Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Reply to Mariottini


(Cross posted at God is for Suckers!)

Claude Mariottini has replied to my criticism of him--sort of. While the reply is addressed to me, most of it ignores what I actually wrote, with the exception of one patently false statement:
Hallquist already begins with the false assumption that the Iliad and the Bible are identical in purpose and message. They are not! The intent and message of the two books are completely different. The only similarity between both books is that they are literary works of individuals who lived hundreds of years ago.
Here go similarities two and three:

2) They both report the actions of superhuman beings which we don't observe acting in cthe modern world as they are alleged to have acted in ancient times.
3) They both present heroes doing things which, in the modern world, would get them hauled before a war crimes tribunal.

The entire rest of the post is a generic rant against atheists. Mariottini presents three points which are supposed to be a problem for atheism:
1. The Test of History. Judaism and Christianity claim a historical basis for their faith. Judaism says there is a God because of the work of God in the history of ancient Israel. Christianity says there is a God because of the existence of a historical Jesus. Atheism does not have any historical claim to prove that there is no God. Atheists only have their own statement that says there is no God. Since atheists do not have history on their side, they deny the historicity of events in Judaism and Christianity.
Was this intended as a rebuttal to the charge that there is a lack of evidence for the truth of Christianity? My guess is no. Read as arguments, the reasoning is vacuous, so bad that I think the most charitable reading is that Mariottini was intending to make baseless assertions. Consider the Judaism half of the statement: whether God worked in the history of Israel is precisely one of the points in dispute, so read as an argument, he's committing the fallacy of begging the question. On the Christianity half, there's no reason to jump from the claim that Jesus was a historical figure to the claim that God exists, so it's a blatant non sequitur. Might Mariottini be taking the position that a claim can become reasonable simply because people say it's true (Judaism says... Christianity says...)? I can only wonder.
2. The Test of Witnesses. Judaism and Christianity believe there is a God because they believe the words of witnesses who saw God at work. The people in Israel claimed they heard the voice of God. Christianity claims that after the resurrection, Jesus "appeared to more than five hundred people at the same time" (1 Corinthians 15:6). It is possible to say that these people were delusional or that they were unreliable witnesses but atheism does not have one witness who was there to say that there was no God. Since atheism does not have one single witness who has seen the evidence that there is no God, they reject the reliability of the biblical witnesses and deny the validity of their testimony.
The talk of witnesses implies Mariottini maybe does care about evidence after all. Notice that even here, though the statement is phrased in terms of what Christians claim, not what's objectively correct. In any case, the witnesses he refers to aren't witnesses in the usual sense of people who's testimony you have, they're the subject of a second hand report that isn't even so good as second hand reports go. Paul doesn't name his witnesses, say when or where the event happened, or even say where he got his information from. Contrary to what many apologists (Mariottini included, it would appear from the comments) would like to believe, irresponsible, poorly-checked claims get made all the time, so we cannot just assume Paul was telling the truth based on so little information. It's also clear that groups of people can fall under collective delusions (I've previously listed some examples here).

The complaint about lack of a witness to prove their is no God is one of those things that sounds good until you think about it for a moment. There are probably a few hundred people in the world willing to claim they've had personal contact with extraterrestrials. I've read things written by such people. I suspect that in Mariotinni's sense of the phrase, there are no witnesses to prove extraterrestrials have never visited Earth. Does this mean the UFO nuts are actually the reasonable ones? No. There are other explanations for why people would claim extraterrestrial contact, and the evidence really isn't as good as we'd expect if ETs were really visiting earth. As Carl Sagan once said, with so many people allegedly being abducted, why haven't the neighbors noticed? The situation is similar with Christianity: there are other explanations, and there's nowhere near the kind of evidence a god could give us if he were really intent on revealing himself.
3. The Test of Written Records. Judaism and Christianity claim that God exists because they have ancient written records that report the work of God in their history. Atheism has no written records that can prove that God does not exist, therefore they deny the claims of the written records of Judaism and Christianity.
Now we're back to baseless assertion territory. All kinds of extraordinary claims have been committed to paper. The mere existence of the writings is no reason at all to think the claims are true. This paragraph suggests to me that the apparent concern for evidence under (2) was a fluke, an illusion.

He makes a big deal of the claim that atheists cannot prove that there is no God, and cites Dawkins in support of this point. If "proof" is taken in the sense of logically demonstrative proof, Dawkins is right. However, as Dawkins points out in the very passage of his book that Mariotinni cites, there are lots of things which we justly regard as improbable in spite of the lack of logically demonstrative disproof (and, I would add, there are lots of things we regard as nearly certain in spite of the lack of logically demonstrative proof). Mariotinni's response to this point is to simply pretend Dawkins never made it.

Though I never said anything about the problem of evil in my original post, a paragraph is devoted to it. There's one weird aspect of it that's worth highlighting: all he says about proposed theodicies is that atheists don't accept them, as if that's the end of the debate. To simply whine that "I made this claim, and people who disagree with me didn't accept it" shows a sort of contempt for rational discourse, a refusal to recognize it's worth trying to carefully assess the validity of claims.

It's worth reading the comments thread, since Scott nails how silly the "culture of denial" business is:
That said, Atheism is not a even religion or philosophy but merely a position held with regard a particular truth claim: God exists. That position accepted, atheists can hold world views informed by skepticism, humanism or even mysticism. I assume that you yourself are an denier of the claims of Buddhism. Welcome to the Fellowship of Deniers.
Couldn't have said it better myself.

Finally, in the comments Mariottini repeatedly says things like:
The primary intent of my post was to declare that atheists and Christians will never agree on several issues because they begin their discussion of the Bible with different presuppositions. Christians approach the Bible from the perspective of faith; atheists deny the possibility of faith.
Again, this smacks of a contempt for rational discourse. He's totally uninterested in asking whether an assumption is correct. I'm also curious by what he means by "faith." If he means the popular conception of believing things without evidence, the statement may be true, but it is not exactly a good commentary on his side. If group of scientists A did their best to figure out what theory was best supported by the evidence, and group B made a commitment to believing their pet theory independently of evidence, it might be true that they would never agree, but this would hardly be damaging to group A.

As with the last post in this exchange, I find myself moving further into the Hector Avalos camp.

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1 comment:

monado said...

When you have brain pollution, it's hard to look at things rationally. Your arguments just slide right off Mr. Mariottini because he KNOWS that God exists, Jesus was Real, and Santa Claus is watching over him.