Monday, January 26, 2015

Loftus on quoting atheists like Nagel

John Loftus, in a series of posts "How to defend the Christian faith," is of course trying to show what he thinks are the underhanded tactics of Christian apologists. 

Quote from atheists like Thomas Nagel or Jean Paul Sartre who say things you agree with. Throw them all together and let them make your case for you. Then forget or ignore why these people are atheists in the first place.

Ignore why they are atheists in the first place? Nagel says this about that.
“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.
I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)”
Now suppose I, or better yet some major Christian philosopher like Plantinga were to say "I want theism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people are atheists. It isn't just that I believe in God, and, naturally, hope that I am right in my belief. It is that I hope there is a God. I want there to be a God, I want the universe to be like that. And suppose, further, I were to say that I was strongly motivated by a fear of atheism.
My goodness, you guys would be all over this! You would be saying that Plantinga or I had just complete admitted that my position was totally irrational, and that I was believing exclusively out of fear. As you say, people believe and defend what they prefer to be true. But we have just been told what Nagel prefers.
But, in the case of Nagel, he does offer reasons for rejecting a theistic solution to the problems he recognizes, and while I realize some Christians have read this as an admission of irrationality, I don't. What I do think it refutes is the assumption many atheists make that all the non-rational motives are on our side, and if anyone is an atheist, it can only be because of a sober analysis of the evidence.

Of course, you're more than happy to help yourself to the things people like Thom Stark say, even though he is a Christian, especially when I says he thinks Christians everywhere should be paying attention to Loftus.:) But I don't see a problem with that. You think Thom has a lot of things right, and you agree with those. You differ with him in that he remains a Christian. I have been looking for a post where you respond to the reasons Thom remains a Christian, and I guess it was in your review of Stark's book on Amazon. 

I don't assume that Nagel makes a case for Christianity, or that he's a closet Christian apologist. Let his atheistic critics accuse him of that. But he sees the same kind of difficulties with a materialistic naturalism that I do, only he looks for a non-theistic solution in much the way C. S. Lewis did when he embraced Absolute Idealism as opposed to theism when he accepted anti-naturalistic arguments. 

By the way, did you ever get around to responding to his reply?


Jakub Moravčík said...

What is the context of that quotation rom Nagel? Does he explicitely say somewhere before something as "this - my fear of religion, my wish and hope for the non-existence of God - is the sole or the only motivation that causes me to defend atheism"?

Anyway, nice article!

Victor Reppert said...

No, he doesn't say that, nor do I. He does offer reasons for thinking that there is a non-theistic solution to the problems he presents, though he doesn't actually spell out what that solution is.

itsbenandallthat said...

I think there is a problem with misquoting atheists like Nagel too. But I want to quote Nagel as a thoughtful atheist. To say that he is willing to admit that there may be some motivation for his disbelief in God beyond just the "facts and evidence." My Christian/Biblical worldview suggests that behind atheistic belief is sin itself. So in some way unbeknownst to most atheists themselves, they have a motivation that makes them want to believe that God is not real. I think Nagel would agree with that, the motivation he cites here is fear. Do you think it would be wrong to use his quote in this way? To say that "here is an honest atheist who is willing to admit that what drives at least some of his disbelief in God is his fear of the alternative. That there is a watchful and all-knowing God." I will then go on to argue that Nagel's words show that perhaps atheists do have underlying motivations for disbelief. Fair? Unfair?