Didn’t you know: God’s a question, not an answer!

I’m not sure who’s in charge of “The Stone,” the New York Times‘s philosophy column, but that person is not doing their job. Imagine if some of our greatest living philosophers would post there about matters diverse: ethics, animal rights, abortion, drone strikes, and so on. But all too often the column is about God; that is, we have Great Minds lucubrating about nonexistent beings. Among all species of philosophy, the philosophy of religion is the most intellectually depauperate. It’s a waste of time.

And so it is with the March 26 column by William Irwin, which you know from the title alone will be a stinker: “God is a question, not an answer.” What does that mean? I bet you can guess.

First, who is William Irwin? Well, he’s got credentials: he’s the Herve A. Leblanc Distinguished Service Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He also wrote The Free Market Existentialist: Capitalism Without Consumerismand is the general editor of the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture SeriesHe seems to have a sense of humor, as witnessed by his “Jeopardy Dream Board” on his university website. But oy, is he convoluted about God!

Irwin begins with Camus, who is his novel L’Etranger show the protagonist rejecting God when a priest visits him right before his execution.  He then fast-forwards to a 2013 novel by Kamel Daoud, whose protagonist declares that “God is a question, not an answer.” And so it is for Irwin:

[This] declaration resonates with me as a teacher and student of philosophy. The question is permanent; answers are temporary. I live in the question.

Any honest atheist must admit that he has his doubts, that occasionally he thinks he might be wrong, that there could be a God after all — if not the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, then a God of some kind. Nathaniel Hawthorne said of Herman Melville, “He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other.” Dwelling in a state of doubt, uncertainty and openness about the existence of God marks an honest approach to the question.

This is bogus. Any honest person must also admit that there might be fairies, or Santa Claus, or any number of fanciful illusions for which there is no existing evidence. But saying that there is no evidence for something is not the same as saying that there’s a decent probability that that something might exist. I see no evidence for UFO abductions, but of course one can’t rule them out with absolute certainty. But I would bet my life savings that none have taken place. Likewise with wonder-working leprechauns. So why don’t we have Irwin writing a column that “Leprechauns are a question, not an answer”?

Right there Irwin makes one of the most common mistakes of Sophisticated Theologians™: confusing logical possibilities with probabilities. He goes on:

Likewise, anyone who does not occasionally worry that she is wrong about the existence or nonexistence of God most likely has a fraudulent belief. Worry can make the belief or unbelief genuine, but it cannot make it correct.

People who claim certainty about God worry me, both those who believe and those who don’t believe. They do not really listen to the other side of conversations, and they are too ready to impose their views on others. It is impossible to be certain about God.

Yes, and it’s also impossible to be dead certain about the nonexistence of the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, Xenu and his thetans, and the Golden Plates of Joseph Smith. Does that mean that we should give them a shred of credibility; that there’s something wrong with people who refuse to even consider them? I don’t think so. The onus on those insisting on the God’s existence is to provide at least a shred of credible evidence for a god. There is none: no more than for Nessie or leprechauns. Yes somehow Irwin wants us to think that we should take the existence of God—excuse me, the question of God—more seriously than for these other fictions. Why? Only because far more people share delusions of God than do delusions of leprechauns.

The problem is, of course, that most atheists don’t claim they know with absolute certainty that God doesn’t exist. Many theists, though, claim the opposite—with much greater certainty. But putting that aside, how, exactly, could atheists “impose their nonbelief” on others? Does Irwin mean that we shouldn’t favor the First Amendment? That we should allow prayers in all public schools? It is not atheists who impose their views on others, but religionists who think it’s their duty to make their moral code into civil law. All we do is try to convince others that we’re more reasonable than they, and to prevent them from foisting religious beliefs on the rest of us.

Irwin goes on, but he really says nothing more than this: that both atheists and believers should have some doubt. And then his whole exercise degenerates into a why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along lovefest:

What is important is the common ground of the question, not an answer. Surely, we can respect anyone who approaches the question honestly and with an open mind. Ecumenical and interfaith religious dialogue has increased substantially in our age. We can and should expand that dialogue to include atheists and agnostics, to recognize our common humanity and to stop seeing one another as enemy combatants in a spiritual or intellectual war. Rather than seeking the security of an answer, perhaps we should collectively celebrate the uncertainty of the question.

Does Irwin not see that we are indeed combatants—fighters in a war of rationality against superstition? And it’s no mere intellectual combat, either: lives and well being are at stake. But Irwin, of course, refuses to go the last step and see that there are real consequences of religionists working out their certainty in the public sphere. His is a chickenshit compromise that ignores the realities of faith.

Finally, if God is a question, not an answer, that pretty much guts conventional religions—or at least religious practice. How do you pray to a question? What about the certainties evinced in practices like Communion, or wearing Magic Underwear? Do we still keep these practices? I suspect Irwin would say, “Yes, but we should just have more doubt.” Well, fine. But I don’t see much doubt coming from those who should be the biggest doubters: those who assert the existence of God, and put on their magic underwear before going to Temple.

In the end, Irwin says nothing new; his column is a total waste of space. But of course how much new stuff can you say about a practice for which there’s never been any evidence? Irwin is certainly not the first religious philosopher who says that “we should be less certain.”

Reader Enrico, who sent me the link to Irwin’s column, sent me another link as well, as well as a comment:

I stick to Sarah Silverman (extract about religion from her award-winning show We Are Miracles):

Irwin:

BillIrwinPortrait2011

77 Comments

  1. Posted April 10, 2016 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Extraordinary piece.

    I believe that your logic, and precisely the way you articulate it, should be used as the best example, in fact a standard, on how all gawd issues should immediately be addressed.

    What I fail to understand is how any person w/ refined (and credentialed, no less) critical thinking abilities manages can withstand the clear case that you make. From my perspective there is really only one thing to do in the face of your position: cry uncle, and then begin working on shedding your long-held gawd concerns.

    I can’t wait to read Irwin’s response (if there is one) and the posture he takes when confronted w/ what you’ve offered.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      This was exactly my response to the post.

      And, my question to PCC, riffing on your last paragraph: Jerry, do you ever hear back from the “sophisticated theologians/philosophers” such as Irwin, in response to these sorts of posts?

      • dorcheat
        Posted April 11, 2016 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        I am loathe to say so, but Ed Feser on his “blog” will likely post some sort of rebuttal to Dr. Coyne’s post.

        I will obviously not link to Ed Feser’s site, but rather leave that task to Dr. Coyne’s gentle readers to Google to Feser’s site. I would highly recommend reading Feser’s site with Google Cache rather than giving clicks to Feser’s disagreeable site!

    • Robert bray
      Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      ‘What I fail to understand is how any person w/ refined (and credentialed, no less) critical thinking abilities manages can withstand the clear case that you make.’

      One reason might bee that Prof. Irwin teaches at an institution run by the Congregation of the Holy Cross (Notre Dame is another), whose motto translates roughly as ‘it is fitting he should reign.’ His campus therefore is a supportive environment for the sort of bogus ‘free thinking’ reflected in his NYT column. You see, he might as well be saying, I can ‘dialogue’ with my students and the church, treating ‘god as a question,’ and this process is rich in humane learning.

      But of course, communion isn’t a question, nor confession,nor any of the other sacraments, nor ex cathedra pronouncements, etc.. These are answers, answered long ago, and never to be doubted as truth.

      • Robert bray
        Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        Sorry: it might ‘bee’ or it might ‘wasp.’

        BE

        • Douglas Bartake
          Posted April 10, 2016 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

          There is always one ‘anal” perosn who doesnt understand a keyboard double tap from a REAL spelling error. ….Carry on.

          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted April 11, 2016 at 5:09 am | Permalink

            I invoke Muphry’s Law.

        • Posted April 11, 2016 at 7:58 am | Permalink

          This is the inthornet after all …

          /@

  2. Heather Hastie
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Irwin is typical of those trying to seek acceptance in a world dominated by the religious.

    The problem is people don’t want uncertainty, they want answers. It’s one of the main attractions of religion – that it provides the answers to The Ultimate Question. ‘Life, the Universe, and Everything’. And people want it to be simple.

    “How many roads must a man walk down?”
    “Forty-two.”

    Religion relies on unquestioning faith. Science relies on evidence. They’re mutually exclusive. It’s only cognitive dissonance that can make them otherwise.

    • ploubere
      Posted April 10, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Precisely.

    • phil
      Posted April 11, 2016 at 3:11 am | Permalink

      You’ve got the wrong question. It was “What do you get when you multiply six by nine?”

      • phil
        Posted April 11, 2016 at 3:13 am | Permalink

        Now everybody is gonna tell me they already knew that.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted April 11, 2016 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        Ha ha! Good point.

  3. GBJames
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    sub

  4. Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Reminds of strange billboards I used to see around Seattle displaying “Jesus is ____________”.

    I always thought “you’ve got that right.”

  5. Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I like your response, too, Jerry, but one thing is left out: That is,the meanings of “god.” Left as vacuous as it is in the quoted excerpts from Irwin, it means nothing. The more one fills in particulars, narrows the definition, the more easily one can reject it.

    • Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      I agree, and did think about that. I just didn’t want to get into that issue. But I suppose I could have briefly, pointing out that when you question people incisively about God, they often don’t have a very good idea of what it means.

      • Sastra
        Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        The fact that people don’t have a very good idea of what they mean by “God” will then be interpreted several ways:

        1.) A God which is comprehensible isn’t godly enough to be God.

        2.) It’s a wonderful thing to accept a God which cannot be pinned down clearly in the human mind: it says a lot about one’s humility, capacity for wonder, and ability to embrace the unknown.

        3.) It’s mean to question people incisively about God because of #2. And it’s stupid — because of #1.

        • phil
          Posted April 11, 2016 at 3:16 am | Permalink

          Arrrgh! I’ve had it with the forking humility manure! Makes me spit.

      • ploubere
        Posted April 10, 2016 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

        The religious already have an answer for that: god is a mystery, we are not capable of envisioning him or understanding his will. Catholics especially resort to this.

        • Posted April 11, 2016 at 7:33 am | Permalink

          Yes, indeed: God is just a mystery, we can’t pin him down. Now, please ignore these massive shelves of books on god, telling us exactly what he is and wants from us.

          Fail.

    • Posted April 10, 2016 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      Early Islamic theologians insisted that God has no attributes at all. (Maybe they still do — I must sadly plead ignorance.) Maybe they were trying to avoid theological traps; maybe they were being modest; maybe somew of them were sensible to simply start feeling uneasy about how prosaic it all becomes….

      • phil
        Posted April 11, 2016 at 3:19 am | Permalink

        Arrrgh! There it is again.

        They weren’t too modest to admit that they didn’t really know what they were talking about.

        • Posted April 11, 2016 at 4:48 am | Permalink

          Please note the word “maybe”. It was a long time ago and some, eg., Al Razi or Ibn al Haytham, were mega-smart and refused to accept BS explanations from anyone. Plus Al Razi was almost certainly a non-believers. So there may well have been a few others who were sincerely modest. Maybe. You don’t know any more than I do.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted April 11, 2016 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        Years ago, I took in Islamic theology at UC Berkeley, and the prof discussed the principle of “bi-la-kaifa,” or “without how,”
        as a way to ‘explain’ the theologically inexplicable when it came to Allah’s attributes and capabilities. By way of examples, he brought up arguments theologians would have over divine capabilities and other matters. It was accepted that Allah was capable of sitting on the throne, though since Allah is regarded as immaterial, how could this be? “Bi-la-kaifa.” Then he went on to say that theologians argued over more particular and intimate human characteristics — Allah had to be omnipotent, so he could do anything, and if he could sit on the throne, he could shit on the throne — How? “bi-la-kaifa.” Our prof said this matter of theological scatology was a genuine point of theological discussion. I was dumbfounded, though it’s much more fun than sitting around disputing how many angels can fit onto the head of a pin. And what were the state of his stools? And while he sat on the stool, did he ever use a stool softener?

        • Posted April 11, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

          There has been change over time on this. I remember reading of the debate in (I think) the 11th or 10th centuries (in Islam) over whether god could even manipulate particulars – there was a thought that immaterial could only interact with immaterial, or something like that. (How creation works then I don’t know.)

  6. Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    I thought God was a verb.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      It’s also a poetry and art.

      It’ll be anything but “wrong.”

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted April 11, 2016 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      I kinda sorta understand what is meant by God as a “Ground of Being” but to say God is a verb or a question is a straight out grammar mistake and Dennett-style “deepity”

      • Posted April 11, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        It and the “cause” stuff and the current topic are instances of what I like to call “ontological special pleading”, a favourite tactic of theologians.

        “God’s a mind.”
        “Oh, as far as we know all minds are processes undergone in matter. Adopted Spinozism, have we?”
        (shuddering with horror) “No, not that kind of mind!”
        “What other kind?”
        “Well, you know, god might not be like that …”

        And so on.

  7. Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I am guessing Irwin’s score on the factor of agreeableness from the Big Five Personality Traits Model would be off the charts.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Five_personality_traits

    V agreeable people are excellent in some situations, in others, you wish they would grow a spine.

    • Posted April 10, 2016 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      Thanks so much for including the link to the FFM. Until now, I was oblivious to it.

      I can’t wait to give it a thorough reading. Right off the bat it got my serious attention by just mentioning the concept of “self-actualization.”

  8. Canoe
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Here is my letter to the Times on the piece:

    Re: God is a Question, Not an Answer, 3.26.16.

    Mr. Irwin’s thesis, that doubt is inherent all along the belief-in-God spectrum, has a certain allure, but only until you add in the concept of probability that, rationally, must accompany any issue of belief vs. doubt. We don’t just “doubt” whether something is true, we instinctively (or otherwise) attach a probability to that doubt, which makes it much easier to act on. For example, everyone knows that the probability of a coin landing heads or tails is 50%, and that the probability of winning the lottery is far less than that. Similarly, the probability of getting cancer is for most of us low enough that we don’t worry about it on a daily basis, and the probability of getting severely maimed in an auto accident is low enough that we continue driving. We don’t just harbor doubt that the tooth fairy is a myth and leave it at that; we attach such a low probability to it that to all intents and purposes the tooth fairy does not exist, and that conclusion serves us well.

    The same is true for belief in God. The True Believer harbors certainty, which really means that he assigns such a low probability to the contrary position that his belief is effectively a certainty. And for an atheist, the probability that God (or the tooth fairy) exists is so low that the issue is similarly trivial. So Mr. Irwin’s framing doesn’t help matters at all. Indeed, I have to wonder whether the omission, by a learned philosopher, of the concept of probability was deliberate.

    • Robert bray
      Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Very nicely said!

      • Posted April 10, 2016 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        No, not really. To illustrate probability “Canoe” lists several examples of uncertainty about the outcomes of events taking place in the future, which is correct. But uncertainty about existing states of nature is a different matter. There’s no probability involved in whether or not something exists; it either does or it doesn’t. One can only evaluate one’s own level of confidence.

        • reasonshark
          Posted April 11, 2016 at 7:50 am | Permalink

          Setting aside any Schrodinger’s cats for the moment, the distinction between uncertain futures and uncertain states is non-existent. Future events are simply easier to be uncertain about, and therefore to assign vague probabilities for, but the whole point of probability is that it is applicable to any system where we don’t know enough to be certain, regardless of whether it’s in the past, present, or future.

          Canoe offers a relevant example. It may be the case that fairies exist, and it may be the case that it isn’t. Considering the physical and biological implausibilities involved, we can lean with confidence on the “unlikely to exist” side of the uncertainty function. It doesn’t matter whether you frame it as “the state of nature is that fairies do not exist” or “in the future, we will not discover fairies”.

    • ploubere
      Posted April 10, 2016 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      Yes, a good analysis.

  9. Sastra
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Irwin’s approach would be perfectly appropriate if the question were something along the lines of “what is the best way to live?” There are introverts and extroverts, nature-lovers and urban sophisticates, those who need to identify with their work and those who are content to flourish in their leisure time. No right, no wrong; just different. We approach the question respectfully and with an open mind in that we recognize that not everyone has the same goals we do, our own goals may change, and our methods may need reassessment.

    But “does God exist?” is a different sort of question. For crying out loud, it’s supposed to matter, the answer is supposed to reveal something important about the reality we ALL share. Religious conclusions are not supposed to reflect people’s special identity the way a lifestyle choice does.

    Above all, there is no great virtue in concluding one way or the other. The virtue lies in approaching the question with honesty, respect, and an open mind — and that requires a universal debate on whether the answer, though ultimately unknowable, is more likely to be “yes” or more likely to be “no.” The field we explore on is the leveling one of reason.

    The alternative is granting believers the ability to divide humanity into the “kind of people who choose to believe” and “the kind of people who don’t choose to believe” — with the people in the first category looking down on the people in the second. Telling people “I’m right, you’re wrong; let’s talk” does not demean them. It doesn’t “impose” a view. It’s respectful of both the question and the questioners.

    But telling people that a “conversation” is only considered respectful if the rational side surrenders their reasons and acts as if it’s all up in the air and we ‘choose’ according to our personalities does demean the other side. It comes down to the nature of the God claim. If the issue is forced into one of identity, atheists always lose. Faith is an uneven playing field.

    Whether he likes it or not — or means to or not — Irwin is trying to impose a negative framework on us. Passive aggression is still aggression. “Let’s just say that you guys come down on the side which is without hope, gratitude, or a capacity to choose love — and we’ll respect each other.” Yeah. Right. We’d be fools to accept this.

    The only other thing I’ll mention is that I personally know people who believe (or want to believe) in fairies and the Loch Ness Monster and yes, when push comes to shove they use the same goddam apologetic of “it’s a question not an answer.” And guess which side is less “open” than the other side? The one that comes to a negative conclusion and says so. What a surprise.

    • reasonshark
      Posted April 11, 2016 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      The part that I find most dishonest is not admitting uncertainties and doubts – thinking about how we know what we know often exposes a lot of uncertainty in nigh every belief we hold, if you want to be thoroughly, philosophically pedantic – but proposing that uncertainties warrant a character-based approach to the truth.

      Not “we don’t know” or “it’s impossible to say” or even “pending investigation, no comment”, but “you have your reasons, and I have mine, and I still believe in X”. Personal bias suddenly stops being a distortion to guard against and starts being a flag to wave. The undiscovered country is suddenly not a place to explore and map, but somewhere you can doodle whatever you want, including dragons, mermaids, and sea serpents. What might have made for good, entertaining fiction is suddenly sidling up to the non-fiction section of the bookstore in the hopes of being seen.

      Worse still, it compounds this nonsensical dishonesty with psychiatric pretensions; how you settle on the issue is supposed to signal what kind of person you are. A total gull now becomes an upbeat, positive person because of a loose affiliation between a “positive proposition” (“it is” instead of “it isn’t”), and a “positive person”. An otherwise decent and even optimistic individual is suddenly treated like a killjoy for the temerity of Not Believing, even if they are Not Believing in the most transparent pigswill. Now, an attempt to provide an honest – if frankly unlikely – argument becomes an underhanded smear campaign, which itself is based on even shakier claims.

      Irwin et al use this kind of approach to shame cartographers into letting them in the explorer’s club. And then they doodle dragons on the map and hope we don’t mind because they are “the sort of people who would like to believe in dragons”.

      Forget that delusion. They can get out and do some actual work, or they can just get out.

      • Sastra
        Posted April 11, 2016 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

        Excellent points, all.

        And if theists think this “let’s be positive and conclude the positive” approach is properly limited to “theism,” they’re fooling themselves.

  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Oh, would it be thus:

    “Our Remotely Possible Father, Who maybe, just maybe (but probably not) in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come (or maybe not), Thy will (like a snowballs’ chance in Hell) be done on earth as it is vaguely rumored by unvetted sources in Heaven.”

  11. Jenny Haniver
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Re Rev. El Mundo’s comment “I believe that your logic, and precisely the way you articulate it, should be used as the best example, in fact a standard, on how all gawd issues should immediately be addressed.” Yes, this is a post I must flag and cogitate on (not that there aren’t countless others) but it has excellent arguments that one needs to keep in mind and deploy when confronted with this kind of pseudo-intellectual asininity. And I think Sarah Silverman is brilliant and hilarious, Hitler making an act of contrition and saying his “Heil Marys.” Love it I find that she has a bunch of other videos on the absurdity of religious belief on Youtube, which I must check out; and the source for this video, Confusianity http://confusianity.com/ looks quite promising. As for testifying on a bible, I’d never thought about the fact that it’s surely always a Christian bible that’s used. When will the Supremes have to adjudicate that problem in the era of the multicult? I think the original sense of the idea of testifying should be applied, though it’d only work for intact males; then the “gynocentric feminists” and trans folk and eunuchs would be up in arms. So politically incorrect to attempt such humor.
    Much to cogitate on as well in the responses. Nourishing food for thought on a Sunday!

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted April 11, 2016 at 5:34 am | Permalink

      Here in the UK we have the option to “affirm” in a court of law, rather than swear an oath on the bible. Is there not an equivalent in the USA? If so, I imagine that in some states, affirming would be looked upon as confirming one’s atheism, and thus making one an unreliable witness.

      • Posted April 11, 2016 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

        It was actually a very similar topic which made John Locke’s famous toleration not so tolerant. Atheists were said to be immune to the threat of divine punishment for perjury, so should not be tolerated! (Oh well, a step in the right direction was to have all Protestants on the same boat. I think.)

  12. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Irwin begins with Camus, who is his novel L’Etranger show the protagonist rejecting God when a priest visits him right before his execution. He then fast-forwards to a 2013 novel by Kamel Daoud,

    I mean, maybe I just don’t get the sequence of disconnected lip flappings that seem to constitute “philosophy”. But this seems a really utterly disconnected ideas to try to link into an argument. One author has a scene in one book of fiction about non-existent characters … then some time later (wasn’t Camus active before the French colonies in North Africa fell apart?) a different author flaps his gums differently and … therefore god?
    Sorry, but that last step may need some elaboration. Actually, both steps need some elaboration.
    Are these people deliberately trying to bring the fine, upstanding profession of “philosopher” into disrepute [footnote]. Or have I fundamentally failed to understand the purpose of the exercise?
    If I get the logic, it is analogous to “Harry Palmer solved the Ipcress File” ; “Harry Potter fought He Who Should Not Be Named” ; therefore Dumbledore is God?
    [footnote] Some people would say “further into disrepute” ; I don’t have any arguments against that position.

  13. DrBrydon
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I am continually amazed at how many institutions of higher education there are in the US that I have never heard of. King’s College in Wilkes-Barre? Let’s see what Wikipedia has to say:

    King’s College, formally The College of Christ the King, is a liberal arts college located in Wilkes-Barre…. King’s College was founded in 1946 by the Congregation of Holy Cross from the University of Notre Dame.

    Hmmm. Well, if god is a question religion still doesn’t provide the tools to evaluate the answer.

  14. jeffery
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    I am instantly suspicious of any person who uses the word, “resonate”, as all it basically means is, “I like that idea (or think it is valid, or true) because it makes me feel good.”

    • Matt
      Posted April 10, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Right? No doubt exterminating the Jews really resonated with Hitler. Maybe resonation is God? Wow I just thought of that. I must go now, I have a column to write. “God Is Neither An Answer Or A Question But A Resonation.”

    • Posted April 10, 2016 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

      You must not get on very well with acousticians.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 10, 2016 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

        I’m sure he gets on spectacularly well with acousticians, who are probably as pissed off with their technical term being trendily misused as I am.

        Much of their work would be directed to tracking down resonances and preventing them. In their work resonance is frequently a bad thing.

        (So if I say ‘that resonates with me’ it means, sarcastically, that I’ve got this buzzing in my ears and I want it to stop. Right now, please.)

        cr

    • reasonshark
      Posted April 11, 2016 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      Agreed. A lot of fictional events and characters “resonate” with an audience, but it’d be nonsense to propose that therefore those fictions likely exist. “Resonance” is not a credible standard of verification.

  15. Matt
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    You guys don’t understand the greatness of what this author has achieved with this one article. By reformulating the concept of God from an answer to a question, not only can all religions can now get along, but religions can now all agree with atheists. God is a question. Surely the whole world can agree on that and now we can move on with our newly unified world.

    Pigiliucci actually shared this column in earnest. Shaking my head in despair. What a world.

  16. Randy Schenck
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Same reason I hate the weatherman on channel 3. During every forecast he is certain to say – We cannot rule it out.

    What is the point of giving a forecast if you can’t rule it out. Might rain, might not.

  17. Ken Pidcock
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Dwelling in a state of doubt, uncertainty and openness about the existence of God marks an honest approach to the question.

    Dwelling in a state of doubt and uncertainty about the existence of God is a common experience, and a miserable one at that. It is not commonly experienced as openness. It is, in fact, what the phrase dark night of the soul refers to. Irwin comes off as unsympathetic in his facile dismissal of this.

  18. Posted April 10, 2016 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    According to my calculations there is a much higher chance that William Irwin and Rowan Williams owe me about $50,000 than there is that God exists. I would promise to start taking them seriously once they pay up.

  19. Scott Draper
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Irwin’s title makes it seem like he’s about to offer some profound insight, but instead he makes the rather trivial observation that we can’t be totally sure our beliefs are correct. Must one pursue graduate studies in philosophy to arrive at this conclusion?

    His reference to Camus seems gratuitous, maybe grabbing a little reflected glory and maybe as filler for an essentially content-free letter.

    • Matt
      Posted April 10, 2016 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      He had to reference Camus to make it a philosophy opinion as opposed to a theological one which it obviously is.

  20. Posted April 10, 2016 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    “Any honest atheist must admit that he has his doubts…”

    This is a form of argumentum ad hominem, where one goes beyond merely disagreeing with an opponent’s assertion by claiming that he’s lying and doesn’t really believe in his own position. In Internet terms, it amounts to accusing someone of being a troll.

    I remember a YouTube video of a debate between Richard Dawkins and some guy representing religion, during which the guy repeatedly admonished Dawkins to “be honest.” I’m amazed that Dawkins managed to hold his temper.

  21. bluemaas
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    My new favored word: depauperate.

    And m’new favored phrase — overall — with, today on google, a mere 81 hits — very many of which appear there as coming from off of W E I T or from off of some other godlessly marking websites: intellectually depauperate !

    Love these ! And this post !
    Blue

    ps And, too o’course, this one: thetans !

    pps M’specific spellcheck dudn’t even ‘recognize’ either word !

  22. Curt Nelson
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    I am reminded of: Sex is not the answer; sex is the question. Yes, is the answer.

  23. keith cook + / -
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Nothing to add, the post covers it all, some comments confuse me (this is easily done) but on the whole, sliding in the right direction: bugger off until you have a better hypothesis. But a personal note,
    we know genetic make up, environment and a little bit of variables play big role in what belief system and to what degree, you commit too I understand that.
    And with that, is where my tolerance for all religion stems and abruptly ends.
    Live my life in doubt because god is a ?!
    it has this quality of some sort of self inflicted eh.. purgatory on earth. No thanks. No need.

  24. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    “God’s a question, not an answer!”

    Sounds like something out of Dennis Hopper’s rant as the crazy photojournalist in Apocalypse Now.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 10, 2016 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

      Or maybe this one where he explains Col. Kurtz’s dialectic to Capt. Willard.

      • Posted April 10, 2016 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

        That one’s banned here in the USA so I watched it from the Bahamas. It’s the one featuring poetry snippets from Kipling and T. S. Eliot.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted April 11, 2016 at 1:32 am | Permalink

          That’s the one. Far as I know, there’s no problem accessing it in the US. (That’s where I am.) Nor should there be; it’s a clip straight outta Coppola’s movie.

          Colonel Kurtz — he dead, too.

  25. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    The answer is “No”.

    (Now, which part of the answer did you not understand?)

    cr

  26. phil
    Posted April 11, 2016 at 3:07 am | Permalink

    I am annoyed by the notion that I should have some doubt about my atheism, or I am being dishonest or something. I’m an atheist because I don’t believe in gods. What is there to doubt, that maybe I do believe in gods? I don’t think Irwin (like many faitheists) understands what atheism really is.

  27. reasonshark
    Posted April 11, 2016 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Well, here’s the answer to that question: it’s yet another overhyped superstition clamouring endlessly for unearned attention and approval. It can join the hordes of pseudoscience, nonsense, and ancient mythology until it starts providing anything better than crappy “evidence” and desperate armchair arguments for itself.

    Physics, earth sciences, biology, social and ethical debates… Haven’t we got enough intellectual matter to focus our limited lives on, without pretending theism and deism are anything other than superstitious twaddle?

  28. Posted April 11, 2016 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    god is a myth.

    • Posted April 11, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      I always thought he was a mythter …

      /@

      • Richard
        Posted April 12, 2016 at 7:06 am | Permalink

        Well then, you were mythtaken…

  29. Posted April 11, 2016 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Free inquiry into metaphysical/ontological beliefs and questioning the aesthetically sublime become moot when the questioner, the skeptical inquirer… in the intellectual contexts of uncertainty, probability, deductive logic, empirical evidence, illusion, delusion… ultimately relies on various problems inherent in all theories of knowledge, i.e. epistemology.

    These problems are at times lazily resolved by believing that philosophy and the humanities have been conquered and subsumed by the natural methodologies of science.

    These are the types of “arguments” I’ve come to expect from those “fanatical atheists” who continue the foolish militancy of the conflict thesis between religion and science. From a bona fide scientific perspective, I’ve always enjoyed this insightful observation of Albert Einstein: “The fanatical atheists… are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who —in their grudge against the traditional ‘opium of the people’ — cannot hear the music of the spheres.”

    No doubt that “the music of the spheres” can too be lumped in with God, leprechauns, fairies, Santa Claus, Xenu, self-proclaimed prophets by various dogmatists.

    Another great quote from a similar bona fide scientific perspective: “I reject the naturalistic view: It is uncritical. Its upholders fail to notice that whenever they believe to have discovered a fact, they have only proposed a convention. Hence the convention is liable to turn into a dogma. This criticism of the naturalistic view applies not only to its criterion of meaning, but also to its idea of science, and consequently to its idea of empirical method.” — Karl R. Popper

    FWIW

    • phil
      Posted April 11, 2016 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

      Yada yada yada “…epistemology.” I read a warning recently that “epistemology” usually appears when the writer or speaker is bereft of substantial argument, and so it seems.

      “The music of the spheres”! Oh dog, now we’re getting all new-agey. What about “vibrations” and “energy”?

      It’s pretty easy to laugh at what someone writes especially if it amounts to nothing more than an ad hominem attack without substantive proposition. Just come out and say it plain Gary, “You’ve hurt my feelings and I don’t like you!”

    • Richard
      Posted April 12, 2016 at 7:09 am | Permalink

      Did that come from the Post-Modernism Essay Generator?

  30. RGBowman
    Posted April 11, 2016 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if Dr. Irwin is laying the groundwork for a Templeton grant?


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