The Arrogance of Not Arguing

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There is a common meme in the theistic communities in this country: it is arrogant to assert a lack of belief in god, the internal contradictions of theistic hypotheses, or the simple lack of a need for such a hypothesis. And there is a common meme among atheists and agnostics: there is no point to debate. Nobody changes their mind because of evidence. You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.

I disagree. Emphatically. It is certainly not arrogant to point out a lack of evidence, but it is arrogant to assume that other people can’t see that there is a lack. How much more arrogant can you get than thinking that other people can’t see the issue with the First Cause Argument? What is more arrogant than thinking that you and your friends happen to be special enough or intelligent enough or educated enough to see through various theodicies, and then expect that their faults won’t bother anyone else?

I’m going to point out something that tends to get papered over: accommodationism isn’t just insulting to the Gnu Atheists; It is insulting to believers, on a profound level. Oh sure, accommodationism will call out Gnus for being jerks (because of honest engagement with ideas)- but then it will ask for us to understand that even if something isn’t true, maybe those weak minded saps over there need that mental crutch, we don’t, of course, but no need to make others miserable with difficult thoughts and logical discussion, and we should understand that all it will result in is stripped internal gears and headaches. Bull and shite.

If a belief is true, those who believe in it have nothing to fear from it being subjected to a free marketplace of ideas. No argument, no logical or empirical process will show a true belief to be false. And if a belief is false, how can you -without arrogance- claim it is better for others to believe it?

(Edited for spelling: Thank you, Jerry Coyne.)

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12 Responses to “The Arrogance of Not Arguing”

  1. Quote of the week « Why Evolution Is True Says:

    […] the site David’s Slingshot, “The arrogance of not arguing“: I’m going to point out something that tends to get papered over: accommodationalism […]

  2. Quote of the Week: The Arrogance of Not Arguing — Lightly Seared On The Reality Grill Says:

    […] David Byars by way of Jerry Coyne: I’m going to point out something that tends to get papered over: […]

  3. Chuck O'Connor Says:

    I think there is much arrogance when we atheists engage believers and fail to understand their way of interpreting evidence. You mention the first cause argument and the lack of evidence therein. I agree with your critique but, I often see atheists misrepresent or reduce the argument so that they can move it from a philosophical discussion to an empirical one. The theist making the argument then dismisses the atheist for their misunderstanding of the argument and, the atheist derides the theist for the philosophical crime of “special pleading” (entering again the world of philosophical debate, often without any recognition they exited it with their demand for empirical evidence). I don’t think we accommodate to believers by embracing their way of interpreting information and, think that the demand for evidence in the first cause argument, at the outset of the argument’s use, caricatures human reasoning towards a narrow and preferred viewpoint. I do think that it is perfectly reasonable to request evidence for ontological claims (the move of the Christian apologist as a post-script to the classical conclusion from causation) and there we can shift the discussion towards empiricism but, to cry for evidence at the outset of the argument seems to only communicate that empiricism is the only thing that matters and, that project has shown to be limited when honestly considering history, specifically the Logical Positives. Christians do misuse philosophical discourse towards their own preconceived ends and misplace the power of the argument from causation as one of confirmation rather than rumination but, we too mangle the proposition when we fail to see its purpose. I think that is arrogant.

  4. Wonderist Says:

    @Chuck

    Empiricism is a philosophical position, specifically an epistemological one.

    And “special pleading” is indeed a philosophical crime, if your philosophy includes logical reasoning, and avoiding fallacious reasoning.

    It is the theist who has left the realm of philosophy when they resort to intuitive fallacies based on ‘truthiness’ rather than actual truths.

    Besides, the vast majority of theists (i.e. the ones who need the most urgent convincing) are not of the philosophical type. Their primary reasons for believing are not arguments like ‘first cause’, but simply because they were raised that way.

    For the philosophical types, we can counter with philosophy like empiricism and epistemological pragmatism. For the non-philosophical types, just about any decent atheist argument will be new to them.

    Personally, I go by what the theists themselves tell me about what they believe and why they believe it. There are so many good reasons not to be a theist that you don’t really need to limit yourself to just refuting apologetics arguments based on philosophical objections.

  5. Chuck O'Connor Says:

    Thanks for the clarification.

    I guess I see empiricism as a means towards a philosophical school, specifically logical positivism but, I can see your point. I stand corrected on my illustration. Thanks.

    My disagreement still stands however when considering the way many gnus (including myself) argue as if we are given license to caricature our interlocutor’s position due to our disbelief. I think arguing from one’s epistemic grounds is valid but that also seems to demand we consider philosophical charity when debating. This seems to be a virtue when engaging differing philosophical positions which, seems to be often absent from our camp’s first move in countering philosophical claims. We immediately jump to the presupposition that the theist is arguing for Evangelical Jesus when they may be arguing for Christian Atheism, or Classical Deism or, the B’hai faith. I’m not saying any of those world-views are any more tenable to me than Evangelical Christianity but, when we fail to understand the worldview approaching us it seems we undercut our position.

    If a theist wishes to approach me with the Cosmological Argument then I will be best served in engaging his ideas, towards the endorsement of my own, by considering his argument, rather than jumping to the conclusion where I think he derives his warrant from, based on my past frustrations in addressing the argument with other theists.

    I’m not saying you do these things but, the virtue of demanding “evidence” prior to assessing the other’s model for epistemic warrant and, instead, imagining what we think that warrant to be, seems to invalidate our demand for evidence.

  6. Tim Martin Says:

    Well said!

  7. Rieux Says:

    I think your rendering of accomodationism as “accommodationalism” is severely arrogant.

    Well, okay, no, it’s not.

    A very nice post.

  8. Wonderist Says:

    Chuck: “My disagreement still stands however when considering the way many gnus (including myself) argue as if we are given license to caricature our interlocutor’s position due to our disbelief.”

    You *are* given that license, so long as you also provide a good counter-argument along with it. The license is called artisitic license, or more generally, freedom of speech. The latter requirement of backing it up with a good counter-argument is simply intellectual honesty.

    Chuck: “We immediately jump to the presupposition that the theist is arguing for Evangelical Jesus when they may be arguing for Christian Atheism, or Classical Deism or, the B’hai faith.”

    Who is this ‘we’ you speak of. It is not me, because I do not presuppose what the theist is arguing for except for something labelled ‘god’.

    Do you do that? If you do that, and you don’t like it, then just stop doing it.

    If I don’t do that, and you don’t do that, then who are you talking about?

    I could be wrong, but I’m smelling a lot of presumptions in your posts about who ‘we’ are. At this point, only specific examples of this behaviour you dislike could illuminate the issue.

    Chuck: “when we fail to understand the worldview approaching us it seems we undercut our position.”

    So *any* forms of theism have evidence for their position? Can you think of a single one that does?

    That’s the reason many atheists pull the ‘show me the evidence’ card so early in the conversation, because it immediately drives home the most salient point about every world faith (that I know of): None of them have any evidence to back up what they say is true about their ‘god(s)’.

    It is not presumptuous to use a tool that has proven itself useful over and over again. After all, I’m still open to the possibility that I could be wrong, and there might be someone somewhere who has evidence to back up their claims. But I haven’t seen it yet, and so until that day, I’m going to use my trusty Occam’s Razor to shave off all the unnecessary assumptions from the arguments for god that are presented to me.

    Unfortunately for theists, all the ‘razor’ leaves behind is their ‘naked’ assertions. Too bad for them, but it doesn’t make me or anyone else wrong or arrogant for ‘exposing’ their arguments like that.

    If theists don’t want their arguments torn down by a simple request for evidence that their assumptions are true, then they should make better arguments.

    After all, a logically valid argument (and most theist arguments aren’t even that) is only true *if* its premises are true. Asking for evidence is simply asking if the premises are true.

    Chuck: “I’m not saying you do these things but, the virtue of demanding “evidence” prior to assessing the other’s model for epistemic warrant and, instead, imagining what we think that warrant to be, seems to invalidate our demand for evidence.”

    Chuck, I recommend reading Carl Sagan’s “The Demon Haunted World”. Sagan popularize an importantly useful phrase: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    Have you ever heard the phrase “burden of proof”? I’m assuming you have, but I ask the question as a reminder of how important it is.

    It is not the theist’s own sense of ‘warrant’ that I care about when I ask for evidence. When a theist makes an argument for ‘god’, they are the one making the claim, and so they take on the onus of the burden of proof.

    I’m not making a claim. I’m asking them why *I* should believe *their* claim.

    Theist: God exists, because yadda yadda yadda.

    Me: Do you have any evidence that this is actually true? Either the ‘god exists’ part, or the ‘yadda yadda yadda’ part?

    Theist: My sense of warrant doesn’t include empirical evidence.

    Me: So? You’re making a claim that god exists. It is *my* sense of warrant that you need to approach if you want to convince me you’re correct. My sense of warrant is based on the best tools for knowledge we have (reason and science), and that requires evidence, and extraordinary claims like your ‘god’ claim require extraordinary evidence. So, where’s your evidence?

    There’s no arrogance there. If anything, the arrogance would be if a theist tries to tell me that I should accept his claims without evidence.

  9. Chuck O'Connor Says:

    Here’s the example for the “we” I am talking of. You prove far too much towards my point with your caricature and imagined victory via strawman. Go and engage believers. I don’t think you probably do. If you did you’d see the moves you cite below are not the ones they make.

    “Theist: God exists, because yadda yadda yadda.

    Me: Do you have any evidence that this is actually true? Either the ‘god exists’ part, or the ‘yadda yadda yadda’ part?

    Theist: My sense of warrant doesn’t include empirical evidence.

    Me: So? You’re making a claim that god exists. It is *my* sense of warrant that you need to approach if you want to convince me you’re correct. My sense of warrant is based on the best tools for knowledge we have (reason and science), and that requires evidence, and extraordinary claims like your ‘god’ claim require extraordinary evidence. So, where’s your evidence?”

  10. Notagod Says:

    Jesus-on-a-stick Chuck, if you want to be a christian go get wet. If you don’t want to be a Gnu drop the label, done!

    The point of the Gnu atheists is that you get nowhere by coddling a christian, its the christian god-idea that sucks not necessarily that the facade on the church is vomit inducing. However, if you want to be a Gnu for more than just some random club house to hang out in, you could at least put some time into finding out that the christians clipped most of their program from prior ideologies. The christians have been held together by frauds all the way down.

    Yes, I engage christians regularly, any time one of them decides to poke their god-idea at me.

  11. American Atheists’ Code of Conduct for Conferences « David's Slingshot Says:

    […] wine turns into blood when Catholics drink it.” because it might offend any Catholics (or accommodationists) who might be in earshot. And I really, really don’t think that we should- at atheist events- […]

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