Apparently, there was going to be a debate between atheist JT Eberhard and cl, the author of the blog, the warfare is mental. These two had a series of email exchanges in an attempt to set up the rules prior to debate. JT, the atheist, wanted another dime-a-dozen “existence of god” debate where the atheist doesn’t really have to defend any belief. cl began to probe to see if JT would be open to a debate where the atheist would actually try to make a positive case for a change. Eberhard replied:
What would a positive case for the non-existence of something look like? The best I can think of is, “I know of no evidence to support the existence of this thing.” What more could someone possibly do?
Well, one thing Eberhard could do is address PZ Myers point, given that Myers is a much more influential atheist. For Myers dismisses Eberhard’s attempt to make atheism as mere disbelief in God and even labels it as “stupid”:
Now you see, that’s just stupid. There are lots of atheists who take this blinkered stance that atheism is just one specific idea about rejecting god-belief, and it has absolutely no philosophical foundation and should have no political or social consequences. And that’s nonsense. This commenter is deluding himself as thoroughly as any god-walloper.
If there is no god, if religion is a sham, that has significant consequences for how we should structure our society. You could argue over how we should shape our culture — a libertarian atheist would lean much more towards a Darwinian view, for instance, than I would — but to pretend that atheism is just an abstraction floating in the academic ether is silly.
So Ebergard could have debated about the philosophical foundation of atheism and its political or social consequences, but he preferred the safety of not having to defend his own beliefs.
Since Eberhard wanted to frame the debate where he would “be arguing that there’s no good evidence for god. Important distinction on the *good*,” cl asked him to define “evidence” as he didn’t want the goal-posts to get moved. Eberhard began to get flustered. He cited the dictionary which made it clear that he was going to rely on his own subjectivity when determining whether or not “good evidence” existed. So he lost interest in the debate, as he explained on his own blog:
I recently accepted a blogalog with a commenter named cl. It has proven frustrating due to the endless and superfluous minutia of just trying to get a conversation started (such as demands that I define “evidence”).
Did you get that? The atheist wanted a debate where he would “be arguing that there’s no good evidence for god. Important distinction on the *good*” but huffed and puffed about defining evidence (let alone “good”) as “endless and superfluous minutia” and then banned his would-be opponent.
I’m not surprised by this. For as I just noted:
So let me provide a better way to phrase this trait. Given that Gnu atheism is a movement, we need to define it from this context. All movements that are trying to change culture need to go on the offensive. And the Gnu way of going on the offensive is to demand evidence for theism. That way, they get to play judge and jury. They get to put theists in the position of having to justify themselves. It’s all about posturing and positioning.
Unfortunately, many theists get easily played by this tactic. They think the Gnu is honest and sincere in wanting “evidence.” So they try to provide evidence, only to consistently find the evidence they supply does not count. All the time, they are on the defensive without realizing there is no reason at all that they should have to justify their theism to a closed-minded Gnu. Yet by attempting to provide evidence for the Gnu, they are working to validate the authoritative posture the Gnus sneakily adopt.
So a more accurate way of viewing the Gnu is not as someone who places a high value on “evidence,” but as someone who pays lip service to the need for evidence and who seeks to use the concept of “evidence” as a rhetorical and propagandistic tool to adopt an authoritative posture in the culture wars.
When Eberhard realized he was going to have to actually define what he meant by “good evidence for God,” the posturing and positioning was in danger and so he backed out. He wanted to sit in judgment, not explain himself.
When a Gnu atheist wants to debate whether there is evidence for the existence of God, I know many Christians view this as a sincere request, as if the person is searching. But in most cases, it’s just a tactic members of the Gnu movement use in their culture war.