Replacing 'God' With
An Impersonal
Abstract 'Truth'
Richard Starkey

Graphic Rule

From: Positive Atheism <>
To: Richard Starky
Subject: Re:
Date: Tuesday, July 27, 1999 1:40 PM

I used to edit a magazine called "Critical Thinker." Now it is called "Positive Atheism."

This endeavor is the result of my discovery (not an assumption, a discovery) that the basic premises of theism are falsehood.

The only reason this matters at all (the only aspect that separates this issue from, say, the Santa Claus myth -- or Buddhism, for that matter) is that many American theists wish to base public policy upon what we have determined to be falsehood. For example: Even though hardly any historians think Moses was a historical figure, that Moses actually existed, the United States House of Representatives has passed a law allowing public schools and other public venues to post the Ten Commandments. This has yet to clear the United States Senate. It most certainly will fail in the courts, because it is patently illegal for the Congress to make such laws -- the existence of said Commandments in the Supreme Court building notwithstanding: two wrongs don't make a right.

Continually? Hardly! You will need to make a case for your use of the word "continually" if you wish to have any credibility with me. Please catalogue enough instances where either the editor or the editorial content of the magazine (not guest writers) used the word "truth" in an absolutistic sense.

If anything, the magazine's editorial content attempts to refer to the concept of truthfulness, as this is the bottom line: Are you being truthful with us or are you lying to us (or are you simply mistaken)?

Your accusation that we "continually" speak of "truth as if it were an absolute" is an example of such an attempt to deceive our readers.

This accusation is pure falsehood as far as we can tell. The magazine and its editor have made no editorial statements to this effect. You will need to document your accusation with examples of this hypocrisy. It seems that you are simply hurling accusations at us without first determining if they are true.

The concept of an "all powerful, personal God" is itself an abstract concept. It is doubly abstract in that we have never detected the existence of what this concept alleges to describe: an "all powerful, personal God." This is not like the sun which we can measure and whose light I can see and whose heat I can feel.

If someone were to bother making a case for the existence of the sun, that person would have no trouble convincing the listener that the sun exists. People making independent observations can come up with the same basic description of the sun.

This is not so with the concept of an "all powerful, personal God" (as you put it). It seems that an "all powerful, personal God" would have left some kind of distinctive mark that we could detect -- or at least could agree on if not directly detect. The truth is that humans do not and cannot agree as to the nature or existence of this "God." Michael Jordan's "Encyclopedia of the Gods" documents and describes over 2,500 different deities that mankind has endorsed, and this is a drop in the bucket. Also, the history of these doctrines are fraught with documentable cases of fraud and deceit as far as the propagation of these ideas is concerned.

From this, the entire concept of an "all powerful, personal God" (or any deity or supernatural being, for that matter) appears to us to be pure conjecture, with no basis in reality whatsoever.

An example of this is that you are not being truthful with us. You are accusing us of saying and believing things that we have neither said nor do we believe. No "god-like" force needs to exist for us to determine that what you said about us is not the truth.

Gravity is an absolute force. It is detectable and verifiable. My behavior reflects my acknowledgment of this fact. Ditto for magnetism: it is an absolute force.

I cannot speak for the behavior of others (especially not for your behavior), but at Positive Atheism, our behavior is based in truthfulness in our dealings with others: we insist on the right to insist upon truthfulness in all our affairs. This is the basis of our behavior. Lying to you or about you is out of the question, and allowing you to lie to us or about us will not to be tolerated.

After this, we are given a world of choices every day -- as individuals and as societies. All choices bring some amount of happiness to some and some amount of unhappiness to others. Positive Atheism advocates making those choices which will bring the least amount of misery to our fellows and to ourselves.

The concepts of "good" and "evil" are themselves abstractions and are, as such, relative to the individual in question. The Egyptians of the age of Ptah were not given to abstractions, and they made no mention of 'good' and 'evil,' only 'he who does what is loved' and 'he who does what is hated.' We may take this as a cue to step back and think about what we are saying before we pronounce anything "good" or "evil." Certainly the invocation of these two words, these abstractions, have caused untold misery to humankind.

What are you saying, here, that we should stop thinking? I don't get your point -- except that it appears to be an attempt on your part to further vilify atheists, rationalists, and freethinkers through falsehood and through verbal gerrymandering.

The atomic bomb was the collective result of every mechanic and curious tinkerer who had lived up to that point. The use of the bomb as a weapon was the collective result of every political decision that had ever been made since before the vertebrates began competing for territory.

This makes much more sense (and fits more facts) than thinking that an "all powerful, personal God" did it. (Yes: the concept of omnipotence, what you call "all powerful," includes the notion that the deity in question could have prevented the atomic bomb from being dropped, but chose not to intervene). That concept is replete with this and similar problems, rendering it highly unlikely.

You answered your own question.

How else do you base your behavior but to think about whether a given choice leads to increased happiness or to increased misery for you and your fellows?

How else do you determine whether something your "all powerful, personal God" (allegedly) says (or wills) is something you choose to believe or disregard? How do you determine that someone else's notions of a deity are false? Do you obey the commandments of Allah? Krsna? Quetzalcoatl Aten? Amen? If not, why not? How can you tell that your understanding of "God" is true and others' conceptions of "God" are false?

Our reasoning facilities are all we have in this regard.

This question is a trick question in that it make many false presuppositions. It is also very vague and unspecific.

(1) Life itself is not necessarily here as the result of an intelligent decision. In this sense, it does not necessarily have a purpose for its existence. (2) Life is not this easily summarized. There are individual lives. You do not specify whether you are talking about the purpose I give (or anyone gives) for living as opposed to killing myself. (3) There is not a single purpose, as implied in your question.

I don't believe this way because it is not true. There are people who simply live, without giving it much thought. Others have religious beliefs that contradict the notion of a purposeful life, such as the doctrine of predestination and the doctrine of salvation by grace. Each of these doctrines, as explained in the Bible, completely nullify the notion of purpose: the first, by teaching that everything is pre-planned and that there is nothing I can do to change my ultimate destiny (Heaven or Hell); the second, by teaching basically the same thing, that there is nothing I can do to change my ultimate destiny because salvation is either granted to me by grace or it is withheld from me. No action or thinking on my part is involved in this process. I would argue that a person who believes in either of these doctrines believes he has no purpose of his own and that any purpose this person has (according to these beliefs) is completely predetermined.

If this is true (which it isn't), then atheists de facto "live for something." In other words, to "live for something" does not necessarily require the existence of an "all powerful, personal God." Thus, your argument stands self-refuted.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

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