Richard Dawkins' atheism is derided even by some of his fellow atheists for being too strident. And yet he will only, on a scale
from 1 (convinced theist) to 7 (convinced atheist), answer 6.9.
How then can I, formed cautious tending to timid, hold my atheism so strongly? With so many people proclaiming their belief in a deity, surely I am being at least slightly arrogant?
An overview of the various foundations for belief may help you understand my stance.
Some boringly familiar territory:
I do not believe the reports of the Hindu gods.
I do not believe the reports of the Incan gods.
I do not believe even the reports of the gods of my Viking ancestors.
I do not believe the reports of the Olympian gods.
Noting among other things that modern archaeology contradicts
, and that his biographers believed there was a solid dome
over our heads, I do not believe the reports of Yahweh.
Noting that the so-called "New Testament" relies on the "prophecies" of the discredited Tanakh. Noting the internal inconsistencies of the NT. Quite frankly, noting that the "authorities" touting the NT are the very same authorities who usurp the Tanakh, calling it "The Old Testament", and substituting the word "God" for the words "Yahweh" and "Elohim". Noting countless other difficulties: I do not believe the reports of Jesus.
Do I have to continue this with all the other anthropomorphic gods?
I now draw your attention to the fact that none of the above rejected reports deal with the god named ...God. Except when those reports are fiddled with. So, who, or what thing, is this God?
Around 500 years before "Jesus walked the Earth", the Greek philosopher Xenophanes
wrote, despairing of the obviously man-made gods, that "if cattle and horses and lions had hands [they] would depict the gods' shapes and make their bodies of such a sort as the form they themselves have." And, as phrased by Wikipedia, "God is: beyond human morality, does not resemble human form, cannot die or be born (God is divine thus eternal), no divine hierarchy exists, and God does not intervene in human affairs."
Unfortunately, his probably well-meant philosophising must have been the seed not only of the "God pays us no notice" thinking (which is fairly benign), but also of that God purveyed by theologians and apologists. Which is where this starts getting complicated. Part of the complication being analogous to the difficulty in ruminating on the length of a unicorn's horn, partly due to the slipperiness of the language and strategies applied.
Consider the games that are played with words when putting forward "philosophical" "arguments", eg the "Cosmological argument" incantation:
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
- The Universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the Universe had a cause
Which cause is, by a throw of the dice
, asserted to be ...our Father Zeu
... no wait... it's our other Father: it's God!
My immediate response would be: "Who created God, mommy?" To which can sniggeringly be answered that I'm either ignorant or grossly dishonest. The secret being that God, being defined (as opposed to experimentally verified) as "eternal", "didn't begin
to exist"... (Example
) (This smacks of the story of Rumpelstiltskin
to me.) (Does anyone really
think they know what they imagine "eternal" to mean, by the way?)
Grown men do this. For a living. I'm pretty sure I'd rather starve to death.
Without further comment, I heartily recommend a wonderful one-hour talk
by Daniel Dennett describing other sleights of word. And how about a short example
from Sam Harris.
Some reports associate God with various "personal experiences", eg:
- The man who sensed the presence of his deceased friend somewhere in the room behind him. An experience he refused to spoil through turning around to see if his friend really was there... (William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience)
- Henry Suso who insisted on wearing not only brass-tacked underwear, but brass-tacked gloves when sleeping. The latter so that if he should be bitten by the bed-bugs he refused to rid himself of, he would (and did!) scratch his chest in his sleep rather than the bugs. (ibid.)
- "Paul" on his "road to Damascus".
- My own mother's experiences, which admittedly I can't remember accurately and yet feel no need to.
- Various experiences of encountering waterfalls, cathedrals, and the like. I am reminded of my own rare encounters, aged about 15, with cousins a good 10-15-20 cm taller than myself and craning my neck. Would I have thought them God if I had been so inclined? Yes, that is all I have sound reason to believe is going on.
- Rarefied forms of relating to other human beings. Or is it just cold reading or mumble-jumbo or obfuscation?
- Communal singing can be performed by atheists.
- Tea after sermons.
- Using your imagination and then crediting your figment and some imagination-encouraging mammal or other.
But these are mere misunderstandings or usurpations, at best classified as "mystical" or "spiritual". Or ignorance. Some people apparently see Henry Suso as an example to hold before uneducated masses, where I feel an unactuateable empathy for this poor naked ape crying out to the emptiness
experience, rainbows are far more appealing without that vile fiction involving Noah's imaginary fiend. And no, despite superstitious claims to the contrary, understanding
how a rainbow occurs does not lessen my appreciation. It too rather enhances it.
During my "formative" years I listened to well over a thousand baldly asserted reports of God's existence in the form of sermons. Vanity. Emptiness. Yes, I do dare say that despite having forgotten them. I listened attentively, and have come to realise that I was not and am not entirely stupid. Coming across Moments of Pleasure
by Kate Bush on YouTube and listening to this several times, I concluded that in five minutes Kate was more descriptive of real life than the whole lot of those thousand sermons. I'm not sure I can come up with a more damning indictment on the emptiness of religion.
To those who are utterly convinced of the earnestness of their own preacher(s) I recommend the documentary about Marjoe
. If people could be taken in by his parents' grooming of a mere child, please don't imagine that you would know the false prophet from the true without testing him properly. The fact that your preacher might simply be earnestlessly mistaken is even more reason to test him. I am familiar with the mantra that "God cannot be tested scientifically". Let's assume that to be true. At least for now. If you take the Bible at all seriously, however, I think that 1 Kings 18:20-40
makes a good case for the practicability of testing all and sundry prophets. I'll be quite happy to come up with tests that won't invoke murder.
To those who (my earlier dismissal of conjuring notwithstanding) would have me believe that their understanding of God is so much more "sophisticated" than Marjoe or of my mother's sources of Godliness: Yeah, well, knowing what I know about the sacrifices and efforts my mother made for her God, I assert that their word-peddlers, whether styled theologian, apologist or "reverend", wouldn't have been worthy of licking the dirt off the soles of her shoes had she still been alive.
We have searched the Earth. We have searched the clouds. We have conjured philosophically "outside" the universe. We started conjecturing back when the universe was surely thought
to be smaller than we now know to be the orbit of the moon. As the size of the universe has, at first slowly, but ever faster, grown beyond our wildest dreams, God has quietly gathered up his papal skirts and moved on "outside". Well, according to those "clever" theologians that is. Their flocks are allowed for reasons unclear to retain the certainty that God resides in their hearts.
It reminds me of another search
that man has undertaken. To which I note that we haven't checked if there is an island on Lake Vostok
beneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet which might be populated. We really don't know for sure, do we now?
I disbelieve all these reports of god(s)/God(s) and tire of this wordplay labelled God. Can I please express conviction now?
No? There's more? Oh. Yeah. Right. Him. My
Let me pick an image I can hold in my head: my father's clasp knife.
I label it ...God.
I substitute the word "omnipotent" for the word "rusting".
God is omnipotent. Ain't that nice? Even comforting?
Repeat until able to tell others with a straight face.
Now, in no way am I claiming that Ratzinger is doing the above. He does after all not know of my father's clasp knife... (He'd better
not know.) (Did someone say "Rumpelstiltskin"?)
My point is that all these sleights of word make it "impossible" to hold a 7 on Dawkins' scale.
Up with this messing-with-my-head ...I ...will ...not ...put.
"What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence." - Christopher Hitchens
I don't quite
care for the "spectrum of theistic probability" as Dawkins' scale is properly called. We can calculate the probability of "tails" coming up when flipping a coin because
a) we know exactly what the possibilities are: heads/tails == 1/1;
b) we have tested our reasoning experimentally.
The same cannot
be said of theistic existence. I would have preferred a "spectrum of theistic reportage
probability". Here we do have the statistics. They are possibly even more overwhelming than the data for evolution. I put it to you that the figures so far are: False: 100%, True: 0%. The spectrum is, however, stated as it is, and I will answer it as it is stated.
If, by the way, science should some day find evidence that the Big Bang
's singularity was in fact derived from a pre-existing songularity, or, if I may, a sanguinarity, maybe we will be so foolish as to label it God. Maybe it will even turn out to be God. In no way
will anyone deserve to be credited with "predicting" this. All this wordplay looks like a man labelling the number 1: God, 2: God, ..., 49: God. When he declares that his lottery numbers are: God, are we going to "respect" his cleverness? Give him the prize money?
I do of course not demand that anyone else take my stance. There are perfectly good reasons why it will never be illegal to not know the size of the population of Simeulue. If you don't know, you don't know. It's those who surely must know, but obfuscate their knowledge, that I accuse of misusing the Henry Susos to shelter the anti-condomists. But, for myself, I am obliged to say that "Here I stand. I can do no other", as an earlier mammal is claimed
to have said.
Having done my best to show that all that God boils down to is a lot
of hot air
in the form of discredited texts, groundless conjectures, mislabelled experiences, bald assertions, smoke and mirrors, I state my position as simply and as carefully as I can:
There is no God.
"It will not do to say that the Nazis were anti-Christian. It won't even do to say the Jews died for racial reasons, not because of their religion. The Nazis were able to do their evil, destructive work because they were so good at playing on myths, the myths which lurk in people's minds. And this myth was that the Jews were the killers of Christ, the enemies of Christian civilisation. In that sense, Christianity is implicated fatally in the murder of the Jews." - BBC: A History of Christianity
, ep 6: God in the Dock, Diarmaid MacCulloch.
there is no sound reason to believe any of these reports.
And thank goodness
that we can replace the myth-peddlers with true authorities.
think we need to work to dismantle belief in non-sense, or possibly more importantly, belief in it's reporters. We need to discover every false link in the infantile chain of this broken telephone
and counter the empty words with facts, evidence or secret names
to dissolve them like morning mist by sunlight.
I see fun times ahead judging by my experience of working out all the above...
Taking a careful look during the writing of this article at the etymology
of the name Zeus, I have come to the conclusion that Christianity's God is actually Zeus. They've just thrown away his too obviously man-made Greek biography and given him Yahweh's biography. I am actually so flabbergasted by this thought that I don't know how to incorporate it into the article.