I recently posted my thoughts on Shane Hayes’s Agnostic Argument for Faith, as excerpted from Hayes’s new book and posted at the Friendly Atheist. Hayes’s initial post received a lot of feedback in the comments of Mehta’s blog, and he has offered a response to some of that feedback.
I suspect he did not read my post nor is there any reason he should have read my post. However, one of the points he makes is relevant to my response, and I want to review it here.
The Supposed Pragmatism of Hayes’s Argument
Here is the section of Hayes’s response that seems relevant to my response (emphasis in original):
“If one hypothesis (either God — or No God) will make you happier, stronger, more resilient, more at home in this brutal universe, more able to cope with life’s setbacks, tragedies, and the inevitable decline or plunge toward death, it is prudent, pragmatically sound, and entirely rational to embrace that view. Agnosticism assures us there is no rational barrier to either view. Neither can be known. Either may be true.
Many of Hemant’s commenters say it’s irrational to even weigh such factors as what makes us happier, stronger, more hopeful, more serene. It’s not. Others say that when they weigh them, atheism wins. Fine. I admit that atheism can be a rational choice, and as an agnostic I can’t argue with it. But be sure that you weigh all the benefits of belief that I mention — including those you’re most inclined to scoff at — because they all matter. In his book Pragmatism, William James said: “The pragmatic method in such cases is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences. What difference would it practically make to anyone if this notion rather than that notion were true?” The practical consequences are huge!”
In my response, I made two basic points: (1) that Hayes’s account of a godless universe was myopic and (2) that his conciliatory stance is pretense to a basic threat of hell. Hayes more or less concedes my first point. He does this in greater detail in a different part of his response, but you get the gist when he says, “Others say that when they weigh them, atheism wins. Fine. I admit that atheism can be a rational choice, and as an agnostic I can’t argue with it.”
Regarding my second point, his response only seems to reinforce how patronizing the argument is. He starts by noting that what he is arguing for is the prudent pragmatism of believing in a worldview that allows one to deal with “this brutal universe.” If this were the extent of his argument, we could just agree to disagree while holding the same conclusion: that we both, individually, adhere to the worldview that allows us both to deal with this brutal universe.
However, Hayes brought heaven and hell into the equation. In fact, he called them unavoidable. This changes everything. There is no amount of love, joy, happiness, brutality, or suffering in this life that could ever be significant in relation to the eternity of joy and suffering proposed in the existence of heaven and hell. We are no longer talking about the prudent pragmatism of believing in a worldview that allows one to cope with this brutal universe. That doesn’t matter. What matters is which belief gets you into heaven and which belief gets you into hell.
That’s why the whole argument about pragmatic belief for this universe is patronizing. Hayes’s argument isn’t really about this universe. This universe is irrelevant to the threat he levels by warning us about hell. I just wish he’d be honest about this. His “Agnostic Argument for Faith” is nothing more than “believe or you’re going to hell.”
He doesn’t want to come right out and say, “believe or you’re going to hell” because it completely undermines the whole set up of his book. He wants to argue that one can move from atheism, to Pure Theism, to Christianity. However, in his first damn chapter he’s already threatening us with hell. Sorry, I don’t find his threats all that, well, threatening. Also, if he has to conceal his threats in the pretense of conciliation, I find him careless at best and dishonest at worst.
As I noted in my initial response, what I’ve read is a small portion of his book. It is quite possible this is a poor first step, only. The rest of the book may even out into a straightforwardly honest argument for belief in Christianity. Captain Cassidy, at Roll to Disbelieve, is blogging a review of the book, so you can find out how the rest of Hayes’s book fairs (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).