Here's some good news about the newest form of the "new atheism."
It isn't just content to challenge theological propositions and supernatural world views, but also says prove it when religious believers cite personal experience as their reason for having faith in whatever they believe.
At least, this is one of the conclusions I got from an interesting New York Times essay by Gary Gutting, "Beyond 'New Atheism.'"
For atheists like Dawkins, belief in God is an intellectual mistake, and honest thinkers need simply to recognize this and move on from the silliness and abuses associated with religion.
Most believers, however, do not come to religion through philosophical arguments. Rather, their belief arises from their personal experiences of a spiritual world of meaning and values, with God as its center.
In the last few years there has emerged another style of atheism that takes such experiences seriously. One of its best exponents is Philip Kitcher, a professor of philosophy at Columbia. (For a good introduction to his views, see Kitcher’s essay in “The Joy of Secularism,” perceptively discussed last month by James Wood in The New Yorker.)
Instead of focusing on the scientific inadequacy of theistic arguments, Kitcher critically examines the spiritual experiences underlying religious belief, particularly noting that they depend on specific and contingent social and cultural conditions.
Your religious beliefs typically depend on the community in which you were raised or live. The spiritual experiences of people in ancient Greece, medieval Japan or 21st-century Saudi Arabia do not lead to belief in Christianity. It seems, therefore, that religious belief very likely tracks not truth but social conditioning.
Amen to that.
I used to consider that the notion of a spiritual Perennial Philosophy had some basis in fact. Namely, that underlying the obvious significant differences between the world's many religions, mystic teachings, and other forms of spirituality, there was a common denominator, a foundational ground floor if you will -- a solid universal reality upon which cultural conjectures flowered in myriad illusory patterns.
Well, there is little or no evidence of this in religious theologies.
For example, Christianity is poles apart from Hinduism. It's possible to find some common ground, particularly in the realm of ethics, but God is far different from Brahman, as Jesus is far different from Krishna.
So if there's something true about religious belief, it won't be evidenced through theological analysis. Which leaves personal experience. Yet here too, there's little common ground.
The number of Tibetan Buddhist meditators who end up professing a belief in Christianity after having an inner experience of Jesus' divinity must be close to zero, if not precisely that number. (I'm assuming no prior cultural acquaintance with Christianity that could influence the "experiment" of meditation.)
Give Gutting's essay a read. I've focused on the implications of only one of the "newest new atheist" points he makes in his piece. Just about my only quibble with his essay was this statement:
This “cultural relativism” argument is an old one, but Kitcher shows that it is still a serious challenge. (He is also refreshingly aware that he needs to show why a similar argument does not apply to his own position, since atheistic beliefs are themselves often a result of the community in which one lives.)
OK, I can agree that the prevalence of atheism in a society is dependent on cultural factors. But I don't agree that atheism is a "belief" in the sense that religious belief is. Atheism is the absence of belief, not a belief per se.
Why would a belief that there's nothing to else to believe in but a set of mechanical physical rules be an absence of belief?
Posted by: Brian from Colorado | September 16, 2011 at 05:50 PM
Accepting the truth of what humans know about the cosmos through demonstrable evidence isn't a belief. It's called "Reality."
Posted by: Blogger Brian | September 16, 2011 at 06:05 PM
I accept what humans know through demonstrable evidence as well, my friend.
But insisting that there's absolutely nothing more than that would seem to qualify as a non-falsifiable assertion. You would say not, I know, but what it boils down to is that you prefer to limit what kind of ideas and perceptions qualify for consideration as "truth" and "reality" relative to what others might wish to admit for consideration.
This might might lead one to speculate as to whether some tenuous link could be construed between that position and the kind of attitudes that eventually led to the prohibition of psychogenic drugs.
I'm teasing now - although maybe not quite entirely....
Posted by: Brian from Colorado | September 16, 2011 at 08:09 PM
Brian from Colorado, here's the thing: either we accept that truth/reality is known through good explanations, or we don't.
Absent good explanations, which is the goal of both science and personal human understanding, what are we left with? Myths. Dogmas. Blind faith. Superstition.
You seem to be suggesting that something can be real, yet totally inexplicable. Somebody -- a religious figure or mystic, perhaps -- can discover a deeper truth about the cosmos that is unknown to other people, yet this sage will be unable to provide any demonstrable evidence or persuasive explanation of it.
Again, how is this different from myth or superstition? How are we to distinguish between made-up bullshit, and ineffable realization? If there is no way to tell the difference, why should anyone believe what the sage is saying?
In no way am I asserting that human knowledge has reached the limits of what can be understood and explained. We're nowhere close to that boundary, which likely doesn't exist. I'm just saying that in order for a bit of knowledge to be added to humankind's understanding of reality, there has to be a good reason to do so.
"Simply believe" isn't a good enough reason.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | September 16, 2011 at 10:42 PM
"why should anyone believe what the sage is saying"
quote blogger Brian
Here's a good example of Brian's point.
The astral plane is first to be transversed.
Can anyone tell me what Jot Narinjan, first
god on way up, looks like ?
If not, no one has made it there.
Not even to the first plane.
Posted by: Mike Williams | September 17, 2011 at 07:57 AM
Ask the next one up, OnCar(sp?). He is a lot smarter.
Posted by: Roger | September 17, 2011 at 08:53 AM
"How are we to distinguish between made-up bullshit, and ineffable realization?"
The former is all effing and the latter is none.
Posted by: cc | September 17, 2011 at 09:28 AM
quote poster :
" What the fuck?! I put in years or decades of devoted spiritual practice under the guidance of the guru, and now I'm being told that the teachings aren't true."
When I come to this club, my link here always shows this quote in front of me.
Ever wonder where exsatsangis wander off
to after sant mat ?
Exsatsangis never die, they 'just fade away'?
They walk alone into the fog of unknowingness.
Never to be seen again.
It seems like such a distant memory.
Posted by: Mike Williams | September 18, 2011 at 04:35 AM
Searching for Jot Narijan
What... no one here can tell me what
Jot Narinjan looks like ?
Ok, I will ask an easier question.
What does your body look like in
the astral plane ?
Posted by: Mike Williams | September 18, 2011 at 06:04 AM
I exactly know...
Your body has a brillant golden radiant form.
Sparkling with intense diamonds.
Now, I know even more. Much more.
If you desire to learn more, from what I exactly know, you will need to sign up.
This simple 'sign-up' program is truely glorious. For a small fee: $249.99.
You get it all.
Please, cash only, no personal checks or credit cards. As an added bonus, I can throw in 5 holy names, absolutely free.
This is a one time offer. Please rush!!!
Posted by: Roger | September 18, 2011 at 11:34 AM