All thinking men are atheists?

by Jeff McInnis

“All thinking men are atheists.” — Ernest Hemingway

Where do we start with this one? Well the first thing to note is Mr. Hemingway’s brevity. Writers become so good at economizing with words. Papa says a lot in just 5 words. He manages to pack a lot of error into this powerful statement that has, no doubt, intimidated many into hiding their belief in God. Who would want to be considered an unthinking man, after all?

In Hemingway’s Atheist quote, we find 2 fallacies of logic. Let’s look at these 2 fallacies.

First, we see the not-so-subtle attack on the non-Atheist. By Hemingway’s reckoning, the non-Atheist is unthinking. We (the non-Atheists) are dullards and idiots – simpletons. We must be. If all thinking men are Atheists, then non-Atheists are necessarily non-thinking men. We are men of blind, mindless belief. We don’t turn on our brains, we just believe. If we did turn on our brains, we would instantly become Atheists, just like Ernest.

I’ll admit that when someone with Hemingway’s stature and way with words accuses me of being unthinking, my first temptation is to turn from the position to get back in his good graces. I don’t want intelligent people thinking badly of me. But therein lies the fallacy – the ad hominem (meaning “to the man,” an insult directed at the person in lieu of taking on the debate with them) attack. There is no support for Hemingway’s statement – no back-up. This statement indicts all non-Atheists without any support whatever. It is not intended to open a discussion or to introduce a respectful debate, it is intended to insult. All ad hominem attacks are intended to cut you down to size by insulting you at the outset. You can’t possibly believe this or that, can you? Only idiots believe that. Argument over.

When the ad hominem attack works, it stops the debate before it ever starts. No one wants to argue because anyone who does is instantly labeled by Hemingway’s indictment. It’s a wonderful tactic. With this tactic the Atheist doesn’t have to argue at all; they can instantly feel superior to anyone who would take them on. Someone may have the guts to differ with the Atheist, but the Atheist can just dismiss the person as one dismisses someone with a mental handicap – its not nice to argue with the idiot because its nearly the same as making fun of their handicap.

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When I was young, my Mom read The Emperor’s New Clothes to me. We all know the story – the tailors sold the king his new “clothes” by convincing him he was wearing clothes when he was wearing nothing at all. It was just a ruse for the tailors to get paid for providing the king nothing. They sell the idea that the king really is wearing clothes that everyone can see unless they are stupid or incompetent. The result is that the king walks through town with all the pomp a king should have, only he is naked. The people all ooh and aah over the clothes they claim to be able to see, since they don’t want to be considered stupid or incompetent. Finally, a child has the honesty to speak up and say “the king isn’t wearing any clothes.”

We know the story, yet how often do we re-live the story. Each time we follow the crowd and fail to speak up for fear of looking like a fool, we play the part of the townspeople. What is the harm, we say, if we decide to keep our mouths shut. So open, respectful debate gives way to arrogance and superiority.

This brings us to the second fallacy presented by Mr. Hemingway – the fallacy of a Faulty Appeal to Authority. Hemingway, you see, was an author. He wrote very good stories, and many of them are considered classics. He was not, however, an authority on intelligence. He was not a psycho-analyst, nor was he a neuro-surgeon. His life work had nothing to do with studying the intellect in men.

An author is not the authority on who is and who is not a thinking man. As talented as Hemingway may have been, he doesn’t have enough talent to decide that only one sector of society is thinking and all others are not. Just as I wouldn’t go to my accountant for medical advice, we should not seek advice about human intellect from a story-writer. Because he was famous, we begin to believe we should turn to him for questions about any part of life. But fame and wisdom are two different things. Celebrities are not celebrities because of their amazing wisdom, but because of their ability to act, sing, or do a myriad of other things. A glance at the celebrity section of any pop culture magazine will quickly show you that most celebrities lack wisdom.

The question that Papa’s quote leaves me with is – what are the Atheists scared of? Why not encourage the argument, especially if they are so sure they are right. They’ll win it for sure, put the issue to bed once and for all, and they can go about their happy lives.

Maybe what they are scared of is diving deeper in the issue and finding out they are wrong. It’s one thing to keep your private thoughts in your private mind. It’s quite another to bring them out and hold them up to the light and see how they stand up. Thinking is the easy part – any fool can do it. The mind is a place where reality does not necessarily have to reign supreme – thoughts stand on their own, completely unchallenged.

The truth is, there are thinking Godly men and there are thinking Atheists. Both have put a lot of brain power into deciding where they stand on this issue. Both can say that they have turned on their brain and looked into the issue. Thinking about the matter is not the question. The question is the life that results from the worldview being lived out.

Only the Godly man can boast confidence and contentment in his answer to this important question. The atheist remains tortured throughout life by the conflict between his conscious disbelief in God and his sub-conscious knowledge of God’s existence.

Hemingway was no different – he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1961 at the age of 61.