Monday, October 26, 2009

On matters of faith

I've recently been reading the afterwords of Kratman's upcoming novel, The Toluriad, and discussing it a bit here and here. Also, oddly enough, a brief bit of SPAM, not of the electronic variety. Weird.

Anyway, it resulted in some interesting lines of thought on my part. Specifically on the nature of the Science vs. Religion debate, which is ridiculous to say the very least, which led me to pondering the thinking of atheists. Specifically, non-militant, non-agnostic atheists. Which led to an interesting observation. There don't seem to be too many of them.

Of course, the sample set was highly self-limiting seeing as it was composed only of friends of mine. Turns, out, at least among my friends, that those I'd always considered straight-up atheists turn into agnostics when engaged in serious conversation on the topic. I certainly don't intend that, or anything else in this post, to sound insulting to agnostics or atheists in general. Just certain ones.

Thing is, it seems the common thread is that they don't really know with certainty one way or another, but they really doubt the existence of a God. Fair enough.

Seeing as there is no proof that God, or any supernatural being(s), exists and no way to proof He(she/it/they) doesn't exist (basic scientific principle: you cannot prove a universal negative*) any solid stance on the subject requires faith. That's an easy concession for me, as having faith is kind of part and partial to the whole Christian experience and any other religion I can think of, but I remain exceedingly curious what a more, er, devout(?) atheist would have to say on the subject.

I am, unfortunately, endlessly familiar with what an anti-theist, or militant atheist if you prefer, has to say on the subject of faith. It generally combines a string of variations on, "You don't know anything about science!**" and a litany of the misdeeds performed by any person who had any religious leanings whatsoever. As I generally refuse to entertain vitriol as a serious contribution to a debate, especially on such a contentious subject, I pretty much discount anything I hear from that crowd.

I will listen if someone uses logic and presents an actual coherent argument for the absence of the supernatural, I don't class those as anti-theists. Thing is, I've never actually encountered that.

* While one can infer the presence of a universal negative and feel pretty darn confident about the conclusion (ie. All cats are animals, therefore no cats are non-animals) it is not a certain thing. Using the above example, what if we met a race of sentient cats? Then it becomes a matter of how does one define a cat, an animal, or both.

Going off that, unless one can observe the entire universe simultaneously, a universal negative cannot be proven. The possibility always remains that somewhere beyond current knowledge, the thing posited to not exist may indeed be doing so.

** Indeed? Having already covered universal negatives, how about we delve into logic? Do a search on Pascal's Gambit. Good stuff. Remember, as one of the fathers of computer science, Pascal was a card carrying member of the science community.

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