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Austin Cline

Arrogance of Atheism

By June 29, 2013

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Are atheists arrogant for insisting that theists support their claims before we accept them as true? I've seen many attempts to argue that atheists are arrogant, but this is an unusual one. It's a serious sign of weakness, I think, when someone starts whining about having to support their assertions.

This isn't something we'd accept under any other circumstances. We would not, for example, allow a used car salesman to call customers "arrogant" for expecting documentation to support claims about a car they're selling. In fact, I'm sure Christians wouldn't accept this sort of thing from a person who's part of another religion. So why should it suddenly apply to atheists?

Ryft Braeloch wrote a couple of years ago:

The really frustrating thing about most atheists--at least those who enjoy debating against Christian theism--is that they presuppose the truth of their system of belief and then tacitly insist their Christian opponent work within the framework of that system. ... This is implicitly demonstrated in challenges such as, "Provide evidence that God exists." The relevance of evidence, and even what constitutes evidence, are defined by his system of thought.

Ryft doesn't like being held to the standard of having to provide evidence for his claims. Actually, though, I suspect that he only objects to being held to that standard when it comes to claims about his god -- I'll bet that he is quite comfortable with that standard in every other situation. Would he, for example, object to scientists having to provide evidence for their scientific claims? Would he object to prosecutors having to provide evidence in support of murder charges brought against him? Unlikely.

It's fair to question the nature of what evidence is expected in support of a claim, but trying to exempt one's own personal god-claims from a standard used pretty much all the rest of the time in other situations is an example of the Special Pleading fallacy. If someone really thinks that some particular claim merits being exempt, they'll have to provide a sound logical argument in defense of that claim. Of course, sound logical arguments is another one of those standards that atheists typically apply to god-claims -- just the sort of thing Ryft is complaining about.

The whole thing strikes me as an admission that one's god-claims can't stand up to the same critical scrutiny that all other claims are expected to and, so, the only recourse is to try to deny that those standards should be employed. Convenient, eh?

Comments
November 14, 2008 at 11:54 pm
(1) david says:

“provide evidence of god’s existence” is not good enough to disapprove the existence of deity(s).

Just like theism, atheism is based on personal perspective as well. There are no evidences to prove theism is true, but there are no evidences to prove atheism is true as well.

November 15, 2008 at 8:15 am
(2) Austin Cline says:

There are no evidences to prove theism is true, but there are no evidences to prove atheism is true as well.

Atheism is not a proposition that can be “true” or “false.” Atheism is simply the absence of belief in gods.

August 17, 2009 at 3:57 am
(3) Ryft Braeloch says:

David is correct, for what he is describing is the intellectual bankruptcy of the Argument from Ignorance fallacy; i.e., one cannot claim that a proposition false on account that it has not been proven true. Kudos to David for possessing that insight.

Atheism is not a proposition that can be “true” or “false.” Atheism is simply the absence of belief in gods.

Atheism is, in fact, a proposition whose truth value can be evaluated. Inherent to atheism of every conceivable stripe is the proposition that “God is not required.” Atheism is the conscious rejection of theism; on the one hand, due to no compelling evidence (weak atheism), on the other hand, due to compelling evidence to the contrary (strong atheism). At the heart of either form of atheism lies the proposition that “God is not required” to account for anything—a proposition open to critical evaluation.

P.S. The invitation I extended to you, Mr. Cline, to interact with my rebuttal of your article is still open. Although I had to rewrite it, I would still value your input—as would your readers, I suspect.

August 17, 2009 at 6:15 am
(4) Austin Cline says:

Atheism is, in fact, a proposition

Atheism is the absence of belief in gods, which is not a proposition.

Inherent to atheism of every conceivable stripe is the proposition that “God is not required.”

You’re welcome to show how, if you can.

Atheism is the conscious rejection of theism;

Except that one is an atheist even when one hasn’t heard of any gods, and one is an atheist with regards to any gods they have not heard of.

P.S. The invitation I extended to you, Mr. Cline, to interact with my rebuttal of your article is still open.

If you have any rebuttals to make, you are welcome to make them here — though I have little reason to expect them to be characterized by any better logic or reasoning than your original article.

August 22, 2009 at 6:06 pm
(5) MAS2008 says:

Ryft Braeloch
I must reject your proposition, no one can legitimately be as stupid as your comments make you appear. Ignorance can be fixed and dishonesty is another matter all together. Since you have access to the tools of learning, I can only conclude dishonesty on your part.

September 7, 2009 at 9:55 am
(6) Ryft Braeloch says:

MAS2008,

You reject my “proposition” because my comments make me appear to be “stupid”? Colour me thoroughly underwhelmed by such ad hominem.

September 7, 2009 at 9:57 am
(7) Ryft Braeloch says:

THE NATURE OF THE ARROGANCE

It is both obvious and clear that Austin Cline grossly misunderstood my argument. For example, his opening paragraph begins with the question, "Are atheists arrogant for insisting that theists support their claims before accepting them as true?" Cline describes it as an "unusual" way to demonstrate the arrogance of atheism, proving that his attempted rebuttal missed the force of my argument entirely—which had nothing to do with atheists insisting that theistic claims be supported but rather how they insist those claims be supported.

That is to say, the arrogance of atheism is proven by atheists who "presuppose the truth of their system of belief and then tacitly insist their Christian opponent work within the framework of that system" while prohibiting by fiat any competing epistemic structure in the field of debate. The force of my argument is found in the following juxtaposition:

If it is permissible and valid for

the Atheist to presuppose the truth of his system of thought and expect the Christian to work within the framework of that system,

then it is equally permissible and valid for

the Christian to presuppose the truth of his system of thought and expect the Atheist to work within the framework of that system.

If an atheist disagrees with this—Cline included—then he shoulders "the epistemic responsibility for explaining why the only presuppositions permitted in the field of debate are his own," for which no rational argument can actually be anticipated.

When Cline says, "Ryft doesn’t like being held to the standard of having to provide evidence for his claims," he could not possibly get it more wrong. His rebuttal is an intellectual disaster. What I dislike is having an atheist shove his beliefs down my throat, which he does by pretending that his is the only legitimate epistemic structure while at the same time prohibiting, by his sacrosanct fiat, every other from the field of debate.

The epistemic structure of Christian theism has exactly equal validity as the one affirmed by the atheist. And the atheist cannot present an argument against this which presupposes the truth of his epistemic structure lest he commits the logical fallacy of Begging the Question.

THE NATURE OF EVIDENCE

Cline suggests that it is legitimate or fair to question the nature of evidence expected for some claim, and then attempts to assert that "trying to exempt one’s own personal god-claims from a standard used pretty much all the rest of the time in other situations is an example of the Special Pleading fallacy."

Wrong. This fallacy is committed only when "someone argues that a case is an exception to a rule based upon an irrelevant characteristic that does not define an exception" (FallacyFiles.org; emphasis added). Empirical claims require empirical evidence; however, God-claims are not empirical claims. To demand that empirical evidence be provided for non-empirical claims is to commit a gross categorical error. It is akin to someone demanding that the Law of Non-Contradiction (a non-empirical claim) be proved with empirical evidence. The nature of evidence must correspond to the nature of the claim.

CONCLUSION

The arrogance of atheism is not proven by atheists demanding that theists support their claims. It is proven by their vituperative denial that competing epistemic structures have exactly equal validity, whereby they shove their beliefs down other people’s throats by pretending that theirs is the only legitimate epistemic structure while at the same time prohibiting or disallowing—by empty fiat—every other from the field of debate.

And it is irrational to expect non-empirical claims to be substantiated by empirical evidence, for that commits a categorical error. The nature of evidence must correspond to the nature of the claim: empirical evidence for empirical claims, non-empirical evidence for non-empirical claims.

— Source

September 7, 2009 at 10:25 am
(8) Austin Cline says:

That is to say, the arrogance of atheism is proven by atheists who "presuppose the truth of their system of belief and then tacitly insist their Christian opponent work within the framework of that system" while prohibiting by fiat any competing epistemic structure in the field of debate.

1. Asking someone to support their claims leaves open for discussion how their claims may be supported. It doesn’t necessarily presuppose any particular way is the only acceptable way.

2. There is no single “atheist” belief system.

3. Everyone presupposes the truth of their beliefs — believing something means thinking it is true, after all.

The fact is, you are attributing to others an attitude which you made up in your own mind, then call that a sign of arrogance. The only arrogance is your presumption to speak for others.

When Cline says, “Ryft doesn’t like being held to the standard of having to provide evidence for his claims,” he could not possibly get it more wrong.

Except that, once again, the “real” interpretation that you insist is true involves you making up things then attributing them to others.

What I dislike is having an atheist shove his beliefs down my throat

Yeah, why don’t you point to someone actually doing that before whining that this is your “true” argument.

The epistemic structure of Christian theism has exactly equal validity as the one affirmed by the atheist.

Feel free to describe that “epistemic structure” and demonstrate how/why it has “equal validity,” whatever that means.

Empirical claims require empirical evidence; however, God-claims are not empirical claims.

Only when the god claims or “god” in question come with no empirical implications.

To demand that empirical evidence be provided for non-empirical claims is to commit a gross categorical error.

If your alleged god comes with no empirical implications or effects, then feel free to explain how it differs from a god that doesn’t exit — or is at least irrelevant.

Oh, and before I forget, I’d love to hear you explain how the Christian system comes with no empirical claims. This would include historical claims, which are necessary empirical in nature. I notice that you don’t actually justify your assertion that your religious or theistic claims are not empirical in any way. Unless and until you can, you are indeed committing the Special Pleading fallacy because you have not established the existence of a characteristic that “defines” your alleged “exception.”

The arrogance of atheism is not proven by atheists demanding that theists support their claims. It is proven by their vituperative denial that competing epistemic structures have exactly equal validity

I’m still waiting for you to point to a person doing this. In the meantime, I think that the only arrogance here is yours for making up nonsense then pretending that it’s truth which you can criticize.

empirical evidence for empirical claims, non-empirical evidence for non-empirical claims.

Interesting. I look forward to your explanation of what “non-empirical evidence” is and how it qualifies as evidence for something.

September 11, 2009 at 2:54 pm
(9) Paul says:

I have discovered that an ‘atheist’ is someone ‘who does not believe in my god’. I have hear Catholics called atheist, Muslims called atheist, Jews called atheists, along with those of us who truely do not believe in god. Evengelical Christians especially think that anyone who does not believe in their god and worship in their way is an atheist. I believe that Christ is a myth but there might be a god of some type.

Paul

September 11, 2009 at 4:18 pm
(10) AtheistGeophysicistBob says:

Ryft Braeloch (3, 6, 7). “To be ignorant of one’s ignorance is the malady of the ignorant.” – Amos B. Alcott

September 12, 2009 at 1:10 am
(11) Zack says:

“Ryft Braeloch” is a gothish-looking 37-year-old Canadian named David Smart. He seems to crave serious regard as a thinker, yet chooses to wage his “war on error” under a nom de guerre that the Comic Book Guy would be embarrassed to use for World of Warcraft. Maybe he fears that his readers will confuse him with that better-known Smart, the one who had a phone in his shoe. Ah, well. Genius often comes garbed in eccentricity, and Mr. Smart is no doubt a complex man — a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

Mr. Smart’s expertise in “the nature of arrogance” is most clearly revealed in the selected quotes which adorn his, um, “Aristophrenium.” (Mortals less sensitive to the music of language would probably just call it their blog.)

Einstein is graced with 352 words on Mr. Smart’s quotes page. Aristotle gets 77. Francis Bacon squeaks by with 25. T.S. Eliot (which the self-described “grammar Nazi” renders as “Thomas Elliot”) makes a cameo appearance with 9 words.

So with space on the quotes page at such a premium, how many indispensably quotable words does David Smart portion out to David Smart? Why, the answer quantifies his natural modesty in three humble digits: 908.

Yes, gentle reader, your math is correct. David Smart, self-appointed admonisher of the arrogant, finds himself about three times as quotable as man who produced the General Theory of Relativity, and one hundred times as quotable as the author of “The Waste Land.”

How can one adequately express one’s feeling when such an exalted eminence has deigned to grace the rabble of misguided atheists with his unique insights? It is — what’s the word? — humbling.

September 12, 2009 at 1:28 am
(12) seathanaich says:

Nicely done, Zack.

September 12, 2009 at 1:31 am
(13) seathanaich says:

Nicely done, Zack.

Mr Smart is forced to do his work online because if he opened his mouth in public in Canada he’d be tuned out, laughed off, or told to get stuffed.

September 12, 2009 at 10:09 pm
(14) Tom Edgar says:

Oh Heck! Get Smart… Zack If you had been on the ack ack guns in London never a bomb would have been dropped.

Shot down and using blanks too. I wonder if he is SMART enough to duck for cover.

Did you know that a Zack was the Australian slang (old money) for a six pence piece? Used to be worth something then, evidently still is.

September 13, 2009 at 10:16 pm
(15) Tom Edgar says:

Just in case David Smart isn’t smarting and actually does want to respond, unlikely.

My wife once said of our then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, a man of towering stature and intellect, also an atheist. He is so arrogant, but you can forgive him as he has enough attributes to justify the stance.

So Mr Smart. My atheism is simply NO BELIEF, in the existence of gods as I have never seen verifiable evidence of their existence. In that statement is all the justification for my attitude. I do not have to prove the existence of the non existent. All that atheists asks of theists is that you prove us wrong. To do that, supply the evidence supporting your beliefs. In other words your evidence for the existence of something you claim exists.

Until you do, I’m afraid I really am arrogant in believing that in this area I am a superior thinker
Unlike you and others, I am quite willing to listen to your sensible proofs but so far I have never seen any.

From your ramblings, I hesitate to call them anything else as they are only, to my mind, tautological, polysyllabic, philosophical profundities, that culminate in nothing but esoteric
euphemisms without any substance. In short. You are just a wordy windbag.

July 6, 2013 at 12:45 pm
(16) Gerald Vanderhoff says:

Theists insist that a universe of infinite size was created just for them, that they can alter probabilities by just asking politely, and that the ultimate fate of us all depends on how much we agree with them.

And, when we disagree, we are the ones who are called “arrogant”.

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