Excerpt From "Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End"

I've decided to provide excerpts from my works for consideration. Here's one from Unapologetic, "Chapter 4: Case Studies in Atheistic Philosophy of Religion."

In Defense of the New Atheists

My specialties are theology, philosophical theology and especially apologetics. I am an expert on these subjects even though it’s very hard to have a good grasp of them all. Now it’s one thing for theologically unsophisticated intellectuals like Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Stenger to argue against religion. It’s quite another thing for a theologically sophisticated intellectual like myself to defend them by saying they are within their epistemic rights to denounce religion from their perspectives. And I do. I can admit they lack the sophistication to understand and respond point for point to sophisticated theology. But it doesn’t matter. The reason is because all sophisticated theology is based in faith: faith in the Bible--or Koran or Bhagavad Gita--as the word of God, and/or faith in the Nicene creed (or other creeds), and/or faith in a church, synagogue or temple. No amount of sophistication changes this.

The reason there is sophisticated theology in the first place is because Christians are responding to their critics by reinventing their faith every decade. Atheists are trying to hit a moving target and when we hit it then it morphs into something different as I previously argued.[1]

I’ve read some unsophisticated responses to sophisticated theology. These responses lacked a particular distinction, or a precise definition of a term, or they failed to take into consideration a recent study that says X,Y,Z. But I have found that by using the principle of charity their arguments are still good ones despite this lack.

Take for example the main argument Richard Dawkins used in his bestselling book, The God Delusion, called the Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit. If “properly deployed” he claims, it “comes close to proving that God does not exist.” He argues, “However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the Ultimate Boeing 747.”[2]

Richard Dawkins has been widely criticized for this Gambit since he was supposedly ignorant of the fact that God is believed to be a metaphysically simple being, not a complex one.[3] Atheist philosopher of religion Erik Wielenberg makes this point:
A central element of my critique is that Dawkins’s Gambit provides no reason at all to doubt some of the most widely-held versions of the target of his attack, the God Hypothesis. I do not know exactly how much theology one needs to know to disprove the existence of God, but one needs to know at least enough theology to understand the various widely-held conceptions of God. In general, in order to argue effectively against a given hypothesis, one needs to know enough to characterize that hypothesis accurately. Furthermore, if one intends to disprove God’s existence, it is hardly reasonable to dismiss criticisms of one’s putative disproof on the grounds that God doesn’t exist anyway. Thus, the central atheistic argument of The God Delusion is unconvincing…[4]
Dawkins did not respond to these types of criticisms for a decade until Reason Rally was held in Washington, DC, in 2016, a gathering of atheists. In a video-taped message he said this:
Some of our best theologians, if indeed theology is a subject that can be good at all, if theology is a subject at all, some of our best theologians prophetically tried to argue that “far from being complex, god is simple.” There is no limit to the explanatory purposes to which the simple god’s infinite power is put. “Is science having a little difficulty explaining X, no problem. Don’t give X another glance.” God’s infinite power is effortlessly wheeled in to explain X along with everything else. And it’s always a simple explanation, because after all, there is only one god. What could be simpler than that?

The effrontery of it is beyond astounding. This supposedly simple god had to know how to set the nuclear force 1039 times stronger than gravity. He had to calculate with similar exactitude the requisite values of half-a-dozen critical numbers – the fundamental constants of physics. Do you, with your prodigiously complex brain, understand quantum mechanics? I don’t! Yet god, that paragon of ultimate pure simplicity, not only understands it, but invented it. Plus special and general relativity, plus the Higg’s boson, and dark matter. Finally, the icing on the cake, on top of being the ultimate mathematics and physics genius; this “simple” god has enough bandwidth to listen to the prayers of billions of people simultaneously in all the world’s languages. He hears their confessed sins and decides which should be forgiven. He weighs out which cancer patients shall recover, which earthquake victims shall be spared; even who shall win a tennis match or a parking space. God may be almighty, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving. But the one thing he cannot be, if he is even to minimally meet his job description, is all-simple. The statistical argument against the divine designer remains intact, and inescapably devastating.[5]
What Dawkins meant was not some statement about God’s metaphysical being. He was asking about the mind of God, that is, how and where did God get all of his knowledge? It’s utterly incomprehensible to the point of refutation to believe God has always held true and utterly comprehensive propositional knowledge about everything, even of himself. I still cannot understand how this God chose his nature, or how the trinity came to be joined at the hip. Imagining just one eternal being who knows everything that can be known is incomprehensible on its own, but now there are three such divine persons who have this knowledge and never disagreed within the Godhead. It’s clear that obfuscationist philosophers are making shit up as they go to save their Christian faith from refutation, since the only basis for believing this crap are some ancient pre-scientific writings.

It’s also clear there are some atheist philosophers of religion who refuse to extend the principle of charity to “unsophisticated” atheist critics like Dawkins. All Weilenberg would have had to do is criticize the notion of God’s simplicity, and/or ask and drive home the sorts of questions Dawkins did. Atheist philosopher of religion Graham Oppy, for instance, argued he cannot make any sense of a God who doesn’t have any properties, which is what divine simplicity entails.[6] Why didn’t Weilenberg do that? Dawkins surely was on to something even if it wasn’t sophisticated enough for Weilenberg writing in a creationist journal. One might even ask why he was writing for that journal in the first place? I suspect atheists who do that are jockeying for position. They want to get noticed by the opposition as honest philosophers and worthy of being listened to. Loyal opposition has its benefits. Atheists offer the fundamentalist opposition credibility. Fundamentalists provide these atheists a pat on the back, so both sides win. What is lost is truth, in my opinion.

There is no end to sophisticated theology, none. That’s why I call it obfuscationist theology, almost all of it. No matter what theology we criticize there are always others claiming to be more sophisticated who reject that view, who will heap scorn on any of us who dares to criticize it. There are even defenders of other theologies who don’t claim to be sophisticated, who claim God’s word is easy to understand and that sophistication is a vice to be shunned at all costs. In their view they have the higher ground since the simpler the theology is the more likely that theology is true, even invoking Ockham’s razor if they know of it. In essence, they claim the higher ground and take umbrage against the sophisticates.

So when it comes to sophisticated theology one’s theological heavyweights are another’s theological lightweights, and vice versa. So why should we really care if we bring scorn down upon ourselves as atheist critics? Just think of restaurant or movie critics. Do we care if the critics upset the businesses they write about? Why should we care as patrons? We want to know the truth about that which they write about.

Besides, the proper order to discuss the existence of gods, or superhuman beings, is to discuss the evidence first, not his attributes, as Jerry Coyne correctly noted:
Before you can discuss the nature of God, however deep and nuanced your discussion, you have to provide rational arguments for the existence of a God. No theologian, however sophisticated, has done that to my satisfaction, and I’ve read a lot of them. Absent such convincing evidence, theology simply becomes academic speculation about the nature of an unevidenced being.[7]
Why take for granted anything such as the existence of a divine being? Taking things for granted for the purpose of discussion is an exercise in persuasion, yes. It helps have a discussion with people who fail to see the fundament point, such that one’s faith lacks sufficient objective evidence for it. But if believers fail to see the fundamental point, why would anyone think they can be persuaded by other considerations? I don’t think they can, or at least, this is not the best way to approach believers if the goal is to help them reason to reality.

Let’s consider the analogy of the supernatural character we know as Superman. What if there are millions upon millions of people who believe Superman exists, just as there are believers who believe some sort of god exists? Shouldn’t we pull out every tool in our toolbox that dissects the attributes Superman is believed to have? Well, I would say this is not the most helpful way to approach believers if the goal is to help them reason to reality. The main reason is that doing so with a god is doing theology. This is what theologians do. But just as any characteristic attributed to Superman must pass the evidence test before it needs to pass the conceptual test, so also must any deity. I doubt anything but scientific evidence can show Superman can hover in the air, or propel himself faster than a speeding bullet, or burn things up with his vision, or see through walls, or pull the planet earth away from danger, or that a bullet or bomb cannot hurt him. Those are the attributes of myths, fairy tales, fables and of course cartoons, where anything can happen. If the objective scientific evidence doesn’t help change the beliefs of Superman’s followers I don’t know of anything else that will do it. Doing anything but asking for the evidence and showing any purported evidence is faked, or not evidence at all, is what needs to be done. Anything else, any gamesmanship, or puzzle-solving for the sake of puzzle-solving, is helping to give Superman’s followers the credibility they so desperately seek.

If It’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing Badly

My view is that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly. If we should wait to do things right, then a lot less will get done. I think it’s good to do important things even if we can only do them imperfectly. I first read this view expressed by Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton. Doing something badly is at least doing something productive, if what you’re doing is the right thing to do. It’s better than not attempting anything. All of the most important things we learned to do we started out doing them badly, like walking, talking, singing, dancing and riding a bicycle. You improve as you go. You cannot improve until you start. You begin by starting out badly. When it comes to our common goal of ridding ourselves of the influence of the religion take Chesterton’s advice: “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” We need all of our voices. Don’t be afraid of being wrong. And I invite all secular people to do the same thing, both the scholar and the non-scholar. Share what you know. Together we are making a difference. Join those of us who are already doing it.

Look at just a very brief listing of historic famous America atheist authors who may not have the philosophical qualifications to speak or write anything in criticism of religious faith. Women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Madalyn Murray O’Hair and Ayn Rand. Men like Thomas Paine, Robert Ingersoll and Mark Twain, or scientists like the prolific Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan. If these authors were not philosophically qualified may there be many more of them! If they are qualified what makes it so? Surely believers at that time and now would say they didn’t correctly understand theology enough to do so.

Atheist philosophers need to tell us what there is about sophisticated arguments that make something truer than beliefs lacking such sophistication. Let’s say someone claims she was abducted by aliens. That’s a simple claim isn’t it? Why would its truth be contingent upon making all kinds of complex definitions complete with Bayesian math to support it? I don’t get it. Faith-based reasoning without sufficient evidence is the only indicator we need for rejecting a claim. Without sufficient evidence a high level of sophistication doesn’t change a thing. What it becomes is obfuscationist. Faith is faith is faith is faith. It has no method, solves nothing, and even gets in the way of knowledge. It should be rejected by all intellectuals. Not to reject it is to be an anti-intellectual in my opinion, for only by rejecting faith-based answers in favor of evidence-based answers are we on the road to knowledge in every discipline in the university. Let’s be consistent across the board by rejecting the philosophy of religion discipline too.

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[1] “The New Evangelical Orthodoxy, Relativism, and the Amnesia of It All” at http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-new-evangelical-orthodoxy.html

[2] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), pp. 113–14, 147.

[3] What it means for god to be simple is that God is not divisible into separate parts. The attributes of God are not parts that together make up who God is, for God has no parts. God does not have properties like goodness or truth. Rather, God is goodness and truth. In essence, God has no properties. He’s pure being. For my discussion of divine simplicity see Why I became an Atheist, pp. 97-100.

[4] Erik Weilenberg, “Dawkins’s Gambit, Hume’s Aroma, and God’s Simplicity,” p. 127.

[5] Dawkins was not able to attend Reason Rally but he did send a video where he answers his critics (from 3:45 to 5:10): “Richard Dawkins 2016 Reason Rally Speech” at YouTube, https://youtu.be/G8NGf3L7foM

[6] Graham Oppy, Describing Gods (Cambridge University Press, 2104), chapter 4 “Simplicity,” pp. 87-104.

[7] “Eric MacDonald leaves New Atheism”, https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/eric-macdonald-leaves-new-atheism/

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