009 The Pros and Cons of Atheism

What are the pros and cons of atheism? Atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods. It holds that there are no good reasons to think that God exists. Without rational justification, it is wrong to accept a claim. Atheists value science, evidence, and reason. But atheism answers only one question, should we believe in God. It offers to comprehensive worldview and therefore is not humanly satisfying. Humankind needs an overall perspective from which to see and interpret the world. Atheism does not offer that.

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Five Minutes With Jay Forrest, Copyright © 2015 Jay N. Forrest.

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

I don’t have all the answers. If there is one thing I am good at it is changing my mind. My thinking is constantly striving for a greater understanding of things. But changing your mind is hardly appreciated.

Although I can see the evolution of my thinking, many people see only indecision and a lack of ability to make up my mind. It seems a virtue to some deluded people to just decide what to believe and stick to it. That might be fine if truth and evidence didn’t matter.

We seem preoccupied with labels. Whether we call ourselves Christian, atheist, Humanist, Pantheist, or whatever, we identify with the label. It defines us and gives us a sense of belonging. I don’t belong, because I don’t fully identify with any of the labels. The closest I come to a label is that I consider myself spiritual but not religious.

I don’t believe in organized religion, or, for that matter, any supernatural religion whatsoever. I am an atheist in that I lack a belief in Theism. But I don’t normally call myself an atheist because it is usually misunderstood and seen as antagonistic. Although I reject the claim that a Theist God exists, I am agnostic when it comes to other kinds of gods. I like Taoism with its focus on practical wisdom. I like Zen Buddhism with its focus on meditation. I like Scientific Pantheism with its reverence for Nature. But I don’t call myself a Taoist, Buddhist, or Pantheist.

A worldview has to answer the big questions. By big questions, I mean such things as: Why I am here? Where did I come from? Who am I? What actually exists? Does god exist? What can be known? How can we know anything for sure? How should we live? How can we be happy and find meaning in life? What happens when I die?

I am looking for a worldview that answers these questions and is empirically based, logically consistent, sufficiently comprehensive, and pragmatically verified, and is, within this framework, humanly relevant. Does one exist? Because I believe in spirituality, I find Spiritual Atheism, Religious Humanism, Natural Spirituality, and Scientific Pantheism particularly interesting and promising. It is my conviction that the next great worldview will combine science and spirituality. But I am currently not satisfied with the choices. To quote U2, “I still haven’t found what I am looking for.” Have you?

Debating the God Question

Before you can really debate the God question you must first define the word God. Until this is defined, you cannot have a debate. You cannot even have an intelligent conversation. The Deist god, the Pantheist god, and the Christian God are very different. Even among Christians, God is defined in a multitude of ways. Some believe in a triune God, others a modalist God, others a tritheist God, and others a process theology kind of God. don’t assume.

The next important thing is to define atheism. How you define atheism determines the burden of proof. The burden of proof means that one has the obligation to support their claim with evidence. If you define atheism as the belief that God does not exist, then you take on the burden of proof. In other words, it is now your responsibility to show evidence to why your claim that God does not exist is true.

But if you define atheism correctly, as a lack of belief in a god or gods, then the burden of proof remains with the believer. It is their responsibility to show evidence to support their claim that God exists. You do not need to prove anything, you just need to show that the evidence does not support the claim.

After defining the terms, you then go on to the believer’s presentation of their evidence. It is your job to evaluation their evidence and show why it is not true or not logically consistent. This is often called the rebuttal. You have to show why the facts and their interpretation of the facts is false. Much hinges on the interpretation of the facts.

Most of the time they will retreat to the faith defense. You just have to have faith. This is conceding that they do not have reasons to believe. As Merriam-Webster explains, “faith almost always implies certitude even where there is no evidence or proof.” Drawing the faith card means, “I believe without the need for evidence.”

You will also run across the appeal to personal experience. Here you point out that experiences, by their very nature, have no intellectual content. Experiences are contentless. We add content based on our already accepted worldview. In other words, experience of God are feelings plus interpretation. Experiences, by themselves, are without an interpretation. Interpretations are added to experiences. Therefore the experience may be real, but the interpretation is wrong.

008 How to Know the Truth

How can we know the truth? How can we know that what we believe is true? Truth is the correspondence between thought and reality. When what you think matches with what reality really is, you have truth. Beliefs come in systems, these systems are known as worldviews. According to The American Heritage Dictionary, a worldview is “the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.” So how know your worldview is correct? The truest worldview, and the truest claim, is the one that is empirically based, logically consistent, sufficiently com­prehensive, and pragmatically verified, and is, within this framework, humanly relevant.

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Scientific Pantheism

Scientific Pantheism is the belief that the universe, as revealed by science, is sacred and is worthy of the deepest reverence. It holds that science tells us what exists and how it works, but Pantheism tells us what it means, its value, and our emotional, ethical, and spiritual relationship to it.

Pantheism is from two Greek words, pan meaning “all” and theos meaning “God.” So Pantheism literally means “all is god.” But god, in this context, is the god of the scientists, that is, the universe and its natural laws. As Richard Dawkins explains, “Pantheists don’t believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a non-supernatural synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings.”

Albert Einstein was a Scientific Pantheist by definition. He said, “I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.” When asked if he believed in God, he said, ““I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.”

What was Baruch Spinoza’s God? Baruch Spinoza wrote, “Whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived. God is the indwelling, and not the transient cause of all things.” To him there was one substance, and that one substance was “God or Nature.” He was a Scientific Pantheist.

Many have a problem with calling the universe God because of the connotations, and so prefer to call Nature sacred. As Daniel C. Dennett has said, “This world is sacred.” In other words, it is worthy of the deepest reverence. It is the most powerful thing that we know, it created us and can destroy us. We arose from it and will return to it in death.

Carl Sagan once wrote, “A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.” Could that be Scientific Pantheism?