The problem with Internet atheists

I’ve long been interested in the philosophical problems apparent in much popular Christian apologetics, in particular presuppositional apologetics, but also various other philosophical arguments. Part of the reason for this is simply the presence of bad philosophical arguments, which given my formal philosophical training, I find tempting to expose. But there is also another factor, and that is the smugness, or utter lack of humility, displayed by the people making those bad arguments (Sye Ten, Matt Slick, I’m looking at you). It would be way less inviting to engage with if the proponents of these bad arguments were humble, just playing with an argument or concept to see where it goes, rather than using it like a club to try to hit people over the head with. So it is a mixture of weak arguments and arrogance which annoys me the most.

However, I am increasingly finding this sort of thing on the other side of the divide – on the atheist side of the camp – and this does my head in for precisely the same reasons. Being an atheist (either lacking a belief in a god, or positively believing that there are none) does *not* make you a philosopher, it doesn’t mean you have a good grasp of epistemology, and it does not mean you are correct about anything.  Being able to recite ‘what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence’, does *not* make you a philosopher.  Saying that you don’t have a burden of proof just because you are an atheist, is not correct if you have made a claim of any kind. Atheists don’t get a pass. They have to learn the hard way, just like everyone else.

Philosophy, in particular epistemology and logic, are directly relevant to the great debate. It is absolutely fine to talk about these ideas in the absence of formal training. In fact, I think more people should be engaged in precisely these areas and encourage more people to do so. I’m certainly not saying that unless you have a PhD you shouldn’t try to do philosophy. All I’m saying is to remember that philosophy is hard. There is no shallow end of the pool; it’s all deep. Don’t think you are a master Jedi when you barely know one end of a light sabre from the other. Trying to use philosophy like a weapon just to win an argument is going to bite you in the ass if you don’t know what you are doing. Even if you do, it’s still a bad idea.

Philosophy is about exposing the folly of arrogance. Like a grenade, it can go off in your own hands.

There are three ways to avoid this happening: a) don’t bother trying, b) never make a mistake, c) be humble. Always, always, go for the last option.

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18 thoughts on “The problem with Internet atheists”

  1. It’s actually ‘bite you in the ARSE’ – ass is a pack animal, a mono to’d grazing animal – as in
    ‘u shan’t cuvit ur nabr’s ass.’

    Ar Britns that inferiority complext, that prideless that they must lick american arse in language, in culture, in singing in american accents &c?

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  2. Interesting article. Here’s what I originally tried to post about and what I thought you might find interesting:
    https://theethicalskeptic.com/charter/
    https://mobile.twitter.com/EthicalSkeptic/with_replies

    This guy is a blogger who basically feels kind of the same way you do here. He thinks that the mainstream skeptical movement isn’t really skeptical or scientific at all and bullies dissenters and that most such ppl really have no idea what those words actually mean. He thinks that they’re much too quick to dismiss pretty much anything they disagree with as “woo” or “psudeoscience” when in fact a lot of their own actions fit the very definition of psudeoscience.
    From the sidelines of his pages:
    ___________________________________________________________________________”There exists a pro-science, educated and rational movement of conscience, on the part of people just like you and me. Professionals who apply skepticism daily in their STEMM disciplines; who nonetheless are raising a warning flag of concern. Welcome to my blog. Within its pages, I hope to illustrate genuine skepticism, or what is called Ethical Skepticism. Indeed, its mission is to promote the wonder of science through a contrast of authentic skeptical discipline, versus its distorted, pseudo-intellectual and socio-politically motivated counterfeit. I am a graduate level science and engineering professional who laments the imprisonment of science by control-minded special interests and bullying dogmatic social epistemologists. As you survey my blog, hopefully you will encounter ideas you’ve never personally considered before. Indeed, its mission is to foster foremost a discerning perspective for us all on the Cabal of pretenders who abuse and seek control in the name science. Science based upon a flawed philosophy called social skepticism. ”
    ___________________________________________________________________________

    Cheers,
    AD

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  3. Why not write “The problem with atheists”?

    It is impossible to rationally conclude atheistic position, so all atheists have a problem – they came to their position using means other than logic. You used, as I recall, “gun to the head” method.

    Or you could name the article: “There is not a single rational reason to conclude atheism”. You could start with “lack of evidence” and “evil” and explain how those cannot rationally lead to atheistic position.

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    1. You seem confused about the ‘gun to the head’ comment. It’s not the name of a method of coming to believe something. It’s an expression of lacking lots of confidence in a conclusion.

      And while I’m cautious about ‘global atheism’ (the position according no gods of any description exist) I’m much more confident that, say, Christianity is false. There are good reasons to reject that sort of religion, it seems to me. If that is enough to be an atheist, then I disagree with you here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Really? You apply “gun to the head” method to go from 50% to 40 something. That’s using method to come to a conclusion, not an “expression of lacking lots of confidence in a conclusion.”

        What you actually demonstrate is lacking confidence in logic. Logic, as far as you can take it on the subject, which is not far actually, gives you 50%. Then you express lack of confidence in logic and apply irrational method to change your own logical conclusion and enter into irrationality.

        And, apparently, you think you are still being logical. That’s actually sad. I thought you at least accepted you were not logical in your conclusion.

        Of course, kids’ games aside, whether you believe that Christianity is true or not has nothing to do with being an atheist. Maybe start calling yourself Achristian.

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      2. “Really? You apply “gun to the head” method to go from 50% to 40 something.”

        ~45-50. That’s not very far. That’s only a little bit.

        “That’s using method to come to a conclusion, not an “expression of lacking lots of confidence in a conclusion.””

        Full context:

        “It seems to me that the proposition p, that there are any gods, is rather hard to evaluate. I find the idea of a personal loving agent quite unlikely indeed, for various reasons (it seems suspiciously like the sort of thing made up by humans, for one). However, the question of whether there are any gods seems a lot more of a difficult thing to evaluate. Perhaps some kind of being created the universe, but remains utterly divorced from the subsequent comings and goings of the world itself, or perhaps one is fascinated by the comings and goings of radically different forms of life on the other side of the universe than us, etc. These sorts of ideas are interesting, but are almost impossible to say anything about, either for or against. I kind of couldn’t have any good reasons to think that any of these sorts of hypotheses were true rather than false. What would count as evidence for or against? In this situation, my degree of belief that p (i.e. the proposition ‘some god exists’) has got to be around 0.5.
        Yet, I do have a sneaking suspicion that there probably aren’t any gods like this. If you put a gun to my head and made me decide, I would opt for the no-gods option. That’s what I think is more likely, and so I my degree of belief that p isn’t exactly 0.5. The following is certainly true:
        Da(p) < Da(~p)
        However, the imbalance seems to me to be very, very slight. I wouldn’t know how to put a precise number on it, but it seems reasonable to think that my degree of belief that ~p is between 0.5 and 0.55.
        Now, does this state of mind mean that I believe that p? I certainly believe that there is an almost even probability about whether there are any gods or not, with a very slight imbalance towards no gods. My degree of belief is similarly minimally slanted towards the no-gods position. The question is the relation of these facts to the question of whether I believe that p." (From "What is Atheism?")

        More context:

        "Does lacking a belief mean lacking all degree of belief? To me, it seemed like the answer was ‘no’; one can lack a belief that p, yet still have some small degree of belief that p. That was how I describe my own internal doxastic state with regards to the proposition that no gods exist. I don’t feel like it is correct to say that I believe that no gods exist, but I have a small degree of belief that they don’t.
        Part of my reasoning behind why I am only slightly in one direction rather than the other is because it is a proposition in metaphysics, and this seems like the most one can ever really have about such propositions. For example, it seems at least conceptually possible that there exists some god who is entirely unverifiable, some sort of deist god who never intervenes in the world and has left no trace of his existence for us to find. How could I ever know if such a god existed? Obviously, I couldn’t. But this type of god would also be the sort of thing that I couldn’t get any information about at all, either for or against. For this type of thing, there couldn’t be any evidence, and so one can never be confident that it doesn’t exist. So while I have an intuition or feeling that they probably don’t exist, it is not strong – after all, I don’t think that I know what the world is like at the most fundamental lever, so I don’t place much weight in what my pre-theoretical intuitions about that sort of thing say. They do lead me in one direction, but only slightly. That’s my view anyway. (An interventionist god who cares about human suffering seems far less likely to me than this epistemologically inaccessible god, and I would have a far lower degree of belief in such a personal god)." (From "What is Atheism? II")

        So yeah, I do think it's just an expression of lacking confidence and not a "method of coming to believe something".

        Again, he said:

        "If you put a gun to my head and made me decide, I would opt for the no-gods option. That’s what I think is more likely, and so I my degree of belief that p isn’t exactly 0.5. The following is certainly true:
        Da(p) < Da(~p)
        However, the imbalance seems to me to be very, very slight. I wouldn’t know how to put a precise number on it, but it seems reasonable to think that my degree of belief that ~p is between 0.5 and 0.55."

        And:

        "So while I have an intuition or feeling that they probably don’t exist, it is not strong – after all, I don’t think that I know what the world is like at the most fundamental lever, so I don’t place much weight in what my pre-theoretical intuitions about that sort of thing say. They do lead me in one direction, but only slightly."

        So I stand by his remark that it's just an expression of lacking confidence and not a "method of coming to believe something".

        "What you actually demonstrate is lacking confidence in logic. Logic, as far as you can take it on the subject, which is not far actually, gives you 50%. Then you express lack of confidence in logic and apply irrational method to change your own logical conclusion and enter into irrationality."

        How is being *only slightly* (~45-50) in one direction based on a pre-theoretical intuition or feeling irrational?

        "And, apparently, you think you are still being logical. That’s actually sad. I thought you at least accepted you were not logical in your conclusion."

        What are you talking about? How is he being illogical?

        "Of course, kids’ games aside,"

        What are you talking about? What "kids’ games"?

        "whether you believe that Christianity is true or not has nothing to do with being an atheist. Maybe start calling yourself Achristian."

        Ok, maybe that's fair enough.

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  4. “~45-50. That’s not very far. That’s only a little bit. ”

    It doesn’t matter. Since the method is irrational, downward conclusion has the same value as upward. So it could also be 55 with the same method, and it’s equally valid method-wise.

    And not only can direction be up or down, the value to go up or down is arbitrary. So it could very well be 59. Or 41. Or 39. Or 60. All perfectly valid “conclusions” with the same “method”. They are conclusions, to be fair, but they are not logical, hence the quotes.

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  5. “It doesn’t matter. Since the method is irrational, downward conclusion has the same value as upward. So it could also be 55 with the same method, and it’s equally valid method-wise.”

    Maybe you’re right about “intuition” or whatever alone, but other factors like one’s reasons could be taken into account to give a better estimate.

    “And not only can direction be up or down, the value to go up or down is arbitrary. So it could very well be 59. Or 41. Or 39. Or 60. All perfectly valid “conclusions” with the same “method”. They are conclusions, to be fair, but they are not logical, hence the quotes.”

    Wrong. See above. The more you go in one direction, the bigger the burden. If it’s just a little, then you don’t need much. If you’re putting it at a high number, then you need a lot more evidence. (I don’t think an exact 0 or 100 or exact number about anything is possible because of human error and limitations of our knowledge.)

    Of course, a better, more thorough assessment would require an evaluation of the arguments and evidence for and against. You seem to be strongly theistic leaning, since you said “It is impossible to rationally conclude atheistic position” and “There is not a single rational reason to conclude atheism” and that “lack of evidence” and “evil” cannot rationally lead to atheistic position. I guess there’s only one way to find out: examine the arguments and evidence.

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