I consider myself an infant when it comes to my philosophical stature, but I continue to find it extremely fascinating. This semester I enrolled in a Philosophy of Religion class because it was obviously a topic that interested me and, to be honest, I wanted to refine my arguments so that I could shame my theistic friends for their beliefs. I felt that religious belief was totally irrational and unreasonable; you could say that I entered the class an unfriendly atheist. What I have taken from the class however has been surprising.
William L. Rowe is one of the authors of the textbook we are using in that class. He is a philosopher and atheist and is a professor emeritus at Purdue University. There is an article of his in the book that discusses a few forms of atheism. Rowe points out that there are three ways that an atheist may view the theist. First, “the atheist may believe that no one is rationally justified in believing that the theistic God exists.” This he calls “unfriendly atheism.” Second, “the atheist may hold no belief concerning whether any theist is or isn’t rationally justified in believing that the theistic God exists.” This he calls “indifferent atheism.” And last, “the atheist may believe that some theists are rationally justified in believing that the theistic God exists.” This he calls “friendly atheism.”
To clarify, it may be good to point out that Rowe does not say that the friendly atheist accepts the theistic belief as true, but merely that the theist is not irrational in his or her beliefs. It may also be good to point out that he is discussing the rationality of religious belief and not the reasonableness of theistic belief. A distinction can be seen in an example: an individual may rack up tons of debt because he/she is planning on winning the lottery to pay it off. Yes these thoughts may in the strictest sense of the word be rational, but they are certainly not reasonable.
But here is where it becomes a little tricky. For in this case, both parties are privy to the same information yet they come to different conclusions. Can both be rationally held? Or must one be irrational by necessity? Rowe believes the former. Another author in a separate article in the book uses an example in science. Can two researchers be studying the same scientific question and come to separate conclusions and both be rational in their decisions? It seems that they can.
Rowe then goes on, “What sort of grounds might a theist have for believing that God exists? Well, he might endeavor to justify his belief by appealing to one or more of the traditional arguments: Ontological, Cosmological, Teleological, Moral, etc. Second, he might appeal to certain aspects of religious experience… Third, he might try to justify theism as a plausible theory in terms of which we can account for a variety of phenomena.”
Again, it is irrelevant whether or not you believe these arguments to be true, when considering their rationality. Rowe believes that the arguments put forth by theists are false, but he also thinks the arguments can be rationally held by the believer. He would therefore consider himself a friendly atheist, and I am inclined to agree with him at this point. I am still an atheist, but I no longer look at all religious people as morons. Hopefully I didn’t slaughter Rowe’s argument too much in my interpretation. But anyway, I figured I would toss this out to all of you to see what your thoughts were on the matter.
How do you view religious belief? If you are atheist, are you friendly or unfriendly?