Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Group 1: Blackford - "Unbelievable!"

I like Russell Blackford. I regularly follow his blog (Metamagician and the Hellfire Club) where he can be counted on to discuss a pretty broad range of topics, from comic book supervilliany to meta ethics.

Blackford's essay takes it's title from that moment in our lives that many of us are familiar with: that point at which we decide that religion has become, for us, unbelievable. This moment is not exclusive to religion, of course. We have similar moments with Santa, the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny, but religion seems to be a little different. Unless you were lucky, it's a good bet that you had to work it out for yourself that religion was Not True. For me, I remember sitting in the pew sometime in my early teens as my moment of unbelievability. I don't remember the exact sermon, but I remember it all coming together in a rush. Well, maybe not *all*, but enough.

For Russell, the big kahuna is the problem of EVIL (bwahahahaha.) This has traditionally been, and largely remains, a problem for believers in any traditional sort of theistic deity. This deity is forced to have an unimpressive amount of knowledge or control, or to be in possession of a most impressive bad attitude. There really is no other option, I'm afraid. The resulting fallback position of invoking "mysterious ways" has come to have a distinct "scraping the bottom of the barrel" ring to it. And if there is anything new about the New Atheism, it is in it's willingness to press this very point: believers do not have good reasons to believe what they say they believe.

Russell ends his essay with a call to arms, of a sort, for nonbelievers: openly challenge the undeserved respect that religion enjoys. Stand up and ask hard questions. Make your voice heard as a member of the growing number of reasonable and rational people that find the claims of religion to be unbelievable.


  1. I know some of us get tired of returning incessantly to the PoE, but it really is devastating. Bart Ehrman's "God's Problem" is the best book on the subject I know, largely because it shuns the pseudo-sophisticated barrel-scraping treatment many philosophers have felt obliged to give it. "God's Problem"* just lays it out in unadorned, straightforward English. But I'll be lots of Religious Studies programs will shun it for not mystifying the issue. Too bad for them.

    * http://books.google.com/books?id=uOCx_wcDkbYC&printsec=frontcover&dq=god's+problem&hl=en&src=bmrr&ei=ld1DT4-SJ4bGtgfJpZm8BQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=book-thumbnail&resnum=1&ved=0CDwQ6wEwAA

    1. I have half a dozen of Ehrman's books, but not that one. I'll have to put it on my Amazon wishlist.

      I agree that the problem of evil is devastating. I have had an immense amount of fun quoting facebook apologists' words back at them, trying to defend or justify some of the evil stuff in the Bible. They will go to literally unbelievable lengths to rationalize away God's responsibility with one breath, and then condemn far less objectionable behavior on the part of people the next. I probably find it more entertaining than I should, given the influence that religion holds in our world.

    2. Dr. Oliver, I'm wondering what you mean by 'psuedo-sophisticated barrel-scraping treatment' by philosophers, or 'mystifying' the issue? I mean, it's clear there's some way of treating the problem that you don't really like, but I'm not sure what approach/approaches it is you're specifically having problems with here and why. I'd be genuinely interested to see/hear a full opinion, being a future Religious Studies PhD myself! ;)

  2. The limited number of arguments FOR theism is laughable to me as a nonbeliever. I cannot, however, remember my "a-ha" moment. I've always been a doubter and a questioner. I remember asking questions in church while under the guise of faith. I don't think I ever really had any faith in a deity, though I've always had faith in humanity...both negative and positive. We will always undo ourselves as well as pull through. Predictable creatures indeed.

    I agree that the problem of evil is one that needs to be addressed--bold faced and without remorse. If we don't start pressing the topic without accepting "It's a faith issue" or "God works in mysterious ways," we may find ourselves dealing with an abundance of fundamentalism that we just cannot afford to have these days. I doubt highly that fundamentalism will die out completely in my lifetime, but we can hope that if enough of us challenge radical behavior, it will subside at least for the time being.

    I'm getting tired of being forced to respect those that give me nothing but judgement.

    I really liked the call to arms notion at the end. If I have a metaphorical (verbal) sword to brandish, I shall do so! For logic! :P