As I was reading through Peter A. Angeles’s ‘Critiques of God‘ (1997) I had come across an interesting comment by atheist Philosopher Ernest Nagel in his essay ‘Philosophical Concepts of Atheism‘ (1959). In section 6 of his paper, Nagel addresses the question of whether or not ‘philosophical atheism’ possesses “a common set of positive views, a common set of philosophical convictions which set them off from other groups of thinkers” (Promotheus Books; p. 15). Long story short, Nagel’s answer is “indubitably negative” (Ibid.).
However, just a paragraph down from this statement Nagel makes this interesting comment:
Nevertheless, despite the variety of philosophical positions to which at one time or another in the history of thought atheists have subscribed, it seems to me that atheism is not simply a negative standpoint.
The thrust of Nagel’s comment is when he continues:
At any rate, there is a certain quality of intellectual temper that has characterized, and continues to characterize, many philosophical atheists. (I am excluding from consideration the so-called ‘village atheist’, whose primary concern is to twit and ridicule those who accept some form of theism, or for that matter those who have any religious convictions.)
Moreover, their rejection of theism is based not only on the inadequacies they have found in the arguments for theism, but often also on the positive ground that atheism is a corollary to a better supported general outlook upon the nature of things. (quoted from Peter Angeles, “Critiques of God“; ‘Philosophical Concepts of Atheism‘ (1959); p. 15)
Now, my interest in this quote is the relationship of my experience with it in a few different ways.
Village Atheism and Modernity
I have always valued honesty or open-mindedness from atheists when it comes to recognizing certain merits of the [Christian] theistic worldview. It is why philosophers like Thomas Nagel, Raymond Tallis, and John Searle (to name a few) are refreshing reads from the skeptical community in regards to their respective fields (though some more so than others). Here, Ernest Nagel (though his discussion on the arguments for God’s existence are something that could be corrected) has recognized a rather common mistake among some skeptics whose main discourse is to combat organized religion and think that it is interchangeable with bigotry and ignorance.
Roy Abraham Varghese rightly recognizes the often heard ‘new atheism’ as a form of ‘Positivistism Redux’ (A. Flew, ‘There is a God‘; cp. 2007, xv.). In regards to the etiquette of the new atheists, Varghese writes:
In the first place, they refuse to engage the real issues involved in the question of God’s existence. None of them even address the central grounds for positing a divine reality… they fail to address the issue of the origins of the rationality embedded in the fabric of the universe, of life understood as autonomous agency, and of consciousness, conceptual thought, and the self. (Preface, xvii).
Varghese then finishes, “It would be fair to say that the ‘new atheism’ is nothing less than a regression to the logical positivist philosophy that was renounced by even its most ardent proponents” (xviii). So then, though I think Nagel is right in his analysis, the atheists that unknowingly subscribe to his description are not in the range of a mere few, but from the lower YouTube skeptic to the heights of even an Oxford Professor.
Interestingly however, the village atheist doesn’t even seem to peer deep into the enterprise of truth, where he hopes to judge and discern the nature of the case in regards to his worldview and how substantial it is given a wide range of phenomena (morality, beauty, consciousness, etc.). I remember in one instance where I had discussed with a skeptical friend of mine about an argument for the existence of God and his complete disregard for it, with also his inability to respond. A few days had gone by and he immediately called me in hurried tone saying “hey, I have a refutation to your argument that I think you can’t pass up.” In a confused manner I said “okay, what is it?”
After his long winded explanation as to how we don’t actually need God as the explanation for the universe or something along that line of reasoning, I respectfully responded to his objection and even explained in further detail what he was trying to say. He patiently waited after I was finished and said, “I’ll call you back next week with another response!” And so, as this was not the first time that this has happened, it is often the case that I find skeptics (and sadly enough, believers too) that have no true concern for truth but rather the sake of disagreement and debate, that they have more concern for the superiority of their worldview rather than its ability to withstand criticism and constantly refresh its thirst for truth.