Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Misconceptions about atheism

Sigh... another mole to be whacked.

American culture must be harder on atheists - they all seem so bitter and I suspect that’s largely because the culture of American Christendom is difficult.
American culture is not that hard on atheists. We're not bitter, we're angry: angry at injustice, oppression and cruelty, and often intolerant of the religious bullshit that directly or indirectly supports such evils.

“Strong Atheists” (those who believe “Absolutely, positively, there is no god)...”
This is a substantive misrepresentation of the strong atheist position: the qualifier "absolutely" is inappropriate. Strong atheists typically have a positive belief that no God exists, as opposed to the "weak" atheist position as professing no actual belief about god one way or another. No skeptic believes anything "absolutely" in the sense that they would hold onto the belief in the presence of convincing evidence to the contrary.

...are apparently being taught to argue as though they are “Weak Atheists” (those who believe “I don’t believe in God because no one has provided me with any credible evidence that God exists.”) in order to shift the burden of proof to Christianity.
We are not being "taught" to argue anything. Difficult as it is for Christians to comprehend, we atheists think for ourselves. There is a debate among atheists as to whether strong atheism or weak atheism is the superior philosophical position. There is also the correct point that regardless of the strong or weak atheist position, Christians do have their own burden of proof.

Thanks to Dawkins and co atheists continue to argue with a caricature of Christianity
It is ludicrous to assert — at least without a "No True Scotsman" fallacy — that a general form of religion actually held and believed by hundreds of millions (perhaps billions if you count Muslims) constitutes a "caricature".

In all probability (since I don't know the blogger's actual theological views), his personal construction of Christianity is too vague and meaningless to be worth serious philosophical or political discussion.

Faith is seem to be a “superstitious logical jump” in the face of conflicting evidence rather than a conviction of truth without all the evidence.
Yes. That's precisely what it is. In order to have "evidentiary" support for any religion, Christians typically redefine the meaning of "evidence".

Atheists hate being compared to Mao - but love comparing Christians to the Crusaders (or in fact any nasty people carrying out nasty acts in the name of Jesus). When you suggest that these Christians weren’t being Christian you’re guilty of breaching the “no true Scotsman” fallacy - when you suggest that their anger at the Mao analogy is similarly a “no true Scotsman” fallacy you’re told that Mao was not motivated by his atheism… is it just me seeing this as contradictory?
Yes, it's just him. The No True Scotsman fallacy converts an evidentiary claim to a definitional claim. No atheist — even those who don't admire Mao at all — says that Mao was not a "true atheist"; of course he was an atheist. No skeptical atheist claims that atheism magically confers some sort of innate moral superiority: atheists can be just as cruel, selfish and indifferent to the suffering of others as any other person. Atheism just removes one form of moral justification for one's cruelty. As the saying goes, you don't need God for good people to do good and bad people to do evil, but you do need religion for good people to do evil.

When someone says, "I'm going to kill in the name of God," we suspect that perhaps he's going to kill in the name of God. When Mao says, "I'm going to oppress the bourgeoisie in the name of the dictatorship of the proletariat," we suspect he's going to oppress the bourgeoisie in the name of the dictatorship of the proletariat, not oppress the religious in the name of atheism. This is not complicated stuff.

A whole lot of bad teaching is coming home to roost - doctrinal clarity is important. Ideas like “God is love” that don’t speak to God’s wrath, holiness, or judgement have caused more harm than good. This is what happens when only part of the gospel is considered with another part swept under the carpet.
What was the author saying a bit earlier about "caricatures" of Christianity?

At the end of the day - my staunch “Reformed” understanding of evangelism and election means that I’m not in any position to convince those whose hearts are hardened to the gospel.
Translation: "My imperviousness to reason makes me unable to convince those who demand evidence and logic to support a position."

And a bonus point - “evidence” is seen to be some sort of magic bullet for atheists - but naturalism presupposes the supernatural - and as soon as something supernatural is demonstrably tested it’s no longer supernatural but just an undiscovered natural entity - God is, by definition, supernatural. He can not possibly be tested in this manner, because we can’t expect him to conform to our “testing” and act the same way over and over again…
Translation: "Their reliance on evidence and logic makes it impossible for atheists to convince someone who demands reference to the myths and social constructions of iron-age slave-owning misogynist goat-herders to support a position."

21 comments:

  1. I always love these counter point posts. The flaw in their logic is so apparent. You think this guy would actually take the time to read what you wrote? Or just pass it off as Atheist bitterness?

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  2. I'm going to go waaaaaay out on a limb and guess the latter.

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  3. Joseph Scaliger6/3/09, 8:29 AM

    'It is ludicrous to assert — at least without a "No True Scotsman" fallacy — that a general form of religion actually held and believed by hundreds of millions (perhaps billions if you count Muslims) constitutes a "caricature".'

    I thought the "No True Scotsman" fallacy didn't apply in certain cases (e.g. it would not be fallacious to say that no true vegetarian eats meat, becuase avoiding meat is part of the definition of being a vegetarian).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman#Errors_in_usage

    In order to settle whether the "No True Scotsman" fallacy applies here, it seems that one must first come to a consensus on what a "Christian" is. Is a Christian one who adheres to Christian theology (in which case professed Christians may fall short of their churches' stated beliefs and place themselves "outside" of Christianity), or is Christian theology determined based on the belief of those who call themselves Christians (in which case self-identification, not acceptance of an external belief system/authority, is the main criterion for Christian identity)? To use another example, should an advocate of free market libertarianism who identifies himself as a marxist be considered a "true" marxist? This topic may sound silly, but historians of religion differ greatly in their interpretations of entire eras of history based on how one defines religious membership. Jean Delumeau, presumably basing associating Christian identity with theological knowledge and understanding, has argued that the Middle Ages were only superficially Christian (i.e. the average person in the Middle Ages probably had very muddled ideas about what Christianity was as compared with, say, Aquinas). John Bossy, on the other hand, believes the Middle Ages could be considered substantively Christian.

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  4. "As the saying goes, you don't need God for good people to do good and bad people to do evil, but you do need religion for good people to do evil."

    Do bad people ever do good things? If so, what do you think causes it?

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  5. Joseph: a theist is defined to be someone who professes belief in some sort of deity. Denying that people who do indeed profess belief in a deity are indeed theists would be a valid form of the No True Scotsman fallacy.

    See PZ Myers on Terry Eagleton: "[Eagleton's] claim is that the atheists are criticizing a version of religion he finds disagreeable and not at all like his version of religion…Ditchkins has made the ghastly error of failing to write The Eagleton Delusion or Eagleton Is Not Great or Letter to an Eagleton Nation. His irritation at this omission is essentially the driving force behind this entire book."

    Nathan's claim is precisely equivalent to Eagleton's.

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  6. Let me rephrase: It is valid to identify as a No True Scotsman fallacy the assertion that people who profess belief in some sort of deity are not theists or religious because they don't profess one's own particular theological beliefs in detail.

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  7. Joseph Scaliger6/3/09, 9:18 AM

    "Joseph: a theist is defined to be someone who professes belief in some sort of deity. Denying that people who do indeed profess belief in a deity are indeed theists would be a valid form of the No True Scotsman fallacy."

    Not to be pedantic, but would you consider deists, pantheists, henotheists and panentheists to be theists? (e.g., would you consider Voltaire and Spinoza theists?)

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  8. Joseph: This is a philosophy blog: you don't have to apologize for being pedantic.

    And no, deism, pathetheism, etc. are typically considered distinct from theism; they are, IMnsHO, distinct species of bullshit.

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  9. Fred: self interest and chance.

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  10. "Fred: self interest and chance."

    Why not explain "good" people doing bad things the same way? Aren't people who use religion as cover for evil acting out of self-interest anyway? Also, if someone uses religion as an excuse for evil, why even consider him a good person in the first place?

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  11. In context of the quotation, Fred, good means one who does finds the suffering of others to be contrary to her own self-interest; a bad person is indifferent to the suffering of others.

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  12. Fundamentally, though, yes, it's most fruitful to analyze ethics in terms of competing or cooperating self interest.

    Religion is just a way of bullshitting people to act against their own self-interest in the interest of the ruling class, which somehow always includes the priests.

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  13. "I always love these counter point posts. The flaw in their logic is so apparent. You think this guy would actually take the time to read what you wrote? Or just pass it off as Atheist bitterness?"

    Counter point post? This was a post made on my own blog. I'm not sure how it fits that bill... I can hardly "take the time to read what you (Larry) wrote" without him having written it in the first place.

    My ten points were ten points based on discussions entered with my atheist friends, discussions with Christian friends, and on an atheist blog... it's not fair to suggest this is a "counter point post" - unless you're referring to points counter to atheism... can you clarify?

    I don't think, as a general rule, atheists are bitter - just that more atheists in the US are bitter than in my context (Australia) where there's a staunchly secular culture. Funnily though, atheists in Australia will apply what Dawkins and Hitchens say about the culture elsewhere to the culture here without much regard to the differences.

    But thanks for the link Larry - I appreciate it.

    Generally, all I'm arguing for is a "fair go" - I don't think the arguments most atheists make against Christianity resonate with my understanding of Christianity or with its fundamental teachings.

    And I think the intellectual jury on the matter is still out - rather than decided as most atheists wish to proclaim it (while their personal jury might be in) - there are rational, intelligent people in both camps, just as there are crazy, dumb people in both camps.

    "Religion is just a way of bullshitting people to act against their own self-interest in the interest of the ruling class, which somehow always includes the priests."

    I would suggest that Christianity fails your basic definition of "religion" then - given that at its core is going against self interest for everybody - not just the ruling class...

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  14. Nathan: I can't read my commenters' minds, but I suspect Ann refers to the fact that I rebut several points you raise.

    You're not, however, arguing for a "fair go". First, by objecting to a burden of proof in (4), you're arguing at the meta-level that your own position does not require an argument; you are, in effect, saying you don't have to tell us what you're talking about and why you believe it.

    Furthermore, your position on evidence is at least ambiguous, if not contradictory. In (7) you seem to imply that you do have an evidentiary case for your beliefs, but in (11) you note correctly that by definition you can't make an evidentiary case for supernaturalism.

    If you just want to have and talk about your private beliefs, you need but declare them. If you want to discuss the truth of your beliefs, you need to tell us what you're talking about, why you believe it, and, most importantly, why we, as honest seekers after the truth, should believe it.

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  15. Larry, that makes sense - though I would appreciate Ann clearing things up - I'm obviously not a regular visitor here so have no idea if these "counter point posts" are your garden variety trawling of other people's writings about atheism and responding - or if she is indeed confused. Her second statement lends itself to inferring my interpretation of her first - I would not be able to "read the time to read what you wrote" had I not picked up that people were visiting my site from yours and come over to see what was going on.

    I'm glad I did.

    I'm not out to convert you - or any other atheist. You've made up your mind. I'm much more interested in informing the curious, the agnostic and the person of faith who's contemplating atheism that the debate is not as closed as you would make it out to be.

    I don't know if you're holding to the extreme position regarding the status of the debate (that it's completely over and any contrarians are imbeciles) in the hope that you'll bring others in your direction. I could resonate with that as a form of rabbitic hyperbole.

    While you think you've been able to "rebut" the points I made - this is only true if you are right, and I am wrong.

    And you're right (in your comment on my post) - I do presuppose God that's the nature of theistic conviction (or faith).

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  16. Nathan, if you're going to inform people about atheism, you should take steps to ensure you're accurately representing our position, and you should also take some care to represent your own position clearly and without apparent contradiction.

    Additionally, if you want to establish that the atheism/theism conflict is still unsettled at a philosophical level, you might want to do more than merely allude to arguments, especially "arguments" (e.g. the fall of man excuse) that are entirely fallacious.

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  17. And yes, I do believe that apologetics and theology are entirely without rational merit. I don't believe its adherents are imbeciles, but I do believe they are all deeply deluded.

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  18. Sorry, I don't tend to follow up on comments. But my mention of counter point = rebuttal. Countering your (Nathan's) point(s) with a rebuttal. I figured that was obvious enough, though after all, I can be confused.

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  19. Don't worry, Ann: the meaning of your comment was clear. In addition to being a little Nazi fuck, Nathan is obviously a blithering idiot with an neurotic obsession with irrelevant detail.

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  20. Isn't it obvious what a counter-post is?

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  21. Steven: Yes, at least to people whose brain cells require exponential notation to count.

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