Might belief in atheism be just pretty obviously true?
Yes, but I think just how obviously true depends, first, on the particular god about which we’re being atheistic. Take the Judeo-Christian God-with-a-capital-G, conceived of (roughly) as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. I do consider it pretty obvious there’s no such God.
However, just because it’s pretty obvious to me that there’s no such God, doesn’t entail it is, or should be, pretty obvious to you. Consider an analogous case. It might be pretty obvious to me that Ted is in my living room, because I can now actually see Ted sitting there in front of me, whereas it might not be nearly so obvious to you. You may not be in the room to observe him and you may lack any compelling evidence that he’s there.
Similarly, even if it’s obvious to me that there’s no God, it might not be obvious to you because, say, you possess misleading grounds – such as a compelling if ultimately misleading religious experience – that I lack.
Of course, some atheists don’t think it at all obvious there’s no such God. Yes, they’re atheists – they fail to believe in gods, including the Judeo-Christian God – but they don’t think their atheism is just obviously true. Indeed, some atheists consider it not unreasonable or absurd for your average Jew, Christian, or Muslim to believe in God.
But that’s not my view. So far as the vast majority of believers are concerned, I do consider belief in the Judeo-Christian God highly unreasonable – not just for me, but also for your average Christian, Jew, or Muslim.
I’ll be explaining why I think that in future posts. Here, I’ll just point to one bad argument for supposing your average Christian, Jew, or Muslim’s belief in the Judeo-Christian God can’t be unreasonable.
The argument is grounded in the thought that an awful lot of people, many of them smart, college-educated people, believe in such a God. Surely, if a great many otherwise reasonable people hold this belief, then it can’t be an unreasonable belief.
A lot of religious folk take comfort from the fact that many others – including smart, college educated folk – share their beliefs. Indeed, that kind of comfort is often actively sought out when a religious belief is challenged (as Leo Festinger famously pointed out in his classic tome on cognitive dissonance, When Prophecy Fails [wiki page here])
But isn’t it true that if, say, a scientific theory were supported by a great many people, including many scientific experts, then that would count against the thought that the theory was unreasonable, or even pretty obviously false? Usually it is. So why doesn’t this sort of religious or theistic consensus similarly count significantly against the thought that belief in the Judeo-Christian God is unreasonable, or even pretty obviously false?
Because, when it comes to religious beliefs – and beliefs in extraordinary hidden beings more generally – we humans have a remarkable track record of unreliability. Take belief in fairies. Pretty obviously false, right? Yet Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – an intelligent and educated man – believed in them, and was successfully hoaxed by two little girls armed with an early film camera and some paper cut outs. Should the fact that someone like Conan Doyle believed lead us to conclude that belief in fairies can’t be pretty obviously false? I don’t think so, in part because these kinds of ludicrous belief can so often boast intelligent, educated advocates: from Scientology, to Mormonism, to perhaps the best illustration of all: Young Earth Creationism.
Polls consistently indicate that some 130 million US citizens – many smarter than you or me, and a good number college educated and some even holding PhD’s and tenured academic positions – believe that the entire universe is six thousand years old. Indeed, they even believe that this ludicrous theory is good science. When these kinds of belief face overwhelming evidence against them, what the smart and well-educated do, often as not, isn’t abandon their belief. Rather, they commit instead to endlessly cooking up ever more ingenious methods of explaining away the evidence against it.
Religion has a quite gobsmacking power to get large numbers of smart people to believe obviously ludicrous things. But then the fact that large numbers of smart people believe hold a particular religious or theistic belief is hardly much evidence that the belief is not, in fact, patently absurd. Which of course Young Earth Creationism is. And which, in my opinion, belief in the Judeo-Christian God is too.
None of this is to say that those who believe such things are stupid. Many are very intelligent, and use their considerable intelligence in defence of their beliefs. But what they believe is, in each case, pretty silly.
Certainly, this particular argument fails to show that I’m wrong about that.