Pensive Ponderings

Reflections on things that matter.

God vs. “This guy”: More on appropriate atheism.

I’m in the process of introducing myself to controversial issues of faith.  I started listening to an audio course on the Philosophy (not the theology) of Thomas Aquinas.  One of the first things I noticed about Aquinas is that he is very logical.  I am only on the 3rd of a 14-lecture course by Dr. Peter Kreeft, but I am enjoying it[1].  We have come to the portion where we discuss Aquinas’s “5 ways” of knowing God exists.  I will not elaborate much on those because they are not what I want to write about, but anyone wishing to have a general idea can see this webpage for an overview[2].   I was very excited about the logical way in which Aquinas states it is possible to know God exists, and being a very inexperienced thinker in some realms, I decided I wanted to know what the opposing side, the atheistic mind, had to say about proofs of God’s non-existence, so I grabbed my courage and borrowed a book from the library: the New York Times Bestseller, The God Delusion [3]

Needless to say that was rather ambitious.  I myself am simply a person who likes to think about what I believe, but I’ve always had a nagging fear, a very real fear, of things that set out to disprove my faith.  This fear has been founded in the possibility that I very well could wrong about all of my existence.  What if everything I know and have been taught was a lie?  One day last year I came to the conclusion while walking around campus that I had to allow myself to encounter those fearsome ideas in order to have reality.  If God is real, than surely true reasoning will lead me to him.  If God is not real…once again true reasoning will lead me to a void, but I came to the conclusion that I would rather seek truth and all its implications than nurture fantasies.

But back to the book.  I opened the book and flipped to the table of contents.  Page 100 starts a section entitled “Thomas Aquinas’ ‘Proofs.’”  My stomach dropped.  After spending the afternoon and much of the evening before musing over the highly logical nature of Aquinas’ proofs, I see them tackled early on by name in a renowned piece of atheist literature.  What on Earth?  My first impulse was to put the book down and tell myself I had bitten off more than I was ready for.  I am not a widely read philosopher by any stretch of the imagination.  Who am I to think I have an opinion?  Classic thinker problem.  I assume that because I don’t have Ph.D. after my name yet and become I’m not yet published that my brain is somehow inferior and therefore I must have nothing to say.

Well, after a few minutes I got over that and started perusing this section.  I am not finished, but writing as I go helps me process what I think and how I feel separately as well as together.  I am skimming through the work and I believe I see somewhat of a pattern.  I have spoken to atheists and agnostic and former atheists and one thing I think I am beginning to see is the dichotomy of identity I am terming “God vs. ‘that guy.’”  Of late, it has been very hard for people to separate theology from religious philosophy.  What I mean by this is that rather than taking the existence of God as a philosophical concept apart from any reference to “that guy” from the Bible, many agnostics and atheists, and many Christian apologists continue to treat the two together even though they must be treated separately to get anywhere.  In this section about Aquinas’ 5 Ways, Dawkins does what Aquinas did not even profess to do: he attaches the identity of the God of the Bible to the philosophical concept of God from the beginning.  The problem with this is that it pulls all of the religious-philosophical questions about the character of God and the possibility of miracles and a hundred other issues into the existential question requiring not real answer to those other questions.   The first question remains “Is there a God,” and the subsequent questions begin with “If so, than what is he like,” or “If not, then what are we and why are we here.”

I notice the same logical hiccup in Any Rand’s philosophical treatment of “reason” verses “mysticism,” and that is why this installment is a continuation of that essay.  In her fiction and in her philosophy, Rand seems to address a theology that is, on the whole, indigestible to the intellectual mind.  She argues that there need be no “mystic experiences” and that reason is the highest good, omitting a need for any sort of deity or first cause.  When her definition of this deity whom she rejects is examined, it can be concluded by rational Christian and Atheist alike that she is completely justified in rejecting such an illogical being.  He, being or purporting an existence full of flaws and contradictions, cannot exist, and therefore I need not believe in him.  “That Guy” is the result of rumors and ideas men have pieced together for thousands of years through hundreds of worldviews and conflicting ideologies.  Their god is a mess.  This does not, however, mean that there is no such being as God and that he cannot be good.  Once again, I assert that there is, indeed, such a thing as an appropriate atheist, and I applaud them (all of them throughout history).  Those who rejected on the basis of rational conflict the god fed to them by the gentry and the clergy were closer to the true God because of their denial of the pretender.  Let it be understood that belief in God is not an ultimatum.  It is not “the God of the church or no God at all.”  Before the question of God is a religious one, it is an existential philosophical one, and if logic and reason demand that there be a necessary first cause, that is not the same as implying that this cause must be God X from Y religion.  I hope I give many atheists by principle leave to be agnostic by saying this.

[1] Kreeft, Peter. The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2009.

[3] Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 2006.


8 comments on “God vs. “This guy”: More on appropriate atheism.

  1. Atomic Mutant
    September 29, 2013

    The arguments from Aquinus have been refuted. Completely. There is nothing left that’s enough to be considered a sound argument for god. If there was a true proof for god, you would surely get a Nobel peace prize for finding it. But there simply isn’t. Thousands of years of searching an no one found it. That’s not a proof that god does not exist, but it sure doesn’t make it more likely, does it?

    Anyway, many atheists DO make a difference between Yahweh, for example, and the pure theistic idea of “there is some divine being”. The first one does not exist. End of story. The bible is self-contradictory, the god described there does not make any sense, thus the bible is not completely correct, thus god, if existing, must differ in at least one detail (but probably more), thus the exact god from the bible does not exist.
    The theist idea of a god, can not be proven false, true, because it’s not falsifiable. But it shares that quality with invisible flying unicorns or teapots in the orbits of other planets. So what?

    • Pensive Ponderer
      September 30, 2013

      That you are opposed to any view other than the one that has seemed most likely to you is obvious. That you have been taught some interesting and thought-provoking arguments is also evident. It seems to me, however, that you misunderstand the point of the argument above. I am open to any logical concept that I can glean information from; however, much of your argument is emotional and opinionated, making it harder to think out and nearly impossible to glean from. The only idea I would like to leave you with is this: the Aquinas proofs have not been completely refuted because it is impossible to refute a logic-based argument about metaphysics by denying the metaphysical concept altogether. There have, however, been alternate concepts presented. This I am aware of. Many of the arguments you allude to in your comment are familiar to me, and I intend to listen as much as I intend to speak. That being said, I welcome clear, well thought-out logical commentary on this blog, regardless of creed or religious affiliation or lack thereof. However, if comments become illogical and/or belligerent, I will address them as such.

      • Atomic Mutant
        October 8, 2013

        Of course it is possible. It is enough to show that an argument is not valid to make it useless. Only if an (deductive) argument is valid, we need to look at the premises to see if it is also sound. As Aquinus arguments are not valid, there is nothing much to say.

      • content2b
        October 9, 2013

        As you continue to assert that the arguments of Aquinas are invalid, please explain to me how they are so.

  2. jp
    September 29, 2013

    I saw this post and I just had to get in on it. I grew up in church and as a young adult flirted with the concepts of not only atheism, but its logical offspring, nihilism. I found the concept of atheism incredibly freeing, why worship some invisible deity who commands me to remain chaste and wholesome and selfless when I can just ignore Him…and be my own God?

    Then I realized that that is precisely what fuels most postmodern kids who are angry at the biblical concept of God. I do believe in Yahweh, and I have no problem with the concept that the book that 40 some odd human authors put together is an authoritative revelation from a supreme being. Are there things in the Bible I don’t fully understand. Yes. But If I was looking for someone actually qualified to critique God Almighty, I certainly wouldn’t be able to find them in our era. People looking at the Bible and saying “that God cant be real, I don’t like how He acts” is the equivalent of a 4 year old saying “I don’t like Daddy, because he told me no.”

    I often hear people criticize the actions of God in the old testament, particularly the slaughter of innocent children… Many of these people have no problem condemning God when He orders the genocide of at most 3 million people; but they will gladly stand by and support the slaughter of 40+ million children (in America) in the name of “choice”. This makes me laugh. God cant order the slaughter of children, that makes Him evil; but WE can, and this makes us compassionate and understanding. this is a joke.

    As far as Aquinas goes, his arguments may have waxed and waned in strength over the years; but he hasn’t been disproven. Logic cannot be dismissed that easily. I have investigated the mathematical likelihood that our world just happened by accident and that we were not “created” by a God. I cannot muster the faith to get over the mathematical impossibility of our world being an accident and confidently assert that there is no God.

    • Baal Shem Ra
      September 29, 2013

      There are a couple of problems with your statement: “I often hear people criticize the actions of God in the old testament, particularly the slaughter of innocent children… Many of these people have no problem condemning God when He orders the genocide of at most 3 million people; but they will gladly stand by and support the slaughter of 40+ million children (in America) in the name of “choice”.”

      1. This is the fallacy of equivocation. Fetuses are not “children.”

      2. Conversely, if we accept the premise that fetuses are children and that killing children is a universally immoral act, Christians should condemn the atrocities that God and the Patriarchs committed in the Bible just as they condemn abortion. The Christian position is inconsistent – it is a form of moral relativism. The relativistic basis simply relies not upon culture nor individuals, but upon the interpretations and whims of a hypothetical deity.

  3. Baal Shem Ra
    September 29, 2013

    I feel as if many people misunderstand and misapply logic. Logic is used in relationship to statements. It does not necessarily tell us anything about the natural world. If we assume the premise that every effect must have a cause, we may end up with a necessary first cause. However, that premise does not necessarily hold any justification in the real world to begin with. Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss have discussed how we can’t make any such assumption about causal relationships in a situation “pre-universe” given that those are relationships based on our observations of the laws within this universe, “post-universe.”

    The first cause argument results in a type of situation that is logically valid (consistent), yet not necessarily logically sound (reflective of reality).

    • content2b
      October 9, 2013

      Thank you for your input. I will look into these arguments, as they are helpful. I see the truth of your final statement, however, it still seems to me that there are two different schools of thought competing for validity in one related venue. Science is not metaphysical and metaphysics is not wholly scientific. Aquinas’ proofs can only be taken as plausible if one is willing to look at his proofs from a metaphysical perspective and not necessarily a scientific one. The two realms are not by any means mutually exclusive, but it is foolish to assume the value of one in the realm of the other. Thank you, once again, for giving me something to ponder upon, Baal Shem Ra. And I apologize that your comments were not posted sooner. Somehow they were filtered as spam.

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