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||It is a commonplace to state that atheism is the opposite of theism, and that the word atheism come from the greek theos (God) with the modifier "a" attached, to give "a theism", "without theism," or "without theistic beliefs".
That being said, one has to point out that a comprehensive definition of atheism is a difficult matter. In closing a very long section Britannica has this to say regarding the matter:
Atheism is a critique and a denial of the central metaphysical beliefs of systems of salvation involving a belief in God or
spiritual beings, but a sophisticated atheist
does not simply claim that all such cosmological claims are false but takes
it that some are so problematical that, while purporting to be factual, they actually do not
succeed in making a coherent
factual claim. The claims, in an important sense, do not make sense, and while believers are under the illusion that there
intelligible to be believed in, in reality there is not. These seemingly grand cosmological claims are in
reality best understood as myths or ideological claims reflecting a
confused understanding of their utterers' situation.
Finally, it will not do to take a Pascalian or Dostoyevskian turn and claim that, intellectual absurdity or not, religious
belief is necessary, since without belief in God
morality does not make sense and life is meaningless. That claim is false,
for even if there is no purpose to life there are purposes in life - things people care about and
want to do - that can remain perfectly intact even in a godless world. God or no God, immortality or no immortality, it is vile to torture people
just for the fun of it,
and friendship, solidarity, love, and the attainment of self-respect are human goods even in an
utterly godless world. There are intellectual puzzles about how people
know that these things are good, but that is doubly
true for the distinctive claims of a religious ethic. The point is that these things remain desirable and that life can
have a point even in the absence of God.
It is commonly thought by the less educated theist, most commonly in the incarnation of Christian Fundamentalist, that atheism is in some way a rejection of a God who the atheist "really" believes to exist, but chooses to deny for emotional, or other reasons. The term is has been used historically to denote one who has a different, or wrong, understanding of God.
The word "atheist" can be traced to 1571, and is defined in the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary as
"one who denies the existence of God". The problem with such a definition is that it can be interpreted
to mean that the atheist, willfully, denies a palpable reality much in the way as a flat-earther denies the spherical
nature of the world.
While it is possible that such individuals exist, this is not atheism qua atheism, and simply to label all atheists as being "in denial" without examining the grounds for, or nature of, their unbelief is to be intellectually dishonest.
The development of Atheism
Atheism is a relatively new development, and it is arguable that prior to the rise of rationalism towards the end of the 18th century, atheism was an impossible position to sustain for sociological reasons.
As Lucien Febvre has shown in his classic book The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century, the conceptual
difficulties in the way of a complete denial of God's existence at this time were so great as to be insurmountable. From
birth and baptism to death and burial in the churchyard, religion dominated the life of every single man and woman. Every
activity of the day, which was punctuated with church bells summoning the faithful to prayer, was saturated with religious
beliefs and institutions: they dominated professional and public life - even the guilds and the universities were
religious organisations. As Febvre points out, God and religion were so ubiquitous that nobody at this stage had
thought to say: "So our life, our whole life is dominated by Christianity! How tiny is the area of our lives
that is already secularised, compared to everything that is still governed, regulated and shaped by religion!" Even
if an exceptional man could have achieved the objectivity necessary to question the nature of religion and the existence
of God, he would have found no support in either the philosophy or the science of his time. Until there had formed
a body of coherent reasons, each of which was based on another cluster of scientific verifications, nobody could deny
the existence of a God whose religion shaped and dominated the moral, emotional, aesthetic and political life of Europe. (Armstrong, Karen, "A History of God" (New York, 1994) pp286-7).
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Agnosticism The view that the truth of a proposition is not known, and perhaps cannot be known. The most succinct definition I've read
recently is to be found in Timothy Ferris's "The Whole Shebang" (p351).
The term [agnostic] is derived from the greek agnostos "unknowable;". It was coined in 1869 by
Thomas Henry Huxley, who sought to define his stance on religion in contributions to the Metaphysical Society, an
organisation of eminent English thinkers that met nine times a year to discuss philosophical and theological matters.
Huxley meant it to oppose gnosticism, which asserts the primacy of mystical and esoteric faith over logic and
reason. His position was comparable to that of Hume, who in the essay "Of Miracles" in his
"Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding" writes that "a wise man [...] proportions his belief
to the evidence."
Incidentally, "Strong Agnosticism" is the religious positron of your webmaster.
There are two varieties of agnosticism:
"Weak" agnosticism consists of suspending one's opinion as to the existence of God - pending, I suppose,
the introductions of further evidence. This stance seems wishy-washy and probably deserves its dismissal, by a
contemptuous Fredrich Engles, as "shame-faced" atheism.
[The other position] is "Strong" agnosticism. It denies that God's existence can ever be disproved. There
are many definitions of God, some of which say nothing at all about God except that he exists. [The strong
agnostic] hold[s] that it is impossible to disprove all these definitions. If, to take an extreme example, science
was one day to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the universe was created by a mad scientist in a basement
laboratory, it would still be possible to posit that the prior universe in which the scientist lived was created
by God. Moreover, that scientist, regardless of his inhuman brilliance, would be unable, in principle, to prove that
God does not exist.[...] It is not that we don't know, it is that we cannot know.
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Those who are more enthusiastic than rational concerning their Christian religious faith are frequently referred to as "fundies," or "fundamentalists" in alt.atheism. In many cases this is not an entirely accurate designation even if one may argue that the spirit of the terms is all too appropriate.
Christian Fundamentalism is not a particularly old version of Christianity and originated in the early 20th century United States. The name "fundamentalist" is taken from what are considered by believers to be the fundamental doctrines of Christianity:
the literal interpretation and absolute
inerrancy of the Scriptures, the imminent and physical Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the Virgin
Birth, Resurrection, and Atonement.
The origin of Christian fundamentalism can be traced back to the American millennial movements of the 1830s and 1840s that
predicted the imminent return of Christ, and the ushering in of a thousand year rule of peace. Fundamentalism is usually
associated with an extreme moral conservatism and not infrequently with social activism that attempts to promote these conservative moral attitudes. Such activism is backed by substantial ideological and material resources. As Sarah Diamond notes in Spiritual Warfare (p2):
Fundamentalists and those closely associated with them, such as many varieties of evangelical Christian,
are largely responsible for the rise of the anti-abortion movement in the United States and elsewhere, and more worryingly,
have been undeniably associated with the promotion of, and supplying material aid to, right-wing governments whose view of human rights is conservatively described as shakey.
Except for the corporate network owners, evangelical Christians are the only political constituency
to enjoy ... such unrestrained access to TV and radio airwaves, the literal licensed to bombard the U.S.
public with its theo-political message. And that message has not fallen on deaf ears. While statistics on
audience size vary, millions of American television viewers regularly watch the TV preachers, and whether or not
the medium is an effective tool for recruiting new believers, religious broadcasting is certainly a primary
motivator of the already converted, from the mission field to the ballot box.
The invariably right-wing politics of many Christian Fundamentalists, combined with a moral code derived from a highly selective and literalist reading of the Old Testament
make for a worrying combination, particularly in light of their access to the mass-media.
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In Christian theology, the sacrificial death of Christ as some kind of payment for the sins of mankind. Various theories attempt to make sense of a perfect deity directing a sacrifice of this kind. They include:
The matter is not rendered any easier by the doctrine of the identity of the Son and the Father, who are considered to be, in many senses, one and the same. Theologians continue to address the issue.
- The Ransom Theory. the idea that the event is the payment of some kind of ransom to the forces of evil. But since the Son is rejoined with with his Father, the forces of evil appear to have been cheated, and this seems incompatible with justice. One does not expect God to break a contract.
- The Satisfaction Theory (Anselm). The sacrifice restores God's honour, insulted by sin. But the way the restoration works remains obscure, especially as the insult goes on (people continue to sin).
- The Acceptance Theory (Duns Scotus). God freely decided to accept this event as a repayment of our dues to him. But then why not freely decide to accept something less traumatic, such as the sacrifice of a sheep?
- The Scapegoat Theory. Jesus suffers as a substitute for us. But the morality of using substitutes or scapegoats is particularly unedifying, avoiding as it does personal responsibility and the sacrifice of the innocent.
- The Ethic Message or Example (Abelard). Jesus is sent to exemplify for us the perfect life. It seems strange, however, to deliver the message in one particular time and place, and especially one with such fragile means of recording the event.
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The return to life of a person after their bodily death, either with his or her original body, or with a new one. The
concept raises severe problems of personal identity.
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a fundamental doctrine of orthodox Christianity that Jesus Christ had no natural father but was
conceived by Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit. The doctrine that Mary was the sole
natural parent of Jesus is based on the infancy narratives contained in the Gospel accounts of
Matthew and Luke. It was universally accepted in the Christian church by the 2nd century, was
enshrined in the Apostles' Creed, and, except for several minor sects, was not seriously
challenged until the rise of Protestant theological liberalism in the 19th century. It remains a basic
article of belief in the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and most Protestant churches. Muslims also
accept the Virgin Birth of Jesus.
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The Inerrancy of Scripture
Many varieties of Christian, including fundamentalists and evangelicals hold that the Bible is inerrant. This
is to say that they believe that scripture contains no errors. It's worth noting that this is not identical to
believing that the Bible is literally true in every respect. While the cynic might suggest that inerrancy is a convenient cover-story when literal interpretation undeniably fails, the doctrine does have a logic all of its own.
The assumption that the Bible is inerrant is a proiri; that is it is assumed that the Bible is inerrant before the Bible has been examined in detail to establish the fact of the matter.
Since the Bible is assumed to be inerrant, any explanation that resolves obvious contradictions, or errors of fact, must be accepted as true, no matter how far fetched.
Clearly this is a case of assuming ones conclusion.
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