Saturday, January 29, 2005

I am a Nontheist....

...and I am not alone. What is a nontheist you ask? A nontheist is someone who does not hold a belief in the traditional theistic God: omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipresent, eternal, just, merciful, timeless... Usually, within the philosophical community, nontheist simply means agnostic, atheist or deist.

Within the philosophy of religion, the designation of nontheist has become much more popular. There are a number of well-known nontheistic philosophers who have been active during the twentith century--probably now more than ever in the history of philosophy. It goes without saying that there is much more non-belief in philosophical circles than in the general public. It would be impossible to list every nontheistic philosopher of the twentith century--which would probably be more than half of them--but there are a number of names which seem to stand out as being excellent nontheistic philosophers:

Tim Crane, David Papineau, David Chalmers, Daniel Dennett, Anthony Flew*, Wallace Matson, Anthony Kenny, Bertrand Russell, Jerry Fodor, Nicholas Everitt, Andrea M. Weisberger, Robert C. Solomon, Julian Baggini, Daniel Harbour, W. V. O. Quine, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Paul Edwards, Michael Martin, Robin LePoidevin, J. L. Mackie, John Searle, Thomas Nagel, Richard Rorty, J. J. C. Smart, Theodore Drange, Quentin Smith, Theodore Schick Jr., J. C. A. Gaskin, David O'Connor, Keith Parsons, Jaegwon Kim, William Rowe, James Rachels, J. D. Trout, Donald Davidson, Paul M. Churchland, Peter Singer, Kai Neilsen, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernst Nagel, Colin McGinn, Michael Scriven, Owen Flanagen, Bruce Russell, John Perry, Paul Kurtz, Graham Oppy, J. L. Pollock, Gilbert Ryle, Robert Nozick, David M. Armstrong, A. J. Ayer, Jan Narveson, Andrew Melnyk, A. C. MacIntyre, Norwood R. Hanson, John Dewey, Patrick Nowell-Smith, Matt McCormick, Richard Gale, Paul Draper, Wilfred Sellars, Howard J. Sobel, Elliott Sober, David M. Rosenthal, Jeffery Polland, John Heil, Anthony O'Hear, H. J. McCloskey, Patricia Churchland, Corliss Lamont, Evan Fales, Ted Honderich, Kurt Baier, Michael Tooley, Ted A. Warfield, Martin Heidegger, Panayot Butchravor, Adolf Grunbaum, C. D. Broad, Ned Block, Philip Kitcher, Douglas Kruger, Terence Penelhum, Corey Washington, Paul K. Moser, Peter Angeles, Richard LaCroix, Walter Kaufman, Sidney Hook, Erich Fromm, Valerii A. Kuvakin, and J. L. Schellenberg.

The most important nontheistic philosopher, in my humble opinion, is still Hume. Many of these philosophers are profound and insighful--as many theistic philosophers are. However, there is no substitute for the "classical insights" of Hume's A Treatise On Human Nature and his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. I have always been a big fan of Hume--even when I am in disagreement with him--because of his brilliance, and consistency. Hume's work has many contemporary implications, concerning not only religion but also science. For example, his critique of miracles has application in the paranormal debate.

I am a non-theist, and will probably always remain such. Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne are insightful and brilliant. However, it still seems that the theistic enterprise lacks something. For all of the complixity of the theistic worldview, and the arguments to defend it, there are still significant assumptions it must make to get to its conclusion. The presumption of atheism is powerful, the problem of evil is still a problem, there are many problems with the theistic hypothesis--most notably in the evidence for theism, and the cohorence of theism--and lastly the naturalistic hypothesis is much simpler and seems to be well confirmed.

It appears that Nietzsche was correct: God does appear to be dead.

*Some readers will object that Anthony Flew has recently converted. This was initially true (Dec. 2004), however Flew took back his assertion that a God was needed to explain the scientific evidence saying, "I now realize I made a fool of myself..." He also stated in a letter to the Internet Infidels that his new modest defection from unbelief is a "more radical form of unbelief." (Source:


Blogger Peter Thurley said...

Certainly there are a lot of non-theistic philosophers who have done a good job in their fields. Many of them I like. But throughout the ages, many of the philosophers have been theistic. Augustine, Abelard, Duns Scotus, Ockham, Aquinas, Spinoza, Descartes, Locke, Berkeley. Even today there are reasonable philosophers who have contributed much to the Theistic project, albeit not as much as the naturalists have contributed to their project. There is Alston, Plantinga, Swinburne, Moreland, Craig, Wolterstorff, Tom Flint, John Finnis, among others. I wonder if the reason why they have not contributed as much to the philosophical world is that they are severly outnumbered. I don't think that it is only because the naturalistic project is much simpler and 'more right' but I think that it is largely a result of a movement within the evangelical tradition called Anti-Intellectualism. It has discouraged many brilliant Christian minds from enetering the wonderful world of philosophy, because it views the intellect as a danger to faith. I think that this idea is preposterous, and as a Christian who is engaged in the study of philosophy, I have only found that my faith gains momentum. Sure, there are challenges, but those challenges, once thought through and examined, are often, IMO, hollow and rely just as much on some sort of faith as does my Christian belief.

Certainly theism has its challenges. But so does naturalism. I appreciated your 'proof' for the immateriality of the mind. However, I'm wondering whether something like that can be proved, and if it can, what does that do for the naturalistic project?

I invite you to check out my blog Dinner Table Donts and have a look at some of the arguments I have going on there. I would appreciate comments, and I always like conversing with other philosophers, whether they agree with me or not.


January 30, 2005 at 5:42 PM  
Blogger J. A. Licon said...

What you say is true of course. I mentioned Swinburne and Plantinga for the very reason that I do acknowledge the value of theistic philosophers and some of the brilliant work they have done. I also recognize that tey are outnumbered, and of course orthodoxies come and go--including theism and naturalism.

My intent was not to disprove or disconfirm theism, or confirm naturalism. I was simply pointing out which way I tend to lean in the philosophy of religion. I have found that among some naturalists there is an unfortunate tendency to stay of the philosophy of religion, not finding the topic of any relevance. I particularly find this position most unfortunate. Not only is the philosophy of religion connected to other philosophical concerns, I believe there is much that naturalists can contribute to the philosophy of religion.

And of course an immaterial mind creates problems for naturalism--although not disconfirming problems I would argue--but that is of a secondary concern to me. I am first a philosopher, and next a naturalist. I do philosophy because I love inquiry, I do not do it to defend naturalism.

And finally, I think there are good reasons for supposing that many, if not all, philosophical positions ultimately rest on "faith"--which seems to lead to relativism. I think Descartes had something in the second of his Mediations on First Philosophy. But then I suppose both the naturalist and theist would lack evidential support for their positions.

January 31, 2005 at 3:26 PM  
Blogger Evan Tomlin said...

Paul K. Moser...a nontheist???

Now that's funny.

January 27, 2006 at 7:47 PM  
Blogger Tedla said...

Hi There:

Please remove Paul Moser from among the list of non-theists or atheists.

Moser has been a devout Christian from his teen years. He works now almost exclusively on Christian philosophy. Check out his web site.



April 3, 2007 at 5:27 PM  
Blogger djr said...

You have MacIntyre in your list of 'non-theists'? Certainly at one point he was, but he's (rather famously) been a very serious Roman Catholic since the early 1980's. A former professor of mine who was a graduate student of his liked to recount how MacIntyre had a giant crucifix displayed prominently on his desk.

Ted Warfield is, like MacIntyre, a faculty member at the University of Notre Dame. You don't have to be religious to work at Notre Dame, but you'd better believe that nobody with intellectual hostility to theism would willingly be a member of that department.

I don't think there's any sense to this 'non-theist' label. Sure, it's a category, but it's not very interesting. Nobody out there is really a non-theist. Either they're atheists who explicitly deny the existence of God or agnostics of various sorts who claim that we cannot have knowledge that God exists. Even 'agnostic' is a pretty useless category, if you ask me, since some who fall in that category just don't take the question seriously, while others are just polite atheists, and still others are not theists but think that very respectable cases can be given for the existence of God. Finally, considering deists 'non-theists' is, at minimum, extremely misleading. Next to atheists and agnostics, deists plainly fall onto the side of the theists. Why? Because they believe in the existence of God. They just don't accept any putative revelation or believe that God has a special interest in human beings.

What's really interesting about these questions is in the details, not in the categories. Ditch the categories and consider the questions.

Then again, you are a Humean, so we won't expect too much subtlety from you.

January 8, 2009 at 2:56 PM  
Blogger djr said...

Also, your footnote about Flew is just plain false. Not only is Flew not on record anywhere as saying "I now realize I made a fool of myself," but he has, as recently as last month, published a critique of Richard Dawkins. I won't make any claims about whether Flew has gone senile (I'd like to see people who think so engage him in philosophical argument, though; I bet he still wipes the floor with them), but it's pretty clear that he hasn't retracted his statements or anything of the sort.

January 8, 2009 at 3:01 PM  

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