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Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before…

Johnnie Moore is the vice president of Liberty University, which tells you pretty much all you need to know about him. This ridiculous Fox News column tells you the rest. He trots out the old “atheism is a religion” argument, but starts by pretending that a recent debate actually means something:

It happened again recently at the Cambridge Union debating society when former Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams took on the best known name in contemporary atheism, Richard Dawkins. They were debating whether religion has a role in the 21st century.

Dawkins said it didn’t.

Williams said it did.

In the end, Williams was handed a decidedly strong victory with more than two times as many votes from the audience as the infamous atheist, Dawkins. It was a triumphant day for the faithful and a shameful one for the irreligious.

Uh, no. An audience vote does not tell you who won a debate, and even if it did, so what? If the audience had voted the other way, you can be absolutely certain that Moore would not be declaring it to be a triumphant day for atheists and a shameful day for the faithful. He would recognize that a popular vote does not decide what is true and what is not about religion. He just lacks the integrity and the intellectual honesty to be consistent.

Religion certainly includes an idea of a God under whom man is inherently subservient, but religion also governs the belief system undergirding the way people think about, and live, their lives.

It tells them who their authority is and it informs their values and behavior. It gives them their sense of morality and goodwill, and it guides them in the way they treat themselves and others. Religion does nothing less than construct one’s view of the world.

Atheists are, in fact, some of the most religious people.

First, they have a functioning God under whom they are subservient (normally it’s science or rationality, but mainly themselves), and that idea of God informs the way they live and interpret their lives. It informs their biases and determines their values, and governs any sense of morality or ethics they adhere too, or ignore.

Wrong. Absolutely wrong. Neither science nor rationality is even remotely analogous to a deity. And isn’t it always amusing when the religious accuse others of being religious as though they thought that was a bad thing?

This new breed of atheists is obsessed with the idea of God. They write books, deliver speeches, comment-bomb the evangelical blogosphere and generally rant on ad nauseam about the ills of believing in God.

Honestly – comically – some atheists must type the word “God” on the Internet five times more often than most Christians I know and they do it with the fury of a fire-and-brimstone zealot!

Yeah, we talk about belief in God a lot. You know why? Because you people believe that your God commands you to control everyone else. And we’re going to keep doing it. And we’re going to keep pointing and laughing every time you make idiotic claim like this.

Instead of just ignoring God, or the idea of God, atheist preachers feel somehow compelled to rid the Earth of him; so they argue endlessly that theists can’t prove God exists without confessing that they can’t prove he doesn’t either.

Actually, we do. I know of no atheist who thinks they can prove that God doesn’t exist. I doubt Moore does either. But this makes a convenient straw man to beat up, and he has nothing else to offer, so this is pretty much all he has.

Comments

  1. Randomfactor says

    Williams said it did.

    Count me shocked, SHOCKED to learn of someone arguing that his current sinecure should continue.

    If science is my god, then my god is an inanimate tool. Which, come to think of it, sums up my beliefs about THEIR gods, too, if not the majority of their followers.

  2. says

    Honestly – comically – some atheists must type the word “God” on the Internet five times more often than most Christians I know

    Honestly– heart-breakingly– some Christians must type the word “homosexual” on the internet twenty times more than most gay people I know.

    What was that about obsession, again?

  3. Alverant says

    “I know of no atheist who thinks they can prove that God doesn’t exist.”
    I think I can. You can do it in two simple steps.
    1) Define god
    2) Find the paradoxes, contradictions, etc so that the believer’s idea of god cannot exist

  4. robert79 says

    “I know of no atheist who thinks they can prove that God doesn’t exist.”

    I’m probably the closest you’ll find. I conjecture (in the mathematical sense: I think it is provable, I just haven’t gotten around to the proof yet. Nor do I want to as I think that would be a waste of my time…) that, depending on how you define “god” it is either:
    – So ill-defined as to make the question of existence, or any sentence using the word, meaningless.
    – Trivially true but a useless concept. (i.e. god is love… yes… I won’t deny love exists, but we’re just playing semantics here…)
    – In contradiction with the known laws of science (physics or plain logic usually.)

    Of course, if someone ever does manage to prove that god does not exist, the religious folk will simply claim that since god is all-powerful, he is certainly more powerful than the laws of logic and will simply keep on believing. Most of their arguments already boil down to this.

    I’ve had people claim that it is most certainly possible that god both exists (for them) and does not (for me) as objective truth does not exist. Tip: never argue with a philosophy student.

  5. robert79 says

    Argh, Alverant beat me to it… Or is at least making a point very close to mine…

  6. says

    I am disappointed to see that Liberty got bounced by NC A&T in the “First Four” last night. I was hoping that they would survive long enough to face Duke and get trounced by the Blue Devils.

  7. haitied says

    God, as a vague undefined notion, cannot be disproved. Fortunately there is barely an apologist alive who can stick to arguing for the existence of some vague undefined notion of god, they frequently slip into arguing for their preferred deity. When arguing for the existence of a god one must remain as non-specific as possible, details are the enemy.

  8. Alverant says

    @robert79
    I might have been first but you phrased it better. Sometimes it just comes down to semantics and how something is defined. If a believer offers a bad definition then it’s meaningless and therefore invalid. If they say “god is love” respond with “then we can ignore what is said in the bible then” and see if they agree. If they insist the bible is correct, well it’s a virtual shooting gallary of contradictions, illogic, and evil acts that can’t be solved without game-saying “god can do it’ which IMHO is a virtual confession that they got nothing.

  9. says

    “I contend that we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you. When you understand why you reject all other gods, you will understand why I reject yours.”

    Alas, even basic reasoning skills are too much for some people.

  10. whheydt says

    Re: #4:

    I usually express that as stating that I can’t prove that no gods exist, but that, given the definition of a particular god, I can show that that specific god does not exist.

    Re: #5:

    Isn’t your proof short, but too long to fit in the margin of the book you’re reading?

  11. says

    Religion certainly includes an idea of a God under whom man is inherently subservient, but religion also governs the belief system undergirding the way people think about, and live, their lives.

    Which is awfully convenient for those people who purport to be intermediaries between man and God. It’s ultimately about making people subservient to priests, pastors, rabbis, imams, gurus, etc.

  12. oranje says

    Essentially, it’s “any philosophy or order you have for living your life is actually a religion, so stop pushing it on us.”

    They are that terrified of a world without religion, a life without religion, that it’s unthinkable.

  13. says

    It’s like Neo at the end of the first Matrix movie.

    “I’m going to show these people something you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you.”

  14. Synfandel says

    Such a debate does not, of course, decide the truth or falsehood of the resolution. None the less it is common practice to assign a winner of the debate on the basis of how the audience was swayed.

    Notice, however, that what matters is not the proportion of the audience that agrees or disagrees with either opponent at the end of the debate, but the net percentage of the audience that changed its mind one way or the other over the course of the debate. The winner is the more effective debater, not the person who argues the better position.

    If, for example, before the debate 75% of the audience favoured Archbishop Williams’ position and after the debate 67% favoured Archbishop Williams’ position, Dawkins won the debate. Moore says nothing about any change in the audience’s views.

  15. robert79 says

    “Isn’t your proof short, but too long to fit in the margin of the book you’re reading?”

    I have a truly marvelous proof, unfortunately it does not fit in the comment section of a blog.

    Also I doubt I have enough of a mathematical name that people will be quoting me for the next three centuries.

  16. mikeym says

    Since the idea of omnipotence is self-contradictory, wouldn’t that prove that any being claimed to be omnipotent could not exist?

  17. Ichthyic says

    I know of no atheist who thinks they can prove that God doesn’t exist.

    wrong.

    ANY atheist can prove God doesn’t exist, or at the very least demonstrate it as entirely trivial and vacuous.. The problem is getting the person who is asking the atheist to prove it to define “God” to begin with.

    Once you get someone to define God, it is always easy to prove it either doesn’t exist, or is nothing different than any other imaginary item.

    this has been done ad infinitum for thousands of years now.

    so, let’s stop saying no atheist ever says they can’t prove god doesn’t exist. We already have, for EVERY definition of god that can be put to proof, ever.

  18. says

    This new breed of atheists is obsessed with the idea of God. They write books, deliver speeches, comment-bomb the evangelical blogosphere and generally rant on ad nauseam about the ills of believing in God.

    Honestly – comically – some atheists must type the word “God” on the Internet five times more often than most Christians I know and they do it with the fury of a fire-and-brimstone zealot!

    Wow, talk about projection. It’s actually the theists who are obsessed with the idea of God. Put God in the Pledge of Allegiance. Put God on our money. Try to have school sponsored prayers in our public schools. Try to start every meeting of with a prayer. Try to argue that the Constitution is based on the Bible. And so on and so on.

    And my standard rejoinder to theists who ask why atheists make arguments against religion is why do they feel the need to speak out against proponents of combatting global warming if they don’t believe that global warming is real?

  19. says

    Uh, no. An audience vote does not tell you who won a debate, and even if it did, so what?

    Uh, no, if the terms of the debate are that the audience vote tells you who won the debate, then it is.

    And if that means that Richard Dawkins walked into a duffer who threw crowd-pleasers then it means Richard Dawkins should stick to evolutionary biology and popularizing science, (which he may be OK at, and which he is definitely good at) not debating (which he is so-so at).

  20. martinc says

    I agree with Ed that you can’t definitively prove the non-existence of God as a concept, because the concept can so easily be defined as investigation-proof. Find something that doesn’t make sense, or is inconsistent? That might disprove a logical consistent God, but not one that isn’t. Lest you think I am merely word-chopping here, remember that Christian theists caught in a contradiction will openly state “God moves in mysterious ways”, which is just a way of allowing God to exist despite a logical inconsistency.

    You can usually prove the non-existence of any particular God but only because his/her/its believers have made the tactical mistake of categorically defining something about their God. If they kept their God-concept suitably ineffable, they’d clear that hurdle, though wishy-washy Gods rarely attract many followers. Theists like their God to be well-defined (unsurprisingly, often in their own physical and moral image) and are prepared to let him be provably fictional in order to maintain a minimum set of defining characteristics that their God can hang his metaphysical hat on.

    Mr. Moore did manage one magic phrase. I can picture the opening of The Simpsons with Bart writing on the blackboard:

    I will not comment-bomb the evangelical blogsphere
    I will not comment-bomb the evangelical blogsphere
    I will not comment-bomb the evangelical blogsphere
    I will not comment-bomb the …

  21. martinc says

    Doug @ 2: Another similarly themed Intelligence-Squared debate “That the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world” from 2009 produced a far more lop-sided result, and is a gem to watch. Stephen Fry (who I thought was scintillatingly brilliant) and Christopher Hitchens, soundly defeated politician Ann Widdicombe and a hopelessly outclassed Nigerian archbishop. From:

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/andrewmcfbrown/100014133/intelligence-squared-debate-catholics-humiliated-by-christopher-hitchens-and-stephen-fry/

    The voting gives a good idea of how it went. Before the debate, for the motion: 678. Against: 1102. Don’t know: 346. This is how it changed after the debate. For: 268. Against: 1876. Don’t know: 34. In other words, after hearing the speakers, the number of people in the audience who opposed the motion increased by 774. My friend Simon, who’s a season ticket holder, said it was the most decisive swing against a motion that he could remember.

    Incidentally I think that’s the best way to judge a debate: ask the audience their opinion before the debate, then again after it. The change represents how well the topic was debated (though not necessarily of course the inherent truth of the proposition). The debate Doug referred to included this: it showed that those For the motion that The World Would Be Better Off Without Religion went from 52% to 59%, and those Against went from 26% to 31%. Thus of the initial 22% undecided, the For side grabbed 7 of them and the Against side 5. So it was a narrow win to the atheist debaters. The Dawkins/Williams debate Moore referred to did not do pre-assessment of the audience’s position on the topic as far as I can tell, which is a pity, as the topic was fairly hardline: “that organized religion has no place in the 21st century” … such a topic effectively requires the proponent to argue for the expunging of religion entirely, which is a fairly tough sell.

  22. abb3w says

    @0, Ed Brayton:

    I know of no atheist who thinks they can prove that God doesn’t exist.

    Depends what sense of the word “prove” you have in mind. For some nuances, I know of no Christian who can prove that they are not a cleverly disguised cabbage.

    There actually are some very skew angles of view from which you can view aspects of the rationalism/science/techno-progressive belief cluster as expressions of (say) Dale Cannon’s “Six Ways” framework of religion. Contrariwise, some of the implications of doing so are incredibly inconvenient for conventional religion.

  23. Doug Little says

    martinc @24.

    Yes that was actually the one I was looking for but found the other one first. It was awesome watching Hitchens and Fry debate in the one you mention. Also speaking of awesome debates the one where John Cleese and Malcolm Muggeridge go at it way back in 1979 holds a special place in my heart.

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