Theism or Atheism – Which is More Logical?

In having several different discussions, something that just became evident to me is how much the debates between theists and atheists rely on logic. Truthfully, I hadn’t heard terms like special pleading, begging the question or non sequitur until I jumped into the fray. And yet they are constantly being tossed around in these arguments, knocking down arguments and providing objections and rebuttals.

That got me thinking a bit. If logic and philosophical arguments are such a big piece of the issue, then what logical arguments are being discussed. In all of my time here on WordPress, I’ve seen many positive arguments for theism, like the Kalam cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the moral argument, the argument for soul, the argument from desire, the argument for the veracity of the resurrection of Christ. I’ve made many of these arguments myself on this blog.

But for atheism, the positive arguments are scarce to non-existent. Shouldn’t a worldview that predicates itself on being “critical thinkers” and using “logic and reason” to show people the light of the day have more positive arguments on its side? I mean, realistically the only positive argument I can think of for atheism is the problem of evil, and that’s not even really a positive argument for atheism so much as a negative argument against theism.

So maybe someone can help me out here, but are there really any good positive arguments for atheism? My feeling is that if a worldview is true, there will be reasons to believe it is true. Just like if I believe that atheism is false, that doesn’t mean that theism is true. I need reasons to believe in favor of theism.

If there are no good positive arguments for atheism, then can atheists really contend that they come from the more logical position? Perhaps this is why atheism argues so hard for methodological naturalism, because that is really all it has to stand on if it can’t use philosophy or logic in favor of its position.

It’s just one more thing to make me (and hopefully any fence-sitters out there) convinced that theism has a much firmer foundation as a worldview, and I have solid justification in my belief in God. 🙂

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131 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Christopher on May 25, 2012 at 9:00 PM

    I, as an atheist, disagree with many atheists about the burden of proof; I think Graham Oppy said it best.

    And I certainly agree, the arguments in favor of atheism are not as popular as arguments for Christianity, which is a shame, since I think there are some really good ones. Of course there are the arguments for negative atheism (atheism that makes no claims to knowledge, such as arguments against the ontological argument, cosmological arguments, teleological arguments, etc.), but the arguments for positive atheism are not widely known.

    Arguments for positive atheism are arguments that show a religion is false, instead of simply saying the arguments are unsound. So, the argument for evil would count as an argument for positive atheism since it proposes a positive argument that a certain religion is false. There can also be arguments about the incoherence of divine attributes, which would show that they could not possibly exist. Some of my favorites are the Transcendental Arguments for the Nonexistence of God (TANG).

    Other arguments may not be explicitly for atheism, but could be in the form of arguments for metaphysical naturalism.

    I recommend two of Michael Martin’s books, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification and The Impossibility of God, and you can find a good survey of arguments for atheism here.

    Reply

    • Christopher, this is great stuff. Thanks for sharing. I’m glad you agree with Oppy on the burden of proof issue. I think if more atheists felt like this, the discussion would be further along. I appreciate you stopping by and giving me some things to look at!

      Reply

  2. If you’re looking for a positive argument for atheism, you’re really looking at a very small subset of atheists to give that argument. They would be gnostic atheists (also “strong atheists”). The majority of atheists (including myself) fall under the umbrella of “agnostic atheists”. This is essentially the stance of: I don’t know for sure whether or not there is a god, but I don’t believe there is.

    To phrase this in the context of an argument (I’ll use “you” and “I” to represent the sides for simplicity here), the situation is that you say “God exists!” and I reply “I don’t believe you!” This is the reason you find very few, if any, positive arguments for atheism. There isn’t a need to prove that I don’t believe you, since I have just told you, and it is my personal belief. This is also why, if you want me to believe you, I am asking for a good solid reason to do so.

    Well that was my attempt at simplifying the burden of proof concept, hopefully it helped. I like your writing, I’ll be keeping an eye on your blog!

    Reply

    • Hi Ben,

      I appreciate your point, but I’m arguing for the veracity of a worldview. If I say “theism is true” and you say, “I don’t believe you!” then there is a necessity for you to explain which worldview, if not theism, is in fact the true and correct worldview, unless you don’t believe truth actually exists.

      If you believe atheism is the true and correct worldview, then it is up to you to give positive arguments in favor of such a worldview. As Christopher linked from Oppy, there is no privileged initial position by which one side can take advantage. Burden of proof is equal for both worldviews, and that’s what I’m getting at.

      Regardless, thanks for your explanation of your position, even if I’m inclined to believe it’s based on a flawed premise. 🙂

      Reply

      • I would not consider atheism to be a worldview, just the term ascribed to the rejection of one particular tenet of your worldview. Similarly I think all can agree that “Pro-life” or “Pro-choice” is not a worldview, but merely a stance on a particular issue arrived at as a result of a person’s worldview.

        If I were to try and ascribe a worldview to atheists I think many could be called naturalists, many may also fit as Humanists, but not all could be classified as either (some atheists continue to believe in supernatural occurrences such as ghosts or ESP). If you want to argue a worldview, you’ll need to be sure which worldview has brought the particular person to the stance of atheism.

        For the record, I do (tentatively) consider myself a naturalist, though my worldview is currently in a state of flux, as I am a recently minted atheist.

        Appreciate the reply, and no worries about thinking my premise is flawed, I’m sure we feel similarly toward one-another in that regard. 😉 I’ve no illusions of convincing you of anything, but I hope we can continue talking, as I do quite enjoy the discussion!

      • Thanks Ben! Sounds like we may have to agree to disagree on this one, but I do appreciate the candor and also hope for good future discussions!

      • Just because I find theism unconvincing I am under no obligation to offer an alternative.

        If I say my socks are going missing because a unicorn eats them out of my wardrobe while I sleep you are under no obligation to present alternative theories just because you think that the sock-stealing unicorn is a bad idea.

      • If you believe in truth, then you are under an obligation to demonstrate what the truth is, which necessitates positive arguments for your belief. I’m not talking about specific truths; I’m talking about the overarching truth to why we are here.

      • Take a person that defines God as just, omnipotent, benevolent and omniscient. This is not an unusual (yet partial) definition to take.

        But what about the paradox of being both omnipotent and omniscient? What about the paradox of being both just and benevolent (mercy and justice are incompatible–mercy is avoiding justice, and justice is merciless).

        What about the euthyphro dilemma? Never have I seen God survive with all these characteristics in tact when a person explains away the euthyphro dilemma: He either cannot end the suffering of an innocent child, or He cares not to. Or the child’s suffering strengthens its faith, which is just God demanding praise, and is narcissism in place of justice.

        Each of those characteristics become flexible, fluid. That is a moving goal post.

      • I still don’t think they’re moving goalposts, because God doesn’t have the option of not possessing them, nor can the Bible be realistically altered to omit these characteristics without losing credibility of its inerrancy. What you might be referring to is the explanation of these characteristics, which I can understand. Interpretation is the greatest detriment to any positive position, I suspect.

        I don’t think there are paradoxes such as the ones you state, particularly between omnipotence and omniscience. If you knew I was going to walk into a wall, you would have the power to stop me. You have both the knowledge and the power, so there is no paradox. What you’re talking about is God’s willingness to intervene, aka the problem of evil. I would refer you to my blog post on that matter to see that a judgment of God on the problem of evil really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

        So I don’t think that it’s really a moving goalpost like you state. Rather, you might not have been satisfied by any of the answers you were given. So perhaps you’re moving your own posts back to avoid acceptance? Just a thought.

      • Actually, the paradox is not about God’s willingness to intervene at all.
        The paradox is about whether God can choose to intervene. If you’re going to walk into a wall God already knows (omniscient) whether or not He will intervene, but if he knows then He cannot choose (not omnipotent).
        If God truly can choose (omnipotent) then He cannot know in advance which He will do: intervene or not (not omniscient).
        If God knows (omniscient) the future then God is not free to make choices (not omnipotent). If God is free to make choices (omnipotent) then He cannot know (omniscient) which He will pick.

        He cannot change His mind (not omnipotent), He already knows His mind (omniscient). Or He can change His mind (omnipotent) but He therefore does not know (omniscient) His mind.

        I hope this paradox is evident.

        Now, I’ve read your post on the problem of evil. I’m favouriting it so I can come back to it at a later date. Watch this space.

        But for now, I will say that in no way does your post explain why millions can die needlessly as a result of a tsunami, or why a baby can starve to death, or why parasites make humans suffer and die slowly in excruciating pain.

        My views on morals (and the idea that we need God to ground things) are also on my blog, which I can link you to if you can’t find it at allalltor.wordpress.com

      • Omnipotence doesn’t necessitate choice. That’s the problem with your logic. Omnipotence can be independent of choice.

        You also confuse the notion of “can not” with “will not.” It’s a very important distinction, and one you ought to make if you’re trying to discuss the theist’s position.

      • How can an omnipotent being not be able to make a choice. That is a weak argument.

        Secondly, yes there is a difference between will not and cannot. And God cannot deviate from the decisions He knows He will make without disrupting His omniscience.

      • It’s not that an omnipotent Being CAN’T make a choice. It just doesn’t mean that He has to.

        You’re still using “cannot” instead of “will not.” God will not deviate from decisions He knows He will make, but you act as though God acts on a timeline. That’s not the way an eternal Being would work. You’re trying to fit God into a human-shaped box, which makes no sense. It’s a form of special pleading to do what you’re doing.

      • It’s closer to not accepting your special pleading case than it is making my own, but I’ve tried to not enter into that.

        You say “will not” like God still could make a decision that undermines what He already knows He will decide.
        The problem with that is that although it may be true that in practice He will not deviate from His plan, in principle it is still true that He cannot deviate from His plan without eroding at least one of His definitional points.

        Unless you know how, in principle, God can do something He didn’t know He was going to do without undermining His omniscience…

      • How am I using special pleading? I’m not omitting anything pertinent or asking for an exemption to supernatural rules to explain a supernatural Being. You’re asking for natural rules to be applied to a supernatural Being. That, my friend, is special pleading.

        “God still could make a decision that undermines what He already knows He will decide.” You see how you are applying space-time rules to a Being that doesn’t exist in space-time? That twists the entire theist argument, and when you’re challenging my position, that’s not allowed in the debate.

        Besides, you’re talking about God deviating from His plan like you know what His plan is. Can you explain to me how you know what God’s plan is? Do you possess the quality of omnisapience, or did I miss something here?

      • Your claim of the supernatural is special pleading (and, as I have written a post on, entirely meaningless. The post is called “The Appeal to Spooky Language”).

        But like I said, I’ve been trying to not get into that.

      • If we’re discussing the qualities of a supernatural Being and I use supernatural terms to explain it, it’s not special pleading. It’s logically consistent.

        It’s special pleading if you’re asking for natural terms to be used in order to explain a supernatural Being. That’s completely unfair, and I think you know that. Perhaps you didn’t want to get into it for fear of getting exposed?

      • There is no way of talking about the existence of the supernatural without demanding a case of special pleading so far that I am aware. If I am wrong please inform me.
        The argument, as it has been presented to me, goes like this: no I can’t see it, no I can’t measure it, no it doesn’t emerge out of anything, no it is not a tautological truism, no it’s not any type of existence that can be demonstrated or reasoned. But it exists.

        That is special pleading. The idea of the supernatural is special pleading, so far that I am aware (but please let me know how I’m wrong). It is not special pleading for me to say “no, you have to use coherent language”.

        You don’t get to say “supernatural” and throw out the idea of coherence. The fact that I’m pulling you up on that is the complete opposite to special pleading; it’s demanding consistency.

      • According to Wiki, “Special pleading is a form of spurious argumentation where a position in a dispute introduces favorable details or excludes unfavorable details by alleging a need to apply additional considerations without proper criticism of these considerations themselves.” I’m not asking for the supernatural to be discussed in any other light than what supernatural terminology affords. If it exists, then properties like omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence are fair game. But that’s not special pleading to discuss the supernatural. Special pleading would be to pigeonhole God into a box of being forced to be explained by natural processes, which “excludes unfavorable details” for the naturalist. That’s special pleading, friend.

        Coherent language to a claim is defined by the claim itself, not by the person rebutting the claim, which is what you’re asking for. If we’re discussing the supernatural, then we can couch coherent claims as to what a supernatural Being would be like. That is consistency, and that’s what I’m offering.

      • Supernatural is an additional consideration without proper criticism.

        In fact, it’s an entire additional plane of existence that is just asserted without reasonable justification or criticism.

      • If there were no criticism, there would be no arguments, rebuttals or debates. It is a consideration that is subject to quite amount of criticism I would say, as your coming on here no doubt demonstrates. I think the criticism you’re talking about here is naturalistic, which as Christopher said is begging the question.

      • Nope. We have demonstrated types of existence. Then we have “supernatural”, it is without demonstration or any real sense of a definition. It is exactly special pleading.

        I’m not saying that only what exists within the realm of naturalism actually exists. I’m saying that “supernatural” needs some level of demonstration before it can be talked about without just being special pleading…

        If you just wish to assert it and for me to respect that then the conversation is over.

      • I have demonstrated the supernatural…in a variety of positive arguments. See how it all ties together? No special pleading.

      • I think I’ve missed where you’ve demonstrated the supernatural.

      • Go to any one of my blog posts featuring the positive arguments for Christianity. KCA, teleological argument, moral argument, argument for soul, argument for intangible concepts, evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. All of these point to the real nature of a supernatural God that exists.

        But really, to talk about the supernatural in supernatural terms, I only need to generate the idea. I don’t even need to prove it. I’ve gone one further as a courtesy to you.

      • Did you just say that you can just assert a new type of existence as long as you use words that are specific to it?

        Also, clearly just telling you to go to my blog is not working, so here are some direct links to help you:

        RE: The KCA
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/the-cosmological-argument-against-god/
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/running-with-the-cosmological-argument/
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2011/11/20/clarifying-derailing-the-god-conversation/ (this one also works for intangible concepts).
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/the-cosmological-argument-for-god-a-continued-refutation/
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2011/09/10/the-cosmological-argument-debunked/

        RE: The Moral Argument
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/evolved-intuitions/
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/lets-get-the-moral-argument-right/
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/getting-meaning-from-atheism/
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/442/
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/moral-intuitions/
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2011/09/25/objective-morality-for-the-non-believer/
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/playing-in-the-moral-landscape/

        RE: The resurrection of Jesus
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/how-reliable-are-the-gospels/

        RE: The soul
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/freewill/

        RE: the Teleological Argument
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/a-one-god-world/
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2011/09/10/the-teleological-argument-for-god-debunked/
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/its-an-apple-universe/
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/the-teleological-argument-for-god-continued-refutation/

        RE: The Supernatural
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/an-appeal-to-spooky-language/
        http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/a-superfluous-hypothesis/

        That is an awful lot of reading, I appreciate that. But it may be of help to you in understanding where I’m coming from in these conversations.

      • To make it discussable logically, yes, that’s all I need to do. It doesn’t mean it proves it, but it certainly doesn’t imply special pleading until you start to define terms. I think this might be where you misunderstand ontology and epistemology a little bit.

        I’ll try to read some of these posts, but you’re right, this is a lot of reading. But I did read “An Appeal to Spooky Language,” and I’ll be extremely disappointed if the majority of these are in the same vein, as that post really says nothing of value–it’s just your opinion. Please tell me this will be worth my time.

      • We cannot discuss a plane of existence that you are just asserting logically until -after- you have defined your terms. You haven’t. They are undefined terms–what does ‘supernatural’ mean?–that you are just asking me to accept. This is not an epistemology method, it’s verbiage. Once you have defined your terms, and have outlined a coherent idea then you have a claim that we can investigate.

        Until that time, I have nothing to say in response to your claims of the “shgbdfldb” (“supernatural”, but without a definition what exactly is the difference? Spelling?)

        I disagree that An Appeal to Spooky Language” is just an opinion piece. The words–unknowable, metaphysical, supernatural–are meaningless and I outline why. The fact that you think it’s just an opinion piece is a little disheartening though, the point of the post is partly about Flew’s falsifiability argument, and partly about how apologists are coming up with meaningless word in order to deny reality (you’ll notice the short reference to magnetism).

        If you care to offer any actual criticisms I’m open.

        And no, the rest are not of the same vein. Some are much more philosophical, and much more critical.

        The reason I could not be truly critical in “An Appeal to Spooky Language” (the title is a reference to George Carlin) is because the ‘spooky language’ offers nothing substantial to understand, let alone rebut.

      • We’re talking about defining terms on the other comment thread, so I’ll let it drop here.

        So you could not be critical of the “spooky language” because it offers nothing, and yet you decided to devote a whole post to it, critiquing it? That, my friend, sounds incoherent.

      • We don’t have an audience; who are you trying to fool?

        I know what my post is about; it’s about spooky language being used as a conversation stopper (the same claim is made in Derailing the God Conversation http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/derailing-the-god-conversation-the-indecipherable-utterances-of-apologetics/).

        I can’t critique the concept of the “supernatural” until I know what it means. As I say in the post, any “supernatural” being is natural by its own perspective, supernatural is a meaningless word thrown in when we fail for explanation.

        So what’s the inconsistency? It’s meaningless but people use it like it should mean something… that’s not my inconsistency.

      • You can’t critique the concept of the supernatural until you know what it means, so you critiqued your idea of the supernatural without knowing what it means. That is incoherence. You establish value judgments like calling it “meaningless,” but on your own statements you have nothing with which to make any value judgments. It’s absurd and renders the post pointless and useless. That’s all I’m trying to say.

      • Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I can’t tell what you’re trying to say; it’s that you’re mistaken.

        I say supernatural is meaningless on the grounds that if we were to find a supernatural intelligence on what ground could it consider itself supernatural?

        I say that metaphysics have no independent reference. By independent I mean a referent that doesn’t emerge out of the physical.

        I dismiss “unknowable” because I can’t understand how anyone is asserting anything about that they simultaneously claim to be unknowable.

        Nothing about that is incoherent.

      • Posted by Christopher on June 4, 2012 at 7:14 PM

        The supernatural is special pleading? I don’t see how that follows, but it seems that if you say that the supernatural has to be identical to the natural in order for it to exist, then you are begging the question. I’m a naturalist, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not a naturalist because I think the supernatural is impossible.

  3. Posted by Mark on May 26, 2012 at 1:57 AM

    I agree that Christian apologetics is comprised almost completely of philosophy and logical theories, but unlike you, I think this is a bad portent for apologetics. It means that apologetics has largely retreated from the evidence-based sciences, such as biology and physics, and limits itself to fields where it doesn’t have to make testable predictions.

    The other noteworthy observation about apologetics is that they don’t use philosophy particularly well. They misuse philosophical terms, for example thinking that ad hominem fallacy is synonymous with insult, or that referring to peer-reviewed literature is an appeal to authority fallacy. When someone like William Lane Craig uses those terms, he usually does so to keep out evidence that doesn’t support his position, or to prevent new ideas from being introduced. In contrast, people like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris avoid philosophical jargon and focus on communicating ideas. This is one reason why atheist books have been much more successful than apologetics books lately.

    In regards to positive arguments for atheism, all of scientific endeavour is focused on finding natural explanations as opposed to supernatural explanations, so one could say that all scientific arguments are atheistic. Also Galileo’s championing of heliocentrism and Darwin’s theory of evolution was lethal to the religious models of their day. The problem is that religion moves the goalposts, so that when any new major scientific truth is discovered, they adjust their dogma and pretend there was never any conflict. A theory with moveable goalposts is both unprovable and unfalsifiable, so why bother engaging with it.
    Contemporary religious philosophers are very careful to keep their God vague enough to immunise against future scientific advances.

    Reply

    • Thanks Mark, and some of your points I definitely agree with. I would make several contentions, however.

      First, I think a lot of the arguments that theists use are rooted in sciences. The cosmological and teleological arguments would have no weight if they didn’t rely so heavily on cosmology and astronomy to demonstrate the validity of the claims. However, I think those that put their “faith” in science do so at great detriment to critical thinking, because the very core of methodological naturalism is to only include natural hypotheses. It’s playing with a stacked deck.

      Second, I think Dawkins and Harris tend to avoid philosophical jargon because they (consciously or unconsciously) know that many of their own claims contain logical fallacies. If they went to bat based on logic and philosophy, their arguments would be neatly unwound and exposed. I also think that failing to use this realm shows how limited their positions truly are. William Lane Craig can appeal to someone using logic, science or the communication of ideas. That is why he is so well-respected among his colleagues, both theists and atheists alike.

      Finally, I would say that many scientific arguments go rather against atheism than in favor of it. For instance, simulations of crucifixions have shown that there is no reasonable merit for the swoon theory of the resurrection of Jesus, so it actually refutes the skeptic and bolsters the claim of the believer. That is just one example of how science goes against atheism, so to say that science and atheism are linked is, I think, a bit of a mis-conception of science. Theists and atheists use science alike in their claims; atheists just limit their scope to only science, while the theist can follow the evidence where it leads.

      Still, thanks for stopping by and for offering your viewpoint. It’s greatly appreciated! 🙂

      Reply

      • H1 – This phenomena is natural.
        H0 – This phenomena is not natural.

        Science is not a stacked deck, the evidence is. Over and over again H1 is demonstrated and H0 is not.

        As for positive arguments against God, I’ve got one on my blog (http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/the-cosmological-argument-against-god)–actually I have a few.

        The reason I don’t bother with them is because each one only deals with a specific definition of God: God the creator of the universe, God the omnipotent and omniscience, God the benevolent and omnipotent. All of these are on my blog.

        The reason I don’t rely on them is because contradictions–being both omniscient and omnipotent; being benevolent and omnipotent while there is needless suffering–are squared with meaningless stock answers: God is only omniscient and omnipotent so far as the characters are compatible, else it would be a paradox; God can be benevolent even when there is suffering because He gives us free will, tests us, and has every right to take our life if He feels like it. These are the moving goal posts positive arguments against theism have to tackle.

        I am a gnostic atheist about most presented definitions of God for these very reasons. But this still leaves deism, for which there is no positive argument against. Which is why I am an agnostic about the fluid, adaptable and flexible God concept.

      • I’ll have to read some of these positive arguments you made. Perhaps I’ll comment over there. 🙂

        I don’t think the “moving goalposts” you discuss really are moving; if they were, there would be no Scriptural basis for these views, nor would there by any early church fathers discussing belief in such concepts. The fact that both of these things exist lend credence to the fact that the goalposts have always been there, but perhaps it is the understanding of the skeptics that continues to move and adapt, which can only be considered a good thing by both parties.

      • I think the moved goal posts are quite apparent.
        Evolution, a heliocentric solar system, 13.8 billion year old universe, 4 billion year old earth.
        Omnipotence treads on the toes of omniscience (and vice versa).
        Mercy is mutually exclusive from justice.
        Benevolence and omnipotence are not compatible with geographically distributed suffering and starvation and death.
        Worshipping a human sacrifice is not justice.
        Absolving your actual actions by accepting a human sacrifice is not justice.
        No witches.
        No dragons.

        And yet faith has been squared with all of this. The goal posts have moved massively.

      • I don’t really get what you’re trying to say here. Are you saying that the skeptic’s position has never changed? Because that’s a load of hooey, and everyone knows it. Spontaneous generation for one, a static universe for another.

        And I think you missed the point of what I said. The interpretations might be the moving goalposts you are referring to, but that’s an individual perspective or opinion, and it doesn’t change the truth claims made in the Bible. I could just as easily say that evolution is not true based on what I believe the definition of evolution to be, but you might have a different definition or explanation of evolution. It’s up to interpretation of the term, which can vary from person to person. So to say that the goalposts move is to say each person has an opinion, which puts atheism in the same boat as theism. Call it both ways if you want to make it a discussion point.

      • If you want to fix it to the Bible then the conversation was over 150 years ago: evolution or Genesis. Evolution won.
        And that’s to miss the point anyway: the goal posts are moved all the time. I made that quite clear. Maybe not by you. But in general. Think about how the definition of God has receded from a Being that micro manages everything to a thought that may or may not be the cause of the Universe.

        Think how slavery in the Bible is explained away, how the wars are fine and God is still just…

      • All very popular examples you’ve given that are easily explained if you take the Bible in context. A moving goalpost is only created when someone responds to a cherrypicker who likes to pick “unpopular” things in the Bible. So I think it’s safe to say that the moving goalposts are created by the skeptics. Think about it; what theist believes that God may or may not be the cause of the universe? That’s an agnostic response, pushed through by skeptics. So you’re actually making my point for me.

        Finally, I would disagree that evolution has won over Genesis, but that’s a different discussion entirely.

      • Okay, religion isn’t a series of moving goal posts and is identical to how it was 400 years ago…

      • I’m just saying call it both ways. Otherwise it’s special pleading.

    • Posted by Christopher on May 26, 2012 at 10:59 PM

      The problem I have with this is the implicit idea that philosophy cannot be a root of knowledge, but only science can. In fact, it is only philosophy and logic that gives science any power at all to begin with; in fact, Popper showed that science can never actually show anything can be true, but it can only falsify hypotheses (he did this in order to solve the problem of induction).

      Does science show us something is a contradiction and thus impossible? No, logic and philosophy does. So to make the argument (which is philosophical, ironically) that theistic arguments are somewhat “less” simply because they are focused around philosophy makes no sense, and actually strengthens theistic arguments.

      Like sabepashubbo says, the theistic argument that science shows that the swoon theory is unlikely is absolutely true, but it is a philosophical argument that says this is irrelevant, because no matter how improbable a natural theory is, it is still more likely than a supernatural one.

      Reply

  4. In epistemology (the philosophical methods by which we try to know things) all the potential truths are made up by “positive claims”.

    All claims are positive claims–gravity, evolution, the heliocentric universe, the atom–but all positive claims to not account for all beliefs.

    Take the claims (1) “God exists” and (2) “God does not exist”. These are both positive claims (they are both attempts at reflecting truth).

    Atheism is simply non-belief in statement (1). All the arguments for atheism are not ‘positive arguments’ because there is no attached positive claim. The arguments are simply arguments to explain why positive arguments for God aren’t good enough.

    Atheists do not necessarily accept claim (2) simply because they reject claim (1).
    Explanation of this gets into the agnostic/atheist overlap, which wasn’t your question. I hope this helps.

    Reply

    • Allallt,

      Thanks for coming over! As I mentioned to Ben, the idea of atheism simply being a non-belief in theism doesn’t really work. Atheism, like theism, is a worldview, so a non-belief in all other worldviews means you believe that your worldview is true. The only way to get around this is to say atheism is not a worldview, but it is realistically impossible for anyone to be without a worldview, based on the definition and connotation of the term.

      So if atheism as a worldview is true, it is necessary for atheism to produce positive arguments in favor of its veracity, just like theism. I suspect this is why Oppy (and Christopher–thanks Chris!) are able to come to the realistic conclusion that both sides have an initial burden of proof to fulfill, which is why it is necessary for atheism to have positive arguments alongside the negative arguments.

      I therefore reject the idea that atheism has no burden to show the logic of its position, which is why I’m grateful Christopher demonstrated some of the positive arguments available. My contention is that there are quite fewer logical frameworks for a positive belief in the atheistic worldview, so it is unreasonable for the atheist to claim the logically superior position. I hope that helps you understand where I’m coming from. But thanks for your opinion, as you are certainly entitled to it and welcome to express it. Thanks again!

      Reply

      • Posted by Christopher on May 26, 2012 at 11:04 PM

        In addition to my earlier statements, there are also atheists who make the argument that you can prove a negative, so the statement that “atheism is a negative claim so therefore I don’t have to have any arguments” is false. See here (specifically the one by Richard Carrier) and here.

      • Atheism is not a world view. However, there are plenty of world views that can result in atheism as a result.
        Scepticism is my world view; I question the validity of most arguments and refrain from believe without just cause (sound and valid philosophy and empirical evidence are big contributors).
        But naturalism and empiricism are also world views that often result in atheism.
        The only reason that theism can be a world view (although it isn’t necessarily, but it is necessarily a positive claim) is because theism can act as an answer to most things. Atheism cannot.
        I hope the distinction is apparent.

      • Allallt,

        I think theism is a worldview because it can be discussed as containing truth. Atheism, if it contains truth, must be considered a worldview. And if it is true, there ought to be positive arguments in favor of it. That’s my only point.

      • And your initial premise–that atheism is a truth-containing stance–is not necessarily true.

      • If there’s no truth to atheism, then why are you an atheist?

      • It’s not a truth claim. It is merely a position on a single question: “Does God exist?”

        And my answer is that I am not convinced. That’s my atheism. Some people are positive atheists–they actively make the truth claim that God does not exist–but I am not one of them.

        You may have seen some of my positive arguments against God on my blog, but all of them only deal with a single characteristic and for the most part people move the goal posts. So I don’t consider God adequately disproved either.

        But I need good evidence to have positive faith. And I simply haven’t seen any. And as always, that admission is equally a challenge extended to you and all theists that read it.

      • If atheism is not true then there is no reason to be an atheist. You would simply be an agnostic. To be an atheist you must believe there is some manner of truth in adopting such an idea, and truth necessitates a reason to believe. Sorry, but you’re kind of deluding yourself into a position here. If you believe there is truth in the world, it is your job to search for it, which means you must always be an agnostic unless you definitively align yourself with one position, which requires positive claims for your belief. So on this reasoning, are you an agnostic or an atheist?

      • I am not going to entertain the idea you don’t know the difference between atheism and agnosticism; you’ve been too intelligent for that up to this point.

        Even if it is my job to search for the truth, the correct position is not to agree with everything until I have a definitive answer; that would be stupid. Instead, when an idea has not met its burden of proof–the God hypothesis–you simply don’t accept it. End of.

        Unless, of course, you really do believe simply for lack of an alternative.

      • So then why do you agree with atheism if it has no definitive answers? It’s gotta work both ways, friend.

      • See, now you’re shifting.
        The definition of atheist is that I hold no positive belief on the question.
        I am also agnostic (in terms of the broader deistic definitions of a god). But I am gnostic about the definitions that most Book preach as they are self-defeating (or defeat themselves when you enter in factors like the evidential problem of natural evil).

        So, remind me, what positive position do I have to actually present evidence for?

      • Ah but you hold a positive belief in evolution, which helps shape your atheism. So you’re actually being a bit intellectually dishonest here, I think.

        If you say you are an atheist, then you are saying (by your own prior definitions) that atheism holds a definitive answer to which you can ally yourself. I’m just challenging you to present what that answer is. That’s the positive position you need to present evidence for. To say otherwise is to continuing to mislead, rather intentionally if I say so myself.

      • There are hundreds upon hundreds of positive claims I do hold. Things like my real name, age, my family member’s names and birthdays, the nature of the sun and the moon and the tides etc.

        None of those have anything to do with the fact that theistic claims sounds like nonsense to me and not one has come close to convincing me of its validity.

        To say that I necessarily must have a positive claim associated with my lack of a positive claim is nonsensical.

        If the question is of whether atheism is more rational, then the conversation is different. But that doesn’t necessarily need a positive argument for atheism made either; just a robust rebuttal and description of the default position.

      • But a lack of belief in theism should only result in agnosticism, not atheism. It’s the reverse idea of “if atheism is false, it doesn’t hold that theism is true.” If theism is false, it doesn’t mean atheism is true. At best you’re left with agnosticism.

        To be an atheist the belief has to be firmer and there has to be a positive claim associated with atheism that you hold as true. I’m simply asking what that claim (or series of claims) is. Otherwise there is no reasonable logic to being an atheist, for the “robust rebuttal” can easily be made by an agnostic as well.

        I’m just encouraging you to stand up for what you believe in with some support for your belief. Surely it can’t be that hard, can it?

      • If you want to continue to define atheism as the antithesis of theism (as opposed to just the absence of theism) then that’s up to you, I suppose.
        But it’s not my position.
        If you want my arguments go to my blog (allalltor.wordpress.com).
        But I am without (a-) belief in God (-theos).

        Remember the actual distinction between belief (theism) and knowledge (gnosticism) means the two are not on a sliding scale, nor are they mutually exclusive.
        I am an atheist because I do not believe the claims of theism. That’s the definition.

        If you want to define it differently, fine. But you’re not describing my position, you’re trying to shift the burden of proof and you’re condescending to me about how I feel. I’m not playing that game.

      • If I was trying to shift the burden of proof, wouldn’t I ask you to bear it entirely? That’s not what I’m trying to do at all; I’m just trying to get you to be coherent with your position.

        You may be “without belief in God,” but you’re certainly not without belief in anything. You have convictions, or you wouldn’t be here. I’m just asking you to defend your convictions, not pretend like they’re not there. That’s certainly what I’m doing, isn’t it?

      • Why do I have to defend my convictions when (a) you don’t even know what they are and (b) aren’t relevant to your position.

        We are discussing your position. So you are evading or you are attempting to shift the burden of proof.

      • And my position is that if atheism is true, there should be logical arguments in favor of it, and if it is the more rational perspective, there should be MORE logical arguments for it than for theism.

        If atheism fails to meet this criteria, then atheism is not the most rational perspective and should be abandoned. If you wish to rebut that, you need to demonstrate some truth to the atheistic perspective. Ergo, your convictions. I’ve met my burden of proof by demonstrating the host of positive logical arguments in favor of theism. You only need to show me a greater number of positive arguments for atheism. This is not that hard. I think a failure to even try on your part seems like a concession.

      • I don’t believe in faeries or the Flying Spaghetti monster.

        By your definition this is less rational than belief.

        You can pretend not to know anything about default positions all you like. But I’m not taking you seriously so long that you do that.

      • If there were positive logical arguments in the favor of faeries or the Flying Spaghetti Monster based on real evidence, then I would agree. That’s the distinction. I’m kind of disappointed here, to be honest. I’ve given you a testable method by which to make atheism more rational, and you won’t even attempt it.

        It’s just as hard to take you seriously when “I don’t have to stand up for my convictions” is your default position. Take a page from Christopher, and own your worldview.

      • I told you to go to my blog and look for my positive arguments. The problem of natural suffering is not just a problem, it makes the definition of God paradoxical. Omniscience and omnipotence are incompatible; being fixed to known future gets rid of the ability to make a choice (whether God will make a different choice, and whether God can in principle are separate issues. If God cannot, in principle, make a decision against what He already knew He would pick then He is not omnipotent. If He can then He is not omniscient).

        If God is the creator of the universe ex nihilo then God doesn’t exist.

        The concept of the supernatural and the metaphysical is, as presented, incoherent.

        Those arguments are available on my religion blog (allalltor.wordpress.com).

        I also endorse most of these arguments:
        http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/incompatible.html

        Here are my issues with the challenge you are setting me: positive arguments for atheism are arguments that God does not exist. That claim is not identical to the claim that I am not convinced.
        I do not need positive arguments for my claim if your claim simply isn’t any good.

        I’d put good money on you shifting the goal posts. I expect to hear lines like “I never said God created the universe ex nihilo”, “I never said that God is omnipotent”. Or I expect the definition of words like omnipotence and omniscience to change, arguments like “God is the greatest logically conceivable Being; if two of His characteristics create a paradox then God does not have them absolutely, just so far as is logical”.

        This is why I have been hesitant to engage in your challenge: it’s not necessary for a logically sound stance, and it’s easy to shift you definitions around.

        For the record, if you say God is unknowable (and I respect you too much to assume you will) then you have no reason to believe in Him either. And if that is the case, of course not believing is the more rational stance.

      • The problem of evil I’ve already debunked in the other post we’re discussing.

        If God is the creator of the universe ex nihilo then God doesn’t exist.

        So what you’re saying is, if God exists, then God doesn’t exist. Law of non-contradiction, anyone?

        The concept of the supernatural and the metaphysical is, as presented, incoherent.

        I see no real argument here or on your blog, let along a logical framework by which the argument is defined. This just sounds like your opinion, not a positive logical argument.

        I also endorse most of these arguments:
        http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/incompatible.html

        Finally! Here’s something we can reasonably consider a positive argument for atheism. However, the conclusion of most of these points to strong atheism (i.e. God does not exist). Are you comfortable making such a claim, as an endorser of these arguments?

        I do not need positive arguments for my claim if your claim simply isn’t any good.

        Maybe not for your claim, but your convictions and your worldview, you do.

        I’d put good money on you shifting the goal posts.

        I’m betting the same thing from you on our discussion from our Problem of Evil post. Considering you haven’t allowed me to put up any goalposts by saying the supernatural is special pleading, this is going to be hard for you to win your bet.

        This is why I have been hesitant to engage in your challenge: it’s not necessary for a logically sound stance, and it’s easy to shift you definitions around.

        Positive claims are not necessary for convictions? Where’s Christopher when you need him? He and I may disagree on the end result (he being an atheist and me being a theist), but the one thing we do agree on is that to hold any sort of logical position, one must be able to defend said position. If you’re willing to defend the stuff on the link you posted, then perhaps we can talk. But I’d also bet that you would shift the goalposts on some of these terms as well. But it’s entirely up to you.

      • In another comment I linked you to a number of my posts. One of them is called “The Cosmological Argument against God”. I recommend reading it. If you think you have a valid criticism then post that there are we can discuss that separately, as here we are discussing the burden of proof.

        I also linked posts called “A superfluous hypothesis”, “An appeal to spooky language” and “Clarifying ‘Derailing the God conversation'”. When it comes to metaphysical and supernatural claims being incoherent, superfluous and un-demonstrated these are my point. Take, for example, the idea that any “God” we hypothetically discover would be “natural” by it’s own perspective, and therefore would be (in principle) a demonstrable fact (taken from An Appeal to Spooky Language)… so what does “supernatural” mean? Is it a relative description?

        As for the arguments in the Infidel’s link, I do endorse them. However, all you have to do to get around them is to say “that’s not how I define God” and the goalposts are moved and a God concept is saved!

        (For an example of how this works look at my post “Getting around the cosmological argument against God”, the post immediately after “The Cosmological argument against God”).

        I hope this clarifies my stance a little.

      • I’ll definitely read your post that you reference on the CA; if it is truly a positive defense of atheism I will be pleased. As I said on the other post, I was pretty disappointed in your spooky language post.

        As for the arguments in the Infidel’s link, I do endorse them. However, all you have to do to get around them is to say “that’s not how I define God” and the goalposts are moved and a God concept is saved!

        So wait, are you suggesting that you get to define the terms of a God you don’t believe in? Talk about incoherent!

      • My post, “The Cosmological Argument against God”, is a positive argument against the God creator of the universe. In fact, it’s an argument against any causal start to the universe ex nihilo.

        It still bothers me that I need to formulate a positive argument with the CA when the KCA simply doesn’t hold up against empirical evidence. That should be the end of that argument straight away.

        The fact that you’re disappointed by “An Appeal to Spooky Language” is not the same as it not making a point. I’d like to hear the actual criticism.

        As for the moving goalposts, no I don’t get to define the God you believe in for you for the sake of the argument I’m presenting.

        Do you care to define God for me? Is the God of the Cosmological argument your God?
        This God is also the God of Genesis, so I suspect the answer to be yes. This is not me defining God for you, this is me using someone else’s definition. I use another person’s definition to formulate an argument, and then I find that no one believes in it. That’s a moved goal post.

        Imagine in maths if someone was asked to disprove Pythagoras’ theorem a^2 + b^2 = c^3. Easy to disprove, you demonstrate that it’s actually a^2 + b^2 = c^2… then the person who offered the challenge says they never mean to say that Pythagoras’ theorem was a^2 + b^2 = c^3 anyway, so what was I ever talking about? That is how I feel about the God conversation.

        Do you have a robust definition?

      • Like I said, I’ll look into it when I have time.

        “An Appeal to Spooky Language” was disappointing because it wasn’t based on anything. It was just your opinion. All it said was “You can’t talk about the supernatural because it’s incoherent.” You didn’t give me anything other than your thoughts on what supernatural means and then rejected it because it’s silly to talk about the supernatural when we’re natural. It gave me nothing to go on. That’s why I was disappointed.

        I’m loathe to define God before you, because I think you might twist it. For instance, I could say God is omnipotent, and you would likely assume I meant that God could do anything He wants, when that’s not what I mean. What I mean by that is that God can do anything that is logically possible and in accordance with His own nature. This means that there are some things that God cannot do, but it doesn’t mean He’s not omnipotent. For instance, God cannot lie. God cannot change. Cannot cannot make a round square or a married bachelor.

        And herein lies the potential problem. Every term I use to define God is open to your interpretation until I clarify it. And if it’s not clarified enough initially and I attempt to expound on it, I get accused of moving the goalposts. Not sure I want to play that game.

      • The word supernatural doesn’t mean anything.

        By your definition I’m omnipotent.

      • And this is why it’s ridiculous to talk with you. Unwilling to listen. Thanks for stopping by.

      • I don’t understand what you mean.

        I can do anything that is consistent with my nature. If that’s your definition of omnipotence then everything is omnipotent and omnipotent no longer means anything even similar to “all powerful”.

        And supernatural doesn’t mean anything.

        I know you think I’m not listening, but you’re not saying anything.

      • I think I’m being quite clear. It seems you’re content to twist the argument. You can’t do anything that’s consistent with your nature. You can hold your breath underwater (consistent with your nature) but not forever. You are limited in your capabilities in terms of performing actions. And that’s what we’re talking about here. Please don’t be disingenuous for the sake of being snarky.

        I’d appreciate it if you would drop it. No one’s really learning anything at this point, and it’s getting contentious. Thanks for stopping by.

      • That’s a shame, because I am sincerely struggling with how I am not omnipotent by your definition.
        No, I cannot hold my breath underwater forever. That would be inconsistent with my nature. Just like God can say things, but He cannot say an untruth because that is inconsistent with His nature.

        If you define omnipotence as “able to do anything consistent with ones own nature” then I am not sure how I am not–or how you are not–omnipotent.

        I am not saying that I am truly omnipotent, I’m saying that you’ve defined the word very badly.

      • And I think you’ve defined the terms “supernatural,” “incoherent” and other words badly. Guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Posted by Mark on May 26, 2012 at 9:14 PM

    Hi. Thanks for your reply.

    I just wanted to answer some of your points. I agree that many of the arguments that theists use are rooted in science, but only retrospectively, not prospectively. That is theists look at the scientific literature for evidence that supports their position, but don’t look forward to make testable predictions. PZ Myers once said that what makes a good scientist is not someone who knows a lot, but someone who can ask the right questions. An example is the origin of the universe, which theists have advanced the Kallam argument for, and some physicists have advanced the multi-brane theory. The physicists predict that the European Planck satellite will detect high-density gravitational waves in cosmic microwave background radiation. The theists make no predictions. This is how theist arguments are not rooted in science.

    Also, I have to disagree that William Lane Craig is well-respected among atheists. If you look around atheist blogs, you’ll find that he is usually considered an intellectual lightweight, two steps below Dinesh D’Souza. You don’t have to agree with our assessment, but you should understand how we reach that conclusion. In debate he is usually pedantic, fixated on semantics and rigid in his format, which prevents ideas from being exchanged, or even discussed. He is an example of how a philosophical background can limit rather than enhance your thinking. One example is when he rubbished Dawkins “what created God” argument, but saying that needing an explanation for an explanation implies an infinite regress. This shows a deep misunderstanding of the nature of science. Scientific explanations are advancements in fields of pre-existing knowledge, so we already have the tools to understand them, and theories mutually explain each other. An example is how evolutionary biology and genetics support each other. So scientific explanations fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces, rather than an infinite line.

    WLC has been hugely influential on modern apologetics, and this is very detrimental to apologetics in the battle for young intelligent minds. He’s endowed the field with an obsession with philosophical jargon, at the expense of communicative ability. A good rule of thumb is that whenever you use the word ‘ontology’ , three quarters of your audience will stop listening.
    The last point I’ll make is that I have no faith in science. It has to prove itself to work every day, otherwise it’s out. As soon as supernatural explanations prove themself to work, I’ll happily throw science away. For example, I currently start my car by turning the ignition, which supplies current to the starter motor, which cranks the piston, so that suction pulls a flammable mixture into the cylinder, and a spark will ignite it. If I could start my car by praying, I would happily do so.

    Reply

    • Hi Mark,

      Thanks for the reply. Just a couple of rebuttal points.

      First, I understand your perspective about theism not making testable predictions, but that is the nature of the beast. Theism is predicated on events that already happened, not on future events (although there are specific prophetic events that have yet to happen, but don’t fall in the realm of science). But there’s nothing wrong with that. If we found some ancient scrolls documenting more of Alexander the Great’s reign, you wouldn’t scoff at it saying that Alexander the Great makes no new testable predictions. Theism can take an a posteriori approach because it is never misleading about what happened or why. Science has to continue to make predictions because it has no concrete answers. I don’t think theism should be punished for having a firmer foundation, do you?

      Second, I think Sam Harris’ introduction in his debate with WLC, when his colleagues told him “Please don’t screw this up,” is enough of an indication that he’s pretty well-respected among the leading atheists. Dawkins refuses to debate him, but has no problem debating John Lennox or Alistair McGrath. I have a hard time believing that Dawkins is of the opinion that these two are so far above WLC that he’s not worth debating. I just don’t think Dawkins wants to get his hands dirty, because I don’t think he’ll come away looking very good. That’s just my opinion though, and certainly one can disagree with it.

      I’m curious why you feel WLC’s argument for the infinite regress in Dawkins’ argument shows a mis-understanding of science. Can you elaborate?

      Finally, I would question the notion that you have no faith in science. With no real answer is to the origin of the universe, how can you not consider supernatural hypotheses? And how can you know what the answer is? My guess is that you, like many atheists, hope and expect that the answer will come one day. And that, my friend, is faith in its purest form. Read Hebrews 11:1 and do that with science in mind. We’re all “believers” in something; some of us are just more willing to admit it than others.

      Thanks again for responding and for the good points!

      Reply

      • Posted by Mark on June 3, 2012 at 7:14 AM

        Hello again. Sorry about the delay, I’ve been busy at work. You raised some interesting points that I’d like to respond to.

        If theism is unable to make testable predictions, then that is a real weakness, and means it can’t really be referred to as a branch of knowledge. All scientific theories have to be proven by making testable predictions, as that is the only way to separate truth from fantasy. That is simply how a positive argument for a claim is made, and if the theism’s nature of the beast is that it can’t produce such claims, then theism should be regarded as unproven.

        You raise the issue of Alexander the Great, which is interesting because testable predictions are still being made for him today. For instance, toxicologists have speculated that he died from poisoning by calichhaemicin, a bacterial metabolite in the Black River. Supporting evidence could be found if we drilled through 2300 years of rock at the river base, and found fossilised Micromonospora echinospora, which produces calichaemicin. This is how theories advance and gain the status of knowledge, and why I consider theology to be pseudo-knowledge. If you want your claims to be taken seriously, you simply have to go out and find evidence for them.

        If you’re going to use prominent atheist’s statements to indicate atheist respect for WLC, it’s more honest not to use comments made on the day of debating him. In debates, it is customary and expected for the speakers to start by saying nice things about their opponents, by doing so set a positive impression for the audience. It certainly isn’t the time when they would say what they really think, and I note that post-debate Sam Harris accused WLC of sloppy logic and dishonesty.

        There is a fairly widespread misunderstanding amongst theists that atheist are awed and scared of WLC. In reality, most of us made the effort to familiarise ourselves with his arguments and, after we’re done laughing, conclude that apologetics really must be in terrible shape if he’s considered their best. We’re not faking this; we honestly do think he’s an idiot. If you doubt me, then google WLCs name with any of the following atheist or agnostic names: Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, Chris Hallquist, John Loftus, Richard Carrier, Daniel Fincke, Dan Dennett, Lawrence Krauss, Greta Christina, Deacon Duncan, Ophelia Benson, Thunderf00t, Lady Atheist, Stephen Law, Steven Carr, JT Eberhardt, Hermant Mehta, Bart Ehrman, Arizona Atheist (that’s just off the top of my head). I don’t want to go too much OT by discussing why we don’t respect WLC (although I’d be happy to do so in another thread). I’m pointing out that modern apologetics is failing convince young minds of its claims, and that part of this reason is the huge disconnect in how those inside the apologetics bubble view its intellectual respectability, compared to those outside the bubble. One strategic mistake was an over-reliance on philosophy, which is largely regarded as a dead science.

        To quickly touch on WLCs misunderstanding of infinite regress in science, it is in assuming that explanations only take a linear pattern. In reality scientific explanations buttress and support each other, rather than progressing linearly. For example evolutionary theory predicts that apes will have fusion of two chromosomes normally found in humans. Biochemistry provides that explanation for how the replicating enzyme would lead to inadvertent fusion. Genetics explains how the replicating enzyme is passed through generations. Evolutionary theory explains how the gene for the replicating enzyme is conserved through multiple species….and so forth. So yes, we do need an explanation for the explanation, but in well-understood science, the explanations form a circle, not an infinite line. It says a lot about WLC that he doesn’t understand this. If you want a more detailed description, I recommend pages 184-89 of The God Delusion.

        To finally tie it up, I really do have no faith in science. When something has proof, then faith is superfluous.

      • Hi Mark,

        Thanks for coming back! Let me try to address some of your points back.

        First, it seems like begging the question to assume that knowledge can only be collected by making testable predictions (i.e. science is the precursor to knowledge). I think Socrates, Shakespeare and the like would probably give you a pretty good beating if they were alive today and heard you make such a claim. Knowledge is available through more than testable predictions, I think.

        On Alexander the Great, you might be able to test that calichhaemicin was in the Black River, but you can’t test that Alexander the Great died from it. That’s what I mean by science not being able to answer everything. Now if someone wrote down that this is Alexander died and the calichhaemicin was found in the river, then one might make an inference, but not based on a testable prediction, because there is no ultimate proof. It’s an inference to the best explanation, which is the same method theology uses to test its own claims. The playing field is level, and knowledge can be ascertained in this way. Therefore, theology is not pseudo-knowledge, but perfectly reasonable.

        On WLC and philosophy, I would simply point out that in order to make any sort of claims, one must use laws of logic, which is in the realm of philosophy. So I don’t really think philosophy is a dead science; people just don’t realize that they have to use it in order to make their own predictions. So I don’t think it’s WLC’s fault, but it’s actually smart maneuvering on the part of atheists to shy away from focusing on something that would render the atheist worldview extremely precarious.

        On infinite regress, what you’re saying makes sense until you ask the real question: how did it all get started? A true beginning to all of the stuff you explained requires a cause that is defined in terms of time, which is linear. To say “it was created at the beginning of time” answers that question, but it then begs the question of who or what created time. And this is the infinite regress WLC is talking about. You can talk about the chromosomal theory in terms of its parts in a circle, but you can’t talk about it in its essence of origin except in a linear fashion, and infinite regress is a reasonable rebuttal to such a statement.

        Finally, I think science can prove a lot of things. In this you’re right. Why we are here, however, is not one of them. And since the answer to this question would provide the legitimate foundation for science, it takes faith to believe in science. That’s my perspective on the issue, and why I believe theism to be superior to atheism. Theism has an answer for that question; atheism does not.

      • Posted by Christopher on June 4, 2012 at 7:22 PM

        I have to agree that science is not the only way to have knowledge; I personally am not aware of any epistemologist who would argue that this is true, and for good reason. Popper showed that science never actually proves things, but it only disproves things. So the most science can give us knowledge about is what isn’t true.

        In regards to an infinite regress, I know of no actual problems with the concept of an actual infinity. I think that Graham Oppy did an excellent job of dispelling any criticisms in his book Philosophical Perspectives on Infinity. To say that the past is infinite is not to say that it had a beginning an infinite amount of time ago, but that there was no actual beginning, linear or not.

      • Christopher,

        I’ve not read Oppy’s book, but it’s interesting that he presents no problems with actual infinites. As far as I know, no such actual infinites have ever been shown to exist, just theoretical ones like numbers. What do you think of an argument like Herbert’s hotel? Does Oppy discuss that in his book? I assume then your issue with the Kalam cosmological argument would be with the initial premise, that everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence. Is that right?

        I’ve never really had this discussion with anyone before, so I’m curious on some of your thoughts. Is it your opinion that the universe is infinitely old? Thanks for sharing this stuff.

      • Posted by Christopher on June 5, 2012 at 10:45 AM

        If you’re crafty enough, you can find a free PDF of it online. But it’s definitely worth the money.

        The book is broken up into different parts: Mathematical Preliminaries, Some Cases Discussed (including Hilbert’s Hotel, see later), Space, Time, and Spacetime, Physical Infinities, Probability and Decision Theory, Mereology, Some Philosophical Considerations, Infinite Regress and Sufficient Reason. It’s a very complex book, which is (unfortunately) why I have not been able to read the whole thing. As far as I know, he does not argue that there are currently in existence actual infinites, but that there can be actual infinities. He does discuss things like singularities and an infinite expansion of space, but I’m not aware that he says they actually are infinite, but only that they could be infinite.

        Hilbert’s Hotel is actually something I discussed just recently on my blog post, along with what I could fine from WLC as a rebuttal.

        As far as the Kalam, yes, I do have a problem with it’s rejection of an infinite regress. However, the argument from contingency is essentially the same argument, but avoids that problem all together, which, in my opinion, makes it a stronger argument.

        Do I think the universe is infinitely old? You know, I really don’t know. I mean, I think it’s possible, and I don’t think it’s been ruled out, but I have no proof or reason to think the universe extends in time past the Big Bang. It seems like a slippery slope to argue that time could exist beyond the Big Bang so therefore I think it’s true, but God could exist but you have no reason so I don’t believe it. (Possibly poor wording, but you see my point.)

      • Thanks Christopher! I promise I was not avoiding posting this; I just wanted to be sure to have time to read your post before answering. While I do have some issues with your rebuttal, overall I think it’s presented very well and makes at least a reasonable case for actual infinites, however flawed I might think some of the justifications are. I appreciate you sharing that with me.

        I agree that the argument from contingency is a stronger argument. Glad we agree with that at least, though not falling on the same side of it. 🙂

        On the last paragraph, are you saying that there’s no good justification to believe in the infinite age of the universe just like there’s no good justification to believe in the existence of God? I guess I’m just having trouble equating the two. I’m guessing what you’re referring to is the epistemological nature of each of these ideas, not the semantics of linking them together, right? If that’s the case, I can see your point.

      • Posted by Christopher on June 7, 2012 at 10:52 AM

        I agree that the argument from contingency is a stronger argument. Glad we agree with that at least, though not falling on the same side of it.

        It’s really the only one that still gives me pause.

        On the last paragraph, are you saying that there’s no good justification to believe in the infinite age of the universe just like there’s no good justification to believe in the existence of God? I guess I’m just having trouble equating the two. I’m guessing what you’re referring to is the epistemological nature of each of these ideas, not the semantics of linking them together, right? If that’s the case, I can see your point.

        I was saying that from the perspective of an atheist, it seems fallacious to say the universe could be infinitely old so I will believe it is (epistemologically, yes), but that even though God could exist I will not believe it is. Why believe one and not the other? Do we atheists tend to accept the first because it’s a common idea in physics? Religion is a more common belief, so it seems to be begging the question. Do we tend to accept it because it helps defend our atheism? That would still be begging the question. Do we tend to accept it because there’s evidence for it? I’ve never found any, nor do I know anyone who has.

        I think it’s okay to talk about things like the universe being infinitely old for the sake of argument and to say “Well if this theory is true, then yes, the universe is infinitely old and your argument fails because of it.” But some people just take that thought experiment way too far, and I don’t see a rational justification of it.

      • Well said. Thank you for that, and for continuing to think on these things and promote thought. You are more than welcome to come back here and discuss anytime!

  6. Posted by Mark on June 6, 2012 at 4:24 AM

    Hi. Thanks for your reply. I’m enjoying the discussion, so I’ll go another round.

    I think it’s fair to say that knowledge can only be advanced through making testable predictions. I know some philosophers claim that philosophy can be a path to knowledge, but since no two philosophers can ever agree on what that knowledge is, I think it’s safe to disregard that idea. As for Socrates and Shakespeare, they were both brilliant men who made immense contributions to culture, but I’m scratching my head trying to think of examples where they contributed to human knowledge. If you can give me an example where widely accepted and non-controversial knowledge has been obtained by means other than the scientific method, then I’m all ears.

    I think one problem is that philosophers often assert their theories as “logically true” without doing the hard work to show that they are true in the real world. Given that consensus in philosophical circles is rarer than hens teeth, we now have thousands of contradictory philosophical theories, with no attempt to make testable predictions to see if they hold up. And, yes, testable predictions are essential. After all, it is logically true that, according to the Zeno and the tortoise paradox, I should be unable to overtake cars going half my speed. Yet I do so daily. This is just one example of where clear logic loses out to the messy real world. Just because something is logical is no indication of wether it is true or not, especially since we understand so little of the universe we live in.

    You might have heard the joke about the philosopher’s sausage machine. A philosopher invites a scientist to view the amazing sausage machine he has built. The philosopher says “Behold the wonderful cogs and sprockets in my beautiful machine – surely you must see it can produce the most amazing sausages”. The scientist says “Yes, very interesting, please show me the sausages”. The philosopher says “How dare you question the philosophical reasoning that led to this machine”. The scientist says “I’m not questioning the reasoning; I want to see if it can really produce sausages”. The philosopher replies “Can you point to a flaw in my argument that my machine cannot produce sausages”. The scientist replies “Don’t be such a melodramatic prancing arse. Show me the sausages or I’m off”. Just as a machine that can’t make sausages can’t be called a sausage machine, so a discipline that doesn’t produce testable predictions can’t be called a science.

    You raise a good point about Alexander the Great, so it’s time to introduce another concept; knowledge is quantitative not qualitative. That is we never know things 100%, but instead have to assess our evidence and reach a consensus on how likely something is. But what separates good historians from theologians is that historians are upfront about this. One professor told me in my first year a t uni “Out of everything we teach you, half is wrong. The problem is we don’t know which half” If theologians were upfront like historians, and said “we have some evidence that there was a historical Jesus, not much evidence that he was really born in Bethlehem, and extremely weak evidence that he rose from the dead, really just hearsay from unknown people”, then I might be more charitable towards them.

    On WLC, you say that to make claims, one must use laws of logic, which are in the realm of philosophy. With respect, that might have been so in 400 BC, but not in the 21st century. Now every professional field has its own laws of logic, which are more advanced than the models being used by philosophers. If you want to discuss logical models used in cosmology, you talk to a physicist. If you want to discuss logical issues in bioethics, you talk to a doctor. If you want to talk about societal logical models, you talk to an anthropologist. These guys are actually better at logic within their fields than philosophers. This is why no-one listens to philosophers anymore, except for other philosophers.

    WLC has a sleazy move that he’s used on people like Stephen Hawkings. He looks for use of a logical argument in Hawkings book, and then says “Aha, Hawkings is using philosophy!” Then he makes an appeal to his own authority, saying “I’m an expert philosopher, and I say this is wrong”. Sorry Bill, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Hawkings is not only better at physics than WLC, but he is also better at logic as it’s used in physics, because modern physics incorporates logic. Philosophers don’t know squat about logic anymore – they’re redundant. That’s why the only career option for people with philosophy degrees is teaching philosophy. If they had useful skills to offer society, they’d be snapped up.

    For your final point, I don’t think “why are we here?” is a particularly bright or profound question. It’s a very vague and woolly question which presupposes a purpose and straightforward explanation. It’s not a question that I think about, let alone require faith in. However, “why is the distant universe so homogenous if the speed of light is a universal constant?” is a much clearer and interesting question. It leads to useful endeavours, and can produce knowledge that changes our understanding of the universe. Now that’s something I want to know!

    As for theism providing an answer to that question, the answer is so vague and devoid of explanatory power that it’s essentially just a relabelling of ignorance. The greatest philosopher who ever lived, Douglas Adams, wrote a book in which a powerful computer called Deep Thought was asked to provide the answer to life, the universe and everything. After 7 million years computing, Deep Though gave the answer 42. Why are we here? 42. What is the meaning of life? 42. It turned out that the people asking didn’t really know what the question was.

    It’s the same with the theists answer. Why are we here? God. What is the meaning of life? God. Not really any different from saying 42. It’s not an answer, just the illusion of an answer.

    Reply

    • Thanks Mark. In an attempt to make my response more concise, I’m going to capture some quotes from your reply.

      If you can give me an example where widely accepted and non-controversial knowledge has been obtained by means other than the scientific method, then I’m all ears.

      What about the law of non-contradiction, or the law of excluded middle? The notion that God can either exist or not exist (the law of excluded middle) is not testable, but it is a real fact. It’s a law of logic, which is rooted in philosophy. Other examples? What about the existence of George Washington or Shakespeare? Or for that matter, what about your own birth? Singular events are not testable because they’re not repeatable or observable, two fundamental necessities of the scientific method. All of these are examples of knowledge that can be acquired through other means, either through understanding or through inference, without the scientific method.

      That is we never know things 100%, but instead have to assess our evidence and reach a consensus on how likely something is. But what separates good historians from theologians is that historians are upfront about this.

      I would strongly disagree with this notion. The method of inference to the best explanation is what theologians are pushing for. The only resistance is from the naturalist who believes that science is the end-all, be-all for ascertaining knowledge. Theologians are quite ready to say that there are holes in the evidence, but the majority of the evidence we have supports that Jesus existed, was born in Bethlehem, died on a cross outside of Jerusalem, and rose from the dead. The minimal-facts argument for the resurrection I posted a couple of months ago is a perfect example of this, because it’s taking all of the evidence that hundreds of historians, both believing and un-believing, accept as true and positing the best explanation. A consensus is not always the right answer (see geocentrism), but the evidence we have can lead us to make a reasonable assumption.

      Now every professional field has its own laws of logic, which are more advanced than the models being used by philosophers. If you want to discuss logical models used in cosmology, you talk to a physicist.

      Unfortunately, each of those scientific fields must take their cues from philosophy. Cosmology has no answers if the law of non-contradiction fails. Anthropology fails if the deductive method is not reliable. You can’t have logical science without first understanding the philosophical nature of logic. It just can’t happen.

      For your final point, I don’t think “why are we here?” is a particularly bright or profound question. It’s a very vague and woolly question which presupposes a purpose and straightforward explanation…After 7 million years computing, Deep Thought gave the answer 42.

      I don’t think that just because you don’t think about something makes it less profound. Deep Thought had an unreasonable answer because it lacks the ability to reason, which is a distinction given only to man in complex form. “Why are we here?” is the root question behind every other question we ask. “Why is science important?” can only be answered with a value proposition. But we have no reason to assume value unless it is inherent, and we have no way of knowing if it is inherent unless we first ask, “Why are we here?”. “Why should I be nice to people?” implies both value and purpose, which are derived from that same root question. “Why should I want knowledge?”, same exact thing.

      The theist’s answer to the question is a bit more complex than you give it credit for. Ironically, it’s the atheist’s position that is more in line with what you’re talking about. Why are we here? To die. What is the meaning of life? Nothing. What inherent value do we have? None. At ad absurdio reductum, this is the position of the naturalist. Theism offers much more than this, which is why I suggested that only theism has a real answer to the age-old question. Would you ponder that before responding? Just do me a favor, since we are having an amicable discussion, and think about this: what if I’m right? Not Pascal’s Wager, but simply this: what if the atheist has no answer at the end of it all? Perhaps you will be better able to see my position.

      Thanks again for the discussion. You’re right; this is good and pleasant. 🙂

      Reply

    • Posted by Christopher on June 6, 2012 at 2:31 PM

      I think it’s fair to say that knowledge can only be advanced through making testable predictions.

      Only if by “advanced” you mean that we can only find out what isn’t true. Science never proves anything, it only disproves things. Guess what field figured that out? Philosophy.

      but since no two philosophers can ever agree on what that knowledge is, I think it’s safe to disregard that idea.

      False. Philosophers agree on a wide variety of things, such as logic. Yes, epistemology is not a field that has no questions left to answer, but that hardly means that philosophy isn’t a valid source of knowledge.

      On the same token, scientists don’t always agree on things, either. There are a plethora of theories to explain the origins of the universe, the origins of life, etc. Just because they don’t agree about something currently unknown doesn’t mean that what they do know is unreliable.

      I think one problem is that philosophers often assert their theories as “logically true” without doing the hard work to show that they are true in the real world.

      Philosophers actively try to stay up to date on hard sciences.

      After all, it is logically true that, according to the Zeno and the tortoise paradox, I should be unable to overtake cars going half my speed. Yet I do so daily. This is just one example of where clear logic loses out to the messy real world. Just because something is logical is no indication of wether it is true or not, especially since we understand so little of the universe we live in.

      In fact, Zeno’s paradoxes are not logically sound. Not because of science, but because he used bad logic. The math used to disprove his paradoxes had not yet been invented. That, and it seems you have missed the point of his paradoxes.

      Just as a machine that can’t make sausages can’t be called a sausage machine, so a discipline that doesn’t produce testable predictions can’t be called a science.

      No one calls philosophy “science,” although science did used to be nothing more than philosophy. That, and philosophy can make testable predictions.

      If you want to discuss logical models used in cosmology, you talk to a physicist. If you want to discuss logical issues in bioethics, you talk to a doctor. If you want to talk about societal logical models, you talk to an anthropologist. These guys are actually better at logic within their fields than philosophers. This is why no-one listens to philosophers anymore, except for other philosophers.

      Incorrect. Cosmology is based on the laws of physics, which in turn are based on the laws of logic. Cosmology does not directly deal with the laws of logic. The fact that physicists deal strictly with mathematical equations (theoretical sciences, which, ironically enough, is essentially philosophy) instead of words like philosophers does not mean they are “better” at logic. To say that every field has their own “laws of logic” makes no sense, because that would imply it’s possible for the law of non-contradiction to be true to one field and not another.

      You also seem to forget (or ignore, or maybe you just didn’t know) that philosophers also deal with cosmology. There are philosophers of science, and there is even a new field about the philosophy of cosmology.

      (Also, ironically, bioethics is a branch of philosophy.)

      You should also know that your idea that only empirical evidence and the scientific method can produce knowledge is, wait for it…

      …a philosophical claim. Nice.

      Hawkings is not only better at physics than WLC, but he is also better at logic as it’s used in physics, because modern physics incorporates logic. Philosophers don’t know squat about logic anymore – they’re redundant. That’s why the only career option for people with philosophy degrees is teaching philosophy. If they had useful skills to offer society, they’d be snapped up.

      I absolutely agree that Hawking is better at physics than WLC, there is no question about that. And however much I dislike WLC, I’ve not seen him say “Hawking uses philosophy, I’m a philosopher and I say he’s wrong, so therefore he is.” What I have seen him say is that Hawking used a specific model in philosophy that Hawking didn’t seem to be aware of (Hawking called it “model-dependent realism,” I forget what WLC said it was called), and proceeded to explain why he thought it was a bad philosophy.

      To say that “Philosophers don’t know squat about logic anymore” is just stupid, and to think that “the only career option for people with philosophy degrees is teaching philosophy” is plainly false. That some philosophers disagree with you doesn’t mean they “don’t know squat about logic anymore”. In fact, the study of logic in extreme detail is required for a philosophy degree, which can help people get jobs outside of just teaching. Most philosophy degrees are acquired in addition to another degree (unless they do actually want to go into academia); philosophy can help make better business decisions, and many philosophy degrees go hand-in-hand with law degrees. Sam Harris has a B.A. in philosophy, Daniel Dennett has a Doctorate of Philosophy, Christopher Hitchens read philosophy in his free time and studied it in college. Philosophy does more than just get people to ponder deep questions, it also helps teach people how to think better.

      I do not disagree that theism is a bad answer, but that hardly means science is the only way to get the answer. It’s atheists like you who make me lose hope in our movement.

      Reply

  7. Posted by Mark on June 8, 2012 at 8:19 AM

    Hi. I’ve had to put my thinking cap on for my reply.

    I don’t think that the law of non-contradiction is a fact because we’ve found contradictions to it. In the same vein, I don’t think it’s a fact that God can’t exist and simultaneously not exist. You’ve probably heard of Schrodinger’s cat concept, where a cat is in a box with a single electron moving around, and after a timer goes off a vial of poison will be opened if the electron is in one half of the box, and won’t be opened is the electron is in the other half. That means kitty has a 50/50 chance of surviving. But here’s the kicker; an electron moves as a wave, and simultaneously takes all possible routes at all times. But if we “cheat” and look at the electron, the wave collapses and the electron “appears” in one place. So after the timer goes off, the dead/alive status of said feline is also a wave, and the cat is simultaneously both alive and dead. This is termed a superimposition of states, and contradicts the law of non-contradiction. If God is smaller than the Planck constant (a very small size), then we could say he might both exist and not exist.

    This is not just a thought experiment. Testable predictions were made before shooting carbon atoms at barriers. The landing spots showed that a single particle takes every possible path simultaneously, even including going out of the lab, spinning around Jupiter and coming back. It sounds crazy, but it has been tested more than any theory in history, and always works.

    That’s the danger about using logic to determine the nature of the universe; the universe is a crazy, illogical place. A certain philosopher (whom I have mentioned several times already) said that a physical principle should be rejected because “it does severe damage to metaphysics”. When I heard that, I thought “So? If metaphysics and reality disagree, which are you going to choose?”

    As for testing singular events like one’s birth, that’s actually fairly common. For example, an elderly man falsely accused of being an Auschwitz guard would have to prove that someone of his name actually was born on a certain date. Testable predictions might include that there would be school records, siblings with similar DNA profiles or that the accused might be able recall local childhood events that only a local would know. The scientific method requires testable predictions, but it also subjects that evidence to specific reasoning principles. I’m not saying that scientists don’t also use deductive reasoning and logic. I’m saying that logic is incorporated into training for each of the formal sciences, and that philosophers should stop acting as though they have some special claim to it. Of all the scientists in the world, only a tiny minority have had specific philosophical training, and they produce logical science just fine without it.

    Lastly, I’m not sure why not having meaning in life is an ad absurdio reductum. It may not be a conclusion that you like, that that doesn’t make it ridiculous. Personally, I think human beings don’t matter, except to ourselves and to our pets. I’m fine with that, as I don’t need an ultimate über-alpha male to give me purpose.

    As to what if you’re right, and the atheist has no answer at the end of it all. My answer is : Wow, what a mind-blowing universe we live in. We are all surfing the waves of chaos, fashioned by a process taking billions of years to be platforms for our immortal genes on a stage so large that light hasn’t had enough time yet to cross from one end to the other. I’m honoured to be an infinitesimal part of such an amazing construct , and I think it would be cheapened if it turned out to be all about me.

    Reply

    • So after the timer goes off, the dead/alive status of said feline is also a wave, and the cat is simultaneously both alive and dead.

      In actuality, the cat is not both dead and alive at the same time. The cat is alive until it no longer has a heartbeat or brain function. Only then is it dead. The law of excluded middle is what you’re discussing here, which is also a philosophical concept that supports the proposition of the law of non-contradiction. What you’ve done is inserted a theoretical idea as an actual expression. This begs the question (ironically, also a philosophical way to increase knowledge). Sorry, but I don’t really think you’ve made a very compelling case here.

      Testable predictions might include that there would be school records, siblings with similar DNA profiles or that the accused might be able recall local childhood events that only a local would know.

      Nice try, but those are inferences, not testable predictions. The scientific method must ensure repeat-ability of an experiment to work; you can’t repeat someone’s birth. This is a clear mis-understanding of the position, so I won’t hold it against you.

      I’m not saying that scientists don’t also use deductive reasoning and logic. I’m saying that logic is incorporated into training for each of the formal sciences, and that philosophers should stop acting as though they have some special claim to it.

      But as deductive reasoning and logic can be used independent of science, this renders false your initial claim that science is the only way by which we gain knowledge. That’s the only point here.

      Of all the scientists in the world, only a tiny minority have had specific philosophical training, and they produce logical science just fine without it.

      I’ve had little to no psychological training, and yet I still have various feelings and emotions. Some things are innate to our understanding, which coincidentally is more rational on a theistic worldview. Training isn’t the only way to ascertain knowledge either.

      Lastly, I’m not sure why not having meaning in life is an ad absurdio reductum. It may not be a conclusion that you like, that that doesn’t make it ridiculous. Personally, I think human beings don’t matter, except to ourselves and to our pets. I’m fine with that, as I don’t need an ultimate über-alpha male to give me purpose.

      The way you phrased that is perplexing. Your last statement seems to imply that you have purpose, while your second-to-last statement seems to imply that you have no purpose. Can you clarify?

      Reply

  8. Posted by Mark on June 8, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    Hello Christopher. Let me respond to your points.

    It’s atheists like you who make me lose hope in our movement.
    (Mark ponders Christopher losing faith in the movement……..tries to summon the energy to care…….comes up short)
    Science never proves anything, it only disproves things.
    I’ll grant that this is true, but only in the most trivial, wankery sense. Using a more common-sense approach, rockets get launched and bridges stay up, which is proof enough for most people.
    Philosophers actively try to stay up to date on hard sciences.
    Not quite the same as doing the hard work of making testable predictions.
    In fact, Zeno’s paradoxes are not logically sound….. The math used to disprove his paradoxes had not yet been invented.
    If you’re referring to Cantor’s use of transfinite numbers, then that kind of proves my point. Cantor was a Professor of Mathematics, not a philosopher, and he was the one provided proof. In fact, the prominent philosophers of his day, such as Wittgenstein, argued against his theory. To this day, there are still philosophers like Black who hold the paradox unsolved.
    For this argument, I’m using the term philosopher as one would use the term doctor or lawyer. If you’re going to defend philosophy as a primary profession, then you should quote the achievements of people who trained in it as a primary profession.
    That, and philosophy can make testable predictions
    I’m all ears as to what those might be.

    Cosmology does not directly deal with the laws of logic.
    If cosmologists directly deal with logic, then cosmology directly deals with logic. My point is that logic is a core component of each of the formal sciences, and that philosophy has lost the right to make a special claim to it. You say bioethics is a branch of philosophy. Seeing as most of the bioethics heavy lifting is done by doctors, it would be more accurate to say it’s a branch of medicine. When a philosopher discusses bioethics, he is really dealing with principles of medicine. Also, I never said that every fields has its own laws of logic, I said that formal sciences incorporate logic. Different sciences place greater emphasis on different areas of logic.

    There are philosophers of science, and there is even a new field about the philosophy of cosmology.
    O.K., maybe I should give philosophy a chance. Traditionally I’ve thought of it as like literature, i.e. moderately useful for improving critical thinking and for subjects to talk about when drunk, but as useful as tits on a bull in terms of discovering new knowledge. But I could be wrong, and I actually enjoy being proven wrong. To win me over, could you please name 5 philosophical discoveries in the past decade, made by people whose primary profession is philosophy, that are accepted by the vast majority of philosophers as non-controversial and have been taken up by fields outside of philosophy.
    Sam Harris has a B.A. in philosophy, Daniel Dennett has a Doctorate of Philosophy…
    Dennett also told people not to consider a career in philosophy “because we have enough philosophers”. He also said “I view the standard philosophical terminology as worse than useless”
    Susan Haack stated “(philosophy) seems to be ever-more hermetic and cliquish, and the confident, quick and shallow seem often to fare better professionally”
    Chris Hallquist has said “Philosophy is dysfunctional”
    Peter van Inwagen said “Philosophers do not agree about anything to speak of”, and this seems to be confirmed by the 2009 PhilPapers metasurvey.
    Personally, I’d happily accept a good idea or discovery from anyone, regardless of their academic training. Heck, even if they had no academic training. But as a field, philosophy hasn’t progressed and matured like the other fields, and the problem won’t improve if philosophers don’t admit that. Instead, many philosophers talk as though philosophy was still in it’s glory days. They say things like only philosophy gives science power, while not noticing that the formal sciences have run off with most of their intellectual property.

    Moderator note: Mark, I deleted your last comment because I don’t really promote flat-out insults on this blog. The remainder of your post is intact. Thanks.

    Reply

  9. Posted by Christopher on June 8, 2012 at 7:27 PM

    You’ve probably heard of Schrodinger’s cat concept… But here’s the kicker; an electron moves as a wave, and simultaneously takes all possible routes at all times. But if we “cheat” and look at the electron, the wave collapses and the electron “appears” in one place. So after the timer goes off, the dead/alive status of said feline is also a wave, and the cat is simultaneously both alive and dead. This is termed a superimposition of states, and contradicts the law of non-contradiction. If God is smaller than the Planck constant (a very small size), then we could say he might both exist and not exist.

    The irony is that Schrodinger came up with his thought experiment to show how certain interpretations of QM are false. That is, Schrodinger made the point that his thought experiment is absurd, but it is a direct result of (I forget which interpretation it was), so therefore the interpretation had to be wrong. The results of Schrodinger’s cat can be avoided by simply picking a different interpretation, which is arbitrary, because no one knows which is the right one.

    I am not disagreeing with the experiments (which I did back in high school, even). However the conclusion that “The landing spots showed that a single particle takes every possible path simultaneously…” is dependent on the interpretation.

    If metaphysics and reality disagree, which are you going to choose?

    I agree that the uniformity of nature is an assumption; this is why science doesn’t ever prove anything, because it could be the case that something about nature drastically changes. However, you are positing a question that has no actual answer. (Yet, at least.) I’m not aware of anything, in QM or otherwise, that has contradicted metaphysics that would not be an arbitrary idea.

    …philosophers should stop acting as though they have some special claim to it. Of all the scientists in the world, only a tiny minority have had specific philosophical training, and they produce logical science just fine without it.

    I’m not aware of any philosophers who say that only they can do logic. Can you cite me a few?

    Mark ponders Christopher losing faith in the movement……..tries to summon the energy to care…….comes up short

    Nice use of sarcasm.

    I’ll grant that this is true, but only in the most trivial, wankery sense. Using a more common-sense approach, rockets get launched and bridges stay up, which is proof enough for most people.

    Many things are “proof enough for most people,” but that doesn’t mean much, now, does it? Otherwise our science education in America would be terrible. Also, wouldn’t theoretical physics be “trivial” and “wankery”? Unless you’re just assuming that theoretical physics has value and philosophy doesn’t, which would defeat the purpose of making an argument for the truth of it.

    Not quite the same as doing the hard work of making testable predictions.

    Good thing I didn’t say that keeping up with hard sciences are making testable predictions… But, if you want an example of a testable prediction made in philosophy, look no further than consequentialist moral theories. If people don’t want the results that would supposedly happen (a prediction of what follows an event) then it would be falsified.

    If you’re referring to Cantor’s use of transfinite numbers, then that kind of proves my point. Cantor was a Professor of Mathematics, not a philosopher, and he was the one provided proof. In fact, the prominent philosophers of his day, such as Wittgenstein, argued against his theory. To this day, there are still philosophers like Black who hold the paradox unsolved.

    Topology, but yeah. But the fact that Cantor was a professor of mathematics doesn’t prove your point. In fact, it helps prove mine. Mathematics are forms of logic, not science.

    As for philosophers of this day, I ask if you could provide me with Black’s first name or article, as “Black” is a somewhat common name.

    My point is that logic is a core component of each of the formal sciences, and that philosophy has lost the right to make a special claim to it.

    When we see things like Krauss saying empty space is nothing, despite the existence of space, laws, etc. (i.e. something), then it’s hard to argue your point.

    You say bioethics is a branch of philosophy. Seeing as most of the bioethics heavy lifting is done by doctors, it would be more accurate to say it’s a branch of medicine. When a philosopher discusses bioethics, he is really dealing with principles of medicine.

    Philosophers discuss it, doctors put it into practice.

    Also, I never said that every fields has its own laws of logic, I said that formal sciences incorporate logic. Different sciences place greater emphasis on different areas of logic.

    You said “Now every professional field has its own laws of logic, which are more advanced than the models being used by philosophers.”

    O.K., maybe I should give philosophy a chance. Traditionally I’ve thought of it as like literature, i.e. moderately useful for improving critical thinking and for subjects to talk about when drunk, but as useful as tits on a bull in terms of discovering new knowledge.

    It depends on how you’re defining philosophy, really.

    To win me over…

    For some reason, I don’t think that I could convince you otherwise.

    …could you please name 5 philosophical discoveries in the past decade, made by people whose primary profession is philosophy, that are accepted by the vast majority of philosophers as non-controversial and have been taken up by fields outside of philosophy.

    I think you misunderstand how philosophy works. There aren’t “discoveries” like in science, there are arguments put forth for discussion. Some of which are things such as personhood theories (you may have heard about the recent outrage over after-birth abortions), business planning, political decisions (judicial, executive, legislative, as well as campaign ethics, etc.).

    Dennett: I view the standard philosophical terminology as worse than useless

    Philosophers aren’t the best at communicating with the public. Many people recognize this. So?

    I also couldn’t find the other quote of his.

    Also, you can always find people who talk bad about philosophy, just like you can find people who talk bad about science. Not sure what your point was with that.

    As for the metasurvey, you can find it here. There doesn’t to be as much of a disagreement as you think. In many cases, it’s roughly half and half. (Of course, if you come at it in the perspective that there has to be one answer then this will seem odd, but when you come at it from the perspective that people are using arguments for their position instead of another method, this is what one might expect.)

    Reply

  10. Posted by Mark on June 9, 2012 at 10:53 PM

    Hi again.

    With respect, I think you’ve either failed to properly engage with the Schrodinger cat concept, or failed to understand it. If it’s the latter, you’re in good company. Sir Eddington was once asked whether it was trued that only three people understood Einstein’s theory of relativity, and he replied “I’m trying to think of who the third person might be”. The situation is even more marked for quantum mechanics. Richard Feynham, who received the Nobel Prize for quantum mechanics research, said “I think it’s safe to say that no-one understands quantum mechanics”. Nevertheless, quantum mechanics is the most tested theory in human history, provides amazingly accurate results and is used in modern appliances such as lasers and MRI machines.

    I think the mistake you are making is in assuming that the cat is either alive or dead, and we just don’t know which until the box is opened. This is not what quantum mechanics predicts. Quantum mechanics predicts that the cat is both simultaneously alive and dead at the same times, and exists in a superposition of states or, to use Schrödinger’s original words, “”the living and dead cat are mixed or smeared out in equal parts”. When an observer checks, the waveform of the alive-dead state collapses to a point, and the cat becomes alive or dead. (This is the Copenhagen theory, the other competing theory, the multiverse theory, states that the universe splits into two universes, one with a live cat and one with a dead cat). This has nothing to do with the law of the excluded middle, which states that for any proposition either the proposition is true or its negation is true. This is about showing that if empirical data runs counter to our intuition and philosophy, then our intuition and philosophy got it wrong.

    Schrödinger’s cat is not just a theoretical idea; Schrödinger’s state has been experimentally reproduced. Just to show that I hold myself to the same standards that I hold others, here is a link showing that superposition of states has been achieved experimentally, both with photons and beryllium atoms. Technological limitations (as well as ethical restrictions)prevent us from testing on anything as large as a cat, but there is no reason why superposition of states should have a size limit, and could include the whole universe. Note the difference: scientists make testable predictions, and look for evidence to prove or disprove their theory.

    For all our differences, you seem generally interested in understanding the Universe and expanding your knowledge. I urge you to take this chance to test your assumptions. You say non-contradiction is a fact and a law; I say it’s an unproven assertion, and I’ve found exceptions to it. Take some reading on quantum physics. Internet can give you a start, and I recommend two book; “The Grand Design” by Hawking and Mlodinow and “In Search of the Multiverse” by John Gribbin.

    (Nice try, but those are inferences, not testable predictions)
    I think you severely misunderstand the scientific method. I agree that the scientific method requires repeatability of experiments, but that experiment doesn’t have to be direct visualisation of said event. If it did, science would stop, as all science uses inferences based on data to construct models. After all, we can’t see gravity or DNA, but that doesn’t stop us devising experiments for them.

    Demonstrating someone’s birth is not a good example of advancing scientific knowledge, because one aspect of the scientific method is that the results of a theory, if shown true, should be surprising and unexpected. There’s not much unexpected about an individual’s birth, given what we’ve studied and know of human physiology. Nevertheless, the tests I suggested make predictions that are clear and precise, surprising (i.e. wouldn’t be true for majority of people) and vulnerable to falsification. They therefore meet the standards of the scientific method. Also, they are repeatable – you can ask someone about their childhood as many times as you like

    You seem to think that the scientific method doesn’t involve making inferences from data. This is not true. Yes, science is based on empirical and measurable evidence, but that evidence is comprised of data subjected to specific principles of reasoning and logic (usually predefined before testing took place). Saying that science doesn’t make inferences from data is a straw-…..whoa, just caught myself from using unnecessary jargon. Let’s just say that it is demonstrable false. The difference between science and philosophy is not that one makes predictions and the other makes inferences; the difference is that science make use of both testable predictions and designs models using inference from collected data, whereas philosophy is predominantly unproven speculation.
    (But as deductive reasoning and logic can be used independent of science, this renders false your initial claim that science is the only way by which we gain knowledge)

    Yes, deductive reasoning and logic can be used independently of science, but not to gain knowledge. For example, you mentioned the law of the excluded middle, but if it’s never been tested, then how do you know it’s true? What raises it above the level of speculation?

    (Your last statement seems to imply that you have purpose, while your second-to-last statement seems to imply that you have no purpose. Can you clarify?)

    Sure. I get more than enough purpose from my community. I actually have so much purpose, that my family is asking me to slow down. And I don’t see how supernatural beings would increase the purpose in my life. If Thor appeared before me and told me my purpose in life was to kill left-handed people, I wouldn’t consider myself to have gained any extra purpose.

    Reply

    • Sorry, Mark. I was waiting on approving these until I had time to look over them and respond. I haven’t really had much time and don’t see it coming in the future. So I think I’ll just leave it that I disagree with pretty much every point here (particularly how the scientific method is applied), but I don’t have time to give it a full response, so we’ll just agree to disagree and move on. Thanks for coming on here with well-thought-out rebuttals and generally respectful tone. Perhaps we’ll have some good discussions down the road. Thanks for stopping by, and have a great one!

      Reply

  11. Posted by Mark on June 9, 2012 at 10:54 PM

    Sorry, can’t embed the link to beryllium superposition of states: here is the long version:
    http://www.quantumsciencephilippines.com/seminar/seminar-topics/SchrodingerCatAtom.pdf

    Reply

  12. Posted by Mark on June 10, 2012 at 4:30 AM

    Hi Christopher.

    Yep, Schrodinger thought he was making an ad absurdio reductum argument; however the physics community didn’t think it was ridiculous. It’s not the first time this has happened in science; the term Big Bang was originally coined by Fred Hoyle to mock the hypothesis, as he believed in the steady-state theory. I’m not aware of alternative explanations of the bucky-ball experiment other than single particles displaying wave-like properties producing self-interference patterns. If there are any, I’d appreciate the chance to read them. There is some experimental evidence supporting superposition of states in atoms and photons (see above link). I believe this means that metaphysics theory needs to be redefined by QM, just as Newtonian physics was redefined.

    (I’m not aware of any philosophers who say that only they can do logic. Can you cite me a few.)

    That was a response to sabepashhubbo’s comment that “One must laws of logic which are in the realm of philosophy”. More subtly, WLC has a history of declaring physicists and biologists arguments as illogical based on his view of philosophical theory, with the unspoken assumption that logic as practiced by philosophers is superior to logic as practiced by the formal sciences. And yes, there is a difference in how the different disciplines use logic.

    (Nice use of sarcasm. )

    Thank you.

    (As for philosophers of this day, I ask if you could provide me with Black’s first name or article, as “Black” is a somewhat common name)

    Professor Max Black of Cornell University wrote a paper on Zeno’s paradox and infinity machines in 1951.

    (Philosophers discuss it, doctors put it into practice )

    Trust me, doctors discuss it too.

    (You said “Now every professional field has its own laws of logic, which are more advanced than the models being used by philosophers.”)

    Fair point. I should have chosen my words better to convey my meaning.

    (For some reason, I don’t think that I could convince you otherwise )

    You’d be wrong. I actually do read and enjoy philosophy in my spare time. I’d happily also agree that it has the potential to improve critical thinking and has made great cultural contributions. My issue with it today is that it is being abused by people with an ideological agenda to circumvent the scientific method and claim something as proven, without ever rising from their armchairs. It is also used by some to justify commenting on issues outside their area of expertise. Overuse of philosophical jargon also obscures communication, and can give a false impression of intelligence by baffling rather than illuminating.

    Granted the majority of philosophers aren’t like this, but the academic isolation, fragmented nature and lack of consensus-forming mechanisms in modern philosophy allow it to happen, and all professional philosophers share responsibility for philosophy’s current state.

    Like I said, I’ll happily accept any contribution philosophy makes to culture or knowledge. There’s certainly a lot of areas where scientists could use some help, and philosophy does have some brilliant minds. But modern philosophy needs to make some major changes. First piece of advice: Get cited in non-philosophy scientific journals. This may mean working with other disciplines to find ways to help. Second piece of advice: have national philosophical associations grade philosophical theories with standardized rules for reasoning and evidence, so to create consensus. Third piece of advice: develop ways to test philosophical theories.

    Cheers

    Reply

  13. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on June 16, 2012 at 2:29 AM

    Do you need a positive argument to express your disbelief in unicorns and fairies? I’d say not, because you don’t need one all you need is to say that the absence of any convincing evidence is good enough reason not to believe that these things exist.

    If my position was ‘I believe no God(s) exist’ then you might rightly challenge me to back this up with something, however my position is actually ‘I see no good reason to believe that God(s) exist’ – a position for which the only support I need is the lack of evidence and the lack of convincing arguments.

    Reply

    • As I’ve said to several others here, if there is truth to the atheistic worldview, then it should be defensible. I could certainly create many positive arguments in favor of my disbelief in unicorns, but you’d be hard-pressed to apply the same positive arguments to your atheism, because God and unicorns are different in their expression by believers. Unicorn-believers don’t believe unicorns created the universe, for instance.

      All I’m saying is that if atheism wants to consider itself the “more logical” worldview, there will be more logical arguments to support it. I think Christopher is much further along in his beliefs than anyone else, because he actually has “reasons to believe” that atheism is true. And let’s face it; all atheists “believe” that their disbelief is correct. You can take the negative position if you really want to, but that does nothing to make atheism seem more logical, and that’s the point I’m making here.

      Reply

    • Posted by Christopher on June 16, 2012 at 8:02 AM

      Do you have a reason that you “have a disbelief in unicorns and fairies?” If you do, then you should provide your reasons. If you don’t, then you’re being unreasonable (by definition). That is, in essence, what sabepashubbo and I are getting at.

      Reply

  14. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on June 16, 2012 at 8:41 AM

    “As I’ve said to several others here, if there is truth to the atheistic worldview, then it should be defensible. I could certainly create many positive arguments in favor of my disbelief in unicorns, but you’d be hard-pressed to apply the same positive arguments to your atheism, because God and unicorns are different in their expression by believers. Unicorn-believers don’t believe unicorns created the universe, for instance.”

    Atheism, at least of the kind I subscribe to, does not make a truth claim. All I claim is that without adequate evidence there is no reason to accept that the proposition ‘God exists is true’. Now lets say I tell you that I have a herd of elephants in my garden. You come a long, you see no elephants, and find no obvious signs that any elephants had been there. You cannot claim that there definitely are no elephants there with 100% certainty because I might meticulously go out there and cover up their tracks etc. However, do you, or do you not think that you’d be justified in disbelieving my claim, having seen no convincing evidence?

    If you did disbelieve me, do you think I would be correct to say ‘well you have to offer some positive arguments as to why you disbelieve my claim’? Or would you be correct in citing mere lack of positive evidence as justification enough for your disbelief? The burden of proof remember is on those who make the positive claim… If the burden is not met sufficiently then it is perfectly justifiable not to accept the claim. As Christopher Hitchens said “that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”.

    This is the argument for atheism. There is no positive claim, therefore no positive argument needs to be put forth, just as you’d be right to laugh at me if I told you to prove to me that I don’t have any elephants in my garden.

    “All I’m saying is that if atheism wants to consider itself the “more logical” worldview, there will be more logical arguments to support it. I think Christopher is much further along in his beliefs than anyone else, because he actually has “reasons to believe” that atheism is true. And let’s face it; all atheists “believe” that their disbelief is correct. You can take the negative position if you really want to, but that does nothing to make atheism seem more logical, and that’s the point I’m making here.”

    The logic is simple: there are as yet no convincing arguments/evidence for the existence of God therefore belief in God is unjustified. Simple. That is a logically sound position. Its the same position people take on the existence of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and so on. I don’t need a complex logical argument to justify my scepticism about Bigfoot, all I need to do is cite the absence of anything convincing enough to make me believe it.

    Reply

    • If there is no truth claim, then we have no reason to accept anything that you say or believe, because there is no truth in it. If there is truth, then you must have a reason for it, and that requires a defensible position.

      If you made the “elephant claim,” I’d darn well better have some positive arguments to support my disbelief in your assertion. Now, if you didn’t have any logical positive arguments in favor of your position, then all I’d need is one. But I could create several positive arguments to support my disbelief. The key here is that your position assumes there is no evidence to support the theist’s argument. I think that’s an extremely untenable position. I think most intellectual atheists would agree that there is evidence in favor of theism, just not particularly convincing evidence in their opinion.

      What do you say to someone like Christopher or Oppy who DOES believe atheism and theism share the burden of proof, yet are still atheists? How do you reconcile your position with theirs?

      The logic is simple: there are as yet no convincing arguments/evidence for the existence of God therefore belief in God is unjustified.

      This statement necessitates one of two things: 1) that it is not considered a logical argument and therefore can’t be applied to my statement, thereby making your atheism less logical than theism, or 2) this is a logical argument with a positive claim, which requires some act of defense. I personally think it looks like the latter, so I’m just asking you to defend it. Christopher certainly had no problem doing so, which is why I can’t understand why the hackles raise when I make a simple observation about the use of logic. If it’s more logical, that should be easy enough to demonstrate using logical arguments. If it’s not, it won’t be. It’s really quite simple.

      Reply

      • Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on June 18, 2012 at 3:18 PM

        “If there is no truth claim, then we have no reason to accept anything that you say or believe, because there is no truth in it. If there is truth, then you must have a reason for it, and that requires a defensible position.”

        How does that follow?

        All I am saying is “I currently find no convincing reason to believe in the existence of God” is not make a claim about what is true or not. Its a claim about what the current state of evidence is and my position regarding it.

        “If you made the “elephant claim,” I’d darn well better have some positive arguments to support my disbelief in your assertion. Now, if you didn’t have any logical positive arguments in favor of your position, then all I’d need is one. But I could create several positive arguments to support my disbelief. The key here is that your position assumes there is no evidence to support the theist’s argument. I think that’s an extremely untenable position. I think most intellectual atheists would agree that there is evidence in favor of theism, just not particularly convincing evidence in their opinion.”

        There is no evidence that I find convincing in support of the theists position. It would be analogous to me showing you some broken sticks on the floor and claiming they were broken by the elephant, you might not accept that these sticks were undeniably broken by the elephant, ergo you’d still be justified in disbelieving me based on the state of the evidence put forth.

        “What do you say to someone like Christopher or Oppy who DOES believe atheism and theism share the burden of proof, yet are still atheists? How do you reconcile your position with theirs?”

        I’d need to know more about their position first. I believe that an atheist who says “I believe there is no God” has a burden of proof to fulfil. But those who do not claim such things (like yours truly) do not have a burden of proof to fulfil, other than perhaps explaining why they find theists arguments unconvincing.

        “This statement necessitates one of two things: 1) that it is not considered a logical argument and therefore can’t be applied to my statement, thereby making your atheism less logical than theism, or 2) this is a logical argument with a positive claim, which requires some act of defense. I personally think it looks like the latter, so I’m just asking you to defend it. Christopher certainly had no problem doing so, which is why I can’t understand why the hackles raise when I make a simple observation about the use of logic. If it’s more logical, that should be easy enough to demonstrate using logical arguments. If it’s not, it won’t be. It’s really quite simple.”

        I could offer justification for my position. Although I don’t think this is the time or the place. I’m sure you get the idea from reading some of my posts.

      • How does it follow that truth is defensible? I’m not quite sure what you’re asking.

        Regarding the “broken sticks,” I would say that until I put forth a better positive argument for the broken sticks, my disbelief in your claim would be unjustified on the merits, whether I ended up being right or not.

        I understand your point on burden of proof, but if I’m making the case that theism is a more logical worldview because it has more positive arguments, then for you to counter-claim against that, you need to provide some sort of case on your own. “Their arguments aren’t very good” doesn’t suggest anything about atheism being more logical (in fact atheism doesn’t even show up in such a counter-claim!), so the negative claim in this instance doesn’t even really apply, and in reality fails to meet the criteria necessary to even have the discussion.

        You say you can offer justification for your position. In the form of positive arguments? If so, great! If not, then you have no basis for considering atheism the more logical worldview. That’s all I’m getting at here.

    • Posted by Christopher on June 18, 2012 at 11:13 AM

      Here’s the irony, you just gave a positive argument for your disbelief by quoting Hitchens. Granted, it is a simplified argument that could be expounded upon, but the point remains. In fact, it can be formulated the following way:

      If a then b.
      A
      therefore b.

      If there is no evidence, then we can dismiss it without evidence.
      We have no evidence.
      Therefore, we can dismiss it without evidence.

      Certainly, most arguments would be inductive, and may only support a sort of “weak agnosticism,” but that doesn’t mean we cannot produce those arguments. In fact, many philosophers have produced those arguments.

      Also, to say that there “are as yet no convincing arguments/evidence for the existence of God” seems to be a bit confusing. There are many valid arguments, in that they logically make sense, but there may/may not be any true, or “sound”, arguments. One could certainly think there are sound arguments for theism without being a theist, but they would have to simply think that arguments against the truth of theism (in whichever manner you chose) are equally as sound and thus “cancel” each other out.

      I can give reasons for my lack of belief in Bigfoot, why couldn’t it be the same for God?

      Reply

      • Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on June 18, 2012 at 3:42 PM

        “Here’s the irony, you just gave a positive argument for your disbelief by quoting Hitchens. Granted, it is a simplified argument that could be expounded upon, but the point remains. In fact, it can be formulated the following way:
        If a then b.
        A
        therefore b.
        If there is no evidence, then we can dismiss it without evidence.
        We have no evidence.
        Therefore, we can dismiss it without evidence.
        Certainly, most arguments would be inductive, and may only support a sort of “weak agnosticism,” but that doesn’t mean we cannot produce those arguments. In fact, many philosophers have produced those arguments.”

        I get what you’re saying however, I don’t feel it is the kind of positive argument that sabepashubbo is asking for… Perhaps I am mistaken?

        “Also, to say that there “are as yet no convincing arguments/evidence for the existence of God” seems to be a bit confusing. There are many valid arguments, in that they logically make sense, but there may/may not be any true, or “sound”, arguments. One could certainly think there are sound arguments for theism without being a theist, but they would have to simply think that arguments against the truth of theism (in whichever manner you chose) are equally as sound and thus “cancel” each other out.”

        I’m speaking for myself. Perhaps I should have been clearer on that.

        “I can give reasons for my lack of belief in Bigfoot, why couldn’t it be the same for God?”

        I can offer reasons, I don’t find the evidence and arguments put forth in favour of God’s existence are convincing. Having looked at them I find that none of them are completely sound. Also, arguments are not sufficient to prove that something exists. There is a logical argument that says the Higgs particle must exist in order to make sense of everything that we know about particle physics, however this is no enough to win the Nobel prize in and of itself. The argument is sound, but it makes the assumption that everything we know about particle physics is correct, thus we need more than just an argument to prove it. Lets say that the Kalam Cosmological Argument is completely sound (in my opinion it isn’t, but lets assume it is), it could be completely consistent with everything we know, but it doesn’t prove God because everything we know could be proven wrong… You’d need some further evidence to prove God in my opinion, just as you’d need something more than an argument to prove the Higgs particle.

      • Posted by Christopher on June 18, 2012 at 5:51 PM

        You say that “There is no evidence that I find convincing in support of the theists position… Having looked at them I find that none of them are completely sound.” Certainly, this is a claim to fact about your subjective person; I, and I would say sabepashubbo would agree, that we are not asking whether it’s a true claim for you. What we would ask is, Why do you think the evidence/arguments are not convincing? Why should we agree with you? Because personally, I disagree. I think there are some valid arguments for theism, although I can’t say about the soundness; I just happen to think that the arguments for the nonexistence of God are better.

        So, the question I would (hypothetically) ask is, Why are the arguments for theism that I think are valid actually invalid, and why are the arguments for the nonexistence of the God no better?

        [A]rguments are not sufficient to prove that something exists.

        I have to disagree; I’m not an empiricist. But, I would have to give my reasons for this (which is a discussion for a different time).

  15. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on June 18, 2012 at 5:23 PM

    “How does it follow that truth is defensible? I’m not quite sure what you’re asking.”

    I’m asking how it follows from:

    “Atheism, at least of the kind I subscribe to, does not make a truth claim”

    to

    “we have no reason to accept anything that you say or believe, because there is no truth in it”

    “Regarding the “broken sticks,” I would say that until I put forth a better positive argument for the broken sticks, my disbelief in your claim would be unjustified on the merits, whether I ended up being right or not.”

    Well you could just say “I don’t find that convincing, there needs to be something to show that those sticks were definitely broken by an elephant, rather than, say, across your knee”. It might turn out that the sticks were broken by an elephant, but without anything else to go by, your skepticism would be justified.

    “I understand your point on burden of proof, but if I’m making the case that theism is a more logical worldview because it has more positive arguments, then for you to counter-claim against that, you need to provide some sort of case on your own. “Their arguments aren’t very good” doesn’t suggest anything about atheism being more logical (in fact atheism doesn’t even show up in such a counter-claim!), so the negative claim in this instance doesn’t even really apply, and in reality fails to meet the criteria necessary to even have the discussion.”

    Well my case would be to point out the flaws that I perceive in your case, and say “this is why I’m not convinced”, just as you might say regarding my broken sticks “these sticks don’t necessarily have to have been broken by an elephant, therefore your case that you own an elephant is not convincing”. My position is one of “I’m not convinced” so I only have to justify why that is so – and to do so all I need to do is to explain why I don’t find the evidence/arguments put forth convincing.

    “You say you can offer justification for your position. In the form of positive arguments? If so, great! If not, then you have no basis for considering atheism the more logical worldview. That’s all I’m getting at here.”

    I can offer some arguments, although I do not see them as an integral part of my atheism. In other words if they were shown to be inaccurate I would still be an atheist (because my case rests not on my own positive arguments, but rather my inability to be convinced by theists arguments). I’d say the problem of evil is a good argument for atheism or at the very least deism. I’d say that the lack of any universal revelation that leaves everyone without doubt as to the existence of God is a good argument. I’d say the fact that everything in the universe works without the assumption of God is a good argument and so on…

    Reply

    • It follows because if there is no truth claim, there is nothing to be believed. One can only believe the truth or believe a lie. So unless you’re willing to submit that you are lying, the only way we can believe anything you say if it is the truth, which means there is a presentable and defensible truth claim. So it’s up to you on how you want to approach it, but I suggest the “negative claim” approach to be rather inadequate if you wish to be taken seriously.

      On the “broken sticks,” this is the logical fallacy of appealing to common sense. Yes, common sense says that I might be able to believe there is another explanation, but that doesn’t make my position logically valid. I need to construct a logical argument in order to make it more than just my opinion. Then the evidence can be weighed and the most logical explanation derived. But it’s necessary to make logical claims in order to have a perspective to be considered “more logical.”

      Finally, on your justification, I would be curious to see what LOGICAL arguments you can construct to support your atheism. Otherwise, logically your atheism is unjustified, and it is just one opinion without any real merit, so there’s no basis to believe anything you say. These points all tie together, because they’re rooted in an unwillingness to substantiate your position with a real defense. Only if and when you make a truth claim that is based on logical arguments can we consider your position even close to “more logical.” And since that’s the topic of my post, that’s all I’m trying to demonstrate here.

      Reply

      • Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on June 22, 2012 at 2:00 PM

        “It follows because if there is no truth claim, there is nothing to be believed. One can only believe the truth or believe a lie. So unless you’re willing to submit that you are lying, the only way we can believe anything you say if it is the truth, which means there is a presentable and defensible truth claim. So it’s up to you on how you want to approach it, but I suggest the “negative claim” approach to be rather inadequate if you wish to be taken seriously.”

        Here’s the logic behind my atheism:

        A cannot be both true and false.

        Therefore A is either true or false.

        It is possible however that the truth or falsehood of A is unknown currently, or is un-knowable.

        In this instance it is reasonable to suspend positive/negative belief in A until the truth or falsehood of A is known.

        I make no claims about the existence or non existence of a something. I believe neither of these statements: God exists, and God does not exist. God might exist, God might not exist. I will concede that there is a truth claim in my belief that the existence of God has not been established sufficiently enough for me to be able to say with any confidence that God does or does not exist. This is the point upon which we differ. I fail to see however that this position negates anything I say.

        “On the “broken sticks,” this is the logical fallacy of appealing to common sense. Yes, common sense says that I might be able to believe there is another explanation, but that doesn’t make my position logically valid. I need to construct a logical argument in order to make it more than just my opinion. Then the evidence can be weighed and the most logical explanation derived. But it’s necessary to make logical claims in order to have a perspective to be considered “more logical.””

        I never said it makes your position valid, it may well have been an elephant that broke the sticks, however, I believe that the existence of other plausible explanations would justify your disbelief, whether you ultimately turn out to be right or wrong. It is a logical argument:

        A may have been caused by B, however it also may have been caused by C, or D, or E (and so on)…

        Therefore without any convincing reason to believe B over C, D or E there is no reason to accept the proposition that B definitely was the cause, due to the plausibility of C, D and E.

        This makes for a reasonable argument if you ask me.

        “Finally, on your justification, I would be curious to see what LOGICAL arguments you can construct to support your atheism. Otherwise, logically your atheism is unjustified, and it is just one opinion without any real merit, so there’s no basis to believe anything you say. These points all tie together, because they’re rooted in an unwillingness to substantiate your position with a real defense. Only if and when you make a truth claim that is based on logical arguments can we consider your position even close to “more logical.” And since that’s the topic of my post, that’s all I’m trying to demonstrate here.”

        I justified my atheism logically earlier in this post, let me just go through it again:

        1. Either God exists or does not exist
        2. God’s existence or non-existence has not been established with any degree of certainty.
        3. Therefore belief with certainty that God does or does not exist is not justified.

        Point 2, I will admit is an area of contention, however I feel it is a point that I am able to defend. For the time being lets say you accept 2, is this not then a logical argument?

      • What I’m saying is this: why should we believe “In this instance it is reasonable to suspend positive/negative belief in A until the truth or falsehood of A is known.” How can we even know that statement is true if it contains no truth claim? We have nothing to hold onto if there is no truth claim, so should we suspend our belief in your suspension of belief? And what does that leave us with?

        Therefore without any convincing reason to believe B over C, D or E there is no reason to accept the proposition that B definitely was the cause, due to the plausibility of C, D and E.

        In a vacuum, yes. But do you see how you needed to construct a logical argument there to make your point? That’s all I’m getting at. Now to your formal logical argument…

        I justified my atheism logically earlier in this post, let me just go through it again:

        1. Either God exists or does not exist
        2. God’s existence or non-existence has not been established with any degree of certainty.
        3. Therefore belief with certainty that God does or does not exist is not justified.

        This is an extremely valid argument…for agnosticism. There is no justification for atheism on this argument, because the conclusion of the argument is “we just don’t know,” which is pure agnosticism. So if you’re willing to drop your claim as an atheist and call yourself an agnostic, we’re good. If you wish to call yourself an atheist, then you need a positive argument in favor of atheism, explaining why atheism is the best explanation of the evidence. That is what theism offers.

      • Posted by Christopher on June 22, 2012 at 3:44 PM

        Doctor Bad Sign, I think that’s exactly the kind of thing we are looking for. (At least, that’s what I would be looking for.) You have your position (be it agnosticism, negative/weak atheism, or whatever you chose to call it), and you gave a reason for why you hold that position.

    • Posted by Christopher on June 19, 2012 at 5:28 PM

      It is a fact that you do not believe in the existence of God. All we are saying is that you should be able to say why this is the case for you.

      Reply

  16. Posted by Mark on June 18, 2012 at 7:56 PM

    Christopher,

    Just out of curiosity:

    What are your reasons for not believing in Bigfoot?

    Reply

    • Posted by Christopher on June 19, 2012 at 5:26 PM

      Firstly, because we have not had any fossil evidence. Secondly, we have not had any reliable testimony; all of the testimonies we have are dubious, unverifiable, and anecdotal. Thirdly, we have (yet) been unable to place where Bigfoot would fall in an evolutionary picture.

      If all of this is taken into account, then a simple Bayesian analysis would show that Bigfoot truth claims are more likely false.

      Reply

  17. Posted by Mark on June 20, 2012 at 1:50 AM

    Christopher,

    All of the reasons you gave apply equally well to God. I think that, by the standard of argument that you are asking Dr. Bad Sign to meet, you yourself have failed to provide a positive argument against Bigfoot. This is especially true if Bigfoot-theists used the same evidence-immunizing tactics (e.g. Bigfoot doesn’t have bones, didn’t evolve, etc.).

    The Bigfoot question is important, because sabpashubbo and yourself have yet to demonstrate that philosophy can disprove the existence of anything. I don’t believe it can, but if you can logically disprove Bigfoot for me, I’ll change my mind.

    Sabepashubbo’s point about unicorn- believers not thinking that unicorns created he universe was irrelevant to the point being made, I.e. what is the level if evidence required to determine existence.
    As a side-note, I haven’t been too impressed with Sabepashubbo’s use of logic so far. In this thread alone, he’s misunderstood the law of the excluded middle, ad abusrdio reductum, principles of the scientific method and refuses to provide a definition for the thread topic, all while repeating ‘logic’ like a mantra. Sabepashubbo, you’re under no obligation to take advice from me. But I’m assuming that you want to effectively reach an atheist audience. You will be more effective if you use your own words and avoid unnecessary jargon. You’ll find that if your ideas are valid, then you won’t need jargon to communicate. Alternatively, an audience can always tell when someone is out of their depth regarding their topic.

    Reply

    • Mark,

      I don’t think the misunderstanding is on my part. I’ve used both the law of excluded middle and ad absurdio reductum in exactly the manner in which they are defined. I of course would like to effectively reach out to everyone, but my primary audience is not someone like you. Yet it is only the staunch atheists that feel the need to come on my blog. I’m pretty sure I have no hope of convincing someone like you of the truth. You’re too resolute. So I just pray that God reaches you some other way.

      I think anyone who reads our conversation knows who is a bit out of depth. Even Christopher, who sympathizes with your worldview, criticized your position as weak. All I’ve asked for is positive logical arguments from you guys. A “more logical” position will, by definition, use more logic. And yet only one person (well, sort of two–Allalt did sort of attempt) has given me anything to this point. Everyone else has used the “negative claim” defense (which I have continually shown to fail in this regard) or attempted an appeal to common sense.

      I’d be more than happy if you didn’t feel the need to come here anymore. If you do, I will still post your comments and respond. But your arguments have devolved into personal attacks, which means they’re contributing nothing of value. Perhaps you will do better to post somewhere that people don’t see the gaping holes in your arguments. I don’t think you’ll have much luck here.

      Reply

    • Posted by Christopher on June 20, 2012 at 9:08 AM

      All of the reasons you gave apply equally well to God. I think that, by the standard of argument that you are asking Dr. Bad Sign to meet, you yourself have failed to provide a positive argument against Bigfoot. This is especially true if Bigfoot-theists used the same evidence-immunizing tactics (e.g. Bigfoot doesn’t have bones, didn’t evolve, etc.).

      Then you have apparently been completely misunderstanding what I’m arguing. I gave three reasons why I lack a belief in the existence of Bigfoot. I never said that reasons similar to this are bad, I said people should be able to defend them.

      I’m not saying a person who takes the following to be true of themselves, ‘it is not the case that x believes that p,’ then has to defend ‘x believes that not p.’ I’m saying that they have to be able to explain why ‘it is not the case that x believes that p.’

      Reply

  18. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on June 22, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    “What I’m saying is this: why should we believe “In this instance it is reasonable to suspend positive/negative belief in A until the truth or falsehood of A is known.” How can we even know that statement is true if it contains no truth claim? We have nothing to hold onto if there is no truth claim, so should we suspend our belief in your suspension of belief? And what does that leave us with?”

    Perhaps we misunderstand each other… I am not saying that there is no truth whatsoever in my position, what I am saying is my position makes no claims about the objective existence or non-existence of a something (i.e: God). It doesn’t say the proposition ‘God exists’ is true, nor does it say the proposition ‘God does not exist’ is true. In other words it makes no claims of truth in that regard. I think the proposition you quoted above is true.

    “This is an extremely valid argument…for agnosticism. There is no justification for atheism on this argument, because the conclusion of the argument is “we just don’t know,” which is pure agnosticism. So if you’re willing to drop your claim as an atheist and call yourself an agnostic, we’re good. If you wish to call yourself an atheist, then you need a positive argument in favor of atheism, explaining why atheism is the best explanation of the evidence. That is what theism offers.”

    Well to be exact my position is ‘agnostic atheist’. ‘Theism’, at least as far as I am aware deals with belief, ‘gnosticism’ deals with knowledge. One can reasonably be an agnostic theist (‘I believe that God exists, however I do not believe it’s possible to know that God exists’), my position is thus; I do not believe it is [currently] possible to know whether or not God exists, therefore I disbelieve the proposition ‘God exists’.

    Perhaps an analogy would make more sense of it; we currently do not have adequate evidence to show that there is life on Mars (in other words knowledge is lacking; agnosticism) therefore, I see no good reason to believe that there is (disbelief; atheism).

    Reply

    • So let me just make sure I’m understanding it right. You believe this statement–“In this instance it is reasonable to suspend positive/negative belief in A until the truth or falsehood of A is known.”–is true? Or some other proposition?

      Regarding “agnostic atheism,” I suppose we have differing opinions on the terminology. Theism to me is a worldview. It might be predicated on certain beliefs, but it is actually a lens by which you view the world. I would say atheism is the same, which is why it necessitates a truth claim (glad that we’ve sort of come to an agreement on that fact; I agree that a truth claim doesn’t necessarily mean positive claim, but rather a claim that is defensible). Gnosticism is about knowledge–you are right. But to be a-gnostic means “without knowledge.” That means that there is no knowledge about the truth of the claim. And to me thats a false opinion. The implication of such an ideal is that there is no evidence offered up by which we can gain some knowledge about the truth. I think we would all agree that theists offer up evidence; it’s simply that atheists believe the evidence to be unconvincing.

      So to me it seems unfair to use the term agnostic when there is a clear leaning one way or another. If you agree or disagree with even one piece of evidence, then you have some knowledge of what you believe to be the truth, and you are now in the realm of “gnostic.” I understand what the connotation might mean to consider yourself a “gnostic atheist,” as the terms are fairly mainstream now and would cause many to pigeonhole you into an equal or greater burden of proof that you feel no need to hold. But it’s simply my contention that one cannot be both agnostic and an atheist, because an atheist affirms or holds to some semblance of truth about the proposition that God does not exist. And that just requires a stronger defense, which is sort of my entire point in the first place. A strong defense of atheism would include a variety of logical arguments, so that atheism could be termed the “more logical” worldview to anyone in doubt. It’s the lacking of such arguments on a grand level (though Christopher and others have provided a few) that led me to write this blog. I hope that explains my perspective, without forcing you into an extreme position.

      Reply

      • Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on June 23, 2012 at 3:36 AM

        “So let me just make sure I’m understanding it right. You believe this statement–”In this instance it is reasonable to suspend positive/negative belief in A until the truth or falsehood of A is known.”–is true? Or some other proposition?”So let me just make sure I’m understanding it right. You believe this statement–”In this instance it is reasonable to suspend positive/negative belief in A until the truth or falsehood of A is known.”–is true? Or some other proposition?

        Yes I believe that its true that suspending belief/disbelief in something for which the truth is not currently known is reasonable.

        “Regarding “agnostic atheism,” I suppose we have differing opinions on the terminology. Theism to me is a worldview. It might be predicated on certain beliefs, but it is actually a lens by which you view the world. I would say atheism is the same, which is why it necessitates a truth claim (glad that we’ve sort of come to an agreement on that fact; I agree that a truth claim doesn’t necessarily mean positive claim, but rather a claim that is defensible). Gnosticism is about knowledge–you are right. But to be a-gnostic means “without knowledge.” That means that there is no knowledge about the truth of the claim. And to me thats a false opinion. The implication of such an ideal is that there is no evidence offered up by which we can gain some knowledge about the truth. I think we would all agree that theists offer up evidence; it’s simply that atheists believe the evidence to be unconvincing.”

        Theism is defined as “Belief in the existence of a god or gods, esp. belief in one god as creator of the universe, intervening in it and sustaining a personal…” I think I am being fair in defining theism to be about belief. I think this would become apparent if I asked you; can you still be a theist without belief?

        I don’t particularly see how my lack of belief in the existence of god or gods constitutes a lens through which I view the world. In actual fact, I’d say that atheism is a consequence of a particular viewpoint I have, rather than the central defining point of my world view. I personally value scepticism, and empiricism – and it is this sceptical viewpoint that I have which has led me to be an atheist. Not the other way around, as a general rule I don’t tend to think of my position on the existence of god or gods all that often these days.

        Well yes I don’t find the evidence put forth by theists convincing ergo I do not think that we have any real knowledge of God’s existence. In other words we are without knowledge agnostic if you will.

        “So to me it seems unfair to use the term agnostic when there is a clear leaning one way or another. If you agree or disagree with even one piece of evidence, then you have some knowledge of what you believe to be the truth, and you are now in the realm of “gnostic.” I understand what the connotation might mean to consider yourself a “gnostic atheist,” as the terms are fairly mainstream now and would cause many to pigeonhole you into an equal or greater burden of proof that you feel no need to hold. But it’s simply my contention that one cannot be both agnostic and an atheist, because an atheist affirms or holds to some semblance of truth about the proposition that God does not exist. And that just requires a stronger defense, which is sort of my entire point in the first place. A strong defense of atheism would include a variety of logical arguments, so that atheism could be termed the “more logical” worldview to anyone in doubt. It’s the lacking of such arguments on a grand level (though Christopher and others have provided a few) that led me to write this blog. I hope that explains my perspective, without forcing you into an extreme position.”

        It is possible to disagree with a piece of evidence, and still not know whether the belief for which that evidence was offered in support of was true. Going back to the broken sticks analogy, you could disagree with that evidence, being unconvinced by it, and still not know whether or not I actually have any elephants. Being unconvinced by evidence is not the same as believing the proposition that the evidence was put forth in favour of is false. Your contention that you cannot be an agnostic atheist is frankly non-sense. I’ve said repeatedly that I do not believe the proposition; there is no God. I disbelieve the proposition ‘there is a God’ because I see no valid reason to. I do not know whether or not there is a God, therefore I currently see no reason to believe it is a perfectly tenable position.

      • Let me make two quick points here, as I try to summarize what you’ve written.

        1) So should we be “a-sunrisers” because we don’t know for certain that the sun will rise tomorrow? Unless you know the future, you can’t know this for certain, so suspending belief is certainly reasonable and we shouldn’t really believe it. Or should we be “a-graviters” and stop walking because we don’t know for certain that our next step will keep us held down based on gravitational force. It’s not a currently-knowable truth, so we’re reasonable in this belief, right? And it seems like if we are reasonable in this belief, we should all stop walking. See where this position leads?

        2) I think we have different opinions of what the term “agnostic” means. Your definition of it is someone who doesn’t know something for a certainty. I take it as someone who says that certain truth claims are unknowable, meaning there is no knowledge available. To be an agnostic, then, must mean that there is no evidence that gives us any real information about anything. It would be unreasonable for you to believe in evolution, for example, because it’s truth would be unknowable. If you have a believe in evolution, then you cannot be an agnostic. Let me explain. If you believe in evolution, it gives you a tipping point on the scale towards a belief that the truth of evolution guides the truth for the existence of the world the way we know it. As a result, you use this belief to make guesses or assumptions about other potential truth claims, such as the existence of God. Therefore, it is impossible if you hold any related truth claims to theism/atheism for you to be “agnostic.” You are “gnostic” on some level. This is why I don’t think the contention that there are no “agnostic atheists” is nonsense. It makes perfect sense to me actually. But I understand why it is important for you to cling to such a contention, because of the connotation, as I stated before.

  19. Posted by Marius de Jess on July 10, 2012 at 8:47 PM

    I like to ask atheists where do you come from in regard to coming from beyond your parents and beyond the first appearance of life.

    Reply

  20. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on July 20, 2012 at 4:21 AM

    “1) So should we be “a-sunrisers” because we don’t know for certain that the sun will rise tomorrow? Unless you know the future, you can’t know this for certain, so suspending belief is certainly reasonable and we shouldn’t really believe it. Or should we be “a-graviters” and stop walking because we don’t know for certain that our next step will keep us held down based on gravitational force. It’s not a currently-knowable truth, so we’re reasonable in this belief, right? And it seems like if we are reasonable in this belief, we should all stop walking. See where this position leads?”

    Well we have good reason to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow because it does every day – our belief is based upon rationality and evidence, and the same is true of gravity. We have no good reason to believe that a God exists. My position doesn’t lead me in the direction of disbelieving in gravity and sunrises, that’s just absurd.

    “2) I think we have different opinions of what the term “agnostic” means. Your definition of it is someone who doesn’t know something for a certainty. I take it as someone who says that certain truth claims are unknowable, meaning there is no knowledge available. To be an agnostic, then, must mean that there is no evidence that gives us any real information about anything. It would be unreasonable for you to believe in evolution, for example, because it’s truth would be unknowable. If you have a believe in evolution, then you cannot be an agnostic. Let me explain. If you believe in evolution, it gives you a tipping point on the scale towards a belief that the truth of evolution guides the truth for the existence of the world the way we know it. As a result, you use this belief to make guesses or assumptions about other potential truth claims, such as the existence of God. Therefore, it is impossible if you hold any related truth claims to theism/atheism for you to be “agnostic.” You are “gnostic” on some level. This is why I don’t think the contention that there are no “agnostic atheists” is nonsense. It makes perfect sense to me actually. But I understand why it is important for you to cling to such a contention, because of the connotation, as I stated before.”

    You’re either really incapable of understanding my position, or you are deliberately miss-characterizing it to make it sound absurd. I never said that to be an agnostic means that there is no way to get any real information about anything. Let me illustrate with an example; I am agnostic as to whether there is life on Mars, there currently is not enough evidence for me to claim to know either way. I accept evolution because we have loads of evidence for it, therefore I can confidently say with some degree of knowledge that evolution does occur, and has occurred.

    My acceptance of evolution doesn’t impact my views on the existence of God, I used to believe in God and I still accepted evolution – the two are not mutually exclusive. I am gnostic on areas that I feel there is adequate knowledge – such as scientific theories, however when it comes to things about which we have no knowledge, such as the existence of a deity then I feel it is reasonable to take an agnostic position.

    Reply

    • 1) Good reason to believe doesn’t mean certainty. You said we should reasonably suspend belief unless we know something for a certainty, which is why you say you don’t believe in God. And why should we accept your predication that we have good reasons to believe? You don’t accept a theist’s when it comes to God, so why do you get to assert your belief that the evidence you have is a “good reason,” but you’re allowed to chuck the theist’s evidence all the same? It sounds like hypocrisy.

      2) And all I’m saying is that if you have an opinion on something (i.e. “I disbelieve God exists”) it is predicated on some sort of knowledge. And if you have knowledge which leads you to any sort of conclusion, you are not agnostic about that subject. I’m using the term agnostic in the simplest and most basic way possible. So I don’t see how I’m really in error. I might be mis-characterizing your position, but I’m not mis-using the word. I think that distinction lies with you, friend.

      Reply

  21. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on July 20, 2012 at 3:05 PM

    1. Okay perhaps I formulated that statement badly. I agree that there is no 100% certainty that the sun will rise tomorrow, it might well be the case that the Earth stops spinning on its axis. However, I think, based on the evidence we can be reasonably certain that barring any extremely unusual event, the sun will rise tomorrow. When it comes to the existence of God, I do not feel that we have reached anywhere near reasonable certainty, I do not find the holy texts to be convincing, and I feel that arguments put forward in favour of God’s existence are not strong enough to prove it. Considering that, then there is nothing approaching anywhere near the kind of certainty required to accept the proposition that God exists.

    2. My disbelief in God is predicated on a certain form of knowledge, i.e my knowledge of the arguments put forward in favour of it, and of the history of religion and so forth. However when it comes to the ultimate question of whether there is a God or not, we have zero knowledge, and it may not ever be knowable. I fail to see how I am misusing the term; ‘a’ means without, ‘gnosis’ means knowledge. I am without knowledge with regards to the existence of God, and because of this I disbelieve in the proposition. I think the distinction between knowledge and belief is a reasonable one to make because you can believe something without knowing it to be true, you can disbelieve something without knowing it to be true.

    Reply

    • 1. So if a person found the evidence for the notion that the sun will rise tomorrow to be unconvincing, citing the ability of science to make previous mistakes, not seeing weathermen as convincing, and any arguments you offer in favor of the sun rising tomorrow are insufficient, would you simply say, “Well, you are justified in your lack of belief because I can’t demonstrate its certainty”? Or would you say that person is off their rocker?

      I ask this because you say you are justified in your belief because you feel theism hasn’t made a compelling enough case. But this extends to all other beliefs. I would be justified in believing you don’t exist simply if I believe the case isn’t compelling enough, under your logic. The only way to distinguish is to assign value propositions to each belief, which renders it simply your opinion. And an opinion is certainly reasonable, just not necessarily justified and certainly not valid to a discussion of logic.

      2. Why are you without knowledge about the existence of God?

      Reply

  22. Posted by Josh on April 3, 2013 at 6:33 AM

    Hi All-
    I’m new here, and have just been skimming some posts and comments. I thought I’d throw 2 cents in here – if this has already been addressed you have my apologies.

    Allallt-
    I am, for the most part, way out of my league intellectually in most of what you have written. I did have one suggestion for you, though. One of your claims is that God cannot be just and merciful at the same time. I do agree that these two are incompatible, on the face. However, in Christianity we believe that God exacted his justice in Jesus’ sacrifice. So, now those who believe in Jesus will receive mercy – mercy that is free to the believer, but God did pay for it. I know that opens up a whole new can of worms discussing Jesus’ sacrifice. But, I think your justice and mercy point doesn’t stand in Christianity. Thanks.
    -Josh

    Reply

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