Thursday, April 22, 2010

First The Pwning, Then The Pants-Wetting

Seeing militant atheists swarm the comments to a David Bentley Hart First Things article is something to behold. They are light years out of their league. DBH's article tears the "New Atheists" to shreds, in a piece that is as erudite as one expects from him. Then the wails and gnashing of teeth begin in the comments. John C. Wright chimes in thusly:

John C. Wright says:
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury,

One wonders whether or not Mr. Hart himself, or some clever forger, decided to post a group of comments, allegedly from atheists, merely intending to show the intellectual shallowness and illogic of which Mr. Hart complains.

Honestly, Mr. Hart writes an article where he says the arguments in certain particular books are arid and shallow, an aridity he contrasts unfavorably with Nietzsche: the point in dispute that he means to prove is that these named books make no serious arguments. The example used is the argument from infinite regress, of which he adroitly shows the limitations.

Then in haughty answer, a group of pretend atheists leave comments ranging from a challenge that Mr. Hart did not proffer an argument for the existence of God, to a victorious bellow stating that no empirical proof of God exists, to an unsupported assertion that the burden of proof rests on the theist to prove theism, not on the atheist to prove atheism.

Does no one notice that these responses have no logical bearing on the topic being discussed?

The proper answer would be to bring out an example from one of these books and to show it is a rigorous and deep argument.

The article was complaining about the poor quality of atheist argument: it was not and did not pretend to be an article setting forth an ontological proof of the existence of God. Saying the article failed to prove God exists has no bearing on whether the modern atheist arguments are poor.

The only argument given here is a metaphysical one, namely, that contingent being presupposes necessary being. It is mentioned only as an example of new atheists not comprehending subtle but clear philosophical distinctions. Not only is this not an empirical argument, but, by its own terms, no contingent fact of any kind could tend to prove or tend to disprove it. The argument is about why anything exists at all, and not about the particular configuration of cause and effect which applies that that small sliver of current existence open to our sense impressions.

So the atheist who offers this as a refutation of that argument is demonstrating, more clearly than Mr. Hart, that at least one new atheist indeed does not comprehend a subtle but clear philosophical distinction.

That the commenter chose a tone of swaggering condescension, talking down to an audience that gets what he misses, merely adds ironic confirmation of Mr. Hart's lament.

Again, stating that the burden of proof lies with the theists to prove God exists shows a similar philistine attitude toward logical argumentation. Supposing we grant the assertion, and suppose further than no Christian argument for the existence of God has been found to carry conviction. What follows? Does it follow that Mr. Dawkins and Mr. Hitchens and others are excused from making strong rather than weak arguments, coherent rather than unrigorous and illogical, displaying insight rather than displaying a contempt and incomprehension of the opposition arguments?

Seriously: suppose it were a court of law. The Defense stands and says the burden of proof is on the Prosecution. The judge and jury nod gravely, for the Defense speaks the truth. The Prosecution gives its case: only eleven of the twelve jurors are convinced (after all, atheism is a rather small minority). The case is insufficiently convincing. Then the Defense stands up, and his witnesses get the time and place of the crime wrong, contradict each other, and, in his closing arguments, the Defense reads the brief he had prepared for a different case, having nothing to do with the current facts or relevant law.

The twelfth juror need not change his mind about the facts of the case, to be sure, but nothing says he must necessarily leap to the defense of the inadequate defense of the Defense.

John C. Wright, esq.

No comments: