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What Atheism Means to Me: Part 2

Submitted by Ken Watts on Mon, 03/16/2009 - 14:39

IN MY FIRST POST, I outlined some of the things that caused me to refine my ideas about atheism, which brought me back to the sophomoric title of this series: "What Atheism Means to Me".

What I've come to see, since I put the scarlet A on my site, is that it's not really about whether or not someone or something called "God" exists. It's about knowledge, how we get it, and how we know which ideas to trust.

"But there is no evidence that this designer, even if one exists, is anything at all like a human being, let alone an ancient near-eastern king."

I didn't get here by the normal road. I never rejected God, or even the idea of god—and there is a sense (which I'll get to) in which I still haven't.

I was surprised, in fact, to find myself an atheist one day, when I caught myself thinking about it clearly.

It all came down to the meaning of the word "God"—which has two referents, even in a religious context: the inner experience which some Christians (and some atheists and members of other religions) have, which I outlined above, and an exterior, Orthodox, cultural definition and collection of knowledge which lays claim to being objective.

The orthodox definition shows up in all those "proofs" of God's existence. They each have holes you could drive a Buick through, of course, but I won't be dealing with that here.

Rather, if you just take them at face value, without questioning, what do they really prove?

Some examples:

  1. The argument from a first cause:

    It claims to prove that there had to be a beginning cause of everything, and usually ends with something like "this cause is what we call 'God'".

    So, even if the proof works, it hasn't proven that Jesus rose from the dead, that Mary was assumed, that "receiving Jesus as your lord and savior" will get you into heaven, or even that there is a heaven.

    It hasn't proven that "God", as defined by the proof, is anything like a human being, that he is fairly represented by any given religion, that he has a will, that he has desires, that he "acts", that, in fact, he is a "he" or "she" and not an "it".

    Even if the proof is sound, it demonstrates nothing that is not currently being considered in the realm of physics.
  2. The argument from a prime mover:

    Much the same situation. It claims there has to be a source of movement, or energy. It then says "this we call 'God'".

    And, again, what would that prove? Certainly not whether abortion is right or wrong, or even whether such a thing as right and wrong exist.

    Nor does it prove that this "prime mover" is identical to the "first cause" of the previous argument. It merely gives them the same name.

    At most, it would demonstrate something that properly belongs, as in the previous case, to the realm of physics.
  3. The argument from design.

    This is the argument that there must be a "designer" since the universe is so beautifully designed. But there is no evidence that this designer, even if one exists, is anything at all like a human being, let alone an ancient near-eastern king.

    Even if we were to (quite arbitrarily) toss out evolution and other natural processes as candidates, there is no guarantee that such a 'designer' would be anything like the normal, culturally accepted, idea of "God" as defined by religion, or have anything to do with a "first cause" or a "prime mover".

But I came at all this from the other side: the interior, experiential side.

To be continued...