Thursday, May 10, 2007

Atheism - What it means to me

I found myself watching a documentary series over at Beep’s the other day, concerning the history of atheism (“Atheism – A rough history of disbelief” by Jonathan Miller). It was a brilliant series which I seem to have gotten quite a lot out of. It caused me to think about some of the many facets of atheism (and belief) and wonder about what it really means to me to be an “atheist” or if indeed, I am one at all. There’s no doubt that I’ve certainly thought of myself as an atheist and have definitely been labelled as such from time to time but to be honest, I’m not sure I really fit the mould any more.

Early on in the first episode he said something that made me take notice and a mild sort of umbrage; “for those of us that enjoy the luxury of thoughtless disbelief.” I’m sure however, that most of my fellow bloggers, believers included that may read this post will probably agree with me when I say that there’s really nothing thoughtless about our disbelief (or belief) at all. Rather, it’s because we’ve thought about it that we’ve come to the conclusions that we have.

But so it seems to me when I see things like this and read Dawkins or Harris, that atheism has gained an air of staunch disbelief which I’m not sure I share quite so completely as some.

You see, if you were to ask me if I believe that God does exist, I would simply say that I do not know. If however, you were to ask me if I believe that God does not exist, I would simply say that I do not know. That does not mean that I’m not of the opinion that He probably doesn’t though, but I’ll get to that. To me it’s quite simple and logical and it was part of the process that lead me away from religion in general, not just Christianity.

In examining and discussing whether or not God exists, we soon come to the stark realisation that the argument has no tangible, or at least no observable evidence to support either side. So therefore once again, viewed in the stark light of logic and common sense, if there can be no firm case made for either the affirmative or the negative, then the answer, obviously, lies somewhere in between. To me, what lies in between “yes” and “no” is “I don’t know”, the rest is pure conjecture.

As I said however, that doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion. I am the sort of person that likes to see a bit of evidence before I believe something is implicitly true after all, and I don’t think there’s any reason why that same rationale should not be applied to God. And so it is that I’ve arrived at my opinion that due to a serious lack of evidence, God, and everything that goes with Him, probably does not exist and probably never did.

I’m also of the opinion though, that if God does exist and should deign to provide us some direct evidence of his existence, then I would certainly change my opinion to the affirmative. But this is where I seem to differ with people like those I mention above. I find I simply cannot be as adamant as some are when it comes to pure “disbelief”.

Dawkins will quite happily tell you “God does not exist”. To me, that claim seems a little outlandish. We all know, Dawkins included, that he cannot furnish any proof of that claim, so what that statement is, is pure assertion and is nothing more than an opinion. One that I happen to agree with, but an opinion none the less. That said however, I’m sure that like me, if god should meter out a bit of personal smiting in the Dawkins direction, he’d pretty soon change his tune I think. But I think the only real difference here is that I am quite happy to admit to ignorance and say “I don’t know” whereas Dawkins needs an answer.

Admittedly, “I don’t know, but I doubt it” isn’t really much of a stance to take on the whole God thing is it? But the way I figure it is this. If God really wanted me to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He exists, then He would tell me so in no uncertain and very godly terms, I’m sure. So it’s obvious to me that at this juncture, He would very much like me to remain ignorant of His Devine person, and probably His Devine plan as well, and so I shall until He (or it) deigns that I need to know.

The other problem I have with God is that if there is such a thing, I think it would have to be much bigger and better than any of the models we’ve come up with so far. It seems to me, as I look at different religions and try and make sense of the why and how of what they believe, that most deities seem at best to behave like petulant children or at worst, like “senile delinquents”, as Tennessee Williams puts it. To be honest, I don’t really think a god that has the power to create a whole universe out of nothing needs the likes of us to worship him “or else”, nor has he any business behaving the way he has in the past. No, if a god does exists in the context of being the kind of god that can create a whole universe out of nothing, then I think it’s more likely to be something so unutterably alien to us that we probably wouldn’t recognise it as such anyway. Do I worry about what might happen to me when I die? Well, here's a tip…;)

That leaves me just one more question. So what’s the bible all about? Well, it’s a fantastic collection of extremely ancient stories that carry a common theme. I think some of them, especially the Pentateuch, are much older (the stories themselves, not the texts) than we give them credit for and that others may be much younger than we give them credit for. It doesn’t matter though. As Jonathan Miller said, my life would have been much poorer had I not been exposed to those stories and the magnificent works, in all aspects of art and literature, that they have inspired.

21 Comments:

The Rev. Jenner J. Hull said...

I've always said, essentially, the same.

I've always considered myself an agnostic in general because, as you said, we can't know. And we won't know, no matter who we listen to or what we believe in. We might figure it out when we die, but that's a gigantic, looming "might." And one "might" I'm not willing to investigate quite yet...

As far as any human understanding of "god" goes, I'm an atheist through and through, if only because every single "god" I've ever heard about is so obviously modeled after a human being that he/she/it isn't even remotely worth considering.

And, like you said, if any "god" wishes to reveal him/her/itself to me, I'll gladly believe. Seriously, any "god." I don't care.

Until that happens, I'll go on believing in myself, thanks...

Plonka said...

Rev: Thanks for stopping by...:)

We might figure it out when we die, but that's a gigantic, looming "might."...

Yep, a huge might indeed! I figure if some god or other really wants me to be sure about this, he/she/it will let me know. If not and there is some sort of god, then it's obvious that he/she/it doesn't want me to know about it until I get there and I'm ok with that too...

As far as any human understanding of "god" goes, I'm an atheist through and through...

I couldn't agree more. The concept of a being that can create a whole universe out of nothing, or be the "first cause" or whatever you want to call it simply defies human understanding, IMHO...

Dikkii said...

As always, Plonka, a very good post.

Your second last paragraph reminded me of a line from TISM's song "Michael Jackson's Conveyor Belt" (of their Beasts of Suburban EP):

There's a question
I'd like to pose:
How come God is acting
like he's Axl Rose?


All good stuff.

Plonka said...

Thanks Dikkii. Having a poke at Dawkins is always fraught with danger...:)

There's a question
I'd like to pose:
How come God is acting
like he's Axl Rose?


Well he does ponse around a bit, you've said as much yourself..:)

Sadie Lou said...

I’m also of the opinion though, that if God does exist and should deign to provide us some direct evidence of his existence, then I would certainly change my opinion to the affirmative.

That's so funny. I mean, Christianity is built on faith--and you can't really have faith in conjunction with buckets of evidence because then it's not really faith--
Faith is hard--it's difficult. It's directly linked with trust.
Look at our marriages--there's a reason that we say people have been "faithful" or "unfaithful" becase marriages are built on love and trust.
You trust that your spouse loves you but you can't really know for sure--can you?
Your relationship might have all the trappings of love but then one day your spouse might come to you and say, "I don't love you--I have never loved you."
Were you being stupid for having faith in someone that didn't love you? Or did you build your marriage on trust?
Such is with God.
He wants our trust--our faith--anything else would be a relationship built on forced worship.

Larro said...

my life would have been much poorer had I not been exposed to those stories and the magnificent works, in all aspects of art and literature, that they have inspired.

It could also be speculated that the bible need not have been the "great" influential work to shape our culture today. What if none it had ever happened (Xtianity I mean)?

We would be pointing to some other catalyst that brought us to whatever social condition we find ourselves.

I have to say that atheism, for me, has little to do with the metaphysical, but rather the political. Invariably that is what the bible is about. Laying down "laws" for people to live their lives by. All the stories, fables and myths contained in it just dress it up to make it believable.

I have more on my mind, but I will probably blog about it.

The Alpha said...

Like you, I wouldn't characterize atheism as "the luxury of thoughtless disbelief." It involved a lot of thought. Honestly, it still involves a lot of thought. For all intensive purposes, I consider myself an agnostic atheist. I don't know if God exists or not, but that doesn't stop me from forming an opinion on the matter. Even when I was a theist, however, the question I always posed to myself was whether or not the god presented in a religion was actually worth worshiping. Needless to say the answer was no for a number of reasons. Primarily all the gods presented appeared as you said, "like petulant children."

Plonka said...

Sadie: Christianity is built on faith--and you can't really have faith in conjunction with buckets of evidence because then it's not really faith

Correct and that's precisely why I have a problem with it.

Look at our marriages

Now we're talking about two different types of faith.

On the one hand we have religious faith, based purely on belief, requiring no proof, or evidence at all, also known as "Fideism". On the other we have "rational faith", grounded in logic and evidence.

Your relationship might have all the trappings of love but then one day your spouse might come to you and say, "I don't love you--I have never loved you."

At which point I would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I'd been lied to and that the evidence that had been presented to me was false.

To be honest Sadie, I really don't think you can draw a comparison between the two. One requires that you believe when there is no evidence at all and no assurances at all that what you are believing in is the truth. The other, well nobody I know of these days would ever expect you to marry unless you had all the mundane assurances you can find to be sure that the marriage will work.

The two are completely different, IMHO.

Plonka said...

laro: Thanks for stopping by.

What if none it had ever happened (Xtianity I mean)?

As you say, probably some other great mystical catalyst. We humans are very good at inventing dogmas for ourselves.

I have to say that atheism, for me, has little to do with the metaphysical, but rather the political.

I have to agree that the politicisation of christianity is a serious problem. I can well understand why it is this way for you. I'm Australian and fortunately, so far, we haven't have the religious shift that you guys did. Our politicians can still admit to being an atheist and not suffer for it.

Plonka said...

the alpha: Like you, I wouldn't characterize atheism as "the luxury of thoughtless disbelief."

I didn't think there'd be many...:)

Even when I was a theist, however, the question I always posed to myself was whether or not the god presented in a religion was actually worth worshipping.

For me it was when I looked around and could only see evidence of people believing in god, no actual evidence of god himself.

Sadie: Forgot to ask. Would you say that your belief is thoughtless? I wouldn't, but hat's me...:)

Sadie Lou said...

To be honest Sadie, I really don't think you can draw a comparison between the two. One requires that you believe when there is no evidence at all and no assurances at all that what you are believing in is the truth. The other, well nobody I know of these days would ever expect you to marry unless you had all the mundane assurances you can find to be sure that the marriage will work.


See, that's where you and I will part ways. I believe there is countless ways God provides us with evidence. Creation, miracles, changed lives, people's actions, healings, the Bible, Jesus' teaching and so on and so forth. Jst because you can find no worthy evidence (to meet your standards) doesn't mean there isn't enough evidence for other people.
And yes, believing requires thoght. I think abot things all the time--even though you don't know me, you can tell I put thought into the comments I write. I don't jst pop on anonymously and say things like "God loves you!" or "I'll pray for you!"

Marriage is an agreement between two people that love each other, right?
You say vows to one another to love, honor, cherish in sickness and in health.
But look at the divorce rate--half of us don't take our vows seriously.
I put trust and faith into my relationship because when things get tough--who's to say if your loved one meant it or not?
Some of us are lucky enough to have found someone that was serious and they prove their love by sticking by you when things are bad.
My trust in my husband is measured by actions. But what if my husband was forced to be apart from me for a couple of years?
All I had was letters--words.
Would my trust fade?

Larro said...

Sadie said: Creation, miracles, changed lives, people's actions, healings, the Bible, Jesus' teaching and so on and so forth

That's EVIDENCE?

Creation. Some tribes in Africa believe the earth was brought to be from ant dung.

Does that make it so? No. Speculation should be applied to all forms of religious belief, every one of them.

I will the rest of that caseload alone.

Plonka, you're welcome.
It is very sad when you can't be openly atheist without being derided. I found a clip on YouTube where the founder of The Blasphemy Challenge was interviewed on some Fox affiliate. It was utterly amazing. The interviewer just went off on the guy. You could tell he was a Xtian and very upset about the whole thing. Some Xtian.

Larro said...

By the way, I'm trying to find statistics outlining the difference of divorce rates among atheists and those of Christians. This in regards to Sadie Lou's' comments.

Plonka said...

Sadie: Just because you can find no worthy evidence (to meet your standards) doesn't mean there isn't enough evidence for other people.

And I understand that for some, the evidence you cite is more than enough. To me however, observable evidence means something testable. The things you cite though, are either un-testable or proven to be inaccurate from a scientific point of view.

-- even though you don't know me, you can tell I put thought into the comments I write.

Indeed I can, and it's one of the reasons I enjoy our chats so much...:)

I guess that when it comes to trust, the biggest difference between you and I is probably that I don't trust myself to make the correct "assumption" (for want of a better word. "A leap of faith" perhaps?) when I'm bereft of the sort of evidence I like to see.

Marriage is an agreement between two people that love each other, right?

Yes, and it's also a very real and very mundane contract. These days, there are penalties for breaking it. Alimony being just one of them.

I put trust and faith into my relationship because when things get tough--who's to say if your loved one meant it or not?

They are. If that turns out to a lie, then it's them that's done it and it's a mundane issue. To me anyway.

But what if my husband was forced to be apart from me for a couple of years?

I'm sure it wouldn't be an issue Sadie...:)

larro: No worries..:)

I found a clip on YouTube where the founder of The Blasphemy Challenge was interviewed on some Fox affiliate.

It wasn't O'Reilly was it? And if you still have it, any chance of a link? I was looking at the O'Reilly/Dawkins interview the other day. Amazing! For my next one, I intend to make it up to Dawkins for having a poke at him in this one...

I'm trying to find statistics outlining the difference of divorce rates among atheists and those of Christians.

I'll be interested to see what you find, if anything. Good luck.

Larro said...

Blasphemy Challenge On HEARTLAND

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDB3rHOHu4E
YouTube - Blasphemy Challenge On HEARTLAND

Plonka said...

Larro: Wow... Thanks for that. I had to chuckle every time he asked "Why are you so angry about this?" I only saw one person exhibit any anger and it wasn't Brian...:)

Dikkii said...

Thanks Dikkii. Having a poke at Dawkins is always fraught with danger...:)

I don't really understand this. The cult of personality around Dawkins that seems to have materialised amongst athiests is a little bit of a worry.

What appears all the more interesting is how you label yourself an atheist, and I label myself as an agnostic, but where you're open to the possibility of changing your mind if God Himself were to smite you, I quiver in fear of the amount of work I'd have to do in putting together enough evidence to convince myself that it actually was God who smote me.

But I'm happy to wait - I'm not going to actively seek that day out or anything.

Plonka said...

Dikkii: The cult of personality around Dawkins that seems to have materialised amongst atheists is a little bit of a worry.

Yeah, I know what you mean. It's almost a bit messianic at times, which I find a tad distasteful...

...the amount of work I'd have to do in putting together enough evidence to convince myself that it actually was God who smote me.

I don't think it would be that difficult. He is god after all so if he did it right, then I'm sure he could leave you convinced...:)

Dikkii said...

He is god after all so if he did it right, then I'm sure he could leave you convinced...:)

That's what I'm worried about. He doesn't exactly have a good track record in doing things right.

Summer Squirrel said...

Dawkins does have a "rock star" aura about him these days, but he's gracious about it if not a tiny bit humble. As atheists we are hard to organize and Dawkins gives us something to agree on. I like him a lot, as I'm sure most atheists would agree.

Summer

Plonka said...

summer squirrel: Thanks for stopping by my blog.

Don't get me wrong, I think the man is brilliant and does a fantastic job. It's just the "messianic" status with which he is treated sometimes can be annoying. Probably just as much to him as to me, truth be told...

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