Friday, 22 February 2008

Atheism and rationality (a footnote)

A friend who had read the posts on atheism and how to account for rationality (one, two, three) sent me this comment:

I read your blog last week and was interested in your atheist rational thought argument series. I tried to find some good atheist arguments on the internet but the starting point seemed to be rational thought is atheist, this is an axiom not something you need to prove. People like to think they do think straight, particularly atheists who believe they are the pinnacle of evolution. Christians believe in a bigger much smarter being and also that their whole nature including their mind is fallen.

New Scientist had some interesting articles on this, filing all religion under irrational thought, some of the letters are interesting:

I thought that was quite insightful. Atheist apologists routinely discard religious positions or statements to the realm of the irrational simply by fiat. Now, I'm sure that some religious positions are not just irrational but anti-rational. Take for example as the pantheist's belief that our experiences of personal consciousness are ultimately illusions. (Who exactly is experiencing these illusions, I wonder?). But campaigning atheists generally go way beyond this, and take it as axiomatic that any statement that can't be verified empirically (as opposed to through other methods) is either meaningless or irrational.

This axiom itself, though, as with any other axiom of philosophy, is not subject to empirical verification, and hence refutes itself. You only believe things that can be proved by repeated test and observation? Fine - but on those grounds you've got no reason to believe that repeated test and observation is the only way to derive valid truth, so you can't even establish your own starting point.

When you hear your local village atheist saying "science disproves God", what he actually means most of the time is "my philosophical assumptions are constructed so as to forbid the possibility of God", and as my friend discovered from his searches of the Internet, this isn't a set of assumptions which the "rational" atheist set is normally in any hurry to give a critical examination to.

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