Monday, April 7, 2008

Atheism and Angst

Here's Mark Vernon discussing "making a positive case" for atheism:

So I’d like to raise a slightly different challenge – not so much making a positive case for atheism, which would primarily be an intellectual exercise. But rather asking about the existential task of actually being an atheist ... there is a sense from this in which making an intellectual case for your atheism, as opposed to trying to be an atheist, is actually a distraction. It is a distraction from the existential angst of not believing in God. That is the real matter to get to grips with.
This is a nice and incisive commentary as far as it goes (what I've quoted here doesn't do justice to the whole piece) but I think it suggests the wrong connection between the two questions: the 'intellectual exercise' of atheism, which deals with the non-existence of god; and the 'existential challenge' of atheism, which deals with how the non-believer can or should cope with a godless universe. Vernon claims the former can serves as a distraction from the latter, which he considers more compelling.

I think this tip-toes a little too close to the moralistic fallacy, in which emotional preferences are allowed to determine the assessment of truth claims. 'Because it feels good' is a terrible argument for belief in god; and likewise, that a vision of life manages to find existential satisfaction without reference to a god, however noble or courageous or fulfilling it might be, cannot count as good evidence for the non-existence of god.

Put simply, I think the important thing is to apprehend reality as clearly, fully and impartially as possible, and then decide how to cope with it. I don't think it's possible to do justice to the 'existential challenge' without starting from reality.

And incidentally, for all of the high-powered angst Vernon cites in the writings of Sartre, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard, I don't think it's so difficult to live without god. But that's the stuff of another post.



Helènic Glauc said...

Interesting words. There's on reality that we can deny, and It is our conscientiousness. At least, one god exists: our conscientiousness. And It is so unbelievable as God's existence. From some simple particles a conscientiousness has appeared!
Greetings from Barcelona!

Dale said...

HG, I agree consciousness is difficult to understand and riddled with unanswered questions. I wouldn't call it a god, not least because that would only further obscure the subject without opening up any useful lines of inquiry.

Thanks for stopping by all the way from Barcelona!

mikesdak said...

Dale, I read the same piece and some thoughts on my blog, which I admit may have missed his point.
It also made me think about the difficulties of everyday living as an athiest in a theist society, vs. the personal struggle with conversion. The apparent focus on conversion itself, as opposed to being raised an atheist, was intriging. It's another reminder that theism is society's "default setting".

Dale said...

Mike, I saw your post and that's what brought me to the piece.