I got another response to my blog post. Following are the commenter’s rebuttals, then my responses. Since the commenter was kind enough to take the time to do this, I will address them seriously, with no satire (which was, I think, clearly the point of the original post I wrote).
Other than the naturalistic fallacy and nit-picking over the term “materialism” problems here also include:
1) Confusions about the “requirements of atheism”.
2) Lumping together of all religions as valuing blind faith.
3) Needless underestimation of the resources available to those people who do only countenance observational statements as evidence. (Read your Van Fraassen…)
4) A bizarre argument that seems to hinge on an unstated premise that if x believes p then x’s statements cannot be evidence of ~p.
5) I actually like the translation of “kanah” as “jealous”, but “zealous” is more traditional.
6) I’m not sure what the argument against divine outlawing of thought crimes is. The usual arguments against doing so hinge on the fallibility of the enforcing and legislating agencies.
7) Incest is banned in the bible, repeatedly. He kinda misses the point completely in the argument against the claim that Christianity is not a wish-fulfilling religion, which is an even more egregious failing when you consider how bad the original argument is.
9) The Jerome argument involves a straw man–no one would claim that the relevant difference between a random madman and Jerome is temporal location.
10) The argument from cultural differences is awful. It’s always been awful. The same argument can be run against the truth of scientific claims–sometimes some people latch onto the truth better than others.
11) Facts about specific past events, within a given observer’s light cone, are falsifiable.
12) The article randomly argues against a claim the original author never made re: burden of proof.
13) Nowhere near every religion advocates recruitment.
I’d feel bad being so critical, but since the article is itself critical of someone else, I don’t so much.
1.) There are no requirements to atheism. Consider it the default. Anyone who believes something invisible needs to justify it, not the other way around. When you think about it, it’s at least a bit strange that I have to give myself a title to illustrate the fact that I have no belief in the supernatural/superstitious.
2.) At some point, every religion requires blind faith in something unprovable. I think you must concede this point.
3.) I’ll admit I am not well-studied in van Fraasen’s work, but I know a bit. He is certainly a voluntarist, which is generally considered the antithesis of the intellectual. I’m not sure I see a use for such philosophies, save for the sake of comparison of utility. In addition, ontology, while certainly interesting and worthy of study, by definition leaves the realm of the empirical. Its practical applications are limited. I feel the same way about religion. You may ask the “big questions” but if you tell me you have the only right “answer” I will disagree every time. And I think it goes without saying that I do not support legislating religious doctrine, which is my largest qualm with religious adherents/activists.
4.) I’m not following this one.
5.) I know that the King James Version (pretty much the de facto standard, I think you’d agree) uses “jealous” many times and, until very recently, that’s the only translation I’d ever heard. So I don’t know if “zealous” can be considered traditional. Rather, it seems like a newer translation meant to soften the words of the wrathful God of the Old Testament. Again, of this I claim no absolute certainty, but the abundance of usage of this term historically suggests that I am correct.
6.) The idea that such a thing as a “thought crime” can exist and be punished is not acceptable. In fact, it is downright Orwellian. (though, admittedly, the Bible preceded Orwell by quite a span.) I just don’t see how admonishing a non-action can be considered moral. No harm is ever done with thought; what is there to punish?
7.) While the OT does indeed ban many acts of incest, it bans fewer than we would consider acceptable in modernity. Specifically, father-daughter sexual contact is not explicitly restricted in the Deuteronomic Code which, I think you’d agree, constitutes the majority of Mosaic Law. Make of that what you will, but either the “prophet” goofed in interpreting God’s will (and what use is such a prophet then?), or God changed his mind, a claim which is generally considered blasphemous. In addition, the main crux of this point is that the Bible allows a slew of immoral acts.
And as for Christianity not being a wish-fulfilling religion, I disagree. Most people “wish” that there is some “eternal award” to be had after death. In addition, the whole “meek shall inherit the earth” concept is a mix of hopeful fantasy and karmic retribution. Most modern religions tend to embrace these basic concepts.
9.) But this is exactly my point. Catholics revere these “Church Doctors,” yet a great many of their acts are either insane, immoral, or a combination of both. This is not to say that such people would have nothing of value to say, but considering that the Catholic Church’s Tradition (with a big T) stems largely from the writings of Augustine (another fanatic), a natural tendency for the non-believer to be skeptical of such doctrine seems only natural to me.
10.) Calling the cultural difference argument awful, does not make it so. The fact that local religions incorporate local customs and ideals based on their given geography/culture/heritage does, in fact, lend some objectivity to what is mainly a subjective debate. I’m showing that there are (and have been) thousands of different religions throughout the course of history. This presents a problem for those who adhere to a single religion whether you’re willing to accept this evidence or not.
11.) Partially correct. Christianity is based on the premise that, for a brief time, the laws of physics as we know them were suspended to allow a corporeal reanimation to take place. I don’t have to “disprove God” to disprove Christianity. If there was a way to show that Jesus of Nazareth did not actually rise from the dead, it blows the whole thing to smithereens. Admittedly, we can conceive of ways to determine the veracity of this claim. Thus, the commenter is correct in saying that the “Easter Miracle” is, indeed, falsifiable. However, given the complete lack of verifiable events similar to this supposed resurrection, Christianity’s claims seems doubtful at best, since the evidence is extremely scarce, and not very solid at that. On the other hand, proving that God exists in general is, as I said previously, unfalsifiable.
12.) You are correct. The “burden of proof” point was something I added because I felt it was a natural extension of my post, and it is an argument I have heard many times. I could have made that more clear.
13.) I suppose this could be true. But up until very recently, recruitment to Christianity was violent and compulsory, and apostasy was met with similar wrath. In addition, for most of history, non-believers were assumed to be perdition-bound. Newly-softened doctrine, in the case of some religions at least, put some modicum of an end to this. (Apologies for all the hyphens.)
I guess the main point I was trying to make in all this was that, using the author’s piece as an example, public declarations of faith are unnecessary and, frankly, rude. Atheists are often accused of being “militant,” but his is inaccurate. My article would never have existed had DeStefano’s op-ed–telling me why I am wrong for viewing the world with reasoned logic via physical evidence–not appeared in a nationally available newspaper. I felt I had to respond to such arrogant claims that Biblical writings somehow “undermine” atheism, since one cannot undermine an institution that doesn’t actually exist, and whose designation is simply a negation of supernatural beliefs.
Remember, atheism is a label provided for me by the religious. I don’t need it. No one in their right mind would call me an “a-pantheist,” or an “astrology doubter.” Why must I reject, by title, your superstition of choice? I’m perfectly happy to go about my studies without calling myself anything in particular. I simply don’t like being told what to do based on claims of divine authority and why I’m wrong about how I view the cosmos.
Now, on the other hand, it should be noted that I harbor no ill will toward the average church-goer–just in their ridiculous beliefs. Ridicule in the literal sense. That is “deserving of ridicule.” If the guy next to you on the subway says he talks to Jesus, you back away quickly, you don’t wait around for him to feed you bread and wine. Both of my parents are deeply religious, and I have a problem with that. I think it’s silly. But this doesn’t mean I don’t love them for all that they’ve done for me. In any event, I really appreciate all comments, whether I agree with them or not, and I say that with no sarcasm or malice. So, thank you to the commenter, and thanks to those who read this as well.