Socrates, the teacher of Plato, was told by the Oracle at Delphi that he was the wisest person. Socrates was baffled by this because he knew that he knew barely anything – he actually said that he knew nothing, which was a slight exaggeration – though it became a useful pretense when dealing with arrogant know-it-alls. Then he realized that this was precisely what made him wiser than other people. He knew that he knew nothing, while they thought they knew a lot. Thinking you know a lot makes you incapable of becoming educated because why would you search for answers or listen to anyone else if you already knew them all!? So, Socrates made it his life mission to convince famous, successful, and powerful Greeks that in fact they knew nothing – so that they could become “life-long learners” like him. He did this in public to ensure the lesson could not be denied or ignored, and so his audience too could learn something in the process. These dialogs he had with famous judges about the nature of justice, and generals about the nature of courage, demonstrating their cluelessness, earned him the undying hatred of the rich and powerful who had no interest in wisdom, but only in their reputations which had now been destroyed. They got their revenge by sentencing him to death for “corrupting the youth” by all this querulousness.
There are prodigies in music. There prodigies in mathematics. But there are no prodigies in ethics and philosophy. Nobody at all goes to a twelve-year-old and says “My wife and I are thinking of getting divorced. What do you think?” Thus, it is impossible to be very advanced in philosophy at the age of twenty. People simply have not had enough life experience to test the truth of what they have read, heard, and thought, about topics like ethics. Twenty-year-olds have typically just left home, are still trying to find their way in the world and have no idea yet how anything works, but they often want to put a brave face on it and pretend like they have a clue what is going on. This stance is counterproductive in the classroom. Better to acknowledge that you know nothing.
So, when a young student reads philosophy for perhaps the first time in his life and says “Well, I’m an atheist, so this can’t possibly be true,” he is expressing an unwarranted arrogance based on nothing. It is impossible to prove that atheism is true, so you may be wrong. It is impossible to prove God exists, so that may be wrong. Neither position can be proved with certainty. So, it is worth your while to entertain the possibility that a philosopher who has spent his life studying such topics, who says that a belief in God is necessary to provide a firm foundation for ethics and for productive philosophical speculation about ethics, might have more to say then you do, who have never read much on the topic at all, or perhaps nothing, and have not yet had enough life experience to be in a position to make any sort of informed judgment on the topic. If you are so sure that the ultimate foundations for ethics has no need of God, please write a book explaining your position, because that will be a truly unique contribution to all human understanding and the rest of us will have to live in gratitude for your profound insight; an insight that has evaded every human being who has ever lived before you. Your name will be put in lights, and grandparents will whisper to their grandchildren of your achievement for evermore with awe and reverence.
Good and wise philosophers spend their lives studying thousands of years of accumulated thoughts on ethics and philosophical topics written by some of the smartest, most well-informed individuals who have ever lived, from multiple countries and languages. To dismiss their conclusions out of hand is as immature as attending a physics lecture and announcing that since you do not understand what the professor is saying, but are sure you disagree with him, it is all clearly nonsense. The fact that YOU do not understand the arguments of someone who has devoted his life to a field does not mean that what he is saying in nonsense, or that he is suffering some perverse defect of character.
Please do not make yourself incapable of becoming educated by imagining that you know all the answers in a field you have never studied in your life, and at an age so tender, you simply do not have a clue – it is all theory and very little practice. And, unable to actually form an argument, do not resort to name-calling and character assassinations. This is the last resort of a scoundrel, not someone who sincerely wants to learn anything: like pulling out a gun after a severe drubbing in a boxing match. Take your beating and retreat. If you want a revenge, first, discover what error a philosopher has made, then point this out, and then, give your own argument – a positive assertion backed with true and relevant reasons. Do NOT say, oh well, if the philosopher was not so close-minded, or if he knew more about other religions, he would not have argued the way he did. You have no idea if a philosopher is open-minded or knows about other religions or not. Your attacks on the man, on the philosopher, leave his argument untouched and just as valid as before your ad hominem criticisms. If you do not like an argument, show what is wrong with it. Merely not liking it, is not a rebuttal. Take each premise in turn and show what error the philosopher is making so that we can learn from your superlative wisdom; assuming you have any.