Monday, September 14, 2009

Shallow Thinking about God, etc.

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," taking nothing seriously since 2005! Sorry, but when it comes to deep thinking, we didn't pass the swimming test.

In last Saturday's Wall Street Journal, they published one of those point-counterpoint editorial pages that I so love. Say what you will about the quickly-disappearing Fourth Estate. It's still one of the only places where you'll find reasoned arguments that are diametrically opposed, both being given the same amount of space and respect.

On this day the topic was "Man vs. God." The opponents were Richard Dawkins, celebrated atheist author, and Karen Armstrong, whose book The Case for God, will be out later this month.

First, as part of this deep-thought post, I would like to ask all you men out there why it's you against God. Chill, dudes! Let that testosterone ease up a bit! You'd never see a headline called "Woman vs. God," even though I know for a fact that there are many women who read this blog who hold no particular respect for this particular deity.

Anyway, I read both editorials, Dawkins's and Armstrong's. Old Rich makes great points. It's hard to refute the atheist arguments in this era of super-science, and as I just said, I'm not the deep thinker to do it.

Ms. Armstrong, apparently, is a deep thinker, so she took on the task. And by golly, she's practically an atheist herself! Here's a bit from her:

"Religion was not supposed to provide explanations that lay within the competence of reason but to help us live creatively with realities for which there are no easy solutions and find an interior haven of peace."

Let me see if I haven't drowned in this fancy talk. Religion exists to give us creative brain-blankies to ease our worried minds.

Dawkins must have hooted when he saw that "defense." And I must say that I'm glad Ms. Armstrong's book is called The Case For God, and not The Case For Deities Everywhere. Perhaps it's just Yahweh who's the security blanket deity.

To all these deeper thinkers, I, Anne Johnson (basically shallow as a fishbowl) would like to say:

1. Having developed thought to the point of creative endeavor, members of humankind have experienced contact with higher powers through a variety of experiences, not all of which can be conveniently explained away by the laws of physics and circumstance.

2. Atheists assume that we have learned so much about the laws of physics that we need learn no more in order to nail shut the coffin on deity. If that is the case, why are we still training new physicists and setting them to work? We could use that money to build skate parks.

I don't think some bright young physicist is going to take a few measurements and find him or herself looking Yahweh in the eyeball. I'm just saying there's more to the universe than we know to date ... more to our own brains than we know to date ... and more about Higher Powers than we know to date.

I'm not going to make a case for God. But at least for me, religion ... yes, I know it's a bad word, bad bad bad! ... for me, religion is more than just a mystical chill pill. Can't you just feel something to be true and leave it at that?


Lori F-MN said...

Religion is a brain-blankie? That's reassuring!

Sarita said...

Personally, I think that trying to convince people of the existence of deities (or even one deity) is a waste of time. Really, if they're going to be convinced, it'll probably be due to divine intervention, and last time I checked I'm not a goddess.

THE Michael said...

I would never attempt to "convince" anybody of the existence of dieties, since I myself have no proof whatsoever that they exist outside that "warm, fuzzy" sense deep inside which is happy to ignore realities for a bit of mystical antacid.

We'll be long gone from this plane before science rids us of every opportunity to exercise faith.


i believe in the goddess and she believes in me..

Aquila ka Hecate said...

I am a physicist, and I have two things to say on this score:

1)The laws of physics are so far from being nailed down that it's laughable.
2) At some point, I have to believe the evidence of my own senses.

Terri in Joburg

Sarita said...

Ooo, YellowDog Granny, I've got to share a "Hank the Cowdog" quote (not 100% accurately, but I'll get the jest of it): "I didn't believe in that ghost, but that didn't stop the ghost from believing in me!"

jarjar_head said...

It's been a long time since I've posted a comment here, but I'm going to have a go at it.

Regarding your second point, not all atheists assume that we have learned so much as to know that a deity (or deities) do not exist. When a claim is made that a deity exists beyond our comprehension, then a claim is being made that is not empirically verifiable. We still train physicists because there is much we don't know about the universe. (What causes gravity? What is mass?)

Now I suppose you could make the argument that this would make me an agnostic. Atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive however. I do not believe in a higher power, but neither do I believe that I can truly know if I am right or not. (For the record, I identify as an agnostic atheist.)

I don't really have anything to say on the matter beyond that. I just think making a blanket statement as was made in your second point was unfair and mis-representative.

For me, I don't just want to feel something to be true. I want to know as well. But that doesn't mean I can't enjoy the mystery.

~The Muse

Makarios said...

The proposition that underlies most scientific atheism is that anything that can't be measured by machinery doesn't exist. This is an old argument, and one that was blown off by Shakespeare's Hamlet (I:5):

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Dawkins is a biologist, not a physicist. Biologists tend to think that since the chemical basis of biology is well understood, Science has everything sewed up. That's why there's a higher proportion of atheists among biologists than among physicists. Rodger Cunningham

Anne Johnson said...

In his essay, Dawkins talked mostly about Darwin but also widened his argument to include the laws of physics.

JarJar, if you read the fine print on the "Gods Are Bored" template, you'll find that the author reserves the right to say stupid things at every opportunity, just to make herself laugh.

jarjar_head said...

[I just lost my comment so I have to write this all out again. My apologies if this appears as a double-post.]

@Anne: I don't see that on your blog or your profile now, but perhaps I'm not looking in the right place. Anyway, I seem to recall reading it before and it certainly sounds like something you would do. You have my apologies. (You also have me wondering if I'm losing my sense of irony.)

@Makarios: That's not what I'm trying to say. Just because we can't detect/measure/determine something doesn't mean it doesn't exist-it just means we can't detect/measure/determine that something yet. Until such a time arises, I'll stick with Occam's Razor.

@Anonymous/Rodger Cunningham: That sounds reasonable, but I ultimately find it hard to believe. If we also accept that physics is the the underlying basis of chemistry, would it be reasonable to expect an increasing trend of atheism as we move from physics to chemistry to biology? Further, how do we know that there isn't another underlying social factor or if it's the result of a statistical variation? I'm not trying to be argumentative, I'm just curious as to how you arrived at that conclusion.

~The Muse

Anonymous said...

The fact that there are more atheists among chemists than among physicists isn't a "conclusion" of mine. I have the impression that it's a well-known observation among scientits, of whom I was trained as one (a chemist). I can't cite a source and may be wrong, but at any rate it's a claimed observation, not an inference. RC

Anonymous said...

To continue the thought: The point usually drawn from this observation is that biologists assume everything has a well worked out scientific basis, while as Aquila ka Hecate points out, the "basis" of physics is just not apparent at all in the required way. RC

Anne Johnson said...

*Anne loves it when smart people have discussions in her thread*