Thursday, 30 October 2008

Atheists can be pretty dumb!

I don't decry anyone's right to be an atheist what I often find extraordinary is their critique of the "religious" as being narrow and bigoted when they often appear to be incredibly prejudiced against the faintest whiff of faith. Hence a letter I penned to the Advertiser yesterday
I never failed to be amazed by the contradictory nature of the comments of the many dogmatic atheists who declare all religious belief to be irrational, without any substantial analysis or argument. Their comments are so often based on sweeping generalisations such as "the religious ....can't distinguish between reality and fantasy" and "the world would be better off without them" (The Advertiser 29th October).
When we start declaring who we would be better off without we are in the realm of something quite sinister.
They would seem to know little of the disciplines of theology and textual criticism. If they did they would realise that religious thinkers are meticulous in their scrutiny of discipline, argument and theory and are not in the least inclined to live in the world of fantasy. They are at the very least trying to recognise that the world is complex and profound, it is spiritual as well as material.
In a world where universal tolerance is a declared value, it seems the atheists' dogma (and I use that term advisedly) is that we should tolerate everything except religion. Doesn't seem particularly rational to me


SouthOzBloke said...

Your last paragraph made me smile. Too true. I hope my atheism isn't that intolerant. My "dumbed down" viewpoint is that anything promoting kindness to your fellow man is good.

stephen clark said...

yes that is rather the point of my next post. unfortunately some christians are much better at being intolerant than most non-believers!

AV said...

As a member of the fan club, I really should put in my spoke.

1. Atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods, there being no evidence that such entities exist. It is therefore no more a "dogma" than not believing in fairies, leprechauns, or celestial teapots is a "dogma."

(1a. The "dogma" that we should "tolerate everything except religion" was never mooted at any secret atheists' meeting I ever attended.)

2. The belief that "the religious can't distinguish between reality and fantasy" is not a prerequisite for atheism. Nor, for that matter, is the belief that "the world would be better off without" religious people. You can be an atheist and not hold these beliefs.

3. That the world is "spiritual as well as material" is a claim that requires substantial justification. Failing to accept such a claim in the absence of supporting evidence is not dogmatic. However, given that "spirituality" is such an ill-defined term, it is possible for an atheist to deem the world "spiritual as well as material," depending on how that individual defines "spiritual."

stephen clark said...

I do take most of the points you make AV, and agree in part with something of their substance.
My point is however about dogmatic atheism; and these are so often the ones who pen letters to the paper.

I know you have defended me before, on other issues, against those who would tar all Christians with the one you may recognise that
a) I am a social liberal
b) I am a theological rationalist
c) I am a cultural conservative
d) I hold a scientific world view

Clearly I am also a believer. Belief is not about factuality, but it is also not without factual basis.
I would suggest for example that there is evidence that the world is 'spiritual'...I would tag things like poetry, music, awe, and what Otto cites as the 'mysterium tremendum fascinans' (the natural awareness of mystery)as, if not factual evidence then , at least supporting evidence that we are in a world that is not solely escribed by the materialist dialectic.
Don't expect to convince you, but you at least are a bit more engaged in discussion than some of the writers to the paper. :)

AV said...

My point is however about dogmatic atheism; and these are so often the ones who pen letters to the paper.

My problem is with the use of the modifier "dogmatic" when applied to atheism. I do take your meaning, and I am probably being pedantic, but atheism has no dogmas as such. One either believes in the existence of deities, or one lacks such a belief.

There do exist strong/explicit/gnostic atheists who would claim to know that there are no deities. I suspect the letter-writers to whom you refer would fall into this category. However:
(a) Even being a strong atheist does mean that one will necessarily share the views of the letter-writers you cited in your letter.
(b) Strong atheists are a subset of atheists and are also (interestingly enough) a subset of weak atheists--those who lack belief in the existence of deities--since affirming that deities don't exists implies that one lacks belief in the existence of deities but not vice versa. In other words, all atheists are weak atheists, all strong atheists are also weak atheists, but only some atheists are strong atheists.

stephen clark said...

I think the strong atheist-weak atheist descriptor is good. Particularly the subtlety of the strong atheist also being a weak atheist.
Strangely I think this is also true of Christians...St Paul says it is when I am weakest that I am at my best.
I know that, like Christians, atheists come in all sorts of shades of intellect and commitment and so these things are not perfect.
It is I guess to the poor intellectuals that I address my 'dogmatic' description.
Those who do not affirm that atheism is a graduated philosophical position but who assert that there is no God! That seems to me pretty dogmatic.
Any way you may be interested to know that the letter generated a little heat in The Advertiser which was good for my ego!!