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Atheists: Part II

by Tim O'Donnell | December 19th, 2010

I ended the last post with the following question:

To Believers and Atheists alike:  Could you/would you believe in God if there was no formalized doctrine attached to it?

Well – would ya?

I should probably rephrase the question because it is loaded with loaded words.

Try this:  Could you allow for the existence of universal intelligence in the absence of an organized belief system?

Well – would ya?

I ask because there is a paradox at the intersection of the debate between atheists and theists. They both point to religion as the linchpin of their position.

The Intersection

The atheist uses religion to make the case that the entity we’ve been trained to call God does not exist.  They call the narrative (Bible for example) a fairy tale and point out the doctrine (church teaching) has inconsistencies, contradictions and errors. Atheists from Maher to Hawking to Dawkins rail against organized religion much more than they posit a hard-core denial that such an entity exists.  Further, the attacks on religion are almost exclusively aimed at fundamentalists, namely creationists – a cynically easy target. If the so called “fairy tales” were not attached, would the idea of universal intelligence (God) be more palatable?  I wonder!

Believers on the other hand, use religion as grounds to argue the entity we’ve been trained to call God does exist.  “It must be true”, they insist, “because it says so in The Bible”.  This reasoning of course starts with a presupposition that the text is inerrant and absolute.  Often, facts are ignored or refuted if they contradict a position of faith, which leads to defending ideas such as the world being created in six days or that God made the first man from dust. The monologue of pop culture clergy from the likes of Graham and Osteen rely heavily on literature of the Bible as a basis to their worldview and teaching about reality.  Without the extraordinary assumption that the text of religion is absolute and true, would the concept of God (universal intelligence) still be independently arrived at?  Does the believer need doctrine in order to believe? I wonder!

One problem with the debate is that dogmatism dominates the arguments on both sides.

Dog•ma•tism: the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or opinions of others.

The dogma of the atheist is in demanding visible, physical, irrefutable proof.  It maintains that because God can’t be proven, universal intelligence is non-existent.  It is as fundamental a position as one could take.  But nothing in the universe can be proven before it becomes known by us to exist.  Did electricity exist before it was discovered?  Was the earth ever really flat?   Science does a remarkable job advancing human knowledge as it continuously uncovers “mysteries” about our condition and our origin.  Science itself is not dogmatic because it never rests on its findings, it is never satisfied that what we know now is the last word.  Often science refutes findings of a previous generation because it continues to question everything, even ideas thought to be irrefutable.  The human capacity to comprehend reality continues to evolve and science keeps expanding its ability to articulate it.  Science keeps pace with humanity.  Science has become a good friend to the rationale human mind and it has earned that position.

The dogma of many theists is insisting that what was written thousands of years ago makes up the totality of understanding mankind will ever need and that advancement is not welcome.   Typically, an ancient mystic articulated God’s essence and his followers tacked the ideas to paper.  Powerful institutions have been erected with a main goal of protecting the doctrine of a specific theology.  Religion resists expansion of the understanding laid down in antiquity even though the species asking the questions has evolved exponentially in its capacity to comprehend.  The ancient prophets and mystics responsible for most of the religion being practiced today articulated their ideas contemporaneously.  That is, they spoke in the language and style of their place and time.

Would the language of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad or The Buddha be different today than it was when they deposited their wisdom into human consciousness?

Because science keeps expanding our knowledge of reality and religion persistently turns us back to antiquity, the gap between the two increases.  This expanding gap tends to make religion look – well, immature (not fully developed) when it comes to advancing thought.  Answering questions about reality is the objective of science and religion.  Some in the world of science refuse to allow for anything not quantifiable in the physical realm and many in the world of religion overlook physical realities in favor of ancient metaphysical articulations.

Theists label atheists as evil and immoral while atheists accuse the theist of being irrational and superstitious.  And so the hard line positions with the inherent mistrust for one another remains.

Could it be that the two parts – physical and metaphysical – combine to make up the fullness of reality? Does reality encompass the natural and the supernatural?  Is it possible that the declared conflict between science and religion will dissolve someday and embarrass mankind for fueling the longstanding fight between them?  Is it possible that the two will someday combine to advance our comprehension of the universe and offer future generations a sort of “theology of reality”?  Or will the gap between science and religion endure and widen as science continues to advance human understanding?

What can we do as individuals to bridge the gap we might feel in our own perception of reality?

We can start by dropping the dogma to ask intellectually honest questions and trust where our inborn sense of reason takes us.

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