The Atheism Plus/FTB Problem

pootargetIntroduction

Atheismplus continues to be a problem for the atheist community (such as it is). It’s easy to pour scorn, there are many opportunities to do so, but serious problems deserve a more serious response as well. Given past experience with A+ and their ‘sort’ in other arenas (games and fiction) is is incredibly hard to keep my temper when discussing this subject – but I’ll try. Given that we’re often told one can be both emotional and rational at the same time by the Plussers that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Splitters!

New Atheism was a godsend (ha, ha). Open, loud, take-no-bullshit it united and created a whole new generation of vocal atheists and was led by some great minds with some real skill. Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens gave us a profile and vocal, intellectual presence we hadn’t really had since Sagan. We lost Hitchens but the rest continue to do good work (yes, even Dawkins). New Atheism united us and aggressively took on the status quo, not least of all with mockery and derision. While this may not directly win any deconverts it does have a positive effect, despite being ‘mean’, in that it pops the bubble of respect that religion – with its ridiculous ideas – commands.

What’s the problem: To be an atheist, even a new atheist, all you have to do is not believe in god and, perhaps, to believe in separation of church and state. To be an Atheism+ person you must be an atheist, a feminist (for a rather narrow and specific definition of feminism), must adhere to particular views, language and modes of expression when it comes to sexuality, gender and many social issues. It narrows it down and down and down to a particular orthodoxy many of the ideas of which aren’t particularly scientific. Many of these ideas might be accepted within ‘gender studies’ etc but they’re not well supported. Fail to sign up to any of this and you’re out of the club.

 Confusing & Parochial

Any specialist area of study, including large parts of atheism and skepticism, develop specialist language that can get confusing. Acronyms, arguments etc can be impossible for outsiders to understand without explanation. Most people aren’t going to know (without googling) what terms like ‘interpolation’ or ‘burden of proof’ mean. The scientific meaning of theory is very specific and not the same as the colloquial meaning. If we start tossing around terms like ‘argumentum ad hominem’ when the apologists set in we may have to explain ourselves, not that the apologist is likely to believe us even when we do. Just look how often we have to explain what evolution actually means or that no, we didn’t come from modern monkeys. This stuff is hard and we take the time to teach others about it – and quite right too.

What’s the problem: The ‘plus’ part of A+ is, pretty much, made up of a rather parochial, insular subculture centred around an extreme form of ‘liberalism’ (in the American sense) that seems to meet the worst stereotypes of the equally loony extreme conservatives. The language of gender studies groups and ‘social justice’ (I use scare quotes because I don’t think it qualifies) is very specialised and just like a lot of atheist/skeptic/philosophy terms isn’t known to outsiders. Unlike atheism Vs theism where we explain and link at length there seems to be a steadfast and absolute refusal to explain the specialist terminology, ideas and principles found in the ideas that they adhere to. It’s ‘not their job to educate’ and any requirement for clarification or explanation – or any objection – is likely to get you a singularly unhelpful link to ‘derailing for dummies’ or ‘finally feminism’. The second of which is only a tiny amount more helpful than the first since it doesn’t really back up what it claims, just defines it. Further, they’re cutting themselves off from the cut and thrust of debate through over-moderated fora, BlockBot etc. Creating a dangerous echo chamber.

A Gift to our Enemies

There are all sorts of damaging claims made about atheists and they’re all complete bollocks. Attempts to conflate atheism with evolution (and confusion over what evolution is), or Nazism or Communism. Claims that all atheists are ‘libtards’ or socialists (I’m a left anarchist as it happens, but there’s plenty of us that aren’t). There are constant attempts to make atheism more than what it is; the simple rejection of the claim that god/s exist. Yes, it’s true that atheists tend to be from an educated middle class, tend to be left wing and so on, but that’s by no means the whole story.

What’s the problem?: Atheismplus meets the stereotype that our enemies use against us and creates a solid bloc of social and political orthodoxy that plays into the idea that atheists are all abortion happy hippies, homosexuals, lefties etc. There’s nothing wrong with any of this of course, but diversity gives us a much stronger message. The other part of this is that Atheismplus spends all its time attacking its own people – fellow atheists – trying to act as a ‘moral majority’ and tearing down those who should be their allies. They’re far more interested – it seems – in trying to police conventions, fling around flimsy accusations, shame their fellows in the broader atheism movement and find anything and everything to cause drama about, often to the expense of the sorts of issues that should have primacy to atheists.

Monstering

A problem with the internet in general, other than vanishing down the rabbit hole of Youtube or Wikipedia, is that anything and everything you say can be cherrypicked and lives forever. Lose your temper? Misspell something? Poorly judge your words in a throwaway tweet? You’re fucked. It is incredibly easy to make you look bad or to come back months or years later, dig up one ill-timed or phrased comment and use it to fuck you over. Social media especially combines the immediacy of conversation with the permanency of writing. The practical upshot of all this is that it is very, very easy to make people look bad or take their comments the wrong way, deliberately or not.

What’s the Problem?: It is very, very, very easy to make spurious accusations online and they proliferate far faster than the truth. A reputation can be deep-sixed in hours and can’t be fully rebuilt – if at all – for years. The veracity of the accusations has nothing to do with it and Chinese whispers (or Telephone if you think of that as racially insensitive) can turn even a fairly innocuous slander into something far worse in short order. Atheismplus are rather free with their accusations and finger pointing. Accusations of rape and sexual misconduct directed at various prominent figures without anything to back them up are perhaps the most egregious example – especially lately – but accusations of ‘rape apologism’ are also common, thoroughly insulting and any defence or anger towards the claim is taken as support for it! Bonkers! No minds are being changed, people are just being pissed off and set against Atheismplus as a whole.

Crying Wolf

In an ideal world, especially with us all being atheists and skeptics, each and every claim should be taken independently and assessed on its evidence. This is one of the few areas where historical methodology differs from scientific methodology in that in history you are always mindful of considering the source. While this does come in with today’s atmosphere of corporate sponsored studies with predetermined findings it’s much more of a social and historical issues. Still, things aren’t ideal or perfect and people’s individual and group reputations do come into it.

What’s the Problem?: ‘Elevatorgate’ was the incident that kicked everything off, that led to Atheismplus and everything else that’s happened. This is amazing given that it was an ‘incident’ in which absolutely nothing meaningful or concerning happened. Things haven’t really improved much since then. The insult a certain fragment of the community took at the arched eyebrows and ‘Really?’ comments from the larger body of atheism seems to have fed on itself more and more and the idea that Elevatorgate was a problem has been added to with any number of other ‘incidents’ that are considered equally inconsequential by the larger group. Atheismplus and its allies have cried wolf about minor issues so often that it has become incredibly difficult to take any of their drama seriously or even to believe many of their claims. The accusations against Shermer would – in normal circumstances – deserve to be taken seriously (and taken through the proper authorities). In the climate Atheismplus has created there is an established reason to be skeptical.

Hypocrisy

There’s a line (or rather, a section) in Diamond Age about how hypocrisy isn’t the big sin it’s made out to be. For a person to be a hypocrite they must be at least trying to do the right thing, it’s just that they’ve failed in some way. Nonetheless, if hypocritical behaviour becomes common enough I think it is valid to point out the hypocrisy.

What’s the Problem?: For a group whose (vaguely) stated goals include tolerance, safety and inclusion of women and minorities in atheism Atheismplus is a total failure. Attempts to interfere with harassment policies and promoting the (unevidenced) idea that atheist meetings are hotbeds of sexual exploitation have slashed female attendance at events like TAM which were practically on 50/50 parity. Rather than trying to invest in the future of the movement or seek the best and most effective speakers there’s an insistence on the basis of gender rather than expertise. Not that there aren’t good speakers of all genders but when you pass over expert male speakers to include sub-par ones with axes to grind rather than progress to make that’s an issue. There’s also something peculiar in claiming to be atheists and skeptics while suspending skepticism when it comes to certain claims – like the highly questionable 1-in-4 rape statistic or broader concepts like patriarchy and rape culture. Skepticism or demands for evidence in these arenas is treated as hostility. Base hypocrisy.

The Issue With BlockBot

On the face of it something like the BlockBot on Twitter seems like a good idea. A combined list of trolls and abusers that you can sign up to to autoblock them. This should work like Adblock or anti-spam software and should make Twitter a better experience for everyone. Unfortunately, it’s under the control of Atheismplus and, thus, takes a role that is much more like an electronic commissar than a tool to improve your internet experience.

What’s the problem?: There seems to be some confusion on Atheismplus’ part as to why BlockBot pisses people off so much or is attacked as a constriction on free speech. The more advanced levels, the abusers, spammers, doxxers (though that’s a bit subjective these days) aren’t the problem. It’s the lower level. Having your unsubstantiated beliefs challenged or mocked can be annoying, but it’s no less valid for that. It’s this level that turns BlockBot from a potentially useful internet tool to an ideological enforcer, shielding Atheismplus ideologiues from criticism. Even worse, those who sign up to it are never going to have the opportunity to make up their own minds about it. An additional problem was (may still be) the spam reporting aspect, which would feed into an algorithm to suspend accounts, which absolutely and unquestionably was/is an attempt to constrict free expression and one that obnoxious theists (Sacerdotus for example) have engaged in. It also has the eternal problem that bedevils any attempt to enforce rules on the internet, at least some of the moderators are fucking arseholes who shouldn’t be trusted to boil water, let alone run this.

Is there Room for Discussion?

The best thing for all considered may be for Atheismplus to just bugger off, go its own way and to stop messing around with the broader atheist community. Get their own conventions, have their own areas, be left completely alone and leave everyone else alone. This seems unlikely to happen though and does run the risk of leaving Atheismplus to become an even deeper and more extreme echo chamber than it already is. Something we all, as atheists, should be very alert and aware to – the danger of cults and the kind of extremism that emerges in echo chambers.

For a group so dead set against abuse, Atheismplus is remarkably abusive, dropping accusations of rape apologism and some form of sexism, racism or other – even to the point of tiptoeing around criticising Islam or at least giving Dawkins an earful over criticising it. They are willing to dish it out but can’t take even the mildest form of criticism. So long as this continues and so long as more reasoned critics – including myself (on a good day) have no capability to argue and discuss with them there’ll be no progress and no middle ground.

I suspect, sadly, there is no middle ground for Atheismplus and that’s the problem, they’re extremists and they’re extremists on issues that aren’t – yet – resolved via science. Attempts to reach out and find some sort of discussion, to make reasoned critique just get rebuffed. So why try?

Orthodoxy seems more important to them than truth, or progress, or skepticism, or atheism.

Quotemining Morality

BP8OSmtCEAASdpqI’ve noticed a spate of attempts to smear atheism in the form of quote-mines from Dawkins, Krauss and Singer lately.

This usually takes the form of ‘X is excusing Y!’

EG: ‘Dawkins says rape is morally arbitrary!’, ‘Krauss doesn’t see anything wrong with incest!’, and ‘Singer advocates bestiality!’.

Obviously these are out of context and don’t take the conversation into account but that’s not the only interesting thing about this.

1. This argument most often comes from Muslims. Probably because atheists give them an absolute kicking over Aisha. The irony here is that they tie themselves in knots trying to excuse child-fucking by Mohammed and in various Islamic nations, thereby making their own argument that morality is subjective rather than objective and divine.

2. No reason is given as to WHY we should be shocked or outraged at these statements. It is simply assumed that we must – unthinkingly – be disgusted by the very idea that rape, incest or bestiality might be morally grey in any way shape or form. This is probably true, most people will likely react that way but the people being quoted are people who are used to thinking rationally, assessing things, going over old ground looking for flaws. Singer in particular is very adept at stripping things back and examining them fresh without the inculcated blinkers we gain as we grow up. All three instances are cases of people looking at these moral issues through a lens of rationalism.

3. All of these morally difficult actions are excused by one religion or another, but not on a rational basis.

When Dawkins describes our moral objection to rape as arbitrary it is within the context of a discussion on other traits and adaptations. Evolution shapes behaviour as well as form. While there may be sound evolutionary reasons for us to have X number of fingers or Y number of eyes it seems likely that there are sound evolutionary reasons for some broad human values and behaviours. As a social species disruptive and violent behaviour can harm the group and is likely to be socially enforced against – for example. Forcible rape is the primary mode of reproduction in many species, so in other species it may be a sound mating strategy and if we had evolved differently we might have a different moral outlook on it.

Regardless, we have the subjective morality that we do have along with consciousness and awareness of the existence of others. Whatever the origin of our rape taboo we have it and there are recognisible social, psychological and other costs involved.

When Krauss talks about incest he is experimentally wondering WHY we consider it wrong. The incest taboo appears to come, somewhat, from the worry about inbreeding but incest between cousins and constant familial intermarriage is present throughout history so that can’t be the whole story. Animals breed amongst their close relatives with little – immediate – genetic concern. In a world of abortion and contraception is that reproductive inbreeding issue still truly relevant? We feel disgust even thinking about or talking about this but WHY do we feel disgust and should we let emotion get in the way of rationally thinking about this, whatever we decide?

Singer’s comment was a comment in a review on a book that asked that sort of question. There’s several arguments against bestiality including disease and whether an animal can give meaningful consent. Medical and consent reasons also lie behind our taboos against underage sex or statutory rape. Singer’s argument is simply a question. If the animal has agency, choice, effective consent and the person consents and both derive pleasure from it (or at least no harm) what is the rational reason to reject it, to make it taboo, to react as we do?

‘Hey. Why do we feel the way we do about these things and is it justified that feel that way?’ is a valid and important question to ask, about everything.

Not Everyone Believes

This ridiculous proposal – that everyone, somehow, deep down, believes in god – came from a commentator on the previous posts who then linked to his blog on the topic to try and show that this was the case. OK, you want traffic, I like arguments. Let’s trade.

Here’s the blog: http://pastorjamesmiller.com/2013/06/27/everyone-believes/

Here’s me tearing it a new arsehole:

One of the things that fascinates me about modern defenders of the Christian faith is how casually they begin in the wrong place. They start with the assumption that their listeners are objective and analytical and can be persuaded by facts. I doubt this is true.

Well, it depends whom you’re trying to convince. Members of other religions are unlikely to be convinced by such arguments but the atheists who are also sceptics – like myself – are open to being persuaded by logic, reason and, most importantly, evidence. You doubt it is true we can be convinced by such, I doubt you have anything of that ilk to convince us with.

Then they assume their role is one of defense attorney who presents a reliable case sufficient to free God from the atheist’s accusations. I know this isn’t true. The Bible starts in a completely different place, saying we are “without excuse” for not believing (Romans 1:20). The atheist needs a defense attorney.

Here I’m going to pull a shocker and actually agree with the Pastor. The Christian IS in the position of the prosecution and the burden of proof is on them. Innocent until proven guilty (the prosecutor must show beyond any and all reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty) mirrors directly with non-existent until proven existent (the theist must show beyond any and all reasonable doubt that their god exists).

For the atheists all we have to do is show that there is enough reason to doubt what the theist is proposing. If they show up to court without any evidence, the case is going to be dismissed. So this is – as analogies go – a pretty good one.

And what’s most surprising about this to me is that the guy who says he doesn’t believe in God has already shown that he depends upon a world in which God does exist in three ways.

Nonsense.

First, when one says, “God does not exist,” that person is assuming that the purpose of communication is to tell the truth.

No, it’s to communicate ideas. The purpose of communication also includes lying, creating fiction, giving instructions, etc etc. Also, by and large, when an atheist says god does not exist, it is shorthand for: “There is absolutely no evidence for a god, no reason to believe in one and everything we do see suggests other, better explanations. So I don’t believe in a god.” That’s just a bit of a mouthful to squeeze into a Twitter conversation.

But this moral undergirding is suspicious. If God doesn’t exist, morality is at best a mistaken byproduct of blind evolution. So long as survival of the fittest is the only goal, there’s really no objective moral obligation. I can tell the truth if I want and not if I don’t. But when we say, “God does not exist,” we’re assuming that communication in general rests on a real obligation to tell the truth, which is a moral claim.

I think the problem here is a lack of understanding of what ‘the fittest’ means or the implications of ‘the selfish gene’ and group selection. There is positive survival utility to cooperation in a social species and that survival utility supports behaviours and instincts – like honesty, like guilt – that reinforce that societal benefit. Evolutionary psychology provides a basis for the only things that really begin to approach – even remotely – objective morality.

  • Altruism good.
  • Selfishness bad.

We humans complicate matters by developing other, less objective, more subjective moral systems and superimposing them over our instinctual base. Your religion being one of them.

Second, when you say, “God does not exist,” you are assuming that the thoughts in your head accurately reflect the world around you. You really think that in the universe, there is not a God, and that your perception of that world is accurate. But there’s a problem. In a godless universe, everything is simply matter. Everything is made up of colliding particles. Our brains in our heads are just a collection of particles that have come to function in certain ways. But there’s nothing objective that obligates the particles in our heads to give us an accurate picture of the real world (this is sort of the red pill here).

It is not an assumption that our senses provide an accurate picture but one shown to be true to ourselves and to others for… well, all of human existence. Science works no matter what you belief. Delusion doesn’t alter reality. If I throw a ball, someone else can catch it. In short, we have damn good reason to think that our perception of the world is at least reasonably accurate and in science we hone that through repeat experiment, peer review and practical applications (which wouldn’t work if our perception wasn’t correct). Misleading perceptions have obvious problems when it comes to survival,.

Third, when you say “God does not exist,” you are trusting that communication actually works. You are trusting that the ideas in one person’s head can be translated into language, perceived consistently, and received accurately… …Again, a material universe with no guiding conscience would not necessitate that words have meaning or that language is effective. These things require something more purposeful than the blind movements of particles.

Humans. Intentional agents with volition.

So when someone says “I don’t believe in God,” they are trusting that we are bound by the objective moral obligation to tell the truth, that our brains are bound to purposefully reveal accurate information, and that communication can be infused with objective meaning, none of which should necessarily exist in a godless universe. That person is acting like God is there at exactly the moment she says he isn’t. So ironically, the person who says “God does not exist” is actually proving that God does.

So, as shown above. No, this isn’t correct. You have really just engaged in a rather long-winded redefinition fallacy based around a peculiar notion of what ‘truth’ means.

Things I do believe

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  • I believe in the power of logic, reason and evidence to explain the world in which we find ourselves.
  • I believe we have to deal with what ‘is’ first, over what ‘ought’ to be.
  • I believe faith to be harmful, whether it be religion, ideology or anything else. Believing without evidence to support what you believe is fundamentally flawed – even dangerous.
  • I believe atheism to be the only honest position on the question of god/supernaturalism.
  • I believe freedom of expression is one of the paramount human rights and that it includes ‘icky speech’.
  • I believe you have the right to be offended.
  • I believe I have the right to offend you.
  • I believe you’re responsible for your own intake.
  • I am a ruthless egalitarian. I believe everyone should be treated equally regardless of race, gender, sexuality etc, only modified by their differing needs and the empirical facts of the situation.
  • I believe in education for its own sake.
  • I believe in art for its own sake.
  • No matter how poorly you regard my work and art, I believe I’m worse. It makes me try harder.
  • I try not to, but I loathe hypocrisy. If someone’s a hypocrite it at least shows that they’re trying to be a good person, even if they’re failing. This is why I rage so much at people who say they’re for social justice, but whom display their own prejudices. They disappoint me and break my heart.
  • I believe misandry is a thing, because misogyny is a thing.
  • I believe a little flirtation is harmless fun.
  • I believe *ism to be wrong, whether it flows to or from marginalised groups. Prejudice is prejudice.
  • I believe if you’re against something, you shouldn’t do it yourself.
  • I believe complementary and alternative medicine is absolute bollocks.
  • I believe I look fly in hats.
  • I believe the best way to create an equal and fair society is to treat people equally and fairly. Without exception.
  • I believe you’re allowed to ‘slip’, when you’re angry.
  • I’m an ideological left-anarchist, but a pragmatic socialist. I believe in individual rights, but when you group individuals together the best guarantee of those rights is to consider the group.
  • I believe there’s almost always another option to violence.
  • I am a naturalist, a materialist.
  • I believe the ‘best’, most objective moral system is a combination of Utilitarianism and Epicureanism. Pleasure has value.
  • I would believe in democracy more if the electorate were better informed and the system were more representative.
  • I believe in fidelity and honour, though it’s not for everyone.
  • I believe respect must be earned.
  • A care about people. I have a deep sense of empathy, I get embarrassed for others. When that quality of empathy is ignored or denied I feel it as a personal attack upon a part of my essential identity as a human being.
  • I believe in being ‘decent’. In the sense of morally upright, respectable, kind and obliging. I put myself out for others often. I pay more than I should. I give people time. I am very forgiving. I am unforgiving of myself in this respect and I expect the same from others. I get upset when they fall short.
  • I believe in a ‘hands off’ approach. Let people find their own way and motivation and they’ll do their best.
  • I believe everyone deserves a second, and a third, chance.
  • I believe the crux of human existence to be a struggle between altruism and selfishness.
  • I believe in the power and importance of consent and the principle of ‘Ask and tell’.
  • Do what thou wilt, so long as it harm none.
  • I believe Scotch whisky is superior to Irish whiskey.
  • I believe curry is one of mankind’s greatest inventions.
  • I believe in taxation to support important social, educational and material infrastructure from which we all benefit.
  • I believe in universal healthcare, free at the point of use. The right to life is the most basic right of all.
  • I believe in abortion, up until the onset of consciousness.
  • I form friendships quickly and easily, and often deeply. I may consider you a friend even if you don’t consider me a friend and I consider myself obligated to that friendship.
  • I believe in treating people as individuals.
  • I believe almost everyone is interesting.
  • I try not to judge, I try to understand. I sometimes fail.
  • I like most people. You have to be an absolute cunt for me not to get on with you.
  • I believe sexy fun times and sexy fun art are harmless, positive even.
  • I believe prostitution should be legalised – and regulated
  • I believe drugs should be legalised – and regulated.
  • I believe escapism is important.
  • I believe you can find someone attractive and still appreciate them as a human being as well.
  • I believe the internet should be free.
  • I consider The Singularity to be a likely outcome for the human race.
  • I believe games and the act of play to be more important than they’re normally considered to be.
  • I believe you can entertain an idea without accepting it.
  • I believe humour is important.
  • I believe satire is a powerful way to undermine something you hate.
  • I believe in crediting people with intelligence. I hate patronising or talking down to people.
  • I believe in taking the long term view.
  • I believe the human race has to get off this rock.
  • I believe in greater human unity over greater balkanisation.
  • I believe in free will.
  • I believe stories can be powerful, but not overriding.
  • I believe cats are better than dogs.
  • I believe Flash Gordon and Big Trouble in Little China to be the greatest films ever made.
  • I believe love is an unlimited resource.
  • I believe you’ve gotten the wrong end of the stick.
  • I believe creativity should be unfettered.
  • I believe 2000AD is the best comic ever made.
  • I believe fantasy is distinct from reality.
  • I believe it’s not butter.
  • I believe I can convince you of the things I believe, given enough time.

Seven Refutations

Seven-Dwarfs

Insomuch as is possible I will limit myself to simple atheism, that is ‘I do not believe in god/s’ without involving naturalism, science etc. This is a basic, sceptical stance wherein we require evidence for a god before we believe in one (or indeed anything else). William Lane Craig’s ‘Seven arguments for god‘ keep getting brought up as ‘evidence’ when they’re not evidence and they’re barely even arguments. I will now show why:

1. Why is there something instead of nothing?

Leaving aside the science for a moment, ‘I don’t know’ is a perfectly acceptable answer. Is there a reason? There may or may not be. Is it even possible for there to be ‘nothing’? There’s some suggestion otherwise. Whatever the case, whether there a reason, an actor, a natural force at play or otherwise if you’re going to say ‘god did it’ you need evidence that god did it. WLC only has an assertion which, without evidence to back it up, is useless.

One down.

2. Cause and Effect

Again, leaving aside the scientific examples of exceptions to this this is a poor argument and not evidence. IF everything requires a cause then this must also apply to god itself, leading to an infinite regression of gods each creating the next one. Clearly this is not a logical or rational position. Craig takes up the ‘Kalam’ argument, which I have covered before. This one says ‘everything needs a cause, except god’. Well then, if there can be exceptions then not everything requires a cause.

Even if everything does require a cause that could be natural, one of any number of gods or something else entirely. Asserting it is god doesn’t make it so. You would need evidence to prove that assertion. Again, this is just an assertion and again, without evidence to back it up, it is useless. This is without even getting into issues like the impossibility of cause and effect before time and context.

Two down.

3. Argument from Design & Complexity

Again, ignoring the fact that science can account for the appearance of design and for natural complexity we still find this to be a poor argument. Things certainly might appear designed or special but that’s just our perspective on them. If they were different, they’d be different. If you shuffle a deck of cards the odds of them coming out in any particular order are around 1 in 10 to the power of 68 (I think, the point is that they’re long odds). Yet every time we shuffle a pack those incredibly long odds are made manifest in that particular order. We just happen to observe them in the order they have happened into.

Even then, much of the natural world is interdependent and deterministic, shortening the odds and moves in building cycles.

So, we can certainly say things ‘appear designed’ but there are a multitude of possibilities for this. Again, natural laws and interactions, again, any number of possible gods and again, other things we maybe haven’t thought of. WLC presumes god and wedges it in there because that’s all he can think of. Yet again, this is an assertion. Yet again, this assertion requires evidence to back it up. Yet again, he has none.

Three down.

4. Objective Morality

There have been innumerable moral systems over time. Morality is subjective, conditional and contextual. We really cannot point to anything at all that would universally be bad or wrong (or the worst option) in any and every circumstance. Ignoring the science, again, all we have here is an assertion and yet again, one without evidence. Craig specifically believes the Abrahamic god to be true, and that god has tremendous problems when you look at its morality. It breaks virtually every one of its own commandments, it kills, it lies, it even rapes children (Mary being adjudged to be a child by modern standards). The very split between the OT and the NT undermines this suggestion of objective morality.

Even if there were an objective moral system there are many possible explanations, natural ones, theistic ones and others. Craig fails to provide evidence that there is an objective moral system or that his god is the one behind it.

Four down.

5. Ontological Argument

This one is really rather crazy so why anyone takes it seriously I don’t know. The basic idea runs something like this:

  • We can conceive of an all powerful, perfect being.
  • Existence is a prerequisite of being all powerful and perfect.
  • We can conceive of god.
  • Therefore god exists.

I call this the ‘if wishes were horses’ argument.

Here’s my formulation.

  • I can conceive of the perfect roast beef sandwich.
  • Existence is a prerequisite of being the perfect roast beef sandwich and it is MY perfect roast beef sandwich so it would have to be here right now for me to eat.
  • Where the fuck is my sandwich?

That we can conceive of a thing doesn’t, apparently, mean that thing actually exists outside of the conceptual space of our mind. Physical reality certainly appears to be much more limited. This conceptual being could also be anything from god to Allah to The Great Green Arkleseizure. We can also constantly improve on our concepts over time.

Yet again, no evidence here, just a theological/philosophical mind game that, in the end, provides no evidence.

Five down.

6. Resurrection

Here’s where Craig gets specifically into the Christian god. In brief there is:

  1. No historical evidence for the existence of Jesus, even as a mortal man.
  2. No historical evidence for the resurrection.

In short, again, these are claims which require evidence, not evidence themselves.

Six down.

7. Experiential

Subjective, personal experience is not evidence. Yes, people inculcated into a particular religion may claim to have a particular experience but this varies from person to person and culture to culture. The ‘spiritual experience’ of a Hindu is no more or less convincing than that of a Christian. While we give certain things a pass on the need for evidence (mundane, everyday experiences and so forth) really, we need evidence to rationally believe anything.

Your ‘encounter’ with god is no more convincing than my ‘encounter’ with an Aztec god after having taken mushrooms.

Seven down.

Summary

Every single one of WLC’s arguments are arguments from ignorance (I don’t know, therefore god did it) or arguments from personal incredulity (I can’t believe this happened any other way than god). These are, needless to say, fallacious lines of reasoning. There is no evidence here, just questions into which ‘god did it’ has been crudely rammed on absolutely no basis.

And yet WLC is considered the ‘best’ apologetics has to offer.

Why Atheism Isn’t Illogical, a Rebuttal for ToAtheists

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This is a reply to the article ‘Why Atheism is Illogical. Part One: Atheism is a Belief and a Truth Claim’. Which was written by @ToAtheists from Twitter.

There are another two parts to this article but I consider that a refutation of the first article renders a refutation of the second two redundant.

This is an interesting ‘attack’ on atheism, given that it comes from a philosopher rather than a member of the religious community. Nonetheless, and somewhat disappointingly, it falls afoul of many of the same problems that religious attacks upon atheism do. Most especially not understanding what atheism is and what it does – or doesn’t – claim.

The author says, at the beginning of their article:

” I found rather quickly that the structures of religious belief are duplicated in atheist belief. But this lead to the fascinating question of why atheists try to deny this basic fact which in turn opened up the realization of how atheism is an inherently illogical belief, even more illogical than religious belief. So, this work in progress is attempting to understand why and hopefully establish a theory with the power to explain atheist belief.” – ToAtheists

In my opinion this presents an immediate bias and a conclusion before the subject is even examined. It is also manifestly incorrect.

The most inclusive definition of atheism is this:

“Either the lack of belief that there exists a god, or the belief that there exists none…” – Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, 2008

The ‘lack of belief that there is a god’ also called ‘weak’, ‘soft’ or ‘agnostic’ atheism is not a belief but, rather, the absence of one. While it has the counterpart of ‘strong’, ‘hard’ or ‘gnostic’ atheism I can’t say that I have ever met a person – even Richard Dawkins – who would describe themselves thus.

Speaking for myself, I am certain – on the basis of logic, reason and evidence – that certain definitions of the god claim absolutely do not, indeed cannot, exist. So I am a Gnostic atheist with regard to, for example, the literalist version of the biblical god. However, we are not talking about me, or Dawkins, or Harris, or Dennett or anyone specific but rather atheism as a whole which, at its most inclusive is simply the lack of belief in god/s.

By this definition even a newborn child, unexposed to the dogmas and indoctrinations of religion, or even the very idea, is an atheist, albeit a passive one.

“Theism is the belief that the proposition God Exists (GE) is true. Theism is a truth claim for GE since, for any proposition P, to believe P is to take P to hold in the actual world. Beliefs are active assertions that a state of affairs is true in the actual world. To believe something is to believe that it is true and it is the height of irrationality to believe something yet think it is false, or to not believe something yet think it is true. The proposition GE is an existential proposition (the question of existence) and such propositions are different from propositions such as “democracy is the best political system.” All existential propositions are binary: necessarily either absolutely true or absolutely false. You can’t be a little pregnant or kind of dead, you either are or you are not. The existential proposition GE is objectively either true or false in the actual world and if it is false then its negation is necessarily true.” – ToAtheists

All agreed so far. With the note that the idea of god/religion can exist – and do harm – without the god proposition being true, real or actual.

“To deny any existential proposition is to necessarily assume its negation, for example, you must say that the Loch Ness Monster either exists or does not exist, there are no other options for you to choose. The negation of GE is the proposition God Does Not Exist (Not-GE). Rational beings either believe that GE is true, believe that GE is false and thus necessarily believe Not-GE is true, or say they do not know, claiming neither. The first position is Theism, the second Atheism, the third Agnosticism. Atheism is to deny that the proposition GE is true and thus to necessarily assume Not-GE is true. To withhold assent to both GE and not-GE—assert that one does not know—is agnosticism. It is necessarily the case that unless one claims ignorance, agnosticism, then one is assenting to either GE or not-GE—logical use of language prevents other possibilities.” – ToAtheists

More definitional problems here and more lack of understanding of what atheism is.

A denial rather assumes that there is a case for something in the first place. Since we’re talking in generalities we can’t really argue the finer points of the arguments ‘for’ and against a particular god definition. When such arguments are presented what is produced as a counter is a refutation, rather than a denial. Pointing out problem, fallacies etc in arguments is not denial – though apologists will often claim it is – it is refutation.

There is a difference between ‘I do not believe in god’ and ‘I believe god does not exist’. Of course, sometimes we say these things interchangeably because we’re only human and the long form of the statement is, frankly, the kind of tiny difference that only means anything to philosophers.

If I say ‘god does not exist’ it is, for me, shorthand for:

“I do not believe a god exists, I see no evidence for one and so, while one MAY exist I am forced by the burden of proof, my own scepticism and better explanations for god claims (science and naturalism) to hold the negative position. I will change my mind if evidence comes along that is sufficiently convincing and overturns everything else I have considered in coming to this point.”

Which I’m sure we’ll all agree, is a bit too much of a mouthful for day to day conversation and better summed up as ‘God does not exist’ or ‘I do not believe god exists’.

This burden of proof is the same principle we use in Western courts where we hold the position that someone is ‘innocent until proven guilty’. We suspend judgement, but assume the negative, as the only safe, rational and logical position unless someone’s guilt (or in this case god’s existence) can be proven beyond any and all reasonable doubt.

Another example of this suspended judgement would be the claim that a human being can fly, unaided. In case you are wrong it does not make sense to proceed as though the claim is absolutely true. We would suspend judgement and not throw ourselves from the top of multi-storey car parks flapping our arms until we were sure. Even then it would make sense to try taking off from the ground, just in case.

Agnosticism and atheism are not incompatible. As I briefly covered above, the ‘weak’ atheist position can also be called the agnostic atheist position, and is the most common one.

  • Gnosticism/agnosticism is a claim of knowledge (gnosis).
  • Theism/atheism is a claim of belief (with or without belief in god).

Thus an agnostic atheist is one who does not claim to know, but does not believe that there is a god.

“When someone says “I am an atheist” that atheist is claiming that (1) GE is objectively not true (god does not exist), (2) the atheist believes GE is not true, and (3) the atheist is in a satisfactory relationship with the truth value of GE to claim 1 and 2. (All of this is also true for the theist and their claims for the truth of GE.) Atheism is a term that encompasses these three claims that are necessary equivalents to the statement, “I am an atheist.” Atheism is the belief that GE is false, meaning the belief in Not-GE, which means atheism is a truth claim for the proposition Not-GE.” -ToAtheists

Again, a restatement of the base misunderstanding and, alas, repeated assertion does not make something true. When an atheist says ‘I am an atheist’ they are only saying that they do not believe in god. Nothing more. They are not saying they absolutely and definitely know that no god exists just that they do not believe in one. This is the only ‘truth claim’ in the statement, the only assertion, that we do not believe.

Some religious apologists will try to argue that ‘deep down you really do’, which gets tiresome and honestly I’m not sure if there is a way to absolutely prove that we do not believe any more than its possible to absolutely prove that someone does believe. I’m fairly certain fMRI scans could produce some evidence of different brain structures and responses that would support it, but honestly I don’t know.

“One objection some atheists make to this is to say that the Atheist makes no claim but simply does not believe the claim GE. That this objection is absurd is easily seen when we ask if one can disbelieve claim GE while holding that GE is still true. This would, of course, be nonsense. If someone where to say “I do not believe it is raining but it is raining” we immediately see the contradiction.” – ToAtheists

To restate the example in the form of the actual atheist position: “I do not know if it is raining, but I do not believe that it is.”

And whether a-precipitationism or atheism the reasons for holding that position may be varied, from a simple absence of evidence for rain to having read the weather forecast that morning or having looked out of the window and seen no sign of rain.

Of course ‘it is raining’ is a rather mundane, ordinary and normal claim compared to the one ‘god exists’ which is an extraordinary claim, requiring extraordinary evidence.

“It cannot be the case that atheists do not have a belief. It is not the case that they are simply entertaining a certain state of affairs, for example, imagining there is no god. (Though some philosophers contend, with some neuroscience findings backing them up, that imagining a proposition equates to a belief.)” – ToAtheists

Atheists may have many beliefs, atheism – however – describes the absence of one, particular belief.

I can imagine the existence of a unicorn, dragon or a trio of saucy maids of easy virtue laying in my bed. This does not mean I believe any of them to be true. I may not be a philosopher but as a writer and a game designer I am intimately familiar with the imaginary and the capacity of human beings to suspend disbelief while still not considering the things they imagine to be real, true or actual. This is the essence of play, escapism and many forms of recreation. From this perspective, god belief is a failure to tell the difference between reality and fantasy. Why this is considered a problem for D&D or Grand Theft Auto but not for Christianity or Islam I do not know.

““I have made the judgment that there is no god.” (Not-GE) So anyone who calls him or herself an “atheist” is either committing to a belief or being dishonest in their self portrayal. For the atheist to claim that atheism is not a belief is intellectual dishonesty.” – ToAtheists

To return to the jury analogy, a jury returns a ‘not guilty’ verdict if they are unconvinced of the guilt of the person on trial. In some jurisdictions it is also possible to render a ‘not proven’ verdict and this is probably a much better analogy for the broadest conception of the atheist position.

“That atheists believe that Not-GE is true is obvious in and beyond their embrace of the term atheism. The term is used by atheists to differentiate themselves from believers, a differentiation only desired if they reject what the believers believe; rejection equates to saying the believers in GE are wrong which is the assertion that the negation of the belief in GE (i.e. – Not-GE) is true. The derisive assertions of Atheists that religious believers believe in “fairy tales” and are “irrational” are assertions that religious belief is wrong. No sane person asserts that a belief is wrong without believing the opposite is correct, so to criticize GE prima facie is to assert Not-GE.” – ToAtheists

More problems here. Whether holding a position is rational or not depends on the evidence for it, NOT whether it is true or not. It is also possible to hold correct beliefs for the wrong reasons. Science in particular is very good at rooting this out and revising when there are issues. It was believed, for example, that bad smells caused disease for a very long time. To an extent this was true in that a bad smell (excrement, rotting meat) was often indicative of the presence of germs and toxins and so avoiding them made sense and would contribute to greater health. It’s the germs though, not the smell (or demons).

Atheism is just a statement of personal lack of belief in a deity. Atheists may or may not engage in anti-theism or counter-theism arguments but such is beyond the scope of basic atheism, which is our sole concern at this juncture.

Honestly, the rest of this article, and what I have read of the next two, is just the continued restatement and attempted justification of the same base misunderstanding over and over again. I would be repeating myself so this is as good a cut-off point as any.

To summarise:

Atheism, in the broadest and most inclusive of terms, is the personal statement that one does not believe in god/s. The only truth claim in it is that the speaker lacks belief in this proposition. Not that the proposition does not exist, just that they do not believe it. Once we move beyond that we’re into areas other than and in addition to ‘simple atheism’ and more specific argumentation. Such arguments and discussions are worth having, but they’re more than ‘simple atheism’.

Made to be Damned

This should save me some repetition.

So…

  1. Do you believe in god?
  2. Do you believe your god is all knowing?
  3. Do you believe your god is all powerful?
  4. Do you believe your god is good and just?
  5. Do you believe your god is the creator?

If the answer to these is yes, as it for most Christians, consider this.

IF we presume, for a moment, that your god exists:

  1. It created me (creator).
  2. With perfect foreknowledge of everything I would ever do, think, feel or know (all knowing).
  3. It knew I would be an atheist and had the means to provide me with the evidence I would require to believe in it (all knowing, all powerful).
  4. This deity then withholds said evidence, thereby condemning me of its own volition – nothing to do with me – to a hell of its own making.

Good?

Just?

I think not.