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More of the “lack belief in God” silliness

July 7, 2011

Someone pointed me to the Youtube video “Lack of belief in gods” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNDZb0KtJDk&feature=player_embedded). Having learned that atheism (as the denial of God’s existence) is incapable of any measure of proof, some atheists have put themselves in the untenable (and unbelievable) position of saying they simply have no belief about God. One can be grateful here for those like Richard Dawkins who have enough integrity to state that they are convinced God doesn’t exist. Frankly, this new new atheism is hardly worth dealing with. Who cares what a person thinks who hasn’t come to some conclusion, even a tentative one, about God? Let them stand over in their corner and preen about their lack of belief. Philosophers typically like to discuss consequential matters. Such people as the speaker in this video have nothing to bring to the table. (Imagine him in a conversation about the economy. As each option is presented, he responds with “I have no belief about that.” Great. Go get everyone coffee.)

That said, because this confusion can sound impressive (and some people think it’s really good stuff), I’ll make a few comments.

1. This way of framing the discussion implies that belief in God is on the same level of importance as anything else, from lacking belief in a person’s guilt of a crime to lacking belief about the existence of Big Foot. But this matter is of the greatest consequence. Even Nietzsche recognized that. Belief in God isn’t a matter to treat so cavalierly even if only for the significance of belief in God for civilization and social order.  Given the nature of the God which atheists historically have denied, to simply withhold belief is as good as not believing.

One of the problems here is the intellectualizing of belief in God. It isn’t just an idea one hangs on the wall of one’s mind. Belief isn’t separated from life, from action. To believe God exists means something; it puts requirements on one’s life and thought. If this man simply lacked belief in whether he had a brother, for example, given the typical relational/social requirements that would put on him, to leave it hanging as something he neither believed nor disbelieved would be equivalent to not believing, or to believing that he didn’t really have a brother. Some things can’t be left on the purely intellectual level. To believe one way or the other will result in certain actions in keeping with that belief or unbelief.

2. This intellectualizing attitude is also seen when he makes God the equivalent of an explanatory model that is neither true nor untrue. God certainly does explain things, but He happens to be a person, not a conceptual scheme. Would this man answer the question whether Picasso painted a particular portrait of a woman in terms of an explanatory model? “It doesn’t matter whether a man named Picasso painted this, just whether it might take the creativity, etc., of an intelligent being.” This is silliness made to sound meaningful by a British accent, assured tone of voice, and the use of big words. (Of course, it could be that his understanding of God has been shaped by the image presented by some Christian apologists who talk about God in such abstract terms. In such a case, the comments under #6 below applies; the man needs to be educated.)

3. He says agnosticism has to do with knowledge, not belief. This is a bunny trail. It was his predecessor Thomas Huxley who coined this term agnosticism to represent the lack of belief in God as a matter of not knowing. What is the difference between saying “I have no belief about God’s existence” and “I don’t know whether God exists”? The latter at least possibly reveals some intellectual credibility. Maybe the person has given it some thought and has found the evidence inconclusive. The former simply sounds like a non-thinking person. A man who characterizes belief in God in the derogatory terms he uses and considers it completely unsupportable surely has some belief about that God. He is hiding behind an empty claim that makes him look rather silly.

4. The speaker makes a big deal about whether we’re talking about one god or many gods or the God of the Bible. Historically in the West, atheism has meant disbelief in the God of the Bible. By necessity, because the substitute was materialistic naturalism, all gods were relegated to the mythical. I really don’t care what his beliefs are about other gods except in so far as belief in them impinges on belief in Yahweh. When he makes clear that he lacks belief in all gods, that’s as good as saying he believes only in the natural order. Which leads me to . . .

5. The man says belief in a personal God is unscientific. First, he puts too much of a burden on science. But this is typical of today’s atheists. Second, what is certain is that the man believes in something. The fact that he believes science is the final authority indicates that he is a materialistic naturalist. I’ll come back to this later.

6. He said that belief in the God of the Bible is demonstrably false. The only thing demonstrable from the example he gives is his lack of understanding. Here’s an important principle: If you’re going to argue against something, know what you’re talking about. He opposes a Greek notion of God with the idea that the God of the Bible needs worship. This is muddled thinking; he needs to separate his apples and his oranges. First, we’re talking about the God of the Bible, not the god of the Greeks. Second, this God doesn’t need worship. He requires it. Those who have a biblical understanding of God will not find God lacking in this matter nor will they find that requirement burdensome, as a “have to”. It lifts us up to the highest expressions of human nature. (It probably wouldn’t be hard to learn what this man worships. Does the object of his worship need it?) He goes on to say that such a god would have no use for worship. Again, he’s thinking about Aristotle’s distant First Cause, not the personal God of the Bible. This lack of making distinctions is not uncommon among atheists (Sam Harris is often guilty of it).

7. His comment that atheists typically “dismantle” arguments for God makes me wonder which cave he lives in. Does he restrict himself to watching only the parts of debates where the atheists talk? This is like the monkey with his hands over his ears.

8. Earlier I posed the question of what the atheist does believe. We spend way too much time defending belief in the existence of God. Atheists need to lay their own cards on the table for discussion. Surely as educated a man as this believes in something in the area of metaphysics. What is it? If God doesn’t form part of his belief system, how does he explain the nature of the universe? Is there a supernatural level, or is nature all there is? If he lacks belief in God or gods, surely he has some theory about it. His exaltation of the scientific method indicates he is a naturalist. Or else he truly does occupy the extremely uninteresting position of believing nothing at all about such things. If he has the courage to acknowledge his naturalism, then he needs to defend it (and no, it isn’t the default position where everyone has to begin until God’s existence is proved). Until he’s willing to do that, he has nothing interesting to say.

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