Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Unreasonable Doubt & Illogical Apologetics

Once again we wade into the muck that apologists produce. 

This began with Steve and I reading this article and realizing that we are atheists because our fathers never loved us. Then, after a good cry, we decided to subject these arguments to our combined scrutiny (and ridicule). The original is fully reproduced below (in white), but as always the link is available. LH arguments are color coded:

The reasons for unbelief are more complex than many atheists let on.
by Jim Spiegel

The recent publication of Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow's The Grand Design has reignited debate over God's existence. The ironically titled book proposes that the cosmos was spontaneously generated "from nothing," with no God (or gods) required to make sense of existence. Never mind the question-begging: How can nothing produce something, let alone hundreds of billions of galaxies? Many atheists celebrate this bestseller as further grounds for dismissing religious belief.

Steve: “How can nothing produce something...?” How can a nonexistent god produce the universe?

In all seriousness I am not a physicist (neither are you) so I am not going to speak out of turn here. However, your question and criticism is mired in a lack of self-awareness. Did nothing produce god? And you don’t get to say god is eternal and has always existed because that is still possible for the universe. The Big Bang may have been the rebirth of the universe from a previous universe. There is no longer evidence of this earlier universe due to Planck time. Honestly, we don’t know. This is where theists say “AHA!” and insert their huge throbbing god into that gap. It’s hubris, disingenuous and intellectually lazy. Also gross.

Adam: I have addressed this before, Stephen Hawking does in fact say that something came from nothing but only at the end of a lengthy description of how a few natural laws (specifically gravity) lead inevitably to the creation of this expanding matter-soup that we call the universe. The only worthwhile question that this begs is : Where did the laws come from? We don’t know, yet, and we may never be certain. That’s what scientists do. They get excited by the prospect of not knowing something. If you insist on inserting a god into this gap, and say that He created the laws of physics, then I ask you: Why create laws that allow for explanations of a universe without his existence? To put it another way: If you are a god who is beyond time and space, then what would be the purpose of creating natural laws that you had to break to get anything done? Why not, for example invent a universe with magic so that skepticism really is close-mindedness?

Most atheists would have us think they arrived at their view through cool, rational inquiry. But are other factors involved? Consider the candid remarks of contemporary philosopher Thomas Nagel: "I want atheism to be true …. It isn't just that I don't believe in God, and, naturally, hope that I'm right about my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that." Could Nagel's attitude—albeit in a more subtle form—actually be common among atheists?

Adam: I can only speak for myself here. The transition from theist to atheist was difficult because like most theists, I completely ignored the aspects of the bible that I did not agree with. I had the cognitive dissonance to overlook the moral atrocities commanded and committed by God throughout the bible. I thought all of that nasty business was quoted out of context or mistranslated. My god was loving and all forgiving, and he didn’t care if you ate shellfish. The same went for all of the glaring contradictions in scripture. When I began to study Psychology and Philosophy it became clear that fear is the most formidable enemy humanity has ever had. Most people will believe anything to avoid feeling alone in the world, let alone the universe. Humans will develop thought distortions to alleviate anxiety. The need for pattern recognition and assigned causality is primal. Once I was free from belief (that is really what it feels like) I was able to see just how far humanity needs to twist something to keep it from being nothing.

Steve: I do not know Nagel’s work so I cannot refute the quote you excerpted. I do wonder what the context of that statement is. Regardless, I know if it were me that had said that, the context of the statement (which would be a philosophical one) would be this:

I do not want there to be a god because then I would be a slave. I would be a slave to this god and his imperfect and immoral precepts that I must follow. I would be a slave to this god’s creation and not a part of it where I can study the mysteries of the universe and ask new questions. I would be a slave to the god’s followers, their religions and dogmas that dictate the way in which I am to live including not being free to think for myself. I would be a slave to everything that is clearly not perfect. And, ultimately, there would be no escape. It is not some punishment after death that offends me. It is the punishment of a life with god.

Again, I have no idea if this is what Nagel means, but I just made the distinction of Nagel vs. myself irrelevant. I, as an open atheist, admit to the same hope and have a clear reason as to why I would make the statement: “I do not want there to be a god.”

Christian apologists have responded to the New Atheists' arguments—which are often nothing more than a rehashing of traditional objections—with rational arguments of their own. However, they have not talked much about non-rational causes of unbelief. We humans are not only reasoning beings. We also have emotions, desires, and free wills, and these influence our beliefs. As important as it is to remind atheists of the rational evidence for God, the real problem in many cases is moral and psychological in nature.

Steve: New Atheist arguments are “...nothing more than a rehashing of traditional objections...” That is not a valid criticism. First, there is plenty of new, additional scientific evidence to remove the requisite of a god to explain natural processes and phenomena. Second, even if it were the “same old argument” nothing has been said to counter atheist arguments in order to prove the existence of your deity refuting the original “old argument.” None. I am sure you do not mean to employ the fallacy of argumentum ad lapidum. That would be intellectually dishonest.

Also, in regard to Christian apologists: “As important as it is to remind atheists of the rational evidence for God, the real problem in many cases is moral and psychological in nature.”

1) What evidence? “Evidence” is defined as the following:
evidence (noun)
1. that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof.
2. something that makes plain or clear; an indication or sign
3. Law . data presented to a court or jury in proof of the facts in issue and which may include the testimony of witnesses,records, documents, or objects.

If theists had actual evidence there would simply be no argument. Contrary to the author’s opinion that since some atheists state that they would wish there was no god these same atheists would deny evidence for such if it were to actually be produced. The reason atheists do not believe god is separate from the philosophical point of not wanting a god to exist. We do not believe because there is no evidence; there is no reason to believe. As I stated I don’t want god to exists either. I also don’t want AIDS to exist, but I don’t ignore it’s existence simply because I wish it to be untrue. Ignoring established facts based on evidence is a peculiar charge to make against an atheist from a theist apologist.

2) Again, there is no evidence to suggest atheists are any less moral or psychologically stable than theists. This is fallacy. Actually, it is a lie.

Adam: If the evidence for God were so overwhelming, there would not be a worldwide, centuries old campaign for belief. There would be no debate between reason and faith. People would not celebrate their rejection of education and intellectual curiosity. Also, there would be no need for missionaries or Evangelical Christians.

Such a suggestion is potentially offensive to unbelievers. But we still need to ask if it is nonetheless true. According to Scripture, the evidence for God is overwhelming. The apostle Paul says that "God has made it plain" that he exists; his "invisible qualities … have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19-20). And the psalmist writes, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands" (19:1). This naturally prompts the question: If the evidence for God is so abundant, then why are there atheists?

Steve: “According to Scripture, the evidence for God is overwhelming.”

*pinches bridge of nose*

Look, you can’t base your evidence for your religion on your religious texts. It is circular logic and a classic Appeal to Authority. The problem is that it just isn’t going to work. The Bible is not the authority you claim it is. And you know this. There are parts that you choose not to follow. There are parts that would be immoral to follow. And there are parts that are flat out wrong as has been proven by science and historical study. In the words of Ron Babcock: “I don’t wanna be a stickler for the rules, but you can’t base the closing of your children’s story on another children’s story.”

Adam: OK so I can recognize that the bible is actually a collection of texts compiled into one “anthology” of sorts. This does not change the fact that it is still one book (source) that accounts for your “overwhelming” evidence. The stories in the bible all basically stem from one region of the world over a relatively small period of time (in the Bronze Age!!). The actual overwhelming evidence, of empirical study is based on the totality of human experience and observation. Each new scientific discovery about the nature of the universe further closes the gaps where the Abrahamic God lives. At least until new chapters of the bible are ”discovered.”

Paul provides at least part of the answer in the same Romans passage, noting that some people "suppress the truth by their wickedness" (1:18). We all suffer from intellectual blind spots created by personal vices and immoral desires. To the extent that we succumb to these, we may be tempted to adopt perspectives that enable us to rationalize perverse behavior.

Steve: Being an atheist is a perverse behavior. Got it.

Adam: Exactly which immoral desires are we talking about? The desires that are repressed by society and culture (like rape and murder)? Or the desires to exhibit behavior that is forbidden by scripture but not considered to be immoral outside of strict religious communities? The desire to live and sleep with a person that you are not married to, for example does not lead one inexorably to atheism. The prisons are full of believers who could not contain their impulse to exhibit immoral (and illegal) behavior. A shocking truth: The prisons are not full of atheists.

In this regard, scholars are no different from anyone else. The 20th-century ethics philosopher Mortimer Adler (who was baptized quietly at age 81) confessed to rejecting religious commitment for most of his life because it "would require a radical change in my way of life, a basic alteration in the direction of my day-to-day choices as well as in the ultimate objectives to be sought or hoped for …. The simple truth of the matter is that I did not wish to live up to being a genuinely religious person."

Steve: There it is! The equivalent to the “deathbed conversion.” This has no bearing on anything.

Adam: This sounds like every atheist who converts to theism. Essentially saying that, “Once I chose to believe what I was told about this particular god, I began to believe what I was told about nonbelievers.”

Historian Paul Johnson's fascinating if disturbing book Intellectuals exposed this pattern in the lives of some of the most celebrated thinkers in the modern period, including Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Hemingway, Russell, and Sartre. In their private (and often public) lives, these Western intellectual stars were moral wrecks. Could their rejection of God—and, in particular, Christianity, with its exacting moral standards—have been entirely intellectual and dispassionate? Or might the same desires confessed by Nagel and Adler have played a role in their atheism?

Steve:Because theists can’t be moral wrecks? I won’t list the litany here, because that would constitute me knowingly committing a logical fallacy and intellectual dishonesty. As you just did.

Adam: Actually what I think he’s saying here is that: of all the moral wrecks in the world, many of the intellectuals were atheists.

Steve: ZING!
"I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy." -Tom Waits

As children of the Enlightenment, we tend to heavily emphasize the impact of belief on behavior. But it also works the other way around. Our conduct affects the way we think. On the positive side, as Scripture's wisdom literature tells us, obedience and humility lead to insight and understanding. Negatively, as we indulge in immoral behavior, our judgment will be skewed. Or, as Paul notes, disobedience hardens the heart, which in turn yields futile thinking, darkened understanding, and ignorance (Eph. 4:18-19). In other words, sin has cognitive consequences.

Steve: Theists are “children of the Enlightenment.” Funny.

Notre Dame philosopher Alvin Plantinga has developed this idea in some depth. He notes that, like everything else about us, our belief-forming faculties were designed to work a certain way. And given the appropriate conditions, we tend to form true beliefs about the things we perceive or reason about. But some things can impede cognitive function, and sin is one of these. The more we disobey and give ourselves over to vice, the less reliable our belief formation will be, particularly regarding moral and spiritual matters.

Steve: There is Plantinga again. Apologists simply make up random things to justify belief. It must be a core philosophy of theology.

Adam: First of all: Our “belief-forming faculties are not "designed to do anything”. It is true that we “form true beliefs about things we perceive or reason about”. Sin as an abstract concept (not an invisible mark on our eternal soul) cannot impede our cognition.This is theistic code language for poor cognitive psychology. The belief in sin coupled with the fear, shame and guilt associated with that term can greatly effect our thought processes. How reliable is our “belief formation” if we believe that the laws of nature are routinely broken at the behest of our telepathic request?

Borrowing from some of the great Christian theologians, such as Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, Plantinga proposes that all humans have a sensus divinitatis, an innate sense of the divine. This natural awareness of God prompts us to reflect on him as we experience various facets of life. But the sensus divinitatis, says Plantinga, can be "damaged and corrupted by sin," even to the point that a person denies God altogether. According to this model, atheists suffer from a kind of cognitive malfunction or disease.

Steve: Sensus divinitatis? Wow. Honestly I wrote that sentence about them making shit up before I read that last paragraph.

Family Matters
External factors may also hamper the natural awareness of God and contribute to a descent into atheism. In his book Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, New York University psychologist Paul Vitz, a onetime atheist, examines the lives of the major atheists of the modern period, including Hobbes, Hume, Voltaire, Feuerbach, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, Russell, and Freud. He found they had something in common: a broken relationship with their father. Whether by death, departure, abuse, or some other factor, the father relationships of all these well-known atheists were defective. Vitz also examined the lives of prominent theists during the same period (Pascal, Reid, Burke, Berkeley, Paley, Wilberforce, Kierkegaard, Schleiermacher, Newman, Chesterton, and Bonhoeffer, among others). In every case, he found a good relationship with the father or at least a strong father figure.

Steve: A “descent” into atheism. How dramatic! Why I can almost taste the sulfur! Mmm..."tastes like burning.”*

Adam: This book also mentions Ayn Rand who had a good relationship with her father and admired his affinity for reason and empirical evidence. The author claims that she is an exception to the rule and dismisses her as following in his atheistic footsteps.
The amount of atheists are vastly exceeded by the amount of bad fathers in the world. Also, how would one account for China?

Life is too complex to make a hard and fast rule about such things. But at the least, it shows that there are moral and psychological dimensions to atheism, ones we cannot ignore. At most, it strongly suggests that atheists can be self-deceived, driven by a motivated bias to disbelieve in God. Richard Dawkins has famously declared that theists are delusional. But if Adler, Plantinga, and the apostle Paul are right, then Dawkins has it exactly backwards.

Steve: “Life is too complex to make a hard and fast rule about such things.” But you can suggest it just the same!

Adam: There are indeed “moral and psychological dimensions to atheism” which is exactly the reason it cannot be minimized to the desire to not follow rules or to be a good person. If that were the only criteria, there would be more atheists and the New Atheists would have identified themselves differently to account for their morality and rational philosophy.

As a Christian apologist, I am often asked what the implications are for the task of defending the faith to atheists. My answer is that one must proceed on a case-by-case basis. I engage with many atheists to whom Jesus' admonition not to cast pearls before swine clearly applies. But I know others who seem interested in genuine dialogue, even if they are dogmatic in their disbelief. For such folks, I am always willing to engage in a conversation about rational evidence.

Steve: Swine? Don’t make me break out the pig anus picture!

Sometimes atheists convert as a result of reviewing the good reasons for faith. The late Antony Flew, a leading atheist scholar for half a century, came to belief in God because of evidence he considered incontrovertible. And some famous Christian apologists, from Lee Strobel to C. S. Lewis, were former atheists. One never knows how the Spirit may move in a person's life, sometimes to illumine a mind once darkened by a hardened heart, and perhaps even to prompt faith in a person who genuinely hopes there is no God.

Steve: Ugh. The insidious convert list. The list goes both ways. I am not going to refute anything here or make a new list of theists who are now atheists. Why? It is not a valid argument towards the issue of whether or not god exists. It has no bearing on the matter whatsoever. The tactic incorporates a litany of logically false arguments.

Adam: This reminds me of the list of doctors who reject evolution that was touted by creationists until they were outnumbered by the list of doctors named Steve who accept it. Is that a false dichotomy? I don't care.

Jim Spiegel is a philosophy professor at Taylor University and author of The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief (Moody).

While researching Spiegel I discovered his rebuttal to the criticism that the above article sparked. We won’t bother going through the whole thing in the manner we just completed. It’s not really worth it. We do have some comments that we included below since his second post is somewhat superficial and repetitive.

Adam: A quick note on Ad Hominem: Spiegal says:
The ad hominem fallacy is committed when one insists upon the rejection of a position because of some fact (or alleged fact) about the person who holds that view. I do not argue that we should reject atheism because of any facts about atheists.

From the article he is defending:

Whether by death, departure, abuse, or some other factor, the father relationships of all these well-known atheists were defective. Vitz also examined the lives of prominent theists during the same period (...List of cherry picked theists...Pascal, Reid, Burke, Berkeley, Paley, Wilberforce, Kierkegaard, Schleiermacher, Newman, Chesterton, and Bonhoeffer, among others). In every case, he found a good relationship with the father or at least a strong father figure.

Stating that the individual [who holds the position that you are arguing against] has a “defective” relationship with his primary caregiver, a latent desire to be immoral, and an irrational and emotional reason for denying the truth about reality...is Ad Hominem.

Steve: The morality/psychological argument is clearly false and I do not care that they level it at me. I am not offended by this man claiming that my denial of a god for which there is no evidence and belief is best manifested through faith..is wicked. My actions and sanity are not the issue. They wish it were because they believe we are wicked and immoral beasts. They would be disappointed (and once again proven wrong) if they met me.

The only other comment I wish to make on in his rebuttal is the circular argument charge. I stated above that I believe it is circular to state: “According to Scripture, the evidence for God is overwhelming.” He then cites Romans 1:19-20 and Psalms 19:1 as evidence for God.

Speigel, in his rebuttal post ends with the following:

So, then, in building my account of atheism on the Bible am I guilty of arguing in a circle? No, because I am not appealing to Scripture to build an argument against the truth of atheism (or in favor of theism). I would never cite any biblical passage as an argument for God, as this would indeed be blatantly circular. But, assuming that God exists and that the Bible is divinely inspired, it seems appropriate to consider what, if anything, Scripture says about the causes of atheism. This is all I do in my book. Offensive to some it may be, but it’s an important truth that needs to be heard.

He uses the following passages:

Romans 1:19-20 (NIV 2011) “...since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Psalms 19:1 (NIV 2011) “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

So he is citing these verses not to argue for God and not to argue against atheism, but to make a point that if you assume God exists and the Bible is the Word of God then it seems prudent to see what the Bible says about atheism. Clearly contained within this statement is the very thing he says he not doing. Folks, this is circular logic and intellectual dishonesty.


paul said...

First, I want to offer my condolences for the terrible upbringings you both must have had...

Now, let me throw in the most logical argument for the "disconnect" from fathers leading to atheism. In fact, Adam started making reference to it with regards to Ayn Rand. "The author...dismisses her as following in his atheistic footsteps." EXACTLY!

People who grow up in theist households tend to grow up theist. Their beliefs are driven into their (our) heads early, and even more so if there is a greater bond with our primary caregiver. Now, take away that bond ("broken relationship with their father") and what do you have? Someone who is able to split from what they have been told and make informed decisions on things based on what they can see and feel (i.e. "facts").

Logical fallacies are a fantastic tool for the misinformed.

BEDEMIR: Quiet, quiet. Quiet! There are ways of telling whether
she is a witch.
CROWD: Are there? What are they?
BEDEMIR: Tell me, what do you do with witches?
VILLAGER #2: Burn!
CROWD: Burn, burn them up!
BEDEMIR: And what do you burn apart from witches?
VILLAGER #1: More witches!
VILLAGER #2: Wood!
BEDEMIR: So, why do witches burn?
VILLAGER #3: B--... 'cause they're made of wood...?
CROWD: Oh yeah, yeah...
BEDEMIR: So, how do we tell whether she is made of wood?
VILLAGER #1: Build a bridge out of her.
BEDEMIR: Aah, but can you not also build bridges out of stone?
VILLAGER #2: Oh, yeah.
BEDEMIR: Does wood sink in water?
VILLAGER #1: No, no.
VILLAGER #2: It floats! It floats!
VILLAGER #1: Throw her into the pond!
CROWD: The pond!
BEDEMIR: What also floats in water?
VILLAGER #1: Bread!
VILLAGER #2: Apples!
VILLAGER #3: Very small rocks!
VILLAGER #1: Cider!
VILLAGER #2: Great gravy!
VILLAGER #1: Cherries!
VILLAGER #3: Churches -- churches!
VILLAGER #2: Lead -- lead!
ARTHUR: A duck.
CROWD: Oooh.
BEDEMIR: Exactly! So, logically...,
VILLAGER #1: If... she.. weighs the same as a duck, she's made of wood.
BEDEMIR: And therefore--?
VILLAGER #1: A witch!

*gratuitous Monty Python quote