Saturday, January 18, 2014

With Friends Like Fellow Atheists, Who Needs Enemies?

Having written several posts about atheism v. religious conviction over the past few years, this is the first time I've been attacked in response. Until today. Ironically, I have been attacked for not being a sufficiently atheistic atheist. 

Yesterday, I posted a brief, spur of the moment piece basically praising Jerry Coyne's recent article debunking "the best arguments in support of God's existence" (here). Today (here), Jerry Coyne rakes me over the coals for not agreeing with him enough. He takes me to task for several apparent heresies or logical flaws. He is quite correct about one, and a bit muddled (to use his own preferred term) about the others (I would be inclined to forgive him for misinterpreting some of what I was trying to say, if he had displayed any inclination to interpret it with a more generous spirit).   

First, he complains that I confuse a normative argument with a positive or ontological one. He is correct about this. Having a desire for some god(s) to exist is certainly not evidence that some god(s) exist. I should have conceded that I was not really focusing on the supposed "best arguments for the existence of" some super-natural being. I was extending beyond the focus of Coyne's article. 

Coyne next misinterprets (though probably not intentionally) my reference to "feeble agnosticism" in contrast to what he calls a "fairly robust agnosticism." What I meant was that any form of agnosticism, as compared with atheism, is a feeble position to take, even if it is the only one that an inductive or abductive science can truly warrant. It is, after all, quite reasonable to believe that things do not exist for which no positive evidence can be mustered. To simply suspend judgment in the absence of all evidence is not particularly meritorious. 

Coyne also attributes to me a claim I did not make, and to which I do not subscribe: that atheism is a form of theism. I did write that "atheism, like any form of theism, is a matter not just of science but of belief." I was trying to say that theism and atheism are alike in terms of going beyond science to belief. I certainly did not mean to aver that atheism itself is a form of theism. I can see how he might have read it that way; but that's certainly not the only feasible interpretation and not my intended interpretation; he might have at least given me the benefit of the doubt (he is a great doubter, isn't he?). 

But, really, this parsing of arguments is both scholastic and quite sad. To suffer such a harsh, hypercritical, unfriendly, and ungenerous reading and rebuke from someone with whom I am in widespread agreement saddens me and reduces him. Grateful though I am for the C+ , I fear that the courage of his convictions have left Mr. Coyne unable to distinguish friends from enemies. 

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