6.15.2006

hesitation, reserevation, and secret evasion

I'm a bit reluctant to post about what's been on my mind the past few days, mainly because the subject has been hashed and re-hashed since the first guy ever came up with the question.

Recently, I've been wondering about atheists.

To give you some background, I was reading the Wikipedia entry on Douglas Adams. Douglas Adams is famous for writing the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books, a slightly mirthful experience at worst, and a side-splitting read at best. I have a penchant for British humor; it just strikes me as particularly funny. Douglas Adams is a 'radical atheist.'

Atheists have always intrigued me. I've never met an atheist who didn't have an agenda to convert people. Not that converting people to your own viewpoint is bad. Mormon missionaries (at least this one) spend the entire two years of Church service in full proselyting activity. This meant talking to anyone who didn't tell me to bugger off, all day. Many of the French are, by cultural heritage, secular and atheistic. Put two and two together, and you can safely say I've spoken with many atheists.

Some atheists, Douglas Adams for example, say that they are convinced there is no God, because there is no evidence for His existence. Any rational person should agree, right?

But there's something I just don't get. Rationally speaking, why would you accept a lack of proof of existence as proof for non-existence? Don't you need corroborative evidence that He doesn't exist to draw the conclusion that He indeed does not exist?

More on atheists later.

6 comments:

Shaun Carlson said...

I agree with your take on the issue. That's why I tend to favor the views of agnostics over atheists. One of the biggest arguments I hear for atheism is that for making the radical claim that there is a god/God that created the universe, we need to provide the concrete proof that he/it exists. Since that proof doesn't exist and the current view of creation has been holding up well, then there must not be a divine influence.

The logical fallacy of this is that it's a cop-out at best, and an ignorant claim at worst. Every viewpoint has to provide evidence for it, and the lack of evidence of another viewpoint does not count as evidence for another. Because something like the Big Bang theory looks like a very plausible cause for the creation of the universe doesn't rule out a divine being creating it. Who are we to say that the Big Bang (or something similar to it) isn't the way He chose to make it? We'd feel really stupid to make that claim only to find out it's the way that God actually did things.

The biggest problem with proving or dis-proving the existence of God is that it is something that falls well outside the realm of science as we know it know. Science is based exclusively in the observable, physical world. By definition, God is something that transcends this physical reality, and thus it is reasonable to conclude that his existence might not always show up in ways we can understand in the physical world. It would be like a two dimensional being trying to envision a three dimensional being (see "Flatland" by Edward Abbot, or A. Square). So until our devices are refined enough or some other occasion, we wouldn't be able to know.

Thus it's something to take on faith and that is a scientifically unsound idea. Ultimately, the only way we are going to actually know (for the most part of the population, anyways), is to die. If we find that our existence continues as was predicted by religion, then we'll know it wasn't a bunch of rubbish. And if it doesn't, well, we won't exist to acknowledge it so the whole point is moot I suppose (ha ha).

I think one of the big reasons atheism exists as it does, especially with atheists trying to convince others to be so also, is that people have looked at history and seen the terrible things that have been done in the name of religion and refuse to have anything to do with that. I can understand and even respect this position and reasoning. It is very hard to reconcile the atrocities commited by people in the name of God with the loving, caring being we claim to worship.

In that sense, there is a quote from Albert Einstein that I really like. I believe he really has a point and that we should be careful just how religion plays into the reason we do things:

"A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeeded be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death." ~Albert Einstein

sixline said...

Does God want His children to obey out of fear? Of course not. Should we fear the consequence of sin? Of course. We would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us and hide us from his presence if we are not clean at the last day.

So I take a bit of issue with Al's quote, mainly because I don't know the context in which it was given. Fear should be in the equation, although not the primary source. Of course, the goal is to choose to follow Christ, not do it because you're scared of what'll happen if you don't. However, it doesn't seem like you're trying to say that we should NOT fear God; I just felt the need to state my case. :)

As far as religion being the cause of war and bloodshed, that's another cop-out. What about Stalin, or Pol Pot? Those guys were atheists. How many deaths were they responsible for? Of course it all comes back to power. In our history, especially our western European history, control of the Church meant control of secular powers. It's control that people are after, and it's easy to see. Those who can't differentiate between Good Pope John Paul II and power hungry Medici family pope in 1523 (Clement VII) is CHOOSING to not believe in the good that religion offers.

Now I'm digressing. :)

Masonic Traveler said...

I'm curios what constitutes proof, and does one faith have hegemony over said "proof" of an existence of God?

Perhaps atheists, like other "religions" are looking for converts to spread their message, even if it is one of non-existence.

The question that perplexes me is if you say there is definitely a God, which God do you say is absolutely the "true God"?

Shaun Carlson said...

I see what you mean about the fear part, but I think it comes down to how you define fear. In Einstein's quote, I take fear to mean "be afraid of", with connotations of cowardice and/or irrationality. But when you read in the scriptures "fear God", I take that to mean respect. One would fear God obviously because messing with an omnipotent being is simply a bad idea, but you can "fear" something in that regard and not be terrified of it.

However, doing something out of fear of consequence is something I don't accept. Acting with those as your motivators completely undermines what it means to be human. We are by nature inquisitive beings and we ask questions. To silence that voice is to silence our reason and a lot of religions to the date that Einstein gave the quote sort of made that their goal. They wanted to scare people into believing them, frighten them so they wouldn't question, terrify them into dominion. That to me is just wrong and evil.

Also, I didn't mean to infer that religion is the sole instigator of wars. There are plenty of occasions where war has been started without a religious cause. However, it does stand to point out that most of these occur after the Renaissance era which saw a rise of secularism. Before then, a great deal of them were started over one person's belief in religion versus another.

The problem is that religion has given people a very good reason to be distrustful of it. When it was given power, it abused it just like any other institution and proved no better. Even today, some religions merely brainwash their followers into doing whatever is mandated by their leaders unquestioningly. Couple that with erratic evidence for religious claims and that puts religion in a rather compromised position. Were any religion to be given dictatorial power of state like Catholicism had or even some areas of Islam, I have almost no doubt that the same atrocities of the past would be repeated. Power corrupts.

As for the latter question, I suppose one's beliefs will largely affect the answer to the question of whether or not one religion has a hegemonic position over other religions and which God is the true one. I find it likely that we have all been dealing with the same God, but in order to make one religion or another the one, true religion, the nature of God has been changed so that He would fit within the ideals of a certain sect. After generations of this happening, we end up having what looks like to be several different and even contradictory versions of this absolute being when in reality they are all the same one, but distorted.

sixline said...

masonic traveler: Thank you for your post, and glad to see a friend and brother visit my little journal. :)

I believe that God wishes that we seek Him out. I believe strongly in personal revelation.

That being said, it is inevitable that I will seek God and say "His will is this." while another says "I have sought God and his will is that." At such impasses, it is imperative that we retain our freedom to believe what we will, and not impose our will on another.

Shaun: I can't tell you how much I admire your ability to put words together, I envy it. :)

I don't mean to find logical loopholes in what you say, nor say that the whole of your argument is fallacious because of one imperfection. I'm not even saying there are any. Again, I compliment you on well constructed thought. I envy it. :)

I just wish to differentiate between atrocities committed in the name of God and atrocities committed in the name of power. I think it's a clear line. Imposition of will on a people is a struggle for power and control. I get a little agitated when the bad examples are used as a general rule in saying that religion is bad. Many Enlightment thinkers felt this way, Kierkegaard was one of them, if my memory serves me correctly.

And yes, you are right. Fear can't be a motivating factor in religious obedience. What loving God would want His children to obey Him out of fear? I just don't want someone to think that because I am afraid of the consequence of sin, therefore I don't sin because of fear. It's more complex than that.

Shaun said...

You're right and I did oversimplify things. Some of it comes from my own resistance to the levels of obedience concept that's often taught (i.e. level one being fear, level two being obligation, and level three being love for example). I just strongly feel that doing something out of fear, especially in most religious cases, is completely missing the point. And fear takes many forms, not just the one that paralyzes people with the possibility of physical harm. You can't be faulted for doing what you're told out of fear, but the only reward I think you get is simply not being punished and that's about it.

The point I was trying to get at is that until just the past couple hundred years (largely), religious leaders used fear to scare their followers into believing them. Independent thought was ostracised because it threatened those in power. The Catholic church was infamous for this in the dark ages, and even the Reformation showed a similar trend. Flash forward to today and there are still some groups, like many terrorist organizations, that use these fear tactics to brainwash people into adopting their beliefs. This only produces zealots that are often incapable of reasoning. That is one of the greatest tragedies that can befall an individual.

But you are absolutely right, this is not the only facet of religion. At the heart of each example I've given are people that usually know better but lie to others to consolidate power. They may not even believe their own dogma, although they might have proclaimed it so much that they've even fooled themselves.

It's just that with that very frightening image of what religion can do to people and societies, it is very hard to see the good that religion can do for people. That's why I say religion has given people a good reason to be wary of it, there are too many examples where religious leaders have essentially mandated that their followers give up their powers of reason and become automatonic slaves. I personally don't think that reason or scientific thought and religion are at all inherently at odds with each other. I think they compliment each other very well and when they are used in tandem that they produce truly remarkable individuals.

Also, thank you for your comment. I always feel I ramble too much and cloud my point, but I appreciate your esteem.