Thursday, July 19, 2007


Atheism is something I’ve wanted to write about for a while but it’s difficult to know where to start.

I’ve been listening to 100’s of hours of podcasts on the subject and have read a few of the more popular books that have recently been published – “God Delusion”, “The End of Faith” etc. as well as several blogs and forums.

So I pretty much know where I stand, but articulating these thoughts is a different matter.

Some of my posts on this topic may not be particularly well structured or argued, but it’s more my intention to provide myself with a record of how I was thinking at this time in my life. Who knows, I might look back at this blog in 20 years time and cringe at my ignorance on the topic, but it is what it is – I never claimed to be a great thinker.

Dawkins has received quite a lot of criticism for being an Atheist Fundamentalist. He has also got a bit of flack from fellow atheists who question his understanding of the philosophy behind Atheism.

With regard to being a fundamentalist, I would have to disagree. He may be forthright and steadfast in his opinions, but on any occasion I have seen him involved in a debate he has been well mannered and courteous to his opponents. He considers each point carefully before answering and is more than willing to accept an alternate point of view as long as there is the evidence to back it up.

The God Delusion may not be the best introduction to atheism, but it introduced me to a lot of important ideas. Primarily the different types of theism.

"Lets's remind ourselves of the terminology. A theist believes in a supernatural intelligence who does some combination of the following: answers prayers; forgives (or punishes) sins; frets about right and wrong and knows when we do them (or even think them); and intervenes in the world by performing miracles. A deist is one who believes in a supernatural intelligence whose activities are confined to setting up the laws that govern the universe in the first place. The deist God never intervenes thereafter. Pantheists use the word God as a non supernatural synonym for Nature, for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs the workings of the universe.
Deists differ from theists in that their God does not answer prayers, is not interested in sins or confessions, does not read our thoughts, and above all does not intervene with capricious miracles. Deists differ from pantheists in that the deist God is some kind of cosmic intelligence who set up the laws of the universe rather than the pantheists's metaphoric or poetic synonym for the laws of the universe. Pantheism is sexed up atheism. Deism is watered down theism."

I’m sure many people would redefine their beliefs just from reading that description alone.

Personally, I think the argument that a super natural being created the universe is only of minor interest because even if you believe in a creator (I don’t) that only leads you as far as Deism, it’s the claims people make for this Deity that I have a problem with. And it’s a long way from Deism to Christianity and other faiths.

Believing in a deity is one thing, but believing that this deity can be appealed to in order to effect changes in your life is a completely different kettle of fish. The belief that god has a plan for our life is incompatible with our supposed free will, the belief in prayer, especially the belief that we can be healed through prayer has no basis in truth whatsoever. One of my favourite quotes that I have come across since taking an interest in free thought is from Carl Sagan. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof”

In all other areas of our life we wouldn’t accept anything anyone told us on faith. If I told you elephants could fly, you’d want the proof. Why are people so willing to accept anything they are told as long as it came from the bible.

“I know it’s true because the bible tells me so”

When a document makes claims for its own validity by simply referring to itself you just end up going round in circles. I believe Sam Harris called this an “Epistemological black hole”. This makes it impossible to have a proper debate with some Christians as they are starting off from an assumption that the bible is true without seeking further evidence.

That will do for starters, I should have a bit more free time coming up - so a few more frequent posts hopefully.

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