Debating the Existence of God

Nathan Schneider’s report on a recent debate at Notre Dame between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig. He also talks about it here. Perhaps more importantly, he points to an essay by John O’Callaghan of Notre Dame who reflected on the debate before it took place. I agree with his advice to Harris that he should read Augustine before going much further.

Giles Fraser reviewed Harris’ The Moral Landscape in The Guardian. It’s worth reading. Fraser gets it right when he says:

First, the atheism. On that useful quadrant – interesting and right, interesting and wrong, uninteresting and right, uninteresting and wrong – Harris is mostly in the uninteresting and right category. Uninteresting because he is concerned only with the narrowest definition of religious belief, and right because the moral and intellectual crimes he pins on this form of belief – its ignorance and prejudice – are so obvious to the western secular imagination that they do not require argument, and certainly not a PhD in neuroscience. Given his definition of religion, his attack on it is the philosophical equivalent of taking sweets from a baby. These things are wrong: “female genital excision, blood feuds, infanticide, the torture of animals, scarification, foot binding, cannibalism, ceremonial rape, human sacrifice”. The list goes on. With regard to the god Harris describes, I am a much more convinced atheist than he – even though I am a priest. For Harris asks constantly for evidence, with the implication that if he discovered some, he would change his mind. My own line would be that even if the god he described was proved to exist, I would see it as my moral duty to be an atheist. An all-powerful eternal despot is still a despot.

He concludes:

For all this, it is not so much that I disagree with Harris. Rather, I am scared of him. And not his atheism, which is standard scientific materialism with the volume turned up. But scared of his complete lack of ambiguity, his absolute clarity of vision, his refusal of humour or self-criticism, his unrelenting seriousness. Harris sees the great moral battle of our day as one between belief and unbelief. I see it as between those who insist that the world be captured by a single philosophy and those who don’t. Which is why I fear Harris in just the same way I fear evangelical Christians, to whom he looks so similar. Like them, he is in no doubt about his faith. Like them, he has his devoted followers. Like them, he wants to convert the world. Well, I’m sorry. I am not a believer.

Hating God

A new book by Bernard Schweizer explores this idea. Those who hate God–Schweizer uses the term misotheist–are not atheists. They believe in God, but the God they believe in “is malevolent or at least incompetent, indifferent—in any case not worshipful.” Among this group Schweizer includes biblical figures like Job’s wife, who counseled him to “curse God and die;” William Blake, and Mark Twain. Schweizer goes into greater depth here.

A review on Christianity Today by Jake Meador prompted this rejoinder from Schweizer.

Not having read Schweizer’s book, it’s not clear to me precisely what his argument is. However, it does seem to me that there is a qualitative difference between an atheist and someone whose antipathy to religion or Christianity, or God is rooted in a fundamental sense of a breech of relationship. I’ve encountered any number of people over the years who have lost their faith, but remain deeply engaged with Christianity (or Judaism, for that matter), who expend enormous amounts of intellectual, emotional, and spiritual energy in their efforts to extricate themselves from faith. In other words, like Job’s wife, they curse God, and want to die. The atheists, new or old, seem to be of a different sort. Their intellectual energy continues to be engaged in the project, but on some level, there is no longer any spiritual, or emotional energy engaged. Perhaps I’m splitting hairs here, but it has always seemed to me that someone who can proclaim publicly that they are an atheist has made a profound break with religious sensibility. To take one of Schweizer’s examples of a misotheist–Elie Wiesel has clearly not done that.