Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
Atheism as Wish Fulfillment
I’ve been reading through Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism. Feser is a Thomistic philosopher (one who follows in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas) and so he approaches these questions from a slightly different perspective than that of other theists who have responded to the challenge of the New Atheism. I’ve only just begun the book, but I found this quote juicy:
It is true that a fear of death, a craving for cosmic justice, and a desire to see our lives as meaningful can lead us to want to believe that we have immortal souls specially created by a God who will reward or punish us for our deeds in this life. But it is no less true that a desire to be free of traditional moral standards, and a fear of certain (real or imagined) political and social consequences of the truth of religious belief, can also lead us to want to believe that we are just clever animals with no purpose to our lives other than the purposes we choose to give them, and that there is no cosmic judge who will punish us for disobeying an objective moral law. Atheism, like religion, can often rest more on a will to believe than on dispassionate rational arguments. – Edward Feser, The Last Superstition, 10
Feser’s point is that atheists are just as capable of allowing their desires to cloud judgment when it comes to matters of philosophical judgments as are theists. Everyone has desires; the question is what the evidence is to support those desires. What do you think of this quote? How would you respond to those who assert that religious people are merely seeking wish fulfillment?
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Guest Post: “The Presumption of Popular Atheism” by David Glass– In this post, David Glass, himself an able response-man to the New Atheism, highlights one primary argument atheists make regarding theism: that theists have all the burden of proof on their side.
Yep, as an atheist ( as if that had anything to do with it though) I’d certainly agree that desires can cloud judgements, but not because a person is an atheist or theist but because first and foremost they are human. Regards.
@Steve: Your generalizing, while broadly accurate, overlooks the specific point being made here. The point is that *particular* desires can result in *particular* wishes–not merely that desires in general produce wishes in general. Therefore a desire for things that the God of the Bible gets in the way of logically results in the wish that the God of the Bible didn’t exist.
Andy, My generalizing was really just to point out that across the whole of human experience the same thing occurs again and again. Religion, philosophy, Atheism etc..ain’t no different, even if they maybe like to think they are.
That said, are you suggesting that I’m an Atheist because ( or at least one contributing factor) I desire things the God of the Bible gets in the way of ( I’ll leave examples to you ), though of course I do not want to put words into your mouth of course. Kind regards
Non belief has nothing to do with wishes and desires. Your non belief in pixies and unicorns and thetans has nothing to do with desiring a universe without them and everything to do with no compelling evidence (to inform sound reasons applicable to linking this evidence to the belief) to think they do exist within it. The same is true for non belief in this god or that one.
As a Thomistic follower, Fesser is committed to justifying his belief philosophically. The problem is that non belief is not a philosophical premise in the way belief in the christian god(s) must be but a methodological conclusion adduced from a lack of evidence (and in fact contrary evidence to claims about the nature of this/these god(s)) from reality. The argument Fesser raises – that non belief is really “a desire to be free of traditional moral standards, and a fear of certain (real or imagined) political and social consequences of the truth of religious belief” – is not supported by this reality; atheists do not believe in all kinds of claims for the same reason Fesser does not believe in most of them – a lack of compelling evidence to inform sound reasons to justify the belief. What Fesser offers is a “Quick, look over there” approach to avoid having to deal with the central problem of having to use reality rather than philosophy to justify belief claims made about reality. Mischaracterizing atheists is a standard method widely respected in the theistic community and it is to this audience that Fesser appeals.
“Non belief has nothing to do with wishes and desires.”
I’ve heard a number of atheists state that not only do they think God doesn’t exist, but they don’t want God to exist. Thomas Nagel is a prime example. So your statement is false (although it may be true for some atheists).
Quite right; some atheists (like Krauss) have specifically said they would prefer a universe with no evangelical kind of god. But I was speaking of non belief as a conclusion from a lack of compelling evidence where it should be (if the claim were true) or contrary evidence (if the claim were true). When you change the object of belief or non belief – based on the same criteria you use for your preferred god – you can clearly see that no wishes or desires play any part. Do you wish thetans existed? Do you desire a reality populated by thetans? Have you even considered such wishes and desires before you – like I – reject belief in thetans?
There’s your answer.
Why are we atheists to suddenly make an exception for wishes and desires to play a role in non belief in your specific god? Well, not only do I think we shouldn’t, I think this accusation doesn’t stand up to examination that asserts these wishes and desires are a premise of atheism.
Tildeb, your comparison of God to thetans seems invalid on a certain count. Most people do not even know what thetans are. But everyone has a sense of what “God” is supposed to be. Just as everyone has an opinion and some emotional disposition toward Michael Jackson and Mickey Mouse, so even atheists, agnostics, and theists alike have emotional dispositions toward God. No human person has the luxury and distance to live apart from some pre-existing cultural understanding of the transcendent or divine. As is said, we are products of our culture.
Well, it seems to me you are trying to use a deistic notion – a vague sense of ‘perhaps there is something more’ operating behind the scene of reality – to dovetail into this or that particular rendition of god. I am speaking of non belief as being without any such emotional dispensation in these particular renditions. For example, do you have an emotional dispensation towards, say, Zeus? If so, and more importantly, does this emotional dispensation determine your non belief? I happen to love the idea of Santa Claus – and I suspect you might be fond of the jolly old elf – but does this emotional dispensation play a central role in determining your belief or non belief in Santa Claus? You see my point? Fesser makes a claim for which he has no compelling evidence… all in the name of trying to discredit the conclusion atheists reach by questioning their intellectual integrity through suggested but suspicious motives.
Yes, I see your point and agree in this instance too. I assent to the truth of a thing based on evidence. But why think that emotional resonance can’t ever count as evidence for anything? Emotional experience at least suggests the possibility that beauty and justice are things with objective existence.
And why would you discount deism? Leibniz’s “Why is there something rather than nothing” should move many a thinking person there at least. And there’s no emotional consideration in that.
Fesser is not trying to foist a genetic fallacy asymmetrically on his readers. He only brings up emotional motivations for atheism as a fact corrolary to the observation that some theists may hold a belief because of fear of death or Hell. He’s not prescribing epistemology. He’s describing a possible psychological phenomenon.
All told, this makes for interesting conversation fodder, but it’s much ado about nothing.
Well, I think it is very more than about nothing; people really do act on these beliefs that causes real harm to real people in real life. Painting atheism as an emotional response to a fear of death does not serve describing it as it really is – non belief in a god or gods. And he offers this up to try to discredit New Atheism as a refusal to sit quietly by and pretend to respect claims about reality that are unsupported by it.
Emotional resonance is a subjective and internal response that cannot be used to as evidence for an objective external stimuli. To assume otherwise is to return to the metaphysical model to describe and explain reality called ‘natural philosophy’. We know this method doesn’t work to produce knowledge about reality because its premises do not respect reality’s arbitration of them. We end up with Plato’s forms, with retrograde astronomy, with Newton’s alchemy, with demons populating an intersecting supernatural realm, with motion requiring agency, and so on! These ‘explanations’ are not unjustified for emotional reasons; they are unjustified because a better method of inquiring into reality reveals much better explanations. Assuming that an emotional response indicates an objective stimuli is a guaranteed way to impose a belief on reality that is unjustified! And we know that unjustified beliefs imposed on others masquerading as justified-by-reality can and does reliably cause great harm to great numbers of very real people. We can do better and New Atheism is helping to bring about this awareness than just so happens to threaten the privilege that has been afforded to the broken epistemology that informs religious belief, that tries to champion faith as a virtue rather than vice it is in action. My faith-based beliefs have no business being imposed on you not because you may have an emotional response to this imposition but because my reasons for doing so are unjustified in principle. Fesser does not respect this principle of independent justification by reality for the faith-based belief claims; he wishes to protect them from its arbitration by suggesting that those who dare criticize them on this basis do so for emotional rather than principled reasons.
You don’t have a neutral position of “non-belief.” You positively believe that God *doesn’t* exist. You positively believe that Nature is self-contingent, and that whatever impersonal forces or substance existed prior to our universe gave rise to our universe. Those are beliefs that you hold which fly directly in the face of the opposite claim: that the existence of the natural realm is in fact a product of, and contingent upon, a supernatural Creator.
Therefore you hold to a worldview that directly opposes the Bible’s.
However, you’re quite correct when you say that “non-belief is not a philosophical premise”: it couldn’t be a philosophical premise because “non-belief” doesn’t exist as an absolute. You may be an unbeliever in God–but that doesn’t mean you’re an unbeliever in everything. You believe in the supremacy of something *other than* God, and that underlying belief–i.e., your faith position–controls how you interpret the data of the natural world. You interpret that data as having been produced by what I call Non-God. But the data themselves don’t logically require a Non-God explanation; you *give* the data that explanation because of your *preferred* anti-God position.
Andy Doerksen, you confuse non belief as a premise with non belief as a conclusion. They are not the same. I conclude non belief in your god and all others until such a time as compelling evidence adduced from reality indicates I should. It’s just that simple and identical to the non belief you hold for all kinds of claims.
Ideologies from both camps of “wishful thinking” are like rivers. They cut a course and eventually spill out somewhere. The first camp flushes out into “common grace” (good influences on culture as a whole). The second (atheistic wishful thinking) cuts the ideological course that flowed into the 20th century – Nietzsche, Marx, Lenin, Stalin, etc. It left the cesspool of 100 million dead.
C’mon, were on the other side of being able to observe the consequences of ideologies. Destructive ideological consequences of Atheism, don’t make it wrong, per se, they just make it intolerable.
This argument is another standard religious trope; the fact of the matter is that atheism didn’t cause 100 million deaths, totalitarianism did. Atheism – requiring the individual autonomy and legal equality and freedoms derived from secular liberal enlightenment values – is its antithesis. Religious authority is totalitarianism’s twin. So please stop pretending that atheism is destructive; it’s anything but. Atheism simply means non belief in a god or gods. That’s exactly the same non belief you yourself exercise towards any other belief claim for which there is little if any compelling evidence in its favour.
Very interesting. Please explain how belief there is no God leads to legal equality and individual freedom.
dpatrickcollins, why are misrepresenting what atheism is? It’s not ‘a belief there is no god’ but non belief in gods or a god. The difference is important when you consider how you might respond to someone who insists that you first believe there is no Nessie based on your wishes and desires. That’s no true (probably), is it? You don’t believe for the same reasons I don’t: a lack of compelling evidence adduced from reality for the claim justifies having no confidence in it.
Non belief requires freedom to exercise one’s critical faculties. This requires respect for individual autonomy in law. You have the legal right to believe or not believer whatever you choose and the legal and political freedom to maintain that opinion without state coercion or sanction. That individual autonomy is a fundamental enlightenment value – probably the most important one (which is why it was so revolutionary at the time). Your authority in enlightenment value comes from you and must be borrowed or lent to those who require your (tacit) consent to govern you. It is the very basis of secularism. What I wish to grant for myself regarding my beliefs I must also grant to you, which is another fundamental enlightenment value: legal equality. Totalitarian governments act to eliminate these values in law, so to claim their origin in atheism that requires freedom and equality and autonomy is silly. It’s a religious trope that tries to paint a theocratic tyranny as equivalent to secular enlightenment values when it’s anything but: it is a tyranny where all are subject to god and his whims.
If atheism is true, then the only “ethic” that exists in the universe is “might makes right.” There have always been totalitarians, but the modern secularized version manifested particularly in the USSR, China, and nations like them rests logically rests on atheism–or at least on the choice to *ignore* God’s existence.
In other words, if atheism is true (or if God can be safely ignored), then nothing is truly “right” or “wrong.” It boils down to whatever you (a) feel like doing, and (b) can get away with. Certain individuals (a) feel like dominating others, and (b) acquire the resources to accomplish that. Those are the individuals who become totalitarian rulers.
And particularly in the USSR and China, it was atheism that drove the communism, which resulted in tens of millions of deaths.
Are there non-atheistic ideologies that can likewise result in atrocity? Sure. But *none* of them faces up to the God of the Bible and takes Him seriously. Anyone who takes God seriously *doesn’t* commit atrocities.
Tildeb, what evidence supports your view that totalitarianism is the twin of religious authority rather than secular authority? The Enlightenment was great in many ways, but it was by no means purely secular, nor always supportive of legal equality and freedoms. Consider Hobbe’s Leviathan and Hume’s obliteration objective moral knowledge that Kant tried to paper over. Clearly, someone took a wrong turn to give us colonialism and the purges of the 20th century. Rather than make a totalizing metanarrative for either theism or atheism, why not admit nuance into your understanding of the world?
The evidence lies in where authority derives. Consent of the governed is only justified if the governed first possess autonomous power. Because another typical definition of secularism advocated by those against this individual autonomous authority (usually for pious reasons) equates the state without theocratic guidance in law to be secular (and usually therefore immoral), there is great confusion in religious ranks about how to achieve a functioning and successful liberal democracy while at the same time maintaining privileged authority for the local religion. We see this confusion all the time… consider the latest version in the Arab Spring, doomed to failure because of the disconnect between the necessary legal recognition for the autonomy of the individual and the privilege of enforcing religious law on the authority of god. When authority is divided this way, secularism becomes lip service, freedom evaporates into violence, and legal rights become the purview of either the theocrats or the strongmen who can enforce their version of tyranny most ably. That’s why the two are twins: they share the same basis of imposed authority.
When you look at the Constitutions of western liberal secular democracies, authority is recognized as coming from the governed (with some interesting and necessary twists in constitutional monarchies that by convolution end up at the same place). This is why the US and French constitutions state that they derive their sovereignty from the people. When a population tries to insist that their political authority has been granted to them by some god, then they transfer the authority of their power to that god who can then supposedly redistribute it any way the clergy deem fit. This is not a secular state but its opposite: individual power is granted rather than recognized.
Of course, there have always been caveats on which individuals have ‘natural’ authority, ‘natural’ autonomy, and we maintain some of them to this day (ie. age of majority). Gender, race, owning land, attaining an educational level, regional considerations, religious affiliation, and so on, have all played some part in advocating some kind of legal discrimination. This is why the attainment of legal equality has been a process… the latest being gay marriage, for example. But the principle of legal equality based on individual autonomy is a bedrock value of the enlightenment even if the practice of it has been discriminatory (‘equal but separate’ is usually the favoured term for this). When the state begins to usurp this legal recognition of autonomy, it is moving away from secularism, and we see this battle continuing into the foreseeable future as people forget the principle in favour of practice.
I am not making any meta-claims that theism is the root of all problems. It’s not. But it is a problem when it advocates that faith-based belief is another way of knowing, that faith is a compatible method to gaining knowledge about the reality we share, to gaining equivalent ethical value on moral issues to compelling evidence-based reasons of human well-being and dignity of personhood (again, granting to another what you yourself demand). Colonialism as a policy can be successfully criticized on this secular basis.
But most importantly for theists, if they desire equivalent freedom to hold a faith-based belief – regardless of which one – then they should be front and center advocating for the secular state because, without it and the principle of legal equality from autonomous individual rights, the theist is undermining their personal authority in the name of piety. This seems to be a good deal for the theist if the right religion becomes state sponsored, but its shortcomings glaring should a contrary and conflicting faith-based authority come into state power. Then its tyranny becomes obvious.
Tildeb, I am quite in agreement that a “secular” government, where public reasoning is the basis of law, is to be preferred by religious and nonreligious alike. (but who gets to say what is public reason?) By referring to autonomous individuals, it seems you may be making an appeal in part from natural law. In that case, what grounds the sovereignty of autonomous indivudals? Some utilitarian end, or a brute metaphysical anchor? Simply curious for philopshy’s sake.
I am not convinced that there is a legitimate basis for unmitigated “equality” under the law, because that, like “God” itself, is a readily confused and amorphous term. As with the French Revolution and many Communist regimes, equality is the transcendent end seized upon for tyrannical ends. All the more that people should learn the equivocal meanings of terms like God and equality.
As a rule and by nature, homosexual pairings are not as consequential as heterosexual ones; the state ought recognize the latter for the stability of any children produced by such union. But autonomous individuals seem to be smitten with the notion that marriage is about securing financial benefits from the welfare state, or else for making a moral statement about equality through legislation.
That we have an age of majority for voting strikes me as a good kind of discrimination; from facts like this, it seems equality requires some good qualifications to be a justification for any given law.
I find neoclassical economics and virtue ethics to shape the culture of the governed well. These require things like accountability, discipline, the intrinsic value of human persons, a subjective theory of value that affirms human ability to create wealth. These are at home in a theistic worldview, but atheists are free to come along for the ride.
accountability, discipline, the intrinsic value of human persons, a subjective theory of value that affirms human ability to create wealth. These are at home in a theistic worldview but atheists are free to come along for the ride
At home? Really?
I think there is compelling evidence that misogyny – not intrinsic value – seems to be much more at home in a theistic worldview than, say, respect for equality rights. When backed by scriptural authority, sanctioned misogyny does not go away. Ever. Gender bias becomes a fixture in the name of piety. For change to happen, we require compelling arguments that shift the moral zeitgeist unencumbered by (and even disrespectful of) scriptural authority. And that only happens when secular law – not religious – is supreme. Theists love to lay claim to all kinds of secular enlightenment values but, when examined in detail, we find their source at odds (and often in conflict with) the basic principles of reciprocity and fairness we would expect even children to recognize and respect. These values are often not at home in a theistic worldview but in conflict with it… not because of reasoned arguments backed by compelling evidence but simply on the authority of some nebulous divine agency… an agency, remember, that we are supposed to respect more than our own sense of right and wrong.
At this point we can just trade assertions. You have a construct of the “religious” that is unflattering, and I could offer a construct of the irreligious that is just as unflattering.
You’ve mentioned gender bias and misogyny. But these are just corrective labels meant to restore some kind of justice. Whose justice? I bet you and I both abhor tyranny and injustice, but as I’ve already mentioned, any standard you appeal to is liable to be just as nebulous and subject to abuse as the religious authority known as God.
As it is, many self-identiting secular people pawn off their private beliefs as public reason, when there is no rational justification. Take the spontaneous invention of same sex marriage as a right, and in the US the emerging right to receive from one’s private employer free birth control. I don’t know what Enlightenment train of thought arrives there by anything other than a detour into emotional passion and blind faith.
Not true. I stand on principle derived from enlightenment values… as do you… right up until you try to make an exception in the name of god.
Look, we can establish exacting measurements that provide the means to compare and contrast differences to incredible accuracy… just look at elevation, for example. The argument that without some objective divine standard for some comparative measurement means we cannot have any way to know to any exacting level of this comparative difference is simply incorrect and demonstrably so. Principles of equality then comparatively measured in real life between individuals do not require any such independent universal standard any more than the plane you are on requires a universal standard of divinely sanctioned elevation to know its comparative altitude to the runway it is about to land on or the mountain it must go over. All that is required for navigating elevation and equality rights is the same unit of measurement regardless of what basis that standard uses. We don’t need some local version of a universal god to be able to accurately compare equality rights or reject the whole notion; we only require acceptance of the principled value that what rights you desire for yourself must be equally respected by you for another. Why this concept presents such difficulties for religious supporters shows the degree of exceptionalism and privilege these believers bring to their faith-based beliefs before trying to impose them on others under false banners or preventing moral decay and chaos. We have better reasons for implementing legal rights (and curtailing them) than because divine authority approves or rejects some version of it.
a : a disbelief in the existence of deity
b : the doctrine that there is no deity
TILDEB: Very passionate response. I will respond to some of your points:
Per my dictionary definition above, I thought I was representing it accurately. I still am finding the difference between belief in no God and no belief in God hard to find. If I do not believe Nessie exists, I for one would not take exception to someone describing me as one who believes Nessie does not exist.But I will try to use the right grammatical construct in the future.
Let’s stop right here. I would like to believe that non-belief in God inherently requires something of both government and the individual, but I am not seeing it. I am okay with you feeling that all atheists everywhere at all times have lobbied for such individual freedoms; I won’t necessarily agree with you, but I can appreciate it. But that was not really my question. My question was: how does a thought, “I do not believe God exists” lead to “therefore, individual liberties should be protected.”
I think you might be referring to Humanism, not Atheism, i.e. “a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual’s dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason.” I do see how this naturally leads to the protection of individual liberties, and I do appreciate such a position.
And that brings us to another point . . .
I am not sure how familiar you are with the Christian faith in practice. Having been a participant in it for the past twenty-five years, I can tell you firsthand that a bedrock foundation of Christian doctrine is the belief in the necessary autonomy of the individual pursuing the exercise of his/her potential and fulfillment if his/her destiny, as God personally leads them (and I am talking about in fundamentalist evangelical churches). It is called “being led by the Spirit, not the Law,” and is considered a virtue.
That said, there regrettably exists a tension in organized religion to deny this autonomy as well, and to encourage conformity instead. It is often called “Legalism”, and this — again, I am speaking from the perspective of not liberal out-there splinter groups but conservative evangelical churches — is considered a tyranny and enemy to true spiritual growth and potential.
I mention all of this for perhaps an nonobvious reason: Of all people, Christian believers should lobby aggressively for the preservation of the rights of the individual, not elimination of individual liberty in deference to the state, for the reasons you state, for it is in their ideological DNA.
And secondly, doctrinally speaking, the Christian position has more in common with the Humanist position that one might realize. Granted, their metaphysics are at diametric odds with one another, but their belief in the preservation of the liberty of the individual and of human potential are quite similar. It is for this reason that the founding fathers of America did not wince when writing our own constitution.
I would like to believe that non-belief in God inherently requires something of both government and the individual, but I am not seeing it.
Imagine if there were laws making non belief in a particular god a capital crime punishable by death. Are you free in the legal sense to hold no belief? No. You are guilty of a thought crime. Fourteen countries in the world currently have such laws. What about belief in a different god? Another thirty two have blasphemy laws with various judicial sanctions against this kind of criminal thought. When such countries have governments empowered by democratic vote to support such legislation in the name of piety, then are individuals free to exercise either non belief or contrary beliefs? No. Atheism requires legal equality without religious caveats, which means secularism. But so too does religious freedom. Without secularism and respect for individual autonomy in law, religious freedom is curtailed.
The danger occurs when people assume the truth of a God (and I capitalize that term as a proper noun in the minds of people even though two minds may easily conjure two different Gods) and then advocate for legal protections for it. It is the reasoning that acts against the principle of equality that then directly reduces the necessary freedom for both people to continue their belief in their Gods and introduces some punitive measure for daring to believe in the wrong one. This is even worse for those who believe in no God or gods because the lack of belief is assumed to be not just disrespectful but an unacceptable blasphemy.
You mention the principle of legal equality (and the dignity of personhood) is shared by christian doctrine. But you arrive at individual autonomy only after you claim this comes first from some divine agency. That prostitutes human rights in the service of (in this case favourably inclined) god… still an authoritarian god who distributes this autonomy. When christian doctrine has been politically empowered, we have no such examples of empowering legal equality based on individual autonomy. This has been purchased from religious dominance in our historical record only by force of arms. It’s one thing to believe religious doctrine has evolved into supporting secular principles but it’s rare to find any religious leadership willing to transfer ownership of individual autonomy to the individuals who actually posses it without first filtering it through the authority of some god. That’s not the secular value in principle even though lip service is paid by the religious to it in practice.
Oxford English Dictionary:
disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.
I’m telling you straight up that atheism understood to be non belief is not a different kind of belief any more than a non car is another kind of car. To try to paint non belief as a different kind of belief is doomed form the start.
Tildeb said: “Non belief requires freedom to exercise one’s critical faculties.”
My dog doesn’t believe in God, but I don’t think he’s freely exercising his critical faculties.
Thanks for your response. Man this thread is getting long 🙂
I do see how the above is a case against Theocracy, but not for how Atheism logically leads to the protection of individual liberties. Atheism could just as well lead to an Atheocracy, making belief in any particular God a capital crime.
Now if we define Atheism as a pure absence of believe (no car), such that it is indifferent to belief universally, neither seeing it or its lack a capital offense, I do in fact see how this could lead to a state tolerant of all theological ideologies (this includes no belief) — but not so much because it embraces the value of individual liberty as it simply does not recognize belief. We have no laws against which brand of toothpaste we purchase not so much because toothpaste brand choice is embraced as much as it is not considered a thing (prob a better example here).
And that leads us to our next item . . .
Gotcha. We are back to a theocracy. But there is another side to this. If the truth I believe (which is just as valid as the truth you believe, God or no god) requires free expression of an act which the state forbids, for whatever reason, then my desire is no longer the mandate of theocratic law but the allowing of free expression of belief. A realistic example recently is in the US, Obamacare requires that people who do not believe in abortion and contraception to make those services available (my facts are fuzzy but nonetheless illustrative). In this case, the issue is not “mandating God” but preventing people to believe what they believe, and being free from the constraints of the state to exercise those beliefs.
Lastly, I almost detect that you equate theological belief with theocracy. I know very many people who believe in God but very few of them, if any, believe we should have a government that tells us what to believe and how to live. For the reasons already mentioned, most are quite opposed to such an arrangement.
I do see how the above is a case against Theocracy, but not for how Atheism logically leads to the protection of individual liberties.
Without individual autonomy respected in law, one cannot be free to uphold non belief (which is the default all of us start with) or belief (which we have been taught). When a state attempts to legislate either, then this freedom is curtailed by an officially sanctioned discrimination that usurps autonomy. And this is what we see in all forms of political tyrannies (whether officially atheist or theocratic). Only in the absence of official discrimination one way or the other can we be free to choose, and this essential freedom – not atheism – is the secular principle. Atheism doesn’t cause individual autonomy; individual autonomy as a principle value empowers the freedom to believe or not. This is why non belief requires respect for the enlightenment value of individual autonomy; without that autonomy recognized in law, the atheist is not empowered to be a non believer. Permission must be sought from some other authority than one’s self. And this misplaced authority – somewhere other than the individual – is antithetical to secularism.
All you’re expounding here is yet another ideology. What makes your ideology the preferable one?
Such assertions are not a refutation of God’s existence but an explanation of why people believe, assuming there is no God. But if God exists, then there is every possibility some wishes may be fulfilled. It is also possible some fears may be confirmed.
When the assertion is made concerning my own faith, I am always struck by how little the critic knows about the reality of faith in the Christian life. In many, many respects my road of faith has required much more difficulty and self-sacrifice than it has comfort and fulfillment of pipe dreams. But it has been worth it, not because I am comforted by a ficticious Being I wish to believe in rather that accept “reality”, but rather, a Reality that has come to me, and in such a manner and way that its certainty is undeniable. A Reality in fact that inclines me to lay down my life and endure whatever hardship may come, for His sake. True faith is not a means to a happy end but a certainty that causes the human heart to endure adversity for the sake of the Cross.
There are a myriad of atheists and reasons for why they do not believe. But I am inclined to believe that those most eager to to assert with zeal they know why a believer believes and that it is for mere wish fulfillment is not because it is convincing, but because they fear it might be something else.
Patrick, that was a great comment. I noted this line in particular: “When the assertion is made concerning my own faith, I am always struck by how little the critic knows about the reality of faith in the Christian life.” In like manner, may I add that humanists also tend to ignore the reality of faith in *their* lives. *Everyone* has faith in *something*,
This is why I never use the phrase “people of faith”–because it’s massively redundant.
Thanks for sharing that Andy, appreciated it.
JW, this is something I’ve long thought. To not admit that you own beliefs could be swayed improperly by your own desires is to be as the epistle writer and the liturgy proclaim: “If we say we are without sin, the truth is not in is.”
Dueling ad hominems.
It is quite amusing isn’t it Daniel. My wife and I are involved in child care and when Theists , Atheists etc..start interacting “sometimes” even though dressed up in adult speak, patterns of behaviour are not much different. Do I include acting like that occasionally ? Of course I do 🙂
Mr. Collins, if you’re ever in the Chattanooga area, let me buy you a cup of coffee. Seriously. I’ve enjoyed your comments (along with most others, too).
J.W., looks like a good book, and I agree with the premise of the quote. However, I am in no position to argue with the caliber of folk you have arguing this. For crying out loud, I don’t know about Thetans, but I do believe Nessie could exist, so I don’t know what to say about myself.
For crying out loud, I don’t know about Thetans, but I do believe Nessie could exist, so I don’t know what to say about myself
Yes, I agree with you: Nessie could exist. But does it?
Well, to assume it does, and state that it does, and demand respect for believing it does, is something much more than merely recognizing the possibility, don’t you think? Now let’s say we look at this possibility very carefully because so many people assert that it does exist and want to use belief in Nessie as a necessary reason for public policies (I know that sounds kind of weird but let’s just go with it for a moment).
I (and probably you) want to know if this claim that Nessie really does exist (and is a causal agency in the world as believers also claim) is likely.
Is that an unreasonable pursuit?
We find out that evidence for Nessie’s existence is as weak as weak can be (someone claims to know someone who knew a person who says he or she read about a reported eyewitness account centuries ago!) Does this make the claim likely to be true, that Nessie does in fact exist?
I suppose it may sway some people but I don;t find it very compelling and I don;t want to be fooled into believing Nessie is real if she isn’t. I want better reasons for believing something is more likely to be true than not.
Now imagine if you’re assured that believing that Nessie exists – without compelling evidence strong enough to convince any reasonable person – was actually a virtue, a belief that elevated your moral standing and made you a better person with purpose and meaning in life, and so you should respect the belief for these kinds of effects attributed to it and not worry so much if the existence claim is more or less likely to be true in fact. Many people might be quite happy to just go along with this. But some might not. I’m one of those who might not.
Along comes someone like I am who criticizes belief in the existence of Nessie and is skeptical enough about the quality of the evidence in its support to dare to say that he or she does not believe Nessie actually exists and gives a host of reasons (that you recognize as your own reasons for non belief used to justify your rejection of all kinds of other extraordinary claims (let’s say a claim that eating broccoli dipped in magic powder will make you able to fly).
Along comes a clever Fesser who insists that non belief in Nessie is really a kind of wishful thinking, a desire to be free of traditional moral standards, and a fear of certain (real or imagined) political and social consequences of the truth of this belief, a non belief that can also lead us to want to believe that we are just clever animals with no purpose to our lives other than the purposes we choose to give them, and that there is no cosmic Nessie who will punish us for disobeying her objective moral law. This non belief in Nessie can often rest more on a will to believe than dispassionate rational arguments.
Does this make any sense to you? Does this argument support the existence claim of Nessie? Does it address the real reasons non believers use to explain why their non belief is better justified than the belief claim in Nessie’s existence (or the flying claim)?
Let’s return to the beginning and appreciate that Nessie might exist but that pronouncing a belief that she does is not a knowledge based claim; it’s a claim of faith. That doesn’t make it to be true and it doesn’t justify acting on the belief as if it were. The best we can say is perhaps, maybe, possibly, and leave it at that. Pointing out the lack of knowledge in these kinds of claims is not a moral consideration in spite of clever Fesser suggesting it is. Pointing out the absence of compelling evidence is not a fear-based consideration in spite of clever Fesser suggesting it is. Insisting that we justify claims about Nessie’s existence or any active causal agency in the world by evidence from the world is not an equivalent belief claim in spite of clever Fesser suggesting it is. Non belief is not a special kind of belief in spite of clever Fesser suggesting it is any more than a non car is another kind of car.
Non belief – in god or gods, Nessie, thetans, magic flying powders for broccoli, whatever – has nothing to do with wishes and desires and everything to do with granting reality the power and respect to inform our knowledge claims about it. It’s just that simple and it’s the same non belief all of us use almost all of the time. The difference is that some people grant an exception to this reasoning for specific claims and people like Fesser tries to make any criticism of using this exception to support otherwise unjustified claims about reality to be a flaw in one’s character, moral fiber, and/or intellectual integrity.
Dear Sir, whoever you are, I do not claim, nor will I assume that I can argue on the same level as you, J.W., or Mr. Collins. All of you folk are quite impressive, and I am nothing more than a simple, small-town preacher with a few life-lived battle scars. Therefore, forgive my ignorance of the intricacies of the subject at hand. But frankly, I don’t think I have ever met a person who was emotionally disconnected from the idea of God. I have never, ever, personally met a person, no matter how smart they claim to be, who simply did not believe in a god. No, every person I have ever encountered had a reason to either believe or not believe. So, argue all you want about magic flying powder and Nessie, but I would bet a dollar to a doughnut that the last thing you would ever want to find is proof of God’s existence. Like C.S. Lewis might say, that would be the equivalent of a mouse looking for a cat. Of course, I could be wrong, I suppose. I believe those who disbelieve in the God of the Bible, especially regarding Jesus Christ, willfully do so despite any evidence, which was not only the point of the apostle Paul’s writings in Romans chapter one, but the general idea Fesser was trying to convey.
That’s all I’ve got. I have no more cents than the two I’ve given.