“They Have a Word for That?”

by Luke Muehlhauser on July 31, 2009 in General Atheism

gods_cartoon

I remember the day I first heard the word “feminism.” I was pretty old; maybe 13. I asked, “Mom, what does feminism mean?”

My mom said something like, “It’s the view that women should have the same rights as men do.”

I looked at her, perplexed.

“They have a word for that?”

To me, it was just obvious that men and women should have equal rights. I hadn’t considered that someone could think any different.

When I learned that these equal rights had only just been earned in the last few years, and only in certain parts of the world, I was shocked. When I learned that women were still fighting for these rights in most of the world, I was even more shocked. What’s the alternative? I couldn’t imagine why men and women would have different rights. To me that sounded like saying every 4th-born child should have fewer rights than every 5-th born child, or something.

To me, who saw the equal rights of men and women as a given, the word “feminism” had little purpose. It felt as though someone had invented a word for “the view that 4th-borns and 5th-borns have equal rights.” It felt kind of weird.

Another word

I think in the future, I imagine the following scene:

“Grandpa, what does atheism mean?”

“It’s the view that there aren’t any powerful, invisible beings controlling our lives with magical powers.”

[Pause.]

“They have a word for that?”

And then I will have to explain that when I was a kid, most people believed in magical, invisible beings that controlled their lives, and that in fact I believed all that when I was young. And I’ll explain that it was only quite recently that people realized there weren’t any such beings, and that it was a long and hard battle to overcome these ancient superstitions.

And the child will never understand what the world was once like, when atheism was the exception.

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{ 71 comments… read them below or add one }

Lorkas July 31, 2009 at 5:45 pm

Sounds like atheist heaven.

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drj July 31, 2009 at 8:00 pm

This post reminds me a little of this one from less wrong.
 
BTW, I think I found that site from this blog, so thanks luke… its an awesome site too.

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Dace July 31, 2009 at 10:05 pm

That gave me a smile. Thanks. :)

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vision August 1, 2009 at 3:02 am

Great point made! But I think that kind of future is far more distant. :) I think it will take at least 2000 years more for the word ‘atheism’ to become obsolete. :(

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Ben August 1, 2009 at 4:36 am

Haha, yeah, we have lots of unnecessary words.

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lukeprog August 1, 2009 at 5:46 am

vision, you’re probably right.

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Lorkas August 1, 2009 at 7:23 am

vision: I think it will take at least 2000 years more for the word ‘atheism’ to become obsolete.

Nah, the cyborg revolution will happen much sooner than that.

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Kyle August 1, 2009 at 1:23 pm

What makes you think that’s the direction we’re heading in?
Perhaps the popularity of atheism in the last 100 years is simply an odd blip. Or maybe there is a cyclical pattern. Or maybe religious belief is much more complex and it is impossible to discern any pattern?
Also, I thought I should let you know that I took issue with your quotation above. I wrote about it here:
http://kyles-first-blog.blogspot.com/

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lukeprog August 1, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Kyle,

Actually, your blog post is exactly how I would expect a Christian to react to the quote at the top of my website. I’ll write something responding to you, shortly.

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Kyle August 1, 2009 at 2:32 pm

lukeprog: Kyle,Actually, your blog post is exactly how I would expect a Christian to react to the quote at the top of my website. I’ll write something responding to you, shortly.

Thanks. I would appreciate that.

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Lorkas August 1, 2009 at 5:53 pm

I read your post, Kyle, but it won’t let me comment over there.
 
I wanted to say: the Bible doesn’t actually say (AFAIK) that there are no other gods. It just says that Yahweh’s the best one and you shouldn’t serve any of them except for him.
 
So, it turns out that if you want to say that you don’t believe a non-Yahweh god exists, then you’ll need to have an extrabiblical reason for doing so. Maybe your reason would be something like “There is no evidence that that god exists, and the burden of proof rests on the person making the positive claim, so we should tentatively disbelieve in that god until evidence is produced.”
 
In any case, “I believe the Bible” is a rather poor reason for rejecting other gods. Why do you trust what the Bible says rather than what the Qur’an or any other number of holy texts says?

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Kyle August 2, 2009 at 1:49 am

Lorkas,
I’m sorry you are having problems commenting, I’m not sure why that is.
You are quite right. The Bible does not explicitly say that God is the only God, but it does say of other gods that they are only made of stone or wood. This is not the sense of the word god I think we have in mind in this discussion (otherwise being an atheist would be an absurd position. Do atheists deny that statue of gods exist?).
The Bible never describes God interacting with another god. It also describes him as existing before everything else. I really don’t think its as hard as you suggest to see that the Bible teaches that God is the only god.
“In any case, “I believe the Bible” is a rather poor reason for rejecting other gods. Why do you trust what the Bible says rather than what the Qur’an or any other number of holy texts says?”
That takes us in a different direction. The issue is whether the theist’s non-belief teaches us about the atheist’s non-belief. I’m sorry if this sounds like a dodge, but I don’t want the main issue to get lost.

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Sabio August 2, 2009 at 5:23 am

That is great !  It is like I imagine in 50 years kids will be asking the old folks to describe “keyboards” to them.

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Lorkas August 2, 2009 at 8:39 am

Kyle: I really don’t think its as hard as you suggest to see that the Bible teaches that God is the only god.

Just show me some verses, I guess. I’ve never seen anything that says there are no other gods, but there are many verses that say not to serve other gods, or that God rules/judges all of the other gods (Ex 12:12, 18:11Ps 82:1, 97:7).

Kyle: That takes us in a different direction. The issue is whether the theist’s non-belief teaches us about the atheist’s non-belief.

I was responding to the reason you gave on your blog for not believing in other gods–you said “I believe in the God of the Bible–the Christian God.” The question isn’t “Given that you believe the Bible, why don’t you believe the Qur’an,” it’s “Why do you believe the Bible rather than the Qur’an”. We’re not stupid: we know that, generally speaking, you can only follow one of those books religiously. However, when we’re talking about why you believe one rather than the other, it’s tautological to say “Because I believe in the God of the Bible”.
 
Imagine if you asked me why I play raquetball instead of squash and I said “Because I play raquetball.” It’s not an answer to the question.
 
So, why do you reject the existence of these gods? Remember, “I believe in the Bible” isn’t an answer any more than “Because I play raquetball” was an answer in the situation above. Perhaps if you answer this question, we can get a bit closer to talking directly about whether or not the quote is valid.

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Reginald Selkirk August 2, 2009 at 9:18 am

Kyle: The Bible never describes God interacting with another god.

Elohim.

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Taranu August 2, 2009 at 9:37 am

Lorkas, why is the word gods used in Psalm 82:1 written between brackets? I saw that in other translations of the Bible they aren’t present.

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lukeprog August 2, 2009 at 11:17 am

Here is a nice article on polytheism and Psalm 82.

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Lorkas August 2, 2009 at 11:18 am

Taranu: Lorkas, why is the word gods used in Psalm 82:1 written between brackets? I saw that in other translations of the Bible they aren’t present.

I don’t know why they used quotation marks around “gods”. The word translated as “gods” is elohim (which can be translated either as “God” or “gods”, but in this case it’s clear that the second meaning is intended), so I’m not sure why they did that.

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Taranu August 2, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Since we’re talking about the god of the Old Testamet, I was wondering, is there an explanation, that OT scholars hold to, regarding the origin of the jewish belief in Yahweh? I mean is there a naturalistic hypothesis for why  they came to believe in this God with this name (Yahweh)?

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Kyle August 2, 2009 at 12:32 pm

If you read the books that talk about other Gods such as Isaiah you will find that the descriptions indicate that these are not real beings, but are described as being man made. The reason that Isreal is told not to follow them is because they are not real. One can talk about statues of lions as being lions, but that does not mean you think they are the same sort of thing as real lions. Also, it is extremely difficult to find a Christian theologion who endorses anything like polytheism. I am no expert on Biblical Scholarship, but it seems that you are simply trying to divert the argument.
 
Your question really does take us in a different direction. Suppose we continue the sport analogy. You (the atheist) play no sport, me (the Christian) play one sport, lets say tennis. You say that when I understand why I do not play other sports, that I will understand why you play no sports. I then reply that the reason I do not play other sports is because I only have time to play one sport, and I play tennis.
 
The present issue is how I can believe in one God while rejecting the others. It seems perfectly reasonable to respond to that by saying that since the God I believe in is the one God, then other gods cannot exist.
 
I realise that you are likely to find that belief unjustified, but the present issue is whether or not the quotation at the top of the screen makes sense, not whether my belief is justified.
 
I will try to write a post on my blog within the next week about why I believe in God, and in the Bible.

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Reginald Selkirk August 2, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Genesis 3:22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil…
 

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Lorkas August 2, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Kyle: If you read the books that talk about other Gods such as Isaiah you will find that the descriptions indicate that these are not real beings, but are described as being man made.

I didn’t talk about Isaiah, I talked about Exodus and Psalms.
 

Kyle: Your question really does take us in a different direction.

I’m confused about why you keep repeating this. I was responding directly to what you said in your blog. Namely, the reason you claim not to follow other gods. If you think that it takes us in a different direction, then apparently you haven’t read your own blog post.
 

Kyle: You (the atheist) play no sport, me (the Christian) play one sport, lets say tennis.

Every analogy breaks down at a certain point, and this one breaks down before it gets to where you’re trying to take it. Obviously, it’s entirely possible to play lots of different sports, so this analogy doesn’t explain in the least why you would believe in the Christian God rather than any others.
 
If you really want to stick with this analogy, though, then you have to claim that tennis is the one true sport and all other sports (and non-participation) lead to eternal damnation. Your rulebook would have to be written sufficiently vaguely that no one can agree on how the game is supposed to be played, even if they agree that it involves a racket and a tennis ball. The rules would contain references to lots of things that don’t seem to even exist on the court, and, some would argue, couldn’t possibly exist on the court because they are self-contradictory, like an invisible pink net or something.
 
Many other sports will also claim that they have the one true rulebook, and certain people, embarrassed at all the nonsense going on within these different sports, will come up with their own games that are actually fun and have rules that make sense.
 
So, in this case, I would say, “I don’t play tennis because there’s no evidence for any of the claims made by the bizarre claims made in the rulebook and by tennis players”. Many tennis players would also say the same thing about other sports, but one thing’s for sure: it still doesn’t make sense to say you don’t play raquetball just because you play tennis.

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lukeprog August 2, 2009 at 6:54 pm

Taranu, see the works of Mark Smith, for example The Early History of God. Or, more accessible, see Dever’s Did God Have a Wife?

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Kyle August 3, 2009 at 1:20 am

Your comments are taking us in a different direction. I do not deny that you refer to things that I said, but you are not approaching the core issue.
 
I am attempting to discuss the quotation at the top of the screen.  It talks about my reason for dismissing other Gods. I gave my reason and you object that it is not justified. So what? Even if you are right, it is still my reason. Talking about whether it is justified or not is a discussion for another day.

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Lorkas August 3, 2009 at 7:37 am

Kyle: I do not deny that you refer to things that I said, but you are not approaching the core issue.

Here’s what you don’t get: the quote is about reasons for disbelief, so your reason for disbelief is the core issue. This is a pretty simple observation, and I’m not sure why you’re missing it (over and over again).
 
Could you answer this question:

Lorkas: So, why do you reject the existence of these gods?

without circular reasoning (i.e. I believe in Yahweh because I believe in the Bible)? Just tell me, briefly, why you believe in Yahweh rather than Thor, Zeus, Allah, or Vishnu. That’s all I’m asking for.

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Karl August 3, 2009 at 7:57 am

Kyle – I’m sorry to jump in here but Luke’s quote makes complete sense if you assume a theist is using good reasons for rejecting other gods. If you think you have good reasons to reject other gods, then we can consider your arguments. But if you only have very poor reasons, then of course Luke’s quote doesn’t apply to you…but who cares…because the quote is being applied who feel that have a rational basis for their theistic particularism.  So the issue of whether you have good reasons to reject other gods is quite applicable in this discussion.

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Karl August 3, 2009 at 7:59 am

sorry for typo…meant to say, “..applied to those who feel they have a rational basis…”

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Taranu August 3, 2009 at 9:45 am

Thanks Luke

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Kyle August 3, 2009 at 2:20 pm

For all those who were annoyed that I was not defending my belief in God, and for those who are simply interested, I have put up a post on my blog about whether belief in God is rational:
 
http://kyles-first-blog.blogspot.com/2009/08/is-belief-in-god-rational.html

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Lee A. P. August 3, 2009 at 4:12 pm

You use the same type of reason and employ the same sort of apologetics that Muslims do. You reject their reasoning but you still cling to your own.

Muslims will say that the Koran contains cosmology and science 1400 years before it was discovered by modernity. Muslims will say prophecy was fulfilled. Muslims will point to the perfection of the Koran and the challenge to “produce a sura like it”. They will say that the Koran remains uncorrcupted while other holy books were changed. Muslims will point to their belief int he unity of God while Hindus are polytheists and Christians seem to worship 3 Gods.

Muslims have very complex and sophisticated apologetics that you either ignore, reject out of hand or that you find wanting and full of errors.

It is all bullshit sure. The point though, is that you understand why people disbelieve in Islam. You understand why people disbelieve in Hindusim. And Buddhism. And Zues. And Thor. And Dionysus.

Both Christianity and Islam employs laugable and stupid excuses and apologetics in defense of thier holy books I think that most Christians are simply unaware at the level of sophistication of Islamic apologetics. Some are though. And what is interesting is that they tend to use the same type of skeptical inquiry that your average non believer uses against all religions, including Christianity.

Christians fail, or refuse to use the same level of skepticism towards their own religion. I think this is the basis of what the quote points out.

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Lorkas August 3, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Kyle: For all those who were annoyed that I was not defending my belief in God, and for those who are simply interested, I have put up a post on my blog about whether belief in God is rational

*facepalm*
 
We weren’t talking about why you are a Christian, we’re talking about why you’re not a Muslim (/Hindu/Buddhist/Greek polytheist). All I ever said is that “I believe in the Bible” is not a good explanation for why you’re not a Muslim, because it’s a tautology, and doesn’t touch on the issue of why you’re not a Muslim.
 
As Lee points out, you’re using the same reasoning that Muslims use to justify their belief, so why not choose theirs instead of yours? What are your reasons for that disbelief? Cultural accident? Do you just think that Islam is plainly false? Why do you think that?
 
In response to your cornflakes point: no one asks for evidence about what had for breakfast, because it’s not a remarkable claim. The assertion that God exists is quite a remarkable claim, so if you want to claim that, then you’d better be packing some evidence. I shouldn’t be expected to offer evidence if I claimed that I took a nap this afternoon, but I should be expected to offer evidence if I claimed that I took a walk on the moon this afternoon. Why? Nap-taking is a mundane claim, moon-walks are an extraordinary claim. It’s the same thing with cornflakes and infinite deities.

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Ajay August 4, 2009 at 12:18 am

Hi Kyle,
 
You have a good website and i will go through it in the next few days. I find commonsenseatheism blog a bit boring because i agree with everything here and would love to go thru a website like yours which i dont agree with :)
 
I dont want to hijack the great discussion you are having with Lorkas and others here but I have the following question for you.
 
Just assume that you are not a Christian for a few seconds and then look at Islam or Judaism or Hinduism if you havent already done so.  You will see that they have a lot of claims about how the world was created and how God works and what He expects from you etc etc.
 
Independent of you being Christian (which i am assuming is just an accident of birth as you are born to Christian parents), do you have any reasons why you would reject the truth of the claims of those religions? Or do you believe them to be true? Do you find any logical fallacies or absurdities in their claims? If you do find such things, then you will understand why i an theist reject them as well. If you dont find any such things, then this quote doesnt apply to you and you rather strangely find yourself believing 2 or more religions with all their contradictions with each other.
 
Does my comment above make sense and is it relevant?
 

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Kyle August 4, 2009 at 1:09 am

I don’t think that other religions are obviously ridiculous. I might be able to come up with an argument against some of them if I looked into it hard enough, but that would not be my reason for rjecting them.
 
There seems to be an assumption here that I have to have assessed every religion and come up with arguments against them all in order to be rational. Why think that? If they say things that contradict what I believe, then can’t I reject them for that reason?
 
This is what we do in other areas.  In history, if I come across a book that denies things like that World War II happened, or that the battle of hastings happened I will reject it, even if it is consistent, and I don’t have any good arguments against it. Or if I read a physics book that said that there were only 100,000 stars I would do likewise.
 
Why do you think that a person has to be an expert in an area in order to have any rational beliefs?
 
Let me spell out my thinking a little bit more clearly:
Christianity and Islam contradict one another (Iassume most will agree with me). Therefore I cannot accept them both. If I believe in Christianity then I should reject Islam.
 
The question then remains is my belief in Christianity rational? If it is, then my rejection of Islam is also rational.
 
Do I need presentable evidence if my claim is remarkable?
 
Suppose I really did go for a walk on the moon, and i was careful to bring back evidence to prove to people. However, after returning, there is a horrible accident and all the evidence is destroyed. Clearly people should not believe me about what happened because it is so remarkable, and I have no evidence. But are you really suggesting that i should stop believing just because the evidence was destroyed. I was there, surely I should continue to believe.

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Ajay August 4, 2009 at 1:59 am

Kyle
 
I appreciate your answer. But i have the following question now.
 
How did it happen that Christianity happens to be the religion your believe in? Is it just because you were born of Christian parents? Isnt that just an accident? Do you think it is rational for everyone to just believe in the religion of their parents and then because they believe in it, reject all other religions?
 
Or are you saying that it is an entirely a coincidence that you happen to be born of Christian parents and you find Christianity to be the one true religion?
 
A muslim says that Islam is the true religion and that Christianity is wrong and that the Bible that Christians follow is all corrupt as per what is wriiten in their Quran.  Do you reject that assertion that they have or agree with it or just ignore it? They also say that Mohammed went up a mountain and heard revelations from God. That is the whole basis of Islam. Do you agree with that or reject that? If you reject that, then what basis do you reject it given that it was supposed to have happened after Christ and the Bible and therefore the Bible doesnt say anything about it?
 
Why do you think all the Muslims, atheists, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists etc. etc all are not Christians? If the reasons you have to believe Christianity are so strong, why doesnt it convince non-christians? Also, isnt it very coincidental that almost all of them are born of non-christian parents?
 
Also, regarding your physics and world war 2 examples, i am assuming that you reject them because you are applying common sense and that they all contradict the popular and scientific claims. Not because your parents happen to believe the World War and star count truths. But somehow religion is the only “truthful fact” which is passed down from parents to kids and on all other things we tend to go with what we are taught at schools or read in papers etc.
 
So, i dont think you can equate what you can believe and what you cant between and religion and other facts. Religion is the only thing where there are significant differences of opinion among people about its truth and therefore in my opinion, it does warrant comparison between them and determine independently if what they say is true or not.
 
If looks like you are believing in Christianity first (as you are born of Christian parents) and then finding reasons to believe in it and then summarily rejecting all other religions because you believe in Christianity and not giving any other religion a chance.
If you are born in a Muslim family, wouldnt you have done the same?
 
Or do you think you would have studied Christianity and then accepted or rejected it?
 
Should the Muslims in the world have studied Christianity and then rejected it or do you it is rational that they accepted Islam as they are born in it and have accepted it and therefore reject Christianity?
 
I dont think you need to study all other religions and come up with arguments against all religions to have believed in Christianity. But once you come across a religion and know the basic foundation of that and are not convinced about it then it means you have rejected it.
 
I think in case of Islam the whole foundation is that Mohammed went up a mountain and heard divine revelation. Once you believe that you have to believe the rest of it. If you dont believe it, you dont need to believe the  rest of it. I am sure that you dont find it compelling to believe that assertion of theirs that Mohammed did indeed have divine revelation. I dont think you need to go into further detail than that, right? If so, i am with you on that as far as Islam is concerned.  Does this make sense?

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Ajay August 4, 2009 at 2:14 am

Kyle,
 
I think another cheeky way of answering your problem with that quote is as follows:
 
You dont have the time to go into all the assertions of the other religions and verify them etc etc and also since you believe Christianity to be the true, you dismiss all other Gods and religions.
 
I, an atheist, may be doing the same. I dont have the time or interest to go into all the documents and claims of Christians and since i believe in no God as well, i dismiss yours.
 
Does the above sound plausible?

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Reginald Selkirk August 4, 2009 at 5:15 am

Kyle: There seems to be an assumption here that I have to have assessed every religion and come up with arguments against them all in order to be rational. Why think that?

Point taken. I for one will never accuse you of being rational in your beliefs.
 

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Lee A. P. August 4, 2009 at 6:50 am

“If they say things that contradict what I believe, then can’t I reject them for that reason?”

No! Thats just bad Kyle. IF this is what you think, then your beliefs are hollow and meaningless. And stooge can go about life rejecting things out of hand because they contradict her current belief systems.

“This is what we do in other areas. In history, if I come across a book that denies things like that World War II happened, or that the battle of hastings happened I will reject it, even if it is consistent, and I don’t have any good arguments against it. Or if I read a physics book that said that there were only 100,000 stars I would do likewise.”

But Kyle YOU DO have a book that contradicts most current science, much archeology, most modern cosmology, and that defies common sense.You call it the “Bible”. The Bible contains some information every bit as false as a hypothetical book that says there is only 100,000 stars!

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Kyle August 4, 2009 at 9:02 am

I think an awful lot is being made of the fact that I have Christian parents. Sure, if I was born at a different time, or in a different place, or in a very different culture I would likely have very differnt religious beliefs. I would probably also have very different political beliefs, ethical beliefs, scientific beliefs. I would probably have differnet opinions on art and music as well.
 
This is not just true of religious people, it is true of everyone. And it does not show that my beliefs are simply based upon what my parents think or on the culture around me. If I have different experiences I am likely to come to different conclusions, but if you press this point then you are likely just to conclude that all our beliefs are culturally determined.
 
By having Christian parents I had greater exposure to Christianity than I otherwise would have had, but that does not mean that I only believe because of my parents. People do reject their parents faith (or lack of it), and accept other things instead.
 
There seems to be an assumption among some of the posters on this blog that the only reason that anyone believes that God exists is because they simply haven’t thought about it hard enough. This is extremely patronising and harmful to sensible debate. I suggest that some of you take a harder look at philosophers such as: Alvin Plantinga, Peter van Inwagen, Richard Swinburne, William Alston, Paul Moser. They may not be right about God, but they have certainly thought about it a lot.

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Reginald Selkirk August 4, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Kyle: There seems to be an assumption among some of the posters on this blog that the only reason that anyone believes that God exists is because they simply haven’t thought about it hard enough. This is extremely patronising and harmful to sensible debate.

Sorry, you’ll get no sympathy from me, after you yourself suggest that your religious belief is not rational.

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Lorkas August 4, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Kyle: There seems to be an assumption here that I have to have assessed every religion and come up with arguments against them all in order to be rational. Why think that? If they say things that contradict what I believe, then can’t I reject them for that reason?

You seem to contradict yourself here: you have to have assessed the religion to some degree before you can conclude that it says things that contradict what you believe, but I think I understand what you’re saying.
 
I also think that you should now be able to agree with the quote. You don’t believe in other gods because it contradicts things that you believe. I don’t believe in your god because it contradicts things that I believe (that is, prayers aren’t answered in a way that’s different from random chance, most of the really important historical events in the Bible probably never happened, and the Bible does not appear to have been written by an omniscient deity, or any being with an intelligence greater than a 2,500-years-ago Hebrew scholar, to name a few).
 
Now, you and I form our beliefs for different reasons–I place a heavy emphasis on observation and evidence, while you place a heavy emphasis on a specific set of writings from the ANE, but all that the quote says is that the speaker rejects your god for the same reason you reject other gods, and you seem to have agreed to that: we both reject them because they are in contradiction with things that we believe to be true.
 
If I might make a humble recommendation: perhaps you should now append your original blog post in which you take issue with the quote, and add that you actually do agree with what the quote says, as you have demonstrated in the comments here.

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Kyle August 4, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Very good Lorkas.
 
That is of course a bit of equivocation. We do not realyy reject other gods for the same reason. If you’re prepared to interpret it that way then it is trivially true when too people agree about a certain proposition they believe it for the same reasons. If person A believes p and person B believes p, then they believe it for the same reasons because A believes due to A’s reason’s and B believes it due to B’s reasons.
 
I was assuming that the quote was supposed to be saying something interesting, not something trivial.

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Haukur August 5, 2009 at 5:30 am

I think Kyle has carried the day here. Christians don’t necessarily reject other religions based on rationalism and skeptical inquiry, the reasons atheists give for rejecting them.

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Reginald Selkirk August 5, 2009 at 6:07 am

Kyle: If they say things that contradict what I believe, then can’t I reject them for that reason?

“I’m not going in for any of that round-earth stuff because it contradicts beliefs I already hold.”
 

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lukeprog August 5, 2009 at 6:25 am

Haukur: I think Kyle has carried the day here. Christians don’t necessarily reject other religions based on rationalism and skeptical inquiry, the reasons atheists give for rejecting them.

Of course that is true; so much the worse for those Christians.

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Lorkas August 5, 2009 at 6:58 am

Haukur: I think Kyle has carried the day here. Christians don’t necessarily reject other religions based on rationalism and skeptical inquiry, the reasons atheists give for rejecting them.

I’m going to quote what was said earlier in the discussion, because I think it’s a good summary of the problem.

Karl: Kyle – I’m sorry to jump in here but Luke’s quote makes complete sense if you assume a theist is using good reasons for rejecting other gods. If you think you have good reasons to reject other gods, then we can consider your arguments. But if you only have very poor reasons, then of course Luke’s quote doesn’t apply to you…but who cares…because the quote is being applied who feel that have a rational basis for their theistic particularism. So the issue of whether you have good reasons to reject other gods is quite applicable in this discussion.

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Lorkas August 5, 2009 at 7:01 am

Haukur: I think Kyle has carried the day here. Christians don’t necessarily reject other religions based on rationalism and skeptical inquiry, the reasons atheists give for rejecting them.

Only in religious discussions can you win an argument by proving to your opponents that you are irrational. That’s quite a victory.

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Lee A. P. August 5, 2009 at 9:45 am

Lorkas: Only in religious discussions can you win an argument by proving to your opponents that you are irrational. That’s quite a victory.

No diggity (no doubt)!
With these types of theists, its best to just wash your hands of them.  Some theists at least attempt to reside on the same plane of rational inquiry as non-believers. Those you can converse with. The other ones though — it’s like teaching a pig to sing as the saying goes. You’ll waste your time and annoy the pig.

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Kyle August 5, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Lorkas: Only in religious discussions can you win an argument by proving to your opponents that you are irrational. That’s quite a victory.

At what point did I do this?
 
I think discussion has gone off on a wild tangent based upon some people taking what I have said out of context.

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Haukur August 5, 2009 at 3:40 pm

You guys sort of took what I said and ran with it :) Let’s back up a bit. Obviously, neither the atheists nor the Christians among you have made an exhaustive survey of every religion in the world (I don’t remember seeing any of you guys at the last sacrifice). I bet most of you have only ever seriously or extensively considered two options: a) the religion you were born into being true or b) atheism being true. If I ask you about a religion you haven’t heard about before, both groups will readily tell me why you think it is false. Why is, say, Mandeanism false? The atheists will tell me that Mandeanism makes extraordinary claims about the world that don’t appear to be backed up with any evidence – and then they’ll probably say something about the burden of proof, the value of skeptical inquiry, rational thinking, Occam’s razor or some other things like that which they value highly. The Christians will tell me that Mandeanism contradicts the truth about the world as it appears in the Christian revelation and that since Christianity is true, Mandeanism cannot be true. It’s a very different answer – but it still leaves open the possibility that the Christian believes on rational grounds that Christianity is true. So I don’t think Kyle is necessarily irrational – though, being a Christian, he probably does think that there are important truths about the world that cannot ultimately be accessed solely with rational thinking and naturalistic exploration. That’s what he’s getting at with his “been to the moon” analogy. Presumably, he has had powerful religious experiences, during which he has sensed a divine presence and received ultimate reassurance of the truth of his religion. So have I, of course, and any number of people holding to a wide variety of religions. The atheists will point out that we can’t all be right and the Christians, unfazed, will tell them: “Well, duh! We are right and all the others are not.”

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Karl August 6, 2009 at 12:51 am

I suppose if Kyle’s epistemology allows for truth-making via something like a “self-authenticating witness of the Holy spirit” or other derivative of his personal/inner experience, then the quote may not apply, true. Because although he is rejecting other religious claims besides his own, he is not doing so for the same reason as an atheist rejects his. But again, the website quote implies (I suppose) that we are using an evidence based approach to discovering what is true. What is still interesting now though (and I agree this would be beyond Kyle’s original point but I think crucially connected) is whether someone who holds to a Plantinga-style epistemology (or Craig’s Reformed epistemology) could provide an external argument on how to decide between conflicting truth claims given by two (or more) individuals in different religions justifying their beliefs via a “properly basic belief” explanation or “self-authenticating” experience. An even then, I’m not even sure what these terms mean (in spite of Plantiga/Craig’s attempt at description). Please don’t repeat the same, “that wasn’t my original point” mantra as an answer to this very related question would be appreciated.

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Reginald Selkirk August 6, 2009 at 7:05 am

Kyle: I think discussion has gone off on a wild tangent based upon some people taking what I have said out of context.

What is the proper context for admitting that you hold irrational beliefs?
 

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Kyle August 6, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Hi Karl,
 
Regarding whether an external method is available that will help to decide how we should choose between different claims.
 
I think this is a general problem in philosophy for everyone no matter what you believe. Each of us will have had different experiences, intuitions and insights, so our evidential bases will be different.
 
It is manifestly obvious from even a brief look at Philosophy that opinions are varied on every subject. Even those who claim to rely only on publicly available evidence for their reasoning still disagree over many things. Many of these disagreements are among people who have worked very hard, and are very intelligent, yet they often cannot find a way to settle the matter, despite the fact that they have tried, and both of them take themselves to have convincing arguments.
 
I believe that in principle it is possible to settle these matters, but in practice we do not have enough time or intelligence to achieve it.
 
Sometimes we can find ways to settle these matters, but it will depend upon what you believe and on what I believe.
 
In order for this method to work each of us should recognise our own fallibility and hold our foundational beliefs (those intuitions, and propositions that appear self-evident) as mouldable foundation to be revised in light of further experiences and arguments.
 
I hope this makes some sense.

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Kyle August 6, 2009 at 2:57 pm

I’ve put a post up on my blog asking about ‘The Skeptical Attitude’. I thought that some of the people here might be able to fill me in a bit more, or at least point me in the right direction.
 
http://kyles-first-blog.blogspot.com/2009/08/what-is-skeptical-attitude.html

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Reginald Selkirk August 7, 2009 at 5:23 am

Kyle: It is manifestly obvious from even a brief look at Philosophy that opinions are varied on every subject.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But not all opinions have equal merit.
It’s interesting when conservatives turn to radical relativism.
 

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Kyle August 7, 2009 at 8:25 am

Reginald Selkirk: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But not all opinions have equal merit. It’s interesting when conservatives turn to radical relativism.

I am not endorsing any kind of relativism. Neither was I claiming that all opinions were of equal merit. However, there are a significant number of opionions that seem consistent and reasonable, and yet are still contradictory.
 
How do you decide which opinions are of the greatest merit?

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Karl August 7, 2009 at 8:30 am

 
Kyle – I already understand that many, very intelligent people have worked on the issue of epistemology. I’m asking what epistemic stance you take and what your reasons are (you seem pretty comfortable with your position, whatever that might be).  I read your blog entry but it doesn’t outline a positive epistemic argument (or at least I can’t clearly decipher one,  sorry). Maybe you can guide me through a basic argument you’d make on this?
And Luke – sorry to take up space on your comments section for this. Let me know if I should bump to a separate forum for this discussion.

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Kyle August 7, 2009 at 9:35 am

Karl, I’m not sure what you’re asking for.
 
Are you asking me to explain my epistemological beliefs? Like whether I am an externalist or internalist about knowledge? Or are you asking me why I think my belief in God is justified? Or something else?

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Reginald Selkirk August 7, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Kyle: How do you decide which opinions are of the greatest merit?

Clearly, the first opinion to which you are exposed has the greatest merit, then after that you can ignore any later opinion which conflicts with it. That’s why there are so many guys out there who like breasts, since breast-feeding is one of their earliest experiences.
 

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Karl August 7, 2009 at 2:54 pm

Kyle: Karl, I’m not sure what you’re asking for.   Are you asking me to explain my epistemological beliefs? Like whether I am an externalist or internalist about knowledge? Or are you asking me why I think my belief in God is justified? Or something else?

The former. I’m asking you to explain your epistemological beliefs; and in doing so also providing some reasoning on why you reject (or tend to reject) other epistemological theories (e.g. evidentialism, classical foundationalism, etc.) If you think it’s instructive in explaining this to use the example of belief in God, then that might be interesting (but not necessary). I understand that books are written on such topics but maybe just a quick summary would be helpful.

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Kyle August 8, 2009 at 1:18 pm

That’s quite a big question. I’ll try to go some way towards answering it tomorrow on my blog.
 
These posts are on that topic, if you want something before then:
 
http://kyles-first-blog.blogspot.com/search/label/Foundationalism

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Kyle August 9, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Hi Karl,
 
Here is the next step in my thinking about knowledge. I suggest we continue this discussion over at my blog since we are now very far removed from the original topic of this thread.
 
http://kyles-first-blog.blogspot.com/2009/08/particularism.html

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Yahzi August 12, 2009 at 10:43 pm

Lee A. P.: it’s like teaching a pig to sing as the saying goes. You’ll waste your time and annoy the pig.

I though the saying was:
Never wrestle with a pig; you both get all dirty, and the pig likes it.
:D :D :D

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ildi August 21, 2009 at 5:35 am

Kyle: Regarding whether an external method is available that will help to decide how we should choose between different claims.

Duh, it’s called the scientific method!  I can’t believe no one in this thread brought this up?

This is why scientists and not philosophers rule the world, natch!  =)

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ildi August 21, 2009 at 5:38 am

Sorry about that, snark isn’t as effective if you’ve messed up the blockquotes… only the first sentence belongs to Kyle.

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Karl August 26, 2009 at 1:30 am

 
I share your desire to have a scientific or evidential approach to epistemology, but then Kyle goes into the subject of how to determine foundational/basic beliefs (which underly even science). In other words, what  is “properly basic?” At some level, even the hardcore skeptic has to posit criteria by which we can justify something as “properly basic” without slipping into radical skepticism or solipsism. Classical foundationalism (CF), which I think makes the most sense so far, seeks to end the possible infinite regress of justifying beliefs by defining properly basic beliefs as those beliefs that are (i) self-evident, or (ii) incorrigible, otherwise something can be believed inferentially on an evidential basis. An example of self-evident beliefs are axioms of logic/math. Obviously the list of  “properly basic” belief should be VERY low (and we shouldn’t let much slip into this category). Plantiga rejects CF and posits his reformed epistemology (he’s presented it in two main ways over the years), but I think he’s wrong. Here’s a great explanation of why Plantiga is not convincing:  http://tiny.cc/oYUWt
Regarding the new posts that Kyle mentions, he only outlines assertions of alternative epistemological methods (ie. particularism), but DOES NOT explain why they are correct or how they are used to justify his particular beliefs. His outline of particularism ends very vaguely also and just states that there is significant disagreement so we should continue to refine a working criteria of knowledge. Ok, yeah…of course we should discuss this….so I would ask “what are the criteria of knowledge used by Kyle.” I still haven’t seen him provide reasoning for his brand of particularism (even within the criteria for particularism) or address the counterarguments to such a view.
I think also that a liberalizing of “proper basicality” from CF to something like particularism or reformed epistemology, as Plantiga has done in the latter, requires the person holding that liberalized epistemic position to given reasons why…I haven’t seen any good reasons yet.

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Karl August 26, 2009 at 1:31 am

oops, not sure what happened in my last comment (the weird code)
Lukeprog - can you edit my comment above removing the code?

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lukeprog August 26, 2009 at 6:27 am

Karl,

I think that happens when copying and pasting from Word, unfortunately.

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Karl August 26, 2009 at 8:44 am

Thanks Luke – you’re exactly right; I pasted from Word.

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Gruesome_hound November 10, 2009 at 3:50 am

This really an interesting dialog.
As I have explained on other blogs, I make a difference between agnoscitism (I don’t know if there is something or no) and atheism (I believe it does not exist).

I believe that the absence of evidences alone is insufficient to justify atheism , one must also have clea grounds for believing that an entity does not exist.

Concerning Zeus, Thord and Odin, I believe their antropomorphic creations, it is nonsensical to believe that God (the ultimate reality) would be so petty and inferior to is creation. The same could be said about the semetic God, who is too ridiculous, dumb und human to have created this wonderful universe.

In fact, I also believe that there exists no theistic God who brought the world into existence: modern biology prooves beyond every reasonable doubt that life was poorly designed, and this is also true of human psychology, no intelligent designer could have done such silly things !

So, I think there are positive evidences against the existence of God, Thor, Osiris, the FSM and so on and so forth.

However, I am agnostic about the truth of the following things:
- a deistic God responsible for the existence of the laws of logic and the most fundamental law of physics gouverning the behaviour of all multiverses.
- an grey unicorn living on a remote planet of our multiverse
-the fact we are living now in a simulation carried out by intelligent beings and that we may one day produce ourselves simulated universes.

I have no evidence for none of these claims, but I also have no arguments against them, therefore I am simply agnostic about them, I don*t know .

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Gruesome_hound November 10, 2009 at 3:53 am

So contrarily to Stephen Roberts, I don*t dismiss all gods merely because of the absence of evidences, but also because of the strong evidences militating against their existence.

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lukeprog November 10, 2009 at 5:44 am

Gruesome_hound,

I agree.

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