S., a frank and intelligent man, told me as follows how he ceased to believe:-
He was twenty-six years old when one day on a hunting expedition, the time for sleep having come, he set himself to pray according to the custom he had held from childhood.
His brother, who was hunting with him, lay upon the hay and looked at him. When S. had finished his prayer and was turning to sleep, the brother said, ‘Do you still keep up that thing?’ Nothing more was said. But since that day, now more than thirty years ago, S. has never prayed again; he never takes communion, and does not go to church. All this, not because he became acquainted with convictions of his brother which he then and there adopted; not because he made any new resolution in his soul, but merely because the words spoken by his brother were like the light push of a finger against a leaning wall already about to tumble by its own weight. These words but showed him that the place wherein he supposed religion dwelt in him had long been empty, and that the sentences he uttered, the crosses and bows which he made during his prayer, were actions with no inner sense. Having once seized their absurdity, he could no longer keep them up.
~Tolstoy, quoted in William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience
Faith is not the same as hope, trust, or confidence. Faith is a kind of knowledge claim predicated on a particular brand of epistemology: faith-based epistemology. Peter Boghossian has offered a challenge for anyone who thinks faith is synonymous with hope:
In my May 6, 2012 public lecture for the Humanists of Greater Portland, I further underscored the difference between faith and hope by issuing the following thought challenge:
Give me a sentence where one must use the word ‘faith,’ and cannot replace that with ‘hope’, yet at the same time isn’t an example of pretending to know something one doesn’t know.
To date, nobody has answered the thought challenge. I don’t think it can be answered because faith and hope are not synonyms.
“Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than ten thousand years ago…[Newton saw] the whole universe and all that is in it as a riddle, as a secret which could be read by applying pure thought to certain evidence, certain mystic clues which God had laid about the world to allow a sort of philosopher’s treasure hunt…He regarded the universe as a cryptogram set by the Almighty…”
~ John Maynard Keynes, ‘Newton, the Man”, quoted in Clifford Pickover, Archimedes to Hawking
“It doesn’t seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil—which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.”
~Richard Feynman, quoted in Genius, by James Gleick
“This is a kind of madness of the will in psychic cruelty that has absolutely no equal: the will of man to find himself guilty and reprehensible to the point that it cannot be atoned for; his will imagine himself punished without the possibility of the punishment ever becoming equivalent to the guilt; his will to infect and make poisonous the deepest ground of things with the problem of punishment and guilt in order to cut off the way out of this labyrinth of “idees fixes” once and for all; his will to erect an ideal – that of the “holy God” – in order, in the face of the same, to be tangibly certain of his absolute unworthiness. Oh, this insane sad beast man! What ideas occur to it, what anti-nature, what paroxysms of nonsense; what bestiality of idea immediately breaks forth when it is hindered only a little from being a beast of deed!…All of this is interesting to the point of excess, but also of such black gloomy unnerving sadness that one must forcibly forbid oneself to look too long into these abysses. Here there is sickness, beyond all doubt, the most terrible sickness that has thus far raged in man”
~Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality
“If believers think atheism is a religion, then they need to provide a definition of religion that applies both to supernaturalism and its denial. Any definition of religion that includes atheism will either deny the inherent supernaturalism of religion or end up describing religion as a social grouping of some kind.”
~John Loftus, The Outsider Test of Faith
I rarely read fiction, but when I do, I hope it’s as interestingly intelligent as Goldstein’s 36 Arguments for the Existence of God. Part of the appeal, to me at least, is that Goldstein fills her fictional world with intellectuals and academics from elite East Coast universities who are continuously having conversations peppered with high-level concepts ranging from philosophy, science, to game theory and beyond. I’m a sucker for novels of this sort in part because it lowers my feelings of guilt for indulging in fiction. The book has some bad reviews on amazon I’m guessing because of the protagonist (a “famous” atheist), the intellectual content, and the target audience. Knowing the academic buzzwords will probably go a long way towards rendering Goldstein’s work enjoyable, but I imagine for many it will still come off as pretentious. I never got that feeling, but then again, as an academic atheist philosopher interested in the psychology of religion, I probably instantiate the Platonic form of Goldstein’s target audience. For a novel that revolves around New Atheism, I was pleasantly surprised that the theological discussions were always at a respectably high level of sophistication and the arguments for and against God’s existence were never dumbed down (quite the opposite!). The protagonist is often described as an “atheist with a soul”, and accordingly I think the book itself deserves a similar description: Intelligent Fiction for the Atheist’s Soul.