Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Dishonesty of Atheists

Those darned atheists.  One of them says one thing, and another says something somewhat different from that.  There is no consistency, and more importantly, no honesty among them.  Or so thinks militant religionist Mikey at Shadow To Light.  In one of his customary tirades against atheists, Mikey has outdone himself with another showpiece of incoherent, mindless raging against the atheist beasts.  Why would I call it mindless?  Because it is difficult to discern exactly why he is so outraged, and why his complaints shouldn't apply equally to religionists, or all of humanity, for that matter.

Mikey is quite concerned that most atheists claim that evidence doesn't warrant belief in God, but some are more positive in their statements about God's existence.  He cites Peter Boghossian:
The overwhelming majority of atheists don’t claim there is no god. They just claim there is not sufficient evidence to warrant belief in God. - Boghossian
and contrasts that with the statement of professor of philosophy Louise Antony (from an earlier post of his):
Because the question has been settled to my satisfaction. I say “there is no God” with the same confidence I say “there are no ghosts” or “there is no magic.” The main issue is supernaturalism — I deny that there are beings or phenomena outside the scope of natural law. - Antony
Mikey insists this is a rigged game - that evidence is just a matter of opinion, and that atheists have set themselves up as the arbiters in a "Kangaroo court" of what constitutes evidence.  Atheists are supposedly dishonest because they don't admit this "truth".

At this point, I don't quite get what his complaint is.  First of all, all beliefs, no matter whether they are atheistic or theistic, or beliefs related to any topic whatsoever, are matters of opinion.  If you want absolute certainty, you are out of luck, because in a philosophical sense, we can't be certain of anything at all.  So an atheist can have a belief that there is no God, and a theist can have a belief that there is, and both positions are a matter of opinion.  I doubt any thinking person would dispute that.  So what is Mikey's beef?  He thinks that atheists don't admit this?  Maybe he's just not listening. 

Secondly, I see no conflict between the two statements cited.  If one sees little or no evidence to warrant belief in God, then belief is not warranted.  That lack of belief can be expressed with varying degrees of certainty, ranging from middle-of-the-road agnosticism, to flat-out denial that God exists.  In Antony's case, note that she expresses a high degree of certainty based on the evidence: "the question has been settled to my satisfaction."  She is not making a statement of absolute truth, but rather that she is satisfied.  Antony sees no reason to believe in anything supernatural because all the available evidence (observable facts) shows things that are natural, not supernatural.  There is no observable fact of any supernatural thing (a ghost or a fairy or a god).  In other words, the evidence does not warrant belief in supernatural things.  So there is no real inconsistency between her statement and Boghossian's.

But that brings us to the real problem at the heart of Mikey's outrage.  He wants to re-define "evidence" in a manner that would support his superstitious beliefs.
While many mistakenly think evidence is equivalent to objective reality, it is not. Data, detected by our senses, represent objective reality. Once the data are sensed, they can then be transformed into evidence by the mind. - Mikey
Wrong.  This is a topic I have addressed before.  Oxford Dictionaries defines evidence as "The available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid."  Evidence is objective, observable facts (or data, as Mikey calls it).  The reasoning process that follows is not evidence.  Reasoning can be faulty, but the evidence is independent of that - it is objective.  However, people construct arguments based on the evidence they see to support their beliefs.  So when  religionists say they have evidence for God, what they really mean is that they have arguments for belief in God.  The religionist sees a red sunset, and reasons "only God could create such a thing of beauty", and this reasoning is what he calls "evidence".  But it is just an argument, not evidence.  And it's dishonest, because there is nothing subjective about the evidence (the fact of a red sunset).  It is only faulty reasoning (because red sunsets might actually caused by particles in the air that scatter light differentially by wavelength, and not by an act of God) that forms the argument he calls "evidence for God".

So having conflated evidence and argument, Mikey goes on to castigate Boghossian for basing belief on having evidence “sufficient to warrant belief.”
And just who gets to speak for the entire human race in telling us all what is and is not “sufficient?” - Mikey
Take a chill pill, Mikey.  He is describing the epistemological basis of empiricism, and not trying to dictate what you and everyone else should believe.  Honestly, I can't fathom why this should be so upsetting.  As a matter of fact, Boghossian acknowledges the uncertainty of belief by citing Dawkins' scale of belief.  Atheists' placement of themselves somewhere along this scale is an endorsement of the idea that their belief is a matter of opinion.  So then why should Mikey be upset at the supposed dishonesty of atheists for not admitting the uncertainty of their position?  By speaking of this scale of belief, how much more obvious can it be that belief is a matter of opinion?  Clearly, atheists do admit it.  Mikey is just ranting incoherently.  But that's no surprise, is it?  He is the epitome of the unthinking robo-militant religionist.

But the most striking thing about this post is that Mikey doesn't seem to be aware that all his complaints are just as applicable to religionists as they are to atheists.  How many religionists are honest enough to admit that their religious beliefs are a matter of opinion?  Some do, but many don't (and I think Mikey is one of those - I've never seen him express a word of doubt in his own position).  How many religionists insist that the evidence does justify their belief?  Presumably, most of them do.  Does that mean they "speak for the entire human race in telling us all what is and is not “sufficient?”"  Shouldn't atheists be just as outraged at them as Mikey is at atheists?  What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.  And how many religionists would express a near certainty in their belief, akin to Antony's statement of disbelief, as in "God exists"?  Oh the horror.  Religionists are no better than the atheists they complain so much about.  When will Mikey ever be honest enough to admit it?  Not any time soon, I suspect.

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