Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Poking at the Talking Points

I disclaim that:

  • I am an atheist, and am not at all shy about that
  • I am not backing off from that in any way
Saying that, there is one quip that I'd suggest we be wary of making in a discussion: "I contend that we are both nearly atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do".

The problem I have with this is that, understanding there are three rough groups (and then some) of religious beliefs; polytheism, monotheism, and atheism/agnosticism. The quip suggests a false similarity between those who believe in one god and those who believe in none, going by numbers. The numbers are not the point; the function of one god and the function of many are substantially similar. The Moirae of greek mythology fill the role of planning the lives of men and giving us the psychological security that somebody's watching in the same way that a single deity of the monotheistic faiths can. The desire for significance of our lives and acknowledgement of our efforts to be civilised is provided by an afterlife and presumably can be met equally in a Celestial Bureaucracy as in monotheism. Even a fuzzy, indistinct deity where one feels that something is out there is still suited to meet the emotional needs of humanity.

Atheism (in most of its forms) and its close cousins are on the other side of a large gap; one where we see and accept that the universe does not care about us, where our morality is only significant for its effects on our behaviour, where we are fragile, temporary, and ephemeral. One where there is nobody looking out for us but our fellow humans, and where the only way we can really hope for good results in our endeavours is to apply the best efforts and intellect to them and hope not to have bad luck or errors.

This, I contend, makes us very distant from most kinds of theism, and marks the theist-atheist divide as far more more fundamental than the monotheist-polytheist divide.

Of course, it's just a quip, and I might be being excessively pedantic about something not meant to be taken seriously :) I recently was reminded of the quip while watching a TED talk by Dawkins. Dawkins remains my favourite pro-secular speaker.

Tags: philosophy

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