Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Ricky Gervais's Fuzzy, Funny Logic of Atheism

(I'm doing this just for laughs.)

I came across this quote from comedian-atheist Ricky Gervais:

"An atheist doesn't necessarily believe that no god exists. They just don't believe that any god exists. That difference confuses some."

Huh? I am confused.

Consider the statement 1) No god exists. Gervais says an atheist doesn't necessarily believe 1. This means an atheist may believe 1. The atheist who "doesn't necessarily believe" 1 may, on the other hand, not believe 1. Which means: No god exists is believed to be false.

Let's try this. 2) It is false that no god exists. Which means: 3) A god exists.

Now let's look at Gervais's second sentence. Consider this statement: 4) Any god exists. An atheist, according to Gervais, believes 4 is false. An atheist does not believe 4.

Now 'atheism' means, literally, 'no god(s).' This is from the alpha privative 'a,' which negates 'theos.' So 'atheism' seems to be the belief that there is/are no god(s). This is the affirmation of statement 1. But Gervais says an atheist doesn't necessarily believe 1 is true. An atheist does not believe there is no god. That is, the statement (because a belief is a statement) there is no god is false. If it is false that there is no god, then it is true that there is a god. But if the statement any god exists is false (as Gervais seems to think), then the statement there is no god is also false. Please remember that Gervais is a comedian.

Gervais goes on to attempt to clarify this hideous mess. He tweets: "We all KNOW whether we BELIEVE in God or not. We just don't have any real knowledge of whether God actually exists or not."

But a 'belief' is a knowledge claim. That is, a belief is a statement; a statement is a sentence that is either true or false. So when the atheist states I do not believe there is a god this is the same as saying there is a god is false. (For the idea that a belief is a claim to knowledge see any logic text, like the one I use in my logic classes - Vaughn, The Power of Critical Thinking.)

One more point, referring to Gervais's original tweet. 'No' and 'not any' mean the same thing. There are no bugs in this room says the same thing as There are not any bugs in this room. So, It is false that any god exists says the same thing as It is true that no god exists. It's the "belief" thing that Gervais screws up since, to repeat, a belief is a statement that one affirms as true (such as I believe that Barack Obama is currently President of the United States).

One of Gervais's strong claims to knowledge is his belief that: 5) We don't have any knowledge of whether God actually exists or not. But how does Gervais know this is true? There are multiple arguments that conclude with Therefore, God exists. And, there are some arguments that conclude with Therefore, God does not exist. Philosophical atheists who conclude the latter supply premises which, if true, intend to provide reasons to know that God does not exist. The conclusion of an argument is always a knowledge claim. Personally, I doubt Gervais could defend the truth of 5 which, again, he claims to know is true. Perhaps he takes it by faith? And then engages in question-begging?

"Critical thinking is a rational, systematic process that we apply to beliefs of all kinds. As we use the term here [i.e., in logic], belief is just another word for statement, or claim. A statement is an assertion that something is or is not the case...  So statements, or claims [i.e., beliefs] are the kinds of things that are either true or false. They assert that some state of affairs is or is not actual."  - Vaughn, op. cit., 9.