The God Who May Be, part 2

In the previous post, I introduced a book by philosopher Richard Kearney:  The God Who May Be: A Hermeneutics of Religion. (The link takes you to a review of the book, which provides a helpful overview of its contents.)

I must qualify everything that follows by pointing out that I haven’t yet read “The God Who May Be”. I have heard what amounts to a popular account of his view, via the CBC radio program Ideas, and I have read a few online reviews of the book.

In the radio program, Kearney argued that atheism is not an endpoint, as its advocates suppose it to be. Nor, on the other hand, is atheism the evil that theists suppose it to be. Kearney regards atheism as a necessary stage in the human journey.

Atheism serves the valuable function of delivering us from the worst excesses of religion. Kearney need look no further than his own country of origin, Ireland, to illustrate the harmful effects of religious intolerance.

But the true enemy of the common weal is not theism but dogmatism. Insofar as atheists mirror religion by sinking into an equivalent dogmatism, atheism is not a suitable stopping place on the human pilgrimmage. We must journey beyond dogmatic theism and beyond dogmatic atheism to embrace uncertainty. God neither is nor is not, but may be.

Contrary to popular Christianity, God is and will remain alien to us:  “other”, in philosophical jargon. God can never be grasped, known, possessed, mastered.

Theologians have acknowledged as much for a long time now. Popular Christianity may regard God as a familiar acquaintaince, akin to an ideal human Parent. But serious theologians recognize that even our best attempts to define God are reductionist; they are mere analogies which ultimately break down.

Kearney illustrates the point by referring to Christ’s transfiguration. The disciples thought they had come to know Jesus — but then they encountered his unbridgeable Otherness. In his transfigured state, Jesus transcended all the familiar categories by which the disciples might have defined him.

Kearney emphasizes the eschatological orientation of Christianity:  God is always future, always just out of sight over the horizon. God is possibility, the God who is May-Be, the One who calls us beyond the present toward a promised future (God’s kingdom). God offers us the hope of transformation. God calls, we listen; we answer.

Kearney reminds us that Jesus is not the terminus — the end point of the journey — but the Way. We must choose,

either to transform our world according to the Christic icon of the end-to-come; or to fix Christ as a fetish whose only end is itself.

Here’s my quick response to the above summary. First, Kearney’s position might be interpreted as a variant form of agnosticism. He denies that God is (even if he also denies that God is not). He affirms, instead, that God may be.

Kearney argues that God is unknowable, that certainty about God is unattainable. What is this if not agnosticism of a different stripe?

On the other hand, Kearney’s convictions are still recognizable as Christianity. He takes biblical texts as his starting point, offering fresh interpretations of them. In particular, he emphasizes the Gospel accounts of Jesus. And he operates within the eschatological orientation that is a distinctive of Christianity.

Kearney is forging a path beyond theism, through atheism, to a kind of baptized agnosticism. He abandons certainty, but retains a robust worldview:  a worldview with explanatory power; one which offers meaning, hope, and guidance for daily living.

But how can we know anything whatsoever about Kearney’s God, a deity who is irreducibly Other?

[more to come …]

Advertisements

26 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. honestpoet
    Jan 02, 2007 @ 11:23:01

    Wonderful post. I just wrote one myself dealing with my own “mystical atheism.” I’m going to have to check out this book, I think.

    I’ve been thinking lately that atheism is a necessary phase to get us away from the evils of religion, that whatever intelligence the universe (or multi-verse) has must be horrified at what we’re doing to each other.

    Reply

  2. juggling mother
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 16:19:26

    I tried to comment erlier, but WordPress was playing silly buggers!

    In my experiance, most people who believe in a “spiritual essence” of some kind would describe them selves as spiritualists or agnostics, rather than atheists who tend to not believe in any supernatural guiding force, so to see theism as a phase of religious belief seems like wishful thinking more than anything else:-)

    Although I do believe that we (humanity) will gradually move away from hierarchial religions and towards more personalised individual belief system (as appears to be happening in the more secularised parts of the world already), but i think it is many, many generations away yet:-(

    I think I explained it better last time:-( Hope that makes sense.

    Reply

  3. Michael (a.k.a. Snaars)
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 22:36:27

    Kearney rejects both atheism and theism. He asserts, “God neither is nor is not but may be.” He speaks of “the God who is May-Be”.

    Kearney argued that atheism is not an endpoint, as its advocates suppose it to be. Nor, on the other hand, is atheism the evil that theists suppose it to be. Kearney regards atheism as a necessary stage in the human journey.

    I’m intrigued, as Kearney is both a philosopher and (presumably) a man of faith. Having not yet read the book, it seems as though he is saying that we should accept (at least one or some) atheistic arguments, and still believe on at least one basis – that we are uncertain of our knowledge. It doesn’t seem like a very strong argument to me, but I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve read it carefully.

    In particular, I’m wondering about the semantics of the phrase, “god that may-be.” Is he suggesting that God may come-to-be, or that perhaps God-is, but we don’t/can’t know? Is this a variant of process theology?

    In classical logic, there is a rule known as the law of the excluded middle, that says that for any proposition p (at time t), p is either true or false, but not both. Is Kearney asserting that God both is and is-not, or is he just withholding belief in either? I’m also wondering at his methodology – does he use formal modal logic to support his claims (or can his arguments be interpreted in a formal fashion)?

    the true enemy of the common weal is not theism but dogmatism.

    Amen to that!

    But how can we know anything whatsoever about Kearney’s God, a deity who is irreducibly Other?

    I’ve heard theists of all stripes acknowledge the fact that God is ultimately completely mysterious and other. I’m curious how Kearney handles it.

    Lastly, I’m wondering what questions will be asked/answered that I haven’t even considered! (I ordered the book yesterday and expect it to arrive in a week or so!)

    Reply

  4. Michael (a.k.a. Snaars)
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 22:39:47

    In my experiance, most people who believe in a “spiritual essence” of some kind would describe them selves as spiritualists or agnostics, rather than atheists who tend to not believe in any supernatural guiding force,

    I agree. In my experience, sometimes atheism is a stepping stone toward something like pantheism, but once that happens, those people tend not to describe themselves as atheists anymore.

    Reply

  5. honestpoet
    Jan 04, 2007 @ 00:15:31

    I actually moved from pantheism to atheism.

    Reply

  6. Simen
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 14:01:04

    What use is a concept of God that you can’t know anything about? It doesn’t explain anything. It has no effect on your life whatsoever; since you cannot know anything about this God, you don’t have any reason or ability to take any actions based on it. It is like saying “Reality is God”, which it seems to me is what some pantheists say, except it says even less. Such a vague god-concept is useless except perhaps as an abstract model of the unknowable – but if you wanted to have an abstract model of the unknowable, why confuse it with God?

    I find such vague concepts useless. I thought of myself as an agnostic for a while until I realized that the only way for there to be a god that can’t be disproved by science, is that it must either never concern itself with humans, or be so vague that it could encompass practically anything.

    This Kearney’s god-concept seems to be completely useless.

    Reply

  7. Stephen
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 16:59:58

    • Honestpoet:
    I’m sure you’re right. If there’s a god, s/he must be horrified by the things that are justified in the name of religion.

    • JM:
    In my experiance, most people who believe in a “spiritual essence” of some kind would describe them selves as spiritualists or agnostics … so to see theism as a phase of religious belief seems like wishful thinking more than anything else.

    I don’t think Kearney’s point is that believers should cease to be theists, but that they should cease to be dogmatic. I’ve pinned the label agnostic on Kearney, but I assume he would actually self-identify as a theist — a Christian.

    • Michael:
    It seems as though [Kearney] is saying that we should … still believe on at least one basis – that we are uncertain of our knowledge. It doesn’t seem like a very strong argument to me.

    I agree. I’ve listened to the radio broadcast, and Kearney didn’t offer anything by way of apologetics. (Or, if he did, I didn’t catch the significance of it.). I’m curious whether the book mounts a case for the possibility of God’s existence — I presume it does.

    In particular, I’m wondering about the semantics of the phrase, “god that may-be.” Is he suggesting that God may come-to-be, or that perhaps God-is, but we don’t/can’t know?

    This is an ambiguity that puzzled me, too. Is he saying only that God may (or may not) exist? Or is he saying that God’s existence is indeterminate, and is somehow up to us to call God into being? Or perhaps he’s saying something else, different from either of those options.

    And, like you, I wondered how Kearney can deny both the existence and the non-existence of God. This is the sort of slight of hand that philosophers love that tends to leave me cold. Still, the book looks provocative and Kearney’s conclusions seem similar to mine, on the surface. So I want to know more.

    • Simen:
    What use is a concept of God that you can’t know anything about? It doesn’t explain anything. … you don’t have any reason or ability to take any actions based on it.

    I understand the force of this argument. But Kearney rejects dogmatism while assuming that we can still achieve some insight into God’s nature. He attempts to retain a recognizably Christian understanding of God, while reconceptualizing the faith in light of modern knowledge.

    I am inclined to mirror your argument back at you. You don’t know for certain that God doesn’t exist, yet you live as if there’s no God. That’s a big leap without an adequate foundation.

    Everyone has a philosophy by which they order their lives. For some, the philosophy is unconscious, not subjected to critical examination. Nonetheless, it still exists.

    Kearney has chosen a philosophy which seems both reasonable and meaningful to him. Therefore it is not “useless”, as you charge. It fulfils a purpose in his life.

    This post argues that certainty is unattainable. In light of that inescapable uncertainty, how then shall we live?

    Many atheists are just disillusioned theists. They were once certain that God existed, and then they realized that there are serious objections to theism. But the pendulum doesn’t have to swing to the opposite extreme, a purely naturalistic, mechanistic view of the cosmos.

    Atheism does not automatically follow just because certainty eludes us. It is possible, instead, to embrace a non-dogmatic approach to theism — the choice Kearney has made.

    Reply

  8. Simen
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 17:37:36

    I am inclined to mirror your argument back at you. You don’t know for certain that God doesn’t exist, yet you live as if there’s no God. That’s a big leap without an adequate foundation.

    Well, the default for any for any claim is to assume it is untrue until proven otherwise. Because we have no evidence for a god, it is only reasonable to assume there is no god. You take the same position on all claims – the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Russel’s Teapot and so on.

    Kearney has chosen a philosophy which seems both reasonable and meaningful to him. Therefore it is not “useless”, as you charge. It fulfils a purpose in his life.

    If my belief in green men on Mars fulfills a purpose in my life, does that give this belief any more merit? Certainly, one can conceive of all manner of ideas to fulfill various purposes in one’s life, but what merit do those ideas have for others? An idea should be judged independently of its origin.

    Many atheists are just disillusioned theists. They were once certain that God existed, and then they realized that there are serious objections to theism. But the pendulum doesn’t have to swing to the opposite extreme, a purely naturalistic, mechanistic view of the cosmos.

    It seems the most reasonable choice to me. Either there is a god, or there isn’t. There’s not so many ways that pendulum can swing.

    Atheism does not automatically follow just because certainty eludes us. It is possible, instead, to embrace a non-dogmatic approach to theism — the choice Kearney has made.

    When faced with uncertainty, what makes you choose theism over atheism? I don’t see how. Most people who label themselves agnostics live as though there is no god, or at least not a specific god but rather a possible god-concept.

    In my mind (and bear in mind this blog post is all I’ve heard about this philosophy) this argument is extremely shallow. It basically says “We don’t know; therefore, do this.” Why do this instead of that? If we can’t know anything about God, there’s no way we can lead our lives using God as a guideline, because any advice would be equally valid and invalid, since we can’t know anything about God.

    Insofar as atheists mirror religion by sinking into an equivalent dogmatism, atheism is not a suitable stopping place on the human pilgrimmage.

    Exactly how do atheists mirror dogmatic religion? Remember, atheists share nothing but their lack of belief in a god. All religions provide at least some guidelines besides “believe in God”.

    Reply

  9. Stephen
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 18:39:00

    The default for any for any claim is to assume it is untrue until proven otherwise.

    Says who? Science says, that’s who. But who says science gets to set the ground rules of the debate?

    Here you introduce a question of onus, and therefore of bias. For example, our legal system puts the onus on the state to prove the guilt of the accused. This onus biases trials in favour of acquitals. Other legal systems put the onus on the accused to prove his or her innocence. That onus biases trials in favour of guilty verdicts.

    By placing the onus on me to prove God’s existence, you bias the argument in favour of atheism.

    I insist that each of us has an equal obligation to prove the validity of our position. Since neither of us can ultimately succeed (because science can only speculate about the origins of the cosmos) uncertainty attaches to both of our positions equally.

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster is a straw man, since no one sincerely believes in such a thing. I have no interest in following you down that path.

    Reply

  10. Stephen
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 18:45:41

    I should acknowledge that you make a legitimate point, that not all solutions to a riddle are equally likely to be valid.

    I haven’t read Kearney’s book yet, so I can’t tell you what arguments he marshalls in support of his position. But, when it comes to questions of the sort under discussion here, philosophers like Kearney are justified in debating the issues on philosophical grounds: which may not be the sorts of arguments that are useful to science.

    Reply

  11. Simen
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 19:50:35

    Here you introduce a question of onus, and therefore of bias. For example, our legal system puts the onus on the state to prove the guilt of the accused. This onus biases trials in favour of acquitals. Other legal systems put the onus on the accused to prove his or her innocence. That onus biases trials in favour of guilty verdicts.

    If someone wrongly accused you of a crime, should it be your responsibility to prove your innocence? The thing is, anyone can make a claim you did something wrong. Unless it is their responsibility to prove it, you’ll get more unfair trials.

    By placing the onus on me to prove God’s existence, you bias the argument in favour of atheism.

    I insist that each of us has an equal obligation to prove the validity of our position. Since neither of us can ultimately succeed (because science can only speculate about the origins of the cosmos) uncertainty attaches to both of our positions equally.

    No. There’s no bias to that. If there was conclusive evidence of God, theism would have been favorable.

    The reason why the burden of proof is on the one making a claim is that anyone can make a claim. I probably shouldn’t have brought the Flying Spaghetti Monster into this, because it is clearly making fun of believers. Rather, take Russell’s teapot, which only demonstrates burden of proof. If I assert that there’s a Chinese teapot floating around the cosmos, but conveniently add that it is too far away for science to see it, nobody can disprove my claim. Would you say that you have an obligation to prove the validity of your position of non-belief in my flying teapot? See, that’s the problem right there: the moment you make a claim that’s not immediately obvious, your speculation is as good as mine unless any of us have any evidence.

    This applies to philosophy as well. You don’t take anything for granted. I acknowledge that philosophical proof isn’t the same as scientific proof, and there’s no “philosophical method” for us to use as a guideline. But still, you need to prove your claims in some way. If I say “Morality arises from the fact that apples grow on trees,” I’m making a philosophical statement, but since there’s no proof whatsoever you shouldn’t believe me. The burden of proof needs to lie on the one making a claim, else any claim is as valid as any other.

    Saying “that’s a straw man becuase nobody would sincerely believe that” is wrong, because the question is not who believes it but rather if it is true.

    Reply

  12. Jamie
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 21:11:45

    Would you say that you have an obligation to prove the validity of your position of non-belief in my flying teapot? See, that’s the problem right there: the moment you make a claim that’s not immediately obvious, your speculation is as good as mine unless any of us have any evidence.

    Of course no one has an obligation to disprove the existence of the teapot, because there is no evidence that the teapot exists. It’s purely hypothetical. There is, however, evidence that (the Christian) God exists (the New Testament accounts being a major source of evidence, but not the only one). In order to be fair, atheists need to make a solid case why that evidence should be ignored. It’s not fair to just dismiss it, any more than it would be fair to simply dismiss evidence in a trial.

    Reply

  13. Stephen
    Jan 05, 2007 @ 23:37:40

    • Simen:
    In order to be able to debate an issue of this sort, one must be able to reason via analogy.

    You missed the point of my legal analogy. Of course if I was accused of a crime I would want the system to be biased in my favour! I’m not objecting to the way our courts function; I’m setting out to demonstrate a connection between onus and bias.

    By putting the onus of proof on me, you are biasing the debate in favour of atheism. If you can’t follow that reasoning, we’ll have to simply agree to disagree; there isn’t much point in continuing to dialogue.

    Again, I agree that the burden of proof is on anyone making a claim. What you fail to appreciate is that atheists and theists are both making a claim about reality. Theists bear the burden of proving that God exists, I agree; but atheists likewise bear the burden of proving that the cosmos came into being spontaneously, without a Creator. That too is a claim and not something that can merely be assumed without positive evidence to support it.

    This is precisely what I said in my previous comment: each of us has an equal obligation to prove the validity of our position.

    • Jamie:
    Some time I should get you to guest post, arguing the positive evidence for God’s existence.

    Reply

  14. honestpoet
    Jan 06, 2007 @ 00:22:30

    I would certainly like to see this evidence. I’ve done a lot of research, and I haven’t found a scrap of it that would hold up in any reasonable court. Nothing but fictions, hearsay, and forgeries.

    Reply

  15. juggling mother
    Jan 06, 2007 @ 04:29:30

    If we’re arguing about evidence for beliefs – surely a better analogy is aliens life visiting earth? Therew is plenty of evidence for this – far more individuals have been abducted than saw Jesus’ miracles, uncountable numbers have seen spacecraft in the sky, we even have crop circles to show where they’ve landed! (Umm, that’s about as far as my knowledge of alien “evidence” goes – I’m sure if I could be bothered to look there would be websites with far, far more!) However, I would say the world at large, the scientific community and (one assumes) all mainstream religious groups do not take this belief seriously as the “evidence” is decidedly anecdotal and untrustworthy. To ensure a general acceptance of Alien life visiting Earth we would require scientific evidence availabke in the public domain and replicable/empirical. Why is God any different?

    Of course – I do believe in alien life – somewhere & somewhen in the universe. How depressing to think Earth is a freakish accident:-) However, I defintiely don’t believe in secretive little green/grey men with a insatiable interst in American citizens!

    Reply

  16. Simen
    Jan 06, 2007 @ 08:41:23

    James: what evidence? That must be a sensation. The New Testament is worth no more for the proof of the Christian God than other ancient manuscripts are for the existence of Atlantis. It’s just a book, and it makes no attempt to justify its claims. So, please, present your evidence.

    Stephen: I only claim that the universe came about without a god. I don’t claim to know anything about how it did. Science has only hypotheses at the moment. You are the one claiming that God created the universe, with no proof whatsoever. If you feel that I need to prove my position’s validity, then you have an equal obligation to prove that it wasn’t a pirate or a unicorn or a spaghetti monster that created the world. You are the one making claims here, so you bear the burden of proof. I don’t know how the universe came about, because the most reliable source I have, namely science, doesn’t have the answer yet. Since I haven’t claimed anything besides my non-belief in a god, I don’t see what there is for me to prove.

    By putting the onus of proof on me, you are biasing the debate in favour of atheism. If you can’t follow that reasoning, we’ll have to simply agree to disagree; there isn’t much point in continuing to dialogue.

    I don’t point specifically at you and say it’s your responsibility to prove anything. I point at the fact that both in science and philosophy, the one making a claim is the one who must prove it. This is common practice, and there’s no bias to it. The moment I start asserting things about the origin of the universe, I’m the one who must prove it. The point is, I don’t claim to know.

    Juggling mother: that’s a good analogy. I guess most people dismiss the so-called evidence for aliens visiting the earth or ghosts, but that evidence is just as convincing, if not better than the purported evidence for God. Why should we dismiss this evidence? Because it is for fantastic claims? But wait a minute, God is a fantastic claim! How come God is allowed to have less evidence than UFOs or ghosts?

    Also, something totally unrelated. This website is the only one I can remember ever being to where I actually have to enlarge the text from the default to be able to read comfortably. Especially the comment section.

    Reply

  17. Stephen
    Jan 06, 2007 @ 11:30:25

    • Honestpoet, JM, Simen:

    I don’t want to get sidetracked into a discussion of the New Testament texts.

    Juggling Mother, who has followed my blog for over a year, knows that I have substantial knowledge of the scholarly literature on the New Testament. I have given a lot of thought to the origin and the reliability of the documents, so I’m certainly competent to offer an opinion. But it’s too much of a tangent from the topic of this particular post. No doubt I will return to it in a suitable fashion at some point.

    Re the more general question: Is there any evidence that God exists? I’d like to point out that there’s something peculiar about the debate on that topic. Some people see no evidence whatsoever; others see evidence under every rock and in every blade of grass.

    Why such an extreme divergence of opinion? Here’s a relevant excerpt from a Bruce Cockburn lyric:

    Little round planet
    In a big universe
    Sometimes it looks blessed
    Sometimes it looks cursed.
    Depends on what you look at obviously
    But even more it depends on the way that you see.
    (Child of the Wind)

    I like that last line, it depends on the way that you see. People in the thrall of science are convinced that they are looking at the data objectively. Bullshit! No one looks at anything objectively. The scientific worldview is a particular paradigm, and it cannot establish that it is the only valid paradigm.

    It’s a blind spot: here, illustrated by Simen’s inability to see atheism as a claim about reality that requires a defense. That’s a blinkered perspective, in my view, and hardly neutral. But readers can follow the dialogue and form their own conclusions.

    • Simen:
    I don’t claim to know.

    It may be that I’ve misunderstood your position. You seem to know that God doesn’t exist. So are you an atheist or an agnostic? If you’re an agnostic, would you agree that atheists bear the burden of providing evidence to support their claim: i.e., that the cosmos is either eternal or generated itself spontaneously out of nothingness?

    Thanks for the feedback on the size of the font. I agree that it’s too small, but it’s the default for this WordPress template. Maybe I’ll switch to another template soon. In the meantime, I apologize for the inconvenience.

    Reply

  18. honestpoet
    Jan 06, 2007 @ 15:42:23

    Stephen, what Simen has said he makes no claim about is knowledge of how we came to be, not the existence or non-existence of god. Most atheists acknowledged that they can’t truly know with 100% certainty, especially since theologians have effectively watered down the definition to be basically unknowable.

    I take issue with the insistence that everything is relative or a matter of subjective persepctive. Reality is, and it has a particular nature. Just because our range of perception is limited doesn’t mean that it’s just a matter of interpretation. When you say that theists simply know the existence of God in a way that atheists are unable, how can you be sure that your “knowing,” your intuition, isn’t simply a matter of wishful thinking? Finding a blade of grass wonder-full doesn’t prove the existence of anything except perhaps an evolutionary advantage in finding the world magnificent enough to justify the pain of existence to motivate an organism’s fight for survival.

    As I tell my children frequently, wanting something does not make it so.

    Reply

  19. Simen
    Jan 06, 2007 @ 16:28:27

    Stephen, you took my quote out of context. I wrote:

    I only claim that the universe came about without a god. I don’t claim to know anything about how it did.

    I admit that our perception is to some degree subjective, but when I look under my bed and see no monsters, I don’t think, “Well, that’s my subjective opinion, so maybe it’s not so secure as I though”. That’s the way I view the world, too: what I can’t see, either through my own eyes or through evidence others can provide, I assume isn’t there, or at least is unknown.

    If you think the issue about evidence for a god is straying to far away, you could just create a new post about it. I’m very curious as to what you’d interpret as evidence for a god.

    It’s a blind spot: here, illustrated by Simen’s inability to see atheism as a claim about reality that requires a defense. That’s a blinkered perspective, in my view, and hardly neutral. But readers can follow the dialogue and form their own conclusions.

    Atheism, defined as a lack of belief in a god or gods, makes no claims. Again, you seem to misunderstand burden of proof. If you make a claim, and I refuse to accept it on the grounds that you have no evidence, am I then making a claim about the world? No, I’m not. If you say, “there is a god, but I have no proof,” to which I reply “No, you provide no evidence,” am I making a claim that needs to be defended? Substituting “santa” for “god”, it seems a lot more reasonable:

    “There is a santa, but I have no proof.”
    “No, you provide no evidence.”

    Why should a god be any different? Do you see the claim that there’s no santa as a view that requires a defense? If not, why should God be any different? If you do, how come?

    Reply

  20. Stephen
    Jan 06, 2007 @ 18:41:45

    Honestpoet:

    I know what Simen said: “I only claim that the universe came about without a god. I don’t claim to know anything about how it did.” If he claims ignorance on the second point, he can’t claim certainty on the first point. (See my comment to Simen, below.)

    As I tell my children frequently, wanting something does not make it so.

    I agree. I have acknowledged, throughout this dialogue, that theists must support their claim that God exists. We’ve gotten bogged down on my other point: that atheists must support their claim that God doesn’t exist.

    • Simen:
    Atheism does so make a claim. You personally claim that the universe came into existence without God. What evidence can you adduce to support that claim?

    If you have no idea how the cosmos came to exist, how can you eliminate the possibility that a Creator caused it?

    You have offered only a bare assertion, that God isn’t responsible for the existence of the cosmos, as if the point is self-evident. Again, I insist: you need to supply some evidence in support of your truth claim.

    Reply

  21. honestpoet
    Jan 06, 2007 @ 20:39:42

    The problem with asserting that atheists must provide evidence that god doesn’t exist is that it’s logically IMPOSSIBLE to prove the non-existence of ANYTHING. That’s why atheists bring up the flying spaghetti monster or pink unicorns. My husband likes to say that the universe is controlled by leprauchans who live in his butt (but they hide when you look for them…can you prove otherwise?).

    The problem most theists have, i think, is the assumption that thousands of years of belief somehow connotes a justification of that belief.

    But if you look at history, the history of mythology such as Joseph Campbell’s writings provide, it’s apparent that the gods developed in our imagination as a way to explain things that were simply beyond our ken before the scientific method was developed. We didn’t know where the sun went at night. We weren’t sure that life would return to the barren landscape in the spring. Thunder frightened the dickens out of us. And the dance of the stars, so visible before the industrial age, must have caused many a question. Sometimes the ground shook and mountains exploded. And sometimes men acted like monsters.

    Science has explained most of this now. it’s even explained the beginning of the universe pretty well, all except for minute bits at the beginning, which are now coming to be understood through M theory, which is holding up pretty well to the scrutiny of leagues of physicists. And evolution, among all but the most scripturally bound, is known fact, even if the details are still being ironed out.

    I don’t understand why people have such a hard time accepting this. Why is the rejection of the god-concept so difficult?

    Reply

  22. Simen
    Jan 06, 2007 @ 21:36:06

    Alright, I have no direct proof of the assertion that the universe came about with no intelligent creator. But you have no more proof that the universe wasn’t created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. This quickly leads to a slippery slope: if I must disprove every assertion you make about the birth of the universe, no matter how stupid, then you must do the same with any claims I make. That’ll lead to us debating whether the Creator is a giant baboon or an old man or a stripper with a cigar in her mouth. It leads us nowhere.

    Again, you seem to misunderstand burden of proof. When you have the burden of proof, and provide none, I am free to dismiss your claims. The same goes for when I claim something and don’t prove it. You can shout that I can’t really be sure, but then again, how do you know that there isn’t a dragon in your back yard? You could go look, but what’s to say the dragon doesn’t hide somewhere else while you look? This is a fantastical claim, which requires some fantastical evidence. In the absence of said evidence, we are free to eliminate that possibility as so extremely unlikely that we need not concern ourselves with it. When you make a claim about something which breaks all laws of physics and contradict all observations, and then proceed by admitting that you have no evidence, I am indeed free to reject your claim. You can scream all you want about me not having absolute proof, but then again, do we have absolute proof that the earth is round? What if it’s shaped like a triangle? What if it’s flat?

    Honestpoet: one nitpick. M-theory doesn’t make any falsifiable claims. Therefore it is unscientific in nature until we find something for which we can test. The only tests that could prove the various string theories require such high energy levels as to render them impossible for at least another century. In fact, last year two books critizing string theory on the grounds that they’re unscientific came out, Not Even Wrong and The Trouble With Physics (I haven’t read them).

    Still, that doesn’t mean science is totally clueless as to the origins of the universe. I’m no physicist, so I can’t tell you the latest advances in this field, but I’d rather trust science to find the answers than to put my faith in religion, which, let’s face it, has provided us with no answers at all.

    Reply

  23. honestpoet
    Jan 07, 2007 @ 00:23:38

    I’ve read reviews of those books, as well as some others on the subject. It seems to me that, like with evolution, there’s no real dispute except over particulars.

    Back to this mythical god person, and the intractable belief in mythological beings…I was just now watching a special on astrophysics, and I remembered the history of the unicorn, and it seemed to me to be a perfect example. There was a time when the unicorn was considered a real creature (I have a whole book on its history, in fact, as I loved them as a child). There are numerous references to it in “scientific” and historical texts (the Bible even mentions them). There are many still existent works of art depicting them. It’s clear that everyone believed they existed.

    But they didn’t. At the time, if you’d told someone that unicorns didn’t exist, and they asked you to prove it, how could you? And they’d think you were crazy, too. I mean, look! There’s a picture of one hanging on the wall, and here’s a story all about them, and Pliny even has something to say about their reproduction. So what gives?

    Reply

  24. Stephen
    Jan 08, 2007 @ 18:08:38

    • Honestpoet:
    The problem with asserting that atheists must provide evidence that god doesn’t exist is that it’s logically IMPOSSIBLE to prove the non-existence of ANYTHING.

    I’m not asking Simen or anyone else to disprove the existence of God. I’m asking Simen to supply his theory of how the cosmos came to exist, and support that theory with evidence.

    He claims to know that there is no Creator. He can’t know that without having some alternative explanation of where the cosmos comes from.

    Reply

  25. juggling mother
    Jan 09, 2007 @ 06:22:22

    “He claims to know that there is no Creator”

    I’m, reasonably certain he claims to believe there is no creator. In the same way as you, and the VAST majority of theists claim to believe there is one. None of us know

    In the same way as i believe the theory of gravity is immutable, because the evidence I have seen and read and watched experiments of suggests this is the case. Should i ever see someone defy gravity in a way that can be replicated under scientific condidtions, I would be willing to believe that gravity is not a law, but more of a guideline:-) Should any replicable evidence of god appear, I am sure many atheists would accept it – certainly over time, but despite 1000’s of years of trying, theists have failed miserably at coming up with anything other than “but someone must have done it, because it’s here”

    Reply

  26. A Free Spirit
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 13:46:26

    I have an idea for a new sort of biblical (and other religious text) hermeneutic: namely, identifying and extracting all of the passages that could involve the tinge of the writer’s or the religion’s self-interest. What sort of text would emerge? If you are interested, pls see my post at http://deligentia.wordpress.com/2009/11/01/self-interest-in-religion-and-the-related-conflicts-of-interest/

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: