A Twitter acquaintance linked me to a Tweet from WLC and a subsequent post on Reasonable Faith and I felt it would be good to address both. I shall start with his Tweet and move on to his article that asserts atheism is a philosophy without hope.
There are a number of things I see as potentially problematic with this tweet. I will do my best to give a charitable reading though part of my goal here is to hopefully help WLC and his compatriots understand the ways this message can be read. There is going to be a bias against him and people who take what is said in the worst way possible.
‘Most atheists I’ve talked to admit that atheism can’t be proven.’
This statement seems quite pointless. I can imagine there will be some who identify as atheist boggling at the statement about “atheism can’t be proven” as they might be the kind that sees atheism and non-theism as the same thing, and if you see it as that, then there isn’t really anything to prove, it is just a lack of belief in gods and people lack belief in gods, therefore, it is proven.
This isn’t what WLC means, of course, he is using atheism here in the way I prefer to use atheism myself, this is, atheism as a proposition. Much like theism is the proposition that at least one god exists with the theist believing this proposition is true, atheism (under this definition) is the proposition no gods exist with the atheist (like me) believing this proposition is true.
This is the way the term is usually used in philosophy, literature, TV Shows, education etc, but it is not the only way it is used and on social media, especially with atheists that follow the AA and ACA it isn’t the way they use the term.
So, it would indicate to me that the “most atheists” he is speaking about here are not indicative of the majority that are loud on the internet, and thus I can imagine there will be a lot of resistance to this statement.
I would also assume he doesn’t mean proven as it is used in math, but in the more fallibilistic sense used in science.
That said, I agree, I don’t think you can prove atheism true, just like you cannot prove theism true. Perhaps there are some claims of gods you can prove false, but not all of them.
This statement [of WLC’s] doesn’t really tell us anything interesting apart from the sort of atheists he talks to and will likely cause a number of silly arguments from the “only lack belief” crowd.
‘But Then How Do you Know Atheism is True?’
This statement is problematic in a number of areas. Firstly, it seems to be suggesting that an atheist has to KNOW atheism is true. WLC has studied philosophy extensively and this would have covered the theories of knowledge. If he is being honest, theists might feel they know their theism is true, but they do not have knowledge.
This expectation could be taken as special pleading. It’s either that or he is asserting theists (Specifically Christians) actually do have knowledge Christianity is true, which we know isn’t the case, and it can’t be the case both have knowledge either as that would be a logical contradiction.
A belief doesn’t have to be proven to be justified, there are plenty of good reasons to believe gods do not exist.
And the last issue here is, again, the inferred assumption that all those who identify as atheist are using it in the propositional sense I mentioned before. Whilst I would prefer that to be the case, those who are not will find the statement nonsensical. To them, statements like “If atheism is true…” do not make sense.
The way those first sentences are phrased could be quite inflammatory on social media. If one was to take the most uncharitable reading as possible; knowing how intelligent WLC is, that he would be aware of the polysemous nature of atheism and how it is often used on social media etc, it could be seen as him baiting some of the lowest common denominators to use as an example to his fellow theists to say, “look how dumb atheists are”.
At best, he’s making a statement along the lines of “if you can’t prove gods don’t exist you don’t know gods don’t exist” which, verificationism aside, isn’t exactly how knowledge works and is ultimately a bit of a nothing burger of a statement.
‘The Christian’s hope is firmly founded on the witness of the Spirit, the arguments of natural theology, and the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.’
This statement pretty much confirms that hope is acceptable for a Christian but he expects an atheist to have knowledge. I also don’t think the average theist is aware of the arguments of natural theology, and I think you know how limited the evidence of the resurrection is.
All in all, his statement doesn’t reflect particularly well on him and seems like he is just preaching to the choir in a way that will antagonise others. Still, perhaps it is due to the character limit on Twitter and his article will perhaps provide a better overview. Just jump to the second page to get started.
I’m Joe. I write under the name Davidian, not only because it is a Machine Head song I enjoy but because it was a game character I used to role-play that was always looking to better himself.
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