TIA Tuesday: Occam’s ChainsawOctober 21, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
We’ve made it to Chapter 14 of TIA (whew!), and that brings us to what Vox modestly labels “Occam’s Chainsaw,” a shotgun approach that attempts to address atheistic arguments against God by hurling a whole lot of crap against the wall in hopes that something sticks. Once again, Vox seems to be in a hurry to get through the material, devoting only a few sparse and poorly-reasoned paragraphs to each attempted argument. Let’s start with the first three.
The first atheist argument is what Vox calls the Argument from Authority. (Any relationship to any fallacy of the same name is thoroughly intentional, if misleading).
There are three versions of this. The first is based on the partially accurate but misleading claim that atheists are more intelligent than theists, a claim which depends on altering the definition of atheist from “an individual who does not believe in God” to “an individual who calls himself an atheist.” This is an implicit argument from authority because there is no point to making any reference to this theoretical superiority except to put pressure on the non-atheist to stop thinking for himself and accept the view of his intellectual superiors.
Vox offers no explanation for his bizarre claim that it alters the definition of atheist to say that someone who calls themselves an atheist is an atheist, nor does he offer any kind of support for his claim that atheists make this argument. He simply throws it up there so that he has some kind of pretext for accusing atheists of making some kind of fallacious appeal to authority. He seems to imply that it is indeed true that atheists are more intelligent, but obviously this does not imply God’s non-existence. Vox might have had a point, if there were any atheists who were actually making this fallacious claim.
Vox claims that a second version of the Appeal to Authority is when Sam Harris points out that “93 percent of the members of the National Academy of Science do not accept the idea of God.” This is indeed an appeal to authority, but it’s not a fallacious appeal in this case because the appeal to authority is not offered as a logical proof of a syllogistic proposition, it is merely cited as empirical evidence supporting the conclusion.
The National Academy of Science is made up of men and women who have acquired legitimate expertise in the fields of natural science, through their study and research into the verifiable facts one can observe about the world around us. This study has not made believers out of most of them, and that is a testament to the nature of the data they have observed.
This does not prove, of course, that no God exists. It does, however, serve as a counter to numerous theistic arguments which claim to possess real-world evidence of God, through various bits of information like the cosmological constants and questions like “Who caused the Big Bang?” Since theists (and particularly theists with little or now scientific background) do make scientifically-founded claims of evidence for God, it is reasonable and significant to note that the experts in the various fields have not found this evidence to be valid.
Vox’s third version of appeal to authority is to simply mention the fact that people quote Albert Einstein and Richard Dawkins, but since Vox makes no attempt to rebut this claim, we won’t deal with it either, except to note that it is really just a variation of the second version, with the same caveats about legitimately-acquired authority.
Next, we jump to the Argument from Lack of Evidence.
This argument is particularly superficial, given the obvious impossibility of personally examining all of the evidence relevant to the matter and the equally obvious reality that every individual unquestioningly accepts information without demanding supporting evidence every single day…
No normal individual actually examines more than a very small percentage of the authoritative information that they are provided on a daily basis, as evidenced by the explosion of low-fat foods that were soon followed by the ongoing obesity epidemic…
The fact that you may not have seen any evidence of God is meaningless; you probably haven’t seen any evidence of evolution or quantum mechanics either, and aside from a very few highly intelligent, well-educated exceptions, you’re not capable of accurately judging the evidence even if you did examine it yourself.
The real answer to the Argument from Lack of Evidence ought to be, “You’re wrong: here’s the evidence right here, and here’s how you can verify it.” Vox can’t make that argument, since he doesn’t actually have the evidence, so instead he makes an Appeal to Ignorance and Agnosticism. “You’re right, I can’t show you any evidence that God exists, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t Out There hiding somewhere where you and I can’t get to it.”
The problem with the Appeal to Ignorance is that the evidence is not actually missing, it’s just inconsistent with what Christians claim about God’s nature, abilities, and desires. God having the ability and desire to cure incurable diseases and raise people from the dead and appear visibly, audibly and tangibly to people—that’s not something you would need a PhD in theoretical physics to be able to verify or understand. The Gospel presents some very simple, straightforward, and readily-verifiable claims about Who God is, what He can do, and what He wants to do. It’s not that the evidence would be hard to find, it’s just that the evidence we do find is not consistent with the Christian claims.
This is not too surprising, since the Christian claims are not consistent with themselves. A good, loving, all-wise and all-powerful God Who wants all of His children to be saved is not the kind of God who creates an eternal fire of hell and torment and then hides Himself so that most of His children will fail to perceive His existence and thus be inevitably (and unfairly) damned. The evidence is not consistent with Christian claims about God because there is no way that it can be. The claims contradict themselves.
Another indication that the evidence is against God’s existence is the behavior we see in Christians who claim to have evidence supporting God’s existence. Here’s Vox arguing against what he calls “The Argument from Hallucination.”
Being one who has personally experienced both what appears to have been a supernatural phenomenon as well as a few chemically induced hallucinations, I can testify that the two are about as likely to be confused as Halloween and Christmas. And by Halloween, I mean the movie, not the holiday.
Remember back in Chapter 7, when Sam Harris made his Red State/Blue State argument about conservatives having higher crime rates? Remember how Vox suddenly got all coy, and made vague references about having seen “some statistics,” which he would not name, that allegedly proved Harris wrong?
Of course you don’t, because that didn’t happen. When Vox has hard evidence that disproves what atheists are saying, he quotes the figures and cites the sources and lays it all out in the early chapters of his book. It’s only when it’s time to demonstrate actual evidence of God’s existence that Vox suddenly goes all mysterious, alluding to some unspecified “supernatural phenomenon” without offering any description of what it is, let alone any way of verifying that this “supernatural” evidence exists in real life.
It’s not just atheists who support the claim that Christians have no evidence for their beliefs. Christians themselves know that the excuses they use to justify their faith are not really the same kind of solid, verifiable evidence as what Vox offered when refuting the Red State/Blue State stuff. It’s subjective, superstitious, wishful thinking. The kind of self-justifying rationalization that you keep to yourself, because deep down you know it’s not good enough to convince anyone who doesn’t already want to believe it.
Plus, when you look at the testimony you get from people like Vox who claim to have “personally experienced” a supernatural phenomenon, you get results that not only vary widely, but that are inconsistent and mutually contradictory. Truth is consistent with itself; hallucinations are not. When skeptics point out the illusory/delusional characteristics of such personal experiences, they’re not making fallacious arguments against God, they’re merely observing. The “evidence” you get from personal experience is just the sort of fanciful, subjective mishmash you’d expect to get in the absence of any genuine supernatural reality.
We’ll have to stop there for this week, but stay tuned: the chainsaw is still revving and there’s more splatter in store. (Hmm, I wonder if Vox lives in Texas. There’s a certain cheesy video title I’m thinking of…)