We’re about to begin the afternoon session on Sunday – the final session. Some talks haven’t yet been noted in the blog – but they will be, as we come out of under the snow of other obligations, like collecting interviews for radio programs, for example.
But before the day moves on I want to note today’s beginnings of a move towards elaborating ways of practically living out that desire ‘to be the best person you can be’ – without God.
The day began with Stuart Bechman’s affirmation of why he was an atheist: amongst the reasons, his sense of the importance of making sure that moral understanding kept in pace with technological understanding. He acknowledged the ‘incredible power of community’ : ‘we know that we can have that community without religious belief.’ So it was interesting to hear his account of his organisation’s structures of ‘outreach’ – sponsorship, scholarships etc. You can find out more here.
Right now, as the afternoon session has got going, an American comedian is telling us about what makes him laugh (it’s an in-your-face taking up of in-your-face hypocrisy) … and that he will be selling his books later (who isn’t?) . But a while ago, Ian Robinson’s gentler humour led us to the idea that atheism is a logical conclusion to a spiritual quest. The word spiritual he said had been coopted by religious people and ‘twisted into something transcendental’. He defined it as a quest to find the essential nature of the universe, a search for answers to the big questions. And these questions extend to what is the ultimate nature of the universe, is there a divinity and so on. You’ve got to start without presupposing a material realm and a spiritual realm.
Atheism is also about passion, not just reason, Ian Robinson said. Passion and reason are not antagonists. The Western intellectual tradition is notorious for taking two contrasting aspects and turning them into opposites and in competition. (pace ‘faith without reaon is dead’ ?)
So atheism is a passionate engagement with the the world and with life … and the first passion is love. Atheists in Ian Robinson’s account are in love with truth and in love with the natural world, because that is all there is, and they are ‘with eyes wide open’.
Along with passion, there is reverence – for a natural world that is something wondrous and marvellous. Awe is too passive a notion he said, quoting Robert Solomon, whereas reverence implies an active stance towards the universe. And Darwin he said was the person who best expressed this stance: “It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank ………..”
Since some comment conversation is about Ian Robinson’s talk beyond that audience appreciated poetic point, here is a summary of what he had to say. He made three points about attempts to speak of God in terms of, for example, ‘being’ or ’ground of being’. One, if this purported God is non-trivial then he or she would be detectable by science; if non-detectable then irrelevant; and if detectable, some effects would be palpable.
Two, the idea that there is even such a thing as ‘being’ is a logical howler – it happens when a noun is created from a verb (hence Robinson’s reference to nominalisation and reification). Linguistics, he said, cannot create facts about the world and to say that God is being is to say nothing
Third, in his view, the God of the great majority of believers is susceptible to conventional arguments from atheists, since this is not the ‘ground of being’ or some such formulation.
Listen to audio of Ian Robinson speaking on “Atheism as the Logical Conclusion to a Spiritual Quest” [Size:36.9MB; Dur: 40.20]