I have a bone to pick with you, Alvin Plantinga

Ok. So today I’m out for a walk, doing as I always do, which is relive old philosophy classes inside my head. Quite pathetic. Well, while on this particular outing, I started thinking first, about my general anger towards philosopy in general, and second, about my still fuming hostility towards a certain class that I sat in on last summer. Being that I am an atheist, I have a fondness towards those who believe in god (albeit foolishly) and, even more so, those who take all that believing in a supreme deity seriously enough to write about their belief. What’s even more amazing than that is the fact that they encourage others to believe, and others actually do so. So, as I walked down the street, I thought about last summer’s philosophy of religion class. Now, there are exactly two things that I have something of a dislike for — one, bees, and two, the city of Clairmont, Califorina. I can’t exactly explain what it is that unnerves me about the environs, but there’s something that makes me cringe whenever I’m there. Maybe it’s the fact that the people who attend the college(s) there look like “college people”. They look exactly like what college people would look like if someone were casting a TV show about a liberalesque college hamlet filled with people that you’d only meet in a TV show about a liberalesque college hamlet. As I am a natural-born cynic and anti-collegian, the whole scene unnerves me greatly. But, that’s where the class was held, and if I wanted to learn anything about god, that’s where I’d have to be. Wait — let me clear up this one thing first. I wasn’t there because I actually wanted to be there. I was there for a friend, who, so to not be taking an independent study class alone, wanted me to tag along. I did, but soon realized that I could have stayed home, since the class consisted not only of my friend and I but also of two other people, not including the professor. But, dispite my cynicism, I am a loyal friend, and I accompanied my buddy (albeit begrudgingly) to Clairmont for talk of God. Well, if anything, what the atheist hates more than belief in general, are those who write about why we should believe. Most atheists, fortunately for them, are only aware of those who tend to garner the spotlight, that is, the usual round of televangelists and religious “motivational speakers”. They don’t have to deal with those who, in addition to calling themselves intellectuals, also call themselves believers. Unfortunately, I was one of those unfortunate lot who had made the mistake of thinking that philsophy was a have for the fallen like myself. How wrong I was. The philosopher on the summer’s agenda: Alvin Plantinga. I had been exposed to Plantinga the previous spring, during another philosophy of religion class. Try as one might, I was never swayed by Plantinga’s position on the problem of evil. And, I spent a lot of time being made to feel like disagreeing with Plantinga was some sort of philosophic blasphemy — which is kind of funny when you think of it considering the fact that the man writes about god. At least I found it slightly amusing. Anyway, there I was again, reading Plantinga in Clarmont — seething. I know that from time to time we encounter an idea, be it philosophical or not, that we just have to yell ‘that’s complete crap!’ even if we can offer no better position to the one to which we object. Well, I encountered one such idea: sensus divinitatis or divine sense. This, in my nutshell, is the idea that we somehow have warranted belief in god because god somehow afflicts our brains directly. Whatever. I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t now. You see, I learned several things during that class. One thing I learned is that it is useless to argue against an agnostic philosophy professor. I mentioned on several occasions, that we could just as easily explain our god experiences by pointing to a physiological cause. That is, if we could prove that we can create the divine sense by way of artificallly stimulating specific areas of the brain, then we can say that perhaps it is not god that touches our brain, but a particular sensation caused by particular chemical and/or electronic reactions going on inside of our brains. I wasn’t claiming to have come up with some sort of Plantinga-busting argument, or at the very least coming up with anything original. My idea truly was not — I had fully copped it from an article that I read in Time magazine. Still, I had the feeling that no matter what I said, even if that included god himself explaining how he wasn’t touching our brains, but that what we experienced as “Him” was in fact a mere chemical process, I wasn’t going to get far with pushing my point of view into the realm of equal consideration. Which brings me to today’s walk outside. I was thinking: maybe I was going about what I thought all wrong. I was focusing on causes and effects and not on the beliefs themselves. Here’s what I mean: I was confusing what I thought because I wasn’t thinking clearly about what I was thinking. (And as a fan of Orwell and Wittgenstein, this is the wrong thing to do). I was casually using words interchangably when I shoud have been focusing on them for precision. What I was doing was using the words “belief” and “hope” as the same. They are not. I can hope for a great many things, but every hope isn’t, and indeed shouldn’t be necessarily tied to any particular belief. Such is the case when I think about god. I was about 23 when I “outed” myself as an atheist. (I believe that there are Three Closets: One: outing oneself as a homosexual. Two: outing oneself as a “bear”. And, Three: Coming out as an atheist. I can only imagine the torment of atheist gay bears out there). And it took even more years before I really felt any comfortability saying it to people other than friends and family. I had said that I didn’t believe in god while somehow secretly smuggling the hope that there is. So, whenever I would think about what I “believed”, I always ended up in some dreadful agnostic position, which was exactly where I didn’t want to be. I even started qualifying my statements, like saying that I lived “atheistically” meaning that I reserved the right to claim that god exists, while simultaneously verbally denying his existence and living as if he did not exist. My spiritual life became a weird celestial contradiction: I believed and yet did not believe in god. But the contradiction wasn’t real, as much as it was a product of sloppy thinking. My backdoor hope was muddying up the waters because I had mislabeled it as a belief. Now, I suppose that I could ask if sentiments (that is some sort of emotional feeling) qualify as beliefs. I’m not sure whether I want to venture a guess on that subject. But, what is clear to me now is that what I felt in my head (and I am using the word ‘felt’ intentionally), was not the hand of god rapping at my brain, it was the hope that, when I die, I’m not wrong after all. I want there to be a god. I sincerely do. But, all that I believe tells me that he does not exist. ( I am fond of saying that I had a long conversation with god during which he revealed to me that he does not exist). I don’t know where exactly my thoughts fit in to what I was reading during the summer, or whether some philsopher much brighter than I has already trotted this one out, and it’s already been rendered to the philosophic dustbin. All I do know is that I now know that what I thought was my feeling of god was neither a simple firing of a dendrite nor was it god himself letting me, for a split second, experience the awsomeness of what he is. It was … well, I’m not sure exactly what to say that it was. It is my hope, (there it goes again) however, that whatever it is that is actually going on in my brain, that it does not ever lead me to sit in on another philosophy of religion class in Clairmont again. Cheers!


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