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