The Alister McGrath sneaky side-step shuffle

McGrath is back, straining to refute atheism. This time, his argument is with the claim that faith is blind. Is not, he says! And then proceeds to muddle together faith with belief with morality with science until he’s got a nice incoherent stew, at which time he points to a few floaty bits in the otherwise unresolvable mess and calls that support for his superstitions. It’s pathetic and unconvincing, except perhaps to someone who wants to believe anyway.

Here’s an example of where his whole argument falls to pieces. He wants to claim that faith is simply a reasonable extrapolation from evidence.

The simple truth is that belief is just a normal human way of making sense of a complex world. It is not blind — it just tries to make the best sense of things on the basis of the limited evidence available.

Well, OK, Alister, if you say so…so then where’s your evidence that there is an afterlife, or that god listens to prayers, or that Jesus rose from the dead? If you’re planning to argue that the atheist dismissal of faith as an evidence-free leap of irrationality is incorrect because you do have an evidential foundation, then perhaps you’d be so kind as to shut down the gripes of those damned empiricists by citing your evidence.

Nope, it’s not forthcoming anywhere in his essay. He’s just going to insist that his faith is actually based on evidence…without mentioning what that evidence might be.

However, he does go on to argue that some human convictions cannot be demonstrated with logic or observation; apparently, he wants to have it both ways, where he claims his faith is both based on logic and observation and undemonstrable with logic and observation. He can’t lose! Well, he can, of course, because he’s arguing inconsistently and stupidly, and also because he goes on to justify faith in god by giving examples of undeducible and unobservable beliefs that we accept all the time.

It is immoral to rape people. Democracy is better than fascism. World poverty is morally unacceptable. I can’t prove any of these beliefs to be true, and neither can anyone else. Happily, that has not stopped moral and social visionaries from acting on their basis, and trying to make the world a better place.

But it’s another sneaky side-step! Now he’s conflating moral decisions with verifiable observations. Take his first point: we know that people are raped. We know that unraped people try to avoid being raped, and that raped people will say that it makes them unhappy. These are provable facts. We desire to live in a society where we are not raped, and because we are social animals who empathize with others, in a society where others are not raped, too. Therefore we make a moral decision that rape is wrong. So what if I can’t prove rape is morally wrong; I can show that it has undesirable consequences to individuals and society, and therefore should be discouraged. Those moral and social visionaries reduce undesirable consequences, which is what makes the world a better place.

But this has nothing to do with believing in supernatural entities in the sky!

It reminds me of a common misguided tactic believers sometimes take. They confront some hard-bitten atheistic realist, and challenge him or her by saying they believe in invisible, intangible things, too: they believes their spouse loves them, for instance. The reasoning, apparently, is: “Aha! You believe in an invisible attraction between your spouse and yourself, therefore, my belief that an invisible god-man with holes in his hands and magic powers loves me is perfectly reasonable!” Never mind that the partner is visible, communicating, and capable of action, and may have made many long-term commitments — the theist makes a false equivalence and thinks he’s won a significant point.

That’s McGrath. Incoherent and contradictory, vacuous and vapid, and bumbling along, triumphantly making fallacious arguments that he thinks are irrefutable.

Jebus, but I love “sophisticated theology”. It makes its practitioners look like such hopeless dolts.