I've run across ex-atheists at various online site; not many but a few. I just can't believe they ever were really atheists to begin with. How does somebody go about unembracing reason? It just doesn't add up. I get the feeling that a certain percentage of ex-atheists are actually Christian frauds using pseudonyms to give testimonies of fake reconversions.
What do you think? Can a real atheist really reconvert to Christianity? How?
To me, a "true" atheist is one who renounces God and all things supernatural and has reasoned-out why these things are false.
@ Atheist Exile - In that case, I can't imagine why such a person would go back to being religious. If I had to guess I would say brain tumor.
See, I reject this definition of atheism. I much prefer the more generalized "lack of belief in a higher power or powers".
Here's what I mean:
Atheism and theism are basically the same thing, in that they are answers to the question "do you believe in a higher power or powers?". The atheist says "no" while the theist says "yes". The question and answers have absolutely nothing to do withknowledge, however.
The question "does God exist?" is an entirely different question, asking not about belief, but about knowledge.
I always complain when I have to explain to people that I'm an agnostic atheist because I feel like it should be assumed. We simply do not know enough about the origins of our visible universe to rule out it being caused by some intelligent "first cause" (perhaps in the Pandeistic sense). I'm not suggesting that there aren't major issues with the God Hypothesis that make it nearly worthless (like the unfalsifiability of it, for example... this is precisely why I'm an atheist), but "nearly" is the key word, there.
IMO, we are all agnostic, and anyone who claims otherwise is not being honest. They may think they're being honest (that is, lying to themselves), but they aren't. This does not mean we can't come a position on whether or not we believe, so just because everyone who has ever lived and currently lives is agnostic does not mean they can't be atheists or theists. Knowledge and belief are not the same thing, and as such they are not mutually exclusive. What's more, I reject the idea that the question of God's existence is outside the realm of science. We will answer the question definitively, as far as I'm concerned. It may take another few hundred generations or so, but eventually we'll have an answer.
The extension of that, to make it relate to your topic, is that I absolutely do accept that there are religious or spiritual people who were once atheists. But there is a limit to that, as well. I can accept it from someone who has become, say, a Christian, but still accepts evolution and the Big Bang, is still as tolerant towards others, including atheists and homosexuals, as they were when they were atheists, and so on.
The ones who I think are lying are the Young-Earth Creationists who make that claim (VenomFangX made that claim all the time). (Re-)Accepting that there is a higher power is one thing, but going from accepting evolution by natural to believing that the Genesis account is 100% historically accurate and that the earth and universe are roughly 6000 years old?
No way in hell.
What's worse is, if you question them, they then go on to describe the kind of life they led: drug-taking, bullying, womanizing... this is the hallmark of Peter Hitchen's book "The Rage Against God". And he blames his atheism quite explicitly for his behavior (which really never changed, to be honest... Peter's like the Christopher Hitchens of Christianity, except he's stupid and very bad at debating, whereas Christopher was brilliant). This is the main reason (even above and beyond the YECism thing) that I don't believe them; I have never in my life met an atheist that nasty, yet I know many YECs who are that nasty.
I think there is a good chance they used to be Christians trying to pull something off. I guess anything is possible though. I'm sure there are plenty of people who consider themselves atheists but that does not mean they have necessarily thought a lot of things through or are very committed to the idea of not believing in god.
I would accept that Plantinga is an excellent philosopher and Craig up to a point. It would be a mistake to debate them without being fully prepared and that would require a good few years of study and a sharp mind. The study of philosophy, in the words of Hegel, is only the introduction to philosophy. However anytime I read their works I get the impression that they are being untrue to the giants whose shoulders they claim to stand on for they take it as a given that GOD exists from the start of their musings. They claim because the Atheist can subjectively conceive of god that god must therefore exist and whether or not we get any objective evidence is beside the point. Their main aim is to revamp or modernize the Ontological Argument and prove that their god exists. I do not consider Hitchens or Dawkins to be philosophers in the same sense but I would suggest that their skills at debating and the sharpness of their logic and reasoning would leave both Plantinga and Craig with their philosophical tails between their legs. Even if it is the greatest debate I can conceive of it will unfortunately not happen.
I would also take people at their word when they say they don’t believe in god or that at some point they considered themselves to be Atheists because they did not at some earlier time believe in god. I think though that may people have claimed not to believe in god without going one step further and not believing that there is a god. Maybe what these “ex-atheists” are saying is that at some point they did not believe IN god so they had temporarily lost faith in their god. From there they can go one of two directions. They can rediscover their faith in their god and therefore believe in him again or they can continue with the self analysis of why they don’t believe in god and come to the conclusion that it is because there probably is no god so they no longer believe the premise that “god exists”. Then they can claim to be Atheists but not until then. A lapse in faith is not enough to join the club and a lapse of reason is unlikely once you are a member.
There's no question that Plantinga and Craig begin from the presupposition of their understanding of the truth of Christian theism and try to justify it on philosophical grounds. Certainly. But the way to demonstrate that their apologetics fail and their presupposition is false is to engage with the philosophical arguments. And you don't get that in anything by Dawkins or Hitchens. But there again, I would hope that Hitch would have admitted that his book was a polemic against the goodness of religion and God, not strictly an argument that gods do not exist. Dawkins on the other hand does style his book to a certain extent as dealing with arguments for God's existence. But here his case is weak and philosophically naive. He deals with the weakest formulations for the arguments (mentioning Anselm's original Ontological Argument but never the modern Modal Ontological Argument) or only arguments that no one really takes seriously anymore (Aquinas's Five Ways) while ignoring the Kalam Cosmological Argument. He deals with the Design Argument but there commits the Why Regress, ignoring that modern Design Arguments are arguments from contingency while God on theism is not contingent.
And you know how you know that case is weak? Here's the thing.... You know by continuing to read beyond The God Delusion. Hitchens and Dawkins would have Plantinga and Craig with their tails between their legs? Absolutely not. If Dawkins debated Craig it would be an epic bloodbath. And Hitch did debate Craig and it WAS an epic bloodbath. Hitch was spanked and Dawkins would be too.
Those books have been invaluable insofar as they've been extremely introductory easy to read accessible books appealing to people who might already had had nagging doubts. But they've been a bane insofar as people have taken them to be more than extremely introductory easy to read accessible books rather than serious treatments of the philosophical arguments.
Nelson, I can’t really disagree with you there. Neither Hitchens nor Dawkins every really grabbled with the philosophical arguments. I suppose I should consider both Plantinga and Craig as Christian apologetics rather than philosophers in the classical sense. I think they would even agree with that.
I shall watch this again tonight. Thanks for the reminder.
You've nailed the reason I still feel shame in telling people that I was convinced of the nonexistence of God (or at least the radical non-necessity, which in classical terms amounts to the same thing) through TGD.
When I was compiling a list of works that had helped me navigate the first year after leaving Christianity (2006-7), I found that, while books like William James' Varieties of Religious Experience, Pascal Boyer's Naturalness of Religious Ideas (neither of which are properly philosophical, but at the time Feuerbach's observation that theology is anthropology had hit hard), and even Dawkins' own Ancestor's Tale made the cut, I couldn't in good conscience recommend TGD on virtue of its (and my) lack of philosophical grounding. If he hadn't discussed the anthropic principle and the scales of chance in the universe (thankfully more in line with his own training), it's probable my already-teetering faith would have held on for a while longer yet.
I don't know, Nelson . . . I think much of philosophy is overrated. Logic should be taught earlier than it is now in U.S. schools but philosophical discourse itself rarely solves anything. Other than Bertrand Russell's contributions to set theory (Russell's Paradox), I really can't think of anything, in the last few centuries, that philosophy has contributed to our understanding of the world. Over the last century, science has left philosophy in its dust.
The fact is, every philosophical school of thought has its detractors; philosophers disagree and philosophical discourse proves nothing. Epistemologists can't agree on the nature of knowledge . . . Ethicists can't agree on the nature of morality. Philosophers have been arguing in circles for centuries over God . . . the mind-body problem and the hard problem of consciousness . . . free will . . . rational governance . . . yada, yada, yada.
Stephen Hawking caught some flak for dissing philosophy but I think I understand where he's coming from. Much of philosophy is merely cerebral masturbation.
The fact remains, there exist serious philosophical arguments for the existence of God. If someone is ignorant of them or ignorant when it comes to them, all they'll be able to do is brandish their copy of TGD over their head and say "Evidence, evidence, evidence!" like a mantra. If we want to know the truth of something, if we want to be truly sure we know the truth about something, we had better make sure we're not saying "Oh that... meh. I'm not interested in philosophical arguments for the existence of God." As I've pointed out before, Darwin was only able to analogize from his theorized natural selection to the artificial selection of animal husbandry. He couldn't point to one bit of empirical evidence for natural selection. The Origin is largely one big rhetorical flourish. People were convinced by it though. Moreover, people were right to be convinced by it.
Besides, even if it was agreed that the philosophical arguments aren't worth the time, people should still make a decision to leave them alone or, if they decide to engage with them, they should make damn sure that they do a good job in their treatment of them. Dawkins didn't do either.
At any rate, it's been pointed out by smarter people than me that while Hawking was dissing philosophy he was actually engaging in it through much of his book. LOL. Oops
One doesn't need to wax philosophic to debunk a philosophical assertion. In fact, the more philosophical you get, the more obfuscated the discussion becomes.
And I seriously doubt that ANY argument in support of a lie can't be easily countered. You speak of sophisticated arguments for God from Plantinga. Cite one (a link would be nice or, perhaps, a cut-and-paste).
The sneering at the philosophical arguments is preventing you from understanding that an argument can be sophisticated even if it fails. They do fail. But they are sophisticated. If you think you can refute Craig's defense of the KCA or respond to Plantinga's Modal Ontological Argument or his defense of warranted Christian belief as properly basic without recourse to philosophy... That's just plain unjustifiable arrogance. The arguments fail. Yes. But these are some of the most brilliant minds in the last 100 years. They've read mountains, they're been thinking about these arguments and hashing them out with other philosophers for 30 or more years, refining them as they go in response to critics. To think that you'd be able to deal with these arguments without recourse to philosophy is a frankly incredible assertion.
You asked for a link, here's a link to a description of Plantinga's Modal Ontological Argument. Here's a link to a description of Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument. To be consistent you'll have to debunk them without recourse to any aspect of philosophy. And so here's the problem. In order to debunk the MOA you need the philosophy of logic as it concerns modal operators of necessity and possibility and the S5 axiom. In order to debunk Craig's KCA you'll need the philosophy of set theory (the existence of actual infinities) and the philosophy of time (is presentism true as Craig requires for the argument to work or is B theory true?). I could also go with Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology that argues that belief in God is warranted as properly basic. In order to deal with that you'd need the philosophy of epistemology.
"Sneering"? Really? I could go with disagreeing . . . but sneering? Let's not start taking things personally, okay? I simply, honestly, disagree with your lofty appreciation of philosophic dissertations. I do have that right here, don't I?
As for the first link you provided, here's its own formal analysis:
A more formal analysis of this argument goes like this:
(1) If God exists then he has necessary existence.
(2) Either God has necessary existence, or he doesn‘t.
(3) If God doesn‘t have necessary existence, then he necessarily doesn‘t.
(4) Either God has necessary existence, or he necessarily doesn‘t.
(5) If God necessarily doesn‘t have necessary existence, then God necessarily doesn‘t exist.
(6) Either God has necessary existence, or he necessarily doesn‘t exist.
(7) It is not the case that God necessarily doesn‘t exist.
(8) God has necessary existence.
(9) If God has necessary existence, then God exists.
(10) God exists.
How is this NOT mental masturbation? The first premise presumes God is perfect. There is no basis for that presumption. It's tautological. The initial premise should be: "If God exists and is perfect then he has necessary existence." But such phrasing would imply we don't really know anything about God and immediately call his perfection and necessity into question. So, in order to work, we must agree that the definition of God includes his perfection . . . when, in actuality, we don't really know.
Let's see. We already know that we can't prove or disprove God. So let's arrange semantics to take advantage of his ambiguous status. The analysis centers on step 7 (it is not the case that God necessarily doesn‘t exist). God has ambiguous status, therefore God exists.
We could say the laws of physics are necessary characteristics of the universe. We could back this up with empirical evidence by pointing out the regularities in nature that the laws describe. But where are the regularities -- the evidence -- to back up God's "necessary-ness"? We have reasons for the laws of physics but none for the necessity of God. What, exactly, would change if God suddenly died?