Saturday, August 23, 2008

Critiques of Atheism

1. You can’t prove atheism.

Atheists are frequently accosted with this accusation, suggesting that in order for non-belief to be reasonable, they must have presented deductively certain grounds. Many atheists within the deductive atheology tradition have done so, but those arguments are frequently ignored. But more importantly, the critic has invoked a standard of justification that almost none of our beliefs meet. If we demand that beliefs are not justified unless we have deductive proof, then all of us will have to throw out the vast majority of things we currently believe—oxygen exists, the Earth orbits the Sun, viruses cause disease, the 2008 summer Olympics were in China, and so on. The believer has invoked one set of abnormally stringent standards for the atheist while helping themselves to countless beliefs that cannot satisfy those standards.

2. The evidence clearly supports believing.

Of all the objections considered here, this one has the most traction and is most to the point. If in fact there is sufficient evidence to indicate that God exists, then a reasonable person should believe it. Surprisingly, very few people pursue this line as a criticism of atheism. But recently, modern versions of the design and cosmological arguments have been presented by believers that require serious consideration. Many atheists cite a range of reasons why they do not believe that these arguments are successful. If an atheist has reflected carefully on the best evidence presented for God’s existence and finds that evidence insufficient, then it’s implausible to fault them for irrationality, epistemic irresponsibility, or for being obviously mistaken.

3. You should have faith.

Appeals to faith also should not be construed as having prescriptive force the way appeals to evidence or arguments do. The general view is that when a person grasps that an argument is sound, that imposes an epistemic obligation of sorts on her to accept the conclusion. One person’s faith that God exists does not have this sort of inter-subjective implication. Failing to believe what is clearly supported by the evidence is ordinarily irrational. Failure to have faith that some claim is true is not similarly culpable. At the very least, having faith, where that means believing despite a lack of evidence or despite contrary evidence is highly suspect. Having faith is the questionable practice, not failing to have it.

4. Atheism is bleak, nihilistic, amoral, dehumanizing, or depressing.

These accusations have been dealt with countless times. But let’s suppose that they are correct. Would they be reasons to reject the truth of atheism? They might be unpleasant affects, but having negative emotions about a claim doesn’t provide us with any evidence that it is false. Imagine upon hearing news about the Americans dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki someone steadfastly refused to believe it because it was bleak, nihilistic, amoral, dehumanizing, or depressing. Suppose we refused to believe that there is an AIDS epidemic that is killing hundreds of thousands of people in Africa on the same grounds.

For the most part, the criticisms of atheism that I have encountered fall into one of these categories. Are there others that are interesting or provide us with something more substantial to consider?


Reginald Selkirk said...

Atheism is bleak, nihilistic, amoral, dehumanizing, or depressing.

Not to mention, atheism will result in you spending an eternity suffering in Hell.

Anonymous said...

I think @4 is true. atheist seem angry like they momma pulled them on the tit too early.

Samuel Skinner said...

You do realize that most afterlifes have worse punishments for people who worship differant Gods than those who refuse to worship?
Your taking a big risk reg!

As for anon, the reason atheists sound pissed is we have to deal with things like this:

What can I say? Death and insanity lend themselves to anger.

Anonymous said...

Satan is an atheist too

ChrisAC said...

Yikes, I can only hope these comments (excluding you, Samuel) are satirical, particularly the borderline incoherent ones which mangle English.

Anyhow, your four points seem rather inclusive and of course the only one that seems even moderately reasonable would be regards to evidence of a particular religion. However, it's woefully inadequate, so that leaves no real option.

Matt McCormick said...

Satan's not an atheist. He knows better than anyone that God exists having seen him frequently face to face, or whatever. He's just not willing to play ball.

Interesting. We don't have a word for someone who acknowledges that God exists, but who refuses to adopt the appropriate attitude of worship, admiration, and obedience. Anton Lavey, the Church of Satan guy, probably shouldn't be labeled an atheist for the same reasons. For the rest of us, to believe is to also take a positive attitude about God, not give him the finger like these guys. They're anti-theists perhaps.


Anonymous said...

Sorry MM but Mr. Levy spends a major portion of his book convincing us that belief in god is nonsense. then that fox man argues that the dark Satantic rituals are for fun. Satan is an atheist because he doesn't believe in god just as you folks don't. you cant say a being exist and yet reject most of that beings properties.

Matt McCormick said...

There's an ambiguity here in the word "believe," at least in the case of Satan. There's believe in, like I believe in my basketball team and fervently believe they will win the championships even though they are losing. And there is believe as in "I believe that there are three feet in a yard," and I believe that there is a tree in my front yard. Clearly, since he has a long discussion with God in Job, Satan must at least acknowledge that there is some being, typically referred to as "God," who he is talking to. But that's not the same as the first sense. That's all I meant.

You're jogging my memory about Lavey's autobiography. That's right. Great book.


Anonymous said...

yes sir I see your point. but I am not convinced you can base it on a story in the bible. I dont believe god would allow such a pious man to be at the prey of Satan to win a bet. such a story seems to be of the hand of man.

also isn't it odd that an atheist can discredit God or other gods by proving they don't have some trait? wouldnt the devil be doing the same in denying gods attributes of goodness, truth and the like? it seems either the atheist is wrong about disproving god through traits or satan really is an atheist. maybe I am confused?

After I got the gist of satans rotten work I ripped it twain, and than again, thrice more again, I did it twain

how ironic is it that the devil would use a has been carnie to get his message across

Reginald Selkirk said...

I must say, you seem to have left off the most frequent (although not the most sophisticated) critique of atheism: Atheists are rude, therefore atheism is false.

Anonymous said...

yes Mr. you are rude and therefore you are false

Matt McCormick said...

But seriously, you all must have encountered some better criticisms than these out there. There are countless ones that are too silly to mention. But if we are being as charitable as we can, there must be some objections that have something interesting to them?


Matt McCormick said...

Well, they are all pretty flimsy here:


Samuel Skinner said...

Um... most mainline Satanists are technically hedonists who adopted the label because they like screwing with Christians heads.

As for Satan being an atheist, he isn't- he is a nondenominational Christian (doesn't know the details of God's plan obviously). However, God is an atheist- after all, he can porve that there is no more powerful being, that there is nothing in the universe that occurs outside what he interacts with and all the other silly hurdles that theist put up.

So Christian theology holds that in the end a Christian will be destroyed by an atheist bringing about utopia. Irony never tasted so sweet.

Anonymous said...

not too bright mr. skinner. you just said god is god and also an atheist. thats the mother of all blunders.

R.C. said...

My argument would be that the Bible(the Christian woldview)is the precondition of intelligibility.

bonez001 said...

The rudeness of an atheist is unnecessary because atheism alone is viewed to be rude. See! Atheist are the good rebels of the Government of thoughts that is run by a super tyrant!

bonez001 said...

lets start the new war


rc said...

I invide you all to to get discussion going on the atheism portion of this messageboard.

separatethread said...

Love your page but I must say, based on the comments, there are a lot of imbeciles reading it.
Reginald Selkirk says you are going to hell. Smart! Good comeback!
Samuel Skinner invokes Pascal's Wager, yet again! Never get enough of that useless nugget!
Anonymous says "Satan is an Atheist." What? Where did that intellectual cabbage learn to type?
ChrisAC is my favorite when he accuses you of mangling English. Does that give him license to do it(the "regards to evidence" part). Did you proofread that before you hit "Publish"? Can you read?
Here's how you spot a stupid theist. Their mouth will move.

separatethread said...

Amendment: It would seem I misconstrued Samuel Skinner's remark. Clearly he was refuting Selkirk's use of Pascal. Skinner, keep up the good work!

Deloceano said...

I'm having a little difficulty in trying to work out why we are bothering to debate whether Satan is an atheist.

Isn't that a little like arguing that Bugs Bunny doesn't believe in Elmer Fudd? They are both characters dreamt up by the same group of story tellers.

And Reginald, your argument that atheists are rude and therefore wrong - I have to hope for your sake that you are just having a little joke using satire on the topic of non-sequiters.

The fact that Atheists appear abrupt when having these discussions at times is that we are confronted with mindless drivel presented as though it deserved serious attention.

I disagree that we are in general rude, but even if it were the case, it makes the atheist position no less rational. Manners are not a precondition for truth. There's a great webpage which actually does satirise this kind of illogic. It is called Hundred's of Proofs of God's Existence, and it can be found here:

My favourite is the argument from meta smugness. Makes me giggle. (Atheists don't giggle, do we? we must be far to austere and nihlistic for that!)

I might add that the rudest comments on this discussion are by those who have come onto an atheist discussion board telling those of us who are just talking amongst ourselves that we are wrong.