Image - portrait of Voltaire
Voltaire, looking cheerful.

An article showed up in my Flipboard feed yesterday, “Little Things Can Make an Atheist.” I read it, because I was curious to see what the “little things” were. It struck me that the “little things” the author referred to were specific theological claims, rather than propositions about defensibility of the reality of [any version of] God. I don’t know that the theological claims are “little,” really – at least not to the people to do affirm them. Relative to basic principles, like “metaphysical claims are necessarily false because they violate our assumptions about truth” or something like that, however, I can see how the “little things” moniker might seem reasonable.

What I wonder is why people find it more reasonable or feasible to give up assuming God than just to modify their theology. Is it because the very idea of God is fused with a specific theology in such a way that they can’t be separated, so that if the theology fails, the premise of God has to fail as well? What leads to that fusion? Or is it because the premise of God seems to entail some theology, and no theology seems to pass the test? Or that theological speculation begins to seem tedious or unproductive, so it’s given up, the way a person gives up a puzzle that doesn’t seem to have a solution or a book that stops being entertaining? Or does it have something to do with an unsatisfied desire for evidence? Or, for a particular kind of evidence? [Because it also persistently seems to me that there is a kind of evidence – personal experience, individual stories, etc. – that religious people accept that is discounted by rejectors of religion; and conversely, that the kind of evidence demanded by religion rejectors – experimental data, logical necessity, or both – is not demanded by religious people, who are willing to go along with their preferred narratives as long as they’re not irrefutably ruled out. I leave aside those religious people who go along with preferred narratives that actually have been definitively ruled out!]

In other words, what I wonder is what all this has to do with preference and desire, and the directions they take. It’s hard for me to believe that the “little things” of the article are really at the bottom of whatever it is that distinguishes people who persist in their preference or desire for God, and those who pursue a different preference or desire.