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    Archive for "Mar 05 2011"

    We like Hume. He doesn’t flame us

    Allan Ramsay, Portrait of David Hume, 1766. Hume’s our man. He was skeptical as hell but never got all defensive about it. Image source: Wikimedia Commons


    For the life of me, I don’t know why I care so much about atheists and atheism.

    Off the top of my head, I can think of two possible reasons: (1)  I once drew very close to the atheist line but never quite crossed over, so I can identify somewhat; and (2) since then I have come to embrace apophatic theology, and, with its emphasis on negation, it bears a superficial relation to atheism. But it’s misleading; apophatic theology is heavily theocentric.

    Anyhoo, whatever the reason for my abiding interest, atheists and atheism were much on my mind yesterday as I walked home from the university. Two things were in play in my poor head. First, I am taking a class called Faith and Reason, and it’s been really interesting. We started with Augustine and have worked our way through Aquinas, Anselm, Luther, Calvin, and yesterday we discussed some readings from John Locke and David Hume. Although we only read a short chapter called Of Miracles, I was impressed with Hume’s skill in exposing the sheer implausibility of any miracles whatsoever, including biblical ones. His clearly delineated emphasis on observation is rigorous and refreshing. It seems to me that his argument, as measured and transparent as it may appear, is somehow tainted at the source, but I’ve not yet located the exact point of my disagreement. Nevertheless, it is was a pleasure to read and discuss.

    Was Hume an atheist? It’s not clear. Some people labeled Hume an atheist in his time, but they mostly had political motivations. His actual status with respect to theism is still the point of some debate, apparently. One thing is clear, however: he was no friend to established religion.

    Second: As I walked home, I considered the words and tactics of other non-friends of established religion. Recent online discussions I have had with certain atheists have left me exhausted and depressed. These discussions can be frustrating for me because of the strident iconoclasm of some of the people I converse with. The relentlessness with which they ridicule Christians and Jesus and the glee they obviously derive from their mockery make it clear that they are being driven by something larger than mere reason. The ones I am thinking about have a lot invested in being right, as if that were the meaning of life.

    This does not describe all (or even most) atheists I know, so I don’t want anyone to accuse me of gross generalizations here. And don’t get onto me about the obnoxious Christian flamers out there, in whom I have no interest defending. My point is actually quite modest, and anyone who has ever spent any time on any of the many humanist-freethought-atheist sites out there knows what I’m talking about. Flame wars are rampant, and it makes me tired as hell when I’m trying to hold a reasonable discussion with those who claim to hold reason in such high regard.

    I leave these discussions once they cross over the line into incivility. Make no mistake — there are lots of things more important than being nice. But I just don’t have time for people who mock me and my faith. Time to shake off the dust off and move on. Next time I get flamed by a touchy and defensive anti-theist, I’m going to calmly sign off, pick up my copy of Hume, and figure out just where he went wrong with that no-miracles thing.

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