Lee's Rejoinder To "Atheism is not rational".

Brian asked me to comment on a link that asserts that Atheism is not Rational. My rejoinder follows. This started as an email and I hastily posted it to get it on the table.
I cannot afford the time to defend this as well as I should, but if any one wants to take me to task on it, there will be ample time in the future. I'm hoping that it is coherent enough that it won't need much defending.

My rejoinder to "atheism is not rational".
First lets look at what is considered rational.
Rationality is a process that uses logic and logic makes inferences from data. Inferences are correlations and experiences between objects or things whatever you want to call them. The more correlations and dependencies in a relationship between two objects the more inferences we can make about them until we can get to a point of some 'understanding' where we can make accurate predictions about it.

A large part of that process is the criteria we use for data and evidence.

As I see it, the whole debate between Christians and atheists calling each other irrational boils down to the criteria for evidence.

So now lets look at Atheism. Atheism is not subscribing to the authority of a god.
Show me what is irrational about this viewpoint.
I do not know if there is a god,
therefore I do not act like there is one
therefore I am an Atheist.

Now what is the definition of atheist? I think some want to include anti-christian or anti-religious activity in the definition but that is unwarranted.

I do not know if some crystals have healing power,
therefore I do not act as if they do,
therefore I am not a person that 'uses' crystals.

What is irrational about that?

Lets look at Christians.

- Christians assume god inspired the bible. Christians don't agree on how much inspiration that means, but some of them think it was so much that he helped write the bible in some fashion. Indeed I argue, that if a Christian does not take this position to attribute some "quality assurance" then there is no warrant to giving the bible any more authority than the Hindu Upanishads or Bagavadgita, or Islamic Quran.

Here are four assumptions that Christians must make to get Christianity off the ground.

1. Assume god exists to get him into position to help write the bible.

2. Assume that all other scripture purported to come from a god is false.

3. Assume God is the first cause when there is no precedent for any 'first cause' or "spontaneous existence"

4. And assume that the soul correlates to consciousness but does not use the brain and is not affected by any consciousness altering brain trauma. At that point why infer any correlation to consciousness at all?

Now to make these the result of a rational process, they need to follow the rational process. They are a conclusion, based on using the principles of logical inference about the relationships of data/evidence. How many correlations do the data have outside the sphere of Christianity? Not as many as the data that atheists have for their world view. How is a conclusion sound if it is based on an assumption? It is not.

There is an alternate hypothesis to how the universe got here that is based on empirical observation and inference that is consistent with the laws of physics as we understand them. Thats a lot of correlation. We can see that larger more complex things depend on smaller simpler things. This principle spans every category you can think of. It is a sound principle with many correlating examples in unrelated fields. That is its strength. Correlations across categories. It is used to make accurate non-supernatural or non-metaphysical predictions about things.

Atheists do not ascribe to any of those assumptions, and we have more strict criteria for our evidence. Our strict criteria for evidence are comparable to the strict criteria used in science and law. If you use the Christian criteria for evidence in science and law, it wouldn't work very well. Just look at how much regard the four gospels are given by Christians, and then think about how you would feel if you were convicted on testimony as uncorroborated as that.

Atheists do not make any of those assumptions. One can assert that atheists do make all kinds of assumptions till they are blue, but those are PRESUMPTIONS. They depend on Evidence in some way. And once again our criteria for evidence is different than Christians. So if the Christian wants to say that Atheism is irrational, they are saying that it is derived outside a rational process. This argument can just as easily be turned around on the Christian.

So obviously a Christian can say anything she wants to about Atheism, but she cannot say it is irrational without convicting herself.

12 comments:

Bruce said...

I think it all boils down to burden of proof. It is perfectly rational not to believe in something until you have sufficient evidence to convince you otherwise. Imagine if this were not the case. We would be vulnerable to every conceivable type of scam out there because we would have to allow for the fact that every crazy idea we came across could be true since we would not be able to rule it out due to lack of evidence. Also, if there is no burden of proof, than all the Christians and Muslims and Jews and Hindus and every other religious group must also concede that all those other religions may be right and their own religion may be wrong since again, if there is no burden of proof then we can never rule out anything.

So even the religious recognize the importance of burden of proof, they just settle for sub-par proof about their own religion. The atheist isn't willing to settle and expects any evidence offered to meet a high standard that can be verified via the scientific method.

Thus, to call atheism "irrational" is to also call all religion irrational, and I somehow doubt that is how the religious see themselves. Both the religious and non-religious consider themselves rational, but one has to lower the standards of proof in order to support their beliefs. And that in itself is not really something a rational person would do.

zilch said...

Nice article, Lee. You've made a good case for atheism, given the laws of logic. But this doesn't really respond to the AnswersInGenesis article, so I'll give it a whirl.

The good folks at AIG claim that in order to have laws of logic at all, you need a God, and not just any God:

Laws of logic require the existence of God—and not just any god, but the Christian God. Only the God of the Bible can be the foundation for knowledge[...]

And their justification for this?

Why should there be a law of non-contradiction, or for that matter, any laws of reasoning? The Christian can answer this question. For the Christian there is an absolute standard for reasoning; we are to pattern our thoughts after God’s. The laws of logic are a reflection of the way God thinks.

That's their argument in a nutshell. I, myself, don't find it very convincing. Now, this is indeed a deep question, which leads to further questions: why are there laws of logic? Why is there order in the Universe? Why is there anything at all? It is very tempting to make up a Big Guy in the Sky who takes care of all this stuff, and not worry about how He came to be, or make up some clever Deus ex Logica principle that magicks him into existence: the Uncaused Cause, or some such flimflam. All questions answered! Or at least put out of sight.

It might well be that my guinea pigs think that the Big Zilch in the Sky magically brings food down to their twitching noses, and that explanation is good enough for them. But that doesn't explain where the food comes from, or where I come from, so their concept of me as a food-dispenser is not really an accurate picture of the world.

Now I personally hanker after a bigger picture of the world than my guinea pigs have. And that includes trying to find explanations for what I see. Just as Thor is not a good explanation for thunderbolts, Jehovah is not a good explanation for the laws of logic. True- we know something about where thunderbolts come from, and we don't know where logic comes from. But- we still don't know where logic or order come from, even if we posit a God who embodies them: it just puts the problem one step further away, and creates many new problems: where did this orderly Being come from? Why is He so much like a human, just bigger and better? Did He have parents? And so forth, ad infinitum.

Given no positive evidence that such a being exists, other than fairy tales and wishful thinking, both of which are well documented, I don't see how the invention of a God helps to explain anything at all. All it does is sweep the questions we can't answer under a rug which we are forbidden to lift. Not very satisfying, if you ask me.

Lee Randolph said...

Thanks guys for getting my back on this. I knew I could count on you.

Brother Crow said...

Lee, excellent post, and zilch makes great comments. I would add (in my simple observations) that "irrational" is a word that defines the christian well...because, after all logic and reasoning and observation and analysis is applied to whatever evidence the christian may provide...the common response back from them is - "I experienced God, and that experience has changed me." "I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see."

Christians USE logical sounding arguments (that tend to have huge holes in them when carefully studied - but so few actually do study them) to justify a BELIEF that they already hold and are not willing to change. To me that is the definition of "irrational."

The core of christian life is the christian experience...the touch of God. It is a psychological and emotional experience, it confers significance, the bible is filled with enough malleable information that it can be shaped to support and even explain the experience. And they are off and running. Rational thought left far behind.

Happy Super Bowl Day! Go Patriots!

Jeff Lord said...

Good points guys...

I think that the strength of this argument which was put forth by Van Til and made popular by Greg Bahnsen, is that it has a philosophical sound to it which you often do not hear. When i was a Christian, I ended up in this presuppositional apologetics camp thinking that it was irrefutable proof that Christianity was not only AN option but THE ONLY option that we had if we were to be logical. It certainly sounds good when you say that the triune God of the Bible is epistemologically necessary for logic to work, but as is evidenced in the AIG article, they are usually long on assertions and short on the demonstration of how in fact this is so. For me personally, this argument itself was a big part of what caused me to see the light and realize how weak a foundation Christianity actually has. As Zilch said, there are many myths that have explanatory power and can "account" for the things that we see if indeed they were true. The Christian myth, like many other ancient myths, help the believer to "make sense" out of reality. The problem comes when the Christian has to show how this explanation is the ONLY one that can be used. The atheist is only trying to make sense out of our observations of the world and we notice that the world works in this logical way. To talk about logic as being immaterial, invariant etc seems to me to be assuming much more about logic than what we know. It is not an invention or a convention, it is simply a property of this material universe. To make this observation about our universe does not seem to imply any necessary being to create or hold together these "laws of logic" at all.

Spontaneous Order said...

I actually see this as progress for the godless guys. It seems an admission by the Christians that we can't make a strong case that our God created the physical, therefore we will make up an argument that He created the intangible.

But the argument has at its center an error that has been made since Lewis, that naturalists claim the only thing that exists is material. When more correctly naturalists (of at least some varieties) would acknowledge that there can be intangible concepts about those materials. What would be denied is supernatural controlling, intelligences - like god. It is a misunderstanding about what 'exist' means.

Which is also why this poster tried to make a case that material can't think too.

Usually a part of the argument is also that Atheists believe in a reality of chaos and change as we believe is uncovered in sciences like cosmology and evolutionary biology. But this is stretching a conclusion of science to fit their philosophical argument. There is no acknowledgement that science is possible over a reasonable range over which conclusions can be drawn. Sometimes this is a very long time, sometimes it is not. Both a theist and I would have to agree that the one day the sun will not come up, but we assume that for very different reasons.

I think it has been said better here, but non-contradiction is an observation about our physical reality rather than a controlling philosophy that regulates that reality.

As an apolegetic it may keep Christians in the tent, but it is far too complicated to be used to for converting virtually anyone to Christianity. And when Christian presuppositionalists say to me, you confirm God with every argument you make; I say 'well thank your God for me, I intend to use it at every opportunity to explain God doesn't exist. That must piss Him off.'

kb9aln said...

I tried to read the linked article at "Answers in Genesis". I could not. It was such a tortured, poor bit of "reasoning" that it was just too painful. My head hurt from this attempt.

This bit of claptrap caught my attention:

Materialistic atheism is one of the easiest worldviews to refute. A materialistic atheist believes that nature is all that there is. He believes that there is no transcendent God who oversees and maintains creation. Many atheists believe that their worldview is rational—and scientific. However, by embracing materialism, the atheist has destroyed the possibility of knowledge, as well as science and technology. In other words, if atheism were true, it would be impossible to prove anything!

How is it possible to make this leap of so-called logic? How does an embrace of materialism destroy the possibility of knowledge? This is a blanket assertion with no basis on fact or reality.

Is this "faith-based logic"? This is not logic, it is 2X4-upside-of-the-head stupid. It makes absolutely no sense.

Normally, I try and show respect for people with views that are different than my own. However, when people come up with such ridiculously stupid statements such as this, it gets very difficult.

I know that the discourse here on this blog is intelligent and thoughtful, and intended to be respectful. However, these people are just askin' for it.

Never have I read such intellectually sparse drivel in my whole life. Lee, I would love to help you argue against these people and their senseless position. But the quality of their arguments are just...too... uhh, lacking. That's the polite version of what I want to say. You don't want to read what I really want to say :)

ZAROVE said...

ACTUALLY, what is rational, and not rational, depends upon the means by which the evidence is evaluated, and what evidence is presented.

In that case, I can say an Atheist is Rational, if he can present me a reasonable cause for his beleifs.

In the same vein, I can say Christians are rational is they do the same.

This argument is weak, because it assumes Rationality based upon presumptiins, and the author shows considerable bias, as well as misrepresentation.

For instance, if you skim the article above, you note the Author tlelign us what Christians presume. Many of the things he says either aren't correctly stated beleifs, and distort what Christians beleive, or else are enturley false, and not ewhat Christians beleive. Yet they are used ot show Christianity is irrational, while Atheism is Rational.

EG, the Author says that in Christian beleif the Soul is linked to COnciosuness and nort reliant ont he Brain and not damaged by Brain trauma.

The argument seems ot make the CHristian appear irrational because Brain trauma can effect hosow you think.

But, Christians don't deny this. THe Opening post misrepresnets Christendoms actual beleifs. and actulaly overlooks the diversity of beleif preasent on the topic.

I have noted elsewhere that notable Christians, such as William Tyndale and Martin Luther, thought the Soul was linked to bodily functions, and perished upon Physical death to await the Ressurection.

This beleif is still rpeasent in many Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Reform Churches. It is also the common doctrien of the Seventh Day Adventists.

They'd obvously have no problem sayign the Brian is the centre of COnciosuness and subscribing to a view that the COnciosuness we have is contengent upont he Brain.

Likewise, others argue that the Soul operates in tangent withhte Body, and thoguh it is not damaged itsself, if the brain is Damaged, how he thinkign while n the body woudl likewise be effected.


I know of no Christian,m in fact, thatthinks conciousness is not effectedby Brain trauma, or thinsk theat Conciosuness is whlly seperate form Physical functions.

Thoughmany beleive that the Soul retians conciosuness after death indpeendantly fo the Brain, noen deny that damage otthe Brian effects its ability to function, and thus can hinder the thought proccess f those not yet unbound by flesh. In the same way, standign on the sun wont hurt your soul, but woudl certianly kill your body.


The other assumptiosn claimed to be held by Christaisn by Lee arne't much better. C. S. Lewis once remarked that Christians need not think that all of all other religions is false, only that which contradicts Christianity.

This view is not uniquee to him, nor is he the origin, and we see similar reflections in many of the Church Fathers, who woudl use Platonic Philosophy and Aristotilian Dynamics.

Lee's argument itsslef is based upon false premises, and htus, itsself, is irrational, in as much as it does nto reflect accuraley what Christians honesty beleive.

He even as to do the CHildish new trend, of spellign god in lower cae, even thoguh he uses the word as a Proper Noun. I've noted this often elsewhere. Its amusing that Ahtiests have to find ways to further insult God, and htis one, spellign god in lower cas to soemhow indicae htye don't ebelive in god, simply shows they lack basic Grammer rules.

( Yes, my spellign is bad. I am Dyslexic, whats your excuse?)

I just find his type of thing amusing yet sad.

Atheism can be rational, butnot all Atheists are rational, and the arguments presented here agaisnt Christendom, by Ahtiests who want to claim to support reason, are often themselves Irrational.

Skeptical Skeptic said...

These posts are stunning example of the fact that no matter how big atheists make a circle, even big enough to encompass the observable material universe, it is still a circle.

lee said...

WOW! That was amazing. What this article actually proves is that debating with a presuppositionalist is like debating someone who speaks a language no one else speaks. It is unintelligible. Why is it that to be a theist one must hold an epistemological process toward their beliefs that is so different from what the same person uses to understand the world around them everyday, and yet never seem to realize the inconsistency?

oli said...

This article (the AIG one) isn't the dumbest thing i have read on the net, but its not far off.

To claim that logic has to have a supernatural cause is one thing, but to then claim that it happens to be YOUR god, without any eveidence is another. His arguement that God made logic can be applied to all creator gods such as the flying spaghetti monster, Allah, Odin, etc.

The laws of logic, like the laws of mathematics are not laws that nature must obey. They are constructs that man kind has created to explain reality as he finds it. 1+1 = 2 not because the laws of mathematics are inviolable, but because thats what we made the definitions of the symbols 1, +, 2 and = mean.

Likewise, the laws of logic start small and expand. I have a cup on my desk. It cannot be on my desk and not on my desk. Not because of any laws, but because of some law of logic, but because of the definitions of the langauge terms i use. If something is not on my desk, it cannot be on my desk.

Its like when christians argue that god is ultimate good. Then they explain away all the murder, genocide, rape and slavery of the old testament by saying that God "defines" the term good. At which point the term loses the meaning that we apply to it. Maybe they should use another term for ultimate transcendant good to avoid getting it confused with the human term good. How about doog, good backwards?

As my co-worker (and closet philosopher) just said about this article, "its like the essay written by an A level (thats age 17- 18 level qualification for you yanks) philosopher student who has been told to argue from a perspective he doesn't agree with.

Vanilla Gorilla said...

Proof, Bloof. Logic, Smogic.

Belief tends to curtail the basis for understanding, as if one already knows something, then all other things that show contradiction must be untrue.

Atheism claims that there is no reason to believe in god- that the imaginary is not real, and real things should be held at a higher level than those of idealism.

Out of sight, out of mind. Rationale focuses on what can be understood, not what can be believed in. It is merely a maturity issue to value self-perceived perfection over what can be perceived.

And lastly, logic only makes up a small part of rationality. The world is self refuting under logical inspection, but that means nothing of the world and tons about logic. Assuming that logic leads to perfection leads to contradiction with reality.

the ideal does not equate the real. Christianity values the self-taught, self-fulfilling idealism of ignorance. I prefer to value the real world.

The article called this notion materialism. Interestingly, I value no materials over others. I value all that exists through understanding. This does not lead me to amass wealth- something only a church can be made of and denounce it as a sin of others.

ignorance is bliss. knowledge is power. Would you rather control your life, or love it unconditionally. Is unconditional love even love?

Anywase, I like your blog.