What Atheists Won’t Question

I just started reading Illogical Atheism: A Comprehensive Response to the Contemporary Freethinker from a Lapsed Agnostic by Bo Jinn. My spouse indicates that this is a sign that I am a masochist.

In any case, at one point, the author states:

The atheist-skeptic seems to me to be typified by an immensely powerful reluctance to entertain any indication for the truth of theistic claims, and not the slightest dubiousness regarding any positive claims on behalf of atheism.

He then goes on to list eight statements that, apparently, atheists believe but are reluctant to treat skeptically. For his benefit, I will happily consider them. They are as follows:

1. Science can answer everything- or, at least, anything worth answering.

I have heard atheists say this, and I think I can say with significant confidence that they are wrong. For example, “What actions are moral” and “What is the definition of science” are two significant questions that cannot be meaningfully answered using only the scientific method.

2. The universe came from nothing or was always there or both simultaneously.

Although I’ve heard many theists say that atheists claim that the universe came from nothing, I can’t recall ever hearing an atheist make such a statement. At most, some atheists say that the universe came into being as the result of a quantum fluctuation, which would have to happen in the context of space-time, which isn’t nothing.

As for the universe always existing, I agree that this is difficult to make logical sense of. However, every philosophy of origins ends up stuck with something that existed eternally (space time, a dimension where universes were created, a series of universes, a deity, a time loop, etc.), so I can only conclude that either there is a solution to the problem of eternal existence that we haven’t thought of or that it somehow actually is possible for something eternal to exist.

3. Life and existence are the result of chance or necessity.

There are really four statements here:

Life is the result of chance: I frequently hear this stated as an atheist belief, but I think it belittles the naturalistic position to the point of trivializing it. Random actions are a part of the universe, but it’s silly to list them as an isolated cause. That would be like saying “Life is the result of gravity.” Even so, I don’t see atheists failing to question this belief — in fact, I think that answering this question is what the anthropic principle is for.

Life is the result of necessity: I can’t recall ever hearing an atheist say that the universe needs for there to be life. Obviously, there were points in the universe’ history where life was absent. At most, one could argue that given a universe with our laws life is highly likely, but that’s a point scientists actively debate.

Existence is the result of chance: What existence? The universe’s? Humanity’s? Mine? If the existence of any of these isn’t the result of chance, then it’s either the necessary end result of a natural process or the intended result of a creator’s action. The former is a possibility worth considering (and one I’ve seen atheists consider), and the latter isn’t a meaningful question unless the existence of a deity is assumed.

Existence is the result of necessity: This is the “why is there something instead of nothing?” question. Again, I don’t recall ever hearing an atheist say that it is necessary that the universe, humanity, or they exist.

4. All of life sprung from the stuff that rocks dream of (which is to say; nothing)

First, if these are supposed to be beliefs that atheists have, don’t phrase them in a way an atheist never would.

Second, “the stuff that rocks dream of” is nonsense (per Noam Chomsky).

Third, I’ve never heard an atheist say that life came from nothing.

5. Human behavior and thought is all determined, and there is no such thing as free will.

Since at least some atheists (e.g., me) don’t think that determinism is incompatible with free will, this is obviously not something atheists don’t question.

6. The essence of consciousness is matter.

I’d happily question that statement if I saw any reason to. Unfortunately, a) every argument I’ve heard that consciousness cannot be sufficiently explained materialistically makes assumptions I don’t agree with, and b) I don’t think we really know enough about consciousness in the first place to discuss it this deeply.

7. Belief in God is an evolutionary mistake.

I certainly don’t believe this statement. I also don’t know that it’s meaningful to say that evolution makes “mistakes.” At most, I’ve heard atheists postulate that humans evolved in a way that makes belief in supernatural explanations easy or comforting, but that’s a different statement.

8. Atheism is coterminous with the advance of human intelligence.

Who says that humans are getting more intelligent? That’s certainly not an atheistic assumption.
Some atheists do assume that the more knowledge people have the more likely they are to be less religious, and I agree that this is an assumption worth questioning. However, it does seem to be backed up by statistics (even though I don’t think we have enough data to reach a definitive conclusion).

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I could have gone into any of these in greater detail, but I think this is enough to make my main point: the author is arguing against atheism by putting words in atheists’ mouths. I’m hoping the book gets better as I go along (although I am quickly losing hope on this score: the author has already gone on a bit of a tirade about how ridiculous it is to claim that atheists are oppressed — which makes me wonder if he’s ever spoken to an atheist parent or politician in America).

I’ll let you know if anything else of interest turns up.

Posted on July 21, 2013 at 3:04 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Anti-atheist

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