Monday, August 13, 2012
Pandeism and Atheism
The relationship between Pandeism and Atheism as deeply-held philosophies is, by turns, complementary and contentious, curious and quizzical. There are different models of Atheism, but the ideology generally either actively proposes the absence of a 'God' or at least passively denies that there is any reason to believe such a thing exists. Much of Atheist discourse is directed towards theistic arguments and the fairly universal inconsistencies and absurdities of scriptural documents. This attention is symptomatic of how many indefensible theological models do exist -- as Bernard Haisch wrote in The God Theory, "I freely grant that even reductionism is preferable to a belief that slaughter and destruction in the name of a vengeful God will result in immediate passage to heaven."1
And so it can be no wonder that the Atheist, confronted repeatedly with deeply and visibly flawed theological models, with models of arbitrarily directed hatefulness and irrationality, long cloaked in a deadly aversion to being questioned, becomes convinced no such model can be true. And this inculcation becomes set, most often, before ever learning in any depth of deistic models generally, or of Pandeism especially. And so, by the time the atheist is exposed to the deistic or the pandeistic model, his experiences with less rational models have got him fixed against any proposition that would have ours be an intentionally and intelligently created Universe -- even if these models are even more effective at dismissing notions of a vain, violent, or 'jealous' Universe-creating entity, even if these models rationally demonstrate that the most logical Creator would carry none of the arbitrary and dangerous negative projections of human bias so deeply set in theistic mythologies. The atheistic reactionary revulsion to metaphysical accounts too readily may metastasize into an absolute and unwaivering reductionist dogmatism against any explanation existing at all.
And therein lies the master problem. Atheism is essentially a rejection of a class of explanations, but it is not itself an explanation of anything. Consider: if you were to walk into a friend's office, and you saw a large collection of stamps on his desk, you would intuitively know that the most likely explanation of how that pile got there would be that somebody placed them there; that's the how, that is perhaps not so controversial. But suppose you asked why they were there -- if your friend responded "well, I am not a stamp collector," that would would be a refutation of one possible explanation, but it wouldn't then become an explanation in and of itself. And if the response to every such why-is-it-so type of proposition was to deny the truth of it, or dismiss it as unproveable, then at the end of the day we are left with an apparent prohibition on having a why to account for what is observed.
This problem plays out most pointedly in the examination of that most singular of events, the beginning of our Universe. It is important to remember that this was not a theoretical or hypothetical event, but is instead an historical event, an historical fact. Our Universe gives every appearance of existing; we are in it, as observers, to attest to this fact. Our Universe has several measurable indicators of expansion from an initial point, on this point atheists agree with many theists. And so, at some past point, our Universe began. The how of this is the province of theoretical physicists, who now best guess that our Universe's existence is an expression of quantum mechanics. But this how is not a why. And it is possible, undoubtedly, that there is no why, that it simply is. But the position of atheism, or at least of the most committed variations of that philosophy is that you can not ask why, perhaps that you must not ask why. And the rationale for this prohibition is generally given in the untestability or unprovability of any why-is-it-so proposition relating to so mysteriously distant of an historical event. At its worst, this tendency descends to calling such explanations 'pseudoscience' or 'woo-woo,' seeking to degrade them to the point where the critic is insulated from any need to contemplate the implications of there being any explanation at all.
As might be predicted from the initial problem, an examination of the literature of Atheism reveals a strong tendency towards focused arguments against theistic beliefs. Deism, Pantheism, and their family of philosophies are generally not addressed, or only glancingly so. The inconsistencies in theistic texts are attacked. The murderous histories of theistic adherents are laid out (and often met with accusations of the same coming from atheist-governed regimes). The theistic deity is called out for allowing all manner of evil and suffering to flourish, up to and including the death by starvation of small children, despite ostensibly having the power to prevent it. It is unsurprising, then, that confronted with a theological model which lacks such flesh hooks into which Atheism can sink its teeth, Atheists tend nonetheless to act as if these nontheistic ideas can be attacked with theistic contentions. Indeed, it sometimes takes quite a bit of patient explaining to get an Atheist to stop using antiscriptural and antitheistic arguments against theological theories which have no scripture, which do not posit infinite or active deities, and which are indeed divorced from the elements of theism.
Pandeism, on the other hand, has no outward quarrel with Atheism. Being at core an exercise in probabilistic logic, Pandeism is fundamentally agnostic, acknowledging at the outset that it is entirely possible that the atheistic view is correct, insofar as there may be no why in which case all why explanations are indeed properly rejected. It can never truly be known, Pandeism concedes, whether ours is a created Universe; it can only be determined what are the absolutely necessary characteristics of a Universe-Creator, and what are the implications of an entity having those characteristics. And so, Pandeists tend not to engage Atheists with the proposition that Atheists are wrong to hold that position, but simply to defend the proposition (when set upon by the Atheist critique) that neither is Pandeism an irrational position to hold. And so I would simply tell Atheists: we'll continue standing up for the right of science to ask 'how?' and we hope you'll not stand against the right of Pandeists to ask 'why?'
1. Haisch, Bernard, PhD, The God Theory (2006), page 25.