During the week of New Year's, I took my blog out of mothball status in order to publish what might have been one of the longest posts I have ever done, regarding atheism, which is available at this link: 4 January 2014. A gentleman by the name of Matthew Darks gave what I would say was equally voluminous critique, which in turn appears here within his own blog.
Now Matthew Darks is a prolific writer in his own right, but this is not the only connection between us. People who have viewed my conversion account--which I probably need to go back and update--will know that when I was baptized, there was a father there who proceeded to baptize his daughter, as she turned eight years old at the time. The same individual was the one who baptized me also. Now Alan Rhoads is the father, Crystal is the daughter, and Matthew Darks would eventually become Alan's son-in-law via Crystal. In fact, I met Matthew at the wedding reception, albeit briefly. Is the connection a close one? Probably not on account of geography, for Matthew and Crystal live a number of miles away to the north of my location; however, neither can he be properly classified as a stranger.
I give this as a preface only to point out that Matthew is not a random critic, but someone with close family connections with a close friend. Now this is not to suggest that his views have become personal; nevertheless, they hit close to home. They serve as a reminder that when views are published over the Internet, they not only have global reach, there are local ramifications also.
I am also reminded of the proverb "The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine." Such is the case with me. My wheels turn slower than a number of people's, but I'd like to think I strive to process things thoroughly and deliberately. So with Matthew's indulgence, I would like to process his response in installments. In tonight's post, I had originally intended to focus on two objectives, but in the interest of space and time, I will narrow it to one. Specifically, I want to revisit the definition of atheism, because it was called into question at the outset.
Now in the original blog, I gave what I thought was a reasonably solid definition for atheism, added one for agnosticism, then stated my view that the terms appeared mutually exclusive. I will go ahead and reproduce what I had--
- Atheists are those who firmly adopt a belief system in which God does not exist, and where there is not even the possibility of such existence.
- Agnostics are those who question the existence of God.
Matthew provided different definitions for both of the above terms. In doing so, he describes both beliefs--atheism and agnosticism--as part of a two-by-two rubric (gnostic versus agnostic, theist versus atheist) that can be subdivided into four quadrants. If I may be permitted to use my own words, they were:
- Gnostic Theist: 100% certain there is at least one supreme being, including but not limited to God, Allah, etc., as used in the major world religions. I would seem to fall into this quadrant, if only because I will not classify myself as an agnostic. I may speak more of this at a later time.
- Gnostic Atheist: 100% certain there are no supreme beings. It was my perception that the organization I cited to originally, atheists.org, seems to follow this pattern.
- Agnostic Theist: Believes in supreme being(s), as defined above, but does not claim to be 100% certain of this.
- Agnostic Atheist: Lacks belief in supreme being(s), but does not claim to be 100% certain of this.
So in the end, I'm left with three fairly different sets of definitions for atheist and agnostic--bearing in mind that at least one of these came straight from a dictionary--which only goes to show that reasonable people can disagree, even on the basic points of a topic. So to say, as Matthew does, that the definition I provided was "...the most blatant exaggeration of the atheistic stance I have ever seen," seems to be a touch on the dramatic, if I'm being honest. That it varies from Breitbart, I have no doubt. But given my own sources, and especially given what the organization founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair was saying, I can't say that my inferences were unreasonable.
Still, for tonight at least, I started with my personal view, and I will end it with a personal view. With perhaps some surprise, I will agree with Breitbart that certainty about God or His existence runs along a continuum. But this would also be consistent with my own faith's teaching that spiritual knowledge is one of gradual building or construction. The idea is that a person is not expected to know everything at once, but as is often quoted in scripture, it is "line upon line," and "precept upon precept" (Isaiah 28:10). I submit this extends to knowledge into the nature and characteristics of God Himself.
Where I would depart from Breitbart, however, is that there are actually four quadrants. I would, in fact, be inclined to flatten the analysis into a single, continuous spectrum, as follows--
--where (1) represents atheist (or, if you prefer, Gnostic Atheist), and (4) represents theist (or Gnostic Theist). At that point, (2) and (3) each represent a form of agnosticism; however, the differences are only one of degree. For as Breitbart himself pointed out, there are agnostics who lean towards the view that there is no God, and there are agnostics who lean towards the view that there is. Then there are still others who fall towards (3), but would question the specific form that God takes. To me, these things only go to different points along the same spectrum.
From the foregoing, I conclude that when I originally spoke of atheism, I was speaking mainly towards (1) on the above spectrum. However, it could well encroach (2), depending on the specifics. I would also respectfully submit that where someone has the active goal of having people "...set aside religious belief and superstition..." (as per atheists.org, on their main page), that seems to take the classification more towards (1). Why? Because if someone is so settled on the non-existence of God as to characterize those of faith as mistaken, deluded or even dishonest, this clearly indicates that even if there is not pure or 100% Gnosticism, the level of certainty regarding non-existence surely has to be very high indeed.
One other thing in closing. I cannot speak to whether Matthew was intending to engage in a debate or an exchange of views. I submit there is a difference. To me, a debate is a zero-sum game in which the intent is for one side to prevail over the other, in some way. In an exchange of views, we can disagree about all manner of things, perhaps even strongly, but the intent is more towards comparing notes. The reality is that both of our posts will probably carry some elements of each, but my desire is towards the exchange of views.
Now, part of the reason I say this comes from statements such as the following (and these are only representative examples)--
- "[Regarding] '...answers to prayers are repeatable under the right conditions.' This is a strong statement that has ZERO backing."
- "Why is Webster OK to define agnostic but not faith? I must point out that the majority of the world doesn’t go to Alma [in the Book of Mormon] for their definitions."
So that's as much as time will permit. Soon, I will address another topic. Tomorrow will be unlikely, as I have meetings. --SJR
P.S. "In re" is another way of saying "...in the matter of."