Sunday, April 24, 2011

Kahane, Nagel, and Not Wanting God to Exist

Apologists frequently quote Thomas Nagel's express hope that there is no God:

"It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that." (The Last Word, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 130-131.)

They then assert that: (i) Nagel's hope/desire is representative of the typical atheist; (ii) such a hope/desire, and not arguments or evidence, is the true basis for the typical atheist's atheism; (iii) such a hope/desire is perverse, or at any rate inappropriate in some important sense.

There are legitimate concerns about the warrant for each claim above (let alone an inference from (i)-(iii) to the falsity or epistemic impropriety of atheism -- circumstantial ad hominem, anyone?), but in a new paper ("Should We Want God to Exist?", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (forthcoming)), Guy Kahane (Oxford) offers a careful and tentative critique of (iii). A penultimate draft of the paper can be found here.

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