Margaret Atwood on the Hunger for God

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In this 2006 Moyers Moment from Bill Moyers on Faith & Reason, author and “strict agnostic” Margaret Atwood discusses the hypothetical effects of removing God from human consciousness, and explains the difference between atheism and agnosticism.

“You can’t run an experiment on whether God exists or not,” Atwood tells Bill. “Therefore you can’t say anything about it as knowledge.”

Watch Bill’s entire interview with Margaret Atwood »

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  • Nicole W.

    To me, when Susan Jacoby says she is an ateist because if there was a God, how could he let horrible things happen in the world, does not seem to make sense. I thnk that if there was a God who created the world, he would make it a complete world which means that everything has to exist: good and bad, uggly and beautiful, etc. There is a constant pull between good and bad; Part of humanity works hard work hard to keep the scales always tilted to the good while another part of humanity spend their time pulling in the other direction. It is a world that is subject to the rules of nature (biology, physics, etc.). People, being part of this world are also complete, that is they have/are everything both good and bad. There will never be a time when we will have eradicated all the bad (diseases, wars, natural disasters, etc) and solved all the problems in the world because if we did eliminate all the “bad” there would be nothing much to do except put our feet on the desk and yawn. If God decides everything that happens in the world, then he is a puppeteer and we have no free will; we are being manipulated. I would not want to be part of such a world. Just as I cannot say that there is a God, I cannot say that there isn’t a God. I cannot say that I am an atheist, but I certainly cannot belong to any religous group. Religion is invented by man who has no clue what or who God is, let alone know what God wants from us. If there is a God who created us, he doesn’t want anything. We have no obligation. With free will, we make all our own decisions about who, what, how we want to be. And here is the hard part: I think most of us are terrified at having all that freedom/responsibility and that is why I have heard many people say “if I only knew what God wants from me, I would do it with all my heart.” But, assuming there is a God, all he wants is for us to live, be and do or not, as we choose,no strings attached. Most of us want to be told what to do rather than take charge of our life. That is why dictators are so successful. I hope you will comment on the substance of my thoughts. Thank you.

  • Albie Farinas

    The beautiful and most exciting is the “inprobability” of “my” existance, however, I am here…!

  • Claudine Marie Elizabeth Jones

    Hmmm. Methinks the lady doth protest too much: she seems to want to skew her agnosticism toward proof that God does NOT exist, so she comes down hard on atheism. My point would be that, try as one might, one cannot posit the existence of something (God, for example) and then proceed to sit back and wait for one’s theory to be debunked. If one uses Atwood’s own methodology, one theorizes that there is a God and then, unless proven to be true by scientific method as she suggests, the theory remains just that–unproven.
    The reason atheism as a choice exists, in my humble opinion, is that neither agnosticism nor religion adequately address this. If it were anything else up for discussion there would be howls of dissension. Pretty much nobody in the modern world would deny that heavier-than-air objects can in fact fly; it has taken many years to prove, but it is undeniable. Now, try saying ‘Oh, airplanes don’t actually *fly*–that is an illusion; you have to *prove* that it is NOT an illusion.’

  • Stayawhile

    Evil exists in the world because life is a test.

  • Steven Work

    The change I would make would be that people experience the pain and pleasure of life. And a nice effective system which keeps it in place.. something like a pure empathy required to conception, not just the physical access – that biologically the male does not even have an erection without a full open connection to the female, and the female would only ‘open up’ with such a connection.

    The added benefit to such a situation would be the end of killing (except in pure rage), it would end most rape.. The new improved human would no longer have the choice to be a supportive social animal.

    The other change I would make that would do something similar, at least end war. That would be to randomly exchange all children with all other young children the same age with random parents at random locations, and required to spend a year at least in the exchange. The assumption is that the new parents will raise them as their own. Great for international situation at there would be an immediate need to help all other societies because every ones children would be positively effected. no wars because the possible death of children from every other country.. just imagine.

    Given one wish to possitively change the world situation for the better – that is what I would do. King me!

  • Christopher Aaron Baughman

    As I know others have before repeatedly said in the past. Agnosticism is linked to both atheism and theism. It is not truly a separate category in the debate over whether a god exists. Where Ms. Atwood fails in my estimation here is this keen call that strict agnosticism exists when it doesn’t in reality. Now you’ll have agnostic atheists just as you’ll have agnostic theists. There is no dispute over that. What I dispute is whether a person can truly be only agnostic without being an atheist or a theist. Overall her argument is more against gnosticism than atheism.

  • peDOUGogics

    “Atheism is a religion…makes an absolute stand on something that cannot be proven – That there is no God!” ~ Mary Atwood

    For one, atheism is NOT a religion because an atheist is NOT trying to prove
    (or disprove) the existence of any damn thing. An atheist simply lacks a belief in the existence of a god(s), etc. An atheist simply chooses and, or does not find the need to try and explain LIFE and the proverbial “meaning” of it via a supernatural or ‘intelligent’ medium.

    An atheists’ philosophical stance is based on reason and reason alone. Much like the province of science, atheism is not in the business of trying to explain the ‘ultimate’ questions — that is for philosophy and religion to ponder. Atheism utilizes rationale and reason as tools for deciphering “meaning”. If there is NO REASON to suppose something, then common sense should dictate and nullify the superfluous. Period.

    Atheism is just theism with the letter ‘A’ prefixed to it. If theism is the BELIEF in the existence of god or gods, then atheism is the NON-BELIEF. Atheism does not state whether the existence of god or gods is true or false, fact or fiction, verifiable or not. Again, much like science, it is not within the parameters of atheism to be able to prove or disprove such things.

    If anything, the overwhelming burden of proof lies on the theist. It is theism that insists on a god or gods – therefore it is on the theist and the theistically inclined to produce such claims. As a matter of fact, I’m sure many atheists only wish that a counterpart would come along and provide testable, controllable, repeatable, measurable, tangible,
    incontrovertible evidence of their extraordinary claims – If so; an atheist would be the first to believe!

    As far as “knowledge” goes, no one ever said that atheism is ‘knowledge’ in and of itself. I don’t understand why she implies that atheism champions itself as a form of one. If anything, atheism is exactly what she goes on to distinguish from knowledge to be – a “belief system”.

    There is no denying that atheism is just that — a system based on reason and rationale; rooted in a belief that the existence of god(s) is unnecessary.