Apologetical fallacies about atheism
It seems some theists like to straw man atheism as the opposite assertion to the claim that a god exists and then proceed to knock down that straw man, as Imran Aijaz does here:
“…..is correct in noting that the theist who makes a positive claim regarding God’s existence is obliged to give reasons in support of that contention. This, however, does not mean that atheism is the default position unless sound arguments for theism exist, since atheism too is a positive claim about the nature of reality (emphasis added). “Atheism,” writes Jeaneane Fowler “is clearly naturalism versus supernaturalism.” And so, it is, as Madalyn Murray O’Hair explains, “based upon a materialist philosophy, which holds that nothing exists but natural phenomena. There are no supernatural forces or entities, nor can there be any. Nature simply exists.” This is quite a remarkable claim! Since theist and atheist make positive claims about the nature of reality (unlike the agnostic who suspends judgement), the burden of proof is on them both to substantiate their respective positions of supernaturalism and naturalism.” (Aijaz 2002)
Aijaz has conflated naturalism and materialism with atheism, this is fallacious as: “all materialists are atheists, but not all atheists are materialists” (the same applies to naturalism)! It is also dishonest to use a quote from Madalyn Murray O’Hair which is about materialism, not atheism (if it is about atheism it makes no mention of it). We can agree with Aijaz, that naturalism and materialism are not default positions, but then again, no-one is claiming they are.
As Ravi Zacharias embarrassingly does so in his book The Real Face of Atheism:
“By definition, atheism is the doctrine of belief that there is no God (emphasis added). It is an affirmation of God’s nonexistence (emphasis added). Postulating the non-existence of God, atheism immediately commits the blunder of an absolute negation, which is self-contradictory. For to sustain the belief that there is no God, it has to demonstrate infinite knowledge, which is tantamount to saying, “I have infinite knowledge that there is no being in existence with infinite knowledge.” (Zacharias 2004)
Atheism has been clearly demonstrated to not mean the above definition, here; Zacharias is attempting to define atheism by a standard it doesn’t adhere to, then proceed to demolish this misrepresentation. This is intellectually dishonest and a perfect representation of a strawman fallacy. Zacharias shows no engagement with the atheist position, he provdes no clarification that he is talking about strong atheism, naturalism, materialism etc, he simply throws a label out, with zero substantiation.
As J.P Moreland does in his book The God Question:
“First, happiness, meaning to life, human flourishing are impossible if there is no God. Your only hope for having a deeply important and rich life is if God, particularly the Christian God, exists.“ (Moreland Pg- 152, 2009)
A claim like this is simply incongruent with reality, moreover its a projection of Moreland’s views of how life would be if he lost his God, not how atheists, agnostics, secularists and people of other religions etc live. It is simply contradicted by the happy people who don’t subscibe to his worldviews and falsified by the instance of any miserable believers (of which I know some).
As William Lane Craig strawmans repeatedly in his book On Guard:
“The atheistic worldview is insufficient to maintain a happy and consistent life (emphasis added)… If we try to live within the atheistic worldview, we shall find ourselves profoundly unhappy.” (Craig 2010)
It is possible when Craig discusses an atheistic “worldview” that he is in fact talking about naturalism or materialism, but to claim that these philosophies provide no happiness? Well these are extravagant truth claims, it may be true for Craig that these philosophies didn’t provide him with any pleasure, but it is not true for the rest of us. Remember, that this is taken on the (quite generous) assumption he is simply talking about atheistic worldviews and not atheism itself. If he is discussing atheism he is wrong as atheism is not a worldview, it is a response to a claim, a claim I might add, theists have failed to substantiate to us all.
“If atheism is true (emphasis added), the universe has no explanation of its existence.” (Craig Pg- 59, 2010)
Atheism isn’t “true” in the “backed by evidence” sense. Craig is attempting to switch the burden of proof (a fallacy) to make it so atheists have to disprove his God, or prove that a god or gods don’t exist. This is not an atheist’s job. Until theists demonstrate their God’s existence (as the burden of proof lies on them, the claimant) atheism is “the only game in town”, hence “true” by that standard (even if it is clunky terminology). If atheism is “true” as Craig put’s it, the universe has several tentatively held theories backed by evidence as possible explanations for it’s existence, which his God, as an explanation, does not have (for example: what is God’s mechanism, how did God do it?)
“This is simply the faith of the atheist (emphasis added).” (Craig Pg- 76, 2010)
Atheists and atheism does not have “faith” in the religious sense, at least it is not a necessary condition of atheism (this isn’t to say some atheists don’t hold some faith-based notions) an atheist has “reasonable expectations” about things that can be inductively known, such as “my car won’t explode, when I get into it tomorrow”, or “eating breakfast won’t poison me”. The reasonable expectation in these kinds of statements is (a) not faith, (b) not what Craig is talking about (he is talking about religious faith, faith in an intangible, immaterial, transcendent being) and (c) is explained by the principle of induction. Craig is equivocating the 2 erroneously and fallaciously.
“The point is that rejecting design arguments for God’s existence does nothing to prove that atheism is true (emphasis added), or that belief in God is unjustified.” (Craig Pg- 121, 2010)
This would be true, if atheism were asserting something, a weak atheist need only poke holes, demonstrate fallacies and internal contradictions in theist’s theories to maintain their atheism as justified. Under this definition, rejecting design arguments (under which you could only do if they were faulty) is exactly what an atheist needs to do to maintain their atheist position. Craig misses the point.
“What many atheists do at this point is to revise the definition of atheism, so that its’ no longer the view that God does not exist but becomes merely the lack of belief in God. Anyone who lacks a belief in God counts as an atheist. This is not only contrary to the traditional meaning of the word, but it is really a hopeless definition. For on this definition it is no longer a viewpoint or a position.” (Craig Pg -150, 2010)
There is no need to hide or retreat to a definition you wear proudly. Under the “lack of belief” response it is harder for Craig to make wild assertions about what an atheist is and believes (though he still seems to). Again we see a strawman fallacy of atheism in the words “For on this definition it is no longer a viewpoint or a position”, which it never was. It was only ever asserted as such by theists who attempt to misrepresent it. As stated in the “atheism” blog: “atheism isn’t a worldview, just as theism isn’t.” You think Craig would get this. He is trying to pit atheism against Christianity, but what would be more appropriate would be to pit naturalism or materialism against Christianity, as these after all, are competing worldviews.
Alistair McGrath (a critic of Richard Dawkins) and Gary Habermas are famous for this as well, as they demonstrate in the book God is Good, God is Great:
“As many have suggested atheism is the religion of modernity (emphasis added) . (Or should we say “worldview“)” (McGrath Pg- 123, 2009)
Pure nonsense. This is a common attempt to align atheism as a religion. What McGrath doesn’t seem to understand, is that a hidden assumption in this statement is that the atheist’s supposed “religion” is without intellectual and evidential merit (just like his is). If it did have intellectual and evidential merit, like he would assume his does,what would be the point in mentioning atheism is a religion?
We can’t assume even for the sake of argument that atheism is a religion, because what claims does atheism make? What doctrines does it have? What Holy texts? Now, I can see theists saying something like: “atheists make the claim that there is no god or gods.” Let’s assume for the sake of argument that is the truth, that atheism entails nothing but that one claim. So what? What else does it say? In the sense that, if it is only making one claim (and atheists might argue as to the validity of that statement and those that do accept it, might also argue as to the intensity with which they might argue that position), how can it possibly be a religion? Religions are worldviews, they prescribe a reality. But atheism, even strong atheism, say nothing about the world, other than a God does not exist. It can still allow for the supernatural, it can still allow for the unknown, it posits nothing positively about creation, existence, consciousness etc, other than a god or gods didn’t do it, but what does this tell us about what did do it? Absoultely nothing. You have to wonder why this statement is trotted out.
“Atheism is just fine when it remains nothing more than ideas, discussed in university seminar rooms. But when it grasps political power, it turns out to be as bad as anything else.” (McGrath Pg-127, 2009)
Atheism cannot grasp political power; it isn’t an ideology, or a political scheme. It is the lack of a positive belief. It is seemingly not possible for a lack of belief to cause action (positive or negative), thought it might be correlated with it. Causation is only possible on positive belief i.e. “I believe I want to run for president”, you wouldn’t say “I want to run for president because I lack the belief that I want to run for president.” It’s illogical.
“This might surprise you, but even atheist’s live by faith,including the so-called New Atheists. They operate on the belief that there is no Creator, no higher moral law to which they are accountable, no divine judgement and no afterlife. They can’t prove any these things. They don’t know for a fact that there is no God (emphasis added), a spiritual standard, a day of reckoning or existence after death.” (Habermas Pg- 218, 2009)
Again as Zacharias did earlier, Habarmas defines atheism by terms he likes, and then proceeds to knock down that strawman he’s created. Very impressive sure, but ultimately fallacious. He’s also switching the burden of proof, it is not up to the atheist to prove anything, as we are not making a claim, it is up to those who believe the claims made, to demonstrate them, failing that, disbelief is the default position. Habermas makes multiple claims here: “They operate on the belief that there is no Creator, no higher moral law to which they are accountable, no divine judgement and no afterlife.” Aside from the fact that none of this applies to a weak atheist, why can’t an atheist believe in the afterlife? Or a higher (presumably objective) moral law? Or a spiritual standard etc? As long as these things do not entail a god or gods, even the strong atheist can accept such things.
These tactics are abundant in Christian literature, these references are from 4 books, it gives you an indication what exactly the Christian population is learning about atheism, and atheists.
Aijaz I., (2002). Does God Exist? Imran Aijaz’s First Rebuttal: Critique of Dr. Cooke’s Arguments for Atheism. 30/12/2010. http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/bill_cooke/cooke-aijaz/aijaz2.html
Craig W.L., (2010) On Guard. Lee Vance View, Colorado Springs. David C. Cook. Pp- 59,76, 121, 150.
Habermas G., (2009). God Is Good, God Is Great (ed. William Lane Craig and Chad Meister). Downers Grove, IL. InterVarsity Press. Pp-218.
McGrath A., (2009). God Is Good, God Is Great (ed. William Lane Craig and Chad Meister). Downers Grove, IL. InterVarsity Press. Pp- 123, 127.
Moreland J.P., (2009). The God Question. Eugene, Oregon. Harvest House Publishers. Pp-152.
Zacharias R., (2007). The Real Face of Atheism. Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Books. Pp- 36.