Monday, September 10, 2007

Sophisticated theism

Julian S. Taylor writes that "I feel comfortable with my very abstract definition of the word 'God'."

Chris A writes that our understanding of God is apophatic, i.e. known via negation; it's "frustrating to atheists and fundamentalist Christians alike ... [and] the sort of things that annoy the philosophers because it's fuzzy; you can't argue against it."

Those of you who remember the Deacon might recall his (now deleted) description of modern, sophisticated theism as chthonic, fuzzy, mysterious, occult (I'm paraphrasing; I wish I'd quoted him at the time).

H. Allen Orr criticizes Dawkins' "failure to engage religious thought in any serious way."

But where is this supposedly serious, sophisticated modern theology? Swinburne? A fatuous idiot. Plantinga? Full of logical fallacies and sophistry. Sprong? An atheist.

Forgive the tendentious paraphrase; I have to read between the lines of what these sophisticated theists are saying to make any sense at all of their position. But as best I can tell, modern theism rests on a single principle.

Theists seem uncomfortable facing the meta-ethical truth that they—like all people, indeed all animals with a brain larger than a BB—are physical beings imposing their will on a physical universe which is not intrinsically moral. They shrink from the truth that there's no objective difference between Nazism and altruism; the only difference is subjective, how we feel about such activities. (I strongly dislike Nazism, of course, and I'm willing to impose my will with legal violence—police and soldiers—when Nazis try too hard to impose their own will. But I take personal responsibility for my position.) They can't take personal responsibility for imposing their will on the world, but they're not willing to kill themselves (the only effective method of not imposing one's will), nor are they comfortable ceding their moral authority to other people, i.e. priests, politicians or popes. So they push the responsibility for their choices onto an immaterial, undetectable, chthonic, mysterious God. They're not imposing their own will on the world, but God's. (Why God's will always seems to resemble whatever moral beliefs are held by the believer's parents remains a mystery. It's also a mystery why God requires armies of faith-addled morons to impose His will.)

Sophisticated, serious theism has to be fuzzy because the underlying position is simply bullshit: There is no God, he doesn't have any sort of will. You can't prove it because it's false, so you can defend the position only through obfuscation, sophistry, bullshit and lies.

Believers will deny my tendentious paraphrase; they'll say I'm just not getting it. Perhaps they're right. I remain open-minded. But I'd like to see an actual position, not just the theism of whatever isn't criticized by atheist arguments. I'd like to see something more positive than that an atheist argument "never squarely faces its opponents." If sophisticated theism is so fuzzy and chthonic, don't criticize atheists for imprecision.

And don't tell me to read a book either. I've read a lot of books. If your favorite book is so great, you should be able to summarize and paraphrase its arguments (not just its conclusions). If you need more space than comments provide, I'll give you—subject only to ordinary editorial standards—a post on the front page of this blog to make your case.

Sophisticated theists: Put up or have a steaming cup of shut the fuck up.

(h/t to Geoff Arnold for Julian and Chris's links)


  1. I just made the same point in the comments to this post on B+W.

    Someone should call Vernon (or any of the others adopting the Courtier's Reply. They need to set out somewhere a summary of the best theological arguments that they don't think Dawkins has addressed. That is, they actually have summarise the arguments, not just make a reading list.

  2. "Apophatic." Is it just me, or does this form of argumentation make absolutely no sense? I can see it in a material sense -- "We know a duck because it is not a chicken" -- but on something intangible, it seems to dry up. It just seems to fall back on ontological arguments in the end: "We know God because he is unknowable."

    Quoi? Qu'est-ce que c'est? Je ne comprends pas.

  3. James: It's not just you. It's utter bullshit.

  4. I remain open-minded.

    Someone who is truly "open-minded" is in danger of their brain falling out.

  5. Open-mindedness is very different from uncritical vacuity. I don't know about your mind, but mine remains firmly anchored by logic, reason and sensibility.


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