The Theist’s Sneer

Burt Prelutsky writes:

Human beings like to believe they’re totally rational creatures. To take an extreme example, atheists are convinced they can prove that God doesn’t exist. This is a particularly fascinating phenomenon because among those who believed in God’s existence are such brainy people as Albert Einstein, Rene Descartes, Albert Schweitzer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Johann Sebastian Bach, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Thomas Aquinas, John Milton, Michelangelo, Herman Melville and even the deeply cynical Graham Greene. While representing the opposing point of view, we have the likes of Madalyn Murray O’Hair and Bill Maher. And yet, any number of atheists who have to take off their shoes in order to count up to 11 are absolutely convinced they’re right.

If theists are so convinced they’re right, why do some of them resort to such smear campaigns against atheists?

Prelutsky suggests that, if you’re smart you believe in God, whereas if you’re unserious (or worse) you don’t. He substitutes an appeal to authority for an argument, yet he neglects to mention the serious authorities for atheism. (He likewise neglects to mention the various tyrants, racists, and murderers who have invoked God’s name.)

Prelutsky’s attack on atheists is gratuitous given his main topic: a criticism of global-warming alarmism. Indeed, his attack undermines his main case. Can Prelutsky prove that human-caused global warming doesn’t exist? Many smart people claim it does, while many unserious people claim it doesn’t. Why does the onus of proof apply in one case but not the other?

Most disturbing is Prelutsky’s attack of the view that people are rational. Yes, he’s criticizing those who feign rationality without displaying it. But his comment, in the context of his ad hominem attacks, betrays a deeper cynicism toward human rationality as such. Arguing against the belief in God, he suggests, can be no more consequential than taking off one’s shoes. But what does that say about people who claim to have rational reasons for believing in God? Maybe that’s why he punts on the reasons, invoking the authority of his own side while sneering at the other.