illogical atheism

Ken Perrott recently drew attention to a new book called The Six Ways of Atheism: New Logical Disproofs of the Existence of God by Geoffrey Berg.

At the site related to the book, there are summaries of the (as the site says) “six improved arguments for atheism”.

Now, I’m terribly sorry, but if these are ‘improved’ arguments for atheism, then it would be embarrassing to see the ‘unimproved’ ones! :)  I’ve only taken an intro to philosophy class, and have never taken any classes in logic, etc., but these are poorly stated arguments, which would no doubt be embarrassing to proper atheist philosophers.

I’ve done a quick response in PDF format: 6 atheist arguments – quick response.  Enjoy.

(p.s. – I can give some time to responses to this, but I’m entering another busy semester, so don’t have time for too much.  Yes, I’m aware that these were ‘summaries’ and that the book would ‘unpack’ them further, but I still say they are poorly stated as is.)

23 thoughts on “illogical atheism”

  1. I’ve only taken an intro to philosophy class, and have never taken any classes in logic, etc., but these are poorly stated arguments, which would no doubt be embarrassing to proper atheist philosophers.

    Ah. This might explain why you’re so poor at it! Since you excuse yourself ahead of time for not have real time to reply, can I do the same? :-)

    Seriously, I get the impression you have made no attempt to read the book. I also see that of what I’ve read, you’ve basically dismissed them out of hand. For example, dismissing something because you aren’t certain about what a word precisely means is silly if you haven’t read the book: no doubt it’s explained in the text. It would mean that you’re pre-emptively dismissing the challenge.

    By the way, you stating “aside” is formally incorrect. Independent probabilities don’t add to increase the odds, they multiply to reduce the odds. I’ve little doubt that’s explained in the book, too.

    Your response to the second is totally flawed, to the point it makes me think I should not waste my time continuing!

    For the third, see above. And I’ll stop there, you’re doing too badly to waste my time on it. Sorry about that, I have better things to do.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Heraclides. :) btw, I’ve clearly not read the book (if the arguments cannot be summarised better than they are, it doesn’t appear to be worth the time or money!), and have interacted only with the arguments as stated and summarised on the webpage. The file name is ‘quick response’, and that’s all it was ever intended to be. Like you, I’ve better things to do.

  3. Dale- good job. It’s good to see you’re still at the apologetics. I remember a lunch or two with you where we discussed your interest in arguing the faith. Anyway- most of this is well above my head (as you know) but I wanted to commend you in your efforts. It isn’t wasted- your argument made sense to me (for what that’s worth).

    As always- great to read what you write. Keep it up. God is good.

  4. Pity you don’t want to read the book, Dale. As I said, I think it is an ideal book for Christian apologists. It’s unusual because non-theists usually don’t get into the logical arguments at any length – relying more on evidence. But apologetics seems to rely completely on logic.

    Unfortunately, because they are rarely challenged at length on this logic it has become rather sloppy (I referred to Craig’s arguments as an example – and a lot of apologists repeat those arguments).

    So here we have the unusual (Berg thinks unique) case of an atheist who develops his logical arguments at length (in my opinion to a fault, as he appears to have an incorrect understanding of the value of science). So, I woud think it encumbent on the conscientiousness apologists to actually read the book before commenting so that they can engage properly with these arguments.

    I have glanced briefly at your “refutations” and can tell you that you wouldn’t have included many of them if you had read the book. This is because many, if not most, of your arguments are actually engaged with by the author in the book. He actually has for each chapter a list of arguments against his propositions (some of which you used)- which he then deals with one by one. One may not be convinced but there is no doubt the author is thorough and you need to be aware of his full argument before dealing with it.

    You appear to have taken the book seriously enough to write several pages of refutations. Unfortunately, for your case, they appear to be mostly not appropriate because they have either been dealt with in the book, or are irrelevant (Several of your “refutation” are based on misunderstandings of Berg’s points – inevitable as you didn’t actually read his full arguments).

    I can appreciate that you have an emotional response to seeing the words atheism and logical in the same sentence. But may I suggest that the more appropriate response is not to retaliate by replacing logical with illogical, or by writing a several page rejection based on a brief summary at the web site. To me the appropriate response is to get the book, read it, consider the arguments and then respond to them with your own logic. It won’t hurt you, you might enjoy it. And you might find that you can debate the issues intelligently, maybe even find ways to prove Berg logically faulty.

    I actually think it’s very unfair that I felt obliged to read the book because I was reviewing it. It’s not the sort of book I would normally read without having that responsibility. It’s really a book which is more suitable for the Christian apologist reader. But you get to do your review without putting in the work!

    Personally, I would like to Christian apologists engage seriously with Berg’s logic. Hopefully, some will actually read the book before launching into emotional criticism.

  5. Ken,
    I appreciate your thoughtful response, but the two main reasons I will not have time to read the book are solid ones.
    1 – sheer time. My work/study/other reading load is decent, and I read slow/detailed anyway. I’ve not time to read just any book.
    2 – again, my judgment of the books content was based on the poor quality of the summaries of the arguments. They are poorly stated as is.

    A quick point about William Lane Craig. I’ve not spent hours looking, but I’ve yet to see his argument dealt with in a comprehensive, systematic way (‘head on’, if you like) by any of his opponents.

    If anyone wants to offer a logical quick response to my logical quick response, then I’m all ears. Just do it in the proper 1, 2, 3, etc. format like I have. Show logically where the gaps in logic are. Even a ‘quick’ response to my quick response would be good.

    In sum, with this post I’m simply saying, “These sumamries of the six arguments are poorly stated as is, and here’s a quick point-by-point response to show why they are poorly stated as is.”

    If anyone disagrees and thinks thaty these summaries are NOT poorly stated, then please show me how. I’m well aware (as I say in my original post) that the book would give more detail, so no need to remind me of that. But one gets an idea how (il)logical the ‘clarifications’ might be, by how poorly stated the summaries are. In other words, good arguments should be able to be well-summarised (stated in sensible, clear syllogistic form). These arguments don’t appear to be that kind.

  6. And please, I’ve not the time to read the book, so please don’t repeat “just read the book”. I’ve never claimed to do anything other than offer a response that is a) quick and b) restricted to the summaries ‘as is’.

  7. I’m sorry, Dale. I must reply – read the book. As I said Berg had dealt with many of your points already.

    I myself am not particularly interested in the pure logic arguments – there is just so much room of subjectivity and inappropriate logic. I think Frank Wilczek’s comments on the limitations of classical logic are extremely relevant when we get round to discussing basic ideas of existence, formation of and rationality of the universe, etc.

    I am afraid that if your wish everyone to express themselves in formal syllogisms, Dale, you are going to miss out on a lot of informative stuff in life. That’s the sort of naivety the “thinking matters’ people try to use to reduce all philosophy/logic to their primitive level.

    I accept that not everyone has time to read specific books, and especially books which might be tedious, but I think your “poor quality of the summary” is a cop out.

    My objection to Berg’s arguments is that they were, for me, too detailed, too logical and too extensive. I guess that is a judgement of quality but I did feel I had a responsibility to read the book if I was to comment.

    “A quick point about William Lane Craig. I’ve not spent hours looking, but I’ve yet to see his argument dealt with in a comprehensive, systematic way (’head on’, if you like) by any of his opponents.” This is the very point I made and why I think Berg’s book has value to Christian apologists who follow Craig. It gives them some “meat” which they complain has been lacking.

    I, myself, still intend to write some articles on Craig’s specific arguments – but the won’t be limited to syllogisms (I find those naive and irrelevant – anyone can say 1, 2, 3) or general logic. Craig “uses” science opportunistically and should be challenged on those grounds.

  8. Ken,
    I certainly do not “wish everyone to express themselves in formal syllogisms” all the time. However, it’s obvious that that is how one should critique a critique (like mine) of logical arguments. Arguments were in (quasi!)syllogistic format, my critiques addressed each level of the (quasi)syllogisms, and critiques of my critique should be specific – that’s all I’m saying.

    And I’ll simply deny the charge that my judgment as to the quality of the argument summaries is a “cop-out” so I don’t have to read the book.

    Indeed, I certainly don’t think logic is the only way of arriving at truth, but the value of stating things syllogistically is that one has to actually think through their position, and try (as much as possible) to be aware of presuppositions or assumptions. When Berg puts a ‘therefore’ at line two of an argument, he’s looking dangerously like he’s never seen a syllogism.

    And also, the better the logic, the more you can avoid subjectivity. That’s one of the points.

  9. “but the value of stating things syllogistically is that one has to actually think through their position” it seems to me, Dale, that the exact opposite applies. The “Thinking Matter” people will often go 1, 2, 3 and think it proves something when it doesn’t. I think that approach is very naive – and arrogant when it is presented as somehow proving something.

    I have never used that format – am I somehow deficient? Is my logic somehow deficient? It’s not a format used in scientific presentations – yet look how far we get without it.

    As for logic and subjectivity – surely claiming that one’s arguments must be presented in a 1. 2. 3. formula is the height of subjectivity. The way to avoid subjectivity is to map ones ideas against reality. That’s the proven way. That’s how we advance our knowledge. And that’s the problem with the pure logic approach, or of trumping science with “logic.”

    That’s where I think Berg is wrong. And it should be possible to catch him out with some of his logical arguments. (After all, he is not immune to subjectivity just because he doesn’t believe in a sky pilot). But you won’t do that with a naive interpretation of how logical argument should be presented. Or by critiquing his ideas inappropriately (because you are unaware of the details).

    For example, in parts of your critique you criticise Berg because he presents no argument for a point. Don’t you think that sort of criticism is unjustified if you haven’t taken the trouble to actually look at his argument – relied only on a summary?

    To me, it’s like someone rejecting the research findings of a group after having only read a brief abstract of a paper!

    Perhaps it’s just because I took the trouble to read a book (which I would not normally have read) that I would like to see his arguments addressed seriously.

    Anyway, it’s no skin off my nose if the proponents of theological logic are either not preprepared to seriously engage with Berg, or are just to lazy to do so.

  10. Ken,
    Re logical format, use, and deficiency, etc.:
    I think ANY statement (by a theist, atheist, agnostic, anyone) which cannot be properly stated in a logical format (i.e. syllogism), should not be dogmaticallly claimed to be logical. Of course, if you’re not putting forward your own logical arguments for atheism, then I cannot say whether I think your logic is deficient.

    And I’m not the one using phrases such as ‘trumping science with logic’; and I certainly don’t think logic and science are at all in any significant irresolvable kind of conflict.

    And Ken, my critique was not “a naive interpretation” – the gaps in the logic of these summaries (as they stand!) are clear enough. All it was ever claimed to be was a quick response to the argument summaries AS THEY STAND. And I’m not “too lazy” to read the book – but thanks for suggesting that I am. :)

    If the ‘details’ of his ‘arguments’ are so worthy of serious engagement, then feel free to give an example of a case where my reading the book would have filled in the logical gaps. Pick any example – your choice. Whichever one you think is appropriate, or most effectively demonstrates the huge amount of argumental clarity that the book provides. I’m genuinely interested. (though still too busy to read the whole book).

  11. I agree with you, Dale. These arguments for atheism are asinine. Mind you, I find any such arguments – for or against a god – stupid.

  12. Thanks Simon,
    Glad to see you agree about those arguments (or at least the summaries of them).
    Of course, I do disagree about your follow up comment: I think logic is one of the many tools which can be helpfully used in the task of asking such questions (though it may well not be the best tool).

  13. I would have thought the problem of critiquing a book based on a few paragraph summary would be obvious.

    But a few examples:

    Page 1 point 3 “A massive chasm in logical progress.” What do you expect for a summary? If you had read the book you wouldn’t have seen any “chasm.”

    Point 4 your claim: “No logical connection.” Well, of course not – but if you had read the book you would have seen it. Berg’s reference to statistical analysis here may have mislead you (I don’t think the term was appropriate in this specific case – no real analysis was used) but you would have understand his meaning if you had read the book.

    Page 2, point 3 – “No logical argument leading to ‘therefore’ statement.” Again my point about the summary. If you had read the book you would have seen the argument.

    I could go on (and on). But surely you see my point. You are criticising Berg for your own neglect (to really look at his argument instead of an abstracted summary) not his (because, I believe, in most, if not all, cases he has developed these arguments in detail). Berg’s logic may well be faulty (how do you know until you consider it) but I don’t believe you can accuse him of neglect (quite the opposite).

    It’s the detail of these arguments you should engage with. Your current criticism doesn’t do that and therefore appears as a subjective, unconsidered, response. It is, anyway, a wasted effort for this reason.

  14. By the way, Dale, my point about trumping science with logic was a criticism of Berg – not you! It is a point he makes early in the book which I strongly disagree with (and tried to indicate in my review).

    (Might I say that if you had read the book you may have understood my criticism.)

  15. Ken,
    A – Of course summaries of arguments will always be lacking in detail, but should still logically flow. The point I’m making is that these summaries are poorly stated – the points don’t directly connect. The logic breaks. Many of the points are non sequitur (do not follow).

    I would have thought that the purpose of providing argument summaries would be so that would-be readers could follow his arguements, and then read the book for more (supporting) detail. But these summaries don’t function as is. And argument summaries should function.

    In short, the details in the book should merely be clarifying and/or supporting to the arguments; which should be able to be stated in a follow-able way. As is, however, the arguments need more than clarification/support – they need to be re-built.

    B – And your “few examples” say nothing other than ‘you should have read the book’. Come on. Show me just one example of some actual specific detail from the book which earth-shatteringly makes any of these arguments suddenly ‘work’.

    Here’s an example of an argument which logically works (even if you dont’ agree with it):

    1 Whatever begins to exist has a cause
    2 The universe began to exist
    3 Therefore, the universe has a cause

    Now, we can fill in detail, but this logically works. We can define terms (‘exist’, ’cause’, ‘universe’, etc.), and we can suggest (for example) that our universe was ’caused’ by a prior universe, or something… whatever… but this argument ‘as is’ logically flows. Point 3 actually follows from 1 & 2.

    Now, one of his arguments:

    1 Man is finite
    2 God (if he exists) is infinite
    3 Therefore man cannot recognise God or know that God exists

    The difference is stark. The ‘therefore’ of 3 does not follow from 1 & 2. It’s a non-argument. What the heck does God’s infinite nature have to do with Man’s (supposed) inability to recognise him?

    Again, summaries are summaries – so let no one say that a summary should be long, detailed and provide all the clarifications. That is no longer a ‘summary’.

    But the summary can at least be sensible as a logical progression.

    Can you at least admit that the summaries could be better stated?

  16. Arguments for god are like arguments for how fairies can dance on the head of a pin.
    Arguments against a god are like arguments for how fairies can’t dance on the head of a pin.

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