Sunday, February 9, 2014

There is no "inner atheist"

Jonathan Merritt recently posted on his Faith and Culture blog (at Religious News Service) an interview with a man named Daniel Taylor. I don't know much about Taylor and have little reason to learn much about him based on this interview. He seems to think that by dressing up his own biases and willful ignorance in all sorts of made up jargon he can pass himself off as a thoughtful well intention individual. My impression is that he is little more than a self-righteous bigot.

Merritt initially describes Taylor as a "Christian Humanist." I actually do not take issue with this despite the attitude Merritt himself seems to take. In a few places it is implied that the term maybe controversial and even contradictory. I can see a few reasons why some may see it that way but I don't think that would be an automatic response. However, Taylor definitely has serious failings when it comes to the labels he employs. He tries claiming that he supports skepticism as a way to explore faith. I would encourage such an approach to faith. Sadly, that is not what he is really talking about. Taylor makes it clear from the start that he doesn't even have a basic understanding of skepticism.  His response to the post's second question reveals this quite nicely.

"RNS: You grab readers with the seemingly contradictory idea of a “skeptical believer.” What does this mean?
DT: A skeptic is one with a habitual resistance to accepting truth claims—you could say a knee-jerk doubter, though skeptics like to think of themselves as people who look before they leap. A believer is one who accepts something as real or true or worthy of affirmation, often without proof. Sometimes skeptic and believer go together. I use the term “skeptical believer” to refer to Christians who want to believe the claims of faith but whose minds and will are constantly raising objections."

Right off he implies that "truth claims" should simply be accepted. That is the antithesis of skepticism. Also, a "skeptic" actively tries to avoid "knee-jerk" responses to anything. The whole idea is that if a claim is made then the claimant should have support for their claim. You do not automatically assume extraordinary claims are either true or untrue until it is examined and a body of evidence is established from which you can determine whether it is true or not. Another red flag to anyone familiar with skepticism comes from his statement about those "who want to believe." What you want to believe is also a concern for skeptics. We actively try to separate what we want from any attempt at determining what evidence says reality actually is. Basically, this guy hasn't a fucking clue what skepticism is. He certainly does not apply it to his own opinions.

His use of "inner atheist" is also flat-out self-deluded crap.

"RNS: What’s an “inner atheist,” and why do you maintain that having one is compatible with a life of faith?
DT: My “inner atheist” is that part of me that wants to play it safe (though in reality it’s not safe at all) by forestalling all commitments until one has proof or certainty. He gets especially jumpy about committing to ultimate things, which he rightly argues can’t be proven (though lots of evidence can be marshalled, a different thing)."

What he is actually referring to is doubt. Lots of theist have doubts. Lots of non-theists have doubts. There is nothing wrong with having doubts. Personally, I see it as a key trait that separates self-righteous willfully ignorant assholes like Taylor from decent thoughtful human beings. The interview never gets any better. He constantly mangles all sorts of terms and concepts. Most of what he claims to be a proponent of he undermines almost immediately. He constantly states or implies numerous beliefs and opinions as if they are foregone conclusions. I found very little in the interview that even remotely connects to humanism, skepticism, or atheism despite his use of these terms.

No comments:

Post a Comment