Monday, August 07, 2017

Village Atheists as Moral Policemen


A few times, while in online dialogue with an internet atheist, I have been called "dishonest," or "intellectually dishonest."

This internet atheist is like Nietzsche's "village atheist"; viz., they mostly don't know what they are talking about. One sign of their ignorance is resorting to ad hominem tactics (mocking, ridicule). That is, whenever an atheist mocks, ridicules, moralizes, psychologizes, or combines all of the above (quite a sight to behold!), it is a clue that they are low on reasoning capacity, at least in the area of philosophy of religion. Probably, they have read little or nothing of the literature someone as myself has been professionally engaged in for over four decades.

I find this interesting. As a philosophy student and professor, I have had countless discussions with people who claim atheism as their worldview. Some of my professors were atheists. In discussion with me, they never resorted to ad hominem "arguments," since 1) they understood such to be fallacies of irrelevant premises, and 2) they knew their own position well, and were emotionally secure enough to have a civil dialogue. No need to abuse when you know your stuff.

I have seen village atheists abuse Christian theists, calling them "intellectually dishonest." This is the atheist as self-proclaimed moralist, as well as psychoanalyst. To call someone "dishonest" is to make a moral claim. Further, since dishonesty is an intentional act, the village atheist claims to know the intentions of the human heart. This is stunning, aware as I am of the hard problem of consciousness and the difficulty of addressing the Mind-Body Problem (first- person and third-person knowledge). 

A basic village atheist is not my moral policeman.

But, what if I make an error in speech, or say something stupid, or contradict myself? It is not only possible, it happens. "Intellectual dishonesty" is not the only possible explanation for misspeaking. It could be bad reasoning. It could be a simple error. It could be tiredness. It could be an inconsistency, to be retracted upon notification. It could be a slip of the tongue. It could be a semantic issue. It could be any number of informal logical fallacies (equivocation, e.g.). It could be a formal logical fallacy (fallacy of affirming the consequent, e.g.). It could be a pizza with anchovies. None of these require dishonesty.

If the village atheist only knew how difficult it is to construct an ethical system on atheism (esp. atheism as naturalism), they would hesitate to moralize. They should spend time on studying and constructing an ethical worldview consistent with their atheism. Even I might like to see that. Or, perhaps they might adopt utilitarianism. Then they might call the acts of religious believers good, since "good" on utilitarianism means what makes most people happy most of the time, and religious belief makes a whole lot of people happy.

If morality doesn't even exist (emotive ethics, e.g.), then for a village atheist to act as moral police officer is contradictory. Indeed, many intellectual atheists conclude the non-existence of morality. How silly, then for an atheist to moralize. Even then, I wouldn't call such an atheist dishonest, just ignorant. As I am, of most things.