Among the Godly

by Akim Reinhardt

Several co-workers, all of whom have Ph.D.s. An old friend who’s a physicist. Scads of family members of both blue and white collar variety. Numerous neighbors. And of course the well dressed, kindly old women who occasionally show up at my door uninvited, pamphlets in hand.

One can point to general trends about the powerless, the vulnerable, and the less-educated as likelier to believe in God than those full of book learnin’ or living the good life. But But when the vast, vast majority believe, the believers represent a thorough cross-section of society. And so my daily existence, and that of many if not most atheists, involves sharing interactions and ideas with all sorts of people, wealthy and poor, old and young, male and female, well educated and not, who embrace magical thinking to one degree or another. Who believe either quite vividly or a bit vaguely in a supreme, celestial being or force with at least some degree of sentience and even an agenda. A god who sees and hears us. And perhaps a soul or spirit within in us that lives on after our bodies have given out, some ethereal expression of immortality, some mechanism of continuity after this go-around is done, some medium of transcendence into a heavenly (or hellish) destiny, or perhaps into another corpus, whether animal or human yet unborn, and from there a fresh start.

We, the atheists, the ones who, if you are anything like me, cannot believe even if we desperately want to because we find it patently unbelievable, are a small minority around the world. Here in the Untied States we number a scant 3%.  All around us, a great majority run the gamut: agnostics (only 4%) who may one day end up like us; a growing number of people who just don’t think about it all that much until they end up in some proverbial foxhole; conscious believers, such as my friend the physicist, who might be like us in countless other ways; hardier believers hungrily gulping up the magic; and ever up the scale eventually peaking with a small number of badly broken and certifiably insane people who think they themselves are this or that saint or such and such deity. Read more »

Transcendental Arguments and Their Discontents

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

KantConsider the nihilist who provides us with an argument with the conclusion that nothing exists, or that there are no norms for reason. Take the relativist who contends that all facts are relative to some perspective. Note the skeptic who consistently criticizes not only our claims to knowledge, but our very standards. Call such views Transcendental Pessimism. An appealing and longstanding reply to Transcendental Pessimism is that it is self-defeating in some way. The nihilist nevertheless avows a fact and relies on norms of rationality to run the argument for his own conclusion. The relativist isn't just saying that it's all relative to her perspective, but that it's all relative full stop. The skeptic's conclusion that we have no knowledge or have no reliable means to assess knowledge purports to be a knowledge-like commitment held on purportedly good epistemic grounds. The critical line is this: Transcendental Pessimist views cannot be consistently thought. Such views, to make sense at all, must presuppose precisely what they deny.

So far, this self-defeat maneuver against nihilists, relativists, and skeptics is but an inarticulate hunch. Transcendental arguments are attempts at making that hunch explicit, not only about how the negative views are self-defeating, but also regarding the positive views worth preserving. That is, we deploy transcendental argumentation not only as a critical line against Transcendental Pessimism, but we also (and perhaps thereby) establish some positive conclusion. Call this objective Transcendental Optimism.

Immanuel Kant is widely acknowledged to be the first to overtly use the argument type. The primary example of Kantian transcendental argument comes in the Second Analogy of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. The rough form of argument runs as follows: One can judge a series of representations is evidence of a series of events only if one holds that the series is asymmetric (it must happen in that order, not in a reverse or other order). One can believe that the representations are asymmetric only if one holds that the events represented are similarly asymmetric. If a series of states is asymmetric, the earlier states are causes of the later states. Therefore: One can take a series of representations as evidence only if one takes them as evidence of a causal order. Experience can be a source of information only if there is a causal order.

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