Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Investigating Atheism

The Friendly Atheist points us to Investigating Atheism.

It's nonsensical for scholars of Divinity to be "investigating" atheism, just as nonsensical as an entirely male group "investigating" feminism, or an entirely white group "investigating" racism. Their stated purpose is patently dishonest. They are too structurally biased to investigate atheism; at best they can investigate only the theological response to atheism. However, the latter investigation has merit, so I'll address their work on that basis.

Definition of Atheism

One example of bias is the association of certainty with knowledge:
It is worth noting that the 'positive atheist' need not have certainty that God doesn't exist: it is a matter of belief, not knowledge.
That knowledge entails certainty is a controversial notion; the alternative view that knowledge is established by sufficient justification or warrant is widely held, even by some theists. Since they are dealing here explicitly with the definition of atheism, not its epistemic basis, this sentence could be rephrased uncontroversially as, It is worth noting that the 'positive atheist' need not have knowledge or certainty that God doesn't exist: the definition pertains to belief, not knowledge.

They get another aspect of the definition and justification incorrect:
In the current atheist debates the New Atheists generally deny that there are good reasons to believe in the sort of personal God believed in by members of the Abrahamic religions. This is because they perceive the great Abrahamic religions - Christianity, Judaism, and Islam - as the greatest threat to the integrity of science and the rule of secular law.
The New Atheists (presumably exemplified by Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett and Harris) deny there are good reasons reasons to believe in the Abrahamic constructions of God because they believe the reasons proffered by adherents are not actually good. Since the reasons for belief are not good, it is therefore the case that these religions pose a great threat to science and secular law.

This reversal of causality is not quite a rookie mistake. All the New Atheists to some extent take the value of science and secular law for granted; this implicit attitude is, however, sufficiently justified by centuries of experience as to the value of science and secular law. I expect professional academics to rely on more than a superficial, context-free reading of any work.

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