Nonbelieving Literati: The Flight of Peter Fromm - Martin Gardner  

Monday, September 15, 2008

Halfway through the first chapter I wondered why I had never heard of this book before. By the second chapter I was liking it so much that I wondered why I had never read it before. But once the heavy theological arguments had been established, I realized that I didn't love everything about this book. Still, it was enjoyable. I identified very strongly with Peter's deconversion experience, even if mine took a much less cerebral path.

In a surprising bit of coincidence James Randi spoke at Dragon Con about Martin Gardner and his religious beliefs. I had no idea it was the same Martin Gardner until after I was halfway into the book and also editing part of the recordings I had from the convention.

I'm of two minds about Gardner's final evolution of belief. In one sense his belief in some kind of unknowable god is inoffensive. His beliefs don't negatively influence his ethics - in my thinking anyway - and they're as close to PZ's desire for a knitting club as you can get. There are plenty of things that I believe in that I probably only believe because they make me feel good. People enjoy reading my blog. One day I'm going to retire in relative comfort. My cat actually cares that I'm around. But none of those beliefs actually impact anyone else.

My own fundamentalist beliefs took a brief turn to deism, as a formless, unknowing, unidentified something-out-there, but it was too nebulous to be important to me. It didn't give me any more comfort than nothing. So I eventually dropped the idea of a nebulous something.

I see an unknowable god as completely meaningless. I won't deny that it's possible that there's something out there that can't be understood and had something to do with us being here, but if it's so far beyond me that I can't comprehend whatever it is, what does it matter in my day-to-day life? Why would it even care that I gave it a moment's thought? I don't find myself obsessing over whether or not the microbes my body give me any thought.

Thus, believing in something that I will never interact with became meaningless in itself and quickly dissolved into more of a "what does it matter?" philosophy and eventually into an "I want to see the proof" skeptical outlook that I have today. (Mostly after hearing the nebulous god or goalpost-moving god arguments so many times that I was motivated to find arguments against both.)

But again, personal beliefs in a god or great spirit or supreme being don't bother me any more than the belief that the Democratic Congress is going to grow a spine one day or that the Chiefs will win the Super Bowl again. (Well, statistically one or the other will happen one day, right?.. yeah, right.)

And for some reason throughout the book I kept envisioning Homer, the ever persuasive guide, as The Exterminator. I don't think Ex would have been half as patient though. I could just hear him going off f’Chrissake at some point during the Barthian analysis. Despite that, the image held. Sorry, Ex. Maybe you were only acting as my sub-conscious owl in there.

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8 comments: to “ Nonbelieving Literati: The Flight of Peter Fromm - Martin Gardner

  • The Exterminator
    Monday, September 15, 2008 at 11:45:00 PM CDT  

    Maybe you've put your finger on why I disliked the book: I'm always annoyed at characters who pretend to be me.

    For the record: I would have kicked Peter Fromm in his ass after about our third conversation, and then tried to fix him up with a heathen woman.

  • Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D.
    Tuesday, September 16, 2008 at 12:03:00 AM CDT  

    Next it will be dreams about EX. which is a place my mind does not want to go :)

  • The Exterminator
    Tuesday, September 16, 2008 at 12:36:00 AM CDT  

    Just for that nasty crack, I'm never gonna dream of koalas again.

  • Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D.
    Tuesday, September 16, 2008 at 1:15:00 AM CDT  


    I hear the collective sigh of relief of the 100,000 Koalas we have left :)

    Don't worry I still hear your voice everytime I want to scream at the television and the stupid god bods.

  • Spanish Inquisitor
    Tuesday, September 16, 2008 at 11:03:00 AM CDT  

    There are plenty of things that I believe in that I probably only believe because they make me feel good. People enjoy reading my blog.

    Hey, me too! Though I'll probably be writing My Blog Delusion in due course.

  • the chaplain
    Tuesday, September 16, 2008 at 4:48:00 PM CDT  

    I enjoyed the book and am glad to have read it. Having done so, though, it's not one that I'm likely to read again.

  • The Ridger, FCD
    Tuesday, September 16, 2008 at 7:56:00 PM CDT  

    Ah, apathetic agnosticism - not knowing if some unknowable god is out there and not giving a damn, either, because clearly such a god (a) doesn't care about us and (b) doesn't - and can't - impact our life in any way at all.

    The Universal Church Triumphant of the Apathetic Agnostic ... I belonged to that for a while myself. But eventually it's sort of "why bother?"

    As Isaac Asimov once said:

    I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I've been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I'm a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally I am an atheist. I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time.

  • Ordinary Girl
    Monday, September 22, 2008 at 9:56:00 PM CDT  

    Ex: A heathen woman would have done Peter good, if he let her seduce him.

    Sean: Trust me, you're right about that.

    SI: Oh, would you let me write your forward?

    Chappy: Agreed. Like the Shawshank Redemption it's just too painful. I'm more likely to re-watch the Shawshank Redemption. At least there's something redeeming at the end.

    Ridger: I'm proudly an atheist too, but I came to it through realizing that a nebulous god isn't worth believing in. What's left but atheism?


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