Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rebuttal to Camels with Hammers defining of Atheism

This article is in response to a piece Camels with Hammers released here.

1: On the various 'types' of atheist.  

It would seem to me this argument is rather a hard one to describe.  But let's rewind a bit and watch this video first. 

     A lot of atheists say that atheism means simply a “lack of beliefs in gods”...

Well, yes.  This is what the word means.  Christians are just as atheist as any atheist when discussing the god Ahura Mazda, or Thor.  'Lacking a belief' or 'not believing in' are roughly the same thing.  This is a play on words, and the simplest way to think about it is via the corollary.  Is 'having a belief' any different than 'believing?'  This author thinks not.

Sometimes they (falsely) imply that no atheists make stronger claims of disbelief than that even though some of us (like me) surely do claim to positively disbelieve in gods...
Sure, some atheists are loud about saying there is no god, but atheists don't blow people up to get to heaven; atheists don't use fear tactics like hell to make people act 'right;'  Atheists have yet to lead a crusade or hunt witches; atheists have never drank the blood of their deity; atheists aren't burning down clinics; atheists aren't pushing for indoctrination of children via prayer in schools. 

We've seen theists try to drive anyone who disagrees with them out of town.  Atheists aren't doing this.  So I don't think it's fair to call this a false accusation, because atheists aren't killing and oppressing people to make them atheists. atheist thoughtful enough about ... to frame themselves as “merely lacking belief in gods” is ... more likely than not going to have armloads of positive arguments from philosophy (and ones extrapolating from science and history) to say that God does not exist and to, in practice, outright disbelieve in God, irrespective of their principled claims to “simply lacking belief”.
But this contradicts the previous point he was trying to make, regarding atheists being more outspoken.  Any day, ten to one, a theists will evangelize their god and decry any other god, more than an atheist will.  My disbelief for Zeus is no stronger than my disbelief for Allah.  I lack a belief for both equally, see?  This article seems slanted heavily toward one particular subset of religious people.

I shall move on, since I could take an article on each individual point.

2: On children.

Many atheists claim that we are all born atheist...
Well, yes.  This is a testable hypothesis.  Again, the corollary is our best bet.  Are babies born believing in Marduk?  The answer would appear to be no.  Are babies born any more believing in Allah, Zeus, Loki, or any number of other gods?  It would appear not.  

If they also don’t believe in God, that’s not a point for atheism.
This is a reasonable thing to say, but it's got some logical fallacy to it.  The only thing that's not a point for atheism is 'having a belief' as the author likes to point out.  Babies have no beliefs (again, beliefs, not knowledge.).  Knowledge is not a requisite for belief, as this article seems to want to make it.  The other points made don't deal with belief, they deal with knowledge, and the author is correct, babies wouldn't know or believe any of them.

But it’s hypocritical then to assign them atheism either as though that were a merely neutral position and not a stance on a philosophical issue.
Again, rather a logical fallacy.  'Having no belief' is a neutral standpoint.  It's what makes (good) science work.  This is correct, babies have exactly zero evidence for lots of things.  Philosophy, though, in the truest sense, is attempting to figure out how the world works, and babies are good at that, as anyone whose ever been around one might know.  Babies act as if they lack beliefs on things (babies have no innate belief that electric sockets are bad, and they tend to act that way also).  We're not assigning them a stance on the issue, it's the evidence that shows it to be true. 

Put in a simpler way, it's absolutely true that babies or children have no more innate belief in Jesus than in Freya.  This also means they 'lack a belief' as the author pointed out earlier.  Atheism is atheism, the 'lack of belief' of something theistic.

On the point about whether or not children are more likely to posit god solutions to problems, I can't seem to find any reputable articles on this.  A google search gives links to dailymail type things, which are notoriously bad science links (let alone lacking peer review, or not being science journals).

Not even being able to understand the question of theism vs. atheism, means not having a position.

 This is a fallacy of composition, or perhaps a false dichotomy fallacy.  The simplest rebuttal is that plenty of competent, knowledgeable people exist, and some of them have no understanding of lots of things, yet still have a position on such questions.  Most people don't understand how nuclear fission works, but have a pretty clear belief that the word nuclear is bad somehow, and so is everything related to it.  According to this fallacy, however, people who are not scientifically literate on nuclear physics are incapable of holding this viewpoint, because it would require knowledge they don't have.  Formally, I think this is Existential Fallacy, as it implies that there is a (universal premise) requisite of knowledge to have (particular conclusion) a belief, which clearly is not true.

3: Exemplary something-or-other.

There could be two kinds of people who lack belief who I think it would be wrong to call atheists. 1. Those who perceive themselves to be too ill-informed or incompetent with reasoning about these issues to have a genuine opinion.
 Well, then point two is certainly no longer valid, because before it was an outsider needing to make that call.  Most creatures are unaware of their own ignorances, but are indeed perfectly capable of forming beliefs around them.  Otherwise, anyone who doesn't know the entire Bible shouldn't be considered a Christian, because it means they're ignorant of their own religion and can't actually make that choice for themselves.  It also probably means they don't know of all the other religions that exist, and therefore can't logically decide which one aligns more closely with what they believe.

Moving on.

The next bit is a terrible syllogism, because science doesn't work like that.  Religion, however, does work like that.  This is pretty clearly a masked man fallacy.  This is clearly telling here:

Now if 80% of the physicists become either squiniclists or asquiniclists then we would be justified in siding with the preponderance of expert opinion and become squiniclists or asquiniclists out of proper deference to majority of expert opinion.

Among other things, it is an appeal to authority fallacy.  It doesn't matter, in science, how many people say something is right.  It similarly doesn't matter in religion.  If that were the case, 90% of people ascribe to some sort of religion, and well over 50% of those are Abrahamic.  Ergo, this must be the default position...

I think we can see where that point leads.

But looking at all the evidence for and against squinicles, you’re genuinely undecided.
Well, if you're entrenched as much as the author gives you credit for, you probably do more science.  Equating someone like Neil DeGrasse Tyson to The Pope is a terribly fallacious thing to do.  For one, this has to do with evidence, of which religion has NEVER provided.  The default position, when no evidence is proffered, is actually atheism. But moving along, we have evidence for and against squincles, so let's go there.  In that case, we wait for more evidence before we have to decide, because this is good, logical science. 

A better argument might have been evolution, cosmic or biological.  This particular set of points actually illustrates the thing better, and plenty of people who have no understanding of either have plenty of viewpoints on both, whether the author of the article likes it or not.

In this case, you lack a belief about squinicles. Does that make you default to being an asquiniclist? 
No, because squincles aren't based on belief, they're based on evidence.  Again, this whole analogy doesn't work, but this drives the point home.   There are actually people alive who still believe the world is flat, in spite of the overwhelming evidence against it, and some of those people are not as well trained or educated as the folks pushing that idea.  Science doesn't care if 90% of people held that view, it would still be wrong compared to the evidence, and then 90% of the people would be incorrect, but would also defer to the majority opinion and so on and so forth....

As Krauss has said on many occasion, scientists love to be proven wrong.  Go out, do research, get your Nobel prize.  This is because science is, again, not a belief structure.  Beliefs don't require evidence; beliefs don't require knowledge.

So to be done with this rebuttal for now, I hope (and truly believe) I've made some good points here which carry on to the rest of the article.