The Jewish Philosopher Profoundly Misunderstands Atheists
I still believe in the Bible when it tells me that only a fool says that there is no God (Ps 14:1). Regular readers know that I am no defender of atheism. Unfortunately, a post by a religious Jew has recently come to my attention as part of my series on refuting Kelly O’Connor of the Rational Response Squad that so badly mischaracterizes atheists that I actually am jumping to their defense in this post.
Religion is defined by its beliefs; atheism is a lack of belief in God. Already I see the difference between religion and atheism, and why atheism cannot be a religion by definition. I was skeptical reading this post from the Jewish Philosopher simply because I didn’t feel the subject matter couldn’t sustain a blog post.
Before I consider Kelly’s post, I wanted to briefly touch on a few things in Stein’s post. First, I don’t believe that atheism is an extension of determinism. I believe that its roots lay in metaphysical naturalism. To the atheist, all that we see is all that there is. Stein later will assert that determinism has been refuted by quantum mechanics and that atheists seem to hardly notice. This just isn’t true. To my knowledge, atheists don’t believe in determinism in the first place (often criticizing my own Calvinistic theology as deterministic or fatalistic). This leads me to conclude that atheists lean more to the secular existentialist camp.
Second, his research that he lists in four points is flawed. In his first point, he is wrong that atheists cannot define “god.” They define “god” as an all-knowing, all-powerful supernatural being about whom myths and legends are composed. While Christians and Jews would not include YHWH in such a definition, the atheists do and therefore do not believe in Him. As I’ve heard it put, “Atheists and theists are the same in their lack of belief in gods, atheists just go one God further.”
Stein is wrong in his assertion that atheists don’t seem bothered by an intelligent creator. They emphatically deny such a being, insisting that the Big Bang is all that was necessary to set the universe in motion. This is partially deterministic, but they don’t ascribe to the philosophy that there is only ever one possible future. Many believe in human free will, which is why secular existentialism is so attractive to them.
I agree with Stein that atheists are bothered by a personal god who would judge their actions.
In his second point, Stein makes the first of two unsubstantiated claims. He asserts that atheists are selfish people. Consider the Rational Response Squad for a moment. They rely on member donations, and their members are always willing to donate money. One donated a house. It would be easy to argue that the donors are doing so for the tax break, but Sapient has never filed the appropriate paperwork to incorporate the RRS as a 501(c)3 nonprofit. That means the members who donate know that this money goes to the RRS as a gift. The Squad doesn’t even have to tell the donors how the money is being used! Yet, they still donate.
My second point would be RRS board moderator Pariahjane, who told me that she frequently gives money to friends in need with no expectation of repayment. She wants to see people succeed, and is happy to help them. These are not selfish acts by any means. So I, for one, would like to know how Stein drew the conclusion that atheists are selfish people.
I’ve already touched on his third point. I believe that atheists are more likely to be secular existentialists than determinists. In fact, my own leanings to Reformed theology have been almost universally criticized by atheists as deterministic, which isn’t how the universe works in their minds. Only a handful of atheists reject libertarian free will as an illusion.
Stein’s fourth point is the second of his unsubstantiated claims: that atheism and pornography are somehow linked. Frank Walton made the claim that the RRS is overtly sexual in its content and conduct yesterday, but he backs this up with several pieces of evidence and a plethora of links pulled from the RRS site and from YouTube. But that is just the RRS–I see no reason to draw the conclusion that the atheist community at large is linked to a rise in pornography.
This means that, in the absence of hard evidence, Stein cannot make the claim that communities with a high level of pornography have a high level of atheism. There is no evidence to suggest that one is linked to the other.
Stein’s concluding remarks:
Atheism is not a philosophy; it is a symptom of narcissism and hedonism. Calling atheism a religion is like calling alcoholism a religion. It’s a bad choice, a moral failing, perhaps a disease. Until the 18th century “atheist” was usually simply an insult meaning “debauched libertine”. This may be close to the truth.
Third, and finally, I cannot endorse this conclusion. Since I don’t see any evidence provided in his chain of reasoning, Stein’s conclusion is unwarranted and inflammatory. The ancient Greek and Roman societies were steadfastly religious, yet also courting hedonism. The only conclusion warranted by the evidence is that atheism is a bad choice; it cannot be called either a moral failing or a disease. It cannot be called a moral failing unless we are prepared to argue by what standard we mean. It cannot be called a disease since we can’t link it to an addiction like pornography.
We know have an understanding of why Kelly is so mad and we have no reason to examine her insult and swear word laden post on this subject. Why? Because Jacob Stein’s lack of understanding of atheism is so prevalent that his material refutes itself.
Kelly sums it up in her first paragraph nicely:
His depiction of atheists is nothing short of bigoted and disgusting. He’s “The Jewish Philosopher”? I can’t even find the philosophy under the pile of steaming s**t that he excreted onto his site. I’m telling you this up front only because you’re going to need those hip-high waders and possibly protection for your monitor before reading further. (emphasis added)
For once, Kelly and I agree. His portrayal of atheists is exactly that: bigoted and disgusting. Our Jewish Philosopher friend needs to study atheist philosophy before he decides to write about it. The rest of Kelly’s post is a not-nice-version of the points I’ve made above, and–more irony–I didn’t read Kelly’s post until after I made my points about Stein’s post.