The one theology book all atheists really should read

Discussion in 'Religion' started by Musika, Aug 19, 2018.

  1. Musika Last in Space Valued Senior Member

    Just a disclaimer, I know nothing about the book or author besides what the article (from 2014) presents.

    Oh, and a second disclaimer, the article is written by an atheist .. .. just in case anyone gets so worked up by the thread title that they feel they can spontaneously retch up a spiel, despite not reading anything.

    The article may be a little dated, but it certainly seems relevant to the state of many things here. Just a few excerpts (although reading the whole thing is warranted IMHO) that I thought were relevant or provide enough for a basic run down:

    One reason that modern-day debates between atheists and religious believers are so bad-tempered, tedious and infuriating is that neither side invests much effort in figuring out what the other actually means when they use the word 'God'. This is an embarrassing oversight, especially for the atheist side (on which my sympathies generally lie). After all, scientific rationalists are supposed to care deeply about evidence.

    (Of course this may not be relevant, since our discussions are never tedious or bad tempered)

    The God attacked by most modern atheists, Hart argues, is a sort of superhero, a "cosmic craftsman" – the technical term is "demiurge" – whose defining quality is that he's by far the most powerful being in the universe, or perhaps outside the universe (though it's never quite clear what that might mean). The superhero God can do anything he likes to the universe, including creating it to begin with. Demolishing this God is pretty straightforward: all you need to do is point to the lack of scientific evidence for his existence, and the fact that we don't need to postulate him in order to explain how the universe works.

    But throughout the history of monotheism, Hart insists, a very different version of God has prevailed. In a post at The Week, Damon Linker sums up this second version better than I can:

    … according to the classical metaphysical traditions of both the East and West, God is the unconditioned cause of reality – of absolutely everything that is – from the beginning to the end of time. Understood in this way, one can’t even say that God "exists" in the sense that my car or Mount Everest or electrons exist. God is what grounds the existence of every contingent thing, making it possible, sustaining it through time, unifying it, giving it actuality. God is the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all.

    God, in short, isn't one very impressive thing among many things that might or might not exist; "not just some especially resplendent object among all the objects illuminated by the light of being," as Hart puts it. Rather, God is "the light of being itself", the answer to the question of why there's existence to begin with. In other words, that wisecrack about how atheists merely believe in one less god than theists do, though it makes a funny line in a Tim Minchin song, is just a category error. Monotheism's God isn't like one of the Greek gods, except that he happens to have no god friends. It's an utterly different kind of concept.

    Since I can hear atheist eyeballs rolling backwards in their sockets with scorn, it's worth saying again: the point isn't that Hart's right. It's that he's making a case that's usually never addressed by atheists at all. If you think this God-as-the-condition-of-existence argument is rubbish, you need to say why. And unlike for the superhero version, scientific evidence won't clinch the deal. The question isn't a scientific one, about which things exist. It's a philosophical one, about what existence is and on what it depends.

    Sciforums atheism sans science?
    Does such a creature even exist?

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    At the very least, do you think it's possible we can be subject to a different type of atheist meme to be spammed?
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2018
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  3. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    Where do you live Musika? I live in the U.S. by the way. What are your hobbies (I won't demean your religion by calling it a hobby). When you aren't involved in this religious posts, what do you do in a typical day? Just curious.

    The God described above is not easy to talk about as it's simply redefining God to mean reality.
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  5. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    Which may be why so many atheists enter such discussions with a request for definition or identification of the god being discussed.
    That request normally goes unanswered.
    The atheist, btw, is usually the second poster, as the topic opening is usually something like this one: an apologist of unspecified religious affiliation making a blanket statement about atheists, giving advice to atheists, categorically asserting that non-believers are immoral or claiming "scientific proof" of their (usually unspecified) god's existence, which usually turns out to be more unsupported claims and non-factual statements and sometimes impenetrable gibberish.
    Usually - the present case may be an exception.
    Well, it might...
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  7. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    The article you quote from makes some excellent points, I agree.
  8. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    What was the question of existence?
    And, having answered it: "God", what more is there to say on the subject?
    What's with all the cathedrals, funny costumes, dietary laws, and tax exemptions?
    What is there to address? Light of life? OK, cool.
    Now, put sex education back in the schools.
  9. Dr_Toad It's green! Valued Senior Member

    A little off the subject of the book that Musika presents, but I firmly believe that everyone, atheist, agnostic or full-on whatever faith, should read C.S Lewis.

    All of it, from the Narnia Chronicles to the Screwtape Letters, and the Case for Christianity . I know I haven't mentioned some others...

    Whether you believe as he did or not, those works are first-rate tools for getting your head in the right place, being able to make the right choices, and living with your choices, and growing from them.

    Doesn't sound like my usual grumpy-assed self, does it?

    Talk about theology with Jesuits while they flay your butt on a chessboard, then go into the forest and watch the real thing unfold around you.
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  10. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Odd that you would attempt to"poison the well" by suggesting someone might go off half-cocked, posting an opinion without reading it - while in the same breath, confessing that you haven't read it.

    Sounds like you have an opinion to offer without doing the homework. Bit of a double standard there.

    That being said...

    I might well heed your advice and pick the book up.

    [ EDIT ] Here I am, not reading properly. I thought the book author was an atheist, standing up for theism. That would have been something I'd like to have read.
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2018
  11. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    And neither do I.
    But when I run into this:
    I can see that the guy has missed the point of most of the public discussion. Because no such very different version of God has "prevailed", in the real world of actual Abrahamic theistic religion. That sophisticated and profound God is occasionally found in cloisters and monasteries and academic environs, but the mosque or synagogue or church down the street is organized around version I.

    And if this guy thinks "demolishing" that one is "straightforward", he hasn't been spending much time dealing with the overt Abrahamic theists who post on science forums.
    Uh, no. To use the word "cause" there is to abandon significant aspects of the metaphysical traditions of the East and West - the East especially.
    It's not addressed because it doesn't come up very often. On science forums, for example, the overt Abrahamic theists who launch almost all these discussions are forever objecting to the science of Darwinian evolution or climate change , attacking Richard Dawkins for disrespecting version I theistic religions, stuff like that. The version II God makes only cameo appearances, usually in denial of accountability for the implications or consequences of version I.

    In my experience most Americans - theist and atheist both - regard the version II God there as more or less equivalent to no God at all. If your God is version II in the Eastern tradition, and someone in the US asks whether you believe in God, your answer is almost always "no". If it's "yes", you will have to include considerable explanatory qualifications.
    Not a "we" that includes you. You continually post wordfogs in bad faith for the purpose of innuendo and personal attack, and until you post honestly and in good faith on the matter at hand you cannot be part of an honest and profound discussion of that kind.
  12. Dr_Toad It's green! Valued Senior Member

    Iceaura attacking Richard Dawkins is just hysterical. Please post that debate on YouTube.

    Have any of y'all read "The Golden Bough" by Frazer?

    You really should, before you dive too deep into that mythical well.
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  13. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    Dr. Toad, I have read both of the works you cite - well, CS Lewis is several works - and enjoyed them. I've read quite a few other books as well.
    None of then inclines me to accept the kind of theism that currently prevails in the Americas and Mesopotamia.
  14. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    It's a book review by a journalist from the Guardian, not exactly a place that I'd go for enlightened commentary on the philosophy of religion.

    Aren't you the one who admitted in the first sentence in this post that you know nothing about this book or its author? So what are you doing vomiting up this thread??

    I haven't read the book either. It just seems to me that if the book makes some point that you like, then you need to be the one who explains what it is. That way we can argue with you.

    There's a long tradition in Christian (and Muslim, and Hindu) theology that that insists that God is transcendent and can't be captured in concepts.–energies_distinction

    This isn't some conceptual blunder unique to atheists. God is often described by theists themselves as creator, as designer and so on. That style of argument is fundamental to both revealed and natural theology.

    So how does 'God' differ from the Big Bang? From the laws of physics? That kind of definition reduces 'God' to a set of metaphysical functions.

    I think that all the personal theistic traditions add something more, they imagine God as if "he" was a person, cosmic psychology of some kind, something with emotions, purposes and intentions. There's an ethical aspect, since God is supposed to be intimately associated with what Plato called "the Form of the Good".

    I don't believe that human beings have the answers to the ultimate metaphysical questions (and I doubt that they ever will). I have no way of knowing whether reality is monistic, whether everything comes together in one source, one fundamental principle, or whether there are multiple ultimate principles. I'm not even sure that the idea of an ultimate principle "that grounds the existence of every contingent thing" while needing no explanation itself, even makes sense.

    But even if we set the metaphysical questions aside as unanswerable (at least at the present time), we still should ask why the answers (if any) are divine in any religiously significant way.
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2018
  15. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    I'm fine with it just being "the light of Being itself." I don't see how calling it God adds anything useful to our understanding of it.

    The argument itself does not seem all that original and is reminicent of Paul Tillich, who also contended God was not a being among other beings but the Ground of Being itself. I still don't see that sort of equivalence as very helpful. Let's find out what Being means first before we go identifying it with some sort of God.
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2018
  16. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Uh, the Golden Bough is a twelve volume set. I doubt anyone here including yourself has read it thru.
  17. Musika Last in Space Valued Senior Member

    If you've ever attempted to present a philosophical position on religion here, you would probably encounter a bit of jostling resistence to it ... in fact having just read all your post, you appear to be jostling a bit too, but we will get to that as it arises.

    The only thing I regularly read on the guardian is the work of a specific cartoonist. The subsequent cookies may skewer the search results google gives me on occassion, but that's the extent of my bias.

    Anyway, I thought I was quite clear (seems one can never be too clear on the internet ... ) , but it appears not so I will just be clearer ... the point was not to advocate the book, the author, the reviewer or the news source. The point was to highlight the lack of philosophy in an atheist reliance on science as a means of argument. The "traditional" position of God is not a "scientific", but a philosophical one ... or at least the presentation of such a position does not become an inherently scientific problem. As such, it behooves an atheist to discriminate about which trees they wish to bark up, if they desire to keep their arguments relevent.

    All these ideas came together nicely in the article, especially since it is all presented in the soothing tones of an atheist so it would not hackle the hairs of our resident majority about a "convincing" presentation of God. That is the length and breadth behind my reasoning for referencing it.

    The purpose in determining my total unfamiliarity with the book, author, reviewer, publisher, etc etc was to block at the onset any red herring detours about the book, author, reviewer, publisher, etc.
    I don't know much about of them, so I am not in a position to defend, arbitrate, ajudicate, advocate, promulgate, or any other sort of "ate" them, beyond what I have already given as the length and breadth of my interests.

    That aside, I did copy paste the header as the thread title, which could set the scene for a false reading, but I was relying on more than 2 second assessments to determine the content. If you are the type of person who relies on 2 second assessments, please forgive my transgressions.

    The article proposes a certain definition of God based on an overview of tradition and philosophy (granted, that it is excerpted from the book, but it finishes there, as far as the thread topic is concerned ... no extra reading from author, yada yada required). The point is that atheists frequently ignore or are not even aware of such definitions, so there is a concern, from the POV of this atheistic journalist's perspective, that athe arguments of atheists are irrelevant.

    The article makes the point, not the book. The journalist uses a reference from the book to make a point about the relevancy of atheist argument. The author of the book, if my google-fu is correct, is not even an atheist, nor does his book take specific aim at atheist. The journalist, who is an atheist, takes a definition from the book, to take aim at atheists.

    All of which, a highly steeped in philosophy. Even those who advocate that God cannot be captured by concepts have a lot to say about it, hence this is not news to anyone even remotely familiar with the philosophy of religion.

    The journalist said as much in the article. If you are not adverse to the prospect of guardian cookies infilitrating your search engine, you can try reading it. If you are adverse to it, you can still read it by adjusting your browser settings. I didn't copy/paste those parts to the thread, because its not so relevant to the discussion and I didnt want to press my luck by taking the attention threshold too far beyond the 2 second mark.

    Of course if that is what one is interested to discuss, plenty of threads are already in operation that "play by the rules" of such definitions.

    By having a nature prior to it.

    Thats kind of an advanced topic that probably goes beyond the bandwidth of what this forum could accommodate.

    There are also dialogues that reconcile impersonal views of God as contingent on personal views of God, but that is not really the point of this thread.

    But other people may have different views, hence, as far as arguing for or against their views, it is dependent on their definition of God, and not yours (at least to the degree that you wish to make your critique of God relevant to them)

    Well, if you want to seriously ask that of a religious community, the first step would be to look at the definition at hand, and subsequently determine to what degree it is approachable as a scientific and/or philosophical problem.
  18. Musika Last in Space Valued Senior Member

    No offense, but if I ever had the desire to discuss my personal life publicly on the internet, this place would certainly be in the top 5 websites I would definitely choose not to do it on.

    On the contrary, talking about reality is within the purview of philosophy. If you want to say talking about philosophy is not such an easy thing, I would tend to agree.
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2018
  19. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    If you want to talk about God but not about anything personal that is your choice but it's an odd place to draw the line.

    I understand not getting specific but these forums are much more interesting when you have some sort of understand of the person posting and not just of the one dimensional nature of some of these topics.

    One more post about God isn't very interesting or revealing.

    Regarding the topic of this thread, there isn't much to say. The argument that you will get depends on what God you are talking about at the moment. If he is a magical God, then yes, science is brought into it more.

    If you are talking about a philosophical concept of God as everything then that brings little to the table. You can call everything God but it says no more than if you don't call everything God.

    As far as the responses that you get on a science forum, what were you expecting? The philosophical threads tend to go on and on only for a similar one to be started and to go on and on.

    Most people just really aren't interested in that so you may get some trolling type of responses. This isn't predominately a religious or philosophical forum. It also tends to draw a lot of cranks so it's helpful to present a fuller picture of yourself, otherwise you may (not you personally) just be viewed as a crank. On the other hand for those who show that they have other interests, a sense of humor, and a life .. they may get a better response.

    If the picture is of someone sitting in their parents basement all day railing against "mainstream" science while trying to promote their "model" of "darkness" or whatever the nutty idea of the day is then they won't be taken seriously by many.

    If one's interest is religion, that's fine. If every waking thought is religion to the exclusion of any other thought then maybe we have a crank...

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  20. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    I cannot have an opinion on the book with so little to go by. Going by the OP, the article is ignorant & stupid.
    Very few, if any, atheists start discussions with theists about god(s). Theists are the ones who make the god claims thus it is up to them to define it.

    The proposed possible "notion" of god is absurd & not new. Definitely not something I would bother to debate.

    Nothing wrong with recommending a book while keeping in mind that no 1 could possibly read every book which someone has recommended & that there is no obligation for atheists to read any book.

  21. Musika Last in Space Valued Senior Member

    You make it sound as though that has stopped you on previous occassions.
  22. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    How many points is that worth?
    You make yourself seem like an obnoxious child.
    Your dreamworld delusions do not mean anything here in reality.

    Last edited: Aug 20, 2018
  23. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Is this stuff illiterate gibberish on purpose, to prevent rebuttal by not quite meaning anything as written?
    There is no lack of philosophy involved in any of this, science is not a "means of argument" (whatever that means) in this matter, and "an atheist reliance on science" is ungrammatical in a key way that prevents derivation of meaning. If carefully read.
    Of course, the actual meaning - that atheists who refute the claims of Abrahamic version I theists by pointing to conflicts with scientific evidence are somehow not refuting any theistic claims about any God, and are not as intelligent or aware as the theists making them - is clear.
    He can rest easy - in the real world, they aren't. In that world, all the theistic religions are organized around Version I Gods.
    In the real world his proposed definition of God is an act of relabeling aspects of the world long familiar to atheistic spirituality, and declaring a God.
    The bullshit "if", followed by wordfog. An overt Abrahamic theist posts on a science forum.

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