Atheism and the Divine
In the past, I had thought that people who claim to be atheists and agnostics and yet also say that they believe in “something more” were engaging in a kind of wishy-washy sentimentalism; that they were still emotionally attached to the idea of religion, even though they rationally objected to it. Over the past few months, though, I have found myself moving more and more to that position. Geoff Plauche’s recent post on Aristotle’s Prime Mover, which also links to 2 old blog posts by Roderick Long (Theism and Atheism Reconciled and The Unspeakable Logos), got me to thinking more about this, and I thought I would try and organize my thoughts on this.
I am a staunch atheist. There is no such thing as God or gods (or any “supernatural” entity, for that matter). I don’t think this because there is no evidence for God; I think this because the very concept of God is contradictory. One does not look for evidence of square circles, because they are impossible by definition. I think the same applies to any conception of God or the supernatural.
However, I do think there is “something more”. That “something” isn’t “karma” or some other similar mysterious principle (to those atheists who believe in “karma”, etc., my objections remain), but the logical structure of reality itself. Logic isn’t a constraint that the universe puts on thought, nor something that mind imposes on the outside universe. Either of those possibilities requires that one conceive of either an illogical universe or illogical thought, something that is by definition impossible (Long goes into this at length in his excellent Wittgenstein, Austrian Economics, and the Logic of Action). The logical structure of the universe simply is.
In his posts on the subject, Long states that many of the characteristics of God can be identified with the logical structure of reality. I am not as inclined to think so, especially as regards the idea of analogous attributes; I think that Aristotle makes this mistake as well, in his discussion of the Prime Mover. However, this is still something more than the reductionist atheism of, say, Richard Dawkins. I’m inclined to agree with Geoffrey, in that Aristotle’s Prime Mover can be more or less identified with the logical structure of reality; it is causeless, and the source of all other causes. This, incidentally, ties in nicely with Ayn Rand’s idea that the universe does not need a cause, although Rand’s own atheism was somewhat reductionist by this account.
This may seem to be a distinction without a difference; both the theist and the atheist may say “So what? Your argument doesn’t really change anything.” I think it does. Concepts like divinity, and worship, and even prayer, can be applied within an atheistic framework. Again, there is a parallel with Rand:
But such concepts do name actual emotions, even though no supernatural dimension exists; and these emotions are experienced as uplifting or ennobling, without the self-abasement required by religious definitions. What, then, is their source or referent in reality? It is the entire emotional realm of man’s dedication to a moral ideal. (from the introduction to The Fountainhead, pg. xi, 1994)
I would take the above idea even further, and say the concepts named (exaltation, worship, reverence, sacred) describe the emotional realm of man’s dedication to the truth (the good being an important subset of this, of course). Just because one is an atheist does not mean that one’s life is meaningless. Indeed, a properly grounded atheism takes concepts traditionally associated with religion and points them at their proper target.
Comments and criticism are welcome; this is a rather new train of thought for me, and I would like any help given in exploring it.
~ by wombatron on 12/06/2009.