Saturday, November 17, 2007


After a comment in the original post a couple of emails came in asking how one is not an atheist while disbelieving the existence of any god. It's because atheism I see as essentially a construct that wouldn't have existed without the fundamentalist intolerance of post-gnostic Christianity; historically, people were, and to a certain extent still are, forced to make a choice to accept or reject.

However, I think there's a cuter way to articulate this.

A chimpanzee doesn't recognise any deity, nor is he or she an atheist. There is no god, and you can't prove that which doesn't exist; it's not a belief, it's a state. I'm with the chimp.


joseph said...

the distinction you're explaining made more sense before you introduced the false analogy of the chimp; the chimp would be ignorant of the issue, while you hardly are. refusing to buy into a meaningless distinction is not the same thing as being unaware of the controversy, is it?

William Bennett said...

I do appreciate you challenging this, Joseph - despite it sounding like some rather trivial sophistry, I believe that this is an important concept and the chimp analogy is not at all false

- the chimp can't be (and isn't) ignorant of something that doesn't exist (for instance 'god' or 'flying green pigs' for that matter)

- yes, you're right that the chimp would be ignorant of the issue, but the issue only exists because the Christian faith chose to make it one - and yes, I am aware of the issue but I choose to ignore it, therefore I am not an atheist

Ea-M. said...

I deleted some comments due to utterly poor typing (even from my part)

Although i as a whole do agree with you, i do think it's a mistake to believe atheism/non-theism or religious critism as a post-gnostic phenomena. You are diminishing atheism vs theism into a question of christianity or not.

A few pre-cristian qoutes (translated from old notes in danish into english)

"The gods of the thrace have red hair and blue eyes, while the gods of the ethiopians have flat noses and curly hair"
(in the 19th century Feuerbach said; If horses had gods the gods would have hoofs and manes)

"The one who prays to a statue of a god is just as sensible as the one, who talks to a house instead of it's owner"
"the one who washes of the guilt of blood with blood could just as well jump into a sewer to get clean"

"Man is the meassure of all things"

"The gods are an invention of those in power. The Gods are their all-seeing policeofficers"

To even consider an argument - pro or con towards a/theism, one cannot limit oneself to just christianity. One has to dig deeper than that. Theism/being religous is apart of the human condition as well as questioning the god(s) being worshipped. One is tempted to illustrate by saying "What have you done for me lately?!?"

Religio is just a roman/latin word that means old, something to keep in awe, something to be approached with caustion.

It's only 381 when all other religious practices is abolished in the whole roman empire, that religio is especially identified with christianity and not just any kind of ritualistic behaviour.

That being said i certainly believe that under certain fysical or mental conditions "Oh my god!" is more fitting than "Oh random chance!"

I'm a bit sleepy by now. Hope i'm not taking anything hopelessy off-topic...

joseph said...

you can reject the question of the reality of god as meaningless; you can even reject as nonsensical the concept of (a) god; but you cannot reject your knowledge of the concept: pandora's jar has been opened. you noted in a previous post that flying pigs are easily imagined, and i would certainly rather imagine flying pigs than the christian trinity, but i cannot banish my knowledge of either concept and return to the chimp's (presumed) state of ignorance, and, i submit, neither can you. this is why i took exception to the chimp really only works in a very broad sense. (we assume, reasonably) the chimp hasn't the ability to make the choice! i recall being taken aggressively to task by the professor (a self-described marxist atheist)in an introductory philosophy class for suggesting that discussing the question of the existence of god in anything other than a history of philosophy context (the subject at hand was pascal's wager) was a silly waste of time.

William Bennett said...

i think you underestimate the chimp, Joseph! and I believe we do have it within us to banish knowledge of a concept, consciously or unconsciously - in fact we do this all the time in smaller, less obvious ways

however, let me alter the perspective of the terms of the metaphor: if we replace the chimp with a hypothetical super-intelligent extraterrestrial being, would we after explaining these oh-so-human concepts also demand that he/she/it play our games with these labels of a/theism - I think not; it's a classic double bind based upon a false presupposition (compare Bush's recent 'you're either with us or with the terrorists')

the real point is, you can be aware of the issues and still choose to transcend the game for which the rules are established, in this case by the Christian faith; why play their silly game?

it often amazes me how (as in the example of your professor and the perfectly valid point you made) so many scientists, academics, and philosophers get so steamed up about this, in my opinion, fundamentally immature debate

William Bennett said...

ea-m, it's true and well-documented (as in your examples) that antitheism has long existed, probably ever since gods were invented; the reason I single out post-gnostic Christianity is because of its main defining feature of ruthlessly demanding belief in the historicity of 'Christ, the Son of God', thus eventually creating the very cornerstone for the notion of a-theism (as opposed to anti-theism) which first began to be noticed in the middle ages in Europe; Celsus is an interesting example of one of the earliest voices to begin to openly challenge this burgeoning intolerance

before then, we could believe in anything or nothing; then when Christianity forcibly removed all the alternatives, we had nowhere else to go but to 'atheism'

Richo said...

I think declaring myself an 'athiest' (as I do) is much easier than all of this. Generally, I'm not into being so apathetic towards such subjects, plus I love a good debate as much as the next person, but I don't see this one going anywhere!

Sarah Trotsky said...

I describe myself as a diest.

we keep to ourselves mostly,
mind our own business.

"ism" are just too finite.

This is a question without an answer, and I'd rather not ascribe it one.

Luke McElroy said...

Sam Harris (who recently gave an interesting talk The Problem with Atheism that can be found at often replaces words like 'God' and 'Jesus' with 'Zeus' and 'Apollo', or Christianity with ancient Greek polytheism, which I think is a useful technique to escape the Christian double bind that William mentioned; once the switch is made for the concept of atheism then any impetus to pick a 'side' seems to disappear.

Ea-M. said...

Wether the chimp is aware of ti or not, the concept/notion/will/whatever of (a) god is most certainly having impact and power on the life of the individual and the world as whole. Wethher you belive in a deity wit a will of it's own or concieve it as a construct of man or society, god is a powerfull term.
"God" can be used to put authority into statements.
"God" is indeed almighty. Existant on it's own or only through the redundancy of mankind.

It's really not a matter of pro or con. I enjoy the show anyhow.

joseph said...

well! to they say. is a diest a sort of goth?

William Bennett said...

Luke, many thanks for that Sam Harris link

Thomas Transparent said...

While we're on the subject, we should also note that other faiths' defining themselves by Christian terms isn't necessarily limited to atheists: the terms 'pagan' and 'heathen' are, by my understanding, basically Christian insults that would be on par with 'backwoods hick' for their time...and yet people of a more pantheistic bent will still refer to themselves as such today. Disappointing indeed how many have been forced into playing their "silly game"...

David Cotner said...

"Why are numbers beautiful? It's like asking why is Beethoven's Ninth Symphony beautiful. If you don't see why, someone can't tell you. I know numbers are beautiful. If they aren't beautiful, nothing is." — Paul Erdös

Alexander said...

I don't know what goes through a Chimp's mind, but if we presume that it is ignorant of religious belief then I think it's fair to assume that this is because it is incapable of comprehending it. The chimp's existence may be idyllic, but only the chimp knows that - the point is that it knows no other reality. You are what you are, and to try to emulate the existence of something else is to fail to rise to the challenge of being human. It's disappointing. Even children's cartoons tell you to just be yourself.

I guess the question you have to ask yourself is whether you're reasoning this way because of your feelings about religion, or whether you just need to feel like a man apart that exists outside of accepted social constructs. To go back to the point in the original post about Mother Teresa, she helped people, regardless of what her beliefs were (and in some cases BECAUSE of what her beliefs were). If you spend your time trying to feel like you've outwitted the universe, you won't help anyone, least of all yourself.

Richo said...

"If you spend your time trying to feel like you've outwitted the universe, you won't help anyone, least of all yourself." I feel this notion betrays what William was originally saying. After all, these chimps that have been referred to haven't spent time 'outwitting' the universe. One could also stretch your argument about Mother Teresa to include those few artists who've shone a little light into our hearts, couldn't we? They might not be on the front line necessarily (despite some idiots we could mention thinking they are), but I'd contend they have a place on that same ladder...

Miss Kerry said...

Also, if the infinite excisted ( which one could say it does, in the form of the universe which is too large for us to measure )- our finite brains would be unable to comprehend it.
I postulating some edge of what we are programmed by DNA to do/be/experience excises, according to Crowley's A...A.. system, which can be accessed by hard work ( and very very few have accomplished this, in this age - just one so far DJ Gunther ).
This edge, is where by effort of ( lack of better way to say it, bear with me here )- deprogramming ones limits- thru hath a yoga physically ( calms the emotions ), then adding philosophical study of what man has found empirically to this point, work on the reflexes of the mind ( raja yoga ) and so on( its very complex, as it would need to be. We are a bundle of systems, that function automatically. Hacking or rewiring, isn't going to be easy.)
Thus, one can reach a point of absolute stillness, to bring back something from this unknown, thats totally new. Never been. A idea, a vision of something that can change things on a great scale.
Or if your minded, you can dream a little dream, like the scientist who discovered the benzene ring in his sleep thru seeing snakes chasing their tales, and made the breakthru from this. He had the all power thru using his science to reach that state, to that open place .
Maybe the subconscious. Maybe the infinite whatever.

Point being, its very hard if not impossible for anyone to reach a state where you can touch the stuff of creation, so to speak.
People experiencing minor states of dyhana thru combos of stressors ( deserts, fasting, all that holy man crap,prayer, meditation ) - think they see god, and god told them some rubbish.
If they used science, they'd know that thats only ONE time of that state, dyhana. Its not even samhadi. And samadhi isn't even half way to the empty state, where you find the sort of stuff gods are supposed to have.(answers, new science, ext)

The reason( mind ) cannot connect to the subconscious.but it can have a experience ( dyhana and such) thru the "lower animal passions/self"( love the old school language !) In other words, knowing isn't everything. Reason won't "see god' or access the hidden realms of the sub con( JUngs treasure trove).
Animals have no reason, per se LIKE humans- thus innocent. Which has been said by mystics like St Francis.

This concept, which has been scientifically studied proven and worked into a science that can be repeated, by ANYONE- has no premise of god.just infinity.

Miss Kerry said...

Forgot, artists Crowley said- already HAVE this ability to create from naught.
The method is used for those who can't be artists ( and we are NOT all artists no matter what inclusion bullshit is spouted in its namby pamby sunday school tone. most people are SHIT at art, of any kind. But very good at linear thinking.)

Miss Kerry said...

I understand the chimp thing.
I agree.