I found this through the excellent blog, The AtheFist, where he was responding to a theist blog post claiming that Atheism is illogical. Well, as so often happens in these situations, I went to read the original post and wanted to respond to it on my own. I may say some similar things to grimachu, after all, there’s probably only so many ways to point out absurdities, but I did make sure I didn’t read grimachu’s post until I had finished writing this one so that I wouldn’t be corrupted.
Now before I begin, I need to point out that the author of the theist piece asserts that he is making no claims about the existence of God and I can certainly accept and respect that. However, he immediately begins with a false proposition, based upon a bad understanding of what atheism is. Atheism is the rejection of claims for the existence of a deity. Nothing more, nothing less. It has no creeds, no beliefs and no views beyond that simple concept. However, and I find this true of a lot of theists, when your only tool is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail and they start to view the world in terms of their own beliefs, not as the world actually is.
So let’s begin. He starts off with an almost correct assessment of what theism is. Where he goes wrong, and this may be simply an error in capitalization, is that he asserts that theism is the belief that God exists. God, that’s “god” with a capital G, is the proper name of a deity worshipped specifically by Christians. Hindus, another type of theist, do not believe that God exists, they have their own gods that they believe in. Even Muslims, another disparate branch of the Judeo-Christian mythos, don’t believe in God, they apply a different name to their deity. I suppose we should just blame the Christians who were so uncreative as to name their deity the capitalized version of the generic word. Some would argue that such an error is no big deal, but when we’re looking at the accuracy of a piece and they make such an obvious error in the first sentence, that’s not very reassuring for what follows.
He then goes into a lengthy discussion of active beliefs, which is well done for what it is. However, where he loses it is in the third paragraph where he says that atheists must believe that the God question is not true, rather than understanding the simple fact that atheism is a rejection of god-claims, not a claim itself that god doesn’t exist. Atheism, like all forms of skepticism, is an argument not from positive belief in a proposition, but from a rejection of claims in a proposition for lack of evidence. You can insert a wide variety of other entities and get the same results. I reject claims of unicorns because there is no evidence to support those claims. I reject claims of leprechauns because there is no evidence to support those claims. I reject claims of honest politicians because there is no evidence, yadda yadda yadda. In none of those cases do I hold a belief that those things cannot exist, only that I see no reason to think that they do. The same applies here, I do not reject the possibility of a god, with exception of those god formulations that are logically self-contradictory, I just don’t see any reason to believe that these gods actually exist without objective evidence to support them.
He tries to combat this by making the argument that you cannot reject the claim that gods exist while believing that gods exist. Unfortunately, theists do this every single day. They reject all claims for the existence of gods other than their own, while believing that their own god exists. However, unlike most atheists who reject claims of gods based on a lack of evidence, theists reject claims of other gods based entirely on faith. The author doesn’t seem to understand that there is something beyond a positive belief, it is entirely possible to have a neutral position. Here’s an example I’ve used in the past. Say someone runs up to you on the street and claims that Godzilla is destroying Tokyo. Assuming for a moment you can’t whip out your smartphone and check, would you believe this person’s claim or would you demand evidence for what they are saying? Without tangible, objective evidence, you have no reason to accept their claims, but neither do you have a reason to think they are lying. You have to provisionally withhold assent to their claims until evidence is presented one way or the other. That’s what atheism is. You can believe that a god does exist, you can believe that a god does not exist, but you can also reject the claims made by believers until they are able to demonstrate that their claims are true. Lots of theists refuse to acknowledge this, they think all beliefs are binary, you actively believe in a thing or you actively believe a thing is not real, you cannot simply ask both sides to put up or shut up and that’s not a realistic view of the world.
He then goes on to say that atheists, by embracing the term atheism, reject the beliefs of theists. No, we reject the claims theists make about their beliefs. If there were no theists making claims, there would be no point to being atheists. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that there’s a concept out there of the greater red-breasted froozle. If nobody ever talks about it, if nobody ever makes claims about it, what’s the point of being an a-froozleist? Even in the world of gods, I can’t remember the last time someone came to my door to share the good news of Zeus. I have yet to run into a serious Zeus apologist, therefore I don’t bother terming myself an a-Zeusist. It’s silly. I’d be curious to know how many people bothered to ask themselves if they were a froozle-ist before they read this article. How could you if you were entirely unaware that it was even a potential thing? So, now that you have heard of it, do you hold the positive belief that it is a real thing, or do you hold the positive belief that it is not a real thing? After all, some scientist could have found a new species of bird or bug somewhere yesterday, gave it that name and it just hasn’t found it’s way into the scientific literature yet. If you believe the claim is false, you’d be factually incorrect. Or do you, as pretty much everyone does, reject the claim for lack of evidence but leave it provisionally neutral in your mind pending evidence in the future? If you understand this concept, you now understand atheism. “I don’t know” is a perfectly valid answer to an unjustified and unsupported question. And no, before you get stupid, agnosticism is not a way to opt out of being an atheist or a theist so don’t even go there.
He spends a lot of time claiming that we’re just evading the question. No, we just happen to understand the question, unlike our plucky theist here. We understand that very few questions in life are binary. Do you believe in the froozle or do you disbelieve in the froozle? Those are the only two possible answers according to many theists, yet the vast majority of people would reject those two answers as wholly inadequate.
But let’s be honest, this is really not about epistemology, it’s about trying to force atheism into the theistic mold. It’s the attempt to redefine other people into a specific context so that the theist can jump up and scream “Aha! They do it too, therefore I’m justified!” It’s really just a strawman and therefore, inherently dishonest.
I reject claims about gods and alien abductions and Bigfoot and leprechauns and unicorns for the same reason I reject claims about the froozle. I’ve got no reason to take those claims seriously and I have no means of verifying the claims. Bring me evidence and we’ll talk. Until then, God is no more believable than the froozle, no matter what kind of strawman arguments you might make about philosophical belief structures. When you don’t understand the concepts, it’s clear that your arguments are going to be bogus.