I’m interested in whether, or not other atheists find it hard to be persuaded by rationalistic arguments that lack evidence. Is the Platonic approach antithetical to the atheist world view? And As atheists, are we required by principle to favor empiricism over rationalism in arguments pertaining to science? Lastly, are there any atheists or skeptics who reject rationalistic arguments altogether?
For example, in my own field, that of linguistics, there is a dichotomy between Chomskian generative grammar and typology. In my opinion, Chomskian ideas concerning ‘universal grammar’ are highly rationalistic since there is no biological or neurological evidence to indicate that any mechanism that might be considered a UG actually exists in the brain. However, many linguists still adhere to the hypothesis of generative grammar simply because of its explanatory value. On the other hand, typology is a highly empirical approach to language in that typologists only look at language features as they exist in languages…
I am agnostic when it comes to whether or not there is a “God/s” of some sort. That is because I have no convincing empirical evidence that there is a “God/s” and due to the fact there is empirical evidence that much of what is espoused by the world’s “great religions” is incorrect, implausible, conflicting, etc. But I also imagine that there are some persons who simply choose to be Atheists as there are persons who simply choose to be beleivers in “God/s” without a need for empirical evidence or rational reflection.
I am interested in your field of study as I am a Behavior Analyst (Skinnerian) with a particular interest in practical applications of Skinner’s theory of Verbal Behavior which was effectively quashed for decades by Chomsky’s effective lobbying against it (essentially) as nonsense. I have personally worked with many children who have Autism, using Skinner’s paradigm re: language being a special class of behavior with the different forms of verbal behavior dependent on different (primarily) operant functions. Using this approach I have seen children progress in developing communication that would not have otherwise developed. (I personally think it is a shame that all Speech Therapists who plan to work with children who have autism, are not typically offered or expected to get training in this model of Verbal Behavior. As late as an interview in 1983, Chomsy had the following to say:
QUESTION: Moving to another controversial area in the behavioral sciences, how do you think your views differ from B. F. Skinner’s behaviorist theory of language, learning, and mind?
CHOMSKY: Skinner used to take a relatively extreme position. At one point, he held that, apart from the most rudimentary functions, essentially nothing of importance was genetically programmed in the human brain. Skinner agreed that humans were genetically programmed to see and hear, but that’s about all. Accordingly, he argued that all human behavior was simply a reflection of training and experience. This view can’t possibly be correct. And, in fact, Skinner’s approach has led absolutely nowhere in this area. It has yielded no theoretical knowledge, nontrivial principles as far as I am aware—thus far, at any rate.
QUESTION: Why is that?
CHOMSKY: Because Skinnerian behaviorism is off the wall. It’s as hopeless a project as trying to explain that the onset of puberty results from social training. But I really don’t know whether Skinner still maintains this extreme position.
Chomsky still seemed to believe, at that point, that there is a “genetically preprogrammed language organ in the brain”. This hasn’t been found. Nevertheless, it is not to say that his attempts to explain how we develop language were not of value. It seems to me that his stance if correct would have simply meant that Skinner was emphasizing operant behavior too much over respondant behavior in the formation of language (the old and stupid battle of whether behavior is nature vs. nurture - when in all instance, to some degree any operant behavior is founded upon or can be influenced by pre-existing and/or current respondant influences.) To some degree, it seems clear to me that the brain itself is a “genetically pre-programmed for the development of language in humans. But it is also clear that a primary part of that “preprogramming” is the “mechanism” for operant learning. Clearly there are areas of the brain that have been identified as critical in language, (i.e., Broca’s area) and “mirror neurons” which I am sure are critical in language development have been identified.
So back to your original post, on the topic of “rationalistic vs.empirical’, I would say both can potentially be paths to knowledge, but unlike religious beliefs, IMO, both should be subject to continual reveiw for supportive or conflicting evidence.