an excellent book by a Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor ("The Sources of the Self"), entitled "Radical Enlightenment", where he gives the best known to me analysis of the relationship between modern anti-Christian atheism and Christianity. He shows that the greatest values of atheistic humanism, such as tolerance, benevolence, compassion for suffering, dignity of human person, equality, freedom and brotherhood are all versions of Christian virtues and all have biblical origin. At the same time, the radical French philosophers, and later Marxists, developed their theories not independently, but always in polemics with Christianity, rather in violent attacks on Christianity. Taylor calls this a "parasitic" nature of Enlightenment ethics. It means that modern atheism has no inner source of energy, because it claims that everything is just a bulk of matter, there are no eternal values or meaning of life, apart from what we create. So basically one should fall into depression. What gives atheists energy is their fight against the "oppression" caused by Christianity. Without the Church they would be left with their noble virtues and their totaly depressing view of reality as meaningless. In order to avoid this contradiction (Why to be loving and compassionate to others in the world in which there is ultimately no good or evil beyond our pleasure and pain?) they attack Christianity, displacing the emphasis on the dogmas and institutions they blame for all the political, social and moral evil in this world. Actually, this diagnosis becomes even more accurate nowadays, when Christianity has no longer any real power in social and political structures of the Western world, but still it is attacked incomparably more than Islam and Judaism. Atheism needs Christianity in order to project on it irrationality, oppression, injustice, superstition etc. Without it what would it have to offer?
My friend who is agnostic always says: "Well, what an atheist can possibly offer to people suffering from grave illness or dying in a hospice?" A pluralistic theologian John Hick also asks what secular humanism can offer to the billions of people who do not live in fancy Western houses, do not eat fancy Western food and go to fancy Western hospitals when they are sick. The majority of people on this planet is poor, suffers a lot and dies after a very hard life. Since Communism proved to be not an atheistic path to the paradise on earth, but a monstrous hell on earth, what they really can offer to those billions of people, apart from blaming America for its imperialism and wealth?
By the way, even the very name "a-theism" shows, ironically, that it is not a natural, rational way of dealing with the world. It is an attack on theism!
Excellent posts, gents. I was going to write something about "proofs" and the relationship between faith and reason, but you all have said it well.
In a book by Bishop Sheen I read years ago, he noted that intellectual atheism wasn't as common as "moral atheism" -- people acting as though there is no God. What bites about that approach is that this could include even people who claim some kind of religious affiliation. Moral atheists are generally self-centered, unreflective materialists. It's not so much that they deny God's existence; they just never even consider God at all. Hard to say how many such people there are, but I suspect the good bishop is correct in saying there are many more of these than the intellectual types.
|Powered by Social Strata|