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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s