A couple of days ago, I got in a Twitter back-and-forth with Nate Phelps. Mr. Phelps is the son of Fred Phelps, the infamous fundamentalist pastor of Westboro Baptist Church, a tiny cultic congregation that has earned infamy for hating on every one that is not part of the group. Nate Phelps left Westboro years ago and has long been an atheist. In this exchange, he took issue with a tweet in which I criticized atheists who compare God to a garden fairy.
Randal: When an atheist compares belief in God to belief in a “garden fairy,” what he/she is really saying is “I don’t understand the concept of God and I don’t care to.”
Nate Phelps: Hogwash
Randal: You do realize that your response is not helping your case, don’t you?
Nate: As soon as you broadly assign a motivation or angle to every atheist’s use of such an analogy, it’s the only logical response. It’s a lazy dismissal of a legitimate assertion. If the analogy between belief in god and belief in fairies is inaccurate, challenge it w/evidence.
Randal: I have done that. It’s just as stupid as a Christian saying that atheists believe human beings evolved from “goo”. These are equal and opposite demonstrations of execrable ignorance:
Nate: Again, that some atheists may make such an assertion from “ignorance”, to broad brush it is lazy and unproductive. You know there are many atheists who arrived at the fairy analogy after serious, thoughtful immersion in a religious system.
Randal: That’s much better than “hogwash”. Regardless, the point of the original tweet is that comparing the concept of God to a fairy is fatuous, the comparisons silly (e.g. two invisible fanciful creatures) or simply false (e.g. when people grow up they leave behind fairies/God).
Nate: Why is it pointless to make that comparison. The lack of evidence for either is the same. Are you assigning greater validity to the god claim simply because it persists into adulthood? Or is maintaining an open line of communication so valued as to abide a vacuous claim?
Randal: “The lack of evidence for either is the same.” It’s standard in philosophy, as in other fields, to ground your opinions to your knowledge of the field. So how familiar are you with the fields of metaphysics, epistemology, phil of religion, etc?
Nate: I grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church.
Randal: I know. I met you when I debated John Loftus in Calgary back in 2013. I’m sorry about that. But what insight does growing up in that cultic climate give you to contemporary philosophy (the topic of my question)? None, I presume.
Nate: Bringing me back to my question. Since humans have developed a sophisticated system of philosophy on a topic, I’m obliged to give it a level of respect knowing full well its unsustainable? Such an argument is just another avoidance tactic to the salient ? of proof of your god.
Randal: Sorry, are you saying that you can ignore a field of academic discourse because, so you claim, all the academics in that field are engaged in an “avoidance tactic”? Is that what you’re claiming? And if not, what are you saying?
Nate: Simply put, studying god’s don’t make them real. Nor does it venerate or protect the subject from criticism. Finally, using a god/fairy analogy doesn’t necessarily speak to the validity or subject knowledge of the user.
Randal: Nobody claimed that studying a subject in and of itself makes the subject matter “real”. But I’m still wondering on what basis you can opine on a professional field of philosophy with which you are clearly unfamiliar? That sounds like pure anti-intellectualism.
Nate: It seems you’re determined to provide cover for an untenable position by cloaking it in “professional field of philosophy”. What evidence has that field produced proving the existence of god. Would the god/fairies analogy be bolstered if fairies had their own professional field?
Randal: Now you’re engaging in psychological projection on my motivations in an apparent attempt to deflect my question. So I’ll repeat: on what basis do you opine on a professional field of philosophy with which you are clearly unfamiliar? Do you also dismiss other academic fields?
Nate: Just those that don’t produce verifiable results. on what basis do you opine on a god?
Randal: I see. Please define “verifiable results” and explain which fields of philosophy meet your standard of producing verifiable results and which do not.
And that’s where the conversation ended.
As the conversation unfolds, Nate speaks dismissively of the field of philosophy of religion, but it is apparent that he doesn’t understand what that field of philosophy is about as he seems to treat it as a partisan exercise in Christian apologetics. That’s as ignorant as dismissing the field of political philosophy as a partisan exercise in Republican politics. But such as it is, these kinds of dismissive attitudes toward fields of discourse are, in my experience, all-to-common among atheists.
The essence of my debrief is captured in an observation courtesy of John Thatamanil: “if a theologian were to broadcast her convictions about molecular or evolutionary biology without some years of careful reading and study, she would be met with jeering laughter and summarily dismissed. Why then are uninformed atheists who have never read in theology exempt from similar derision? Sadly, every pedant believes himself entitled to his unearned convictions about religion.”
All I would add is that that which is true of theology is equally true of philosophy of religion. And it is surely ironic that people who talk so much about “reason” and “evidence” would show such little regard for reason and evidence in a case like this.
And that exhibits the problem of atheist anti-intellectualism.