Vasko Kohlmayer has written an article in the Washington Post in which he claims that nobody can really be an atheist and that anybody who claims they are is being intellectually inconsistent and also partial to cognitive dissonance.
OK, lets take a look at what he wrote.
According to the dictionary, an atheist is “one who denies the existence of a deity.” Despite the fact that Calladus claims to be to be such a person, he also confesses he doesn’t know what brought the universe into existence.
But if he does not know that, he must also concede it is at least possible the universe was brought forth by a transcendent cause.
What this means is that Calladus does not know – and cannot know – for sure whether or not God exists.
Seriously!! … is he actually being that crazy? Apparently yes, if you read it all, it is more of the same.
Sure, there are lots of things we do not know (yet), but that can never be a basis for claiming “Ah ha, God did it, therefore god exists”. There are a few key observations here.
First, this “God did it” strategy was deployed by our ancestors to explain lots of stuff such as seasons, and the weather. All were at one time attributed to gods. People did not understand such things then, but today we do and … gasp! … no supernatural entities are required to explain any of it. The track record of the “God did it” hypothesis has to date been successful exactly zero times.
He also makes an astonishing leap from “Unknown” to “My specific god did it”. I can deploy the exact same logic and assert completely different answers … here are a couple that pop into my head …
- Multi-dimensional aliens did it
- Time travelers did it
- Invisible magic pink unicorns did it
- The Faeries did it
Pick any answer you like, they are all equally as credible as his claim. In fact, you can exclude My Kohlmayer’s god and pick any one of the tens of thousands of other gods believed in at one point or another if you like. It is simply not a good answer and explains nothing at all. Any answer for anything that can be varied like this is completely useless and utterly meaningless. It tells us nothing, it explains nothing.
He also goes on to play the “possibility” card. He writes …
Atheism’s shaky foundations can be in most cases easily exposed with a few pointed questions. After the pretension to objectivity falls away, what remains is mere personal opinion.
Wishing that God did not exist is everyone’s prerogative. But one would hope for more intellectual consistency from those who claim a worldview informed by reason.
“We don’t know a millionth of one percent about anything,” said Thomas Edison. This may be an exaggeration, but by any objective measure we know very little about the universe and the world in which we live.
The question everyone must ask is this: Is it possible that God resides somewhere in that vast abyss of the unknown?
If we wish to be honest, we can remain agnostics at best.
Is he really unfamiliar with the concept of “Burden of proof“? If you take what he is saying at face value, then that is the conclusion. OK, lets play this game and see where it takes us. Here is the “possibility” card in action. Somewhere in our vast universe …
- leprechauns really do exist
- magic is real
- Santa Claus is real
- the tooth fairy is real
- <insert your favorite fantasy here>
This is no basis for establishing reality, but is instead a license to embrace fantasy as reality. He claims that denying god is an opinion, yet completely fails to grasp that there is exactly zero evidence for such a reality. If he wishes to be truly honest, then until there is some actual evidence, the only logical conclusion is “no god”.
A few further thoughts
It might be tempting to dismiss Mr Kohlmayer as a kook and an ignorant idiot, but that would not be factually correct. He has earned degrees in philosophy and literature, and has written for a number of newspapers, magazines and internet journals on subjects ranging from Russian politics to the gold standard … so why does a smart chap like this fall head-first into such a logical dead-end quagmire?
One important point to always appreciate is that smart people can and do believe some crazy stuff. When we do so, we tend to come up with very smart ways of rationalizing such things. Humans, all humans, tend to be susceptible to such beliefs for good evolutionary reasons, examples abound … gods, ghosts, lake monsters, aliens, etc…
The counter arguments I presented above are well-known and I’m sure that Mr Kohlmayer (as either a philosophy student or even just via the comments to his various articles) must at some point have been presented with them, yet he has dismissed them all. The phrase that best describes this is cognitive dissonance. Time after time we see this in all belief systems. When presented with evidence that conflicts with the belief we tend to rationalize away the conflict.
If interested in learning more about this, then a good place to start with is the book When Prophecy Fails by Leon Festinger and others. They describe how they infiltrated a group that was expecting the imminent end of the world on a certain date. When that prediction failed, the movement did not disintegrate, but grew instead. By sharing cult beliefs with others, they gained acceptance and thus reduced their own dissonanc.
Yep, Mr Kohlmayer’s claims are silly and illogical, and while we can be critical and dismiss such nonsense with ease, we can also be sympathetic to the man himself and encourage him to keep thinking and hopefully free himself from such irrational beliefs.