The Atheist and The Biologist: A Diologue

Because this is how conversations with atheists typically go:

Biologist: “I’ve just discovered a new species of animal!”
Atheist: “No, you haven’t. Unicorns don’t exist. There’s no evidence.”
Biologist: “But I’m not talking about a unicorn. I’m talking about something else.”
Atheist: “All animals are unicorns. You can’t define things into existence. Unicorns don’t exist, so you haven’t discovered unicorn.”
Biologist: “It’s not a unicorn! It’s actually a beetle. I found it in the rainforest.”
Atheist: “Animals are by definition magical one-horned horse-like creatures. You can’t prove unicorns exist by changing the definition.”
Biologist: “But that isn’t the definition of ‘animal’! At least it isn’t the one we biologists use! I’m talking about a living creature, a beetle. It has nothing to do with magic.”
Atheist: “That’s special pleading. You’re just changing the definition of ‘animal’ so your unicorn can exist, but you have no evidence for unicorns.”
Biologist: “I have one right here, in this box. See? Beetle! Right here! Crawling around!”
Atheist: “That doesn’t prove your unicorn exists.”
Atheist: “No, you are trying to use special pleading to prove your unicorn exists. And I’m too smart to let you use definitions to do it. You can say you aren’t talking about unicorns, but that’s the definition of animal I use, and since I’m the one who doesn’t believe in unicorns, my definition of them is correct.”
Biologist: “That doesn’t even make sense!”
Atheist: “It does to people as smart and skeptical as me!”
Biologist: “Have you ever actually studied biology?”
Atheist: “I don’t need to study biology. I already know unicorns don’t exist.”
Biologist: “I give up. You’re an idiot.”
Atheist: “Yet more proof that biologists are irrational and can never produce evidence of unicorns when challenged.”

4 comments on “The Atheist and The Biologist: A Diologue

  1. notmiles says:

    What are your views about this?


    • Eve Keneinan says:

      Most of your essay focused on the theme that we actually know very little about the nature of things, compared to what it is possible to know, which is certainly something that those prone to science-worship may usefully be reminded.

      I did notice the following epistemically immoderate claim though: “I don’t know anyone in history who has had anything important to say about god, since we may be quite certain that no one, atheist or theist, knows what they are talking about when they start talking about god or gods, either for or against.”

      May we be quite certain of this? How would we achieve said certainty? Is the statement self-referential, such that it is quite certain that you yourself do not know what you are talking about with respect to gods, as your principle seems to state, which would make your principle self-undermining? After all, “No one ever has or ever can know what they are talking about with respect to gods (except me, now)” is hardly an epistemically moderate claim. In fact, it seems to require quite godlike knowledge.

      Finally, I noted a tendency to equate religion with foolishness, or unreason, or anti-intellectualism. Many of your points had the form of “Yes, theists are stupid, but atheists are no less so.”

      Here’s another quote: “People of faith are actually more consistent in their views, since they never claim to believe in science anyway. They are not immediately hypocritical, at least, since it is possible for them create a closed system of illogic that circles back in a self-affirming way. The search for truth is no part of their system, so it is no failure when they find none.”

      Who is this meant to describe? As a theist, I am a “person of faith” and this description is not only wildly inaccurate, it’s pretty insulting. To say that the search for truth is no part of theism is absurd, as is the unstated but clear assumption that science is the only possibly means by which one can search for truth. That smacks of scientism, and ridiculous notions such that “no one ever searched for truth before ~1600.” It would be this point I would mention the names Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, just to begin, possibly continuing on to make the obvious point that modern science developed in (and could only have developed in) a Christian cultural context.

      As you yourself point out, most of the great scientists of the past have been theists—an observation that sits uneasy with characterizations of theism as “a close circle of illogic, in which the search for truth has no part.”

      These pieces simply do not all fit together.


  2. Dean Esmay says:

    Prove the insect you’re talking about isn’t a unicorn!


  3. […] refute the other.  In other words, for Josh, all talk about God is talk about a god, just like all talk about animals is talk about unicorns. But God is not a god, and serious theists believe in God, whether or not they believe in gods (as […]


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