Saturday, March 25, 2006

If You Can't Beat'em, Undermine'm

Not everyone in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had the capacity to defeat the church in war or even in politics. An increasinly important alternative strategy now emerged---attacking the ideas on which the church was based.

For an increasingly numerous and articulate group within Western culture, the best way to reduce the excessive influence of the church was to undermine the credibility of its teachings. While some saw the attraction of atheism as lying in what it proposed, most saw its appeal in its ability to weaken, perhaps even destroy, the institution of the church.

Paradoxically, the historical origins of modern atheism lie primarily in an extended criticism of the power and status of the church, rather than any asserted attractions of a godless world.

Adapted from Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism, p. 11.

Classical Greek Atheism

"Yet atheism failed to have the impact on the late classical world that some feared and others secretly longed for. Roman writers such as Lucretius (c. 94-c. 50 B.C.) argued that religion merely evoked terror---as, for example, in the case of Agamemnon, whose fear of the goddess Artemis led him needlessly to sacrifice his only daughter. Atheism, Lucretius declared, eliminates such terror and allows us to focus on the natural forces and processes at work around us.

These ideas had relatively little impact on their own era. They would, however, find a new and highly receptive audience centuries later. Perhaps the world was not yet ready for the announcement of the death of the gods.

That day would come---with a vengeance."

Alister McGrath
The Twilight of Atheism

Prior Mind Structures

Probing the underlying structures of our own reasoning, assumptions, values, and beliefs is no different from anything else we can think about.

This is not just standard procedure in many other areas of thought. It is considered matter-of-factly necessary in relation to any area in which truth-claims must be adjudicated because of the implications of the possibility of error.

Design and verification issues always come up when something goes wrong.

The design and structure of the World Trade Center towers have been the subject of extremely focused, detailed, and complex analysis since 9-11, including retracing the reasoning for various design and construction decisions in that project.

So why then is straightforward analysis claimed to be unable to arrive at a reliably true position concerning God or even operational values common to believers and atheists?

More importantly, why is the unknowability claim considered true?

And the issue of God is by no means the only area that can be questioned in this way, as we shall see.