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On Dis(guising)belief


The surprising popularity (especially to them) of the antitheistic rants of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens threatens to establish a kind of respectability for varieties of unbelief.

British intellectual Jonathan Miller is pleased to see "disbelief, now free from persecution" and "much more out in the open."  In an interview in the July-August 2007 issue of The Humanist, Miller reiterates the common complaints of unbelievers against belief in God -- that it is "absurd," "logically incoherent," and doesn't "make sense" -- and is gratified that American "disbelievers" no longer need to be ashamed or embarrassed by their views.  Miller doesn't expect to see religion disappearing any time soon.  He believes "there are all sorts of reasons why religion survives and flourishes," but they're apparently not good enough for him to give belief in God a second thought; he doesn't "even want to carry on the conversation."

Miller is the producer of a series entitled A Brief History of Unbelief which Bill Moyers and others are championing for PBS, and which would certainly help to firm up unbelief's emerging status.

Before this goes too far, however, some clarification is in order.  Those who claim to be atheists, unbelievers, or disbelievers give the impression that, because they don't believe in the God of the Bible, they don't "believe" at all.  They're guided by "logical coherence" and "views" that "make sense," apart from anything so nebulous, credulous, and irrational as faith.  But, in a real sense, there's no such thing as an unbeliever or a disbeliever -- or even an atheist, for that matter.  All non-Christians believe in something, and all people hold to some ultimate "views" and beliefs which serve for them in the same role the God of the Bible does for Christians.  They may only believe in the reliability of unaided reason, or hard science, or mere intuition, or whatever, but believe they do, and they should not be allowed to disguise the fact or nature of their personal faith by referring to it as unbelief or disbelief.  Rather, it is another belief, another faith, an alternative worldview that is as much dependent on ultimately unprovable presuppositions as is faith in Jesus Christ.  The debate, therefore, is not between belief and unbelief, but between different systems of belief, and the onus falls on each to demonstrate, across a wide range of questions, which is the most logically coherent, which makes the best sense, and which is, in fact, absurd.


Comments:

(My apologies for this delayed response, I've been away from 'The Internet' for a week) Marilyn, Unfortunately your last response to me on this thread shows why I enjoy being away from the Internet for a week: Not much on it seems to be communicated properly. (I can't tell, for instance, if you meant your response to be tongue-in-cheek/sarcastic). For, we most certainly do not agree on the why or the what of Morality. Did you read the last paragraph of my last response? In any case, I don't think this discussion will move any further, unless you understand what our differences are. Steve
Two things, Lee. Who "really" wrote Flew's book? Check out his co-author and the relationship between them over the past few years. The next thing is, I know I've talked with you on a different post. On that post I suggested we continue this conversation off line. It seems we have deterriorated into straw dogs and name calling. I don't think we should impose our discourse on others any longer. So, if you want to continue our conversation contact me at lacourt@wi.rr.com One more thing. I sign my full name because I stand by what I say. You can google me and find out more about me. I don't know who you are. I don't even have your last name. I don't know which organization or which authority for whom you are speaking.
Marilyn wrote: "Oh come on Lee, Now you've got me mad." Well, I don't like it when people are angry with me, but I do think it's important for people to feel passion. In my opinion, passion is the fuel that guides progress. (Knowledge provides the steering, and reason provides the brakes.) I hope 300 of my best friends don't all pounce at once on the things you said, since I believe you're more in need of education than correction. To me, they show that you don't know the Bible at all, so you're condemning it (and us with it) out of ignorance. For example, my Bible furiously promotes Semitism, not anti-Semitism. That's such a fundamental difference that I must assume you're not really familiar with what the Bible says. Everything else you said is similarly striking in its demonstration of your unfamiliarity with the Book and its people. You also wrote: "I will probably be sorry I posted this. My venting will change nothing. Your mind is already made up." Actually, my mind changed a lot based on your posting. I thought you were criticizing us from a background of actually knowing us, rather than merely from (in the etymological sense of this word, not the pejorative) prejudice. And I hope many things would change based on your venting. In particular, I hope you wouldn't be sorry that we open up a dialog between us - if you're willing. If Antony Flew could debate believers for over 50 years from a standpoint of tolerance and mutual respect, I think we could do the same for at least a few days or weeks. I learn at least a little something from everyone who disagrees with me. I hope you'd afford me the opportunity. I apologize for getting you upset. I don't apologize for getting you sufficiently passionate to have a real (instead of a distant) relationship with me and my fellow believers, even if it was for only one posting.
Oh come on Lee, Now you've got me mad. Your bible condones slavery. Yes, people make up the rules, and they change. Your bible promotes antisemitism. Your bible promotes bigotry. eg. homosexuals should cut off their genitals???? Are these the morals you want to adopt for yourself? I'm not saying that people always hit the mark when they make up the rules. I am saying all the rules, yes all the rules were made up by people. If you follow the rules of Jesus, you will be following rules of conduct that were preached at a time when people were convinced that end times were a comin. 200 years later they are still waiting. Jesus told people to leave their wives and families to follow him. "Let the dead bury the dead". No time for a funeral. It was all based on the hope for a life after death. John's, gospels were written last, some 100 years after Jesus. His gospel is the only one that proposes that you can be saved by faith alone. The Catholics like that one. Make a perfect act of contrition and you are saved. You can be saved every week. The Baptists think pouring water on your head is required for salvation. The old testament is full of violent acts condoned by god. Rape was condoned, and Jesus said to uphold the laws of the old testament. People were torchured and killed in the name of their god. But, it took the new testament writers to create hell. How violent is that? Now people are not just killed and torchured in this life, they will burn for eternity. How violent is that? No thank you. My morals are better than that. I will probably be sorry I posted this. My venting will change nothing. Your mind is already made up. Marilyn
Marilyn wrote: "Morality, a code of conduct put forward by a society. Since people made up god, they also made up the rules of the game. Fortunately for us the rules of the game change with the times." Wow, that's confusing. I'm trying to think of a society that has ever had universal internal agreement on all issues of morality. And worse, I can think of many societies that differed with each other on issues of morality, to the distress of one or both. So if one society promotes anti-Semitism and genocide as good, Marilyn, then those are just "the rules of the game" that come with changing times? And therefore other societies that are contemporary have no moral obligation to intervene? I.e., you're saying that genocide (and torture, and rape,...) are not always wrong at all places and at all times. Wow; I hope for your sake there's never a Holocaust for atheists...
If the basis of morality is self-interest why do soldiers often despise enemies who run and admire those who stay?
Well Steve, I guess we are on the same page after all. Morality, a code of conduct put forward by a society. Since people made up god, they also made up the rules of the game. Fortunately for us the rules of the game change with the times. Now we can go on being moral people and even agree on the why of it all. Best Regards, Marilyn
Dear Marilyn, (I thank you for your kind wishes). I do think we can agree that we are both moral people. But it's also possible that we are living as though morals were real when in fact they are just a 'social construction' with no foundational 'oughtness'. That is, sure, I can behave morally... but "ought" I to? We are at least asking the same questions: "In other words, upon what do we base our choice to behave with good will towards each other?" But why should we choose to behave with good will? Why not choose to behave with ill will? (There is nothing stopping us once we have made the choice to follow either path.) I understand that you respond to this with the 'story of evolution'. Survival, cooperation etc. But this misses the point. It's a story of "why we act this way", but not why we should act this way. You say: "All living things seek their own survival, and quite selfishly, the survival of their species. This is the basis of morality." But you've said that the better cooperation of tribes within the species is what helped them to survive. In other words, it's good for "tribes" within the species to cooperate in order to weed out other "tribes" within the species. What is the # of individuals that need to make up said "tribe"? Are two people enough? Say, two people who cooperate to steal from and kill two other people? There is no reason to say this is bad behavior. It makes good evolutionary sense. Or say, genocide... this is something your story describes nicely. (Also, selfish behavior is not good moral behavior. Also, why should living things seek their own survival? Why this drive to live in life? Also, why should we insure the environment will be inhabitable for future generations of our species? Because our Genes tell us to? There is no reason to from an atheist worldview, other than falling back on something like "Because we should". But of course there are no foundational oughts in an atheistic worldview) Honestly, this story makes no moral (or to me logical) sense of the situation and it misses the point of what the foundation of morality is. You say it is natural selecting evolution. But this really doesn't solve the problem... at all. In fact it opens the door for any behavior that makes the species survive, via selfishly cooperating tribes... or something. To answer, basically, your challenge: "Christians would still be sacrificing their own children to their higher power"?? Have you ever read the Christian scriptures that you are wailing against? Do you believe that was once practiced by Christians? Though some cultural behaviors are constantly changing, the moral principles stay the same. It's bad to steal someone's sheep 2000 years ago. It's bad to steal someone's XBOX today. But more than that, morality isn't just a set of do/don't rules. This is one thing the New Testament makes clear. Loving God, and loving People, entails an active, loving, Spirit (not law) based, behavior. This is based on God's revealed character, especially in Jesus Christ, as the example and foundation of our being and life. (This is really something that can be talked about in great detail and length, which I've only touched on). In a sense, we do obey a moral law, if it is given by a Moral Lawgiver. Whether this Moral Lawgiver can be proved to exist, or further, whether his existence would be reasonably accepted by skeptics, is another question. But, my point is that an atheist worldview has no moral law, no Moral Lawgiver, no basis for morality, no ability to be truly good to another person. Take care Marilyn, Steve
Okay, Steve. I give you one more shot at it, and then, it’s my turn to ask the questions. I think we can agree that we are both moral people. We are beyond the insults and the put-downs. The question is why are we moral people? In other words, upon what do we base our choice to behave with good will towards each other? I suggest that human morality comes from our evolution, our growing up in the universe if you will, the imperceptibly slow process of natural selection for survival of the fit. Do not confuse the fit with the fittest in the sense of the strongest toughest most violent bullies would out survive weaker victims via competition and brute force. The fit is also a concept that describes how we fit with, and adapt to our environment, and, of course our environment includes the other people with whom we share this turf. Cooperation has something to do with our survival. As we evolved slowly from what we now consider lower forms of us, yes, apes, some mutations occurred because our survival depended upon cooperation between us. Yes, tribal cooperation. Tribes competed with other tribes. But those of us who were better at cooperating within our tribes survived better than those of us who stayed behind on the evolutionary selection survival scale. We learned how to survive by cooperating with others, and with our material environment I might add. The cooperators survived better and passed their genes on to their progeny. This is a process of natural selection that is still going on. Cooperators have, so far, out-survive their lesser-evolved predecessors. All living things seek their own survival, and quite selfishly, the survival of their species. This is the basis of morality. Richard Dawkins stated, "Reciprocal cooperation is the best survival strategy for our species." Reciprocal cooperation by the way includes taking care of our material environment, our home, and doing all we can to insure it will be inhabitable for furture generations of our species. This is the basis for my “atheistic” morality. I showed you mine, now you show me yours. I think religious morality is based on obedience to an absolute and archaic authority. Like I said earlier, if there is an absolute morality according to the never changing scriptures, Christians would still be sacrificing their own children to their higher power, the authority of ancient texts written by men who lived in a very very very different world than the one we currently understand and share. Now it’s my turn, I challenge you. I say, “People of faith base their morality on obeying an authority whose existence cannot be proven.” Now you tell me, upon what, if not obedience do you attribute your morality? I wish you only good things, Steve. Marilyn LaCourt
Marilyn, I'm sorry if this is going to be a little disjointed: But I wasn't sure where to begin. "I don’t believe honesty is a “thing” that exists outside of behaviors we exhibit toward one another. Same goes for freedom, loyalty, love, justice and charity." I agree in the sense that we cannot have these 'qualities' if we do not have personal beings. But honesty or dishonesty requires more than mere behavior to be honesty or dishonesty (or loyalty to be loyalty or justice to be justice). Behavior only indicates what IS, not the value of the behavior. Once you decide that behavior has value, you've 'stepped outside' the behavior by judging the behavior. On what do you judge the behavior? Your emotions? Utilitarian reasons? On what do you judge these Utilitarian reasons? What happens when someone disagrees with you? Do you honestly think everyone's best interest and survival has been, or could only be acheived by being fair? And why is your survival/quality of life the ultimate goal? What happens when someone's survival/quality of life conflicts with yours? It's just resolved on the hoped for wish (that everyone involved in hopefully shares) for peace? ... just because? I'm not saying the pursuit of these things is bad or undesirable, I'm saying that your worldview has no ground to stand on when it comes to judging morality. You have made several groundless assumptions. Whether or not you think you have a basis for morality doesn't mean you do. To be "insulted" only shows your inability to live within your worldview, which shows you should reject it. How can there possibly be an objective standard that judges whether I have wronged you or not? You claim you are insulted, I claim the opposite. Well, which is it? And how did you come to that conclusion? I should be 'fair'? I ought to claim responsibility for my actions? Why? Why use this metaphysical value system? Why be nice? ... just because? Don't you see the circular / groundless reasoning? "I am glad that religion is a social system constructed by man, a system that evolves as times and circumstances change. Otherwise people of faith would still be obeying their god by sacrificing animals and children." And this is the logic you are using: "In 5000 years (i.e. the year 7007) when the social system constructed by man has changed with the times and we are sacrificing our children, I'm glad that we aren't following the old socially constructed system, where people didn't sacrifice animals and children" Or, are you saying that you think there's an objective standard that should be applied over the current social system constructed by man? (Obviously you aren't - Atheists can't do that). I look forward to your response, Steve
Marilyn, Have you read the comments on other threads responding to you in re: to what faith is? I don't really understand this comment of yours: "There’s a difference between believing something exists and believing something is valuable, something to be achieved." Firstly, what is the difference? Secondly, you, as a 'good' atheist, MUST make your claims of belief in something valuable without any basis. An atheist worldview provides no evidence FOR morality. In fact, your position is a position of blind faith against the claims of your worldview and is complete and utter wishful thinking. You believe in things such as loyalty, justice, and charity? Why? You wish it so? There is no justice or injustice in a material universe. You believe in telling the truth? You're completely ignoring the position of your worldview. Atheism, sadly, leads to nihilism, and any atheist who doesn't say this is lying or deluded. At best, now, your position is pitiable (and I mean that in a very real sense). You can only say something like "Buck up people, let's live as though our actions were 'good' or 'bad', let's ignore the ramifications of our philosophy yet claim to be living by truth." Once you come to see the fundamental error, then your journey can move on to the nature of the supernatural (of which the properties are not yet important at this stage).
T.M.Moore, "But, in a real sense, there's no such thing as an unbeliever or a disbeliever -- or even an atheist, for that matter." You have just denied my very existence. You go on to say, "they (I) should not be allowed to disguise the fact or nature of their (my) personal faith by referring to it as unbelief or disbelief." I hate when "people of faith" do that! "Faith" is a bully word used to discount what and how atheists believe. Theists claim that atheists have "faith" in evolution. No we don't. Theists want Intelligent Design, you know the shtick, god did it, to share equal status in public school science classrooms. That's just dirty pool. Of course, atheists believe some things, even some things without "knowing". I believe the cars will stop when the light is red allowing me to cross the street safely. Why? It's not faith, it's trust that allows me to get from one side of the street to the other. We trust based on evidence and probabilities. Faith requires no evidence and the probabilities need be not much more than nil. So please, please, do not discount what and how atheists hold beliefs. There’s a difference between believing something exists and believing something is valuable, something to be achieved. Of course we good atheists believe in all the good moral stuff good people of faith believe in, freedom, love, loyalty, justice, charity, etc. These are values we embrace, something positive to be achieved. We do not believe in God, gods, fairies, ghosts, heaven, hell, or being coerced into good behavior out of fear. I like to think an atheist is a person who believes in telling the truth and taking responsibility for our deeds, both the good and the bad. Marilyn LaCourt
Unless, of course, you consider that there's a certain boldness that attaches to belief in God, such that one feels free even to use one's own name without fear. (Sorry, but the irony is striking.) In fact, when a supernatural being appears suddenly in the Bible, the first thing they usually say to the nearby humans is "Do not be afraid". Those of us who take that to heart are, in my experience anyway, more capable of living lives without fear than are those who deny the supernatural. T.M. is more than capable of responding to your main point, so I'll leave that to him.
Dear T.M. Moore, I stumbled upon your post while looking for a copy of Dr. Miller's "A Brief History of Unbelief" to buy. (So far, I have had no luck, by the way.) I must say that the question of a basis in fact for the postulates of a system unbelief is really not very interesting. In fact it seems a red herring and evidently an attempt to confer upon unbelief the intellectual equivalence to faith. This seems an odd thing for you to do since, to me, the true value of the recent bellicose "atheist authors" is the extent that they do "establish a kind of respectability for varieties of unbelief", the very respectability that you initially seem to dismiss as risible. In fact, in unbelief these postulates are subject to testing and reconsideration. For example, if I take as postulates the values of human welfare and human freedom, then I am forced to consider the extent to which these values contradict each other. That is, I must make a true moral judgment. If on the other hand one pretends that their instructions are god given and immutable, then you become incapable of considering their potentially awful consequences. The obvious and important truth demonstrated by these thinkers is that belief in god is in no way superior to disbelief in god. Not morally, not intellectually, not practically.
Steve SBK You say, “I don't really understand this comment of yours: "There’s a difference between believing something exists and believing something is valuable, something to be achieved." Firstly, what is the difference? Honesty, for example, is something to be valued. It would be more appropriate to say I value honesty, than to say I “believe in” honesty. I value being honest, and I expect honesty from others because I think it’s important to get along with others. Being honest works toward establishing good relationships that benefit all of us. I don’t believe honesty is a “thing” that exists outside of behaviors we exhibit toward one another. Same goes for freedom, loyalty, love, justice and charity. You state, “you, as a 'good' atheist, MUST make your claims of belief in something valuable without any basis. To claim that atheists have no basis for morality is both erroneous and insulting. We are social animals evolved by natural selection. If we wish to live in peace with our neighbors we will not cheat, steal, kill, etc. To value being just, fair, caring etc. is in the best interest of our survival and to the quality of our lives as we journey hopefully in harmony with others who share these values. We hold ourselves responsible for our behaviors, the good and the bad. We trust evidence and probabilities when determining whether something is true or false. This is the basis for our morality. People of faith base their morality on obedience to an authority whose existence cannot be proven. I am glad that religion is a social system constructed by man, a system that evolves as times and circumstances change. Otherwise people of faith would still be obeying their god by sacrificing animals and children. For some Islamic people, obedience means they must sacrifice their lives and the lives of innocent others. Hopefully one day Islam will evolve past such incredible violence. Have a nice day, Steve Marilyn LaCourt