Saturday, January 07, 2006

A Question For The Theologists....

OK people, I'm after some commentary, tips, corrections, hints, suggestions, etc regarding some thoughts I have been having for some time concerning everybody's favourite topic: Atheism.

First: The basic propostion runs something like this: An atheist is someone who claims that there is no God. And when understood as such (which is quite probably how most people concieve of atheism), atheism is understood as nothing but a denial. Yet if we say that there is no Deity then we must hold that reality, whatever it is, must be an accident. Hence atheism, when properly understood, is not to be concieved of as a just a denial ("No I don't belive in a God") but also as an affirmation ("Yes I do belive that everything is an accident").

Second: Now, I understand that the word 'faith' is often associated with or used to refer to a persons belief in Deity. However it can also be used to refer to any belief which is not based on a proof. As such is it not possible then to say that an atheist has faith? Even to say of a particular atheist for instance, that his/her faith is stronger than that of a particular christians faith?

Third (this is where my concern over these points originated): It seems to me that this type of account of atheism was what was being employed by quite a few 19th C Geman thinkers, such as Nietzsche.

52 comments:

MH said...

On (2) your absolutely correct: atheism is a faith, in that atheism is “the belief that there is no God of any kind” (as defined by Hick in ‘Philosophy of Religion’ (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1973); Martin in ‘The Philosopher’s Dictionary’ (Peterborough: Broadview, 2002) and ‘The Oxford Companion To Philosophy’ (Oxford: OUP, 2005) concur with Hick’s definition). Now, as you said (though not in your terms), the core doctrine of atheism – that there is no god – cannot be conclusively proven for the same reasons that its inverse – that there is a god – cannot be conclusively proven (I dare say that Samuel is better grounded in this particular field than I). This makes atheism, for philosophical purposes, a faith (though, it does not really constitute a religion).

Since it is a faith, there is no great problem in making a claim akin to ‘Marx had more faith in the non-existence of God than Kant had in the existence of God, though Marx’s faith was weaker than Sartre’s and Augustine’s’.

I’d have to dig through some old notes, but I think that it is this point – that atheism is a faith – that makes Pascal’s wager work … Can anyone shed light on this point?

As to (3), I think that you are quiet probably correct in your observation but can think of no way of establishing that point more substantive than interpretation …

michael said...

I'm going to quibble on two points: the distinction drawn between faith and religion and the conotations of the term 'accident'.

I don't see how one can, in the context it is being used here, have faith that god does not exist, but not belive religiousely that he does not exist. I think this is a false distinction and that atheism is a religion. In this respect it is a positive belief of the state of things because it is an affermation of the truth of the statement: that the idea of an existent god is false. After all it is an unproved metaphysical belief about the nature of stuff, so on a level with any other religion.

But back to the term 'accident'. Sure, no one created it, containing in their mind the essence of the worlds before bringing it into existence, but that doesn't mean that it was an accident, just that it happened and happened without some being's intention to bring it about.

Which leads us into the existential questions that you are asking, Pete. The affirmation of the lack of an existent God allows the individual to become, indeed forces him to the realisation that he is, the God that does not exist (though Kirilov, from Dostoevsky's 'The Possessed' finds the curious problem that having become the god that doesn't exist he feels compelled to kill himself). Nietzsche doesn't seem to dwell on the problems of this realisation of atheism so much as the russians of French though, and tends to find it a rather inspiring thought. I find this view somewhat rash, though I suppose I am conditioned by my grandmother's warning of 'look before you leap'.

MH said...

I appreciate your ‘qubble’ Mr Pender, and ask leave to reply to it. In the context of the discussion, as I’ve framed it, the distinction between faith and religion is significant.

You’ve taken ‘religion’ to be read in the sense of ‘a particular system of faith’ which atheism clearly is. I’ve taken ‘religion’ to be read as ‘belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. god or gods’*. In this latter sense, atheism is not strictly speaking a religion.

The problem with your approach, as I perceive it, is that it requires metaphysical systems – such as idealism, realism, and anti-realism – to be considered religions as they are “unproved metaphysical belief about the nature of stuff”.

I suppose the basic point I’m trying to make is that a system of beliefs does not a religion make, unless that system places emphasis on the existence of a deity or deities, and their worship. This said, atheism is as close to a religion as a system of beliefs can get without actually being one.

*Both definitions taken from the ‘Oxford English Dictionary’.

Samuel Douglas said...

Michael's quibble depends on how we are to define 'religion'. There is a fari body of opinion from the more phenomenological school of thought which suggests that is the inclusion of 'extra-factual knowledge' in a belief system that defines a worldview as a religious one. Hence by this agument, atheism is in some sense a religion.

Personally I would dispute this rather simplistic way of seeing things. Religions(mostly) have a more positive aspect, they claim that certain things exist, rather than certaiin theings don't. (Though to make things difficult, I have to acknowledge that the latter is implied by the former. )

I am more inlcined to concur with MH's viewpoint, but a solid argument would have to be constructed to negate the classificatioon system that is based on the inclusion of things that are not provable.

Rowan Blyth said...

Although not strictly a distinction, not unlike the moral/ethic one many people draw, it feels to me that people are dis-inclined to refer to atheism as a religion on the basis of giving that word the baggage of an organized and coherent doctrine. This is not implied by faith though there is possibly no real distinction between the two as Michael has implied. The point is that many people will not refer to Atheism as a religion on the basis of lack of codified institution and believers, though it is clearly a legit faith, or system of belief.

This is where many people who refer to themselves as Atheists suffer: they believe that the word refers to having no religion, but this is only understood as organized religion, and fail to adopt the body of 'faith' that the word actually refers to. Hence the wank of many refering to themselves as 'agnostic' to avoid the position of atheism (though I confess, I myself do this, but it has one thing in its favour: it allows you to hold a belief with the disclaimer 'I simply don't know')

michael said...

From the existential position, as alluded to by Pete's original question, atheism is as much a belief in 'superhuman controlling power’, the difference being that that superhuman controling power has become the self; this is unmistakably positive in outlook as Sartre says in great detail in his essay "Existentialism is a Humanism". But I can't see why science or philosophy aren't religions as well.

As Rowan points out, atheism doesn't have all the hoohah of an organised religion, but note the necessity of using the qualifier 'organised'. But still, it fits Martin's definition of a religion.

I'd like to strengthen the difference drawn by Rowan between atheism and agnosticism. Atheism is the belief that there is no god, whereas agnosticism is an awareness of the lack of knowledge as to whether or not a god exists. I think that agnosticism is, while not a full blown religion, a marker of some kind that religious feelings are present. The extreme non-religious person just plain doesn't care, whereas it is implied that an agnostic cares but doesn't know.

For the general feeling that atheism is negative in outlook, look, as Pete said, to Nietzsche. this is a belief in the self. He declared the death of God, but not to condemn us to never being one with Him in heaven, but to show us that we are the same as God; that is the glad tiding that Jesus brought, according to Nietzsche in "The Antichrist".

Pete said...

Ok, I haven't read The Antichrist yet Michael. But you're misrepresenting Nietzsche with regard to the 'death of god' claims. Read Zarathustra mate. And I'm not sure I understand your claim that atheism leads to the conclusion that we (the atheists) are the same as God. IF you could explain how that works it would be cool, but I'll give you fair warning: my gut reaction at this time is that you are talking a pile of crap so I'll be looking to tear you a new belly button on this one....

I also think that MH's criticism of your quibble (concerning metaphysical systems being required to be classified as religions) hits the mark. Back to the drawing board for michael. (and just what the F*** is the 'superhuman controlling power' remark supposed to mean??? were you high when you wrote that???)

The question of whether atheism constitues a religion is a pickle though. I'm more inclined to say that it doesn't partly because of the point that Rowan raised: atheism does not have a huge, fat social institution attached to it. It's not organised in any way. But I also think that more reasons need to be given for this. After all I'm sure we could think of examples things that we would call religions that don't have corresponding social organisations...

Yet it seems to me from your responses (and correct me if I'm wrong here) that the question of whether or not atheism is a faith is somewhat easier to answer. And as a dedicated atheist I'm glad to here that you agree. Yes atheism does require a commitment to the idea of the big accident. And what an impressive accident it is. But here I should stop as this blog is dedicated to philosophy and I am now verging on preaching....

michael said...

He wrote The Antichrist after Zarathustra. And Zarathustra is about a differetn kettle of fish.

We have become like God, with all the power and accompanying anguish, dispair, and abandonment, because we have discovered that no one is looking after us, no one has given us any direction that we know is the correct one, and we have no way of knowing what is the correct one for ourselves. In short, we have discovered that we are our own master and have no idea how to be that master. We are cursed to rolling the stone up the hill for we no not what purpose, but this is the best thing to do. We have faith in a God that we know we cannot know exists. We see ourselves from an external perspective and know that all our actions are to an extent comical. If there is no god, then everything is permitted. We are condemned to freedom.

Just read your existential stuff. This flows from atheism as those who were atheists tried to understand the full consequences of the lack of god. All power, which used to be considered the realm of god, was realised to have been transfered to man, to each individual man. This is a clarification of my misrepresentation. It is not that we are all Gods together, but that we are/could be for ourselves each of us the one true god or some such. there is no greater power than 'me'.

The 'superhuman controling power' thing is not so much Nietzsche as Sartre, but is certaily in eveidence in Nietzsche with the idea of self-overcoming. Sartre puts this as a transcendant self, so that one is greater than one is.

Sure atheism is organised: every atheist withdraws from praising God.

I still don't understand why metaphysical systems being required to be classified as religions is a problem.

Samuel Douglas said...

Exisentialism, Pah! You need to be careful with that stuff man, it'll turn you into a crazy person.

Seriously, I have to stand by my position that not all metaphysical systems are religions, continental-angst-about-being-alone-in-the-universe be dammned!

Yeah we are condemmed to freedom, deal with it.

Atheists are not organised.Look at the Socialist Alliance.

this whole debate annoys me. Noit o much because of your position Michael, but because this idea is twisted by certain crusaders into the following chesnut:

Science is based on faith.
Religion is based on faith.
(Implicit premise: two systems based on the same thing must be equally as good)
Therefore religion is as sensible as scince.

That really shits me.

michael said...

Sam, just because some people misapply things doesn't mean that the things being misapplied are wrong. appart from that you haven't said anything about the discussion other than that you don't like it. Well sucked in, 'cos it's happening.

Of course atheism, from and existential perspective is not organised, otherwise the atheist would not really have come to the conclusion that there isn't a god. Because he would be treating the organisation as a god.

I'm going to state plainly here that atheism is necessarily to some extent a reaction against theism. becaue it is the quasi-concept produced by the concept of theism. thus there necessarily is involved an amount of religious sentiment.

Rowan Blyth said...

I agree with Sam on the problem with the argument 'Science=faith and religion=faith therefore there is no reason to maintain science as more plausible'. This comes from the mistake of assuming that science is based on faith. There must be some unsubstantiable basis on which to build any system, but the level of faith required in a system that has a high demonstrable explanatory value based on observable mechanics is much less, than one which needs the postulate of an all encompasing meta-physical entity as this base. Simply we then apply Okham's (incidently a christian theologian's) principle of the simplest theory that with the highest explanatory value. This is science which ever way you look at it.

Ming, be careful not to over extend existentialism in Nietzsche, as he is loosely regarded as a proto-existentialist, and his declaration of the death of god is generally taken to be refering to something more akin to the post-modernist view that we have become dis-illusioned with meta-naratives, science included rather than an existential crisis of faith left to be filled by the individual.

Samuel Douglas said...

I guess I did not articulate what I was trying toget across very well.

My point was that since in the end almost everything is basd on faith in some un-provable assumption or other, the fact that science, or for that matter rational atheism, and religion etc are based on faith is of little consequence. It is the sort of process that occurs between foundational assumtions, and the end conclusions that are the important difference between reasoned atheism and religion.

I agree that atheism can be seen as a reaction to theism.

However I do wonder if theism itself was a reaction to some ancient form of atheism.

MH said...

It was really interesting to note – during my Sophistic binge of the past couple of weeks – that as far back as the Classical Greeks (It might have been Antiphon … then again it might have been one of the others, I’m too lazy to work through my marginalia) there are advocates of the theory that deities were postulated firstly as a simple explanation of various things (a type of Razor if you will), and then as a means of legal and social foundation …

So, in response to your wondering Mr Douglas, I would hazard the observation that theism probably was not a reaction against historical atheism but what might now be considered a form of pragmatic truth …

Rowan Blyth said...

This may be true but personally I'm concerned about the fact that you have marginalia. It doesn't sound healthy and it certainly doesn't sound polite.

Anyway, I would say theism is born of social structure and abstract thought (essentially language use), so it is probably odd to look at it as a reaction against the lack of itself as the second those two features were, is what we would probably regard as the second 'history' began. The various forms are clearly strategies to specific problems, and may not manifest itself in quite the same way, some being less fervant or more esoteric, etc.

Clearly this is a form of pragmatic truth, and might be viewed as the equivalent of the science of the time and place. This is the problem, when people cling to an outdated science, rather than the more contemporary (or appropriate) one. The debate therefore is not so much about whether science or religion is better, rather can they be reconciled. As the the religious texts are works on ethics, I would say the two should be as most historical precendent and scientific knowledge of religious texts are that appropriate to the time of writing and should not obscure the ethical doctrines which constitute the deeper reading.

Thus when a Christian says they are living by the word of the Bible, you should generally be afraid cause they will uphold custom 2000-4000 years dated designed to respond to very different historical problems.

This demonstrates the interesting longevity of ethical thought however, as the concept of being nice to each other enunctiated in the Bible seems to be morally sound, and there is always a place for virtue ethics and as much as I dislike it utilitarianism.

MH said...

Rowan, just to clarify your last paragraph, are you claiming that there is a place for ‘being nice to each other’ in utilitarianism and virtue ethics, alongside divine command theories?

michael said...

Alrighty then, back to atheism.

It seems that the conclusion reached is that science is good for helping understand some things and religion for others and which is better depends on what you're trying to understand. Underlying here is the idea that they are related - though I am not going to say that they are any more related that through some form of'family resemblence'.

Does this mean that atheism is not more than the declaraton that a belief in God is not useful in so far as it does not help us understand/deal with anything?


Now, after discussions, and discovering in large fashion different wave lengths in terms of views of what was meant by 'God', and hence what atheism meant, there seems to be two problems.

1. If God is taken euphamistically, and is within a family resemblence to science and all other things that help us understand things then we are certainly in existential grounds and so if one claims that God doesn't exist one must draw the final conclusion that one has become God.
2.If, however, we have the idea of God as an existent entity (whatever form that may take) that can be defined precisely, then the claim that God doesn't exist has little or no ramifications on our understanding of the world - It is about as problematic as discovering on day that my swimmers don't exist: somewhat embarassing, but I'll get over it and buy another pair (call them science).

Now if 1. is the case then God still exists in the individual, but if 2. is the case then I'm not sure that God ever existed and that belief in him was ever a religion in any manner except in terms of it being a social organisation. I am not diminishing the social organisation as a major part of religion, but I don't think this alone counts as a religion on the non-euphamistic model.

Rowan Blyth said...

There is a place for utilitarianism.
There is a place for virtue ethics.
There is a place for being nice to each other.

Even after large periods of time, we still seem to come back to classical ethics and find that there is still relevence though context must be considered.

MH said...

Rowan, thanks for the clarification. I’d just read the passage twice and came out with two different readings. I’ll agree that there are still many points in classical thought that are ever-relevant, hence my introduction of the Sophists to this discussion because they point to a history of atheistic thought that is quiet independent of the historical conditions that saw similar developments in Shelley, Marx, Nietzsche et al.

Pete said...

Ok Michael, let's get one thing clear. If we find proof that God does in fact exist (as us realists understand the notion of existence) then that will be just about the single most profound thing that the human race will ever have achieved. Likewise if we find proof that no god exists then that would be overwhelmingly profound as well. Niether of these discoveries would be anything like your non-existant speedos mate.

Now, after deliberating at length as to whether I should cause further torment to Sam with my new found understanding of your existentialism, I have instead decided to lay the cards on the table and have a bash at what you're on about:
Following our converstaion from last week and the posts you have been placing here, the existentialist claim is something along the lines of, "if God does not exist then the individual must realise that he/she is God". Is this correct? And this is supposed to follow due to the realisation (made by the individual) that the relationship that one previously held with God is now held with oneself. So for example, whereas previously God was the source of moral authority, the newly declared atheist comes to realise that they themsleves are now the source of moral authority and thus hold the place that God once held in regard to who has moral authority over themsleves. And that this type of example could be repeated for any aspect of the relationship that the individual previously held with God. Thus God's position in this relationship with the individual has been replaced by the individual themselves and this is what you mean when they say that the individual has become God. How am I doing so far?

Now aside from the obvious questions that could be asked about how much the individual's relationship with themsleves really replicates the relationship that they previously held with God (e.g. is the individual really benevolent towards him/herself?, etc), I feel compelled to make the following observation. Clearly what the existentialist is concerned with is not the actual existence of outside entities (be it God, your swimmers or whatever) in the fashion that us realists are. Instead your concern is only with the relationships that you have with objects that might or might not exist. The question of the existence of an outside world is just not something that's on your plate. This is what makes it possible for you to make claims about how you have become God. For you, if the relationships are the same then you are dealing with the same thing. Whereas for the realists it is possible to have the same type of relationships with different things. As such you guys are behaving like Descartes' cogito as spelled out in the first two meditations, i.e. the only thing you know is that you exist as a thinking enitity and that you have objects of thought appearing before your mind which you intereact with. The third meditation where Descartes establishes the existence of God who guarentees the existence of the outside world is off limtis too you existentialist cats. So by your own reasoning, you guys are nothing more than a bunch of Godless Cartesians....

Samuel Douglas said...

Nice work Pete, I think you have picked the guts of the matter better than I could have.

If you are right, then it has interesting implications eh? Especially because we can never have all aspects of the relationship with ourselves as we did with God.

michael said...

To "How am I doing so far" no quibbles (though my speedos are feeling small). The reason I put in the comparison between God and speedos is that if there is a claim that God has the same form of existence as my speedos then I don't understand what all the ho-ha is about.

Then I will say that there was a similar question about one's relation with god in terms of benevolence, so I don't think that point gets either of you anywhere.

I then want to ask how one can have a relationship with somethng that doesn't exist. The problem for the existentialist is that you know the outside world exists in the same manner as you know you yourself exist (this is a constitutive relation), you just don't know what it is, and this realisation of the lack of knowledge is what induces the nausea in Sartre's appropriately named novel. It is also a result of a moment of claritas that one could realise that the relation one thought one had with god was actually a relation with the self; the lines of division between self and world are somewhat tricky.
So it is only possible to have the same relation with two different things if you understand them as the same. I have left out the word "type" from the above sentance, because introducing this word allows for the introduction of family resemblances, which for clarity's sake I'd like to avoid.

So I must disagree with your accusation leveled at existentialists as being "nothing more than a bunch of Godless Cartesians...."

Pete said...

Michael: Well it was the question of whether god exists in the same way that your speedos do that was what I was calling into question with my original post. Now we must be careful here since what has become apparent is that what I'm reffering to as existence and what your reffering to as existence are clearly two different concepts. (and I don't get the retort regarding benevolence, could you clarify?)

Now to clarify the 'relationship with the non-existent' issue: when I was speaking of your relationship with a world that might not exist I meant existence in the realist sense of the term here. So where you existentialists would say that the world exists because you relate to it, us realists would say that the world you are speaking of may only exist as an idea in your head but does not necesserily exist in the proper sense of the term (e.g. has an existence that is not dependant on you, etc). Your clarification of the problem for the existentialist doesn't advance your position beyond the first two meditations at all. Of course you know the world exists in the same way that you know that you yourself exists, that's what the second meditation is all about. And as such you should damn well want to avoid treading on Wittgenstein's territory dude.

Sam: Your right about the implications of this thing. It seems that the existentialist idea of identity is a little weird. Where as we have been assuming something like, "given any two objects, A and B, A is the same as B if and only if A's set of characteristics is identical with B's set of characteristics", while Michael has been assuming something like, "A is the same as B if I relate to A in the same way as I relate to B". Now even if we can't convert Michael, say by convincing him that A or B have characteristics which exist independently of him, by understanding his reasoning on this one, we can at least question whether the relations we have with A and B are identical and hence whether he is actually justified in making some of the claims he makes. Hence I, as an atheist, can't possibly become God, there is no way that I can relate to myself in the same way as a being that omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent, infinite etc. would relate to me....

Pete said...

Besides if I say I'm an athiest. that I don't believe in God, then turn around and say, "by the way I'm God" then clearly I can't be an athiest in the first place. This is a reduction to absurdity.

And don't try to say that the absurd is some really far out, cool concept that only people who have read 'Being and Nothingness' know about. Absurdity means the same now as it always has, it's just nonesense.

michael said...

Clarification of 'benevolence' retort: Is god really benevolent to me? Am I really benevolent to me? these are the same question if we have shifted from traditional idea of god to a realisation that I am god. It's a side point on the nature of an entity the existence of which we are still discussing.

I must protest on the idea that to an existentialist existence could be nothing more than an idea in my head. If there is an idea in my head but no existant, then obviously we are not in an existential framework but rather in an essentialist one. It is only the nature of existant things that is difficult to discern.
Another way of loking at this is: Descarte guarenteed the existence of the world through God. The atheistic existentialist who has realised that he has become God satisfies that position of god. So the world's existence is guarenteed.

The shpiel about A and B being the same if the realtionship is the same is not correct. I will believe that A and B are the same if I perceive them as the same (i.e. I have the same relationship with them), but that doesn't mean that they actually are the same, because I would be well aware that I could not know the true nature of any existent thing.

What you refer to as absurd is so, but not in the technical sense, so I have no quibble with that (though I will point out that Camus was the absurdist rather than Sartre). I do, however, want to say something about your comments on atheism.

As I have said, I have been working on a framework where atheism follows as a reaction to theism. The importance of this is that there is, prior to the realisation that god doesn't exist, an idea of a relation with god. If this relation never was then there is no religious feeling present so obviously one cannot become god because one doesn't know what god is. This is why the relationship with god is required before one can realise that one has become god. Otherwise I would be sceptical of calling it atheism, but rather a lack of religious sentiment, lumped in with atheism because in a predominantly theistic understanding of the world this is the easiest way to describe it and have it understood. This does not mean that atheism and a lack of religious sentiment are the same thing.

So what you have described as you position again I say is not a religion, but neither from the same position is a claim that god exists. It is nothing more than an unrelated statement of the nature of things.

Rowan Blyth said...

What if it is not so much a displacement of God's identity as a displacement of God's role? This might weild some decisively more pro-Michael results. You have become God in that you realize that the only way the void of legislator and interpreter left by God's non-existence (true or otherwise, the belief of said non-existence of God)is to step into the role of God yourself. Clearly you do not fulfill the emplyment criteria as you are not benevolent, omniscient or omnipotent, but you do meet one: you exist. This still allows the dilema of being God, without the 'Pete' paradox. There might be some hope that in the non-existence of Ming's speedos that he might be able to adequately 'fill in' and perform some tactical hand placement.

MH said...

Two points;

A – Thank you, Rowan, for bringing some perspective to the debate.

B – Michael, are you no longer claiming that atheism is a religion and, thus, science, realism, and post-Sartrian existentialism are not religions?

Pete said...

Rowan: I'm not sure if what you're getting at here counts for much (nice speedo gag though). Is my existence even the same as God's? Or to put it another way, how seriously can I maintain that my limited existence allows me to perform all the duties that come with God's role?

MH: Glad to see you pouncing on point B...

Michael: Your first paragraph (the benevolence thing) appears to be presupposing that which is in question. When asking if I can be benevolent to myself in the same way that God can, I am asking whether or not I can take the place of God at all. But here you are telling me that since I have already taken the place of God then these two questions are the same...

I'm also going to have to ask for a clarification of what you mean by the term 'essentialist' since you seem to be using it in a different way than I would...However there are also a few other disturbing things in what you are saying here. For instance the athiestic existentialist who thinks he is God guarentees the existence of the world in the same way that God does it for Descartes? What then happens when this self-proclaimed god-dude dies? Does the world end with him? Or to put it another way, you still seem to be describing a world which is dependant on the observer. I would claim rather that while the observer does indeed make a difference by his/her very presence, there are some aspects or propereties of reality that are not dependant on the observers presence and are thus able to exist on thier own. Now your comments about not being able to know the truth about real objects are more like what I would agree with. But you are tending to sound more like a realist (dare I say Kantian?) here. However this also seems to be out of character with what previous statements that you have made and I'm still not conviced that you have escaped the accusation of Cartesianism. For instance your claim that one can become God by following a line of reasoning about it is definately not the kind of claim that a realist would be making. Furthermore recent claims you have been making about 'there being no such thing as ethics' is exactly the kind of thing that a godless cartesian would be concluding. Of course you don't think there are any ethics, your philosophy has trouble recognising the existence of other people.

I'm still not sure what your 'athiesm as a reaction to thiesm' claim is all about but my gut reaction at the moment is that it doesn't seem to have impact on my claims so far. Maybe it is a reaction or maybe it predates theism, I really don't care.

Samuel Douglas said...

Pete, you are on fire.

Certainly I agree that this whole "Hey I'm actually God' thing can lead to both odd philosophical positions and to I suspect, some fairly bad behavior.

Myself being a kind of realist (though maybe a bit less strongly than Pete), I also agree that theis whole 'becoming God' line of reasoning is spurious at best. When you stop believing in God, you might become something other than what you were previously, but you sure don't become God, even with regard to yourself. Sure there is the existentialist aspect; instead of turning to God for guidance, you turn to yourself (which is what some would say you were always doing) and so on. You could be benevolent towards yourself, I think that we could sustain that. But if you are not Omnipotent and/or Omniscient even with regard to yourself (ignore the paradox caused by setting limits on these qualities for the moment) then you are not much of a God. If you deny that these qualities are important, then you are not even remotely on the same page as most theists who want to make more 'realist' style claims.

In short, once you get away from arguing in strong terms about whether or not God exists and what He might be like, then myself and theists alike are not really going to care what you come up with either way.

Rowan Blyth said...

But by taking the role of God, you are not taking up the qualities of God. If God does not exist then he does not contain those qualities, as such neither need you. You're existence isn't the same as God's, that is the whole point. Simple logic: if God does not exist and you are god then you do not exist. If God does not exist, and you do, then you exist and the job that God was thought to have played is now apparently not his responsibility, what with him not existing and all. This responsibility falls on someone, best bet its you, with that good Kantian realism of yours. I always saw Kant as a kind of pre-cursor to the phenomenonological philosophy of which existentialism is a form. So if he is also a devout realist, does that mean that the two positions are as far removed? Surely there is a realist position included within existentialism though it might often feel that we are detached from the noumenous world. I'm really not sure if you have really demonstrated anything actually wrong with the concept of you having prime responsibility for the phenomenous world that is the world that you specifically witness, therefore what constitutes everything to you. There is a world that exists, but you only know you're experience of it, and if every element of that experience is filtered through that which is you, then there is a sense in which it is all created by you. Where is the issue? No one is claiming that Ming made the noumenous world, simply that the responsibility of God as legislater and enterpreter of the noumenous world is not a detached meta-physical entity but yourself and therefore by analogy you are god.

Samuel Douglas said...

I get your point. I just thought that for some people the qualities, rather than the responsibilities of God are the important issue. There are plenty of people who would argue that unless you take on the qualities of God, you don't actually take on his role.

Of ourse, none of these people would tolerate to a phenomenonological viewpoint. While I accept your argument that in some sense I create the world I live in, it is also fair to argue that there is a sense in which I don't.

In any case, if we accept that it is the world that has created me, we end up being forced into admiting that we indirectly create ourselves, or that the world creates itself via us, or that this simplistic world/me division is wrong (complex dynamic relationship territory?).

I don't know which of these positions makes more sense overall, I suspect they all have problems.

Furthermore I'm just not convinced that I am responsible for my phenomenous world. It isn't like being responsible for other things. Normally I would say we are responsible for something when there is a signifigant element of choice involved. This can be direct, eg. I was responsible for a deat because I pulled the trigger, or indirect - I was reponsible for a death because I chose to drink and drive.
I don't believe that I'm responsible for events outside of my conscious control. If lightning strikes the person next to me in the street, that it surely part of my phenomenous world, but I'm not responsible for what the lightning does to them. If it strikes me instead and vaporises my eyeballs leaving me somewhat vision impared, than that is not my choice, nor is it my responsibility. Talk of "but you are responsible for how it effects you" is a profound intellectual cop-out, and irrelevant bullshit besides. No matter what I choose or what I am responsible for, I would still be blind. I can choose to be happy,(and hence am responsible for my happiness) but I can't choose not to be blind.

I do not think that it is a good bet that we are resoponsible for our phenomenous world, depending on how you want to use the word 'responsible'. If you are using it in some other way, one that has little connection to our concious choices,then all you have done is made us a victim of whatever sub/unconscious part of us that supposedly creates the phenomenous world, instead of simply being victims of the world itself. It is still something that you have no contol over effecting you. What exactly, does this achieve, other than to keep certain philosophers careers going?

Rowan Blyth said...

Hey, would I defend something that makes me responsible for anything? Moral luck is my best fiend if it is taken into acount you can obsolve away all responsibility. Unfortunately most people don't and just want to place blame, just like in that r.e.m. song bang and blame. But by the same token, there is a sense in which if you want to hold people accountable for their actions, why not hold them accountable for every action, even of minutest detail, including every thought, every response to every experience, even if subconscious? And why not ultimately place the responsibilty of these moral judgements on the one who making them, yourself. Ultimately you make simultaneously an incountable number of subconscious micro-level ethical decisions during even the smallest interval of time. Of course this is all on top of all that complex dynamic system relationships acrueing accountability for the smallest of actions, like micro-scopic accountability particles to an accountability particle attracting machine. And as if the best description of God isn't as a colosal ball of responsibility. And that is what you become if you decide there is no god, therefore responsibility falls on yourself (personally I would rather find something to shirk it off too). By having the final point of accountability being God, that point which is the first point in the causal chain of all things, then you have the point where all responsibility falls, but without that point it inverts and goes not away from you like the universe does, but instead collapses in on itself like those demolished buildings in Canberra didn't. You become the first point, the originator and final point, where those accountability particles settle instead of God attracting them like a bastard (note qualitative difference in bastards ability to perform any act). Have you not, in a sense become responsible for all the world? Act in accordance with reason. Greatest good for the greatest number. People in grout houses shouldn't throw grout.

This is the point where I argue in favour of cultivating character so that you will behave appropriately according to a standard that you yourself take final responsibility at all times. And with that I'm off to cultivate my character (no nerd puns intended here so please do not reply with any misreadings to my detriment).

Rowan Blyth said...

friend not fiend

Samuel Douglas said...

I'm happy to palm responsibility off onto someone else. I'd happily pass it off to God, only I'm an unbeliever, so it's not really an option. I suppose I have to take responsibility for my decision to not believe; take the good (I don't feel bad about lots of things that believers do feel bad about) with the bad( I can't blame God for things).

Strangely enough, the denial of both my responsibility and God's puts me back in the position originally advocated by Pete, where I affirm that some things (if not all things) are just accidents and no-one is responsible. I'm not sure I'm happy about that. Oh well, shit happens.

michael said...

Thank you Rowan for putting the thoughts in other settings. I like your style. Respopnsibility is, while not the be all and end all, is as you've shown most useful in explaining things.

Sam, it is your denial of yourself along with your denial of God that brings you to Pete's position. This is an added complication I agree, but one that cannot be reached without the denial of the self. SO first lets deal with the denial of God only, and then we can discuss whether or not one can deny one's self.

Pete and Martin, point B is just wrong.

Sam, with Pete, I have to say that I think wahat Sam has termed the existence of GOd in strong terms is an incredibly weak concept of God, and must disagree about the said amount of interst, but that is outside the argument.

I think the interst now lies in whether one can deny God as the focus for responsibility without denying the self as such. If one does this then as Rowan has argued, one has become at least in that aspect what God was for him. And the importance is what God was for the new-found atheist in terms of whether his new-found atheism constitutes a religion or not, and whether he becomes to himself what God previously was to him. And if one does this for all aspects of one's relation with God, then one has become God. So the focus of resposibility is as example of one face of that possible relation.
I think from Sam's posts this point rests, but the other half of the argument is still standing.

So what I want to know is how one can become an atheist without first having a concept of God (for one must be aware that one is an atheist to be an atheist, otherwise it is just not an issue). If someone can give me an example to work with I would be most grateful.

michael said...

(excuse the terrible spelling and grammar; I failed to check it before publishing.)

Anonymous said...

A correction: of course I have not shown how one must become god when moving from a theistic notion to an atheistic notion, only how one can. I have not yet shown how one must because of the problem of the possibility of the denial of the self, and also because I am not yet sure of what has been termed Pete's view.

So, that example in order to enlighten me...

Pete said...

That was the poorest offering you've given us so far on this topic Michael. And you haven't answered my question regarding essentialism.

The notion of responsibility, while an interesting side issue is not the point of my idea of atheism. My position is that I don't believe in God and while Michael is trying to convince me that I am God, I flatly don't agree with him. My views on responsibility are fairly straight forward and in line with Sam's description of responsibilty as involving some sort of choice.

I'm also having increasing doubts/concerns about this idea employed by existentialists regarding relations of the self to the self. At times you seem to think that there are two of me? Could you explain a little more about this?

And I still don't understand what all the fuss is about with regards to whether atheism or theism came first. This is purely chicken and egg arguing. Who cares if atheism first came as a reaction to the claims of some pre-historic door-knocking, theist or if there did exist some dude who lived his entire life without ever having an idea of God enter his head? (Does one have to make a declaration of atheism to be one?)

I think that those on the existentialist side of this debate should stop talking through their hats about responsibility and second selves and just get on with proving to me that I am an infinite, perfect being.

Samuel Douglas said...

Michael:

Well yes I do have some doubts about what might be termed 'self', but I fail to see how they relate to this whole argument. I certainly fail to see, (and therefore must be completely daft and un-enlightened) how my denial that I am responsible for events that I have no control is indicative of my 'denial of self' (whatever that is).

Maybe I didn't make myself clear on the 'Existence of God in the strong sense' point. How excactly is a concept of God that involves him as an independantly existent, real, causally effective entity more weak than this whole 'the indvidual is actually God' stuff?

As for your question: "So what I want to know is how one can become an atheist without first having a concept of God (?)"
I'll ask a question in response: Do you need a concept of Santa to not believe in his existence?

Yes and No. No in the sense that if you have never heard of him, and hence have no concept of hem, then you cannot be a believer. But also Yes in the sense that the informed unbeliver will have a specific concept of Santa that they refer to when they deny that he really exists. I guess my point is this: Who cares? So you need a concept of Santa to be an Asanta-ist, does this change the fact that you don't believe? Nor would it change the validity of the arguments that indicate that Santa does not exist. This issue is rightly identified by Pete as a red herring.

In fact, I think this whole line of existentialist reasoning is a waste of space. "Blah blah blah I'm God"
No you are not, and neither am I, nor is anyone else that I have met of late.

michael said...

I'm confused as to order: Of the two posts I've recently tried to put up, the second because the first seemed not to have posted, only the first seems to actually be there. So I'm somewhat out of sink.

The responsibility thing is a manner of shewing how one can, not that one does, become god. Of course, this relies on there being a pre-existing relation with god. Santa is the same. Since you've split the infinitive, Sam, I'm assuming that you also see a difference between not beliving in something and beliving in the specific non-existence of something. The non-existence of santa/god does not change the fact that you don't belive but it changes the reasons/grounds for that belief so, if there is a difference between two things that look the same but have different genealogies, they are different.

As for the concept of god, the realists are using a concept of god that as far as I can tell has absolutely no relation, and thus no relevance, to the individual, and thus as far as I can see the existence or non of such an entity is irrelevant. Due to this I think the concept of god you are using is weak. Your 'strong' idea of god may have him more real but less relevant, and if god is irrelevant while he is real who cares whether or not he exists. So I think we have similar problems is the eyes of each other. How about you have a turn at attempting to explain to me why it matters whether or not god exists.

In terms of concepts of the self ( re. duality or unity) since Plato there has been the concpet of a person as a duality. If you realists have found a way to avoid this without diminishing the concept given of man then I'd like to hear it.

In terms of denial of self that I mentioned, the point was that in order to avoid taking on the role of god in that specific circumstance, you also had to deny your own parallell role in that specific circumstance. Otherwise you are forced to admit that you have taken on what you previously saw as GOd's role. SO a generalisation of this leads to a wholesale becoming what you saw as god. Don;t try and tell me there is more to god than what ou see; that can be said as I see god as greater than I can see. Sam, I think that sort of statement is your area.
Pete, you seem to have a more grounded idea of responsibility. Fair enough. But as far as I can tell you fit into the group who, as far as I can tell, shouldn't care whether or not God exists. Why do you?

If there is an important different between relevance and existence as far as I am/should be concerned, what is it, because you assume that I understand, but I don't.

Pete said...

Ming comes out swinging!
(btw Ming you mean that your out of 'sync' not 'sink')

I've been thinking about the genealogy comment and I have come to ask the question: Are there any things that are identical yet have different genealogies? My hunch at this stage is that the answer to this question is no, that such things just don't happen. So I'm thinking that there are issues of sameness that we may need to address. (What is sameness? When does it occur? what does it mean? etc) And it might help if we get our metaphysics sorted out for this one (so that we all understand what eachother mean). Perhaps a good place to continue with this would be if I once again asked you Michael for your account of essentialism?

Now the idea of a gestalt (whole) self has a long and glorious tradition too. Your hoisting of dualist conceptions of the self as being somehow superior to this account is a little narrow minded. I suppose that after waving Plato in our faces you'll bring up Descartes next? This who's who of great philosophical losers will only be treated with the contempt it deserves. Quite simply the only need for dichotimising myself is an analytical one. In other words sometimes it helps me to make some of my sciences work to think of myself as made up of parts but when it comes to the business of living and to what I actually believe (i.e. when it comes to going beyond science), I am very much a gestalt entity. (for you philosophers of science out there read some of Roy Bhaskar's works to get the scientific description of this)

As for the relavence of God to the individual, well this should be obvious. It is after all what a lot of this argument has been about. If God does exist then his relation to me is as a source of myself and all that exists. As such Deity would have a fairly important place in any metaphysical system I adhered to (my beliefs about what is and how it works), Deity would also be a controlling power as far as epistemology goes (I can know what I know because Deity has made it possible for me to know) and finally Deity would also be fairly important for my ethics (the type of stuff we have been discussing in regards to responsibility). In turn if Diety does not exist then I have to give an account of reality that has no creator, includes the possibilities of my learning what I could and have learned and explains not only how ethical systems work but also explain where they come from within this accident we call home. This should all be fairly self explanatory though, are you seriously in need of having this spelled out for you?

Ok let me ask another question. So far you have discussed how it is that I, as an atheist, take on God's roles with regard to myself. There seem to have been two suggestion in this area so far:
1) that I take on God's role as the creator/sustainer of reality and,
2) that I take on God's role as the source of ethical responisibilty.
Now we've claimed that it is impossible for me to perform 1. And correct me if I'm wrong here but you don't seem to be too concerned with answering that charge (if you are then I feel that you have failed miserably to do so) so I'm taking it that you're more concerned with affirming 2? Now if this is the case and you want me to see myself as the source of my own ethics, values, etc, then how are you going to disprove to me that my ethics and values come from my social interactions with the other beings on this planet? To keep this simple I'll suggest a nutshell version of a derivative of Locke's theory from his second treatise of government. I'll suggest that all values are derived from natural values that we all share. Natural values relate to our existence as physical and temporal beings. So for instance we can learn a natural value such as "it is bad when our bodies collide" when say, my fist collides with your face. As we become more and more experienced with natural values we eventually devise other values that ensure our maximisation of goods in regards to natural values. These in turn develop into yet more values later on down the line and hence we wind up with the type of ethical systems that we all know and love today. Here I don't need a god and I don't need to be god. All I need is to be punched in the face and to have some time to think about it....

C.S. said...

I am Craig. I used to join you at the philosophy club during 2005 with my friend Andrew. I have dark hair and asked for directions to the nearest bathroom once.

Having finished eating a pizza, I am antsy about brushing my teeth, have henceforth not read all the posts but rather gleamed a slight impression, and am posting this to cast my hat back into the philosophy club ring and saying "hello" since I have been gone for so long finishing and having finished my education degree. Ok, here we go:

***
Continuing on from Pete's post about values and the idea of becoming God, I wonder if we are not misrepresenting the idea of what it is to be theologically inclined? Christians for example do not get meaning from God, but rather they get meaning from the Bible, from Church ministers, television evangelists, etc. Yes, God is claimed to be the source for the contents of the Bible, the ministers sermon and the evangelists teleprompter, but is it too much for me to suggest that is allegorical to, say, a philosopher who uses the belief in the possibilities of reason as content for literature, art, personal creation, etc. And, before this becomes too muddled, ultimately what I am suggesting is that existentialism or atheism or God Is Deadism does not intend to claim that we become God in absense of a God in the clouds, but rather the source for what we believe in has altered. That is, as Pete and others have mentioned, we do not suddenly in a post-God mind choose to create our own ethical decisions any more or less than a theologian, but rather we read different books, listen to different speakers and place our love in new poetry. Neither we nor our responsibilities alter when we stamp God with a fictional label: only the nouns we choose to praise.
***

michael said...

Ah, paint a picture without God, and thus God is not needed. But surely there must be some way in which it matters for you claim that god doesn't exist. I assume your not going to mention Ocham, due to your intense dislike to razors. So I'm stumped.

In response to your Locke in a nutshell I mention Foucault, where the part creates the whole and the whole creates the parts. This is a chicken and egg situation. Foucalut's system is done in a space of unknowing (in terms of absolute truth), whereas to claim one way or the other about the existence of god rules out the posibility of maintaining this view.

So you have claimed absolute knowledge that God doesn't exist. How do you know? That you don't need him doesn't mean he doesn't exist; I don't need my speedos, you know, but they seem to exist.


side points: yor account of God is of the prime mover/divine clockemaker model, which means that he is no longer relevant once he has created, and as such that view of god has been called many things, such as the big bang, and natural values.

I'm happy to grant you descriptions of sameness.
unity of the self I'll argue from, but I think it may result in a diminished concept of the person, though you ae quite right as far as I can see that it is purely for analysis.

a masichist may enjoy being punched in the face. hence, good.

michael said...

Craig, it is not "the source of what we belive in", or indeed the source we belive in, that has altered, but rather our understanding of that in which we believe (in the existential framework through which I have been argueing). So similarly our understanding of all built on that now altered understanding must alter accordingly. Sartre makes it quite plain (Nausea, for instance)that as is our language is divirced from that to which it refers. So we do not praise/relate to the nouns, but that to which the nouns refer.

And so like language, which does not exactly say what it means but only refers to what it means (as we understand what it means), the bible, or tele-evangelists, or anything else, refers to god but must be understood, i.e. interpreted.
It may be possible to understand the statement that god does not exist as something refering to an aspect of the nature of an existent god, if you like, though I'm not clear on it - it involves paradoxes.

I'm dubious about getting into Sartre's language theory, as it seems to have flaws both in its intent and in it theory. So lets just keep it so that we know what we're talking about, rather than reinterpreting god, so that he can exist and be effective without existing - that's just going to solve more problems than it's worth.

Pete said...

I think Craig deserves a round of applause for the most eloquent post on this blog to date. I like his style. And I think Michael needs to use a spelling and grammer checker.

How can you ask (again) about how it matters to me to say that God doesn't exist Michael? Did my last post not explain just that? And don't throw Foucault in my face unless you have a valid point. I'm not claiming and never have claimed absolute knowledge. If you recall my original material on this post I was arguing for the view that we should be considering atheism as a faith. That means (once again spelling out the obvious) that I adhere to a belief that god does not exist in the what is epistemologically the same way that others adhere to beleif that he/she does. There is nothing in this about absolute knowledge at all. What's more I have never advocated a clock maker model of god either. And what the hell does the point about the masochist (note the spelling) have to do with anything? I think that at this stage of the debate you and your metaphysics-dodging arse (yes, both of you!) are merely clutching at straws.

Good to hear from you again Craig.

michael said...

I don't mean to flabergast you, Pete.

Obviously I'm confused. Now if you think, but are not sure, that god doesn't exist, and it matters, is this not agnosticism, rather than atheism? being sure beyond doubt is the pertinant bit here.

As a resposne to your Locke in a nustshell all I was doing with the Foucault comment was putting forward a theory of how we are today that takes a different view of god; I could have chosen any number. My point was that it is a theory, one among many - so what?

the repeated question of why it matters follows from the accusation that you are using a clockmaker model of god. If you are not, explain how your model of god is different.

the masochist point was an objection to the punch in the face being universally bad point that followed from the Locke in a nutshell point. It was unimportant.

In respons to your accusation about my being a metaphysics dodger, I'd say for a discussion around god you are equally a theology dodger. This may be the root of our disagreements.

MH said...

To clarify, Michael, the agnostic does not know whether or not god exists, has no belief either way, unlike the theist and atheist, (in fact, the agnostic claims that they do not know, and may go as far as to claim that it is not possible to know whether or not a deity exists), and does not think that the existence, or not, of a deity is of the slightest importance. To simplify, the agnostic does not know and does not care whether or not a deity exists.

My point?

Get a philosophical dictionary, or a copy of Hick’s ‘Philosophy of Religion’ Second Edition, and get familiar with the basics. These are relatively accepted concepts that you really should have a grasp of, especially if you want to be taken seriously in a discussion on this topic.

And, sorry to focus on you Michael, you might be able to extract yourself from Peter’s accusation if you were to provide a considered elaboration of your position (in a sperate post perhaps, which would have been my request if I were still Editor) because, over the course of forty-odd posts, it becomes hard to keep track of exactly what anybody is claiming. (I’m making this suggestion to you, Michael, because you appear to be the only participant advocating a position presently, everyone else is simply being critical.)

michael said...

A wise man once said "fuck off, Martin".

I've spelled out clearly the manner in which I am using the term "agnostic" above , so go burn your dictionary, and learn from reality. And the realist postition has certainly been spelled out as well.

If you nave nothing to add to the argument, don't.

michael said...

And havign read various accounts of useages and history of the term I am quite jsutified in using it is as I have. If you're going to talk about god and religion, why don't you read some theology.

Samuel Douglas said...

I don't think you are in a position to quote Pete, he has been one of your main critics, as have I. I know Martin is getting to you, but if you that you look stupid at this stage, that is not his fault. Abuse does not equal refutation.

This just goes around in circles. You make a claim, we respond, you disagree, we say :"Fine, convince us then" which you almost consistently fail to do. At some point you have realise that when no one agrees with you that you either have to give up or change strategy. It is not yourself ou have to convince, it is the rest of the world, which like it or not includes your peers here. Learn from reality? You are the one who has failed to learn from reality. Books on a subject are part of that reality. It's possible that you know more about theology than Martin, but I doubt that you know more about it than John Hick.

Seriously I do think that you should spell out your position clearly in a new post,so then at least we can seperate the differnt issues that are at play here and tackle them one at a time.

Pete said...

Yeah don't fuck off Martin. You were actually making some good sense with your last post.

Michael: And I'm not flabergatsed in the least. I am some what amazed at the overwhelming amount of incorrect assumptions that one person can make though. For instance when did I say that being punched in the face was universally bad? Sure some people might enjoy being punched where others don't but all that means for the model I described is that different value systems will develop.

Yes being sure beyond doubt is a pertinant point. But (if you knew your epistemology basics) you should know that I can advocate a position of belief that is not a position of certainty. I never thought I'd see this but it does in fact seem that you would actually benefit from studying Descartes. (ugh! I have to wash my mouth out with soap!)

And are you actually suggesting that Foucault's theory entails a view of God? What the f*!# is that about? The idea of raising the social contract theory was not that it was just one theory among many, rather that it offers an explanation of how things like ethics and responsibilty can emerge that does not rely either on God or on your notion of self-as-god. If your theory is any good you should be able to refute the social contract account.

And how can I be a theology dodger? My concern with theology is not only what started, but has since fueled my continuation in, this debate. And what is the point of saying this anyway? We should at least all be able to agree that as a philosopher, addressing metaphysical issues is more central than addressing theological ones.

And Sam is right, we could carry on like this all year. Simply making counter-accusations when a proof has been asked for does nothing. Yet Sam may have made one mistake, maybe the only person you do have to convince is yourself. That is about all I'd expect from someone advocating what is virtually a solipsistic position.

michael said...

Martin did not add anything: he incorrectly said I was misapplying a word, and said that no other position had been forward. He then said he didn't understand. I haven' read John Hick, but he's not the only authority on language. It didn't need refutation: it was a pointless post.

Sam on your form of argument you seem to be claiming that all that is required for a valid refutation is "I think otherwise". Goes both ways.

Pete, Foucault's theory allows for creation of truths. One of them could be god. I am not saying that it brings an actual physical god into existence, but not all notions of god require this.

The social contract theory is shallow. If "all values are derived from natural values that we all share" then they should all be the same. They are not. It seems the explanation for this is lack of experience. Lack of experience can be begged to explain many things, including why we aren't certain that god exists, or indeed why we aren't certain that we are god.

If you're going to discuss the metaphysics of something you have to understand what that something is. How can you discuss the existence of god if you know nothing of the nature of god? So surely the theology in this discussion is more basic that the metaphysics.

There is a difference between believing in something and not questioning it, and believing in something but questioning it - that is, in the former no other option is conceived of, whereas in the second another option is both conceived of and conceived of as possible. The first is what I was seeing as theism, and the second as (even if tending towards theism) agnosticism. There are (if you do small amounts of reading on it) large numbers of different sorts of agnosticism.

Now agnosticism can also be a questioning but leaning towards atheism. This seems to draw a parallel between theism and atheism. The not knowing and not caring about either the lack of knowledge or the not knowing I don't think rates as agnosticism, because agnosticism on all counts is the claim to lack of knowledge, and if one didn't care, one wouldn't bother claiming the said lack of knowledge.

So if, as many people have it, religious belief is airy, then I would illustrate the relations as follows: There are two giant birds flying, the one represents theism, the other atheism. On the back of each ride many people, but riding in the bird’s back so that they can not see the other bird. Between the two birds hangs a rope that each grasps in it claw across which many people wander back and forward, seemingly lost. The peel on the backs of the birds cannot see this either. The rope represents agnosticism. Far below is the ground. On the ground are those who have never looked up and wondered what it is like to fly. These are the terminally irreligious people.

michael said...

Now, as you are probably aware, I have directly contradicted myself in terms of order of knowledge required to discuss god's nature and existence. The trouble is that I stand by each side of the contradiction; that you cannot know god's full nature until you know whether or not he exists, and that you cannot know whether or not he exists until you know his full nature. This is why those on the ground are so divorced from those in the air.

God differs from other things in that he is first met with in speculation rather than, to take the punch in the face example, as a reality imposed upon one. As such there seems to be an obstacle in the way of becoming religious in my picture. Either one is born into it, or one never is. Maybe from this I can explain some kind of concept of what I mean when talking of existence and essence in terms of which is prior.

Basic concept of essence before existence: I think of a pocket knife, and then I create one. Now, when I was thinking of the pocket knife, part of that thought was the essence of the pocket knife, so its uses/purpose. If however I discovered, without having previously conceived of, such a thing, I would either conclude that it was an accident of existence, or that someone/thing had created it. Now if someone/thing created it the same holds as for when I created it. If it is an accident then it existed before it had essence. Now if god exists, then he must have existed before his essence because nothing was there to conceive of god before he was created. But since god is taken to be perfectly transcendental this problem is avoided, and it is said that god's existence is one with his essence. This does not work, however, for non-perfectly transcendental beings. And I was not always. Now if God doesn't exists and all that exists without having been made (so all that is naturally occurring, generally speaking) exists still, then it existed before it had essence. Which includes me. So I am, but I know not what I am. So I create my essence by creating what I am. If I found a rock, similarly existent and without essence, I may give it essence by seeing it as a smashing tool, or again as a cutting tool, or again as a blocking tool. There are infinitely many ways of perceiving of it. (Sam don't call me up on this usage of infinite, for it can also be defined negatively, so it is not a lump of clay, and it is not a piece of wood, so any concept can become part of the rock's essence. as such the rock can never be fully defined.)

Now it seems that to an extent I am creating myself, that was previously an 'accident' or unpurposed existent. So the existence does not depend on me, only the nature/essence. But you cannot refer to/relate to/come in to contact with something unless it has nature as well as existence (for otherwise how would you explain having come into contact with it?). Now if god did not give things essence, then I did (unless it was you - was it you? wait, no, I created you as well, though of course you may have created me...)

So if I don't see essence as separate from existence then I have no such worries and can happily say that I am not god and that god does not exist. I don’t particularly want to do this though. Do you? If we do what are the ramifications? surely it would count out ready-made art to begin with.