Saturday, July 16, 2016

Killing One Bird With Several Stones

For my first entry I'm going after an article I found on a site called Words of a Fether titled, simply, Refuting Atheism. The following is intended to convey the assurance that atheism is perfectly fine and in no danger of being "refuted."

The author, who I'll call Fether for convenience sake, has made it super-easy for us to deconstruct his refutations by putting them in Claim/Refutation form. So let's get on with it!
Claim: Atheists don’t bear the burden of proof or have to justify their lack of belief in God, because it’s impossible to prove a negative.
A little clumsy but generally accurate. So what's the beef?
Rebuttal: Not all negatives are unprovable; it depends upon scope. I can prove there are no unicorns in my garage, but I cannot prove there are no unicorns on a planet many light-years away. So the only time a negative cannot be proved is if the scope of the claim is infinite or otherwise unobservable.
 I hope it's as obvious to you how dumb this statement is as it was to me.  Essentially Fether hasn't told us why atheists share the god-believer's burden of proof, he's only told us that it's not exactly impossible to prove a negative.
 It is impossible, he informs us, "if the scope of the claim is infinite or otherwise unobservable (sic.)"

 What is God  if not infinite and "unobservable"?  Who cares if Fether is able to prove some negatives (a claim I highly doubt).  The fact that no one can prove the negative existence of God is the only salient point that atheists need to deny any burden of proof.

 But atheists mainly don't have the burden of proof for another reason entirely, and not because negatives are unfalsifiable.
...the one who makes the assertion carries the burden of proof.
Couldn't have said it better myself, Fether. Way to go. Now you're using your head.
The atheist cannot escape this responsibility just because their claim is absurd or unfalsifiable or an infinite scope.
What claim?  Oh, I see.  I assume he meant to say that if an atheist makes the assertion that God definitely does not exist, then the responsibility of the burden of proof is his.

Which is true, but so what?

Sure , there are atheists who claim that there is definitely no God. They're called 'hard atheists' (as opposed to the 'soft atheists,' who simply lack belief) or they can be called 'gnostic atheists' (as opposed to agnostic atheists, who don't claim to know, but maintain that there 'probably' is no God based on the lack of convincing evidence).

 Hard atheists generally accept their burden of proof and are often prepared to argue their cases with plenty of good evidence (and sometimes not so good evidence) to back up their claim.  Soft atheists have no burden of proof.  They assert nothing therefore there is nothing for them to defend or provide evidence for.
Claim: God can’t make a rock too big for him to lift, so God is self-contradictory and thus cannot exist.
Don't strain yourself trying to reach that low-hanging fruit, there, bub.
Fether gets this one all wrong. If you're going to put your efforts into debunking a silly atheist riddle, at least get the riddle right. If God is all-powerful, can he create a rock so heavy that even he can't lift it?

The riddle is a half-hearted attempt to show that the idea of omnipotence is paradoxical being that it is necessarily self-limiting. It doesn't attempt to show that God can't exist. It only attempts to show that omnipotence is paradoxical.
Rebuttal: If God is disproved due to self-contradiction, then so is atheism, since it is defined by an impossible assertion.
Tu quoque fallacy.
Once again, atheism is not an assertion. It's the rejection of an assertion. And hold on... An impossible assertion?

So now Fether's saying it's impossible that God doesn't exist? Just a few paragraphs ago Fether was balking under the weight of the burden of proof, now he's saying that atheism is impossible? The balls on this guy.
This particular claim is an absurdity, on the level of a round square, and thus a logical fallacy.
That's kind of the point of the riddle, Captain Obvious. A round square is logically impossible. Omnipotence is logically impossible. Let's move on.
...if both theism and atheism are self-contradictory, then neither is possible, which means atheism is no more rational than theism.
Um... no.

This little chestnut about the rock that God can't lift isn't really an argument. It's just a little joke we atheists like to tell to piss off believers. It isn't a serious argument.

However the 'tu quoque' fallacy is an actual logical fallacy that Fether has put to good use above. "My God may be self-contradictory, but so is your unbelief. So it's a wash."

Only it isn't.

First of all. The immobile rock question serves one function; to challenge the theistic notion of omnipotence. It doesn't purport to show that God is self-contradictory.

How is atheism self-contradictory? Perhaps we'll find out in the next sentence.
The Theory of Evolution (ToE) proves from another angle that atheism cannot be true due to internal contradiction. In spite of the claim of immunity from the question of origins since “evolution only means change”, the fact remains that the atheist must believe in abiogenesis, and cannot claim indifference or irrelevance to the problem. If ToE has no starting point it cannot exist. Otherwise, atheists must concede that God can exist in spite of lacking a starting point, unless they want to claim the physical universe is eternal— which is no different from belief in an eternal God.
Oh wow. Where to start?

First of all, to be an atheist, one only need lack belief in God or believe that gods do not exist. That is the only requirement in order to be considered an atheist.

No one has an obligation under atheism to accept evolution or abiogenesis. Some scientists subscribe to the idea of panspermia, for example: the idea that meteors brought the building blocks for life from elsewhere in the universe when they crashed into our developing planet while it was still being formed. You could hold the opinion that aliens seeded life on our planet. You could posit that fairies used magic to conjure life into existence. You could believe any and all these things and still be an atheist.

Bluster if you will. Blather if you must. Atheism is the negation of the God concept and NOTHING MORE. 'A' - without + 'theos' - gods. Puleeease get it through your thick skull that if you want to try to disprove evolution or abiogenesis, you're more than welcome to duke it out with the overwhelming majority of scientists who accept evolution and evolutionary theory.

Evolution is a fact. If Fether doesn't believe that, then I'm sorry that he is out of touch with reality or that he failed to grasp elementary biology. But it doesn't even sound like Fether is challenging evolution or biology here.

Fether seems to be suffering from several misconceptions at once: First, that atheists must accept evolution and - by implication - abiogenesis. They don't, as I've said above.

Secondly, he seems to think that if an atheist simply accepts evolution and dismisses the question of origins, then he's opening himself up to the possibility that a God without an origin exists. This is laughable.

What atheist is going to say that life on earth never had to have a starting point? Answer: no atheist.

Thirdly, Fether is conflating the origins of life with the origins of the universe. He needs to decide what it is he's trying to refute.

Last of all, saying that an eternal universe is no different from an eternal god does not work out in the Christian's favor. For one thing, it is different. A god is a conscious agent while the universe is not, as far as anyone can tell.

For another thing, an eternal universe (loosely speaking) is much more plausible than an eternal god. Why? Because we know the universe exists. Even Christians know the universe exists.

How the universe could be eternal - whether by eternal expansion or universal oscillation or some other hypothesis - we can leave up to the cosmologists to figure out, and they may never know. But one thing is certain; this line of inquiry is a dead end if refuting atheism is your goal.
Claim: Atheism is the absence of belief.
Oh boy, here we go.
Rebuttal: Atheism asserts that no God exists; this is a belief. A true absence of belief would be agnosticism, where someone may have a personal conviction that something doesn’t exist yet still allow the possibility that they could be wrong.
We've already covered this tired apologist gambit. It's little more than a transparently weak attempt to define atheism in a way that the apologist thinks he can attack.

If this Fether person insists on being stupid, let's trot out the etymology. A - without + theos - gods.

He obviously doesn't know what atheism means, nor does he understand what agnosticism means. A - without + gnosis - knowledge.

Atheism is about a lack of belief. Repeating this ad infinitum to ignorant apologists is boring to the extreme. But while they insist on quibbling about the textbook definition of atheism (as if that helps their argument in the least) his ignorance about the meaning of agnosticism is simply unforgivable.

Agnosticism is not a "personal conviction" that allows for the "possibility" of being wrong. Agnosticism is an epistemic position that deals with the possession of knowledge.

I am an agnostic because I don't know whether God exists or not, but I'm an atheist because I don't believe that he exists. It's really simple and the fact that Fether hasn't grasped this makes me wonder if he's being willfully ignorant.
And in spite of whether a given individual atheist may claim that humanism is not the same as atheism, the Humanist Manifesto and related documents admit, proudly, that humanism is indeed a religion:
{Quotes from Humanist Charles F. Potter and John J. Dunphy that have no relevance to Fether's forced definitions of atheism and agnosticism.}
Most who identify as humanists claim that it only means a desire to improve human interaction, but the quotes above are solidly humanist and anything but positive or tolerant. It is a blatant attack upon theism, especially Christianity. Perhaps the humanists and atheists need denominations to accommodate all the variations.
Right. So Fether is sounding more like an idiot the more I read this article.

Here's what he's saying in a nutshell. "Atheism is the same as Humanism. Humanism is a religion. It's a bad religion because these two Humanists said mean things about Christianity."

This is a red herring.

Not only does he not make the connection tying atheism to humanism, he never lets us know exactly what this has to do with his gross misunderstanding of what people mean when they call themselves atheists.
Claim: Belief in God is no different from belief in unicorns or Santa Clause. If you believe in one, you must believe in all. (a.k.a. “the Flying Spaghetti Monster” assertion)

... The difference is that there is evidence and logic to back up theism.
Wrong. The difference is that most people recognize the absurdity of believing in unicorns or Santa, so there is no need to draw a distinction. Most people do not, however, recognize the absurdity in believing in a timeless, spaceless, omnipotent, disembodied mind that created the universe - so there is a dire need to draw a distinction. Thus, atheism.

And who says that if you believe in unicorns then that means you have to believe in UFOs?  Though I might argue that the idea of God is like Santa Claus in many ways, I would never tell a Christian he is obligated to believe in Santa Claus.
Since we observe that matter “runs down”, then it cannot be either eternal or self-caused, requiring a First Cause outside of the laws of physics; that is, it must be supernatural by definition.
This might sound like a really intelligent statement backed up with science-y statements, but let me show you how it's nothing more than hot air.

First of all, the fact that matter decays doesn't mean that the universe, in some form, is not eternal. The universe is not a closed system, so it isn't subject to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics in the way that Fether is suggesting.

Saying that the universe is or isn't self-caused isn't even a coherent hypothesis.  It's a creationist canard predicated on his religiocentric worldview which presupposes an intelligent "causer."

There isn't anything scientific about this statement and Fether proves it in the next clause by saying that what he's positing is "outside the laws of physics."

Well, sir, if you're going to jabber about nonsense that physics doesn't address, then why bring up physics in the first place?

  Fether is making an argument from ignorance. "I don't see how matter could be eternal if it's supposed to run down, so God must have done it!"
Claim: There is no evidence for the supernatural.
Oh Christ, please don't say that there is. Please. Just don't do it.
Rebuttal: It is the fallacy of “begging the question” to limit the definition of “evidence” to the purely natural, and then use that definition to deny any evidence exists for the supernatural.
Mmm, no. Once again, Fether needs to learn his fallacies. When one begs the question, one includes the conclusion of one's argument in the premise. Perhaps Fether thinks that there is an unspoken assumption that "evidence" means "purely naturalistic" evidence.

But what other kind of evidence should we accept? Creative evidence? Speculative evidence? Fabricated evidence? Hmm, perhaps Fether thinks we should use supernatural evidence to prove the supernatural exists? Talk about begging the question!
...if you calibrate a thermometer to measure in the range of zero to 50 degrees, you can’t use it as evidence that nothing ever gets below zero or above 50.
That would be stupid, wouldn't it? The problem with this example, though, is that a thermometer is a device for measuring naturalistic phenomena, namely temperature. Is there some sort of device that can reliably track supernatural phenomena?

Maybe the Ghostbusters can let us borrow their P.K.E meter...?
So since a purely naturalist philosophy can never observe the supernatural, it cannot be used to disprove it.
This is flatly untrue.  If a "supernaturalist" and an "naturalist" watch a magic trick, the supernaturalist sees a rabbit being pulled out of a previously empty hat, while the naturalist sees something to investigate, eventually discovering that it was a slight-of-hand illusion.
Is Fether trying to say that these two hypothetical people didn't just observe the same event?

Naturalists don't posit natural explanations for phenomena because they're biased toward natural explanations.  They posit them because they're the only kind of explanation that has ever yielded results, made testable predictions, tracked to the reality that we all find ourselves in.

Supernatural claims have never done more than muddy the waters of our understanding.

Claim: Religion is a dangerous idea because it’s anti-science.
No. Religion is a dangerous idea because it inspires people to fly planes into buildings.
It is patently false that religion is anti-science. In fact, evolutionary bias is demonstrably anti-science in that it refuses to recognize where actual empirical science leaves off and philosophical bias begins. It redefines science to include its own philosophy, then expresses outrage that others reject this new definition. It also shows fear of being challenged or having the burden of proof, because it often uses the courts to prevent certain contradictory evidence from being made known. True science would only put the evidence to the test and not predetermine the results.
Fether just showed that his idea of religion is absolutely anti-science. In this way he is ordinary among creationist apologists.

It's hard to find an actual argument in this conspiracy-ridden drivel. So I'm just going to ridicule the ideas contained in it.

It sounds like the usual creationist nonsense: Evolution isn't real science. Evolution has some sort of philosophical agenda. Evolution feels rage when people don't accept it. It's afraid of being challenged. If you feed it after midnight, evolution will multiply and take over your hometown.

If your goal is to show that religious people aren't the enemies of science, demonizing one of the most rigorously tested and well-proven theories in the history of science isn't going to help your case.

Neither is projecting. For all you creationists out there, projecting is a psychological term that describes the human tendency to assign qualities that you can't accept about yourself to another person or group of people.

Where can we find projection in Fether's invective?
True science would only put the evidence to the test and not predetermine the results
Ken Hamm, purveyor of the Creationist Museum and the Ark Park in Kentucky, in his infamous debate with science educator, Bill Nye, was asked by the moderator what it would take to change his mind about the truth of evolution. Nye gave five examples of evidences that would make him change his mind. He was there to champion evolution, but in the tradition of the scientific method, gave five examples of what would serve to falsify it.

The late Christopher Hitchens offered up his own when asked the same question years earlier; "Rabbit bones in the Pre-Cambrian."

Hamm, the evolution-denying creationist, refused to give a single one, and admitted that nothing could ever change his mind. His God was predetermined as the reason for biological diversity. No amount of evidence would sway him.

So maybe Hamm was a poor representative of the creationist cause. But I think not.

Far from being an outlier, Hamm expressed the typical attitude of the anti-evolution creationist. Unconcerned with scientific evidence, hell-bent on making the data fit his theology.
As for true danger rather than mere philosophical disagreement, atheism has no justification for being against such dangerous things as violence, since it cannot base morality on anything but personal preference.
Sure, why not? Let's throw morality into the mix.
Some atheists may object that it’s only rational to preserve one’s society and promote health and safety, but these are not objective, universal, scientific arguments. Survival of the fittest is inherently selfish and has no motivation to give others a competitive advantage. Pregnancy and childbirth are high-mortality and high-maintenance activities, which are detrimental to personal survival. So altruism is the opposite of evolutionary philosophy, and cannot be justified objectively by atheism.
I'll never understand apologists and their obsession with objective morality. Strictly speaking it is quite easy for an atheist to have an objective moral code. This is discussed by Sam Harris in his book The Moral Landscape.

If one understands morality to be a code of behavior that concerns itself primarily with the well-being of conscious life, then it is perfectly objective, universal, and scientific (and godless). There can be no doubt that there are actions that contribute and detract from a person's well-being, and no matter what a person's preferences are, his opinions, his peculiarities; that moral code remains objectively intact.

But aside from our epistemic understanding of a moral code, human beings have an innate desire to act in moral ways that is perfectly explicable by natural selection.

Fether misunderstands yet another concept; that of survival of the fittest. It does not refer to the survival of the strongest, the meanest, the most dangerous, or the most unburdened by complicating factors such as children and pregnancy. If that were the case the human race, along with all conscious life would have gone extinct long ago.

Survival of the fittest is an idea that refers to the suitability of a living thing to its environment. Now there very well may be an animal that abandons its young because to keep them close would endanger the parent. To avoid being naturally selected against that animal would have to have resilient offspring, or their progeny would have to be one of millions of siblings so that the chances of genetic survival are greater, or one (probably more) of a host of other factors.

It just so happens that our offspring are not resilient. They are weak and fleshy and require constant supervision. So one way for humans to avoid (essentially) being selected against would be to have more resilient offspring, but another way - the way that seems to have won out in the end - is for nature to select for the parents of offspring who nurture and care for their young.

Another misunderstanding Fether seems to have is that nature only selects for and against individuals. This is incorrect.

Nature selects populations. That is what makes altruism and even self-sacrifice perfectly logical within an evolutionary framework. Surely everyone remembers Spock's words of wisdom from Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan?

"The good of the many outweigh the good of the few, or the one."

That's basically why nature selects for the altruistic, self-sacrificial tendency within animal populations. Heroes, it turns out, are essential to the survival of a species. So hats-off to the honeybees, who die for the safety of their hives after delivering their one and only sting.

Surely Fether doesn't imagine that honeybees have Luke 17:33 in mind when they sacrifice their lives in defense of their hive?

So, to wrap up, altruism and morality are perfectly accounted for by evolutionary theory (which has no philosophy, by the way, and only describes the history of diversity and observations of the world that is).

I won't continue to dissect this article beyond the last point, since it seems to devolve into aimless rambling. But I'll provide some one-off sucker punches just for fun.
And why do atheists even care what anyone believes? If, as they claim, they are defined by not believing, then why is belief such an all-important matter to them?
Real quick, then. 9/11, religious persecution of gays and atheists, In God We Trust is on all our (U.S.) currency, atheists are kept from public office, religion hinders essential scientific progress like stem cell research, dweebs like you spread lies and misinformation about what we believe and what science teaches, etc. etc. I could go on but I won't.
To atheists, this means that the very concept of God is irrational and God cannot exist. Yet they themselves believe that all physical matter somehow came into existence without any cause
No we don't. We just don't believe that it came into existence through a supernatural cause.
since a physical cause begs the question and a non-physical cause can’t exist
It doesn't beg the question, as I've already shown, and I don't even know what a non-physical cause looks like so I'm agnostic about non-physical causes and I suspect you are, too.
Atheism operates on a double-standard by decreeing that any theistic belief is debunked if every one of its members can’t answer every single question
I love the irony here; Fether generalizes all of 'Atheism' and chides it for generalizing in the same sentence. And by the way, we don't mind if you can't answer every question. We just hate it when you pretend to know the answer when you actually don't.
It [atheism] is the very thing it claims to be against: a close-minded, irrational, fallacious, biased, zealous, activist philosophy
You mad, bro? I wonder if Fether always wraps up his intellectual refutations with a string of angry ad hominems.
The fact that atheists take offense at such a description is the ironic proof that the charges are true...
And if you're reading this right now it means you agree with everything I say. No punch-backs!

And that's Words of a Fether, folks.

Thanks for reading and feel free to leave your thoughts below.