Monthly Archives: February 2011

Are you an atheist, religionist, deist, fideist or ????

From my “Rocking the Boat” Blog site


Apparently we Americas spend a great deal of time thinking about and change our religious and spiritual beliefs and practices. One telltale example: Many theists are embracing deism. Here is what Wikipedia had to say about this:“The 2001American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) survey, which involved 50,000 participants, reported that the number of participants in the survey identifying themselves as deists grew at the rate of 717% between 1990 and 2001. If this were generalized to the US population as a whole, it would make deism the fastest-growing religious classification in the US for that period, with the reported total of 49,000 self-identified adherents representing about 0.02% of the US population at the time.[15][16]”Along the same line, during a “For Good Reason podcast on “The Search for Quantum Consciousness,” physicist Victor Stenger touched on a Baylor University survey that revealed that 40% of people who identify themselves as Christians basically do not believe in a God who plays an active role in the universe (13m:47s into the podcast). Dr. Stenger makes the point that these folks sound like deists.The rise of deism and the Christian identification with it in principle if not in name, tells me a lot of believing folks have taken the time to ruminate on whether or not there is sufficiently compelling evidence to believe God is actively playing a role in their lives – like answering prayers, performing miracles and such. 4 of 10 Christians in the Baylor survey appear to have concluded that God is on holiday. This is one way to for religionists to reconcile what goes on in the world and is attested to by scientific findings with one’s particular brand of faith (Of course, one can jettison faith altogether, which is what Dr. Stenger has done and advocates in his books “God: The Failed Hypothesis” and “Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness”.)

Now, while believers may be increasingly leaning toward a deist stance on God, it is unlikely the great majority will decide the Almighty simply doesn’t exist and never did. Of course, what believers have to be careful of is making claims concerning God’s actions or motives that can be tested using the tools of science or refuted using demonstrable or deducible facts informed by logic. For instance, religionists who insist there was a worldwide flood that a man named Noah and his clan rode out in an ark run into monumental problems such as a lack of evidence for a global deluge in the geologic record, not to mention the fact the energy released by what is described in scriptures would have resulted in oceans so hot as to constitute a de facto lobster pot in which everything living including those in the ark would have boiled to death, et cetera (There is, however evidence of a local flood in Mesopotamia about the time the incidents described in Genesis were supposed to have occurred.) And if an evangelist declares a dying cancer patient healed, this is testable insofar as doctors can put the healing to the test using modern day scanners (One doctor who did track down 23 people who were declared healed of terminal diseases during services conducted in 1967 by evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman  found no evidence to support this.)

Putting aside biblical and extrabiblical claims of the miraculous – which can be examined and either confirmed or found wanting — there is a host of very dark chapters in history such as the reign of Hitlerism-Nazism in Germany (1933-1945) and its “wicked fruit” (especially the Holocaust) that have profound implications for God’s role in human affairs, suggesting to many believers that either God is or was on holiday or just isn’t around at all. As a boy I mulled this over and came to the tentative conclusion that God was not necessarily absent from human affairs, but had simply assumed a more subtle role in lock-step with our ever increasing ability to run our own show.  Of course, as our control over nature and each other increased and our tools and weapons became more sophisticated and powerful – the greater our potential became for doing both great good or great evil. The choice ultimately rests with us, of course, though we are told (in the Tanakh, Christian New Testament and Qur’an) that humankind will not be allowed to fully extinguish its own flame.

To my delight my boyhood spin on theodicy was independently arrived at by many others, including scholar David Birnbaum who fleshed it out (1989) on a scholarly level in a delightfully insightful book titled “God and Evil: A Unified Theodicy/Theology/Philosophy” 

Obviously matters of faith lacking testable claims – amounting to convictions and beliefs in the absence of evidence — cannot genuinely be settled either decisively or conclusively. Often, one man’s truth is another one’s heresy. And treatises on theodicy like the one I came up with as a boy could as easily be accommodated by some forms of deism as it could conventional or orthodox religions.

Even belief in God amounts to a commitment in the absence of evidence. Atheists and agnostics can and have trumped Judeo-Christian apologetics using a body of powerful evidence and logic. I would urge my fellow religionists to face up to this and consider embracing polymath Martin Gardner’s fideist spin on God (which could also be applied to many aspects of faith including certain dogmas, doctrines and such.) This is ably captured in a comment made by famed illusionist and champion of skeptical thinking, James Randi, on Gardner’s passing at age ninety-five (95):

“……Yes, Martin was a fideist, and he defended that belief in his usual calm, direct fashion. When I questioned him on the subject he told me that he had no really good evidence to support his belief, but that it simply made him feel better to adopt it. He said that I — and other curmudgeons — had far better evidence for our convictions, but that he just felt more secure in his acceptance. He admitted — easily — that he could not convincingly argue his case… That was Martin, and I love him for being Martin…..”

Mr. Randi’s comment in its entirety can be found by clicking this link

I am not here to dictate what people believe or not. I’m here to rock boats that could use some rocking. Religion is one of these. But rocking this boat doesn’t mean telling folks what to believe or how to express their faith. Rather, I relish sharing ideas, information and lines of thought that at least some believers might find useful in terms of helping better reconcile their convictions and beliefs with what science and history has revealed about our origins and nature.  And this, my friend, brings me to the purpose of this particular blog entry: Namely, to pass along something which I believe will serve this purpose for at least a few believers reading this thought stream —

THE SACRED EMERGENCE OF NATURE by Ursula Goodenough and Terrence W. Deacon (The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science) 

Happy belated “Religious Liberty Day”! Keep rocking boats that need rocking! I sure will.

Dr. Anthony G. Payne

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