Scott Adams of Dilbert fame has come out and challenged the intellectual merits of atheism. In a recent blog post he argues that the only intellectually honest option for a non-believer is agnosticism. Here’s his argument:
- It is common for humans to be 100% certain of a particular fact, and later find out it is wrong.
- Therefore, it is irrational for you, a human, to be 100% certain on any particular topic.
- Agnostics believe humans are not equipped to be certain about truth. That is rational, and backed by all the peer reviewed science.
- Atheists come in two flavors.
- One type of atheist is 100% sure there is no God. That is not rational because humans can sometimes be mistaken, and things can exist for which no evidence has yet been found.
- The other type of atheist, the so-called weak form, believes that the lack of good evidence for God provides no reason for belief. That is rational. Agnostics who understand science believe the same thing.
- Therefore, there is no meaningful difference between an agnostic who understands science and a weak atheist who understands science. Neither believes the case for God has been made, and both accept the peer reviewed science showing the fragility of the human mind for knowing “truth.”
He’s basically saying that humans can never know anything 100%, therefore atheism is never an intelligent option.
I think Scott is awesome. He’s one of the best writers out there as far as consistently good material is concerned, and of course his comic is legendary. But in the realm of philosophy and religion he seems hopelessly lost. Actually he might not be lost (he might know some of his arguments have no merit), but he’s leading scary numbers of fans off an intellectual cliff.
He’s attempting a very precarious balancing act, i.e. debating solidly supported philosophy using weak arguments that are hundreds of years old, and then when he gets shot down he can claim it was “philosophy entertainment”. Win-win.
He’s trying to game the system. He wins if people believe his arguments are true (which TONS of his fanboys apparently do), yet he also wins if he’s shown to be putting forth amateur arguments (which has already happened) because he can just claim it was all in fun, and that the responders are immature for getting upset.
He and his fans seem to enjoy the fact that atheists get bothered by his claims that atheism is foolish. I don’t think it’s a poor response for us to do so. He’s considered to be a REAL philosopher by the uneducated, yet claiming NOT to be one openly. It’s important that his arguments are shown to be firmly on the side of “tainment” rather than “philoso”.
So here’s my response that discusses the Dawkins approach to agnosticism vs. atheism:
You’re not disagreeing with Dawkins here, Scott. This is a semantics issue. The Dawkins Atheist is still skeptical of everything — including the notion that there is no God — but he does so with the benefit of perspective. He simply chooses to call things that fall into a certain realm of incredulity — untrue.
It’s an intellectual courage issue.
Dawkins and others like him are 100% sure there is no God in only the same way that they are 100% sure there are no unicorns, no leprechauns, and no Gods of Olympus. This is not absolute certainty; this is certainty graded on a curve. We take the most preposterous notions in the world (magic horses, fairies, etc.) and use that as the standard for 100% since there really is no such thing.
To an atheist, theism is simply one absurdity among many that reached that threshold of curved 100%. It’s the same with any other silly notion that we can come up with — like Russell’s Teapot or any number of ancient superstitions. They’re equally absurd for the purposes of practicality, meaning they’re non-issues. Hence atheism. Agnosticism on matters of such absurdity is nothing less than intellectual cowardice. One is essentially saying, “It’s never been proven that there aren’t any invisible pink unicorns, therefore I’m not going to say there aren’t any. I want to be absolutely sure before I call myself an anti-unicornist.”
That’s ridiculous. This means you also can’t in good conscience tell your children there are no monsters under their beds. After all, you can’t be certain.
The distinction between atheism and agnosticism comes down to one thing — having the intellectual courage to say, “If you think that Zeus still rules from Olympus, that a giant teapot orbits the Sun, or that the Bible is the word of an omnipotent, sentient God who created our universe — you’re delusional.” Not maybe wrong. Not partially right. Delusional.
Atheists are just agnostics with the balls to recognize that there ARE certain things that are too ludicrous to discuss seriously. The primitive, superstitious belief systems found in ancient texts are simply one such class of silliness. It’s time to mature past the silly notion of everything being “possibly true on some level, therefore defensible.” If that were the case then the words “false” and “incorrect” would lose most of their meaning. Any logical person knows we can safely rule out the Gods of Olympus without checking every place in the universe.
It’s the 21st century; let’s have the courage to call the absurd what it is.