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7/18/08

Why You and I Can't Understand Atheists

Author's note: This was published previously in a slightly modified form on atheism-analyzed.net about a month ago.

It is very common to come away from a conversation with an Atheist scratching one’s head and wondering, “Why doesn’t he understand what I’m saying?” , or, “have I completely lost my ability to communicate?”. There are specific reasons for this, as I will show here.

I recently commented elsewhere on a pertinent article that I found, written by an Atheist concerning the ethics of Atheism. The article is both clearly written and is a fair and definitive statement of how Atheists think about transcendentals such as ethics. And how they think in general. After spending considerable energy degrading Christianity, the author finally gets to “the Atheist Foundation of Ethics”, which he calls, “Consequentialist” ethics. (There is more on Consequentialism here). Here is an excerpt that will help show the thought process:

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"An objective ethic is a consequentialist ethic that has an ultimate goal that is objectively measurable. It then becomes an objective question whether a particular recommended means will in fact lead to that goal, whether another means might be more effective. The statement "If you want X then you ought to do Y" becomes a statement about cause-and-effect relationships that is objectively true or false, and can be investigated by scientific procedures.

What about the choice of your ultimate goal, your ultimate value that you are pursuing? Can we say that some goal is "better" than others, and deserves to be adopted by everyone? I think there is one that we can predict will be widely popular, because it is favored by natural selection. But there is no logical or cosmic necessity that it be adopted by everyone.

There is a built-in "default" goal of biological life, genetic reproductive success, also called "inclusive fitness" by biologists."

http://www.rationalatheist.com/Articles/atheist_ethics.html


There is more in the article; by all means read the whole thing if you are inclined. But this snippet is representative and indicative. The relationship is this, that the end determines the means. The first consideration is the goal (a common procedure), followed by the tactics needed to achieve that goal (another common procedure). But the author calls this an ethic. Ordinarily one might consider this to be a project management technique, to define a goal, then to set up tactics to achieve it. But not an ethic. An ethic would be a defined basis for judging which goal is right and which goal is wrong. So the term "consequentialist" apparently means that the consequence outweighs the tactics, not that the consequence has any moral value. The ethic then is without moral value.

The Atheist assumption here is that (a) there is no absolute right or wrong; (b) the goal is neither right nor wrong; (c) any means that successfully progress efficiently toward the achievement of the goal are acceptable.

Aside from this ethic encompassing the fundamentals of totalitarianism, it serves to illuminate the entire thought process used by Atheists in general. We can see clearly that the proposed ethic states that the conclusion is the imperative, and that the supporting elements (premises) are secondary and are to be selected for their ability to support the conclusion. This is classical definition of rationalization(1), the opposition to rationality.


If one is habituated to the defect of rationalization, the inverted procedure becomes transparent to him. It seems natural to believe a conclusion and then seek out or even manufacture the arguments that support it (with total disregard to the logic of the arguments). And it seems natural to reject and deny any arguments that do not support the conclusion (again with total disregard to the logic of the arguments).

In fact denialism is pathological in the rationale of Atheism. It is really the only defense against first principles based, transcendent logic. Such absolutist logic can only be denied, not disproved, and this is just what Nietzsche did in his support of Atheism. But most Atheists don't delve that deeply into the philosophy of their own beliefs, because there is no need to examine a personal truth construct for validity if one actually believes it.

The inversion in logic is transparent to the rationalization-afflicted, if they refuse to consider the use of first principle based, absolute, transcendent logic. In fact the inversion goes to the extent of inverting the meanings of the fallacies in order to support their conclusions.

This logical inversion is fatal to any conversation with an Atheist which tries to hinge on first principle based logic. Denial in the face of clear logic is the Atheist’s approach to argumentation. This is then turned into rebuttal in kind: tu Quoque or Red Herrings, and followed with another denial that it has been done. If the non-Atheist quits in the frustration of arguing in a nonrational, nonsensical environment, the Atheist declares victory.

But there is more to the story than how the logical inversion happens. There is the why. Why is there a necessity for rationalization and denial of fallacy in the worldview of Atheism? It is necessary because the conclusion is more important to the Atheist than the process that is used to derive it. In other words, the truth-finding process is not deemed necessary when the truth of the conclusion is pre-defined. Atheists have created their own truth. They must defend it at all cost. They cannot admit to fallacies because to do so would threaten the validity of their own personal truth construct.

Loss of the atheist’s truth construct can be a serious, even traumatic, event. It means that he must be exposed to external moral authority outside his own ethical story; it means that there becomes necessity for intellectual discipline, which is required when one seeks truth rather than inventing it; it means that it becomes necessary to value humility over elitism.

The loss of these aspects of the Atheist’s self-image is too devastating for many to consider. And so for some of them it becomes necessary to argue one’s viewpoint incessantly just to keep justifying it over and over. Why else would a person “without a belief” argue it so persistently and passionately? Only the need for self-justification could answer that drive. (The "passion of moral outrage" argument fails immediately in light of consequentialist ethics, which ignores morality altogether).

I have previously outlined the several causes that seem to lead to Atheism. The need to preserve the worldview-cocoon and safety from external moral authority is strong. But the corresponding loss of truth-finding ability when embracing Atheism is exacerbated by the artificial truth-manufacturing that is needed to support the cocoon.

And it is their truth manufacturing that makes the Atheists impossible to understand for those of us who seek the truth by rejecting conclusions that are not based on fallacy-free premises. The logic systems are too different to allow communication to flow between parties with the transfer of meaning unencumbered by inversion.

Even as an Atheist myself for 40 years, I found it difficult to see the logic behind much of what other Atheists held to be true. But I finally decided to actually seek truth, rather than pack delusions around a preconception, no matter how valued the preconception.

Sometimes I try to communicate with one. But it is always the same, faced by artificial constructs advertised as facts, rebuttal by denial of the obvious, complete inability to connect on a rational basis. Empirically speaking, it’s a proven waste of time.

Notes:

(1)Rationalization is used here in the sense as follows:

"to find reasons to justify or explain (one's actions)"

Collins Essential English Dictionary 2nd Edition 2006
© HarperCollins Publishers 2004, 2006

and
"To devise self-satisfying but incorrect reasons for one's behavior."

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language,
Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Updated in 2003.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

16 comments:

  1. Well, I salute your goal and I wish you God's Speed. Just remember, Hell is locked from the inside, and it's not going to be opened by logic or reason.

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  2. Uh, Stan, with all due respect, you need to brush up a bit on logic. You mention an article on ethics written by an atheist and then say:

    The article is both clearly written and is a fair and definitive statement of how Atheists think about transcendentals such as ethics.

    That got me curious. Since "atheism" simply means "not believing in God", and says nothing per se about ethics, how can you claim that this one atheist has made a "fair and definitive statement of how atheists think" about ethics? Atheists, like stamp collectors, have all different kinds of ethics. You then go on:

    And how they [atheists] think in general.

    Sorry, you just lost me. Would you take me seriously if I claimed that, say, the Malleus Maleficarum is representative of how Christians think "in general"? If you want to argue against consequentialism, fine. But please be careful with your labels- not all atheists are consequentialists. If you can demonstrate that atheists must logically be consequentialists, please do so.

    You also say:

    I have previously outlined the several causes that seem to lead to Atheism. The need to preserve the worldview-cocoon and safety from external moral authority is strong. But the corresponding loss of truth-finding ability when embracing Atheism is exacerbated by the artificial truth-manufacturing that is needed to support the cocoon.

    Now, this may be the reason that you embraced atheism once upon a time- I can't know that. But despite the popularity of this view among Christians, in its pure form "You are an atheist because you hate God", it is merely risible. I could with just as much justification accuse you of disbelieving in Santa for exactly the same reason. However, I think it more likely that you do not believe in Santa for the same reason I do not believe in God: no evidence.

    And what does this "cocoon" that you claim atheists have consist of? Not believing in something for which we see no evidence is not a "cocoon". If you can present evidence that God exists, please do so.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Instead of throwing around b.s. accusations that all atheists are living in denial, with upside-down logic, scared of moral authority, etc., why don't you accept some responsibility for failing to make convincing arguments?

    I constantly fail at communicating my thoughts coherently and convincingly. I just hope that every once in a while, some nugget of insight gets out. Can you admit the same?

    Of course it is difficult for atheists and theists to understand each other. It's a pretty fundamental disagreement. Now show some maturity to match your years and stop whining that it's all the other side's fault.

    With that said, allow me point out where your arguments fail to convince me, recognizing that this may be the result of a poor argument or just a poor transmission of that argument.

    So the term "consequentialist" apparently means that the consequence outweighs the tactics, not that the consequence has any moral value. The ethic then is without moral value.

    I fail to see why consequentialism is without moral value. If two people share common values for life, freedom, lack of suffering, etc. then a consequentialist answer to the question of, say, euthanasia does have moral value, to those struggling to figure out how to choose the "right" action to be consistent with their values.

    We can see clearly that the proposed ethic states that the conclusion is the imperative, and that the supporting elements (premises) are secondary and are to be selected for their ability to support the conclusion. This is classical definition of rationalization(1), the opposition to rationality.

    This is where you appear to go off track. You want to taint consequentialism with our dirty associations with the word "rationalization". Rationalization means making excuses after the fact. The direction of time here is important. When someone rationalizes, they can cover up malicious intent by pointing to the positive outcome, which may have only been due to chance. Consequentialism, on the other hand, is a method of forethought in which the positive outcome is the intent.

    The other way in which you appear to want to taint consequentialism, is by saying that it is about achieving a goal "by any means necessary". But what people associate with this phrase is the pursuit of a single goal at the expense of all other goals and disregard for collateral damage. However, consequentialism takes into account all of the consequences of your actions, not just your goals.

    And this is really kind of silly, because theists and atheists alike use consequentialist reasoning to make moral arguments. "If we teach comprehensive sex education, our children will become promiscuous." "If we let gay parents adopt, their children will turn out gay."

    Your post just gets further off track from there. You fail to convincingly link consequentialism (choosing actions based on outcomes) with inverted logic (cherry-picking support for preselected conclusions). They are two completely different things. It would be convenient to your argument if they had something to do with each other, but they don't.

    Why else would a person “without a belief” argue it so persistently and passionately? Only the need for self-justification could answer that drive.

    If you're not a regular visitor to AtheismIsDead for self-justification, then why are you here?

    ReplyDelete
  4. "Sometimes I try to communicate with one. But it is always the same, faced by artificial constructs advertised as facts, rebuttal by denial of the obvious, complete inability to connect on a rational basis. Empirically speaking, it’s a proven waste of time."

    Then I have a creative suggestion for you: never speak to an atheist again, and we shall both be spending our time better.

    ReplyDelete
  5. teoleolgical ethics. What makes a thing good is the outcome. Utilitarianism is a form of conseuqentualism, greatest good for the greatest number.

    the irony is among those who teach ethics and philosophers to are ethicists, consquentialism is really way down on the list. It's considered to have had the final nail driven in its coffin. At least that is the case with utilitarianism and consqeuntalism takes some major hits as well.

    the major philosopher who destroyed it is John Rawls who wrote a book called A theory of Justice. That is a major work of the 20th century and everyone should read it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Interesting article. The first paragraph is particularly interesting because, as an atheist, I feel exactly the same way when I'm talking to Christians.

    I can see the consequentialist argument boils down to "the end determines the means", but you're stretching to then conclude that this is equivalent to "the end justifies the means." In an atheistic world view, actions aren't examined in isolation of their consequences. Believe it or night, there is a genuine sense of right and wrong which is not very different from that of the theist.

    The only real difference is that the atheist does not claim that his or her ethics are Divinely inspired.

    And on first principles-based logic, I very much prefer that mode of argument, because there is no justification for religion or belief in God that can be built up from first principles. Any such argument automatically favours the atheistic view.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This is quite a well designed blog but dream on. I am an atheist and I know there are millions of others like me all communicating, uniting and building.

    I discuss the topic every day and have never heard an atheist use the term "consequentialist ethics". Most of us agree that atheism, in itself, does not endow anyone with worthy morals or ethics. They are not the same qualities and therefore cannot be compared.

    If I say that 7+1=8 and you insist that the answer is 9 I disagree, not because 8 is a better number than 9 nor is it because I believe 8 people are more noble than 9 people. Nine, in this case is just wrong because it does not explain the evidence.

    There may be a few people, infected with religion, who, despite their risible beliefs, manage to maintain high ethical and moral standards - usually by ignoring most of the tenets of their religion, but from this article you are not one of them.

    You lie and misrepresent our case like a champion liar for Jesus.

    You also mention biology. Your comments reveal a superficial knowledge of evolutionary theory along with a deep misunderstanding of its process. To deal with all of this I would need to take you back to your early childhood and re-educate you in order to overcome the religious misinformation which so distorts you world-view.

    I take heart in the knowledge that, even as we are faced with hoards of indoctrinated religious idiots in the present, the mountains of evidence for a world without supernatural intervention continues to grow for the benefit of future generations.

    Let me know if you have the courage to publish this.

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  8. I really enjoyed reading this Stan.

    Frustration has been setting in a lot on me lately. All I want is an honest and open discussion but every atheist I come across wants to win an argument rather than have a discussion.

    A big part of me wants to learn how to effectively counter what you have illuminated in this article but I should probably take your advice and stop wasting my time.

    By the way, I love your site Stan. Great stuff!

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  9. So to sum it up you are attacking people for basing their ethics on the real world. You know, the effects they have on people instead of being based off abstract principles. You are aware there are situations where it is mandatory to break principles? The most obvious is when two or more clash. And you resolve that... by looking at consequences.

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  10. I invite all readers to compare the commments made to points in the article written.

    Then draw your own conclusions.

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  11. Stan- you say:

    I invite all readers to compare the commments made to points in the article written.

    Then draw your own conclusions.


    Uh, Stan, don't we all do that anyway? How about responding to some of the criticisms?

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  12. With all due respect for Stan and him being 64, but gosh guys, you seem to be pretty lacking in content lately around here. I'd be very surprised if any of you guys would honestly subscribe to Stan's idea of logic, yet here it is.

    Hey on a different note, have you guys been over to Debunking Debinked Lately? Some terrific articles.

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  13. I have a tendency to rub my beard and ask why these theists I talk to can't understand that there probably are no gods or God or YHWH or Krishna or that Jesus may not have been a real person. They are all so cock sure that there is not only a god but it is his god (usually the god of the Wholly Babble). Discussions of the history of religion, the universality of many Babble stories, the looniness of almost all of them, the symbolism inherent in them, and why they think the one they believe is true and all these others are lies get absolutely nowhere with them. Sometimes it's a failure of imagination and sometimes it's just plain obstinacy.

    How can there be a definitive statement of how atheists think about anything? We are all of different minds and arrived at where we are by different routes. As far as an "atheist ethics" is concerned, there ain't no such thing! I've known atheists who would never cheat on their taxes, their timecards at work, or their wives and girlfriends. I've know others who would but I must say, I've not known as many atheists who would as Christians!

    There are as many "atheist ethics" as there are atheists and as many "Christian ethics" as there are Christians.

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  14. well said, agki

    religion is such a drag. believe what you want as humility permits... no need to subject everyone else to it though

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  15. Atheist and Moral are oxymoronic, they aren't held to any ethics while ethics clearly exist.

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  16. "Atheist and Moral are oxymoronic, they aren't held to any ethics while ethics clearly exist."

    Atheists, like everyone else, are accountable to society, secular laws, their own consciences and well-being, and those closest to them. The existence of ethics does not necessitate the existence of anything supernatural.

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