Sunday, March 6, 2016
When I was at the Atheism Analyzed blog discussing my previous post, one of the commenters there, named Phoenix, was chiding me for suggesting that creationists should read and learn about science, in lieu of spoon-feeding them a full college curriculum right there in the combox. I decided to check out his blog to see if he had anything of substance to say. He has mad two posts there. The first is about ten common atheist lies, and the second is about ten atheist quotes. Both of these posts were made in 2014. In both cases, Phoenix believes he has thoroughly debunked the atheists. The first one received a number of comments, but the second one has remained unchallenged all this time. So without further ado, here is my response to Phoenix on his post 10 Atheist Quotes Demolished .
1. Sam Harris: "There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable"
Phoenix: This quote is used in response to the connection between Communism and Atheism in a futile attempt to disjoin the two. In other words, Communists were not true Atheists because they were not reasonable enough. Besides the No true Scotsman logical fallacy at play, Harris is forgetting that Communism did not magically appear out of nowhere. It is a deliberate, purposive and systematic Atheist invention, and its ramifications proved without a doubt that Atheists can be as unreasonable as they can be brutal.
Discussion: Harris is not attempting to "disjoin" communism and atheism. He does not deny that communists are atheists, nor does he attempt to make the No True Scotsman fallacy. He is trying to identify the common ground among systems of belief that inspire atrocities. It is dogmatic belief that they have in common. Certainly, not all atheists are communists, and not all atheists are associated with those behaviors, except in the minds of those who would have us believe that there is an equivalence between communism and atheism. Neither Harris nor Phoenix would agree that adopting communism is equivalent to becoming reasonable.
2. Christopher Hitchens: "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence"
Phoenix: Also known as Hitchen's Razor. It is not one of the recognized principles of logic, it's only an Atheist principle which fails prima facie because it violates its own condition by failing to present evidence for its supposed truth yet demands evidence from others. Besides failing to meet its own criteria and being a paradox, Hitchen's Razor is also a tu quoque fallacy. "I don't need evidence because you also don't have evidence" is what Hitchen's Razor is protesting.
Discussion: This quote does not demand evidence, nor it is a tu quoque fallacy. It simply states that if there is no evidence for a claim, there is no reason to believe that claim. This is fully in keeping with the broadly accepted principle of skepticism expressed by Hume. It is regarded as a foundational principle of empiricism. As such, it does not involve any self-contradiction. Epistemic justification is reason to believe a claim, and without epistemic justification, the claim can be dismissed. The wording is cute, but it's not an issue of needing evidence to dismiss the claim. It's an issue of whether or not the claim is justified.
3. Patton Oswald: "...Look, you have to acknowledge everyone’s beliefs, and then you have to reserve the right to go: “That is fucking stupid..."
Phoenix: Not only has Oswald exposed his inability to use logic but also his poor grasp of the English language. To acknowledge someone's belief and then to disparage it, is a contradiction. Both cannot be true simultaneously. The dictionary defines acknowledgement as accepting something as valid. Yet this Atheist insults and rejects something he has already recognized as truth. Where is the logic in that?
Discussion: This objection hinges on the definition of 'acknowledge'. One definition is to recognize the truth or validity of something. If taken in that sense, Phoenix would be correct. But another definition is to recognize the existence of something. Obviously, this quote used the word in the latter sense. You can recognize that people have beliefs, but you don't have to accept that those beliefs are coherent.
4. Richard Dawkins: “There may be fairies at the bottom of the garden. ... you can't prove that there aren't any, so shouldn't we be agnostic with respect to fairies?”
Phoenix: There are a number of similar gambits on the web by other Atheists such as Russell's teapot, Sagan's dragon, Flying Spaghetti Monster, Bigfoot, etc. They all serve the same purpose and that is to make the theist's position seem as ridiculous as possible, and by contrast the Atheist's position will appear to be the more reasonable one. Instead of using rational argumentation, the Atheist resorts to Weak Analogies, False Comparisons and Straw Men to reach his objective.
Here's why Analogies and Comparisons are not substitutes for evidence and good reasoning:
(i) Analogies can only help to make one's point easier to understand, beyond that they hold no explanatory power nor evidence.
(ii)Comparisons are supposed to highlight the similarities between subjects. In the case of God and Russell's Teapot, it is only that both are not proven under laboratory conditions, beyond that they have no similarities. Comparisons and analogies are always false, some fail sooner than others. To insist that God (a non-physical being) must be proven to be physical using instrumentation that are meant for material purposes only, is committing a Category Error Fallacy
(iii) By using ridiculous analogies and comparisons, the Atheist is attempting to make the opposition's argument easier to attack and is therefore guilty of attacking a ^Straw Man, since there are more plausible arguments available to defend the belief in God.
Discussion: The point of this analogy is not to compare religion to something laughably ridiculous. It is to compare religion to something for which we don't have good reason to believe it's true, and we can't prove one way or the other. The spaghetti monster happens to be something ridiculous. The teapot is just an ordinary object. The point is, it really doesn't matter what kind of object it is - ridiculous or ordinary. If it's anything other than your God, you would be agnostic about it. Dawkins is saying that God belief should not be exempt from skepticism any more than any other thing would be.
5. Sam Harris: "Atheism is a religion just like not collecting stamps is a hobby"
Phoenix: Atheists are not without beliefs, in fact they are dogmatic about their fasle beliefs and erect monuments to commemorate them. They prosyletize, write anti-religious books, hold conferences across the globe and even hold award ceremonies. The same can't be said for non-stamp collecting. Are there any non-stamp collecting monuments, award ceremonies or summer camps? And do non-stamp collectors try to rid the world of stamp collecting? Like all analogies this one is false too and fails right at the get go.
Discussion: Phoenix commits the fallacy of Argumentum ad Exemplum here. Yes, some atheists do the things he describes, but none of those things are common to atheists in general. Atheists may or may not have certain beliefs such as humanism. They may or may not belong to interest organizations. They may or may not proselytize. The one thing that is common to all atheists is they don't have a belief in God. So the analogy to stamp collecting is actually quite good, because the one thing that all non-stamp collectors have in common is that they don't collect stamps.
6. Carl Sagan: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"
Phoenix: First of all, there's no scientific evidence nor principle of logic that supports this claim. So it is self-refuting. Secondly,the term "extraordinary" is subjective. What seems ordinary to one may seem extraordinary to the next. Lastly,this is also a tool for Atheists to freely raise the bar at anytime their standards have been met and state; "well that evidence was not extraordinary enough for me" or "I'm not convinced yet". So it is merely a shady tactic where the exact standard of evidence has not been stated
Discussion: Actually, this is just an extension of the principle Humean skepticism, discussed in quote #2, above. And it is fully supported by probability theory, so there's nothing self-refuting about it. Consider a person who claims that he can predict a coin toss. What evidence do you need to believe him? Toss a coin and see if he's correct. But what if he claims he can predict a thousand tosses in a row? This is an extraordinary claim because the probability of it is quite small. Would you be satisfied by watching a single coin toss? Would you be satisfied by ten? I wouldn't. The chances of predicting ten coin tosses in a row is one in 1024. That isn't improbable enough to convince me. If I saw him predict a hundred in a row, I might be convinced. The point is that the more improbable a claim is, the more evidence we need to believe it. The word 'extraordinary' is imprecise. There is no sharp dividing line between 'ordinary' and 'extraordinary'. That's a judgment call. I might be satisfied by seeing 100 tosses, and someone else might be satisfied after 50. But very few people would be convinced of the truth of the claim after seeing only one or two. And those who are convinced by that would be fools.
7. Delos B McKown: “The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.”
Phoenix: This quote is not very specific, the assertion is broad so I have little choice but to interpret it literally and I'm justified in doing so, since Atheists tend to interpret Theist terminologies literally.
According to the literal interpretation of this quote gravity, electromagnetic, weak and strong nuclear forces do not exist because they're invisible. Now the Atheist will object and say they're still detectable. Sure, but the quote should have specified that only both invisible and detectable forces are excluded. Let's go another step further. Then there are other invisible particles such as axions, squarks and photinos at the subatomic level which are neither detectable nor visible. As well as the "very special" type of Dark Matter, known as Cold Dark Matter, it's invisible, undetected, unknown and its prediction of hundreds of tiny satellite galaxies surrounding big galaxies are inaccurate. Yet physicists believe they exist because they have good reason to.
Likewise, people believe in God, soul, afterlife, etc. because they have very good personal reasons to believe them, despite being invisible and not physically demonstrable.
Discussion: Of course Phoenix is free to interpret these words any way he likes. But he's not really debunking anything unless he chooses to take the issue head-on. So what is McKown really saying? It is the naturalist's position that the world looks exactly as we would expect if there were no god. There is no phenomenon we observe that can't in principle be explained by natural means. Furthermore, there are many observable phenomena that appear to be inconsistent with the idea of an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent perpetrator. So if God does exist and he keeps himself hidden from us, we don't see anything that is obviously different from what we would expect to see if that God didn't exist at all. The world looks just the same, either way.
8. Gustaf Lindborg: "The sailor does not pray for wind, he learns to sail."
Phoenix: There are a number of variations implying the same thing - Theists waste their time praying instead of performing action. It's of course based on a caricture of prayer, which Atheists deliberately misconstrue.
To an Atheist prayer is a substitute for action. To the Theist, prayer is aligning one's thoughts and will with the Highest Good. Prayer and meditation is helpful for distinguishing moral action from impulsive action.
Atheists would have us believe that prayer incapacitates people, when in fact it motivates and inspires right moral action that may otherwise have been action based on mere instinct or emotion.
Discussion: This is a pragmatic statement, not a caricature. The sailor understands that prayer is not what gets his ship to its destination. Sailing does that, and there is no substitute for it. Without sailing the ship, it won't get there. It's that simple. He can pray if he wants, and this statement doesn't denigrate that, but he still has to sail the ship.
9. Ernest Hemingway: "All thinking men are atheists"
Phoenix: (All P's are Q's) It's a categorical assertion and the first premise of an Universal Syllogism or Predicate Instantiation, of which the second premise and conclusion are missing. The presupposition is ; No Theists are thinking men. Hemingway asserts that all members of subset P are members of set Q, but failed to demonstrate that with a complete deductive argument, so it is both invalid and unsound.
In Math and Logic, to disprove a universal statement it's enough to find one counter example. One particular case contradicting the statement falsifies it. So here's about twenty counter examples of thinking Theists:
[list of Christian scientists and mathematicians]
Discussion: Phoenix is overreacting. Obviously, if taken as a statement of fact, this quote fails. But it was not intended as such. It was a rhetorical statement made by a fictional character in the novel A Farewell to Arms. In the story, a group of military men was trying to antagonize a young priest. One of them made that statement to the priest, and succeeded in getting him flustered. Evidently, it worked on Phoenix, too. But despite the fact that it is not literally true, it provides food for thought. It is true that many have converted to atheism as a result of deliberate analysis of their faith.
10. Victor Stenger: "Science flies men to the moon, religion flies men into buildings.”
Phoenix: Stenger's lumping of all religions on equal footing is dishonest, false and an attempt to smear other religions with the crimes perpetrated by muslims. Islam's conjunction with terrorism is endemic only to that particular religion. No other Theist group in the history of aviation has ever flown an aircraft into a building as an act of religious extremism, except muslims. The Apollo 11 crew of 1969 that saw the first men on the moon consisted of three believers in God (two Christian Theists and one Deist). Buzz Aldrin performed a communion prayer from the New Testament with his crew prior to stepping out of the lunar module. Yet the intention to use the spacecraft as a weapon of mass destruction never crossed any of the astronauts minds. The same applies to the inventors of the first successful airplane. The Wright Brothers were sons of a Bishop and were nominal Protestants themselves, often involved in religious activities but were never inspired to fly their inventions into buildings.
Discussion: Phoenix has yet again missed the point. It isn't about whether Christians can make scientific achievements. Of course they can. It isn't a question of whether one religion is worse than another. Christians have committed their share of atrocities, too. The point is that it is not by means of religion, but by science, that we make those great achievements. And it is not for the sake of scientism, but for religion (as well as other ideologies) that people commit those atrocities.