Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Militant Atheism, Part 2

Yesterday, the New York Times published an interview with Alvin Plantinga, a distinguished emeritus professor of philosophy at Notre Dame.

In it, Plantinga made the case against atheism. He began by asking whether someone who does not believe that the existence of God can be proved should not be considered an agnostic, not an atheist.

He suggests that someone who believes that there is no God should base his belief on evidence. Let’s say that there is no empirical proof for the existence of God. What empirical proof is there that God does not exist?

If you are convinced, on the basis of science, that God does not exist, what experiments have proved it?.

Plantinga offers other arguments, many of them interesting and engaging. If the topic interests you, the article is well worth your attention.

The Plantinga interview proivoked a tweet from Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist whose work I admire greatly. In it, he said this about the Times article:

A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Ingenuity applied to rationalize the preposterous.

Does this not demonstrate the point that Gopnik was making (see yesterday’s post on militant atheism).

Why do true=believing atheists like Pinker find it so easy to denounce and dismiss, in strident tones, arguments with which they disagree?

I am convinced that Pinker would defend your right to free speech without question.

And yet, one day someone who has read his words will be put in a position of power. Perhaps he will have power in the media or in the academy. Perhaps, he will be asked his opinion of whether a book should or should not be published.

If he believes that a philosopher is offering “preposterous” arguments he might well decide that his works should not be published or that his ideas should not be taught. Of course, he will tell himself that he is acting in everyone’s best interest. Since he knows better than everyone else and since no one has free will anyway, he takes it upon himself to ensure that people do not waste their minds.

Once you see that it’s all in your best interest and that he possesses superior wisdom, you will, of course, allow him to make decisions for you. 


Anonymous said...

"Once you see that it’s all in your best interest and that he possesses superior wisdom, you will, of course, allow him to make decisions for you."

Indeed. This is the future the "brights" have in store for all of us.

Pinker's form of atheism is radical, absolutist rationalism in disguise. All that is worthy or worthwhile is subjected to analytical intelligence... the field of the brights. It is inflexibly materialist. If something cannot be proven, it's not real, nor worthy of consideration. That excludes a lot of human experience, most notably religion.


Dennis said...

After the snappy repartee Pinker failed to address the ideas put forth. The remark seemed to serve as a demonstration of a lack intellectual capacity. ADDRESS the concept and ideas with reasoned argumentation.

JP said...

"Why do true-believing atheists like Pinker find it so easy to denounce and dismiss, in strident tones, arguments with which they disagree?"

Because those arguments violate the tenets of his religion.

Sam L. said...

Industrial-strength mocking won't cure him, but sputtering apoplexy is sooooooooo amusing.

Ares Olympus said...

I find most debates about religion and agnosticism boring because they don't define their terms sufficiently for me.

My own agnostic position is that the unknowable exists, and what can be known or expressed about the unknowable largely has to be done by analogy and metaphors which only allow us to talk about what we don't know.

Consciousness is itself a word and symbol representing something somewhat unknown, which can be studied objectively and you can learn a lot but still have no idea what is consciousness and what isn't.

My speculation for example is to take it as a given that Darwinian evolution exists, and that abundance, natural selection and random mutation may be able to "explain" 99.99% of what we see, and yet if you could remove that unknown subtle 0.01%, you might find life is impossible.

So by analogy you might change the laws of physics so the density of water isn't greatest at 4C, and what does it matter, just a fraction of percent difference, and suddenly all lakes would freeze from the bottom to the top, and a dozen other subtle mechanisms of life no long work.

Similiarly you could see Darwinian evolution like Newtoniean Gravity, but over billions of years General relativity completely changes everything, stabilizes orbits towards circles rather than destabilizes them, again making life as we know it possible.

So what if "consciousness" is something like the density of water, or curvature of space time, a subtle hidden force that changes infinite improbabilities into reality? How would you test that? How would you disprove that?

So Atheistic foolishly take the 99.99% theory and call it complete, but can't ever test that, only accept it as probabilistic faith.

Perhaps someday we'll have a "consciousness suppression field" and then we can do experiments to see how well bacteria multiply and change compared to the lack of the field. Who knows what science can do someday? But until then I think humility isn't a bad idea.

What do I believe? I believe we all have subjective awareness, and that whatever divinity exists, it makes sense that it would communicate to us via our subjective awareness, and through metaphor and analogy, through our story telling and memory.

It seems doubly confusing, and any "religious experience" can be "reduced" to messages from our unconscious, and whether or not Jung's "collective unconscious" exists, and how it relates to God is all a mystery to me.

My atheist friends are hard to talk to because when I try to express my beliefs, or speculations, they want me to define my terms, and even if I can, its not "real" enough for them to care about, like it doesn't much matter if air exists as long as you have it to breath.

Rupert Sheldrake's ideas offer some direction for skeptics to explore - questioning the dogmas of science, and whether science laws, even the "hard sciences" are absolute, or subject to hidden variability? And the medical sciences are much more subjective, where placebos can sometimes do better than real medications.

And what's really wild is how easily we all "believe" in abstract measures of value like money, which slides us into a predetermined path that is dictated by society. If we make it, we're free, and if we try and fail, we're debt slaves for life.

I value all science and reason has given us, but I don't have an answer to the materialism trap. How do you give people greater power than kings of 100 years ago and not corrupt?

Religious folk think they know the answers, and I won't deny there's more security in tradition, but the same traps exist there - since you can warp any tradition into its polar opposite and not even notice.

If I ever had divine communication, the only clear message I've heard is "Pay attention!" and "don't believe everything you think" although the second was a bumper sticker.

n.n said...
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n.n said...
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n.n said...

It is trivial to reject articles of faith, but that is a meaningless exercise without cause.

I adhere to a neutral faith. It is an objective faith, which is constrained to a limited frame of reference, except for two articles of faith: individual dignity and intrinsic value. I recognize two orders (i.e. causal forces): natural and conscious. The philosophy is established through a reconciliation process, which seeks to assure the principles are internally, externally, and mutually consistent.

Atheism is boring. Theism is boring. I judge each by its contribution to improve the human condition. Atheism, a simple rejection of theism, has no value. Theism, purportedly guided by a divine philosopher, has value determined by its associated religion (i.e. moral philosophy).

I'll conclude with atheists can not be judged collectively other than on the basis of a single doctrine, and theists (e.g. Jews, Christians) subscribe to a faith and morality which does not obstruct their understanding and exploitation of the natural world.

While I do not share the faith of Jews and Christians, I do share their religion or moral philosophy.

Leo G said...

Church anyone?


I think it was Aristotle who said something along the lines that once you descend into insults, you willingly forfeit the debate.

Dennis said...


"Nei and his students studied the evolutionary patterns of a large number of multigene families and showed that they generally evolve following the model of a birth-and-death process.[25] In some gene families this process is very fast and caused by random events of gene duplication and gene deletion and generates genomic drift of gene copy number. Nei has long maintained the view that the driving force of evolution is mutation including any types of DNA changes (nucleotide changes, chromosomal changes, and genome duplication) and natural selection is merely a force eliminating less fit genotypes (theory of mutation-driven evolution).[14][24] He conducted statistical analyses of evolution of genes controlling phenotypic characters such as immunity and olfactory reception and obtained evidence supporting this theory."
Maybe what we think we know as ideas that can be proven by science, or what we think are proofs, are not as they seem. We may simple be those people that people in the future will call barbarians.
I have found that sometimes the easiest solution is what it is not.

Dennis said...

Forgot the key statement to the above possibilities. To be an atheist is to be a closed mind to the possibilities that may exist.

Recruiting Animal said...

The idea of God is almost incomprehensible so what is there to prove.

As for the images of God in the holy books, he seems to be more or less a man.

Christopher Hitchens said that the onus is on the believer in fantastic things to provide the evidence for them, not on the person who says they are unbelievable.