Atheists strain to demostrate my description of them is not a strawman
|January 30, 2009||Posted by Anthony under atheism, Blog, General, philosophy, theism, theology|
I have been hugely entertained by reading an extended forum discussion responding to my post yesterday which was a paraphrase of several conversations I’ve had in the last few months. As one might expect, it was immediately objected that my protrayal was mere strawman and does not represent the ‘real atheist’ position. This begs a very interesting question: isn’t any argument put forward by an atheist a real atheistic position? It begs another question: if I did not represent the real atheistic position, why do so many atheists espouse it, engage in the same kind of tactics, and why did virtually every member of that discussion leap to corroborate exactly what I was detailing?
Indeed, virtually every aspect of my ‘paraphrase’ was reflected in the answers that spewed forth, from the hypersensitivity to perceived insults “lay off the ridicule” “that’s just arrogance” while barbs are flying from their own side “are you just some smart a– 12 year old kid who got a certificate in your local church “Defense of Christianity” Sunday School Class?” to the random ‘catch-all’ argument that proves atheism right, the smug reference to ‘ancient books’ such as “You base your thought process on a 1900+ year old set of desert scribblings.” Throw in the knee jerk attempt to force the theist to argue in the terms that the atheist himself is dictating, not the terms the theist is actually presenting, “what in the world does bible god have to do with the Big Bang?!? It is not in your bible, stop trying to hijack the BB theory and pretend that your god caused it.” Let’s not forget the constant ‘rebuttals’ that in fact we ‘don’t know’ and ‘can’t know’ from people who apparently are atheists, and not agnostics.
All these are variations of my paraphrasing.
A certain fellow at the beginning complains, “Except that on this forum, the “them” aren’t straw-men who just insult you and give one word answers while you give eloquent paragraphs.”
Now of course I wasn’t singling out this forum before I began. He is responding to another theist’s accusation that my paraphrase was apt. However, his complaint has little merit if this thread was representative. The only difference are the ‘one word answers’ but that is not a substantial difference because the ’50 word answers’ communicate the exact same sentiments as the one word answers. I could cite example after example.
The most prominent set of examples concerns the actual substance of the theistic argument. The actual argument is obviously only trying to provide a basis for theism, and not Christian theism, so references to Genesis and ‘ancient scribblings’ is completely out of order. In short, the argument is:
- Something must have always existed.
- The universe isn’t it.
- So, something else must be the thing that has always existed.
The first statement is often made by theists and atheists often retort, “Fine, then why not the universe?” To which the reply is, “Uh, how about because the evidence is that the universe hasn’t always existed?”
At that point we find out that they were just kidding about that whole “I bravely follow the scientific evidence wherever it leads, I don’t go in for that ‘desert scribbling’ junk” line. For, if it is agreed that something must have always existed, and it is agreed that the universe isn’t it, then that is prima facie evidence for the existence of God. At the very least (as I said in my paraphrase) it provides a reasonable and rational basis for investigating the question deeper. It is not, as we often hear, like the ‘Dragon in the garage’ or the FSM or the Invisible Gardener, where the putative existence of the thing appears to be utterly ad hoc and arbitrary. If it is agreed that something must have always existed and the universe does not appear to be it, then you have a basis for investigating further.
The most profound demonstration of the applicability of my paraphrase comes near the end, with a certain gentlemen (reply 33) conceding virtually everything: Yes, science appears to break down, yes, logic itself seems to break down, yes the laws of nature itself breaks down, yes, there does seem to be a point in which our vaunted reliance on science to point the way fundamentally, and in principle, ceases to be usable. And the gentlemen has the audacity to say,
Since our logic doesn’t seem to provide answers for these things we can either make up myths and claim that various things are true, or we can simply admit that we don’t know and keep searching. The fact that we don’t know things doesn’t imply a god exists or that no god exists. It simply means that we don’t know.
Here you see summarized the entire atheistic mindset. In the face of what we do know, the atheist pleads that we are fundamentally ignorant- but is not an agnostic, paints the alternative as ‘made up myths’, and then denies that this fundamental ignorance has no implications to the debate. In the same post he concludes with: “This notion of time beginning at a certain point DOES NOT help either the argument for god or against god.”
Really? Not at all? Not even a little bit? Whatever, dude.
It certainly helps this argument for the existence of God. Since the basic assertions of my argument are being conceded in reply 33 (ie, I don’t have to prove what scientists themselves say about our fundamental limitations through the scientific method) let me reiterate the implications.
1. If anything is to be known about what was ‘before’ the Big Bang, it won’t be through the scientific method. (If you don’t believe me, see reply 33 for the argument why this is so)
2. The apparent discrete ‘beginning’ of the universe, shrouded in fundamental ignorance, does prove one thing: if something has always existed, it isn’t the universe. (This is true whether you think time is a function of the Big Bang or not). Thus, we are justified in our belief that there is ‘something else.’
3. But since Science has its hands tied, in principle, if we are to every know anything at all, it won’t be through science. We will have to explore other methodologies. This isn’t negotiable. It is a fact born of the actual situation science has apparently uncovered.
4. People who nonetheless continue to insist on using ‘science’ as their primary tool for investigating this ‘something else’ are being irrational, and truly objective and dispassionate seekers of truth can safely dismiss the arguments of the person if you see that they have just admitted that science is useless on the point but they still insist on using science. There is no reasoning with such a person. The best you can do is expose the inconsistency and move on with your life.
5. People who insist that the fact of an apparent beginning of the universe has no implications (ala, reply 33) on the question of theism are actually in violation of my point #4. Why? Reply 33 goes out of its way to admit that science can’t help us but that only means we are ignorant, not that this implies the existence of God or any ‘something else.’ Ignorant how? Ignorant only if we restrict our methodology to the scientific method, that’s how.
6. But there is no reason to restrict ourselves to the scientific method in general (no one does in practice) and we certainly don’t have to restrict ourselves to that method after we bump into the limits of the method itself.
7. By nature of the ‘something else’ under consideration, being fundamentally immune to scientific detection, it follows logically that if we are to ever know anything reliable about this ‘something else’ it will have to reveal itself to us. We cannot go to it. It will have to come to us. Revelation. It will have to reveal itself to us or there will be little we can know except that it exists.
8. The knee-jerk attempt to demand that in making this argument I have to now “match the BB theory to the events of Gen 1-2.” (reply 35) is in line with my paraphrase:
Me: You are equiovocating. I only said Revelation but you automatically assumed I meant ‘The Bible.’ That isn’t at all what I meant.
Them: But Christians believe that the Bible is God’s Word, God’s revelation. So my assumption was reasonable.
Me: Maybe you think so, but that is not what I am saying, so at least in regards to me, you can set that assumption aside. That is not what I mean when I use the term.
Them: Nonsense, you’re a Christian. That’s what Christians mean. Like I said, the Bible is a stupid way for God to reveal himself.
Nowhere in my argument (or in the arguments of EB in that thread) has any attempt been made to equate the ‘something else’ with the particular God described in the Bible, so it is unreasonable for the atheist now to demand that we do so. The argument is nothing more than an argument for ‘mere theism’ and it is nothing more than a page out of the atheist’s playbook (Distract, Divert, and use Derogatory language while you are doing it (the author of reply 35 is also the one that resorted to ‘desert scribbling’).
9. So what do I mean by Revelation? Well, one thing I mean is that I don’t automatically assume that this ‘something else’ will reveal itself or that it is able to do so. The argument doesn’t prove a personal God. It only dispels the frequently asserted notion “if something has always existed, why not the universe?”
10. If that is all that it does, then what really is the point? You are a Christian. Why would you be satisfied with a theism even wimpier than deism? (this is a variation on #8). I will tell you why. Because the atheistic mindset has already reached a verdict on various revelatory accounts, describing them as invented myths, desert scribblings, etc., etc. If, however, you recognize that science is fundamentally limited on addressing the question then you will approach revelatory accounts with an open mind, more humility, and less open derision and hostility. For, whether you like it or not, whether you don’t find it as reliable as direct scientific observation, Revelation- and hence evaluating accounts of Revelation- is all you’ve got.
Who knows what would happen if one approached various accounts of revelations with actual objectivity that did not presume methodological naturalism in all methods, not just scientific ones? Perhaps like Francis Collins and Hugh Ross (ie, Christian evolutionists and Big Bangers) they would discover that there are in fact plenty of evidences for theism, and Christian theism in particular, that are hidden behind the dark veil of blind faith scientism. Well, as an apologist, that is what I am hoping to achieve.
I have a forum post of my own that will shed light on similar topics, including the coercive impotence of logical argument, the necessity of revelation, and some hints on how Christianity is unique in these regards.