May 04, 2004

Religious Aspects to Risk, Part II

WE HAVE NOTICED THAT The Raving Atheist has fired back a response to our previous entry on neo-paganism, thus setting the stage for a nice argument over religious matters. So we shall set out to refute his missive accordingly, and engage in wanton and cruel bashing of his less erudite disciples.

We should start by saying there is plenty of stuff in both our arguments which obscures the real debate at the core of our disagreement: namely, whether God exists.

For instance, vis-a-vis our previous entry, The Raving Atheist pokes fun at us for saying that spell-casting prompts all manner of unnecessary extravagance on things like incense. The Raving Atheist does not think much of this argument against Wiccanism, as it comes from a Roman Catholic; do we not, he asks, use incense and candles in our own ceremonies?

It is a worthy thrust but one that is easily parried. After all, The Raving Atheist knows full well that candles and incense may be easily disposed with in Catholic ceremonies. The essence of the Mass is in the transubstantiation of the Eucharist; all else is subordinate to that. However, were a Wiccan or other neo-pagan to cast a spell, the components of the spell would be central to that act. Hence one cannot, if one is intellectually honest, compare the two practices that way.

As an aside to this, we note that a commenter -- apparently directed here from The Raving Atheist's site -- has issued a less reasoned response. Hence, we are glad that we shall have the chance to educate this "Nick the Dick" person, who writes as follows:

I wonder who spends more money on holy candles, and holy oils, Pagans or Catholics? Most Catholic churches have more candles than most places Ive ever seen. Holy water anyone? How about a scepter that sprays holy water, like some voodoo device? Prayers and spells are the same thing bullshit!

The answer to Nick's question is simple: pagans, of course.

Naturally, we speak on a per capita basis, as there are thousands of Roman Catholics for every practicing neo-pagan. But this allows the Catholic faithful to take advantage of economies of scale.

Now, according to Nick's e-mail address, he is a Canadian; so we shall endeavor to put that idea in terms which he will instinctively understand:

1. Let us say the waiting room at a hospital in Shawnigan can hold two severely-ill patients, who face a wait of four hours before being seen by a doctor, and the cost to Government for this is C$1,000 an hour per person. Let us also say the room was then doubled in size. The marginal cost of adding two more deathly-ill people would be much less than that C$1,000 per hour figure, as the Government would not spend any additional money on life-saving equipment or personnel to tend to their needs.

2. Let us say Sheila Copps makes one speech per year in Parliament denouncing Americans in unclassy and gauche terms. As Canadian taxpayers pay C$109,000 per annum for Ms Copps' service to that nation, it would cost them about C$21,800 per American normally reached by Ms Copps' remarks. However, because someone from the National Post happens to be in the press gallery and his report gets picked up on Drudge, the cost per American reached would fall to nearly nothing.

So now, Nick can see that "economies of scale" basically describes what happens when one makes more of any given thing, and the long-run average cost of doing so falls accordingly. The same principle applies with Roman Catholics: we get fabulous deals on candles and incense, and as such, the typical parishioner pays practically nothing for having those items used in service. Meanwhile, your typical neo-pagan would spend $40 to $50 on various products bought from a dingy holistic store in some strip mall. Hence, pagans spend more. Q.E.D. Besides, holy water is free.

But "Nick the Dick" is not alone in offering up such surface criticism. One commenter on The Raving Atheist's site writes as follows:

God give me strength, to deal with all of your annoying and idiotic followers. Give me the strength to turn them against you, and unite the world in peace and justice.

You know, I bet theists are much better at circular reasoning than atheists. They keep having to tie their beliefs in knots, just to make them look straight! I bet that Kepple would also come up with ways that Buddhism, Hinduism, and even Mormonism were tied to Catholicism, if you asked him real nicely. You know--Buddhism is what happens when you convince yourself that people are god...

Actually, last time we checked, Communism is what happens when one becomes convinced that people are like God. But even though we could actually find common ground between various religious traditions -- it's not difficult to find -- we would for the moment like to focus on this larger question of whether God exists.

Now, The Raving Atheist holds the view that there is no God, and as such, he made the argument that prayer and hence religion are meaningless. We can understand that view, but we wonder if he is not basing it on underlying principles which are unsound.

The core argument that any atheist makes rests on two key principles: that God does not exist because He has not been proven to exist, and that God as theists describe Him is an impossibility.

But the flaw in such thinking is NOT just that it stands in the face of all the evidence that suggests that He just might exist after all, and dismisses all that out of hand. It is not that an atheist must come up with Rational Explanations for every unexplained thing, must scour the histories to explain away tales of amazing happenings, and must wash away millennia of established thinking. And nor is it that an atheist must attempt to fit God into a box devised by human logic, and crush said box accordingly.

No. The flaw is in the core argument itself. For the argument an atheist must make to prove his point is not, "God has not been proven to exist, therefore He must not exist." The argument an atheist must make is "God has been proven to not exist, therefore He must not exist."

For all their carping about not having any conclusive proof from theists about God's existence, not one atheist has managed yet to conclusively and scientifically disprove the existence of God. This is, of course, because it cannot be done. Never mind the basic assumptions which The Raving Atheist has set out; they are flawed attempts to impose temporal logic on spiritual matters. Such cutesy arguments might delight the like-minded, but they do not fundamentally address the one thing that might convince theists they were in the wrong: namely, a conclusive and scientific proof that God does not exist.

Can the hard-core atheists provide that? One does not see how they can do so -- yet it would seem as if their position would require it, if only to justify the haughtiness with which they promulgate their arguments.

Personally speaking, we would better understand The Raving Atheist's anti-religious positions if he would merely admit that he has, for whatever reasons, animus towards organized religions and the people who follow them. Really, sir, just come out and say it, and leave it at that.

It is true that doing such a thing, compared to espousing militant atheism, might not be as rebellious or as witty or as well-received with the intellectuals at some dinner party. But perhaps it would be liberating.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at May 4, 2004 10:05 PM | TrackBack


You make a very valid point here, actually stated or implied, I don't remember: It is just as impossible to prove a God DOESN'T exist as it is possible to prove one DOES.

That's why I firmly believe the mixing of science and spiritually/organized religion is wrong and pointless.

However, I think it not only possible but accepted as scientific truth that humans cannot immaculately conceive, or that man can rise from the dead (with the obvious exception of Regis Philbin).

Now, I don't know the excepted definition of atheist as it stands today, although I have a pretty good idea some interpret as follows: It is impossible for God to exist. This, to me, is simply stupid and corrupts any ground one had to stand on in the first place.

Believers and non-believers all have the same amount of proof, which is none. Isn't that the whole issue here? Science as we know it today and how we must assume it to be in the future will never be able to destroy this type of faith, nor is that the goal. Science does not discriminate (well, atleast good science anyway).

If one believes, in his/her heart, that there is no God, it is the same as believing one exists.


Posted by: simon from jersey at May 5, 2004 12:27 PM