[All quotes from the linked article. --KC]
1. They dismiss, often with contempt, the religious experience of other people.
Because religious people never
do that, right?
By using the word "God," singular, big-G without any discussion of alternatives, Rabbi Yoffie is not merely dismissing the religious experiences of the vast majority of humanity since the paint was wet on the caves of Lascaux (if not before), wherein the "divine" was experienced as plural--he is proceeding as if any religious experience outside of Abrahamic monotheism is unthinkable
2. They assert that since there are no valid religions but that religions do good things, the task of smart people is to create a religion without God -- or, in other words, a religion without religion.
Speaking of "dismissing people's experiences," Rabbi Yoffe treats a relative few atheists who want to create "religion free religion" as a "they" that includes all atheists. IOW, his article is not titled "The Three Mistakes Some Atheists Make." If measurable indices of societal health are any indication (crime rates, rates of teen pregnancy, economic inequality, happiness levels, etc.), the secular social-democratic state (European and Nordic nations, Japan...) does a much better job of creating a healthy society than religion. Simply compare the least religious areas of the world (or even within a country like the United States) with the most religious areas.
3. They see the world of belief in black and white, either/or terms.
Oh look! Another thing religious people never do!
If there are 10,000 contrary religious doctrines, it does not follow that they all are false.
This is technically correct; nonetheless, it does mean that the prior probability (in Bayesian terms) of any given religious doctrine being true is very low. Follow this up with the complete lack of evidence in favor of any particular religious doctrine, and the way the evidence we do have fits so much better with atheism than with religious doctrines, especially the "Big-God" Abrahamic monotheisms (i.e., the bases for the consequent probabilities of Bayes' Theorem), we have excellent reason to disbelieve.Analogy:
Let's say you've tried out 9,999 get-rich-quick schemes, and they all turn out to be fraud or charlatanry of one sort or another. That doesn't prove (in terms of Pure, Philosophical Logictm
) that Get Rich Quick Scheme #10,000 will also be a fraud, but really: how likely are you to eagerly invest your time and money in it?
Noticeably absent from Rabbi Yoffie's article is any attempt to actually explain
how the existence--and persistence--of 10,000 religious doctrines is possible if Judaism or any other Big-God religion is true. How can in be that, if there is at least one religious doctrine that gets it right and has communion of some sort with one or more deities...that it has no observable advantage
over all of the false religious doctrines? Compare with healing modalities. There are lots of healing modalities out there, but one of them--scientific medicine (germ theory and modern surgical technique)--has doubled
life expectancy and accomplished feats like the elimination of smallpox. No religion can offer a comparably indisputable demonstration of making people "twice as spiritual," "twice as ethical," "twice as magically/miraculously empowered" or anything of the sort vis a vis other religions or atheism.
But what is most important is the mindset that underlies his thinking: According to Kitcher, either you are a believer or you are not, and given the abundance of conflicting traditions, it is non-belief that makes the most sense. When it comes to religious doctrine, Kitcher, like others in the atheist camp, sees the world in terms of dichotomies: You are a theist or a non-theist, a religious person or a non-religious person.
Well, there is almost no practical limit to the human capacity for cognitive dissonance, so I suppose it's possible for somebody to be 65% atheist except on Wednesdays and Saturdays when they're 82% Hindu and Jewish respectively, and 100% Wiccan on Blue Moons. But is that really a good way to go about trying to understand reality
, in the sphere of religion or any other?
But, of course, this is not the way that most people function. Some religious people are fanatical, but most are not. The world of belief, which includes a majority of the human race, consists of people who believe but are not always sure; who accept God some of the time but not all the time; and who know that theology is a matter of questions and uncertainties, painted in hues of gray.
Sure. But is this an anticipated consequence of the existence
of any particular god or gods? Nobody believes in "hues of gray" when it comes to the existence of automobiles, or comic-book superheroes. If there is any one thing that is supposed to distinguish a "god" or "goddess" from other things (especially other invisible/"spiritual" things like poltergeists or faeries), it is that a deity is supposed to be powerful
. So powerful, that we are meant to stand--or kneel--in awe before them.
So whence cometh all this prattle about "hues of gray" unless Rabbi Yoffie himself already knows that no deity including his own will never exhibit unambiguous divine power?
In other words, he anticipates that reality will behave exactly as we would expect it to if the atheists are right.
Just imagine him standing before Moses (if the stories in his Torah were true) and saying "Well, mumblemumble, hues of gray, Sophisticated Theologytm
etc. etc. and so forth..." All this effort to muddy the waters and make theology and religion as murky and ambiguous as possible only comes into play once one understands (whether one wishes to admit it in public or not) that one's religion is not unambiguously true.
Professor Kitcher offers a challenging thesis, but in the final analysis, he -- and others like him -- simply do not understand a central fact of human history: Drawing on their deepest experiences, most people instinctively reach out to God, and God in turn reaches out to them.
Bollocks. Even treating this claim with the greatest possible epistemic leniency, "God" (singular, big-G) has only been a figure in human religious experience for about 3,500 years, tops
, and as a tiny minority experience for the vast majority of that time. All of that other religious experience, of multiple gods and goddesses and nature spirits and the like "reaching out" to people--dismissed. But no, religious
people like Rabbi Yoffie never
And we're back to that problem of 10,000 religious doctrines that the good Rabbi so studiously ignores. If "God" (singular, big-G) was really "reaching out" to people, wouldn't we have people coming to a common understanding of "God" in a way that had to do with such "reaching out," rather than each religion's degree of efficiency in forcibly stamping out the others? Especially
if the assertion that "God" (singular, big-G) has any interest in humans believing the "right" doctrines--one of the few claims that believers in a "God" (singular, big-G) do
tend to hold in common--is true?