Monday, June 24, 2013

So You Think You've Got All The Answers?

That was a silly and deliberately provocative question. How many are "all the answers," anyway? I don't think very many people really think they have "all" of "the answers." Someone mentioned people ceasing to look once they felt they had all the answers. Let me try to tweak that proposition a bit and make it more precise: people stop looking once they have all the answers THEY WANT, ON A CERTAIN SUBJECT. Theologians and academics declined to look through Galileo's telescope because Aristotle and Church doctrine had already told them that either they wouldn't see what Galileo said they would see, or that Galileo was a trickster. Some Christian apologists today find it convenient to believe that critics of Christianity are ignorant of history, and so they claim that these critics have erroneously spread tales of Galileo being held for years by Church authorities in horrible dungeons, instead of a much more comfortable house arrest. I myself had never spread any such tales of Galileo confined in any dungeon, had never heard such a thing until very recently when I came across apologists refuting such tales, which they alleged were widespread. Of course, one need not be religious in order to be tempted to find convenient answers and then stop looking: I would be comfortable believing that the apologists are just as ignorant as the critics they denounce, and that those ignorant critics and the tales of Galileo confined in dungeons are figments of the apologists' imaginations. But I do not know for certain that no atheists have spread such tales. (Although I am still waiting for a reference to such an utterance by an atheist.)

If one is more comfortable with propagating the worst possible opinion of the Bible than with understanding it, then one tends to stop investigating things once one hears that the Biblical authors all thought of the Earth as flat, and that the Christian assertion that Jesus' virgin birth fulfilled Old Testament prophecy relies on the misunderstanding of an Old Testament text which refers not to a virgin, but simply a young woman giving birth. One may not want to hear that the passages in the Old and New Testaments which they say describe a flat Earth do not look like descriptions of a flat Earth to every single scholar who's read the bile in Hebrew and Greek; likewise, one may be quite uninterested in the argument that in many languages, one and the same term can mean either "young woman" or "virgin." In English, for example, there's the term "maiden."

I have to constantly remind myself that in such discussions, the overriding concern of very many disputants is actually not history or science or etymology at all, although those subjects may be the ostensible object of debate at a given moment. Rather, very often both the apologists and the atheists are concerned with theology, and not much else.

Well, I'm not concerned with theology, in the sense of wanting to debate theological subjects. As I've said before, I believe that debate was over long ago and the theologians lost. More than a few times some of my fellow atheists have mistaken me for a Bible-thumping Christian because I don't toe the entire party line: I'm not certain that the authors of the Bible believed the Earth was flat, I think that Isaiah probably was prophesying that virgin would give birth to a savior, I'm absolutely certain that very few of the leading Christian scholars from late antiquity to the present believed that the Earth was flat. Such etymological and historical considerations do not shake my atheism in the slightest. I sometimes wonder whether some of those other atheists are quite shaky in their rejection of religious faith. Why else would they insist on bolstering their case for atheism with so many premature conclusions and flat-out mistakes? (Not to mention the very obvious consideration of how much such mistakes can weaken their case in the eyes of anyone who doesn't already agree with them.) They give the impression of being afraid of learning more about the history of religion, of considering information from outside of their (at best) half-educated echo chamber of approved sources.

Come to think of it, they resemble believers in some significant ways to me. Okay -- I hate to admit it, but some atheists really do resemble fundamentalists in the way in which investigate things and process information. I hate to admit it because I really despise most of the people, mush-minded smirks with legs they are, and influential obstacle to learning and common sense, who use phrases like "fundamentalist atheists" most often, and of course because I object to the phrase being applied to me.

Of course, some Christian apologists are going to triumphantly point to my refusal to even debate the existence of God, and say that I am violating my own principal of not ceasing to investigate things once I've found an answer which I find convenient. They may be very impressed with themselves for making this point, but I will not be impressed until they've produced a convincing case that, say, Jesus' resurrection deserves more serious consideration and investigation and debate as a possible historical event than, say, the effect of disputes between Zeus and Hera on the course of the Trojan War, or the metallurgical composition of Thor's hammer. And of course pigs will be flying long before then. Not every silly proposition deserves serious debate.

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