By the time you read this we will have had our January meeting and discussed the perennial question of ‘does God exist?’. Each person’s view will almost certainly influence their ethical or moral outlook on society. Before the meeting, one of the group and I had the following exchange, which might be of some interest to other members.
DO I HAVE TO BE AN ATHEIST (to enjoy Philosophy)?
I know in my heart that I am certainly not an atheist because I find it impossible to accept that there is nothing higher than the logic of human rational thought. I do not say that is right – it’s just how I am. Atheists will find it equally impossible to accept that there is anything beyond rational thought.
These points of view are not just intellectual or emotive positions that we adopt; they originate way back in our consciousness, our childhood, our parenting, our friendships, our experiences – and our interpretation of them. These can easily have given rise to prejudices on both sides of the divide and while philosophical discussion should be able to overcome prejudice, it seems unable to resolve deeply held emotional/spiritual convictions. I would even argue that they are on a different plane from rational analysis (though atheists would dismiss that as a ‘cop out’). In that sense philosophical discussion is unlikely to achieve much and in my case it even seems to deepen them!
I would take issue with Nigel Warburton’s classic model of Theism which, like Dawkins, takes the easy way out with an outdated “flat-earther’s” view of God which is all too easy to dispose of, with the same arguments that Epicurus used more than two thousand years ago. Radical Christian theologians like Karen Armstrong, Richard Holloway, Don Cupitt and Jack Spong left that model behind a generation ago. I can’t go along with (or even understand!) all they say but it is enough to keep alive my search for a God that makes sense for me in the modern world.
For that reason I do not accept the label of agnostic either, partly because I don’t want to go through life as a ‘don’t know’
and partly because it makes me easy game to folk tougher and cleverer than myself who can dismiss me as a fence-sitter.
There is also the interesting philosophical and psychological point that negative arguments are always stronger than positive optimistic ones – witness the power of bad news in press and TV and the popularity of black comedy and cynical stand-up comedians.
No! one does not have to be an atheist to enjoy philosophy.
However, anybody who studies philosophy will fairly quickly have to consider the question of the existence of a God or Gods and the influence of such on the world and its inhabitants. Until there is a universally acceptable proof of such existence, the belief of such must remain one of faith, or possibly the desire for such an existence. I would certainly not be able to accept that Dawkins views are either outdated or those of a “flat-earther” as they are mainly based upon scientific evidence and of evolution backed up by the results of Palaeontology, such as the work of the Leaky family. Nigel Warburton is careful not to express a conclusion on any of the topics he discusses but rather to present accepted arguments both for and against the topic in order to show how they should be looked at and discussed.
All of this leaves plenty of room to enjoy philosophy; regardless of the conclusion arrived at concerning religion.
Many thanks. My only disappointment is that I did not make clearer that I was not suggesting that Richard Dawkins views are those of a “flat-earther”. I have more respect for scientific evidence than that and for the ongoing scientific research you mention. On the contrary, I was saying that there are plenty of “flat-earther” theists around and if you take their view of God it is all too easy for Dawkins and Co to dispose of their outdated beliefs. If the article suggests that I think all scientific searching is inferior in any way I would be disappointed.