If an atheist in extreme pain, fear, or desperation begs God to “Please get me out of this” should this experience be relevant in trying to determine if God actually does exist? Since you stopped believing in God have you ever had any such experience?
I don’t put much faith in subjective, inner, emotional experiences. As cognitive science has shown us, that is one of the worst possible kinds of evidence you can have for something.
But have I had such experiences as an atheist? I’ve done it, but I can’t do it with a straight face. It’s like asking Zeus for help. It’s basically a joke to cheer myself up in a tough spot, and it works pretty well.
What relationship do you see between science and philosophy in advancing human knowledge? In particular, what are the questions that philosophers consider to be unanswerable using the scientific method?
Science moves human knowledge forward at supersonic speed. Philosophy moves human knowledge forward at the pace of a turtle. Well, a hippo, maybe.
Many questions that could once only be contemplated philosophically have been handed over to scientists, now that they have the right tools. This happened first to astronomy, then to physics. Over the last century, philosophy of mind has been gradually handed over to psychologists and neuroscientists. In another 100 years the field will probably be mostly neuroscience and artificial intelligent, and very little philosophy of mind.
But yes, there are many questions that must, unfortunately, always remain the domain of philosophy. For example, philosophy of science. Science itself can’t answer questions about its own assumptions. And of course the study of knowledge (epistemology) in general is a bigger set of questions than science can answer. There are many questions in metaphysics, ethics, and other fields that science can’t answer, either. Science can inform those studies – but science has certain limits by design and so it can’t answer the deepest questions of all.
Matt M asks:
Do you think there’s much to learn from debates between liberal and fundamentalist theists?
Certainly. See my interview with Eric Reitan, for example.
What is your opinion on existentialist philosophy such as the works of Jean Paul Sartre? If you have read up on existentialism, what aspects of it do you agree and disagree with?
Also what is your opinion on continental philosophy in general? Is it worth reading or is it just the retarded step-child of analytic?
I haven’t read much Sartre.
Here’s my take on continental philosophy vs. analytic philosophy. Some philosophers say there’s no distinction anymore, and I guess that depends on how you use the terms. Analytic philosophy is broader than it was in 1910, and so is continental philosophy.
But most philosophers in the Western world still make use of the distinction, and most of them would call themselves “analytic” philosophers. What they mean by this is that there are three rules for everything they write: (1) clarity, (2) clarity, and (3) clarity.
Analytic philosophy also tends to spend a lot of time discussing arguments, but in general analytic philosophy is all about being clear about what you mean. Most analytic philosophy papers look the same:
- First, explain the context of the question you will consider and what it is you will conclude.
- Clarify the parameters of the issue and what other people have said about it.
- Give your argument, citing and quoting the people to which you are responding, directly.
- Clearly explain how you have supported the conclusion of your argument.
- Explain a few objections that could be made against your argument, and then explain why you can overcome them.
- Restate the scope and meaning of your conclusion.
It’s all about clarify, from start to finish.
Now, contrast that model for analytic philosophy papers with what you read in… well, let’s say it: French philosophers.
Continental philosophers may have important insights, but they are usually buried in a mess of confused ideas and ambiguous language.
Continental philosophers sometimes say that analytic philosophers are wrapped up in obscure technical problems and don’t discuss issues that matter to ordinary people. But that’s just false. Analytic philosophers do expend much ink on obscure problems, but there is no reason one cannot address the concerns of ordinary people with clarity.
Analytic philosophy can address all the same issues as continental philosophy can, and it can do it with clarity. Stephen Law’s journal Think: Philosophy for Everyone contains many examples. Another is Thomas Nagel’s famous paper “The Absurd.”
What if you’re wrong?
It has happened before. In fact, it happens all the time.
Perhaps you mean to ask: “What if you’re wrong about the non-existence of God?”
But this question applies equally to all of us. What if you’re wrong about the non-existence of Allah? What if you’re wrong about the non-existence of Shiva? What if you’re wrong about thinking we’re not all just plugged into the Matrix?
I have a very novice vocabulary question. In my attempt to gain a better footing in the discourse of theist and atheist arguments, I have discovered that my definition for the word “rational” may be lacking. This observation was made when I was reading your link to Plantinga’s “Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments”:
“Consider a person who has been brought up to believe some wild and implausible proposition – for example, the earth is on the back of a turtle, which is on the back of another turtle, so that it’s turtles all the way down. A person brought up to believe this could believe it rationally.”
My lay-person definition of the word “rational” (i.e. “based on reason”) does not seem to suffice in this usage. I would think that (using lay-person terminology) this hypothetical person’s belief would be more accurately classified as faith, or at best, superstition. It could be that I’m simply not skilled or imaginative enough to think of the argument which one might use to rationally arrive at this hypothetical belief, but I think it is more likely a failure of my definition of the word. However, I’m not sure how to expand my definition accurately. Can you elaborate on what is meant by the word “rational” in this context?
Defining the term ‘rational’ is an entire field of philosophy. I use the term rather loosely – as most people do – and am gradually giving up on a precise definition of rational. I try to focus more on ‘first-order’ questions: Not “Is it rational to believe that God exists?” but instead “Is it true that God exists?”
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