Atheist Contradictions – Pity the Poor Christian

One more post before I head out to snowmobile for the weekend.

Atheist Contradictions is a category I have for noting those claims by atheists that are inherently or obviously contradictory. In this case I am dealing with a post over at A-Unicornist (I am really not picking on Mike here – we have just had a few exchanges recently so I notice what he writes more) dealing with his loss of faith. Now I don’t know Mike personally so I can only deal with what he writes about himself, and quite frankly his personal experiences are his own (just as mine are); but he writes something here that I think from a logical perspective is inherently contradictory, so I wanted to deal with that.

In his post ‘Kickin’ it Old School’ he writes:

It’s strange now, because when I saw the genre label “Christian” on Jar of Clay’s [A Christian group he once listened to] MySpace page, I almost felt sorry for them. To be steeped in such ignorance, to believe in such vacuous myths – and worst of all, to have their very identities defined by them. I would never try to lure someone to atheism by promising them happiness – blissful ignorance and appeals to baser emotions are the calling cards of religious faith. Nonetheless, I’m far happier as an atheist than I ever was as a Christian. I have a thirst for knowledge and a love of science that only now can I see was hopelessly impaired when I had the “God goggles” on. My sense of morality and personal responsibility has deepened, my life has become more meaningful, and I’m far more appreciative of the short time I have here.

Most of all though, I feel intellectually liberated. I had spent a tremendous amount of energy conjuring up rationalizations to defend my faith, even from my own doubts. But I now know that no idea is sacred. The walls of knowledge we have exist only to be torn down and rebuilt over and over again. We simply cannot know anything of absolute truth – it’s beyond our capacity as human beings. I, for one, take that as a good thing. It’s not scary to admit you don’t have it all figured out – that’s how you start growing.

Did you catch the contradiction there? In saying, “We simply cannot know anything of absolute truth – it’s beyond our capacity as human beings. I, for one, take that as a good thing.” Mike is making an absolute truth claim – a direct contradiction to the claim that we cannot make know anything of absolute truth. At best he can claim our intellectual capabilities are much less capable than Christians suppose, but that is hardly ‘liberating’ intellectually.

But that is a rather simple and obvious philosophical flaw with his thinking. What I find more interesting is his expression of ‘feeling sorry’ for believers because of their presumed ignorance. Now given he doesn’t think we can actually know any truths with certainty, I am not sure what it is he thinks they are ignorant of. But beside the overt condescension of the statement Mike is actually making another logically incongruous statement; that believing the claims of Christianity are worthy of pity.

This is incongruous at the first because he has no basis for claiming that any belief is necessarily better or worse to have given his claim that we are unable to certainly establish the truth of any claim.

But I will go farther than that. Suppose that what Mike suspects (but cannot in his own words know) about the universe is true – that we exist not as the result of intent and design, but that we are here as the result of incidental events and processes. If that is the case, then what we believe about the origin of the universe is somewhat irrelevant. The result of Mike beliefs and the beliefs of Christians are ultimately exactly the same – they die and what they believed during life made no difference to their future state. Even if we assume as Mike does (though he cannot know for certain) that knowledge inevitably progresses then this simply means that our current scientific knowledge will appear to future generations as ignorant and ‘mythical’ as Christian beliefs do to Mike. On this score he is no more ‘fulfilled’ intellectually than a tribal shaman.

If we fully adopt the materialist paradigm then it is even unlikely that we actually choose what we believe because our brain merely acts according to inherent electro-chemical processes and environmental inputs, of which both religious and a-religious beliefs are merely a by-product. The concept of self and will are illusory, and Mike is as duped as the most ardent fundamentalist.

As well, given that materialistically there is no objective measure of good by which to evaluate ones choices then there is really no basis to state whether it is better to believe an illusion or believe that one cannot know the truth – because ‘better’ is a mere preference in this case. Indeed there may be benefits to such illusions, and so from a purely pragmatic perspective it may actually be ‘better’ to believe illusions. There is no law or command anywhere to say that we must always believe truth, much less provisional truth. In short, no basis to say which position is more to be pitied.

Of course as a Christian I believe not only that real truth exists but that we can know it sufficiently to act on it. I believe this in part because believing so is inherently logically consistent – as well as being consistent with the idea that some ideas are ‘better’ than others to accept. I don’t feel sorry for atheists because unlike Mike I think they are capable of making real choices based on the evidence provided, and they have done so – I don’t see them as deluded or pitiful, just wrong.

But of course that statement may be too logical for some.

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29 Responses to Atheist Contradictions – Pity the Poor Christian

  1. @ Jack

    You’re right in saying that Mike’s quote:

    “We simply cannot know anything of absolute truth – it’s beyond our capacity as human beings. I, for one, take that as a good thing.”

    …is, more or less, an absolute truth claim.

    That is what the grammar connotes. But seeing how Mike is always reminding you, constantly, repeatedly, that he ever only intend a provisional understanding of things, do you really think it fair to assume he has thrown his fondness of maintain a provisional outlook for a rather literal meaning following the grammar he chose?

    I don’t think that’s quite fair, seeing as how he has constantly, repeatedly, taken the time to remind you of it every chance he gets.

    So although the connotation could be read by people who have never spoken to Mike as to (mistakenly) think he has erred, I think you, of all people, having engaged him frequently would know that he real meaning is implied in the way he thinks, as he himself has told you.

    Would it not be more fair, to say Mike simply means:

    “We may find that we simply cannot know anything of absolute truth–it’s seemingly beyond our capacity as human beings. I, for one, take that as a good thing.”

    Since we both know this is how Mike thinks, I find it a little backhanded, and two-faced, that you would take his quote out of context to say he is mistaken about “absolute” truth claims, since we both know, he’s not actually intending to make one.

  2. Pardon my spelling errors. I wrote it quickly on a PDA, so I was having difficulty.

  3. Justin says:

    Stating that it is possible that we cannot know absolute truth is still a truth claim. Many modal logic arguments deal with what is possible and not possible. Restating Mike’s statement doesn’t avoid making an absolute truth claim. What you’re now saying is that you know that it is absolutely possible that absolute truth cannot be known. If that’s not what you are trying to say then I am not sure that another reading of that has any meaning.

  4. Looks to me like your cheif objections to “Mike’s” world-view is that you are uncomfortable with it. You don’t like be irrelevant on the grand scheme. You don’t like being unable to be sure of things. You don’t like having morality be subjective and complicated. You don’t like being a deterministic series of neuro-chemical processes.

    Unfortunatly reality and truth are under no obligation at all to appease you, make you feel important, loved, or justified.

    That is what Mike means by liberation and intellectual freedom. It is adult to realize that it is really not all about you, or even about us, and with that understanding you can approched the world in a more intellectualy honest and objective way.

    That is of course bearing in mind that we can never be truly objective, but only seek to be as objective as possible.

    If you truly do find the view that all of this was designed with us in mind to be rewarding, then by all means you are entitled to hold that view. If the universe really does make more sense to you when you assume that the creator of a billion galaxies and a billion billion stars and a billion billion billion planets cares about you personaly, then cling that belief if you really feel that you require it in order to be logicaly consistant and moraly fullfilled. But don’t criticize those of us who can comfortably divorce ourselves from such notions.

  5. jackhudson says:

    .  So although the connotation could be read by people who have never spoken to Mike as to (mistakenly) think he has erred, I think you, of all people, having engaged him frequently would know that he real meaning is implied in the way he thinks, as he himself has told you.

    Would it not be more fair, to say Mike simply means:

    “We may find that we simply cannot know anything of absolute truth–it’s seemingly beyond our capacity as human beings. I, for one, take that as a good thing.”

    Since we both know this is how Mike thinks, I find it a little backhanded, and two-faced, that you would take his quote out of context to say he is mistaken about “absolute” truth claims, since we both know, he’s not actually intending to make one. 

    Tristan, even if we modify his statement thusly, he is still claiming to know something he admits he can’t know (as Justin noted). And he still has no basis to ‘pity’ believers. 

    Of course Mike is an adult and fully capable of correcting his own errors.  

  6. jackhudson says:

    @phantomposter
    Actually I find the sentiment to be almost exactly opposite what you describe; Christians understand themselves to be invited guests to the universe in which they are obligated to follow the rules of the Master of the place, whereas atheists are often attracted to their metaphysical beliefs because it allows them to be captains of their own fate and follow rules of their own creation. I find the latter belief to be infinitely more self-centered.

  7. So your stance on this issue is that:

    1: The “master of the house” (and in this case house is “the incomprehensibly large cosmos”) cares personally about what you do or don’t do. This is NOT a self-centered view of the universe?

    2: The Atheist idea is that the universe is ambivalent to our existence, and therefore if we want to be cared for we’ll have to care for ourselves. And this is the self-centered view?

    If that is your position then you are skilled at tailoring reason to fit the arguments the way you think it should. I for one cannot commit to the kind of philosophical contortions required to even begin to take that position. It also occurs to me that if you are already willing to engage in such massive presumption then you are not likely susceptible to having your mind change. I must admit if I thought my religious affiliations were of personal relevance to an all-encompassing cosmic super-being then I might not be willing to listen to a fellow lesser creature either.

    I highly recommend that you read the first chapter of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot. It is only a few pages long and can likely be found for free somewhere with a Google search. If you can read that and still feel God’s eye fixed firmly on your personal life, then you are capable of conceit far beyond what I can imagine.

  8. kenetiks says:

    Wow. You’ve been drawing quite a crowd lately Jack. 🙂

    To the original topic; I was ready to object to you pronouncement when I stopped and thought about it for a second. I actually do pity some christians. But not in the same context. The ones I pity are the ones like my father who cannot have a civil discourse on reality. He simply asserts he is right without providing anything to substantiate his claim and vehemently refuses to even have a discussion unless it is conducted under the pretense of his view being the correct one.

    I don’t feel pity for the christians who show more civility. You yourself are a good example. I don’t feel pity for you even in the slightest. Even though I continually disagree with you on many subjects and feel you are sometimes a bit dishonest with even yourself, I still don’t pity you. I do however pity Justin on the other hand for reasons to obvious to miss.

  9. nate says:

    @Truth over faith

    Good morning troll, it’s nice to see you have something to add.

  10. nate says:

    Now back under your bridge.

  11. jackhudson says:

    @kinetics
    I share your pity in this case, for anyone who is unthinking in their beliefs even if I happen to agree with them on their conclusions. Christians are commanded to be able to reasonably explain why they believe what they do, and those who fail to do so are missing out.

  12. jackhudson says:

    1: The “master of the house” (and in this case house is “the incomprehensibly large cosmos”) cares personally about what you do or don’t do. This is NOT a self-centered view of the universe?

    Well no, it does not logically follow. For instance if I as a father of four tell my children I love and care about them them and the choices I make are for their good, and they believe me, it does not then follow that they are ‘selfish’. SO this understandsing is wrong on the face of it.

    2: The Atheist idea is that the universe is ambivalent to our existence, and therefore if we want to be cared for we’ll have to care for ourselves. And this is the self-centered view?

    Well if the universe is indifferent to our choices, then whether we are selfish or selfless is irrelevant. Obviously any described set of values is self-centered if not selfish, as all values would necessarily be the product of one’s own preferences, there being no objective measure of values.
    Why an atheist would care whether anyone else is being self-centered is what is illogical here.

    If that is your position then you are skilled at tailoring reason to fit the arguments the way you think it should. I for one cannot commit to the kind of philosophical contortions required to even begin to take that position. It also occurs to me that if you are already willing to engage in such massive presumption then you are not likely susceptible to having your mind change. I must admit if I thought my religious affiliations were of personal relevance to an all-encompassing cosmic super-being then I might not be willing to listen to a fellow lesser creature either.

    I only care whether God exists or not; if He does then our preferences in this regard are irrelevant.

    I highly recommend that you read the first chapter of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot. It is only a few pages long and can likely be found for free somewhere with a Google search. If you can read that and still feel God’s eye fixed firmly on your personal life, then you are capable of conceit far beyond what I can imagine.

    Oh I am very familiar with Sagan, a favorite in my agnostic days long before many of my commenters could read. I have to say that his ideas have not aged well – having now found over five hundred planets and knowing what we do about the particular requirements for the existence of life, our planet isn’t ‘ordinary’ at all but a precious and rare jewel in the cosmos.

  13. Your statement, “I only care whether God exists or not” almost convinced me to not make another response for two reasons. The first reason is that by the time a person is willing to make that statement in a discussion, you are dangerously close to having nothing more constructive to say to them. The second is that God’s existence has absolutely no bearing on whether or not regarding yourself as personally and intimately fascinating to an all encompassing super being is a self-important, if not self centered, manner of thought.

    What convinced me that I had to respond was the flippant disregard you displayed for Carl Sagan. I feel the need to rise slightly in his defense.

    “I, as a father of four, tell my children I love and care about them and the choices I make are for their good, and they believe me, it does not then follow that they are ‘selfish’.”

    I reject this outright as a poor metaphor and misrepresentation of almost every variation of religious faith I’ve ever encountered. I won’t preach to you what your own faith is, but I am almost 100% certain that your example is not a fair parallel, and you know it not to be.

    “any described set of values is self-centered if not selfish, as all values would necessarily be the product of one’s own preferences, there being no objective measure of values”

    Exactly, at some level everything is selfish. But at least Atheistic Humanism embraces no sick fantasies about billions upon billions of stars in the sky existing only for the benefit of ourselves. I am sorry if you find Atheistic morality illogical. You can easily find a dozen well written essays on the subject in 5 minutes that will explain how brutally logical Atheist morality truly is.

    “I have to say that his ideas [Sagan’s] have not aged well.”

    Have you read the same Sagan I have? I am forced to conclude not. You say, “having now found over five hundred planets and knowing what we do about the particular requirements for the existence of life, our planet isn’t ‘ordinary’ at all but a precious and rare jewel in the cosmos.” As if that is a criticism of Sagan’s work. Sagan devoted the greater part of an entire chapter in Pale Blue Dot to the Anthropic Principle in order to address this very issue. He devoted another entire chapter to those qualities of the Earth that he does openly admit to be special. What Sagan are you reading exactly?

  14. jackhudson says:

    Your statement, “I only care whether God exists or not” almost convinced me to not make another response for two reasons. The first reason is that by the time a person is willing to make that statement in a discussion, you are dangerously close to having nothing more constructive to say to them. The second is that God’s existence has absolutely no bearing on whether or not regarding yourself as personally and intimately fascinating to an all encompassing super being is a self-important, if not self centered, manner of thought.

    My simple point, apparently not understood, is that is God exists He is free to regard who and what He wishes to regard; our view of it is irrelevant.

    What convinced me that I had to respond was the flippant disregard you displayed for Carl Sagan. I feel the need to rise slightly in his defense.

    I’m sorry, did I not genuflect deeply enough at the altar of St. Carl? A billion pardons.

    I reject this outright as a poor metaphor and misrepresentation of almost every variation of religious faith I’ve ever encountered. I won’t preach to you what your own faith is, but I am almost 100% certain that your example is not a fair parallel, and you know it not to be.

    Really? Because I always took the prayer that begins, “Our Father who art in heaven” to be a reference to a father…who art…in heaven. Silly me.

    Exactly, at some level everything is selfish. But at least Atheistic Humanism embraces no sick fantasies about billions upon billions of stars in the sky existing only for the benefit of ourselves. I am sorry if you find Atheistic morality illogical. You can easily find a dozen well written essays on the subject in 5 minutes that will explain how brutally logical Atheist morality truly is.

    ‘Atheistic morality’? Is that like atheistic mathematics or atheistic restaurants? Morality either exists or it doesn’t – there is no atheistic or theistic morality. Either way, it really has nothing to do with this conversation.

    And the idea that the size of the universe diminishes God’s regard for us is bizarre. It would be like saying to a son who was given a mansion by his father that he shouldn’t be as selfish so as to think his father cares for him, because he is so small in comparison to the mansion.

    In short, size doesn’t matter here.

    Have you read the same Sagan I have? I am forced to conclude not. You say, “having now found over five hundred planets and knowing what we do about the particular requirements for the existence of life, our planet isn’t ‘ordinary’ at all but a precious and rare jewel in the cosmos.” As if that is a criticism of Sagan’s work. Sagan devoted the greater part of an entire chapter in Pale Blue Dot to the Anthropic Principle in order to address this very issue. He devoted another entire chapter to those qualities of the Earth that he does openly admit to be special. What Sagan are you reading exactly?

    Well if you find that St. Carl regards our place of habitation to be special, then I guess I agree with him.

    But what does that have to do with your point?

  15. Ok, we are just talking in circles. I will make a last attempt to restate my points in a clear fashion.

    “If God exists He is free to regard who and what He wishes to regard; our view of it is irrelevant.”

    Fine, granted. I am not commenting on the possible fact that God exists and regards us highly. I am commenting on your presumption and conceit for assuming, implying, and inferring that kind of cosmic preoccupation with homosapien social habits based on nothing but nothing. A very talented apologist can ALMOST make a decent case for Deism or a prime mover, but to go on to the position such a being gives a damn about with whom you sleep or what you eat on Fridays is absurd. There is a chasm there that cannot be bridged with logic, and instead it is bridged with the overwhelming desire that we all have to be important, and our fear of being small, and isolated, and irrelevant. The Theist stretches his security blanket across that chasm and walks from Deism to Theism with a smile on his face.

    Let me say it again. There may be a God. He may be utterly engrossed in our daily affairs. However, with no possible evidence to support this claim, the assumption of it, and the forcing of argument to support that presupposition is, above all else, conceited. This goes back to my very first point. That is that rejecting this conceit and presumption is vital step in intellectual maturity and independence. Some people don’t want to grow up though, and religions are their Never Never Land.

    Do you want me to outline why your little father-children metaphor is insulting and dishonest? I didn’t want to get into this because it is a long explanation and runs a horrible risk of derailing the conversation entirely. If you really want me to go into it, fine, I will, but that will certainly spawn a whole separate discussion.

    I don’t understand the confusion regarding Atheistic Morality but it doesn’t’ really matter since I only brought up Atheistic Morality because I thought you were referring to morality when you said: “Why an atheist would care whether anyone else is being self-centered is what is illogical here.” If you weren’t talking about moral considerations then I apologize and we can drop that.

    “I’m sorry, did I not genuflect deeply enough at the altar of St. Carl? A billion pardons.”

    No, I could care less about the tributes you pay to Sagan. If you hadn’t misrepresented him I would have felt no need to rise to his defense. Sagan is just a man, but being just a man doesn’t mean he isn’t worthy of my defense when someone slights him unfairly. If you misrepresented any author I would feel the need to defend them.

    “Well if you find that St. Carl regards our place of habitation to be special, then I guess I agree with him.”

    I have no doubt that your primary concern with Sagan, and likely with any other author or voice in discussion, is first whether or not they agree with you and only secondarily what they actually have to say. This is such a common problem when arguing with people that have somehow convinced themselves they have privileged access to perfect and unalterable truths. Once you have that kind of access, why is the point in listening to what anyone has to say?

  16. Justin says:

    Kinetics,

    So why is it exactly that you pity me?

  17. Justin says:

    So believing in a personal god is conceited and people who do believe in such a personal god need to grow up?

    That’s an ad hominem fallacy followed by an appeal to ridicule fallacy. Why should I give any weight to those arguments (that you’ve repeated now several times) when they lack empirical evidence? Why do arguments without empirical evidence (and that are logically fallacious) work for atheists but not the religious?

    I smell a rotten double standard.

  18. Ad Hominem is not a fallacy if those traits of a person or persons are precisely the topic of conversation. Appeal to ridicule is not a fallacy if how ridiculous a belief is is precisely the thing you are discussing.

    I am claiming that your perspective is conceited and that riding ourselves of that conceit is the intellectually mature thing to do. All of this stems from your criticism of a person who felt liberated and free due to casting off these mental shackles.

    Answer the challenges or don’t, but refrain from accusing me of fallacies at me I didn’t commit.

  19. Justin says:

    Appeal to ridicule and ad hominem most certainly are fallacious in this case, sine the topic seems at least in part to be whether a god exists and of so, whether it is personal. If the discussion is simply over who is beig conceited, then it is a subjective discussion that really 1) isn’t logical to begin with and 2) has no bearing on whether a personal god exists. I find it difficult to believe that the discussion is really limited to the subjective portion alone, however.

  20. I admitted, without reservation, two or three responses ago that a God MAY exist. I have not denied the existence of God at all in this discussion. I fact I completely gave up the ground for Deism. My postion was that, while a God may exist, you have nothing to bridge the gap from impersonal Deism to personal Theism other than the need to fullfill a sense of being important, and to protect yourself from the feeling of being unimaginably small.

    My case then proceeds that acting that way is putting self-centered intuition BEFORE intellectual honesty, and that putting a stop to that behavior is intellectualy mature.

    And to bring it back to the blog post you first wrote, there is no justification for criticising the person who IS willing to take that very uncomfortable leap and admit the possibility of his own irrelevance in order to be more objective than he could otherwise be.

    That is my case in a nut shell.

  21. Justin says:

    Actually the moral law bridges the gap fairly nicely, given one is inclined to believe in objective morality, as most Christians do. Between the concept of omnibenevolence and an objective morality, God emerges as frighteningly personal, and this doesn’t really require any emotive or subjective argumentation, nor any criticism of people as holding immature beliefs in need of ‘growing up’. The arguments have been around for quite some time and are very mature : p

  22. It seems to me that you cannot posit objective morality unless you have a Personal God to start with. In fact a lack of objective morality is a common criticism of the Atheistic worldview.

    Using objective morality to arrive at belief in the personal God that you must use to justify objective morality seems, well, circular.

    If you have a way of arguing for Objective Morality without a personal God then I would love to know what it is.

    If you think you can bridge the gap from Deism to Theism without this Moral Law then I would love to know how you do that.

    Without being able to do one of those things I find your argument circular.

  23. Justin says:

    We can posit objective morality validly without a assuming God exists. This is, in fact, how every single version of the argument from morality works, including Kant’s moral argument. Therefore it is clearly not circular.

    As far as arguments for objective morality, that is a different discussion, but apologists generally have a wide variety of arguments for objective morality that do not presuppose a god. Suffice to say one could argue reductio ad absurdum against subjective morality. Additionally, there are nontheistic arguments against subjective morality.

  24. I do not believe any such valid arguments exist, but you are correct, that discussion is more another time.

    I suppose this point of contention is played out. I will keep my eye out for a post where commenting on objective morality would be appropriate.

  25. Justin says:

    Sounds good. Take care and thanks for the discussion!

  26. @Justin

    Actually, by rephrasing the sentence as I did makes it a truth claim about the probability of actually proving a claim true.

    As such what I am say is, taking into account the original quotes intended meaning, we find that making an absolute truth claim may be possible or it may not. That is the probability which arises.

    I think we can then defend the claim that it, at least, is possible to know something absolutely. But then again, we could also defend the claim it may not be possible. By restating it the way I did I have set up these pobabilities, which are consistent with the author’s usual line of reasoning, and have corrected for Jack’s misrepresentation of Mike’s intended meaning.

    Now, we can debate the connotation of the sentence all you want, whether Mike was intentionally making an absolute truth claim or not, but I would merely state that asserting that it may be impossible to know something absolutely is not an absolute claim when you restate it as a probabilistic uncertainty. Which is exactly what I did. “We may [connotes: or may not] find that we simply cannot know anything of absolute truth–it’s seemingly [connotes: may or may not as far as one knows] beyond our capacity…”

    Logically speaking, all I have done is allowed for the provisionality inherent to any claim regarding unknowns.

    I hope that clarifies the issue.

  27. […] A-Unicornist comes back with a rejoinder of  sorts to this post. I thought this claim was […]

  28. Justin says:

    So when you make the statement ‘it may be possible or it may not be possible’, you’re actually appealing to the law of noncontrodiction just to come up with your options. In fact is is difficult to have a rational conversation as you and I are having without the rules of logic, which of course we have to know in order to communicate ideas.

  29. […] Interestingly, Mike seems to have made peace with that. He admits that science is provisional, and our knoledge of reality is limited, and always will be, as I have pointed out elsewhere: […]

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