Week of Reason: God of the Gaps Atheism

The militant atheist movement is built on the belief that there is no evidence for God. Of course, such atheists are entitled to their opinions on this matter, but because of their militancy, and the way it serves their agenda, they will not acknowledge their opinion is an opinion. Instead, they posture as if they have discovered some objective truth – There is no evidence for the existence of God. We’re all supposed to agree.

Yet if we are supposed to agree with this claim, we’d like to know exactly what it is we are supposed to agree with. So we ask the New Atheists what would actually count as evidence for the existence of God. Typically, the New Atheists will tap dance around that question, insisting there is no evidence without telling us what such evidence would look like. This is their Hide The Goalposts tactic.

However, if pressed, some New Atheists will spell it out, especially when they are trying to make themselves look open-minded about the issue. One example is atheist activist Jerry Coyne who, in a blog post entitled, “What evidence would convince you that a god exists?, wrote:

There are so many phenomena that would raise the specter of God or other supernatural forces: faith healers could restore lost vision, the cancers of only good people could go into remission, the dead could return to life, we could find meaningful DNA sequences that could have been placed in our genome only by an intelligent agent, angels could appear in the sky. The fact that no such things have ever been scientifically documented gives us added confidence that we are right to stick with natural explanations for nature. And it explains why so many scientists, who have learned to disregard God as an explanation, have also discarded him as a possibility.

So we have a list. But what we don’t have is a reason for thinking anything on the list should count as scientific evidence for the existence of God. Coyne makes no effort to explain WHY such phenomena would constitute such evidence. He merely asserts it and then moves on. Do other atheists agree such things would amount to evidence for God? No. For example, PZ Myers would not consider any of those events to be evidence of God. So Coyne’s laundry list is simply a list of things that Coyne would personally count as evidence for God (or so he says). That’s not how science works, people.

So why would Coyne personally count these five things as evidence for the existence of God? In fact, what is it that all five things have in common? The answer is the same for both questions – these are gaps that could not be explained by science. Coyne is advocating God-of-the-Gaps atheism. He is basically arguing “I am an atheist because there are no Gaps,” which is a position that embraces the validity of the God-of-the-Gaps approach.

In fact, this God-of-the-Gaps atheism was clearly championed in an essay by Victor Stenger some time ago (and the essay was endorsed by Coyne):

Many of the attributes associated with the Judaic-Christian-Islamic God have specific consequences that can be tested empirically. Such a God is supposed to play a central role in the operation of the universe and the lives of humans. As a result, evidence for him should be readily detectable by scientific means. If a properly controlled experiment were to come up with an observation that cannot be explained by natural means, then science would have to take seriously the possibility of a world beyond matter.

So if God exists, His existence would be detected by an observation that cannot be explained by natural means. A Gap. Like Coyne, Stenger needed a Gap. The Gap = evidence for God. All evidence for God must be a Gap.

Of course, if some theist were to insist that some aspect of our reality was not explained by science and thus evidence for God, the New Atheist would declare this invalid because it was relying on……..faulty God-of-the-Gaps reasoning.

Huh? The very reasoning used to prop up atheism suddenly becomes faulty?

Sneaky. The New Atheists insist there is no evdience for God because there are no Gaps and thus demand someone provide them a Gap. When someone tries to provide then a Gap, the New Atheists scorn them for relying on Gaps and trying to provide gaps.

If there was real intellectual substance to New Atheism, why do they have to build and maintain their position on such a contradictory and deceptive approach? I think it is time for New Atheists to start being honest and admit they embrace the logic of God-of-the-gaps reasoning.

I don’t.  But they do.

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34 Responses to Week of Reason: God of the Gaps Atheism

  1. pennywit says:

    I’ve said it before here. For the Cleveland Browns to beat the Detroit Lions in the Super Bowl.

    OK, that’s a hoary old joke. But I think the point stands. It would have to take a pretty major miracle, or else God hisownself standing there in a nimbus of light setting out miracles.

    I will grant that it is massively unfair to demand that of a theist. (“He’s not a tame lion after all.”) But that’s where I am. It would take a lot to convince me.

    At the same time, I think that if I’m going to say there is no definitive proof that God exist, then intellectual honestly compels me to also admit (by corollary) that there is definitive proof that God does not exist. So the way I figure it, I can draw my conclusions, someone can draw their conclusions, and as long as no one wants to start a war over it, I’m cool.

  2. TFBW says:

    “For the Cleveland Browns to beat the Detroit Lions in the Super Bowl.”

    So if this were to actually happen, you would consider the existence of God proved, affirmatively? Then what? Would this change anything else at all for you, or would you simply scratch off the “a” on your “atheist” tag, and carry on as though nothing had happened?

  3. pennywit says:

    Who knows? I suspect that I would have a lot of questions to start with.

  4. What atheists generally forget (or are simply ignorant of) is that God really isn’t that interested whether or not the whole world believes he exists. He wants people to be ready to trust him, love him, and crucially submit and obey to him. If a person is not and will never be prepared to do that, God probably feels no inclination whatsoever to prove to that person that he’s real.

  5. TFBW says:

    “I suspect that I would have a lot of questions to start with.”

    Questions for whom? Or do you mean that you would only start to think about formulating those questions after your specified miracle happened?

  6. pennywit says:

    I would have combination of questions to address to a deity. Some profound, some personal, and none of which I care to share with you.

  7. TFBW says:

    You lost me on the leap between accepting a specific miracle as proof that God exists and expecting to be able to interview Him afterwards.

  8. Atheists who plan to interrogate God on judgement day may be stunned to learn that God doesn’t regard the human race as the centre of the moral universe, and as such he isn’t obliged to do diddly squat to fix our problems.

  9. Dhay says:

    Nor to provide a miracle.

  10. Chaudhari says:

    OK, well, if one doesn’t assert that there is no evidence for God, then the entire line of criticism here doesn’t apply, right?

    Anyone who has overreached by saying “there is no evidence for God” just needs to dial it back a bit. One may comfortably go with the Scottish verdict of “not proved” instead. That’s easy to do.

    As with the Resurrection post last month, this looks like another instance of focusing on atheists who have failed to disprove the God hypothesis in some way. In this particular case the failure lies in the overreach of “there is no evidence for God”. In the Resurrection post, the failure lies in invoking “science” to refute a Christian claim. A couple posts back from here, we are treated to a litany of scientists who have, in various ways, failed to disprove the God hypothesis.

    This focus on collecting failures does leave me with a certain impression, whether or not that impression is what you intended. It does suggest to me that, in some way, perhaps even unconsciously, an implication is being made that this collection of failures amounts to a plus for the God hypothesis.

    Sorry to bring up Sagan again, but this does remind me of, “Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true.”

    The sum of all these failures to disprove the God hypothesis doesn’t make the hypothesis true, of course. It may still be false despite all the failures to disprove it.

    And in this particular post, the failure of some atheists to support “there is no evidence for God” does not amount to “there is evidence for God” being true. So your post could be summarized like this:

    * “It may ultimately be true that there is no evidence for God, but just look how these atheists get tangled in their own logic when they assert there is no evidence for God.”

    That’s the gist of it, right? It just doesn’t seem very hard-hitting to me. By only addressing the deniers, you’ve left the central claim wide open.

  11. TFBW says:

    Your comments don’t seem very hard-hitting to me, Chaudhari. So many words, so little point.

  12. Kevin says:

    To translate all these posts by Chaudhari and the bizarre angle from which he is interpreting Michael’s posts:

    “Your analysis of atheists’ statements is irrelevant, give me your evidence for God so I can disagree with it.”

  13. What I find interesting is the apparent need most atheists have for 100% scientific verifiable evidence for God before they’d be prepared to accept he might be there.

    First, do they apply that same level of ultra-scepticism to anything else in life which can’t be 100% scientifically verified but which is reasonable enough to accept?

    Second, people only raise that insanely high a bar of proof for things they really, really don’t want to have to believe unless it’s absolutely unavoidable. What is it about God that atheists find the mere possibility of his existence so distasteful?

    Almost every atheist I have ever encountered rejects God for emotional reasons. The high bar of intellectual proof is just an excuse.

  14. pennywit says:

    He wants people to be ready to trust him, love him, and crucially submit and obey to him. If a person is not and will never be prepared to do that, God probably feels no inclination whatsoever to prove to that person that he’s real.

    A deity’s prerogative, I suppose. But people are entitled to set the terms of their beliefs.

    You lost me on the leap between accepting a specific miracle as proof that God exists and expecting to be able to interview Him afterwards.

    Not so much “interview” as “seek answers.” And I expect I would not be the only person who would want such answers.

    Atheists who plan to interrogate God on judgement day may be stunned to learn that God doesn’t regard the human race as the centre of the moral universe, and as such he isn’t obliged to do diddly squat to fix our problems.

    Obligated? No. But presumably in the midst of omnipresence and omniscience, such a deity could find a few moments to provide answers and/or reassure the faithful and the faithless.

    Second, people only raise that insanely high a bar of proof for things they really, really don’t want to have to believe unless it’s absolutely unavoidable. What is it about God that atheists find the mere possibility of his existence so distasteful?

    I find theists have a similar approach — generally not willing to entertain arguments against the existence of a deity. I don’t find that either good or bad. It just indicates that religious beliefs are quite deeply held.

    Almost every atheist I have ever encountered rejects God for emotional reasons. The high bar of intellectual proof is just an excuse.

    I’ve seen a mix. All sorts of things play factors. I’ve met atheists who started down the road because they genuinely had a chain of reasoning that led them to conclude there’s no god. I’ve found others who started down the road because of disillusionment with their particular religious denomination’s leaders. I’ve also met some who had very negative experiences with followers of a religion.

    And I once read a searing piece by a man whose stepfather had abused and brutalized him. He didn’t believe in God because he had prayed by that ordeal, and God had never answered.

    People have multiple reasons for coming to religious faith or stepping away from religious faith. I find that atheists who espouse that reason is their only motivator are generally deluding themselves.

  15. Michael says:

    I’ve said it before here. For the Cleveland Browns to beat the Detroit Lions in the Super Bowl.

    OK, that’s a hoary old joke. But I think the point stands. It would have to take a pretty major miracle, or else God hisownself standing there in a nimbus of light setting out miracles.

    Do you realize that for any of this to make sense, you have to acknowledge that the God of the Gaps approach is indeed a sound approach when looking for evidence of God, right? You do grant that, right?

  16. Michael says:

    OK, well, if one doesn’t assert that there is no evidence for God, then the entire line of criticism here doesn’t apply, right?

    I’d say so. I’m a live and let live type of person, so the problem comes when a movement full of atheists emerge and insist “there is NO evidence for God.” Then, they use that opinion as the basis to accuse Christians of being irrational, stupid, or mentally ill.

    Anyone who has overreached by saying “there is no evidence for God” just needs to dial it back a bit.

    No, it’s not dialing it “back a bit.” It’s abandoning a core, popular claim that is then use as the justification for further attacks on believers.

    One may comfortably go with the Scottish verdict of “not proved” instead. That’s easy to do.

    Best to leave the term “proved/unproved” out of this, as evidence and proof are different animals.

    This focus on collecting failures does leave me with a certain impression, whether or not that impression is what you intended.

    The impressions you personally have are irrelevant to me. I focus on the popular, common claims/beliefs that are out there.

    * “It may ultimately be true that there is no evidence for God, but just look how these atheists get tangled in their own logic when they assert there is no evidence for God.”

    To each his own. I prefer drawing attention to that fact that so many atheists premise their atheism on god of the gaps logic. Delicious. Does that make you uncomfortable?

  17. Dhay says:

    Chaudhari > And in this particular post, the failure of some atheists to support “there is no evidence for God” does not amount to “there is evidence for God” being true. So your post could be summarized like this: “It may ultimately be true that there is no evidence for God, but just look how these atheists get tangled in their own logic when they assert there is no evidence for God.”

    I am amazed by the super-confident claim of many atheists that there is no, No, NO, NO evidence for God: a little reading or browsing would bring up the logical arguments of Aristotle, Aquinas and others that there must be a creator God; there’s the testimony of ancient Jewish people over many centuries, the Old Testament; likewise there’s the New Testament; there’s the argument that the universe we live in would have been extremely unlikely to have occurred naturally; there’s testimony of answered prayers; there’s the modern philosophical arguments of William Lane Craig; — these are but some of the evidences for God, there’s others. Yet to some atheists there’s no, No, NO, NO evidence for God. Go figure their (and your) mindset.

    It’s possible, as some do, to dismiss each and all as unsatisfactory and insufficient evidence: to dismiss each and all as NO (or NOT) evidence is wholly unreasonable.

    Your “summary of Michael’s post” is a very dubious, an unreasonable summary rather than anything any Christian might assent to.

    *

    The converse of that is that anyone who says there is no evidence that there isn’t a God is likewise unreasonable. After all, we have Jerry Coyne’s probably LSD-derived sudden certainty, for reasons “he still doesn’t understand” decades later, “that there was no God”:

    Suddenly Coyne began to shake and sweat. For reasons he still doesn’t understand, it dawned on him at that moment that there was no God, and he wasn’t going anywhere when he died. His casual Judaism seemed to wash away as the album played on. The crisis lasted about 30 minutes, he says, and when it was over, he had left religion behind for good.

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/holiday-snaps-2/

    Take him seriously or not, Coyne’s testimony to his certainty is evidence.

    *

    I notice Michael has replied, so I’ll leave it there.

  18. TFBW says:

    Do you realize that for any of this to make sense, you have to acknowledge that the God of the Gaps approach is indeed a sound approach when looking for evidence of God, right?

    I disagree on the grounds that it’s not clear to me that pennywit has claimed any kind of rigorous rationality here. As far as I can tell, based on this and previous conversations, he simply goes with his gut feeling on most matters, and this is a gut feeling as to what would cause sufficient doubt in his operational assumption that God doesn’t exist. To my recollection, pennywit has never claimed that reason and evidence objectively favours atheism over theism, nor has he claimed that his own position is based on reason and evidence except in the subjective sense of being personally persuaded (so more like “judgement” than “reason”).

    In short, there isn’t enough intellectual rigour in the process to require a “God of the Gaps” argument. I think this is probably true of Coyne, too, but unlike pennywit, Coyne has pretensions of intellectual rigour.

  19. pennywit says:

    To my recollection, pennywit has never claimed that reason and evidence objectively favours atheism over theism, nor has he claimed that his own position is based on reason and evidence except in the subjective sense of being personally persuaded (so more like “judgement” than “reason”).

    This is correct, in a sense. I believe that very few people (perhaps with the exception of Descartes) believe in God (or any god, for that matter) based on reason. Both from reading works by various public atheists and theists, and from interacting with people on both sides of that line, I believe that a large number of people start with a conclusion — that God exists, or doesn’t exist — and then work backward to find logic to justify their conclusion.

    I’ve also listened to the testimony of many an evangelical Christian. Their testimony’s common thread is not logic and reason, but a deeply subjective experience that is completely unverifiable. Yet those experiences brought them piece and were deeply meaningful. I don’t believe in the divine myself. And I think people sell themselves short when they say that God gave them strength. Yet I also can’t discount the peace and happiness that these evangelicals find in their faith.

    I don’t share their religious beliefs. But I also respect the contentment they find in their faith.

    There’s not a single thing that’s logical in all of that. But it makes people happy. And it’s not my business to shit on them.

  20. pennywit says:

    On the atheist side, I am sure a few atheists actually reached their thoughts on the non-existence of God through logic. But plenty more started down that road because of something different — disappointment with religious leaders, skepticism of the politics of certain religions, or even social exclusion or similar things. One of the problems with atheists’ logical arguments is what I said above: They start from the premise of God’s non-existence, then work their way backward to justify the belief with logic. The belief becomes both a postulate and a social identifier as atheists find others of like mind.

    So I have trouble believing atheists who say they are being entirely logical when they say God doesn’t exist. And I also don’t particularly care for atheists who try to imply theists are inferior simply for believing in a deity.

  21. Michael says:

    I disagree on the grounds that it’s not clear to me that pennywit has claimed any kind of rigorous rationality here. As far as I can tell, based on this and previous conversations, he simply goes with his gut feeling on most matters, and this is a gut feeling as to what would cause sufficient doubt in his operational assumption that God doesn’t exist.

    OKay, then I would make some slight changes to my original question:

    Do you realize that for any of this to make sense, a rational person would have to acknowledge that the God of the Gaps approach is assumed to be a sound approach when looking for evidence of God, right?

    Or, I could ask:

    Why, of all things, does a miracle, and only a miracle, trigger the “gut feeling?”

  22. TFBW says:

    I think I can clarify. I got close enough with my previous explanation, so I’ll carry on.

    Pennywit’s “gap” is an arbitrary event, chosen for its natural improbability (and its reflection on how seriously he takes the issue), which obtains special significance only because he selected it. It’s not a component in an argument: it’s a signal he has specified as a way for God to get his attention, but with no concrete commitment to action on his part if the signal occurs. It’s a challenge: “if you want to demonstrate to me that you exist, God, make this happen.” In other words, he calls for a Sign from God. You may recognise this as behaviour with a certain amount of biblical precedent.

    It strikes me that pennywit has set the bar kind of high here. I mean, yes, technically God could produce that outcome, but it’s not that simple: what if ten other people have specified the exact opposite signal? Everything comes at a cost, even for God: whatever actions you take preclude you from taking all the other actions you could have taken at the time. One creates reality only by sacrificing the other possibilities. Is this particular sacrifice worth it? God only knows. My impression is that it’s a high price, and pennywit either thinks that his attention is very valuable to God, or he’s deliberately pricing himself out of the market.

  23. pennywit says:

    It strikes me that pennywit has set the bar kind of high here.

    Which I absolutely acknowledge above (if you recall).

  24. Michael says:

    Pennywit’s “gap” is an arbitrary event, chosen for its natural improbability (and its reflection on how seriously he takes the issue), which obtains special significance only because he selected it. It’s not a component in an argument: it’s a signal he has specified as a way for God to get his attention, but with no concrete commitment to action on his part if the signal occurs. It’s a challenge: “if you want to demonstrate to me that you exist, God, make this happen.” In other words, he calls for a Sign from God. You may recognise this as behaviour with a certain amount of biblical precedent.

    Yes, but as you note, “chosen for its natural improbability.” The sign can’t be a sign unless it cannot be naturally explained. If it’s significance lies in his prior selection only, he could say, “God, if you exist, make it warm and sunny tomorrow.” If it turns out to be warm and sunny tomorrow, he would not accept that as a sign. His sign needs to be a miracle/Gap.

  25. TFBW says:

    A sign needs to be sufficiently naturally improbable that its occurrence would be noteworthy in and of itself; the noteworthiness is then multiplied by the fact that it was specified in advance from a range of alternatives. If you simply ask for it to be warm and sunny tomorrow, that would be setting the bar very low, given the usual frequency with which warm, sunny days occur, and one might reasonably stand accused of looking for an excuse to believe in God. On the other hand, maybe the forecast was for a blizzard, in which case the sunny day might be a noteworthy departure from expectations, amplified by the specification of such an event.

    It doesn’t have to be a miracle in the sense of being in apparent violation of the known laws of physics. I’m sure a lot of people have tried the path of, “give me a sign; let this lottery ticket win.” Some choose a slightly more desperate bargain, like, “I will commit myself to you if you save my child from this deadly illness.” Folks like pennywit and Coyne seem to want to set the bar so high (and offer so little in return) that it prices God out of the market for their attention, but leaves them a fig-leaf of a claim to open-mindedness.

  26. Michael says:

    It doesn’t have to be a miracle in the sense of being in apparent violation of the known laws of physics.

    I think it does. That’s why pennywit explicitly demanded miracles: “But I think the point stands. It would have to take a pretty major miracle, or else God hisownself standing there in a nimbus of light setting out miracles.”

    To be sufficiently naturally improbable the event has to be so improbable that it could not be explained by law and chance. If the event (specified or not) could be explained by natural law and/or chance, they will go that direction. Every time. They need miracles because their atheism/agnosticism is built on the lack of miracles. As such, they do indeed believe gaps (the epistemological expression of the miracle) should count as evidence for God. They just don’t want to admit it because then they might have to address the gaps that do exist out there.

  27. pennwyit says:

    I think it does. That’s why pennywit explicitly demanded miracles: “But I think the point stands. It would have to take a pretty major miracle, or else God hisownself standing there in a nimbus of light setting out miracles.”

    If the two of you are done, I can certainly speak for myself: Almost certainly yes. Another possibility would be some kind of deeply personal mystical experience. The problem with that, obviously, is that it would not be convincing to anybody but me, as such a thing is 100 percent subjective.

    My point in all of this — and one that you two don’t seem interested in — at the end of the day, arguments about logic and reason in religious belief (including nonbelief) are almost 100 percent bullshit. People’s religious beliefs go to far deeper factors than logic or reason, and it’s folly to pretend otherwise.

  28. TFBW says:

    They need miracles because their atheism/agnosticism is built on the lack of miracles.

    Hardly. That’s the official story of the Science and Reason crowd, sure, but it’s patently false. What actually persuaded Coyne (for example) of the non-existence of God was a Beatles-induced epiphany. As pennywit has correctly pointed out, most of what actually followed after that is merely post-hoc rationalisation of a conclusion to which he is already committed, not a foundation for the conclusion.

    We also have the example of Dawkins, who has reached the point in his atheism where he has come to understand that no amount of evidence could satisfy him, because a miracle happening spontaneously by chance would, for him, be a simpler explanation than God performing the miracle. So his atheism isn’t dependent on a lack of miracles, either: his mind is about as perfectly closed to the possibility of God as it can be.

    Then we have the example of pennywit, whose atheism is also not built on a lack of miracles. It’s built on the kind of shallow thinking and cultural osmosis by which most people form their opinions about everything. He thinks God doesn’t exist, and he prefers it that way. I suspect that he has opted for his particular “miracle” not because it would actually prove anything, but because he considers it extremely unlikely to happen even if God does exist and actually performs miracles. He would prefer that God didn’t perform that miracle, because he’s nominated as his excuse for continuing to be an atheist, and he likes being an atheist.

    The whole “atheism of the gaps” thing is a good dilemma precisely because it calls the bluff of the atheist who postures as though the existence of God is a scientific question. The key phrase there, however is “calls the bluff”. Their atheism isn’t “built on the lack of miracles;” It’s usually based on some emotional or otherwise non-rational foundation. That wouldn’t even be much of a problem if they were candid about it, but there is a certain vociferous subset who lay claim to the intellectual high ground. The appeal to lack of miracles is just one of the post-hoc rationalisations they employ to give their position the necessary veneer of intellectual superiority.

    And yes, if they actually used the lack of “gaps” as a supporting argument for their position, then they wouldn’t be able to dismiss other evidences as “God of the Gaps” arguments out the other side of their mouths. But they do, and that’s the tell with regards to their intellectual honesty, or lack thereof.

  29. TFBW says:

    My point in all of this — and one that you two don’t seem interested in — at the end of the day, arguments about logic and reason in religious belief (including nonbelief) are almost 100 percent bullshit.

    I’ll take this lull in the conversation as an opportunity to address this point. You are correct that I am not interested, and I’ll explain why. While it’s true that most of what passes for “reason” is actually post-hoc rationalisation of a conclusion already chosen for non-rational reasons, this is unimportant, and to dwell on it as though it were important is to commit a genetic fallacy. What matters is whether the argument is good and sound, not whether or not it came prior to or after a commitment to a conclusion. A good argument is in no way damaged by the fact that, prior to the argument being made, some people already believed its conclusion for bad reasons; nor is a good argument damaged by the fact that it exists in a sea of bad arguments.

    I will readily acknowledge that most of the beliefs I hold were originally formulated through cultural osmosis rather than critical thinking. Dawkins likes to use this as though it were some valid form of criticism: he tells people that their religion is almost certainly an accident of birth. It’s largely true, but utterly unimportant: we aren’t born with advanced critical faculties, so it is necessary that we acquire most of our epistemic framework through non-critical means. The sheer necessity of it means that you can either consider the entire programme of human reasoning tainted at its source, or just ignore it as an unremarkable observation. An intellectual charlatan like Dawkins does not commit to one position or the other, but applies one standard to religion and another to science.

    What ultimately matters is not whether one reached a conclusion by strictly rational means, but whether that conclusion can stand up to rational scrutiny. This is what drives the demand for post-hoc rationalisations: a desire to demonstrate that the chosen position does stand up to such scrutiny, because a good critical thinker understands that the conclusion is in peril if it can’t. The main problem with post-hoc rationalisations is that they are particularly prone to confirmation bias, since they are, by definition, built to protect a conclusion already reached. It takes an uncommon degree of intellectual integrity to apply the appropriate amount of harshness when scrutinising one’s own reasoning in such a case, but I encourage everyone to practice that uncompromising severity: not only does it cultivate the virtue of intellectual honesty, but it’s the only way to turn your own critical thinking skills into the kind of refiner’s fire which will actually improve your arguments. Be your own best intellectual opponent, if you can.

    Thus, what matters in the current context is not whether Coyne (for example) actually reached his present atheistic position through rational means (spoiler: he didn’t), but whether the post-hoc rationalisations he offers actually stand up to scrutiny. He claims the intellectual high ground, and offers his reasons, but the “atheism of the gaps” argument demonstrates that his reasoning is based on a premise that he rejects (mocks, even) in other contexts: the premise that “God did it” is a reasonable conclusion if natural explanations are lacking. Like Dawkins, he’s applying one standard to atheism, and another to theism, and leaving just enough of his argument in the realm of the implicit to make this prevarication non-obvious.

    I don’t care that Coyne’s an atheist, and I don’t care why he’s an atheist. I do care that he’s potentially deterring others from coming to know God, and using self-contradictory reasoning dressed up as science to do it. I hate it when people get scammed, and Coyne is promoting a scam whether he recognises it or not—same as anyone else who decries “God of the gaps” arguments out one side of their mouth, and says “a big miracle would be evidence for God” out the other.

  30. pennywit says:

    I seriously disagree with you, TFBW. I find a post-hoc rationalization inevitably tainted by the confirmation bias. And somebody like Dawkins or Dennett, who pretends he used logical reasoning to get to the conclusion (rather than reaching a conclusion, then filling in the logic to confirm his biases) is playing a shell game. He repeats his arguments not to convince others to believe his arguments, but to consider his arguments validated when he repeats them aloud and they face either approbation from his peers or scorn from his opponents.

    It’s not logic or reasoned debate. It’s semi-intellectual masturbation.

    but I encourage everyone to practice that uncompromising severity: not only does it cultivate the virtue of intellectual honesty, but it’s the only way to turn your own critical thinking skills into the kind of refiner’s fire which will actually improve your arguments. Be your own best intellectual opponent, if you can.

    This, incidentally, is why I stopped trying to justify my own irreligiosity on intellectual grounds. I realized that I hadn’t reached that point through reason, but by other means, and that my “logical reasons” were mere justifications. I’ve also spent time over the years (when it suits me and when I have time) examining arguments pro and con on the issue of theism. I’ve generally found the arguments wanting.

    I hate it when people get scammed, and Coyne is promoting a scam whether he recognises it or not—same as anyone else who decries “God of the gaps” arguments out one side of their mouth, and says “a big miracle would be evidence for God” out the other.

    I realize you’re attacking me here. But I’m not bothered. I know what it would take for me to believe in something divine or supernatural — essentially, a divine or supernatural event. If you dislike that, then, well, that’s your opinion.

    I’m not much for scammers myself, which is one reason I am wary of religion in general. (Keep in mind this is a distinction between “religion,” on the one hand, and the existence of a god, on the other). There are far too many people in the world who use religion to manipulate others.

  31. TFBW says:

    I realize you’re attacking me here.

    I’m attacking Coyne. I named him explicitly. I see no reason to attack you. If you wish to be on the receiving end of an insult from me, then my insult is that you aren’t a target worth attacking.

  32. Dhay says:

    The He Lives blog post dated 06 May 2021 and entitled, “How could they see and not believe?”, reflects on people who saw the miracles of Jesus yet did not believe; or rather, the blog author opines, they did believe but only at the uncommitted level of merely intellectual assent.

    His bottom line is:

    So when a skeptic says that he would believe if God rearranged the stars to spell out “Hello World!” in ten languages, he is telling the truth. He would believe, but it wouldn’t be enough.

    https://helives.blogspot.com/2021/05/how-could-they-see-and-not-believe.html

    My understanding of how ANE Jews understood belief is that it involves the full commitment of a person in all their aspects:

    Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy+6%3A4%E2%80%936&version=ESVUK

    Which Jesus echoed, adding in Mark 12:20, “and with all your mind”:

    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark%2012%3A30&version=ESVUK

    Whereas for the skeptic it’s a tick in the box.

  33. Michael says:

    Hardly. That’s the official story of the Science and Reason crowd, sure, but it’s patently false. What actually persuaded Coyne (for example) of the non-existence of God was a Beatles-induced epiphany. As pennywit has correctly pointed out, most of what actually followed after that is merely post-hoc rationalisation of a conclusion to which he is already committed, not a foundation for the conclusion.

    Good point. What’s more, many of these atheist intellectuals became atheists when they were teen-agers, not a time of life characterized by a committment to reason. 😉

    Anyway, I should have said something more like, “They need miracles because the rationalization for their atheism/agnosticism is built on the lack of miracles.”

  34. J.D. says:

    Christ even lost a great swath of his original followers because they wanted selfish miracles like more bread and fish, rather than the miracle of repentance.

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