If I Believed in God

November 6, 2008

(I’ve been quiet on the blog front for a while now, mainly because I have an insane number of essays to write for college. On top of that, I’ve been continuously ill for going on two weeks now – I’m coughing my lungs up as a I type. There’s plenty I want to write on, but unfortunately it will have to wait for a while.)

Theists frequently assume that belief in God will inevitably lead to belief in a particular religion. (Very often it’s their religion.) why they assume this is beyond me, since believing in God as a philosophical proposition certainly does not automatically lead one to believe that, say, Jesus Christ died and came back to life. I’ve had many people attempt to convert me in my time, and they frequently begin with one of the traditional arguments for the existence of God as laid out by Aquinas (the ‘five ways’), or some modern variation thereof. What they fail to realise is that convincing me or any other atheist of the existnce of an unmoved mover or an uncaused cause is not the same thing as convincing us that the Bible is true or that a whole host of associated supernatural entities exist. With that in mind, I give you a brief, hypothetical look at how belief in God would change my opinion on other, related matters.

If I believed in God:

I would not believe in the divinity of Jesus, Mohammad, Noah, or any other figure from a sacred text. There is no reason to assume that because some sort of god exists, the various stories and myths found within any particular holy book must therefore be true.

I would still accept the theory of evolution, unless the argument which convinced me of the existence of God was based upon said theory being flawed or otherwise completely unable to explain the diversity of life. (Note that such an argument would have to do two things for this scenario to come about: convince me that God exists and convince me that evolution does not occur; the latter does not necessarily imply the former.)

I would still accept that the universe is billions of years old and that the Earth most likely came to be through entirely naturalistic forces, unless the argument which lead me to believe in God was based upon the age of the universe or the Earth being wrong. (This one carries the same warning as above.)

I would still not believe in the soul or that humanity is inherently ‘unique’, unless the argument which convinced me of God’s existence was based upon proving that this is the case.

I would still not believe in any sort of afterlife.

I would still believe that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are concepts created entirely by humans, and that they are inherently subjective.

I would probably not ascribe to God some of the traditional ‘divine attributes’ (personhood, perfect goodness, simplicity etc.) popularised by Aquinas and others, although this of course would depend on the kind of argument that would convince me of God’s existence in the first place.

I would almost certainly need some sort of scientific backing for a belief in God. In other words, I am more likely to be swayed by a teleological or cosmological type argument than an ontological one.

I would still not hold my beliefs (religious or otherwise) dogmatically, and would be perfectly willing to revise my belief in God if I discovered new evidence that contradicted it.

In short, my life really wouldn’t change all that much.


Update

October 23, 2008

Things are pretty busy in college at the moment, so I haven’t had time to update here much. I do want to do a comprehensive post on radiometric dating, but it will require some research.

In the meantime, I’m in the process of getting a copy of Expelled (through entirely legal channels, I can assure you). Expect a full and extremely sarcastic review soon!


AndromedasWake Welcomes You To The Universe

October 20, 2008

I’m a big fan of Youtube videos. Specifically, there’s been a relatively recent surge in channels dedicated almost entirely to combatting creationism and promoting science. One of the newest members of this endeavour is AndromedasWake, an astronomy student who sky-rocketed to popularity with only a handful of videos from his excellent seres, CrAP (Creationist Astronomy Propoganda) Debunked.

AW has announced a new series, titled Welcome to The Universe, that aims to be a professional-quality Youtube documentary series, containing music composed by AW himself, about cosmology and the scientists and discoveries that have shaped it. Today he released a trailer and asked people to spread it around as much as possible, so here it is:

Check out his other videos as well, and be on the lookout for some of the other excellent stuff on Youtube. Maybe I’ll do a post about it later.

Addition from forknowledge: I’ll second PF’s recommendation; AndreomasWake makes some excellent videos, and this new documentary looks like it could be fantastic. Best of all, it will be free, without copyright and available to anyone. The best way to combat Creationist stupidity is to have educated people like AW put out this kind of material in a format that us ‘ordinary’ people can understand. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a trend!


Why I Love JSTOR

October 8, 2008

Being a member of a college means that I get complete access to JSTOR, a massive online library of digital essays and journals. It’s like a microcosm of the internet, but entirely devoid of lolcats and YouTube commentors. (Whether or not its sensible to discuss ‘the internet without lolcats’ at this point is a question best left to the philosophers.)

As well as being a powerful tool for serious academic business, it’s fun to enter random phrases to see what turns up. ‘Creationism’ turns up a surprising number of anthropology papers, as well as worried essays in science periodicals going back as far as the mid seventies. (A note to Samuel P. Martin and Maxine Singer: your plan didn’t work.) I can also confirm that, contrary to what a lot of people on the internet seem to think, quite a few academics and scientists actually do use the phrase ‘Darwinism’, although not in the same context as most Creationists use it.

In the interest of academic…something, I’m looking for some completely bonkers topics to search for. Post your ideas in the comments section and I’ll let you know what comes up!


I Get Spam

September 27, 2008

Most comments on this blog won’t have to await moderation unless they contain several links. I knew such permissive settings would eventually leave me the victim of spam, but I thought it would be worth it if commenters could see their comments immediately and not have to wait until I got around to approving them. (It also means that debate or conversations can go on in the comment section even in my absence.) What I didn’t foresee was how retarded some people on the internet can be:

Yeah, but next time you wear the pink tu-tu. Oh, wait, wrong blog. What the heck am I doing here? Bye.

 

Hold it, George! I think I’m evolving into a monkey!

 

Your blog

it lacks

intelligent design

 

All three of those were posted here by the mysterious M. Patterson, who in the past claimed to be a scientist. Going by his latest ‘additions’ to this blog, he’s a pretty stupid one. Some people delete spam, but I prefer to enshrine it like this, hopefully reminding whoever concocted it that they had nothing better to do than make complete idiots of themselves on a backwater blog.

Well done! 😀


Atheists Can Be As Bad As Christians

September 24, 2008

As I said yesterday, I’ve recently started to study philosophy (among other things) at NUIM. The lecture this morning touched upon a subject that I’ve discussed at length with DTE (he of the guest posts) in the past.

Most people hold beliefs that they’re unwilling or reluctant to critically examine. Call them what you will – presuppositions, assumptions, cherished – but most people have them. I certainly do, although I like to find them and question them quite rigorously whenever I can. Theists are frequently charged with holding an undue amount of these beliefs, usually in regard to their entire religion. While I think this is generally true (there’s an odd but widespread phenomenom where intelligent people become completely irrational when their religion is criticised), it’s something that atheists certainly aren’t immune to.

I think that religious emotion, the things people feel when they pray or visit a church, are universal. How people express or trigger those emotions obviously varies widely, but I doubt many people would claim to have never experienced them. Just as ‘religious emotion’ doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with religion, so ‘religious thinking’ (credit to DTE for that one) doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with religion.

What do I mean by ‘religious thinking’? Consider what I’ve seen described as the ‘single issue wonk’. These are people who latch onto a particular issue, usually a political one, and defend it rabidly. Any criticism will incite a torrent of rage and counter-arguments, usually of the hysterical variety. Ardent Obama or McCain fans seem to fall into this category a lot, as do many so-called ‘values voters’ (pro-life or pro-choice proponents are particularly bad). When I say that these people think religiously, I mean that they hold beliefs about certain issues in a way very reminiscent of how religious people hold beliefs about their faith. Reason generally doesn’t have much to do with it, and they’re likely to defend their beliefs on emotional grounds.

When I first started to communicate with other atheists, I was overjoyed to find a community that appeared to treat nothing as sacred, where everything at all was open to question and close scrutiny. As time went on, I discovered that there were a numer of taboo subjects and opinions. I didn’t agree with most of these, but I was quite shocked at the harsh reaction to those who did. Atheists will claim that they’re capable of and willing to examine any belief, any proposition, as objectively as they possibly can, but this isn’t really true. Ironically, some atheists become religious about their atheism, reacting to the merest suggesting that they’re wrong with explosive animosity.

The reason why my philosophy lecture brought all of this to mind is that the lecturer suggested that we lay aside our presuppositions for the time being, in hopes of either returning to them on a firmer foundation or of abandoning them and changing ourselves entirely. That willingness to change is what differentiates those who think religiously from those who don’t; if an atheist is really as capable of objective consideration as he or she claims, they shouldn’t be afraid of abandoning their atheism and becoming a theist if it seems like a reasonable thing to do. Yet I’m convinced that many atheists would be appalled at the mere suggestion.

One reason could be that so many atheists are deconverts from various religions; they’ve already gone through a momentous change, and probably do not like the idea of doing it again. Another is that anyone who defines themselves partially or in whole by a belief is going to be very reluctant to give it up. (This is a bit of a problem, as both DTE and I think that atheism needs to become more community-oriented if it’s to spread and survive – more on that some other time.)

On the other side of the coin we have theists who either refuse outright to critically consider their beliefs or who concoct elaborate delusions to convince themselves that their beliefs are not irrational (Creationists, I’m looking at you). Which of the two is ‘worse’? Most atheists would say that the religious-religious is the worst for society, but that may simply be their own prejudices (unexamined and uncriticised) speaking again. Personally, I don’t think that one is any worse than the other; they’re both a threat to a democratic society.

(NOTE: Substitute ‘Christian’ in the title either for whatever religion you belong to or, if you’re an atheist, whatever religion you’d least likely to be compared to a member of.)


Adventures in Philosophy

September 23, 2008

I recently (as in yesterday) began studying Arts at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, which is a great place. It shares facilities and campus grounds with a few different institutions, including the main school of theology in the country; in other words, it’s quite religious and specifically quite Catholic. None of this is a problem (NUIM itself is strictly secular, even if it houses a lot of religious students), but I was a little bit worried when I signed up for Philosophy and discovered that my ‘Philosophy of Religion’ module would be taught by a Catholic priest.

Thankfully the class seems to consist of a lot more than ‘This is why Catholicism is right’, and it was very refreshing to hear someone talk frankly about topics like religion, agnosticism and atheism, which were never really brought up at secondary school (or if they were, in a way that ensured nobody was ever offended). I’ve been reading through this book (which I bought from the campus bookstore at a price that was only mildly extortionate), and here again I was surprised and gratified at how objective a tone the author takes.

What struck me most about it, though, was how the author presents the most common arguments for the existence of God (ontological, cosmological and teleological) in a way that far surpasses anything most theists I’ve met online could manage. One chapter is even apparently going to address my latest pet peeve, which is seeing theists make the leap from ‘some sort of god exists’ to ‘my particular God exists, to the exclusion of all others’. Fun times.

Since it’s related to the subject of the blog, I’ll post my thoughts on the course as it continues.