Theism


Compare Theism and Atheism

There are a number of ways that we can compare theism and atheism. In a debate that is increasingly politicised, in the USA at least, it is important to understand the objective or emotion of any person who is engaged in such a debate. This post is a brief look at the charge levelled against atheists that they too are expressing religiousness.

The simple view would be that to compare theism and atheism is trivial as one side (theism) offers a position of belief, whilst the other (atheism) counters with the negation or rejection of that belief. However, there are a number of different ways we can make a comparison particularly when we see either side stray from the real notion of what they are in fact supporting or denying.

Emphasised in earlier posts has been the point that theism is the assertion that there is a God who exists separately from the universe that he has created. Atheism is the denial of this claim. This is the “in a nutshell” definition of what theism and atheism entails.

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Define Theism and atheism

The definitions of theism and atheism should both be very clear. Yet at times because of the heat of debate in which theism and atheism are discussed the real meaning of each becomes blurred. Dictionaries are often considered the arbiters of definition, though reaching for a dictionary should be a last resort. Dictionaries are not definers of words. Dictionaries list words and how they are used in common speech. As a philosopher it is quite legitimate to define ones own terms provided one is clear that is what you are doing. If a philosopher defines a term to have a specific meaning then the dictionaries definition is irrelevant. Should a philosophers use of a term become standard then it will be the dictionary that adapts to the new usage. It is not the public who adapt to a dictionary definition, rather the dictionary changes to how words are used.

Theism can be a difficult word to define because theists themselves have so many different ideas of what their theism entails. Not only are there three primary theist religions, there are a number of sub groups within each religion further diluting any notion of there being a clear and distinct definition.

Atheism is easy to define. Atheism is the belief that theism is false. But as that definition rests on our understanding of what theism entails we are back to the problem of seeking a clear definition of theism. So for the purpose of this blog I shall make clear precisely how I define the concept of theism and by default how atheism then becomes defined.

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Theism vs. Atheism

Though Darwin didn’t casually forsake his religious faith, many of his scientific descendents have been much less reticent to equate evolutionary theory with atheism. Indeed, many theists see their religious belief system as incompatible with evolution; consequently the theism vs. atheism debate is often fought in the theory of evolution arena. This is unfortunate as the idea of evolution has no bearing on the claim that God does or does not exist. Evolution no more proves that God does not exist than gravitational theory.

Theism is at its most embarrassing and cringe worthiness when it adopts a contrary position to evolutionary theory. It plucks out of the air a ridiculous idea called creationism and subverts its own self by imposing the artificial claim on the bible that it is some kind of ancient scientific text. Any value that the bible has is immediately lost as it is used to propose an alternative unscientific account of the creation of the universe.

At a stroke, creationism turns what was once a sacred text into a competing scientific treatise. It was never the intention of the biblical authors to create a mundane scientific document, yet today that is what the most determined literalists insist it should be. If we are to view the bible as something which should be of scientific interest then we completely miss the intentions of the biblical writers.

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Verification and Falsification

The process of science is undertaken through two similar but distinct paths; verification and falsification. The two, though different, have more similarities than they have differences. Verification and falsification are based on two strands of knowing something; these are empirical data and rationality.

Empirical knowledge is basically that knowledge which is presented to our senses. Direct empirical knowledge is generally considered reliable and so is a route to knowledge. If I can report that there is a white thing in front of me that appears to have the characteristics of a wall, then it is reasonable to assume that I am standing in front of a wall.
Taking a step away from this direct knowledge does lead us away from certainty. For example, if I was to claim that yesterday I had a wall experience then I am adding another category of explanation to my wall experience, that of memory. A remembered experience is not as reliable as a current experience. But a current sensory experience is one of the best and most reliable chunks of knowledge that we can have.

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Physics and God

It is often claimed that physics and God are attempts at explaining the same thing. That thing is the universe. The four big questions of existence are: “Why are the laws of nature what they are? Why does the universe consist of the things it does? How did those things arise? How did the universe achieve its organization?” Physics and God are both used as methods to answer these four questions.

In my previous post I touched on the issue of pre-Christian beliefs and made the point that Pagans were very disposed to truth seeking. The Ancient Greeks left behind a massive volume of literature which is still relevant today. The two most notable writers of the period Aristotle and Plato are essential reading for anybody who seeks to probe the ultimate questions. Yet with the coming of Christianity they were cast aside and ignored. Though modern science sprouted out of Christian Europe, we could mount an argument that it was due to the legacy of the Greeks and despite Christian philosophy that enlightenment came. Christianity waged war against the Paganism it replaced, and it dragged its feet (and still does) against the scientific thinking that has all but replaced Christianity. Pagan philosophy and science both seek to discover the truth in a way that Christianity does not.

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Introduction to Philosophy and God

How should we treat questions regarding philosophy and God? Does philosophy stray from its purpose when it discusses God? Do questions concerning God merit philosophical analysis? Or in the broadest terms, are investigations into philosophy and God really investigations of the same thing?

Philosophy and God have never really existed as two distinct subject areas. To postulate or to consider the existence of a deity is necessarily to engage in philosophical speculation. If we view philosophy as the definition of its root (philo = love of; sophia = knowledge) a love of knowledge – then at the deepest levels of the search for knowledge the question of the existence or not of God will be of major concern.

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