This is kind of a placeholder post — it’s the least I can do that isn’t a straight-up SNUL — but Morgan had an update on something that I find perennially bothersome, so…
Y’all know that “atheism” is logically impossible, right?
I don’t mean that it’s logically necessary that there be a God — though I do actually maintain that.* It’s the whole “proving a negative” thing. For either sense of the word “believe,” you’re screwed.
1) If you “believe” in the nonexistence of God in the same way you believe in the nonexistence of aliens, then the best you can do — logically speaking — is agnosticism. Yeah, the current “evidence” for their existence — abductions and probes and the like — is beyond flimsy. And yeah, every single term in the Drake Equation is an ass-pull. But if an actual flying saucer landed in your backyard, and little bald extraterrestrials with big eyes really started doing unspeakable things to your bottom, you’d have to believe. Right? Otherwise, you’re dealing with
2) The dogmatic sense of the word “believe.” You’re saying that there is no possible evidence that could convince you. No chain of reasoning is so tight, no standard of proof so precise, that you’d believe it. Even as you’re strapped to the table, and the Grays are slugging it out with the Reptilians over who gets first crack at your sphincter, you’ll remain utterly, dogmatically certain that it’s a practical joke, or swamp gas, or a weather balloon. Which is exactly the kind of thing Christofascist Godbags do, no?
What “atheists” really mean when they say they don’t believe in God is that they don’t like Christians. Or, more typically, they really don’t like one particular Christian who plays a prominent role in their lives (usually Daddy). And because the gap between “a logically necessary Creator” and “the Being described in the Bible” really does require a leap of faith to cross, wannabe-atheists take “lack of scientific proof for Jesus’s miracles” to mean “Christianity is false.” Which entails that Daddy is full of crap, which is really all they wanted to assert in the first place.
But because every teenager in the history of ever has thought his or her father full of crap, and because agnosticism doesn’t get you any freethinking rebel street cred, they have to ramp all this up to “there is no God” to temporarily find themselves interesting.
And that’s sad.
*St. Thomas Aquinas’s famous five proofs for the existence of God are more than enough to show that a Creator was — and is– logically necessary. You don’t need to plow through the Summa to get them, either. Eward Feser sums them, and the most common objections to them, up very nicely in his Beginner’s Guide to Aquinas, and develops them at length in his The Last Superstition. It’s true that Thomism isn’t easy, but a lot of that is due to a whole bunch of Scholastic technical vocabulary. But sometimes technical vocabulary is necessary to describe how things actually are — if you’ll forgive a poor joke, life has a certain irreducible complexity, and you need the right words to describe it. But nothing should be too daunting for the giant intellects of freethinking sophomores, and that’s doubly true of the liberal ones, who are far, far Smarter than the Angelic Doctor could ever have hoped to be. Go ahead — give it a whirl. Show that medieval so-and-so who’s boss.
Update 1/1/2015: This started as a reply to Robert Mitchell Jr., but I thought it was widely-enough applicable to warrant inclusion above the fold. Mr. Mitchell says:
[religion] is a coherent belief system that is logical
To which I say: Exactamundo. David Stove — an atheist — explains the problem I have with anti-religion* folks in a nutshell, in an essay called “What is Wrong with Our Thoughts?” He starts by making fun of the famous (among theologians and early-medieval historians) argument that led to the Schism between the Roman and Eastern Orthodox Churches: the filioque controversy. The question is: Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father alone (the Eastern position) or the Father and the Son?
Stove points out that this question can’t be solved by logic alone. If it could, the medievals — who were monomanically focused on logic — would’ve solved it. Whichever side of the question you choose, the logic will be impeccable.
Now, Stove says this is a prime example of thought gone bad, precisely because it’s so logical. If you find the statement “the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father alone” to be nonsense, good luck using syllogisms to prove it. You have to attack the terms: “Holy Ghost,” “Father,” and “proceeds.” And those, too, are impervious to logic. They’re also impervious to empirical proof — which is why Stove thinks they’re nonsense — but formal logic has nothing to do with it.
But most people badly misuse the word “logical” — which was the point of my post. This JapanYoshi guy, for instance, claims to have logically concluded that God doesn’t exist. Which is impossible, in the same way it’s impossible for me to logically conclude that the Holy Ghost does exist, or that It proceeds from the Father alone. Or, if we want to stick with the metaphor of the original post, the way it’s impossible to logically conclude that aliens don’t exist.
You can’t prove a negative.
What this fellow wants to assert, I’m sure — and if I’m misreading you, buddy, feel free to come on back and correct me — is that it’s reasonable to conclude that God doesn’t exist, or that it’s likely God doesn’t exist, or that there is no evidence for the existence of God (for certain carefully selected values of “evidence”). All of which are reasonable enough propositions; they’re the same ones we mean when we say aliens, unicorns, and/or honest Democrats “don’t exist.” They’re just not logical, in the strict, formal sense I’m using.
Or, alternately (and I suspect this is the case), he’s trying to assert that the Being described in the Bible doesn’t exist. Which, again, is a reasonable enough proposition — not even Aquinas, whose proofs for the existence of a Creator I find indisputable, would argue for the existence of the Christian God from formal logic. But you can’t disprove Him with formal logic, either. We simpy can’t know all the attributes of the Creator from pure reason (though we can know a surprisingly large number of them; again, see Feser’s Beginner’s Guide to Aquinas).
Which is why I put the asterisk behind “anti-religion” up there. Every “atheist” I’ve ever met has only been concerned with his (and it’s always his) culture’s dominant religion. It bothers Western atheists not a whit that Hindus (supposedly) believe in 330 million gods; they only ever want to talk about Jesus. And this is a testable hypothesis — invite a Western atheist to schlep on down to the local mosque and have a heart to heart with the folks there about the nonexistence of Allah. In just the same way, the Indian “atheists” I’ve met don’t care about Jesus; they either want to bang on Hinduism or Islam (or both), depending on which part of the Subcontinent they came from and the vitriol of their personal politics.
Again, all of which is fine. Disbelieve in Christianity all you want. Make fun of Christians all you want. Christianity has had thousands of defenders; if none of that changes your mind, then you’re not going to see the light on a blog with about four regular readers. But don’t come in here talking about logic. That dog won’t hunt.
[And if, by some miracle, you really do think God’s nonexistence is demonstrable by means of formal logic, and you’ve got a proof all worked out on paper, then by all means take it to your local university. Or, heck, take it up with Edward Feser. He’s got a blog; I’m sure he’d love to hear from you].
UPDATE 2x (1/3/2015):The Superficial “Logic” of Atheism
This started as a reply to Nate Winchester, but I also think it has above-the-fold applicability:
As Mr. Winchester points out, there sure are a lot of conventions, fanfic, etc. for the tv non-show “Off.” Which, again, shows that this is not a logical position. Logic stands or falls on its own.
All men are mortal;
Socrates is a man;
therefore Socrates is mortal
is true whether nobody defends it, or if we hold a giant “mortality of Socrates” rally in Wembley Stadium. Similarly,
All men are mortal;
Socrates is not a man;
therefore Socrates is immortal
doesn’t hold, no matter if ditto (“Socrates” could be the name of my pet goldfish; and goldfish are most certainly mortal).
I think “atheists” get caught up on points like this, especially when expressed formally:
All A are B; A; therefore B
is universally valid, but
All A are B; ~A; therefore ~B
isn’t. This is no insult to the intelligence of “atheists” — or, if it is, it’s an insult to my own intelligence, too, because I surely thought the second statement was valid back when I took Logic 101, and had to go to the prof’s office hours to get it explained to me. It sure looks right there on the page — especially to the non-mathematically inclined like myself — but is easily shown to be false when you plug in real-world examples (e.g. my pet goldfish, “Socrates”).
Alternately, lots of “atheists” might think it’s believers who are getting caught up in this kind of thing (All men are mortal; Jesus was a man; therefore Jesus was mortal; therefore Christianity is illogical).
Which, again, is fine — Christianity is illogical. That’s why it depends on faith. If you want to maintain that belief in the divinity of Jesus is illogical, knock yourself out. As I’ve said, I’ll even agree with you! But that’s a far different thing from saying God does not logically exist (and you’ll note, just for the record, that “All men are mortal; Jesus was a man; therefore Jesus was mortal” isn’t sufficient to “prove” atheism, since this is a tenet of faith among Jews and Muslims).
There are two other superficially logical arguments for atheism that I can see, because I used to find them appealing. The first goes something like this:
If God, who is all good, exists, there would be no evil in the world; evil exists; therefore God does not exist.
This is the famous problem of theodicy, and you don’t need a blog with four readers to run you through it. But I will point out that if you use this argument, you’re putting yourself on the same kind of logical hook those stupid believers are on — if there’s no God, then Evil exists in the same way the speed of light exists, or gravity exists. It’s just a physical constant; just part of the way the universe happens to be. But if that’s the case, then it isn’t really Evil, is it?
The other one goes something like this:
All cultures have a notion of God, but might just be part of our wiring. Our belief-in-God behavior is no different than a dog’s sniffing-other-dogs’-butts-behavior; belief in God is innate to human-ness the way butt-sniffing is innate to dog-ness.
Again, this is reasonable. It might even be true. But it’s only logical in the sense that it’s a tautology — we do what we do, because that’s what we do. To go beyond this
we can only do what we are biologically capable of doing;
therefore God does not exist
is quite obviously a Gem (and not one of the prettier ones, either). And if you try to weasel out of the tautology by saying “humans have a biological tendency to believe in God,” you’re succumbing to the Ishmael Effect — how did you, a human, escape humanity’s near-universal tendency to belief? What makes you so special?
Obviously none of these prove the existence of God, let alone the Christian God (as I believe — heh heh — I’ve said about 3,000 times now). Indeed, both the Gem and the Ishmael Effects, two of the most useful concepts I’ve ever come across, were developed by avowed atheist David Stove. I’m sure he read the Thomistic arguments I find irrefutable; clearly they didn’t convince him. And since Stove is obviously far smarter than me, it’s entirely possible that there is some IQ threshold above which it’s logically possible to prove a negative.
But if that’s the claim you’re making, champ, then you’re facing what I call The Fundamental Paradox of Internet Liberalism:
- Conservatives are too dumb to understand liberal arguments;
- If they were smart enough, they’d be liberals;
- I’m arguing with them anyway
Compared to that, atheism is “logical” indeed!