June 01, 2006

I am a Wicked Amermaidist; I Believe in Amermaidism

Bertrand Russell didn't think anything about a hippopotamus in his rooms at Cambridge until Ludwig Wittgenstein brought up the subject. And he didn't think anything of it for the same reason that I don't think there are mermaids. There was not a shred of evidence for either. Russell didn't run around "bolding shouting" "there is no hippopotamus in my rooms." And it wasn't only that he had a negative opinion on the subject. There was no reason to have any opinion at all on the subject.

With this background, I give you what I take to be the heart of Jim West's post "Atheists and Fundamentalists- Two Sides of the Same Coin."

Atheism is of all philosophical presuppositions the most foolish because it pretends a knowledge that it does not possess. Agnostics at least confess "I don't know if there's a God or not" but atheists boldly shout "there is no God!"

I certainly don't shout "there is no God." If others didn't bring it up I would never express an opinion on the subject. Because it would never occur to me that it is a subject. Truthfully, I'm being a little disingenuous here. The belief that there is a god is so all pervasive in our culture and was such an important part of my own life at one time that it is almost impossible to be without an opinion on this subject.

That said, it is not that "Atheism is of all philosophical presuppositions the most foolish because it pretends a knowledge that it does not possess." It is that there is no evidence for any position on this subject and parsimony requires a negative opinion in the face of no evidence, at least it does in most other areas of thought. Rational atheists do not pretend a knowledge they do not possess. They claim that there is no basis, other than religious tradition, for any such knowledge.

In that limited sense, many atheists agree with some fundamentalists. The full and complete basis for any positive theistic belief lies in the founding traditions of some religion.

For a variety of reasons, I dislike the term atheist. It would seem foolish to call Russell an "ahippopotamusist" or to call me an "amermaidist." And I dislike the term "atheism" even more. The very construction makes it sound like a belief system.

Now I probably wouldn't have written on this at all if it wasn't that Jim quoted from Luther's Table-Talk, CXXXVIII , which contains a paraphrase of Psalm 14:1. After all I've covered this ground in more detail in my exchange with Chip of Daily Hebrew. But one of the implications of Luther's quote could not be left unanswered. Here is what Jim quotes from Luther.

The world will neither hold God for God, nor the devil for the devil. And if a man were left to himself, to do after his own kind and nature, he would willingly throw our Lord God out at the window; for the world regards God nothing at all, as the Psalm says: The wicked man saith in his heart, there is no God. [emphasis added]

Quoting this perpetuates an old slur that atheists are somehow wicked while theists are good. Some atheists like to play a "'moraler' than thou" game, which I find boring. What is undeniable is that some theists and some amermaidists atheists act evilly on some occasions and some theists and atheists act morally on some occasions. To attribute wickedness or goodness to only one group is itself a moral flaw.

Perhaps Jim is only saying that, by definition, people who see no evidence for God are wicked. To this I can only say, "mea culpa, mea maxima culpa."

Oh, by the way, Bertrand Russell was an atheist and a rather militant one. But he was an atheist for the same reason that I am an amermaidist.


Moorehead, Caroline, Bertrand Russell, A life, New York: Viking, 1992, 171

Posted by DuaneSmith at June 1, 2006 02:24 PM | Read more on Religion |

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Great post

Posted by: beepbeepitsme at June 2, 2006 04:02 AM

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