Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Stupid! It Burns! (sensus divinatus edition)

the stupid! it burns! Atheists Disprove God’s Existence Again!
The Lowdown: A Scientist managed to replicate religious experience with electromagnetic waves applied to different parts of the brain. He goes on to tell the world that this proves there is no God. It was an absolute pleasure watching the Reddit crowd blow up over this one, and to see my atheist friends to post it on their Facebook walls with such grave, epitaphic solemnities as “let mankind know knowledge instead of ignorance” and “science has done it at last!” (This time it’s for sure, apparently.)

It gives me the opportunity to clear up — for their sakes — a common misconception about the Christian religion, or perhaps just to assert an uncommon conception: The belief of a Christian hinges upon a Miracle — the Resurrection – and not upon miracles. This is important to realize, for there is an unspoken assumption made by these bored and boring scientists, that if the presence of God can be simulated, then religious experience is not miraculous, and thus God is not real.

Who is The Scientist? He tells us that he has proven the non-existence of God; what did he say? If you don't quote and cite, you might as well just hang a sign on your post in big flashing neon letters saying "STRAW MAN!"

Let me clear up a common misconception about atheism.

It is not part of the atheist project to disprove the existence of God.

There are several reasons disproving the existence of God is not part of the atheist project. First, "God" is equivocal; there are at worst as many conceptions of God as there are believers; at best the conceptions number in the thousands. "God" is kind of like cancer (in more ways than one): there can't be a (singular) cure for cancer, because "cancer" labels a family of very different diseases with very different causes. Likewise, evidence against one particular intervention of God does not act as evidence against any other supposed or imagined intervention. More importantly, too many conceptions of God are entirely unfalsifiable; it's impossible to falsify an unfalsifiable proposition: I can't even tell you with any confidence that God is not hiding behind my couch. There are perhaps some unsophisticated atheists who really do think God can be disproven (but they must be somewhat rare; I've never met one, and I know a lot of atheists), but the idea that atheists can or want to disprove God has been denied so often in both the academic and informal literature that to mention the idea shows either willful ignorance or outright lying.

The atheist project — or, more precisely, the Gnu Atheist project — is to eliminate the social privilege afforded to belief in God.

Sure, we'd like to get rid of religious belief; we'd like to get rid of all superstitions, delusions, and outright nonsense. But that's at best a long term task, and probably impossible. What is feasible in at least the medium term is to make religion private. One's belief or disbelief in God, and the details thereof, should be irrelevant to social, economic, and political life as is one's attitude towards bowling or golf. I should be no more or less of a member of society, an economic actor, and a citizen of the state regardless of what I do or do not believe about God, just as I should be no more or less a member of society, etc. whether or not I enjoy golf, or, if I do enjoy golf, whether I favor the use of a niblick or a mashie.

Fundamentally, the establishment of social, economic, and political privilege requires positive support; we should not require positive support for the elimination of social privilege. It is, for example, impossible to decisively disprove the assertion that white people are inherently superior to black people. We can, however, demonstrate that all the specific arguments so far made for the superiority of white people have so far failed. We are justified, and justified early on, to say, "When you actually can prove it, get back to us. Until then, no, you white folk cannot have any special privileges." Similarly with God: If believers want to introduce positive support for the truth of their beliefs, we can see whether and to what extent those truths justify social privilege. Until then, religion deserves to be only private.

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