Determining the Attributes and Effects of Gods

So, I was on The Thinking Atheist the last two weeks with Matt. And before going on the final night, the show’s host, Seth Andrews, submitted a very long, well organized e-mail that he’d received from a listener regarding the prior episode. It included a number of questions and concerns about statements made by all of the guests on the program, including me.

Whenever, I receive criticism regarding things I say, from someone willing to put the time in to communicate their concerns clearly and thoroughly, I try to listen. I was especially interested in this, as the topic of the program was “counter-apologetics”—something about which I’m not classically informed. So, I was already prepared for some justified correction, as I was clearly out of my depth. People who hear me on TAE know I’m informal and prefer a conversational style. I’m not out in the world doing formal debates—and, honestly, that’s not a format I suspect I’d enjoy. When I was initially invited on the podcast, I asked why I was included, since it was my view that Matt and AronRa (who was also on) were more than sufficient to cover a “Counter-Apologetics” topic. My inclusion seemed, at the very least, redundant. But it is what it is (to wax tautological). And I agreed to do it.

Out of several comments in the e-mail, only one was directed at me. I don’t know whether to feel flattered or slighted, but I would like to take the opportunity to reply to the author, G, here, starting with his original comment in full:

11:55 Tracie: “People want to talk about the attributes of God or the effects of God before they’ve actually demonstrated a God.”

I found this to be circular. If one doesn’t know at least some of the attributes that a God may have, how does one know when and if the demonstration is successful? Going back to our oak tree, if one knows none of the attributes or effects of an oak tree, how does one know when he is looking at an oak tree? How does one determine that tree X is an oak tree without comparing it to attributes of an oak tree? Must we first demonstrate it is an oak tree before we can talk about the attributes of an oak tree? In the same manner one must talk about the attributes and effects that a god would have in order to determine if that god actually exists.  Luckily, the concept of God does carry with it necessary implications; so, we can look at those and work from there. Various concepts of particular gods carry with them distinct implications, as does the concept of no God at all; by examining all of these implication we may be able to come to some sort of conclusion; but, without knowing any attributes we cannot demonstrate anything at all.

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Open Thread / Show #693: Jen & Tracie

As always, we air at 4:30-5:30 PM (CST) today (Sunday). You can watch live on ustream:

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/the-atheist-experience

My plan is to discuss a few of the willfully ignorant things theists say in response to discovering people are atheist activists, including statements such as “why are you so angry at god?” and “I think you’re just searching for god.”

Example: Person X has a loved family member who swears by a particular homeopathic doctor, who is conning them out of their money and resources and “treating” them for a dangerous and potentially fatal illness. The family member will not seek demonstrated effective treatments from a conventional doctor, because the homeopath has convinced them that modern medicine is a hand-puppet of Big Pharma and therefore an untrustworthy conspiracy. Eventually the family member dies. Person X begins a blog and a youtube channel to tell their story to help expose the dangers of homeopathy. They are contacted by others with similar stories, and they form an association to spread information to people about the lack of support for homeopathic claims and hopefully to help others avoid the same suffering they have experienced at the hands of charlatans.

They should expect to get letters from believers expressing they are wrong. They should expect to be accused of being cogs in the Big Pharma conspiracy. They should expect to get testimonials from well meaning people with anecdotes about their “successes” with homeopathy and the “good” they are convinced it does.

But I’m sure they would never expect some willful idiot will suggest that they are fighting homeopathy because they secretly want desperately to find evidence showing it really works, or that they secretly already believe it does work, and are angry about the fact it works.

These particular rebuttals to the anti-homeopathy movement would be ridiculous. It seemed to me time to provide a link calling it out as “stupid,” for people to use. I’d rather atheist skeptics, anti-theists and activists spend their time letting theists provide their demonstrations for their claims of gods existence, than spend their time having to defend against accusations that even a fool should recognize as foolish.

I have heard theists confuse hypothetical uses of “god” with belief in god. But I find this utterly dishonest, because we all use hypotheticals routinely. There is no reason someone should suddenly be unable to recognize a commonly used method of examining a claim. I might say to you I think a problem with your car is that you have an oil leak. But you know of some reason that isn’t correct. You say “If it were an oil leak, though, I would expect XYZ to be happening, too, right?” That does not mean you agree it’s an oil leak. And nobody should misunderstand that. In the same way if an atheist says “If there were a god that killed all these people that would be morally inexcusable,” the atheist is not asserting believe in god and belief in the claims of the Bible. It’s clearly a hypothetical, and even more-so due to the fact he wears the clear label “atheist” to alert the theist he doesn’t accept this god is real. There is no excuse for any misunderstanding in these dialogs. I’m convinced these “misunderstandings” are willful dishonestly and red-herrings to get the atheist off track and in a defensive mode so that the theist is then relieved of having to defend an indefensible position.

So, if it helps, save the link to this blog post. Whenever you’re told you “hate god” or are “searching for god,” copy-paste and tell them atheists are worn out arguing dishonest stupidity and unless they have something of actual substance to offer in support of their unjustified beliefs, you aren’t going to waste your time debating people who can’t grasp basic levels of communication such as how to recognize the use of a hypothetical, the meanings of common words (“atheist”) or how to apply the simplest context (“I don’t believe in god, therefore I cannot hate god”).

*Correction: I updated the headline to reflect Jen replacing Matt today as host.