December 24, 2004


Going All the Way: An atheist "converts" to intelligent design. Why so timid, Mr. Flew? (ANDREW KLAVAN, December 24, 2004, Wall Street Journal)

Joining the Episcopal Church was the culmination of 35 years of thought and reading, periods of atheism, agnosticism, deism, Zen. And while it seems a tremendous act of presumption for me to pit my line of reasoning against that of a famous philosopher like Prof. Flew, I can't help thinking this may be one of those situations in which, as St. Paul wrote, "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise."

Well, I am decidedly one of God's foolish things, so I'd like to put forward why it seems to me that science and science-based philosophy just miss the point when it comes to these matters--that Prof. Flew, indeed, is missing the point even now.

Perhaps the argument for nonbelief most identified with the professor was what he called "the presumption of atheism." Here, atheism is understood in its negative sense: The atheist doesn't assert that there is no God; he simply doesn't accept that a legitimate and meaningful concept of God exists. For such an atheist, the burden of proof lies, as it does in law, with those who make the positive assertion--that is, for those who believe.

The presumption of atheism seems to me to be at the heart of all scientific reasoning about religion. And as I'm someone who loves and believes in science, it was a major stumbling block for me most of my life. After all, why would anyone believe without proof in that for which there is no evidence in the first place?

It was in my re-reading of the Romantic poets William Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge that I felt this stumbling block dissolve. What finally occurred to me--what tipped the scales in favor of baptism--was that the presumption of atheism proceeds without respect for the human experience of God's presence. Thinkers like Prof. Flew dismiss this experience because they make the mistake of applying the scientific method of analysis, of taking things apart, to an inner life that can only be known as a whole.

The Demiurge’s Laugh (1913) (Robert Frost)
IT was far in the sameness of the wood;
I was running with joy on the Demon’s trail,
Though I knew what I hunted was no true god.
It was just as the light was beginning to fail
That I suddenly heard—all I needed to hear:
It has lasted me many and many a year.

The sound was behind me instead of before,
A sleepy sound, but mocking half,
As of one who utterly couldn’t care.
The Demon arose from his wallow to laugh,
Brushing the dirt from his eye as he went;
And well I knew what the Demon meant.

I shall not forget how his laugh rang out.
I felt as a fool to have been so caught,
And checked my steps to make pretence
It was something among the leaves I sought
(Though doubtful whether he stayed to see).
Thereafter I sat me against a tree.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 24, 2004 10:43 AM

Reading Coleridge, huh? Human Life is particularly relevant to the "presumption of atheism":
If dead, we cease to be ; if total gloom
Swallow up life's brief flash for aye, we fare
As summer-gusts, of sudden birth and doom,
Whose sound and motion not alone declare,
But are their whole of being ! If the breath
Be Life itself, and not its task and tent,
If even a soul like Milton's can know death ;
O Man ! thou vessel purposeless, unmeant,
Yet drone-hive strange of phantom purposes !
Surplus of Nature's dread activity,
Which, as she gazed on some nigh-finished vase,Retreating slow, with meditative pause,
She formed with restless hands unconsciously.
Blank accident ! nothing's anomaly !
If rootless thus, thus substanceless thy state,
Go, weigh thy dreams, and be thy hopes, thy fears,
The counter-weights !--Thy laughter and thy tears
Mean but themselves, each fittest to create
And to repay the other ! Why rejoices
Thy heart with hollow joy for hollow good ?
Why cowl thy face beneath the mourner's hood ?
Why waste thy sighs, and thy lamenting voices,
Image of Image, Ghost of Ghostly Elf,
That such a thing as thou feel'st warm or cold ?
Yet what and whence thy gain, if thou withhold
These costless shadows of thy shadowy self ?
Be sad ! be glad ! be neither ! seek, or shun !
Thou hast no reason why ! Thou canst have none ;
Thy being's being is contradiction.
A contradiction, indeed; one that it is the atheist's to unravel, if he can.

Merry Christmas.

Steve Bragg
DOUBLE TOOTHPICKS:Worldviews Behind The News

Posted by: Steve Bragg at December 24, 2004 12:32 PM

Obviously, one must seek God to find him. (Just like one must seek a good marriage to find it, or a good carreer...)

But I have always wondered why some people prefer not to believe in God? There doesn't seem to be any upside.

Posted by: Randall Voth at December 25, 2004 11:12 AM


But I have always wondered why some people prefer not to believe in God?

Well, there is the little matter of picking which one. Choosing wrong could get your head cut off, or lead to spending eternity in perdition.

Also, your line of reasoning could be applied just as well to leprechauns or astrology.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 25, 2004 9:00 PM

There's only one.

Posted by: oj at December 25, 2004 9:17 PM