Bad Arguments for Atheism: Philosophy is Useless

The Depraved Effect of Empiricism:
“Philosophy, in the academic sense, is the art of asking questions that cannot be answered. Any idiot can ask that kind of question.
The awesome power of rational thought is that we can ask questions to which we CAN find the answer.
Only a total moron turns their back on that.”
— Chance Brown’s comment on this facebook page 

Should philosophy be utterly forgotten “since all we need is science”?  It’s actually kind of  ironic due to that fact that they employ a philosophy to say that “philosophy is stupid”. They are using philosophy to form their argument against philosophy! These people never seem to let me down.

Why We Need Philosophy:

All humans
 orient their lives around ideas of the nature of reality; how they explain their experiences of reality; and how they explain their ideas about what reality ought to be like. We formed all of these through the help of philosophy — no empirical evidence necessary and yet they are necessary for empirical evidence.

Human beings need metaphysical ideas
 because they are not born with instincts that determine  what they should think and want. We are born with the capacities to make up our own minds and to question any belief we have or meet. It is evident that most of the ideas in history that people have used to explain human experiences have been false or unfounded in many respects, and it is also evident that most of the ideas in history or direct human behaviour have been harmful to other human beings or to themselves. On the other hand, it is also evident that whatever adequate understanding people have of themselves, of others, and of their environment, is based on the asking and answering of the type of general questions that are philosophical. It is human to ask and answer such questions and to play with such ideas– it’s part of our nature.

All ideas about philosophy, including those that condemn philosophy, are themselves philosophical ideas. To declare all philosophical concepts useless, trifling, or impossible is little better than a refusal to do any serious philosophical reasoning. The ideas people live and die for,  war and kill for, are all philosophical ideas and are not meant to be shrugged off.

And finally, in Plato’s Apology, Socrates tells us that philosophy is a necessary tool for obtaining wisdom and knowledge. Socrates believed that in the absence of philosophy, we would not be able to question or disagree with our  thinking or ideas — we simply go with the flow and assume that whatever we  see, hear, or read is correct. As Socrates says, “… as long as I lead an unexamined life, I’m very unlikely to catch my errors and I’m very likely to go on fooling myself.”  Hmmm. I thought atheists didn’t like that. I thought they always cry out saying that we “religious folks” ought not to have a “blind faith” mentality — something that is produced when philosophy is absent from the mind.

So whenever a non-believer pulls this bluff as an argument, just give him the basic reasons why we need philosophy and how it’s actively used in everyday life; even in his own argument he’s forming against philosophy.


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  1. #1 by First Southern Baptist Church of Coalinga on November 12, 2011 - 11:47 am

    Philosophy according to the dictionary is “The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, esp. when considered as an academic discipline.” So yes, philosphy is a needed part of life. The problem is that philosophers don’t truly examine the whole realm of knowledge majority of the time. I have tried to make points with Philosophy Professors when they start arguing about God and his existence or not and they want to ignore the knowledge found in the Bible. They would rather argue with ungodly men’s philosophy, such as Descartes. I would think true philosphy would use all knowledge and not just limited. I love the Truth Project’s studies on Philosophy and other things. Truth Project is a great study to help Christians deal with the world’s teachings.

  2. #2 by Jack Viere on November 12, 2011 - 1:05 pm

    Nice to hear this as I am currently undecided-humanities, planning on double majoring in philosophy and theology.
    I’d agree with the comment above that “philosophers don’t truly examine the whole realm of knowledge.”
    That’s the beauty of seeing both theology and philosophy as compatible and interrelated!

    I’m new to wordpress and my blog delves into this subject quite a bit! Hope you follow me!

  3. #3 by studentsforchristianity on November 12, 2011 - 3:45 pm

    Right. Our society has become very myopic about epistemology.

    Naturalism seems to be a very restrictive worldview.

  4. #4 by Michael Dean on November 16, 2011 - 2:25 pm

    I completely agree, “philosophy is useless” is a terrible argument for atheism. Philosophy is the fundamental core of how we engage in the world and how we can begin to have any form of understanding in the world. I wonder how many atheists are using this argument? I’m quite certain if we did any quantitative research the answer would be – barely any.

    Commenter 1, are you aware that Descartes was one of the first philosophers to create a truly influential philosophy FOR the existence of god? You certainly betray your knowledge of philosophy here. Further, I wouldn’t recommend using dictionary definitions in your arguments for/against/within philosophy, it’s just not a good start since most often when creating a philosophical argument one must carefully define any term they are using. These lines, more often than not, run deeper than anything a dictionary gives us.

    Jack, it’s a tragic philosophical start to already believe that theology and philosophy are compatible. I’m not specifically saying they aren’t here, but you never want to start with a conclusion and then try to find arguments for it. That’s a brilliant way to create fallacies both inside and outside of philosophy. You can say they are interrelated, because necessarily philosophy stands at the fundamentals of anything, so its interrelated with everything but this is, practically speaking, irrelevant. They are two different studies that may or may not be compatible. Go to your studies and engage in critical thought on what you learn, formulate opinions over reason and never dogmatically hold them true. The best kind of dogmas are the ones we never hold, but eliminate by proving them true. But as mentioned earlier, if you start with a belief you’re more likely to fall into fallacy so hold no assumptions outright if ever possible (which I’m quite certain it always is!). It’s much harder to change your mind once made up, so whenever possible leave it open.

    I’m happy Commenter 3 brought up epistemology, because that is the key. How do we come to ‘know’ anything? Obviously this is a complex study, one that I certainly hope isn’t being tainted by a lack of intellectual insight (good word – myopic, I’m going to remember that one). I’ve already dove deeper into this comment than originally intended so I’ll have to leave you with something that does not constitute knowledge rather than attempting to adress what does. Faith. We cannot use faith as a means to justify knowledge. The argument is simple, but it seems to skip past a lot of people who were raised being told that faith is some sort of virtue, that faith is something important to a human life. So I beg of you here, be open minded and skeptical, I may be wrong but do not assume that I am before you hear my argument. If you can engage critically with me here then you may be able to point out my logical/conceptual flaws. In this way we can go back and forth and perhaps eventually stumble on some sort of truth.

    If faith were a component of rational understanding then we could ‘know’ anything, even that which is not true. Literally anything conceivable could have faith placed in it. Simple things like having faith in the good-hearted nature of people does not make it true. I think people tend to be good-hearted, and I believe there are reasons for that, but my faith in the good-hearted nature of people is not one of those reasons. Simply said, if I have faith that people are good-hearted, my belief may (or may not) be true, but faith cannot be cited as a reason why people have a good-hearted nature (or why not). Faith does nothing to create the reality of the world or to project reality into the world. Let me be clear that I am not arguing that we cannot say whether or not people have a good-hearted nature, because I think we can say so and I think we do, I am merely saying that faith in good-hearted nature does not create good-hearted nature.

    If you think the above argument is wrong, then what if I say I place faith in an evil god? Does my make this evil god true or make him come into existence? If we take faith as a rational argument for belief in the good-hearted nature of people (or let’s say faith as a reason to believe in a good god, since this is the most ubiquitous of beliefs) then we cannot say that I am wrong. Yet it seems quite certain that I am. One could counter, ‘but look at all the good in the world, look at the beauty, surely this is not the creation of an evil god.’ Good point, and one that is not made with the notion of faith. If that’s true, then let’s take the converse and place faith in a good god. Now I counter, but look at all evil in the world, surely this cannot be the creation of a good god. These concepts really are one in the same, and go for conceivable thing we put our faith in. If you’re still with me (or at least with the logic of it, if not in agreement) I have by no means disproven god, and I certainly don’t think I have, nor am I intending to. What I have done is shown that the idea of faith is not intrinsically tied to any notion of optimism or pessimism. I’m quite certain that many hang onto their faith because their specific beliefs give them some sort of optimism about the world, however this is only as a result of the specifics of the belief and nothing to do with the relational notion of faith. All faith is, is an attempt to rationalize the projection of a belief into reality. Whether or not god gave us our mental faculties, they do allow us more sure ways to gain knowledge than faith.

    Thus the challenge becomes to attempt to find god outside of the typical notion of a ‘leap of faith.’ We are not provided the luxury of knowing god exists simply be being certain he does. This is a much harder prospect, though not necessarily impossible by an arguments I’ve laid out. I hope you keep this in mind as you continue to contemplate philosophy and theology.

    • #5 by studentsforchristianity on November 16, 2011 - 7:35 pm

      // I completely agree, “philosophy is useless” is a terrible argument for atheism. Philosophy is the fundamental core of how we engage in the world and how we can begin to have any form of understanding in the world. I wonder how many atheists are using this argument? I’m quite certain if we did any quantitative research the answer would be – barely any.//

      I’m glad you understand this principle. I’m sorry to report, hovever, that many atheists on social networking sites (such as facebook) disregard philosophy as a serious pathway to knowledge and understanding — science is their master.

      By the way, I would invite you to do such a poll.

      //Faith. We cannot use faith as a means to justify knowledge.//

      This seems to be the overarching thesis of your colosseum of strawmen. I was unhappy to find that you contradicted yourself on a major level and here’s why:
      “…when creating a philosophical argument one must carefully define any term they are using”

      You have yet to define your primary term: faith.

      • #6 by Michael Dean on November 20, 2011 - 9:20 pm

        Philosophy is a pathway to understanding fundamentals (to oversimplify it). If we want to understand the world around us, science is the most rigorous pathway to that knowledge. We combine our research with the philosophy of science to truly have a full understanding of what we’re doing and how it can work, what rational knowing is. What’s often taken for granted when people study science is the philosophy behind it, but this doesn’t exactly nullify their respect for what science brings us. I’d hope they could learn more outside of it, but it is what it is I suppose.

        Further, I once again say that most atheists do not disregard philosophy as a pathway to knowledge. They may disregard philosophic metaphysical games, as I think we should, because they are fruitless. But I won’t conduct a study of atheists’ overall impression of philosophy. If you really want to believe that atheists are lacking philosophical understanding I don’t think anything short of me conducting a study will change your mind. However, I can tell you as someone active in multiple atheist communities that we are not.

        Fair enough, I should have defined faith. This is precisely the give and take I was talking about though, so hooray for progress. Though I’d love it if you could enlighten me where my argument is a straw man? In what way does my argument represent your convictions in a manner that they do not fit?

        To define it – Faith: A strong conviction of dogmatic belief.

        I do not mean faith to be the encompassing term that defines why you believe in God, there may be other reasons. In fact, I certainly hope you have other reasons than your faith to believe in God. However it seems to me that more often than not, religious beliefs get smeared with faith as if somehow this strong belief ever made something true. Or as if somehow the belief in a God is any different than a belief in other things. If I believe that I’m sitting in a chair typing on a computer, I have good reason to have that belief. If I believe invisible unicorns are eating grass in my backyard I don’t have good reason to hold the belief. Beliefs are only so true as we can prove them so, but they are not true because we have them, no matter how strongly held. If we are to be convinced by a belief in God, it must rest on more than simply faith (which is itself primarily defined as a belief, by me here, and for the most part by the religious community). Simply said faith is called faith because it is just that, it is not knowledge. If we eliminate faith as a means of knowing that God exists, I don’t believe much is left, though I’m open for argument.

  5. #7 by Jack Viere on November 17, 2011 - 10:06 am

    I think that compatible might be a stretch if its meaning is to be taken as synonymous. I could’ve had some better diction there; maybe complimentary was more appropriate. My point, via analogy now, is that you take a religious powerhouse thinker like St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas. One was heavily influenced by Plato, the other Aristotle respectively. As a student, I can say that I studied one or the other. But to be influenced means that they (the saints) somehow took on the general concepts, ideas, or structures from the philosophers and synthesized/based/related them to their topics. What I initially meant by compatible was that there’s a trait of mutualism between the two separate fields of study; they give and take from each other. Why does Western philosophy seem so teleological while Eastern philosophy appears cyclical? It’s quite a stretch, but in general, the concepts of Heaven, Purgatory, and Earth are vertically linear depicted in Dante’s Inferno (a great example of that synthesis between philosophy and theology.) Samsara, simply portrayed in Siva Nataraj artwork, implicates our live(s) are a continuous cycle until we achieve moksha. In general, we get the West thinking like l while the East is like O
    At this, I’d say the average person subconsciously processes information in either way depending on his/her culture and what religious background effected his/her environment.

  6. #8 by wlindsaywheeler on November 24, 2011 - 5:33 pm

    I’m in the process of writing a paper, which the title is “Why no Atheist can be a philosopher”. Seriously, no atheist can. I’m proving this by its origin and by the connotation of the word itself.

    Anyway, if you are a Christian and a philosophy student, I have an article you will thoroughly enjoy:

    “Christ, Reason (Logos) and Greek Philosophy”

    I hope you and your commentators enjoy this.

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