First, please allow me to congratulate you on an excellent site. Your points are all very clearly argued without the condescension towards others’ viewpoints that many athiests seem to demonstrate.
I should state now that I, too, am an athiest and I think that one of the biggest dangers facing the world is sloppy reasoning or even an unwillingess or inability to employ reason at all.
My reason for writing to you is to ask you a question that you yourself have asked many times in your correspondence: What has led you to adopt your current viewpoint towards God?
I have been an athiest for as long as I can remember but I didn’t have any especially solid reasons (I had an intuition that Christianity, the only religion I’d had experience of at the time, was ‘ridiculous’, the worst kind of argument.) until I did my A-Levels and then my Philosophy Degree.
Now, as it happens, I don’t believe in God for a whole slew of reasons. One of the strongest of these, though, is that, from my studies into physics and epistemology I don’t believe in free will. Since this is one of the things most frequently doled out by gods to humans on creation I am forced, to be consistent, to abandon any beliefs in these religions. Obviously this doesn’t deny the possibility of the existence of gods with fewer attributes than those in the mainstream religions but it seems that a god whose only attribute is to be a creator isn’t much of a god at all, in the sense that most theists would like.
I wonder what your opinions on free will/determinism are? There seems to me, especially in this area of philosophy, a great possibility to come to conclusions many would regard as ‘bleak’. Do you think it is irresponsible to advocate beliefs to people who may be upset by the consequences of those beliefs? Do the benefits of having a consistent belief system outweigh the potential apathy, detachment and even sadness that can come with certain strongly athiestic viewpoints?
I’m afraid this has come out a bit rambling but it’s late and I don’t want this first message to go on forever. I would be delighted to enter into further correspondence, however.
Great questions here! I’ll answer briefly, and then we can elaborate in further correspondence, if you like.
My current viewpoint toward God came from a desire to learn more about the religion I was born into (Catholicism). While reading the Bible, I quickly ran into questions that my religious friends either couldn’t answer or made them turn to authorities for answers instead of applying their own intellect. This lead me to develop my two rules for acceptable philosophy (namely: any acceptable philosophy must a) not contradict itself, and b) not condemn others who reason as the philosophy reasons). From these two rules I developed a personal system of morality and belief, of which atheism was a natural result.
There are not a whole lot of people who believe in a god with fewer attributes than those in most mainstream religions, but I like to remind people that the United States was founded by people with such beliefs (deists).
Now, free will and determinism. Personally, I believe that the universe is at heart deterministic, although (for reasons of chaos theory) I guess that we will never be able to plot the course of truly complex systems (perhaps including the human brain). Free will is a more difficult question, in that I have yet to see a really good definition of free will — that is, one that does not include a soul or anything else supernatural and still conforms to experience. I will say that I think free will is likely a side effect of perception and as such can exist even if the world is completely deterministic.
I do not think that any of this is bleak. I do not personally advocate atheism for everyone (I advocate intellectual rigor and intelligent questioning), but I also do not think that atheism is inherently bleak. I think that there can be a good argument made for the immorality of trying to force rationalism on someone who is happy where they are and is not harming themselves or others. I do not try and convince my grandmother to convert to atheism because she is happy the way she is and, at this point in her life, would likely not benefit from the change.
Thanks for writing!