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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Michael Martin
"Religious experiences are like those induced by drugs, alcohol, mental illness, and sleep deprivation: They tell no uniform or coherent story, and there is no plausible theory to account for discrepancies among them."

-- Michael Martin

Michael Martin is a philosopher at Boston University as professor emeritus.

Martin has concerned himself largely with philosophy of religion, though the philosophies of science, law, and sport have not escaped his attention. On the former, Martin has published a number of books and copious articles defending atheism and various arguments against the existence of god in exhaustive detail. Martin, in his introduction to Atheism: a Philosophical Justification, cites a general absence of an atheistic response to contemporary work in philosophy of religion, and accepts the responsibility of a rigorous defense of nonbelief as, ironically, his cross to bear:

The aim of this book is not to make atheism a popular belief or even to overcome its invisibility. My object is not utopian. It is merely to provide good reasons for being an atheist. ... My object is to show that atheism is a rational position and that belief in God is not. I am quite aware that theistic beliefs are not always based on reason. My claim is that they should be.


"If you look up "atheism" in a dictionary, you will probably find it defined as the belief that there is no God. Certainly many people understand atheism in this way. Yet many atheists do not, and this is not what the term means if one consider it from the point of view of its Greek roots. In Greek "a" means "without" or "not" and "theos" means "god." From this standpoint an atheist would simply be someone without a belief in God, not necessarily someone who believes that God does not exist. According to its Greek roots, then, atheism is a negative view, characterized by the absence of belief in God."

"A case can be made that religious language is unverifiable and hence factually meaningless when it is used in a sophisticated and nonanthropomorphic way."

"The thesis that the sentences "God exists" and "God does not exist" are factually meaningless is only prima facie justified. This is so because a commonly accepted and fully developed theory of meaning is not yet available. Until one is, we must rest content with a partial theory and a partial justification."

"Could it not be said that it is improbable that we would have a universe in which life arose anywhere? One answer that might be given is that we do not know whether it is improbable or not. Judgments about a priori probabilities in such cases are arbitrary, and we have no evidence in this case of any relevant empirical probabilities."

"Religious experiences in one culture often conflict with those in another. One cannot accept all of them as veridical, yet there does not seem to be any way to separate the veridical experiences from the rest."

"Since experiences of God are good grounds for the existence of God, are not experiences of the absence of God good grounds for the nonexistence of God? After all, many people have tried to experience God and have failed. Cannot these experiences of the absence of God be used by atheists to counter the theistic argument based on experience of the presence of God?"

"C.S. Lewis is certainly right to suppose that in considering the question of whether miracles exist there is a danger that one will appear to a priori arguments and assumptions. But the solution to this problem is not to decide on naturalism or supernaturalism beforehand. Rather, one must attempt to reject the a priori arguments and instead base one's position on inductive considerations. Lewis has not shown that this is impossible. Thus he has not shown that one must choose between naturalism and supernaturalism before investigating the possibility of miracles."

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