Posted on Apr 2, 2012 by Tom Gilson
Thinking is hard. That’s exactly right.
This sign from the Reason Rally came to mind this morning when I read d’s recent comment on skepticism:
The skeptic case doesn’t rely on demonstrating that some alternative possibility is true, just that there are some which can’t be shown to be false.
The case for the resurrection depends on demonstrating every alternative possibility is false, or less probable than the resurrection.
I’ll explain the connection in a moment. First I want to mention a couple other things that came to mind once I got started down that trail of thought.
One of them is atheists’ constantly insisting that atheism is not a belief (here’s one source among thousands). The other is my own observation, which I’ve put forth in several locations (especially True Reason), that the most characteristic New Atheist definition of “reason” is the refusal to believe anything that cannot be demonstrated empirically.
These three share something in common: they endorse limited thinking.
To Treat One Another As Humans
Now I know as I write this that it is an incendiary thing to say. I know what it feels like to have a message aimed at you like the one in the sign pictured here. It is both dogmatic and dehumanizing about it, as was the case with many other signs and speeches at the Reason Rally: an unquestioned but clear message that people of faith are lesser humans than the enlightened skeptics.
I don’t want to make that same dehumanizing mistake. At the same time I want to open the door to exploring a possible interpretation of these observations. I believe people of reason will be willing to think these things through; and if they want to challenge them, they will do so on the basis of evidence and logic, not prejudice or stereotype.[1. I get frequent comments here to the effect that "'Thinking Christian' is an oxymoron." These comments never come with any supporting reasoning, and they don't seem to involve any investigation into whether the Christians on this blog actually think. This is prejudice, it is stereotyping, it is treating a large number of people as less human.]
Atheism is, by atheists’ common definition, a matter of not believing. It is an easy thing to not believe. It takes no work at all, really.[2. Correction/clarification added April 11: this is not about all atheists. There are some to whom the description I make here applies, and others to whom it doesn't. See the
If I am right about atheists’ view of reason,[3. I invite rebuttals to that observation, but I have to warn you that the argument I make in its favor is not quick and easy. It involves—you guessed it!—thinking.] it is mostly about limiting one’s sphere of attention so as to limit one’s sphere of belief. The less you pay attention to, the less you have to think.
And d’s skeptical protocol is easy, too. For any explanation x for any phenomena or data y, it’s always possible to come up with other explanations z1, z2, z3, … . Whatever y might be, the skeptic can say, “You haven’t proved that every possible z is false.” You could put it on an index card and quote it. You could write it phonetically in a dozen languages. No matter how or when you say it, it’s guaranteed to work every time. Meanwhile the skeptic need not think about what he or she considers actually to be the best explanation.
So it seems to me that with its truncated and limiting view of “reason,” and a general willingness to settle on “my system is not a belief,” it takes very little hard thinking at all to be an atheist.
The Expected Rebuttal
I expect the first rebuttal to this will go like this: “It takes even less thought to believe fairy tales. Credulity takes less effort than scientific rigor.”
That challenge does not stand, for reasons I could go into here, except this post is already long enough. I’ll let you make that rebuttal, and I’m sure I won’t be the only responding to it. Just be aware that we see it coming.
Be aware, too, that I’m putting this forth as an idea to be discussed, not a settled doctrine to be fought with anti-religious dogma. Some readers will disagree quite vehemently, I’m sure. That’s expected. In our disagreement I expect also to be treated as a fellow human being, just as I plan to treat you.