Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Irrational Atheism?

The Atlantic has an article called Irrational Atheism by someone called Crispin Sartwell.  It sounds like a tasteless British cracker, but this is a real person -- a philosophy professor.  Not that I don't love philosophy (*snicker*) but I would have expected better from someone with a Ph.D. who speaks to a captive audience a few hours per week.

His forthcoming book is a collection of essays, many of which are about music.  Yes, music.  Not philosophy.  Not atheism, either, though the title "How to Escape" sounds promising.  I'll give him aesthetics as a philosophical pursuit, but only because musicians will ignore him.  Unfortunately, we atheists just can't ignore stupid atheists.  They make us look bad.

Believers are not irrational in the sense of being crazy (usually), but in the sense of not using reason to make decisions.  They go with their feelings, which is why feel-good rock concerts and peer pressure are so effective with them.

Then they accuse us in tu quoque attacks of being equally irrational in our atheism: we are angry at god; we are disappointed by prayers that weren't answered; we are as rabid in our atheism as they are in their theism; and so on and so on and so on...

And now in this article we have an atheist saying some of the same stuff!
Religious beliefs are remarkably various. But sometimes it can seem that there is only one way to be an atheist: asserting, on the basis of reasoned argument, that belief in God is irrational.
... It can seem that way if you refuse to check out people who don't fit your prejudiced view.  The word "irrational" is on the continuum of Dawkins's "God Delusion."   Unfortunately, Dawkins and the other horsemen of "New Atheism" have attracted a lot of attention.  They do it by using loaded language like "delusion."
The aging "new atheists"—Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett, for example—pit reason against faith, science against superstition, and declare for reason and science.
Considering that the Christian Right and Islam have been attacking science, this is not without basis!
atheism embodies a whole picture of the world, offering explanations about its most general organization to the character of individual events.
Whoa Nelly!  I thought it was science that did that! Since when did non-belief in a deity equal science?  What about atheists who believe in UFO visitations, or Buddhist atheists?
Ironically, this is similar to the totalizing worldview of religion—neither can be shown to be true or false by science, or indeed by any rational technique.
*Facepalm*  The scientific method is a rational technique, so if you draw a false equivalence between science and atheism, you have to admit that it is RATIONAL!

Then he repeats the canard that atheism is a matter of faith.  In his case, he grew up atheistic, so perhaps it's a matter of believing what your parents believe... faith in parents.  But he goes beyond his limited experience (his words) and slams Dawkins and Hitchens:

 Their line of thinking often takes the form of disqualifying others on the grounds that they are irrational. But the atheist too, is deciding to believe in conditions of irremediable uncertainty, not merely following out a proof.
Not following out a proof?  Neither Dawkins nor Hitchens could be called a "philosopher," and only philosophers would say something this inane.  "Irremediable uncertainty" would seem to be the logical inability to prove a negative.  We all know that the non-existence of a deity can't be proven with 100% certainty, and if he'd bothered to read or listen to Dawkins or Hitchens he'd know that they have said that.  But....  the relative odds of there being a deity vs there not being a deity favor there being no deity by an enormous margin -- a margin that can be deduced.... rationally!

How many ways can the prediction of a deity fail before it has to be declared 100% false?  An infinite number, apparently.  How many ways can it fail before we can say it's 99% unlikely?  Let's count:  prayer doesn't work; deities don't appear to anyone but people who are primed by mental illness or Pentecostalism, and even then they only see their own deities; holy books are written in exactly the way one would expect if only human hands were at work; prophesies that are specific enough to be useful have been unmitigated failures; leaders who are supposed to be "men of God" lie, rape, steal, and in general do badly things despite their godly dispositions; any scientific "facts" of holy books have turned out to be false, as have many of their historical "facts" and they all disagree in the specifics within their own pages and they disagree with each other.

That one percent?  It's hope, not faith.
Religion at its best treats belief as a resolution in the face of doubt. I want an atheism that does the same, that displays epistemological courage.
If he's been paying attention to atheist writers, and not just the sciency ones, he'd see courage and rigorous honesty at every turn.  He criticizes atheists for "making a bold intellectual commitment about the nature of the universe, and making it with utterly insufficient data."

What does this really mean?  It means the rest of us aren't as knowledgeable as he is.  Coincidentally, he then drops Kierkegaard's name.  Take THAT, sciency atheist fanboys!

Kierkegaard defined faith as "an objective uncertainty held fast in passionate inwardness.”
... explaining that Christianity was the best thing to believe "because it was the hardest thing to believe."

Kierkegaard may have been an astute philosopher, but he couldn't have been aware of all the choices that could be harder to believe.  Personally, the world balancing on the back of a turtle seems harder to believe than a dying and rising god.  I don't see a leap here from Christianity being good because it's bad to atheism being good because it's bad.... or something.  I'm not sure what the point of that excursion was, unless it was to hit sciency types on the head with a name they didn't recognize.

Having started off with Kierkegaard, he drops a few more names, and then he gets into personal confession.  His "faith" in the universe's uncaring nature got him through some tough times.  He claims his personal experience trumps the personal experience of believers who find comfort in their beliefs. hmmm  ... Somehow he learned a lot of names but didn't learn what the "Problem of Evil" is.  Is that what it comes down to for him?  That atheism offers a solution for the "Problem of Evil" by making it a non-problem and a non-evil?  Well.... duh.  Does a person really have to be a philosopher to find comfort in the idea that one's suffering is the result of random chance and not punishment for thought crimes or being the descendent of fairy-tale apple eaters?

And is that irrational?  It's very rational to look at personal disasters as the result of random chance.  So... he wants Dawkins - Hitchens fanboys and fangirls to be more like him?  He's just admitted to being rational.  Or perhaps he wants to take Hitchens's place in the pantheon of atheist thinkers.

I suddenly feel the urge to get back to the book on narcissism that I've recently started reading.  But first, I'd like to share some philosophizing by some of the best:  Monty Python's Flying Circus's Australian Philosophers sketch and the Philosophers Song for good measure.


Infidel753 said...

The "atheism is just as irrational as religion" stance, and even the "New Atheists are just as intolerant as the religious" stance, have become fashionable -- there's no other word for it -- in certain circles, including among some atheists. I've seen it parroted by bloggers who should know better. As you've demonstrated here, it doesn't stand up to serious scrutiny. It's a fad, a more-iconoclastic-than-thou pose. As such, it probably won't last, though it's very annoying while it does.

What I can't forgive, though, is the fashionable bashing by these atheists of pioneers like Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, without whom the bashers would probably still be facing a far more hostile social environment and wouldn't have dared to be known as atheists in the first place.

LadyAtheist said...

Very true. It would be like neo-feminists bashing The Feminine Mystique.

Keith Riggle said...

Love the Monty Python clip!

Our friend Crispin has written some decent stuff on politics (, but he's way off base on this one. His description of atheism as irrational is idiosyncratic; it may apply to him, but not to a lot of atheists/agnostics who are former believers and arrived at unbelief through a rational examination of the empirical evidence.

L.Long said...

This says...Believers are not irrational in the sense of being crazy (usually), but in the sense of not using reason to make decisions.
Well you are being nice, but not me. If you are put away because you are hearing voices than why not for believing in talking snakes.
religious are psychotically delusional because no matter how much evidence you give them they don't care, as one of them said that if the book of BS said 2+2=5 he would believe it.
They are liars....
I KNOW jesus loves me & there is a heaven and a hell. BS!!! they don't KNOW any of those.
They are hypocrites.....
Gays are nasty...but divorce is OK. Especially when their imaginary friend SAID NO DIVORCES!!! And did not say anything about gays.
They are bigots....
Hate gays!!!! Hate atheists!!!
They are not moral....
Doing good to go to heaven or not doing bad to avoid hell is not moral it is FEAR!!!
They have a kids intellect...
Most at the age of 16 give up imaginary friends.
Yes as atheists there are some who also are in ways similar, but not because of atheism, as atheism is just no belief thru lack of good evidence.

L.Long said...

My 1st comment was more on religion, What about 'irrational atheism'??
I think the statement is wrong as atheism is nothing more then lack of belief because of the lack of evidence. That alone makes it 1000x more rational than any religion. BUT... there are irrational atheist.
As in Bill Maher.
But intolerant to religion?? Other than it is irrational, I don't think so. If you listen to the 'new atheist' you will see that we are intolerant to religion that shovels their BS up other peoples asses!!!

LadyAtheist said...

Moderate and liberal religionists are harmless. We assumed all of them were harmless until 9/11 and since then we're not going to give the nutters a pass. Why be tolerant of people who are so intolerant that they would kill other people because of religion? That would be "a foolish consistency." ("A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds" -- Emerson)