Saturday, December 24, 2016

It's The Evidence, Stupid

Oh, brother.  Victor Reppert has done it again.  Yet another post that seems to expose a profound ignorance of the epistemological basis for rejecting belief in God.  This man is a PhD philosopher, for Christ's sake, and he apparently has no clue why a reasonable person should not be a believer.  Instead, he echoes the mindless religionism of Dr. Andy Bannister, who makes this ridiculous straw man:
You think that my denial of Sweden is an actual claim of some kind, that it's a belief. But it isn't. It's a non-belief. There's nothing I need to explain–rather, I'm talking about something I lack, namely a belief in Sweden, so I don't need to give any evidence for it.

I don't have to provide evidence for my non-belief in Atlantis, El Dorado, Shangri-La, or the Customer Support Department at American Airlines, and nor need I for my non-belief in Sweden. I'm not making a claim of any kind–in fact, just the opposite: I'm claiming nothing. I'm merely rejecting one your  beliefs, your belief in Sweden.

This bit of philosophical idiocy sounds like a reductio ad absurdum, based of the claim of many atheists that their atheism is merely a lack of belief that requires no defense, instead of a positive claim about what exists that must be defended by evidence.  If you extend the logic of these atheists to other things besides God, then they should similarly lack belief in all kinds of things.  As a matter of fact the same logic should equally apply to "Atlantis, El Dorado, Shangri-La, or the Customer Support Department at American Airlines", as well as Sweden.  Our own logic says that we could all be aswenenists, and this position requires no justification.  And so, this reductio supposedly illustrates how ridiculous it is for an atheist to make the claim that he merely lacks belief in God.

And that would be a reasonable argument, if there were no further context for our claiming this lack of belief in God.  But in order for the religionist to advance this reductio, he must willfully ignore the epistemological basis cited by atheists for their belief or lack of belief.  Why don't we atheists deny the existence of Sweden?  It's the evidence, stupid.  There is plenty of objective empirical evidence that is sufficient to convince any reasonable empiricist that Sweden actually exists.  This evidence is pervasive and easy to verify.  Why do we deny the existence of God?  It's the evidence, stupid.  There is a distinct lack of objective empirical evidence that would justify that belief.

Sure, I understand that religionists think there's plenty of evidence to support their belief.  But the key word is "objective".  Religionists have plenty of arguments.  What they don't have is objective empirical evidence.  For example, they argue that the world appears to be designed, so there must be a designer.  But that's not evidence.  It's an argument, and it's based on their opinion about what "appears to be" designed.  Atheists note that evolutionary processes produce things that appear to be designed, without the benefit of any designer.  And by the way, there's plenty of objective empirical evidence to support the theory of biological evolution. 

And so it goes, with one theistic argument after another.  It always comes down to the opinion of the religionist as the basis of his argument, versus the utter lack of objective empirical evidence that is the basis for the empiricist's lack of belief.  Why don't I believe in Atlantis?  Lack of evidence.  Why do I accept that Sweden exists?  No lack of evidence there.  Why don't I believe in God?  It's the evidence, stupid.  It has always been all about the evidence.  And in all three of these instances, the position of the empiricist is 100% consistent.

Perhaps this evidence isn't conclusive enough to convince the religionist, but a pile of empirical evidence for evolution without a designer, versus no empirical evidence for the God-as-designer theory is certainly reason enough for an empiricist to reject the designer theory.  It is for strictly epistemological reasons.  And because that lack of evidence provides the empiricist a strong philosophical basis for his own epistemological position, there is no reason for him to back away from defending that position, even if he doesn't care to make a positive assertion about the non-existence of God.

But what about the issue of simple lack of belief versus a positive claim that God doesn't exist?  Many (but not all) atheists reserve some space for evidence that may yet come to light.  I don't go round saying that some city called Atlantis absolutely didn't exist.  Why? because I don't know for sure if all the facts have come to light.  If you insist that Atlantis was real, I will still argue against you because the evidence (as it stands now) does not support that belief.  But lack of belief does not imply indifference.  Many of us can be quite passionate about our reasons for belief or lack thereof.

As as an educated philosopher, Victor should be well aware of the philosophical stance of atheists.  Epistemology is a branch of philosophy, and empiricism is a long-standing and well-respected form of epistemology.  There is a solid basis in philosophy for atheists' empiricist position.  And if Victor doesn't know this, he is ignorant of his own profession.  How can anyone make so much noise about Richard Dawkins' lack of philosophical sophistication, and at the same time, have such an unsophisticated understanding of atheistic philosophy?  I suspect Victor knows more about it than he lets on.

So what is he doing with this idiotic reductio?  Just throwing some red meat out for his cultists, I suppose.  And they lap it up with relish.
Sorry atheists, but once you reach the point where you spend all your time trying to refute god-belief, in particular Christianity, rather than simply being indifferent to religion, you have put on a uniform and have joined the game. You now have positions you hold and must defend. Good luck defending atheism! - Legion of Logic
I have absolutely no problem defending my empiricism and my lack of theistic belief.  As an empiricist, I don't believe what isn't justified by the evidence.  And belief in God isn't.


  1. What I don't understand is how they could possibly think that this is a sound argument? The only conjecture that I've come up with is their religious beliefs short-circuit their brains and prevent them from thinking clearly. While all of their arguments are unsound, a few are not inane. This one is really inane.

    1. I believe (as Daniel Dennett discusses in Breaking the spell) that being religious is like being in love. Empirical data confirms the idea that (even the most intelligent) people in love may lose objectivity and even the ability to think rationally about the object of their love. This is a topic I discussed here.