Letter To Vox Day II

by Luke Muehlhauser on September 30, 2009 in General Atheism,Letters

Vox Day is a Christian blogger and author of The Irrational Atheist. We have agreed to a friendly dialogue about the reasons for our beliefs, though we’ll try to avoid regurgitating all the usual arguments for and against the existence of God. I wrote an opening letter, and Vox responded. This is my first response.

cloud_break

Vox,

Thanks for your reply. I’ll break this letter into sections for easier reading. I wish we had fewer differences to write about!

1. Research and discussion

You asked me why so many atheists want to discuss religion with you before reading your book on the subject. But that’s not an atheistic tendency. It’s a human tendency. We are all short on time. But I know how you feel. Every week I am barraged with questions about ethics that are answered in my short and well-organized Ethics F.A.Q., which is linked from above the fold on every page of my site!

I have skim read your book, enough to know that you and I agree about much of what the New Atheists have written. But no, I did not read every word. I have not browsed your blog archives. And I wouldn’t expect you to read my book or blog archives, either. I think we can clarify our views for each other well enough as we go along.

2. Creationism and evolution

I’m glad to hear you are not a Young Earth Creationist, but your skepticism of evolution by natural selection does not match the state of the evidence. You repeat many common distortions. For example:

…evolution assiduously avoids addressing the question of origins…

This is not due to stubbornness on the part of scientists. In fact, they are the ones doing the work to figure out the origins of life, and they are making great progress. Instead, evolution “avoids” addressing the origin of life because that is not the subject matter of evolutionary theory. Saying that “evolution assiduously avoids” the question of origins is like saying that “chemistry assiduously avoids” questions of physics. That’s just not the subject matter of chemistry. And biological origins just aren’t the subject matter of evolution. Biological origins are the subject matter of abiogenesis research.

…there is no intrinsic conflict between the concept of a Divine Creation followed by an evolutionary mechanism…

You’re right, there isn’t. But there is also no conflict between the concept of Zeus as an origin of lightning followed by natural electric processes. The natural electric processes explain lightning by themselves, so there’s no reason to postulate an additional magical being hiding forever behind the curtain.

Also, theistic evolution may introduce major theological problems.

I see [evolutionary theory] as a dynamic and oftentimes tautological theory of little material value to science… it has been around for 150 years without producing much in the way of practical utility or reliable information.

By “dynamic” do you mean “changing to fit the latest and best evidence”? If so, I see that as a virtue of evolutionary theory.

Tautological? No. The theory of evolution by natural selection wasn’t obvious for thousands of years, and has been extremely productive in science.

… which brings me to your contention that evolution is “of little material value to science.” Evolution is the most productive theory in biology because of summation, the fact that we can take discoveries in one field of biology (embryology, transmission genetics, comparative anatomy, molecular biology, etc.) and apply them immediately – by way of evolutionary theory – to unsolved problems in another field of biology (paleontology, developmental genetics, evolutionary ecology, medicine, mutation studies, etc.).

Of course, evolution not only greatly amplifies the productivity of our basic research in all fields of biology, it also has been of great practical use. The TalkOrigins FAQ on Creationist Claims gives some examples, with citations. Perhaps the most obvious practical uses of evolutionary theory are in anti-viral measures and pesticides.

…the predictive models evolutionary theory produces are reliably incorrect and fall well short of the standard set by the hard sciences…

I’m not sure what you mean. Certainly, evolutionary theory does not produce predictions that are as accurate as those made with the Standard Model of Particle Physics, but then, nothing does. The Standard Model is the best-confirmed theory in all of science.

But the theory of evolution by natural selection isn’t far behind. In particular, consider the fact that you arrive at roughly the same tree of life whether you’re studying fossils, DNA, comparative anatomy, embryology, ERVs, and more. This resembles the myth about 72 translators of the Hebrew Bible who were locked in separate chambers but all managed to arrive at the same translation for every sentence. Except that with evolution, we do independently arrive at the same tree of life from all points of inquiry. That’s no myth.

…the theory of evolution by natural selection does not rest on a scientific foundation, but a logical one; it is no more inherently scientific than the Summa Theologica.

I have no idea what you’re talking about here. Evolutionary theory was not deduced from a set of axioms. It has been discovered, very gradually, as the best explanation for millions and millions of disparate facts and experimental results. That was how Darwin discovered it, and that is how scientists have developed the theory since The Origin of Species.

Finally, the evidence for evolution is absolutely overwhelming.

I know you consider evolution a tangent, but I can’t let you get away with all that, especially considering your conclusion:

I will not go into further detail on the subject in this dialogue except to say that all three of those statements can be verified in substantial detail by anyone who wishes to investigate the matter.

Well I have investigated the matter, and have found your statements about evolution to be thoroughly discredited.

3. Why you are a Christian

Vox, you write:

Why am I a Christian? Because I believe in evil… [Also, ] I am a Christian because I believe that Jesus Christ is the only means of freeing Man from the grip of that evil… to the extent that evil can be said to exist, it proves not only the validity of Christianity but its necessity as well.

You write as if Christianity is the only worldview that has an account of evil, but this is absurd. All religions have an account of evil. So evil is just as much evidence for their truth as for the truth of Christianity.

In fact, many religions have a better account of evil than Christianity does. Consider Zoroastrianism. According to Zoroastrianism, evil is caused by Angra Mainyu, an evil god roughly equal in power to the good creator god, Ahura Mazda. Later, Judaism trimmed things down to just one God, which is theoretically simpler but introduced a major problem: the problem of evil. If there’s only one God, and he’s all-good and all-powerful, then how can there be so much pointless suffering in the world? I don’t want to discuss the problem of evil here, but suffice it to say that an all-good, all-powerful God doesn’t fit very cleanly with the amount of pointless suffering we see all around the world. A conflict between an evil god and a good god, of roughly equal power, explains things much better.

Or consider Buddhism. Buddhism claims that suffering is the result of desire. Most philosophers today would essentially agree. Contrast this with the Christian concept of evil as a roaming magical force that hunts us down and seeks to destroy us. Which is more plausible?

Or consider the atheistic/deistic hypothesis that the universe is indifferent to the joy or suffering of humans and animals. This seems to fit the facts much better than the hypothesis that an all-powerful, perfectly loving God controls our universe.1

Finally, I would like to see you argue for the existence of evil.2 I think you are adding unnecessary metaphysics to your observations about the world – extra metaphysics that should be shaved off by Occam’s razor.

Perhaps you will say that evil is the best explanation for certain events we all dislike, such as Hitler’s massacres. But Hitler’s massacres can be explained just fine by positing that Hitler had certain ordinary brain states like beliefs and desires that caused him to massacre the Jews. So there is no justification for demanding that some exotic property or force called “evil” is also part of the explanation for Hitler’s massacres. To say that the situation requires us to posit “evil” in addition to ordinary things like beliefs and desires is like saying that lightning requires us to posit “Zeus” in addition to ordinary things like electrons.

Or perhaps you will say that we know evil exists because we all strongly feel it to be so. But our feelings – even universally held feelings – are often wrong. For thousands of years, people felt they were at the center of the universe, that spirits lived in rocks and trees and rivers, that disease was the product of demons and sin instead of viruses and germs, and so on. Humanity was dead wrong about damn near everything for thousands of years because it trusted its feelings. Only when some of us started to trust rigorous testing and measurement instead of our feelings did our knowledge about our universe start making rapid progress.

In any case, evil provides no more evidence for Christianity than for any other religion, as I explained above. So again, even granting the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the historicity of the resurrection, and the existence of evil, your belief in Christianity remains unjustified.

Of course, I know you have no interest in convincing me that your Christian beliefs are justified. The first sentence of your book reads, “I don’t care if you go to hell.” But perhaps you’d like to figure out for yourself how your beliefs can be justified. As a Christian, I tried rather desperately to do that and found that when I decided I should actually have some justification for the things I believe, I could no longer believe in Christianity.

4. Christianity and difference

Vox, you say that other gods probably do exist, and that members of other religions probably do have genuine experiences of non-Christian spirits. But, you say, Christianity is different than those other religions:

I suspect that unless you can understand why the first book in C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy is called Out of the Silent Planet, unless you fully grasp the implications of the temptation of Jesus in the desert, you cannot possibly understand much about Christianity or the degree of difference between it and other religions.

No doubt, Christianity is different. Every religion is different from all the others. But uniqueness is no measure of truth. Raëlism is pretty unique. So are Jedi-ism, Scientology, the John Coltrane Church, and many other things. But that does nothing to increase their probability of being true.

5. God the genocidal rapist

Alasdair MacIntyre once wrote:

Aquinas had almost civilized Jahweh into an Aristotelian; Luther turns him into a [brutal dictator] for good.3

You seem to have chosen Luther’s God. You seem to think that God is “morally right to sexually molest children, mutilate their genitals, torture them, and let them die slowly.”4 Why? Because he created them. In your words: “His game, His rules.”

While I must congratulate you for at least being consistent, I must say your concept of morality is terrifying.

But rather than criticize your ethical theory, I’ll just let this thread of our dialogue die, as I suspect further argument on the issue won’t get us anywhere.5

6. Conclusions

I’ll let you decide what you prefer to respond to, but I am still most interested to understand why you think Christianity is rationally justified, even if we grant the ontological argument, cosmological argument, teleological argument, the magical resurrection of Jesus, and the existence of evil. Even collectively, these do not entail the truth of the Christianity you believe to be true.

Cheers!

Luke

  1. The full argument here is laid out in Paul Draper’s now-famous 1989 paper, Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists. []
  2. I believe in evil, but I think we have very different concepts of evil. []
  3. A Short History of Ethics, page 123. []
  4. See my original letter. []
  5. In case you’re curious, what I had written on the topic of moral theory is below, but don’t feel compelled to respond to it:

    Of course, if you define “morality” as “the will of God,” then God is morally perfect, despite supposedly commanding rape and genocide. But I don’t think that’s a good definition for morality. For one thing, it means that secular philosophers like Kant and Moore, even if they were wrong about morality, weren’t even talking about the subject of morality. And that is an absurd claim, I think. For another, millions of people have spoken about morality to mean something other than “whatever God decides.”

    I think a definition that fits the moral semantics of nearly all people throughout history is to say that “morally good” means “such as to fulfill the most and strongest reasons for action that exist.” This fits nearly all moral theories, it’s just that people disagree about which reasons for action exist, and which are “most and strongest.” Moral nihilists agree with my definition and say that no reasons for action exist. Kantians agree with my definition and would say that universal maxims are the dominant reasons for action. Utilitarians agree with my definition and argue that pleasure or happiness is the supreme reason for action. Theists agree with my definition and argue that God’s commands are reasons for action that override everything else (for example, people’s desires). Not surprisingly, I agree with my own definition of “morally good” and argue that, as it happens, desires are the only reasons for action that exist.

    But then, why should we say that God’s commands, no matter how “misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, [and] capriciously malevolent,” are morally good? Because might makes right? But this is like saying that in the context of North Korea, the actions of the Dear Leader are morally good, no matter how productive of suffering, just because he has the power. I think both examples show poor reasoning. (And I think it would still be incorrect to call the actions of the Dear Leader “morally good” if he had created all his citizens in a petri dish.)

    But the main problem for theistic ethics is that theism is false. []

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 197 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben September 30, 2009 at 6:43 am

“While I must congratulate you for at least being consistent, I must say your concept of morality is terrifying.”

That means it’s working. Oh wait. No, that’s shampoo.

And tingling.

My bad.

It’s a shame you have no rational basis to justify your terror, Luke. ;) You need theism for that. Your terrification is invalid…or incomplete. However you want to look at it.

Just had to say that before they do. hehe

Ben

  (Quote)

Ben September 30, 2009 at 6:55 am

Oh yeah, btw. You mentioned Hitler. Therefore your whole blog is now invalid, too. Tsk, tsk.

(or I just needed something to comment because I forgot to click the “notify” check box…)

  (Quote)

Meatros September 30, 2009 at 7:27 am

I’m not sure why Vox would want to have anything to do with his god, if his god could, at a whim, decide that raping infants was a moral good. What’s his justification for god not doing so? Because it’s against his character or because it would violate god’s commandments? So what? Why couldn’t god change his character?

Why bother worshipping a god that could decide to punish you even if you follow all his commands?

  (Quote)

Haukur September 30, 2009 at 8:31 am

For thousands of years, people felt … that disease was the product of demons and sin instead of viruses and germs

That’s a pretty weird way to put it – you make it sound as if the germ theory of disease existed for thousands of years only to be explicitly rejected by most people.

In any case, disease is, among other things, the product of beings we cannot normally see whose interests do not coincide with our own. Contributing factors include various frowned-upon behaviors on our part which we typically feel ‘guilty’ about (sloth, gluttony etc.)

  (Quote)

Andy Walters September 30, 2009 at 9:51 am

Great response, Luke. Thanks for keeping it polite, sincere, and intelligent.

  (Quote)

Jeff H September 30, 2009 at 9:54 am

Great response, Luke! If I may make a few distinctions, however…

When Vox is talking about the predictive models of evolutionary theory, I think he is speaking more about stuff like evolutionary psychology – in other words, since we came from hunter-gatherers, some of their patterns of thinking and behaving are still with us today. While this may give us new areas for research and discovery, they are essentially speculation, and as such, I don’t place much stock in them either. This of course doesn’t deny evolution as a whole, and many predictions that evolution makes are much better. However, when it’s applied to the realm of human (or animal) behaviour, things get a little more wishy-washy. If that’s what he’s talking about, I’d agree with him on that point.

The other thing I wanted to just point out is that early Judaism, while it simplified things into one God, didn’t necessarily posit him as “all-good”. There are several verses in the Bible where Yahweh declares himself the maker of good and evil. Essentially, Judaism combined both Zoroastrian gods into one. And this all-powerful, does-whatever-he-wants God seems much more in line with what Vox believes in.

Anyway, those are minor, minor points. I just thought I’d be anal and point them out :P

  (Quote)

Penneyworth September 30, 2009 at 10:41 am

Moral nihilists believe that there are no reasons for action? wtf, now I don’t know what category I’m in. What do you call the following theory?: The term “moral” and its family of ambiguous terms like “good” and “evil” are meaningless. Their definitions are vastly different across cultures and usually attempt to describe something incoherent much like the “existence” of logical rules apart from the existence of statements that refer to them. Still, there are plenty of reasons for action including virtues like generosity, empathy, altruism, etc. These all have coherent definitions.

If morality does not exist, then a theist can go on about god’s commands defining morality all day long, and I still have good reason to say, based on his atrocities, that god is not kind, god is not empathetic, god is not fair, etc. For instance, punishing a child for his father’s sins is not fair. The theist can say he is morally justified for various reasons, but since I care about fairness rather than god’s “moral nature,” I could really give a fuck. If you say it is “morally incorrect” to eat the flesh of your deceased parents, you have said nothing of value. However, if you somehow prove that such rituals make one tribe more likely to attack neighboring tribes and use their children as a food source, and you feel empathy for those children, well now we are talking about coherent reasons to take action to stop the initial ritual.

Actually, what you said, “’morally good’ means ‘such as to fulfill the most and strongest reasons for action that exist.’” seems to makes sense, but i don’t think that is the sense in which most people, particularly theists, use the term by a long shot.

  (Quote)

Josh September 30, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Luke,

Fucking brilliant.

  (Quote)

Silver Bullet September 30, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Luke,

I’m confused by your conclusion: How can belief in Christianity not be justified if god exists and Christ was resurrected?

Best,
SB

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk September 30, 2009 at 1:04 pm

…the predictive models evolutionary theory produces are reliably incorrect and fall well short of the standard set by the hard sciences…

Evolution predicts that every organism which has inhabited this planet has a naturalistically plausible chain of ancestors.

As one example, evolution predicted that the first known amphibians are linked to earlier fish species, and the existing fossil record provides some information about the location and geological era those transitional species might have occupied. Thus:

What is especially cool about Tiktaalik is that the researchers, Edward B. Daeschler, Neil H. Shubin and Farish A. Jenkins, predicted that they would discover something like Tiktaalik. These paleontologists made the prediction that such a transitional form must exist in order to bridge the gap between fish and amphibians. Even more, they predicted that such a species should exist in the late Devonian period, about 375 million years ago.

So they spent several years digging through the earth on Ellesmere Island in Northern Canada, because geological and paleontological evidence suggested that exposed strata there was from the late Devonian. They predicted that, according to evolutionary theory, at this time in history a creature should have existed that was morphologically transitional between fish and amphibians. They found Tiktaalik – a “fishopod,” beautifully transitional between fish and amphibians.

As another example: Fossils of Archaeopteryx were first reported in 1861, and have features of both dinosaurs and birds. Evolution predicts that Archaeopteryx was not poofed into existence, but that it had a plausible naturalistic chain of ancestry tying it to earlier populations of dinosaurs. Thus: Feathered dinos older than Archaeopteryx fulfill an evolutionary prediction!

Another example: Should camelid fossils be found in North America?

Evolution predicts: Yes, based on common ancestry of South American camelids (llamas, vicunas, etc.) with Old World camels and knowledge of continental contact through plate tectonics.

Creationism predicts: Nothing. Maybe God poofed llamas and bactrian camels into existence independently, maybe he didn’t.

Guess which prediction diligent searching through the fossil record backs up?

  (Quote)

lukeprog September 30, 2009 at 2:24 pm

Penneyworth,

Your post urges me to dive into moral semantics, but I really don’t have time right now. I’ll be writing alot about these topics as time goes on.

  (Quote)

lukeprog September 30, 2009 at 2:26 pm

Silver Bullet: I’m confused by your conclusion: How can belief in Christianity not be justified if god exists and Christ was resurrected?

Because a great many non-Christian worldviews are consistent with the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus. These states of affairs do not entail that, say, Jesus was God or that heaven or hell exist, and so on. See my first letter to Vox.

  (Quote)

Alex September 30, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Silver Bullet: “Even collectively, these do not entail the truth of the Christianity you believe to be true.” I don’t think Luke was talking about Christianity in general, but about Vox Day’s idiosyncratic version of it, or any specific One True Interpretation (TM), for that matter.

EDIT: nevermind, I was being too charitable (see above). Luke: I think you’re splitting hairs here. Sure, there might be religions/worldviews that are capable of explaining the resurrection of Jesus. But you don’t need these to be logically impossible to accept Christianity as the most rational explanation. I don’t think Jesus resurrected, but evidence that would be Vastly harder to explain naturalistically would persuade me of the truth of (some form of) Christianity, at least tentatively.

  (Quote)

MattC September 30, 2009 at 2:31 pm

So wouldn’t you say that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is good reason to believe that what he said is true?

  (Quote)

lukeprog September 30, 2009 at 7:14 pm

MattC: So wouldn’t you say that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is good reason to believe that what he said is true?

Right, so here’s a key issue. What DID he say? The ‘fact’ of Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t tell you that. Does his resurrection vindicate his claims that the end of the world was just around the corner? Or his claims to be God? Or other claims? Or, perhaps most likely of all, none of the claims that are attributed to him by various and disagreeing sects (some of which are recorded in the NT, some of which are not)?

  (Quote)

Ryan September 30, 2009 at 9:03 pm

Vox thinks that Evolution is of little value to science? Does he know that Charles Darwin reasoned that since chimps and gorillas (the animals that appear most closely related to man) both live in Africa, the simplest theory for their (and our) ancestry would be that they evolved in Africa and that only humans are the exception that actually spread out all over the world? And where did paleontologists find the earliest human fossils? Africa, right where they expected.

  (Quote)

Silver Bullet September 30, 2009 at 9:08 pm

Luke,

I the post above, do you mean to imply that, as an example, even if we assume that Jesus rose from the dead, he could have been brought back to life by an advanced alien intelligence that had that capability, such that he may not have actually been the son of god and the one true path to everlasting life, etc. ?

SB

  (Quote)

lukeprog September 30, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Silver Bullet: I the post above, do you mean to imply that, as an example, even if we assume that Jesus rose from the dead, he could have been brought back to life by an advanced alien intelligence that had that capability, such that he may not have actually been the son of god and the one true path to everlasting life, etc. ?

Well, sure, though I think the alien hypothesis is only slightly less ridiculous than the Magic hypothesis. But what I’m saying is that the core tenets of Christianity are still not justified even if we accept the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus says nothing about whether Jesus was divine, whether sin exists or ‘atonement’ is real, whether heaven or hell exists, whether the Bible is of any value, and so on.

  (Quote)

Anthony October 1, 2009 at 3:24 am

On the matter of the resurrection, if true, does it support Christianity? I agree with Luke here, the resurrection in and of itself does not necessarily mean that Christianity is true. A case in point is Pinchas Lapide a Jewish scholar of the New Testament who has written a book (see his “The Resurrection of Jesus”) defending the historicity of the resurrection, yet rejects Christianity and does not believe that Jesus is the Messiah or the son of god.

  (Quote)

Allabaster October 1, 2009 at 5:10 am

“I must say your concept of morality is terrifying.” That may be the case but I urge you to have a look at the fruits of the moral vacuum your worldview provides to judge which is truly more terrifying.

Hint, one worldview gives you no basis for distinction between a man and a cow, rock or jar of peanut butter. It is yours that has provided justification for treating your fellow man like a piece of livestock and providing no reason why they should not be slaughtered as such. (For more information see “The Irrational Atheist” and the chapter titled “The Red Hand of Atheism” for more details and statistical analysis)

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk October 1, 2009 at 5:32 am

Silver Bullet: I the post above, do you mean to imply that, as an example, even if we assume that Jesus rose from the dead,

Recall that Lazarus allegedly also “rose from the dead.” Does that make Lazarus God?

  (Quote)

Eaglewood October 1, 2009 at 5:57 am

“Contrast this with the Christian concept of evil as a roaming magical force that hunts us down and seeks to destroy us. Which is more plausible?”

Luke,
I think you have a misunderstanding of the Christian concept of evil. Evil is not some force, but an outcome of actions. You are painting a picture of Lucifer as the source of evil, yet he is not. While Lucifer is evil he is not the one who causes our evil. It is an inherent capacity of all men. It is a common misconception to attribute the evil of men to the “little devil” on your shoulder, but man is quite capable of evil on his own without some kind of “push” from the devil.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 1, 2009 at 6:01 am

Eaglewood,

There are many Christian conceptions of evil. A roaming force is one of them.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 1, 2009 at 6:01 am

Allabaster,

What moral vacuum? Please see my Ethics FAQ.

  (Quote)

Eaglewood October 1, 2009 at 6:10 am

Reginald Selkirk:
Recall that Lazarus allegedly also “rose from the dead.” Does that make Lazarus God?

No Lazarus was not G_d, because he was incapable of resurrecting himself. It took the power of the Yeshua (Jesus) for his resurrection. There are other recordings of people Yeshua resurrected as well. The point is that our faith is in vain without the death and resurrection of Yeshua. The Bible is clear on that point, it is also why atheists try so hard to disprove that it happened, because if they had the proof that it did then His claims to being the One True G_d would have some validity to their “rational” thinking.

  (Quote)

Eaglewood October 1, 2009 at 6:20 am

lukeprog: Eaglewood,There are many Christian conceptions of evil. A roaming force is one of them.

That still does not negate the fact that it is a misconception. A clear reading of the scriptures concerning Lucifer shows this to be the case. While Lucifer is described as being a devouring lion, he is still not the source of our evil.
Vox’s understanding of evil is very similar to mine and why it is one of the reason’s he is a Christian. I just think that if you want to have a civilized discussion you ought to at least agree on terms. Changing the goal posts by using a popular misconception rather than getting clarification on what your opponent is saying is a dishonest tactic.

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk October 1, 2009 at 6:40 am

Eaglewood: it is also why atheists try so hard to disprove that it happened

You have an inverted notion of who bears the burden of proof.

  (Quote)

Eaglewood October 1, 2009 at 7:00 am

Reginald Selkirk:
You have an inverted notion of who bears the burden of proof.

I think that is a mater of debate and worldview. I see all kinds of historical evidence in favor of the event. You say I have not physically seen someone raised from the dead so therefore it did not happen.
It still does not negate the fact that a majority of militant atheists are hell bent on proving that it did not and could not happen. I am not talking about the burden of proof, I am talking about motivation. I say this as a former atheist.

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk October 1, 2009 at 8:18 am

Eaglewood: I am not talking about the burden of proof…

Of course you are.

I say this as a former atheist.

Roll-eyes. Let’s go to the short list: apologists who do not claim to be former atheists.

  (Quote)

WillieB October 1, 2009 at 8:31 am

“But Hitler’s massacres can be explained just fine by positing that Hitler had certain ordinary brain states like beliefs and desires that caused him to massacre the Jews. So there is no justification for demanding that some exotic property or force called “evil” is also part of the explanation for Hitler’s massacres.”

So if Hitler was just born that way, what makes what he did ‘evil’? By what standard do you call something evil? Majority rules?

  (Quote)

El Borak October 1, 2009 at 8:44 am

WillieB: By what standard do you call something evil? Majority rules?

Nine out of ten people enjoy gang rape.

  (Quote)

WillieB October 1, 2009 at 9:02 am

Exactly my point. I like cheating people, you like feeding the homeless. What’s the difference? Why is one better? Who says?

  (Quote)

jay c October 1, 2009 at 9:04 am

I agree with Eaglewood on the concept of evil. If there is a “force of evil” it is the evil inclination that exists as a part of every person’s character. When the Bible speaks of evil it is usually referring to something harmful. For example, disease, starvation, and war are evils because they do a great deal of harm. God sometimes does harm to people and can therefore be said to do them evil. Some reactionary Christians might call that heresy or blasphemy or something, but only because they are ignorant of their own scriptures. Evil is not a being or a force but an event or an adjective describing an event or its cause. Lucifer is evil because he does harm but can only be called the embodiment of evil in a poetic sense.

  (Quote)

Eaglewood October 1, 2009 at 9:23 am

Reginald Selkirk:
Of course you are.
Roll-eyes. Let’s go to the short list: apologists who do not claim to be former atheists.

So you are here deciding for ME what I am saying? Hmmmm…

The fact that you want to change the goal posts to serve your interests does not change the fact that I was talking about motivation in protecting one’s own interests.
I have seen enough historical evidence to assure myself that His resurrection happened. You have not. These are facts. It is also a fact that we have not developed a method of time travel that would allow you to witness what I believe based upon the historical evidence we have available. You have access to the same evidence I have and have come to a different conclusion. It takes no skin off my nose that you have chosen not to believe. I am not trying to prove to you that the resurrection happened so therefore no burden of proof is required. I was making a statement about the motivation of atheists, of which I was one, concerning whether or not the resurrection happened. Of course if you wish to continue deciding for ME what I am saying then there is no reason to continue any discussion with you.

I am not concerned with your idea of how many people are or are not former atheists. It does not change the fact that I am in fact a former atheist. I also am not an apologist I am simply a man that has seen and experienced things you could never imagine.

  (Quote)

jay c October 1, 2009 at 9:23 am

Perhaps I should have just said that evil is a loose synonym for both harm(n) and harmful(adj).

  (Quote)

Anonymous October 1, 2009 at 9:26 am

Reginald Selkirk: Of course you are.Roll-eyes. Let’s go to the short list: apologists who do not claim to be former atheists.

All Christians are by definition former atheists.

  (Quote)

Eaglewood October 1, 2009 at 10:18 am

Anonymous:
All Christians are by definition former atheists.

Not true. Many people who are now Christian come from other faiths. But then Atheism is also a set of beliefs or faith predicated on the belief that G_d or gods do not exist.

  (Quote)

C.D. October 1, 2009 at 10:18 am

lukeprog: Well, sure, though I think the alien hypothesis is only slightly less ridiculous than the Magic hypothesis. But what I’m saying is that the core tenets of Christianity are still not justified even if we accept the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus says nothing about whether Jesus was divine, whether sin exists or ‘atonement’ is real, whether heaven or hell exists, whether the Bible is of any value, and so on.

Luke,

Are you saying you believe the historical accounts of Jesus being resurrected to be true?

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk October 1, 2009 at 10:27 am

Eaglewood: Not true. Many people who are now Christian come from other faiths.

I believe the point is that all persons are born atheist.

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk October 1, 2009 at 10:28 am

Eaglewood: But then Atheism is also a set of beliefs or faith predicated on the belief that G_d or gods do not exist.

Spouting nonsense like that will make people think that you’re lying about being a former atheist.

  (Quote)

Eaglewood October 1, 2009 at 10:57 am

Reginald Selkirk:
Spouting nonsense like that will make people think that you’re lying about being a former atheist.

Can you prove that G_d does not exist? No person can. Nor can I prove to you that He does, because you will not accept the evidence I have seen of His existance. Therefore it is belief or faith that you make the assumption that he does not exist. Any claim otherwise is simply rationalization. Please, I have been down this road many times. You have yet to make even a reasoned response to anything I have said. When you have anything other than the common responses of those who have not actually researched this for themselves get back to me.

To further my claim Atheists also proselytize. The whole point of this blog is to show the world how wonderful Atheism is and that you would have common sense to join you in your belief that G_d does not exist. To top that off Secular Humanism which is closely related to atheism (you cannot be a secular humanist without being an atheist) is a recognized religion. Been there done that did not even get a silly T-shirt.

  (Quote)

Rich2 October 1, 2009 at 11:06 am

Actually, atheist have been demonized , largely by Christians for a long time. People have died for it. It’s okay to show we’re decent human beings. Unless you think we araen’t?

  (Quote)

Lee A. P. October 1, 2009 at 11:18 am

“Can you prove that G_d does not exist?”

You cannot prove that microscopic, invisible gnomes do not live in my ass either. They are too tiny to be seen with the human eye or even with instrumentation and even if we could, they are invisible too. But they are there. Living in my ass. And they created everything. And you absolutely cannot disprove this claim. You really can’t.

  (Quote)

MacGuy October 1, 2009 at 11:20 am

Reginald Selkirk: Spouting nonsense like that will make people think that you’re lying about being a former atheist.

Being a former atheist does not necessarily imply uniformity with the beliefs/rationalizations of other atheists. Yes, there are various forms of atheism that atheists have called “weak” and “strong”. And yes, to your surprise, there are atheists who believe that atheism equals God does not exist. Heck, that form of atheism still exists. It’s a total non-sequitar to argue that a failure to recognize the different forms means that he/she is lying about them being an (or former) atheist.

Please, don’t make arguments like this.

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk October 1, 2009 at 11:29 am

Eaglewood: Can you prove that G_d does not exist? No person can. Nor can I prove to you that He does, because you will not accept the evidence I have seen of His existance. Therefore it is belief or faith that you make the assumption that he does not exist. Any claim otherwise is simply rationalization.

There you go again, attempting to invert the burden of proof. I will waste no more time on you.

  (Quote)

Eaglewood October 1, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Reginald Selkirk:
There you go again, attempting to invert the burden of proof. I will waste no more time on you.

Typical. Can’t raise a decent retort so he runs away.

  (Quote)

Eaglewood October 1, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Lee A. P.: “Can you prove that G_d does not exist?”You cannot prove that microscopic, invisible gnomes do not live in my ass either. They are too tiny to be seen with the human eye or even with instrumentation and even if we could, they are invisible too. But they are there. Living in my ass. And they created everything. And you absolutely cannot disprove this claim. You really can’t.

Feel free to believe what you want. I have no desire to even really bother such an asinine statement. But I would dare say there is not thousands of years of written historical documentation to back up your claim about having ass gnomes. But hey if that is what makes you happy continue being an ass that has no reasonable retort.

Luke,
I thought we were supposed to be having a reasonable and polite discourse. I guess I was wrong.

  (Quote)

Rich2 October 1, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Eaglewood: Typical. Can’t raise a decent retort so he runs away.

I think he’s right. You claim something incredible – you should have incredible evidence, why else would we believe you?

  (Quote)

Rich2 October 1, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Eaglewood, I thik your ‘historical documentation’ is fiction set in real world surroundings.

  (Quote)

jay c October 1, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Rich2: Eaglewood, I thik your ‘historical documentation’ is fiction set in real world surroundings.

I believe that many old documents that purport to contain accurate accounts of real events are fiction. They remain historical documents no matter my opinion of their contents.

  (Quote)

Rich2 October 1, 2009 at 12:59 pm

That’s fine. The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe is therefore a “historical document”

  (Quote)

The CronoLink October 1, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Luke, you need to stop this right now and at least read his book completely before continuing this, because you’re doing some pretty damn wrong assumptions about him and what he wrote on his response, even so far as to ascribe him to beliefs other Christians believe he does not subscribe to whatsoever. I have absolutely no idea where did you come with such absurd notions, for even his response doesn’t warrant them either.

  (Quote)

ayer October 1, 2009 at 1:55 pm

lukeprog: Right, so here’s a key issue. What DID he say? The ‘fact’ of Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t tell you that. Does his resurrection vindicate his claims that the end of the world was just around the corner? Or his claims to be God? Or other claims? Or, perhaps most likely of all, none of the claims that are attributed to him by various and disagreeing sects (some of which are recorded in the NT, some of which are not)?

Why wouldn’t the same biblical sources that provide the evidence for the “fact” of the resurrection also provide the evidence for what Jesus said? If those sources are stipulated to substantiate an event as extraordinary resurrection, it seems they would also substantiate Jesus’ statements.

  (Quote)

jay c October 1, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Rich2: That’s fine. The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe is therefore a “historical document”

Yes, because everything ever written, including The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, purports “to contain accurate accounts of real events.” As an interesting aside, after hundreds of years, it probably will be considered a historical document in the same way that we now think of Canterbury Tails, not because it claims to be factual, but because it will shed light on the culture in which it was written and became so popular.

  (Quote)

jay c October 1, 2009 at 3:51 pm

On second thought, I can understand why you would feel that The Chronicles of Narnia should be in the same category as the Bible. They are both written about imaginary events from your pov. The relevant distinction is that the former is plainly and wholly allegorical and not intended to be taken as anything resembling a factual account while the latter is mostly intended by its authors to be understood as representing actual events in real life.

  (Quote)

Tom October 1, 2009 at 4:48 pm

Penneyworth, everyone makes behavioral decison daily based on moral presuppostions. What are yours and from whence do they derive?

Luke, science does not happen in a value-free or presuppostiional vacuum. Mathematics, as the so-called language of science, may lend it the appearance of being amoral and “pure”, but history tells me otherswise.

  (Quote)

Lee A. P. October 1, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Eaglewood: Feel free to believe what you want. I have no desire to even really bother such an asinine statement. But I would dare say there is not thousands of years of written historical documentation to back up your claim about having ass gnomes. But hey if that is what makes you happy continue being an ass that has no reasonable retort.Luke,I thought we were supposed to be having a reasonable and polite discourse. I guess I was wrong.

Your comment about your God was every bit as asinine as my comment about anal dwelling gnomes. The burden of proof is not on the non-believer to prove that your ill defined God with contradictory attributes exists.

And if the age of ones scripture denotes authenticity then Christianty is surely not the one true religion.

  (Quote)

Erik October 1, 2009 at 7:03 pm

Lee A. P.:
The burden of proof is not on the non-believer to prove that your ill defined God with contradictory attributes exists.

Actually, as all of history attests to an obvious religious component to humanity, the onus is upon those claiming that that religious part of humanity is wrong and is not a result of a creator. After all, you are claiming that greater than 90% of all people who have ever lived were wrong in their belief in the supernatural, be it a god or spiritism or ancestral worship.

If anyone is making an “extraordinary claim” it is those stating that all of humanity is wrong and they are the only ones in possession of the truth.

  (Quote)

drj October 1, 2009 at 7:10 pm

MacGuy:
Being a former atheist does not necessarily imply uniformity with the beliefs/rationalizations of other atheists. Yes, there are various forms of atheism that atheists have called “weak” and “strong”. And yes, to your surprise, there are atheists who believe that atheism equals God does not exist. Heck, that form of atheism still exists. It’s a total non-sequitar to argue that a failure to recognize the different forms means that he/she is lying about them being an (or former) atheist.
Please, don’t make arguments like this.

Please spare some of this for Eaglewood and any other guy that comes along with the old canard “Atheism is faith because you can’t know for sure that God doesnt exist”. Not even Richard Dawkins is that kind of atheist… I don’t blame Reginald for getting fed up with it that nonsense…. it takes an immense patience, beyond most of our capacities, to put up with it..

  (Quote)

drj October 1, 2009 at 7:23 pm

Eaglewood: Not true. Many people who are now Christian come from other faiths. But then Atheism is also a set of beliefs or faith predicated on the belief that G_d or gods do not exist.

Atheism is used in many different ways.. but it might behoove you to actually learn the way most of the “neo-atheists” tend to use the term – by many peoples definitions, they would be considered agnostics. This is even true of guys like Richard Dawkins, or Christopher Hitchens.

So your criticisms that atheists have “faith that there is no God”, is a straw-man.

I do see Luke use the phrase “God doesn’t exist” quite often enough, so I’m not sure exactly sure if he is a strong atheist, or more of an agnostic atheist, but I imagine he errs more on the side of agnostic atheist (even though he is mostly entirely sure that no god(s) exist).

I do understand Reginald’s frustration – this is a basic point, yet is nearly universally misunderstood by theists in their overconfident criticisms. Any atheist who spends any time at all chatting on the internet, sees it about 10 times per day and presented as if its some earth shattering point that no one has ever considered. Guess what? Its “sunday school” stuff..

  (Quote)

ayer October 1, 2009 at 7:32 pm

Lee A. P.: The burden of proof is not on the non-believer to prove that your ill defined God with contradictory attributes exists.

Actually, the burden of proof is on the atheist, because belief in God is “properly basic.” This effort to shift the burden of proof is commonly known as “trying to pull a fast one.” See:

http://www.leaderu.com/truth/3truth02.html

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 1, 2009 at 7:40 pm

C.D.,

No. As I’ve said in both my letters to Vox, I’m trying to figure out why Vox is a Christian EVEN IF we granted the cosmological argument, ontological argument, the resurrection of Jesus and so on. But only for the sake of argument. I do not, of course, think Jesus rose from the dead.

  (Quote)

Chuck October 1, 2009 at 7:40 pm

The burden of proof is on whoever is making the positive claim.

  (Quote)

Erik October 1, 2009 at 7:41 pm

drj: Atheism is used in many different ways.. but it might behoove you to actually learn the way most of the “neo-atheists” tend to use the term – by many peoples definitions, they would be considered agnostics.

DRJ,

If they are using the incorrect terms to label their beliefs that doesn’t speak too highly of them, nor does it facilitate discussion. Its akin to a giant moving of the goalposts. After all, this site isn’t named “CommonSenseAgnostic-Atheism” nor is it called “Neo-Atheism” Are you then claiming that Luke is being less than honest with the debate thus far or are you preparing to move the goalposts for him? Or is it that you are muddying the waters when luke himself has stated I “came out” as an atheist Please note that he did not qualify that statement and as such it should be taken as he wrote it, that he is an unqualified atheist.

  (Quote)

drj October 1, 2009 at 7:42 pm

ayer: Actually, the burden of proof is on the atheist, because belief in God is “properly basic.” This effort to shift the burden of proof is commonly known as “trying to pull a fast one.” See:

Thankfully, cognitive science, neuroscience, and biology in general give us plenty reason to be very skeptical of some beliefs that many claim are “properly basic”.

What the reformed epistemology of Alvin Plantinga amounts to, is an elaborate excuse to dismiss empiricism and standards of evidence when its convenient for ones own personal bias.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 1, 2009 at 7:48 pm

Eaglewood: Luke,
I thought we were supposed to be having a reasonable and polite discourse. I guess I was wrong.

What part of my letter did you think was unreasonable or impolite, Eaglewood?

  (Quote)

drj October 1, 2009 at 7:54 pm

Erik:
DRJ,If they are using the incorrect terms to label their beliefs that doesn’t speak too highly of them, nor does it facilitate discussion. Its akin to a giant moving of the goalposts. After all, this site isn’t named “CommonSenseAgnostic-Atheism” nor is it called “Neo-Atheism” Are you then claiming that Luke is being less than honest with the debate thus far or are you preparing to move the goalposts for him? Or is it that you are muddying the waters when luke himself has stated I “came out” as an atheist Please note that he did not qualify that statement and as such it should be taken as he wrote it, that he is an unqualified atheist.

But its not the incorrect term. While the common lay person might make the mistake that atheism is always the positive belief that there is no God, they would be wrong.

If your definition of atheist, is “one who says there is absolutely no God”, then you will find not many of them exist. By that definition, even Richard Dawkins isnt an atheist: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spectrum_of_theistic_probability

Its not “moving the goalposts”… some people just arent seeing where the goalposts really are.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 1, 2009 at 7:54 pm

Tom,

I have no illusions about science being anything than a fully human adventure. It just works WAY BETTER at getting at the truth than any other method we’ve discovered, as history proves.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 1, 2009 at 7:56 pm

ayer,

I hereby declare that my belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster is properly basic to me. But I’ll bet you feel no burden of proof to disprove me. You might even think I should show some reason to believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists. But your effort to shift the burden of proof to me is just “trying to pull a fast one.” See:

http://www.leaderu.com/truth/3truth02.html

(except, word-substitute “God” for “the Flying Spaghetti Monster”)

  (Quote)

Erik October 1, 2009 at 8:13 pm

drj: If your definition of atheist, is “one who says there is absolutely no God”, then you will find not many of them exist. By that definition, even Richard Dawkins isnt an atheist:

DRJ,

It is really hard to know where those goalposts are if you are all playing by house definitions of standard English words. Atheism is defined as:
1. the doctrine or belief that there is no God.
2. disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.

You can dispute that if you like, but that amounts to disagreeing with the English Language. It would behoove you to instead select terms that properly describe your beliefs. Since Luke has not bothered to use a qualified “atheism” then one must use the standard definition found in the dictionary All else is chaos, which if you continue to call yourself by that unqualified term while meaning something else, you are intentionally causing that chaos.

  (Quote)

Erik October 1, 2009 at 8:19 pm

lukeprog: lukeprog

ayer,

I hereby declare that my belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster is properly basic to me. But I’ll bet you feel no burden of proof to disprove me. You might even think I should show some reason to believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists. But your effort to shift the burden of proof to me is just “trying to pull a fast one.”

Luke, this is the same thing as I posted earlier:Actually, as all of history attests to an obvious religious component to humanity, the onus is upon those claiming that that religious part of humanity is wrong and is not a result of a creator. After all, you are claiming that greater than 90% of all people who have ever lived were wrong in their belief in the supernatural, be it a god or spiritism or ancestral worship.

If anyone is making an “extraordinary claim” it is those stating that all of humanity is wrong and they are the only ones in possession of the truth.

Your newfound faith in the FSM is 1) snarky, 2) a belief in the supernatural that would put you in the place of the greater than 90% of all humans who have ever lived. This doesn’t change the fact that it it the atheist that is declaring the abnormal and “extraordinary” claim that the vast majority of humanity has been wrong and that Atheists are the only ones in possession of the truth.

  (Quote)

drj October 1, 2009 at 8:33 pm

Erik:
DRJ,It is really hard to know where those goalposts are if you are all playing by house definitions of standard English words. Atheism is defined as:
1. the doctrine or belief that there is no God.
2. disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.
You can dispute that if you like, but that amounts to disagreeing with the English Language. It would behoove you to instead select terms that properly describe your beliefs. Since Luke has not bothered to use a qualified “atheism” then one must use the standard definition found in the dictionary All else is chaos, which if you continue to call yourself by that unqualified term while meaning something else, you are intentionally causing that chaos.

Well, take a look at the definition of “disbelief” – “disbelief” is the term used in definition #2 of ‘atheism’: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/disbelief

“1. the inability or refusal to believe or to accept something as true.”

That is certainly compatible with a less than dogmatic view about the non-existence of deities.

Even a cursory review of many of the more popular modern atheist writings will generally show you an atheism that is incompatible with definition #1 in the dictionary you linked, while being compatible with #2. In other words, its not a doctrine or dogma. So… its reasonable to question how much anyone has really “done their homework” when they come singing that same ol’ song “atheism is faith!”.

  (Quote)

Rich October 1, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Wow, equivocating around ‘extraordinary’ coupled with argumentum ad populam. It’s a new one, I guess.

  (Quote)

Erik October 1, 2009 at 9:14 pm

DRJ,

You aren’t helping yourself any here. Parsing those two definitions gets us the following: the inability or refusal to believe in the existence of a supreme being or beings So you are either unable or unwilling to believe in a supreme being… how is that different than what I stated above? Oh yeah, its not. Atheism is a belief that there is no god(s), your attempts to equivocate not withstanding. And no, it is not compatible with a less dogmatic definition. As mentioned above, redefining words to suit you is chaotic, and it is becoming apparent that you have no problems with that. Perhaps you hold that agnostic applies to you? But of course, that is not what you have stated and it certainly is not what Luke has claimed for himself.

But here is what is really amazing… The fact that enlightened pseudo-atheists (for lack of a term that applies to whatever your beliefs actually are) would resort to prevarication rather than the debate that was originally laid out. This certainly isn’t the new territory that Luke claimed to want to cover in his first letter to Vox. I had hoped for better than this but am still waiting to see it.

  (Quote)

Mark H. October 1, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Ah, I see that by refusing to “regurgitate all the usual arguments,” Vox Day and Luke have merely forced those same arguments to be vomited up in the comments.

I guess the rule for reading comments on youtube also applies to comments on blogs about religion: Don’t.

  (Quote)

Erik October 1, 2009 at 9:18 pm

Rich: Wow, equivocating around ‘extraordinary’ coupled with argumentum ad populam. It’s a new one, I guess.

Rich,

It is the atheists who like to claim that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. 90+% of all humanity does seem to make religion the established, which makes a claim stating that all those people are wrong, by definition, extraordinary. Perhaps you and DRJ are in the same boat and like to redefine words to suit yourselves?

  (Quote)

Beelzebub October 1, 2009 at 11:17 pm

Erik: It is the atheists who like to claim that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. 90+% of all humanity does seem to make religion the established, which makes a claim stating that all those people are wrong, by definition, extraordinary. Perhaps you and DRJ are in the same boat and like to redefine words to suit yourselves?

It’s not such an unreasonable jump considering that we already know billions of people are religiously incorrect. There are over a billion Muslims. There are over a billion Christians. Both sides can’t be right. The extraordinary claim is that billions of people can be wrong, and we already know this is true, one way or another.

  (Quote)

Erik October 1, 2009 at 11:48 pm

Beelzebub:
There are over a billion Muslims.There are over a billion Christians.Both sides can’t be right.

At issue is not what religion these people subscribe to, but rather that they do in fact subscribe to a religion. This still makes the atheist claim extraordinary

  (Quote)

Beelzebub October 2, 2009 at 2:17 am

At issue is not what religion these people subscribe to, but rather that they do in fact subscribe to a religion. This still makes the atheist claim extraordinary

No, I’ll tell you what it makes the atheist claim: extraordinarily prudent. What are we to make of the perennial debate over who was the best James Bond, Roger Moore or Sean Connery? What are we to make of the extremely important and divisive People Magazine opinion on the who is the Sexiest Man Alive? Perhaps that both sides are full of BS? Could that possibly be a rational conclusion?

  (Quote)

Hylomorphic October 2, 2009 at 2:28 am

Erik:
DRJ,It is really hard to know where those goalposts are if you are all playing by house definitions of standard English words. Atheism is defined as:
1. the doctrine or belief that there is no God.
2. disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.
You can dispute that if you like, but that amounts to disagreeing with the English Language. It would behoove you to instead select terms that properly describe your beliefs. Since Luke has not bothered to use a qualified “atheism” then one must use the standard definition found in the dictionary All else is chaos, which if you continue to call yourself by that unqualified term while meaning something else, you are intentionally causing that chaos.

Seriously? A dictionary definition?

Do you have any idea how those are made? They’re fine for clarifying the meaning of an unfamiliar word, sure, but notoriously bad tools for settling this kind of argument. The short definitions of words found in popular lexicons simply do not convey the genuine complexity of their actual use.

As it happens, defining atheism in terms of lack of a belief in a God–or at least, allowing that such a thing can properly be called atheism–has been prevalent for quite some time. It long pre-dates the “New Atheists.” 90 years ago, Bertrand Russell called himself an atheist in just the sense that Luke uses.

Quibbling at words like this does not make you look intelligent; it makes you look stubborn and uneducated.

  (Quote)

Kiwi Dave October 2, 2009 at 5:14 am

Erik: “At issue is not what religion these people subscribe to, but rather that they do in fact subscribe to a religion.”

I’m somewhat staggered that you should use as evidence beliefs you regard as false, for you don’t believe in a generalized god or religion but a particular god for whom you make particular claims which, if true, invalidate the majority of religious claims.

Given the mutually exclusive nature of god beliefs, the numbers of believers and beliefs, it is clear the majority must be mistaken, with no likelihood, unless better evidence than I’ve seen is provided, that any are true.

When I say I’m an atheist I mean first that I’m as unconvinced by evidence for the existence of your god as I am (and I assume you are) by the evidence for other people’s gods, and second, that some particular characterizations of some specific gods are so incoherent as to begin to look impossible. Because it’s notoriously difficult to prove a universal negative from empirical evidence – the only evidence I regard as reliable – and because many people a great deal smarter and better educated than I am do believe in particular gods I’m usually willing to listen to contrary viewpoints, but until someone provides better evidence, I’ll continue to think of gods as a bit like purple and yellow striped unicorns dancing on pogo sticks – not impossible but so very unlikely as to justify unbelief as the most sensible response.

And no, I’m not trying to convert you to atheism – just trying to explain why I think the burden of proof is on the believer who sees things I don’t. If SOME believers would leave unbelievers alone, stop trying to screw up science education, and stop justifying some anti-social policies in their god’s name, I suspect many atheists would stop pushing back.

  (Quote)

Penneyworth October 2, 2009 at 6:35 am

Tom,

d00d! u respodid 2 mai pozt! I thot L00k wuz t onli 1 hoo red mai postz cuz we R TIGHT (he showd mi hiz n00d pix lol)

Moral presuppositions, eh? When a word has vastly different meanings from one person to the next, it is useless. L00k says he will get into the semantics, but I suspect that when he irons out the details, a clear, ivory tower definition of morality will emerge that looks nothing like what a theist accepts (that morality is a superfluous term that merely refers to what gawd decides.) I’ll happily accept the theist version of morality, but despite gawd being MORALLY PERFECT (skeet skeet skeet), he still isn’t nice. You see, I care about virtues that have coherent definitions. When someone says MORALITY, it sounds like a dog barking. You could have gathered that from my last post, but its fun to repeat myself and pretend it makes a difference.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 2, 2009 at 7:18 am

Penneyworth,

oh god, let’s not open that Pandora’ Box of language degredation…

  (Quote)

Penneyworth October 2, 2009 at 7:42 am

What, the lolspeak or the debated definition of morality?

  (Quote)

C.D. October 2, 2009 at 7:48 am

lukeprog: C.D.,No. As I’ve said in both my letters to Vox, I’m trying to figure out why Vox is a Christian EVEN IF we granted the cosmological argument, ontological argument, the resurrection of Jesus and so on. But only for the sake of argument. I do not, of course, think Jesus rose from the dead.

Then what is your explanation for all the detailed accounts that point in the opposite direction of what you believe?

  (Quote)

Eaglewood October 2, 2009 at 7:53 am

lukeprog:
What part of my letter did you think was unreasonable or impolite, Eaglewood?

Luke,
Sorry for not responding sooner. I do have a life outside of the blogosphere. It was not you that was impolite, but your commenters have been. While I understand you cannot control what they say you can impose rules conferring that politeness be used in responding to others in the discussion of your post, and then enforcing those rules, much as I do on my own blog.

I was disgusted with the person claims about his posterior gnomes, and the fact that one of your commenters was deciding to take it upon himself to tell me what I was saying, even after I explicitly clarified my remarks and then refused to engage me upon the merits of my statements.

  (Quote)

Chuck October 2, 2009 at 7:57 am

What detailed accounts?

  (Quote)

Lee A. P. October 2, 2009 at 8:49 am

Eaglewood: Luke,Sorry for not responding sooner. I do have a life outside of the blogosphere. It was not you that was impolite, but your commenters have been. While I understand you cannot control what they say you can impose rules conferring that politeness be used in responding to others in the discussion of your post, and then enforcing those rules, much as I do on my own blog.I was disgusted with the person claims about his posterior gnomes, and the fact that one of your commenters was deciding to take it upon himself to tell me what I was saying, even after I explicitly clarified my remarks and then refused to engage me upon the merits of my statements.

You mean, like on Vox Beale’s blog? You guys are worse that we are!

  (Quote)

Erik October 2, 2009 at 9:18 am

Kiwi Dave
I’m somewhat staggered that you should use as evidence beliefs you regard as false,

Staggered because it is an uncommon approach? It might be, but the fact remains that the vast majority of all who have ever lived exhibit a religious component. Since this is not an isolated thing the obvious conclusion is that the human psyche feels compelled towards religion. A small subset of the population, atheists, contends that this is wrong and that they are the only ones with the truth. Its akin to walking into a room full of 200 people and stating that everything that they believe is wrong. You’d better have some serious proof.

Hylomorphic
Seriously? A dictionary definition?

HAHAHAHA. Yes, surprise! An actual standard english term. Or would you prefer to use the roots? Greek atheos, godless : a-, without; see a-1 + theos, god; That you are all trying to keep room for equivocation regarding your beliefs is the funny thing here. If the standard english word doesn’t REALLY apply to you, then STOP USING IT. Or at least stop whining when someone points out that your slip is showing.

Beelzebub
Way to go irrelevant there.

  (Quote)

Eaglewood October 2, 2009 at 9:31 am

Lee A. P.:
You mean, like on Vox Beale’s blog? You guys are worse that we are!

I do not disagree that the regular commenters over at Vox’s blog can be quite vitriolic at times, but Vox has never claimed otherwise and politeness was never a requirement (in fact a problem on many blogs). Vox only states that you will be responded to in kind. But I was not referring to Vox’s blog. I was referring to my own. There are more than two blogs on the interwebs I insist upon polite discourse, and will delete and ban those who refuse to abide by the rules. I was just referring to the fact that Luke said this was to be a polite discussion yet the people commenting on this post have been less than polite.
While Vox’s posts on Atheism can be entertaining I hold no illusions that I am one of the “Ilk” (the name regular commenters have adopted at Vox’s)

  (Quote)

Josh October 2, 2009 at 9:42 am

Erik,

Staggered because it is an uncommon approach? It might be, but the fact remains that the vast majority of all who have ever lived exhibit a religious component. Since this is not an isolated thing the obvious conclusion is that the human psyche feels compelled towards religion. A small subset of the population, atheists, contends that this is wrong and that they are the only ones with the truth. Its akin to walking into a room full of 200 people and stating that everything that they believe is wrong. You’d better have some serious proof.

This is completely erroneous. First of all, we know that many of our innate psychological beliefs are completely false. For example, the ideas of quantum mechanics are positively violent to our physical intuition. This is likely because we evolved in a world where quantum effects are negligible. There are many, many other examples where our intuition is way off about the “true nature of the world”, if you will.

So, I think it’s a really bad idea to trust anyone’s intuition about anything as deep and fundamental as religion, especially considering there are many contradictory accounts. And even more so considering that each contradictory account has exactly the same amount of evidence in favor of it.

Atheists don’t claim we have the truth: we merely ask for the same skepticism about your own religion as you have for all other religions. What you’re trying to do is shift the burden of proof, as was stated before. Moreover, many religious believers across the world are in such a position as an accident of birth. For example, if you’re born in Iran, you’re likely to be Muslim, but if you’re born in the US, you’re likely to be Christian. It seems genuinely odd that you’re using such contingencies as evidence that there is some truth to religious belief.

  (Quote)

Erik October 2, 2009 at 9:54 am

Josh: So, I think it’s a really bad idea to trust anyone’s intuition about anything as deep and fundamental as religion, especially considering there are many contradictory accounts. And even more so considering that each contradictory account has exactly the same amount of evidence in favor of it.

Josh,

You are, in effect, saying that these people all blindly and unthinkingly followed their faith their entire lives and that they never had any evidence for it. Of course, Atheists are Enlightened and are the only ones to have ever been skeptical regarding religion.

The fact remains that all these people have found a spiritual component to this life and you are still claiming that they are wrong. The burden really does lie with you as you are disputing all cultures since the beginning of recorded history, and even of cultures who left no writing. Atheists have always played under the assumption that atheism is the default, but history records otherwise. This is not shifting the burden, merely acknowledging where it truly belongs.

  (Quote)

drj October 2, 2009 at 10:27 am

HAHAHAHA. Yes, surprise! An actual standard english term. Or would you prefer to use the roots? Greek atheos, godless : a-, without; see a-1 + theos, god; That you are all trying to keep room for equivocation regarding your beliefs is the funny thing here. If the standard english word doesn’t REALLY apply to you, then STOP USING IT. Or at least stop whining when someone points out that your slip is showing.

“Without gods” – this is a perfectly acceptable way to refer to a person who has no belief in God or gods, but does not hold as certain the non-existence of them. It in no way implies an absolute rejection of the possibility.

As Hylomorphic pointed out, this usage of the term atheist has been prevalent for nearly a century, and is almost universally understood as a given in common philosophical discourse. So most of us are perfectly well within the parameters of the term to use it as we do.

But be that as it may, if you want to refer to nearly all modern atheists instead as agnostics, then go ahead. Who cares – just be consistent about it.

Furthermore, realize that your original argument only applies to those who would absolutely reject any possibility of a deity. Most of the “atheists” here would probably agree that such a position overtly dogmatic, unreasonable, ultimately very “faith-like”. But no one here that I know of fits that particular mold. That argument does not apply to anyone here that I know of.

  (Quote)

Rich2 October 2, 2009 at 10:42 am

A delicious irony is that many of the sycophants at Vox’s blog actually worship him. He of course loves this.

  (Quote)

Jeff H October 2, 2009 at 11:42 am

Erik:
The fact remains that all these people have found a spiritual component to this life and you are still claiming that they are wrong. The burden really does lie with you as you are disputing all cultures since the beginning of recorded history, and even of cultures who left no writing. Atheists have always played under the assumption that atheism is the default, but history records otherwise. This is not shifting the burden, merely acknowledging where it truly belongs.

It does not matter one bit what people have “always believed”. If 90% of humanity believed in invisible unicorns that held the world together, it matters diddly-squat. If someone comes and says, “But why do you believe unicorns exist,” the burden of proof is still on the unicorn-believers to produce evidence for their beliefs. It doesn’t matter how many people believe it, how long it has been believed, or anything of the sort. Positive claims require evidence.

To put it somewhat simpler, we are talking about a logical burden of proof, not a social burden of proof. People might not understand a-unicornism, meaning the person needs to have an explanation for their lack of belief, but the logical burden of proof still relies on unicornists if their beliefs ever come into dispute.

  (Quote)

Erik October 2, 2009 at 11:54 am

Jeff H: It does not matter one bit what people have “always believed”. If 90% of humanity believed in invisible unicorns that held the world together, it matters diddly-squat.

What matters is not the specifics of the belief, and that is where you guys are stuck. That is not what is at issue. At issue is the fact that the vast majority of people hold to some form of spiritualism, all of which you are summarily claiming is incorrect. What form that spiritualism takes does not matter, so please don’t get caught up in that. Muslims have a different specific spiritual claim than Christians which is different than Hindus, etc. But the fact of the matter is that these people have all a common spiritual component. That spirituality is what you are claiming is false. Burden still lies upon you to prove that all those people are wrong. Playing the game of pitting specific beliefs against each other is just that, a game.

  (Quote)

ayer October 2, 2009 at 11:57 am

lukeprog: I hereby declare that my belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster is properly basic to me. But I’ll bet you feel no burden of proof to disprove me. You might even think I should show some reason to believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists. But your effort to shift the burden of proof to me is just “trying to pull a fast one.” See:

http://www.leaderu.com/truth/3truth02.html

(except, word-substitute “God” for “the Flying Spaghetti Monster”)

Your response actually makes my point. You have offered no defeater for my properly basic belief in God, therefore the belief stands and you have not met your burden of proof. You have not gotten by with “pulling a fast one.” Sorry.

  (Quote)

Eaglewood October 2, 2009 at 12:08 pm

JeffH

The problem is that it does not matter what evidence we give, be it historical, testimonial, scientific (archeology), so on and so forth, it is never enough, the only evidence (proof) atheists have been willing to accept is the one that they KNOW cannot be used to prove why we believe what we do. While we can present tons of evidence of the supernatural, nobody is willing to accept it at face value because it is not subject to “testing” under the “scientific method”.
Why are we required to give you proof of His existence when you have no requirement to prove your statement that G_d does not exist, or that you doubt His existence?

  (Quote)

Rich2 October 2, 2009 at 12:40 pm

‘my belief is rational because I say it is and lots of people have beliefs that are kinda-sorta like mine even though if we get into sepcifics they are definatley mutually exclusive so can’t all be right but for my purposes they prove my point and lots of people believing in stuff is good enough to make it ‘conceptually true’ even though I gots nothing on the emperical front at all.’

  (Quote)

Rich2 October 2, 2009 at 12:46 pm

“testing” and “scientific method” get scare quotes? Oh you materialists / methodological naturalists – living your life without trying to teleport or levitate!

  (Quote)

drj October 2, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Eaglewood: JeffHThe problem is that it does not matter what evidence we give, be it historical, testimonial, scientific (archeology), so on and so forth, it is never enough, the only evidence (proof) atheists have been willing to accept is the one that they KNOW cannot be used to prove why we believe what we do. While we can present tons of evidence of the supernatural, nobody is willing to accept it at face value because it is not subject to “testing” under the “scientific method”.
Why are we required to give you proof of His existence when you have no requirement to prove your statement that G_d does not exist, or that you doubt His existence?

I don’t think so… I can imagine possible evidence that would compel me to believe – or at the very least, consider religious beliefs likely to be true. The evidence just has to exist, and be persuasive. But it just isn’t there, or I have not encountered it. Its really very easy to imagine persuasive evidence existing for the resurrection, for example… it just doesn’t exist.

The historical evidence we have to-date is hardly sufficient. Natural theology can’t get God beyond the category of extremely speculative hypothesis… and there is ample reason to be skeptical of personal experience… there’s just nothing solid there.

  (Quote)

Dan Alighieri October 2, 2009 at 1:20 pm

I think the issue that Muslims and Christians can’t both be right is a smokescreen. Like all of these ‘you don’t believe in other peoples Gods so why should I believe in yours’ arguments – they sound good but on deeper probing fall down.
As has been mentioned the fact that they both believe in religion does tell us something. The fact is Muslims, Christians or even Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews etc believe in different interpretations of the spiritual nature of the universe – this is a religious difference not a scientific one.
The problem then is shifted to atheism. Atheists either believe that atheism is a spiritual interpretation in order to criticise other religions thus making atheism a religion competing with other religions.It would then
also have to concede that science is not the only means to discern truth in the universe. Which would seriously undermine the more recent variety of athesim. However if atheism does not believe in the spiritual nature of the universe then it has every right to say all religion is bunk but also it is in a minority and the onus of proof is then shifted to it. Why should the majority live by the dictates of the minority? To resort to the ignorance of comparing belief in God to the belief in Unicorns or A** gnomes shows one of the main reasons why the majority are right not to listen to the minority. They obviously have but a limited grasp at what spirituality is they have open contempt for people who do believe in it and are very ill equipped to convince anyone that their beliefs are incorrect.
What proof would an atheist accept? Gods telephone number? maybe an address? If every person in the world, except one, saw God come down to earth for an hour and the only person who didn’t was an atheist then who would be correct the entire world or the atheist? I can see the arguments now – You all had a mass hallucination, where is the concrete proof.

@drj why should we be skeptical of personal experience? Why should we not believe peoples experiences? If somebodys life is transformed by a religious experience what evidence is there that this is not real?

  (Quote)

Rich2 October 2, 2009 at 1:25 pm

“The problem then is shifted to atheism” – no it isn’t. you haven’t made a case other than lots of people hold a spectrum of strange beliefs. If genesis has “and the universe is such that energy is mass times itself divided by the speed of light” I’d be on-board. But it doesn’t. Because it was written in the bronze age with bronze age knowledge.

  (Quote)

Hylomorphic October 2, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Erik: Hylomorphic
Seriously? A dictionary definition?HAHAHAHA. Yes, surprise! An actual standard english term. Or would you prefer to use the roots? Greek atheos, godless : a-, without; seea-1 + theos, god;That you are all trying to keep room for equivocation regarding your beliefs is the funny thing here. If the standard english word doesn’t REALLY apply to you, then STOP USING IT. Or at least stop whining when someone points out that your slip is showing.

DRJ’s response was perfectly adequate, though I do have to add that I am in no sense an atheist. It’s just that one of my pet peeves is people relying on dictionary definitions; dictionaries are notoriously inadequate for this kind of discussion.

  (Quote)

Eric October 2, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Re: The meaning of the term atheism, while it is indeed the case that different people can use the same term differently (provided they clearly stipulate how they’re using it at the outset), it’s also the case that not all definitions ‘work.’

For example, If I define a blog as “a place to write down what you’re thinking,” I’ve not done a good job with my definition, since it wouldn’t allow me to distinguish a blog from any number of things, and since it would comprise any number of things that are not blogs. In other words, if a theist wants to criticize the popular internet definition of atheism as a lack of theistic belief — and I think it is easily demonstrated that it is largely a popular definition (e.g. none of the standard sources, such as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, The Oxford Guide to Philosophy, etc. recognize it as the primary definition, and most of them don’t recognize it at all) — then he is better off arguing that it doesn’t work as a definition. I think this argument can be defended quite effectively, and I’m certain it can be defended better than an appeal to the dictionary, or even than an appeal to standard philosophical resources (in fact, I think such a defense explains why the standard sources don’t generally even recognize the popular definition).

So, in my opinion, (1) it’s not as simple as some atheists suppose (e.g. ‘Not everyone uses the term the same way,’ or ‘Plenty of popular atheists have used the term as I use it’; perhaps, but the real issue is whether the definition you’re using does the work you need it to do), but (2) it’s also not as simple as some theists suppose (e.g. ‘It’s in the dictionary!’ or ‘Look at the word’s etymology’).

  (Quote)

Erik October 2, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Hylomorphic: It’s just that one of my pet peeves is people relying on dictionary definitions; dictionaries are notoriously inadequate for this kind of discussion.

On the contrary, dictionaries are what make such discussions possible. If we each have a different meaning for the words that we use then no one would understand what it is that we are saying. Communication is built upon common definitions of the terms(words) used. Otherwise there is chaos, and communication is not happening.

Now, if Luke wants to provide a glossary of terms used on this site that differ from standard dictionary terms, he is welcome to do so and it would assist in debates such as this. Until that happens it would be wise to stick to common definitions for the words used.

  (Quote)

Erik October 2, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Rich2: “The problem then is shifted to atheism” – no it isn’t. you haven’t made a case other than lots of people hold a spectrum of strange beliefs. If genesis has “and the universe is such that energy is mass times itself divided by the speed of light” I’d be on-board. But it doesn’t. Because it was written in the bronze age with bronze age knowledge.

It is not shifted to the atheist, it was always there. That the debate has always been framed by the atheists as tho they are the rational ones (read that as having the exclusive grasp on truth) has only been one projected by them. It is not in truth however and it needs to be recognized. That you haven’t personally run into it before is perhaps a problem of reading only one side and of poor logic.

  (Quote)

Dan Alighieri October 2, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Rich2: “The problem then is shifted to atheism” – no it isn’t. you haven’t made a case other than lots of people hold a spectrum of strange beliefs. If genesis has “and the universe is such that energy is mass times itself divided by the speed of light” I’d be on-board. But it doesn’t. Because it was written in the bronze age with bronze age knowledge.

Well I am afraid it is. It is only those who don’t hold a spiritual view that would say this. You are looking at spirituality as if it needs to prove something to you when it doesn’t you need to prove to yourself that it is a spectrum of strange beliefs. Who are these beliefs strange to? you?
The bible is not a scientific book so why would it have come up with E=MC2? As I tried to illustrate in my previous post. you either believe in spirituality or you don’t. To say it is bunkum when it is so widely adhered to requires proof. Spirituality is a fact if it is to be shown to be bunk then the onus is on the debunkers.
I could equally say athesim is bunk and give all manner of religious reasons but you would not accept that – so why should I accept the same from you? For me to say atheism is nonsense I would have to give you conclusive proof that it was – wouldn’t I? or is it ok to say something is nonsense without backing it up?

  (Quote)

Rich October 2, 2009 at 2:55 pm

‘spiritual’ is a jello term. In some regards I am spiritual. And atheist.

“To say it is bunkum when it is so widely adhered to requires proof” – that’s right, because we get to vote on reality, don’t we?

extending the ‘people are spritual so its all up for grabs’ nonsense: so gay invisible goblins could live an your scrotum and be sucking away your life force, because there are Muslims.

Have a think about the burden of proof and universal negatives. Lots has been written on the subject. The fact that mankind may be credulous is not an argument for god.

  (Quote)

Erik October 2, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Rich: so gay invisible goblins could live an your scrotum and be sucking away your life force, because there are Muslims.

Luke,

You have trolls.

  (Quote)

Rich October 2, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Erik: Luke,You have trolls.

If your argument that people believe in supernatural things so the burden of proof regarding the supernatural lies with the unbelievers holds, then this is fine. Deal with it.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 2, 2009 at 3:27 pm

C.D.: Then what is your explanation for all the detailed accounts that point in the opposite direction of what you believe?

Exactly what I do with the far more detailed, recent, numerous, and reliable reports that Hindu statues drank milk one day in 1995.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 2, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Penneyworth: What, the lolspeak or the debated definition of morality?

lolspeak. Unreadable.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 2, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Erik: Rich: so gay invisible goblins could live an your scrotum and be sucking away your life force, because there are Muslims.

Luke,

You have trolls.

In my balls! :(

  (Quote)

Rich October 2, 2009 at 3:36 pm

Erik: those feelings that you’re having right now… that’s how I feel about your supernatural stories.

  (Quote)

Erik October 2, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Rich: Erik: those feelings that you’re having right now… that’s how I feel about your supernatural stories.

Sorry Rich, can’t feed the trolls.

  (Quote)

Rich October 2, 2009 at 4:07 pm

but you reply. It’s easy to label folks trolls because then you don’t have to consider they’ve used your own argument against you. All I’ve done is extend someone else’s idea. Does the premise sound ridiculous? Welcome to religion!

  (Quote)

Josh October 2, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Erik,

You’re entirely missing the point by saying that “the specifics don’t matter”. The specifics are the point entirely.

But just turn your argument on yourself. Christianity, despite being the worlds largest religion, by no means has a majority of people. Therefore, most people in the world are not Christian. So it’s on the Christian to prove to the other religions that they’re religion is the correct one. But the same thing holds for all other religions: none have a majority of people in the world, and thus they have to prove themselves to the rest of the world. It’s absurd for a person of any religion to claim they hold the truth, because they are ignoring the fact that the majority of people in the world don’t have their religion!

Atheism, in a lot of ways, IS the more enlightened position, because it is one that takes a look at the mess I just highlighted and says “Wait, that’s not a place to be”. Instead, the atheist position is one of lack of belief. And, to answer a question from earlier, yes, the vast majority of people who have had spiritual experiences are wrong about their experiences. Why? Because they can’t all be right. Again, it’s just not possible for Christianity and Islam to be simultaneously true. So if a Muslim and a Christian both have a communion with their respective gods, at least one of them MUST be wrong—either they were being tricked by an evil god, or they were hallucinating, or whatever.

The point is: the specifics DO matter. Also, argument ad populum is a logical fallacy, as you may know: simply because a bajillion people believe something doesn’t speak one iota towards its truth. As I argued before, humans have been monumentally wrong on the vast majority of things that humans have ever thought about… I think you’re going to have to explain that if you really want to use an argument ad populum.

  (Quote)

Chuck October 2, 2009 at 4:31 pm

The following would seem to apply.

“A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage”

Suppose (I’m following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

“Show me,” you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle–but no dragon.

“Where’s the dragon?” you ask.

“Oh, she’s right here,” I reply, waving vaguely. “I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.”

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.

“Good idea,” I say, “but this dragon floats in the air.”

Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

“Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.”

You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

“Good idea, but she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stick.”

And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.

Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.

The only thing you’ve really learned from my insistence that there’s a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head. You’d wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me. The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind. But then, why am I taking it so seriously? Maybe I need help. At the least, maybe I’ve seriously underestimated human fallibility.

Imagine that, despite none of the tests being successful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded. So you don’t outright reject the notion that there’s a fire-breathing dragon in my garage. You merely put it on hold. Present evidence is strongly against it, but if a new body of data emerge you’re prepared to examine it and see if it convinces you. Surely it’s unfair of me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative– merely because you rendered the Scottish verdict of “not proved.”

Imagine that things had gone otherwise. The dragon is invisible, all right, but footprints are being made in the flour as you watch. Your infrared detector reads off-scale. The spray paint reveals a jagged crest bobbing in the air before you. No matter how skeptical you might have been about the existence of dragons–to say nothing about invisible ones–you must now acknowledge that there’s something here, and that in a preliminary way it’s consistent with an invisible, fire-breathing dragon.

Now another scenario: Suppose it’s not just me. Suppose that several people of your acquaintance, including people who you’re pretty sure don’t know each other, all tell you that they have dragons in their garages–but in every case the evidence is maddeningly elusive. All of us admit we’re disturbed at being gripped by so odd a conviction so ill-supported by the physical evidence. None of us is a lunatic. We speculate about what it would mean if invisible dragons were really hiding out in garages all over the world, with us humans just catching on. I’d rather it not be true, I tell you. But maybe all those ancient European and Chinese myths about dragons weren’t myths at all.

Gratifyingly, some dragon-size footprints in the flour are now reported. But they’re never made when a skeptic is looking. An alternative explanation presents itself. On close examination it seems clear that the footprints could have been faked. Another dragon enthusiast shows up with a burnt finger and attributes it to a rare physical manifestation of the dragon’s fiery breath. But again, other possibilities exist. We understand that there are other ways to burn fingers besides the breath of invisible dragons. Such “evidence” — no matter how important the dragon advocates consider it — is far from compelling. Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.

  (Quote)

Jeff H October 2, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Josh,

Although what you say is getting there, I think you end up muddying the waters, simply because even if Christianity did have a majority, it still doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.

To the rest:

It’s as simple as this: Positive claims require evidence to support them. Please, if you can, give me one example of any other positive claim in this world that we should accept based on no evidence whatsoever. I think you’ll be hard pressed to find one.

  (Quote)

ayer October 2, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Jeff H: It’s as simple as this: Positive claims require evidence to support them. Please, if you can, give me one example of any other positive claim in this world that we should accept based on no evidence whatsoever. I think you’ll be hard pressed to find one.

Please provide the evidence for the positive claim: “positive claims require evidence to support them.” You have just fallen into an infinite regress.

By the way, there are many claims which we are completely rationally justified in accepting noninferentially and without evidence: e.g., the existence of the past, the fact that other people have minds and are not just carefully constructed androids, objective moral values, the existence of God, etc. See:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_and_Other_Minds
and
http://www.4truth.net/site/apps/nl/content3.asp?c=hiKXLbPNLrF&b=778665&ct=1264233

  (Quote)

Josh October 2, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Jeff H,

You’re right. I was just trying to play on what Erik was saying.

  (Quote)

Erik October 2, 2009 at 5:59 pm

Chuck,

Beautiful story. Brought a tear to my eye. Really!

The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind. But then, why am I taking it so seriously? Maybe I need help. At the least, maybe I’ve seriously underestimated human fallibility.

Or maybe you experienced something spiritual. Now as for testing that spiritual claim via the scientific method just how do you propose to seriously propose to test the spiritual realm (aka supernatural) via natural (aka non supernatural) means? Unless of course such spiritual entity chose to 1) allow itself to be examined and 2) manifested itself into the physical realm.

  (Quote)

Erik October 2, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Josh: And, to answer a question from earlier, yes, the vast majority of people who have had spiritual experiences are wrong about their experiences. Why? Because they can’t all be right. Again, it’s just not possible for Christianity and Islam to be simultaneously true. So if a Muslim and a Christian both have a communion with their respective gods, at least one of them MUST be wrong—either they were being tricked by an evil god, or they were hallucinating, or whatever.

As for the competing exclusive spiritual claims, you are correct. And were I trying to convince you of that a particular faith is superior to the others then the burden would indeed fall upon me to prove that claim. But as I am not proselytizing I need not try.

yes, the vast majority of people who have had spiritual experiences are wrong about their experiences.

So just what is your evidence for that? It is, after all, a mighty big claim.

  (Quote)

Kiwi Dave October 2, 2009 at 6:38 pm

Erik: “And were I trying to convince you of that a particular faith is superior to the others then the burden would indeed fall upon me to prove that claim.”

I’m curious to know – do you actually believe that all faiths are equally true? And if so, would a convincing refutation of, say, the Hindu pantheon (not that I can give such a refutation), count as evidence against other gods as well, or must each faith claim stand on its own merits?

  (Quote)

Erik October 2, 2009 at 6:47 pm

Kiwi Dave: I’m curious to know – do you actually believe that all faiths are equally true? And if so, would a convincing refutation of, say, the Hindu pantheon (not that I can give such a refutation), count as evidence against other gods as well, or must each faith claim stand on its own merits?

At issue is not what they believe, but that they do. As such, I don’t think a refutation of a single religion would have an affect, although I suppose it would depend upon the evidence?

  (Quote)

Hylomorphic October 2, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Erik:
On the contrary, dictionaries are what make such discussions possible. If we each have a different meaning for the words that we use then no one would understand what it is that we are saying. Communication is built upon common definitions of the terms(words) used. Otherwise there is chaos, and communication is not happening.Now, if Luke wants to provide a glossary of terms used on this site that differ from standard dictionary terms, he is welcome to do so and it would assist in debates such as this. Until that happens it would be wise to stick to common definitions for the words used.

Reading the dictionary is not, in general, how we come to a consensus regarding word meanings; agreement about word meaning occurs naturally, more or less unconsciously, as we speak. Dictionaries are wonderful references when encountering an unfamiliar word, but little more.

Dictionaries are nothing more or less than imprecise snapshots of the state of a language at a point in time in terms of very broad usage. But this blog does not deal, strictly speaking, with the general public, but only those with some sort of interest in religious topics. In the last hundred years, the community of people who consider themselves atheists or deal with atheism on an intellectual level in some way have come to a consensus regarding the meaning of the word “atheism.” That consensus is not necessarily reflected in popular dictionaries.

If you wish to engage with atheists, you should know what that term means to them. And misusing the term–using an arbitrarily narrow definition that most atheists eschew–will almost inevitably result in a straw man.

  (Quote)

Erik October 2, 2009 at 8:21 pm

Hylomorphic: And misusing the term–using an arbitrarily narrow definition that most atheists eschew–will almost inevitably result in a straw man.

The only one I see misusing the term is you guys. You cannot invite a debate with those who are not familiar with your house definitions and then with no explanation of your terms expect them to know what you mean. If this is a straw man, it is certainly not my side that built it.

How about this, since you are intent upon using a non-standard definition of the term atheist, why don’t you give the new definition so that we can be on the same page.

  (Quote)

Rich October 2, 2009 at 8:49 pm

there are a few versions of atheist. I use the not-theist interpretation (which you can get deconstructively from the word, like asymmetrical) so that clearly encompasses agnostic, which you are if you are honest and understand that the word addresses the epistemological question, “can man know?”.

  (Quote)

Beelzebub October 3, 2009 at 12:53 am

Chuck, things would really start to get interesting when the “unicorn in the garage” phenomenon got started. I can imagine the Time magazine article. “First there was the world-wide phenomenon of people believing a dragon was in their garage, and now it’s unicorns!”

Sad to say, I think societies of the world would eventually just have to live with it. You’d go over to your friend’s house and he’d say: “Okay, but now I have to feed my unicorn.” And you’d say: “Yeah, man, you go do that…”

  (Quote)

Dan Alighieri October 3, 2009 at 2:22 am

To say one religion is superior to another is a matter of opinion. By comparing religion to beliefs in unicorns, creatures living in balls or any other part of the human anatomy is not an argument it is a smokescreen. When one argues in such a way what you are in fact saying is ‘I am totally ignorant of what you believe but I still want to ridicule it so I will cover my ignorance behind a a thin veil of argument.
I have no idea why Hindus believe in Shiva but I respect their right to do so as I am not a Hindu and know little about Hinduism so who am I to say what is right or wrong my own religion works for me.
To say all religions can’t be right is a non argument also. I believe both quantum mechanics and relativity have yet to be reconciled, if I say they both can’t be right I am just showing my ignorance of what is at stake. Islam is right for muslims, Christianity for Christians. Isn’t pluralism the catch-cry of our post-modern world? Isn’t pluralism just humanity saying, after the end of the tyranny of modernism ‘actually we don’t know which one is right’.

@Josh Everybodys spiritual experience is true – it is truth to them. The fact is the atheist arguments on this post are the same old ones they are excuses and are boring. If you think there is nothing to a profound religious experience have one and then come back and tell me they are illusions. The fact is you have pre-judged them. Christianity and Islam are simultaneously true ask a Muslim if Islam is true and then ask a Christian if Christainity is true both answer will be in the affirmative. We could ask is atheism true? well to all the atheists here it is? To then say ‘well there either is or there isn’t a God so all can’t be true’ is a matter that is beyond human comprehension. Have an experience of God and judge for yourself whether your experience is true or not.
The term spiritual is a word often misused but if there is a spiritual atheism other than the far eastern traditions then that is a religion as it relates to matters of the spirit.

@rich Maybe we don’t get to vote on reality but to say a minority could be correct requires evidence otherwise we have to consider every minority – my god maybe there is a loch ness monster. The majority is a majority for a reason which seems to go unnoticed in atheist circles that maybe the majority are not the great ignorant masses that we are led to believe. To say you are spiritual and and an atheist highlights the Lack of definition in the modern atheist movement. to be a spiritual atheist say like Buddhism one has to recognise there is a spiritual nature to humanity. In which case you are competing with other spiritualities in which case you are in effect touting a religion. To deny the the spiritual nature of humanity puts you in the position of minority and hence the onus of evidence is on you(does not mean you are incorrect). The theory of relativity is yet to be proven yet the vast majority of people have no problem believing in it. If you come along and say “relativity is rubbish”, “how can both relativity and quantum mehanics be correct” then the onus of evidence of the rubbishness of relativity is on you or it just remains your belief. To say both quantum mechanics and relativity can’t both be true so both are rubbish shows profound ignorance of both theories

  (Quote)

Rich October 3, 2009 at 8:25 am

Dan Alighieri: To say one religion is superior to another is a matter of opinion. By comparing religion to beliefs in unicorns, creatures living in balls or any other part of the human anatomy is not an argument it is a smokescreen

No, they’re all subscriptions to supernaturalism.

Dan Alighieri: To say you are spiritual and and an atheist highlights the Lack of definition in the modern atheist movement.

That’s because we are not a movement in that sense. we don’t have leaders, or a book to tell us which transgressions we should kill people for.

as for ‘evidence of rubbishness’ – empiricism takes care of that for us.

  (Quote)

Josh October 3, 2009 at 8:39 am

Dan,

You’re claiming that we’re putting up a smoke screen? I’m sorry, but you’re the one claiming that “Islam is right for muslims, Christianity for Christians.” NO. Why? Both religions make truth claims about the way the world is. And these truth claims are directly contradictory. I mean, for example, Christianity claims that that belief in Jesus as God is a necessary and sufficient belief for entry into heaven, while for Muslims the same belief is sufficient for entry into hell. This seems to suggest that belief in Jesus gets you into both heaven and hell, which can’t be true, so we can dismiss the idea that both Christianity and Islam can be simultaneously true.

Now, you go on to cite the example of General Relativity vs. Quantum Mechanics as an example where you don’t have to chose sides. This is true, you don’t. But that’s because the stakes are entirely different. GR and QM don’t, in general, make contradictory predictions—they are about different scales and speeds in the universe. And in fact, both are probably wrong, but are approximations of some deeper theory, in the same way that Newtonian mechanics is wrong but is literally the first order approximation of general relativity. But, as argued before, religions make directly contradictory claims. Hence, it is completely reasonable to say that it’s not possible for them all to be true.

“Everybodys spiritual experience is true – it is truth to them.” Yes, this is true, but it depends on what you mean by a spiritual experience being true. If you think that when someone says “I communed with God” they mean something like “I had an experience which made me feel things which I do not normally experience and I, due to prior expectation, attributed that experience to God”, then yes, that’s definitely true. But if it means “I actually interacted with a being who actually created the universe” then there is, at the least, some question to the validity of this claim. Now, as argued above, if two people from different religions are claiming the latter, one of them must be wrong. So, at the very least, we can say that the majority of spiritual experiences are false, since no religion has a majority in the world. “Have an experience of God and judge for yourself whether your experience is true or not.” Have you ever experienced an optical illusion? There are times to trust your perceptions and times to not trust them…

“The majority is a majority for a reason which seems to go unnoticed in atheist circles that maybe the majority are not the great ignorant masses that we are led to believe.”

This is an utter nonargument. The beliefs of the majority have absolutely no impact on the truth value of a proposition. As I said before, humans have been wrong about just about every single thing we have ever thought about the world.

“To deny the the spiritual nature of humanity puts you in the position of minority and hence the onus of evidence is on you”

I can really see you trying here, but this is just not the case. Sociologically, this is true: if you make a claim that very few people believe, you need to provide evidence before other people believe it. But from an epistemic standpoint, this is obviously nonsense. It’s nonsense for the simple reason that (as I’ve said a billion times) the fact that a lot of people believe something has absolutely no bearing on its truth value. Since the existence of a god or gods is a positive claim, and the onus always rests on the positive claim, the burden of proof here lies on the side of everyone else, not us.

If you’re going to say “Well then why are there so many religious/spiritual/whatever people in the world??” I’m willing to say that’s an open question, but we do have a number of naturalistic theories to explain it (e.g. mind viruses, group selection, etc.). And while these theories are hashing each other out, it’s hard to say which (if any of them) are really the case (or if it’s really a plurality of explanations). But, unlike religions themselves, arguments to explain religion actually have some evidence in their favor ;-).

  (Quote)

Erik October 3, 2009 at 10:36 am

Josh: So, at the very least, we can say that the majority of spiritual experiences are false, since no religion has a majority in the world.

Josh, we have already covered this and your rehashing of the same tired argument is serving no purpose. You made the claim that “the vast majority of people who have had spiritual experiences are wrong about their experiences” but still haven’t backed that claim up. And you are indeed making a large claim when you posit that some 10 billion people are wrong and that you are the one with the truth.

You keep trying to shift the burden to those to whom it does not belong. Now I understand that the atheists have framed the debate as if it is indeed the religious who have the burden of proof, but this was only framing. It has been very useful as it has won you a lot of debates, but the fact remains that the burden lies with the small group who is claiming that everyone else is wrong. I suppose that it is frustrating for you when you come up against someone who knows this and I can plainly see that you have not the slightest clue as to how to proceed in a debate from there. It tells me that you don’t have much of a case. Not that there isn’t one, mind you, but that you, personally, don’t seem to have it.

It’s nonsense for the simple reason that (as I’ve said a billion times) the fact that a lot of people believe something has absolutely no bearing on its truth value.
hmmm, 24 words said one billion times at approx 300 words per minute….. damn you are old. How do you fit all those candles on your cake?

  (Quote)

Rich October 3, 2009 at 11:26 am

Erik, there are an infinite number of potentially unknowable maybe-real entities. Do you believe in them all? Is it rational to believe in them all?

  (Quote)

Bob October 3, 2009 at 11:40 am

@ Luke

You see Luke, this is some of what I was talking about in the other thread.

The tone of your reply seems smug, condescending and, even more embarassing, it’s passive-aggressive. Given this exhibition of what can only be described as a somewhat childish surliness, why on earth do you believe that these qualities are conducive to conveying a persuasive plea to reason?

Most people would react with a bored eye-roll.

  (Quote)

Erik October 3, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Rich,

Did you have a point that furthers this discussion?

  (Quote)

Josh October 3, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Erik,

“You made the claim that “the vast majority of people who have had spiritual experiences are wrong about their experiences” but still haven’t backed that claim up.”

I definitely did back that up by showing that it’s not possible for multiple religions to be simultaneously correct. That means that many people must be incorrect about their religious experiences—either they are misinterpreting them, being misled, or are just experiencing a brain state that they are not used to.

And I have no problem with saying that the whole rest of the world is wrong if they actually are. For example, only a minority of Americans think that evolution is the best explanation for the diversity of life on earth. The majority that doesn’t believe it is, flat out, 100%, no question about it, absolutely, positively WRONG.

In this particular case, there’s not one iota of evidence that religious experiences are anything more than a function of brain state. So here again you’re making a positive claim and trying to shift the burden of proof: YOU are the one saying that religious experiences are more than brain states. Given what we know about how the human mind works (which is admittedly not very much), by far the most likely explanation is that religious experiences are a function of some brain state. In fact, we know that we can induce religious experiences by tinkering with the brain! That, in and of itself, is certainly not evidence against the existence of true religious experience, but in the absence of any evidence FOR true religious experiences, it speaks volumes.

Moreover, as I mentioned before, we have several naturalistic explanations for the origin of religious experience. Given that these ideas actually have some evidence in their favor, as opposed to none, it seems reasonable that we should consider those first, before considering super natural explanations. This seems especially reasonable light of the fact that every other thing ever ascribed the religion was explained naturalistically. To be honest, I’m surprised that people aren’t saying that dark matter is god tinkering with the universe to let us know he’s there.

You’re obsessed with shifting the burden of proof but you haven’t offered any reasoning as to why the positive claim of god’s existence is fundamentally different from other existence claims. It seems like you’re asserting “If a lot of people believe something, then the belief is more likely to be true than not.” I may be wrong—if you can phrase what you’re asserting as a conditional statement (just for clarity) and then argue for why that statement is true, I’d be willing to go along with you. However, if I’ve correctly ascertained what you are asserting, it’s clearly a false proposition, because there are myriad counter-examples from human history.

  (Quote)

ayer October 3, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Josh: You’re obsessed with shifting the burden of proof but you haven’t offered any reasoning as to why the positive claim of god’s existence is fundamentally different from other existence claims.

The claim of God’s existence is in the same category as the claim that other people have minds. Can you offer up an empirical explanation for why we are justified in our belief that other people have minds? Because it has not been done in the 3000 year history of philosophy; and yet, it is clear that our belief in other minds is justified a priori and that it is the skeptic who bears the burden of proof. See the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“That other human beings are mostly very like ourselves is something about which almost all of us, almost all of the time, are certain. There are exceptions, among them philosophical sceptics, and perhaps those suffering from some abnormal mental condition. We do not, of course, believe that we always or even mostly know about others’ inner lives in detail, but we do not doubt that they have an inner life, that they experience the physical world much as we do, rejoice, suffer, have thoughts, beliefs, feelings, emotions, and so on. But what, if anything, justifies our certainty? Philosophers cannot agree on what underpins this most basic of human beliefs.”

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/other-minds/

Similarly, the burden of proof is on the skeptic when it comes to challenging the rational justification of the believer in the existence of God. See:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_and_Other_Minds

  (Quote)

Rich October 3, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Erik: Rich,Did you have a point that furthers this discussion?

I just did. Sorry if you didn’t understand it.

  (Quote)

Rich October 3, 2009 at 5:46 pm

wonder why you didn’t link to this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burden_of_proof#Burden_of_Proof_in_Epistemology_and_Scientific_Methodology

oh, right;

“The Fallacy of Demanding Negative Proof
Outside a legal context, “burden of proof” means that someone suggesting a new theory or stating a claim must provide evidence to support it: it is not sufficient to say “you can’t disprove this.” Specifically, when anyone is making a bold claim, and especially a positive claim, it is not someone else’s responsibility to disprove the claim, but is rather the responsibility of the person who is making the bold claim to prove it. In short, X is not proven simply because “not X” cannot be proven (see negative proof).

[edit] Considerations
Taken more generally, the standard of proof demanded to establish any particular conclusion varies with the subject under discussion. Just as there is a difference between the standard required for a criminal conviction and in a civil case, so there are different standards of proof applied in many other areas of life. Some considerations follow.

How neatly does the claim fit into the current body of scientific knowledge?
How coherent and complete is/are the mechanism(s) offered as the cause(s) of the effect being claimed?
How independent is the claim of other suspect or controversial claims?
It is important to note the distinctions between various types of claims.”

  (Quote)

ayer October 3, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Rich: Outside a legal context, “burden of proof” means that someone suggesting a new theory or stating a claim must provide evidence to support it:

Yes, and in this context the theory or claim is: “your knowledge that other minds exist or that God exists, although apparently obvious to you and arrived at noninferentially, is not rationally justified.” This is the claim bears the burden of proof. That burden must be met by the production of a “defeater” for these properly basic beliefs. See:

http://www.iep.utm.edu/ep-defea/

  (Quote)

Rich October 3, 2009 at 6:03 pm

No, Ayer. the claim – POSITIVE claim, is that god exists.

  (Quote)

ayer October 3, 2009 at 6:42 pm

Rich: No, Ayer. the claim – POSITIVE claim, is that god exists.

No, Rich. The Christian, or the one who holds that people have other minds, is not making a positive claim, he has a belief which has WARRANT absent a defeater–which the atheist is obligated to provide if he wishes to change the believer’s mind (if he doesn’t wish to do so, then fine–but then the atheists shouldn’t go around starting proselytizing atheist blogs or writing proselytizing atheists books, a la Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, this blog, etc.).

  (Quote)

Rich October 3, 2009 at 6:59 pm

Some thing’s not right here. I don’t think the philosophical community is with you, the atheist community should prove that the invisible unknowable maybe-not-real thing is not real, or shut up? Well shut up about christianity until you’ve disproved every other conceivable god…

  (Quote)

Rich October 3, 2009 at 7:01 pm

Ps – he is making a positive claim unless he explicitly believes in things he doesn’t believe in.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 3, 2009 at 7:46 pm

ayer:

Thanks, I like that IEP article. But reformed epistemology is still bullshit. :)

  (Quote)

ayer October 3, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Rich: Some thing’s not right here. I don’t think the philosophical community is with you, the atheist community should prove that the invisible unknowable maybe-not-real thing is not real, or shut up? Well shut up about christianity until you’ve disproved every other conceivable god…

The Christian bears the burden when he affirmatively seeks to argue against atheism, Hinduism, Islam, pantheism, etc. The point is that the atheist must also bear his burden when he argues against Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, pantheism, etc.

  (Quote)

Rich October 3, 2009 at 8:18 pm

You’re wrong. those making a positive case must proffer evidence and argument, You assert otherwise, and link to some bad apologetics, but by your own twisted logic this is inadmissible because its a fringe position. Its also rubbish.

  (Quote)

Erik October 3, 2009 at 11:56 pm

Rich: “The Fallacy of Demanding Negative Proof
Outside a legal context, “burden of proof” means that someone suggesting a new theory or stating a claim must provide evidence to support it: it is not sufficient to say “you can’t disprove this.” Specifically, when anyone is making a bold claim, and especially a positive claim, it is not someone else’s responsibility to disprove the claim, but is rather the responsibility of the person who is making the bold claim to prove it.

Well religion certainly isn’t the “new theory” or “claim.” There is, however, a group making a very bold claim… namely that the majority of humanity is wrong. It doesn’t get much bolder than that.

  (Quote)

Erik October 4, 2009 at 1:06 am

Josh: I definitely did back that up by showing that it’s not possible for multiple religions to be simultaneously correct. That means that many people must be incorrect about their religious experiences—either they are misinterpreting them, being misled, or are just experiencing a brain state that they are not used to.

And I have no problem with saying that the whole rest of the world is wrong if they actually are. For example, only a minority of Americans think that evolution is the best explanation for the diversity of life on earth. The majority that doesn’t believe it is, flat out, 100%, no question about it, absolutely, positively WRONG.

In this particular case, there’s not one iota of evidence that religious experiences are anything more than a function of brain state. So here again you’re making a positive claim and trying to shift the burden of proof: YOU are the one saying that religious experiences are more than brain states.

You showed only that you are continually insisting upon following the irrelevant. The specific claims of various religions have no bearing on the fact of their spiritualism.

You also put words in my mouth saying that I said anything at all about brain states. You are the one with that theory and you need to prove it. The historical record shows spiritualism is a part of humanity. If you think it is due to “brain states” then why don’t you offer up some proof of it?

As for evolution, I tire of the constant claims that the “missing link” has finally been found. Seriously, this happens almost yearly, altho twice already this year, with the first being fraudulent and this newest ardi was in such horrendous condition that it cannot even determined if it walked upright. But never fear… The Apologists are here! They will happily tell us that ETYKIW (everything you know is wrong) and that this new fossil is the real deal unlike all the other ones before it. Its like they only have three or four plays in their book but they trot it out with some new flashing and pretend it is all new. How one science can be wrong so often, defrauded so reliably, and yet still have faithful followers is beyond me. Perhaps it is from their beautiful story telling. Or maybe it is from the fact that their errors can be covered up whereas if say a chemist were to falsify his data there would likely be a string of dead people in his wake.

  (Quote)

Omegos October 4, 2009 at 2:14 am

@ Erik and ayer

Please read the following article.

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_parsons/mcinerny.html

  (Quote)

Kiwi Dave October 4, 2009 at 3:35 am

Ayer: ‘The point is that the atheist must also bear his burden when he argues against Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, pantheism, etc.’

True, but the atheist’s burden is rather different from the believer’s burden.

I can’t begin to discuss (whether to agree or disagree) statements such as ‘There is a god’ or ‘I experience god when I meditate’ until the believer clarifies what such statements mean, as I have no personal experience of gods and am as dependent on those who experience god for their descriptions as I am dependent on the experiences or videos etc of those who have experienced whales, for example. Until the believer explains what s/he means, there is no way forward for discussion. If I just shoot my mouth off in ignorance, the believer can quite reasonably say, ‘That’s not my god – your comments are entirely irrelevant.’

This problem is particularly acute as characterisations of gods – their number, nature and identity – are so contradictory, unlike our generally agreed characterisations of whales, that most gods must be illusory, and these contradictions force us to ask which one is true and how we know it is true. This seems to me to be the theist’s burden.

Of course, if, like Dan Algihieri you have no problem with self-contradictions, or like Erik you are willing to use false beliefs as evidence for truth, of if we are happy shouting I say this, you say that, and not progressing beyond that, then none of this is a problem and nobody has any burden at all.

Not quite finished, but got to go. Signing off for at least 24 hours.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 4, 2009 at 6:03 am

Reformed epistemology is not a fringe position.

  (Quote)

Josh October 4, 2009 at 8:43 am

Erik,

“You showed only that you are continually insisting upon following the irrelevant. The specific claims of various religions have no bearing on the fact of their spiritualism.”

I think you’re missing something here. Let me lay it down as clearly as simply as possible. Suppose that there is a Muslim who claims a spiritual experience with Allah and a Christian who claims a spiritual experience with God. Note that it is not possible for God and Allah to simultaneously exist (because, despite the fact that Allah is the same God that the old testament refers to, clearly Allah does not endorse the belief that Jesus is Lord, which is a central tenet of God). Therefore, at least one of the two must be wrong. That means that at least one of them did not have a spiritual experience. That means that their experience is not evidence of a spiritual experience. Does that make sense? Please, if you want to respond to this, I want you to tell me what is specifically wrong with the following argument:

1)Suppose two individuals have spiritual experiences with two different gods
2)These two gods are mutually exclusive (i.e. if one exists, then the other can’t exist)
3)Therefore two individuals had spiritual experiences with two mutually exclusive gods
4)If two individuals have an experience with two mutually exclusive gods, then one of them must be factually incorrect about the nature of their experience.
5)Since one of them is factually incorrect, this means he did not have the spiritual experience he thought he did
6)Therefore, he probably did not have a spiritual experience at all*
7)Therefore, his experience is probably not evidence for the existence of spiritual experiences

*The difference between this, more general account, and my earlier specific account of Christianity and Islam is that my understanding of Allah and God means that they would probably not trick people into having true spiritual experiences about false things. In my numbered argument, I am allowing for the existence of trickster gods who purposely give people true spiritual experiences about false things.

“You also put words in my mouth saying that I said anything at all about brain states. You are the one with that theory and you need to prove it. The historical record shows spiritualism is a part of humanity. If you think it is due to “brain states” then why don’t you offer up some proof of it?”

I wasn’t putting words in your mouth about brain states, I was just offering that as my own explanation. I’m sorry if it came off that way. And I do believe I did offer proof that spiritual experiences were likely the result of brain states, namely:

1)Every time we have looked, we have found that interesting psychological characteristics map onto the brain (the mapping is not necessarily simple though)
2)We can literally induce spiritual experiences by applying certain stimuli to the brain
3)We have several reasonable (though by no means proven) hypotheses for the evolutionary reasons behind spiritual experiences

As I said earlier, none of these evidences exclude the possibility of a real spiritual experience, but in the absence of one single iota of evidence for true spiritual experiences they sharply shift the debate.

“As for evolution, I tire of the constant claims that the “missing link” has finally been found. ”

This seems pretty irrelevant, and displays a hilarious misunderstanding of evolution. Though, to be honest, I can’t blame you because the media portrays it like this all the time. There’s no such thing as a “missing link”—we have plenty of evidence for the evolution of humans from an ancestral ape.

  (Quote)

ayer October 4, 2009 at 8:54 am

Omegos: @ Erik and ayerPlease read the following article.http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_parsons/mcinerny.html

The problem with Parsons’ article is that he is retreading an old argument (that the existence of other minds can be established by an inference to the best explanation) dismissed long ago as a failure in addressing the problem of other minds, as noted in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; see:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/other-minds/

And as philosophyonline points out:

“The obvious problem with this view [inference to other minds as the best explanation] is that it seems to assume what it is trying to prove – namely, that other people are like me. To illustrate this view, take the possibility that one day there will exist a perfectly human-looking robot. Now, the robot is created using ultra advanced nano technology by a highly developed alien civilisation. As a consequence, there is no way that our human technology could detect the fact that it was a robot. However, it acts like most humans do by responding and acting like a normal human would. However, it isn’t human and doesn’t have a mind.”

http://www.philosophyonline.co.uk/pom/pom_other_minds_analogy.htm

Parsons also argues that “The God hypothesis, on the other hand, is not at all on par with the other minds hypothesis. Vast areas of everyday experience do not become inexplicable to the atheist. Scientific and common sense explanations are as readily available to the nonbeliever as to the believer. It simply is not obvious that theism provides a better basis for explaining things than naturalism…”

Unfortunately for Parsons, as Plantinga points out, on naturalism there is no reason to believe that our cognitive faculties provide a reliable source of “common sense” or the ability to make scientific inferences since on naturalism those faculties are geared only toward survival, not towards truth. Thus, the atheist is thrown into complete skepticism regarding his ability to know anything. However “the God hypothesis” explains why our common sense and scientific reasoning abilities are reliable and successful, since our cognitive faculties were designed by God with truth-attainment in mind. See:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2008/julaug/11.37.html

  (Quote)

Rich October 4, 2009 at 9:07 am

Erik: Well religion certainly isn’t the “new theory” or “claim.” There is, however, a group making a very bold claim… namely that the majority of humanity is wrong. It doesn’t get much bolder than that.

Human subscription to a claim is an artifact of the claim, tangental to the claim itself. the bold claim is that the unkowable and unseeable entity exists.

  (Quote)

ayer October 4, 2009 at 9:12 am

Josh: I think you’re missing something here. Let me lay it down as clearly as simply as possible. Suppose that there is a Muslim who claims a spiritual experience with Allah and a Christian who claims a spiritual experience with God. Note that it is not possible for God and Allah to simultaneously exist (because, despite the fact that Allah is the same God that the old testament refers to, clearly Allah does not endorse the belief that Jesus is Lord, which is a central tenet of God). Therefore, at least one of the two must be wrong.

This does not seem correct at all. Both could be having a generalized experience of the God of the Bible, but the Muslim is led to interpret it differently due to cultural baggage, or to the fact that human beings have been cut off from “full communion” with God after the fall. As C.S. Lewis noted in Mere Christianity:

“There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it. For example, a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain other points. Many of the good Pagans long before Christ’s birth may have been in this position.”

  (Quote)

Josh October 4, 2009 at 9:19 am

Ayer,

I hope you see how this is post-hoc equivocation.

  (Quote)

Rich October 4, 2009 at 9:21 am

Or Buddah may be leading them. Or FSM. This baseless conjecture is great.

  (Quote)

ayer October 4, 2009 at 10:13 am

Josh: Therefore, at least one of the two must be wrong. That means that at least one of them did not have a spiritual experience. That means that their experience is not evidence of a spiritual experience.

No, it is a refutation of this statement: “Therefore, at least one of the two must be wrong. That means that at least one of them did not have a spiritual experience. That means that their experience is not evidence of a spiritual experience.” There is no reason to think that both did not have a spiritual experience.

  (Quote)

Silas October 4, 2009 at 10:45 am

ayer: There is no reason to think that both did not have a spiritual experience.

I’m curious. Could you describe a personal spiritual experience? Could you also explain how you know that you communicated with/saw/experienced the creator of the universe?

  (Quote)

Erik October 4, 2009 at 10:48 am

Josh: Therefore, at least one of the two must be wrong. That means that at least one of them did not have a spiritual experience. That means that their experience is not evidence of a spiritual experience. Does that make sense?

That one or more spiritual beings is wrong is not truly your point is it? Multiple beings can make any claim they so desire and if this contradicts what another being says does not mean the first one does not exist. It still made that claim to its followers. Your reasoning in this area is horrendous and I suspect slightly dishonest.

We had 12 or so people running for president this last cycle, most of what was said was at least somewhat contradictory but that doesn’t invalidate their existence. In the same manner, contradictory claims by various spiritual entities does not invalidate their existence.

Josh, you keep hoping to “divide and conquer” but that is simply a dishonest tactic on your part. The historical record stands. Go ahead and refute it if you are capable.

  (Quote)

Rich October 4, 2009 at 11:05 am

Erik, you offer a non argument. There is no reason to legitimize ‘spiritual feelings’ as evidence for anything other than spiritual feelings. Given the disparate and contradictory nature of these feelings, its more parsimonious to assume that people just get them. When you get Deja Vu, do you think your ESP is cranking up?

Lots of people experience strange things, therefor god. Its a bizarre hybrid of a gaps argument, appeal from popularity and woo.

  (Quote)

ayer October 4, 2009 at 11:11 am

Silas:
I’m curious. Could you describe a personal spiritual experience? Could you also explain how you know that you communicated with/saw/experienced the creator of the universe?

That question is best answered by reading “Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience” by William Alston. I endorse its content fully:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0801481554

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 4, 2009 at 11:52 am

Perceiving God is a tough slog. Be sure to read Evan Fales, “Scientific Explanations of Mystical Experiences”, too.

  (Quote)

Silas October 4, 2009 at 12:11 pm

No, the only thing I asked for was that you (ayer) desribe one of your spiritual experiences, and explain why you think that experience really was an experience with the creator of the universe.

If that’s too hard, then don’t it.

  (Quote)

Erik October 4, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Rich: Erik, you offer a non argument.

I need not offer an argument. I am not the one making the “bold claim.” After all, you are the one who provided that quote. And part of that quote is that it is the responsibility of the person who is making the bold claim to prove it.

  (Quote)

Josh October 4, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Erik,

No, you are making the bold claim. The simple fact that lots of people are religious does not make your claim any less bold. In fact, you’re making another bold claim: “If a lot of people believe something, then that counts as evidence for that belief.” The problem is, this claim is wrong. But, as far as I can tell, you’re saying “A lot of people have religious experiences, so we should assume that those experiences are true.” If you were claiming “A lot of people have religious experiences, so we should try to understand why”, then that’s a worthwhile claim and I have offered several explanations (on top of the one you seem to consider most likely). But no, you are claiming that the mere existence of spiritual experiences is evidence that they may be true. Hence, you argue, the default position with respect to religious belief should be one of acceptance. But this idea doesn’t work anywhere else (and no, it doesn’t work with respect to other minds, either). Why should we take you seriously?

I will drop everything if you can explicitly show that your assertion does not depend on the proposition that “If a large number of people believe something, it is more likely to be true.”

  (Quote)

ayer October 4, 2009 at 4:36 pm

Josh: But this idea doesn’t work anywhere else (and no, it doesn’t work with respect to other minds, either).

Are you saying that the person who believes that other people have minds has the burden of proving that belief?

  (Quote)

Josh October 4, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Ayer,

Absolutely. They even have a burden of proof for asserting that they have their own mind. But since none of us have minds… that’s a hopeless quest ;-).

  (Quote)

Curt October 4, 2009 at 5:05 pm

At which point in the evolutionary tree of mankind did murder, rape, thievery … become evil/immoral/wrong?

  (Quote)

ayer October 4, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Josh: Ayer,Absolutely.They even have a burden of proof for asserting that they have their own mind.But since none of us have minds… that’s a hopeless quest .

Ok, I just wanted to make sure you knew you had adopted solipsism.

  (Quote)

Josh October 4, 2009 at 5:31 pm

Ayer,

It’s not really solipsism. I deny the existence of my own mind. It seems that the mind is just a function of the brain, and the brain is just a physical system. A mind is just an operational definition.

  (Quote)

ayer October 4, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Josh: Ayer,It’s not really solipsism.I deny the existence of my own mind.It seems that the mind is just a function of the brain, and the brain is just a physical system.A mind is just an operational definition.

You seem to be confusing the denial of the existence of the mind with the mind-body problem, where you are siding with monism vs. dualism. Monists do not deny the mind, but believe it does not have a separate existence from the body. “Mind” in this context is used in a specific sense:

“That other human beings are mostly very like ourselves is something about which almost all of us, almost all of the time, are certain. There are exceptions, among them philosophical sceptics, and perhaps those suffering from some abnormal mental condition. We do not, of course, believe that we always or even mostly know about others’ inner lives in detail, but we do not doubt that they have an inner life, that they experience the physical world much as we do, rejoice, suffer, have thoughts, beliefs, feelings, emotions, and so on. But what, if anything, justifies our certainty? Philosophers cannot agree on what underpins this most basic of human beliefs” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

The person who denies the existence of other minds has a heavy burden of proof.

  (Quote)

Rich October 4, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Erik: I need not offer an argument. I am not the one making the “bold claim.” After all, you are the one who provided that quote. And part of that quote is that it is the responsibility of the person who is making the bold claim to prove it.

And you sir, think there is a God. So back it up.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 4, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Round and round we go; where we stop, nobody knows!

  (Quote)

Josh October 4, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Ayer,

I think it’s quite reasonable for me to believe that there’s not even a problem here. A mind is completely operational. It might not be the case that you have the same “inner state” as I do; I don’t care. You ACT like you do, and I treat you like you, because it works.

Now, I have good reason to believe that you function somewhat similarly to me. Since a mind is just a function of a brain state, and since we (very probably) have the same brains, you very probably have the same things happen as I do. And since a mind is an operational definition, it wouldn’t even matter if you didn’t have the same brain as I do, as long as you ACT like you have the same mind as I do.

  (Quote)

Erik October 5, 2009 at 12:06 am

Rich:
And you sir, think there is a God. So back it up.

You seem so angry Rich. Why? I’m not evangelizing so I have nothing to prove. This was all brought on from a request from the site owner of commonsense-not-quite-atheism who professed a desire to not rehash the same things over and over again. Well, Religionists have defended their belief ad nauseum. Its out there on the web. Its been done many times. The very fact that you, nor anyone else on this post, has offered a reasoned argument against the spiritual nature of humanity is weighing heavily as proof that there is no argument coming from your side. Is that because you cannot make it?

  (Quote)

Erik October 5, 2009 at 12:08 am

Josh: as long as you ACT like you have the same mind as I do.

Josh: I deny the existence of my own mind.

Are you arguing with yourself?

  (Quote)

Rich October 5, 2009 at 4:35 am

Erik: You seem so angry Rich. Why? I’m not evangelizing so I have nothing to prove. This was all brought on from a request from the site owner of commonsense-not-quite-atheism who professed a desire to not rehash the same things over and over again. Well, Religionists have defended their belief ad nauseum. Its out there on the web. Its been done many times. The very fact that you, nor anyone else on this post, has offered a reasoned argument against the spiritual nature of humanity is weighing heavily as proof that there is no argument coming from your side. Is that because you cannot make it?

Not angry at all. I see you conflate “the spiritual nature of humanity” with “evidence for god”

  (Quote)

Rich October 5, 2009 at 5:22 am

So we’re at the point where having a belief justifies having a belief. The symptom is the cause. Is this the current state of apologetics? No wonder folks are leaving in droves.

  (Quote)

Josh October 5, 2009 at 6:06 am

Erik,

Sorry, I misspoke. One of the hardest things about holding the position I do is that our language is full of “mind-realist” words. What I meant to say was something like “As long as you act like you have the same consequences of brain patterns that I interpret as my mind even though I know objectively that it’s just an emergent property of firing brain cells.”

  (Quote)

ayer October 5, 2009 at 7:51 am

Josh: It might not be the case that you have the same “inner state” as I do; I don’t care. You ACT like you do, and I treat you like you, because it works.

To paraphrase lukeprog in his response to Vox Day: I admire your consistency, but your epistemology is terrifying.

  (Quote)

Rich October 5, 2009 at 9:36 am

Erik: You seem so angry Rich. Why? I’m not evangelizing so I have nothing to prove. This was all brought on from a request from the site owner of commonsense-not-quite-atheism who professed a desire to not rehash the same things over and over again. Well, Religionists have defended their belief ad nauseum. Its out there on the web. Its been done many times. The very fact that you, nor anyone else on this post, has offered a reasoned argument against the spiritual nature of humanity is weighing heavily as proof that there is no argument coming from your side. Is that because you cannot make it?

Except it’s circular, self-referentail nonsense.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/the_courtiers_reply.php

“I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.

Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

Personally, I suspect that perhaps the Emperor might not be fully clothed — how else to explain the apparent sloth of the staff at the palace laundry — but, well, everyone else does seem to go on about his clothes, and this Dawkins fellow is such a rude upstart who lacks the wit of my elegant circumlocutions, that, while unable to deal with the substance of his accusations, I should at least chide him for his very bad form.

Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor’s taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.”

  (Quote)

Silas October 5, 2009 at 9:38 am

And there you go. Every time I ask someone to describe their spiritual experiences, they just ignore the question.

It would be even more apparant in real life. Are people embarrased about their experiences or what? Or have they really had spiritual experiences? I think it’s a combination of both.

  (Quote)

Josh October 5, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Ayer,

I honestly don’t see what’s terrifying about my theory of mind?

  (Quote)

Fortuna October 5, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Unfortunately for Parsons, as Plantinga points out, on naturalism there is no reason to believe that our cognitive faculties provide a reliable source of “common sense” or the ability to make scientific inferences since on naturalism those faculties are geared only toward survival, not towards truth.

On naturalism, evolution will promote the emergence of cognitive faculties that promote survival and reproductive success. Reliable faculties permit rapid behavioral adaptation and active manipulation of material circumstances for the purposes of promoting survival and successful reproduction. It is a matter of empirical fact that, as an evolutionary strategy, developing reliable cognitive faculties permits much greater fecundity than do faculties that are oriented towards survival but not truth attainment.

Witness the grizzly bear, hibernating and foraging for reasons that it understands but dimly, if at all. It has little lassitude to comprehend its circumstances, much less take steps to change them in the face of novel pressures, or even just to change them for its own advantage. Compare and contrast its modern day reproductive success with humanity, which has bolstered the carrying capacity of its chosen environments to ludicrous proportions.

The fact of the matter is, on naturalism, evolution is perfectly capable of stumbling onto the solution of reliable faculties, and once it does, there is every reason to think that they would be strongly selected for.

  (Quote)

ayer October 5, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Fortuna:
On naturalism, evolution will promote the emergence of cognitive faculties that promote survival and reproductive success. Reliable faculties permit rapid behavioral adaptation and active manipulation of material circumstances for the purposes of promoting survival and successful reproduction. It is a matter of empirical fact that, as an evolutionary strategy, developing reliable cognitive faculties permits much greater fecundity than do faculties that are oriented towards survival but not truth attainment.Witness the grizzly bear, hibernating and foraging for reasons that it understands but dimly, if at all. It has little lassitude to comprehend its circumstances, much less take steps to change them in the face of novel pressures, or even just to change them for its own advantage. Compare and contrast its modern day reproductive success with humanity, which has bolstered the carrying capacity of its chosen environments to ludicrous proportions.The fact of the matter is, on naturalism, evolution is perfectly capable of stumbling onto the solution of reliable faculties, and once it does, there is every reason to think that they would be strongly selected for.

What an example of “speciesism” on behalf of humans! (Understandable from a theist, but not from an atheist). On evolutionary naturalism, the cockroach, with non-truth-attaining “faculties”, is “better” adapted to survive than humans–it is the only species commonly predicted to be able to survive even a nuclear holocaust. See http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-meritt/evolution.html:

“Evolution through natural selection has never and will never be a conscious method. Evolution is not trying to make every animal a human as if humans are the “be all end all” of perfect evolution. Humans are far from perfect but we are adapted to survive in our environment. A slug, a cockroach, a beetle, a hamster: all are as evolved as humans are. We as humans just coincidentally have the consciousness to realize we are alive.

Every progression of evolution (which is constant) is not necessarily “better”. It’s only better in the context of allowing animals to continue to survive in whatever environment they happen to be in. I suppose if the conditions were right humans could evolve back into chimps, and those chimps would be more evolved they we are today.”

  (Quote)

Fortuna October 6, 2009 at 4:53 pm

ayer;

What an example of “speciesism” on behalf of humans! (Understandable from a theist, but not from an atheist).

Excuse me?

It’s a fact that grizzly bears enjoy far lower reproductive success than humans. It’s a fact that humans have boosted the carrying capacity of our chosen environments, and that grizzly bears have not (and cannot). It’s a fact that every time our two species come into direct conflict, however mild, grizzlies ultimately draw the shorter stick. These facts obtain because humans can understand and manipulate our behaviours and material circumstances orders of magnitude faster and more extensively than grizzlies can.

None of those observations constitute “speciesism” on my part. They are not value judgments, they are not normative arguments. They constitute a description of the world as it exists.

On evolutionary naturalism, the cockroach, with non-truth-attaining “faculties”, is “better” adapted to survive than humans–it is the only species commonly predicted to be able to survive even a nuclear holocaust.

We have not sufferered a nuclear holocaust. The hypothetical selective pressures such an event would impose are interesting, but irrelevant to the issue of whether reliable cognitive faculties have been (and are) selected for.

I’ll remind you that humans are the single most reproductively successful large mammalian species of all time. I’ll remind you that this is due to our species’ strategy of adapting our environments to our needs, and that this is possible due to our sophisticated cognitive faculties, which permit modeling and manipulation of our environments on a basis which is more accurate than not.

I’ll remind you that reproductive success is the second filter through which inherited traits are passed (the first being survival). I’ll remind you that the immense reproductive success that reliable faculties enable gives us reason to suppose that they were strongly selected for at every stage in their evolution. Plantinga’s argument is bunk.

Answer that, if you can.

  (Quote)

ayer October 6, 2009 at 5:23 pm

Fortuna: Answer that, if you can.

I’m sorry, explain to me why the cockroach is not a reproductively successful as humans? I believe an evolutionary biologist would regard that as bunk.

Regarding human cognitive faculties under naturalistic evolution, I would let Darwin speak for me: “But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” (See http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/darwinletters/calendar/entry-13230.html)

and atheist philosopher Patricia Churchland as well:

“Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F’s: feeding, fleeing, fighting and reproducing. The principal chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive … . Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life and enhances the organism’s chances of survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.”

All the atheist can assert about human cognitive faculties is that they are effective in “getting the body parts in the right place.” As far as beliefs generated by those faculties–maybe they are true, maybe not–who knows? For example, humans have apparently been evolved to have belief in God (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_psychology_of_religion), according to atheists a clearly false belief. How many of our other adaptive beliefs are similarly false?

  (Quote)

drj October 6, 2009 at 5:52 pm

ayer: All the atheist can assert about human cognitive faculties is that they are effective in “getting the body parts in the right place.” As far as beliefs generated by those faculties–maybe they are true, maybe not–who knows? For example, humans have apparently been evolved to have belief in God (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_psychology_of_religion), according to atheists a clearly false belief. How many of our other adaptive beliefs are similarly false?

As fortuna has elucidated, there’s every reason to think that utility emerges from belief as it approaches a higher level of accuracy. As it is, I bet even a cockroach has a few accurate “beliefs”, if we can call what goes on a cockroach brain… belief. Their senses alert them to danger, their senses help them find food, and mates. They can attain their goals successfully because they at least have some sort of model of the world that is accurate enough to do so.

Besides, I’m not sure you have recognized that theism goes right down the rabbit hole with naturalism on this one. You have no non-question begging, non-circular way to trust your brain on theism either. Your here in the muck with us. You have to trust faulty, imperfect equipment to assess the world.

To get anywhere at all, in either case… we just have to assume that at least SOME of our knowledge at least flirts with accuracy, even if it never can make it to “truth”. Or we could just shoot off all our own feet. Steven Carr is right to call the EEAN the “Doomsday” device of philosophy – but its a cold war, and rest assured, destruction is mutual ;).

  (Quote)

Fortuna October 7, 2009 at 4:20 pm

ayer;

I’m sorry, explain to me why the cockroach is not a reproductively successful as humans? I believe an evolutionary biologist would regard that as bunk

No. I will do no such thing. I have nowhere argued that cockroaches are not as reproductively successful as humans. I tire of your non-sequiturs.

Regarding human cognitive faculties under naturalistic evolution, I would let Darwin speak for me

I didn’t ask Darwin. I didn’t ask for wishy-washy rhetoric. I asked you. For an argument. Pony up an argument.

and atheist philosopher Patricia Churchland as well:
“Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F’s: feeding, fleeing, fighting and reproducing. The principal chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive … . Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life and enhances the organism’s chances of survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.”

Again, I asked you, but this is slightly more relevant. Did you miss the part where I pointed out that reproductive success is the second filter through which natural selection picks up on inherited traits?

I’m pretty sure you did miss it, so here you go;

I’ll remind you that reproductive success is the second filter through which inherited traits are passed (the first being survival). I’ll remind you that the immense reproductive success that reliable faculties enable gives us reason to suppose that they were strongly selected for at every stage in their evolution.

All the atheist can assert about human cognitive faculties is that they are effective in “getting the body parts in the right place.”

Wrong again. All the atheist can assert is that human cognitive faculties were selected for during their evolution because they “get the body parts in the right place” and because they boost reproductive success.

A subtle distinction, I know, but do try to keep up.

As far as beliefs generated by those faculties–maybe they are true, maybe not–who knows?

Indeed, but the whole crux of the EAAN is that reliable faculties cannot be naturally selected for, assuming naturalism, to any greater degree than unreliable ones. That is false, because reliable faculties do more than “get (your) limbs in the right place (to survive)”…they enable immense reproductive success, in our case specifically because they’ve allowed us to boost the carrying capacity of our chosen environments, among other things.

  (Quote)

ayer October 7, 2009 at 4:36 pm

Fortuna: I’ll remind you that reproductive success is the second filter through which inherited traits are passed (the first being survival).

“Survival” as used in the EAAN refers to survival of the species, and thus includes reproductive success. The cockroach is as successful, and perhaps more successful, than humans when it comes to survival/reproductive success with cognitive faculties that have nothing to do with true beliefs. On naturalism, there is reason to believe that humans have an effective mechanism perceiving for the environment in order to get the body parts in the right place (like a frog scanning the environment so as to nab a fly with its tongue); there is NO reason, on naturalism, to believe that the beliefs floating on top of the firing neurons in our brains have any connection to what we think of as “truth”. If they did, then why would belief in God (a false belief, right) be adaptive for humans in the evolutionary process? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_psychology_of_religion),

  (Quote)

Jake de Backer October 8, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Fortuna,

I thoroughly enjoy reading your devastating criticisms of the nonsense cloaked in the garb of an argument advanced by theist’s on this blog. Have you written or published anything I might be able to check out?

J. de Backer

  (Quote)

Wade October 9, 2009 at 9:07 am

I had a pretty funny exchange with spacebunny on that post. What is it Mark Twain said about arguing with fools? Hadn’t heard of the guy before this letter exchange. Didn’t know SB was his wife. It was fun! She gave up after a while.

FWIW: http://voxday.blogspot.com/2009/10/letter-to-common-sense-atheism-ii.html

The exchange starts about 2/3 down.

  (Quote)

cl October 15, 2009 at 2:54 pm

Luke,

Although I’ve been following this exchange pretty closely, I’ve not read the entire thread here, so I apologize if I restate the already-stated. Honestly, though I had heard the name, I’d never really perused Vox’s blog before.

…the theory of evolution by natural selection does not rest on a scientific foundation, but a logical one; it is no more inherently scientific than the Summa Theologica. (Vox)

I have no idea what you’re talking about here. Evolutionary theory was not deduced from a set of axioms. (Luke)

While I hesitate to “speak for Vox,” I think what he alludes to is the fact that TENS is a set of inferences drawn from empirical facts. In that sense, Vox is absolutely correct when he claims TENS is “no more inherently scientific than the Summa Theologica. Consider the following:

The Origin therefore focuses on the establishment of a methodology for making inferences about history from features of modern organisms, and then using these multifarious inferences to prove both the fact of evolution and the probability of natural selection as a primary mechanism of change. (Gould 2002, p. 103)

Vox merely echoes Gould’s concession.

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment