Monday, May 21, 2012

Pretty Sure This Isn't an Atheist

Checked out this entry on the Discovery Institute's site. It's by James Barham, a non-Christian "Darwin Doubter". He's a good writer, and most of what he says really seems to be more in line with Thomist style thought than Intelligent Design.

However, this stood out to me.

I'm ashamed to report that I remained a militant village-atheist for many years. It was only in my thirties that I began to read seriously in the philosophy of religion, and to understand the complexities of theological questions. Today, I have come to recognize the cogency of the inference from the contingency of the world to a necessary being. But in saying that, I am, at best, affirming "the God of the philosophers," as Pascal famously put it. I still cannot see my way to believing in "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Nevertheless, I find myself in greater personal sympathy with many religious believers than with most atheists.
While I can sympathize with him, I have to say... if he believes in the God of the philosophers, an atheist he is not. Maybe he's miscommunicating himself here - say, thinking that there is a necessary being, a non-material being, but nevertheless not God. But if he's affirming the God of the philosophers, no, he's not an atheist. He's just some strange manner of theist. (Strange meaning compared to most of the population.)

32 comments:

Syllabus said...

It seems to me that the word "atheist" has, as one of its many present-day meanings, the connotation of "non-religious". At least, in the sense of not subscribing to any revealed religion. While it's an awful mangling of language, it's the only word that some people can use.

Crude said...

Oh, absolutely, 'atheist' shifts definitions a lot. But usually at the very least it cashes out to 'Does not believe in God'. Barham there sounds a lot like he does, it's just the same God that Anthony Flew came around to.

I get the impression the site wanted to boost the 'look, here's a thoughtful Darwin doubter who isn't Christian or Jewish or Muslim!' thing, and ran into trouble trying to describe that in a catchy, short title. That or I'm misreading Barham.

Syllabus said...

I've suspected for a while that a lot of the modern crop of atheists are simply closet deists who simply enjoy fucking with theists by ranting about sky faeries and the like, and who are looking to be part of a movement/community/thing. They find the NAs, and - hey presto! - they're atheists. Given the broad-as-all-hell definition of atheist nowadays - as you noted - they figured they'd fit right in. Of course, once they found out what pathological asshats that group are, they couldn't very well come out as God-believers of any sort. But just wait. Once Dawkins gets caught killing a baby or Myers vivisects one, they'll soon call themselves deists to disassociate themselves from those people.

Stephen R. Diamond said...

Syllabus,

Don't deism and atheism have identical practical implications? If so, how can you account for atheists and deists being so different psychologically? That is, why would a mere intellectual preference—such as appreciating some formal argument—have any personal ramifications?

BenYachov said...

Well he is like Walter over at dangerous minds isn't he?

@Crude

BTW if you want a laugh.

BeingItself the Gnu, I kid you not, is arguing with me on an Atheist physicists blog and he is defending the idea that the YEC claim "Evolution might contradict the Second Law" is coherent.

I (a Classic Theist) am telling him he is nuts.

http://somewhatabnormal.blogspot.com/2012/05/moving-right-along.html

Now I have seen everything.

Crude said...

Stephen,

They do not have identical practical implications. The fact that quite a lot of apologetic activity is spent merely getting to the bare existence of deity - or the simple point Anthony Flew arrived at - should illustrate as much.

Also illustrative: the reaction to Flew.

Ben,

Are you telling me that BI is arguing that yes, YECs are right that evolution contradicts the second law of thermodynamics? If so, I won't even look. That guy is a piece of work.

Crude said...

Also, Syllabus,

I agree. I think there are some actual atheists - but my experience has been, scratch an atheist, reveal a deist (or some kind of strange quasi-theist.)

It's anecdotal and I don't have the ref, but I remember when Dawkins was widely (possibly mis-)reported as saying that deism was entirely reasonable. Suddenly, various internet atheists *could not agree with him fast enough*, making it clear that they rejected Christianity and thought it was ridiculous, but deism was far more reasonable. Then Dawkins backed off that point, and the idea went down the memory hole.

Stephen R. Diamond said...

Crude,

"They do not have identical practical implications. The fact that quite a lot of apologetic activity is spent merely getting to the bare existence of deity - or the simple point Anthony Flew arrived at - should illustrate as much."

It illustrates that the question is philosophically sophisticated, not that it has _practical_ implications. The best way to demonstrate a practical implication would be to name a single one.

BenYachov said...

>Are you telling me that BI is arguing that yes,

He can't accept Feser saying you can't use physics to refute metaphysics because it's a category mistake.

Robert Oerter keeps doing that in his critique of TLS(thought he is at least civilized about it & admits he doesn't understand philosophy and metaphysics).

I pointed out YEC make the opposite mistake. They take a law of physics (2ndLTD) and treat it like a metaphysical principle.

Thus since BI lives in this fantasy world where everything Ed Feser says is wrong. It must be somehow legit to use 2ndLTD & the only reason you can't is because science has proven the Sun is very old and not very young.

Of course that is not how I was taught the 2ndLTD argument by the creationist Episcopal Priest.*

You have to read his freaky reasoning it's hysterical!

*Yeh I'm Catholic but I went to an Episcopal private school. Don't ask.

Stephen R. Diamond said...

From the Discovery site:

"I was born in Dallas, Texas, in 1952, and was raised primarily in the Southern Baptist faith."

There's the explanation. It's not that deism makes a practical difference, but that intellectuals with rightist ideological orientations prefer deism to atheism because it's less threatening to those who share their political and social attitudes.

(I'll grant that many vocal atheists are obnoxious utilitarian *moralists*. [http://tinyurl.com/cxjqxo9])

Crude said...

Stephen,

It's not that deism makes a practical difference, but that intellectuals with rightist ideological orientations prefer deism to atheism because it's less threatening to those who share their political and social attitudes.

You're going to have to tell me what you consider a practical difference then, because you seem to be defining such in some idiosyncratic way. You seemed to equate practical differences with 'personal ramifications', and the personal ramifications are amply demonstrated with the very example I gave - the fact that many apologists, theologians and philosophers try to establish the bare existence of a God helps to show why the personal ramifications are considerable. The moment God's bare existence is a 'live option' or accepted as real, the possibility of major religions being true also become live options.

If you can't see the personal/practical differences there, I can't help you.

Crude said...

Ben,

Episcopal? Really? Man, I really want to ask, but I won't. :)

Yeah, as I said, BI is a piece of work. And yes, Oerter is polite, so there's that. Maybe BI's just trolling, but it's hard to tell with him - he has a habit of stepping into it, then refusing to back off. I'm still surprised to hear him doing the 2nd law thing - I would have imagined the most he'd be saying is that such a complaint is legitimate, or would be if evolution did in fact violate the second law. Weird.

Stephen R. Diamond said...

Crude,

"The moment God's bare existence is a 'live option' or accepted as real, the possibility of major religions being true also become live options."

Yes, that's exactly the ramification I was awkwardly trying to exclude with the designation "practical." Essentially, the ramification of deism is that it brings the believer closer to religion, but in itself it changes nothing. From your perspective, it represents a potential but nothing more. It has no other significance but as a bridge to religion.

So, what I wonder is how could a mere potential account for the personality differences between deists and atheists? I'm also wondering whether the atheist personality type you describe pertains to the pseudo-atheist deists or the genuine atheists or both.

I think you're on to something with your insight that most vocal atheists are closet deists. I'm not.

Crude said...

Stephen,

From your perspective, it represents a potential but nothing more. It has no other significance but as a bridge to religion.

I don't think you're giving it its full due. That 'potential' can and often does lead to someone changing their life immediately. It not only opens the door to the logical possibility of some religion being true, but encourages an open exploration of religious claims or theistic ideas all on its own. Sometimes mere potential is enough to have some weighty, practical impact on someone's life.

So, what I wonder is how could a mere potential account for the personality differences between deists and atheists?

What differences do you even mean? Historically some deists were loud assholes - see Thomas Paine. And 'atheists' run an extremely broad range in principle, and that's before getting into the whole fight over what "counts" as an atheist.

I think you're on to something with your insight that most vocal atheists are closet deists. I'm not.

I think there's a range. Closet deists, simulationists (who are effectively deists), those who are into Tegmark style multiverses (in which case polytheism falls right out of the equation), and more.

BenYachov said...

>I would have imagined the most he'd be saying is that such a complaint is legitimate, or would be if evolution did in fact violate the second law. Weird.\

Well he is saying that & I keep telling him that is irrational.

It's like asking what would happen "if physics disproved 2+2=4?".

That is about as rational as asking "What if Science found a way to make the number four larger than five but less then three?".

BI keeps asking me "Well what if Evolution did contradict the second law?".

You simply, conceptually can't use a law of physics as if it where a metaphysical principle.

So you can't even conceive of it being true.

I can imagine a pink unicorn or living flying spaghetti.

But I can't imagine a four legged magical unicorn who somehow has more legs then a five legged unicorn while having still only four legs.

Crude said...

Ben,

Alright, I get what you mean now.

The problem is that, yeah, it's too abstract of a question. It's very difficult to imagine how evolution, period, could possibly 'violate the second law of thermodynamics'. Evolution is too broad and vague of a concept, and the second law so distant to evolutionary concerns, that it's a muddle.

Syllabus said...

Stephen:

Don't deism and atheism have identical practical implications? If so, how can you account for atheists and deists being so different psychologically? That is, why would a mere intellectual preference—such as appreciating some formal argument—have any personal ramifications?

I don't think they do at all. Most of the Founding Fathers were deists, and yet they took morality extremely seriously. In contrast, most atheists that I've had the dubious honour of dialoguing with have more than happy to consign moral norms to the nihilistic garbage heap or the subjectivist waste bin. I add "most" because I don't really know where you stand on the issue, and I don't want to make unwarranted assumptions.

Thus the difference, also. If one is a deist - at least, a good ol' Enlightenment deist - then one has a conception of one kind or another of a order of things, moral or otherwise. The atheist, however, has only the order of brute facts, scientific "laws" and all the deterministic corollaries of that view to appeal to - that is, if such an atheist is a materialist or a naturalist. Most are, but there are a few neo-platonic atheists and a few non-materialist ones, of which Nagel might be an example (it's rather hard to pin down what he thinks on the subject, but he's been pretty critical of the subject in the past.

And "mere intellectual preferences" have vast consequences. See Nelson Mandela, Immanuel Kant, and so on.

And, may I add, you seem to be one of the more calm and rational ones in the bunch. Kudos on that.

Syllabus said...

Crude,

Well, as that amusing internet super-intelligence is so fond of saying, the plural of anecdote is data.

Crude said...

I'd add that even some of the self-described atheists who are into the 'brute facts, scientific "laws" and deterministic corollaries' I've bumped into have been strongly sympathetic to some quasi-theistic claims - our universe being a simulation, etc.

I do agree about intellectual preferences having serious consequences.

Syllabus said...

A Hegelian atheist? Sweet! Gotta get me one of those.

Crude said...

Hegelian atheist? Could you expand on that? I'm honestly curious.

Syllabus said...

OK, see, this is why I shouldn't comment late at night. My brain misfired. When I said Hegelian athiest, I meant Schopenhauerian athiest. You mentioned the existence of people that thought the universe was a simulation or projection. This sounds broadly similar to the ideas Schopenhauer gets at in The World as Will and Idea. Hence, Schopenhauerian atheist. But even then, they aren't quite the same thing, only similar things.

Syllabus said...

I have no idea how or why I mixed them up.

Crude said...

Alright. I recall Schopenhauer also had a pretty low view of materialism.

Actually, I'm always interested in how some people seem to make the move of Problem of Evil -> No Gods Exist. I find it really shocking that the idea of an evil God/gods existing is given next to no philophical attention.

Either way, I'd have serious trouble classifying any simulationist (as in a simulation created by some being or beings) as an atheist. At least given the fact that Zeus, etc are counted as gods.

Syllabus said...

At least, outside of Law's attempts? Though he really isn't going about it right.

But yeah. Even if the simulationist were to discount the pantheons of the Greeks and the Norse, he or she would still have to deal with the programmer of the simulation. God is both the creator and sustainer of the cosmos, if I recall my theology correctly. It seems to me, also, that any simulationist would have to reject materialism at some point, even if he went the simulation inception" route, a la 13th Floor.

Crude said...

That's the thing. Law's entire ultimate thrust was "but everyone knows that the existence of a malevolent God is just silly and should be rejected out of hand". When I told him that no, it's not silly, he went ballistic and insisted that everyone knows it's silly and they only deny it when cornered by his awesome argument. Which was ridiculous on a number of levels ('evil gods' are prominent in history, from gnostics to the jackasses in the greek pantheon to Zoroastrianism to elsewise, to begin with.) My suggestion to him was that he actually advanced the case against atheism by expanding the number of live possibilities contra atheists. (He was not pleased.)

As for rejecting materialism - possibly. Though I recall Nick Bostrom's simulation argument actually requires (at least in his words) accepting materialism for the sake of it. At this point materialism seems pretty mangled as a concept anyway - I'm in a minority in thinking that it's the one metaphysic that got smacked around horribly by science over the centuries, and quantum physics hammered it so much that there's little to the idea anymore.

(I remember watching a conversation over at scienceblogs. Summed up: "Materialism is true, and science shows this." 'Okay. What's matter?' "We don't know, but that's not important.")

Syllabus said...

Re: materialism being smacked around

Well, exactly. Even if one were to concede materialism for the sake of the argument, it would be a materialism not worth the name, since the requisite differences between our world and the actual world of the simulator would almost certainly require another type of "matter". Oh, for the days of Democritus...

But doesn't the classic conception of evil call it a corruption or a parasite, rather than a separate thing? At least, in the Christian/Jewish/Muslim traditions. I recall Feser saying something like that at some point. Though I have to admit, if I weren't a Christian I would probably be a Zoroastrian. It's a pretty damned awesome religion in a lot of ways. The only mark against it is that it isn't correct, at least not entirely.

Crude said...

since the requisite differences between our world and the actual world of the simulator would almost certainly require another type of "matter"

How do you figure? I mean, whether or not our universe is a simulation, we certainly make simulations ourselves. Are we creating a new type of matter when doing that?

But doesn't the classic conception of evil call it a corruption or a parasite, rather than a separate thing?

Yeah, the Law argument doesn't get off the ground against the classical theist for a few reasons. But not everyone is a classical theist, and I enjoy looking at other perspectives. As I've said on Feser's site, I'm a classical theist myself, but I reject the typical classical theist view that personalistic theisms are somehow lost causes. I think they're in better shape intellectually than atheism is.

Syllabus said...

Well, as regards our simulations, what we're doing, so far as I can tell, is making something that is a good-as-we-can representation of our matter. We're not creating new matter, only something that is roughly analogous to our matter. At least, if our simulations were actually concrete rather than virtual, we would be (or is the entire point of the simulationist credo that our universe is just such a virtual representation? I'm not terribly knowledgeable on the subject). A corollary to that would be that, if our universe were just such a simulation, our "matter" would at best be a facsimile of varying degrees of accuracy of the super-matter or whatever that the "mother" universe or the simulator's universe would contain or be composed of. At least, that's my line of thinking.

Crude said...

(or is the entire point of the simulationist credo that our universe is just such a virtual representation? I'm not terribly knowledgeable on the subject)

I believe this is it, yes.

BenYachov said...

http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=1905686568472747305&postID=7171265279377254096

Law can't handle being seriously challenged. He kicked me off his blog after I showed him up(see link above).

What a wuss!;-)

That testinganidea fellow (on the above thread) in my experience seemed bright an non-Gnusish Atheist. I liked him.

Syllabus said...

He was clearly intimidated by your huge intellect, my friend. ;)

I kid, I kid.