We live in a day when “Transformers 3” cleans up at the cineplex while Malik’s “The Tree of Life” languishes at the decrepit Bijou Theatre. So I probably shouldn’t be surprised that many atheists have degereated to the point of defending their beliefs by saying “I don’t believe in leprechauns or unicorns either. Haw haw!” But is there a hope that we can move beyond “Transformers 3” theological dialogue?
That was the point of “Leprechauns and God” where I attempted to articulate the logical structure of analogies between God and things like unicorns and leprechauns. With that in mind I proposed the following:
(1) The idea that p’s exist is silly.
(2) q’s are analogous to p’s in a relevant way.
(3) Therefore the idea that q’s exist is also silly.
When it comes to leprechauns the argument looks like this:
(1) The idea that leprechauns exist is silly.
(2) Gods are analogous to leprechauns in a relevant way.
(3) Therefore the idea that Gods exist is also silly.
I then asked those who invoke these trite analogies to defend (2). Eventually I came up with two responses. I’ll consider the first here and come to the second in a later post.
The first came from The Atheist Missionary (who frequently compares God to unicorns) in the form of a quote from Jerry Coyne:
If our universe simply reflected the action of pure naturalistic laws rather than the intentions of God, how would it differ from the universe we have today? In other words, what conceivable observation about the universe could convince you that God does not exist?
Since this quote was given in the context of me asking atheists to defend (2), I will interpret it accordingly. Since TAM didn’t do the hard work of extricating an argument from these two questions, I’ll do my best. First, we can note the second question wears the trousers since Coyne signals with his “In other words” that it is a restatement of the first question. So let’s focus there. I’ll unpack the second question in terms of two overlapping claims:
(a) If there are no conceivable observations of the universe that could convince you that X doesn’t exist, then it is silly to believe that X does exist.
(b) If there are no conceivable observations of the universe that could convince you that p is false, then it is silly to believe that p is true.
Wow. (a) and (b) remind me of the claim “My transistor radio is better for listening to music than your iPod”. That is, they are both so wrong that you’re falling over yourself trying to identify all the ways. I’ll note a few problems here without any pretense of being comprehensive.
First, many cosmologists believe that multiple universes exist. According to (a) and (b), that’s silly.
Second, many mathematicians and philosophers (and other people) believe that numbers are platonic abstract objects. According to (a) and (b), that’s silly.
Third, many ethicists believe that the form of the good is an objective universal which is exemplified in particular actions. According to (a) and (b), that’s silly.
And now for some fun. Consider this claim:
p: The universe was not created five minutes ago with apparent age.
According to (b), it would be silly to believe p!
With TAM’s “Coyne Defense” mercifully euthanized I hope that TAM will stop comparing God to unicorns. Who knows? Maybe he’ll even retire his transistor radio.