Saturday, January 1, 2011

Atheism: A Basis

A recent theme that has re-emerged in my life, mostly due to the holidays, has been the philosophic basis for atheism.

Skipping definitions and relying upon common uses for words, the standard question I receive is, "Why don't you believe in God?" As I use the big A word as opposed to the little A word, the question is more earnest, if rarely an attack. The simplest reply that doesn't ruffle feathers is, "I don't have a reason to do so"

But this isn't the entire reason for my atheism. Within my life the God hypothesis has been "falsified", in any sense of the word that this can be meaningful. This isn't to say that God can't be, as clearly falsification isn't the end-all and be-all of enquiry (Or even scientific enquiry). This is only to say that I have always been interested in theology, have prayed, have meditated, have read holy books, have attended several services, and have even had experiences that mirror what others describe as God. If all that one means by "God" is "A feeling of warmth one may experience when at calm or in a particularly beautiful or sublime aesthetic experience which helps guide one to a moral walk in life, albeit confusedly" then sure -- I'm a theist. I felt this long ago in acting, in having sex, in looking at works of art, in philosophy, in science, and so on.

The problem I tend to encounter within countering atheists as well as in speaking with theists is a singular assumption that atheism implies material reductionism: Physics and Determinism are the basis of all reality, and those namby-pamby feelings are merely illusions to which you are a slave to!But are they?What exactly is meant by "Real"? What does this word connote, denote, mean, and why is the scientific description of the world MORE real than, say, a person’s theological standpoint? Does "Reality" admit of degrees? Is the one "noumenally Real", and the other merely "Phenomonon"? I certainly do not think this is the case. Further, on the basis of "Occam's Razor" no dualisms are permittable (though I have other reasons to stand against dualism). If an atheist rejects Occam's razor, but is still a material reductionist, that would be a person whom I'd be interested in having a discussion with. The first question in this paragraph will be my starting point for arguing contra material reductionism.

So, why atheism? While theism can mean many, many, many things, and I'm certainly open to this sort of a discussion, theism, within America, still has a very simplistic basis that has a very strong influence on American culture. To those theists that find the atheists out of bounds: I encourage you to speak. You should be more offended by this simplistic theism that is easily refuted, thereby inspiring the hubris of atheists, than atheists are -- yet it is the atheists who are speaking.

What do I mean by simplistic theism? A theism unconsidered, that uses an elementary notion of faith as a shield against questioning. A theism whose only recourse to scientific argument is to reference the infallibility of the Bible. A theism that is tied to Republican politics (as opposed to a theist who is also a Republican). A theism that can't find a love in their heart for homosexuality. A theism that claims to know God. These are simplistic theisms, and in comparison to the high-and-mighty self proclaimed horse of the atheists, the atheist position, while not merely negative and thereby in need of argumentation, comes across as stronger.

As for my argument: I don't think God is either non-falsifiable or incomprehensible, in the same way that I don't think that matter is incomprehensible or non-falsifiable. What I do think, however, is that arguments for God tend to put the cart before the horse -- they are decided beforehand. Now, this can mean one of two things, as far as I can tell: One, God is simply a metaphor for understanding the world, an interpretive lens that provides categories through which one may communicate on a pragmatic basis with other believers, or interpret certain contexts such as morality and judgment to pragmatic ends. Two: God is a presupposition which one believes in not by choice, but is "triggered" by background, environment, and personal characteristics. I find neither condition blameworthy, mutually exclusive, nor does either actually negate the possibility of the standard metaphysical God. But such descriptions of theism and God are the reasons why I am an atheist. Theistic culture, from my perspective, confusedly shifts the referent of God from the culture and values themselves to a grand metaphysical system of rewards and punishment that has, in my interpretation, immoral implications. If there were no metaphysical construct giving these moral precepts an infallibility, then there may be room for discourse to change them in light of new contexts. But there is no such device within the theism which influences a large number of Americans.

Epistemically, I have no argument contra theism. I have no problem with hinge propositions. However, with Kant, I argue that God is implicated by morality -- yet the morality of our modern Gods is immoral, and I refuse to consent to such a Kingdom of Ends. Ergo, I am not a mere epistemic agnostic; though epistemically I have qualms here and there with the atheists, to me ethics is a stronger compulsion for acting than epistemology. As far as I can tell, to make an argument from an internal perspective, the first commandment has been broken: other Gods have been placed before God -- God, the symbol, for the culture of men. And so Atheism, not as a simple pondering of the Problem of Evil (which, if one accepts God, I don't think is a problem; Leibniz's Best of All Possible Worlds and all that razzle-dazzle), is a moral choice against a deeply Christian nation. I have no desire to abolish all of God, though I don't believe in him. But I certainly wish to negate those who use what could be a beautiful concept for some towards alienating homosexuality, promoting patriarchy and militarism, creating an Other in Islam, supporting Capitalism, and generally promoting right-wing politics. And, as things sit, a large enough number of theists make the atheist camp more worthwhile.

Additionally, I just find sleeping in on Sunday and premarital sex to be more holy than falling asleep on a hard wooden pew and lying about not having premarital sex.

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