Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Contra Atheism [Pt. 2]

by Hiram R. Diaz III

§ III. The Logical Problem

Thus far we have taken for granted that the assertion “God exists” is one that may be meaningfully denied. However, is this the case? What does it mean to affirm that God exists? Logically speaking the word “is” functions as the copula connecting the subject term of a proposition to its attendant predicate term, as the following diagram demonstrates –
The assertion “God exists,” then, expresses either one of the following propositions –
1. A particular logical subject of predication [viz. God] has the property of being a logical subject of predication. 
2. A particular logical subject of predication [viz. God] has the property of x [i.e. an undefined property signified by the word exists].
Whereas proposition 2. may be translated into a non-tautologous proposition (e.g. “God exists” = “God is an extra-conceptual being with all of the attributes classically and biblically ascribed to him”), proposition 1. is a tautology that is true of any given logical subject of predication. More concisely, if the assertion “God exists” is not idiomatic shorthand for a lengthier proposition in which attributes are predicated of God (e.g. “God is a non-fictional/extraconceptual being”), then it is akin to asserting x is x. This being the case, it follows that unless the atheist defines his terminology, explaining what he means when he says “God does not exist,” his assertion is at best ambiguous. And at worst, it is self-contradictory, for the assertion “God does not exist” would then be logically identical to the proposition “This logical subject of predication [viz. God] has the property of not being a logical subject of predication [i.e. “not existing”].” This is not a return to Anselm’s Ontological Argument, but a simple recognition of a logical problem facing the atheist. If “being” cannot be divorced from “being the logical subject of predication,” and it cannot, then one cannot rationally deny the “existence” of any logical subject once it has been verbally, or by some other means of communication, identified as a logical subject.

§ IV. Who or What are Rightly Called Atheists?

Before examining the meaning of the assertion “God does not exist,” we must first do away with the popular level definition of atheism as a lack of belief in gods by subjecting it to scrutiny. Below we will look at some, but not all, of the problems that the popular definition of atheism entails.

1. The Problem of Non-conscious Beings

If atheism is a lack of beliefs in gods, then any thing (being) lacking consciousness is, therefore, an atheist. Observe –
1. Non-conscious beings lack every kind of belief. 
2. Belief in gods is a kind of belief.  
3. Therefore, non-conscious beings lack belief in gods.
Applying the law of transitivity, we have the following –
1. If beings that lack belief in gods are atheists, 
2. and non-conscious beings lack belief in gods, 
3. then non-conscious beings are atheists.
This is not what the atheist intends to communicate, but it is what follows from his definition of atheism as a lack of belief in gods. In order to avoid this, the atheist must clarify what he means when defines atheism as a lack of belief in gods.

2. The Problem of Unconscious Beings

The atheist will, perhaps, clarify what he means by stating that atheism is a lack of belief in gods found among personal beings with the capacity for consciousness, but this is only a little bit better. Consider –
1. Atheism is a lack of belief in gods found among consciousness-capable beings. 
2. Consciousness-capable beings are categorizable as either conscious or unconscious. 
3. Therefore, atheism is a lack of belief in gods found among conscious or unconscious consciousness-capable beings. 
What is more, assuming for the sake of argument that it is possible for a person to become absolutely unconscious in the cases of sleep, medically induced comas, accidentally induced comas, and so on (an assumption to which it seems atheists would generally not object), the popular definition of atheism inexorably results in the absurdity of affirming that unconscious theists become atheists by means of their being rendered unconscious. Thus, in the case of sleeping theists it would be valid to argue the following –
1. Those who are unconscious lack all kinds of beliefs. 
2. Sleeping theists are part of those who are unconscious. 
3. Therefore, sleeping theists lack all kinds of beliefs. 
4. If one lacks all kinds of beliefs, then one lacks a belief in gods. 
5. Sleeping theists lack all kinds of beliefs. 
6. Therefore, sleeping theists lack belief in gods. 
7. All consciousness-capable being who lack belief in gods are atheists. 
8. Sleeping theists are consciousness-capable beings who lack belief in gods. 
9. Therefore, sleeping theists are atheists.
This is an absurd conclusion, but one that follows from the definition of atheism as a lack of belief in gods.

3. The Problem of Conscious Beings

What we have examined above is not a straw man of what the atheist believes, but is an examination of the logical conclusions we may derive from the atheist’s definition of atheism. We have done this in order to demonstrate that the definition given by the atheist is deficient because it would apply to a broader category of beings than that category to which the atheist intends to apply it, effectively resulting in identifying all beings as atheists. And even when qualified, the definition fails because it is still too broad, including even theists as atheists.

The atheist may attempt to further qualify his definition by stating that he is only referring to conscious consciousness-capable beings who lack belief in gods. This is better, but it is still problematic. For the sake of argument, we may grant that there exists a person whose mind is completely devoid of any ideas about God. Now let us say that this individual lives 37 years of his life without ever thinking about God, gods, cultures and individuals besides himself having or lacking belief in gods, or even his own lack of belief in gods. He is conscious of every other fact of the world capable of being known by him, as well as of his own mental life. He lacks consciousness of mainly one thing, viz. his lack of belief in gods. Suppose that this remains the case until he one day is presented with the Gospel of Christ and reflects on his mental activity, concluding that he lacks, and has always lacked, a belief in gods. Has he always been an atheist? Or has he just become an atheist? If he has always been an atheist, then it follows that those who are in an analogous situation, epistemologically speaking, are likewise atheists. This would include individuals who are cognitively undeveloped (e.g. unborn children), cognitively underdeveloped (e.g. mentally challenged persons), or who have become cognitively impaired by natural or accidental means over time (e.g. individuals with degenerative brain disease, or individuals who have experienced brain trauma).

The problem here should be evident to the attentive reader. In a word, it is this –
If a conscious individual lacks consciousness of his current lack of belief in gods, then he is no different than a person who lacks the cognitive ability to become aware of his lack of belief in gods. Consequently, there is a difference between those whose reasoning has led them to lack a belief in gods, or whose reasoning has confirmed their lack of a belief in gods as true, and those who lack the cognitive ability to rationally evaluate the arguments of theists, reject them as fallacious or unsound, and thereupon come to lack a belief in gods, etc.
To put the matter succinctly: It is simply not the case that atheism is a lack of belief in gods, for there is a clear difference between the conscious consciousness-capable individual who lacks a belief in gods due to some cognitive impairment and the individual who lacks a belief in gods as a consequence of the use of his normally functioning cognitive faculties.

4. The Problem(s) Facing the Atheist

Thus, in attempting to work around having to make a positive assertion about God’s existence the atheist has cast a wide enough net to include nearly anyone and anything that absolutely lacks consciousness for the entirety of its life (e.g. persons) or the entirety of its endurance1 (e.g. physical objects), as well as persons who lack consciousness either temporarily or for the entirety of their lives. He has, moreover, moved from asserting something objective about God or gods (e.g. There are no gods) to asserting something subjective about himself (viz. “I lack a belief in gods”). The former has monumental implications for all of human history and society, while the latter is merely a report about the psychology of one individual who does not desire to state what he does believe. As we have shown above, the atheist is not one who merely lacks a belief in gods, but one who has received, evaluated, and rejected information about gods and has, by rational means, rejected those arguments as fallacious or unsound.

Once this is reckoned with, it must further be acknowledged that disbelief in a given proposition (e.g. God exists) is necessarily dependent upon a prior commitment to an unstated epistemology which axiomatically defines what is or is not proper evidence regarding the truth of a given proposition, and scrutinizes theistic arguments on that basis. Stated more broadly,
P is dubious iff it meets some prior condition of dubiousness. The prior condition of dubiousness, moreover, is either heuristic or indubitable. If heuristic, then P is heuristically or theoretically, but not actually, dubious. However, if indubitable then P is actually dubious. Given that the skeptic believes P to be actually dubious, then it follows that he likewise believes his prior condition of dubiousness to be indubitable.
What this means is that the atheist’s disbelief is the necessary consequence of his prior commitment to certain unstated positive beliefs. His disbelief is actively reached by means of his use of reason, it is not merely a lack of belief in gods. Rather, the atheist’s lack of belief in gods is the consequence of his rational criticism of theistic arguments, rational criticism which is dependent upon his prior positive and indubitable beliefs. The atheist believes that gods do not exist.

Additionally, the atheist faces the problem that all empirico-inductivists face – the problem of hasty generalization. Given the problem of induction, it follows that the atheist cannot appeal to his examination of his mental states to demonstrate that he lacks belief in gods. The parameters in which he is to perform such an induction remaining undefined and fluid, moreover, he cannot say he is either more or less certain that he is one who lacks belief in gods. This means that the atheist may speculate that he is one who lacks belief in gods, but he does not know this to be true, nor can he know it to be true. Rather, he has assumed as indubitable inductive parameters which may heuristically “prove” that he is one who lacks belief in gods. If he truly does lack belief in gods, this cannot be known to him by means of his own empirico-inductive reasoning.

1 This should be understood in the ontological sense.