Trope shmope

Mark Vernon discusses what he calls ‘common mistakes of atheists’ – but the examples he gives aren’t examples, because they don’t make the mistakes he says they make. His attributions are rather sloppy. Okay very sloppy. He doesn’t quote, he just says.

If you do the rounds of the philosophically minded blogs of atheists, it is common for arguments about the non-existence of God to be rehearsed. Typically, they present ‘proofs’ that require empirical evidence. For example, Stephen Law, argues that if God is all-powerful and all-good, then the fact that there is so much evil in the world provides evidence that tilts the odds decisively against God’s existence.

But arguing that something tilts the odds is not the same thing as ‘presenting “proofs”,’ and Stephen Law hedges things a good deal more than that.

Would this constitute a “proof” that there’s no God? Depends what you mean by “proof”. Personally I think these sorts of consideration do establish beyond any reasonable doubt that there is no all-powerful all-good God. So we can, in this sense, prove there’s no God. Yet all the people quoted in my last blog say you cannot “scientifically” prove or disprove God’s existence. If they mean prove beyond any doubt they are right. But then hardly anything is provable in that sense, not even the non-existence of fairies.

And so on. He doesn’t just ‘present proofs,’ so that ‘for example’ is misleading.

Vernon also just says about me, and I’m not convinced by what he just says.

Or they say that God is a supernatural entity for which there is as much evidence as fairies – a familiar trope on butterfliesandwheels.

Is it? A familiar trope? Is that something I say a lot? I’m not sure I’ve ever said it, and I am sure I don’t say it a lot, so what does he mean ‘a familiar trope’?

And more to the point, why do theists and pro-theist ‘agnostics,’ which is what I take Vernon to be (since he certainly seems to spend a lot of time rebuking imaginary atheists for saying things they don’t say, for a just plain agnostic) – why do they do that? Why do they mischaracterize atheists and then scold the caricature so much?

Well, maybe because they don’t have much to say if they don’t. I don’t know. But I must say I’m beginning to suspect it. All this complaining about imaginary atheists is beginning to remind me of people who say everyone to the left of Bush is a traitor.

Vernon says more, and most of it seems pretty woolly to me.

Now, I am an agnostic. So I think that the jury is out on the existence of God and, in fact, always will be. Why? Because the very best theologians – those who it is only reasonable to consult before claiming to have disproved the thing about which they are experts – say so.

Wait – what? ‘I think the jury is out on the existence of God and always will be; why? Because the very best theologians say so.’ Did he really mean to say that? Or did he lose track because of the inserted clause, and say something much cruder and sillier than he meant to. Probably. But then there’s that inserted clause, which is also not very good. Atheists don’t claim (most of them) to have ‘disproved’ the existence of god. And what does he mean ‘disproved the thing’? How would you disprove a thing? And then the ‘about which they are experts’ bit – experts in what sense? And experts in what? The thing, we know; but what does that mean? Do they have special expert knowledge that there is a god or that god does exist (and what kind of god it is and what it does and what it wants us to do)? If so why don’t they make it public? I realize they have arguments, but I’m not sure that having arguments that god exists (or ‘about the thing,’ for short) makes them experts. I have no problem agreeing it makes them scholars, but experts? No. No, frankly, I think that’s a stupid word to use about a supernatural subject – unless of course one of these experts comes up with some real evidence (yes, evidence) that a supernatural entity exists. That would be expertise. But just saying? Not so much.

There’s more, but that’s enough. I find this kind of thing depressing.

23 Responses to “Trope shmope”