Objections to the Objections


I while ago, I posted an article called “Some thoughts about atheology” where I illustrate the difficulties one encounters when faced with religion.  Namely, I say this:

In Considering religion, we have to consider the following:

  1. We have to define what we mean by “God”.
  2. Based on the given definition, we have to demonstrate that such an entity exists and that there are clues that point to its existence.
  3. Because there are numerous religious denominations, (i.e., Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, as well as an endless variety of denominations within the same religious tradition) we have to show which of the purported gods the real one is.
  4. We further have to show a compelling reason why one should worship such a divinity, granted that one satisfactorily addresses 1, 2, and 3.

IwentdowntotheRiver writes “I dont really see how 3 is different to 1/2.” I must say that I should have been clearer in my evaluation of religion. Let me clarify it, then: the difficulty is that my 1-4 list is addressed to believers who are not very familiar with logic and philosophical concepts. If you are an atheist or agnostic or a philosopher, you might not see why 3. Perhaps you are not considering that 1 (i.e. We have to define what we mean by “God”) need not be a complete definition of “God.” What I mean is this: you can define God as “The entity that created the universe” or “The entity responsible for the creation of the world” or “The entity that created life” …and so on.

Now, as you can see, we have a certain definition for “God”, but it is not complete in the sense in which you say that the work has been done. And the next point to satisfy is 2 (i.e. Based on the given definition, we have to demonstrate that such an entity exists and that there are clues that point to its existence). So, 2 asks to provide arguments to support our definition. Let us say that we define “God” as “The entity that created life.” 2 asks what kind of clue we have that corroborates that definition; and one might point to the argument from contingency or the ontological argument, etc, and say something like this, “God is the entity that created life; in fact, everything that exists has a cause. Nothing can cause itself to exist. Therefore, there must be an entity that always existed, and that is God.”

Again, we moved from a working definition to an argument in support of that definition, but we have not yet satisfied point 3. Here is how 3 differs from 1 and 2: a Christian at this point could say “Yes, that’s the Christian God that you’ve defined.” Similarly, a Hindu could say “Yes, that is Shiva that you are defining,” similarly, a Muslim could say the same, and a Zoroastrian, and a Taoist, and so on. That is why 3, in considering religion in our everyday life, not among philosophers, but rather among people with generic knowledge, is important. My list is, as I said, useful to the lay man, but obvious to a person who lacks belief in the first place.


Author: Carlo Alvaro


4 thoughts on “Objections to the Objections

  1. I missed the original post, but here are my thoughts: I read something in this train of thought earlier today at Patrol you may be interested in.

    From those thoughts, a universal ontology has always escaped interfaith discussion, but this is because the concept of “God” functions in several different ways. Beyond what may be obvious monotheism/polytheism religious traditions, there are pantheistic and panentheistic concepts which further complicate Point 1. Your second concern is also a typical empirical argument which ignores pragmatic concerns when discussing other people’s concept of “God” or “religion.”

    Point 3 (besides being a bit snarky) also doesn’t have a great deal of perspective – for example, there are universalist concepts which do not require the resolution of opposing viewpoints. A similar perspective is that separate religions fulfill cultural roles unique to the society where they were developed. Some of those functions and qualities are indeed similar, which is why there are said universalists – and then some of them are quite different, which is why we have people like Huntington and Prothero (who in my view emphasize the differences to our detriment). And Point 4 is totally unnecessary from the perspective I’ve mentioned – religion provides an unnamed function of some sort for many people, and that in and of itself justifies its practice without further discussion.

    All these questions seem to work backwards- or rather forwards, but we should be working backwards. People already worship divinities: why? How do these religions and denominations differ in purpose and doctrine? What are there justifications for faith? And how do they define “God”? I know this is more of an anthropological approach, but analyzing what sort of functions we’re talking about and how it does that is a much more interesting line of thought to me than the hard rationalism you’re talking about here.

    However I didn’t read your original post until now, so I’ll have to give it more thought later.

    • Atheism Unscathed
      What you are saying is true, though only in a sense that fails to address my points. Let me tell you about my larger project by way of clarifying some of my points. In the first place, I wrote my piece with religious people in mind. I am very open about my atheism, and openly express my belief that religion is irrational. I very often find myself discussing with people about being and not being religious and why or why not. I prefer to talk about certain aspects of religion with philosophers of religion or theologians because they are familiar with the technicalities of arguments and concepts. However, I often talk to religious people to understand why they hold such irrational beliefs and, most importantly, if true, why they are willing to accept the idea of a celestial authority, God.
      In my discussions with non-philosophers, I very often find my approach useful in this sense: many individuals to whom I speak, who claim to believe in God and claim to be religious, upon having considered my points, begin questioning their belief in God and their religiosity. In fact, I managed to change some of these individuals’ minds, and turned them into atheists. You might say “That easy?!” But that’s my very point: my approach helps people who are convinced that they are religious realize that they are not very religious after all. The reason for this easy de-conversion is that such individuals did not form their belief in God based upon careful and profound reflection. So, as you can see, my audience, with respect to this particular atheistic approach that I address herein, is people who are not familiar with such fancy concepts as “universal ontology” or “epistemic” or “pantheistic” or other “academisms” of the like.
      Nevertheless, now I am talking to a more philosophically educated audience, and so I will try to address their objections. You say that point 2 “ignores pragmatic concerns…” I don’t quite understand what you mean by “ignoring pragmatic concerns” but I have a vague idea. I think you chew my point 2 too much before you digest it. What I want to say is nothing obscure, but rather this: you say to me, for example, “I define God as He who created the world and life.” Naturally, I say to you “What makes you think that there is an entity that created the world and life? What argument can you present” After all, you can say to me that you genuinely believe in poltergeists or other fantastic entities, and the natural response is my point #2.
      With regard to point 3, first of all, is not snarky at all, and I am sorry if it comes across that way. Point 3 is very serious to me because I see the multitude of religious traditions and the endless position within traditions as an insurmountable obstacle for religious people. To invoke a universalist concepts is rather disingenuous. If you are a committed Christian you think that all other religions got it wrong. And if you say that, “Separate religions fulfill cultural roles unique to the society where they were developed.” I agree you’re right, but, again, not in a sense that is consistent with my point. That is to say, if you argue that a particular religion is useful insofar as its role in a particular society, it seems to me that you are implying that religion need not be true, but rather useful, which would come as something of a surprise. The religious individual holds his religion as true, before saying that it also serves practical functions in his society. In other words, a Christian does not say that a Taoist or a Hindu, despite the superficial differences, worship the same God. Rather, a Christian believes that people of different religious views from Christianity are wrong.
      With regard to 4, and this is relevant to 3, too, you say that “4 is totally unnecessary from the perspective I’ve mentioned – religion provides an unnamed function of some sort for many people, and that in and of itself justifies its practice without further discussion.” Now, in the first place, I’ve heard this line of argument a million times, i.e., that religion provides some sort of function, hope or what not, to many people. But this does not answer any questions. The idea of Santa serves a function, I guess, that is, to amuse children (?). But I don’t think you are proposing that it is better to be deluded into thinking that there is a god, than to know the truth. Nevertheless, to say that religion is useful is tantamount to saying that Coca Cola is great and God knows what humans would do without Coke. I don’t even like Coke. Sometimes I enjoy a nice glass of ginger ale.

      • My initial comment was written very poorly (it was late, I was tired) so I apologize for that and its faults. I understand your objections, but I think a search for absolute is itself a “search for meaning” – whether it is to determine that there is meaningfulness, or rather to invent individual meaningfulness in an otherwise absurd world. My goal is not to justify religious belief, but rather to understand it. I’m only an apologist in the sense that I believe everyone creates or inherits a worldview which is both practical and relevant for their experience.

        Something you said here really struck me – “I don’t think you are proposing that it is better to be deluded into thinking that there is a god, than to know the truth.” I find it difficult to believe that people can honestly know anything with regards to absolutes – especially absolutes which resemble noumenon more than anything else. What is truth? If we can’t establish it, then inevitably we are all “deluded” in one fashion or another. Elusion of the absurdity is typical part of the human condition. Faith is just a psychological construct which aids in that elusion. If you don’t profess faith in some “God,” it’s likely you still have it in something more relevant – socializing factors such as family or personal relationships, a comforting familiarity with some study or passion (science or art). My point is, I think that most people are uninterested in the real truth – rather, they pursue developing a truth they can live with. Even honest people who are concerned with absolute truths are doing it for the satisfaction of their own psyches – because they value themselves for being honest they are compelled to pursue truthfulness.

        Following that, do you see your own pursuits as an atheist to be a search for meaningfulness, or a compulsion based on the values you’ve assimilated through your experience? If so, it’s another practical construction of a functional worldview. I’m not trying to stoop to where some people say “atheism is a religion.” But often the pursuit of such personal meaningfulness in anti-theism is based on the same desire for personal fulfillment.

        Reinhold Niebuhr said “Rationalism belongs to the cool observer. But because of the stupidity of the average person, they follow not reason, but faith. This naive faith, requires necessary illusions and emotionally potent oversimplifications, which are provided by the myth maker to keep the ordinary person on course.” We are all human, and we all accept some myths. I think that’s just how our mind works (collectively and individually). It’s why religion is so useful, as I argued earlier. It’s also why patriotism, racism, classism, sexism, and so many other “-isms” are so historically persistent.

        Hopefully that was a bit more clear than whatever I mushed out on the keys last night. I can’t even bring myself to read it, sorry 🙂

  2. Oh, and I would also say this has been one of the more pleasant conversations I’ve had on the subject at this level 🙂

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