"Atheists are Believers Too"

A ridiculous new article in the Huffington Post is filled with various logical fallacies and a tremendous misrepresentation of atheism. I've made several posts in the post defining atheism, responding to "is atheism a religion," etc, but I'll deal specifically with this article in this post.

Christians do not have sure knowledge of these things. They believe them -- deeply and sincerely, and for all sorts of reasons -- but they do not know them in the same way that we know that fire will reduce a book to ashes, that there are billions of galaxies in the universe, or that gravity works. Some Christians claim this kind of knowledge, but they are wrong. The same goes for Christians -- and any religious person -- who would say, "I know God exists."

To claim a belief in a god is to make a positive claim. To hold a belief is to take a stance where you stand in some position to make a claim about reality that is based on good reason. There are certainly different levels of knowledge such as "I believe God exists," "I believe that my friend will meet me at 6PM" and "The temperature is 90 degrees," but these are all claims about reality that people hold based on good reason. I can have a confidence level in probabilistic beliefs, but saying that believing isn't knowing seems to be very evasive and potentially setting up burden shifting (as you will eventually see in this article.

For more coverage, I discussed the argument "I don't know God exists, but I believe" in a previous post after people from my Christianity class tried this argument and tremendously failed.

No one can know that God exists in the sense of proof or logical demonstration. Rather, people of faith believe God exists for all sorts of reasons that can't be laid out in a spreadsheet or observed through a telescope.

Of course they can! Believers make very specific claims about the nature of the universe and Christianity makes very specific claims as evidence of God such as "Jesus was a real historical person who was crucified and was raised from the dead," "The universe was fine-tuned for our existence," etc and I respond to them. We can certainly discuss and debate the proof that does or does not exist. It's very dishonest to claim that no one can demonstrate God (or that it can't be logically demonstrated). Theistic debaters use very specific arguments to attempt to prove that their god exists and they insist that God can be demonstrated. I don't believe that the burden has been met because there are serious flaws in these arguments that have been demonstrated.

This is also ridiculous because many theists are quite certain when they make their claims. Apologists present evidence, for example, that leads them to knowledge (this is knowing)...just ask William Lane Craig, Dinesh D'Souza, or any other prominent debater. Ask a priest "How can I know God exists," and you'll certainly get an answer. You won't get "Well, I don't know God exists." Some believers might say "I don't know, but I believe" (as did the people in my Catholicism class when they were grasping for straws at the end of the semester), but is this a widely held opinion? I think not.

Atheists are in exactly the same boat. What holds true for religious people when they talk about God holds for atheists when they talk about not-God.

This is a shifting of the burden of proof. Atheists aren't make any positive claims, but rather do not have a belief in any gods. Lack of belief is simply not a belief. Atheists can respond to claims being made and show that they are flawed just like people can respond to claims that the moon landings were faked. In this example, the people who are making the claim that the moon landings were faked have the burden while the responders are certainly not in the same boat. The burden is on the person making the claim!

Some atheists claim to have a sure and certain knowledge about spiritual things. "I know -- through reason, logic, and evidence -- that God does not exist."

It's impossible to prove a negative. I won't claim that we can know god does not exist...and this simply isn't the position that the atheist takes. Atheists simply don't believe that any gods exist; atheism is a stance about belief. Might God exist? Sure, he might, but I don't feel that there is any good reason to suggest that the Christian god does exist.

Some atheists, such as Victor Stenger, suggest that we can know God does not exist, but this is an opinion of a minority of individuals. Atheists, though, aren't a group like Catholics are and people will certainly hold different positions, but all that is required to be an atheist is a lack of belief in gods. If an atheist made a statement regarding anything aside from whether or not he/she believes, but this doesn't have a bearing on what atheism is.

These atheists feel that their position is intellectually superior to a belief in God. God does not exist because what cannot be established through "reason, logic, or evidence" is not real.

Whether or not atheists feel that their position is intellectually superior to a belief in God has no bearing on whether or not this god exists. Atheists don't accept the idea that God exists because the reasons given for his existence have not met the burden of proof. Anyway, how are we to establish claims of existence without reason, logic, and evidence? Can you please provide another reliable method for knowledge that lacks this? This statement is also silly because believers attempt to demonstrate God's existence using reason, logic, and evidence.

This sounds rational and objective, but there is a lot of belief tucked away in this assertion. Atheists do not know God does not exist; they believe it.

Another gross misrepresentation of atheism! Perhaps I'll same the same thing over and over to hammer the point home...Atheism is not the position of belief that God does not exist, but rather it is the position of lacking belief in any gods. This is not a positive claim, but rather a stance taken on a claim.

To say that God's existence is detectable with certainty through reason, logic, and evidence is a belief because it makes some crucial assumptions. For one thing, it assumes that our intellectual faculties are the best, or only, ways of accessing God.

This reeks with the stench of Alvin Plantinga. We can "assume" that our ways of knowing are reliable...anyway, how are we supposed to know something without using our intellectual faculties? This is silly. Can you please name one way of accessing God (or accessing anything) without using our faculties of knowing? Again, theists of all stripes claim that we can know God by using our intellectual faculties and make arguments...

It also reduces God to an object, a thing, a being among all other beings, whose existence is as open to rational inquiry as anything else. It is an old argument but a good one: any god worthy of the name is the source of all being, and therefore not one more being alongside all others subject to rational control. Any god like that isn't God at all.

Wait, what? Matters open to rational inquiry as anything else aren't considered to be gods? We can't investigate God because he is the source of everything? Would you accept me saying something like, "We can't know that the JuJu Monster exists because he is the source of everything! If we could investigate him, he wouldn't be a god?" Of course not...so why should the rules change here?

People can think what they want about God. My point here is simply this: no one knows whether our intellectual faculties can determine with certainty whether there is a higher power, prime mover, or whatever you want to call god. That is a belief.

No one knows whether our intellectual faculties can determine with certainty whether there is blood flowing through our bodies! We might be deceived! It is a belief that we can see what is in front of our faces and that our vision accurately represents reality! No one can know with certainty that we're all living in a dream! We can go on and on with this crazy talk, but we actually do have good reason to suggest that our intellectual faculties are reliable. We can visit an eye doctor, get brain scans, get independent confirmation from others about a preponderance of reality, measure with reliable instruments...

Here's the deal. People claim that a god exists. The claims are insufficient to non-believers, so they don't accept the claims and believe in a god.

Also, all people, atheists included, believe worthwhile things for which there is no compelling evidence whatsoever. For example, many people -- scientists, philosophers -- believe in the principle of uniformity: what we observe now of the laws of nature happens everywhere in the universe, always has and always will.

Yah, yah, yah, we know about Hume's problem of induction, but atheists and theists are in the same boat on this one...but guess what? If we do find out that the principle of uniformity must be abandoned, we'll abandon it, but right now there is no good reason to suggest that the sun won't rise tomorrow, that the earth will suddenly go off its orbit... We've observed nature and so far have found that nature behaves in a similar manner and has done so for millions of years. If an apple is going to fall from the tree, it's not going to suddenly be suspended in air. If the temperature is 90 degrees, it's going to be hot outside...

It's wrong to suggest that the laws of nature apply to everywhere in the universe because we don't have a complete understanding of the universe at this moment in time. The laws of physics might be different on other planets. Orbits of planets in other galaxies might not be uniform....

Why do people accept the principle of uniformity? Because it can be used to construct coherent scientific explanations of the universe, and that is a good reason to accept it. But this is not too far from what religious people say about their faith. Religious beliefs can be used to construct coherent explanations for things like why there is something rather than nothing.

The author of this article commits equivocation here by using two different definitions of faith. Faith that religious people have is without or contrary to evidence: "Even though there is no historical evidence that Jesus existed, I'm going to believe in him anyway." We can't make scientific claims about the universe that are contrary or without evidence such as, "Well, I don't know the volume of this substance, but I have faith that it's..." "Faith" in uniformity and faith in religious claims are very different.

We do not know with certainty that they are true because of reason, logic, or evidence; we believe they are true because they work.

The author keeps using this red herring of certainty, so I'll finally address it in more depth and would even be able to dedicate an entire post to it. Certainty is not something that is attainable (and how can we be certain that we're certain anyway?) No matter how much evidence we might find for something, we can certainly be deluded by some sort of evil deceiver as Descartes noted...but we just don't have good reason to accept this. We rely on our faculties with good reason and make claims based on our best state of knowledge. If we're wrong about something, we can reevaluate it.

The idea that something "works" does not give credence to whether something is true or not. Something might "work" in my proposed model that's not based on evidence, but this isn't how we do science and shouldn't be how we make knowledge claims. We want to see where the evidence leads rather than leading the evidence to what supports our model.

I might have an idea, for example, that my neighbor steals from my house. When I find my Oreos missing, I might find some of my neighbor's wet nail polish where the Oreos were and this might work in my model and fit in with my beliefs, but does this suggest that my hypothesis is true? We can create links between ideas, but this doesn't suggest that they are true simply because our model works.

Oddly, some Christian fundamentalists and some atheist fundamentalists suffer under the same delusion, that their view on ultimate reality is fully supported by reason, logic, and evidence.

Ahh, atheist fundamentalists...what a dumb term. Atheism has no holy book, no dogma, no divine orders, etc. If I'm a fundamentalist because I believe that critical issues should be discussed, that people should have reasons for their beliefs, and that critical thinking should be present in all areas of life, then I guess I'll be a fundamentalist.

When we think of Christian fundamentalists, we think of people like Mother Teresa who make outrageous claims about how birth control should be flat-out banned and that abortion is the great threat to world peace. We think of people who blow up abortion clinics. We think of people who stand outside of courthouses at 6AM waving plastic baby Jesuses at cars and insist that America had nativity scenes at courthouses for thousands of years. We think of people who claim that Haiti made a pact with the devil and for that, was devastated. What exactly is an atheist fundamentalist?

For more coverage on "Are atheists fundamentalists," please watch this amazing debate.

Feel free, as always, to join the discussion and comment.