Somehow I missed this, but back in August of this last year (2008) Austin Cline, well known internet atheist, attacked one of my little blog pieces on "The End of Atheism," or soemthing. His article is called:
Joe Hinman: Atheism is Dead, In Its Last Days" (as dead things usually are). Thursday August 21, 2008. . It refers to my original blog, Last Days of Outmoded Atheism (May 15, 2007). Cline does link to the original. He writes:
Denial seems to be a common reaction to atheism: denial of what atheism is, that atheists exist, and so forth. Some religious theists seem to be simply unable to accept some aspects of reality when reality intrudes on comforting religious assumptions. The consequences of denial are never good because reality doesn't go away simply because you refuse to accept it, and atheism isn't going to go away simply because some theists find it easier to think that it is "dead" and on its way out.
First of all, my constant readers know that I was an atheist. Atheism has been through a transformation since the internet. I was an atheist when it was the province of an intellectual elite that mainly met each other on university campuses and there was no internet. I am well aware that atheism exists, although I'm not so sure the kind of atheism with which I was associated still exists. In my day it was an intellectual position, rather than an excuse to feel superior by venting rage against people on the internet. Instead we felt superior by thinking of ourselves as an intellectual elite. Atheim by the real definition (the one he will push--merely a lack of belief in God) is only 1.6% of the American population. That is according to the most authoritative survey done to date, "US Religious Landscape"the Pew study from last year.
Some figures go as high as 17%. Many atheists quoted Pew to say 17% were atheist. But when we look at the details of the study they break down the figures to show only 1.6% are actually atheists. The rest of them are actually everywhere across the board from "I don't know" to "there's a higher power but I don't like organized religion." The percentage of people who actually fit the definition that organized atheism wants to push (merely an absence of belief in God or gods) only amount to 1.6%, fewer than the percentage of communists in America at the end of the cold war. Cline wants to talk about denying reality, he's pushing the future in the hands of a tiny sliver of the American populace, and in so doing rebelling against our genetic structure (as we see in arguments below). If I were Cline I would be less inclined to push this line about unreality. The data actually indicates that atheism is shrinking, which would be a good support for my initial premise that atheism is on its last legs. Previous figures showed 3%, that does not include the groups eliminated by their actual belief of agnosticism. So Pew to then find 1.6% suggests the category is shrinking. But then Adherents.com shows an even lower figure.
Adherents.com shows Atheists at 0.4% of U.S. Population. (scroll down to the tables).
Atheist 1990 adult pop: 902,000 2004= 1,272,986 Percentrage of Pop = 0.4%
a note on this statistical table says:
2004 total population numbers were calculated by multiplying each group's percent of the total adult 2001 population (207,882,353) by the 2004 total population (using the June 1, 2004 U.S. Census Bureau extrapolated estimate of 293,382,953 total Americans). The U.S. Census Bureau total U.S. population estimate for 2000, based on the actual 2000 Census, was: 281,421,906. The U.S. Census Bureau total U.S. population estimate for July 1, 2001 was: 293,655,404. The adult (ages 18 and over) population estimate for July 1, 2001 was: 220,377,406. The total adult population for 2001 used in the 2001 ARIS study (apparently counting only adults aged 21 and over) was: 207,882,353. For 2001 figures, see: 293655404http://www.census.gov/popest/states/asrh/SC-est2004-01.html. This method of extrapolating the 2004 total population of each religious group from the 2001 adult population of each group does not factor in differences in the average number of children per adult for each religious group.
The point is my surmise that atheism is not the future is based upon some good solid empirical assumptions about the trends in population. It is Cline who does not face reality. Nevertheless I am not actually claiming that people will stop referring to themselves as "atheists." In that way it might continue to grow; it has been galvanized by the net and a larger group have been drawn around it who are made up of what we in my day would have called "agnostics" or "anti-organized religion." So people may go on using the label, but the kind of atheism being touted on the net now as "new atheism" is merely death rattle of an outmoded nineteenth century way of looking at things.
But he goes on to try and grapple with my analysis:
Joe Hinman writes:
Me, quoted by Cline:Atheism is over because it depends upon the assumptions of modernism. Atheists believe in truth. They believe that religion is false because there is no God, and that means it is not true and therefore false. But we are now in the postmodern era where there is no truth. That is both good and bad for Christianity but it si really bad for atheism.
If there is no truth, then that really is bad for Christianity too because then it can't be the case that Christianity is "true." Regardless, I'm not convinced that Joe Hinman quite understands what he is talking about. The "postmodern era" isn't one where "there is no truth," but rather when it has become fashionable for some to argue that there is no truth (among other things
First of all, I said this might mean problems for Christianity but we can weather it better than can atheism. Rather than demonstrate to me that you can, you demonstrate that you can't by asserting I can't argue for the truth of my view, implying that you intend to continue the "truth" of your view. Thus you miss the whole issue that it's terribly outmoded and inconsequential to slog through the vineyard of truth finding in this postmodern day and age. Secondly, he doesn't seem to understand what postmodernism is or what it indicates about society. He is still pushing the truth category: he says it's not that there is no more truth but that some people think there's no truth, that indicates he doesn't get the drift. Of course there is still such a thing as true and false. That's a logical category that plays of of the law of non contradiction. Until we scrap that (which would result in total chaos and even Postmodernism have not made that move) there will be a category of "truth--out there--" so to speak. That is not the issue.
The issue is that the simplistic approach to truth finding that expects a clear cut "yes" and clear cut "no," empirical proof, the pretense of objectivity, these things are all too simplistic and too unsophisticated, too Mayberry to look to as options. Postmodernism has left it's mark such that it's much more important to prove relevance than "truth." It's an outmoded stogy mission to argue for absolute objective proofs that dispelled all doubt. Finding that is not even important. The important answers now days are one's which ground us and center us and give us a means of understanding, rather than "objective proof" that conquers all other positions. That models hegemonic at best. In Postmodern parlance, atheism is "totalizing." Now just so we are clear, I say now obviously for all to see, nothing is more totalizing than fundamentalist Christianity. But that's just one option. My point is Christianity is diverse and is better able to adapt to a new era, better able to shed it's colonizing instincts than is atheism, which always insists upon the pretense of objectivity. Christianity would have to change in a Postmodern era, no doubt. The argument is that it could, while the kind of atheism touted by Cline cannot.
The kind of atheism that storms the message boards and blogs, the kind Cline hawks, is just like anti-communism. Anti-communism would have no meaning and no place in the world without communism. These options are book ends. Anti-communism must have communism to survive because its very life depends upon being the other to a movement it is designed to counter. So Atheism is to Christianity, especially fundamentalism. Atheists are in essence fundamentalists. This is why I find that when I oppose atheist arguments with my liberal theology nine times out of ten they go: "tilt--does not compute." They seem only to be able to think of God as a big man in the sky. Why is this? It's because the very movement itself was born to counter the beliefs of people who believe in a big man in the sky. I find that the most common reaction I get to arguing for some liberal view, such as Tillich's existential ontology, is outrage. They feel cheated because to them the whole thing is about fighting the projection of their superegos.
Yes, a departure from the category of "truth" is problematic for both sides, but more so for atheism becasue atheists can't depart from their standard (the pretense) of objective demonstrable scientific evidence. So atheists not only have to have truth, they have to have truth they can prove by science. We do not. As a christian, of course we want truth, God is God of truth, but we can be sophisticated enough to know that there is a distinction between a theoretically embracing truth per se, and claims, to proofs of truth content. Religious belief is about placing confidence in a proposition (ie what used to be called "faith"). Placing confidence in a proposition to such an extent that one that one has no problem deriving transformational power from that confidence. Atheists reduce faith to "believing things without evidence" (which is totally irrelevant to the true nature and definition of the word) and then mock and deride their straw man definition. So it is not so easy to just dismiss Christianity on the premise of truth finding. It's even less so when one realizes that the atheists are just as dependent upon the category of "truth" but they have stuck themselves with the demand of absolute proof. Yes, God is "truth" per se, but that is not the same as saying that propositions of truth claims must be empirically verified before one can place confidence in a proposition.
Cline goes on:
Such ideas have been defended in the past, but it has become a stronger intellectual force in the postmodern era. Hinman, though, seems to be treating it as though there were some fundamental shift in reality from a state in the past where truths really existed to now when truths don't exist, which of course is just nonsense.
It's obvious Cline has not Read Derrida,(see my essay on Derrida part 1, and Part 2) Baudrillard, Foucault, Frederich Jameson, to name a few seminal figures. No it is not that the category of truth magically goes away. But we do not live unmediated in the world of the forms. We live the real world where our perceptions are mediated by cultural constructs, and thus the world in which we live, the "life world" (as the Germans would say) the world of our understanding, is based upon culturally constructed constituent parts. Thus when the ground changes, the paradigm shifts, the world changes. This massive change in many paradigms worked itself from about 1980 to present, culminating briefly in the Golden age of Postmodernism in the 80s and 90s, now in the golden age of genetic determinism. Along the way the rise of the internet and changing of the guard in atheism from Bertrand Russell type of intellectual thinker to the Dawkins type of mocking know nothing.
This whole reality of truth claims and their constructs vs actual truth "out there," is a prime example of why atheism will probably just fade away with he next few paradigm shifts. Actually, the label will probably survive but the content will change to such an extent that what "atheists" of the present argue will be irrelevant. The people supporting it, such as Cline, clearly depend upon concepts bequeathed to modernity form the Christian synthesis of the middle ages. Christianity can transition because it's so diverse. As long as people have personal religious experinces it will go on. While Atheism on the other hand requires nineteenth century categories of thought to persist because that's the century in which the modern atheist mentally is stuck.
Cline confesses his befuddlement:
If Hinman himself really believes that there is no truth, then he renders himself completely unable to argue that it's true that his god exists or that his religion is valid. He can't even argue that it's true that no truths exist. Is that what he really wants?
I don't have to argue for the truth of God: I merely have to argue for the efficacy of belief. All we need is a more sophisticated understanding of what belief is about.
Although, I'm not trying to negate the category of truth. That's a mistake in understanding my point. Societal perceptions of the category of truth, what it means and how it is demonstrated have changed and will continue to change. Atheists are stuck in a nineteenth century paradigm of Newtonian science fighting uneducated fundamentalism over old issues long settled, such as evolution. As social complexity drifts away from this benighted era atheism will be left in the dark. Christianity will be forced to change, no doubt. Fundamentalism may have a tough time, although at the present they are not having a tough time at all.But that's probably because liberal theology was born in the same post enlightenment environment as was modern atheism. But the emotionalism of the fundies allows personal tastes in the private sector to blossom, and to remain wrapped in a cocoon of provincialism, blissfully ignorant of society around them. That's exactly why Christianity will be able to adopt the more complex scene and atheism wont. If atheism loses its' outmoded nineteenth century understanding it basically wont be atheist anymore.
Cline moves on to specific issues:
First up: The "God Pod" (God part of the brain)
Well, I'm not sure what he wants. As confused as the above may seem, it's more clear than most of the rest of what he writes. Joe Hinman proceeds to argue that there are several contradictions at the heart of atheism:
Me (quoted by Cline):(1) The God pod is the result of scientific empirical data. The reason for rejecting evolution as a blind factor in producing the god pod is that it requires innate ideas. Innate ideas are part of the past, they come from a basically spiritual domain. But the atheist has to support innate ideas, which contradict atheism at its core concepts, in order to argue that the God pod is just a blind product of evolution. Thus atheism can't assault one of the major arguments for God nor can it access one of its major weapons without shooting itself in the foot.
Cline's response: God pod? What? I think Joe Hinman is arguing that it's been empirically proven that there is a "god module" in the brain which produces belief in gods and that such a mental capacity would never have been produced without there being some sort of god in the first place. Therefore, materialistic evolution is false and the existence of a god is true — despite the fact that we are in the postmodern era where there are no truths.
Yes, "God pod" is my own cutsie little slang term for the "God module." I probably should abandon it (my poor taste to find it "catchy"). The argument here is that evolution un-aided cannot produce innate ideas. Genes don't think. Instinct is not thought. Innate ideas can only exist in minds, or in Platonic forms. Thus if there is an innate idea (such as "God") then it has to come from a mind or a form, either of which one might argue is a good basis for belief in God. Cline draws the fallacious conclusion that this s an arguemnt against evolution. Of course this is becasue he assumes I must be fundie or I would not have problems with atheism. Then again to "new atheists" there is no distinction between fundies and liberals. All believers are brain dead fools to whom they feel superior and it doesn't matter what the believer actually thinks. Just for the record I am an evolutionist and this has nothing to do with ditching evolution. Presenting reasons why evolution unaided can't produce innate ideas is not the same as saying evolution never happened. Let's move on to Cline's response. But remember, he's missed the point that atheism in failing to grasp the importance of the God "module" sets itself up for failure because it's working agianst the natural order.
There are two errors in such an argument. First, Hinman's claims about a "god module" are far more dramatic than any scientific evidence has established. Insofar as there is any sort of place in the brain, it appears to be involved with religion and religious experience generally, not theism specifically, and it can be activated by mechanical and chemical means — which in effect makes it entirely material in function, not supernatural.
(1) He is unread in the literature. There is an abundance of scientific evidence proving that some from of belief has a genetic basis and almost all scientists believe this now. A vast army of researchers are working on the issues. see Where God and Science Meet vol II, edited by Patrick McNamara. The volume is bursting with support from scientific community.
(2) Cline is right there is a problem with arguing for an actual "God Gene." The genetic basis doesn't have to be an actual gene it can be a side effect of a genetic complex (a "Spandrel is a term used in evolutionary biology describing a phenotypic characteristic that is considered to have developed during evolution as a side-effect of a true adaptation, specifically arising from a correlation of growth, rather than arising from natural selection."). But while that might make the argument harder to pull as a God argument, it does not in anyway indicate an argument against the existence of God. Nor does the idea that religious experince has a genetic basis in any way infringe upon belief. The original point was that religion is not going away because it has a genetic component, that is not disproved by the spandrel idea.
If God creates flesh and blood beings then surely "he" would create a communication system for them to use. If He does this then of course "he" (whatever that is) has to use that same device in communicating with them. Of course I speak metaphorically of "communicating." God need to be a conscious being who "communicates" in the sense that we understand it. In any case nothing in our biology can contradict the existence of God because it s always going to be a prori the way god "does things" (to put it crudely) if there is a God at all. Now it might change our conception of God. But we need not see God as a giant building contractor in the sky.
(3) Now Cline argues that since this genetic function relays experince and not concrete ideas then it's not relating innate ideas. But that argument doesn't wash, however, because the reactions that evoke the genetic structure are found when the subject is exposed to any God talk. Obviously there would have to be some form of innate idea there for the genetic process to recognize. Genes do not think in language. The idea that a genetic structure somehow thinks to respond to a linguistic concept is lunacy. Yet some how it does, meaning there must be an innate idea to which the structure is somehow pre set to respond.
(4) Responding to chemical means has nothing to do with it. First of all that is not not proven. John Hick has a very good chapter dispelling the myth that true religious experince has been evoked by chemical stimulus. Secondly, none of the major researchers of religious experince are worried about this prospect. If God creates a flesh and blood creature and endows that creation with rational understanding, that understanding is communicated through brain chemistry. Thus there has to be a trigger mechanism through which response to the spiritual can be stimulated. In other words we are only looking at how God does communication with humans, not a reason to ditch belief in God.
Second, Hinman's argument reduces to little more than a reworked argument from desire: we only have desires for things which exist in some form (food, air, drink) and no desire for something non-existent would have evolved in us. Since we desire God, then God must exist. This is a poor argument for many reasons: there is no basis for thinking people only desire that which exists, it ignores how ideas like "god" are an abstraction of real things and qualities, and so forth.
Straw man. He's somehow gotten the idea that if he makes a straw man argument then reducing the original argument to a reductio ad absurdum disproves it. No, it doesn't work that way. He's presenting a straw man argument, because I did not argue this. My argument is not an argument from desire. Moreover, it is not a logical requirement of my argument that an argument from desire be formulated out of it. The point that I made is simply that religion is genetically based and it wont go away. Atheists are like the flip side of fundamentalists; they are anti-communists to the fundamentalists version of communists. Just as anti-communism is meaningless without communism to fight, so atheism is meaningless without fundamentalism to fight. Once the complexities of postmodern society catch up with American culture both sides will have to change. Christianity can cope because it's diverse and intellectaul and based upon personal experinces which are genetically based. Atheism is merely a knee jerk reaction to a time and place which are already out of date.
As I said in the essay which Cline quotes:
(2) Atheism as a modern materialistic school was founded upon cause and effect as the means to explain the natural world. God was kicked out of his own creation based upon this concept. Now atheists abandon it in order to escape the Cosmological argument; saying that QM particals prove that the universe doesn't need a cause. Thus they cut the ground out from under themselves.
This is simply a misrepresentation of atheism, from beginning to end. Atheism isn't a "school" of anything, nor is it a means to try to explain the natural world.
It is a school of thought and its' silly to say it isn't. All of them say the things all the time. Go look at atheist websites. No variation, nothing unique. All say the same thing, all take the same approach, all use the same slogans. The last person to realize that he's an ideologue is an ideologue. As an atheist, Cline is merely the flip side of a fundie. He has "the truth" it's "objective" nothing can change it or disagree with it and it serves as the filtering lens through he he filers all the world.
Here is the atheist ideology in a nutshell:
Religious people are stupid,ancient world people are stupid,religion is superstition.
religion is forces people to do stupid things out of fear of a big man in the sky
Atheism the natural default because we are not born with conscious understanding of religious belief (even though we are born with innate genetic propensity to sense the presence of God)
science is the only true from of knowledge
atheism is more rational because it's based upon taking objective science and cutting off any kind of belief aside from that which can be demonstrated with totally certainty through scientific means.
Of course they will deny this and claim that atheists are all different, and they are on many points, about 98% of the one's you find on the net fit this profile. they use the same slogans, they hold the same opinions, they all that same mocking little tone (your can't prove your big sky pixie) and they all tout empirical scientific evidence until you present some that disproves their views, then they suddenly don't care about science as much. a quick trip through the major atheist websites will confirm this view easily enough.
Atheism is simply the absence of belief in gods and a person who is an atheist may have a variety of reasons for not believing, none of which have anything to do with explanations for the universe.
If that were true atheists would have diverse opinions. I think it was true of the atheist of my day. Now it is not true. The atheists of today have one view point between them. They differed over things but they are minute, such as some are Jesus mythers some accept the historical existence of Jesus. But in terms of metaphysics, they all say the same thing. I never find atheist who follow Sartre for example. I used to. But now they are all science nerds. Most of them read Dawkins and spit back his lies with alarming sameness. Now I expect the atheists who read this to say "yes, well fundies do that too." Yes, that's why I'm not one. There's a major difference in someone basing his atheism on Sartre and existentialism and someone basing his view upon Dawkins outlook. The latter is mainly what I find now and they think they are being diverse when they differ within that camp, but most of them remain in that latitude. I have not yet found, after 10 years of internet apologetic, any atheists who understands Sartre much bases his atheism on Sartre. I have found atheists who have never heard of Bertrand Russell.
The above is also a misrepresentation of science because it isn't simply "atheists" who work on Quantum Mechanics (I have no idea what "QM particals" are supposed to be)
sub atomic particals: quarks, bosons, muons, shleptons and so on. I never said only atheists work on it. He's assuming I'm criticizing QM theory and I never said that.
and, moreover, there
is nothing about Quantum Mechanics which might "cut the ground out from under" atheists or atheism. On the contrary, I often see theists trying to deny the conclusions and implications of quantum physics, not atheists.
Notice that he just ignores the arguemnt,he does not answer it. My argument says that atheism was once predicted upon cause and effect. LaPlace said "we do not need God because we have natural cause and effect."("I have no need fo that hypothesis" ie God). To get away from the cosmological argument modern atheists argue "there is no cause and effect, the universe doesn't' need a cause (except at the Newtonian level but not in terms of origins). That means the reason for excluding God from science is gone. Now we are free to think about God in connection with science again. Now before you atheists out there start spitting milk through your noses at your monitor, I'm sure you are thinking about some big man on a throne with a white bread. But that's the sort of nineteenth century mentality that atheism is stuck with; rebellion against the father. Atheism is really a problem with the super ego. But what about a dialectical view of God, a process view of God, or Tillch's existential ontology. What a view of God that would actually identify God with Quantum theory? Take for example Teilhard de Chardin's notion that God is the strong force. You can't chuck that on the grounds "we don't need because we have naturalistic cause and effect to explain things, because you gave that up. There could be any number of possible arguments, I don't have time to make them here. But the fact of the matter is clear, the old paradigm under which atheism came to be in the modern world, is gone. Atheism has no real raison d'etre in Postmodernity. The situation for atheism could only be made worse arguing that postmoderity is just as bad for Christian belief, because it means that atheist can't understand Christianity well enough to start thinking in Postmodern Christian terms.
After this, well, Joe Hinman's ideas actually get even less coherent so I'm not going bother with addressing anything further. I think that the above is wrong enough to dismiss the entire piece anyway.
Cline doesn't see fit to enlighten us as to what he's talking about. I have a feeling we will never know, I also have a feeling neither does he.