Tuesday, February 01, 2005

'Atheism and Children' by Natalie Angier

Ever wondered how an atheist brings up their children? You can find the answer in this highly impassioned lecture by Natalie Angier, Atheism and children. During the lecture, she makes the statement that atheism, to her, means essentially 'an ongoing devotion to exploration, a giving of pride of place to evidence.' A question: isn't this compatible with the very best of Christianity? There are some interesting points in Angier's lecture. But like so much writing from atheists, it seems to be responding to an anti-intellectual, caricatured brand of Christianity -- something we might all object to as Christians. But a good thinker is going to evaluate something on the basis of the best examples one can find. How would you characterise the best form of Christianity?


  1. Her definition seems to be more about scientific scepticism than atheism and combined with the "exploration" segment, it appears that the sentence is only meant to explain Angier's own reasons for being an atheist. Of course, such scepticism is probably the most common cause of people becoming atheists.

    I'm more interested with answering your first question, but since I am an atheist it makes more sense for me to answer the second question beforehand. It's fairly simple and is effectively my view of what makes a good person, but imbued with Xtian beliefs:

    It should encourage believers to act according to Jesus' teachings and their view of what Jesus would have taught about other issues. Believers would need to continually examine, rationally and with an open mind, different arguments about what he would have taught and interpretations of what he did teach.

    That might seem to agree with "an ongoing devotion to exploration, a giving of pride of place to evidence." But that is only true within the confines of my characterisation, i.e. evidence is not paramount when it comes to accepting the Xtian beliefs themselves. "Evidence" here presumably meaning objective evidence, Angier doesn't seem to consider subjective evidence as having any worth and I agree partly.

    There are reasonable arguments for theism, but I don't see how it is possible to value evidence above all else and then have faith in something that is notably without it. Sure, subjective evidence exists, but it is fallible and especially so when it has anything to do with the supernatural.

    Given the reasons for her views and the support for creationism and Xtian fundamentalism in the US, it's not suprising that Angier would make a connection between religion and the lack of an evidenced-based approach. Perhaps you could explain why you think she is "responding to an anti-intellectual, caricatured brand of Christianity".

  2. Hi Deucalion,

    I think she is responding to an anti-intellectual caricatured version of Christianity because I am a Christian and it is not the form of Christianity I a large number of people subscribe to. In that sense her remarks seemed to be aimed at Christians of a particular type. I think your last paragraph is important. I can certainly understand why someone would respond to right-wing fundamentalist Christianity in the way the author has.

    I take your point about the phrase 'evidence above all else'. But surely atheism which concludes that there is no god on the basis of no evidence is an example of argument from ignorance? I'd be interested in your thoughts on this.

  3. Is this mainly because of her implication that Christianity is anti-science or is there some other reason I'm not seeing? (I read this a while ago and can't help but skim through it every time I go to read it now.) She does imply it strongly, but the rest of her representations seem to be about her experiences or legitimate problems that she may face when raising her child. (Or jokes, which naturally rely on stereotypes.)

    Stating with certainty that there is no god because of a lack of evidence would, but concluding or even assuming would not be fallacious in my view, because nothing is being claimed and so ignorance is not being relied upon. (Strong v weak atheism) Normally Occam's razor is used, which isn't meant to demonstrate anything, just suggest the more likely position.

    This reasoning is necessarily agnostic, but only because it refers to an abstract god. To me, the "strength" of the atheistic position depends on the definition of the god(s) in question. Deism=weakest, abstract interventionist=weak, fundamentalist Xtianity=strong, ancient pagan gods=strongest.

  4. Yes, I think it is because of her implication that Christianity is anti-science which, of course, it is not.

    I appreciate your distinction between strong and weak atheism. But I would suggest that the most logical position is agnosticism rather than either of those.

  5. Christians may have a "devotion to exploration" but it's clearly a devotion to further explore Christs divinity - not to explore the possibility that Jesus was just a man, or that he may not have existed at all. And on the idea that Christians give a "pride of place to evidence"... this is a shocker. Evidence that fits your established view that Jesus was and is the son of god, perhaps. But all other evidence is rejected. And the standard of evidence used to support the Christian position is shamefully, embarrassingly low.

  6. Dear Anonymous:

    Which Christians are you talking about? It might be better to say that some Christians' devotion to exploration is as you describe. But not all...