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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ontology and the Four Horsemen

Inspired by Four Horsemen identified by Greg Epstein (2007), Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, in Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe and Massimo Pigliucci's (2010) exposition of the Pre-Socratic philosophers in Nonsense on Stilts How to Tell Science from Bunk,

Reason--it should be remembered--is as organic to humanity as instinct, intuition and emotion. Contrary to postmodernist notions that reason alienates us from our own desires, the person who is rational to a fault is a straw man. It is considered pathological to be entirely devoid of emotion and driven entirely by rational self-interest precisely because it is not normative.

Most arguments against the existence of God reduce to four cardinal arguments. Here are the Four Horsemen of each of the four arguments. The ontological arguments against supernaturalism are not only ubiquitous in the writings of the Four Horsemen, but they are essential to antitheism. At its most benign, antitheism is atheism without regrets. Without nonbelief, the antitheist has only the argument that religion is inconvenient. This is no better than the theist's argument that atheism is nihilistic or amoral. If theism were true but inconvenient, it would be intellectually dishonest to deny it.

What follows are examples of ontological arguments advanced by the Four Horsemen. While there are countless others, I find these to be among the most compelling.

The Freethought Argument: Reasonable Nonbelief

The existence of the gods is not self-evident. The burden of proof is on religion.

The Skeptical Argument: Lack of empirical evidence

The incorporeal is immaterial. Discovery trumps revelation.


The Secularist Argument: Inconsistent Revelations

Sectarian religions are mutually contradictory, internally inconsistent and incoherent.

The Humanist Argument: Evil

Things seem to happen for no reason. There is no cosmic will or plan. We make our own meaning.


Adversaries characterize antitheism as an appeal to emotion because religious harm has no bearing on whether the supernatural is real. It is a straw-man argument: religion is harmful therefore there are no gods. Religious harm is real, but it is a distinct from the question of supernaturalism. Even so, the ontological question has hardly been neglected by antitheists.

Philosophical antitheism merely calls for a recognition that not only is religious fundamentalism an impediment to human progress but that religious obscurantism is antagonistic to truth. While it does not mandate constant confrontation, the New Atheists have distinguished themselves by their tenacity. The tenacity of activists can manifest itself synchronically as intense confrontation, diachronically as determination to persevere to the end, or both.

There is something to be said for a live-and-let-live approach to religion. It certainly prevents a person from becoming overcome with anger. Those committed to truth and those committed to tolerance have competing claims to the moral high ground and people on both sides would be wise to avoid excessive sanctimony. We need firebrands and diplomats, each contributing as their talents and character suits the task at hand.

1 comment:

  1. "The less you think, the more you believe" was not thought up by Richard Dawkins, but by yours truly. I created that meme. I'm not here to claim credit, request removal or anything, but just happy to see my meme spread. The message is more important than the person.