Pantheism Section Of FAQ
Misrepresents Pantheism
Trene Valdrek

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Trene Valdrek"
Subject: Re: I like your site, but I have a few questions :)
Date: Sunday, July 23, 2000 10:32 PM

First, I will respect someone's right to be a Nazi, so this isn't saying much.

Secondly, I don't necessarily "disbelieve" anything. I do not go along with the god-claims I have encountered. There is a big difference, here, because I think in terms of claims, and the word disbelieve can (and often does) refer to some "deep" reality -- that is, it can imply that a certain "deep" reality (beyond what we can observe and measure) actually exists and I simply refuse to acknowledge that "fact." But, to assume some "deep" reality in a discussion such as this is to beg the question.

So, when engaged in discussion such occur on this forum, I prefer to think in terms of claims rather than assuming that this or that "deep" reality is or is not there. We are organisms making observations, and the best we can come up with is to express what we have observed. Thus, since the theistic claims that I have encountered have not explained my observations to my satisfaction, I choose to suspend judgement on those claims. Some claims have outright contradicted my observations to the point where I feel safe in ignoring them altogether. But, since one cannot prove a negative existential claim (a claim that a thing does not exist), I will never say, for example, "There are no gods" or "There is no tooth fairy."
 

See my currently ongoing dialogue with pantheist John Love-Jensen (which, as of this moment, July 23, 2000, is not even completely formatted into HTML). Here, Love-Jensen and I agree to update and correct our FAQ section regarding pantheism, and perhaps you'd like to be in on this process. Let me know. What is currently posted (July, 2000) is actually a rough draft that I got too busy to finish. I admit that I rushed through this section in a few days so I could get to the Logical Fallacies section which is already undergoing its third revision (July, 2000). The "What Is Atheism" section is only now undergoing its second revision (July, 2000).
 

Atheism doesn't pretend to answer these questions, but usually just leaves them as questions. Atheism simply challenges the notion that a god is required to explain the existence of the universe and the existence of consciousness. Victor Stenger makes a great case that the universe is accidental, and that this notion does not violate any known laws of physics. Steven Pinker (and to some extent Richard Dawkins and to another extent Victor Stenger) give equally compelling reasons for thinking that consciousness is the result of events and processes that occurred naturally, that is, without any supernatural intervention or without there being any specific innate properties in the universe (an Anthropic Principle) that would inevitably lead to the existence of consciousness.

As to explaining why there is existence rather than nonexistence (apart from saying that we just happen to exist) goes beyond the scope of any natural science I've encountered. The way you worded your question, you could be asking, "What processes led to existence?" but I don't think this is your question. I think you are asking "For what purpose did existence come to be?" or even "What motive was behind the decision to bring existence about?" To even ask this question is to beg the question that existence has some sort of purpose beyond itself.

Science does not pretend to pursue these questions. I think should science discover a Creator or an Anthropic Principle, these would be legitimate questions for science, but they are moot unless and until such a discovery is made.

The question of consciousness is similar but fraught with fewer problems. Again, you could be asking "What processes led to the existence of consciousness" and science can (potentially) give adequate answers to this question (though, as Pinker admitted in 1999, science may as yet have provided such answers when it comes to explaining how the human "I" works). But to ask to explain a motive is to beg the question of the existence of a Creator or an Anthropic Principle.
 

No wonder you lost a lot of sleep on these questions: they are invalid in the discussion as to whether a Creator or an Anthropic Principle exists because they beg the question you actually seek to answer: "Is there even a purpose for existence?" By even entertaining these questions, you have provided your answer: a Creator and/or an Anthropic Principle explain possible motives for bringing about existence and consciousness.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Trene Valdrek"
Subject: Re: Thank you for the reply
Date: Monday, July 24, 2000 4:03 AM

I hope you understand that I am simply raising the questions about your approach that come to mind. I did not take offense (and never do), but I do, on occasion, like my sandwiches on wry. When someone (such as the many fundamentalist Christians who write here) starts to wax dishonest, I tend to go for the posturing approach, as this reflects how I feel about dishonesty; but I still don't take offense, because how can I get offended by something that isn't even true?

I always agree to disagree -- except, of course, when I happen to agree.

Though you prefer not to respond to my objections to the two questions you raised, I still would appreciate your thoughts on the Love-Jensen letter, as he seems to have a different approach to Pantheism than you do. I will also send your comments on our FAQ to him, as he likewise criticized this section, and has agreed to help me rewrite it. What I will need is an overview of the basics that are common to all pantheism (if there is such a thing) and also the major sub-groups of pantheism. With this, I can handle the questions and objections that atheists would likely raise (as that is my job here -- to raise objections about theistic claims). Cliff Walker "Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

1. Theism: God is an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent personal being who created the Universe and who, when needed, intervenes in the natural order to secure his providence.

2. Deism: God is an omnipotent and omniscient creator who does not intervene in history.

3. Pantheism: God is identical to the Universe.

4. Panentheism: The Universe is an extension of God, but God exceeds the sum of the objects within the Universe.

Some atheists go beyond a mere absence of belief in gods: they actively believe that particular gods, or all gods, do not exist. Just lacking belief in Gods is often referred to as the "weak atheist" position; whereas believing that gods do not (or cannot) exist is known as "strong atheism".

pan-the-ism - 1. n the doctrine that God is the transcendent reality of which the material universe and human beings are only manifestations; it involves a denial of God's personality and expresses a tendency to identify God with nature. 2. and religious belief or philosophical doctrine that identifies God with the universe.

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Trene Valdrek"
Subject: Re: The Semantic Dance of Pantheism
Date: Monday, July 24, 2000 6:12 AM

Thanks for this.

What do you think of my conclusion (for now) that I call Love-Jensen a theist because he says he believes in "god" even though his philosophical outlook is identical to mine but for this one exception? I say a little bit about this in the letter "Atheists Of The Deep South: Stay In Your Closets!" by Bill Garrett. Search for "Jensen" and you'll find the discussion. Garrett even responds later.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

This segment had inadvertently been placed in another file, and is here restored to its proper place.

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Trene Valdrek"
Subject: Re: The Semantic Dance of Pantheism
Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 5:36 PM

This is a well-known problem that I pondered in my May, 1998, column called "Reflections On The 'A' Word." Language isn't perfect, but then again, I am not trying to unite all atheistic, skeptical, and Freethought types. It cannot be done simply because language is not perfect, and atheism doesn't necessarily cover astrology, reincarnation, or even psychic phenomenon, whereas Freethought and skepticism do not necessarily cover gods of the Deistic and pantheistic varieties.

Thus, I often talk about my not believing in gods or the supernatural, but actually am moving more toward developing this new philosophy I call "Positive Atheism," which took a bold new turn during the Love-Jensen dialogue. Positive Atheism may now include (but not require) the sense of awe and "reverence" toward the universe that Love-Jensen says is his motive for being a pantheist. I've felt this way since I was a child, but find Love-Jensen's theistic language and concepts to be inadequate.

It is broad, and the line can get fuzzy, but I think in the case of Love-Jensen, his use of language that can be seen as traditionally theistic (though this was not what he meant, it was merely what he said), qualifies him as a theist within the context of the theism-atheism dichotomy implied by the "weak" definition for the term atheism as I use it. (This dichotomy exists only within the realm of the "weak" definition.) In practicing the "weak" variation of atheism, I must listen to each claim on its own terms and assess that claim as realistic, insufficient, or indeterminate (and thus, for the time being, insufficient). At the same time, I need to determine if the claim is a god claim or can be seen as a god claim. In Love-Jensen's case, it was his use of the language and concepts of traditional theism that pointed toward me calling him a theist in the sense of the "weak" definition's duality. , even though his language described boldly nontheistic concepts,

Understand that this is a private definition, useful only to those of us who espouse and advocate the "weak" definition. I use it only to determine where I stand in relation to a philosophical (theological?) claim. Precision in language prevents me, for example, from using atheist to describe my reaction to a psychic's claims of psychic abilities. If the psychic claims only psychic abilities, and doesn't claim a belief in a god, gods, or a higher power of some sorts (or if he doesn't use traditionally theistic language or concepts as Love-Jensen does), then he lacks a god belief and fits my private dichotomy as an atheist. Einstein, for example, clearly rejects what Love-Jensen espouses when he says,

"I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic.

"What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of "humility." This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism."
     -- private letter

Since he cloaked it in traditionally theistic terms, I would call him a theist. Love-Jensen and I covered this extensively in our dialogue: it was Love-Jensen's use of traditionally theistic language that cinched it for us. The reasoning that I covered was that we both can, for example, dismiss the notion that Jesus Christ was a god. However, some people (Christians) believe he is a god, in the same way that the ancient fella you mention thinks Zeus is hurling lightning bolts.

As an observer, I cannot place any kind of judgement upon the validity of the god claim. It is a god claim primarily because of the language one is using, because of the concepts one is attempting to convey. Since language and symbol systems are the ways we communicate, I use the language as my bottom line in trying to understand or assess what someone is claiming.
 

Yes! Since this language lacks any traditionally theistic concepts or terminology, we cannot use this to determine that this person is a theist in the "weak" definition's dichotomy (the default being atheist). This person might use other language, in speaking on other topics, that may or may not prompt me to call her a theist (again, atheist is the default in this particular dichotomy).
 

This tends to assume that theism is falsehood. I am not willing to assume this in any discussion, and I don't even assume it in my own mind. Since I submit to Liberal Scientific Method, I must always be for the possibility that new information could overturn my current model.

Thus, even if the Christian turns out to be right, that a god exists and (as an aside) that paranormal events are rightly described as deliberate supernatural interventions, I would still tend to call him a theist because he is using language and concepts that are generally regarded as theistic.

To me, the truth or falsity of the claim does not enter into the decision of whether or not to call someone a theist. This was precisely my case with Love-Jensen: his "god" was neither supernatural nor theistic (in the traditional sense), but the language and concepts he used to describe his claim, though quite abstract, were definitely theistic.
 

-- and --

Umm -- many atheists would like to include the lack of a belief in the supernatural as a part of atheism, but a respect for precision in language forces me to stop and think about this for a minute, to make sure I understand what is meant by the term supernatural. If supernatural implies a "willful" or "deliberate" suspending of natural law (or some similar language that could be seen as traditionally theistic; note my use of quotation marks, here: I'm looking at the language itself, not its intended or understood meaning, nor any lack of "deep" reality behind it), then the term supernatural has intrinsic theistic connotations. I can see supernatural as likely referring only to "willful" or "deliberate" "interventions," of sorts, and I can see paranormal as possibly but not necessarily including that deliberateness. In other words, paranormal is less biased to the point where I can see myself using it in serious discussions of phenomenon and observations. I don't see myself ever using the term supernatural in such a context, though if something supernatural did occur, the term paranormal would accurately describe it. Paranormal is a big category within which lies supernatural.
 

What Love-Jensen and I agreed to call "theistic pantheism" may be unique in that it may be the only form of theism whose "god" actually exists, that is, whose alleged attributes conform to its actual attributes. My only real challenge for theistic pantheism (as Love-Jensen and I agreed to call it: I still cannot keep track of the proper terms for the subsets of pantheistic thought) is this: Is the "god" of theistic pantheism rightly called "god"?
 

But it's only paranormal from our current perspective, according to our current level of knowledge (or ignorance); we may eventually discover it to be perfectly normal. This is why I'd like to relegate the term supernatural into the realm of theistic terminology, and prevent the term paranormal from necessarily implying what I discussed above about "willful" and "intervention."

Even if a case of "willful" "intervention" were being described, the term paranormal would suffice, but only a case of "willful" "intervention" could be described with the term supernatural.

I love the Discordians' spoof on CSICOP (the Committee for the Scientific Investigations for Claims of the Paranormal): their committee is CSICON (the Committee for the Scientific Investigations for Claims of the Normal). They will give (I think) $5,000 to anybody who can present to them a normal hen's egg.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.