Is Bald a Hair Color After All?

Posted: August 12, 2014 in General Presup Issues
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Some atheists are fond of the following comment:

“Atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color!”

The Christian response should be as equally to the point:

Then why are you in the barbershop?

You see, every man, woman, child, invalid, and even the insane, have a metaphysical view.  In his book “The Myth of Religious Neutrality” philosophy professor Roy Clouser (a Dooyeweerdian, but we can give him a pass considering how useful his material is for Van Tillians) makes the case that “religious beliefs” are best construed as beliefs about “ultimate reality” – or, in other words: metaphysical beliefs.  Construing religious beliefs in any other way turns out to be hopelessly vacuous.

The moral here is: if you don’t have hair, why stroll up into the barbershop and demand a haircut?

If you don’t have metaphysical views, then why argue with the Christian about the nature of reality, the origin of language, the preconditions of rational thought, objective laws of logic, or other such relevant topics?

Atheists argue because, contrary to what their illustration implies, they do have a head full of hair…(and it’s time for Christians to get out our scissors.)

  1. “If you don’t have metaphysical views, then why argue with the Christian about the nature of reality”

    Because you are looking at two different subjects.

    I have a worldview. I have a position on metaphysical questions. But to call either of those things ‘atheism’ is to be ignorant of what ‘atheism’ means.

    I have a worldview that includes atheism. But to call that worldview atheism would be incorrect.

    And neither my worldview, nor my atheism, are accurately defined as a religion.


    • Aaron says:

      Ahh, but average atheists like playing semantic games at this point.

      In practice, they use the word “atheism” to apply to a general metaphysic with conventionally deduced ramifications. But when called on it, they try shifting to a more technical use of the term.

      This ad hoc move only rescues them from the critiques of Christians who are clueless about colloquial linguistic habits.

      That’s not the case here, sir.


      • ” they use the word “atheism” to apply to a general metaphysic with conventionally deduced ramifications. ”

        No we don’t. We use it to apply to ‘we don’t believe your god claims’.


        • Aaron says:

          They do, actually. Hang with atheists long enough, and you’ll see it.


          • I am one. And do see. And you are wrong, sir.


          • Aaron says:

            Well, what we have now is a disagreement about states of affairs in the extra-mental world, specifically concerning the linguistic habits of a particularly distasteful (in their self-conscious attempts to blaspheme) sub-culture.

            If you and I debate this issue, we’re going to have to determine which of us is able to make authoritative claims about the extra-mental world before deciding which of our anecdotal experience is more authoritative.

            Are you game?

            (Thanks for reading my website, by the way).


  2. So if you are bald, you are not allowed to talk about haircuts? Surprise: You can even BE a bald barber, if you want to.

    And, for your question: Why not? If you think that these views are nonsense, why not discuss them and either change your opinion or convince others?


    • Aaron says:

      For the illustration to hold, we assume that people don’t just lolly-gag around barber shops unless they’re in there to get a hair cut.

      You raise an interesting point though … the atheist might claim he *is* the barber in the barber shop.

      But in that case, the illustration will break down. To critique metaphysics, the atheist must rely on metaphysical beliefs to begin with – it wouldn’t make sense to say that someone must have hair to cut hair. Although, if we wanted to go above and beyond with the illustration, the Christian might respond that only those with hair know the proper cutting / styling of it…but that would be stretching the illustration to absurdity.


  3. Defining “religious beliefs” as “beliefs about ‘ultimate reality'” is no less vacuous than any other definition.

    Under this definition, the belief that starting a game of Chess with e4 is the best possible opening move would be classified as a “religious belief.” The belief that the color “red” corresponds to electromagnetic waves with wavelength between 620 and 740 nanometers would be considered a “religious belief.” The belief that the Yankees won the 1927 World Series 4-games-to-none would be a “religious belief.”

    That seems fairly contrary to the usual intention of the word, and so overly broad as to be entirely useless as a classification of beliefs.


    • Aaron says:

      The proposition:

      “starting a game of chess with e4 is the best possible opening move”

      …does presuppose numerous metaphysical propositions, but it doesn’t seem to be a metaphysical claim itself. Even if you construe all such statements as “metaphysical”, however, you’re doing little more than agreeing with Clouser. Remember, the title of his book is “The Myth of Religious Neutrality”.

      All propositions, on Clouser’s view, presuppose some religious (read: metaphysical) view or other. Claiming, therefore, that the category becomes trivial (and thus “useless”) is like suggesting it’s trivial and useless to call all humans “humans”. We can still make distinctions among types of humans and the word “human” is also useful for separating humans from non-humans. In this case, “religious” beliefs can still be distinguished from each other, as well as from other non-religious beliefs. In the same way metaphysical beliefs are routinely distinguished (in common philosophical jargon) from non-metaphysical beliefs without anyone claiming the title “metaphysical belief” is trivial.


      • I am actually disagreeing with Clouser quite a bit. Clouser would say that any metaphysical belief is a religious belief. I contend that this is a uselessly over-broad definition for “religious belief.”

        Your human analogy fails because it only involves a single term, “human,” whereas Clouser is employing two terms with traditionally disparate definitions as if they were equivalent: “metaphysical” and “religious.” A better analogy would be if someone wanted to talk about “the myth of Southerners” and then defined a “Northerner” as a human being that lives north of the South Pole. By defining “Northerner” in this manner, our speaker has eliminated any meaningful concept of “Southerner.” Of course, this definition of “Northerner” is ridiculously over-broad and clashes entirely with the common and traditional notions implicit to the words “Southerner” and “Northerner.”


        • Aaron says:

          I don’t want to get into the weeds over your illustrations (about Northerners and Southerners).

          Instead, I’ll note that you don’t seem willing to claim that the phrase “metaphysical beliefs” is “uselessly over-broad”. But you are, (for some reason) willing to say as much for the statement “religious beliefs”.

          Seeing as how on Clouser’s view, the two phrases have the same semantic function, I don’t see how you can claim the one is “over-broad”, but not the other.

          Or, maybe you are willing to suggest that when philosophers discuss “metaphysical beliefs”, they’re not really saying anything?


          • Because, traditionally, “religious beliefs” have been thought of as a subset of “metaphysical beliefs.” Clouser is attempting to redefine “religious beliefs” in an attempt to prove that everyone is religious. Essentially, he is attempting to define his Conclusion into a state of truth.

            This is why I used the “Northerner” and “Southerner” example. These are words which have always been somewhat nebulously defined, but they do carry certain connotations in their usage. “Northerner” is a subset of “human,” but it is not equivalent to “human.” Attempting to redefine “Northerner” so that it is equivalent to “human” simply makes the word into an unnecessary redundancy.

            Now, when proposing an argument, a person is free to define his terms however he prefers; however, it would constitute an equivocation fallacy to pretend that the “religious beliefs,” as Clouser has defined them, are the same thing as “religious beliefs,” as they are more commonly understood.

            Perhaps another analogy. Let’s say that a Naturalist wanted to prove that everyone is actually a Naturalist, and that nobody really believes in something beyond the natural world. He then defines “the natural world” to mean “everything that exists.” Therefore, if you believe that God or angels or demons or any other entities exist, these things would be included in the natural world. As such, everyone is a Naturalist.

            Obviously, you would take issue with this philosopher’s attempt to redefine “the natural world,” would you not? My opposition to Clouser’s argument is on those grounds.


          • Aaron says:

            Clouser spends a great deal of his book (you should read it) showing that it’s impossible to really define “religious beliefs” other than how he’s done it.

            And if you’re implying it’s an “ad hoc” move on Clouser’s part, you’re wrong; first, it’s a frustratingly analytical process that leads him to his conclusion, and secondly, it’s not all together as historically novel as you imply.

            Atheists didn’t write the dictionary, after all… a cursory and fair analysis of colloquial linguistic habits about the word “religion”, will show that it has always had grand metaphysical implications.


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