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 IAmAnAtheist » Immaterial Objects

Immaterial Objects

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

A theist and an atheist sitting on a hill overlooking a drive-in movie theater

Isabelle: We aren’t going to be able to hear anything. We’re too far away.

Jad: I know. I thought it would be fun. We can make up dialogue or something.

Isabelle: You are so strange. When you said you wanted to come here I thought you were just cheap. At least you have a plan.

Jad: Of course I have a plan! I brought a blanket to sit on, right? And wait till you see what I brought for dinner. It’s actual picnic stuff. I got some of these chemical hand warmer things, too, in case it gets cold.

Isabelle: That’s really thoughtful. I have to admit that I was sort of worried about tonight.

Jad: I’m a total gentleman, I swear.

Isabelle: It’s not that; it’s that you’re so serious most of the time and you’re always talking about science. I thought maybe your idea of fun was, I don’t know, math problems or something.

Jad: A guy can kick up his heels even if he knows that gravity will pull him down again.

Isabelle: Wow — you’re like a geek poet or something.

Jad: I’m full of surprises.

Isabelle: You know what, my mom actually warned me about going out with you. She knows your mom so she knows you’re atheists, and she said that you’d be boring because "atheists have no heart." Can you believe that?

Jad: Unfortunately, yes. I’ve heard that before. People hear that I don’t believe in the supernatural and they’re all like, "Don’t you believe in love?" It sometimes gets old.

Isabelle: I’ll bet. That’s a stupid question.

Jad: The other common annoying one is, "Don’t you believe in the wind even though you can’t see it?"

Isabelle: Someone actually asked you that?

Jad: Lots of people.

Isabelle: But there’s lots of evidence for wind. That’s like implying that atheists don’t believe in windows because glass is transparent. Are there any immaterial things you believe in, though? Like evil?

Jad: That depends on what you mean by evil.

Isabelle: Everyone knows what evil is, don’t they?

Jad: Then you’d be okay letting me define it?

Isabelle: Ooh — that sounds like a rhetorical trap. I’m not stepping there. I’d say that good is the positive force in the universe and evil is the absence of good.

Jad: In that case, I’d say that I don’t believe in evil.

Isabelle: Don’t you think that there are evil people?

Jad: I think that there are people who are horribly, willfully immoral or who think that their personal interests and enjoyment are more important than the rights of others, but I don’t think there’s anything about evil that exists in the absence of moral creatures.

Isabelle: What about natural disasters?

Jad: They’re only evil if we define evil as "things we don’t like" or "things that can harm us." I don’t consider anything in nature to be evil, just good or bad in the sense of beneficial or harmful.

Isabelle: I hadn’t ever really thought about it that way. I’m just so used to thinking of evil as a thing.

Jad: It’s still a thing, but it’s a descriptive thing, like "tall" or "disgusting."

Isabelle: What about truth, then. Do you think truth exists?

Jad: I think that there’s an objective reality and that we can use science to learn about it. Truth is a concept, and I agree that concepts exist. I’d even call them immaterial things.

Isabelle: So, justice, morality, things like that?

Jad: In general, yeah. Truth is different from justice and morality, though, in that truth exists whether or not there is anyone around to think about it. Numbers are the same way.

Isabelle: Wait — what?

Jad: Numbers exist necessarily. There would be one sun whether or not people were here to count it. There are a few other immaterial things that exist necessarily, like logic.

Isabelle: If you believe in some immaterial things, why don’t you believe in other ones? Doesn’t their existence imply that other immaterial things might exist, like God and angels?

Jad: No, actually. Concepts exist in the same sense that patterns exist — they’re there, but have to be recognized by an intelligence to become a concept. All of the things I’ve said I agree exist are purely conceptual, and as concepts they can’t take action. Truth can’t take me out to dinner, numbers won’t watch over me, and logic doesn’t create anything. Active immaterial things are an entirely different class. Saying that numbers existing implies that God might exist would be like saying that books existing implies that the Iliad might be true.

Isabelle: That’s a lot to digest, but it’s definitely not boring.

Jad: Speaking of digesting, want to see what’s for dinner before the sun’s all the way down?

Isabelle: Sounds good to me.


If you have a conversation that you’d like me to consider publishing on this blog or in an upcoming book, please see the conversation guidelines.

Posted on September 18, 2013 at 7:44 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Conversations

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