Might it be pretty obvious there’s no Judeo-Christian God?

July 6, 2015

Might belief in atheism be just pretty obviously true?

 

Yes, but I think just how obviously true depends, first, on the particular god about which we're being atheistic. Take the Judeo-Christian God-with-a-capital-G, conceived of (roughly) as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. I do consider it pretty obvious there's no such God.

 

However, just because it's pretty obvious to me that there's no such God, doesn't entail it is, or should be, pretty obvious to you. Consider an analogous case. It might be pretty obvious to me that Ted is in my living room, because I can now actually see Ted sitting there in front of me, whereas it might not be nearly so obvious to you. You may not be in the room to observe him and you may lack any compelling evidence that he's there.

 

Similarly, even if it's obvious to me that there's no God, it might not be obvious to you because, say, you possess misleading grounds - such as a compelling if ultimately misleading religious experience - that I lack.

 

Of course, some atheists don't think it at all obvious there's no such God. Yes, they're atheists - they fail to believe in gods, including the Judeo-Christian God - but they don't think their atheism is just obviously true. Indeed, some atheists consider it not unreasonable or absurd for your average Jew, Christian, or Muslim  to believe in God.

 

But that's not my view. So far as the vast majority of believers are concerned, I do consider belief in the Judeo-Christian God highly unreasonable - not just for me, but also for your average Christian, Jew, or Muslim.

 

I'll be explaining why I think that in future posts. Here, I'll just point to one bad argument for supposing your average Christian, Jew, or Muslim's belief in the Judeo-Christian God can't be unreasonable.

 

The argument is grounded in the thought that an awful lot of people, many of them smart, college-educated people, believe in such a God. Surely, if a great many otherwise reasonable people hold this belief, then it can't be an unreasonable belief.

 

A lot of religious folk take comfort from the fact that many others - including smart, college educated folk - share their beliefs. Indeed, that kind of comfort is often actively sought out when a religious belief is challenged (as Leo Festinger famously pointed out in his classic tome on cognitive dissonance, When  Prophecy Fails [wiki page here])

 

But isn't it true that if, say, a scientific theory were supported by a great many people, including many scientific experts, then that would count against the thought that the theory was unreasonable, or even pretty obviously false? Usually it is. So why doesn't this sort of religious or theistic consensus similarly count significantly against the thought that belief in the Judeo-Christian God is unreasonable, or even pretty obviously false?

 

Because, when it comes to religious beliefs - and beliefs in extraordinary hidden beings more generally - we humans have a remarkable track record of unreliability. Take belief in fairies. Pretty obviously false, right? Yet Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - an intelligent and educated man - believed in them, and was successfully hoaxed by two little girls armed with an early film camera and some paper cut outs. Should the fact that someone like Conan Doyle believed lead us to conclude that belief in fairies can't be pretty obviously false? I don't think so, in part because these kinds of ludicrous belief can so often boast intelligent, educated advocates: from Scientology, to Mormonism, to perhaps the best illustration of all: Young Earth Creationism.

 

Polls consistently indicate that some 130 million US citizens - many smarter than you or me, and a good number college educated and some even holding PhD's and tenured academic positions - believe that the entire universe is six thousand years old. Indeed, they even believe that this ludicrous theory is good science.  When these kinds of belief face overwhelming evidence against them, what the smart and well-educated do, often as not, isn't abandon their belief. Rather, they commit instead to endlessly cooking up ever more ingenious methods of explaining away the evidence against it.

 

Religion has a quite gobsmacking power to get large numbers of smart people to believe obviously ludicrous things. But then the fact that large numbers of smart people believe hold a particular religious or theistic belief is hardly much evidence that the belief is not, in fact, patently absurd. Which of course Young Earth Creationism  is. And which, in my opinion, belief in the Judeo-Christian God is too.

 

None of this is to say that those who believe such things are stupid. Many are very intelligent, and use their considerable intelligence in defence of their beliefs. But what they believe is, in each case, pretty silly.

 

Certainly, this particular argument fails to show that I'm wrong about that.

Comments:

#1 DougEBarr on Monday July 06, 2015 at 3:44pm

Life is a reaction to the void. One of the ways we try to fill it is with religious/philosophical beliefs. Otherwise intelligent people will use all of their realized mental capacity to defend those beliefs rather than experience the consequences of their disintegration. http://thelastwhy.ca/poems/2015/6/25/life-a-reaction-to-the-void

#2 Philip Rand (Guest) on Tuesday July 07, 2015 at 1:18am

For crying out loud Dr Law!!!!

“many smarter than you or I,”

It’s ME!!!!!!

Not I….

#3 Stephen Law on Tuesday July 07, 2015 at 2:01am

oops yes. fixed.

#4 Davroz on Tuesday July 07, 2015 at 3:47am

Evolution is the universe trying to understand its self, gods appear when when parts of the universe doesn’t understand

#5 Stephen Grover (Guest) on Tuesday July 07, 2015 at 12:11pm

Conan Doyle did not believe in fairies as ‘extraordinary hidden entities’. If he had, he wouldn’t have been fooled into thinking they had been photographed, would he? It was his scientific bent that misled him, as yours misleads you.

#6 gray1 on Tuesday July 07, 2015 at 5:17pm

Perhaps many well educated and intelligent people profess to and actually believe in the God of their fathers because they have ultimately determined that to do so is quite advantageous to themselves, their families and their social station.  To wit, who would ever doubt that the inimitable and indefatigable Dr. Richard Dawkins would have long ago received a well earned Knighthood if not for his quite active and effective campaign as an atheist? The Crown, being fully invested in the Church of England, the Divine Right of Kings, etc. has given such a high honor to many who cannot approach Dawkins in his many contributions to Great Britain, and yet… silence.  But as I am fond of saying, God helps those who help themselves.  One does not receive Divine blessings and Divine miracles unless one first believes in the Divine, or so I suspect.  I might imagine that any bow to the Queen is effectively also a bow to the God who placed her upon the throne, but that much is a personal opinion.  In any event, the Queen in such a lofty station would be out of order to so honor one who campaigns against Her/our God.  Culture being what it is.  But as to the 6000 year Earth creation literal interpretation I have one word… yom.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yom

#7 Stephen Law (Guest) on Wednesday July 08, 2015 at 8:02am

Stephen - oh the extraordinary hidden entities - be they ghosts, goblins, fairies, spirits or gods - aren’t always entirely hidden. Some special people are allowed glimpses (mystics, gurus, psychics, The Delphic oracle, etc.) and sometimes the otherwise hidden beings do leave technological or other traces (voices in radio static, ‘orbs’ other shapes - or even fairies - on film, the Turin shroud, etc.).

#8 Christopher James (Guest) on Wednesday July 08, 2015 at 12:14pm

@Philip Rand and Stephen Law
Smarter than you or I is correct.

#9 Stephen Law (Guest) on Wednesday July 08, 2015 at 1:28pm

Seems both are correct Philip.

#10 Jack Greenall (Guest) on Thursday July 09, 2015 at 7:41am

But don’t many believers believe that the God Hypothesis* has some explanatory power - that God is the reason how or why the world is as it is (cosmological or teleological arguments). Now,  I’m not convicted by the God hypothesis. I’ve analysed it and found it lacking compared to others. But it isn’t OBVIOUS that it’s inferior in explantory terms - I need to know all about the big bang and the anthropic principle and many other things in between before I can weigh the evidence and decide which is better.


*I don’t think most believers believe in God in the manner of a hypothesis, but for the purpose of your argument let’s imagine that they do.

#11 Philip Rand (Guest) on Thursday July 09, 2015 at 11:58pm

So,

“smarter than you or I” is correct.

&

“smarter than you or me” is correct.

So funny, reminds me of how this humanism thingy is going…

1/ Florentine Humanism is correct.

2/ Secular Humanism is correct.

Clearly, Wittgenstein is correct when he says:

Language is arbitrary.

#12 Philip Rand (Guest) on Friday July 10, 2015 at 1:15am

My conscience tells me that I should contribute positively to this link (cause). It’s the least I can do, so I’ll do it (reason).

So, when one says that it is “obvious” that the Judeo-Christian God does not exist, one will inevitably give “reasons”.

However, here one is conflating cause/reason.

For example, if I hold up my hand and say “It is obvious that this is my hand” I may then give various reasons in support that this is indeed the case of the matter and leave it at that.

But, that is not interesting…what is interesting is the “cause” of me holding up my hand in the first place.

Related to this, but somewhat less pathological, are certain cases of self-deception. 

I may, for example, sincerely give as a reason for my telling someone off his lack of politeness.

Yet a careful observer who knows me sufficiently well realises that the occasion was fairly trivial and that I would never have lost my temper so much had it not been for the fact that I felt jealous of the person I told off, perhaps without being clear about it myself. 

Here, again, a reason offered by me (I) is not contradicted, but to some extent devalued by a causal explanation. 

The reason for my action was indeed the one I gave.

But since my behaviour was less under my control than I believed, my behaviour could not be fully accounted for by my reason. 

Part of it (the inappropriate vehemence of my outburst) could only be explained causally: by my being carried away by an emotion I hadn’t yet fully taken stock of.

Similarly, the “obvious” must examined via casual explanation and not a “reasoned” explanation.

#13 Philip Rand (Guest) on Friday July 10, 2015 at 5:16am

Dr Law

It occurred to me that what I have written might not be clear enough… clearly differentiating “cause” and “reason” may be too fuzzy…

In answer to how one might be able to separate “cause” from the “reason” why you believe Christian belief to be “silly”... one has to ask, what is your motivation in condemning such beliefs, i.e. the cause.

Perhaps, we can reach a “cause” in your case.

Well, in the past you have asked the question:

“Why are all theists arseholes?”

Hold on to that thought…

Then, get a copy of Richard Rorty’s “Contingency”

Turn to page 178 and start reading…

But while you do, read what he has written with these adjustments.

Instead of O’Brian read Stephen Law
Instead of Big Brother read Reason
Instead of Julia read God
Instead of Winston Smith read Christian

Rorty was a remarkable philosopher in many ways…especially so in these few pages…but I do think if you read the pages with these changes an idea of what I mean by “cause”... perhaps even your motivation may be highlighted.

#14 Otis Graf (Guest) on Friday July 31, 2015 at 12:53pm

Prof. Law,

I have followed your blog and website ever since your debate with William Lane Craig. I find it to be a curious fact that most if not all well educated atheists cling to their own class of irrational and obviously false beliefs. But those beliefs are not in spite of what they were taught in school. They hold those false beliefs due to what they were taught in school. Those beliefs, as absurd as they are, would never occur to anyone with a smidgen of common sense or who happened to escape the indoctrination that is occurring in secular university classrooms. 

The following are a few examples of what atheists believe in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

(1) “Human beings have no free will.” - Most atheists believe that only physical particles and forces exist and all operate according to undirected natural laws. The obvious conclusion is that humans are just ‘molecules in motion’ under the total influence of mindless physical laws and environmental perturbations.  The “no free will” claim is not only complete nonsense, it is self-defeating.  Why should we take seriously someone who claims that he has no free will and thus no ability to independently reason? The truth, which is known by people who have either not suffered through or who have survived atheistic university indoctrination, is that people are free agents, are able to freely reason and are responsible for their actions and beliefs.

(2) “Humans are hardly different from our nearest animal relatives.” - (Recall this from Prof. Law: “the human/non-human species boundary [is] of no intrinsic value.”)  This false belief is at least as egregiously wrong as believing that the Universe is only 6,000 years old.  Are there any chimpanzee footprints on the Moon or orangutan-made spacecraft photographing Pluto?  Could a dolphin have made the mathematical calculations that predicted the Higgs boson? Humans so thoroughly dominate the Earth that scientists now recognize the ‘Anthropocene’ as a distinct geological epoch.  In spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, atheists cling to this false belief because failure to do so would diminish their patron saint Charles Darwin and thereby weaken atheism.

(3) “Science tells us that biological evolution is random and without direction or purpose.” - In fact, science tells us no such thing. That is a metaphysical claim that is refuted by evidence all around us.  Thomas Nagel, Simon Conway Morris, Paul Davies many other prominent philosophers and scientists do not accept the claim.  But it is held to tenaciously because if it were not believed, then atheism would have some very difficult explaining to do. 

(4) “All climate change is harmful and humans have the capability and the responsibility to stop it.” - That is complete nonsense yet President Obama in one of his State of the Union messages to Congress felt compelled to issue this warning: “Climate change is real.” Carbon dioxide emissions is the problem to be solved, but now that is secondary. Instead, many atheists irrationally believe that humans must force the climate toward some imagined optimal state.

(5) “A man is the equivalent of a woman and a woman is the equivalent of a man.” - That falsehood is the driver behind the “marriage equality” movement. Advocates of same-sex marriage maintain that there is no rational basis for discriminating between the marriage of a man and a woman and the marriage of two men.  That is complete nonsense.  Yet the Supreme Court of the United States bought into this lie of equivalency to the extent that they declared the marriage between two men (or two women) to be a fundamental right guaranteed by the US Constitution.  Atheists tenaciously believe that lie because they see it as useful in pushing society toward the elimination of any boundaries as to what is considered acceptable sexual behavior.

The list goes on and on, but these five are enough to make my point.  Since atheists cling to a variety of false beliefs in spite of ample evidence to the contrary does that mean that atheism is an unreasonable belief?  If one follows the strange logic that you seem to be applying in this post, then the answer would be: Yes.  However, the comparison is asymmetric.  Belief in a 10,000 year old universe is unnecessary to orthodox Christianity.  (You should know that.)  Yet take away the beliefs expressed in examples 1, 2 & 3 above and atheism is in big trouble.

Regards, Otis Graf

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