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Being an Atheist XI: On the Existence of Faeries/Fairies/Faries

We’re back to the Mawson paper, and on another point regarding the idea of whether a person such as myself as an obligation to say a prayer to stop being an atheist. While in the previous post I described the foolishness of this prima facie obligation to even exist, I’ll summarize the point again: an atheist can’t pray to stop being an atheist because the prayer is not a truth directed statement. In other words, because the Atheist does not believe that the prayer is going anywhere, they really can’t make a sincere prayer. It would be like saying that a Christian has a prima facie obligation to pray to Vishnu, since the Christian doesn’t believe in Vishnu they can’t pray to it. They speak the words but praying is out. As Christopher Hitchens once said, they can make you go to church but they can’t make you pray. I would add that they can even make you say the words but they can’t make you pray.

We’re leaving that objection aside for right now. What we want to concentrate on is one of the objections that Mawson considers. As a good academic, he does realize that not everyone is going to consider his theory to be valid, and in doing so they will come up with counter arguments for the position. Now the objection he raises is the immediate one that came to my mind when I read the abstract. [I should mention that I would post the paper on this blog but copyright restrictions and the insufferable British Legal System are going to have a problem with it]

The objection he considers runs like this: Let’s say we have Alice who every morning has breakfast outside on her porch next to a garden. Is she obligated every morning to ask, then, whether or not there are faeries that live, unseen, in the garden? If this Alice, is the same Alice we used in the last post that walks past the dark room and has the obligation to check in the room whether or not there is the man in the room, and has the prima facie obligation to pray once in a while that she ought to cease being an atheist. Alice, it seems, has a lot of prima facie obligations but does she have the further obligation to check for faeries? Clearly this is a reductio ad absurdum argument. In first reading the paper, I again, thought to myself, ‘does everyone then, have the obligation to check for elves?’ Having just seen The Hobbit, elves were in my brain. Nevertheless, based on Mawson’s appraisal of the situation the person who is atheistic about the elves, would, have the prima facie obligation to check. Especially given that the type of checking that would be required would be to ask aloud, “are there any faeries here?” the cost of checking is so low that Alice could ask while eating breakfast. This seems like a pretty decent reduction to absurdity of Mawson’s position.

He replies to his own objection, concerning faeries, which it does not apply here because he doesn’t think that the existence of faeries in his garden is of any importance. We have to remember, that part of the original prima facie obligation is that it only applies to those atheists/agnostics who believe that the existence of god is a question whose answer possesses any importance. This first requirement entails everyone and anyone who has ever considered the existence of a deity. The reason is that it upsets the order of things entirely, no matter what the answer is. For instance, if it could be shown that a specific deity existed, it would render all of the religions of the world minus that particular one void of any truth or belief excepting those, of course, which coincidentally aligned with the precepts of the one true religion. Even people that hadn’t thought about it would be forced into accepting the one true religion.

Like discovering a specific deity, finding out that there is a race of gossamer like beings that reside in the garden would entirely upset Alice’s world, even if she hadn’t really considered it before. It would not only upset her world but ours as well given that the natural taxonomy of the animal kingdoms does not include miniature humanoid creatures who possess rationality and the ability to use what we would describe as “magic,” not to mention what it would do to our current theory of Evolution. To merely dismiss the existence of faeries as being unimportant can’t simply be justified. If Alice has to check the room for the old man, say a prayer to the deity that she is unconvinced existed, she has to—for matters of consistency—check to see whether or not there are faeries in the garden. This goes for any of the magical, mystical, or crypto zoological creatures that do not exist; if any of them did—the world’s history would be divided into the pre-discovery of faeires and post-discovery of faeries time.

If, by, “unimportant” we are to regard the question of existence as being the likelihood of an affirmative answer, then yes, Mawson may be right in assigning the label to the question of faeries. If this is the case, it is actually worse for his position because the atheist would be of the same mindset as Mawson himself with regard to the faeries. The “faeries example” counters successfully the claim being made here.

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