Friday, 28 December 2007

The Portable Atheist

Just before Christmas I was in some big bookstore and next to the religious section I found The Portable Atheist. It's a collection of atheistic writings assembled by Christopher Hitchens with an introduction by him. The mix of authors was enough for me to dump $35 on this book, even though it has many articles that are out of copyright which I could find for free on the net.

It is interesting to see who has made it into this Atheist book. The standard people are there: Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, Penn Jillette and Sam Harris to name a few, but some other names I find a bit curious.

Thomas Hobbes: Hitchens says "Hobbes ridicules religion by supposedly defending true faith against paganism." I'm not so sure. Hobbes was tried for heresy but maintained that in his book Leviathan (which Hitchens grabs a section from) does not contradict the Nicene Creed. Hobbes says in the appendix to Leviathan:
...the proposition ‘God is’ means the same as ‘God exists.’ The substantive verb can be analysed as ‘God is a being’ (or ho on, in Greek) — that is, something real, and not a mere phantasm, like what we call a ‘ghost’... is explicitly stated in Holy Scripture that everything was made out of nothing. Even Aristotle contradicts himself when he says that the world is eternal, since matter is defined as that out of which something is made. So this article of the creed says that God is the maker of all things out of nothing. It follows that he owes his existence to his own power, and not to anything else; and further that he exists from eternity, and since there was nothing which gave God his existence, that there also will be nothing which can make him cease to exist.

That doesn't sound too Atheistic to me... (Part III of Leviathan also doesn't sound to be denying God).

Benedict De Spinoza: Hitchens struggled a bit with this inclusion saying: "There are those who argue that he [Spinoza] was not really an atheist because he never formally renounced the idea of a Supreme Being... the general climate of persecution makes it difficult to be certain of his innermost convictions." Spinoza says in part 1 of his book Ethics:
Proposition XI: God, or substance, consisting of infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality, necessarily exists.
Proof: If this be denied, conceive, if possible, that God does not exist: then his essence does not involve existence. But this (by Prop. vii.) is absurd. Therefore God necessarily exists.

Proposition XIV: Besides God no substance can be granted or conceived.
Proof: As God is a being absolutely infinite, of whom no attribute that expresses the essence of substance can be denied (by Def. vi.), and he necessarily exists (by Prop. xi.); if any substance besides God were granted it would have to be explained by some attribute of God, and thus two substances with the same attribute would exist, which (by Prop. v.) is absurd; therefore, besides God no substance can be granted, or consequently, be conceived. If it could be conceived, it would necessarily have to be conceived as existent; but this (by the first part of this proof) is absurd. Therefore, besides God no substance can be granted or conceived. Q.E.D.

Proposition XXV. God is the efficient cause not only of the existence of things, but also of their essence.
Proof: If this be denied, then God is not the cause of the essence of things; and therefore the essence of things can (by Ax. iv.) be conceived without God. This (by Prop. xv.) is absurd. Therefore, God is the cause of the essence of things. Q.E.D.

Spinoza has a whole heap of these propositions and proofs about God and none of them are about him not existing, in fact to Spinoza it is necessary that God exists. Hitchens agrees that Spinoza was a pantheists and gives this great insight: "Moreover, it can be doubted that whether a pantheist is truly a theist..." Of cause there is a differences between a pantheist and a theist, but the thing they have in common is that they believe in a Supreme Being, which is something I thought atheists denied.

Albert Einstein: Everyone wants Einstein on their team. Einstein didn't believe in a personal god but I thought he believed in Spinoza's God. I didn't think that is much of a case for saying God does not exist.

I find it surprising that you can be an atheist and also be a pantheist and/or believe that God created the universe and/or not deny the Nicene Creed. I have heard a criticism of Christianity that goes something like: "I'll start listening to them, when they start agreeing on something." Compared to this spectrum of beliefs, I think there is more agreement in Christianity than between these selected atheists authors.

It also a shame that Antony Flew's writings aren't in there due to his turning to be a deist. Also I noticed that Madalyn O'Hair's writings were not included even though she founded the American Athiests. I guess background information about the authors are important after all.

1 comment:

  1. There is disagreement between atheists since they are freethinkers, while christians are group thinkers following the herd.

    Christians have constructed a shared agreement reality about their god and their creed. Atheists on the other hand are not interested in agreement realities - other than that which is needed to ensure a civil society - we are interested in objective reality which can be harder to discover given that we are beings with a predisposition to regard our subjective point of view above that of reality.

    Atheists let objective reality overrule their subjective ideas WAY MORE OFTEN than christians and beliefists do.

    To the beliefist what is most important is the belief and they will do almost anything to make sure that their belief is kept including murder on mass scales.

    It comes down to this: do you take on a belief as true without any evidence for it being true?

    If you do then there is usually a good chance that you are wrong about reality. That creates a dissonance in your life.

    This is why killing all beliefs about reality is very important. When it comes to reality evidence scrutinized with the high standards of the scientific method can be the only metric.

    Since god is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, beliefs about reality it's important to kill your ALL of your beliefs in god and in reality ASSUMING you want to live your life to it's maximum potential connected to the here and now of objective reality rather than chasing after the nihilistic utopia that is heaven.

    One need no beliefs nor disbeliefs to live a fulfilling life.

    -pwl 20080605

    ps. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler, Bush (41 & 43), Cheney, Clinton (42), Bin Laden, Castro Brothers, etc... are all BELIEFISTS who believed or believe that they were right and that others lives don't matter compared to their belief in being right. They all have committed crimes against humanity in the name of their belief regardless of the nature of their belief: be it a belief in themselves as a leader, in the cult of communism, in christian faith, in freedom, or whatever. Their beliefs kill people in unforgivable numbers. As leaders they are all failures. As people they are war criminals. The objective measure is as simple as the numbers of people they had killed. Arguably this objective measure is the only measure that can be used to bridge across all the different human societies and moral values.