On his blog, “One Cosmos,” Robert Godwin has posted an extended piece about atheism entitled “Atheism and Other Religions.” The piece is interesting and worth a look. However, although far more learned and coherent than most theistic blathering, it still fails to address the basic premises of atheistic thought. Like most theists, he continually resorts to calling atheism incoherent and willfully blind to the evidence. Although I agree with Godwin that “positive” atheism ‚Äì affirming that one believes in no god ‚Äì is problematic, (an issue I addressed in my latest essay “In the Beginning was the Word: Separating the Atheists from the Agnostics – Rescuing the Agnostics from the Theists”) I do not find his condemnation of my atheism ‚Äì that is, no belief in god ‚Äì compelling.
Actually, the piece does not feature any strong arguments against atheism. Rather, and quite curiously, it formulates some bizarre contentions based on the fallacy of an argumentum ad populum. As Godwin states, ‚ÄúWhile numbers aren‚Äôt everything, needless to say, the numbers are on my side, in that billions of human beings have personally experienced the Divine, whereas atheism is an absurdity that makes no sense to all but a few eccentrics and misfits.‚Äù This data is entirely irrelevant with regards to the question of God‚Äôs existence. Not only are numbers aren‚Äôt everything, they aren‚Äôt anything. Any good atheist‚Äôs world-view, however, would include an explanation of why the majority of humans falsely interpret the world as having a divine element that works ‚Äúbehind the scenes.‚Äù (One current, excellent example of just such a book is Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.)
When reading the essay my biggest questions are directed towards the conception of God that he is advocating. One of the biggest problems with any Theism/Atheism debate is the tendency to work off of our shared conception of what the word ‚ÄúGod‚Äù means. This shared concept of ‚ÄúGod‚Äù is vague to the point of being almost vacuous and is certainly useless to any serious philosophical discussion. This inexorably leads to confusion. The traditional arguments for the existence of God cannot establish any traits for the deity that people actually care about ‚Äì a being that is personal, caring, good, interventionist, and interested. To contend that the universe has a cause is miles away from establishing that such a force is an interested, personal being much less one that is good or bad.
I am primarily interested in whether or not there exists any being or force in the universe ‚Äì a thing of a ‚Äúgodly‚Äù nature ‚Äì that is relevant to my life. Such relevance would involve anything that justly demands my obligation and/or warship, rewards or punishes my actions, or intends (and accomplishes) things to happen to me. I do not believe in any such being. But, if Godwin (again I am not quite sure what he is claiming) or others wish to postulate a ‚Äúhigher power,‚Äù a ‚Äúground of all Being,‚Äù a ‚Äúfirst cause‚Äù or some other God as an essence they can go right ahead. I also don‚Äôt believe in these ‚ÄúGods‚Äù but I don‚Äôt really care if you do. I only sit up and take notice when people claim that such relevant things exist. I then investigate their claims. So far, none has born fruit.
But, Apparently Godwin has done much more work on the subject and he points readers to the book he has written, One Cosmos Under God, that presumably would answer some of my questions. Eventually I may pick it up. If nothing else I admire anyone who has the courage to get down and dirty with the nuts and bolts of his convictions.
I personally don’t see how anyone can argue that their god cares about them or has an invested presence in their every day life when he stopped communicating to everyone 2000 years ago if you’re Christian about 1000 if you’re Muslim and about 3000 or so if you’re Jewish. If he really cared about the things the bible says he cares about, wouldn’t he have wiped us out with a massive flood long ago? The Roman Empire got away without a flood, Nazi Germany got away without a flood, the United States has so far gotten away without a flood. He hasn’t only not punished us, but he hasn’t given us any advice either. He didn’t have anything to say about the implications cars or air travel would have? He didn’t have anything to say about guns or bombs? He hasn’t said anything to us about abortion and he hasn’t said anything about stem cells (unless you believe Pat Robertson has a privileged rapport with him, of course.) What about some manna like he gave to Moses? Or maybe he could declare heavenly war on our enemies like he did to Egypt and smite them down with angels and locusts and stuff. I mean, if some people’s parents were this neglectful, they would have nothing to do with them ever again, but God somehow keeps getting a free pass.
That was more of a tangent than I meant to get off on, but what I really intended to say was good article–thanks for making me aware of Robert Godwin.
I’m engaging in nothing more than speculation, drew, but I’d bet a theist would come back at you with something like, “God talks to me through prayer regularly — you just aren’t hearing it because you don’t have faith.”
And aren’t all the horrible things going on in the world punishment enough? Why should God help us with manna when we’re clearly so undeserving? Etc., etc., etc. …
I agree with you entirely, but it’s always possible to spin a punishable offense into the punishment itself.