Believing In Belief

Friday, September 14, 2007 1:57 | Filed in Blogging, Faith & Forteana, Science, Thanatophobia

I came across a post today on the Goldfish’s site called Believing in Belief, where she talks about the Richard Dawkins book The God Delusion and her own ideas on faith.

I just had to post something in response to that for two reasons — firstly because her stance seemed remarkably similar to mine, and secondly because a colleague has recently been reading this and I’ve been discussing it with him too.

  • Goldfish highlighted Dawkins use of ad hominem arguments: suggesting Hitler retained his Catholicism is, as she rightly points out irrelevant. You get nice and nasty people who are religious; same as you get nice and nasty people who are atheists: basically because you get nice and nasty people, not because there’s something inherently good/bad about belief/disbelief.
  • Goldfish disagrees with Dawkins that a rational approach means an atheistic stance and agrees with me that it means an agnostic: if you can’t prove or disprove God, the only logical answer is to say “I don’t know”. But that still enables you to sit anywhere on the agnostic spectrum: you can “think it likely” or “think it unlikely” — but you have to admit that you don’t know.
  • Goldfish, like me and again unlike Dawkins, doesn’t object to beliefs that are different to her own. I’d clarify: I don’t object to beliefs, but I may object to actions based on those beliefs. If someone thinks homosexuality is wrong, that God will send homosexuals to burn in a lake of fire, then that’s up to them. I’d suggest that maybe they are suspiciously uptight about the whole thing, but they are entitled to that belief. What they are not entitled to do is to mistreat people on the basis of that belief. Yeah, it’s complex, yeah, it’s maybe impractical, but that’s my opinion, ok?
  • I agree with the Goldfish that open debate is a good thing — although I’d tend to add the proviso ‘assuming it doesn’t descend into a slanging match’
  • I’m also an agnostic who fears that there may not be an afterlife. That’s the thanatophobia kicking in again, then. I get the impression that the Goldfish is again similar (except hopefully without the added phobia bit)

It’s also fair to point out that as someone who studied as a biologist, and who had (and retains) a passion for evoloution and evolutionary theory, I’d come across Dawkins long before he became known for having gone off on a militant atheist kick. The problem was that I went off Dawkins as started to go off on a militant atheistic kick. I wanted to read books about evolutionary theory, not about how he believed religious people were stupid and deluded (which is frankly offensive), even if at the time I would have classed myself as an atheist.

I’m now a confirmed agnostic. I want to believe (because without some kind of meaning, life itself is pointless, irrespective of how long it is), but more than that I want to live in a tolerant society where even if people disagree they can respect one another’s lifestyles and beliefs.

Assuming people are prepared to read both sides of an argument, rather than just picking ‘their side’, I’d recommend reading Dawkins and then reading and comparing the works of the theologist Alister McGrath, including Dawkins’ God, The Twilight Of Atheism, and in particular his rebuttal to this specific book, The Dawkins Delusion.

However, don’t let the fact that Alister comes over as all reasonable (in comparison to the hellfire-and-brimstone preacher of atheism that is Dawkins) sway your beliefs. Tone shouldn’t win an argument, regardless of whether you like it or dislike it. What you should consider important are the arguments presented.

For me, McGrath and Dawkins are at a standstill: McGrath has torpedoed much of Dawkins reasoning for not believing, but not provided me with any reason why I should believe. But whether that’s because that’s just the way those arguments have panned out, or whether psychologically I was never going to change my initial standpoint of agnosticism even though I thought I would be prepared to change it in either direction, I just don’t know.

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4 Comments to Believing In Belief

  1. Chris Hunt says:

    September 14th, 2007 at 8:59 am

    To be fair to RD vis-a-vis Hitler, a lot of believers (online at least) like to throw Hitler in the face of atheists – suggesting that Hitler = atheist and therefore atheist = Hitler. Pointing out that AH was actually (in theory at least) a Catholic is one counter to that argument, though not perhaps the best one.

  2. The Goldfish says:

    September 14th, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    Thanks for this. I do consider God extremely unlikely, and certainly no more likely than other supernatural beliefs. Not scared of death though; intend to postpone it as long as possible of course.

    I am however grateful for theologians like McGrath who can at least see that science doesn’t disprove God. Too many people think that and when theists think that, they tend to respond by simply rejecting science. Which is a big mistake.

    On a vaguely related subject, on your recommendation, I have just read The Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks (although I have read all the previous Brookmyre books but I generally manage to wait for the paperback). I liked that a great deal.

    Quite recently I’ve also read a book called Tricks of the Mind by Derren Brown, who talks about skepticism, mediums and their shenanigans (along with all manner of other things, the religious stuff too). That is really very good, if that stuff interests you; the book is a bit of a hotch-potch, but it’s so well-written, it doesn’t really matter.

  3. oliver says:

    December 11th, 2007 at 11:43 pm

    I agree you can;t prove there is no God, but Dawkins would say you can’t prove anything doesn;t exist – orbiting teapot, flying spaghetti monster etc, and that’s no reason for believing it DOES exist. Also when I have applied logic and sceptical study to all specific religions I have taken an interest in, I have found big holes, contradictions and things that make no sense; so does some sort of higher power/ultimate meaning/life after death etc exist? I don;t know. It would be nice, but I can;t honestly say I see any really convincing reason not to think (fear) it is just wishful thinking

  4. Karla says:

    September 7th, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    And I thought you couldn’t get more awesome from your thanatophobia entry.

    Again, I’m thankful that I’m not the only one with these thoughts about religion.

    I was an ‘on fire’ Christian (not the bible thumpin’ kind or anything) for 21 years. Then, when I was 22, I woke up in the middle of the night, sat straight up in my bed and thought, “Holy crap…nobody actually knows if there is a God and what happens after death.”

    It was the most terrifying experience I’d ever had (and still have sometimes) but from that point on, I could not NOT be an agnostic (if that makes sense).

    (Sorry for the long response again. I’m like a kid in a candy store going through your site! XD)

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