- Freddie questioned the efficacy of The Atheism's methods, asking why The Atheists are so often unwilling to have good-faith discussions with believers, resorting instead to mockery and ridicule.
- Scott wants to situate both science and religion as methods of personal inquiry that give meaning to individual lives, while relying more on social critiques of institutional religion than metaphysical arguments.
- Chris says that both sides in the current debate usually miss the point, since the Christian God is not some kind of chap. Besides: you've got to serve somebody. And questions of divine existence aren't the right questions anyway.
- E.D. Kain also argues that the existence of God is the wrong question. Try some empathy and humility instead.
- Mark tells us that the non-decidability of the God hypothesis should lead to separation of church and state.
To Freddie, I would say that much of the audience for the work of The Atheists gobbles up their polemical work for one of two reasons. First, there is a kind of pleasure that comes from seeing someone who is smarter or more clever than you eviscerate (or appear to eviscerate) arguments you despise. Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter appeal to their political readers for the same reasons. Second, there's a slightly more perverse pleasure to be had for believers in reading polemics you disagree with, slapping your head, and saying, “Dear me! This fellow is stupid!”
But there is another group of readers that finds intellectual liberation in reading these books. They find that their doubts can be expressed out loud and forcefully, and even supported by arguments, even if the arguments are not precisely original. They finally have something to say to their pushy religious friends. Testemonials to this experience are not hard to find. I think that The Atheists very much hope to reach such people, and to help them be happier. I have known people who found in Dawkins' work a key to a larger, richer world than they ever imagined possible. That they no longer needed the key after passing through the portal does not diminish the key's value.
That's what I have to say to Freddie. As to the claim from the others that the proper response to the question of God is Who cares?…
Well, that's certainly the right response when the question comes up on The Internet. But in real life, I care, and so do many others, and we care deeply. It is an article of faith for Christians that God exists and that He acts in history. If this is not true—if the only justification for Christianity is psychological-instrumental—if we Christians are just fowarding chain mail ad infinitum—then I would prefer not to be a Christian. The pure-reason undecidability of the question of God does not reduce its import.
What is needed for this discussion—more than a neuroscience of belief or a biology of belief—is a human psychology of belief. And until someone shows me a better starting point, I will begin with William James's essay “The Will to Believe”. If there are real truths that cannot be objectively decided—and the entire point of the avian fettuccine avatar is that science has nothing to say about such putative truths—then we can either cut ourselves off from such truths and remain secure in the fully justifiable, or we can leave safety behind, daring to know. James's contribution is the idea of the live option: that for any particular person, some ideas will be plausable and some ideas will not. The avian fettucine avatar is not a live option for anyone, as far as I know. For cultural and historical reasons, the Christian God is much more likely to be one in our place and time.
This language, of course, does not even begin to resolve things in one way or another, but I think it gives us a better vocabulary for why we believe than the language of logic and justification alone, which implicitly assumes that the best decision is to decline to take a chance on undecidable truths.
A final maxim: A person's fundamental beliefs have less to do with the questions she can answer and much more to do with the questions she can afford to leave unanswered.