There are many apologists that I consider to be intelligent who present thoughtful, well-formed arguments. And then, there is the essay Atheism: A Falsified Hypothesis by Brian Colón.
Colon sets out a lofty goal for himself – to prove atheism false. He says that if atheism is false, then theism must be true as a consequence. This is true, in some sense, but we would still be left with the question of what type of theism. I would also consider deism to be in the running, which is probably not the conclusion your typical theist would want. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t even come close to showing that atheism is false. At most, he showed that a few people held unsuccessful views, but I wouldn’t even grant him that.
He lays out his case as follows:
The way I choose to show Atheism false is by showing the self contradictions contained within the Atheistic worldview.
Upon examining his claims, we will see that his argument does not actually accomplish this. The argument may also commit the genetic fallacy, but I would have to hear more explanation of his case to say for sure.
According to a few famous Atheists, here are a few necessary consequences of Atheism. There is no God; there is nothing but the physical world (Dan Barker – Protest sign at the Washington State Capital). Humans are nothing but machines that generate DNA (Richard Dawkins – The God Delusion). Morality is based on the consensus of human beings (Gordon Stein – “The Great Debate: Does God Exist?”).
Wait, so because these atheists say these things are necessary consequences, then that means they are? We could immediately stop reading and dismiss this article because, even if successful, Colon would only show that these specific people had worldviews that needed some alteration. It doesn’t even mean they would have to give up their own atheism! They could simply clarify some points in their worldview. But let’s continue and consider his full case.
If this is true then it would be impossible to account for things such as moral absolutes, laws of logic, or human dignity; three things that we all understand to be indisputable.
Wrong again. These items are hardly undisputable. The general argument in favor of this is, “deep down we all know it,” which is no argument at all. Colon then goes on to elaborate on these three areas – moral absolutes, logic, and human dignity.
Every Atheist I’ve ever met believes that murder and rape is evil. But what is evil? I thought all that exists is matter. Is there anything evil about matter?
They could be using a convention of speech when calling something evil. It’s not conclusive that this would entail a real contradiction. For example, I don’t think there is anything evil in the absolute sense many theists propose, but that can’t be drawn out to mean that we are unable to pronounce something right and wrong. There are several ethical accounts held by atheists which could accomplish that goal. This is repeated often and is absolutely ludicrous.
Perhaps evil is just something that we experience as decreasing our happiness. Wouldn’t that mean that since the rapist increases his happiness by raping people, then raping people would be considered good for him? Who’s to say that the rapist’s moral judgments are flawed and ours are not?
Well, this would only apply to a certain kind of utilitarian. And the utilitarian would respond that the rapist is not the only person involved. The utilitarian could still say the moral judgment of the rapist is flawed. Besides, there are several other ethical theories that could also do this without relying on happiness, as I’ve already said.
Once an atheist woman told me that she heard that her co-worker was cheating on his wife with another woman from the office. She told me that she was outraged at how immoral he was and how she lost all respect for him. I asked her “What was so wrong with what he did?” Why does the fact that he’s married make the act of sex with another woman immoral? She simply said “Its just wrong!” I agree, but I’d like to know why it’s ultimately wrong given the Atheistic worldview.
So, because this woman appealed to simple common sense and didn’t give you a philosophically rigorous answer, then that is evidence for your case? How does any of this lead to a contradiction? There are several ways to say this is wrong, and I suspect Colon knows it. He will probably try and wriggle out of the problem by his use of the term “ultimately,” as if the solutions aren’t good enough. I would need clarification on how he defines that term to comment further.
Colon has not supported his view at all. Remember, he is going to prove atheism false. He should be famous for this! Unfortunately for him, the arguments are not successful or persuasive. But let’s look at what this portion of the argument would show even if it were successful. It would entail that these people don’t think there is inherent evil even though they use language as if they do. Well I happen to agree with that. I don’t think there is inherent value in things or objective morality existing like a platonic form. Does that mean atheism is false? I can’t see how. Would it mean that people use loose speech? Yes, what a breakthrough. I can’t believe I ever called myself an atheist.
Now, he might go on to try and say more about how this means atheists can’t really say things are right and wrong, that we can’t have moral obligations, etc. Let’s suppose this were true, even though it isn’t. Would it make atheism false? No. If it is true that we can’t say things are right and wrong and that there really are no moral obligations, then it doesn’t matter if everyone in the world thinks there are. This is not tied to the truth of theism or atheism.
So, we’ve examined point one of three and found no disproof of atheism. In fact, we saw nothing even close to that. I hope the next two are better or I’m going to have to say Colon simply misled us in his opening promise.
Laws of Logic
Consider the law of “excluded middle” which says that a proposition is either true or false, there is no third option. What is the ontological foundation of this law? Is this law just a result of the chemical functions in our brain? If so then how is it universal? Is the law material? Of course not! Laws of logic are immaterial abstract entities, the very things that cannot exist if the only thing that exists is matter.
Again, how is this a disproof of atheism? Bertrand Russell, one of the most famous atheists of modern times, held the view of platonism. That is the view that abstract objects do exist, in some sense. In a recent survey of philosophers, this was the most widely held view, gaining approximately 39% of votes. There were more votes for platonism in the survey than for theism, which means necessarily that at least some atheists hold a platonic view about abstract objects. So, for the most popular view in philosophy, this is not a problem and it does not require theism to work.
Dan Barker, in a debate with Dr. James White, attempted to refute this argument by saying that “logic is not a thing.” Well if by thing he means a physical object then I would agree with him. The problem is that he already said that things are all that exist. So according to Dan Barker there is no logic.
To be more precise, we should say that according to Dan Barker logic does not exist in a platonic sense. He could hold a type of nominalist view. But are we really judging the coherence of atheism by a comment made by Dan Barker in a debate? Should we judge the coherence of theism by Colon’s nonsensical article?
Ok, so there are two arguments out of three that do not in the least entail that atheism is false.
Why do people put on a lab coat and argue that people are simply evolved animals, and then say that we shouldn’t treat people like animals? If all that exists is matter, then that would mean that we are nothing but matter as well. If that’s true then why do we believe that humans are worthy of respect?
Yes, we are nothing but matter. This is fairly conclusive.
Keeping Colon’s initial goal in mind, I’d like to make two points. First, there are plenty of reasons to treat people with respect. To pretend there are not simply shows an ignorance of the many ethical theories that do not invoke God. Second, let’s suppose there aren’t any reasons to treat people with respect and people just do it by convention. Does that make atheism false? Of course not! So, both conclusions you can draw from this do not entail that atheism is false.
In a debate with Paul Manata, Dan Barker asserts that human beings are no more important than broccoli. I find it very interesting that the piece of broccoli known as Dan Barker thinks that other certain pieces of broccoli are worthy of love and respect, as if they were something more than just broccoli. Every single day we all treat each other with respect and dignity, and we all know that those who disrespect people ought not to do that. This is true for Theist and Atheist alike. Humans really are worthy of respect. This is inexplicable on the Atheistic Worldview.
Here we have more opinions from Dan Barker in a debate. I can understand people quoting William Lane Craig, and I do it myself. He is a clear leader in Christian philosophy and apologetics. He is widely published in peer-reviewed, scholarly formats. Dan Barker does not have this status. He is not the head of atheism. But let’s pretend that he is and see that the point still fails.
To say that “humans really are worthy of respect” is simply an assertion with nothing offered in support. Colon is probably trusting our intuitions will guide us to this conclusion. Whether things have intrinsic value is hotly debated; it is not simply common sense.
Let’s consider that human beings have no intrinsic value and Dan Barker still treats people with respect. Is this contradictory of him? A few possible reasons for this are that (a) he could simply be following a faulty intuition which happens all the time or (b) he could ascribe to one of the aforementioned ethical theories.
Hmmm, no disproof of atheism there, and that was three out of three.
I won’t even bother quoting from his conclusion because it is just a restatement of his three points and a celebration of how great they are. Oh, those atheist fools. Unfortunately for him, none of them have any force, as I have shown.
Colon has trotted out a few popular views, but has offered no insight into philosophically rigorous views. This is a dishonest approach, and this is one of the worst apologetics pieces I’ve ever read. Let’s take one last look at the reasons his claims fail.
Atheists can still provide accounts of morality and logic and give reasons to treat humans with respect. So, his claim that acting this way contradicts atheism is demonstrably false. Even if it were the other way around, and the atheist acted as though these things existed but deep down really thought they didn’t, this apparent contradiction could be resolved. It could only mean they act in a pragmatic way, as many of us do. Does this mean atheism is false? I go about my life as if there aren’t all these completely random forces causing things. However, even though I act that way, I know there is a great deal of randomness to life. Don’t believe me? Read The Drunkard’s Walk. So, does my acting as if randomness doesn’t play a huge role in my life imply that my actions reflect reality? No.
In conclusion, either the atheist can give accounts for acting the way he or she does or the atheist cannot. Neither option entails that atheism is false.