Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Theists Idea of Atheism

Atheism is a terrible threat to religion. Religion banks upon people’s fears and extends a false comfort to ease those fears. Atheists, while they may be just as afraid as anyone else, reject that false comfort. This rejection undermines the feeling of security that leads the theist to buy into religion in the first place.

If you take away someone’s security blanket, don’t expect them to thank you for it. Theists will often, in a confused way, try to make atheism something it’s not. I guess somehow that reduces the threat. I was watching a video on YouTube the other day called “The Inconvenient Truth about Atheism” that did just that. Let’s consider the video’s arguments shall we.

Point #1 - The absence of proof that something exists is not proof that it does not exist. It is by faith that an atheist believes God does not exist.

This is the old absence of evidence is not evidence of absence argument. I honestly don’t know what people mean by “proof.” One can only “prove” something in mathematics and formal deductive logic. Everywhere else it’s only “evidence” of varying strength.

The burden of proof is on the positive claim. In this particular case it is upon the theist to present compelling evidence for the existence of God not for the Atheist to present evidence for his (her? Its?) nonexistence.

Besides, atheism is not only based upon an absence of evidence, it is also based upon evidence of absence. The problem of evil provides compelling evidence, if not for the absence of all gods, then at least for the absence of the Christian definition of God.

While one cannot prove the negative that no gods exist, one can prove that a specific god does not exist. For instance, the Christian God is a logical contradiction. A being cannot be all powerful and all knowing yet be susceptible to the prayers of mortals. A deity cannot be perfectly just and perfectly loving yet create cancers that kill innocent little girls.

It is not by faith that an atheist rejects the existence of God. It is by a combination of the lack of evidence that he (she? It?) does exist combined with evidence that he (she? It?) does not. In other words, it’s an opinion based upon the evidence that exists as well as the evidence that does not exist.

Point #2 - In fervently seeking to convert anybody they can to their faith atheism is no different than every other existing religion.

By that definition every philosophy or opinion would be a religion. That is of course absurd. Like I said with respect to Point #1, atheism is not faith but an opinion. On many occasions I’ve tried to convince people of the accuracy of a particular opinion of mine. Does that automatically make it a religion?

We argue fiscal politics and economic systems ad nauseam. Does that render Capitalism and Socialism religions?

Besides, like I pointed out above, atheism is not based upon faith. Faith is by definition the acceptance of an assertion despite the lack of evidence to support it. Atheism is essentially the rational null hypothesis. It is the logical conclusion that one must assume something does not exist in the absence of evidence for its existence. When one adds to that actual evidence, such as the problem of evil, that supports the null hypothesis, the conclusion becomes even stronger.

In the absence of that rational assumption we would have to accept the existence of all manner of absurdities including purple unicorns, fairies, leprechauns and Santa Claus unless someone managed to “prove” they didn’t exist.

Point #3 - By declaring no higher authority the atheist declares each to be the lord of their own existence. To avoid being a hypocrite an atheist must defend the right of anyone to believe whatever they want.

Not really. The fallacy here is the assumption that there is one and only one source of morality and therefore only one possible “higher authority,” that which is known as “Divine Command Authority.” In the absence of a divine authority, it falls to men to decide what will be the basis of morality and define what they will accept as a “higher authority. “

If there are differing ideas about how to do that, I need not defend the right of everyone to believe whatever they want. I can try and enforce my opinion upon them and they can try to enforce theirs upon me.

The mutually agreed to "higher authority" could be as simple as the peaceful survival of the tribe, or as complicated as the glory of the empire. There is such a thing as “society” or “civilization” that most rationale men recognize as essential to their survival and evolution has established survival as the ultimate "higher authority."

We could get together and define a moral code based upon whatever ethical theory we’re comfortable with. The problem of course is in enforcing the decisions. That’s why men invented religion. It makes it a lot easier to enforce society’s rules if you convince the riff-raff they’re the will of the gods.

Consider ancient Egypt, ancient Babylon, ancient Greece and ancient Rome for instance. They established peaceful and flourishing societies without any knowledge of the Judeo-Christian God. One must either concede that Amen-Ra, Marduk and Zeus were equally valid manifestations of God or concede that a real god is not necessary for the establishment of laws and morality.

Point #4 - By declaring no higher authority the atheist declares that each person has the authority to decide what is right and wrong and cannot declare the belief of another to be wrong.

Why not? This is really the same error as the previous point. It assumes that a “higher authority” cannot be established in the absence of a deity and therefore no one is allowed to have an opinion about what is "good." This is absurd. Like I said, the simple peaceful survival of the tribe can be the “higher authority” that we agree is "good" and the majority can expell those that act in a manner deemed harmful to that survival.

What religion and theists tend to ignore is that evolution has built into us the basic need to co-operate. You know the old saying that goodness is its own reward? That’s because doing what is considered “right” makes you feel good.

The question becomes whether the definition of “right” is learned or instinctive. I suspect it’s a combination. Some things, such as protecting the young and helping the injured, are most likely instinctive while cooperating to bring down a wooly mammoth for dinner is most likely learned.

While Christianity teaches that men are fundamentally evil sinners, atheists realize that, except for the occasional sociopath, men are conditioned by natural selection to be "moral" and basic morality is instinctive. If it isn't, then how do chimpanzees, wolves and other social animals manage to survive?

Point #5 - If god does not exist then right and wrong become meaningless words.

Sigh. He’s beating the “only God can define right and wrong” to death isn’t he? Allow me to reference the Euthyphro Dilemma. Simply stated Plato’s dilemma asks the question “Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by God?”

If you go with the first option, “it’s commanded by God because it is moral,” then there must exist an independent measure of right and wrong to which even God must adhere. If you go with the second option then the concepts of “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “evil” become arbitrary based upon God’s whim. It therefore makes no non-tautological sense to call God “good.” The most you can say is that he (she? It?) is consistent.

Point #6 - You would not want to live in world with no god because it would be a no-holds barred fight to the death for temporary survival.

You mean it isn’t that way? What planet do you live on?

This is the old “argument from consequences” fallacy. The fact, or fear, that the consequences of something are unpleasant, doesn’t have any effect whatsoever upon whether it’s true or not.

The author claims to be an ex-atheist. Strange that he could have been something that he knows so little about.

I’m sorry, but it’s not that simple. One cannot assert the position that only God can define morality and then use that assertion to prove that morality cannot be established without God. That argument is so circular it should make even Christians, champions of the circular argument, dizzy.

The entire video is essentially an attempt to shift the burden of proof. Atheism is the null hypothesis. It’s the Theist that must present compelling evidence that God exists if they want to topple that hypothesis.

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