Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sophisticated Theism versus Primitive Theism

There's a popular sentiment among the internet communities I now and then skulk about in - the idea that atheists, particularly the Cult of Gnu, are absolutely incompetent when it comes to arguing against sophisticated forms of theism. Particularly classical theism, though not necessarily limited to that. It's a sentiment I share. Really, I consider it every bit as intellectually dishonest to argue against strawman conceptions of theism as I do to see people argue against strawman conceptions of evolutionary theory.

That's a common defense, of course. "Okay, we're arguing against strawmen... but this is what a lot of people believe!" Well, okay. And a lot of people who believe in evolution - even 'defenders' of the theory - have really horrible conceptions of evolutionary theory. Replying, "That's different - evolutionary biologists have the proper view! They just have a layman or amateur understanding at best!" just sets you up for a response of, "And philosophers/priests have the proper understanding of these arguments for theism. The average believer has just a layman or amateur understanding."

Now, I accept these things. I also think it's important - of dire importance - for people to be educated about the fundamentals of metaphysical discourse along with the more sophisticated theistic views and arguments. Even understanding as little as the importance of metaphysics, the distinction between science and philosophy, etc, is extraordinarily damaging to the modern aggressive secular/atheist bend.

But as I've said in the past, more and more, I think what's needed in addition to that is a defense of a far more crude (for lack of a better word) theism. The basic beliefs view of Alvin Plantinga. The instinctual construing of not just nature, but evolution itself, as an iteration of design that proceeds from a mind. The instinctive, basic teleological understanding with which people tend to view the world. Or even the basic trust placed in priests, rabbis, or theologians generally.

Defending and advocating sophisticated theism is one thing, and again, it's important. But there's no need for us to treat a more basic theism as somehow unjustified, and basic theists as intellectual lepers.

2 comments:

Cale B.T. said...

"Replying, "That's different - evolutionary biologists have the proper view! They just have a layman or amateur understanding at best!" just sets you up for a response of, "And philosophers/priests have the proper understanding of these arguments for theism. The average believer has just a layman or amateur understanding."

The stock reply: "Professional scientists actually produce Real Knowledge©, though! Why should I even admit philosophy/theology as a valid field of study, much less read the "sophisticated" arguments, when they haven't designed me an iphone or sent a man up in space lately?"

And so it goes.

BTW if you need something good to listen to when jogging, there's a talk by Oxford historian of science Allan Chapman called Why do scientific writers sometimes react irrationally when faced with religion?

Crude said...

See, the problem with the Professional Scientists reply is that people will make that... and then about-face immediately and start talking up philosophical arguments against theism, or for naturalism.

I've had that conversation over and over.

'Metaphysics is garbage, philosophy is useless.'
"Okay. So, naturalism and materialism are both defunct then, given that they're metaphysical and philosophical concepts and claims, not scientific."
'Wait, what?'

It's like it's a revelation to them.

And thanks for the link, I'll check it out.