The presuppositional proof of atheism

I was thinking this morning about the presuppositionalist’s argument for God, and it occurred to me that in fact, presuppositionalism is really rather an effective disproof of theism in general and Christianity in particular. Consider this snippet from Pastor Stephen Feinstein’s third post in his debate with Russell Glasser.

I am not sure how familiar you are with Thomas Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument… Have you studied the 10-step argument as outlined in Summa Theologica I, Question 2, Article 3? Just for the purpose of classical education, I recommend it. Although I reject the semi-pelagian presuppositions of the classical argumentation for the existence of God, Aquinas actually gets somewhere good between the 5th and 6th step.

The Gospel tells us that God is a loving heavenly Father, more so than any earthly father. And yet, how many children do you know, who have loving earthly fathers actively and personally involved in their daily lives, who need to resort to an advanced study of medieval philosophy, ontology, and epistemology, just to find a line of reasoning abstruse and convoluted enough to persuade them that their father necessarily even exists?

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Atheism on CNN

An atheist mother got a big reaction when one of her posts got published on CNN iReport.

[Deborah] Mitchell, a mother of two teenagers in Texas who feels “immersed in Christianity,” started a blog about raising her children without religion because she felt frustrated and marginalized. She didn’t want to feel so alone, she says.

This week, she gained a whole new audience and the reassurance that she’s not alone. Her essay on CNN iReport, “Why I Raise My Children Without God,” drew 650,000 page views, the second highest for an iReport, and the most comments of any submission on the citizen journalism platform.

As you might expect, a lot of the reaction was critical and knee-jerky, but there were also a number of responses like this one:

“Thank you for writing this. I agree with everything you say, but I’m not brave enough to tell everyone I know this is how I feel,” a woman who called herself an “agnostic mommy of two in Alabama” posted in the comments. “Thank you for your bravery and letting me know I’m not alone.”

A great read to start the week with.

An informal competition

In honor of the new year, I’m going to try something different. We’ve seen a few billboards over the years whose goal is to promote atheism in some way. Some have been good, some have been meh, and a few have been counterproductive (in many people’s eyes, at least). We need more good ones.

So here’s my idea. Let’s have an informal contest to design a good billboard promoting atheism and/or skepticism. To enter, grab your favorite graphics program, put together a mockup whose proportions match a standard billboard size (but reduced to monitor-friendly pixel dimensions of course), and then put it up on Flickr or deviant art or some other online picture service and send me the link. Then at the end of January, 2013, I’ll nominate the 5 submissions I like best and put it up for a vote. It’s just for fun, and unfortunately I can’t promise any cash prize or anything, but maybe if we get some good designs, some individual or organization might pick one and make a real billboard out of it.

Official rules below the fold. [Addendum: in rule 3, clarified that entrants are responsible for securing their own licensing, permissions and releases for any materials and/or persons appearing in their entries.]

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The “creed” of atheism

Just a quickie for today: The Irish Times just published a letter in which the writer expresses a kind of good will towards atheists.

One sincerely hopes that Joe Humphreys is correct in his suggestion that a new, more reasonable form of atheism may be beginning to emerge, from the creed’s Irish adherents (Arts Ideas, October 26th). Those of us from the Catholic intellectual tradition would certainly welcome such a development. Because there are undoubtedly large areas of agreement on many important ethical issues.

Ah yes, the spirit of camaraderie, atheists and Catholics agreeing on important ethical issues…
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The problem of purpose

I want to continue looking at the Bad Catholic’s post at Patheos because there’s a lot of interesting stuff there. Like this introduction:

Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to suffering.

If some natural, secular purpose could be granted to the man suffering, then his pain would cease to be suffering and begin to be useful pain.

He goes on to compare the young athlete’s muscular aches and pains, endured for the sake of fitness, with the inescapable aches and pains of old age, as an example of useful pain versus pointless suffering. In order to be suffering, he says, suffering “requires the lack of a natural, secular answer.” And by “answer” he means “a good reason”—some overriding benefit good enough to justify the means used to achieve it.

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Meanwhile, over at Patheos

I stopped by the Patheos web site to see how some of my former FtB co-bloggers were doing (they seem to be doing well, I’m pleased to say), and I spotted this post, under the heading, “Answer This, Atheists!” The blogger’s name is Marc, his blog is called “Bad Catholic” (great name), and the full title of his actual post is “An Attempt to Explain Christianity to Atheists In a Manner That Might Not Freak Them Out” (not so great name). He introduces his subject with the following preface.

Between being told that Christianity is a system of oppression, a complex way to justify burning with hatred over the existence of gay people, and a general failure of the human intellect, I begin to suspect that few people know why Christians exist at all. This is my attempt to explain why I am a Christian.

Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to suffering.

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What you are, not what you aren’t

I have to say, I’m tremendously encouraged by the emergence of a new “Atheism+” movement as the logical outgrowth of the New Atheist movement. The problem with atheism (if you’ll pardon me phrasing it in those terms) is that it’s a definition based on what you’re not, or in other words on the things you don’t do. That’s a negative beacon. Sure, it draws in people who have thought things over, and rejected superstition based on reason and evidence, but it also draws in people who disbelieve in God as part of a larger pattern of antisocial attitudes, as well as people who reject religion as a way of drawing attention to themselves.

Atheism+ is a much needed refinement of the original raw idea. It’s not enough just to disbelieve in God for whatever good or bad reasons you might have. To be part of this new movement, we need to be atheists PLUS we need to be decent people committed to making life better for ourselves and those around us. And that means breaking down all the pernicious vices by which we oppress and destroy one another: superstition, patriarchy, bigotry, sexism, racism—whatever penalizes the innocent in order to profit the privileged.

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Causes, creations and preconditions

I’ve been following Russell Glasser’s online discussion with Pastor Stephen Feinstein, in which the latter claims that he can prove that “atheism is untenable, irrational, and ultimately impossible.” By mutual agreement, it’s a public discussion between just those two parties, but I can’t resist the temptation to supply a little offside commentary, because it looks like Pastor Stephen has made a misstep already, in only his second post.

It is not good enough for me to say, “Russell, I agree with you that this world is real, that we learn from the senses, that reasonable standards are necessary, and that bald assertion fails to prove anything.” By the way, I agree with you on all of these things, but with one revision. However, I want us to account for these things. What are the necessary preconditions of this universe, as we know it? Why are we able to rely on our senses? What are the necessary preconditions for our senses to be reliable? Why must there be reasonable standards? What are the necessary preconditions for any standards at all that avoids the hopelessness of relativity? Epistemology will help us construct workable lists of what things are necessary in order to make these assumptions of ours a reality. Furthermore, we cannot even take epistemology for granted, but must ask what are the necessary preconditions of it too? And at the end of the day, atheism cannot provide for these necessary preconditions.

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