Glancing at the title of a Leonard Pitts column in our local newspaper yesterday, I had a feeling that my emotional blood pressure soon would be surging.
My premonition was correct.
Parts of "Belief in what cannot be proved requires humility" (originally called "Atheists, I believe in God because I do") irritated me mightily -- because Pitts failed to grasp some basic facts about religious belief and atheism that get harped on regularly here at the Church of the Churchless.
Fact one: Not believing in God isn't a fundamentalist belief system, just as not believing in Santa Claus isn't.
Atheism isn't a religion, nor is albino a suntan. Recognizing the absence of evidence for God isn't equivalent to believing that God exists, no matter the absence of evidence. This is basic logic and how the scientific method almost always works.
Yet Pitts wrote:
Indeed, I find myself struck by the similarity between certain atheists and fundamentalists. Meaning the ones who can always tell you exactly what’s on God’s mind and even what He had for breakfast this morning. God did this, they say, because He didn’t like those people, did that because that country ticked Him off. Funnily enough, God’s likes and dislikes always seem to exactly match theirs.
There is a certain hubris in them that is mirrored in the declaration that God does not exist because our telescopes cannot see Him nor our equations prove Him. It was only a minute ago, as the universe measures time, that our kind was scared of fire, so our faith in our tools to now definitively disprove God is as arrogant as it is amusing.
No, it's wrong to equate religious fundamentalists and skeptics. Very few atheists or agnostics are absolutely certain that God does not exist. Rather, they're confident in their conclusion that demonstrative evidence for God doesn't exist -- a big difference.
So Pitts sets up a straw man argument by misrepresenting the position of atheists.
As was noted in a previous blog post, calling not-believing a belief is like saying that someone who doesn't believe in the existence of unicorns is a member of the "No Unicorns" religion.
I don't see any sign of an elephant in our house. Am I a fundamentalist believer in the absence of elephants at our Oregon address, or do I simply fail to observe any evidence of an elephant presence?
Fact two: Everybody has feelings, but only some people feel that God exists.
Leonard Pitts says that God is not proven, but felt. Well, that's fine. Such is the nature of subjective feelings. I can't prove that I love my wife, the taste of strawberries, or debunking shaky arguments for the existence of God. But I do.
So, to quote Pitts:
Deal with it.
Once again, Pitts does his straw man thing. He says that writer Marilynne Robinson "took issue with the notion that because what is felt cannot be quantified, it is somehow invalid."
Who has that notion?
I've read lots of science books. I spent two years completing all of the coursework for a Ph.D. in Systems Science. I subscribe to Scientific American and New Scientist, looking at every issue.
I have never, not once, come across a scientist -- or a philosopher, or anyone, for that matter -- who claims that feelings are invalid because they are non-quantifiable. Atheists, agnostics, and religious skeptics have just as rich an emotional, artistic, and feeling life as true believers do.
We simply feel differently about God. My intuition speaks to me just as clearly as Pitts' inner voice does. Where he hears whispers of divinity I sense a naturalistic cosmos.
It doesn't bother me at all if Pitts, or any other religiously inclined person, wants to feel that God exists. I also have no objection to anyone feeling that rap is the highest form of contemporary musicality.
Feel away, fellow humans. But don't expect me to consider that your feelings are anything more than subjective sensations.
Leonard Pitts ends his column with:
One of my favorite gospel songs says, “Over my head, I hear music in the air. There must be a God somewhere.”
I believe that. If that belief offends someone, I’m sorry.
But not really.
Once more, Pitts plays straw man make-believe. I know a lot of atheists and agnostics. None are offended by someone having a private belief in God. What bothers them, and me, is when a subjective feeling is elevated to a supposedly objective truth.
Christianity, like the other major world religions, isn't founded on "God is just a feeling." Rather, the faithful are convinced that their personal feelings are reflections of God's actual existence.
When I enjoy the taste of a strawberry, I don't claim that everybody should feel the way I do, or they will go to culinary hell. Yet religions do this, elevating what is personal into something that's supposedly universal.
This is wrong. Leonard Pitts can feel as strongly as he wants that God exists, but feelings don't determine objective reality. Anyway, that's how I feel.
Excellent response. I read that Pitts column the other day and thought either he missed the point of a skeptical/atheist point of view or he was picking a fight where there really isn't one. It felt like he was trying to give his own faith a boost of affirmation.
Posted by: Gary*J | March 22, 2011 at 10:15 PM
“Over my head, I hear music in the air. There must be a God somewhere.”
--I wonder what kind of music, he referred to?
--What kind of music would there be, under my feet, that the proof of the devil is somewhere? Please don't tell me, there is devil music, over my head.
Posted by: Roger | March 23, 2011 at 09:38 AM
Atheists don't see any objective evidence of God, so they don't believe. No big deal. At least they are honest, but they make a bad name for themselves by making a big deal about not believing (some of them).
They, like most of us, engage in the fundamental error of trying to see what isn't there. "God" can't be seen because it is what is looking.
Posted by: Meher Caca | March 23, 2011 at 01:15 PM