Why Objectivists Shouldn’t Be “Atheists”

Relax, I still think that Jesus is nothing but a dressed-up Santa for adults. What I realized after debating with Christians during the last few days however, is that presenting yourself as an “atheist” or making atheism the focus in a debate is not a good idea. The obvious reason is that I am not primarily an advocate of atheism, but of reason and individual rights. However, this fact alone does not explain how one should present these issues to theists, who happen to be the great majority of the students at my school. As I found out, there are three good reasons to avoid making God the focus or even a starting point of your arguments.

First, by necessity, “God” is a floating concept for theists. For obvious reasons, it is impossible to tie down one’s theology to reality. While this may seem helpful in disproving theism from a rational perspective, it allows a much greater degree of evasion in the form of a large base of floating abstractions that the theist uses to “deflect” the atheists arguments. A well-learned Christian has stock replies to all the usual arguments against theism and can continue arguing them in intricate loops that are completely detached from reality or any real-life parallels you might try to provide. For example, when picking a group to try my arguments on, I first decided to approach the “active” Christians because they seemed to already have a philosophical base to work with. But as I learned, that base was just one huge floating abstraction — they knew it solely in relation to their religion, and were helpless in applying it to reality. I found that I had to resort to simple non-philosophical examples (an invisible pink elephant, the oncoming semi) just to get them to relate to reality.

A more important reason to avoid focusing on theism is that the primary difference between theists and Objectivists is their epistemology, not a belief in God per se. This is not immediately evident because many atheists adopt or retain the same intrinsic/subjective epistemology as their theist counterparts. To invalidate all mysticism – both the secular and religious kind, one first has to convince the theist to use the same epistemological standards for what constitutes true knowledge. In other words, the theist must reject faith and adopt reason as his means of knowledge. But once this happens, the argument is essentially won, because no conception of God can stand up to the scrutiny of reason for very long.

Finally, since the issue of faith vs. reason is not nearly as loaded with religious dogma, emotional attachments, and peer pressure as the existence of God, it can be much easier to break through to an honest person. Of course, it goes without saying that rational arguments only work on someone who is essentially honest, and no proof will ever convince someone who chooses to actively evade reality.

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0 Responses to Why Objectivists Shouldn’t Be “Atheists”

  1. Christian

    David,

    During your arguments on Texags.com, you never were able to actually answer the questions that were posed to you. Your assumptions about the nature of reality were something that you could never give an answer for accept that you apparently accept them by faith as true, because you simply believe that they are true. All worldviews start at some level with faith presuppositions. There are simply certain un-provable assumptions about the nature of reality, and how more knowledge can be gained held by all views. Your denial of this is the same behavior that was displayed in all of the arguments on the religion and philosophy forums on Texags.com, you simply ignore those assumptions that you make and skip several steps to where you feel on firmer philosophical and logical ground. It was exactly looking at your views at the epistemological level that you failed to offer a basis for much of what you presuppose. Perhaps you thought that if you answered that you did just assume those certain things you would be accused of starting your worldview with faith in the truth of certain un-provable things. I would suggest to you that although you will loose some of the ability to speak condescendingly to theists assuming that they are completely in the realm of faith, while you are completely in the realm of reason (which is a wrong assumption), you will however gain further ability to explore much of your own worldview that you are currently ignoring. Basically you got your ass kicked over there, so for you to come back here full of bravado is to simply try and overcompensate for where your views were found to be lacking. You grabbed a tiger by the tail friend, and you got bit hard, and you are still frustrated by it. This I understand, but don’t give up… Listen to what is being said to you, even those theists have something reasonable to teach you.

  2. AshRyan

    Christian–

    I read the entire thread at TexAgs, and allow me to say that every argument presented by David’s opponents there were so fallacious as to be absurd. I started to write a post addressing each poster’s false assumptions and/or wrong methods, but it would have taken too much time and wouldn’t have been worth it.

    Also, this:
    “All worldviews start at some level with faith presuppositions.”
    is just false. What you are saying is that objectivity is impossible, that man (or presumably any epistemic agent, including a god) is doomed to be stuck inside his own subjective world of necessity, and that any genuine knowledge beyond that of our own consciousness is therefore impossible.

    To explain to you why it is not necessary to have some faith-based starting point would be a huge task in which I have no interest in undertaking. You have already made up your mind to believe in whatever the hell you want to believe, in the absence of any real evidence (in fact, with the evidence being to the contrary), so it would be a waste of time having an argument with you–which was the only major mistake committed by David at the forum.

    David–

    Just ignore this guy. It’s not worth wasting your time talking to these idiots.

  3. titan

    Greetings David,

    I have to step in here, because this whole matter is becoming very frustrating. You see, I LIKE your site, and admire and enjoy the reasoning of your articles. Particularly the one attempting to demonstrate Heinlan’s famous “religion vs prostitution” remark. It actually ends up discussing ways even to assign worth value and benefits over time, an interesting approach in its own right.

    But on the two related threads, you have NOT been addressing or even discussing some of the more substantive arguments.

    You say: “First, by necessity, “God” is a floating concept for theists. For obvious reasons, it is impossible to tie down one’s theology to reality. While this may seem helpful in disproving theism from a rational perspective, it allows a much greater degree of evasion in the form of a large base of floating abstractions that the theist uses to “deflect” the atheists arguments.”

    That completely ignores that there is nothing particularly “floating” about it among the great theologians of history.

    “But as I learned, that base was just one huge floating abstraction — they knew it solely in relation to their religion, and were helpless in applying it to reality. I found that I had to resort to simple non-philosophical examples (an invisible pink elephant, the oncoming semi) just to get them to relate to reality. ”

    That simply is not true. You didn’t address Physic’s argument or Librarian’s point-by-point reply in kind. Nor understand that what I am rejecting is the rejection of any intrinsic source of knowledge. Your view is clashing with history, and does not match experience.

    A very well-learned selection of very intelligent, high-brow and credible people have believed in and argued for God, but NEVER believed or believe those other examples like the pink elephant. That’s why I say they are not valid comparisons.

    Last but not least, you haven’t even re-stated or replied to the specifics of your post so that your object or point is realized.

    It may be that you were on a logic trail, and a misunderstanding has resulted, and you were formulating a response not given yet. But it seemed like an evasion,

    again, great site though,

    Titan

    – By the way,

    – AshRyan

    You said: “I read the entire thread at TexAgs, and allow me to say that every argument presented by David’s opponents there were so fallacious as to be absurd. I started to write a post addressing each poster’s false assumptions and/or wrong methods, but it would have taken too much time and wouldn’t have been worth it.”

    I would have *liked* to see that, particularly to Librarian or Physic96’s rebuttals. Even some other lurkers confirmed that David didn’t appear to address the general feedback.

  4. AshRyan

    Titan –

    Well, since you asked I will give you part of my response to part of your response to David. Concerning the part of the thread that you’ve repeated here: “A very well-learned selection of very intelligent, high-brow and credible people have believed in and argued for God, but NEVER believed or believe those other examples like the pink elephant. That’s why I say they are not valid comparisons.”

    This is an argumentum ad verecundiam if I’ve ever seen one. How again does the fact that some other people (regardless of whether you’ve labelled them “credible”) believe in God lend any evidence to that position? It doesn’t. Cite some of their evidence, rather than the mere fact that they believe it. Not that that would help; all evidence I’ve ever seen presented has been blatantly invalid.

    Nor does the number of other people who believe in God lend it any credibility (that’s merely switching the appeal to authority from the qualitative to the quantitative version). If truth is merely a subjective numbers game, then the Buddhists must be right; they outnumber you Christians. But it’s not. If any one person can hold a false belief (which I think you’ll grant), then any combination of them, no matter how great their number, certainly can as well.

    The floating pink elephant analogy is therefore completely valid (or at least, isn’t invalid based on your objection here).

    As long as David is going to argue with you people, I too wish that he would respond to some of your “evidence” and point out how it’s invalid. This would be easy, although at this point so many such invalid pieces of “evidence” have been presented that it would be a bit time consuming. Of course, I don’t really think that David should be arguing this subject with you at all; I think it’s completely pointless.

  5. titan

    AshRyan,

    Thank you for responding, and it is not lacking in merit. You said:

    “This is an argumentum ad verecundiam if I’ve ever seen one. How again does the fact that some other people (regardless of whether you’ve labelled them “credible”) believe in God lend any evidence to that position? It doesn’t.”

    Speaking in absolute terms, no it doesn’t. But it has *everything* to do with one’s own *personal humility* in the face of them and before them. How confidently would you contradict or assume Hawkings or Einstien were “way off” or just “didn’t have a clue”? You might even possibly find that to be so, AFTER examining and learning their expertise in detail, but would you before? Hold that thought.

    “Cite some of their evidence, rather than the mere fact that they believe it. Not that that would help; all evidence I’ve ever seen presented has been blatantly invalid”

    I wonder what kind of evidence you are looking for? One of the things I look for is successful correspondence with and prediction of reality. This is not easily empirically testable, but it is observable and experential.

    “Nor does the number of other people who believe in God lend it any credibility (that’s merely switching the appeal to authority from the qualitative to the quantitative version). If truth is merely a subjective numbers game, then the Buddhists must be right; they outnumber you Christians.”

    You are missing the point — its not the numbers, but you are closer when you mention quality. Its the quality of the minds involved, and their writings. Hell—we have an example right here—the quality of David’s reasoning is so striking that I am immediately assigning it greater benefit of the doubt than CNN talking heads. See how that works?

    Even the pink elephant would not be so ludicrous (perhaps some interdimensional creature? 😉 IF the numbers of *heavyweight* thinkers that have backed God also backed it. That’s my point. Its not a numbers argument, but I would not disagree that it may be a quality argument.

    “But it’s not. If any one person can hold a false belief (which I think you’ll grant), then any combination of them, no matter how great their number, certainly can as well.”

    Yes, I grant that readily. It just seems unlikely to be false given what has been observed, recorded, and even experienced. True, in absolutist terms when you try to nail down things like intuition, it can get slippery. I am speaking only for myself —its Objectivism’s starting premise that there is no knowledge gained from outside, intrinsic, that I have personally experienced to be false, and countless figures in history made use of as well.

    Now, on a slightly different point:
    “As long as David is going to argue with you people, I too wish that he would respond to some of your “evidence” and point out how it’s invalid.”

    Ah, so it it can be agreed that that hasn’t taken place yet. There’s a fixed fact to start from. Okay.

    “This would be easy, although at this point so many such invalid pieces of “evidence” have been presented that it would be a bit time consuming.”

    What I saw were point-by-point *logic* demonstrations, not faith driven ones, of why the arguments failed. Librarian even numbered each the same and made direct replies to each. What was so “invalid” about those? To an observer, it looked like rebuttals that were then unanswered.

    “Of course, I don’t really think that David should be arguing this subject with you at all; I think it’s completely pointless.”

    Actually, I undertand his intent, and its not pointless. He is writing a major thought paper on it, and asked for comments. His own understanding will grow as well. Second, just to touch on the epistemology argument Christian was making (I am not making it, distinguish) — he is saying that the foundational premise of Objectivism appears to also rely on a stipulation, rather than a demonstrated fact. That’s all.

    You see, I think you proceed from a false assumption: you think I disbelieved Objectivism *before* David posted. I didn’t— I wasn’t even acutely aware it rejected intuition — I understood more (and agreed with some) of Rand’s political applications of reason. So it was the failure to address the detailed replies that made me raise eyebrows. See?

    – Titan

  6. AshRyan

    Titan –

    “Actually, I undertand his intent, and its not pointless. He is writing a major thought paper on it, and asked for comments. His own understanding will grow as well.”

    Okay, I wasn’t aware that David was doing a paper on the subject. Perhaps I’ve been a bit hard on him for getting involved in this debate, then. 🙂

    For me, however, it is pointless. I hope you won’t take this personally or as a cop-out, but I really don’t want to respond to the rest of your post or get involved in this any further. We could go back and forth indefinitely, and never really get anywhere, so I simply think it would be a waste of my time. (Even if I thought I *could* convince you of my position, it still probably wouldn’t be worth my time. There are already many arguments out there that you can research if you’re really interested in understanding the position that’s opposite to your own.)

    One final note:

    “You see, I think you proceed from a false assumption: you think I disbelieved Objectivism *before* David posted.”

    Actually, I didn’t necessarily think that you were begging the question against Objectivism (if that’s what you mean here), except insofar as you have already accepted premises (such as the existence of God) that are antithetical to it, and your arguments for those were question-begging. However, if you enjoy David’s blog, I would certainly recommend that you familiarize yourself more thoroughly with Objectivism, particularly by reading some of Rand’s writings. You would probably enjoy and perhaps even agree with a lot of it, other than her rejection of God (although, as David is now indicating, that is not an integral part of her positive philosophy but rather a polemical tangent to it). And perhaps you would eventually even change your mind about that. 🙂

    Ash

  7. Ash,
    My purpose in posting in TexAgs is not to convince anyone, but to learn something about the theist mindset, and sharpen my skills in countering their ideas. Unlike you, I was never exposed to Christianity or many Christians for that matter, except through popular culture. I wasn’t even exposed to the Jewish version, since most of my Jewish friends were completely secular. I see now that I didn’t miss much.

    Titan,
    I agree that my responses on TexAgs have been lacking, but then they were more for my own benefit then anyone else’s. I have learned many things about the religious mindset however, that will make me more effective in future debates. I might consider responding some more on the forum, although the marginal returns from continued debate are increasingly negligible.

    Btw,
    My blog is written mainly to develop my writing skills and provide interesting links to people who share my values. Because I assume that anyone reading is has a similar context of knowledge, don’t count on self-contained arguments that are suitable for a general context of knowledge. This is why I rarely, if ever, reply to arguments presented to my posts. If you want to take me on, please do so on my forum (ideally), by email, or on my listerv.

  8. Anonymous

    Ash,

    “For me, however, it is pointless. I hope you won’t take this personally or as a cop-out, but I really don’t want to respond to the rest of your post or get involved in this any further. We could go back and forth indefinitely, and never really get anywhere, so I simply think it would be a waste of my time.”

    No, I don’t take it that way, given your clear explanation. Besides it wasn’t my intention either to get deep into it. I have alot of research projects at hand, and honestly, would not seek to “engage” against a philosophy or outlook which as said, I doubt I even strongly disagree with in the general. My purpose was simply to call attention to the fact that intuitive and intrinsic things clearly appear to occur, and should be at least taken into account. There are proofs indeed out there, but unless you track events over time, and it can mean months, not years even, its harder to see it a work. Since you can’t trust `public’ or `high profile’ examples, just look for such things in the lives close around you. If you listen, you will hear some, even experience them.

    “Actually, I didn’t necessarily think that you were begging the question against Objectivism (if that’s what you mean here), except insofar as you have already accepted premises (such as the existence of God) that are antithetical to it ”

    That’s just it. It doesn’t seem *antithetical*. It seems to support and confirm it in many ways, for it demonstrates the reality of certain ethics and concepts purely from a reason basis, which in turns backs-up that they weren’t so `kooky’ or `repressive’ after all. 😉

    – Titan

  9. Anonymous

    David,

    This part you said to Ash merits note:
    ” Unlike you, I was never exposed to Christianity or many Christians for that matter, except through popular culture. I wasn’t even exposed to the Jewish version, since most of my Jewish friends were completely secular. I see now that I didn’t miss much.”

    Well, see, that confirms what seemed apparent. It may not be on your agenda at the moment, but you should really take a look at the theology and in-depth writings that have gone into it. An example being Thomas Acquinas’ Summa Theologica. Too often today, a `pop-culture’ version is all you hear or see, and it can have strong fundamentalist overtones but that in itself was a reaction to the excesses of the 19th century reductionists.

    “Titan,
    I agree that my responses on TexAgs have been lacking, but then they were more for my own benefit then anyone else’s. I have learned many things about the religious mindset however, that will make me more effective in future debates. I might consider responding some more on the forum, although the marginal returns from continued debate are increasingly negligible.”

    What you should do is address the more precise and specific replies at whatever length is appropriate, if only to both return the courtesy of initial detailed responses and answer if possible. Objectively speaking (pun intended) you risk looking like there was no answer to any who might be reading, however it might have only been your way of `learning more of mindsets’.

    (Note: I mean to some of the other specific replies, I am not referring to mine, it has been covered here and was more abstract).

    “Btw,
    My blog is written mainly to develop my writing skills and provide interesting links to people who share my values. Because I assume that anyone reading is has a similar context of knowledge, don’t count on self-contained arguments that are suitable for a general context of knowledge. This is why I rarely, if ever, reply to arguments presented to my posts.”

    Ahhh—you mean despite their apparent completeness, your essays presume some familiarity with the principles involved, and are not designed as-is, to stand in some general public or expository context. They are kind of `living rough drafts’ responding to feedback. Intriguing.

    I see the pattern. I understand the distinction precisely. I know what you mean about not having the space for `self-contained arguments’ and having to fool with dragging out all the implicit or supposed-understood points. As said above, the `break-off’ was too sharp, it seems like total avoidance.

    btw, off-topic: I would take this moment to make a suggestion on an write-up? Given the style of some of these essays, I think your taking a crack at a `defense of Western culture’ or its advantages might be very interesting. I say it because I see alot of pieces of it already in different ones. And there is alot of tendency today to quickly denigrate all that has been built.

    – Titan

  10. Ishmael

    Very interesting comments here. You have declared yourself “winner” (in an objective kind of way of course). LOL 🙂

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