Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Why Paganism? or: Why Not Atheism? Pt. 2

Reading back over that last post, I see that I failed to make a distinction I should have.

Atheism in most forms arises out of epistemological commitments. Generally speaking, atheists suppose a sort of scientific empiricism to be the way things go. We are justified in thinking something exists because we experience it, or because we can infer it inductively from experience--preferably with the aid of scientific experimentation and mathematical or statistical analysis--and we can communicate and agree about its existence.

This kind of reasoning is very good at establishing the kind of thing that can be described in terms of defined causal relationships with other things. What the atheist means to say is that there is no reasonable way to infer the existence of things causally related to the world in the way gods are supposed to be, from the existence of the things discovered by empirical reasoning, in the way that empirical reasoning progresses.

When the atheist says "gods do not exist," this is what he means. And frankly, I'm not interested in arguing with him. I'll cede the point, and go on with polytheism anyway.

Why? The religious experience, the sense that there are gods, the sense of the presence of gods, is not the kind of thing that is amenable to empirical observation. The closest thing to it that the scientist can observe is the brain of the person having the experience. There is no testable hypothesis.

It may well be the case that we cannot reasonably posit the existence of gods as the sort of thing that is related in a particular causal way with other things. And that's fine. But if I were to say that I feel the presence of Neptune or Jupiter (the gods, not the planets, obviously), would I really be saying that Neptune or Jupiter is in a particular causal relationship with me about which we can have empirical observation.

Thus, I can completely agree with what the atheist means when he says "gods do not exist," and still be a polytheist. Gods do exist--just not in the way he means.

1 comment:

  1. Ahah! NOW I can say whether or not I agree or disagree, though my statement is not really going to help debate: I'm in the affirmative with you. I'd quibble with the empirical reality of the deity, but that's all a matter of human capacity and, well, for the moment it's simply not testable. Mayhaps in the future...