I would be willing to be called theist in the sense described in this previous post, and I would like to encourage others to try to understand what that means. I hope that this will help other people to find for themselves a better sense of their own role and possibilities. I also affirm the right of atheism to express itself in the world, with full rights of citizenship, and to earn all the respect it can by motivating good lives and work for peace, justice, science and all the arts.
This post is a continuation of a theme I addressed in a piece on fascism on August 23rd. You may ask, why did I include a piece on fascism in a blog about science and religion? It is because I think I can detect totalitarian thinking in some of the material published and positions advocated in this area. I already discussed one issue related to this, namely the attempt to suppress dissent by redefining the very words that other people have adopted:
[Changing the meaning of words]
In this post I will expand on another issue: assessing people not by how they behave but by how you label them.
[image from https://www.instapainting.com/requests/56455ed390f1f8204b8b45c7]
In this post I want to offer a short definition of the word ‘Theism’. I think I am some sort of theist, but I find that most of what is written on the wikipedia page for this word is quite alien to me. It says there that theism is “the belief in the existence of …” where for the dots you can put some sort of entity called a ‘deity’. But that is not how it works in my experience, and that is not how a lot of careful thinkers and writers have expressed it. The thoughtful theist does not consider that there is another ‘thing’ to be added to the set of all things, after one has exhausted what there is in the physical universe. It might seem like that, but I find it to be more subtle and hard to describe. The one Whom we learn to encounter is not ‘another thing’ but that which makes all things possible. As I say, it is rather subtle and quite open-ended.
The word “secular” refers to an important principle, but it is one that is widely misunderstood, and the word is used in two very different (almost opposite) ways, which leads to confusion. This touches mostly on politics and governance, but it connects also to science and many other human endeavours.
In the following I will first outline two ideas which I will call simply P and x. Then I will discuss the meaning of the word “secular”, and the fact that we need to develop better ways of speaking clearly.
This week I decided to write about something I feel strongly about, but I am going to try to keep the tone light. The issue I have in mind is the attempt to forge a marriage between science and atheism, as if the former implied the latter, or as if science was more naturally compatible with atheism than with theism.
This is the second part of a presentation of a philosophy paper by Peter van Inwagen. You can find the first part here.
In the first part, I presented van Inwagen’s specific reaction to a certain specific argument. This argument presents the claim that the pain of the world gives a prima facie case for the hypothesis that the ultimate source of the world is indifferent to it. Van Inwagen replies simply by showing that the case fails because the premises do not entail the conclusion. However, this discussion is unsatisfactory as it stands because it is too dry. It doesn’t really grapple with the problem of pain. It grapples only with the structure of a certain logical (or illogical) argument.
I have been reading a paper by Peter van Inwagen, called “The problem of evil, the problem of air, and the problem of silence”. It is published in Philosophical Perspectives 5: 135-165 (1991) and you can find a copy at the following site, which gives a useful collection of van Inwagen’s papers:
Peter van Inwagen wrote the paper in response to Paul Draper, Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists, Nous 23, 331-50 (1989). It considers the argument that the nature of the world, with all its pain and suffering, indicates that the source of the world is indifferent to it, or, at least, that this is more likely than that such a source cares about the world.
Imagine someone whose experience of music has been limited: they have only ever heard tunes and harmonies that are in a major key. Now suppose they come across some music in a minor key. They might, perhaps, find it difficult to like at first. They might even feel that it is not proper music, or that it is out of tune, or discordant. What attitude might such a person adopt? They will notice that other people like this other music, so they might decide that the problem is with their own hearing. Or they might decide that their own hearing is fine and the minor key is simply unmusical. It would be a pity if they concluded that, but it makes some sort of sense. But what would be oppressive, what would be objectionable, would be the claim that the quality of music in a minor key can only be properly assessed by first making a ‘correction’ of each minor chord or interval into a major counterpart.
The title to the previous post, “A short introduction to what may well be,” was chosen carefully. The sketch I gave there was a sketch of something that may be right, and also, and perhaps more importantly, it is a good possibility—something that may well be, in the sense that it would be well, good, if it were so. All manner of things would be well. And, of course, it might be right in the sense of actually true, too. Or it might not.
I have not posted for a couple of weeks because I was ruminating on what to say. There are a variety of issues I could write about, but I decided in the end to present, in an informal way, some general thoughts on theism, world-views, atheism, faith, science and religion.
What this blog advocates is a broadly positive stance on both science and that aspect of human life which is about refusing materialism and scientism, in favour of a richer notion of what may be said to be true and real. That lengthy expression refers, broadly, to what has often been called “religion”, but I have been cautious about the use of that word in this blog, because of all the obvious dangers and abuses that often accompany religion. I think that there is both good religion and bad religion, and in the end what I want to do in the blog is not about religion as such, but about encouraging one another to realize and live out the most complete expression of what human life is, whatever that may be.
[image: Frederick William Hayes The Rivals from Llanddwyn (c.1884)]
This week I was looking at a few websites and I found various repetitions of a statement that seems to be doing the round in atheist circles, namely that all of us disbelieve in most gods and the happy atheist simply goes one further. You can download a poster of all the gods that people have written about or made offerings to, and thus bolster your own atheism.
All I want to do this week is explain, briefly, why this sort of polemic (for that is all it is) won’t wash.