Operating On The Assumption
Bryant Adams

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: Bryant Adams
Subject: Re: Is_Rational_Doubt_Weaker_Than_Emotion-Based_Doubt?_9326
Date: Thu, 15 Feb 2001 20:40:43-0000

As for the quip in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, I am reminded of the allegedly true story of a former solipsist, a student, who, after having recovered from that viewpoint, watched in horror as one of the younger students began to take that philosophy as the basis for living. Fearing that the younger student would soon take his life (as our hero almost had), he enticed the younger fellow into the woods and pinned his neck to a tree with a pitchfork and left him there overnight. The authorities found out and prosecuted our hero for kidnapping and torture. If I remember the story correctly, he was able to prevail by explaining the situation as he saw it, and by apologizing that his hasty and admittedly crude move was, in his opinion, his best option for saving the young fellow from certain demise. (If I remember where I read this story, I'll tack that information on and send it your way.)

Regarding your statement that we are dealing with apples and oranges, I couldn't agree with you more. This goes not only for the theism versus atheism axis but also goes within the realms of theism -- one end thinking it's blasphemy to call oneself God (the more busybody elements within transcendent monotheism) and another thinking it tantamount to blasphemy not to recognize that one is God (a potential in certain pantheistic systems).

My current working definition of atheist revolves around the idea that we atheists have yet to be given a valid reason for assenting to any religious creed -- or the very idea of theism. This makes atheism the default condition of the human, with the creed added later. The atheist, in this case, simply hasn't added the creed.

Most theists, though, learn theism at a very young age -- young enough that they don't remember starting out as atheists. Such theists usually learn to parrot a claim "a God exists" and to assert to others that this is what they believe. But do such assertions describe what we traditionally think of as a belief?

Here's some food for thought: Theodore M. Drange, positing what he calls "the mumbo-jumbo theory of some religious language," suggests that this does not fit any definition of belief because such theists cannot describe for you the basis for their so-called faith. What they think is belief is nothing more than empty sounds organized to appear, to the listener, to be a statement of faith. While I suspect that most people do not ponder the meaning of their creeds, I do think most theists have at least a vague picture in their minds of what they're saying. Many have even learned to "parrot" (according to this model) extremely complex arguments to justify their claims.

I'm not sure how far to go with Drange's model. I bring it up only because your letter reminded me of his idea, which he described in an appendix of his book, Nonbelief and Evil. I certainly don't go as far as it appears in my June, 1999, column, "The Mumbo-Jumbo Theory," where I described it and, in a careless stroke of the keyboard, made it seem as if I dogmatically hold this opinion and apply it to all theists: I don't see it this way at all; this was just careless writing on my part, attempting to fit several ideas within a specific amount of space. I do think Drange's idea accounts, in part, for some of the rhetoric we hear in Parliament and on Capitol Hill (as does the likelihood that more than a few of these politicians are lying through their teeth). However, I think his idea is worthy of consideration.

[I will post your letter in the file containing the Forum question, and will post the letter with my response as a separate letter, with links back and forth. However, I am way behind, so this posting may not take place for a while. So, if you'd like to continue this dialogue and bounce a few ideas back and forth, feel free to do so. I always respond to my mail, though I don't always post the material as quickly as I'd like.]

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

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