Intellectually Dishonest or Defective Atheists

As philosopher Edward Feser has pointed out, some atheists are simply not intellectually serious. They may be very ignorant or uneducated, directly dishonest, deeply confused, ill-informed, willfully obtuse, ideologically dogmatic, or just plain stupid; the end result is the same: it is not possible or fruitful to have a serious, rational discussion about God with such people. Here are some red flags which will alert you that you are dealing with an intellectually dishonest or defective atheist:

✅ 1. A persistent inability or refusal to distinguish God from a god or gods. This is a distinction 3 or 4-year-old children can easily grasp, so any atheist who claims not be be able to grasp it is either severely intellectually impaired or lying. In almost all cases, the atheist is simply attempting to conflate God with a god in order to set up a strawman and/or trying to annoy you by belittling God—while ignoring the basic conceptual distinction that all European languages mark by differentiating the word “God” from the word “god” by capitalization. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains, in the entry written by atheist philosopher J. J. C. Smart:

‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God. I shall here assume that the God in question is that of a sophisticated monotheism. The tribal gods of the early inhabitants of Palestine are of little or no philosophical interest. They were essentially finite beings, and the god of one tribe or collection of tribes was regarded as good in that it enabled victory in war against tribes with less powerful gods. Similarly the Greek and Roman gods were more like mythical heroes and heroines than like the omnipotent, omniscient and good God postulated in mediaeval and modern philosophy.

Theists have little to no interest in discussing gods, at least not when God is the topic of discussion. If an atheist wants to discuss gods, he is free to do so, but he cannot pretend talk of gods has any bearing on or relevance to a discussion about God.

✅ 1.1 A persistent inability or refusal to distinguish God from such things as imaginary friends, faeries, wizards, spaghetti monsters, Santa Claus, or other fabulous, fictitious, or mythological entities.

✅ 1.2 A persistent habit of paraphrasing religious ideas in ways which are deliberately ludicrous, derisive, or tendentious, e.g. describing the resurrected Christ as “a zombie,” or God as a “sky daddy.”

✅ 1.3 Persistent use of the fallacious “I just believe in one god less than you” rhetorical trope.

✅ 1.4 Persistent use of tendentious and irrelevant rhetorical mischaracterizations of Christianity, e.g. as “Bronze Age mythology.” Christianity, of course, dates from long after the so-called “metallic” ages, in fact from the prime of the Roman Empire, on of humanity’s civilizational high points. And Judaism, its precursor religion, derives almost entirely from the Iron Age up through historical times—not that the age of a teaching has any bearing whatever on its truth-value.

✅ 1.5 Persistent dishonest characterization of God as some kind of “cosmic tyrant” or “cosmic oppressor” (interestingly enough. the position of Satan).

✅ 1.6 Persistent dishonest characterization of God, especially in the Old Testament, as a moral monster.

✅ 1.7 A persistent inability or refusal to distinguish miracles from magic, usually paired with a tendency to attribute magical powers to nature, e.g. in such claims as “the universe created itself out of nothing” or “properties such as consciousness just emerge out of unconscious matter, because they do.”

✅ 2.0 Belief in scientism, the logically incoherent claim that “only scientific knowledge is valid/real/genuine knowledge” or that “only science or the scientific method can establish the truth-value of propositions,” claims which are neither themselves scientific nor established by science, and hence, self-defeating, and which entail such absurdities as “no human being knew anything before Europeans in the 1600s.”

✅ 2.1 Persistent claims that science, which studies physical nature by means of empirical observation and quantitative measurement, has any bearing on the question of the existence of God, who is by definition, beyond nature, not empirical, and not measurable in terms of quantity. Persistent insistence that claims about God must be proven “scientifically” or that any evidence for God must be “scientific” fall into this category.

✅ 2.2 The claim that Galileo Galilei’s run-in with the Roman Catholic Church in 1633 proves (somehow) that there is some kind of natural antipathy between either (a) science and religion, or (b) science and Christianity, or (c) science and Catholicism. This indicates a complete ignorance of the history of the Galileo affair, and is merely a recycled weaponized meme of the early Enlightenment.

✅ 2.3 Use of the non sequitur that the multiplicity of religions proves that no religion is true, either wholly or in part. By this logic, of course, one may also “prove” that no scientific theory is or can be correct, wholly or in part, since there are always rival theories.

✅ 2.4 Claiming or assuming that the atheist, a finite being who is not all-knowing, is not all-powerful, is not all-wise, and is not all-good, nevertheless is in an epistemic position to know with certainty what an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise, all-good being would or would not do or have done.

✅ 2.5 The belief the atheist knows the true or real origin of religion in human pre-history, a matter which, since it occurs far in human pre-history, we have no certain knowledge of, but only conjecture.

✅ 2.6 The peculiar belief held by some atheists that their total ignorance with respect to God and divine matters is in fact an infallible indication of their intelligence or wisdom or knowledgeableness precisely about the things about which they know nothing.

✅ 2.7 Repeated assertion of the evidently false claim “there’s no evidence for God.”

✅ 3.0 Persistent use of the burden of proof fallacy, that is, the rhetorical trope which combines an argument from ignorance (“my position is the default position,” i.e. “my position is true until proven false, so I need not argue for it) with special pleading that the atheist be allowed to use arguments to ignorance in support of atheism (i.e. “atheism is true because I am totally ignorant about God or divine matters”).

✅ 3.1 Chronological bigotry, i.e. the absurd belief that human beings who lived prior to (say) Richard Dawkins were one and all somehow mentally inferior to anyone living today, up to and including the greatest minds of the past. This would also include the belief that all human beings in the past were incapable of skepticism or critical thinking, or were somehow exceptionally gullible or credulous in a way we, the Enlightened Moderns, are not.

✅ 3.2 “Arguments” that consist wholly of posting atheist memes, e.g. “Eric the God-Eating Penguin.”

✅ 3.3 “Arguments” that consist of no more than exercises in blasphemy or obscenity.

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19 comments on “Intellectually Dishonest or Defective Atheists

  1. arensb says:

    You ignore the fact that a lot of theists make the same mistakes you accuse atheists of making, e.g. when they give credit to Jesus for a game-winning touchdown or say that a prayer and a ritual can change the length of someone’s legs.
    On the other hand, I gave Edward Feser a fair shot, but he turned out to be laughably unconvincing.

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    • Catherine A. says:

      I’m adding argument 3.1a, namely that atheists hold themselves to be different and superior to anyone who lowers themselves to pray, which is why the chronological bigotry is so easy for them.

      That’s where you’re at, right? Some atheists have read Mere Christianity and found it unconvincing. (I’m sure you read Edward Feser, “fair shot” is up for some doubt.) Almost any apologetic is going to be unconvincing if you’re not ready to deal with God and remove yourself from the center of your universe.

      In the end, your inability to process the arguments and evidence for God is your problem. You are the odd ball. Giving credit to Jesus for a touchdown is far more common, logical, and humble way of thinking then pretending there is no God.

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      • arensb says:

        That’s where you’re at, right?

        This appears to be a variation on “You’re just too attached to your sin to bow down to Jesus”.
        That’s like saying, “The reason you’re not a Muslim is your sinful love for bacon.”

        Giving credit to Jesus for a touchdown is far more common, logical, and humble way of thinking then pretending there is no God.

        Eve, I’d like your take on this comment, particularly in light of 1.1, above.

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    • Eve Keneinan says:

      I’m curious as to what you found in Feser that you consider “laughable.”

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      • arensb says:

        See the link above.

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        • Eve Keneinan says:

          I didn’t realize you yourself were the author of the criticism of Feser’s book. The thing that disturbs me the most, and seems to make it unlikely you could ever be convinced by any metaphysical argument for God, or indeed (if your were consistent) any argument for anything whatever, is that you seem to countenance “for no reason,” “just because,” and “it just is” as legitimate ‘reasons.’ The problem with allowing such things into one’s ontology is that they cannot be cabined. Suppose Smith shoots a friend of yours, Jones, in the head with a shotgun. Jones’ head flies apart and Jones ends up dead. You are, of course, outraged and wish to take Smith to task for murder. But Smith, having read your critique of Feser, notes that you cannot really be sure that his firing a shotgun had anything to do with Jones’ head blowing apart—it could be “just one of those things that happen.” Similar, the fact that Jones’ death followed his head flying apart can’t really be said to explain Jones’ death. One event happened very soon after the other, but causation? Again, we cannot be sure that Jones didn’t just die “for no reason”, that it isn’t “just how things are.” “I know,” says Smith, “that my ‘it’s just the way things are’ explanation makes you uncomfortable (and it probably makes it sound to less clever people than you that I am trying to avoid a murder charge in a ridiculous way), but as you and I both know, the universe is not obligated to conform to our expectations! As a rational person, you cannot in good faith blame me for Jones’ death, without supposing that the universe has some kind of intelligible order that could be understood by us. But you don’t believe that.”

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          • arensb says:

            Aren’t you committing the fallacy of appeal to consequences, “A implies B, B is undesirable, therefore A is false”? In this case, “just ‘coz” implies that I can’t sue Smith; I want to sue Smith; therefore “just ‘coz” is false.
            At any rate, if you want to say that “God” is a cause for something, please provide evidence for that claim.

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        • spokanesam says:

          I happened to take a glance at some of your reviews, one caught my eye in particular, your entry on ‘black and white morality .

          You claim that Feser doesn’t understand potentiality. Why? I’m still not clear on that.

          You just seem to say ‘well embryos and people in persistent nonresponsive states can’t presently engage in rational thought, so Feser is wrongful to say they have a rational soul.’

          Now, since embryos mature themselve toward being able to presently engage in rational expression and reflection, a self-directed path of development, this indicates they have an active potential for rationality (as opposed to a merely passive potentiality to become a being with such a potentiality); that they have it in merely radical form, doesn’t change that. Feser is correct so far.

          Concerning Terri, your argument that ‘she would never have become rational again barring a miracles’ likewise is unpersausive. She still was numerically identical with the her preinjury self, right? So she still has a potentiality for rational thought, even if only radically, rooted in her nature. (Simmilarly, people in reversible comas have a blocked capacity, not no capacity, for rationality.)

          And, no, what he says about humans possessing a rational soul isn’t just ‘having human DNA.’ This seems to be the same mistake that the Katha Pollitt makes about George and Tollefsen’s animalism. Concerning the relationship of the soul and DNA, Moreland and Rae have some helpful comments in “Body and Soul.”

          Your complaint that in extreme cases – ectopic pregnancy and Euthanasia – the rule to not kill doesn’t apply is strange if you take seriously two things: you can never intend evil (not even so good can come) and what is good is determined by a things nature, or at least isn’t subjectively determined. I think these are reasonable to belive. From them you get: ‘You can never intentionally kill an innocent person.’ ‘Better to suffer evil than commit it,’ ‘let justice be done though the world perish ‘ and all that.

          Now, Regarding ectopic pregnancy, I’d recommend Kaczor’s discussion in “The Ethics of Abortion.” One should be careful to distinguish between direct abortions – always impermissible – and indirect abortions, which can be permissible if they abide by the principle of double effect.)

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    • Eve Keneinan says:

      I’m not talking about theists. Are you just making a tu quoque? I suggest not talking to any theists who do these things either.

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    • andrewmbrew says:

      Reading your critiques, it is clear that you have not understood a word Feser wrote, and that appears to be because your mind was closed from the beginning. A textbook case, in fact, of not being intellectually serious, although it is clear that you take yourself very seriously indeed.

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      • arensb says:

        Would you please show me how I’m wrong, that I might avoid being so wrong in the future?

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        • andrewmbrew says:

          Well, let’s start with your preface.

          I wonder who told you that Feser was a Serious Theologian. He is a philosopher, although philosophy at a profound level cannot but touch on the matter of theology. Having noted that atheists routinely ignore his arguments, you go on to ignore his argument at considerable length.

          You object to Feser referring to homosexuals (a term invented to suggest that erotic attraction to the same sex is equivalent to such attraction to the complementary sex) as homosexuals rather than as “gay people” (a term invented much later to refer to a political movement to normalise such attraction). Why?

          You quote Feser’s calling the serious proposal of same-sex marriage a sign of moral collapse and metaphysical absurdity. You do not attempt (as a prelude, perhaps, to demonstrating why he is wrong) to deal with why he calls them so. Instead, you note that California has not fallen in to the sea, nor the heads of conservatives publicly displayed on pikes, as if either of these things had been predicted, or were relevant in any way. This sort of sneering posturing is, alas, a common marker of the sort of un-seriousness under discussion.

          You write that Feser “tends to use the terms “atheist”, “secularist”, and “liberal” mostly interchangeably”. No, actually, he doesn’t, although there is of course a good deal of overlap between the three communities. Perhaps you might identify as all three, which is why you (not Feser) are unable to distinguish shades of meaning critical to understanding his remarks?

          We cold treat each of your chapter responses in the same way. I did not read them all, but in the several that I read I did not see you once grapple with what Feser was arguing. In each case a few words from the argument is take as a springboard for you to strut your superiority – Plato’s notion of forms, for instance, is of no interest to you except as an opportunity for you to tell us what Plato ought to have meant, and all the objections you have that Feser did not address. And so on… It would be tedious to continue.

          You display no interest in learning. This is not a matter of intelligence, with which I am sure you are well endowed. It is matter of curiosity and openness to new ideas. Ultimately it is a matter of honesty, for you tell us (and, no doubt, yourself and your circle of like-minded acquaintances) that Feser’s arguments are laughable, when in fact you display no interest in understanding them, let alone in either refuting or being persuaded by them.

          Are you aware, I wonder, that Feser himself started in much the same position as you, as an atheist who regarded these arguments as easily dismissed? The difference is that he had the intellectual integrity to actually read them and make sure he understood them. Having done so, he was convinced that they are sound, and now teaches accordingly, having been personally transformed by the experience. Do you have the guts to follow his example, or are you happy to continue to strut and sneer?

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          • arensb says:

            I wonder who told you that Feser was a Serious Theologian.

            Dean Esmay, I believe.
            If you’re saying that I should have called him a philosopher who presents arguments for the existence of a god, rather than a theologian, then that seems like hair-splitting to me.

            You object to Feser referring to homosexuals (a term invented to suggest that erotic attraction to the same sex is equivalent to such attraction to the complementary sex) as homosexuals rather than as “gay people” (a term invented much later to refer to a political movement to normalise such attraction). Why?

            If you’ll reread your parenthesized phrases, and reflect on why you felt the need to include them, you may answer your own question. Insisting on saying “homosexual” rather than “gay” is a form of virtue-signaling among homophobes.

            as if either of these things had been predicted, or were relevant in any way.

            I was going to make a list of dire predictions that had been made about what would happen if gay marriage were legalized, but then I found that the folks at Right Wing Watch had already made it for me.

            Plato’s notion of forms, for instance, is of no interest to you except as an opportunity for you to tell us what Plato ought to have meant, and all the objections you have that Feser did not address.

            But you don’t say that I got it wrong, so presumably that means I understood what Feser said about Plato’s forms; you just disagree with the reasons why I don’t think they’re useful.

            The difference is that he had the intellectual integrity to actually read them and make sure he understood them. Having done so, he was convinced that they are sound, and now teaches accordingly, having been personally transformed by the experience. Do you have the guts to follow his example

            I don’t need to go back to the originals, since Feser has kindly done so, and even written books explaining them.
            At least in “The Last Superstition”, he clearly felt that he was able to do so in 300 pages, because he had space left over for insults. So I know he didn’t leave out anything important.

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            • andrewmbrew says:

              a philosopher who presents arguments for the existence of a god

              See rule 1 in the OP. Not serious.

              that seems like hair-splitting to me

              Not all splitting is hair-splitting. I have already noted that you have trouble with distinguishing things that are different. That habit of intellectual sloth contributes to your lack of understanding, although it is not at the root of it.

              Insisting on saying “homosexual” rather than “gay” is a form of virtue-signaling among homophobes.

              So you say. I wouldn’t know. I don’t move in those circles. I have never known it to be used that way.

              you don’t say that I got it wrong, so presumably that means I understood

              No, it means you did not rise to the dignity of being wrong, because you made no intelligible argument.

              I don’t need to go back to the originals

              More intellectual sloth. Not serious.

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          • arensb says:

            So anyway, do you have any substantive disagreement with what I wrote? Or is it just small stuff like Feser’s job description, and ad homs?
            It’s just that ultimately, the goal of the whole enterprise would be to come up with evidence for God, or at least an argument for the existence of God, that holds up under scrutiny.
            Atheists have been accused of taking pot-shots at intellectual lightweights like Ray Comfort and Kent Hovind, and ignoring the serious thinkers. But whenever I ask who the serious thinkers are, I get pointed to people like C.S. Lewis and his trilemma, or Alvin Plantinga (of Mozart Argument fame), or Edward Feser, who apparently thinks that the purpose of the moon is to orbit the earth.
            In short, as far as I can tell, the ideas of the Serious Thinkers are just as silly and lacking in evidence as the ideas of the lightweights, just expressed in much better writing.

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            • Eve Keneinan says:

              Please substantiate your view that Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, the 19th century trash romance novelist, is the last word within the Western philosophical tradition concerning τò καλόν. You seem to be unimpressed by the arguments of Plantinga and Feser because you are caricaturing them as strawmen of your own devising—and then noting how weak the strawmen you have constructed are. The trouble, of course, is that this says nothing about the quality of Plantinga’s or Feser’s arguments, but about your inability to accurately grasp and express their arguments.

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            • andrewmbrew says:

              It is not possible to have substantive disagreement with vapid posturing. It is clear that you do not begin to understand the arguments that you tell yourself you are demolishing. It is clear from every sentence you write that the reason you do not understand them is intellectual pride, and the laziness that comes from it. This is not ad hominem. I am not saying “You are a bad man, therefore your conclusion is false”. I am saying ” You are a proud and lazy man, therefore you have not bothered to present an argument, or to understand those presented by others”.

              an argument for the existence of God, that holds up under scrutiny

              Get back to us when you have applied some scrutiny, or even identified the target.

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  2. Once you understand they’re either propagandists or in the spell of propagandists it becomes easier to see all this.

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