Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Knife Cuts Both Ways: Thoughts on Atheism

Reading through Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion today, I couldn't help but chuckle at the following:

Many religions, for example, teach the objectively implausible but subjectively appealing doctrine that our personalities survive our bodily death. The idea of immortality itself survives and spreads because it caters to wishful thinking. And wishful thinking counts, because human psychology has a near-universal tendency to let belief be coloured by desire...
I suppose that tendency to allow desire to color belief would be completely universal if there were no atheists. Of course, Dawkins insists that he's not espousing a belief system. He simply disbelieves in the existence of a supernatural, personal deity. Macht recently exposed the problem with that kind of thinking in response to Dawkins' likening of the assertions "God exists" and "There is an invisible unicorn in the room":
As I've said many times, a theist's religious beliefs are not merely a belief in god. It is much more a way of life, a set of values, a set of practices, and a view of the world. I've also pointed out that this applies to atheists as well and this is why we find different kinds of atheists. By comparing belief in a god to a belief in an invisible unicorn in an attempt to show that he merely disbelieves, he is saying that he believes that belief in god is totally cut off from the way of life, the set of values and practices and the view of the world of its believers. I'm suggesting that this view is very naive - people's religious beliefs are more like a web and their belief in god is nothing like the proposition "There is an invisible unicorn in the room."
Commending Macht's analysis, Jeremy Pierce adds:

What atheists are rejecting when they reject theism is not mere theism. They reject a whole set of beliefs and values, a way of life, a kind of community, a view on the meaning and purpose of life, and so on. They reject the fundamental conception of how most people in the world today and throughout history have seen the significance of their lives and how they live. That does seem to me to be disanalogous with merely not believing in an invisible unicorn that someone else tells you is in the room.
T. M. Moore, in a post appropriately titled On Dis(guising)belief makes a similar point:

Those who claim to be atheists, unbelievers, or disbelievers give the impression that, because they don't believe in the God of the Bible, they don't "believe" at all. They're guided by "logical coherence" and "views" that "make sense," apart from anything so nebulous, credulous, and irrational as faith. But, in a real sense, there's no such thing as an unbeliever or a disbeliever -- or even an atheist, for that matter. All non-Christians believe in something, and all people hold to some ultimate "views" and beliefs which serve for them in the same role the God of the Bible does for Christians. They may only believe in the reliability of unaided reason, or hard science, or mere intuition, or whatever, but believe they do, and they should not be allowed to disguise the fact or nature of their personal faith by referring to it as unbelief or disbelief. Rather, it is another belief, another faith, an alternative worldview that is as much dependent on ultimately unprovable presuppositions as is faith in Jesus Christ. The debate, therefore, is not between belief and unbelief, but between different systems of belief, and the onus falls on each to demonstrate, across a wide range of questions, which is the most logically coherent, which makes the best sense, and which is, in fact, absurd.
I move that we coin a new (though admittedly more awkward) descriptive term for at least some atheists - "aworldviewists" - since they apparently "disbelieve" in the existence of their own conceptual framework.

1 comment:

DR said...

Jesus said, "Judge not that you be not judged. For with what judgement you judge, you will be judged; and with what measure you use, it will be measured back to you." Pray for Dawkins, for when he judges Christians as mere wishful thinkers regarding truth, he suffers the ultimate dreaded judgement of wishful thinking in hoping to high heaven that God does not exist (nor heaven and hell), while surrounded by nothing but evidence for His existence, eternal power, and Godhead.