Thursday, 18 June 2009

Is Tom Gilson Prejudiced Against Atheists?

Well after being involved over 30 years in online discussion, from the days of Fidonet, Mailing lists and Usenet  to today's forums and blogs I have, for the first time been banned! It feels good, makes me wonder if I have been too polite and held back in the past? However I held back in the blog where I was banned and I still see no need to go to the lengths of the Barefoot Bum.

Anyway the reason I was banned I because I said  Gilson was being prejudiced against atheists. Given his beliefs, no surprise you may be wondering, however if you do are you possibly prejudiced? I have no reason to suppose that just because someone is a Christian that they are prejudiced against atheists. Anyway here is my summary you decide.

This was brewing in various posts but primarily in “Atheism Is Not A Belief which I discussed briefly recently.It is important to note that this is not the only correspondence I have had with Gilson. If this had been my first then I would have reacted differently. I will discuss that in the conclusion. Today I will discuss the question of his prejudice  and then I follow up by answering the question that Gilson asked a while back, to which I gave an inadequate and inccurate treatment in Why should I study religion or astrology?

What Atheism Entails

Gilson provided a list, in the above linked post,  of what he thought atheism entails. I will do a proper, if brief analysis of the reasoning here, for those that one can take seriously anyway.
  • Atheism entails that the universe is impersonal and amoral.
Hmm. the most plausible syllogism is:
P1: If at least one god exists is false, then the universe is amoral.
P2: At least one god exists is false
C1: The universe is amoral
The problem is how is this an entailment of atheism? How does atheism entail P1? P1 is not derived from atheism P2 but is an additional premise and not an entailment!  It is  an additional premise that an atheist may or may not hold, however it is not entailed from atheism. Maybe the mistake was from Gilson's theism?
P3:If at least one god exists, then the universe is moral
P4: At least one god exists
C2:The universe is moral
Gilsons' specific theism adds P3, again there is no necessary requirement from it from theism simpliciter which is just P4 (and for Gilson not just any god will do so he requires another premise but that is not substantive to the logic here). Anyway this is modus ponens, affirming the antecedent. However from P3 and P2 one cannot conclude C1:
P3:If at least one god exists, then the universe is moral
P2: At least one god exists is false
C1: The universe is amoral
This is the formal fallacy of denying the antecedent. Most of the rest of his list is riddled with the same basic logical 101 error:-
  • Atheism entails that there is no ultimate good (though some atheists like yourself will allow for contingent, local, or particular goods).
  • Likewise and with the same kind of condition attached, atheism entails that there is no ultimate meaning, no ultimate morality, no ultimate beauty, no ultimate purpose for anything.
  • Atheism entails that the end of physical life is the end of existence.
  • Atheism entails that all human experience is neuronal/electrical/chemical; and though some atheists have proposed ways to rise above that (some kind of epiphenomenalism, for example), they have never been able to explain it.
  • Atheism entails the same specifically for human consciousness and rationality.
  • Atheism entails that if any sense of meaning or purpose is to be found in human life, it is found in the contingent and accidental experience of humans—for even the existence of humans is contingent and accidental.
None of these require any further explanation these are all instances of the same  formal fallacy of denying the antecedent given relevant additional premises based on Gilson's specific theism. Atheism per se entails none of these, so his "entailments" are all erroneous.
  • Atheism entails that what I do today will not matter for very long, a few generations at most.
Well if he continues to abuse logic as he has done,and remember is this is some who claims to be a  thinking christian, then, regardless of atheism ,what Gilson does should not matter for any longer than the completion of these posts. All in all, his is a silly point, which warrants nothing more than a silly reply.
  •  Atheism entails that every religion is wrong.
No point logically analysing this,  one would have to be pretty ignorant not to know that  religion is not co-extensive with theism.
  •  Atheism entails that the universe will one day be empty.
    This is getting quite silly. Quantum physics says otherwise, although being an atheist says nothing about quantum physics.
    • Atheism entails that humans and animals and plants and bacteria and rats and pigs and dogs and boys (google the last four) are ontologically the same thing.
    Atheism implies nothing about animal rights (what you find out if you google that phrase). Regardless I think Barefoot Bum's verdict on this statement  "moronic" is very charitable.
    • Atheism entails that if one chooses humanism as one’s form of atheism, that choice is made for entirely contingent reasons, probably related to one’s nation and culture of birth and upbringing, and that there is no better reason than that to choose humanism as one’s ideology, since atheism provides no reason to choose humans as having any particular value.
    This is a quite absurd argument, as it certainly applies to most anyone's theism. What better explains the extreme lack of conversion to one (true) theism from all the others? Every theist claims theirs is the one true theism but true theism would not entail that the fact that the huge majority who make the claim stick to the theism that is related to one's nation and culture of birth and upbringing, indeed this is evidence against theism and their being such a thing as a true theism.

    So his arguments are all riddled with flaws but that is not sufficient to conclude that Gilson is prejudiced rather than just ignorant. Lets us first clarify what prejudice means then see how and why Gilson used these flawed arguments .

    This is a pre-judgement, often implicitly held, about a person, given certain facts about that person, facts that are not relevant or from which one cannot infer or entail those (pre-)judgements. For example, if someone says they are an atheist, it is prejudice to think they are immoral. There is in fact no basis to infer a person's morality from whether they are an atheist or even, for that matter, from whether they are a theist simpliciter. (Note this is an illustration and not what Gilson was doing here)

    Gilson's use of his erroneous argument

    Why did Gilson's create his post? In response to a humanist who, amongst other things, denied being a materialist. The humanist said:
    And, in addition, I would point out that atheism is not my ideology. It simply refers to my not subscribing to a particular belief (theism). It makes no more sense to treat my being an atheist as my ideology than it does to treat your being a non-Muslim as yours.
    What I AM is a humanist.
    Gilsons replied
    This is disingenuous at best. To say that atheism is just “not subscribing to a particular belief” is to deny everything that atheism entails (requires as part of its package).
    and he then proceeded to produced the list that I analysed above and he concluded.
    I say g[o] ahead and claim your humanism, but please don’t try to tell me your atheism doesn’t carry any ideological freight with it.
    (Note none of this was addressed to me). Whilst I agree with Gilson  that atheism is not just not subscribing to a particular belief (see Atheism and Ideology), I baulked at the rest of his implication . If this had been a first conversation with a stranger I would have carefully pointed out the logical flaws and seen how he responded. I did anyway but not in the details above, after all this was a self proclaimed thinking christian and I was still under the mistaken assumption this was not an oxymoron in his case (okay, there are of course plenty of genuine thinking christians and I am not talking about them, so take my humour with a pinch of salt please).

    There are only two possible explanations for Gilson's position: ignorance or prejudice. One has to grant that someone is mistakenly ignorant and willing to revise their position. This is exactly what Scott Pruett has done when he said "I will have to agree that “materialist” is probably a better word for what I describe here, and that this represents a subset of the “atheist” population.” Pruett is to be commended for such a change.

    I do not think I was particularly short with Gilson here but if I see, after various patient debates Gilson bring up positions as he did here, this is not an innocent ignorance but at best a wilful ignorance, and at worst a deliberate deceit - that is he knew full well the errors of his argument but made them anyway. Still a point of prejudice is that these are often implicit or  tacit beliefs and it is more often than not not deliberately held to.

    I do not need to speculate as to whether Gilson's position was deliberate or not, if it were just wilful ignorance that is sufficient for him to be aware that he is being prejudiced, even if he prevents himself from or is incapable of comprehending the errors of his reasoning. Either way it is not an innocent ignorance, and that is what counts. 

    So I labelled him prejudiced and he, not surprisingly, objected to this. He, in turn responded that I was prejudiced. This is a weak charge to make but quite possible in general. I do not think I prejudged him given the whole context of our dialogue the last couple of months, indeed gave him the benefit of the doubt far more than others would. And my specific claims here is based on documented evidence that anyone can check.

    The only two questions remain why bother to label him that and why bother to engage with him at all. I will leave the second question  to the next post. As for the former, there is a time to be accomodationist and a time to state the truth. If someone has been repeatedly prejudiced, one needs to switch from the former to the latter and I felt this was that time. If someone is being prejudiced it is better that they know it, however they react, that is better than leaving them free to do it again. Better that they realise such claims will not go unchecked. The alternative is to give prejudice free reign and no good can come from that.


    David B. Ellis said...

    I found it funny that Tom would ban you for that comment while doing very little in response to Holo's persistently insulting comments.

    I'm getting pretty well fed up with the lack of civility that he allows (and sometimes participates in). It may be time to remove it from my list of blogs I frequent.

    faithlessgod said...

    Welcome David B Ellis

    The reason for the difference is that pocohantas was insulting us not Tom.

    This is regardless of the fact that it was...okay... Holo who was blatantly prejudiced in his assumptions about us and was unable to substantiate them, whereas I provided evidence as to why I concluded Tom was prejudiced.

    Maybe I was using too high a standard of evidence and reason?If I had lowered it to Holo's level would Tom have found it more acceptable?

    Clearly Tom is not capable of being objective but given his entirely subjective worldview that is not surprising.