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A poor way to engage with atheists

Many religious folk insist on presenting the debate over the existence of their *very* specific worship- and gratitude-worthy God as a debate about theism vs naturalism. That's a false narrative - do not accept it.

'Naturalism or theism' is a false dilemma - there are many other options on the table (e.g. you find non-naturalists about maths, modals, and morals who are not theists, for example; there are also all sorts of theisms to consider other than the *particularly* implausible omnipotent omnibenevolent Judeo-Christian God).

Most folks who reject religious monotheism reject it, not because they're wedded to scientism, naturalism, or some other philosophical or metaphysical -ism, but for much the same reasons they're skeptical about fairies, ghosts, and a flat earth - they think there's little evidence for, a great deal of evidence against (e.g. the evidential problem of evil, the problem of divine hiddenness). They also think there are good grounds for being skeptical about religious (fairy/ghostly) experiences.

If this is where your atheist is coming from, refuting naturalism, scientism, etc. is unlikely to make them look much more favourably on religious theism, no more than it's likely to make them look much more favourably on the existence of fairies and ghosts. From their perspective, in each case, arguments about the truth of naturalism and scientism are a largely irrelevant side-show.

Actually, it's probably not atheists who are the main intended audience for theistic arguments targeting naturalism and scientism. The intended target is *other theists*, who will likely reassure themselves that their worldview can't be *so* unreasonable because, after all, naturalism (scientism, etc.) has been refuted, or shown to be deeply suspect.

In other words, framing the God debate in such terms is often a smokescreen device.

PS. I should add that those atheists who insist on framing the debate over the existence of a worship- and gratitude-worthy God in terms of theism vs naturalism are creating an unnecessary hostage to fortune.

The image is Evil God, our omnipotent, omni-malevolent creator. There's no point kissing his behind or praising him to the heavens - he's going to torture you anyway.

Comments

Martin Cooke said…
Very perceptive distinction, Stephen, and one that speaks to a question that I have. I have a proof that there is probably an omnipotent (or near-omnipotent, depending on your definition of "omnipotent") Creator, and I take your point about the evident malevolence of such a being, so I guess that I have a proof that there is probably a God (who may well be Evil God). My proof is informal (it uses logic, rather than formal logic). I might frame it as an argument that atheism is illogical; but as you observe, "atheism" is well-defined in contrast to the mainstream theisms with all the social structures and loud voices, and I am not showing that that is illogical. So I wonder what terminology you would recommend ... ?
Martin Cooke said…
But would many people call someone who believed in the probable existence of Evil God an atheist? The meaning of a word is determined by how that word is used, in general; and who would call someone who believed in the probable existence of God (probably Evil God) "an atheist"? Or are you using "God" to mean a being who is omnibeneficent, and "Evil God" as the name of an evil being who is not a God? But then, would "Evil Overlord" not be better? You seem, then, to be equivocating (if you are, you will probably not want to publish this comment: the cardinal sin of philosophy is equivocation, after all).
Philip Rand said…
Dr Law

The primary argument you present is this:

"The image is Evil God, our omnipotent, omni-malevolent creator. There's no point kissing his behind or praising him to the heavens - he's going to torture you anyway."

Unfortunately for you, the Apostle Paul beat you to your conclusion a couple of thousand years before you did when he wrote:

2 Corinthians 4:4
"4 In whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of them who believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them."

When Paul writes of the "god of this age" he is referring to Satan being the god of this age.

I knew your evil god theodicy book would confirm the Christian narrative stealing from the Bible.

The problem with you is that you don't know the Bible (years at Heythrop were a complete waste of time for you, a bit like your A-levels)… though, you are correct Biblically the issue has nothing whatsoever to do with any form of philosophical argument.


Anonymous said…
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYZ7Hz99xjE

Can you refute this?
Chris said…
Professor Law,

I've been wanting to raise this issue for sometime and considered sending this sort of criticism to Think. It seems to me that the majority of atheist/theist debates that have taken place in the 21st century are, as you point out, actually debates about naturalism versus theism as metaphysical systems. One can reject both metaphysical systems (I do) and still be an atheist (I am). One can be a Hegelian, Marxist, Hegelian-Marxist, Foucaudian, postmodern, Derridian, Kantian, Schopenhauerian, Humean, etc., atheist without needing to be a naturalist. The whole contemporary debate seems mired in a false dichotomy that isn't even interesting. For instance, everyone William Lane Craig debates is a hardliner naturalist, and he almost always wins the debate because naturalism is ultimately silly, and doesn't seem to understand the basic Kantian appearance/reality divide. Plantinga's books and essays are often similar, revealing the weaknesses in naturalism (good), and therefore concluding God theism is superior (silly).

Done venting.

Good post.

Best,
CB
Chris said…
Professor Law,

I've been wanting to raise this issue for sometime and considered sending this sort of criticism to Think. It seems to me that the majority of atheist/theist debates that have taken place in the 21st century are, as you point out, actually debates about naturalism versus theism as metaphysical systems. One can reject both metaphysical systems (I do) and still be an atheist (I am). One can be a Hegelian, Marxist, Hegelian-Marxist, Foucaudian, postmodern, Derridian, Kantian, Schopenhauerian, Humean, etc., atheist without needing to be a naturalist. The whole contemporary debate seems mired in a false dichotomy that isn't even interesting. For instance, everyone William Lane Craig debates is a hardliner naturalist, and he almost always wins the debate because naturalism is ultimately silly, and doesn't seem to understand the basic Kantian appearance/reality divide. Plantinga's books and essays are often similar, revealing the weaknesses in naturalism (good), and therefore concluding God theism is superior (silly).

Done venting.

Good post.

Best,
CB
adrian clark said…
Thank you for your post Stephen.

I recently listened to episode 63 of the Canadian Atheist. During his discussion with the Show's host, Sye Ten Bruggencate said that he had challenged you to a debate regarding the supposed Invisible Pink Unicornism position you adopted during your exchange. He said that if you set up the date and venue he would here and gladly debate you. Is this true and if so can we look forward to the debate?

Adrian
Jim Richardson said…
An excellent paper. For what may be the best treatise ever that delivers, on the establishment and maintenance and spread of beliefs and legends, and in more modern and enlightened times: The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick: The Biography of a Legend
Peter Lamont; Little, Brown, 2004

It demonstrates a comprehensive and unflattering side of the human mind and the miraculous, with multiple eyewitness testimonies of miracles. Disturbing.
It does not disappoint.

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