Atheist Premise-Driven Misunderstandings of Theistic Arguments

Atheist Premise-Driven Misunderstandings of Theistic Arguments October 10, 2015


The Piltdown Man hoax (a jaw of an orangutan attached to a human skull). It took 41 years for the scientific community to debunk it. [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license]

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I get sick and tired of people not reading in context. It’s not rocket science to grammatically connect sentences together, and to logically connect thoughts and concepts. I don’t think it is by any means solely an atheist shortcoming. I would contend that it occurs in direct proportion to how hostile a person is to an opposing position.

Hence, if a Christian thinks all atheists are wicked and immoral and necessarily hellbound before he talks to them at all (a thing I have vociferously condemned three times [one / two / three]), he is much more likely to misconstrue, misinterpret, misunderstand, or mischaracterize a particular atheist argument. He would do so far less so if he didn’t hold the hostile view. Likewise, the atheist, in direct proportion to his hostility and anger towards the theist position (or some particular Christian variant thereof) — and I’ve written about that, too –, will tend to make the same mistakes with theist arguments.

The same tendency holds, to a somewhat lesser extent, in inverse proportion to how much an atheist understands theist arguments and the overall position (of some form of theism) being dealt with. Hostile premises also make proper comprehension more difficult. The first rule in logical dialogue, as well as in war, is to “know thy opponent.” Such a person has to work harder to accurately comprehend the opposing position and its arguments, and to not wrongly put people into a box that they ain’t in. These factors really do adversely affect logic and the successful execution of a counter-argument. I’ve been on the receiving end of this annoying tendency three times in the last 24 hours.

Atheist Neil Carter wrote an articleWhy Do Intelligent, Well-Educated People Still Believe Nonsense?” I replied with Simultaneously Dumb & Smart Christians, Atheists, & Scientists, using one of my favorite forms of argument: turning the tables. His target was Christians, whom (he argued) can be quite “intelligent” and “educated” yet still believe in what he thinks is “nonsense.”

All I did in my paper was show that Christians are not the only ones who possess this trait: scientists (disproportionately atheist or skeptical) also do; moreover, I noted how when the history of science is presented in schools, the past follies of scientists are never presented. They are always these noble, forward-looking, near infallible icons, while the “bad guys” and evil villains are invariably the wicked Catholics in the Middle Ages who hated science, persecuted Galileo, etc., and the troglodyte young earth creationists of today (who allegedly represent all or most Christians, which is absurd). There is a ton of mythology and double standards in such a presentation, and that is what my paper above dealt with. I will oppose and expose historical revisionism and double standards every time.

Anyway, on Carter’s thread, where I announced my reply-paper (which I consider a courtesy), complete with compliments of his post (“well-written and provocative and contained much to agree with”), the inevitable blasts against me took place, as usual. This is simply how it almost always goes in atheist forums when a lowly theist dares to peek in.

The first person who committed this sort of mistake in interpretation waslapona“:

I tried to real your whole article , but I stopped shortly after this idiocy: “I, too, have often found myself explaining to someone not familiar with the devoted atheist environment, that 
atheists are not stupid or wicked simply because they believe nonsensical and absurd things.”

What exactly atheists believe? 

If you define that theists believe there’s no God, then you’re using a definition used by theists, a stupid definition by the way. Theists were, and are used for a long, long time to call atheists those who don’t believe that their specific God doesn’t exits. For example, Muslims are atheists for Christians and vice-versa.

If you want to use “belief” in the context of atheism, then an atheists is someone who believe in one less god than monotheists. An atheist cannot say that he/she believes that God doesn’t exist because it doesn’t make sense to believe that something that doesn’t exist, doesn’t exist.

However, atheists are not known for believing a God doesn’t exists, BUT disbelieving theistic claims, thus the “A-theist” term. When disbelieving theistic claims, atheist support, substantiate and base their disbelief using science, that brought as knowledge that theistic claims made in “holy” scriptures about the existence of a God are, long story short, bull$&#@.

First of all, he didn’t try very hard to read my article, since the portion he detested so much came in my first paragraph. If he stopped there, then it is obvious why his analysis was a complete irrelevancy (a non sequitur). Thus he’s tilting at windmills and wrestling with straw men the entire time, in his comment. I wasn’t arguing at all that atheism was nonsensical because it was a non-belief in God. My actual argument was made perfectly clear in context.I did a take-off of one of Carter’s statements, then I made my own turn-the-tables counter-argument (key contextual-connecting phrases bolded and in red):

[Carter] Last night for the third time in as many months I found myself explaining to someone raised outside of a devoutly religious environment that religious people are not stupid simply because they believe nonsensical things. . . . 

Good article. I can heavily relate to it. I, too, have often found myself explaining to someone not familiar with the devoted atheist environment, that atheists are not stupid or wicked simply because they believe nonsensical and absurd things.

It’s tough for us non-believers in the atheist “vision” and worldview to comprehend how intelligent, sharp people with lots of degrees and books read and high IQs and a profound love of science, manage to believe that trillions of atoms (having popped into existence for no known or discernible reason in a Big Bang: an event now accepted and first developed by a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaître) — but we “know” that GOD COULDN’T HAVE DONE IT!!! — and their distant relatives, cells, can make absolutely everything in the universe occur, by their own power, possessed eternally either in full or (who knows how?) in inevitably unfolding potentiality. We’re baffled at how they can attribute to atoms and cells the omnipotence and omniscience and extraordinary creative power that we attribute to an eternal spirit, God. But they manage to do so.

My reply here has nothing to do with mere disbelief in God. It has everything to do with the logical reduction of what materialistic science requires: atoms and cells creating absolutely everything in the universe under their own mysteriously originated powers without any input from God. We find that very difficult to comprehend, just as Carter  was puzzled at our belief in demons, angels, and God. It’s sort of a “reverse teleological [design] argument.”

Next time, maybe ol’ “lapona” will actually read what it is he is purported to condescendingly refute, before lashing out at it in public and making a fool of himself (or herself). Wouldn’t that be a wise policy: to first read what one is “refuting”? Makes perfect sense to me. In my work, I generally read what I set out to critique. But his hostility is shown in his actions: he made it through one paragraph (which he obviously didn’t even understand), then gave up and wrote a “refutation.” His hostility was his downfall. It made him think incorrectly and act ludicrously.

The second and third time I was vastly misunderstood had to do with reactions to my bringing up past errors of famous scientists in my paper, such as Piltdown Man, which was a outright hoax. Two people did the very familiar routine of lecturing the ignorant Christian as to what science is really about. Note that both assumed from the outset that I didn’t know about the basic tenets and procedures of scientific method. They assumed (most uncharitably and foolishly) a profound ignorance that isn’t present in my case.

This is very common. It happens all the time when the atheist debates a Christian on some disputed scientific matter. They assume rank stupidity. Surely, some Christians are ignorant of science, but they are mostly the fringe group of fundamentalists. The majority of us respect and understand science every bit  as much as the atheists do.

First, here is “smrnda“,  in the same Neil Carter combox, with his pompous pontifications:

You seem to misunderstand science.

Science is a method of using evidence based reasoning. Science is a process. The fact that a hoax fooled some number of scientists or that a bad idea was accepted for some time is part of the process of science. Bad ideas get weeded out over time.

Think of this – there are, right now, experimental results being published in journals about cognitive psychology. Other scientists will attempt to replicate these results. Certain results will be replicated again and again, and certain other results will not. As time goes by, the evidence for certain things will grow, whereas other ideas will be rejected.

I think a problem is that you’re looking at science from the lens of religious authority. A Catholic asks ‘should I accept the authority of the church?’ So perhaps you’re looking at ‘scientists’ as priests, bishops and cardinals and a Pope of some ‘church’ and deciding they don’t seem that reliable. But that’s the wrong way to look at science. It’s not accepted on authority. . . .

On converting to Catholicism, I do find that it’s a popular choice for people who want religion plus a veneer of intellectual respectability. The Catholic church might say it values ‘reason’ but what I find it values is sophistry – Aquinas is mostly ‘argument by verbose assertion employing big words which lack precise meaning.’ You can’t argue against it since the Thomist controls the vocabulary. But at least the emperor has some clothes, particularly a gold hat.

Over in the combox for my reply-paper, JedRothwell made a very similar argument (the same old routine), though in far less condescending fashion than the version above:

[Y]ou list a whole long series of mistakes that scientists have made, such as the Piltdown man. This is a gigantic misunderstanding on your part. Here is the most important thing about science: it is built on mistakes. Being wrong, being mistaken, tearing things down and starting over are the norm in science. Nothing is ever finished, and nothing is certain. Bohr said “an expert is someone who has made every possible mistake.” A world class scientist once told me, “if we are right half the time in this business, we are doing well. That’s a great batting average!” At a physics conference, try asking 5 experts a question. You will get 10 different answers, and they will then spend an hour arguing about who is right. They never, ever reach a final conclusion.

My answer to him serves as my answer to both, because it is the same category error that both make, and both attribute to me an ignorance of science that I don’t have; and they don’t comprehend the argument I was making. So now I shall explain it again to them; maybe it’ll be understood this time.But they should have understood it simply by objectively reading my paper. Because of either hostility or very different premises, they both missed the central point that I was making. Here is my reply:

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You give the standard answer to bringing up Piltdown Man, etc. I already know that. I understand what science is. I have no need of your lectures about what it is. You didn’t — in this analysis — touch the point I was trying to make, which is that scientists are just as fallible and subject to folly and sometimes sheer stupidity and silliness as anyone else.

Stephen Jay Gould wrote a lot about that very thing. Yet we tend to never hear about that. I brought all this up because Carter’s article was about people being both stupid and smart at the same time; except he implied that only Christians do that. I “fleshed out” his contention and showed that non-Christians (and great historic scientists, who usually were Christians, too, but that is ignored and minimized) do the same thing.

We hear endlessly about Galileo (in revisionist, distorted terms) and supposed hostility of the Catholic Church to science and hardly ever this other stuff. And that was my point. I am objecting to the double standard and highly selective presentation, in order to serve the goals of revisionist secularist history.

How many people know that Lavoisier was killed by the atheist French revolutionaries? How many know that Bellarmine understood scientific method better than Galileo, or that the latter held several goofy views that we know are false, and was neck-deep in astrology? You tell me. You’re the scientist. No one is ever taught that. I had to learn all those facts on my own. I never learned them in school in my science classes. I think it would have made them a lot more interesting, to tell the whole truth about things, rather than whitewash and pick-and-choose.

Piltdown Man was not just about honest mistakes and the usual human fallibility, and the usual progress of scientific knowledge via trial and error and mistakes, but about supremely stupid mistakes that never should have been. That’s why I brought it up. The same is true of phrenology and eugenics and astrology and alchemy and other pseudo-sciences.

But the only pseudo-science we ever hear about is young earth creationism. Why? Because that is “those damned stupid Christians again, who hate science.” It won’t do to mention these other follies, that were spearheaded by more secular supposedly “enlightened” or “progressive” types, cuz that doesn’t fit the playbook.

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I think any objective reader can see, by reading my clarification and/or my original paper, that my argument was far more nuanced and sophisticated than either person gave me credit for. They assumed I was dumb as a doornail when it came to science and that I was making some argument that never entered my head. I submit that if anyone read my paper without an axe to grind, that impression would not occur. But because of prior hostility and/or stereotypical caricaturing of Christians when it comes to science (which itself arises from the ignorance of the sociological facts of the matter), they predictably trot it out. One gets very weary of this. Atheists don’t own science, and only a tiny percentage of Christians 1) hate science, and/or are 2) young earthers. The sooner the atheists get that through their heads, Christian-atheist discourse on the overall topic will exponentially improve.

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