Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Theology of Atheism

Random, unorganized thoughts on a rainy morning while I drink my coffee.

Atheism is a theological position.

I thought it wouldn't hurt to take a break from politics for at least one post and this thought has been in the back of my head for some time now so we'll see if I can manage to spit it out this morning in a coherent way.

Again, atheism is a theological position. I feel like it has to be said because many of the atheists I have come in contact with seem to be in denial of this. They think of themselves as a-theological or supra-theological.

"Theology?" they say. "That's for children. I believe in science and facts. I don't need theology." When challenged on the fact that they are theologically ignorant their trite response is usually something like "Why would I need to study theology to tell you I don't believe in God? Do I have to read all the books on fairies to tell you I don't believe in them? Or do I have to study Santa Claus to legitimately claim that there is none?"

Sounds cute, but it is woefully ignorant. To say that one is an atheist is to take a theological position. Everyone is a theologian. Any statement about God is a theological statement. For example, to state "I am an atheist and Christians are fools" is to make a theological statement. So when individuals choose to make theological statements but then refuse to back them up with theological arguments or at least to give themselves a cursory education in the field they are being stubbornly ignorant. They don't want to be challenged.

Oh, they may not mind making a sport of drive-by rhetorical sniping. They may enjoy strong verbal salvos aimed at those they deem ignorant. But many times those they deem ignorant at least have some knowledge of the topic at hand . . . theology.

All of this reminds me that I have a discussion to get back to with a fine gentleman from Scotland on the fundamentalist forums, a gentleman who by now is probably thinking the same about me (about the drive-by rhetorical sniping).

It also reminds me that I was reading a book by Professor Richard Dawkins, a quite interesting book that I need to get back to. I was enjoying it and I'm not sure what happened. I think I got more interested in my Teddy Roosevelt biography and laid the other aside.



Brent Rasmussen said...

Oh, I absolutely agree. Those that claim that the Emperor is naked are just ignorant fools! How can you tell that the Emperor is naked without a degree in fashion, or at least tailoring?

Everyone has an opinion about fashion. Any statement about the Emperor's new clothes is a fashion statement. For example, to state "I do not care about fashion and I do not believe that the Emperor is wearing any clothes" is to make a fashion statement. So when individuals choose to make fashion statements but then refuse to back them up with arguments about cut, color, fabric, and style, or at least to give themselves a cursory education in the field, they are being stubbornly ignorant. They don't want to be challenged.

James Spurgeon said...


I appreciate good sarcasm and yours is, um, well, not bad.

However, your analogy is flawed. In the case of the emperor, he knew he had no clothes, and so did everyone else, even the tailors. No one was deceived, they were all just afraid to state the obvious. There was obvious and ready evidence of the truth right in front of them.

However, atheists state that there is no God and do not offer any proof. They have no physical evidence, nor do they usually even attempt a philosophical argument. There conclusion is not obvious and therefore your comparison to the "Emperor" fable fails.

All of which is beside the point, of course. The point remeains that a-theism is a theological position. Atheists are not a-theological. But they are ignorant of theology. I guess it just isn't that important to actually understand that which you attempt to deny and/or refute.

Duncan Ferguson said...

Thank you for the kind comments, and it's more than I deserve. I should point out that I'm very much English by naturalisation, although I do have a Scottish heritage, and all my close family are Scots. I'm the only one with an English accent. The previous reply to this was essentially the same but with one sentence amended - I couldn't find a way to edit it.

Your central premise here is incorrect. Atheism is not a theological position.

Theology is defined as "The study of the nature of God and religious truth; rational inquiry into religious questions" (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language) and described as "the study of God from a religious perspective. It has been commonly defined as reasoned discourse about God.." In wikipedia. In other words, it is the study of God given the perspective that God exists. Think of any other "ology" and how absurd it would be to take a position of it's subject not existing. You can't have views on biology outside the perspective of the existence of life or sociology without the perspective of the existence of society. Therefore Margaret Thatcher wasn't reflecting a sociological position when she said that there was no such thing as society.

Excuse me for a moment while I wash my mouth out with soap for typing out the dreaded MT words.

Elsewhere I think you're right. While I hold the view described above I think we do have a duty to understand what the theologians are saying. I have a long way to go but I do make a point of doing this, and am familiar when quite a few of their arguments. But this cuts both ways. Dawkins has been back on TV recently over here, with a mini-series on Darwin. At one point he interviewed a woman from the American Family Association or something similar, and she made the point that there is no - repeat, no - evidence for evolution. That is just crazy but any standard, as even if evolution wasn't true it certainly appears to be so, whatever anybody thinks. I'd say she could do with a little education herself.

James Spurgeon said...

I think Dawkins does what a lot of people do. He likes to find antagonists who will back up his claims against his antagonists.

That might not make sense so let me try again.

You quote the lady from the American Family Association as saying that there is no evidence for evolution. Dawkins probably enjoyed having her on because she is exactly what he would like to portray all Christians--people who make ignorant statements.

Here's what I would have said:

"I'm no scientist, but from what I have read there is no evidence for the evolutionary theory that could not also be construed as evidence for intelligent design if looked at from the perspective of a different worldview with its subsequent differing underlying presuppositions. IOW, the evidence available could go either way depending on which glasses one is wearing when viewing it."

As for the woman representing the American Whatever It Was, I hope her comments would be seen as more in line with mine above if seen in the whole of their context.

As for Lady Thatcher was she that bad? LOL

And as for the premise of my OP, I'll think on it some more alongside your comments and maybe come back and modify it.

BTW - I don't have that much of a Texas accent either, but I've lived in more than one place.

James Spurgeon said...


So in the movie Braveheart would your ancestors have been among the Anglish or with the Scottish nobles?

I think my ancestors are English, at least that's what my surname would indicate.

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