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The dogs do bark…

In yet another attempt to special plead for their religion, Australian church leaders have again raised the old canard that “atheists are believers who hate God”.

No, that would be a kind of theism, Archbishop Jensen. It’s not hard. This is basic philosophy of religion. You did do some in your theology degree, right? I know I did. I was taught that atheists were those who denied that God exists. You cannot hate what you deny exists. Agnostics, who deny that you can know if God exists or not, also do not hate God, for a related reason that I will leave you to work out. It, too, is not hard. If you hate God, you must, per definitio, believe in God.

Look, you get to stop our entire nation two days a year (three, if you count Easter Sunday); isn’t that enough? Do you have to try to slander non-Christians as well?

Late note: I was just interviewed by Ashley Hall of the ABC Radio National program AM. I may have been… intemperate in suggesting that religious leaders are trying to rally the faithful by denying that reasonable people might be atheists, in order to ensure that they maintain a degree of exceptional social control. Or not.

Later note: They used two sentences of me, which is pretty much what I expected.

11 Comments

  1. the sheer passion and virulence of the atheist” — note the singular, which I think is the key to all this. The good Archbishop has only ever met one atheist.

  2. Iorwerth Thomas Iorwerth Thomas

    I suppose that a charitable reading could be that he’s saying that ‘atheists hate the *idea* of God’.

    This has at least two problems, though:

    1) It’s demonstrably false, or at least only true in some cases.

    2) It involves applying a charitable reading to the statements of Archbishop Jensen, which I’m not really inclined to do. (I’m a terrible person, I know.)

    • John Wilkins John Wilkins

      Even money says that, if challenged by (I don’t know, say) some itinerant philosopher, Jensen retreats to just that interpretation. But it’s not what he means now.

      • Iorwerth Thomas Iorwerth Thomas

        FWIW, I agree. And I suspect that he may well mean exactly what he said, which is why I’m not inclined towards charity in this case…

  3. >>If you hate God, you must, per definitio, believe in God.

    I hate unicorns. And Sherlock Holmes. And I hate people who use a ruler and a compass to trisect an angle.

    • John Wilkins John Wilkins

      I hate possible fat bald men.

  4. You cannot hate what you deny exists.

    While the claim that atheists are just believers who hate God is generally nonsense, this is also manifestly false, and is clearly not the reason why the claim is nonsense. Hate is a mental attitude of revulsion toward an object; and mental attitudes don’t require any assumptions about the existence of their objects, only the ability to think about them. Nor is there need to retreat to hating the idea of something, which involves a confusion of idea and object, anyway. Authors and readers can hate or love their characters (which is simply and obviously different from hating an loving the idea of their characters); philosophers can hate a utopia like Plato’s republic while still being loving the idea of it for other reasons. That you can hate and love things that you don’t believe exist has been recognized at least since Hume.

  5. John Wilkins said,

    I was taught that atheists were those who denied that God exists

    You were taught incorrectly. Have you changed your mind since then?

    Atheists are people who have not accepted any of the arguments in favor of supernatural beings. They haven’t been converted by theists. They are atheists in the same sense that they don’t believe in the tooth fairy or alien abductions. They act as though gods don’t exist but the smart ones know you can’t prove a negative.

  6. …people who have not accepted any of the arguments in favor of supernatural beings. They haven’t been converted by theists. They are atheists in the same sense that they don’t believe in the tooth fairy or alien abductions. They act as though gods don’t exist but the smart ones know you can’t prove a negative.

    That reads more like the definition of an agnostic to me!

  7. It makes a very great difference whether one uses the term “atheist” simply to refer to anybody who doesn’t believe in god or, alternatively, to talk about an actual social group characterized by, among many other things, disbelief in god. Hating or loving god may be irrelevant to many or most people who don’t happen to believe in god, and hating or loving god is certainly not logically implied by not believing in god. An emotional stance towards God is not obviously irrelevant to the members of an atheist social movement, however. Indeed, the empirical evidence is surely that the folks who go to modern atheist conventions in fact have lots of feelings about god. At all events, to judge the case requires sociological or perhaps psychological knowledge of facts, not merely logical analysis of concepts. Switching back and forth between essentialist and substantive definitions of atheism results in paralogism.

    Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.

  8. Chris E Chris E

    I find it very hard to imagine what it means to hate an idea per se. I don’t think I hate the idea of genocide qua idea. Ideas per se are innocuous. In fact, genocide is a good thing to have an idea about. So I suspect that hating an idea means hating its possible instances. That is, I think it might be nonsense to say that one hates an idea without agreeing that if that idea were to be instantiated, one would hate that instance (or that where it IS instantiated, one hates those instances). Similarly, if I think it impossible for an idea to be instantiated (like Stalin ruling Earth from inside a square circle), it doesn’t make sense for me to say I hate it. Consequently, if someone disbelieves that any god exists, in the sense of not thinking it a live possibility that a god could intervene in the universe, I don’t think they can substantively hate even the idea of a god. And so, I don’t think that reformulation works as a dodge of the first-order logic point that to hate something entails asserting its existence. (What’s going on with Sherlock Holmes is that Bryan, above, would hate SH if he were to turn up, or he hates the fictional character who does exist as such.)

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