Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Manual for Creating Atheists: Anti-Anti-Apologetics 101

In this chapter, Boghossian attempts to deal with some arguments in defense of faith. He lists Sam Harris’ categories offered in response to critiques of religion: 1) Religion is true; (2) Religion is useful; (3) Atheism is somehow corrosive of society or other values. He then proceeds to list 11 basic defenses of the faith and responds to each. I will evaluate the defense and his response to the defense as well as provide a defense of my own and show how Boghossian’s position cannot withstand a presuppositional critique of his atheism. I cannot help but think about Goliath, the Philistine, and David, a humble shepherd. I can hear his words now: “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?” Perhaps the Christian attitude toward atheists has grown too soft today. Maybe our response to such arrogance and blasphemy should match the seriousness of the sinful arrogance it reflects in the hearts of godless men. After all, we cannot simply agree to disagree in the case of godless attacks against the Christian faith.

1. Why is there something rather than nothing? You have faith that there was no Creator.”

Boghossian’s response to this defense is exceptionally weak. The disjunction is really quite simple: something or nothing. One could just as easily ask, why this something and not a different something? Boghossian retreats to the extremely unlikely view, given the evidence that the universe may have always existed. You have to love it when atheists speak with such confidence about things that just don’t know. In fact, I have never heard an atheist have such confidence in his level of ignorance. Once again I have to say that since Boghossian admits that he does not know, it is very plausible that someone else does know. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot claim ignorance of an event and then pretend to know that other must have the same ignorance of the same event. Such a view is simply absurd. In short, Boghossian does not know why there is something instead of nothing. And despite his answer, it is clear that he exhibits a high degree of faith in his belief, even to the point of contradicting the views of modern science.

2. You can’t prove there is no God.

Boghossian puts forth a straw man by pretending that those who make this argument are making it in this way: “The basic idea is that because you can’t prove that there’s not a God, then God must exist.” And that is exactly not what this argument is getting at and Boghossian ought to know better. What the argument is saying to the atheist that claims there is no such God is basically that they believe something that evidence nor reason can support, namely, that there is no God. They have faith that God is not there, even though they cannot provide evidence or reason for their view. Do people have reasons for their belief that God is there?

Look around the globe and ask this question: why do so many people think that there is some being(s) that transcend humanity? That so many people believe this does not make it true, but surely it provides some reason for thinking it could be true. Why do many people claim to believe God is there and to have actually encountered God, why should this evidence be summarily dismissed? What is the basis for precluding it as reasonable evidence? Could it be that Boghossian is guilty of the same doxastic closure that he levels against people of faith? My point is simply aimed at what is reasonable. Boghossian uses the illustration of blue men living inside Venus. He should know better. We have no reason to think there are blue men living inside Venus. However, if the greater population of the world actually believed this and there were millions of people claiming to have experienced blue men living inside Venus, could we say with confidence that it is all poppycock? My point is simply that atheists do not hesitate to equivocate on this question. We all know that you cannot prove a universal negative. Why do we think Boghossian was so careful in how he defined atheism? It was not so long ago that atheism was not defined in this way. Why did they change how atheism is defined? The answer is simply that they kept getting clobbered in debate after debate until they realized they could not defend their claims. It stands to reason then that they softened the definition up quite a bit.

Boghossian then boasts that no one has been able to provide an answer to his question concerning the necessary evidence to convince someone that God does not exist. This is likely because the person to whom he was speaking was not an apologist, or was not a theologian, or he was not a philosopher, or he simply had not thought about it along those lines. It is certainly not because there is no good answer which is of course the implication. If Boghossian could prove to me that intelligibility does not exist, then I suppose I might be willing to accept his argument that there is no God. In addition, if Boghossian could demonstrate for me that rationality does not exist, I may accept his hypothesis that there is no God. If anyone has ever responded like this to Boghossian’s challenge, I promise you we would never know about it. If Boghossian could show me how humans do not actually know anything at all, in reality, then I would likely accept Boghossian’s view that there is no God. Or, if Boghossian could prove to me that belief in God is actually irrational, really truly irrational, then I would accept his view that God does not exist. Of course we understand that Boghossian can show how belief in God is irrational according to his presuppositions. What I want him to do is to show that such belief is irrational regardless of what set of basic beliefs one brings to the discussion. I want Boghossian to show that belief in God is irrational regardless of one's presuppositions. Boghossian needs to show us that there is no conceivable way whatever to make belief in God reasonable. After all, that is what he is claiming. If he is claiming that belief in God is unreasonable given his definition of reason, then perhaps he needs to tell us why his definition of reason is superior to all others and how he knows this is the case. This he cannot do and he knows it.

3. I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist

What Boghossian fails to understand in this defense is once again, it is not really talking about faith in the non-existence of God. It is aiming at the faith an atheist has in their particular belief system. Take naturalism for example. The naturalist exhibits great faith in their view that there is nothing outside the physical universe. They claim that all knowledge comes through the senses. But on that basis alone, they should not be able to make any claims about the non-physical, yet they do. The have a belief about the nature of reality that cannot be supported by their own epistemology. This fact does not stop them from believing. They violate their own criteria for knowledge, as does atheism.

Boghossian introduces a concept with which you may or may not be familiar. This is the concept of the divinitatis sensum, or, sense of the divine. Boghossian picks on Alvin Plantinga’s description of this, which is unfortunate. It was John Calvin that first coined its usage and the basis for it is in the Christian Scripture, Romans 1:19, “because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” Christian theism argues that the knowledge of God comes from within and without. Christian theism argues that the evidence for God is unambiguous. God confronts every human in every part of the planet. There is no human that has not to one extent or another, never encountered the idea of God. His presence is everywhere. This fact explains why men like Boghossian, Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins do what they do. They resent the idea of God. The only explanation for why atheists hate the idea of God so much is the Christian Scripture. Otherwise, why would they care, given that they live in a chance universe and are the products of arbitrary movements of a universe that no one can understand, here today, gone tomorrow.

You see, Boghossian continues to ask Christian theism to give up its criteria for justified beliefs in order to accept his own. Or, at a minimum, he seems to want Christian theism to subject its criteria to his criteria at the trial court. This is precisely what Christian theism cannot do. The different between atheism and Christian theism is entirely about our differing criteria, it is about epistemic authority. The Christian theist defaults to Scripture while the atheist defaults to autonomous human reason. Christian theism would cease to be Christian theism if it yielded to Boghossian's request. Perhaps other religions will comply and perhaps those who profess Christianity but whose beliefs are inconsistent or not truly reflective of Christian Scripture will comply. But Christian theism will stand firm and like Leonidas will reply: "This is Christianity!"

I will attempt to post part two tomorrow. I have been on holiday for the last two weeks and this has afforded my some luxury that I typically do not have. Hence, my posts have been more steady than usual.

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