Are atheists overconfident

Over at Patheos.com, a contributor called JH McKenna has written an article arguing that the concept of God is so incredible on its face that educated western people are not even inclined to investigate it any more. He teaches the history of religious ideas and has a PhD, so when he says he asks atheists to write 200 word essays on why they don’t believe in a God, I believe that is research he really has done. And when he says atheists refuse the challenge, as being about as productive as writing an essay explaining their lack of belief in the Phoenix ― well ― then I think he’s building a big picture out of one-off event. I mean, what percentage of atheists really have the Phoenix reference on the tip of their tongue? It’s always faeries, vampires and spaghetti monsters.

But the basic content of the criticism I can imagine is accurate: most atheists don’t see enough weight in the arguments for God to bother engaging in the conversation. How one interprets this might be interesting: is that the measured response to an idea in antiquity or are modern atheists apathetic and overconfident?

Religious readers might interpret this as the atheists’ misplaced apathy and overconfidence, but consider what your response might be to being asked to write a 200 word essay on why you don’t think healing crystals work. You might retort that it’s not worth your time and it would be equally productive to explain why you don’t think homoeopathy works, or why you have limited trust in used car salespeople. Your apathy regarding those subjects appears completely legitimate in the face of the quality of the argument in support of those things. There is nothing about the fact these are old ideas or ideas sincerely believed by a lot of people that means you are unduly dismissive to simply ignore the challenge to rebut them.

It is worth pointing out that McKenna never accuses atheists of being overconfident. That interpretation was done by the selective reading of Michael at Shadow to Light. McKenna argues that modern day apathy towards religion is entirely justified by the fact that all the work has already been done: atheists of bygone times have done a perfectly apt job of dismantling any credible-sounding support for Gods, both empirically, with evidence contrary to religious claims, and philosophically, with arguments about what reliable thought about evidence and questions might actually look like.

Despite quoting from and referencing McKenna’s article, Michael runs with his interpretation of one paragraph ― where atheists refuse to write the 200 word essay. He claims this is evidence of overconfidence, lack of curiosity and lack of nuance. This is an ironic criticism, given that the article goes on to explain the 200-word essays do not need to be written and the question doesn’t warrant curiosity. How very confident and simplistic, Michael.

Michael couples this lack of essay writing with the fact atheists struggle to state what evidence might convince them of a God to prop up his conclusion, but even that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Think, for a moment, about what might convince you of the validity of homoeopathy: a double blind trial? Probably not, given the enormity of the conceptual challenge against homoeopathy and the existence of historical frauds. You’d sooner believe the methodology was flawed in a way you can’t pinpoint, the scientists fudged the data, or it’s simply a statistical fluke that can’t be repeated. (This is an approximation of Bayesian statistical analysis, and is a valid rational step.)

This doubt is as it would be in the face of miraculous events. I would sooner believe I was hallucinating, being lied to by the media or we were seeing a display of power from a more advanced alien race than accept God against all the philosophical and conceptual challenges posed in understanding what “God” even means. Perhaps, on that fact alone, I should lead with defining myself as an ignostic.

There is one challenge in Michael’s post that I’d like to accept is fair enough ― but only in part. The atheists’ claim that there is no evidence for God requires a little nuance. I don’t accept that this claim can’t be made, as I’ve maintained this blog for nearly a decade and even thoughtful and intelligent amateur apologists have failed to convince me there is evidence. I’ve sought evidence out from professional apologists and I’ve crowd sourced it on this blog. I started this blog wanting to be given evidence and convinced. That has been an abject failure.

But “evidence” is not an unequivocal thing. The claim might be better put as “I have seen no reasonable interpretation or presentation of artefacts of reality that convinces me of God (despite having hunted for one)”. Evidence is a combination of both the artefact from reality and the reasonable interpretation. I, for one, don’t want to confuse matters by saying there is no evidence, when I know full well there are some artefacts from reality that have convinced others of a God.* I just don’t see that the presentation of those artefacts has been reasonable.

I don’t doubt that overconfidence is a challenge to knowledge. Overconfidence in a claim leads to one requiring disproportionate evidence for a rebuttal or an opposing view. And overconfidence is random ― it attaches itself to the first idea someone heard or the most emotionally reassuring idea, completely independent of the reliability of the claim. But, the point of McKenna’s article ― when read as a whole, as far as I can see ― is that the confidence modern, educated, western atheists have is that the confidence and apathy is entirely justified.

* or have they? Sometimes it seems more accurate to say someone was already convinced of a God and is now desperately clinging to any artefact that they can butcher an interpretation of.

77 thoughts on “Are atheists overconfident”

  1. Since atheism is a 100% faith-based belief, there is no need for the atheist to explain himself to himself or anyone else.

    Faith is the belief in that which cannot be proven.

    And it cannot be proven or even reasoned that everything just happened all by itself.

    1. Neither can it be reasoned that there was a divine consciousness who did it either. As always you mischaracterize atheism which is only a lack of belief in God. Nothing else. It doesn’t mean atheists don’t use faith in argumentation, but atheism as a concept simply means not believing in God. That’s a reasonable position to take since it is up to the theist to prove God’s existence. This is what has not been done. This is why the theist position is the one of faith, and the atheist position is the one waiting for proof. You believe in something never proven. I don’t believe in God because it has never been proven. That’s not faith. For me the origin of the universe question, is just that a question in which we can try to investigate. We certainly don’t know how to create a new universe so there is a long way to go, but that doesn’t mean randomness isn’t a possible solution and it doesn’t mean that we don’t have any reasons whatsoever for at the very least saying the Christian God as described by followers doesn’t exist.

      1. Swarn,

        Yes it can be reasoned that God exists.

        Otherwise everything just happened all by itself, which is the totally ridiculous atheist creed.

        Atheists cannot be expected to understand reason since like Evangelicals they are slaves of their faith and have thus thrown their brains out the window.

      2. Swarn,

        Reasoning out something is not the same as proof.

        You thinking so demonstrates the total science illiteracy of atheists.

        Nevertheless, I have written out scientific proofs of the existence of God many times, for you included.

        You are such a dunce that you don’t even remember.

      3. You waste more words saying you’ve already explained your self than you do explaining yourself.

        All of your “proofs” are not proofs (at best, it could be a reasoned argument or evidenced). And they are fallacious.

      4. Allallt,

        You wouldn’t know a proof if it came up and kissed you on the cheek.

        That is because your faith in atheism is 100% and requires no reason at all.

        You have forsaken reason to be an atheist.

      5. Feel free to go to the Wikipedia page for scientific evidence and look up the word proof there.

        I Googled “does science give us proofs” and the only people using that language think science supports religious claims. It’s all very interesting.

      6. Proofs are logical chain of arguments. They don’t require evidence, they require logical reasoning however. I have noticed you are not capable of such reasoning, so I see the reason for the dodge. Your ability to assert things without any basis for those assertion is your greatest superpower. Keep fighting the good fight. lol

      7. And if you’ve really done it all before…should be an easy copy and paste. I mean if I had convincing reasoning for the existence of God I’d keep that shit on easy access. LOL

      8. Swarn,

        It is the atheist who is the disappointment.

        Not one of you people has any curiosity beyond your religious doctrine of everything just happened all by itself.

      9. The fact that I’ve asked you to present your reasoned explanation would directly contradict your claim that I have no curiosity. Your dodge is getting pathetic, and your ad hominem attacks make you look intellectually weak.

      10. Well 3 lines shouldn’t be hard to reproduce. Besides I don’t honestly remember doing so. I haven’t found you interesting for years but was extremely bored today and thought you might actually provide some proof your claims, but it appears nothing has changed.

      11. Swarn,

        If scientific proof of the existence of God were important to you, you would remember me spelling it out for you.

        But since you really have no curiosity I am not going to waste my time…again.

      12. Literally every conversation with you goes like this. You don’t provide proof for anything you so. And it’s rich you calling me the troll, considering that’s all you do. I mean come on, you’re smart enough not to believe in a flat Earth so there has to be something intelligent about you. Please tell me you have more to say besides “I have proof that God exists, but I am not going to tell you.” LOL

      13. Swarn,

        Put out a little effort and go visit my blog if proof is that important to you.

        I’ve explained it nine ways from Sunday.

        Your royal peel me a grape attitude is repugnant to real Americans.

      14. No…it’s just asking you to put your money where your mouth is, which you can’t do. But apparently you are okay with being just another ColorStorm.

        Oh and I’ve visited your blog before, it never seemed coherent enough to make any sense whatsoever. Just a lonely man yelling at his soup pretending there is a God.

      15. Swarn,

        I have put my money where my mouth is.

        I have told you where you can find the scientific proof of God’s existence.

        Now go peel your own grape if it is grape that strikes your fancy.

      16. You can’t provide a link to the specific post? I have to search through mounds of meaningless babble to find your 3 lines of brilliance? You know actually I prefer parlay with ColorStorm his metaphors are much better….you sound so much like him…I swear you two are brothers.

      17. LOL…but it might actually help their case for God, because two such similarly daft people in the same family would seem to be more than just random chance! 🙂

      18. There’s a sort of Bayesian assessment of whether it’s worth going to your blog, whether my motivation to visit your blog is expressed as a function of my interest in good evidence of a God (high) and how credible your claim is that you have the evidence (extremely low).

        It’s understandable why someone would want at least a teaser trailer of what they’re looking for on your blog, as I had to trawl through a lot of ad hominem and banal scribble before I found anything useful… and once I found the post I think you were referring to an commented to express my incredulity you didn’t back up your point, you just derided me for not taking your bullshit on your word.

      19. Allallt,

        There is nothing Bayesian about a simple lack of interest.

        Whereas I visit your blog regularly to engage in conversation, on rare occasion you have visited mine to do the same.

        I am simply employing the Jesus Axiom,

        “Don’t cast your pearls before swine, lest they become enraged and turn on you.”

        Jesus had a total understanding of human nature.

      20. True, there is nothing Bayesian about a lack of interest.
        But you’re dishonest if you’re trying to suggest that’s what I just expressed.

      21. There’s not any justifiable reason to go to his blog. I’ve been there 4-5 times. It is essentially a personal tabloid op-ed-ish sort of stuff and there are no educational credentials cited either. Disappointing when one wants to engage him in mature discussions. Honestly, it says a lot about us to have so much patience with him and non-censorship as many Fundy apologists exercise. LOL

      22. His “proof” is his DNA is a language thing. Therefore it needs to be authored… blah blah nonsense.

        Sometimes his “proof” is that “atheists think everything happened by itself, which is absurd, therefore God”… I mean, it’s almost degrading to yourself to ask him to say it again. But, it is a lot of fun to watch him dodge and squirm.

      23. No argument needs made allalt. Just an admission of the obvious which has been pointed out to you many times, even here by SoM.

      24. Still not understanding what proof means, eh CS? But if you want to get into the non-scientific, illogical statements game we can do that.

        “The structure of rocks disproves your proof. Rocks are proof of no God”.

        And no you can’t use my proof which disproves your proof.

      25. Ah but gill, the song of the pebbled tonnage tells me otherwise.

        Perhaps you have never heard that music of the night?

        Your greater problem is why there are rocks at higher elevations…………..

        Even a dunce knows the life and times of rocks in streams and oceans edge. Apart from creation, as I have said before, godlessness offers zero answers and has no proof of the untenable position it pretends.

        And oh btw, no answer as yet from the godless:

        Which came first, the brain or the skull?

      26. The brain obviously. I don’t see how that proves anything but then your brand of mental gymnastics is always an 9.5 from the Russians.

        I don’t think you understand plate tectonics but that’s hardly surprising.

        Oh also radon gas disapproves God. And you also can’t use that as your proof of God. You already broke the rules last time and I won’t stand for it again!

      27. 9.5? That’s rather generous SG. Even I wouldn’t score myself a ten, but I can juggle the wheels off of oranges!

        The supposed ‘obviousness’ of my question has far greater implications that you are dismissing though.

        I’m sure others who are reading can see the potential trap you are falling into. 😉

      28. I think everybody sees that typically what you think are traps are really your own ignorance of science. Falling into traps of your ignorance are unavoidable because there is so much you don’t understand that you are a virtual minefield of ignorance.

      29. 5 sighs, three yawns, another sigh, two puffs, a pint of rolling eye sauce, and a partridge in a pear tree.

        There. Just for you. I’ll keep my world etc designed and upheld by the Creator. You can have your Charles Atlas friends to help holding up the foundations of the earth……..

        ……….all walking with hunchbacks because of mental laziness, and all ending up in hospitals needing a lobotomy to rid the mind of the insane world view of atheism. 😉

      30. With you CS I always think of your verbal diarrhea as more of a Technicolor yawn. It’s full of things the body doesn’t want but at least there are some colorful chunks in it. Given your complete lack of understanding of the most basic scientific principles if you actually think that you aren’t intellectually lazy then you must have sustained a head injury damaging your prefrontal cortex. Perhaps your skull failed to harden. Peppers peashooters have been known to sink submarines that haven’t fully hardened.

        And in regards to sanity, I think anybody whose actually talked to you knows that your ability to distinguish reality from fantasy is non-existent. Just like Yahweh.

      31. Well thank you for the compliment.

        Just remember gill, you can’t see time either. Only a delusional idiot would argue its non existence.

        God is much more evident than time. No Rolex needed.

      32. Back to the old “seeing is the only way to prove something exists”. We have other ways to measure existence than sight you know? I feel like I always have to explain the most basic things to you. I experience time… It gets painfully long when conversing with you. So not only do I know it exists I also know that time is relative given how far it seems to stretch in your presence!

      33. Your clock has been cleaned gill.

        God and His word have never lost an argument. Never.

        ‘By him do all things consist, whether seen or unseen.’

  2. And I won’t write a 200 word essay on my lack of belief in unicorns, either.

    According to their scripture, Yahweh walked the Earth with the Hebrews (in the desert that has no sign of their passing). He appeared as a burning bush to Moses (nice disguise, but no self-respecting superhero would steal that disguise, even the Human Torch) and in other guises. So where is he now?

    He is “beyond space and time,” nyah, nyah! “He” is in a place where no one can even look, let alone find “Him”. What self-respecting god would allow himself to be chased out of his own plane of existence, one he even built?

    An all knowing, all-powerful, all-doubting, all-neurotic god, that’s who.

    (Am I at 200 words yet? If so, send this to the bugger.)

    1. Steve,

      One need not be a Catholic, Jew or Muslim to understand that God exists.

      That God exists has been proven by science and is also a matter of reason.

      Since atheism is a 100% faith-based belief, atheists are simply unable to see proof and reason anything other than a frontal assault on their faith.

      1. My irony-o-meter is making my balls tingle…

        God has not been demonstrated by any science or reasonable argument. Theism is the position that requires evidence, and atheism is not accepting the evidence leads where you think it does.

        And yet it’s you that relies on denigrating atheism to support theism…

        Please, keep going. I like it.

      2. Allallt,

        I have made the scientific arguments to you.

        You are science illiterate and impervious to reason because atheism is 100% faith-based.

        In fact you have proven all of my claims simply by being your atheist self.

  3. Allallt,

    Though I’m not as big on titles or labels as some, as a Freethinking Humanist (with lots of Bohemian tendencies & family heritage) regarding God or no God and their arguements, I was once a Fundy Christian college-educated at a Christian university for under-grad, seminary (RTS @ Jackson, MS) for post-grad, and church ministries and three missionary tours abroad… all done over 9-years. I was raised by my agnostic father and liberal non-practicing Xian mother before genuinely converting in college at age 20. Coming from an indifferent upbringing toward religion, into a highly studied Reformed Theology which emphasized Scripture, Scripture, (exhaustive exegetical) SCRIPTURE as the most tangible “evidence” of the Trinity, etc, then 9-years later deconverting or deindoctrinating… gives me, I feel, a unique perspective. I was on “the outside,” went DEEP into all chambers of “the inside,” and upon finding a major critical omission(s) in Scripture, came back outside to join the rest of thinking, intelligent humanity — i.e. those not afraid to scrutinize the data & historical evidence. I couldn’t be happier of my choices and current life now.

    As a former Fundy, seminary educated, and church staff experienced now Humanist, I can say unequivocally and with high accuracy:

    1. Most Christians have pure (blind) faith, not well-versed at all in their own Scriptures and its plethora of incongruencies, contradictions, and erroneous logic — unless they want to claim INDIVIDUAL paranormal/miraculous experiences; I’ll gladly concede those to them for they are unique to them only, not universal.

    2. Most Christians follow the predominate crowd (religion of their homes/family) if it personally benefits them presently and in the foreseeable future. It really has nothing to do with truth and everything to do with personal gains/harms on many levels.

    3. For several reasons, those Christians who cling to empirical historical evidence and reasoning (Apologists), they use popular, well-known, endless, circular doubt tactics or flat out psychological denials. In the end, they might even gladly go to the crucifixion-cross and death themselves (ala Samurai Seppuku?) if offered the choice. That is another psychological condition I will not go into here. Many would not go that far. LOL

    Arrogant or over-confident Atheists? It depends on how they are approached really. There’s nothing out of character when primates recognize a time to defend themselves, and their own, against aggressors or autarchish manipulators.

    Those are my thoughts. 🙂 Another great post Allallt!

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