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A fellow blogger and I discuss atheism…sort of February 18, 2009

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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I sent a response to this blog post I commented the following:[edit note: I had to include my entire response here because he did not allow the comment to be shown on his blog. This is indicative taht he wants his blog to appear as unchallenged truth, rather than what it really is]

Your argument is lacking for one very important reason; your atheist is a straw-man.

The definition of atheism, the only definition that includes all atheists, is the lack of belief in any gods. True, some atheists also believe taht there is no god, and these positions are distinct and conflating them is a fallacy. There is a subtle but epistemologically crucial difference between lacking belief in something (say, the evidence for its existence is insufficient) and believing something does not exist (say, the thing is impossible by definition, that is to say logically impossible).

As an atheist, I am not saying that god does not exist. I’m saying, qua atheism, that I am not convinced. Said another way, when I hear (again, qua atheism) someone claim that a god does exist, I simply do not believe them. This straw-man of the atheist making an absolute claim is simply not true. And when one does make this claim, they are an atheist in addition to this claim, not as a result of it. That is, the absolute claim implies the lack of belief, but the lack of belief does not imply the belief of the lack (of gods).

Similarly, it is not true that atheists do not believe in authority. But stemming from the philosophical traditions of people such as Locke, many atheists (again, not all, as there will be some that do not agree with the forthcoming line of thought) believe that authority is derived from a shared set of laws that we agree to live under.

Some atheists argue for a biological, psychological, or evolutionary basis for concepts such as authority, making them nearly universal. Some may even accept some transcendent form of authority, something built into the nature of reality. The bottom line is that atheists can believe all sorts of things about authority, because the concept of authority is not derived from the concept of gods or disbelief in them. There simply is no necessary relationship between a deity and authority.

These myths that you are perpetuating here are frustrating to myself, as well as many other atheists I know. You cannot lump an opinion or set of beliefs on a group identified by the lack of one type of belief; that simply makes no rational sense.

I am an atheist because I see no reason to accept the proposition that any god exists. Until some evidence or reason is given that is sufficient for me to accept that the existence of a god is the most likely conclusion, I will, by necessity, be an atheist.

…Yada-yada, the entire reply should appear as a comment to the blog (assuming he allows the comment to be shown).

His response was typical to many apologist tactics; he replied to a straw-man version of an atheist, rather to what I said, and perpetuated further the myths that apologists tell. His full reply, via email, is here:

Thank you for your courtesy and civility. I genuinely appreciate your response. But I do believe you are still missing the point. We are all bound to presuppositions from which we cannot escape. The same evidence which is laid before me is before you, but you have simply chosen to reach a different conclusion. You are not convinced because you do not want to be convinced. If you wanted to be convinced, the evidence before you is sufficient to do the job. Enter your presupposition. You are building your entire world on a belief which you cannot absolutely substantiate. Sure it sounds nice and neat and tidy, but you have major holes in your logic. However, it is enough for me to rest my case on revelation, and to acknowledge my presuppositions, because they do not work against my conclusions. I am submitting to an absolute authority by acknowledging that I cannot escape circular reasoning–I admit I am not completely objective. I am bound by my finitude to fallacy and subjectivity, but again, this is no problem for me. These would be problems for you, though, since you are claiming to be entirely objective, and to remain unconviced because of insufficient evidence. But it is your reasoning, not the evidence, which is insufficient. You simply submit to another authority, which is your presupposition that there is no God. You say “There is no god” and behold, you are convinced there is no god. You have all the proof you need, but I believe it is your desire to reject God’s existence (and consequently, authority) which creates your suspicion. It is not born out of pure intellectual objectivity, but out of passionate, volitional subjectivity.

My response, via email, is the following:

Again, I have made no presupposition. Secondly, to claim that we have the same set of evidence seems to imply that you know what I know, and I doubt you do. I did not choose the conclusion I made, I was simply not convinced of a certain proposition because I didn’t see what was offered as evidence sufficient to stand up against scrutiny. Thus, I didn’t choose to make a different conclusion (and even if this were valid, what would prevent me from simply observing that the same is true for you?).

You say I’m not convinced because I do not want to be convinced. I find this response obnoxious, arrogant, and assuming. You don’t know anything about my background, personality, etc. Is it possible that you simply want to believe that anyone who does not share your conclusion must be hiding behind some insecurity, fear, or desire to be free from some responsibility of some god? Why else would you place the blanket assumption upon all non-believers with this reason other than to mask your own potential bias? Is it possible that I genuinely would want to know if a god existed but simply do not find the so-called evidence convincing?

I have no presupposition in this matter. I am not claiming anything absolutely, so you cannot level the argument against me that I am “building [my] entire world on a belief which [I] cannot absolutely substantiate” because I am not trying to do this at all. Your response to me is entirely straw-man and disingenuous. Yo have not responded to me but rather a caricature of an atheist you have built up in your mind.

You say you rest your case on revelation. Which revelation, and of what? The revelation of one of the various Islamic theologies? Perhaps it is of Jewish origin? Maybe Zoroastrian? The problem with revelation is that there are so many kinds, and they cannot all be true.

Yes, you are being subjective, and so am I. I never claimed objectivity (I actually think objectivity is impossible. So now you do have an absolute claim of mine that I will have to back up, if yo desire me to do so.) so your criticism in this regard is also a straw-man. And your claim that my reasoning is insufficient, rather than the evidence, wthout even asking what my reasoning is! This explodes with the implication that you are responding not to me (again) but to some model of what an atheist must think, which stems from your inability to comprehend that someone might think, genuinely, that the data is insufficient for belief in such a being as a god.

You said:

You simply submit to another authority, which is your presupposition that there is no God. You say “There is no god” and behold, you are convinced there is no god.

Again, this is not my presupposition. But I must remind you that it is you that makes the proposition that a god exists. The burden of proof always is with the person making the claim. You make the claim that god exists, that the evidence is sufficient, etc, so you hold the burden of proof to show why this is the case. I claim that the evidence is insufficient for me to believe, and I would be happy to explain why this is the case. But rather than asking my reasons, you assume them and attack those assumptions. Bad form.

I must admit that my assumption here, and it is an educated guess as I run into this all the time, is that you are projecting the weakness of your argument onto me. I have no desire to reject god. In fact, if a god exists I would like to know very much because the truth matters a lot to me. God, if it is worthy of the title, would know precisely how to convince me, and has not done so.

So, I invite yo to present the evidence that compels you. If it is evidence I have not considered, I would be glad to hear it.

Thanks for your response.

I’m curious how others see this discussion.

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Comments»

1. dangeroustalk - February 18, 2009

Let’s try this again:

2. shaunphilly - February 19, 2009

His further reply once again insisted that I am saying “You have said God does not exist without having searched every possible corner of the universe….” when I never claimed that god does not exist. Since he is unable to listen to my position without projecting some straw-man argument on top of what I say, there is no longer room for conversation.

Typical.

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