Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Atheists, Deists and Theists.

In debates between atheists and the religious, the latter often cite the existence of scientists who are said to have religious beliefs as some sort of rebuttal of atheism and justification of religion. Particular names are mentioned and statements made suggesting that a significant proportion of scientists adhere to one or another religious faith. I think this approach misses the point.
Atheists, and I note Richard Dawkins as an example, are often careful to state that they cannot prove the non-existence of a god, or gods, partly because proving a negative is practically impossible in itself and partly because they recognize that at the start of time conditions were so extreme that science has been unable to gather sufficient evidence about what took place.
Religious believers can broadly be considered under two headings – deists and theists. The former believe, or are prepared to believe, that a Creator set the universe in motion, but then left it to run on its own, the natural processes of cosmological, planetary and biological evolution leading to the universe as we know it today. The latter believe that after initiating the Creation their god continued to exercise an influence on the processes, intervening when thought necessary. Theists believe (or assert they believe) that to this day their god can be induced to change the course of events in response to prayer or other representation.
Innumerable sects of theists exist, each maintaining that only their own sect has ‘the truth’, each collecting financial or other contributions from its adherents and each seeking control over the lives of its own faithful.
Deists can understand, though they lament, the occurrence of natural disasters (such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods and hurricanes). Theists are forced to make awful excuses about why a divinity who is capable of changing the course of events should allow such catastrophes to happen.  
When the existence of a god or gods is under discussion, it seems to me that the real division is not between the religious and atheists, but between theists and those who simply do not believe in the existence of a spirit that intervenes in the natural order of events, be they atheists or deists.

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