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Re: "Atheism is a cruel, long-term business: I believe I have gone through it to the end."

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  • Derek McLarnen
    ... bitten off, I would say while I have great respect for the honest agnostic skeptic I m afraid I have difficulty viewing strong atheism as anything more
    Message 1 of 5 , May 2, 2002
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      On Tue Apr 23, 2002 10:51 am, Tom Curtis wrote:

      > On Thu, 18 Apr 2002 23:18:26 +1000, Mark Gosling wrote:
      >
      > MG:
      > If I may be allowed to express honestly my opinion without getting my head
      bitten off, I would say while I have great respect for the honest agnostic
      skeptic I'm afraid I have difficulty viewing "strong" atheism as anything
      more than hard, mean, cruel, selfish, cold, mechanistic and utilitarian.
      >
      > DM:
      > I agree with "utilitarian" as a reasonable adjective for describing
      atheism. "Arrogant" is another one - absolute denial of the possibility of
      *any* deity, even one that is effectively absent from our known universe, is
      far more than the available evidence will support. However, the use of the
      adjectives "hard", "mean", "cruel", "selfish", "cold" and "mechanistic"
      appear to imply that atheism is intrinsically incompatible with an ability
      to develop, and live according to, a system of morals and ethics that
      promotes gentleness, generosity, kindness, selflessness, warmth and
      humanity. It also implies that the dominance of theism is necessary to
      prevent humanity descending into an amoral, unethical hell on earth. I
      reject both of these implications.

      TC:
      Some statements are not worthy of responce, being simply vituperation of
      views not understood by the proponent. But as you have chosen to respond to
      one such statement, and agreed with it on particular points, I wonder if
      you, Derek, could defend your claims. What for example, do you mean by
      "utilitarian". Do you mean that atheism is adopted as a means to an end? Or
      that atheists are committed to an utilitarian view of life? Or more
      narrowly, that they are committed to a utilitarian ethic (as in John Stewart
      Mill's "Utilitarianism, or perhaps Bentham's, or Hare's)? All three views
      are false of atheism in general. They may be true of particular atheists;
      but then they are certainly true of particular theists as well, and not
      doubt of particular agnostics.

      DM:
      By "utilitarian", I mean what the Oxford Reference Dictionary means:
      "designed to be useful for a purpose rather than decorative or luxurious;
      severely practical". In other words, I mean that atheism is useful for the
      purpose of developing an understanding of the universe and our place in it.

      TC:
      In like wise, in what manner arrogant? Atheists are those who believe,
      "there is no God". Some also believe that there could not be a god, or that
      the evidence is so overwhelming that there is no need to consider it
      anymore. But these are not essential to atheism, nor characteristic of
      atheists in general.

      DM:
      This may be a definitional thing. I (along with the Oxford Reference
      Dictionary) define "atheism" as "belief that no God or gods exist". Any
      softening of this position, I define as "agnosticism".

      TC:
      Apparently you think atheism goes way beyond available evidence; but how
      much of the evidence have you surveyed?

      DM:
      Mostly, I have surveyed the physical evidence. It is in this sense that I
      consider that atheism goes way beyond available evidence. I see no shortage
      of (IMO) sound philosophical evidence for atheism.

      TC:
      Have you undertaken philosophical studies, and if so, what do you think of
      the convolutions of John Hick's responce to the problem of evil? What
      theological studies, or historical studies do you add to your understanding
      of this issue? I imagine a peson confident that the available evidence does
      not support a conclusion would in fact have surveyed that evidence - have
      you?

      DM:
      I have undertaken no formal philosophical studies (something I intend to
      correct ASAP) and I am not specifically familiar with John Hick's response
      to the problem of evil. However, I am sufficiently familiar with the problem
      of evil (and the ongoing failure of theists to adequately respond,
      particularly to the problem of "accidental" evil), to understand that the
      problem of evil only questions the possibility of a "good" God, but not the
      possibility of an amoral or an "evil" God.

      TC:
      Whilst on the subject, you recently wrote:
      > DM>It isn't just evangelical Christians who have been on to the
      theological bankruptcy of liberalism; this particular agnostic/atheist has
      understood this for quite some time, and I suspect that I am by no means
      alone in this understanding.

      Liberal christianity is a diverse, catch all group, including such notaries
      as Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Letters and Papers from Prison), John Robinson
      (Honest to God), and Dom Crossan (Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography). There
      views do not reflect the full range of opinions classiffied as "liberal" by
      evangelicals and fundamentalists; but in each case their views are sincerely
      held, are thought to be consistent with, and a proper continuation of the
      views of Jesus, and significantly guide there lives and effect their
      character. (I should use the past tense for Bonhoeffer, who died in prison
      for opposing the Nazi's, publicly from his pulpit.) With your blanket
      condemnation of "liberalism" as bankrupt, have you read their views? Do you
      speak from knowledge of christian theological liberalism (in its many
      forms), or is your knowledge based on second hand accounts from evangelicals
      and fundamentalists? And what reason do you have for supposing an
      evangelical presentation of their views will be any more nuanced than a
      creationist's description of evolution?

      DM:
      I do not see liberal Christianity as philosophically bankrupt, only as
      theologically bankrupt. I also do not deny that much of liberal Christianity
      is "a proper continuation of the views of Jesus" (at least some of the views
      claimed in the Gospels to have been stated by Jesus). However, I see St
      Paul, not Jesus, as the founder of Christian theology and the Gospel writers
      as providing further development, particularly in fleshing out the life and
      death of Jesus. It is, therefore, liberal Christianity's move away from
      Pauline Christian theology and the superstitious worldview of the Gospel
      writers that lead me to consider it as theologically bankrupt (insufficient
      "theo" to remain in business), while remaining philosophically "solvent".

      TC:
      I have no problem with the condemnation of the views of particular atheists,
      or of particular "liberal christians". Don Cuppit comes to mind. Drawing a
      priest's salary whilst publicly advocating atheism seems hypocritical in the
      extreme to me.

      DM:
      Normally I would agree with Tom. However, the Anglican Church (of which I am
      a nominal member) appears to encompass a very broad range of theological
      positions including those that are only distinguishable from Catholicism by
      their attitudes to the Pope and Mary, those that are as fundamentalist and
      evangelical as the USA's Southern Baptists and those that have partially or
      completely rejected supernaturalism. It is for the members of Don Cupitt's
      managerial structure to determine whether or not he should receive a salary.
      Presumably Cupitt's views are not sufficiently antagonistic to the Anglican
      Church hierarchy to warrant withdrawing his salary.

      Since Cupitt is (or was) a Fellow of Emmanuel College at Cambridge
      University, it may also be that he draws an academic's salary, rather than a
      priest's salary.

      TC:
      (On the other hand, I have not made a detailed study of his views, so I may
      be wrong, much as I doubt it.)

      DM:
      All I have seen of Don Cupitt's views are what I have read in his "After
      God - The Future of Religion". On the basis of what I read there, I think
      Tom is pretty close to the mark in describing him as an atheist (though I
      would describe him as an agnostic since I am not convinced that he has
      totally rejected the possibility of a "deistic" God).

      Derek
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