Saturday, February 5

Challenge: Atheism essay 1

Earlier last month, I issued a Challenge to Unbelievers. In this, I challenged some (up to four) unbelievers to read N.T. Wright's Challenge of Jesus and in return I would read a book of their choosing. After we read our book(s), we would post essays on what we thought about our reading. Rob Ryan suggested for my part, I read George H. Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God. For his part, if he doesn't have a blog, he may e-mail me his essays and I'll post them here. Anyhow, Mr Smith's book is divided into four sections. As a result, I think I'll choose to attempt four essays, one for each section. The book is due by Friday, so I'll finish my four essays by the weekend. I've completed reading section one, so here goes. (note: Jim has written three essays so far on Mr Wright's book here)

In his first section, Mr Smith
defines the nature of theism, atheism, and agnosticism, and I present the insurmountable problems and contradictions entailed by the concept of god.
Mr Smith presents atheism as a positive belief in the non-existence of god. In fact, he prefers the critical atheist who holds that the very concept of god is unintelligible. He he can't make sense of a discussion of what god is, then the conversation must stop.

The first stumbling block for Mr Smith vis a vis god, is that for all theists (though presumably not early pagan gods, which are off the table for this discussion), god is in some sense unknowable (the exact "quantity" of unknowability various from theist to theist). This feature of god is problematic for Mr Smith. For him, it's not playing fair pool. For Mr Smith requires a Creator he can put in a box, that he can discuss, debate, dissect and understand. That the Creator does not perform to his wishes in this respect is reason to deny his existence. Being a book, one cannot query Mr Smith, but if I could I might ask, in this wonderful, intricate, and beautiful universe we inhabit, why is the idea of a Creator so unimaginable? But for Mr Smith, if he cannot wrap his reason around the nature of the Creator, the Creator must go. Many people have not (and some definitely cannot) wrap their reason around the concept of differential forms, fibre bundles, and even more exotic concepts in mathematics. That does not mean they don't exist. Likewise with God. Just because Mr Smith with his reason and language cannot box up and define the Creator, doesn't mean a Creator doesn't exist.

Omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence are concepts which Mr Smith finds problematic. The problem he finds with omniscience is coexistence with free-will. Omnipotence coexistent with omnibenevolence he finds hard to reconcile with the existence of evil. The question of evil has come up recently in a (draft essay I never finished on the Boxer Tsunami) and in my final Challenge essay on Awakenings. I'm going to turf that question until I've read some background material and pondered it a little and have something intelligible to say. Give me a few weeks. As for the problem of omniscience and free-will, I don't have much to add to this discussion. At the very least, bookshelves have been filled with discussions on this topic. For Mr Smith to categorically decide that he knows that those discussions are spurious and without merit, seems a little hubristic, especially by dismissing any other arguments so lightly.

For my part, ideas like omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence are terms used to describe the Creator. Whether or not the Creator is omniscient in a classically or in a manner which respects the quantum reality; whether or not the Creator is omniscient or omnibenevolent in a manner which strictly adheres to all logical forms is not important. I believe in the Creator. Mr Smith hasn't established to my satisfaction why he insists that his reason must get a firm handle on the nature of the Creator as a necessary pre-condition for belief.