Losing mah religion

Well not *my* religion because I didn’t have one to lose, certainly not since I refused to be Confirmed at about age 13. Though I do like the churches and the stonework a lot; and the old hymns. No, I went to the Cambridge Union Society to hear that Paul Wright talk to the Aetheist Society, pretty much about his essay of the same name. When I got to the Society buildings I was someone surprised to find a queue; fortunately the hoi-polloi were being filtered off downstairs to listen to a comedian, and we had a spacious room upstairs and some sweeties.

The setting and audience reminded me of the Old Days when I used to give GW talks – the characteristic mixture of old and young folk with their very different responses. Paul speaks better than I do, which helped. I think he upset some of the aetheists, who perhaps looked for a less nuanced assult on the Godly (I’m sure there was some harrumphing “but this is the aetheist society” at one point). Paul’s viewpoint (to attempt to compress something nuanced into a small compass) is that the Evangelical Christians are nice people with some good arguments, the study of which can be intellectually satisfying; but that fundamentally its just not convincing (FWIW my own viewpoint was always “but why should I believe this book”? so while I was happy to play intellectual games (If God is omniscient he can see the future so how can we have Free Will? – discuss, but not here) but I never felt any great involvement with the answers – these are just for fun. Paul is in the interesting position of having once Believed, but not any more, but cannot sufficiently reconstruct his state of mind then to be able to fully explain *why* he believed; and perhaps this would be impossible without Believing again.) Also fun was when he was trying to talk about the quality of argument, and to say that some Christians were good in debate, and beat prominent aetheists in debate. This was close to heresy, and it needed to be heavily emphasised that this meant only that during the heat of debate they got the better of the exchange.

[While I’m here, I’ll add in a link I intended to blog: http://www.operationnoah.org/calendars/campaigncalendar/13-october-hear-dr-rowan-williams-wisdom-noah. But its never going to get to the top of my stack.

Also, Pauls notes are now up -W]


  1. #1 Brian D

    Out of curiosity, William, why the characteristic misspelling as “aetheist” rather than “atheist”? Given your use of intentional misspellings elsewhere (“nurture”, “septic”, etc), I suspected it was a pun on something, but if it is, it’s hidden remarkably well.

    [Is there another way of spelling it ;-? -W]

  2. #2 Aidan

    Hilarious! When viewing this post google thoughtfully put an add for this on the right hand side.

    Interestingly, that site was a redirect from http://www.singlescash.com. How tasteful.

    What? Atheism? Almost a religion for some people …

  3. #3 Aidan
  4. #4 llewelly

    Also fun was when he was trying to talk about the quality of argument, and to say that some Christians were good in debate, and beat prominent aetheists in debate.

    Maybe things are different in Britain, but here in the US, there are about 15 times as many theists as atheists. (Sorry folks, but for this purpose, most of the “15% non-religious” do not count.) The theists have a far larger population to select debaters from, and more resources to train them with. It’s like a school of 500 fielding a sports team against a school of 7500. The school of 500 gets creamed. Yeah, I know, I saw Hoosiers too, but that sort of thing doesn’t happen often.
    Finally, many atheists greatly overestimate the utility of correct facts and logical arguments in debate. (In front of some audiences, these things are actually a liability.)

    [Yes. I think some of this is what Paul was trying to say. Many aetheists are “naive” in the sense that they know their logic is correct and have never actually tried to debate the theists. They therefore expect it to be easy to “win” (so they think it does really matter how good debaters they are) and are surprised when it turns out not to be -W]

  5. #5 Hank Roberts

    > sweeties
    Where I live this describes someone cuddly and kissable.
    Is your local variety of aetheism interested in recruiting?

    > aetheist
    One who relies on an Aethalometerâ„¢?

  6. #6 Paul Wright

    My notes are now up on the blog, including the full quote from Lessing, which I think you were interested in.

    It was interesting to see the different sorts of atheism on display, from the “I realised when I was 13 that God was just too silly, why are we even talking about this?” to the woman who thanked me for talking about how the quality of argument matters to both theists and atheists.

    The particular Christian in question, William Lane Craig, is much discussed on my blog: he is good in debate, and I don’t think it does atheists any good not to say so, as it just makes them overconfident. A debate is a kind of game in which it helps to be right, but it’s by no means necessary.

  7. #7 Alastair McDonald

    Aetheist is used on this web page http://www.rockinghamremembered.com/Aetheist.html but the Concise Oxford Dictionary spells it as atheist without any other alternative. Atheist means not a theist just as abiotic means not biotic. I suspect that the use of ae is just an old fashioned spelling used when it was known that the word derived from ancient Greek.

    The modern spelling is Atheist.

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