Notes on a profoundly illiterate article on religion.

Notes on a profoundly illiterate article on religion.

Marco Harder

May 2012

It has become a ritual of sorts for me to actively seek out material that would allow vinegar to foment in my person, but it has become quite a luxury to find something that could prompt me to write a proper, and in a way formal, response to the matter at hand. This morning proved to be one of those fortuitous days, and what you see in the meretricious glare of your screens is the resultant riposte.

Andy Uyboco’s piece titled Middle Ground posted on the Filipino Freethinkers website is, to say the least, doggerel from someone who appears to have not educated himself well enough in the diverse pool of faiths, as well as arguments for non-belief, from all over. Inevitably, this leads to another point of ignorance from his side of the street, which is failing to see the firmament of the atheistic position: that it is not just the rejection of a belief or the existence of deities. Rather, this is a consequence of the idea that there has been no evidence adduced so far that has demonstrated the existence of one, and therefore suspending the hypothesis [i.e. an extant deity] is absurd, irrational, and most importantly, unnecessary. I sure hope this illuminates a lot of things for the author, as I suspect that his incomplete understanding of the position us nonbelievers have taken may have a lot to do with the inchoate drivel I read this morning.

To his point regarding the challenge he put forth to atheists to imagine the possibility of having a higher [and presumably sentient being], I can’t help but wonder: can this person really be serious about what he’s asking, as if it weren’t easy enough to realize that god, being a hypothesis, is in itself an exercise in conjuring what could otherwise be only be inscribed using ontological methods? That said, I can easily imagine all these things he mentioned [i.e. a being that ‘…does not necessarily have to love you, nor listen to your prayers, nor conform to ANY concept of god that we currently have…’] should he wish to impose his persistence on the argument: there could be a being that kick started all of this matter into motion, but has either refused to intervene or has sublimated altogether post hoc, i.e. the deistic position. There could be a being that exists, cares for what we do, and positively enjoys watching us suffer [a sufficient explication of this possibility concerning an evil god and its implications was done by Stephen Law, and does deserve your reading time, if only to provide an alternative, though not necessarily more plausible, argument known as maltheism]. There could also be an afterlife, if he insists; only that in my proposal, there will be no one waiting for us when we get there.

Clearly, I could come up with all of those and more but the question remains whether we should maintain the notion that such statements stand up to the same intellectual rigor that we subject all other claims to. If they don’t, we simply should move on from the question, form the best conclusion given the evidence, and only return to it when developments in the evidence or arguments in favor of it present themselves. I’m not quite convinced that the Pyrrhonic principle which imbues all assertions with equal and equivalent probability [which the author seems to espouse] still holds water in the face of the ever-growing mounting evidence that further bolsters the atheistic argument.

Another laughable claim that he makes is that ‘most atheists speak out on issues that involve rejecting the Christian god and Christianity.’ This is pardonable, if only for the fact that he readily admits that he has only known nonbelievers who have come from that group, but this does not acquit him of the charges of misrepresentation and the lack of mordant insight. Misrepresentation because to imply that the recent rise in the prominence of nonbelievers is largely a phenomenon in Christendom is nothing short of fatuous. Maryam Namazie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali come from Iran and Somalia, respectively – both of which are highly dense with Islamic fervor both in society and government. Want of insight because the author has failed to see that the opposition to religion comes from the fact that most acts of hatred, bigotry, and abuse – slave trade, parochial racism, capital punishment –that we know have all been motivated, endorsed, or tolerated by most faiths, and thus to say that attacks are primarily Christian-centered is absurd. Anyone with a decent internet connection can easily validate and research these facts, a privilege we have which leaves us no elbow room to make sloppy claims like those made in the piece.

Uyboco also mounts a challenge to believers, presumably to evince an air of balance and fairness. He puts forward to theists the dare to question themselves and see whether the deity they believe to exist ‘could ever be accurately described in ancient texts — and open your mind to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, you have put your god inside a box too small to contain him, or her, or it.’ The statement you have just read clearly does not lie diametrically against the corresponding challenge given to nonbelievers like myself. The distinction that he fails to make is this: the question for theists presupposes that such a being already exists and the question is merely a matter of expanding the working definition and adumbrating the idea more precisely, while the atheists get handed a question that cannot be falsified and therefore sketchy to begin with. Why can’t the author spine up and ask his fellow believers the fundamental question to begin with:  where is the evidence for your assertion? It’s quite a lot to ask for middle ground when one party can’t even be trusted to be intellectually honest.

Frankly, I must admit that I am at a bit of a loss as to how to end this essay, as much as I am confounded by the odd reference to a Zen saying involving one’s digits and the moon. While its conventional exegesis has its merits, I propose looking at the aphorism from a mildly obtuse angle: is it not true that the observer changes the observed and is incapable of measuring two values simultaneously with any relative accuracy? By going for the moon, ’Middle Ground´ totally misses checking the instrument of its observation which, as shown by its arguments, is far from being perfectly true and tempered.