Teapots and spaghetti monsters

My philosophical interest in religion has been revived in recent weeks thanks to the writing of Ross Douthat over at the Atlantic.

First the quote from the Pope, and then a reference to Bertrand Russell’s teapot analogy.

It is a curious debate. But I am also struck by Douthat’s language:

I see the genesis of religion rather differently: An intuitive belief in some sort of presiding Agent seems to be an extremely common, albeit hardly universal, feature of human nature; this intuition has intersected, historically, with an enormous amount of subjective religious experience; and this intersection (along with, yes, the force of custom and tradition) has produced and sustained the religious traditions that seem to Richard Dawkins and company like so much teapot-worship.

Or in other words: Humans believe in god. Belief in god intersects with… belief in god. Custom and tradition have led to… custom and tradition. What?

Why not just say: Humans have an apparent tendency to believe in god or gods.

Or: The intersection of apparent intuitive belief with subjective experience has led to religious traditions in human societies.

He goes on:

The story of our civilization, in particular, is a story in which an extremely large circle of non-insane human beings have perceived themselves to be experiencing an interaction with a being who seems recognizable as the Judeo-Christian God (here I do feel comfortable using the term), rather than merely being taught about Him in Sunday School

I feel like Ross is missing the point of the teapot analogy. What exactly does it mean to say “perceived themselves to be experiencing an interaction with a being who seems recognizable as the Judeo-Christian God”? Recognisable? To whom? In what form? Experiencing what? Interacting with what?

But it is one thing to disbelieve in God; it is quite another to never feel a twinge of doubt about one’s own disbelief.

It might be more accurate to take the word belief out of this. Lack of belief implies existence of the entity in question. I would rather say instead:

It is one thing to doubt the existence of x; it is quite another to never feel a twinge of doubt about not believing in the existence of x.

Or: It is one thing to disbelieve in Zeus; it is quite another to never feel a twinge of doubt about one’s own beliefs.

I doubt the existence of Zeus. Like I doubt the existence of the god Douthat describes. Millions may have believed in Zeus in the past. Billions may believe in a Judeo-Christian god now.

But belief does not imply existence. Just as belief in teapots in orbit does not imply their existence. Nor does the existence of religious tradition imply the existence of anything. Nor does a supposed innate belief (if it’s intuitive then where’s mine?) in a presiding agent imply the existence of anything.

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