Ignorance, thy name is… (1/31)

31 01 2009

Ross Douthat.

His ill fated attempt to refute Russell’s Teapot begins thus:

This analogy – like its modern descendant, the Flying Spaghetti Monster – makes a great deal of sense if you believe that the idea of God is an absurdity dreamed up by crafty clerics in darkest antiquity and subsequently imposed on the human mind by force and fear, and that it only survives for want of brave souls willing to note how inherently absurd the whole thing is. As you might expect, I see the genesis of religion rather differently: An intuitive belief in some sort of presiding Agent seems to be an extremely common, albeit hardly universal, feature of human nature; this intuition has intersected, historically, with an enormous amount of subjective religious experience;

I smell burning straw man. Where did he get the idea that atheists think that god was invented purposefully by some shadowy cabal for purposes of control? Sure, it’s been used for control, but even Christians admit that.

And as for his defense of religion (as opposed to attack on atheism), well, it doesn’t work very well. “Intuitive” doesn’t provide a shred of evidence. Quantum physics aren’t intuitive, but they’re also essentially correct. That solid objects are not mostly empty space is intuitive. It’s also dead wrong. And the plural of “anecdotes” is not data.

The story of our civilization, in particular, is a story in which an extremely large circle of non-insane human beings have perceived themselves to be experiencing an interaction with a being who seems recognizable as the Judeo-Christian God (here I do feel comfortable using the term), rather than merely being taught about Him in Sunday School. I am unaware of anything similar holding true for orbiting pots or flying noodle beasts.

Delusion has nothing to do with sanity. Perfectly sane people delude themselves all the time. Even Ross, if he had stopped to think for, well, actually, if he had stopped to think at all, would agree with that. After all, he presumably does not think that all atheists are insane, but he also seems to think that we are victims of a delusion.

And without the persistence of this perceived interaction (and beneath it, the intuitive belief in some kind of God), it’s difficult to imagine religious belief playing anything like the role it does in human affairs, no matter how many ancient scriptures there were propping the whole thing up.

Um…the interactions happen. But as his own sentence says, it is only a perceived interaction, not an actual interaction.

This is not to say that humanity’s religious experiences and intuitions are anything like a dispositive argument for the existence of God. Certainly, there are all sorts of interesting efforts to explain them without recourse to the hypothesis that they correspond to anything real, and all kinds of reasons to choose atheism over faith. But it is one thing to disbelieve in God; it is quite another to never feel a twinge of doubt about one’s own disbelief.

If they are easily explained by other things apart from god, and we already know these things to be real, why is he even bothering treating them as evidence?

And just as the Christian who has never entertained doubts about his faith probably hasn’t thought hard enough about the matter, the atheist who perceives the Christian God and the flying spaghetti monster as equally ridiculous hypotheses really needs to get out more often.

And now we see the true color of his (and all) apologetics: it’s true because I say so. There is quite literally no reason that the FSM is less ridiculous than Yahweh. Not one. The two are, in every component of the evidence for their existence, equal.

(via PZ)




One response

1 02 2009

Heck, even classical mechanical physics is not intuitive at all. Who would have guessed that if you have a hollow sphere with electric charge, inside it there is no charge at all while it extends to the outside for some distance.

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