On Atheism – UPDATED 2x

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.

28228-Thats-Unpossible-Ralph-wiggum-PcuIWhat 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!

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14 thoughts on “On Atheism – UPDATED 2x

  1. nightfly

    “…if you’ll forgive a poor joke, life has a certain irreducible complexity, and you need the right words to describe it.”

    Two of my favorite apologists, GK Chesterton and CS Lewis, each described this in wonderful ways. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy, says that Christianity convinced him not just because it predicted the easy and logical things, but also swerved when reality itself swerved – it described the illogical, difficult things as well. And in another place, he uses the metaphor of a man standing on a galloping horse – faith is the art of balancing in full career across the fields and through the woods. The very things that would topple you over if you tried them while sitting in a chair are going to keep that man in the saddle.

    Lewis, in The Pilgrim’s Regress, has Mother Kirk explain that in a world where nearly all the food is more or less poisonous, one needs very complicated rules to keep healthy.

    My personal experience is that modernism inverts this relationship. They over-complicate the simple things, and then try to boil the complicated things into bottom-lines and iron principles. Their theses and their manifestos are so much nonsense globbed up to hide the paucity of real ideas beneath; their laws are hundreds of pages to hide their true intent and result, which coulde be explained in three lines; they won’t give a straight answer to an honest question… but they will then demand that all people strangle their individuality under the same constricted actions and opinions and habits and routines, without any regard to their own real and compicated personalities; they make all their art about Message (and always the same tiresome Message about how bad everyone else is for daring to disagree with them); they project their personal dislikes into universal paradigm, replacing actual universals, which they strive to layer under so many caveats that they cannot be found.

    The TL;DR version: the explanations of faith illume, and those of modernity obscure. It’s the difference between a true master artist using a chisel to reveal the sculpture in the marble, and the lowly assistant who uses the broom to stir up the chips and dust on the floor. One makes art and the other a mess. Modernity is the dedicated attempt to willfully mistake which is which.

    1. Severian

      Well said! I especially like this:

      they project their personal dislikes into universal paradigm, replacing actual universals, which they strive to layer under so many caveats that they cannot be found.

      Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so long around academic types (and know what frauds and midwits so many of them are), but that seems to describe 99% of what passes for the “liberal arts” these days. There are really only two reasons to focus obsessively on the things academics do: Because they’re useful (you only get tenure for original research, which means novelty uber alles), or because the easiest and most effective way to make yourself feel less weird about your hangups is to assert that they’re not really hangups, but virtues.

      So: Scratch a “gender studies” prof, find someone with serious sexual issues. Scratch a history or literature prof, find someone who not-so-secretly loathes his putative subject. Scratch a Marxist, of course, and find nothing but envy. In any case, they care about academia’s holy trinity of race, class, and gender the way I care about any team playing the Yankees — my feelings for the team itself run from tepid indifference to outright loathing, but if they make the Yankees look bad, good enough.

      The universals, meanwhile, are easy enough to grasp, but they commit the cardinal sin — they make modern people, who are the specialist snowflakes that were, are, or ever could be, feel bad. The truth is, you’re not that important. You’re not part of the Vanguard of the Proletariat. Nor are you a special victim of the Koch Brothers, who spend their nights plotting ways to foil the good things only you can see. The Koch Brothers don’t actually think about you at all. No, not even as a wallet — consumers only matter in the aggregate. Nor are you some kind of genius who can see the logical or factual flaws everyone else has missed. Very smart, very dedicated individuals have been gnawing on Aquinas, say, for 800 years or so; what are the chances you’re going to see something they didn’t? (read him; I’d bet an Obamacare tax hike he’s thought of objections to his own position that you never dreamed of).

      And when you come down to it, that’s the one thing I can’t forgive the Left. The sheer, brass-balled dishonesty of it all. That they’re lying to themselves far worse than they’re lying to me doesn’t mitigate it at all, because their issues are harshing my mellow via the ballot box. Go ahead and have your issues. Everyone’s got issues. But they’re your issues, not mine, and certainly not Society’s. Quit pretending you’re some kind of saintly mega-genius for blaming your problems on everyone else.

      1. nightfly

        You’ve seen Darby O’Gill and the Little People? Near the end, Darby makes a wish that the King of the Leprechauns is obliged to grant, but that he would prefer not to, having actually become his friend. He pleads not to be commanded, but Darby insists. “More’s the pity,” he sighs. “Granted.” And since it’s Darby’s third wish that’s the end of the matter.

        These special snowflakes shall in like manner get what they wish for most ardently – and they ain’t gonna like it. Kick out God and He leaves. Rage against morals and the immoral trample all, including them. Be forever shocked when what one advocates is actually done back to one. And they have an uncanny knack for pre-empting the very things that might shock them into seeing a better way. If I hadn’t already been convinced of my faith, watching the way the modernists get everything 100% wrong all the time would do the trick… just by sheer accident or coincidence or variance, they ought to luck into a few good ideas. They never do; in fact they are often at pains to redefine good ideas as some -ism. It strongly suggests a will actively working woe in the world, since no random factor could perform so perfectly errantly.

        Maybe The Twilight Zone is so popular precisely because its cosmic comeuppances are so often apt. It’s impossible but it’s believable in the way that the Smart Set’s Hot Takes could never be – it understands human nature and reality. Those who set themselves up as the cheif idol in the Church of Self all wind up indistinguishable from each other, a pantheon of mediocrity; those who triumph nonconformity become relentlessly, boringly predictable. Again, why should they expect otherwise? Proclaiming the God of Ego means that all the other little Gods might prefer to worship themselves as well, so that every disagreement over every opinion, however inconsequential, becomes a holy war. To avoid it, best to stick to the herd instead of standing out and being the bewildered target of a social justice siege.

        They are pitiable.

        1. Severian

          These special snowflakes shall in like manner get what they wish for most ardently – and they ain’t gonna like it.

          To which I would say, “Good! Long may you enjoy it!”… except that we’re all going to get it right along with them.

          I know, I know, ignorance of basic history is liberalism’s flux capacitor. But you’d think science’s BFFs, as they so loudly proclaim themselves, would realize that motion in any direction is “progress.” Calling every single person you disagree with, on any subject whatsoever, a “racist” isn’t going to end “racism;” it’s going to make people conclude that hey, if I’m gonna be called one anyway, I might as well be guilty. Defending fake rape accusations as somehow true anyway isn’t going to stop rape; it’s going to make people dismiss rape allegations, even real ones. And so on.

          And look: I’m truly, truly sorry your lives are so plain and boring that you have to become Social Justice Warriors to find yourselves temporarily interesting. I really wish you had a core identity, not just a collection of hatreds. To my mind, there are few people more miserable than those who can’t stand to be alone with their thoughts for more than five minutes. I, too, pity you. But you’re going to richly, richly deserve everything you’re about to get.

          1. nightfly

            There’s no +1 button, so…


            Severian on December 30, 2014 at 9:07 pm said:

            These special snowflakes shall in like manner get what they wish for most ardently – and they ain’t gonna like it.

            “To which I would say, “Good! Long may you enjoy it!”… except that we’re all going to get it right along with them.”

            Ay, there’s the rub. These things tend to follow one of two patterns: the defenders of civilization are trampled from within by craven quislings, and the victors are too ennervated to resist the resulting invasion from without; or else the victors savage themselves in their frenzy of triumph. One is the fate of Rome, the other the fate of the Soviet Union.

            Our work in this world is really for those who come after that outcome, who will use our work as the blueprint to reassemble a healthy culture. Sometimes it succeeds, as in Rome, and sometimes not so much, as in Russia today; but that relies on the builders.

  2. JapanYoshi

    You know that Atheism isn’t the BELIEF that no god exists, but the LOGICAL CONCLUSION that no god exists, right? Atheism is as much of a religion as off is a TV program.

    1. severian Post author

      Yep, I sure do. And that’s why the second paragraph says, in its entirety:

      Y’all know that “atheism” is logically impossible, right?

      You might try actually reading the post before you comment on it.

      Rule 1 wins again.

      1. Robert Mitchell Jr.

        Heck, on one level, he’s actually correct, if the difference between a “cult” and religion is the first is merely an emotional reaction and the second is a coherent belief system that is logical (As it, follows it’s codified postulates).

    2. nightfly

      “Atheism is as much of a religion as off is a TV program.”

      It’s a clever quip, but even on its own terms, it fails. Only a fool would claim, after turning off his TV, that there was no such thing as television at all.

    3. Nate Winchester

      Atheism is as much of a religion as off is a TV program.

      No wait, hold on. This is bull****.

      Let’s take your metaphor and run with it. So in this metaphor, religion would be like a fandom (or Star Trek or Supernatural or Firefly etc) and fandom does all sorts of things like hold conventions and hang out at websites and clubs and read material related to the show (so all that would be faith conventions, websites, church, holy text etc).

      So atheism is like the “Off” tv ‘program’? But there’s conventions going on that are all dedicated to “Off”. One can find entire campus groups all devoted to “Off”, they even have buildings and incorporations. There’s countless websites devoted to “Off” and large amounts of fanfiction on it. That’s not even getting into the spokespeople that bill themselves as the biggest fans of “Off”.

      In other words, if people can’t really have any devotion to the “Off” show, THEN WHAT THE HELL IS THAT HUGE GROUP OF PEOPLE DOING EXACTLY THAT???

      To play with a Chris Rock quote: “Atheism may not be a religion, but it’s wearing the uniform of one.”

      Seems to me it’s not the religious that need to be convinced atheism isn’t a religion, but the atheists themselves.

      TL;DR – Atheists need to stop lying. To us, and especially themselves.

  3. Robert Mitchell Jr.

    Thank you very much, sir. I’m never sure how my thoughts will be taken, glad you were able to run with them.

    1. Severian

      We disagree on some things, my friend, but I always appreciate honest debate in good faith.

      I hope you and yours had a good Christmas and New Year’s.


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