Is there such a thing as epistemic neutral ground? The question deserves serious consideration, for if there is epistemic neutral ground, surely we should all stand upon it in order to evaluate worldviews. The reason for this is because the ability to strip away all bias and preconceptions and simply evaluate a worldview “as is” without any pretensions would be highly invaluable. I’ve run into atheists who seem to think that atheism somehow counts as this epistemic neutral ground. I think there is good reason to doubt that there is such a thing as epistemic neutral ground; and if there is, atheism is surely not it.
What reason do we have for thinking atheism is neutral ground? Those who argue that it is tend to say that it is neutral ground because they reject all religions a priori, which allows them to evaluate religious truth more fairly. This seems clearly misguided; rejecting all alternative worldviews hardly means that one is on neutral ground. In fact, it is more like dogmatics than neutrality.
But is atheism really a worldview, properly formulated? If it is not, can it serve as our elusive neutral ground? There is no doubt that those who are nontheists share little in common other than the simple attribution of “not believing in God” or “believing there is no God”. There are atheists who are buddhists; atheists who believe in ghosts; atheists who are staunch secular humanists. There doesn’t seem to be any shared connection. Does this mean it is not a worldview? I think the answer is yes and no. Atheism, construed as some kind of singular entity, is not a worldview. Rather, each atheists has his or her own worldview–part of which is atheism. Analyzed in this light, then, atheism is a piece of the fabric weaving together a worldview, not the worldview itself.
Does this, then, allow for atheism to be epistemic neutral ground? Again, I don’t see why it would. What reasons are there for favoring atheism as a research program (borrowing the phrase from Michael Rea) over theism? Again, it seems the only answer could be that it rejects all gods, so it somehow must allow for equal evaluation of other views. This still seems totally misguided. Why does rejecting all things make one neutral? If I am presented with some event, e, and possible explanations for e, A, B, and C, and then I reject A, B, and C, does this somehow make me neutral towards A-C? No! It means I reject them as explanations for e! Perhaps this is because I have my own explanation for e, or believe that e cannot be explained, but that doesn’t mean I am neutral towards the explanations which have been offered.
It therefore seems as though atheism cannot serve as epistemic neutral ground, either as a worldview itself, or as a method for research. Can alternative views suffice? It seems as though logic could serve as a research method which can be epistemically neutral. The immediate objection to this could be that there are those who reject logic and claim that there can be contradictions, impossibilities, and the like. My answer to this is that even those who reject logic can only claim to do so for logical reasons. In other words, they formulate logical arguments in order to argue that logic is false. It seems as though if someone has to assume the truth of some proposition (in this case that logic is true) in order to argue against that same proposition, then their arguments can in no way undermine the truth of that proposition.
I’m happy to follow logic where it leads. It seems to me that it leads straight towards the existence of God. Why? I’ve discussed this elsewhere: the Liebnizian Cosmological Argument, the Ontological Argument, Purposively Available Evidence, and the Teleological Argument. I’ve written on this same subject here.
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