Another response to Baty’s “Atheism 101 Argument”

Apparently, I did not interpret Baty’s argument correctly, or so he states in a reply he posted to my last post on this topic. I apologize for having misconstrued his argument, but I have to confess that his point is difficult to find since, from what I have seen, he never tells us directly and explicitly what it is that he’s trying to show. Therefore, I’m left trying to infer what he’s trying to say from the textual clues that are available. Apparently, from his perspective, my exegesis of the remarks I’ve read from him thus far does not capture what he has been trying to express.

Therefore, I will give another attempt at understanding what he seems to be saying.

Baty appears to think that there are many atheists who accept the conclusion of his Atheism 101 argument (“Man did originate the idea/concept of God through the power of imagination.”). Further, he understands the origination of an idea “through the power of imagination” in a broad enough sense to include Daniel Dennett’s summary of the evolutionary psychology literature in Breaking the Spell.

Or claims to. I’m not as of yet convinced that he understands Dennett’s argument in that book. Certainly, he does not appear to have actually read it and appears to have taken his understanding of the book from a review he read. He seems to have expected Dennett to provide an explicit explanation for the origins of religion in that book and was dismayed that a review of Dennett’s book indicated that Dennett did not provide such an explanation (“…the reference noted that Dennett admitted that he doesn’t have an origin for the idea/concept of God tied down, but thinks there are several theories about that independent of ‘reason’ and/or ‘revelation’.”)

Having actually read Dennett’s book, and not just a review, I can say that Breaking the Spell fits into Dennett’s larger corpus of work on the evolutionary origins of a number of cognitive and cultural features of human beings. Much of what Dennett does in that book is to summarize the available literature from anthropology, cognitive science, psychology, biology, and so on, as to the likely natural origins of supernatural beliefs and religious social institutions and to tie that literature into his particular conception of human evolution. This is similar, in some responses, to how Dennett has elsewhere argued for the evolutionary origins of human free will. Since Dennett spends so much time summarizing and synthesizing the evolutinary psychology literature, to a large extent, it is not intended to be an original work.

Baty states that the conclusion to his argument “is a common, explicit, affirmative claim made by atheists and that without qualification”. Apparently, Baty states that atheists are not acting rationally when they claim that the “idea/concept of God” came about through “imagination” because it is “beyond the reach of the evidence”. And this is the entire point of Baty’s work.

If that is the conclusion Baty would like us to make, I would like to remind him that I provided several reasons to think this claim is false. For example:

  1. There are reasons to doubt that we even have a “concept/idea” of God (at least in the relevant sense of classical theism). If we do not have a “concept/idea” of God, then there is no reason that we have to provide an account as to how that “idea/concept” came about. I briefly discussed how this issue has been raised in (a) Christian theology, (b) theological non-cognitivism and ignosticism, and (c) 18th century atheism. Baty has provided no response to this issue, nor has he shown that we have a “concept/idea” of God.
  2. The way in which Baty means “power of the imagination” is not how most people would use those terms, especially if he wants to extend his use of ‘imagination’ to cover the kinds of explanations raised by Dennett and Boyer (who, incidentally, provide different accounts). Again, I have not seen Baty argue why the kind of accounts offered by these authors would be covered by “power of imagination”.
  3. That some atheists think x, where x is not a rational thing to think and x is not implied by atheism, implies nothing about atheism. Baty has not replied to this objection either.

Baty states: “What it demonstrates, in part, where it is uncontested that atheists do go around claiming ‘imagination’ accounts for, without qualification, the origin of the idea/concept of God is that they believe/think that to be the case beyond the reach of the evidence.”

Baty has equivocated here from what the questions on his quiz actually state. Question 5 on his quiz states: “Do you think that there are atheists who implicitly and/or explicitly believe the minor premise to be true?” The answer to this question is “yes” if there exists at least one atheist who makes this claim. But at least one atheist could believe all kinds of things – I have met an atheist who believed in ghosts, for example.

In the statement above, he states that “it is uncontested that atheists do go around claiming ‘imagination accounts…” In this statement, it sounds as though Baty is making a general claim about the behavior of all atheists. That conclusion certainly does not follow from an affirmative answer to question 5.

Baty states: “However, when atheists go beyond simply lacking a belief that there is any God, then they have to accept my argument, implicitly and/or explicitly, as representing, in my opinion, their best argument for their atheism; or at least an argument they have to deal with and cannot show to be sound.”

Yet, in my previous post, I pointed out that Baty’s argument, as it stands, cannot be sound even from the perspective of the most hardened, gnostic atheist. Why? Because the conditional in premise 1 is simply false. What people could have done implies nothing about what they did do.

I would offer Baty the following alternative syllogism. Not because I think that this is one of the best arguments for atheism, but because I think it is better than the one Baty offers “as representing… [the atheist's] best argument for atheism”. If there is at least one argument better than Baty’s, then Baty’s argument cannot be the best.

MAJOR PREMISE:

- IF (A) there is good evidence that

- humans originated the idea/concept

- of God through the power of imagination

- (broadly construed to include explanations

- from evolutionary psychology)
- THEN (B) humans probably did originate the
- idea/concept of God through the
- power of imagination (broadly construed).

MINOR PREMISE

- There is good evidence that humans

- originated the idea/concept of God

- through the power of imagination

- (broadly construed).

CONCLUSION:

- Humans probably did originate the
- idea/concept of God through the
- power of imagination (broadly

- construed).

And, just for fun, here’s another alternative syllogism that atheists might provide concerning “imagination”:

MAJOR PREMISE:

- IF (A) there is good evidence or arguments that

- God probably does not exist
- THEN (B) humans probably did originate the
- idea/concept of God through the
- power of imagination.

MINOR PREMISE:

- There is good evidence that God

- probably does not exist.

CONCLUSION:

- Humans probably did originate the
- idea/concept of God through the
- power of imagination.

2 Comments

  • November 7, 2013 - 12:32 am | Permalink

    I think it is important to point out that Dan Linford and I have agreed that “yes” is our answer to each of the questions in my Atheism 101 Critical Thinking Exercise.

    That’s the important point.

    I am a simple mind man and make rather humble claims for my Argument and the Exercise.

    Having just watched Dan’s Liberty University “Does God Exist?” debate which took place earlier this year, it’s clear to me that he is the one that will have to condescend to me if we are to communicate effectively. I am no competition for his high-class academic vernacular and wordplay.

    I listened to that debate and never heard him make an argument that had the conclusion “therefore, God does not exist”.

    I got the distinct impression that Dan does not actually propose to make such an argument; he just doesn’t believe/think any God is.

    I do.

    But we can still chat up the issues where we might have some mutual interests.

    Now, let’s look at some of what Dan wanted to say in his second response!

    Dan writes:

    - I will give another attempt at
    - understanding what he seems
    - to be saying.

    OK, here we go!

    - Baty appears to think that there are many
    - atheists who accept the conclusion of his
    - Atheism 101 argument (“Man did originate
    - the idea/concept of God through the power
    - of imagination.”).

    Dan, as I mentioned earlier, you need to make clear if you are disputing that simple, factual claim which forms the foundation of my argument. I would not think today, November 6, 2013, I would need to look up a reference, but if you are denying what I claim to be an ordinarily accepted fact, I will try to find a reference for you.

    Dan goes on with:

    - He understands the origination of an
    - idea “through the power of imagination”
    - in a broad enough sense to include Daniel
    - Dennett’s summary of the evolutionary
    - psychology literature in Breaking the Spell.

    Dan, feel free to state the claim simply and I will gladly demonstrate why it is that Dennett’s wordplay on all of that still fits into the broad “imagination” option.

    Or, Dan, if that “imagination” label really troubles you that much, just come up with one or more words you think identifies Dennett’s speculations that you want to adopt and promote as your own and plug it in where I have “imagination” and we can go back through the Exercise questions as adapted to your promotion of Dennett’s position “as you understand it”.

    Dan muses on with such

    - Much of what Dennett does…is to summarize
    - the as to the likely natural origins of
    - supernatural beliefs…

    Yeah, that’s what I said, Dan; Dennett just speculates and can’t/won’t propose a natural, “imaginative” origin because he can’t; his musings go beyond the reach of the evidence he plays around with.

    Dan again gets off track with:

    - Apparently, Baty states that atheists are not
    - acting rationally when they claim that the
    - “idea/concept of God” came about through
    - “imagination” because it is “beyond the
    - reach of the evidence”.
    -
    - And this is the entire point of Baty’s work.
    -
    - If that is the conclusion Baty would like us
    - to make, I would like to remind him that I
    - provided several reasons to think this claim
    - is false.

    It’s really quite simple and it’s as if atheists just can’t stand the simplicity and want to make more out of it than is there.

    I think it is quite “rational” for atheists to believe/think that the origin of the idea/concept of God arose as a result of the “imaginative” powers of some primate in days gone by.

    That it goes beyond the reach of the evidence is just a fact of the matter that is most important to note.

    That’s their ONLY course.

    They reject reason and revelation and are stuck with “imagination” (i.e., natural processes) even though, last I checked, they still haven’t managed to get the evidence to reach back to the natural origin of the idea/concept of God.

    Dan writes:

    - In the statement above, he states that
    - “it is uncontested that atheists do go
    - around claiming ‘imagination accounts…”
    - In this statement, it sounds as though
    - Baty is making a general claim about the
    - behavior of all atheists. That conclusion
    - certainly does not follow from an affirmative
    - answer to question 5.

    We can quibble round and round about such things, but I will try to give credit that most people get it without the need. Here’s the deal on that as I see it, briefly. Despite the denials, I claim that atheism “entails” a natural/”imaginative” origin for the idea/concept of God as opposed to “reasons” and “revelation” as previously explained. That is implied, I propose, in the claim “there is no God” and/or “I don’t believe in any God”. The implication of atheism is, in my opinion, quite clearly confirmed by those atheists who are open and honest enough to explicitly state their unequivocal, unconditional claim about the subject.

    I propose if you talk to an atheist, any atheist, long enough on the subject, he will explicitly or implicitly admit to the belief/thinking that the origin of the idea/concept of God came through natural/”imaginative” means and not “reason” or “revelation”.

    Dan writes:

    - In my previous post, I pointed out that Baty’s
    - argument, as it stands, cannot be sound…
    - Because the conditional in premise 1 is
    - simply false.

    Let’s just say it cannot be, has not been shown to be true, but has to be true if the atheism/atheist claim is to be sustained.

    That’s one of the points of the exercise. As the old philosophers say, you can listen to an atheist for hours and be bamboozled, but when you put their argument into a 3-line syllogism it is easy to see where they fail to make their case.

    It’s their UNgetoverable argument.
    It’s valid.
    They believe the conclusion to be true; implicitly or explicitly.
    They believe the premises to be true; implicitly or explicitly.

    Dan writes:

    - I would offer Baty the following…
    - because I think it is better than the
    - one Baty offers“ as representing…

    Been there done that, with the atheism and other issues. I take it as a common ploy from the losing side to evade the consequences of my simple approach to certain, important, public issues.

    Maybe when/if Dan ever simply accepts our agreement as to the 6 simple questions and that my Argument and Exercise are what I claim for them, we can more seriously consider other alternative areas of mutual interest.

    Dan’s alternative arguments:

    Nah, I’ll let y’all look it up.

    What Dan’s alternatives do is implicitly admit just what I have been saying.

    Atheists don’t believe there is any God.
    Theists do.

    Atheists think/believe in a natural origin for the idea/concept of God.
    Theists don’t.

    Thanks Dan Linford for helping me more clearly establish the claims I make for my Argument and Exercise.

    Next time you see or hear some atheist claim that the idea/concept of God originated through some mysterious natural means, just remind them that they mean to say they just think/believe that because it’s the only alternative available to them; it’s not because the evidence actually is able to take them to that conclusion.

    Sincerely,
    Robert Baty

    —————-

  • November 13, 2013 - 11:05 pm | Permalink

    Dan,

    Just using this venue for convenience sake to let you know what up; in case you didn’t.

    So, maybe I’ll be able to get back to you tomorrow.

    You most lately wrote, according to my personal mailbox notices:

    - “Your idea that the minor premise and the
    - conclusion imply the major premise of your
    - argument only works in sentential logic. I
    - would think that matters to you. If you insist
    - on doing this in English, instead of in
    - sentential logic, then I will have to change
    - my answers to your six questions.”

    Just make up your mind, Dan.

    I can take it either way you want to go.

    If you want to discuss what, if anything, your attempt to appeal to sentential logic has to do with my claims, go for it.

    Let me know your new answers and then go for it.

    If FaceBook lets me back in and I have the ability to manage my pages, I will respond to your next posting(s) as I get the time.

    Sincerely,
    Robert Baty

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