Why do atheists not take Theology seriously?

Atheists often regard Theology as nonsense, being on the same scholarly level as the study of fairies, hobbits, or elves. I think this is not only unfair, but also when atheists argue from a lack of Theological knowledge, they often are focusing on inessential aspects of religious beliefs, and not on the less commonly appreciated and finer points of faith-based beliefs.

Posted: June 5th 2007

George Locke

Firstly I enjoy learning about theology. I think it’s interesting to see the history of religious thought. I happen to think that the Christian theological answers to the problem of evil are quite convincing, actually. I always found the story of Job one of the most interesting in the Bible. I think theology is great because it can teach you how to resolve paradoxes.

However, theology is like arguing about what kind of hairstyle the King of France should wear. There may be good arguments for or against this or that hairstyle, but it’s hard to take any of them seriously: France has no king.

Posted: April 17th 2008

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SmartLX www

I agree with Bitbutter. The majority of theology is based on the premise that some god exists. If that’s the point in question, anything that follows is moot until it’s resolved.

All the theology that actually concerns the question of a god’s existence has been thrown at atheists in the course of the recent debates, to little effect.

I disagree that atheists focus on inessential aspects of religion for two reasons.

One, I take the essential aspect of any religion – that there exists at least one supernatural being with some influence on the universe – and reject it outright. Any finer point based on this will have to wait until (if ever) I accept it again.

Two, when an atheist criticises what you might call an inessential aspect, for example a specific rule like not working on the Sabbath, watch those who observe that rule come immediately to its defense. I doubt that they see it as inessential.

Posted: November 13th 2007

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Russell Blackford www

There are going to be different answers to this. Personally, I don’t have any terrible problem with theology, if we look at it broadly. Theologians do a lot of useful scholarly work in sorting out reliable texts of the supposed holy books, studying the history of religious traditions, etc., etc. I don’t even doubt that much theological work offers certain usable insights as it interprets and reinterprets holy books, just as some insight comes from literary critics’ ongoing struggles with, say, Hamlet or Moby Dick.

There could well be interesting, suggestive, nuggets of thought in the writings of theologians, just are there are in the tomes of Aristotle, Hobbes, and Hume, and in the plays of Shakespeare, the novels of Jane Austen, and the poetry of Lord Tennyson.

However, much of what theologians have produced is of value only in the unlikely event that the deity they describe actually exists. Indeed, a great deal of what they have concluded to date may be positively warped and unhealthy, based as it is on fundamentally wrong assumptions.

The works of great secular philosophers and literary authors are likely to contain much more genuine wisdom about human beings, if that is what you are looking for.

Posted: June 7th 2007

See all questions answered by Russell Blackford

bitbutter www

Theology deals with the nature of gods. As such it is based on the assumption, a priori (before anything else), that a god exists. Atheists reject this as a false premise. If there are no gods then any discussion of a non-existent god’s nature can be ignored.

PZ Myers famously lampooned the complaint that atheists need to take theology more seriously—which was frequently being made against Richard Dawkins after the publication of The God Delusion —in his Courtier’s Reply. The reply draws on the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. The courtier complains that it’s not proper to accuse the Emperor of nakedness until you have a thorough understanding of the imaginary clothes he is said to be wearing.

Posted: June 6th 2007

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There is no way to independently verify which interpretation or translation of ancient scriptures is the “correct” one, if any. Thus, having extensive and intimate knowledge of every nuance of the scripture is still no guarantee of it’s truthfulness, in the same way that a Tolkien fan studying and memorizing the entire Lord of the Rings by heart does not prove its truth.

It is well known that each scripture is contradictory within itself, as well as conflicting with other scriptures. Furthermore, all the major faith’s holy books, being over 1,000 years old, are factually and morally anachronistic, seriously undermining their credibility.

From the atheist’s perspective, the Abrahamic scriptures look exactly like one would expect of a bronze age desert tribe. They are written by those people, for those people, with the knowledge that those people possessed. Slavery and the attitude to women are two examples of outdated beliefs. The relevance to 21st century urban western society is all but lost.

Posted: June 6th 2007

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