01 February 2007

Grumpiness and Insecurity

I'm a little grumpy this morning, after pulling a muscle during weight training before breakfast. Then I found my company car park was occupied, which means regular trips to refresh the paid parking on the street. So I'm in the mood to tackle a topic which may raise a few hackles.

In recent months, I've been reading and thinking on the topic of atheism. First, I've been reading Richard Dawkin's excellent book, "The God Delusion." I really enjoy the writer's style, and find his arguments cogent, logical and well-founded in reality.

Digg presented a link to the Rational Response Squad, a young group of militant atheists who are challenging other atheists to "come out" on Youtube by blaspheming their religion of choice. While I understand their motivation, I'm not sure that it's the most productive approach, although it will certainly increase their media exposure -- which is why I guess they're not using their real names. I was brought up in a nominally Christian culture, and have attended a variety of churches on many occasions, but I don't feel it's necessary to denigrate other's choice of belief.

An obscure New Zealand theologian, Lloyd Geering, became well known for being tried for heresy by the Presbyterian Church. He rejects supernatural explanations of the divinity of the historical character of Jesus, yet remains a church minister and nominal Christian, while being as close to atheism as most Christian churches will tolerate (although this does seem to be an increasing trend among the thinking Church-goer.) His auto-biography, "Wrestling with God", is worth a look as the life story of an interesting and thoughtful thinker.

Dawkins has provided a useful scale of unbelief:

1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C. G. Jung, 'I do not believe, I know.'
2. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. De facto theist. 'I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.'
3. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. 'I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.'
4. Exactly 50 per cent. Completely impartial agnostic. 'God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.'
5. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. 'I don't know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be sceptical.'
6. Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. 'I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.'
7. Strong atheist. 'I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung "knows" there is one.'

I'm probably around a 6 on the scale, but may change as I near death (despite recognizing the flaws inherent in Pascal's Wager. :0)

If I were to apply a label, I guess I might call myself a Bright.

My own tendency is towards a more Buddhist philosophy, which interestingly has much in common with modern atheism, rejecting supernatural explanations for phenomena, and denying the existence of "miracles." While some Buddhists may worship the Buddha as a divine being, I believe most of us view him as an enlightened man, who left behind a very effective and powerful philosophy. I certainly equate the traditional view of a Sky-Father (Odin perhaps?) with more recent innovations such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, who seems to have just as much evidence of existence.

Faith is the keyword most often used by religious apologists, in order the justify their irrational thinking, and of course Dawkins sees this as a species of disorder -- a "faith sufferer" being one who has been infected by a powerful virus of the mind, a "meme." However, I feel that faith is a word that we should not allow to be wholly appropriated by the Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Jew -- as I have faith in the evolutionary capacity of humanity to adapt to even the difficult conditions which our overuse of natural resources has caused. I particularly admire Dawkins' spirited advocacy of the Great Ape Project, which proposes a type of United Nations Rights Charter for higher animals, such as gorillas and orang-utans. As a vegeterian since 1978, I share many of the views of the Project's founder Peter Singer, who propounds an ethical yet humanist view of the world which seems very Buddhist to me -- the idea that we can have compassion for all living creatures.

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