I sit here trying to get work on my prospectus and allow myself to get distracted by random daydreaming, and by this wretched computer that tempts me by whispering: “just play on me for five minutes, then you can get back to work”. Of course five minutes easily turns into 30 or 40, and easily my day is wh ittled away…but, now I play via a philosophical ramble.
I have a keenly clever friend who has attempted, at various times, to convince me of atheism (I’m currently an agnostic). He convinced me of it once, and I have since forgotten the bulk of his argument and have subsequently backed down from atheism and settled in the much more comfortable agnostic position. Dissapointed in my reversion, my friend has tried to re-convert me, and while I recognize that his arguments are very compelling, I nonetheless don’t FEEL convinced.
Now, our beliefs aren’t something we voluntarily choose (e.g., I can’t just choose to believe that there is a pink elephant sitting in my lap, as much as I may like to, unless I actually have reason to believe it). Thus, I can’t simply choose to believe that God doesn’t exist, and for whatever reason, the belief isn’t there…despite the fact that I have good reason to believe it. So, it seems as if my beliefs concerning this matter are downright irrational: I recognize that my friend has given me good reason to believe that God doesn’t exist, and yet I don’t feel convinced. So, what gives?
I’ve thought of various reasons that explain my seeming irrationality, and have decided to cite them in the rest of this entry.
Reason #1: I have come to recognize that my belief concerning the existence of God is often dependent upon the argument I’m currently considering: That is, if I’m looking at an argument for the existence of God, and I adequately understand the argument, I can recognize its appeal (even though I see that it’s not sound). And so, while I may not be convinced by it, I may nonetheless sympathize with it (especially if I happen to be teaching it). And, conversely, while I’m considering an argument against the existence of God, it may seem very compelling at the time. But, a few hours (or a few days) later, the force of the argument no longer is really felt. And since I have come to recognize this tendency in me, the fact that I feel compelled by my friend’s argument at the time I’m discussing it with him, doesn’t really mean that, in the end, I will be swayed by it. And so, I’m much more hesitant, this time around, to assent to atheism without stepping back from the argument for a certain length of time. But, of course, what is interestingly asymmetric in this case is that I don’t know of any very compelling objections to my friend’s argument (even though I have easily recognized the objections to other theistic arguments). Which leads to my second reason.
Reason #2: The cowardly reason of acceptance. That is, it greatly pains me that, by my rejection of Christianity alone, I’m alienating myelf from much of my family. In fact, I’ve not even told some of my family that I’m agnostic, for fear of being ostracized (or, at least, not thought well of…thought of as a “sinner”). I already feel quite uncomfortable attending church services when I spend time with my family…I feel like a hypocrite. So, to adopt the more extreme position of atheism would end up alienating me even further. Indeed, to a theist, I imagine that atheism looks downright antagonistic…even my ex (who is an agnostic), thought that atheism was arrogant. Now, I don’t want to be percieved as either antagonistic or arrogant (even if such labels are unjustified)…it’s against my nature to be these things, and thus I really hate being percieved in this way. And agnosticism, on the surface, seems to be a more reasonable position than atheism…and I can quickly explain my position to others by simply asserting that there is not enough evidence, either way, to say that God either exists or he doesn’t. But, it takes much more time and effort to give justice to an atheist argument, and of course people love to argue vehemently about this subject, and so I can just imagine that defending my belief will either involve an exhausting heated debate, or I will end up giving very short, flippant reasons for my belief, which will end up being unconvincing (and will make me look as if my position is not well-supported). And all of this, I know, is not a good reason to reject atheism — it’s not intellectually honest. But I think that all of this underlies my hesitation to commit to atheism (even if they are not my conscious reasons at the time).
Reason #3: For all of my childhood (and some of my young adulthood), I’ve been a Christian (or, at least a theist). There was something comforting, romantic, and beautiful about believing in God…believing that my life had an objective place, believing that all wrongs will be righted through rewarding the good and the honest with eternal bliss…believing that my existence will not be snuffed out and forgotten. And adopting atheism will be the ultimate rejection of all of that (agnosticism somewhat rejects this, but I can be comforted in the idea that, well maybe it’s not so bleak)…and such a rejection is quite painful, and I get emotionally worked up at the very thought of it. So, excising 18 years of a belief in God being continually ingrained in me is difficult…and again, this is not meant to give a viable reason for not committing to atheism; it is just meant as an explanation.
So, there you go: an explanation for my irrationality. And, since I have wasted about 20 minutes on this, I will end this entry and get back to my prospectus.