Wednesday, 8 July 2009
As I've talked about before, denying the bad assumptions made by theists does not necessarily mean that the atheist is making her own assumption. This is a rather common error, however, that theists often make. "Well, I assume god and you assume not god, so we're even." No, we are not. I do not need to assume not god in order to point out the holes in your logic and that your assumption is bad. I simply need not to accept your assumption as valid. This does not mean that I'm asserting my own assumption.
But, since this is so hard to understand for some, I thought I would try to create an example to illustrate the point. Let's say that two people are setting up a sting operation where they are going to be listening to a multi-national group of people. Let's pick up the conversation in progress:
Person A - Here's how the plan will go. We'll tap their phones and their meeting room and then we'll have Jane listen in. I assume that Jane will be able to understand any language they choose to use and with her help, we will be able to get the information we need. I guarantee success.
Person B - Um, wait. You assume Jane will be able to understand them?
A - Yes. Why not?
B - Do you know what language they'll be using?
A - No.
B - Do you know what languages Jane understands?
A - No.
B - I'm highly skeptical of your guarantee that this will work.
A - Oh, you're just assuming that Jane can't do it. I assume that she can. What's the difference? You have your assumption, and I have mine. We may as well just go into this operation and believe it will work.
So, in this example, did Person B really assume that Jane can't understand whatever language they use, or did Person B simply point out that the assumption may be faulty (probably is faulty, since most humans don't have the language skills of C3PO)? The analogy breaks down a bit in the theism question, because it's very hard to simply wait and see (although some theists do advocate simply waiting and seeing what happens after death) but I think it's instructive. Questioning or not accepting someone's assumptions do not entail negative assumptions or contrary assumptions are being made. This is of utmost importance in the philosophical debate over god, because theists really are sitting on a bad hand. They are required to make unsupported (read, irrational) assumptions in order to get to their preferred ending point, while the atheist is not under any such obligation.