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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Even an atheist knows better

Vox Day: "Even an atheist knows better"

Here is April, the Hyacinth Girl's, take: Pathetic

16 comments:

Crude said...

While I think Hitchens is correct on this question, I can't help but think both of them are missing another important, looming question. Namely, even if Christianity is incorrect, is theism or deism still more fitting to what we know than atheism?

I sometimes get the feeling that many atheists feel atheism is proven or made the most reasonable option if it's the case that the world is older than 6000 years. And even as a Catholic, I think Christians someday have to (re)admit something that lately seems forgotten: Even if one imagines Christianity to be incorrect, that still does not get one to atheism. In fact, theism or deism of some variety still seems vastly more plausible than atheism. Intellectually, it is the position with the least going for it.

Ilíon said...

Yes, that's part of the point of the argument summarized here, and which builds upon the "First Question" argument.

Crude said...

It's a very important argument, or class of arguments. And even many fellow Christians and other religious theists seem unaware of it, or possibly even see it as threatening.

AWA said...

Possibly because deism is, as far as I can tell, a redressed form of agnosticism - given a positive spin, of course. "We know that there's a higher being - but we don't know, nor can know with reasonable certainty, just who or what that is. ... Oh look, a golden calf. Let's worship."

Granted, that's a simplified hyperbolic form of the argument. But if folks have readily dug on prostrating themselves in front of a shiny metallic bovine - even when God was handing down mitzvot on Sinai, right in front of them, with thunder and lightning...

Well, humans aren't exactly known for letting evidence get the better of them when they want the divine to suit their own image.

I think the greatest danger isn't so much atheism or agnosticism per se - since no one really lives down to or adheres consistently with those two belief systems (as Ilion's pointed out). Rather, it's the dearth or vacuum that those pervading philosophies leave in their wake, so that people will believe virtually anything once it presents itself as a fantastic alternative to "conventional non-belief". Whether it be ancient astronauts or golden calves, so long as it stokes a sense of awe and wonder - and religious rapture - in the individual...

Which... well, is probably what the antichrist is going to rely upon when the time comes.

Ilíon said...

Crude: "It's a very important argument, or class of arguments. And even many fellow Christians and other religious theists seem unaware of it, or possibly even see it as threatening."

If it is possible (and it is) to discover and know via reason the answer to the question, rather than merely to assert either "Yes" or "No" (which is not an actual, you know, answer), or to assert that "It's impossible to answer the question" (which is merely an evasion of the question), then, theoretically, we could discover that "Yes" is the false answer. One can see how "theists" might wish to avoid testing the issue ... much as 'atheists' will tend to wish to avoid it.

But -- and as Paul pointed out -- if Christ is not raised from the dead, then our faith and hope is in vain. Likewise, if there is no God, then there is no point to Christianity, or any other "theism."

Fortunately, there is a God, and we can know it, not merely wish it to be so.

Ilíon said...

AWA: "Well, humans aren't exactly known for letting evidence get the better of them when they want the divine to suit their own image."

Or, more mundanely, humans aren't exactly known for letting reason get in the way when they want to think magically.

Crude said...

AWA,

Possibly because deism is, as far as I can tell, a redressed form of agnosticism - given a positive spin, of course.

See, I'd actually disagree - I think the problem is the opposite. Precisely because deism leaves all but one question unanswered (is there a God(s)/a Creator(s)/etc), it presents one hell of dilemma to all sides.

For the atheist, the problem is obvious. If some form of theism or deism is demonstrable by reason, or even is vastly more likely or reasonable given what we know, atheism is incorrect. Period. One given theist or another may be correct or incorrect about the attributes, etc, of God, but the atheist ends up fundamentally wrong in the deepest way.

But the theist has a different problem, because proving the existence of God - or even demonstrating the superior reasonableness of theism or deism - doesn't get you to Christianity. Aquinas admits that, William Lane Craig admits that, etc. Paraphrasing Ed Feser, it puts hinduism, islam, christianity, judaism, neo-platonism, aristotileanism, etc all in the running. So while the Christian may be comforted that various arguments demonstrate God or make God or theism the vastly more reasonable option, their work isn't over. In fact, as long as they argue in favor of that broad theism/deism, they're carrying water for every compatible religious belief out there - and not many seem interested in doing that.

I do agree, though, that atheism is a red herring. I think the number of real atheists out there, even among the self-proclaimed, is exceptionally few. I really suspect most would be either closet deists, or - as you said - subscribers to "non-traditional belief" when fully and finally pressed.

AWA said...

Interesting points, true that.

Atheism and agnosticism can be shown to be fundamentally flawed, and this should be like shooting monkeys in a barrel if it weren't for the almost megalithic stature that that belief has enjoyed in the Darwinian post-modern West.

The "supreme being" argument just never seems to stop the determined skeptic from then going on specific tangents of "Oh yeah... well, why would God do thus-and-so? What about this inconsistency? What about A, B, C, and the kitchen sink? etc"

But I guess that would show the closet deism the atheist would have, as you said - for his invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by that which is made, so that they are without excuse. If they start arguing to the degree of picking apart specifics, they've pretty much well and done given up the larger, basic tenant of atheism, which is a plus.

I guess I'm seeing the glass-half-empty aspect: They still have "TO THE UNKNOWN GOD" as an escape route, much like at Areopagus. Which, again, seems to me like a positive form of agnosticism - something that even Intelligent Design falls into ultimately: They point to at most a creator, not the Creator.

But I guess even Christian denominations, when watery enough, can fall into the foggy trap of agnostic thought - the recent post here on the Hitchens/Unitarian debacle pretty much examples that in action.


Although Ilion's quoting of Paul made me realize: Paul sets up Christianity to be tested by something akin to the falsifiability criterion in science. Or at the least, for Christianity to be logically bound by, well, logic: If A is true, then B logically follows; law of middle exclusion to specific propositions, etc.

You can always spot honesty when they readily lay their most important cards down on the table to be tested.

Ilíon said...

Crude: "But the theist has a different problem, because proving the existence of God - or even demonstrating the superior reasonableness of theism or deism - doesn't get you to Christianity. Aquinas admits that, William Lane Craig admits that, etc. ..."

It's true, reason alone cannot get us all the way to Christianity (*); in the end we still have to submit to the rational belief that the Good God can communicate with his creation, and then choose to trust that he has communicated to us.

(*) Though, reason can rule out all sorts of things which are at a gross level inconsistent with Christianity; non-exhaustively: atheism (Western-style materialistic atheism), Buddhism (Eastern-style "immaterialistic" atheism), classical paganism, Mormonism, possibly Islam.


Crude: "... In fact, as long as they argue in favor of that broad theism/deism, they're carrying water for every compatible religious belief out there - and not many seem interested in doing that."

It would be a step forward were the self-identifying atheists to take the argument seriously. But, I never expected that to happen; and the experience of trying to discuss it with the pretend atheists (and agnostics!) one encounters on the internet would have disabused me of the expectation had I had it.

Nevertheless, even most self-identifying Christians buy into the falsehood that "You can neither prove nor disprove that God exists." So, even though this argument does not (and cannot) get us to Christianity, it does have great validity in that it explodes that pernicious myth and demonstrated that Christianity is (and contrary to another popular myth of modern-day culture) reasonable.

And, after all, once we know (and stop denying that we do infact know) that there is a God, and once we've discovered what reason can tell us about this God, we can begin to compare the claims of different religions to what we know, which ought to enable us to weed out those which do not comport with what we know via reason.

Christianity will fare well, for it is true (Christianity does not claim the be *all* the truth, but merely claims to be true in what it claims). And, if Christianity is not true, after all, then it's pointless ... just as Christianity has always maintained.

Ilíon said...

AWA: "Possibly because deism is, as far as I can tell, a redressed form of agnosticism - given a positive spin, of course."

Crude: "See, I'd actually disagree - I think the problem is the opposite. Precisely because deism leaves all but one question unanswered (is there a God(s)/a Creator(s)/etc), it presents one hell of dilemma to all sides."

I think Deism ought better be understood as an early manifestation of agnosticism, in that both are based on a studied refusal even to ask the important questions, much less answer them. It seems to me that the prime difference is that Deism says, "Well, sure, there is a Creator-God ... but we can't, in principle, know anything *else* about it," whereas agnosticism says, "In principle, all that we can ever know about any supposed/proposed Creator-God is that we can't know anything at all about it (including whether it exists) ... so we might as well not even ask the question."


I'm showing that we *can* know that there exists a Creator-God ... ergo, both agnosticism and atheism are false. And, once we know that first fact, we ought to be able to ask other questions and learn other answers about this God.


AWA: "Although Ilion's quoting of Paul made me realize: Paul sets up Christianity to be tested by something akin to the falsifiability criterion in science. Or at the least, for Christianity to be logically bound by, well, logic: ..."

Indeed. And for that reason I never in my life bought into the myth that "You can neither prove nor disprove that God exists." That I didn't know until a couple of years ago how to go about proving or disproving (it came to me in a flash, I wasn't even consciously thinking about the question) is a different matter.

Crude said...

AWA

I guess I'm seeing the glass-half-empty aspect: They still have "TO THE UNKNOWN GOD" as an escape route, much like at Areopagus. Which, again, seems to me like a positive form of agnosticism - something that even Intelligent Design falls into ultimately: They point to at most a creator, not the Creator.

That discourse on the "unknown God" happens to be one of my favorite biblical moments of all time, I admit.

Maybe I'm optimistic here. I happen to think that once the "unknown God" is realized as a powerful possibility or a certainty (depending on which arguments are used), the game is over for atheism and dire for everyone else. If we are creations, then knowing about our c/Creator becomes something damn important, and potentially all-encompassing. Which is why I always roll my eyes whenever outspoken atheists cede deism's reasonableness right away (Coyne has done this, I believe Larry Krauss has, etc) and then hope to never speak of it again. And then I sigh when Christian after Christian lets them do exactly that.

Ilion,

I think Deism is a murkier area than that. I mean, look at the founding father "deists". Their God was one who endowed His creations with inalienable rights. He was a God one could swear oaths by. I think if Deists were limited to the claim that God's attributes, etc, could not be known in principle, the number of Deists throughout history would be minor. Most known/popular Deists wouldn't make the cut, I don't think.

But I do agree that Deism, certainly the Deism you outline, is closer to agnosticism. On the other hand, I think the agnosticism you outline is miles away from atheism - intellectually, maybe practically.

And I agree, in the end, with "the argument". Materialism is a dead end. We think, we reason, and the cost of that is God - some God or other. Reason and faith (and perhaps some kindly granted grace) pushes me to the God of Christianity. But even if that were wrong, God exists. Atheism is just not a live option. Not for me, and not for anyone, I think, who really reflects on what a true materialism must entail.

Ilíon said...

Crude: "I think Deism is a murkier area than that. I mean, look at the founding father "deists". Their God was one who endowed His creations with inalienable rights. He was a God one could swear oaths by. I think if Deists were limited to the claim that God's attributes, etc, could not be known in principle, the number of Deists throughout history would be minor. Most known/popular Deists wouldn't make the cut, I don't think."

Well sure. But what I was describing is what Deism amounts to in practice, not what the theory of it is (*). Also, I suspect that only Jefferson was really a Deist -- it was common in that time to speak of God elliptically, to refer to the Christian God by all sorts of terms other than the word ‘God;’ even though ‘God’ is not God’s name, it is used in English as his name, and so to avoid profaning God's name (even though the word is not his name), many really devout Christians and Jews often end up tending to avoid using the word, even when trying to talk about him. (The routine capitalization of the personal pronoun when referring to the persons of the Godhead, which practice is really silly, came later.)


(*) Deism in theory: "The belief, based solely on reason, in a God who created the universe and then abandoned it, assuming no control over life, exerting no influence on natural phenomena, and giving no supernatural revelation."

Is it reasonable to assume (because it certainly isn't a conclusion) that the Creator either cannot or will not communicate with us, his creation, whom he intentionally created? Is it really reasonable to assume/conclude (it seems to me a bit of both, in a slightly question-begging manner) that the Creator will intentionally create a world, populate it with persons ... and then abandon it?

So, in practice, what does this theory get us? It gets us Thomas Jefferson hacking up the Bible to lop off all the "supernatural" nasty bits.


Crude: "But I do agree that Deism, certainly the Deism you outline, is closer to agnosticism. On the other hand, I think the agnosticism you outline is miles away from atheism - intellectually, maybe practically."

Agnosticism was invented for the express purpose of allowing "respectible" members of late Victorian society to be 'atheists' without the cultural baggage of the term; to be 'atheists' without calling themselves atheists. It was invented for the express purpose of relegating the question of God's existence to the pile marked "Mildly Interesting Intellectual Exercise, But Unimportant, Really." It was invented to "win" the argument by declaring the argument non-existent, by declaring that it's not possible in principle even to have the argument.

And, these days, the persons who do not shy to call themselves atheists tend to try to blur what little distinction there is between self-identifying as an atheist or as an agnostic.


Crude: "And I agree, in the end, with "the argument"."

I don't know what to call it. It's not the Argument From Reason; though it has strong similarities (and I am positive that CS Lewis' thought influenced my realization), it states/argues more. It's most certainly *not* the Transcendental Argument for God ... though I think it does show that the presuppositionalists are correct in their presuppositions.

Perhaps it might be called something like the "Ego Argument for God" -- the bumper sticker version of it is "You are the proof that there is a God;" that there exist selves in the world is proof that that there exists a self who exists "before" the world.

Crude said...

Ilion,

Is it reasonable to assume (because it certainly isn't a conclusion) that the Creator either cannot or will not communicate with us, his creation, whom he intentionally created? Is it really reasonable to assume/conclude (it seems to me a bit of both, in a slightly question-begging manner) that the Creator will intentionally create a world, populate it with persons ... and then abandon it?

Agreed again, which is why I refer to the immediate giving-up of "deism" by certain "atheists" to be suicidal for their views. But it's also a point which doesn't go pressed as it properly should be, most of the time.

As I said, the moment even that limited deism/theism is on the table, the whole game changes. The questions you just asked become live and important. Direly important, really.

And, these days, the persons who do not shy to call themselves atheists tend to try to blur what little distinction there is between self-identifying as an atheist or as an agnostic.

Most atheists in my view and experience could care less about the broader question of God, much less about the actual arguments, reasonableness, etc. Those things only have utility insofar as they have a socio-political effect, period. Take a look at how many "atheists" have their beliefs intimately tied up with their political views.

Another good illustrating point is related to what you mention. That squirmy hypocrisy where even the populist atheist leaders (Dawkins, etc) insist they are not making any positive arguments. Why, they're not saying they believe God doesn't exist! No, no. They have a lack of belief, nothing more. Why, if they had a belief, they'd have to defend it. And skeptics hate defending. Especially when they'd probably lose.

Though you'd think some atheists would notice that the absolute terror of making a positive argument for God's non-existence would be a tip-off that maybe their position isn't the one of big-r Reason. In fact, maybe it's something else. Maybe gravely deficient.

Perhaps it might be called something like the "Ego Argument for God" -- the bumper sticker version of it is "You are the proof that there is a God;" that there exist selves in the world is proof that that there exists a self who exists "before" the world.

Of course, I've run into "atheists" who insist selves don't exist. I've also run into some who insist that something can come from nothing. And they say theists believe in magic.

I think one problem with the argument (Not problem for it's reasonableness, or conclusion, but it's rhetorical effectiveness) is that it relies on a critique of materialism. And frankly, as someone who I recall often hangs out at Vic Reppert's blog has no doubt seen, few atheists will stand pat on materialism. Hell, Vic himself just put up a post about how often those categories are "fudged" - and I've seen it happen. Repeatedly.

One of the major eye openers for me in this respect was The Last Superstition. Not just the general arguments presented, but the fact that Ed talks about how modern "naturalists" many times unknowingly embrace a view of matter that should be completely unavailable to them due to their commitments. His claims seem to be that the prime reason what they say about minds sounds reasonable is because they're violating that categorization, or (intentionally or not) blowing smoke about what materialism must entail.

Ilíon said...

Crude: "... which is why I refer to the immediate giving-up of "deism" by certain "atheists" to be suicidal for their views. But it's also a point which doesn't go pressed as it properly should be, most of the time.

As I said, the moment even that limited deism/theism is on the table, the whole game changes ...
"

True. One of the foundational "arguments" of atheism for the past two or three centuries is their assertion that belief in the reality of God is unreasonable, and indeed, is absurd. (I put "argument" in quotes because a bare assertion is not an argument.) Now, even though this assertion is not a conclusion, much less an argument, Christians have tended to be cowed by the mere assertion or perhaps by the apparent confidence with which it is asserted.

So, for an 'atheist' to admit that mere Deism is reasonable so to give up an important (though unearned) arrow in his quiver.

As I've mentioned, while I'd like 'atheists' to be convinced of the irrationality of atheism by my argument, I don't expect it to happen except very rarely -- few 'atheists' adopt atheism for rational reasons, therefore few will be argued out of it by reasonable arguments. So, as consolation prize, I'm willing to let 'atheists' retreat even further into irrationality; I just want to make it as public as possible.

Also, as I've mentioned, (and which may be more important) the argument is one that most self-identified Christians would do well to grasp, so that they can understand, and understand *why* it is the case, that, and contrary to one of the main lessons of the public indoctrination centers, Christianity is neither irrational nor unreasonable.


Ilion: "And, these days, the persons who do not shy to call themselves atheists tend to try to blur what little distinction there is between self-identifying as an atheist or as an agnostic."

Crude: "Another good illustrating point is related to what you mention. That squirmy hypocrisy where even the populist atheist leaders (Dawkins, etc) insist they are not making any positive arguments. Why, they're not saying they believe God doesn't exist! No, no. They have a lack of belief, nothing more. Why, if they had a belief, they'd have to defend it. And skeptics hate defending. Especially when they'd probably lose."

That's exactly what I had in mind.

Ilíon said...

Ilion: "... that there exist selves in the world is proof that that there exists a self who exists "before" the world."

Crude: "Of course, I've run into "atheists" who insist selves don't exist. I've also run into some who insist that something can come from nothing. And they say theists believe in magic."

One of the things we learn as we explore the logical implications of atheism by way of the "First Question" is that any logically consistent atheism entails that minds/selves do not, for they cannot, exist. Yet, here we are.

To say that there exist no selves is an absurdity; for the entities hearing the assertion know that they themselves are selves, and they reasonably conclude that the entity making the assertion is a self and knows itself to be a self. We are selves, we are persons ... and know it; all the rational knowledge we can ever acquire is built around (think of a pearl) the intuitive knowledge that we are selves-who-exist.

And, this absurdity that there exist no selves isn't simply in the ad hoc assertions or this or that 'atheist,' but is rather inherent in atheism itself. Ergo, atheism itself is absurd, with is to say, false; which is to say, there is a God, and we can know -- for we have just reasoned ot the knowledge -- that there is a God.


Crude: "I think one problem with the argument (Not problem for it's reasonableness, or conclusion, but it's rhetorical effectiveness) is that it relies on a critique of materialism. And frankly, as someone who I recall often hangs out at Vic Reppert's blog has no doubt seen, few atheists will stand pat on materialism. Hell, Vic himself just put up a post about how often those categories are "fudged" - and I've seen it happen. Repeatedly."

If we assert (for how can we conclude it?) that there is a physical/material world which is real and which exists "outside" and independently of our own minds -- with which assertion both 'atheists' and Christians agree -- and if we assert that there is no God, the we have asserted materialism.

I don't see it as a problem at few 'atheists' will stand pat (on anything).

As I keep saying, since few 'atheists' arrive at atheism via reason, few can be expected to leave it via reason. So, from my point of view, and because 'atheists' like to trumpet that they *own* reason, and because so many non-atheists are cowed by the assertion, I see it as positive thing to keep ligically forcing 'atheists' to retreat further and further into irrationalism.

When it comes to atheism, there is no there there. One of the purposes of "the argument" is to help anyone willing to see that truth to see it.

Ilíon said...

Crude: "... And frankly, as someone who I recall often hangs out at Vic Reppert's blog has no doubt seen ..."

I don't mean to badmouth Mr Reppert ... but I had enough of his "liberal" ... hmmm ... self-blindness. Sure, I could have given all sorts of examples, from his own blog, of him conflating leftism for Christianity. But (and contrary to assertions of certain "nice" persons there) I do not enjoy "smackdowns" (and I don't enjoy calling attention to intellectual dishonesty) ... and so, I kept putting off even starting to gather examples. After a time, I realized that I just didn't care; I'd lost all interest in Mr Reppert.