Why I am not an agnostic

Redirected from an article I had written last year:

“If God did exist”, asks the advert for the Alpha course that I see on a regular basis in London tube stations and across buses “what would you ask?” After spending a couple of minutes deciding what I’d ask God (namely, why am I an atheist?) I wonder why Alpha has chosen to present the question with the indecisive subordinating conjunction if. The atheist bus advert, too, adds its own measure of uncertainty: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” (I’ve added my own italics for emphasis).

Despite my knowledge of Alpha’s obvious Christian motives and the evident conviction of the likes of Richard Dawkins, who supported and partly funded the atheist bus campaign, both questions, for me, really hit the mark. That is to say uncertainty on the question of God is the only logical conclusion to make.

But why then am I an atheist and not an agnostic? Surely, it could be asked, agnosticism would be the obvious philosophical view to subscribe to? Not the case.

My reasons for being an atheist, unlike many others, do not promptly derive from appeals to science for there seems to be an inherent dead end to any scientific endeavour on matters of God. This has particular appositeness at the moment when debates on how atheists and the religious should treat Darwin reignite, 150 years after the publication of his book On the Origin of Species.

The cosmological argument for example, like the problem of evil, has compelling adherents from both sides. The principle that everything is caused has some people asking who or what caused the first cause, on one side it is God who caused the first cause whereas on the other side the existence of God puts into jeopardy the original principle evoking the question “who caused God?” God, some might say, is not bound to the same physical laws that inhabit the world of phenomena for he is a transcendental being. And of course, though the other side cannot argue this case to be false, they might not accept it to be true.

Similar are the arguments from beauty which could potentially have some asking how such a beautiful universe couldn’t have a designer and, also, some agreeing with the original premise while disagreeing with the sentiment wondering why we have such an obsession with positing an intelligence. The anthropic principle has support from people with arguments that the universe is so fine-tuned to meet the needs of human existence that there must be a God, and arguments that demand to show how lucky we are that humans were able to exist without such an omnipresence.

I view the natural sciences in much the same way; the theory of evolution for example should not be limited to atheists solely, as Richard Dawkins would have it. Dawkins’ atheism is in fact entirely drawn from his belief in science, something that encompassed one of his many debates with fellow atheist and palaeontologist the late Stephen Jay Gould. For Gould the natural sciences might present challenges to certain theistic beliefs, but they cannot rule out the existence of God. The discipline of science covers empirical facts like what the universe is made of and how it works but cannot deal with some of the magisterium (a word that Gould designates for “a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution” in his book Rock of Ages) that religion deals with. A common error is that scientific pursuit lends itself easily to a worldview, a mistake that Dawkins and the Creationists both have in common.

So my atheism is more Gould than Dawkins in the sense that the natural and physical sciences do not logically assert any one worldview or even answer the question of whether or not God exists. I also feel that religion is a decent contender in the multitude of ethical systems that exist in society, and have nothing against the approach Archbishop Rowan Williams took with his students that he talks about in a recent book by Mick Gordon and Chris Wilkinson entitled Conversations on Religion, regarding the principle of biblical selection, saying “St. Paul didn’t think he was writing the New Testament. He was just writing letters, you know “Dear so and so…”.” The lesson being that Paul was not faultless and didn’t set out specifically to write the most influential text the world has ever seen and will ever see again. He, for this reason, might have been short of the mark in certain specific areas or a product of his time in his personal attitudes, but there are obvious moral precepts there that should be embraced, and even the most hardheaded atheist should remember the religious root in those morals.

All of us, whether religious or not, have perfectly reasonable beliefs that we cannot prove to be true (indeed atheism is the belief in a non-belief in God) in the sense that if someone was to say that the computer with which you are typing on does not exist, though it is not entirely possible to prove that their claim is false, we probably shouldn’t believe it to be true and follow it with the question of how they ever came to reach that conclusion in the first place. The same, I think, goes for belief in God, though I cannot prove true or false the premise, I question the logical and empirical grounds the claim is based upon, and that is why I am an atheist and not an agnostic.


Fancy doing an internship with David Amess MP?

From W4Mp

21432/Intern, for David Amess MP (Southend West)
Salary: None, but reasonable cake expenses will be covered.
Posted on 27 August 09, closes on 04 September 09

(advert slightly altered for comic effect)

With a dismissal of context, we risk missing the real reasons for opposing Hannan

Dan Hannan has tripped over the line in the sand again with his favourable comments on Enoch Powell, again on American television. All the bigger left blogs have spoken about how they feel and they can roughly be divided into Sunny (Hundal, who notes that even the mere implication of Powell’s name is deserved of condemnation) and Sunder (Katwala, who notes that Hannan was in no way alluding to Powell’s immigration views, but rather his euroscepticism, which is in tune with Hannan’s overall project).

Both make good points, with Sunny the notion that mention of Powell can conjour up images of NF banners “Enoch was right” has real weight, but Sunder points out that in 2007 Hannan specifically pointed out in an article written in the Daily Telegraph that Powell was right on the idea of an independent Britain andn specifically erroneous on the subject of immigration.

It is enough to criticise Hannan on the things we can be sure of (all of which can be found in various places on this blog). Firstly there was the issue with Hannan encouraging British ex-pats in Spain to vote for a party with traditionally Francoist roots, then Hannan pledged support for Kaminski when his antisemitic past was revealed, and what’s more is Kaminski soon after pledged his own support for the Lisbon Treaty, which Hannan is vehemently against. Then there is the issue with Hannan pouring scorn on the NHS in the US where healthcare reform is being debated, Hannan using some rather dubious arguments such as Singapore does healthcare better, and that the NHS does not provide, despite this being an out and out obfuscation of truth.

Hannan has plenty to be criticised about, now that he is back from his holiday, but with this latest incident, headlines by the Mirror such as NHS-hating Tory Daniel Hannan at centre of racist storm do run the risk of moving the goalposts and losing the real point of Hannan’s wrongdoings. Certainly this will be an embarrassment for the Tories – already struggling to downplay all the attention Hannan is getting – but will calling Hannan racist put into proper context how deeply wrong this MEP really is?

Do we really want Mandy as the face of the party?

To repeat that oft used phrase it is not often I agree with Letters from a Tory today reading his letter to Peter Mandelson made me smile in agreement.

Regarding the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, LFaT points out that

You [Peter Mandelson] apparently spoke briefly about the case with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi while on holiday in Corfu, yet your spokesman had the nerve to suggest that the subsequent reports of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi’s possible release from jail were “entirely coincidental”.

My own support for the Labour party was not informed by a love of coincidental meetings, but this and the letters containing the words lets keep this whole ordeal away from the media, it is sleaze politics and it doesn’t excite me. Lets not get carried away, the conspiracies that this was all to do with business deals is all without foundation at the moment, but when enough of a gap is left open, enough to see that much is to be hidden, then this raises the voters eyebrows and it is at the expense of the party.

What was that other coincidental meeting Mandelson attended the other day

You are proposing cutting the broadband connection from users who swap copyrighted content, which has outraged internet providers who said that it would breach fundamental rights and would not work.  Even though this proposal was rejected by Lord Carter, the former Digital Britain minister and Downing Street special adviser, a matter of months ago, you have mysteriously changed your mind.

Now simple decorum would have done nicely here, namely, do not change your mind from something reasonable (like a reasonable crack down on illegal internet activities) to something potentially illegal (like cutting off a music downloader’s internet connection altogether) after meeting for dinner with David Geffen, the billionaire producer, then allowinng officials to claim that the topic of internet piracy did not come up.

Now the trouble with all this is, as sleazy as it may seem, as slim as it may look, the case that these examples were mere coincidence is plausible. It is damaging, but it may be unfounded. So what is there to be concerned about Mandy for, from the perspective of a Labour supporter?

Despite appeals from Mandelson that he will never become leader through choice, one or two aspects seem to show that his being head honcho through other means goes a way into undermining the leadership, and this doesn’t include the speculation that he was leader of the country via blackberry during his holiday.

Peter Mandelson’s part in the undermining of Brown when he announced, unknown by anyone else, particularly Brown himself, that Brown would engage in a live television debate – though I think everybody knows Brown would be up to it – was if not rude then rather up front of Mandelson. For someone who has no apparent desire to be leader one day, he has a way of making sure his powerful presence is known.

With Jack Straw’s new move to qurantine peers for 5 years who want to sit as MPs has caused speculation that it is a personal swipe at his foe Mandelson. But Straw has flatly denied this, and indeed the rule does apply to all sitting peers. But where are the explicit efforts to curb Mandy’s power inside the party?

The further speculation that Mandelson will resign from the Lords in order to save the party from despair and obscurity will obviously have some high end supporters. But is his really the face we want fronting the party? He who holidays with the shadow Chancellor and a Rothschild, he who changes his mind on policy over dinner dates, he who seeks not to challenge business as much as see it untie its regulation under his watch, he who mysteriously pays off fat mortgages, and he who has become the most important member of the Labour party without ever having been elected to do so? Is he really the face of the Labour party?