Atheism and Critical Thinking

A post at Z Man’s got me going.  I had some thoughts that aren’t appropriate for his comments, but wanted to throw out there for discussion.

Yesterday I said that “if I had to pick the one worst thing about America 2016, it would be ‘failure to listen to the very words that are coming out of one’s mouth.'”  Today I’m going to add: “Failure to know what the words coming out of one’s mouth even mean.”

For instance, “atheists” aren’t really atheist.  For one thing, we all know that it’s logically impossible to prove a negative.  That sounds like hair-splitting semantics, but that’s my point — the word atheism is, by its very nature, self-contradictory.  The very best one can logically do is agnosticism — concluding that, given all the evidence, the probability of there being at least one god is vanishingly low.

So: “atheism” doesn’t mean what it means.  The first step in clear thinking is recognizing the meaning of the words one uses.  That’s why Big Brother invented Newspeak — without the vocabulary to express forbidden thoughts, forbidden thoughts would not arise.

In practice, of course, atheist means “anti-Christian.”  Ever met a South Asian atheist, who insists there is no Vishnu?  There’s probably one out there somewhere, but atheism seems to be a strictly Western preoccupation.  And even then its confined to a subset of the West, as I’m pretty sure the Dawkins types aren’t trolling Jewish blogs about Yahweh and all the contradictions in the Torah.  It’s Jesus, specifically, that our atheists are hacked off at.

And that’s perfectly fine.  Christianity is absurd.  Its claims rest on the literally impossible — the self-resurrection of a man, who was also a god.  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof to be known as fact, and short of actually being there in the tomb and seeing the breath of life come back into his three-day-old corpse with your own eyes, there is no proof extraordinary enough to move that claim into the realm of fact.

So if you want to claim that Christianity is ridiculous, I’ll agree with you 100%.  Its central claim, the foundation of 2000 years of belief, violates all known laws of physics and the logical law of non-contradiction.  But in return, I’d like you to admit that this does not preclude the existence of any and all gods; it simply invalidates the claims of this particular god.  To admit, in short, that you’re not an atheist — you’re just anti-Christian.

Show of hands: who thinks our evangelical atheists would take this deal?

The irony here is especially corrosive, as guys like Dawkins have convinced generations of young neckbeards that they’re critical thinkers.  They charge into e-battle armed with long lists of contradictory stuff in the Bible, books excised from the New Testament by the Church Fathers, claims about the fossil record, and whatnot.  As if all this proved that it is impossible for any god to exist!

As I said at Z Man’s, it’s the arrogance of this that bugs me the most.  They act as if the first time they think of something is the first time in all of human history that thought has been thunk.  As if Christians haven’t been struggling with this stuff for 2000 years.  As if nobody ever picked up his Bible and noticed that there are multiple divergent accounts of important events.  As if no less a theologian than St. Thomas Aquinas didn’t come right out and declare that the truths of revelation can’t be proved by reason…..

Et cetera ad nausam.  They have the stones to call this “critical thinking,” when in fact it takes breathtaking ignorance of intellectual history to even call their piddly little assertions “problems.”  But then again, what else can one expect from folks whose very movement name is a misnomer?

Again, if you want to be anti-Christian, go nuts.  Since I’m not invincibly ignorant of the Western cultural tradition, I know that anti-Christianity has a long, long pedigree.  A Roman emperor wrote a pretty good book about it, and of course there’s Hobbes, Hume, Nietzsche… you’ve got some heavy hitters in your corner, is what I’m saying.  Check them out.  But please, stop pretending you’ve proven there is no God, when all you’ve demonstrated is that you’ve got a beef with Jesus, mmmkay?

Buddy_christ

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5 thoughts on “Atheism and Critical Thinking

  1. Nigel Ray

    This is just a side note on one thing you said: “For one thing, we all know that it’s logically impossible to prove a negative.”

    This is false. In formal logic, Denying the Consequent is an argument form that proves a negative. 1. If A then B; 2. not B; therefore 3. not A. Example: If I had wrecked the car, it would be all messed up, but it is sitting in the garage as good as new, therefore I didn’t wreck it.

    A more common form is the Exclusive Or. If A is true or B is true, but both cannot be true, then by proving B you can disprove A. Example: You say I robbed that liquor store last night, but I have video evidence that I was at the casino, timestamped by their security system, at the same time that the robbery took place. Therefore, it wasn’t me that robbed the place.

    It might be argued that I hacked the casino security system, and so the video shouldn’t be trusted. But all this would show is that you can’t prove a positive, not that you can’t prove a negative.

    Finally, one of the fundamental principles of the scientific method is Falsification. If some cannot be disproved, it cannot be considered a proper scientific theory. So all of science is based on proving negatives.

    1. severian Post author

      Holy Asperger’s, Batman! Let’s think this through:

      If A is true or B is true, but both cannot be true, then by proving B you can disprove A.

      It’s either true that there is a god, or it’s not. A is “there is a god;” B is “there is not a god.” So, yeah, by disproving that there IS a god, you’ve decisively proven that there is NOT a god. Good show!

      Falsification is a fundamental principle of Karl Popper’s version of the scientific method. There are lots of problems with it. For instance, the presence of one unicorn would disprove the hypothesis “there are no unicorns.” But at what point do we have sufficient unicorn non-sightings to definitively say “there are no unicorns?” That way lies Postmodernism, where we assert for a fact that there’s no such thing as a fact.

      1. Nigel Ray

        Nothing Asperger’s about it. You said it’s logically impossible to prove a negative. I’m sorry if I went on too long about it, but you can prove negatives. Have you got an answer to my liquor store robbery example?

        1. Severian

          No answer is needed, as the point of both the reply and the post itself have obviously sailed over your head.

          Here, let me help you: “It is logically impossible to prove the nonexistence of something.” There. Now can you sleep better at night?

  2. Nate Winchester

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof to be known as fact, and short of actually being there in the tomb and seeing the breath of life come back into his three-day-old corpse with your own eyes, there is no proof extraordinary enough to move that claim into the realm of fact.

    This may be of some interest to you, Sev.
    http://tektonics.org/lp/nowayjose.php

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