atheism and irrationality

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.

10 thoughts on “atheism and irrationality”

  1. The argu­ments against the exis­tence of God aren’t any bet­ter than argu­ments for his/her exis­tence. The argu­ments for are prob­a­bly bet­ter, but that may well just be due to the fact that so much more time and schol­ar­ship has been ded­i­cat­ed to them. It real­ly just comes down to how you feel about it–you’re not any dif­fer­ent from any oth­er believes, non­be­liev­ers, or agnos­tics in that respect.

  2. I agree with you that the gen­er­al con­ce­sus is that the argu­ments giv­en thus far are not deci­sive (oth­er­wise, there would­n’t still be a debate about it — the issue would be decid­ed). But, I per­son­al­ly find the argu­ments AGAINST to be more com­pelling (par­tic­u­lar­ly the one giv­en by my friend — a very intel­li­gent col­league of mine who is try­ing to get the afore­men­tioned argu­ment published)…and my inner tur­moil comes from the fact that, despite the fact that I rec­og­nize the strength of my friend’s argu­ment, I still remain uncon­vinced. And thus, I am being irra­tional. If we come across an argu­ment that we think presents rea­son enough to believe claim x, then we are ratio­nal­ly required to believe claim x. And so I’m not liv­ing up to my oblig­a­tions as a ratio­nal thinker. Shame on me.

  3. Agnos­tic, I can­not prove or dis­prove the exis­tence of god. Hmm. If god is the bind­ing force con­nect­ing all lev­els of exsis­tence then what an agnos­tic is say­ing is “I can­not prove or dis­prove exsis­tence.” or “I can­not prove or dis­prove how all lev­els of exsis­tence are con­nect­ed.” THEN an athe­ist goes a step fur­ther and says “I can prove how all lev­els of exsis­tence are not con­nect­ed.” When peo­ple start iden­ti­fy­ing them­selves with reli­gion, that seems to be where the begin­ning of the dis­sention among the mass­es begin’s. Stereo­types of peo­ple in the reli­gion creep up and truth is lost. From read­ing your post I dont get the feel­ing in your heart you believe youre alone, with no god. I’m guess­ing youre just try­ing to fig­ure out what it is. If Chris­tian­i­ty bugs you cause of the con­no­ta­tions it brings- I sug­gest you drop it. Dont wor­ry about your fam­i­ly, just tell em’ you believe in the liv­ing water—it will prob­a­bly sound chris­t­ian enough for them and you’ll still see the con­nec­tion in all=)-word.

  4. The ratio­nal behind the argu­ments for athe­ism, as I under­stand it, is that it is not nec­es­sary to prove that God does­n’t exist — indeed, this is a log­i­cal impos­si­b­li­ty (one can’t prove a neg­a­tive). Instead, it is nec­es­sary to prove that God does exist, and, if this is not pos­si­ble, then ipso fac­to no existance.

    For what­ev­er it’s worth, I per­son­al­ly agree with your ‘Rea­son #3’. I have no rea­son to believe in God, and many rea­sons *not* to believe, but my Roman Catholic upbring­ing is hard to reject. So I sim­ply refuse to believe in the inter­ces­so­ry God that most Catholics wor­ship, and plead agnos­ti­cism on all the rest.

    Not that I wish to be respon­si­ble for dis­tract­ing you, but this site ( is quite enter­tain­ing, and con­tains soem very thor­ough argu­ments for athe­ism (or, real­ly, against theism).

  5. Yup, reli­gion does con­tra­dict itself. Truth how­ev­er is inescapable and yet com­plete­ly deni­able. To para­phrase Jesus I think he said “you will be judged by the same yard­stick you judge by oth­ers.” I think that suf­fi­cient­ly answer’s gay­ness in chris­tian­i­ty- but thats just my opin­ion. What I would be inter­est­ed in know­ing is exact­ly what kind of proof peo­ple need to know or not know that god does or does­nt exsist? If a per­son accepts the idea of infin­i­ty in all direc­tions simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, then where are they going to find this proof or dis­proof out­side of themselves?

  6. Whew! Well…I can’t respond to every­thing every­one said at the moment (my prospec­tus is due tomorrow…gah!), but I want­ed to say a cou­ple of things:
    1. Well, my friend isn’t try­ing to get his argu­ment pub­lished because he’s afraid he’s wrong (if that’s what was being implied). We’re both philosophers…and that’s just what we do. If we come up with some orig­i­nal idea con­cern­ing a philo­soph­i­cal top­ic, we try to get it pub­lished and out into the philo­soph­i­cal com­mu­ni­ty. It’s how we make our living. 😉
    2. Well, there ARE ways to prove that some­thing does­n’t exist…let me men­tion the argu­ment from evil (which you’ve prob­a­bly come into con­tact with before). And, I can’t real­ly do it jus­tice with­out going on a VERY involved spiel (and I can’t do that right now because I do need to write!)…but I’ll give you the bare bones of it: The gen­er­al con­cep­tion of God (accept­ed by most the­sists) is that he is omni­scient, omnipo­tent, and omnibenev­o­lent. This entails that he knows when evil is occur­ring (and you can include in the notion of “evil” here gen­er­al suf­fer­ing and mis­ery), he WANTS to stop it (since he is omnibenev­o­lent), and he CAN stop it (since he is omnipo­tent). So, if God did exist, there would be no evil in the world. But, of course there is (e.g., all the mis­ery and suf­fer­ing in the world). There­fore, God does not exist. 

    This argu­ment is actu­al­ly much more com­pelling than it ini­tial­ly looks (to real­ly give it jus­tice I would have to defend it against the stan­dard objec­tions that are giv­en against it). Maybe when I have more time (per­haps the end of this week), I can include anoth­er post that goes into it more.

  7. Har­vey:

    I think what con­sti­tutes “proof” is sub­jec­tive. What is proof enough for me may not be proof enough for some­one else.

    If we com­pare life from 2000 years ago to cur­rent life, I can eas­i­ly see how some­one with say a car, or a flash­light might be con­sid­ered mag­ic, or (depend­ing on how they milked it), if not a god, then very close to one. These days, we know it’s not so

    I’m cer­tain that if God showed up today, in all His glo­ry, per­form­ing what­ev­er mir­a­cles peo­ple asked of him, there would STILL be peo­ple going “No way. That’s just smoke and mir­rors. It’s a tech­nol­o­gy stunt. Just because we can’t explain the tech­nol­o­gy does­n’t mean it’s not there.”

    For me, proof is in the lit­tle things: That water is the only sub­stance that gets LESS dense as it solid­i­fies (i know the physics behind it … It’s just faci­nat­ing to me that this is the only com­bi­na­tion of mol­e­cules that does this), or that cer­tain atoms can *only* be cre­at­ed dur­ing a super­no­va, and we see those atoms all around us — that we are lit­er­al­ly made up of lit­tle bits of stars.

    It’s all physics and sci­ence and what­not, but to me, it’s just a lit­tle *too* well laid out to not have been planned.


    first, good luck on your prospec­tus for tomorrow!

    sec­cond, this could take a while to go back and forth *grin* … I don’t think God does things because he WANTS to, at least, not after all the effort He went to set­ting up the laws of the universe. 

    Sure, while he might be able to cre­ate suns, trans­mute lead into gold, he spend a lot of time com­ing up with the laws of physics. Why cir­cum­vent all the work he did?

    On evil: We see evil around us dai­ly, but how many of us 1) care enough to even both­er to rec­og­nize it and 2) once we rec­og­nize it, actu­al­ly go out of our way to do some­thing about it.

    Addi­tion­al­ly, what if we *need* evil? With­out light, how do we define dark? With­out love, how would we define hate? With­out ugli­ness, how would we define beauty?

    Fac­tor in to that the free­dom to choose good or evil (Free will being some­thing God has pushed kin­da hard), and we *must* have evil 1) to offer us a choice and 2) as a oppo­site for good, to show us that there is a difference.

  8. The prob­lem I have with Chris­tian­i­ty these days is not with the exis­tance of God or not as much as the var­i­ous inter­pre­ta­tions of the dif­fer­ent orders of Christianity.

    Each one claims that it is the only right one, and that its inter­pre­ta­tion is the valid one. The prob­lem here is that the Bible is high­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry. Each sect has man­aged to find either workarounds or expla­na­tions that fit their idea of what is right, but they nev­er actu­al­ly answer the ques­tion outright.

    For exam­ple, the issue of gay rights: The Chris­t­ian Church is against it because Leviti­cus says that it’s bad for man to lie with a man as with a woman. Fair enough. How­ev­er, it nev­er men­tions ANYTHING about women play­ing with women. The Bible was *very* spe­cif­ic about MALE homo­sex­u­al­i­ty, but not female. Was the orig­i­nal state­ment meant as a catch-all, or was it just a lim­i­ta­tion for the men only?

    It’s issues like this which give athe­ists, in part, their ammunition. 

    I’ve had some of the same issues you have with hypocrisy and try­ing to fig­ure out what’s real and what’s just BS.

    The best I’ve come up with works for me. I don’t know if it would con­vince any­one else, but that’s ok. It does­n’t have it.

    1) I do believe in God. I believe he cre­at­ed the uni­verse, etc. 

    2) I believe he made us high­ly intel­li­gent so we COULD fig­ure out things for our­selves and not rely on Him for every lit­tle thing.

    3) To be objec­tive, I realise that I could be wrong and that there IS no God. I don’t think I’m wrong, but I can’t prove it. There­fore I must accept that I might be wrong.

    4) I think peo­ple who are strong­ly aethis­tic (ie, who go out and try and con­vince peo­ple there is no God) are gen­er­al­ly afraid they might be wrong and are try­ing to con­vince them­selves they’re right.

  9. Argu­ing from a the­ist posi­tion is tricky for me, so bear with me if I sound a lit­tle rough. 

    I gen­er­al­ly reject the ‘argu­ment from evil’, since it does­n’t real­ly dis­prove the exis­tence of God; it mere­ly proves that, if God exists, He/She/It is not log­i­cal or moral. And this argu­ment only works against a God defined as omnipo­tent, omni­scient and benev­o­lent. If any of those three are miss­ing, the argu­ment does­n’t hold water.

    Now fin­ish your damned prospec­tus so that you can come back to talk with us.

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