The Argument from Atheistic Activism: “The Achilles’ Heel of Internet Atheism?” Revisited

Introduction

In a recent post here – http://www.choosinghats.org/2012/02/the-achilles-heel-of-internet-atheism – I made the following observation:

It takes somebody really, really … special … to spend hours upon hours blogging, podcasting, and commenting about an imaginary concept of deity with no more intellectual credibility than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. And yet there are people who do exactly that day after day! Think of all those grown men sitting at their computers wasting their time lashing out at people for believing in God when they could be partying it up before the worms eat them.

Are we really supposed to think that Scripture does not give us a much better explanation of such idiotic behavior than its competitors?

The post was intentionally provocative and open to comments which I hoped would raise some objections to my suggestion that I had not thought of or else confirm in my mind those objections which I believed should be addressed if I were to write a second post on the same topic. In this post I hope to clarify what I meant by several of my claims in the aforementioned observation, derive from it a simple argument, and tighten that argument through addressing several potential objections.

Clarification

There are at least two main clarifications to make before stating the argument.

First, this argument is neither intended to be, nor is it actually, ‘airtight.’ In the most immediate sense it is probabilistic and evidential. However, I also take it to be fully consistent with a covenantal apologetic. More importantly it is based on what Scripture claims concerning the state of the non-Christian. The argument functions in an apologetic context both by confirming the truth of the Christian worldview for the sake of the Christian and by setting over against the non-Christian worldview one of its peripheral absurdities, which, though it is not necessarily fatal, constitutes a self-referential problem that is better explained within the context of the Christian worldview.

Second, the argument only requires one sample. The description does not apply to everyone. It does not even apply to all who profess atheism. However it does apply to at least one individual, and easily more than one individual. As the number of people that fit the description increases so does the significance of the consequences of the argument. The description is of someone who will “spend hours upon hours blogging, podcasting, and commenting about an imaginary concept of deity with no more intellectual credibility than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.” Other examples of similar activities and concepts can be plugged into the description, but the current description will also do. Finally, I mean that the non-Christian believes that a concept of deity is imaginary and possesses no more intellectual credibility than the concepts of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

Argument

1)      If a professing atheist (α) is obsessed with an intellectually incredible and/or absurd concept of deity (δ), then α likely suffers from some cognitive defect (μ).

2)      α is obsessed with δ.

3)      Therefore, α likely suffers from μ.

In 1, an obsession is a continual preoccupation with something. An obsession with δ is – in secular psychobabble – an indication of “some real deep-seated issues.” The obsession itself may be taken as an instance of some cognitive defect broadly construed, and/or the obsession may be taken as evidence of cognitive defect at some more basic level which could involve, for example, something like cognitive distortion. Remember that the obsession in view here involves such activities as spending “hours upon hours blogging, podcasting, and commenting” on the Internet and that the object of the obsession is “an imaginary concept of deity with no more intellectual credibility than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.” Obsessions are generally viewed negatively regardless of their objects, but when the object of an obsession is absurd – obviously absurd – then it becomes clear that the person with the obsession needs help. Add to this recognition that according to α, δ is not only absurd, but imaginary! A person exhibiting this type of behavior is very likely suffering from some type of cognitive defect. It takes somebody really, really … special … to spend hours upon hours blogging, podcasting, and commenting about an imaginary concept of deity with no more intellectual credibility than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. And yet there are people who do exactly that day after day! Think of all those grown men sitting at their computers wasting their time lashing out at people for believing in God when they could be partying it up before the worms eat them.

There are plenty of examples of 2. One of the hosts of an atheist podcast was boasting about having over 600 posts on one of his blogs, most of which are dedicated solely to carefully watching Twitter accounts, blogs, and other social media used by theists in order to mock both them and their beliefs using crude language and childish insults. The “Bahnsen Burner” Dawson Bethrick is known for writing lengthy (and I do mean lengthy) diatribes against theism and has been doing so for six years now at his current blog. The comment conspiracy theorist Rosa Rubicondior is another example. A massive number of self-professed atheists on Twitter fit the description and there is a crowd at reddit.com as well. Consider also the atheistic activism of the so-called “New Atheists.” Dick Dawkins travels the world spreading his hatred for theism and its adherents supported only by his subpar grasp of philosophical theology masquerading as modern scientific thought. And of course he is not the only secular scientist who takes time out of what should be a very busy day meditating on the intricacies and beauty of the universe and its inhabitants to obsess over what silly little thing some “religious” person has gone and said now. Stephen J. Gould and Stephen Hawking have sometimes been right there with him. In fact, they tend to grant credibility to the particular positions they reject by making some of the comments that they do. But that is not part of my argument, and the latter two examples, which are not as good, are also not necessary to establish 2. Each of the examples of α above exhibit obsessive behavior with respect to δ, and are emphatic that δ is absurd and imaginary.

The conclusion to the argument is stated in 3; examples of α likely suffer from μ.

Objections

Objection 1: Not all atheists exhibit the obsessive behavior described above. Not all atheists think theism is absurd or imaginary like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

Reply: The argument takes these observations into account in the second point under Clarification.

Objection 2: Belief in God or gods can inform political philosophy and/or stances on social issues.

Reply: Professing atheism can also inform political philosophy and/or stances on social issues, but neither atheism nor theism results in a monolithic political philosophy. Neither atheism nor theism results in agreement amongst adherents concerning even the most basic social issues. There are plenty of theists aligned with the Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Constitutionalist, and Green parties (as well as others I may have left out) in the U.S. political system even though these parties, at least in theory, differ from one another. There are plenty of theists who disagree on fiscal policy, foreign policy, health care, abortion, public school curriculum, the legalization of marijuana and other drugs, etc. A person may claim to believe in God or gods, but this says very little, if anything, about how they vote or think about social issues, though they may truly ground their political and social positions in theism. But the obsessive behavior in view is typically focused upon theism as such rather than political or social issues.

Objection 3: If several million people believed in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, wrote libraries of books articulating and defending their beliefs, and used them to argue for controversial social policies then people would spend hours debunking those as well.

Reply: We are not given any reason to accept this claim. The objection is merely speculative. In contrast, the argument provides evidential support for its claims. Moreover, this objection is problematic for α insofar as God is said to be on par with the aforementioned imaginary concepts but several million people believe in the former and not the latter. Finally, that people would use the imaginary concepts in question to argue for controversial social policies (what social policies are not controversial?) has already been addressed in the Reply to Objection 2.

Objection 4: Spending time debunking theism on the Internet means that there is less superstition-based tyranny in the world.

Reply: Tyranny is a bad thing regardless of whether it is superstition-based or atheistic. If α is concerned about tyranny, then it is tyranny that should be addressed. The objection assumes not only that the “debunking” is successful, but that it is successful toward the end of having a real effect on “superstition-based tyranny.” But there is not much in the way of a guarantee that it will be.

Objection 5: Civil, reasoned debate in the marketplace of ideas is one of the highest forms of intellectual satisfaction.

Reply: It is not clear that α has anything like this in mind. There are spoiled goods in the marketplace, and δ is one of them.

Objection 6: Obviously α is behaving this way because it is fun.

Reply: A serial killer gets some type of twisted enjoyment out of systematically murdering people, but that does not mean that his behavior is justified. The obsessive behavior of α is evidence of a deeper problem(s) regardless of whether or not α enjoys it.

Objection 7: Does this also apply to all the apologists who endlessly blog about the problems with atheism?

Reply: Even if it did, it would not follow that there is anything wrong with the argument. This objection is a form of the tu quoque fallacy. Apologists have reasons for “endlessly” blogging about the “problems with atheism” which they usually make explicit in their material.

Objection 8: There are plenty of motivations to critique a view one finds ridiculous.

Reply: This is a mere assertion offered as an objection without reason or evidence to support it. In contrast, the argument above is valid and its premises are supported with reason and evidence. Unless and until an example of this objection is provided it can be dismissed without further comment.

Conclusion

Assuming for the sake of argument that theistic conceptions are intellectually incredible and/or absurd, professing atheists who obsess over such conceptions have serious psychological problems. An independent evidentiary case based in psychological evaluation could be made to corroborate the conclusion of this argument. For example, according to the Wikipedia article linked to above, cognitive distortions are associated with depression and chronic anxiety, both of which are, in my experience, found in many atheists who also demonstrate obsessive behavior. Cognitive distortions are also closely related to logical fallacies and narcissistic rage which, “is directed towards the person that the narcissist feels has slighted them; to other people, the rage is incoherent and unjust.”

This rage impairs their cognition, therefore impairing their judgment. During the rage they are prone to shouting, fact distortion and making groundless accusations.

A quick tour through our comments at Choosing Hats will reveal more than a little of this type of behavior amongst Internet atheists. One is reminded especially of a podcast Christian apologist Alan Rhology took part in where he was repeatedly shouted down, called names, and cursed at. Such behavior only demonstrates that there is much more than meets the eye going on under the surface of your typical Internet atheist. And it is nowhere near as cool as the Transformers.

Of course I do not have a degree in secular psychology. I am not ready to try and evaluate what fanciful mental ailments bother the obsessive atheist, and especially not using Wikipedia as my source! My point is that even upon atheistic presuppositions, there is something wrong with the type of atheist in view, and I do not need to provide a lot of details from psychology to establish that point. What I do have though is what Scripture tells us concerning the professing atheist. We are told that he or she is a fool, that he or she will engage in foolish thinking and activities, and that he or she is continually committed to suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.

Scripture has much to say about the fool, especially in its Hebrew poetic and wisdom literature. Proverbs paints the picture of a fool as one who shuns wisdom and will not listen to instruction. The fool rejects any kind of discipline and even gloats about his folly. The fool despises God, who is the source of wisdom and knowledge, and shows Him no reverence. There is no fear of the Lord God before the eyes of the fool. The term “fool” in Scripture describes a particular type of person. It is not just an instance of empty name calling. The fool turns away from the fear of the Lord and finds him or herself enveloped by futility in thought, word, and deed. In two passages we are told that the fool says in his heart, “There is no God”. When this was penned there was no idea of a “general theism.” When the Bible speaks of God it speaks of the God of the Bible, not some general theistic god found at the end of a philosophical proof. This means that while the atheist is certainly a fool by biblical standards, so are all others who constantly hold the truth of God down and seek after themselves, becoming corrupt and practicing injustice according to their lack of a tenable worldview.

Psalm 14:1 The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good. (NASB)

Psalm 53:1 The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God,” They are corrupt, and have committed abominable injustice; There is no one who does good. (NASB)

Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction. (NASB)

Proverbs 17:7 Excellent speech is not fitting for a fool, Much less are lying lips to a prince. (NASB)

Proverbs 1:22 “How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing And fools hate knowledge? (NASB)

Proverbs 18:2 A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind. (NASB)

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Romans 1:18-25 (ESV)

It is true on the atheistic account that the people in view are in need of help, but it is on the Christian account we learn that this help will never come to them in terms of their atheistic worldview. Rather, the Gospel is the only thing that can free us from our sin; intellectual and otherwise.

1  And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9  not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21  in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Eph 2:1-22 (ESV)

Scripture gives us a much better explanation of the foolish, nonsensical, irrational, idiotic behavior displayed by many atheists on the Internet. The Christian worldview not only takes the evidence offered in the argument above into account, but envelops and explains the non-Christian worldview and its response to the Gospel.

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20  Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Cor 1:18-25 (ESV)

The argument of this post presents a problem for the atheist no matter if one begins under the assumption that atheism is true or that Christianity is true. It confirms what the Christian wants to say about non-Christian behavior, and challenges the non-Christian through a robust presentation of a smaller point contained within the Christian worldview.

49 thoughts on “The Argument from Atheistic Activism: “The Achilles’ Heel of Internet Atheism?” Revisited

  1. “Neither atheism nor theism results in agreement amongst adherents concerning even the most basic social issues”

    More than a little disingenuous. The 9/11 attackers were plenty in agreement enough to kill themselves to take thousands of other lives. Theocracies in the Middle East agree enough on the subjugation of women. That should be a good enough reason to argue against Islam without being accused of being deranged. Closer to home, there are many issues which are given an almost purely Christian justification in the US. I doubt you truly believe that religion is not a major influence on many social issues in US politics too. We can see right now with GOP Primaries what a big issue the religious beliefs of politicians are with regards to their electability.

    “[if other supernatural beliefs were widely held to] …then people would spend hours debunking those as well. Reply: We are not given any reason to accept this claim. The objection is merely speculative”

    This seems a bizarre thing to doubt – if someone thinks certain types of belief are causing damage to their country, their loved ones or themselves, then it’s not surprising that he may take time to argue against it. “Why not party it up”. Sure let’s party it up at our friends Bob and Gary’s wedding. Oh no we can’t, because a religious movement mobilised to ban gay marriage.

    At any rate, it’s easy to show the objection is far more than speculation – many of the New Atheists do indeed argue extensively on NON-theistic beliefs that they also do not believe in. For example, Dawkins and PZ Myers both write often against climate change denial and alternative medicine. Clearly they view both beliefs as dangerous, and it shouldn’t be surprising that they therefore see it as a good use of their time to present arguments against those views.

    At any rate, it’s hard to maintain that there’s no correlation between a) Seeing belief X as a threat to others and b) Arguing against that belief. The ‘New Atheism’ movement rose enormously after the 9/11 attacks. The rise also correlated with a ‘born again’ Christian becoming President, who clearly declared that his actions were directed by his God. That’s a pretty big influence.

    “What I do have though is what Scripture tells us concerning the professing atheist. We are told that he or she is a fool”

    Well it’s hardly going to tell believers that non-believers are all very insightful! This carries no greater gravitas than baldly stating that anyone who disagrees with you must necessarily be an idiot.

    “We are told that [the professing atheist] is a fool, that he or she will engage in foolish thinking and activities, and that he or she is continually committed to suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.”

    Right – and why would anyone want to argue against a belief system that propagates that notion? [There’s some of that sarcasm you said you like!].

    “Even if it did, it would not follow that there is anything wrong with the argument.”

    Regardless – you shouldn’t find it hard to understand scepticism of such an accusation coming from someone who blogs so extensively about a worldview he himself sees as irrational! And equally, by the logic of your own argument, none of your speculation about the motives of the ‘atheist activists’ has any bearing on the rightness of THEIR arguments either.

    • Thank you for your response.

      Killing oneself and taking thousands of other lives may include, but is well beyond, political or social issues. While the Muslims involved in the 9/11 attacks were in agreement with one another concerning (at the very least) their plans, there are also plenty of professing Muslims who are vocally opposed to the atrocities of 9/11. Of course there are many, many other theists who are appalled by the evil of the 9/11 attacks. You are taking “agreement” to mean any agreement, but I am speaking of agreement across the board. My Reply to Objection 2 is that there is no such agreement between theists concerning political and social issues. Indeed, there is not anything even close to agreement across the board for theists concerning political and social issues. Now if we take 9/11 to be merely a political or social issue as you appear to do, we still do not have a counter to my Reply, for as I have just cited there are many, many theists who completely disagree with and condemn not only the 9/11 attacks, but the political and social ideals behind them. Your example actually serves to strengthen my Reply, not rebut it.

      You go beyond mere political and social issues again in the case of theocracies and the subjugation of women, but even accepting that they are reducible to political or social issues, you again support rather than rebut my Reply to Objection 2, for there are many, many theists who are completely opposed not only to theocracies but to the subjugation of women.

      Your qualm is not with theism in either of the above examples, but with suicides, mass murders, theocracies, and the mistreatment of women. It is well and good that you should be upset about such things, but you should feel that way with or without alleged theistic justifications behind the wicked acts. When an atheist is responsible for suicide, genocide, totalitarianism, or the mistreatment of women you should be every bit as angry at the evil behind such actions. It will not help to say that people explicitly cite their theism as the motivation behind the evil acts in question, for people likewise cite their theism as the motivation behind good acts, including expressing their hatred of evil like that carried out in the 9/11 attacks. You are arguing as though we should be opposed to men instead of rape, or automobiles instead of drunk driving.

      Nowhere did I ever say that there are not many stances on issues that are given a Christian justification, nor did I deny that religion is a major influence upon U.S. politics and social issues. In fact, I affirmed that theism can inform political philosophy and/or stances on social issues in much the same way that atheism can. However, it does not follow that theism results in one monolithic type of political philosophy anymore than atheism does. Also, we are talking about theism here. Take care that you do not paint all theists as (for example) fiscally and socially conservative registered Republicans. Not only is that picture blatantly false, but it is far too narrow a view of what we are talking about here. Yet even given your example of the role of religious beliefs in the current GOP primaries we can see that my Reply is corroborated; not rebutted. For example, there is at least one theist in the primaries (Ron Paul) who, unlike his opponents, is a social liberal. One polytheist (Mitt Romney) will, if I had to guess, likely win the GOP nomination. That is because (supposedly, according to your theory) his political philosophy and social theory most resembles that of his party. But he differs very much from the other candidates, and probably most of his voters, in the specifics of his theistic belief. Of course he spends a lot of time exchanging blows with the other candidates who, so far as I know, all claim to be theists, and they in turn attack one another as well. Do not forget that the one man they are all out to beat in the presidential election is President Barack Obama. He is another theist with political and social positions that are supposedly very different from those of the Republicans even though his professed belief in one God is actually closer to what is likely the majority monotheistic belief of Republican voters than is Romney’s polytheistic position.

      Your attempt to defend Objection 2 does not hold water, and you have actually strengthened my respective Reply!

      Unfortunately you have not demonstrated how it is theism that you should believe is causing damage to your country, loved ones, or self. You can cite various political and social issues here, but for any you provide there will be a number of theists who agree with you on your particular position. Again it is not theism you should be arguing against if you are concerned about negative stances on political and social issues, but the stances themselves. For example, you mention banning gay marriage, but (aside from the fact that it’s not a “ban” anyway in most contexts) not all theists think that gay marriage should be banned. More theists might even be in favor of gay marriage than are opposed to it. And surely you do not think that no there are no homosexual theists who are in favor of gay marriage?

      Does the work of Dawkins and Myers on “climate change denial” (who on earth would deny that climate changes?) and alternative medicine even close to rival their work against theism? Somehow I doubt it. And yet, there are unhealthy obsessions with other topics as well. Even if Dawkins and Myers were as obsessed with climate change denial and alternative medicine as they are with theism, it would not follow that they do not have some sort of problem lurking beneath the surface of their obsessions. Perhaps their obsessions with the two topics you mention are just as much a part of their obsessive personalities as are their obsessions with theism. Climate change denial and alternative medicine is probably not as absurd as belief in God, Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny. Dawkins might agree with me here in which case these gentlemen are spending more time and effort and are better known for obsessing over the far greater absurdity of theism than they are over the mistakes of climate change denial and alternative medicine. Of course I need not even use Dawkins as an example of the sort of atheist I have in mind. I could replace him with, for example, John Loftus. But I see no need to.

      Your attempt to save Objection 3 is thus also unsuccessful.

      Finally, your tu quoque runs into the same difficulties as it did before. Perhaps I misunderstood your attempt to salvage it.

      • “Again it is not theism you should be arguing against if you are concerned about negative stances on political and social issues, but the stances themselves”

        Tell this to all the Christian activists who say that keeping creationism out of science classes, or allowing gay marriage are ATTACKS on Christianity.

        As for ‘who denies that climate changes’, this reminds me’ of Christians who claim that none of their faith denies that some kind of evolution takes place. They’re out there Chris, and they are vocal.

        Finally, Dawkins and Myers spend more time attacking creationism than they do alt medicine, but a) according to you they are ‘attacking a stance’ that is unrelated to religion but b) thus merely reflects their background in biology. Sceptica like Ben Goldacre

        • There are Christian activists who say that keeping creationism out of science classes or allowing gay marriage are attacks on Christianity, but so what? The argument is not focused on any particular brand of Christianity. It is not even focused on Christianity! It is focused upon theism. There are also plenty of theists who think creationism in the sense you are using it is utter nonsense and that gay marriage is a wonderful gift from God. I am not saying that I agree with them, but your complaint does not establish anything at all in regard to the argument.

          I do not completely follow your comment about Christians who claim that their faith does not deny that evolution takes place, but you would be right if you are saying that there are plenty of theists who are totally on board with evolution. But that only helps my argument.

          Dawkins does not just attack creationism. He outright attacks the concept of God, and boy does he ever hate said concept! It really is quite silly; like a grown woman who knows that there is no Santa Claus becoming irate that he would drag soot into the living room.

          I am beginning to wonder if your responses really are this weak, or if you just do not understand the argument.

          • “I am beginning to wonder if your responses really are this weak, or if you just do not understand the argument.”

            I don’t wonder, – I know for certain that your weak responses are due to your failure to understand the argument. See, both sides can play the condescension game. Is that the kind of discussion you want? I guess so…

            “There are Christian activists who say that keeping creationism out of science classes or allowing gay marriage are attacks on Christianity, but so what?”

            Again, are you being disingenuous or are you really unable to follow a simple logical argument? Half the time people say Dawkins is ‘attacking Christianity’ he is actually doing what YOU say he should logically be doing – simply ‘attacking the stance’.

            “He outright attacks the concept of God, and boy does he ever hate said concept!”

            Right, because he sees it as a dangerous concept. We’ve been through this already. All you’ve offered to critique that is you disagree that it’s a dangerous concept – that doesn’t make his attacks internally illogical or inconsistent. I already pointed that out to you.

            Anyway, Dawkins has written close to a dozen books, only one of which concerned God. Yes, he’s taken parts in lots of debates about religion, but religious people keep asking him to do them. In fact he’s come under a lot of stick from apologists for not doing more! Look at the kerfuffle a last year when he didn’t want to appear on stage with an apologist for genocide.

            “like a grown woman who knows that there is no Santa Claus becoming irate that he would drag soot into the living room.”

            Are you deliberately being dense? It’s not the non-existent God that he’s worried about, it’s the people who BELIEVE in that God. This really isn’t a hard concept to grasp. Likewise, Climate Change Denialist aren’t scared of Climate Change, they’re worried about the problems that the pro-camp will cause through influencing policy. By your logic people who attack evolution are mad because as far as they’re concerned evolution isn’t actually true.

            “There are also plenty of theists who think creationism in the sense you are using it is utter nonsense and that gay marriage is a wonderful gift from God.”

            Already addressed this in my point about drunk driving.

          • I fail to understand the argument I wrote? Yeah that’s convincing. I’m not condescending in claiming that your response to my argument is weak. It actually is really, really weak. That’s not condescension. It’s an assessment of your reply.

            I am not sure how else I can help you understand why your counter about Dawkins and his obsession with theism does not work, but I will try again. You claim, “he sees [theism] as a dangerous concept.” Why? Because of the influence of theism on political or social issues? But I have already dealt with that concern in Objection 2. So yes, we have already been through this, and you have not moved the discussion forward any. It is not that I am just saying that theism is not “dangerous” in terms of political or social policy, I have provided reason and evidence to support that claim. So if you are going to stay in the fight here, start coughing up some argument. Simply gainsaying the support for the premises of the argument and the Reply to the Objection in question is not accomplishing anything. You started out well, but now you are coming off as a Dick Dawkins fanboy who is upset that his hero might have a psychological problem.

            No, I am not being deliberately dense. Rather, you ripped my comment about the grown woman who knows that there is no Santa Claus from its context in order to imply that I am being dense. You have completely missed the point of my analogy. Dawkins most certainly *does* attack and hate the concept of God. This is common knowledge, but if you need quotes I can provide them. Now it is this obsession with attacking and hating the very concept of God which is analogous to, “a grown woman who knows that there is no Santa Claus becoming irate that he would drag soot into the living room.” The analogy is not intended to correspond to the worry Dawkins exhibits concerning people who believe in God. The analogy is intended to correspond to the hatred Dawkins displays toward the concept of God. You whiffed on that one, and now your snide tone just makes you look a bit silly.

  2. A brief fable:

    Once upon a time in the universe that spontaneously came about in an uncaused way and in which all life evolved from a unicellular common ancestor, there lived some different organisms:
    -Andy the amœba
    -Gerry the giraffe
    -Slate the enslaved human
    -Reginald the independently wealthy human

    Andy’s independent existence came about after an asexual reproductive event. He was ready to conquer the world and enjoy eating other simple organisms through enveloping them, but while he was on his way toward eating one of them, he himself was eaten by a predator and died.

    Gerry had grown to healthy middle-aged giraffehood and was the the most skilled among his friends at reaching the most delicious leaves and other foodstuffs, and yet shared generously with other giraffes and of course his children. However, one day he stepped badly on a tree root and broke his leg. Hyenas approached and slowly tore him apart while the other giraffes moved on to other trees.

    Slate was a faithful slave to his master Reginald and served him well, even though Reginald was cruel and often whipped him just because he enjoyed it. Slate brought Reginald a significant amount of wealth through labor that grew in skill as Slate grew older. Reginald never showed any appreciation for it and never put forth much effort to ensure Slate’s well-being. One day, Slate contracted a simple infection that could have been cured with a few days’ rest. Reginald withheld that rest with full knowledge of the infection, and Slate died at the age of 39.

    Reginald, the aforementioned slave master, had been born to a wealthy family with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. He was shrewd and always took advantage of others, especially his slaves, to increase his personal wealth. He never worked a day of manual labor in his life and treated his slaves and family in ways that they found most distasteful and often painful. As much as they pled with him to be merciful, he grew crueler and more controlling. He died at age 94, peacefully in his sleep.

    Andy, Gerry, Slate, and Reginald all went to the same place – death and decomposition.

    The End.

  3. “Does the work of Dawkins and Myers on “climate change denial” (who on earth would deny that climate changes?) and alternative medicine even close to rival their work against theism? Somehow I doubt it. ”

    Unsuccessful counter. Comparing the degree doesn’t affect the principle.

    “Perhaps I misunderstood your attempt to salvage it”
    Indeed. Try reading it again.

    “Killing oneself and taking thousands of other lives may include, but is well beyond, political or social issues.”

    Mere opinion on your part. Unsuccessful counter again.

    “Unfortunately you have not demonstrated how it is theism that you should believe is causing damage to your country, loved ones, or self.”

    My point doesn’t rest on needing to demonstrate. You were questioning motives. If someone BELIEVES that is causing that damage, then it explains their motivation.

    Unsuccessful again.

    Thanks for your lengthy response, it shows how… ‘special’ you are.

    • Writing, “Unsuccessful counter” is not only purely rhetorical, but redundant. It is also a false statement, since your claim that, “Comparing the degree doesn’t affect the principle” indicates a horrendous misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the argument. Look again at how alpha is defined in the argument, because degree does matter. And if you think that I have misunderstood your attempt to save a fallacious reply, then you need to specify where. Your implication that suicide and taking thousands of other lives is merely political and social just serves to illustrate to others how wicked and deluded you are. I hope you simply misunderstood what I was saying when you dismissed my comment as, “Mere opinion” on my part. I should think that it is the opinion of the vast majority of people that suicide and mass murder are much more than mere political and social issues. They are, for example, moral issues; matters of life and death and good and evil. These sorts of responses are not helping you actually engage with my argument. You are focusing mainly upon tertiary matters and asides that do not directly affect the argument one way or the other. Again I hope you see that.

      An atheist should not continue to believe that theism is causing damage to country, loved ones, or self in light of the defeater I have offered for that belief. Hence alpha’s persistent obsession with delta is irrational. Now if you wanted to defeat that defeater you would indeed need to demonstrate why one should believe that theism is what is causing said damage. So, you are mistaken, and you have not made a case.

      Finally, you claim that my lengthy response show how “special” I am, referencing the remark I made in the observational statement which serves as the basis for my argument, but here you simply hand wave the Reply to Objection 7. There is no symmetrical relationship between alpha and the Christian apologist. Since you have not actually made an argument akin to mine, I am not terribly concerned about your poor attempt at making a clever retort.

  4. Sorry, just lost a long ‘continued’ post.

    Other sceptics like Ben Goldacre and Simon Singh may have different backgrounds and therefore write more on alt medicine.

    Will finish later, in case this iPod shorts out again before I post.

    • That’s nice, but irrelevant. I’ve addressed this in my Replies to Objections and in my initial response to your first comment.

  5. Tu quoque clarified:

    Imagine someone says “That many atheists eat meat shows their lack of respect for life”. Now I would have my reasons for rejecting their stance. But if they were chewing on a bacon and sausage sandwich while they made this claim, I might also add that this additionally makes it hard to take their claim seriously. Either they don’t actually believe it, or they have little self awareness.

    Them supplying the Latin term for the fallacy they believe I’m committing by pointing the above out, even as the meat grease dribbles down their chin? That would be the icing on the cake.

    You reply that any perceived hypocrisy wouldn’t invalidate your argument. First, I dealt with your stance separately. Second, by your logic, one would equally argue that even if your point about blogging atheists behaving irrationally was valid, that in itself would not invalidate any of the atheists’ points either.

    Ok, I think we’ve had at least three rounds now, I sense much further and we’ll go down rabbit holes. You seem to be itching for one with your ‘climate change’ comment. You disagree with Dawkins that religion leads to the stances he disagrees with. You think he should attack those stances rather than the religion. I’d say in most cases he DOES attack the stance, and people STILL say he’s attacking the religion.

    But that aside, even if you’re right, that doesn’t make him illogical or inconsistent, as your blog above argues, it just makes him wrong on the cause and effect.

    Finally, in separating stance from cause in your argument, and saying ‘not all Christians agree in x, and some non-theists agree with some Christians on x’, you’re close to the argument that because some people drive drunk and don’t crash, and some sober people DO crash, then people shouldn’t campaign against drunk driving.

    • Heh. Your analogy is not even close to what is going on in the argument. As a Christian apologist I do not believe that I am arguing against an imaginary deity that is as absurd as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, so I am not eating meat while telling you to stop. There are also a host of motives for apologetics that are explicitly stated in Scripture. There is no symmetrical relationship here between alpha and the Christian apologist. This was already dealt with in my Reply to Objection 7. I am getting tired of repeating myself!

      It is rather peculiar that you mention us going “down rabbit holes” like “climate change” when you are the one who raised that irrelevant topic. And no, Dawkins does not attack stances and then have people unfairly say that he is attacking religion. Ever hear of, “The God Delusion”? Dawkins is obsessed with theism and its adherents, and who knows how much he has made off of peddling his hate-filled garbage to people like you. If Dawkins appropriately fits the alpha category of the argument, then he has some cognitive defect. You have not provided any good reason for thinking that he does not fit that category, but even if he does not, it does not affect the argument itself, as Dawkins was only one example of an alpha.

      “Finally, in separating stance from cause in your argument, and saying ‘not all Christians agree in x, and some non-theists agree with some Christians on x’, you’re close to the argument that because some people drive drunk and don’t crash, and some sober people DO crash, then people shouldn’t campaign against drunk driving.”

      The reason this analogy also fails is that driving drunk increases the likelihood of a crash. There are other relevant consequences of that crash as well. But in the case of theism, the likelihood of political or social disagreement with alpha is no greater than it is in the case of another alpha or atheists in general. So, bad analogy, again.

      Thanks for giving this a shot Andrew, but so far as I can tell you have not hurt the argument any.

      • “The reason this analogy also fails is that driving drunk increases the likelihood of a crash.”

        Whoosh! That’s the argument going way over your head. You GENUINELY don’t think that being religious has ANY effect whatsoever on a person’s likelihood of, say, opposing gay marriage or opposing the teaching of evolution in classrooms, to pick just two arguments? There are JUST as many atheists, proportionately, who are advocates for Intelligent Design, or who are Young Earth Creationists? All the statistics in the world show that to be utter nonsense.

        You know, I’ll give you a bit of credit and say that I don’t think for one second you truly believe what you’re actually arguing. I see that you’ve posted about three more responses, and from the response I quote from above I’ve only read that last para, but if you’re going to argue so dishonestly, it’s really not worth my time responding or even reading, point by point.

        And I’d like to tell you that you’ve given it a good shot too Chris, but in all honesty I can’t.

        • lol No Andrew, the argument did not go way over my head, but I understand if you have to pause to reinforce your self-esteem like that. Rather, the argument was bad. Like really bad. And the reason it was so bad is because it is disanalogous. The counter does not work and it does not work for precisely the reason I pointed out. So I encourage you, and the other readers, to give my comment directly above another look and see where I mentioned already that driving drunk increases the likelihood of a crash, while in the case of theism, the likelihood of political or social disagreement with alpha is no greater than it is in the case of another alpha or atheists in general. It is a bad analogy.

          Now your response is to ask excitedly, “You GENUINELY don’t think that being religious has ANY effect whatsoever on a person’s likelihood of, say, opposing gay marriage or opposing the teaching of evolution in classrooms, to pick just two arguments?”

          Let me be very clear. I am *not* addressing “being religious” in this argument, I am addressing theism. So quit trying to change the argument to suit your need. Now your question is as to whether or not being a theist affects the likelihood that one will oppose gay marriage or the teaching of evolution in classrooms. And my answer for the purposes of the argument is ‘no.’ Again, you are conceiving of theism as some narrow sect of, say, Christianity, but that is not what the argument pertains to. There are plenty of theists who are in favor of gay marriage and the teaching of evolution in classrooms. There are also atheists who are opposed to gay marriage and the teaching of evolution in classrooms. Theism does not necessitate one given position on these issues. Neither does atheism. Not even in terms of probability. At least not analogous to the probability that would be in play with the drunk driving example. There are other problems with the analogy, but my time is limited. If you want to do the statistical research to justify the objection in question, then be my guest.

          Accuse me of dishonesty again and I will just send your comments promptly to the spam folder. You atheists are a snotty lot, and I get tired of it. :) Thanks.

          • I would suggest that:
            “But in the case of theism, the likelihood of political or social disagreement with alpha is no greater than it is in the case of another alpha or atheists in general. So, bad analogy, again.” is incorrect.

            While theists in general may not necessarily disagree with non-theists, there are distinct sets of moral, political & social leanings that stem from theism & non-theism.
            So while there is nothing stopping them from agreeing they are fundamentally approaching issues from a different basis.

            You say above that your argument pertains not to some narrow sect of christianity. ie. an intellectually incredible and/or absurd concept of deity. But that is what you stated in the opening argument.
            There is good reason to counter absurd concepts and to narrow down moral, ethical, and social fundamentals. If those concepts are not shown to be absurd then they can slowly gain ground in the minds of the general public. A good example is anti-vaccination, because of a lack of people obsessed with countering the claims of the anti-vaxxers until recently. Primarily because the claims were seen as absurd by most everybody who understood the subject, they gained much ground in promoting the perception that vaccinations are dangerous & don’t do anything.

            Now if you stating that:
            1) If (α) is obsessed with an intellectually incredible and/or absurd concept (δ),
            then
            2) α likely suffers from some cognitive defect (μ).

            First you need to define obsessed. If by obsessed you mean suffers from the clinically diagnosable disorder then you will need to show that diagnosis. If on the other hand you mean just a continual preoccupation with something then it becomes rather dilute and difficult to accurately ascertain.
            Next you need to define the cognitive defect (μ) and then show how preoccupation or disorder with δ will likely lead to μ.

            So essentially:
            1. There are good reasons to counter absurd claims.
            2. Preoccupation does not likely indicate a cognitive defect.

            Regards

          • “While theists in general may not necessarily disagree with non-theists, there are distinct sets of moral, political & social leanings that stem from theism & non-theism.”

            This is for you to show. A cursory examination of the political and social leanings of theists and non-theists does not indicate this at all.

            “So while there is nothing stopping them from agreeing they are fundamentally approaching issues from a different basis.”

            It may be true that they approach issues from a different basis, but even then there is no guarantee that they do not come to the same conclusions. Perhaps specifics regarding your former comment and this one will help advance the conversation.

            “You say above that your argument pertains not to some narrow sect of christianity. ie. an intellectually incredible and/or absurd concept of deity. But that is what you stated in the opening argument.”

            You are confused. In the argument I am talking about theism, delta, which some atheists, alpha, take to be utterly absurd. Andrew apparently thinks that all theists agree with something like the GOP platform, but that’s complete nonsense. And I do mean that it is not even close to true. You will find theists supporting all of the U.S. political parties and disagreeing with one another on virtually any issue. I cannot think of a social or political issue that theists do not disagree on amongst themselves. If you have an example, let me know.

            “There is good reason to counter absurd concepts and to narrow down moral, ethical, and social fundamentals.”

            This is for you to show with respect to the topic in question.

            “If those concepts are not shown to be absurd then they can slowly gain ground in the minds of the general public.”

            But the practical consequences are what matter in this instance, and those consequences fleshed out in terms of particular stances on political or social issues do not work as justifying such obsessive behavior.

            “First you need to define obsessed. If by obsessed you mean suffers from the clinically diagnosable disorder then you will need to show that diagnosis. If on the other hand you mean just a continual preoccupation with something then it becomes rather dilute and difficult to accurately ascertain.
            Next you need to define the cognitive defect (μ) and then show how preoccupation or disorder with δ will likely lead to μ.”

            This is probably a fair critique, although it may be reading too much into what I am indicating through the argument. I was intentionally vague with regard to the cognitive defect broadly construed.

            “1. There are good reasons to counter absurd claims.”

            This is for you to show with respect to the absurd concept in question.

            “2. Preoccupation does not likely indicate a cognitive defect.”

            You would need to support this a bit more.

          • “You are confused. In the argument I am talking about theism, delta, which some atheists, alpha, take to be utterly absurd. “”

            Well, the problem is you are in some places but not in others. If you were strictly talking about theism you would have said:

            1) If a professing atheist (α) is obsessed with what they perceive as an intellectually incredible and/or absurd concept of deity (δ) and δ is itself theism, then α likely suffers from some cognitive defect (μ).
            or
            1) If a professing atheist (α) is obsessed with theism (δ) which they perceive as an intellectually incredible and/or absurd concept, then α likely suffers from some cognitive defect (μ).

            but you didn’t and which changes the premise quite significantly.

            “” …there are distinct sets of moral, political & social leanings that stem from theism & non-theism.”
            This is for you to show. A cursory examination of the political and social leanings of theists and non-theists does not indicate this at all.”

            A theist by definition believes in a personal active god. This necessarily colours their view of the final arbiter of their actions & thoughts. Where other individual’s feelings & well being, while being taken into account, are subordinate to the perceived wishes of that personal god.
            Whereas a non-theist or deist will consider the feelings & well being of others as their final arbiter.

            And while at times they may arrive at the same conclusions the process by which they arrive there ultimately colours either the actions taken from those conclusions or the approaches taken towards those conclusions.
            For a simplistic example take the derivative of x^2 + 4x.
            You can approach it from a number of ways. 1. Know that derivatives are of the form n*x^(n-1) 2. Understand that the derivative is the rate of change of the function or 3. Guess 4. Ask someone.
            All of these can arrive at the same conclusion. #3 Provides no real certainty. #4 is only as certain as the knowledge of the person being asked. #1 is quite certain but provides no basis as to what it means & #2 provides both certainty and usefulness, but at the cost of some time.
            So while all have arrived at the same conclusion each approach provides different practical consequences.

            I, for example can get preoccupied with statistical terms being used incorrectly within my workplace. It could even be classified under your definition of obsessed. But the misuse of these terms does have practical consequences even when the person misusing them has come to the same conclusion I have.

            ““1. There are good reasons to counter absurd claims.”
            This is for you to show with respect to the absurd concept in question.”

            There is no specific absurd concept defined. Without such I can only presume to show that absurd concepts do have effects, (anti-vax, creationism, homeopathy, witchdocteryness etc) and do need to be countered.

            ““2. Preoccupation does not likely indicate a cognitive defect.”
            You would need to support this a bit more.”

            True, and I may be able to but I was following on from the point that there was no support for it being the case. But that conclusion itself is fallacious, so I will revise it.

            2. Preoccupation needs to be shown to indicate a cognitive defect.

  6. Rhology, here’s what I take from your fable.

    Gerry the giraffe, although killed in a horrible way, had ensured through his altruism that his children grew up healthy and strong, so he passed on those atruistic genes.

    Regarding the slave/slavemaster story, how horrible! Two lessons there. If in this scenario we cannot count on justice in the afterlife for the pair, it shows how we must work hard to create justice in THIS life. The other lesson is to decry the condoning of slavery in holy books, such as the Bible.

    • Andrew,

      In the universe that spontaneously came about in an uncaused way and in which all life evolved from a unicellular common ancestor, what’s wrong with slavery? What “justice” needs to be served? From exactly where do you derive this sense of morality that demands “justice” or labels certain scenarios “horrible”? Shouldn’t a person be able to do what he wants with what he owns, whether it be his body or his car or his slave?

      If you’re granting that this is a universe, that spontaneously came about in an uncaused way and in which all life evolved from a unicellular common ancestor, how do any of your sentiments follow? Hypocrisy (if not delusion) seems the most reasonable explanation.

      McFormtist

    • “it shows how we must work hard to create justice in THIS life”

      I think a major point here is that there is not justice in this life. Not universally.

      Not so in the Christian story. Justice will ultimately be served.

  7. Andrew said:
    it shows how we must work hard to create justice in THIS life.

    1) Why should we create justice? Nobody will remember your work in 100 years.
    2) Suffering is merely a particular configuration of neurons firing in the brain, just like pleasure. So what? Why bother changing the configuration?
    3) How do you know what justice is?

    The other lesson is to decry the condoning of slavery in holy books, such as the Bible.

    1) You seem to be making a moral judgment. You need an argument.
    2) Biblically-endorsed slavery did not condone flogging and mistreatment of slaves like Slate.

    • “Biblically-endorsed slavery did not condone flogging and mistreatment of slaves like Slate.”

      Oh dear – have you not actually read the bible? It clearly says you can beat your slave to death as long as they take longer than three days to die.

      By your book, the slaver could get to enjoy paradise when he dies, whereas if the slave worships the wrong God he goes to eternal hell. Hardly an improvement!

      • Andrew I noticed that you did not even attempt to answer any of Rhology’s questions. Why is that, I wonder?

        But I also noticed that you jump immediately into a passage that is typically touted by Internet atheists who want to pretend as though they know the Bible better than most believers by virtue of their having read, say, the Skeptics Bible or visited Evil Bible. Now let’s address your misreading of the text.

        20 “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.
        Ex 21:20-21 (ESV)

        Concerning this passage you write, “It clearly says you can beat your slave to death.” But it does not. The text does not condone the beating of the slave at all. Rather, the text is describing what the punishment is *for* beating one’s slave to death. That is, the text actually *condemns* beating a slave to death. In the one case, the slave owner is punished by being put to death. In the other case, which is an unintentional death by beating, the slave owner is punished in terms of his own financial loss from having beaten his slave to death. The implication is that he did not intend to kill his slave, but was still wrong in beating the slave. Otherwise there would be no mention of punishment in either case. But as it is, there is a punishment in both cases here for beating a slave to death. In the first case of intentionally beating a slave to death, the slave owner is likewise to be put to death. In the second case of unintentionally beating a slave to death, the slave owner’s own foolish financial loss serves as his punishment.

        Try studying the text next time for yourself (not an atheist site that references the text), or reading some commentaries, and you won’t make such silly mistakes, reading the text the exact *opposite* way from which it is to be read.

        I look forward to your answers to Rhology’s questions.

    • Just to save time, as I’ve no intention of further back and forth on this:

      ”    When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished.  If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.  (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB)”

      To summarise – punishment if your beaten slave dies within ‘a day or two’. Otherwise, go knock yourself out and beat your slaves, also known as ‘your money’ in this particular translation. Cue squirming from the biblical apologist. You either did not KNOW passages like that existed in your moral holy book, or you simply hoped I would not. Either way, poor show Rhology.

    • 1) Because life is unpleasant otherwise. We experience cognitive dissonance when we perceive injustice, this help keep us as a society together and functioning more efficiently than otherwise. Although this is different from person to person – and is quite strongly linked to testosterone levels.
      2) That’s not completely accurate, there are a number of other factors in play besides for just neurons firing. The so what is similar to above. Suffering has come about to warn us of damage. The suffering you feel is a warning to your conscious to either stop what you are doing because it’s causing damage or get away from/stop the cause of that suffering.
      3) Justice is that which you being informed by your empathy, your cognitive faculties & society as a whole think/feel is fair. Those with a lack of empathy, cognitive faculties and/or with no concern for society as a whole will have a sense of justice turned towards what is fair to themselves instead of others.

      He can make a moral judgement based upon what is seen as fair or unfair.
      Biblically endorsed slavery, endorsed slavery. Removal of a persons ability to do what they wish with their own property as long as it does not interfere with others.

      Regards

  8. Gerry the giraffe, although killed in a horrible way, had ensured through his altruism that his children grew up healthy and strong, so he passed on those atruistic genes.

    And he ended up dead, just like his children will, and those whom he and his children will help.
    Are you trying to tell me that means something? What’s your argument?

    • What’s YOUR argument? You made none. Do you believe giraffes go to heaven? You offered a scenario, I told you what I took from it! Nature’s cruel; that’s true whether you believe in God or not.

  9. Chris, sorry to diverge a bit from the preceding comments, however I wanted to briefly comment on your original argument. Your argument equivocates on the term “obsession”. Obsession does not necessarily indicate cognitive defect as you have implied it does. Science-fiction writers are obsessed with their imaginary creations, however does that mean they suffer from cognitive defects? Of course not. Merely because one has an obsession is not an indicator of a cognitive defect. One could argue, however, that if one thought imaginary beings were real, one might suffer from some sort of cognitive defect. But that’s another topic.

    • I welcome comments on the original post. You are correct that “obsession” can mean a number of things, but the description I provided in the argument was the meaning I was ascribing to the term. There are, in other words, unhealthy obsessions, as you allude to above in your example of someone thinking that imaginary beings are real.

      “In 1, an obsession is a continual preoccupation with something. An obsession with δ is – in secular psychobabble – an indication of “some real deep-seated issues.” The obsession itself may be taken as an instance of some cognitive defect broadly construed, and/or the obsession may be taken as evidence of cognitive defect at some more basic level which could involve, for example, something like cognitive distortion. Remember that the obsession in view here involves such activities as spending “hours upon hours blogging, podcasting, and commenting” on the Internet and that the object of the obsession is “an imaginary concept of deity with no more intellectual credibility than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.” Obsessions are generally viewed negatively regardless of their objects, but when the object of an obsession is absurd – obviously absurd – then it becomes clear that the person with the obsession needs help. Add to this recognition that according to α, δ is not only absurd, but imaginary! A person exhibiting this type of behavior is very likely suffering from some type of cognitive defect. It takes somebody really, really … special … to spend hours upon hours blogging, podcasting, and commenting about an imaginary concept of deity with no more intellectual credibility than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. And yet there are people who do exactly that day after day! “

      • This is a case of making much ado about nothing. If you are defining obsession itself as an instance of some cognitive defect, then by your very definition of obsession, anyone who is obsessed with something must have a cognitive defect. In essence, all you are saying is that cognitively defective atheists are cognitively defective. Your argument amounts to a tautology, and you haven’t made any point in particular. Your non-expert diagnosis of those atheists you happen to run across on the Internet really has no bearing on the argument either because according to you *anyone* possessing an obsession has a cognitive defect.

        • It is not tautological because obsession is not identical to cognitive defect. However obsession may itself be a particular instance of cognitive defect. Also, I did not suggest that the obsession itself be the only way that cognitive defect is present.

          “The obsession itself may be taken as an instance of some cognitive defect broadly construed, **and/or the obsession may be taken as evidence of cognitive defect at some more basic level which could involve, for example, something like cognitive distortion.**”

          • They don’t have to be identical in order for it to be a tautological. The tautological implications are evident if you review your argument. The problem is that there is no real substance to the argument, in terms of evidence. If you want to show that atheists who obsess over God possess a cognitive defect, which is basically what you are trying to show, then it might be a good idea to start with scientific evidence rather than engaging in endless obfuscation.

          • Oh okay. Define tautology.

            The rest of your comment is just rhetoric. I have better things to do.

          • A tautology does not necessarily mean identically defined as you suggest. For example, let p=”(α) obsessed with δ” and q=”α likely suffers μ”. Your argument is roughly, “If p implies q and p is true, then q must be true.”

            Or in symbolic: [(p-> q) ^p] ->q.

            Construct a truth table from this and you can see that it is a tautology as it is always true regardless of the truth value of the individual statements.

          • Oh okay. So where p = “Chris’ argument is tautological” and q = “it has no substance” your original argument takes the form:

            If p implies q and p is true, then q must be true.

            And in defending the first premise of the argument above you explained that where p = “modus ponens” and q = “tautology” your argument takes the form:

            If p implies q and p is true, then q must be true.

            But since both of your arguments as formulated above are instances of modus ponens, then if the premises of your arguments are true they have no substance. So…why are you wasting our time?

  10. john moriarty

    some A’s think religion is poison. they fight long and hard. what’s hard to understand about that? fighting for truth and freedom? if they are crackpots or whatever, that will come out. if the are cogent, that will come out.

  11. Steven Schwartz

    Where to begin….

    Let us consider your response to the objections one at a time:

    Objection 1: Not all atheists exhibit the obsessive behavior described above. Not all atheists think theism is absurd or imaginary like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

    Reply: The argument takes these observations into account in the second point under Clarification.

    But, as we will discover later, this drastically weakens the applicability of the argument; because if you are using a probabilistic and evidential argument, then only a few atheists behaving this way does not display a weakness in the atheist worldview — it displays a weakness in *people*.

    Objection 2: Belief in God or gods can inform political philosophy and/or stances on social issues.

    Reply: Professing atheism can also inform political philosophy and/or stances on social issues, but neither atheism nor theism results in a monolithic political philosophy.

    It doesn’t have to; for a person to *rationally* argue against theism, they only need to hold that it has done significant damage, politically or socially, and that it is also incorrect.

    Belief A, in a significant number of its holders, produces behavior X.
    Behavior X is repugnant to me.
    Belief A, in my opinion, is also untrue.
    I have significant motivation to argue against Belief A.

    Now, while this is not an explanation for all such argument, it serves to further reduce the amount of evidence you are presenting with your initial claim.

    Objection 3: If several million people believed in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, wrote libraries of books articulating and defending their beliefs, and used them to argue for controversial social policies then people would spend hours debunking those as well.

    Reply: We are not given any reason to accept this claim.

    Then I will give you several: autism-is-caused-by-vaccines, Scientology, Mormonism, and Holocaust Denial. People spend hours or years debunking those, and in the case of three of the four, they have come into being in the last 60 years.

    Objection 4 covers “superstition-based tyranny”, with the retort that: “But there is not much in the way of a guarantee that it will be [effective in countering said tyranny]”

    Again — people are not required to act only in ways guaranteed to achieve their ends; and one can make a rational case that the work will *help* their ends, even if there is no guarantee. This does not have to be a case of irrational, obsessive behavior.

    Objection 5: Civil, reasoned debate in the marketplace of ideas is one of the highest forms of intellectual satisfaction.

    Reply: It is not clear that α has anything like this in mind. There are spoiled goods in the marketplace, and δ is one of them.

    Of course, for each α of whom Objection #5 is true, your evidence is further reduced. Again, it doesn’t have to be clear for all of them — just some of them, as you point out.

    Objection 6: Obviously α is behaving this way because it is fun.

    You then go on to compare people arguing about theism with serial killers. I suggest this might be rather overstating your case. To pick an example at non-random, I grew up in a household that might as well have been a debate society. I find these kinds of arguments challenging and interesting — indeed, had I not gotten involved in them, I would not have caught up with modern thinking in non-classical logics . So, there are more people removed from your evidence-list.

    Remember — for each α, only one of the above objections needs to be true for them to not qualify for your argument’s sake.

    Objection 7: Does this also apply to all the apologists who endlessly blog about the problems with atheism?

    Reply: Even if it did, it would not follow that there is anything wrong with the argument.

    Save that it reduces, significantly, the evidentiary value of your claim. If there are 100 atheist bloggers who fall through the sieve of the objections above, and there are 100 theists who attempt, in their blogs, to assert the intellectual invalidity of atheism, then any point you’re trying to make in your probabilistic argument goes out the window.

    Objection 8: There are plenty of motivations to critique a view one finds ridiculous.

    Reply: This is a mere assertion offered as an objection without reason or evidence to support it. In contrast, the argument above is valid and its premises are supported with reason and evidence. Unless and until an example of this objection is provided it can be dismissed without further comment.

    Actually, Objection 8 cites, implicitly, objections 2,4,5, and 6. That people make those claims is evidence that these motivations exist. Now, you can attempt (though I do not believe you will succeed) to claim that people are confused as to their own motivations when they put themselves in categories 2,4,5, or 6 — but you have a much higher standard of proof when you are claiming that people don’t know why they are doing what they are doing, but are instead obsessional and cognitively impaired.

    (I’ll even toss in a bonus one; Atheists are proud people, and object to being told that they are self-deluded, blind, and doomed to eternal hellfire by people who they think are reasoning in circles and engaged in logical fallacies. Calling names can get to people, even when they know, intellectually, that they should be above all that.)

    All you have established with this argument is that there are obsessional people; and a non-Christian worldview can account for obsession just as well as a Christian one. (Indeed, it does so without having to deal with any thorny problems regarding why a deity would deliberately create entities who were so willfully blind, and provide them with ample evidence to support their alleged blindness.)

    You cannot legitimately make a “probabilistic” argument, and then require a great deal of rigor from those who object.

    • Thanks Steven,

      I think you probably raise some good points, though I will have to read your comment more closely in the future.

  12. Chris – you wrote

    “It takes somebody really, really … special … to spend hours upon hours blogging, podcasting, and commenting about an imaginary concept of deity with no more intellectual credibility than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. And yet there are people who do exactly that day after day!”

    Which is a failing to comprehend the reason why people like me engage theists like you (amongst others).

    Personally I don’t really care if your God is the true God, or whether it is Allah, or Odin or whoever. It’s your belief and my sincere good wishes with that.

    Christianity takes prozeletizing very seriously and also seeks to formulate public policy, including education, based on interpretations of the Biblical text. That’s where the difficulty begins. If you practised your faith and left me alone then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Until you do we’ll be exchanging views for the forseeable future.

    If you want to engage in some pop psychology then it’s not going to deter me from doing so.

    • “Christianity takes prozeletizing very seriously and also seeks to formulate public policy, including education, based on interpretations of the Biblical text.”

      First, I am not talking about Christianity, I am talking about theism,.
      Second, this objection is addressed in the argument. It is not the case that all Christians (or even most of them) seek to formulate public policy based on their interpretations of the Bible, and it is certainly not the case that theists in general do so.

  13. There is another problem with the argument as presented.
    In it you seem to be stateing that some α are obsessed with δ where δ is either a theistic concept or some imaginary or absurd concept. And that it shows some deap seated issue to be obsessing over something that α themselves considers to be imaginary or absurd.
    But those α that seem to be being referred to are not obsessed over δ itself but over another’s (β) use of that δ. In which case the point about α being obsessed about something which they themselves think is imaginary or absurd fails, as if they are obsessed about anything it is over β’s use of δ not δ itself. In fact if anything they would conclude that β’s preoccupation or continual use of what α sees as imaginary or absurd would indicate that it is β who suffers from μ.

    • “But those α that seem to be being referred to are not obsessed over δ itself but over another’s (β) use of that δ.”

      No, there really are alpha who are obsessed with delta, not beta’s use of delta.

      • Then those people could be said to be experiencing some sort of cognitive disassociation.
        To be obsessed about some argument you think or have reasoned to be untrue. Instead of being obsessed with those making that argument or developing an opposing argument, would seem to require some sort of double-think and to break out from your own cognition.

        But I must admit I haven’t seen many that do that. I would myself normally call them out on it and ask why not:
        1. develop an argument against that concept.
        2. respond to those that make an argument for that concept
        3. otherwise ignore that concept if no-one is making the argument for the concept itself.

        • Just to be clear, there are many atheists who make arguments against the concept of God and/or gods.