Thank God for Reasonable Atheists

A reader who delights in the name Veritasnoctis, as befits a True Night, asks some pointed questions that cannot be easily parried. He is questioning my assertion that atheists naturally tend to be arrogant, because their position requires they assume they know more than ancestors smarter than them.
Let me try to answer these points seriatim:
But first an aside: Thank God for reasonable atheists who ask reasonable questions!! I admit I was getting tired of hearing nothing by ad Hominem and slander from their camp. It may be uncharitable of me, but I am falling into the habit of assuming that the atheists of the “ad Hominem” school are all from the Leftward side of the political spectrum, and the atheists of the “Show Me” school are from the Rightward. I am not saying this is true in all cases, but so far it has happened in all cases that happened to me. My experience is that people who ask reasonable (if skeptical) questions about religion also tend to say things like “the solution is smaller government.”

Regarding my comment that atheists are tempted to think themselves smarter than their peers, he says:
1. Not necessarily smarter, just more knowledgeable and/or less mystical. Raw IQ doesn’t guarantee greater access to truth. Someone much smarter than me can be much better at deductive logic but nevertheless come up with valid but unsound conclusions because his premises were wrong.

1. First, let me say the point as stated is well taken. If I believe in X and you believe Y because I hold axiom A and you hold axiom B, well, then our disagreement is merely intellectual, and we must sit and reason about the axioms. It does not matter which of us is smarter or not: whoever has reasoned without error from true axioms has reached a true conclusion, and our IQ’s don’t have any bearing on the issue. Fair enough.
And yet the intellectual side of the argument is not the whole disagreement. The number of reasonable atheist questions versus condescending atheist sneers that I have run across just directed at me in less than one in four.
“Not smarter, but more knowledgeable and/or less mystical.” Friend, let us not gloss over the meaning of your conjunction.
There are two questions: first, is mysticism true? (By mysticism here I assume you mean the achievement (or presumption) of knowledge by non-rational means, namely inspiration or revelation.) That is, is revelation or inspiration a valid form of epistemology? If mysticism is true, it is not a sign of knowledge to reject it, but of ignorance, for then one is rejecting what is true.
In other words, saying the atheist is more knowledgeable and less mystical is not the same as saying the atheist is more knowledgeable or less mystical. In the first case, knowledge is antithetical to mysticism, and in the second, their level of knowledge is the same, but it comes from difference sources. Perhaps here we mean the atheist is empirical, looking to his sense impressions for knowledge about the divine, whereas the mystic is mystical, looking to divine inspiration for knowledge about the divine.
Of course, the atheist cannot seriously argue that he expects to affirm or deny a proposition about the supernatural by an examination of nature, any more than a man who lost his quarter in the dark basement expects to find it on the sunlit roof. You look for the quarter where the quarter is, not where the light is better.
What the atheist needs to argue and means to argue is that mysticism is not a valid form of achieving knowledge. This is a statement of mystical faith itself, of course, because there is no possible empirical test which will affirm or deny whether a mystical statement about the supernatural is true or false. If I look at a woman and fall in love at first sight, and I make a statement, “this is true love!” the statement is not open to empirical proof or disproof. And this is not even a full-fledged mystical statement, it is merely a statement about something, love, that carries a hint of eternity and transcendence. What will a scientists measure to see if I am stating the case correctly? Is there something in my blood cell count that will distinguish true love from mere infatuation?
How much worse is the case for full-fledged mystical statements. If I say, “All men are created equal” or “all men are brothers” or “all men carry within them the spark of the divine.” I know of few skeptics who will disagree with the equality of man; I know of none who is admit the divinity of man, and some who are uncomfortable admitting the brotherhood of man: and yet these are all mystical statements.
We know they are true because something in our souls tells us they are self-evident. A man who denies the equality of man or the brotherhood of man, we do not respectfully disagree because he has rationally determined another conclusion: we think he is blind and wrong-headed. We think, all of us who are free men, men who love their fellow man, that such doubters are corrupt in their hearts: and this is because when a man cannot apprehend what is self-evident with his soul, we know it is because his soul is immature, like that of a selfish child, corrupted by envy or hate, like that of a Marxist, or insane, like that of a sociopath.
I submit that we know all men are created equal, and that this is not a sentiment, but a knowledge. The statement is an inspiring one. When we hear it, something in us, namely, our souls, reacts. We are inspired: the inspiration is an accurate one. It is not a statement about taste or preference, but a truth. We know it is true for reasons that cannot be affirmed or denied by empirical experience: if anything, empirical experience shows one people triumphant and masterly and the next groveling and slavish. Nor is it a rational deduction from first principles because it is itself a first principle.
We Americans tend not to categorize the equality of man as a mystical statement because it is one we take in with our mother’s milk: but, come now: we are not talking about something a scientist can measure via phrenology.
The second question is this: is atheism more knowledgeable than theism? I say not. After all, we are not dealing with a question of empirical physics, nor of economics, nor of anything else that can be seen with the eye or touched with the hand. Atheism is not a question of knowledge built up over time, but a deduction from first principles. Building on the knowledge of the previous generation encourages not arrogance but gratitude: overthrowing the first principles of the previous generation, dismissing their work, tempts one to arrogance.
Let us use an example. If Galileo rejects the Ptolemaic system of the cosmos because he has seen the satellites of Jupiter through that new-fangled invention, the spyglass, he has made a real advance in human knowledge, and can in all humility assume that Ptolemy would have come to the same conclusion had he had a spyglass also. In other words, the difference between Galileo and Ptolemy is not just a difference in reasoning, but also a difference in the evidence. Galileo saw things that Ptolemy simply did not see. Ptolemy knew about the Heliocentric theory: he examines it in an appendix of the Almagest. If memory serves, Ptolemy rejects the Heliocentric theory on the grounds that it is awkward for calculation, and fits awkwardly into the structure of the known physics of his day. This ground is no more or less arbitrary than the ground we use to today: it is parallel to the debate between Einstein and Bohr was about whether the laws of nature play at dice, that is, whether quantum mechanics fits easily or awkwardly into the known structure of physics.
Galileo is able to point to his discovery with humility. He does not have to claim he is smarter than Ptolemy, merely that he has a bit of knowledge Ptolemy did not have.
Atheists have no such additional bit of knowledge to point to. There is no new fangled spyglass that spied out the spirit world and found it empty. Indeed, part of the atheist claim seems to rest merely on refusing to acknowledge all the weirdness and wonder that actually seems to go on in real life.
What wonder? Let me use one example: the Christian Scientists have been collecting testimonies of miracles for the last hundred years, and when I say miracles, I mean, cases where people suffer from diseases where honest-to-God doctors examine and give up on them, pronouncing the disease incurable; the person prays for healing; and they are healed; and x-rays and other honest-to-God examinations show the signs and symptoms of the disease entirely gone. There are enough of these testimonies to fill up a periodical published since the Nineteenth Century: thousands and tens of thousands of cases. After a certain magnitude of numbers, the normal explanations of mistake, coincidence or fraud just get harder and harder to accept. One at least has to come to the conclusion that the placebo effect can make physical changes in the body, restore lost tissue, mend bone, restore sight to the blind. Having once made that admission, we are no longer in the realm empirical science can examine. We are dealing with mind-over-matter.
I mention Christian Scientists as my example because I know they keep records, and their standard of what they admit as evidence is as good as what is admitted, for example, in the Audubon Society. If I and two witnesses say we saw a new species of bird, and had a written confirmation from a doctor or other professional, don’t you think Linneaus would let me name it?
The number of atheists I know who have taken the time to sit down and go through even fifty of these testimonies is zero. They are not interested. I used to read CSICOP religiously (so to speak), and none of the issues ever dealt with anything but such obvious frauds that no sensible person, theist or atheist, would have believed (and, yes, I mean Uri Geller). And Christian Scientists are hardly the largest denomination of Christianity, and hardly the only religion that makes claims that the world works the way everyone secretly suspect it might work.
(When I say “secretly suspects” I mean that even an atheist occasionally get chills walking through a graveyard at midnight in a fashion that does not happen when he walks past a meat locker. This does not prove anything one way or the other, but it does imply what the default assumption should be.)
But let me not lose the point here: the atheist argument made in the modern day is much the same as that made in the ancient world. If the atheist is “less mystical” this does not mean he knows more truths unless we assume mysticism is illegitimate. If the atheist is “more knowledgeable” his knowledge is greater only in physics, the material construction details of the material world, which tell you not the first thing about the nature of the gods, not even whether the world is a created artifact or the product of a natural order. The question is a philosophical one, and the philosophical questions have not changed. There has been no progress in this issue, only a change in fads and fashions.
Look, for example, at the blustering character of Velleius in Cicero’s DEE NATURA DEORUM (On the Nature of the Gods). He asks why, if the world was created by the Demiurge of Plato, an infinity of time preceded the creation. While not the same question Veritasnoctis asks here, it is an argument parallel and no less dignified than the question of infinite regress.
Where a man disagrees with his forefathers due to progress, then he can be humble, and say, a Newton said, I have stood on the shoulders of giants. Progress means the forefather’s previous work was a necessary first step, without which I could not be where I am now. Progress says that my children will see further than I do.
THAT is not the attitude of the skeptic or the atheist. If the atheist stepped in a time machine and found the people of the year 3000 were all deeply Catholic, he would consider it a step back. The Catholics of AD 3000 could not and would not say to him: we stand on the shoulders of giants: had you not been atheistic, father, we would not be theistic now! Likewise, the atheist does not hold up his theist forefathers as necessary stepping stones on the ladder to current enlightenment, or shows it the respect modern science shows Galileo or Aristotle. No: the modern atheist makes the same type of arguments as the ancient atheist. He is less mystical because he has always rejected mysticism: he is not in any real sense more knowledgeable.
2. It hardly strikes me as arrogant to be skeptical of people who claim an “invisible sky-father sees and punishes bad acts,” and who claim access to absolute Truth without any credible evidence whatsoever. Faith is after all belief without evidence. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, do they not?
2. Faith is belief without evidence? Sir, you are talking to an eyewitness. I am a Christian because I had a religious experience, and saw the divinity face to face, and lived. I am not relying on anyone’s testimony but the testimony of my own experience.
I am deluged with evidence. It is only Ten O’ Clock, and I have prayed twice this morning, and been answered within minutes each time, a thing that simply could not happen in a mechanistic universe.
Faith is not belief without evidence. Faith is the ability to recognize evidence when you see it.
When a young girl has to decide between two suitors, both of whom claim that they love her and that their love is true, no outward sign they could give of their inner nature would satisfy her, if she had not faith the True Love could exist. The actions of her suitors would seem random, giving flowers, taking rash vows, slaying dragons, sighs and poetry. If she doesn’t believe in love, she will interpret all the signs wrong. She will think these bravos are merely trying to climb into her skirts.
Her view of the world will be wrong, she will interpret the signs wrong. If she has an older sister who believes in true love and is happily married, she will not believe her sister’s evidence or experience because there will be no category in her mind into which the evidence can be fitted. She will merely think her sister is gullible. Her life, by the way, will also be more narrow and miserable, because the spark of romance and wonder will be absent.
True Love is not something you can see with your eye or touch with your hand: only signs of it can be seen.
Well, likewise the miracles in the Christian tradition we take to be signs of the inner nature of the universe and its creator: if you have not faith, the acts seem random, mere coincidence, or they are not credited as having had taken place at all: the skeptic cannot believe the Garden of Eden was a bouquet of flowers for us, or that Christ slew a dragon for us.
I am a lawyer. Let us look at the rules of evidence. In general, the testimony of a non-eyewitness cannot be introduced to rebut the testimony of an eyewitness. In general, the character and background of the witness may be called into question, and his surrounding acts may be examined for evidence of his reputation for truthfulness in the community, such as whether he is in debt, or might have some other powerful reason to lie on the witness stand.
I have a friend who says he was cured of addiction to cigarettes through prayer. He says that the powerful impulse driving him to smoke was something he could not fight, that experience proved beyond doubt that his mere willpower was insufficient. He claims that as he was driving his car, he felt a sensation in his thought that swiftly and entirely removed the impulse from his psyche, and this was in response to prayer.
What am I to make of my friend’s testimony? Now, I was not in the car and I cannot see into his brain. He is an eyewitness and I am not. Should I doubt the event happened as he described? Should I doubt his conclusions about what was possible for him with his human willpower?
An atheist who doubts my friend’s testimony is NOT doubting on the grounds of the evidence. The evidence here suggests a prayer was answered. That is what the eyewitness says. The atheist has a theory of the universe (or, rather, certain doubts about the commonly accepted theory of the universe) and on those grounds and on those grounds alone voices a doubt about the reliability of the witness. He finds the testimony incredible because and only because he does not credit it. The atheist never even bothers to find out whether the eyewitness is a truthful man in other things.
If you are going to say, well the so-called eyewitness did not see anything happen with his eye, I will say back, that you should go to a court of law more often, and find out about the rules of evidence. Mental events are real, and juries rule on them. Juries routinely must determine the mens rea, the state of mind of the accused, before a verdict can be reached. One cannot be convicted of first degree murder, for example, without the jury being convinced beyond reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty that the accused had malice aforethought—that a certain state of mind was in his mind.
Let us also look at the testimony of the early Apostles. On the one hand, we have a written testimony that purports to be an eyewitness account. According to that account, Peter, before the resurrection, after assuring his master he would never deny him, denies him three times before cockcrow. This same Peter, after the Pentecost, suffers a sufficient change in personality, that the prospect of a lingering and painful death at the hands of Roman authorities holds no terror for him. Same man. Why the change? He is given every opportunity to recant, and every pressure that can possibly be brought to bear is brought.
Paul is an even more extreme case: here we have a man who was high in the counsels of the Jews, an elder of the Church, and a citizen of Rome. He gave up his comfortable life and high position rather than recant and save his life.
You might ask what this proves? You might say many a fanatic is willing to die for his belief: it means nothing more than that religious belief is dangerous to the health! True enough. But this is not lawyerly reasoning. When examining the testimony of an eyewitness, you look to see if he is in debt or under some other constraint or compulsion that might get him to lie, or if he has a reputation for honesty in the community. The written admission of Peter’s treason is a statement against interest. People do not normally go around admitting that they did shameful things. If we believe written account at all, we should be, by the rules of evidence, more willing to believe a statement against interest. Once we believe that, we are left unable to explain his later change of heart: what turned him from a coward to a man as unafraid of death as Socrates or Leonidas? Normal experience says a man cannot make himself uncowardly by a mere act of willpower.
You might say, well, the Bible is a collection of claptrap. How do we know any of these events actually happened? Here again, the doubt comes not because of the reliability of the evidence, for we believe the account of Plutarch or Josephus whose written works have no more or less surrounding evidence. The last stand of Masada we know only from Josephus: but who honestly doubts the event occurred? The doubt comes only because the atheist does not have a theory of the universe which admits of the possibility of the events described happened as described. He is incredulous only because he does not credit what the witness on the stand has said, not because there is any scintilla of evidence that the witness has a reputation for falsehood.
When I was in college, one day walking the streets of Annapolis, I saw the Goodyear blimp. I returned to campus and told people I had seen the Goodyear blimp: and not one of them believed me, even though I am the type of person, immune to peer pressure, zealously honest, would not even tell a little white lie. Not one believed me. I merely rolled my eyes and told myself that I should be happy I had not seen a UFO.
I agree that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I disagree as to who is making the extraordinary claim. The skeptic is being extraordinary when he asks us to doubt when no one else doubts: I propose that the doubt is abnormal and extraordinary. You are the one suggesting an innovation into our settled way of doing things. Where are your extraordinary proofs?
We are not talking about a man who says he sees a werewolf or a UFO. Only a very few people have seen werewolves or UFO’s, and the rest of us are right to be skeptical. We are talking about something that happens every day, and which has convinced the majority of people: everyone believes in the supernatural in some form. Everyone worships. Everyone has gods. Everyone but you. We are talking about something more common than marriage or childbirth or patriotism.
All of human history reports miracles and wonders with the same sobriety that they report ordinary historical events. For example, Calpurnia foresaw the death of Caesar in a dream. Plutarch reports this without any scorn. Modern historians leave out such events merely because they are embarrassed, not because there is some independent, trustworthy evidence saying the event did not occur as the eyewitness describes.
Christianity is not making a claim about physics or the natural world, but about metaphysics and the supernatural world. If we lived on another globe whose grass was blue and sky was green, or in a universe where heavier objects fell faster than lighter ones, not one word of the Christian catechism would be changed.
If an atheist tells me that I did not see what I saw, he is the one making the extraordinary claim, not me. If he tells me that I am surely mad, or dreaming, or hallucinating, or fooling myself, or lying, I say: you may feel free to assume, as an unquestioned article of faith, any of these farfetched theories about me, but where is your proof?
I know a man who hallucinates, who is on medication for his ailment. I do not have any of his surrounding symptoms. Why should I assume I was hallucinating when I saw what everyone else who has ever experienced what I experienced saw?
I know what a dream is, for I have had one every night of my life, and what happened to me is not a dream.
A man who accuses me a lying has departed from rational conversation: every ordinary human motive to lie points the opposite direction. Do any one think I like losing readers? Do any one think I like admitting I was completely wrong about the questions that mattered to me most in life? Am I a masochist?
But all this to one side. You cannot see into my skull. You are free to scorn my testimony as lying or madness: but I am not free to toy with this conclusion. My own memory testifies against it. I cannot conclude that I am mad, for if I do, then I doubt the very instrument by which I draw that conclusion.
Now, this same case applies to everyone who has ever had an experience like mine, which is somewhere between ten percent to thirty percent of the population. The number of people who credit such accounts approaches eighty to ninety percent. The number of sincere, self-consistent atheists is a remarkably small number.
I am not arguing numbers makes the majority right. Far from it. All I am arguing is that if the atheist notion of the universe is correct, some extraordinary weakness in the human nervous system or human psychology overwhelms the reason and common sense even of stalwart champions of atheism (as I once was) or overwhelms the hearts of deadly enemies of the Christian movement (as St. Paul once was), and somehow makes us all religious folk of all nations agree on certain basic propositions. We may not agree on the number of the gods, or their names, but certain themes seem never to depart from any religion that lasts any length of time.
So this atheist theory basically is forced to conclude most of the race is stark, gibbering mad, like grown-ups who believe in Santa Clause, and that a bizarre coincidence of psychology makes all the madmen agree on certain basic propositions of the madness, which elevates our morality out of mere self-interest.
On the other hand, if the theists are right, we all have an innate predisposition to seek God because God has made it natural for us to do so.
Let us be serious: If we were a race of intelligent birds and the skeptics among us could see no reason why all baby birds pick up the art of nest building with little or no instruction, surely the simpler explanation would be that it is natural for birds to build nests. For the race of intelligence men, it is natural for men to worship: we do it as easily and frequently as we fall in love with the opposite sex, or delight in our children. Now, if this innate nature is a defect, a predisposition toward radical untruth, one must ask why evolution favors the gullible?
(One must also ask, if evolution favors religion, whether spreading irreligion endangers the generations of the race. If religion was evolved because it has survival value, undermining religion by spreading skepticism must therefore hinder our chances of survival. We cannot have it both ways. If the predisposition toward religion was evolved by natural selection, skepticism hinders the survival of the fittest.)
The idea that the whole race is mad seems an extraordinary claim. If this innate nature was implanted by the creator of the race for a purpose, then and only then can an inquiry into the final cause or purpose of the innate nature begin.
I confess that a question like this has many arguments and counterarguments: but I do not admit that the standard of evidence needs to be any higher for the question of the existence of the supernatural than it be for questions where natural prudence reigns. The arguments for and against the minimum wage law, for example, are about as open and shut as it is possible for an argument in economics to be.
But as a philosopher, I do not see anything more or less unreasonable about the argument that minimum wage laws discourage employment of workers who cannot produce labor of any value under the minimum, than the argument that the cosmos and the laws of nature can neither be infinitely old nor can it arise out of nothing, and therefore cosmos must have been created by an eternal being, the laws of nature legislated by a cosmic lawgiver independent of natural law. The argument has strengths and weaknesses, as all arguments do, but I don’t see why the standard for the Cosmological Argument need be any higher than for the argument against Minimum Wage laws.
3. Moreover, I do not see that it is necessary to have such an invisible sky-father as incentive to be good. Nor, as history demonstrates, does belief in such an invisible sky-father guarantee good character. Indeed, much evil has been done in his name.

3. I do not see it as “necessary” either: nor was this my point. I said it was simpler, that is postulated fewer entities. For an atheist to be good, he has to posit both an objective moral order to the universe (I take it as given that a subjective standard is no standard), and next he must invent an incentive to adhere to said order despite the strong incentives of the world, self interest and peer pressure, to behave otherwise. This postulates two entities rather than one.
The study of history is instructive in this regard. Societies, like that of the pagan Roman Empire, which proposes natural reasons for good behavior, such as the desire for tranquility of the Stoics, or the desire for harmony of Confucius, as a matter of fact produced oppressive and studied cruelty and civil wars. If Caesar is the highest authority there is, there is no reason not to stab him and don his purple yourself: natural prudence will point out that you, as the new Caesar, will be in less danger of the law than when you were Caesar’s ambitious subject. While it might not be necessary for a philosopher to believe in the Vengeance of Heaven to conform his actions to the Good, such a belief, commonly spread, can and will have a salutary effect on the laws and manners of the people.
I do not claim all religion is useful to humanity, or good. The practices of the Aztecs and Carthaginians spring to mind as lurid counter examples. But I do think an unbiased examination of the good that has come out of Christendom will be seen to be (1) unique to Christianity and (2) to outweigh the bad of it.
Contemplate the second point for a moment: a time traveler says that he can go back and stop the Spanish Inquisition, but the price he demands is that he change the past so that slavery is still extant everywhere, unquestioned as normal and called civilized. Do you take him up on his offer? Does the bad of Torquemada really outweigh the good of William Wilberforce?
In regard to the first point, the crimes of Christianity do not seem any better or worse than the crimes of the rest of the world, but they do seem to be a betrayal of a higher standard. When Spaniards burned Jews in the name of the God of Love, Jesus, the contrast between their actions and their sentiments is immense, but this is because the sentiment is so much the nobler than what we expect from normal human actions. When the Vikings burned Christians in the name of the God of the Death, Odin, the sentiment was about what one expects from pagans. If anything, the cruelty of the Vikings seems to me worse than the cruelty of the Inquisition, because the victims did not have any opportunity to recant and convert: Odin worship is not a universal religion, but a Norse one. You aren’t allowed to join if you are not born into it. Even the Saracens are more humane than this: they will spare you if you convert and serve Allah.
But the best of Christianity is the basis of what the entire modern world now regards as normal and healthy moral maxims. Even the monsters of Soviet Russia talked about the equality of man and the need to serve the poor. I have yet to talk to a modern, Western man who does not assume, as a given, moral assumptions that only have a logical basis in Christianity. If God is not the father of all, the brotherhood of man is a myth. If the man in Africa is not my brother, why should I care whether he suffers poverty, starvation, enslavement, death? Atheists might say this is a humane and humanist point of view: not so. Only in Christian nations, or in Christian centuries, does humanity assume all these maxims: or, as in Communism, the philosophy is one that assumes one branch or another of Christian thought, while rejecting its roots. Neither the Gentleman of Confucius nor the Great-Souled Man of Aristotle is concerned with questions of social justice.
I take Christianity to be the product of Athenian philosophy modifying the enthusiasm of Jerusalem. Merely passive Oriental notions of enlightened detachment do not form the main thrust of the resulting religion: notions of human equality and innate dignity, found both in Greek and Hebrew thought, in Christianity come to fruit.
Let us note here that we can look at the scorn of the early Church fathers against the sinfulness of women, and say that the modern idea of women’s equality came out of those roots, and that we stand on the shoulders of giants. It is progress, not mere change. There has been moral progress to mankind, and physical science is not the engine of moral progress: Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were as scientifically advanced as the Free Men who were their enemies.
Only within the context of the Church is their moral progress, for only within the confines of a coherent tradition can one step build upon a previous step. Anything else is just change. If reformers have us give up the temple prostitution of Ashtart and take up child-sacrifices of Molloch, we have changed one thing for another, but there is no progress.
But if reformers say, “All men are created in the image of God, therefore the King is not saved or damned because he is King, but only by the Grace of God, as any other man.” And their children say, “The King is not above the law, but serves the Law” and their children in turn say, “Supreme executive power derives from the law, not from the will of the King: and all men are created equal.” This is progress. Does anyone here honestly think that women would have gotten the right to vote or own property if the West had not embraced the principle that all men are created equal? Does anyone doubt the historical roots of this principle are religious, and that the religions of the Far East do not parallel this statement of principle?
4. You mentioned synthetic a priori propositions and the need to explain why sense-perceptions and concepts can accurately reflect objective reality. I don’t see how positing God solves this alleged problem, since God is an undemonstrable premise.
4. I suppose I was not clear. All premises are undemonstrable, since demonstration is an act of deduction from commonly held first principles.
Occam’s razor, on the other hand, operates by dialectic, not deduction. By positing a one creator that makes both the cosmos and the human mind, I can explain why there is an essential rather than an accidental relationship between the way logic works in the human brain and the way logic works in the surrounding universe. Without this, the modern skeptic either has to say it is a coincidence (ironic, if he believes also in an innate genetic predisposition for gullibility) or the logic cannot tell real things about the real world. There is a famous modern antimony (I cannot recall to mind the exact quote) saying that to the degree any logical model of the universe is valid, it is not true; to the degree it is true, it is not valid.
I am not arguing that the cohesion of a priori logical principles and the logic of the universe proves God exists: I am arguing that a skeptic cannot postulate that cohesion without assuming more entities than I assume.
Indeed, the drift of modern philosophy denies that logic can tell us anything about the real universe altogether: the fact that this is a conclusion which the modern philosopher reaches by logic is entirely lost on them.
5 It simply pushes the problem back a step to the question of how do we know God really exists and has these characteristics he is claimed to have. I remain unpersuaded by all such attempts at proving God. (And yes, I’ve read the arguments by Plato, Aristotle, Anselm, Aquinas and others.)

5. No, you mistake my comment. I am not saying that the cohesion of reality and logic proves God: I am saying that postulating God as an axiom allows one to deduce as a theological conclusion a necessary axiom without which all philosophy is reduced to a word-game, namely, the logic reflects reality and reality reflects logic.
Without an assumption of God, the matter must assume a more complex set of axioms: we have to assume both that categorical logic is innate to human thought, and innate to the surrounding universe, and assume a pre-established harmony between them, somehow established by nature, but with no mechanism to explain the harmony. Occam’s razor says that the same conclusion (which we need to do any philosophy at all) can be reached by assuming fewer entities if we assume the Creator.
It is the failure of modern systems, after Kant, to explain synthetic a priori reasoning which has led to the foolishness (e.g. Marx) and triviality (e.g. Wittgenstein) and wickedness (e.g. Nietzsche) of modern philosophers. The moderns no longer believe the mind of man can deduce truths about the universe and know right from wrong. Without an assumption that reason tells us real things about the real universe, we are left with three possibilities: philosophy is an intellectual superstructure or rationalization imprinted on our false consciousness by the mechanics of the inanimate forces of history around us (Marx); or philosophy is just a word-game (Wittgenstein); or philosophy, especially moral philosophy, is an arbitrary convention of the small minded that the great should shrug aside during their triumphant march into the superhuman (Nietzsche)
At no point did I say that a man could reason himself to a belief in God. At most, philosophy can argue that the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle or the Absolute of Hegel exists: but this God of the Philosophers does not have the character and personality of the God in the Bible (even though the God in the Bible, oddly enough, does have the character of the God of the Philosophers). I do not think anyone can believe in God unless he is inspired or suffers a revelation, or accepts the testimony of someone else who is or has. Theology, reasoning about God, is defensive, not persuasive. I cannot possibly talk you into belief in God: all I can do is show you why, once I have accepted such a belief, my ideas are rational and cohere each with their axioms and conclusions.
6. You say that atheists implicitly call their contemporaries and ancestors fools for believing in God, but then allow that our ancestors believed in slavery (a foolish and immoral institution). If chattel slavery could be a pervasive institution until relatively recently and our ancestors were wrong in maintaining it, why is it arrogant to disagree with our ancestors on the issue of religion but not on the issue of slavery?

6. Very good question. This is the heart of the matter. The difference is that chattel slavery does not claim to be the centerpoint and sum of all life. The Christian religion makes that claim. A slaver may be a bad man or a good one: his wickedness as a slaver is not necessarily central to what is most important about him in his life.
George Washington kept slaves, but I bow in reverence where I ever to meet the man, and call him the equal of Romulus and Remus, Lycurgus, Solon, or other founders of great states and nations: and he is greater than these, because, like Cincinnatus, he turned down the crown offered by his grateful people. Were it not for Washington, North America would be as South America: nations with a bloody history of military juntas and dictators, and democracy would be a laughingstock, a footnote in history, as sad and failed an experiment as the last Kibbutz.
But if then we say, Washington was a superstitious man for believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, we cannot take his warning in the Last Inaugural Address, that religion is necessary to preserve the health of the Republic, as anything but either meaningless or detrimental advice. Thinking you could have found some way to free your slaves without having them starve (where Washington could not) is not arrogant. Just because he could not transition his slaves to wage-earners in those times does not mean you could not: maybe you are an economist or a sharp businessman. But thinking that you know more about what makes a nation prosper and how to keep it together, thinking you know more about statecraft than the greatest statesman in history, is an arrogant claim.
Saying a religious man is wrong about his religion is telling him he is mistaken, perhaps insanely mistaken, about a matter he himself says is (or ought to be—some of us are lukewarm) absolutely paramount and absolutely central to human life on Earth, the nature of good and evil, life and death and heaven and hell, all the big questions in life.
Someone can be wrong about slavery and be wrong only about slavery. But no one can be wrong about religion without being wrong about everything in life, all the biggest questions.
And how wrong the wrongness is! The claims of religion are far more extreme than the claims of the slavers. Slavers just say that the slaves are spoils are war, or items of commerce. All one need do is look to history to see this is the way life has always been. And this, frankly, is a possible statement: it might be true or it might not. There is some room for reasonable disagreement.
The claims of Christianity is that a man can come out of the grave: that prayer can throw a mountain into the sea; the Saint Peter walked on water; that it is better to turn the other cheek when slapped; that one must pray for one’s enemies; that God is both three beings and one being; the Christ is both fully man and fully God; that Mary is both a virgin and a mother; that in Christ there is no male or female, bond or free, but all are equal; that we must pay our taxes to Caesar to the last farthing, but jump with joy down the lion’s throat before we will take off our hats to him; that the lame shall leap as an hart, and the dumb sing with the tongues of angels.
There is no room for reasonable disagreement. This is stark lunacy. The brain reels. If we Christians are wrong, we are crazed beyond crazy, and we should be locked up as madmen, or thrown to the lions as threats to the public weal.
You see the difference? If Jefferson Davis was wrong on the issue of slavery, or Jack Kivorkian is wrong on the issue of Euthanasia, these gentlemen are wrong about one issue, one where there is some room for reasonable debate. If George Washington is wrong about Christianity, he is really, really wrong about the thing that was central to his life, so wrong that he believed fairytales and deliriums wilder than an opium-dream.
(The possibility that George didn’t really believe in God, but used the belief as a convenient mechanism to fool the gullible and be placed in eminence above his peers is a worse case: then it is like lying to a child, someone whose trust in you is so great the he will shed blood for you. So if he is not a madman, he is a monster.)
If Jefferson Davis is wrong, he is just wrong. If George Washington is wrong, he is crazy.
7. Why is it that you take belief in God as the default sensible position? Just because the historical dominance of such belief? You’ve already shown that this is not enough to guarantee truth. And yet this is the kind of unreflective default position that I see many theists take in any criticism of atheism and agnosticism.
7. Christianity is the default position for several reasons: its age proves it has stood the test of time; it is a mature and a beautiful view of the world; it has a salutary effect; it has no serious rivals.
Keep in mind that during its 2000 year history, Christianity has been opposed by many rivals. Only Islam has any staying power, and, frankly, Islam copies many of the best features of the Judo-Christian tradition, but leave out some specific humanizing elements and beatitudes that gives this sad copycat religion the barbaric backwardness so much on display today.
Everything else has flourished and faded. Is communism still a viable rival for the affection of the intellectuals and common man? What about Logical Positivism? Deism? Theosophy? Albigensianism? Donatism? Montanism? Gnosticism? Right now, the only contender on the field is a type of naïve materialism that can’t even explain itself, much less the universe, and offers no reason or meaning to life.
The historical dominance of the belief does not necessarily show that it is right; but it does show that every generation was sufficiently convinced of its verity to pass it along to the next, and each new generation was sufficiently impressed to accept the learning and add to it. The jury has been sitting for two thousand years, and a single nay vote of one generation would kill it as dead as Thor-worship.
An examination of paganism will show that it has certain conceptual difficulties that monotheism cures. Modern materialism has even greater conceptual difficulties that monotheism cures.
Christianity forms a coherent and logical account or story of life and all its sufferings. Every rival against it is a partial system, addressing some issues in life and not others. Communism, for example, has no real stance on marriage, even though marriage is more central to most people’s lives than wage earning. Modern science, often held up as a contrast to Christianity, is in fact merely a handmaiden to Christianity: it answers empirical questions about efficient causes. Science can tell you how to experiment on human embryos or gas Jews, but not whether you should.
During the period of its dominance, Christianity brought civilization to the world. With this came many beautiful things: I need only mention the Cathedral at Notre Dame or Mozart’s Great Mass. Without Christianity, the modern artists went mad: poems without meter, paintings without shape, plays without plots, novels without punctuation or point.
The moral code of the modern age is in similar disarray: ask Gianna Jessen or Amy Charlton, who survived the attempts made to abort them. Gianna Jessen has cerebral palsy due to the attempt on her life. Without getting into the pros or cons of modernism, I think we can agree that the modern moral code of hedonism, perversion and euthanasia is an ugly and ignoble one, whether it is true or not. Selfishness is not pretty, not when you see what it does to your children.
So all this is a sufficient reason to assume Christianity is the default assumption: it is older, it is more reasonable and broader, and it is prettier and healthier.
If you are the new Copernicus, willing and able to show us a revolution in the structure of the Cosmos, your skepticism has to be justified. Produce for us your proofs. A partial system will not do it: it does no good to explain the retrograde motion of Venus if you cannot explain the basics, the phases of the moon or the alternation of day and night. Show me every saint was a fool, every philosopher a madman, all of history a lie.
I do not assume Christianity is true because I was raised in a Christian society. I know it true because the truth of it was poured into me by the Holy Spirit during a supernatural event in my life. The conviction cannot come to you until the same thing happens to you, and it is beyond my power to reproduce this effect. I cannot pour Infinity into anyone, or show him the cosmos in a teardrop. I am a mortal man, or once was. I am a person who experienced something so full of wonder that it cannot be put into words: I found the Holy Grail. One sip from this cup can grant life, eternal life, and abundant joy. The cup is spiritual, not material, and so I cannot hand it to you. But if you ask for it, it will be given you. And since it is not material, no hand can snatch it from you.
8. There is this not quite explicit bias in your entire line of reasoning. Tradition may initially have a presumption in its favor, but I think by now skeptics have put forth enough reasoned criticism to override that presumption and require believers to provide more compelling reasons than appeal to tradition and the various widely-recognized-as-invalid-and-unsound proofs.
8. Speaking as one who was once foremost in the field of putting forth reasoned criticism of religion and superstition, allow me to politely demur from this assessment. The default assumption, what the law calls the “burden of proof” cannot be shifted away from the traditional account of the world until and unless the conclusions we wish someone operating with insufficient evidence to reach have some over-riding reason to be preferred.
Let me explain this principle. In the Common Law, it is held that the burden of proof must be on the prosecution. The man whose guilt is not proved beyond a reasonable doubt walks free. This is a judgment call. In civilized, Christian societies, we hold it to be a matter of greater principle that the innocent not be condemned than that the guilty not escape. In effect, we are saying we will tolerate a higher crime rate because the danger of oppression from false accusations is greater. When the jury is hung, the guilty man should be assumed innocent.
In the case here, you say that when the jury is hung, we should imagine there is no heaven (it’s easy if you try), and above us only sky. But wherefore? What principle is involved? What principle as weighty as the principle that the innocent should not be condemned urges us to abolish all the color and joy and glory and moral principle of religion from our lives if one man out of the twelve in the in the little imaginary jury in our brain is a hold-out?
Perhaps the principle is that it is better only to believe only what is open to empirical evidence or rational deduction from axioms. In the interim, we should cling to what—nothing? An open mind empty of content?
That standard would cut out as unreliable all witnesses and experiences in human existence. A man could not decide to marry his wife, quit his job, chide his children, or fight for his country, with this as his standard. No empiric test proves that constitutional democracy is better than absolute monarchy, for example. This notion rests on wisdom not open to the sense impressions.
The problem here is that the proposition “it is better to believe nothing until such time as the proof is overwhelming; AND it must be empirical proof” is a statement (1) that is not supported by overwhelming evidence and (2) that is not open to empirical proof at all. It is a judgment call, not something a scientist can measure.
Even a scientist cannot live by this standard. Quick! Decide between quantum mechanics and general relativity! The evidence is unfortunately not in: we humans have not yet made a coherent account between these two scientific models. Occam’s razor itself, the principle that simpler explanations are better, is not an empirical notion but a judgment call.
Furthermore, it is not merely the age of the tradition to which I refer, but the lack of coherent and sustained alternatives. Look at the state of modern philosophy, and compare it to philosophers rooted in the Christian or classical tradition. The difference in the quality of thought is obvious.
The main line of attack of the reasonable skeptic is epistemology: he asks by what means it is assured that revelations or inspirations so called can be confirmed as veridical. The problem is that the prestige of the material sciences is so great, that every philosopher since Hume seems to conclude that no faculty of the reason exists save for what rests upon deductions from the senses. But this conclusion is itself not something that rests on any deduction from the senses: it is a metaphysical proposition. When we discuss the minimum wage law or the axiom that all men are created equal, we are discussing propositions that cannot be reduced to merely the measurement of empirical magnitudes: we are discussing wisdom, not logic, the ability to make judgment calls, not the ability to deduce one proposition from another.
The problem here is that wisdom cannot be eliminated from human reasoning processes. If you argue with a solipsist, for example, he can give you a coherent account of the universe: only one being is known beyond doubt to exist in it (him) and everyone else is of some doubtful, intermediate status, perhaps people like himself, or perhaps cunningly fabricated waxworks. If he believed what he says he believed, he would not bother arguing solipsism with you, or debating anything at all: who wastes time arguing with cunningly-made waxworks? The error is not in his logic, the error is in his wisdom. His explanation does not explain his real life as he lives it. Either he comes up with an ad hoc explanation for why he talks with waxworks, or he denies that there can be a reason for the actions of him, the only being known to exist. You see here that an unwise but consistent philosophy, in order to stay consistent, must grow ever narrower: he starts by denying he has knowledge of other human beings, and he ends by denying he has knowledge of the reasons for his own actions.
Likewise with the epistemological arguments against God. You say not only that we do not know God, but that the means we use to come by this knowledge is psychological self-delusion. I cannot fault your logic. But amongst ourselves, we poor madmen talk as if He talks to us all the time, and we can see the hand of God in our lives, exercising wise sovereignty: we self-deluded people are deluded into living by a more rigid version of the same code of that conduct you, if you are a civilized man of the West, admit to be the right one. We delude ourselves into giving to charity and protecting the weak. You might give anonymous charity to strangers also, maybe more than I do, but, like the solipsist, you cannot give a coherent account for the behavior: it favors my self-interest because my self-interest is tied to the common good by my fear of divine retribution and my love of the divine model after whom I seek to pattern my life. The charity of a skeptic does not fit it with the moral code of enlightened self interest: he must pick one or the other.
Other arguments fall into certain basic categories known since antiquity: intellectual difficulties with the theology of the Church, or disapprobation with the morals and conduct of the Church. Again, the proper response here is merely to compare like things with like: Christians may commit adultery as often as unbelievers, but we do not, as Ayn Rand did, say that adultery is a perfectly acceptable moral choice and mode of behavior. Considering the enormities of the non-Christian alternatives the modern world has so far presented to us (in the West, only, Naziism or Communism stood a real threat of displacing Christianity as the central myth and world view of Europe) the argument that Christianity should be assumed to be wrong because Christians are bad people simply does not shift the burden of proof. All people are bad people, Christian or not. The Christian concludes this means we should oppose the badness in ourselves and be rescued from it; the modern philosopher this means that we should copulate with dogs when everyone is looking and steal when no one is looking. 
9. It is the theistic claim strikes me as the arrogant one, not the atheist or agnostic.
9. I suppose this depends on the exact nature of the claim. I am not so bold as to say other religions are wrong, but I do think Christianity is a less inaccurate vision of the supernatural than her ancient and respected rivals in the East. Since I used to be an atheist, the similarities to the true and healthy forms of Christianity and the true and healthy forms of other religions seem more significant to me than the differences.
And again, since I used to be an atheist, I hold atheism in high esteem. I think it is a reasonable position and a strong one. It is illogic I hold in disesteem, not skepticism.
I am sure there are Christians who make a bolder claim for Christianity than I do. But, if they are arrogant, they are opposing a central moral maxim of our Church, which is that the meek shall inherit the Earth. We do what we do to glorify God, not our selves.
On the other hand, if an atheist is arrogant, his Non-God will not frown at him.
I suspect that the only reason why we in the West think of arrogance as a bad thing, is because Christianity tells us so. Aristotle’s Great-Souled man might have avoided hubris, true, but he was also proud and magnanimous. It was not the pride of Achilles the Greek poet thought tragic, or even his wrath—for the highborn wrath is fitting, when they are slighted—it was the excess of his wrath, the lack of moderation.  
10. At the same time, I do think that many atheists are arrogant and militant. But so are many theists. While I think the ACLU has done some good, I am also wary of its too often statist and leftist bias. The solution to the separation of church and state issue is not to keep religion out of government and public schools, it is to eliminate public schools and radically downsize government.
10. Amen, brother, and God bless you. We might disagree about religion, but we agree about that.
I don’t know if you know this, but the ACLU get taxpayer’s money when they take these pointless cases. Originally this law was intended to give legal help to people actually having their civil right trampled. Now it is just a money-soaking racket.