What Do You Mean, “Common Sense” Atheism?

by Luke Muehlhauser on November 30, 2008 in General Atheism

Use your common sense.

Use your common sense.

What do I mean when I say atheism is “common sense?”

I do not mean that religious people are stupid. Believers can be doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers, philosophers, entrepreneurs – some smart folks.

Usually when someone says, “It’s common sense!” he really means “This is the way I think about it; isn’t it obvious to everyone else?” That’s not what I mean by common sense. I’m going to argue for atheism using your common sense; the way you already think about most things in life.

See, believers have two ways of thinking. In most situations, they think with the same logic as most people do: this is our “common sense.” Tell a believer that the bank stole his money, or that an ancient book says you can heal disease by dancing around a fire, and he will ask for evidence. That is common sense.

But believers think in a different way about their religious beliefs. This is “special thinking.” A believer reads in his religion’s ancient book that a man walked on water and rose from the dead, and that is enough for him to believe.

The whole point of my website is this: If a believer applies his special thinking to any other area of life, it becomes clear how irrational that special thinking is. And if he applies common sense to his religion, it becomes clear how irrational that religion is.

Here’s a non-religious example. I once saw a bumper sticker that said: “Why do we kill people who kill people to show them it’s wrong to kill people?” I was against the death penalty already, so I thought the question made a good point.

But I’ve trained myself to question what I think. Not much later, I thought: “Wait a minute. Why do we kidnap people who kidnap people to show them it’s wrong to kidnap people?” Surely this question doesn’t prove we should stop using prisons. So, neither does the bumper sticker show we should abolish the death penalty. There might be good reasons to oppose the death penalty, but that is not one of them.

When I applied my special thinking about the death penalty to another situation, it became clear how my special thinking didn’t work. You can do the same thing with religious special thinking.

A Christian might say, “I had a personal experience with Jesus, so I know he’s real.” But let’s apply that logic to another situation and see what happens. Millions of Muslims have had personal experiences with Allah. Does that make Allah real, too? Millions of other people have had personal experiences with ghosts and dead ancestors. Does that make them real? Thousands of people are utterly convinced they have seen aliens. Does that mean that aliens have visited us? Personal experiences – especially those with invisible beings – are not good sources of truth, and every Christian knows this, except when it comes to his own religion.

Or think about it from the other direction. Let’s start with some common sense. Most people – religious or not – easily reject the “Hindu milk miracle” of 1995.

In case you missed the story, here’s what happened. A Hindu worshiper made a milk offering to a statue of the Hindu elephant god, Ganesha. He held up a spoonful of milk to the statue’s trunk and the milk disappeared. Apparently, the statue “drank” it. Within hours, Hindu statues all across India were drinking up milk. The World Hindu Council proclaimed it a miracle. Milk sales in New Delhi jumped 30%.

Most people reject the Hindu milk miracle, for many good reasons. First, it makes no sense: Why would invisible gods living in Hindu statues suddenly decide to drink physical milk? Second, it defies what we have always experienced: Statues do not drink. Third, it is much more likely to have a simple explanation – capillary action, illusion, mass hysteria – than a miraculous one.

This is common sense. We all use this reasoning with regard to every religion and every area of life – except our own dogma. The same Christians who reject the Hindu milk miracle (which was attested by thousands of living witnesses, written about in hundreds of surviving original documents, and captured on video) will nevertheless accept the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (which was attested by a few ancient dead writers, from whom we have no original documents or video evidence).

A Christian may read in the Muslim scriptures that Mohammad flew on a winged horse, and he will dismiss it. He may laugh when he reads the Roman historian Suetonius say that Caesar Augustus ascended into heaven after he died. But he reads in an ancient book that Mary gave virgin birth to a man-god who walked on water, died, came back to life, and flew off into the sky – and he believes.

“When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” That is the heart of atheism to me. I dismiss Yahweh for the exact same reasons we both reject the myths about alien invaders, haunted houses, psychics, Elvis sightings, Zeus, and Thor. Once a believer understands why he dimisses all other gods, he will understand why he should dismiss his own.

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{ 129 comments… read them below or add one }

arensb December 7, 2008 at 12:00 pm

If I may toot my own horn for a moment, I wrote a similar piece a while ago.

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Nemo December 9, 2008 at 3:13 pm

But what, then, do you say to those who say “I believe that all religions are true”? Yes, it’s blatantly self-contradictory, but there are still some who profess to believe it. It’s hard to get them to take that last step when they won’t even take the first one.

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rsmartin February 20, 2009 at 1:37 pm

So far as I understand it, the feeling of the numinous is what ties all religions together. Another part that all religions have in common is that their myths supposedly provide a prototype for human behaviour. From those two perspectives, as I see it, all religions are “true.”

Given that the feeling of the numinous is a natural part of the physical human psyche, and given that humans evolved with common sense regarding ethical behaviour, I don’t think any religion is true. I am an atheist today, though I was a Christian for more than forty years.

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Alden March 22, 2009 at 11:42 pm

It may be “special thinking” for some Christians, but not for all. Christianity stands up to standards that no other religion can (except, of course, that Christianity and Judaism have a shared history, up to a point). I honestly don't have time to go into the details, but there are a number of books that distinguish Christianity from all other religions. Try Mark Mittelberg's “Choosing Your Faith” for a start. It's not indepth, but it's a good overview/introduction.

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J. Nernoff III March 24, 2009 at 6:18 pm

That Christianity is unique is a common claim, but effectively empty. Each religion is unique. Muslims will certainly make like claims. The Christian essential is the resurrection of Jesus, but there simply is no evidence for any such thing, on any level you choose to argue. Even if there was, why does any resurrection result in a benefit for others? If “God” were truly omnipotent, then he wouldn't need such a cumbersome and circuitous method to save anybody; he could just do it. It's a good tale, however, for those who like complicated and lurid fiction.

Myths don't provide a prototype for human behavior; it's just the other way around. The cosmic Christian court is modeled after the human king. Take a closer look. God is a sky man; he is modeled after — us.

All religions are true? Yes, to those who don't care to do any in depth analysis. Muslims reject Christ as any God; Christians don't. Big difference.

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marcion March 25, 2009 at 8:11 pm

What about common sense natural theism, like say in the declaration of independence? That we were created by a god and endowed with rights and that it is our responsibility to provide a just government to protect people's rights? Makes much more sense than atheism or christianity either one. As would a common sense scheme of postmortem retribution as opposed to the christian one. Instead of the unbeliever burning in hell forever for that piece of bubble-gum he stole at 3 just because he doesn't believe whereas the believer doesn't have to pay for even one of the kids he raped simply because he believes, how about everyone burns in hell in proportion to their sins, then either ceases to exist or goes to heaven depending on how god wants to work it. Its just. It makes sense. Throwing out the notion of god altogether, however, seems a little silly. Even if god has to be made finite, the world makes more sense with at least one god than with none. Perhaps there are two, one evil and one good, just like the real marcion thought.

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lukeprog March 25, 2009 at 8:14 pm

I am not compelled to accept a slightly more rational version of Yahweh any more than I am compelled to accept a slightly more rational version of the Invisible Pink Unicorn because… surprise! – I haven't been given any good reasons to think any of these exist.

As for deism, see Greta Christina.

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unkleE April 20, 2009 at 11:10 pm

Luke,

<i>”See, believers have two ways of thinking. In most situations, they think with the same logic as most people do …… But believers think in a different way about their religious beliefs.”</i>

I think this is a generalisation that doesn’t apply, to me at least. I think with the same logic about my religious beliefs as I do about other things – in fact, I think I probably use <u>more</u> logic. When I make big decisions in life (say getting married, deciding to have children, changing jobs, etc) I think as thoroughly as I can about the issues, but in the end I cannot know how things will turn out, so there’s a fair degree of risk or faith, whatever we may like to call it.

It’s <i>exactly</i> the same with God, except I am able to apply <i>more</i> logic, because there are formal logical arguments for and against God’s existence, and historical evidence for Jesus, all of which I can assess at least as well as I can assess those other decisions, perhaps even more.

Now maybe what you say was true of you when you were a christian, and of other christians you know, but it clearly isn’t true of many christians, including me. So you may need to add some further thoughts to cover such christians.

Thanks for sharing your ideas. I would be interested to hear what you think about my ideas.

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unkleE April 21, 2009 at 2:36 am

Oops! Sorry, I thought I’d give HTML tags a go to format text, but that doesn’t work. Is there some way I can do it, and do HTML links too? 

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lukeprog April 21, 2009 at 5:41 am

unkleE,

I appreciate your dedication to critical thinking. My assertion above means that if you and I take the time to break down your religious beliefs, you will find that you are holding your religious beliefs to a different standard. And I stick by that.

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lukeprog April 21, 2009 at 5:44 am

unkleE: Oops! Sorry, I thought I’d give HTML tags a go to format text, but that doesn’t work. Is there some way I can do it, and do HTML links too?

I think the I tag doesn’t work, but the (correct) EM tag should work. You can also just use the buttons right above the comment box.

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unkleE April 21, 2009 at 2:24 pm

“if you and I take the time to break down your religious beliefs, you will find that you are holding your religious beliefs to a different standard. And I stick by that.”

This is a big call, Luke. I wonder would you mind taking the time to say what that “different standard” is, and how you know it is true for me?

“You can also just use the buttons right above the comment box.”

Unfortunately it isn’t that easy. I thought at first I had been unobservant, but the buttons only occasionally appear, and right now even the box hasn’t appeared – I have written this post by typing into empty space, and I’ll only know if it works when I submit. There appears to be a bug – I am using Safari on a Mac.

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unkleE April 21, 2009 at 2:26 pm

Sorry to be a pain, but after I posted my previous comment, the box and the buttons have all appeared. Just more evidence of a bug – dunno if you can do anything about it, but it looks like I can work around it. : )

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lukeprog April 21, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Hmmm. I’ll have to test the site on Safari. Just as an aside – have you tried Firefox? Mucho awesome-o.

The reason I think you’re holding your religious beliefs is not because I know anything about you personally, but because I know a great deal about (nearly) all of the reasons that have ever been offered to justify a belief in God.

So yeah, let’s walk through it, if you’ve got time. For what reasons do you believe in the Christian God?

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unkleE April 21, 2009 at 7:12 pm

Luke

“let’s walk through it, if you’ve got time. For what reasons do you believe in the Christian God?”

You got a week?? : ) I’ll try to be brief.

First, let’s distinguish between the reasons I first believed and the reasons I believe now. Historically, I may have first believed for all sorts of reasons or non-reasons, but that is now irrelevant. The question is why am I continuing to believe today.

There are many arguments for the existence of God, and I’m sure you’re familiar with them all. Many of them I understand William Lane Craig uses, though I’ve never listened to him debate. So I’ll just summarise what you will recognise as much larger arguments, and I’ll present them in the form of a Bayesian probability analysis – that is, what would we expect if (a) a God did exist, and (b) if a God didn’t exist.

If there was no God, I’d expect (i.e. think it most likely that) no universe would exist. But if there was a God, I’d think it was quite possible. And it does exist.
If there was no God, I’d expect any universe that did unexpectedly form to be chaotic and short-lived. But if there was a God, I wouldn’t be surprised at a well-designed universe. And it’s finely tuned to an amazing degree.
If there was no God, I’d expect that if human beings appeared, they’d have no freewill because everything, including their brain processes, would be determined by the laws of physics. But if a God did exist, and he created humans, we might expect anything. And we mostly feel and can’t help acting like we have freewill, and without it these discussions would be futile.
If there was no God, I’d expect human brains to have good practical reason that had evolved by natural selection to survive, but I wouldn’t expect us to have fine logic skills which do not appear to be required for survival. But if a God created us, I’d think rationality would be quite likely. And we do have such cognitive faculties, and these metaphysical discussions would be meaningless without them.
If there was no God, I’d expect there to be no objectively true ethics, just behaviour patterns that promote survival at the individual or group level. But if an ethical God created us, I’d expect us to be able to recognise genuine right and wrong. And generally, we all think there are some behaviours (say pedaphilia) which are truly wrong, not just bad for survival.
If there was no God, I’d expect there to be few plausible miracle stories and experiences of God, but if there was a God, I’d expect he might quite possibly communicate. And while many, perhaps most, stories of experience like this may be fakes or mistakes, I know of a few that seem plausible, enough to suggest that they can’t all be written off a priori.
There are also arguments against God’s existence – e.g. the existence of human and natural evil in the world, and the fact that God cannot be seen or measured in physical terms. These must also be considered. But I note that the problem of evil only arises once we have a universe and people in it and we have an objective ethical standard by which to make a judgment about evil. So even this argument points to God in an indirect way.

These considerations lead me to conclude that God’s existence is highly likely. If we are willing (for the sake of illustration) to put probabilities on each of these arguments, Bayesian statistics can show that even if I start from an initially low estimate of God’s probability, my conclusions to those arguments result in a very high probability at the end. (I’ve actually put this into an online test, which everyone can do for themselves - the probability of God test.) And the God established by those arguments has to have the characteristics required by those arguments – powerful and creative to satisfy the cosmic arguments, personal, rational and ethical to satisfy later points, etc.

Finally, I come to the historical evidence for Jesus, which I have begun to address on a comment on another of your pages, so I will summarise here. Basically, treating the New Testament the same as other historical documents of the period, I find that secular historians accept it as telling useful history. That is enough for me to believe Jesus was telling the truth, and hence to believe the things he said that historians cannot really make a judgment on. So I find the most obvious explanation for all those facts is that he was indeed who he said he was. This fleshes out the picture of God gained from the other considerations.

So that’s why I believe. And I find that, having believed it for 45 years, it rings true and continues to ring true – experience backs up evidence.

Thanks for asking. I’m interested in your response.

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lukeprog April 21, 2009 at 8:34 pm

unkleE: Many of [these arguments] I understand William Lane Craig uses, though I’ve never listened to him debate.

Craig doesn’t usually give them in Bayesian form. That’s Swinburne’s thing.

Right, so we’ve got:

1. Cosmological argument
2. Teleological argument
3. Argument from free will
4. Argument from reason
5. Moral argument
6. Argument from religious experience
7. Argument from miracles

Looks like you should enjoy the upcoming Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, which I previewed here.

unkleE, I’m quite pleased that you’ve presented serious arguments, and in Bayesian form. In that case, I will not be able to respond to you in quick-and-dirty form, as is the case with most Christians (or atheists) I converse with. Instead, I would like to respect your intelligence and education enough to give each of these arguments their due consideration, in upcoming posts that I am already developing. So I beg your patience. :)

I have just begun responding to the Moral Argument with today’s revision of this post, and as you know I’m going to map one variety of cosmological argument here.

Also, I was already planning to link to a Bayesian “probability of God” game I found online months ago, though I don’t recall if it was yours or not. Did you get the idea from Unwin’s The Probability of God?

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unkleE April 21, 2009 at 10:18 pm

Luke,

Thanks for your quick and friendly reply. Some quick responses.

1. I’m sorry I posted the same thing twice. It didn’t seem to be accepted the first time so I re-wrote it (which was a pain) and then after I posted it, the first and second version appeared. I am not normally such a computer klutz, but I seem to be having problems with your software. (I had dot points in my version, in the HTML as well, yet they didn’t appear either.)

2. I normally find Safari better than Firefox (faster and easier), but I’ll try Firefox here and see if that helps me overcome my problems.

3. Yes I got the probability test idea from Unwin, but I extended it quite a bit further. And I have used that approach to setting out the arguments for a while, I think before I really understood Bayesian stats.

4. I am happy to wait and see your discussion of the individual arguments, but that wasn’t actually what we were discussing here. You were claiming my religious thinking was different to my natural world thinking. Do you still claim that, or are you willing to accept that I apply similar thinking to both areas?

Best wishes.

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lukeprog April 21, 2009 at 10:34 pm

I deleted the duplicate.

RE: religious thinking being different than other thinking. I still suspect this is true, but it is best explained in the post series I will eventually do on each of the arguments you listed.

But let’s look at one example. For example, I imagine you think that our moral sense is unreliable given naturalism because the evidence for evolution shows that any evolved moral sense would have been adaptive, but not particularly truth-tracking. But then, you assert that given theism, you would expect your moral sense to be reliable. But what evidence do you have that God would provide a moral sense, or that it is reliable? I doubt you can give any. So on naturalism, you are responding to evidence. On supernaturalism, you are responding to vacuous assumptions.

Or more likely, I am making vacuous assumptions about what you actually argue. But that is how many species of moral argument proceed: basically, by saying “I get to cheat but you do not.”

And that’s roughly what I mean by special thinking. It’s the thinking that says “I get to cheat but you do not” or “I wouldn’t cheat the logic when doing my taxes or choosing a doctor, but I’ll cheat the logic when arguing for the existence of God.”

Another example is the cosmological argument. It is said that the universe hasn’t existed forever based on evidence, but that God HAS existed forever (but without any evidence offered for this; it is merely assumed).

There are versions of these arguments that can duck these particular criticisms, but maybe you understand in a rough way what I mean by special thinking.

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unkleE April 21, 2009 at 11:53 pm

Thanks, yes I can understand what you mean. I just don’t think it is correct, or even that you have made a strong case,

The Bayesian approach is based on probabilities. So let’s look further at the points you make on the moral argument. If there is no God, then our ethics are based on natural selection, not ethical truth (because that doesn’t exist). So what is the probability that we would believe that ethics are really true? Surely close to zero, say 1%.

Of course you can tough it out and say that you’d expect us to think that there are true ethics, but in reality there’s not, but then you have to say that nothing is really wrong, not even pedophilia, or rape, or genocide. And then you are in “Russell’s dilemma”, where he said, after serving on the Nuremberg war crimes trials:

“I do not myself think very well of what I have said on ethics. I have suffered a violent conflict between what I felt and what I found myself compelled to believe …. I could not bring myself to think that Auschwitz was wicked only because Hitler was defeated, but the ghosts of [other philosophers] seemed to jeer at me and say I was soft.”

On the other hand, it doesn’t require any “cheating” to say that if God exists, he might give us true ethics or he might not – call it say 50/50. (It doesn’t require anything more than that, certainly not ” vacuous assumptions”.) This is still 50 times more probable than the alternative, so the Bayesian probability of God is much increased.

But as well as challenging your lack of justification for the original statement I queried, I will give an example to show that my thinking is similar, and the example I will give is my marriage.

I have been happily married for 42 years, but there have been some times in the early years when I reacted to some situation badly. In my anger and stupidity, I said some things I shouldn’t have said. But I extracted myself from these situations by asking myself some questions – Do I want this marriage to work? Yes. Has anything changed in reality? No, only my stupid reaction. Have I behaved badly? Yes. What is the logical course of action? Apologise. And so I would.

I responded this way because my work used to involve some strategic planning, and that is the sort of way one does strategic planning. Now this is exactly the same way I respond when confronted by something which challenges my belief in God – say the horror of the Asian tsunami. I ask myself the same questions: Did I already know that awful things happen? Yes. Is this any more awful than other things I’ve already considered? No. Does this change the argument that there is no objective evil without God? No. Are the other arguments which lead me to believe in God still valid? Yes. Then I conclude that there is no reason to change my belief. (Of course, if the answers were different, then I might have reason to change.)

The same approach  applies to many of the other arguments.

I have given a brief answer re the cosmological argument on your Kalam page, again demonstrating that, even though you may not accept the argument, it doesn’t require “cheating”.

So I think I can justify my assertion that my thinking is similar, and you haven’t yet justified your assertion. I would like to gently suggest that it is unjustifiable in my case at least, and you should modify your assertion to “some christians”, or even “many” or “most” if you like. I think that’s fair, don’t you?

Best wishes, and thanks for the friendly way you are discussing – I appreciate it.

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lukeprog April 22, 2009 at 5:13 am

unkleE: I just don’t think it is correct, or even that you have made a strong case,

Oh trust me, I wasn’t trying to make a “case.” That will have to wait.

unkleE: If there is no God, then our ethics are based on natural selection, not ethical truth (because that doesn’t exist). So what is the probability that we would believe that ethics are really true? Surely close to zero, say 1%.

Are you saying that without God, it’s unlikely that moral facts would exist? Or that it’s unlikely that we would believe in moral facts? Or it’s unlikely we would have moral knowledge? I don’t see how any of these are unlikely given atheism, and I don’t see how they become any more probable given theism.

I would rather not back down from my charge that theism requires “cheating” (conscious or not). Instead, I would like to spend the next several years explaining exactly how it requires cheating, on this blog.

But please don’t interpret that as saying anything about you. It seems to me you are a highly intelligent and rational person, and have no intention to “cheat.”

I’ll reply to your other posts, elsewhere.

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unkleE April 22, 2009 at 5:22 am

Thanks for your reply. I have downloaded your paper on ethics and perhaps that will explain to me more fully your comments on ethics and “moral facts”. I think your definition of “cheating” must be different to mine.

But I still think I have demonstrated that I use similar thinking in my thinking about God as about other parts of life (perhaps I “cheat” there too), and I don’t think you have shown any justification for your view. But I don’t think I’ll say any more just now.

Thanks again for the discussion and the opportunity to be both opponents and friends. best wishes.

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lukeprog April 22, 2009 at 5:30 am

My “paper” on ethics is not much of an argument, but more like a “trailer” for the ethical theory I endorse. It is one of my dreams to actually spend a decade writing a full philosophical defense of the theory. But obviously, my atheism does not hang on the truth of desire utilitarianism at all.

But feel free to criticize desire utilitarianism as strongly as possible. If it is a false theory, I’d like to know.

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unkleE April 26, 2009 at 1:21 am

Luke

Thanks for writing your paper and making it available. I learnt a lot from it. I have read about utilitarianism of course, but I don’t recall reading about desire utilitarianism.

Like plain utilitarianism, there is a lot in desire utilitarianism that I can appreciate and endorse. But unfortunately it seems to me to also fail in the same way. I’m not going to try to present a well-argued case here, but since you have encouraged feedback, I’ll make a few comments.

1. Some unjustified statements

“Suspiciously, the gods of every tribe and nation always agreed with those in power” (p8)

This was not a good start because it is demonstrably untrue, of christianity at least. The God of the Old Testament is continually critical of the Jewish nation for failing to live up to his standards. The prophets particularly are full of it, e.g.

You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Amos 5:11-12

Jesus was pretty much the same:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” Matthew 23:23

While that is not crucial to desire utilitarianism, it is a most alarming error on your part, and tends to undermine your dismissal of other approaches to ethics.

Likewise, your statements on p9 that we can’t get values from God and that “gods do not exist” are just assertions – again, dismissing ideas that are contrary to your view without giving any justification. I think both statements are wrong, and I suggest the majority of people in the world would also.

These are serious problems, and I suggest you amend this section. Far better would be to correct these errors, and simply say “if you are unwilling to believe in a God and derive your ethics from a god, then I can offer an alternative” or something like that. That would at least be accurate.

2. Difficulties with desire utilitarianism

2.1 Doing the calculation

The key statement of your view may be this one (p24): “So, ‘morally good’ means ‘such as to thwart more and greater desires than are fulfilled, among all desires.’”

But this statement doesn’t outline how we determine which desires are greater (is a mild desire for something important like food “greater” than a strong desire for something less important, like a cigarette?). I don’t think you answered this, and it is in fact unanswerable, because we would all answer it differently.

It seems to me that this shows that your desire utilitarianism is not as objective as you claim. Yes, desires are factual, but how can we measure them and evaluate them? (This is where desire utilitarianism is similar to common utilitarianism, in that we cannot realistically measure or even estimate the equations.)

Nevertheless, I agree that sometimes this may be a useful tool. But in most such cases (e.g. rape), the answer was obvious anyway.

2.2 Why do it?

The other dilemma you don’t answer is why should I care? Why should I do the calculation if I don’t want to, and why should I follow the outcome? You can define a right action as “one that a person with good desires would perform”, but what if I am not a person with good desires. (And who is all of the time?)

You don’t really answer this either. It can’t be “because it is right” because we can’t know if it is right until we do the estimation. Desire utilitarianism, like ordinary utilitarianism, depends on us all having at least some moral sense we bring to it.

3. Conclusion

I think all attempts at human moral systems fail in these ways. I think you have to assume some ethics before you can even start.

I still think it is more accurate to say that most of us know what is truly right and wrong in principle, but (1) some lack a moral sense, but they are abnormal, (2) we can blunt that moral sense, (3) it is often hard to work it out in detail and different cultures differ here, and (4) the main problem is that we don’t want to follow it all the time. I could develop those ideas further, but that isn’t the purpose here.

I hope that is a helpful response. Best wishes.

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lukeprog April 26, 2009 at 6:08 am

unkleE,

Thanks for your feedback.

1. There are many things I’m going to change in the next draft of my minibook. I think I’ll remove the “always agreed with those in power” line; that is indeed too hasty. But I’ll keep in the rest. There are LOTS of unproven assertions in the book. It’s a presentation of an idea, not really much an argument for it. To argue for every sentence in the book is simply beyond the scope of the book, or any book. Also, while most uneducated people will disagree with me about God’s existence and our ability to derive morals from him, most philosophers and scientists will not.

2.1 In the next draft, I’m going to reword this to “more and stronger.” We all know that some of our desires are stronger than others. My desire to not be raped is stronger than my desire for ice cream. And we can estimate that more and stronger desires would be thwarted by carpet-bombing New York than by slightly raising taxes in Dallas. But yes, as in all sciences our measurements can only be estimates. Consider temperature. The ancients couldn’t measure temperature very accurately, but they could usually tell when one thing was warmer than another. As time has gone on, our tools have improved, and our measurements have become more accurate. But there are still some things where we can’t tell which is warmer. The same is true about desires. As neuroscience gets better, we will be able to better measure the strength of desires. But even now, economists can do some very sophisticated measurement of desires with “willingness to pay” experiments.

“But in such cases (e.g. rape), the answer was obvious anyway.”

Here you are appealing to your moral intuitions. I have many awful things to say about intuitionist theories of morality, especially toward the end of this article.

2.2 See the F.A.Q. on “Why should I care about other people’s desires?”

Desire utilitarianism acknowledges that I always act to fulfill the most and strongest of MY desires. But it also provides a way to tell which desires are morally good or bad, and suggests some social tools that can be used to change people’s malleable desires. That’s what morality is all about.

3. I do not assume any ethics before I start. There are no categorical imperatives or intrinsic values in desire utilitarianism. I do not appeal to my moral intuitions at ALL, not even to say that rape is obviously wrong.

At the end, you try to justify an intuitionist theory of morality – that we have a cognitive faculty that exists for directly perceiving moral values. I try to debunk this idea, both given atheism and given theism, in the article linked above.

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unkleE April 26, 2009 at 3:18 pm

lukeprog: Desire utilitarianism acknowledges that I always act to fulfill the most and strongest of MY desires. But it also provides a way to tell which desires are morally good or bad, and suggests some social tools that can be used to change people’s malleable desires. That’s what morality is all about.

Luke, thanks for the response. I’ll only make two further comments.

I don’t think this is what morality is all about at all. I think morality is about what we “ought” to be and do so that we do what is right. Your morality does indeed “tell which desires are morally good or bad” according to human desires, but it doesn’t tell us why we “ought” to follow the “good” ones. That, you say, will be accomplished by “social tools that can be used to change people’s malleable desires”. And that sounds like a recipe for disaster. Whoever has the power can manipulate the rest of us to do their will – as has happened too often in the past, as your book mentions, but now we are developing more subtle and effective tools to do it. “We have ways to make you do what we agree you ought to do!”

lukeprog: t the end, you try to justify an intuitionist theory of morality – that we have a cognitive faculty that exists for directly perceiving moral values.

I don’t try to justify the view, and I’m not sure you have understood it correctly. I think basic ethical principles are true just like mathematics is true, and they are known by God and part of his character. That is their basis, not my intuition about them. I do believe the evidence indicates that human beings have a moral sense, albeit imperfect and sometimes highly impaired, but I don’t suggest this is either the basis for ethics or that it can always deliver us the right conclusions – I would be quite happy to use utilitarianism or desire utilitarianism to assist us. But of course, we should include in the equation the desires of the God who made us, and whose existence you dismiss.

I think I am quite happy you are doing the work you are doing on this matter, but I fear that your solution will prove just as disastrous as those from the past who imposed their ethics in the name of God. God doesn’t impose.

Best wishes.

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lukeprog April 26, 2009 at 3:58 pm

unkleE,

Well, yes, morality is all about what we “ought” to do. Or, as philosophers put it, morality is about “reasons for action.” The problem with most ethical theories is that they refer to reasons for action that do not exist. Desire utilitarianism strips out all these lingual superstitions and refers only to the reasons for action that do exist.

People with power will, inevitably, try to manipulate the rest of us to do what they want. But that doesn’t mean it’s moral for them to do so, or that desire utilitarianism encourages them to do so.

>> “the evidence indicates that human beings have a moral sense”

Do you mean that the evidence indicates we have moral beliefs, or that we actually have a cognitive faculty for perceiving moral values? If the latter, what evidence are you talking about??? I’ve never heard of any of this evidence.

BTW, if God existed it would not change the truth of desire utilitarianism. It wouldn’t even change its calculus very much. I’m preparing a draft on this now.

“God doesn’t impose.” Are you kidding? What God are you talking about? Surely not the God of Christianity?

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unkleE April 26, 2009 at 7:54 pm

lukeprog: Desire utilitarianism strips out all these lingual superstitions and refers only to the reasons for action that do exist.

I think in this way that it is reductionist – it strips away and leaves little remaining of value. Yes, it explains stuff, but not enough to make it viable, IMO.

lukeprog: Do you mean that the evidence indicates we have moral beliefs, or that we actually have a cognitive faculty for perceiving moral values? If the latter, what evidence are you talking about???

An ability to recognise moral values, however impaired. That is why few people are satisfied with evolutionary ethics – yes, they make sense, but they don’t explain what we all feel and know about right and wrong, as illustrated by my Bertrand Russell quote above.

lukeprog: “God doesn’t impose.” Are you kidding? What God are you talking about? Surely not the God of Christianity?

You have possibly rejected the wrong belief. Many times Jesus indicates that people should do certain things but they refuse (= choice, not compulsion). e.g. Luke 13:34: “Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”

I have been further thinking about your ideas, and I can best express some further problems in a short play:

Stalin: We need to kill the bourgeois capitalists to clear the decks for the glorious age of the worker.
Lukeprog: But that would be wrong, it would thwart their desires.
Stalin: Yes, but imagine all the desires of all the workers in coming generations that would be enhanced. That is far greater.
Lukeprog: But if we turned the killing knob down to zero, no-one’s desires would be thwarted.
Stalin: But then all the workers would never gain their deserved economic freedom.
Lukeprog: There must be a better way. Re-educate the capitalists.
Stalin: I’ve tried, but they won’t listen. Death is the only re-education that will work.
Lukeprog: So much misery for so little gain.
Stalin: The gain will be enormous. The workers’ state will last forever!
Lukeprog: If only you knew, it will only last for less than a century!
Stalin: I think you need re-education too!

I think you too easily glossed over how impossible it would be to get agreement on the relative value of different desires – unless we presuppose a universal ethic along the lines of what I suggested. But I’m sure you will keep working on it, and probably improve the ideas. But I don’t think it will be enough. Best wishes.

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lukeprog April 26, 2009 at 8:37 pm

unkleE,

What does “not enough to make it viable,” mean? Are you suggesting we add some stuff back into moral theory that doesn’t exist, if it will make the theory more “viable”?

You’ve given an argument from ignorance for your theory of a cognitive faculty for the direct perception of moral values (let’s call it the “conscience”). You said current evolutionary theory can’t explain everything we feel and “know” about right and wrong, and this is evidence for the existence of a conscience. I beg to differ. The incompleteness of evolutionary theory is no evidence for a conscience in the same way that an earlier lack of electric explanation for lightning was evidence of Zeus.

Do you have any evidence for this “conscience”, or is it like the soul – totally undetectable, and therefore undisprovable and unprovable, just like a billion other ridiculous ideas like Russell’s teapot.

>> “You have possibly rejected the wrong belief. Many times Jesus indicates that people should do certain things but they refuse (= choice, not compulsion)”

Are you a universalist, or do you hold to an issuant theory of hell? If not, then given Christianity, my “free choice” is the free choice of a man with a gun to his head. Except the bullet will do much worse than kill me: it will send me to eternal torture. Even the jealous and vengeful Israelite god Yahweh didn’t promise that. No, that’s Christianity’s special little contribution to mental enslavement throughout history.

>> “I think you too easily glossed over how impossible it would be to get agreement on the relative value of different desires – unless we presuppose a universal ethic along the lines of what I suggested.”

I’m not sure what universal ethic you suggested. That we do what feels good in our heads?

In any case, desire utilitarianism does propose a universal ethic, but of course it does not pretend that we can achieve “agreement” on the relative value of desires. Many people simply cannot be persuaded, and this will be true no matter what ethical theory best describes what really exists. But you seem to be asking a question of measurement. Some desires really are more numerous and stronger than other desires, and there are objective facts about these relations. Our measurement may seem imprecise now, but our measurement of temperature was once very imprecise, too. And remember the use of such things as “willingness to pay” experiments, and the steady development of the tools of neuroscience.

unkleE, though I am harsh with bad ideas, I must remind you that I respect your learning and your comments. Don’t burn yourself out here… even on a young blog like mine, a few people have burned themselves out arguing things in the comments. I’d rather have you enjoy the conversations here. And, , you’ve already made a contribution that literally changed my mind, albeit in a small way: I have removed the line about gods always agreeing with those in power from the latest draft of my ebook (I don’t know when I’ll publish version 2.0, though).

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unkleE April 26, 2009 at 11:59 pm

lukeprog: I must remind you that I respect your learning and your comments.  …. you’ve already made a contribution that literally changed my mind, albeit in a small way

Thank you for the compliment. I too respect your learning – you seem to have read more widely than I have and in a short time – and appreciate that you are an atheist who treats me with courtesy. I hope I do the same.

lukeprog: Don’t burn yourself out here… even on a young blog like mine, a few people have burned themselves out arguing things in the comments. I’d rather have you enjoy the conversations here.

No problems about that – I am retired, so have time, and am enjoying myself as well as learning. My concern is more for you – I don’t want to take too much of your time. For that reason, I am extracting myself from the other discussions I’ve been part of, trying to reach some sort of understanding or agreement to disagree and to recognise and respect the opposing viewpoint. I don’t really believe in argument.

But this topic is different, because (1) it is new to me and I am learning, and (2) you specifically ask for input. Please say if you’ve had more of me than you can bear, but I feel I am progressing towards a goal of developing a fully worked out position, and should be there in a couple more exchanges. So, unless you ask me to stop, I propose to respond to a few comments, then post about half a dozen questions, following which I think I can summarise. I will feel satisfied with that, and I hope the process and the outcome will help you.

lukeprog: What does “not enough to make it viable,” mean? Are you suggesting we add some stuff back into moral theory that doesn’t exist, if it will make the theory more “viable”?

I’ll come back to this in a later post, but basically I mean that by stripping away things that you can’t fully explain and measure scientifically, you strip away the things that make a moral system workable. Well actually, you don’t strip them away, you just think that you do. But with that cryptic comment, I’ll move on, but I promise I will come back to this.

lukeprog: You’ve given an argument from ignorance for your theory of a cognitive faculty for the direct perception of moral values (let’s call it the “conscience”). You said current evolutionary theory can’t explain everything we feel and “know” about right and wrong, and this is evidence for the existence of a conscience. I beg to differ. The incompleteness of evolutionary theory is no evidence for a conscience in the same way that an earlier lack of electric explanation for lightning was evidence of Zeus.

I didn’t actually give an argument, I stated what I believe to be true without trying to justify it very much. It’s like mind or self or rationality, or other minds or the external world – these are all things that philosophers and scientists cannot really establish, but have to assume – it’s just that philosophers know they are making assumptions whereas many scientists do not. But I’ll come back to this too in a later post.

unkleE: Do you have any evidence for this “conscience”, or is it like the soul – totally undetectable, and therefore undisprovable and unprovable, just like a billion other ridiculous ideas like Russell’s teapot.

See above. My evidence is almost universal human experience. Only reductionist scientists would doubt it.

lukeprog: Are you a universalist, or do you hold to an issuant theory of hell? If not, then given Christianity, my “free choice” is the free choice of a man with a gun to his head.

I’m not a universalist (though I wish that were true) and I don’t know what an issuant theory is.

Answer 1: You have changed the subject. You said there was no choice in christianity and I showed you there is. The consequences of that choice are another matter, and haven’t stopped you and many others from exercising that choice. So you are a living demonstration of the error of your earlier statement.

Answer 2: A study of the Greek of the gospels shows (I believe) that Jesus did not teach that the unbelievers/unrighteous would suffer torment in hell forever, but that they would be destroyed (i.e. forfeit their lives) in the age to come – which is exactly what you and other atheists expect. So you get your choice (which grieves me, hence my discussing with you) and I get mine – again illustrating that God respects our choices. But this is a separate topic, and I could go into detail elsewhere, but not here.

lukeprog: I’m not sure what universal ethic you suggested. That we do what feels good in our heads?

You give a simple answer to how we might value different desires – “My desire to not be raped is stronger than my desire for ice cream. And we can estimate that more and stronger desires would be thwarted by carpet-bombing New York than by slightly raising taxes in Dallas.” But you must know that many people would value many other things differently to you. No-one would agree on valuations unless they shared a common ethic to start with more. More on this, too, later.

Well that’s that. I want to move on. I will now prepare a post with about half a dozen questions for you, which I hope you will answer. Then I plan to sum up. Thanks again.

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unkleE April 27, 2009 at 12:17 am

Luke,

I develop my ideas mostly by discussion and interaction, and that is what I am doing here. It would be easier for you if I could come up with all my comments right at the start, but I’m sorry, I can’t. here are some questions I’d be interested in receiving brief answers on please, if you have time.

1. In my little play, what would you say to Stalin?

2. Since you began to believe in desire utilitarianism, what (if anything) has changed in what you believe is right and wrong?

3. If you stood for President (I am assuming you live in the US) on the platform of implementing desire utilitarianism in law, what would you actually do to implement it?

4. If a young teen prefers to eat McDonalds and drink Coke, and his/her parent believes that would be unhealthy, how would desire utilitarianism do the calculation, and how would it resolve the tensions between parents and child?

5. Imagine Jesus existed and that he was not Son of God but a radical, non-violent revolutionary. Caiaphas, the high priest, says that “it is expedient that one revolutionary die to protect the nation from  Roman retaliation”. Assuming his death would help keep peace, how would desire utilitarianism do the calcs?

6. In the example of the rapist that Fyfe gives in your book, how exactly would you “turn the knob” and how would the rapist change? What if he didn’t want to change?

7. What motive does anyone have to follow the outcomes of desire utilitarianism?

I ask each of these questions for a reason, and I hope you can give a brief answer. I won’t be arguing with your answers, just using them to assess your proposal.

Thanks again.

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lukeprog April 27, 2009 at 6:37 am

unkleE: 1. In my little play, what would you say to Stalin?

I’m unsure about the morality of lots of things, but genocide is extremely desire-thwarting, so I’m pretty sure that the desires for genocide is a bad desire, and the act of genocide a wrong act. But it wouldn’t do any good to philosophically prove to Stalin that desire utilitarianism is the correct ethical theory and that genocide is wrong. In that type of situation, it will be most effective for me to appeal to Stalin’s own desires, since they explain how he will act. So I might say something like, “Do you really want to commit genocide? That will make it so that lots of people are trying to assassinate you. You’ll never sleep soundly. Everywhere you go, you’ll be watching the rooftops and windows for assassins…” and other such tactics.

unkleE: 2. Since you began to believe in desire utilitarianism, what (if anything) has changed in what you believe is right and wrong?

I’m pretty damn sure there are no fairies, unicorns, or gods. I’m much less sure about desire utilitarianism. Though all my beliefs are tentative, my acceptance of desire utilitarianism is especially tentative. In a way, I’m almost defending it just to encourage those who know how to prove it wrong. So far it hasn’t been proven wrong to me, and that’s pretty impressive. But it does mean I’m generally hesitant to claim moral knowledge.

Especially since I haven’t spent any time on applied ethics. I’m spending all my time on meta-ethical theory, because if the meta-ethical theory is wrong, then there’s no reason to trust any discoveries in applied ethics.

Because of these factors, I can’t give many examples of what has morally changed. But I’ll give two tentative examples:

1. Abortion. I wasn’t sure what to think, even as a Christian, because every argument on both sides was awful. The Bible does not value human life beginning at conception, and I knew that even during the last year when I was genuinely a Christian. But desire utilitarianism suggests that abortion is wrong after whatever point significant desires develop in the brain of a fetus – perhaps between 10-25 weeks.

2. Animals. Animal rights is an extremely complex topic in applied ethics that not even Alonzo has worked out very well. It will require decades of research by many experts to know what we ought to do in this and many other areas. But I suspect desire utilitarianism will invite me to be more concerned with the desires of animals than I had been in the past.

unkleE: 3. If you stood for President (I am assuming you live in the US) on the platform of implementing desire utilitarianism in law, what would you actually do to implement it?

Law is another area of applied ethics I have not studied. I don’t know what kinds of laws desire utilitarianism would suggest. I would run on the platform of “I do not have all the answers. Let’s do the research and have the debates together, and then enact laws that are truly going to have the best results.”

unkleE: 4. If a young teen prefers to eat McDonalds and drink Coke, and his/her parent believes that would be unhealthy, how would desire utilitarianism do the calculation, and how would it resolve the tensions between parents and child?

The moral calculus is much simpler with an alcoholic, so let’s start there. An alcoholic may have a very strong desire for drink, but there are lots of other desires that are thwarted by his desire for drink, and even though they may be smaller, they may outweigh his desire to drink if there are enough of them. Especially if he drives drunk, in which case people’s very strong desires to not be killed or maimed by a drunk driver are taken into the calculus.

The moral calculus is more difficult to estimate when dealing with relatively weak desires for junk food. I have a suspicion that eating lots of junk food is almost always desire-thwarting for its affects on health, energy, self-esteem, alertness, etc. But we need better tools to measure the number and strength of the desire involved.

As for how it would resolve tensions between parent and child, that is another area requiring a moral expert on this issue. A child psychologist probably has the best information here as to what desires in parent and child (and the interaction techniques that arise from those desires) tend to best fulfill all the relevant desires.

As you can see, my answer to lots of questions is “I don’t know.” Desire utilitarianism is not an “easy” moral system that gives you all the answers, because the facts of our universe simply are not that way. Desire utilitarianism is a theory developed to be true about the universe.

unkleE: 5. Imagine Jesus existed and that he was not Son of God but a radical, non-violent revolutionary. Caiaphas, the high priest, says that “it is expedient that one revolutionary die to protect the nation from Roman retaliation”. Assuming his death would help keep peace, how would desire utilitarianism do the calcs?

Again, I don’t know. I’m still trying to work out the theory, not its applications. We need moral experts to know the answers to these questions. Some relevant thoughts might be here.

unkleE: 6. In the example of the rapist that Fyfe gives in your book, how exactly would you “turn the knob” and how would the rapist change? What if he didn’t want to change?

The knob on the desire to rape appears to be very malleable, as long as we raise kids the right way such that they will not become rapists. This includes lots of parental inculcation of values like respecting other people. It includes lots of media propoganda against rapists (which we already have). It includes anything that will give people more satisfying sex lives, so they will not feel any compulsion to rape. It includes things that diminish anger, hate, and rage. But you can probably already see that this is another question that requires a moral expert – a psychologist – to answer.

If the rapist cannot be persuaded, then we may have reasons for action to lock him up to keep him from thwarting so many desires.

unkleE: 7. What motive does anyone have to follow the outcomes of desire utilitarianism?

What motive does anyone have to follow the will of an imaginary sky daddy? What motive does anyone have to follow Aristotle’s virtue ethics, Bentham’s utilitarianism, Kant’s categorical imperatives, Rawls’ social contract?

I am personally motivated to obey the outcomes of desire utilitarianism because I want to make the world a better place, and desire utilitarianism has a theory about what “better” is that is far more plausible than other theories I have encountered, because it refers only to things that exist, and in a logically consistent way.

Desire utilitarianism understands that people are motivated by <em>their</em> desires, not by the desires they <em>should</em> have. But morality, as it happens, is about changing people’s malleable desires so that they are good desires.

I won’t take the time to respond to your earlier post.

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unkleE April 27, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Luke,

Thanks so much for your answer. I will now give the matter some more consideration and then give you a more meaningful assessment, for what it’s worth. And then I will leave you in peace! : )

Just a brief response …..

1. This isn’t an atheist vs christian matter. A christian could adopt some aspects of desire utilitarianism (I think) and disbelieving in du would not imply anything for your atheism. So we don’t need to be adversarial about this. (Thus I was slightly disappointed to see you depart from your usual courtesy and use ridicule in the term “sky daddy”.) I therefore agree with not further pursing here the matters in my other post.

2. You talk about du not being “proven wrong”, but I don’t think it’s a matter of being right or wrong. There is clearly some merit in the idea, but whether it can be applied in the comprehensive way you say, and in the absence of other ideas, is the question, I think.

3. I am interested that you were unable to reply to many of my hypotheticals with any certainty. I understand you are in the early stages of understanding and applying du, but we surely test ethical ideas by how they can be applied. So we have to both recognise that a lot more work needs to be done before it can even be properly assessed.

4. I was very interested in your abortion example, for du leads to a view somewhat midway between the standard pro-life and pro-choice views.

So, you have given me food for thought, and now I will think, before I post again. Thanks.

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unkleE May 1, 2009 at 4:38 am

Luke

I’ve given your paper and your answers to my questions quite a bit more thought, and now I’d like to share some further conclusions with you. I’m sorry it’s so long, but you wrote 40+ pages! : )

Firstly, I should say that I don’t feel any need to “disprove” the approach you are suggesting. I don’t think such things can be proved or disproved, and I think we can learn from most approaches. So what I want to do is (1) point out some places where your book seems to me to be inaccurate, which doesn’t necessarily condemn desire utilitarianism, but certainly makes me more wary of other things you say that I cannot so easily check, then (2) make some comments about how I think desire utilitarianism doesn’t quite live up to the promises you make on its behalf. Hopefully you can use these comments to at least improve your writing, if not the ideas.

1. Apparent inaccuracies.

You assert: “Billions of people before you wanted to make the world a better place, but they actually made it worse.” (p3) I wonder how you know that so many people wanted to do this, or even thought about it, but my main problem is with the conclusion. Yes, I agree that world wars and persecution have contributed to evil, but you have totally ignored social welfare, the Geneva Convention, the Red Cross, widespread education, improvements in medical science, democracy, and so on. It may be that the sum total is worse rather than better, but it isn’t at all clear to me.

But even more interesting is your value statement that people have made things worse. Where did you get that value from? And if you expect us to agree, where are we to get it from? You scorn the idea of “a cognitive faculty for perceiving moral values”, yet here you make a moral judgment before you have established that moral values exist. I think you demonstrate that, deep down, we all know some things are right and others wrong.

You also assert that conscience, “moral feeling”, is the way racists and bigots, etc, answered their moral questions (p4-5). Again, how can you possibly know this? I would have thought lack of conscience might have been a factor in many of the worst examples of evil, but that would only be a guess. But your confident assertion is also only a guess, unless you have some evidence you haven’t shared with us.

I have already pointed out the inaccuracy in the statement “Suspiciously, the gods of every tribe and nation always agreed with those in power” (p8). I know you have said you will correct this, but I mention it because it is still important to my assessment.

You say quite definitely “gods do not exist” (p9), but until and if you can demonstrate this, it is just an assumption on your part which you bring to the question. Interestingly, earlier you make a different and conflicting statement: “we can’t tell which gods are real and which ones aren’t” (p8). If this statement was true, the other couldn’t be. Further, more than 80% of the world disagree that no gods exist, and only a few of the rest actively agree with you. Making such a bald statement will make it difficult for most people to accept the rest of what you say. More honest, I think, would be to say that the ethical system you are proposing is for non-believers.

Further, you mention Euthyphro’s paradox and suggest that this proves God couldn’t be the basis of ethics. Did you ever think that God might use desire utilitarianism, and of course he could do it perfectly? : ) Of course I jest, but it would certainly answer the dilemma (if one believes in desire utilitarianism)!

In discussing duty, you say “Why is it our duty to act in ways we could make a universal maxim?” (p 13), as if this disposes of that option. But we could equally ask why we should follow desire utilitarianism, or God’s commands or any other ethic. You seem to have not subjected your ethic to the same critical questioning that you do of other systems.

It seems to me that you do the same when you discuss intrinsic value – you question why we should maximise happiness over pleasure (p 16) but one could ask the same question of desire. Ditto the “is-ought” gap – you say, when discussing desire utilitarianism: “ought means ‘There exist reasons for action such that …’ “ (p 32). But you don’t offer the same formulation for the other ethical theories, yet it seems to me that it would work for them too.

You say “desires are the only reasons for action that do exist” (p 22, 33). But how can this be true? Beliefs and duty can be a reason for action (e.g. WW1 soldiers went “over the top” knowing they would die, not because they desired to die, but because they believed it was their duty – we would believe the whole thing was futile and evil, but they nevertheless had those reasons for action). And beliefs, and feelings of duty, exist as much as desires do. The only way out of this (it seems to me) is to argue that even those non-desired duties were “desires”, but I think that distorts the meaning of words. You use inconsistent criteria here too – you reject happiness and other values as intrinsic values and objective reasons to act (p16), yet all are internal states of mind which cannot be directly observed, and happiness can be, and is, measured effectively (probably more rigorously than desires can be measured – it is difficult to think how to measure and compare the strengths of different people’s desires for different things).

So I conclude that much of your discussion is lacking explanation and evidence, and while some of this can be re-written to make your points, some of it seems beyond that, and throws considerable doubt on your argument. Further, you say “truth is a big deal” (p40) but your own explanations seem to make all sorts of truth claims without the necessary evidence, and sometimes contrary to fact. It throws the whole idea into doubt.

Assessing desire utilitarianism

I haven’t read much on ethics (not nearly as much as you have), but my thinking has led me to think that four things are needed for a workable ethical system:

1. Guides to right and wrong
2. Reasons to believe these guides are true
3. Motivation to follow the ethics
4. Practical and realistic application

Let’s see how desire utilitarianism meets these requirements.

1. Guides to right and wrong

Clearly it provides a useful concept for assessing the merit of desires and consequent actions, but:

While it is theoretically objective and measurable, in practice it is almost impossible to apply rigorously to any but a very few major issues. Your discussion of abortion was interesting, but your inability to give even brief answers to several scenarios I gave you supports this conclusion. But if it can only be applied in a very conceptual way, it loses much of its distinctiveness – ordinary utilitarianism or even “do as you would be done by” might give the same conclusions.

It seems difficult to factor in the desires of those incapable of expressing themselves – the unborn, future generations, the senile, the unconscious, etc.

If ethics are based on satisfying desires, does this make even scratching an itch an ethical matter? I don’t want to be silly, but desires are wonderfully variable, and it seems difficult to draw a line anywhere.

Desire is often quite selfish and short term, and people often don’t desire what is best for them. Studies show that long term wellbeing requires choices that most people don’t easily make. Costly solutions to environmental and climate change issues may not be desired by many people, and require some assessment of the hypothetical desires of unknown future generations, which is pretty nebulous. Rigorously applied, desire utilitarianism may lead to outcomes that are not beneficial.

It is still unclear how desire utilitarianism avoids the majority forcing their will on the minority. I know you answer this objection (p32) but I didn’t see how it removed the objection. I have read a little of Fyfe and others, but nothing I read explained to me how desire utilitarianism avoids this. This is a major issue.

For the majority of people who believe that God exists and is important for ethics, there would need to be a way to factor him in (or more realistically, to factor desire utilitarianism into God-based ethics).

For these reasons, I don’t think desire utilitarianism is realistically able to be applied as well as necessary for a general ethical system.

2. Reasons to believe these guides are true

I’m not really sure that anything you have said implies truth, beyond the statement that desires exist and that accounting for the impact on people’s desires can assist in maximising desires. But that doesn’t make the ethics produced “true” – what is truth? – because they could change at any time as people’s desires change. Perhaps it “only” makes them effective.

I guess you would say that “truth” in some abstract sense it not a sensible goal here, and effectiveness is sufficient, but I’m not sure that most people would accept that. Many people might think that desire utilitarianism leads to ethical guidelines that focus too much on what they might see as selfishness. I understand how you might answer this, but I don’t think you have guarded enough against this conclusion in your presentation.

3. Motivation to follow the ethics

Desire utilitarianism does not provide a reason for a selfish minded person to be willing to consider other people’s desires – it relies on some other ethic or reason to provide that. In your explanation, “ought” has meaning as follows: “If I want the world to be a better place, I ought to do x or y”, but it says nothing that I can see to someone who doesn’t care about making the world a better place. So it doesn’t say much about “ought” as we usually mean it.

If evolution and natural selection are true (as we both believe), and  this is the only explanation for our human minds (which I don’t believe but I presume you do), then our minds have been shaped by processes which maximise the ability of our genes to survive. This might mean maximise my survival, or my family’s, or my tribe’s. Why wouldn’t I naturally (under your assumptions) prefer this to sacrificing for the good of others if I don’t think there is advantage in that for me? In fact, evolutionary naturalism seems to imply determinism, and most philosophers think that implies no freewill, so we may not have any choice about what we “choose”, and the whole exercise is futile.

4. Practical and realistic application

We cannot possibly apply these ethics to every situation we find ourselves in, so we would have to make some general guidelines – rape is bad for the reasons you have given, etc – which, like I said earlier, could be achieved by “do as you would be done by”. It might be more useful in analysing big ethical issues like abortion, euthanasia, etc, but only if people are willing to let go of their existing moralities – and as a christian, I would be very wary of that.

For many reasons I’ve given above, I just don’t see it being accepted in any large way.

I suggest that people with other approaches to ethics such as religious belief, will, even if they are wrong, likely have stronger motivations to do “good” than a person who follows desire utilitarianism. Likewise a person with selfish or criminal motivations.

In society, to apply the ethics, I think education would be useful but not sufficient – some people won’t respond, and stronger sanctions would be required. But this creates opportunities for abuse, just like the criticisms you have made of other systems, but with a couple of extra problems: (1) How do you police desires? (2) It will lead to “never-ending” sanctions, because people would be judged as still having the bad desires, whereas present criminality is based on actions, and after the penalty is paid, the person is free until they commit another action. I think, having no other moral basis, it could lead to terrible tyranny.

Conclusion

I don’t really think desire utilitarianism produces an ethic – it is more like an ethical accounting system, which is useful in the service of a genuine ethic, but less useful without that. I think in trying to reduce ethics to the measurable is too reductionist, and loses what is the essence of ethics. I think it would produce less good, not more in many cases.

So that is feedback, though not perhaps what you are looking for. Doubtless some of my comments are based on misunderstandings and ignorance, but I have tried to be fair. I hope I have given you some worthwhile things to think about. Best wishes.

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lukeprog May 1, 2009 at 7:01 pm

unkleE,

Thanks for your wonderful criticisms!

Many of them are dead-on. My language is not as careful as it should have been, and I will have to rewrite much of my book.

Other criticisms will be answered by a re-writing of my book, or an expansion of it.

Other criticisms I disagree with.

My hope is to one day have the time and training to give a full philosophical defense of desire utilitarianism, but that was certainly not the intention with “What is Morality?”

Thanks again!

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unkleE May 2, 2009 at 6:18 am

lukeprog: Thanks again!

I should also be thanking you! Your book was easy to read and understandable, better than a few other websites I found on the same topic, so it was a good effort even though I found things to disagree with and suggestions for change. I learnt quite a bit (I had never even heard of desire utilitarianism before), and was provoked to learn more and think even more. So thanks for that.

I also appreciate your obviously genuine attempts to remain fair minded – evidenced in the courteous way you have generally replied to me even though we fundamentally disagree, and in other ways (such as your respect for WL Craig). I have found this exceptionally rare in atheists addressing christians on the internet, so it is all the more notable when it occurs – thank you again. (If you have found christians to be likewise discourteous to you, I apologise.)

I will continue to drop by from time to time, but I have perhaps taken more of your time than I deserve. Very best wishes to you and your search for truth. I leave you with a roughly remembered quote from CS Lewis which I hope does not offend you:

“If you find that truth and God diverge, follow truth, and you’ll find that was where God was all along.”

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Lorkas May 3, 2009 at 3:42 pm

OT question, Luke: do you censor comments for language? I don’t make a habit of cursing, but I do for emphasis now and again, so I wanted to check if that was kosher.

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lukeprog May 3, 2009 at 6:16 pm

Lorkas,

No, I don’t. I may censor a post if it is nothing but a long, vile, personal attack – but so far that hasn’t happened.

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Curtis May 6, 2009 at 2:14 pm

And now for something completely different …

I have asked Luke if he is more interested in winning the argument or in truth.  He said “truth”. 

So, having established that, let’s get on with it.

Here are the ground rules:
1) To examine the positive evidence for a theistic or atheistic worldview (yes, it is a worldview and a religion, at least according to the Supreme Court which is good enough for me). 
2) To not use just-so stories.
3) To best explain the way the world and humans are (see 2 above)

To keep track of things, I will number the questions and the paragraphs because things can get quite heavy quickly and navigation is useful.

As some background, I was an agnostic/atheist who was surprised by evidence and became a Christian.  I think faith needs reason and reason needs faith — with the right combination embodied in orthodox Christian beliefs and contemporary science.  We’ll explore this.

p1) So, let’s being at the beginning.  What is the atheistic answer to the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

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Lorkas May 6, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Curtis: p1) So, let’s being at the beginning. What is the atheistic answer to the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

I don’t know if I’m intruding here, but my answer would be, “We don’t know.” Making up an explanation that we don’t have evidence for is no virtue.

To turn it around, why is there God rather than nothing? This question really deserves some thought, so don’t just dismiss it.

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lukeprog May 6, 2009 at 6:18 pm

p1) Why is there something rather than nothing? The correct answer is that we do not know. However, they question may not even make sense, since we have never experienced “nothingness.” We have no idea if it is even possible. However, we have constant and vast experience with “something.” So we have every reason to believe that “something” is more basic and necessary than “nothing.”

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unkleE May 8, 2009 at 12:28 am

Lorkas: “We don’t know.”

lukeprog: The correct answer is that we do not know.

It seems to me that these answers virtually concede the point to Curtis. One way we test theories is by their “explanatory power” – the theory that explains the most is more likely to be correct. So if the best answer of atheism/naturalism is “I don’t know”, then theism, which has a possible answer, is the preferred theory at this point. I doubt that’s the conclusion you want to draw though.

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Lorkas May 8, 2009 at 5:24 am

unkleE: It seems to me that these answers virtually concede the point to Curtis.

Not so, because it is the appropriate answer. Pretending to have knowledge you don’t have (i.e. God exists, God does not require a cause, etc) does not increase the credibility of your theory.

For example, the question “Is there life on other planets?” The appropriate answer is neither “Yes” nor “No,” but “We don’t know.” There is no evidence for life elsewhere in the universe, and there is no evidence for God. Perhaps we can make arguments to determine the probabilities of these two questions, but even these tell us nothing about the characteristics of the aliens and God (for example, what is the biochemistry of the aliens like? or does the God care about the intimate details of human sex?)

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Lorkas May 8, 2009 at 5:26 am

We don’t know how the Egyptians built the pyramids, but “We don’t know” is a better and more honest answer than “Magic” or “Aliens”, even if those things could explain the construction if they were true.

You have to have empirical evidence for a hypothesis long before it can even be considered a theory.

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unkleE May 8, 2009 at 6:13 am

Lorkas: For example, the question “Is there life on other planets?” The appropriate answer is neither “Yes” nor “No,” but “We don’t know.”

Perhaps, but people have done some interesting work looking at the probabilities. “We don’t know” ignores that. “We don’t know, but the evidence seems to slightly favour ……” may be appropriate.

Lorkas: You have to have empirical evidence for a hypothesis long before it can even be considered a theory.

In the case of God, much evidence can be drawn upon both for and against. “We don’t know” again ignores all that. I suggest you would not be so shy if we were discussing the evil in the world! : )

And the fact remains, on the matter of why there is something rather than nothing, “I don’t know” still means naturalism has less explanatory power than theism. The only way to avoid that is to start to compare the evidence and arguments, which requires more than “I don’t know”.

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Lorkas May 8, 2009 at 6:59 am

unkleE: In the case of God, much evidence can be drawn upon both for and against.

Only if you narrow your definition of god to the god of some particular religion. For example, we can offer evidence on whether or not a prayer-answering god exists (or a god who smites cities  for homosexual behavior, or protects her followers from disease and poison), but if we proved that prayers make no difference in the world, it still wouldn’t disprove the idea that some higher power (like the deistic god) exists.

The only evidence for or against a deistic god is philosophical, not empirical, and probabilities derived from philosophical arguments are extremely subjective and vague.

Furthermore, even if these arguments were considered a QED for deism, that would not be a victory for any particular concept of god, since it would not support any religion over any other. In other words, proving that God exists, it would not prove that Jesus was his son, or that God cares whether or not you masturbate. Smuggling in details like this on the back of a teleological, ontological, or cosmological argument for the existence of God is dishonest.

I’m reminded of a quote that Michael Shermer often shares:
“I’m a militant agnostic: I don’t know, and you don’t either.”

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Lorkas May 8, 2009 at 7:12 am

The problem of evil is only a problem for a particular kind of God as well. If we assume that God is morally ambivalent or evil, then the problem disappears.

I would not be shy about saying that the evil in the world is an argument against an all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing god, though.

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Curtis May 8, 2009 at 2:16 pm

I’m back.  This response is to Lorkas and it has two points.

P1.1  Lorkas said “Making up an explanation that we don’t have evidence for is no virtue.”  Really, then where would Science be if we followed this maxim.  I am assuming that you don’t really mean this as it is written because we make up explanations for effects and these explanations we refer to as causes.  For example, we say there is such a thing as a magnetic field but I have never held one, tasted one, smelled one, etc.  Yet, based on the effect we hypothesize that there is a thing called a magnetic field.

I think what we do is we construct hypothsi that integrate together to form a worldview and then (if we are brave enough) look to evidence to substantiate that worldview. But there are always those things we believe exist which we don’t have any direct evidence.

Perhaps you have a very constrained definition for evidence but I doubt is a definition that you truly follow in your life.

P1.2 Lorkas said “To turn it around, why is there God rather than nothing?”  For my response, I will quote Michael Ruse, a well known atheist.  “So let it be clearly understood that I [Micahel Ruse] approach The God Delusion with no obvious hidden scientific or religious agenda, ready to belittle it no matter what. It is simply that it … is not very good. For a start, Dawkins is brazen in his ignorance of philosophy and theology (not to mention the history of science). A major part of the book involves ripping into the chief arguments for the existence of God. I confess that it is the first time in my life that I have felt sorry for the ontological argument.  … This is a man [Dawkins] truly out of his depth. Does he honestly think that no philosopher or theologian has ever thought of or worried about the infinite regress of the cosmological argument?  If God caused the world, what caused God? The standard reply is that God needs no cause because he is a necessary being, eternal, outside time.”

From Michael Ruse’s review of “Richard Dawkins. The God Delusion”, BOOK REVIEWS—ISIS, 98 : 4 (2007)

I agree with Ruse, “The standard reply is that God needs no cause because he is a necessary being, eternal, outside time.”  This is entirely logical and necessary.

I also agree that this question requires serious thought because, to avoid an actual infinite regress of causal relations, requires that something be the absolute ground zero of being.   Such a being cannot be made of matter because matter has a beginning.  We will explore these things later.

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Curtis May 8, 2009 at 4:00 pm

On to the second part …

P.1.2.1  lukeprog says “The correct answer is that we do not know. “  This is a very strange reply.  Christians have spent centuries putting together a systematic theology that jives with personal experience and the external world, to provide an answer to that question.   There is much rigor in the logic and analysis, to produce an answer that is coherent and highly probable.  So, I, as an orthodox Christian have an answer to that question which has a rather high proability of being true. 

So, what is the atheist’s answer?  Is it that the atheist doesn’t have an answer? 

It does no good to claim that the question is absurd or meaningless because this is childish;  many adults consider this question to be important and sensible.  It is special pleading (a logical fallacy) to say that the question has no meaning, especially since the Christian has an answer to the question.

Now, if the Christian has an answer which is coherent, logical, compares well against reality, and personal experience, whereas the Atheist does not, then the argument goes to the Christian by default.

P.1.2.2 lukeprog says “However, the question may not even make sense, since we have never experienced “nothingness.” We have no idea if it is even possible. “  I think the question clearly makes sense because we are discussing it.  If the question were not sensible then we would not be dialoging over it.  I will admit that we have not experienced nothingness but our experience of nothingness has nothing to do with the question. 

I also think we can postulate that it is possible because the Big Bang theory tells us that from nothing everything came.  Otherwise, Steven Hawking and Roger Penrose and many other cosmologists are incoherent and that is something I would not want to charge them with.

P.1.2.3 lukeprog  says ‘However, we have constant and vast experience with “something.” So we have every reason to believe that “something” is more basic and necessary than “nothing.”’  I’m sorry but this makes absolutely no sense.  How can “some thing” be more basic than “no thing”?  Is 2 dimensions more basic than 3 dimensions?  Yes, because there is one dimension less.  Is 1 dimension more basic than 2 dimensions.  Yes, because there is one dimension less.  So, is 0 [zero] dimensions (i.e., nothingness) more basic than 1, 2, 2, or 4 dimensions. Absolutley.  I think what you are saying is that you have never experienced “nothingness” but, pardon me, so what?

So, unless the Atheist has an answer to the question, I think the Christian gets the point.

Let me preface the second item of discusion.  I am Canadian.   Canadians define themselves as “not American.” For example, Canadians think that Americans are loud so Canadians are quiet.  Canadians think that Americans are very conservative so Canadians want to be social progressives.    It seems that atheism is rather parasitic in this same way, defining itself as “not being theism.”   

Here is the second item:  P2) If theism had never existed, what is the positive evidence for a belief that Atheism is true?  If I were a native in a jungle, what evidence could you muster that Atheism is worthy of belief?

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unkleE May 8, 2009 at 4:04 pm

G’day Lorcas

You’ve certainly raised a ton of issues there – responding to them would take a lot of writing. While I might enjoy discussing them with you, I don’t think this is the place – and I think I should give Curtis & Luke the stage. So I will limit myself to the point I originally made.

Lorkas: …. proving that God exists ….. I don’t know, and you don’t either.

I don’t think it’s a question of “proving” or “knowing” – 2000 years of philosophy has surely demonstrated that neither viewpoint can be proved or disproved. It is surely a question of probabilities, as you say. Two hypotheses (atheism and monotheism) are on the table, and we are discussing which one best fits the evidence by giving the best explanation to various questions. Curtis has suggested one question for discussion – why is there something (which is a manifest fact) rather than nothing?

So if you think atheism cannot provide an explanation of this question, while monotheism can, then on this point, monotheism is the better hypothesis. Of course there are many other questions to answer also.

Lorkas: I would not be shy about saying that the evil in the world is an argument against an all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing god, though.

This is another question for which we seek and explanation. And on this question, the monotheism hypothesis is less capable of supplying an explanation than the atheism hypothesis. I agree with that. But my point, and the reason I raised this matter, was that if you are going to allow the evidence to lead you to a conclusion here, and not follow Michael Shermer’s dictum, then it is inconsistent to try to disallow other evidence when it works against your hypothesis. Wouldn’t you agree that we should be consistent agnostics?

I am willing to accept all evidence and follow where the probabilities lead, but I’m questioning whether you are being selective.

So, it seems to me that saying “I don’t know” concedes the point, and your purpose would be better served by (as they say in the examination papers) attempting the question.

Best wishes.

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Lorkas May 8, 2009 at 4:10 pm

I guess Curtis wants to referee his own game.

I see you asserting an awful lot that Christianity’s answer makes sense and fits with reality, but that’s begging the question. Since that is what you are trying to demonstrate, it can’t be one of your premises.

The point of the question “Why is there God rather than nothing?” is that we have no reasons for assuming that our concept of God is the termination of an otherwise infinite regress. The universe might be logically necessary, as lukeprog said, or God might have an external cause which is itself logically necessary. It’s not as though you have a special line to the nature of the cosmos, Curtis–you are simply making assertions.

Our point is that the assertions are without basis. This question is at best (for the theist) a draw with naturalism, since neither offers a satisfying, evidence based answer (although science is working on one for naturalism–what lines of research are theists exploring that will offer objective evidence toward an answer?). At worst (for theism), it is evidence against your position, since assuming that the universe is logically necessary is more parsimonious than assuming that God exists and is logically necessary.

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Lorkas May 8, 2009 at 4:21 pm

unkleE: So if you think atheism cannot provide an explanation of this question, while monotheism can, then on this point, monotheism is the better hypothesis.

Monotheism does not provide an explanation for this question, it makes an assertion. We might answer this question one day through science, but we will never answer it through theology.

If I said, “X is why something exists rather than nothing,” my explanation would have the same content as the Christian explanation, so long as I also asserted that X was logically necessary and needs no explanation.

In the future, perhaps I should follow your advice and make assertions about the existence of the universe that are wild and founded on faith rather than evidence, since you seem to think that a magical “explanation” is better than no explanation at all.

unkleE:it is inconsistent to try to disallow other evidence when it works against your hypothesis.

I agree with you here. I would also argue against an atheist who asserted that the universe was logically necessary, for the same reasons I object to the “explanation” offered above: we do not know that the universe is logically necessary.

Would you accept that argument? Most theists do not. If you don’t accept the argument that the universe is logically necessary, you should examine your reasons for believing it sound to assert that God is logically necessary, despite our lack of evidence that such a being even exists.

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Lorkas May 8, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Perhaps you can suggest a mathematically rigorous way to determine the probability that the universe is logically necessary, and the probability 1) that a God exists and 2) that that God is logically necessary (God might exist, but not be logically necessary).

I guess we wouldn’t even need to have this conversation if anyone could do that. That’s why the best answer is “We don’t know.”

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lukeprog May 8, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Curtis,

I’m only going to reply to you here, or else you and unkleE will simply exhaust me into submission! :) Thankfully, Lorkas is inexhaustible.

You say that “We don’t know” is a strange answer for questions about something that happened 13.7 billion years ago. I think it’s quite a sensible answer.

>> Christians have spent centuries putting together a systematic theology that jives with personal experience and the external world…<<

Well here, I just disagree. Systematic theology does a terrible job of explaining our universe, and its results are neither coherent nor probable.

>> So, what is the atheist’s answer?  Is it that the atheist doesn’t have an answer? <<

Honest people don’t have an answer. Imagine we were back in Ancient Greece. What would be the best answer to “What causes lightning?” Would you scoff at the answer “We don’t know” simply because “Zeus did it” supposedly “provides an answer”? Dude. “Poof” is not answer. “Poof” is not an explanation.

>> if the Christian has an answer which is coherent, logical, compares well against reality, and personal experience, whereas the Atheist does not, then the argument goes to the Christian by default. <<

Oh sure, but the Christian does not have an answer that is coherent, logical, and compares well against reality and personal experience.

>> I think the question clearly makes sense because we are discussing it. <<

Not necessarily. Much of human history was spent discussing things that we now realize do not make any sense at all. But my main point stands. We have never, ever experienced “nothingness.” Not in an “empty” vacuum, not in the deepest limits of outer space, nowhere. “Nothing” is only an idea. Why on earth should we suppose it is more basic than “something”, and that it is “something” that is surprising? That is like saying that dirt is surprising and invisible unicorns are not. You seem to think “nothing” is more basic than “something” because it is less. But I didn’t mean “basic” to mean “simple.” I just meant that “something” appears to be more fundamental and necessary than “nothing.” In fact, “nothing” might be impossible for all we know. In contrast, “something” is quite clearly possible, indeed it is pervasive.

>> unless the Atheist has an answer to the question, I think the Christian gets the point <<

*facepalm* Do you really believe this? Seriously? If so, then the Pastafarian also gets the same exact point, because he has an “answer” for many things that the atheist cannot explain.

>> It seems that atheism is rather parasitic in this same way, defining itself as “not being theism.”  <<

Yes, and your a-fairy-ism is parasitic, defining itself as “not believing in fairies.”

>> If I were a native in a jungle, what evidence could you muster that Atheism is worthy of belief? <<

What evidence can you muster that a-fairy-ism is worthy of belief? Can you disprove my belief in fairies? If not, am I justified in believing in fairies?

If you want arguments, of course there are many. Two nice anthologies are “The Impossibility of God” and “The Improbability of God.” But I don’t know how sound they are. I haven’t spent much time with atheistic arguments, for about the same reason you haven’t spent much time with a-fairy-ist arguments. You’re not a disbeliever in fairies because the a-fairy-ist arguments are so compelling (though I’m sure I could come up with some). You’re a disbeliever in fairies because there’s just no good reason to think they exist.

But okay, if you MUST have an argument, I think Draper’s argument from evil (1989) is rather inescapable.

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Curtis May 9, 2009 at 5:33 pm

This is the reply to Lorkas in the “referee his own game” …

You say “is that we have no reasons for assuming that our concept of God is the termination of an otherwise infinite regress. The universe might be logically necessary, as lukeprog said, or God might have an external cause which is itself logically necessary.” 

I have not addressed this yet, but I will when we start talking about the Kalam. 

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Curtis May 9, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Lorkas you say “Monotheism does not provide an explanation for this question, it makes an assertion. We might answer this question one day through science, but we will never answer it through theology.”

What exactly are the points in Christianity that work against this explanation?  Please be explicit because I want to make sure I answer every  one of  them.   I will keep the list to make sure.  Try to keep them brief.

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Curtis May 9, 2009 at 6:02 pm

lukeprog says “Well here, I just disagree. Systematic theology does a terrible job of explaining our universe, and its results are neither coherent nor probable.”  Please list what you believe to be the problems and I will keep that list and make sure I answer each one.  Again, try to keep them brief.

I still don’t see an answer from the Atheist corner to my question P1.  Is this what you are saying:  “Atheism doesn’t have an answer to the question because we don’t think the question is worthwhile to answer or we don’t know if we can come up with THE correct answer.   So we will not be coming out with an answer shortly or ever.”

Now what about solving world hunger.  Is it possible to come up with an answer that solves world hunger?  Let’s say we all try to solve the world hunger crisis, discussing its root causes, probable causes, unlikely causes, and we came up with several hypothesis that seemed to fit some of the facts but not all the facts.  At the end of the day, using your logic, would this be considered an answer? Would it seem worth doing even though we cannot have absolute certainty that it is true?

Honest people can have an answer that they have a high degree of faith that it is true.  So, why doesn’t the atheist have an answer to this question?  Because they can’t have an answer that is consistent with their views so their tactic is to say the question:  (1) isn’t coherent; (2) meaningful so it isn’t worth the effort; (3) untestable (but neither is the philosophy), etc.  This is special pleading — a logical fallacy.  
Lukeprog says “But my main point stands. We have never, ever experienced “nothingness.”  So what, there’s lots of things I haven’t experienced that are true or exist?  This is a straw man position — I never asked you if you’ve experienced nothingness.   You can ask me if nothingness is metaphysically, logically, or physically possible — that would be a good starting point.   The answers are:
** metaphysicaly possible – Yes because there is no metaphysical issue with nothingness
** logically possible — Yes because it is logically coherent to talk about nothingnes, although a little mysterious.
** physically possible — Yes, because we have the scientific evidence for the Big Bang:  from ‘nothing’, everything came.  Are we not going to allow the Big Bang as evidence?
So, unless you can explain to me why nothingness is an utter impossibility there is no issue with the question.  Logic please.

And yes, unless the Atheist has an answer the Christian gets the point by default.

Let me run a little sidebar here.  It seems that the Atheist viewpoint is pointing out (supposed) faults in the Christian’s explanation for this question without the Atheist having an answer of their own.  Doesn’t this seem hypocritical or childish?  If the Atheist cannot garner an equally valid hypothesis (and silence is not a hypothesis) then doesn’t this position seem a little arrogant.  After all, I would love to be able to openly, critically examine an answer to this question from the Atheistbut there doesn’t seem to be one.

BTW, you are now generating fallacious straw-man positions (something Richard Dawkins is very good at doing).  Please stop this.

Now, the second item is:  P2) If theism had never existed, what is the positive evidence for a belief that Atheism is true?  If I were a native in a jungle, what evidence could you muster that Atheism is worthy of belief? 

I am not asking Draper for an answer to this question.  I am asking you Luke.  What is your answer (you may insert Draper but please give him the credit).  Note here that you are going to have to justify your assumptions, like “Evil exists.”

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lukeprog May 9, 2009 at 6:48 pm

Curtis, you asked me to list the problems with systematic theology. I have never come across one that is coherent and probable, but I don’t know which one you hold to, so I don’t know which one to attack. Could you give me a brief outline of who your god is, what he’s like, and how he has intervened in history? I usually respond to stuff like this by attacking mainstream Christian doctrine but then I am instantly accused of “attacking straw men” because I can’t read your mind and know which kind of Christian you are. So I need to know what is being asserted as plausible before I can show why it is not plausible.

Re: P1. The question may be coherent, I was just showing that it might not be, because the question seems to assume the truth of something that contradicts everything we know. Your question assumes that nothingness is more fundamental than somethingness, as if the “somethingness” needs an explanation but nothingness does not. And yet we have no evidence that nothingness exists, has ever existed, or even CAN exist! So the assumption in your question is absurd.

But even if it is a coherent question after all, you seem to suggest that because we don’t yet have good evidence as to why the universe is the way it is, therefore YOUR chosen magical explanation is plausible. This is silly, like the ancient greek saying that we don’t have good evidence for how lightning works and therefore the Zeus theory is plausible. The Zeus theory was never plausible, even when we had no evidence of electric charges as a cause for lightning. I will keep repeating this point until you respond to it.

Re: world hunger. ALL our actions are based on incomplete information. Obviously I don’t require mathematical proof for everything. But that doesn’t mean I’ll allow just any claim to get through my filter without support. The vast majority of truth claims are false, and so we need a pretty good filter. God doesn’t get through my filter becaues (1) there’s no evidence for him, and (2) depending on how you define “god”, there’s TONS of evidence againt him.

I’m not clear on what part of my answer was “special pleading.” All I said was that we have hardly any evidence at all about cosmogony, so it would be wise to reserve judgment. Just like it was wise to reserver judgment about the explanation for lightning in 400 BCE rather than jumping to answers like “Zeus did it.”

You accuse this position of being a “straw man position.” Do you even know what that means? I don’t understand you. Please explain how I am erecting straw men. I’m responding directly to the claims YOU have made.

You say that nothingness is metaphysically possible, logically possible, and physically possible. Yes, but so are unicorns. Possibility does nothing to show plausibility.

Also, I would disagree with (3). The Big Bang says nothing about there being nothingness before the Big Bang. You might want to read this:
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/astronomy/bigbang.html

__ unless the Atheist has an answer the Christian gets the point by default. __

You keep ignoring my point about Zeus. Because the atheist in ancient greece had no explanation for lightning, does this give the guy who says, “I know! Zeus did it!” therefore get a point?

__ It seems that the Atheist viewpoint is pointing out (supposed) faults in the Christian’s explanation for this question without the Atheist having an answer of their own. Doesn’t this seem hypocritical or childish? __

*sigh* No. The ancient greek can still point out why “Zeus did it” is a bad explanation for lightning, even if he can’t propose a positive explanation of his own because he lacks the tools to understand electric charges.

Okay, for P2 you want positive arguments for atheism. I mentioned some, but you want me to expound them here. Fine. I’ll do that later. Right now I’d like to hear your response to my point about arguments against a-fairy-ism. Is it necessary to have disproofs of the existence of fairies to be justified in disbelieving in fairies? There are millions of absurd truth claims that neither of us can disprove that we are still justified in disbelieving. Why? Because the claimant has failed to give a good case for his claim.

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unkleE May 10, 2009 at 1:21 am

Lorkas: Monotheism does not provide an explanation for this question, it makes an assertion.

Lorkas, I think an alternative approach is required if we are to avoid exhaustion, and with your permission I’d like to try one. I don’t comment on blogs and in forums with the purpose of winning an argument, or even of having an argument. I think arguments are generally a waste of time unless we have much more space available. My purposes are to try to make friends (and not enemies), to find as much common ground as I can with those who I disagree with, and to present my views on matters where there is no common ground in a challenging but respectful manner. So let’s see how much common ground we have on this matter. I’d like to test this by asking whether you agree or disagree with these statements please.

1. Two hypotheses are under discussion here – (a) a powerful, ethical, personal creator God exists outside time and space, and (b) no such God, or any other god, exists. Do you agree these are the issues?

2. Deductive proofs or disproofs of these two hypotheses have not been forthcoming. Any conclusions about the two hypotheses are matters of probability. Do you agree?

3. A valid way of resolving such matters is inductive reasoning and Bayesian probability, in which the hypotheses in question are tested by asking in turn, if each one was true, how likely a known outcome would be. Depending on the initial probability assigned to each hypothesis and the results of each test, a final probability can be worked out. Are you familiar with this and do you agree that it is a valid approach?

4. One such known fact is that certain aspects of the world are unpleasant – some would say morally evil (although that conclusion depends on what one believes about moral truth). Using Bayesian type inductive logic, it can reasonably be concluded that hypothesis (b) is more likely to lead to this fact than hypothesis (a). I understand you already agree with this?

5. Another fact is that something exists (the universe, etc). If hypothesis (a) was true, this would readily explain this fact (hypothesis (a) states there is a creator God), but if hypothesis (b) was true, it is harder to explain, and you have said that you cannot explain it. In what way (if any) would you disagree with this?

6. The are many facts about the universe and human experience which might be used to test the hypotheses, and the final conclusion could be much debated, but we can say already that among these, there is at least one fact which is better explained by (a) and one fact that is better explained by (b). Would you agree?

7. I have assessed a number of these facts and come to the conclusion that they are better explained in toto by hypothesis (a), whereas you have done the same and have concluded that they are better explained in toto by hypothesis (b).

If you were willing to give an indication of your agreement or disagreement with each of these statements, we may be able to isolate exactly where we disagree, and perhaps find places where we agree, which would be good IMO.

Thanks.

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unkleE May 10, 2009 at 1:36 am

lukeprog: Right now I’d like to hear your response to my point about arguments against a-fairy-ism. Is it necessary to have disproofs of the existence of fairies to be justified in disbelieving in fairies?

Luke, the two cases (God and fairies) are very different , and you have read enough philosophy to know that I would imagine.

1. Fairies are postulated to be creatures that exist on earth. As such, they are open to scientific investigation. Testing any hypothesis about fairies is not like testing a hypothesis about God, but more like testing a hypothesis about the Loch Ness monster (e.g. by judging whether photos are faked), and we draw our conclusions accordingly.

2. If fairies are not hypothesised as creatures, but as supernatural entities, then the argument is more parallel to the one about God. But I don’t know anyone putting a logical (philosophical) case forward for the existence of fairies that anyone takes seriously, and that explains anything. There are no ontological, cosmological, teleological or moral, etc, arguments for fairies. So there is no argument to meet. But there are many arguments which have been developed to high degrees of precision about the possible existence of God.

So either way, the analogy is invalid, and we cannot logically consider God in the same way that we would consider fairies. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is no other postulated entity which is sufficiently analogous to God to allow such an argument as you offer. The only alternative to God is another God of similar characteristics. Which is a valid discussion, but doesn’t get the atheist case anywhere.

What do you think?

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lukeprog May 10, 2009 at 7:00 am

unkleE,

I have not made any sweeping claims of similarity for God and fairies, not any argument by analogy. All I have done is to point out that we are justified in disbelieving in fairies without knowing any arguments against their existence. But you can substitute “fairy” with Vahiguru, magical teapots, unicorns, or whatever. All I’m saying is that I don’t need a disproof of God to be justified in disbelieving in him. Indeed, it may be possible to define God in such a way that it is impossible to disprove his existence. But that’s not my responsibility. No, it’s YOUR responsibility to show me some good reason to believe a magical superbeing exists outside time and space (!!). Every reason I’ve been presented with so far is very bad, no matter how much philosophical machinery is mustered to make very old arguments look more compelling.

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lukeprog May 10, 2009 at 7:03 am

Sweet, my comments plugin broke this page. Is it really impossible to find a comments system that works? :(

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unkleE May 10, 2009 at 2:49 pm

Luke, I think neither of us wants to extend the discussion, so I will try to wind down.

You said “Is it necessary to have disproofs of the existence of fairies to be justified in disbelieving in fairies?” and inferred that there was a parallel with God. I’m simply saying that there are many arguments of great vintage and relevance both for and against the existence of God, whereas there are few for and against the existence of all those other entities. We both know that – that is why this site is “Common Sense Atheism” and not “Common Sense anything-else-ism”.

So drawing conclusions based on the parallel isn’t helpful, surely? Granted there are well-developed arguments in favour of God’s existence, to simply say “I don’t need a disproof of God to be justified in disbelieving in him” isn’t enough, in my opinion – those arguments require rebuttals and counter arguments, which of course you believe you can provide.

So my simple point is that the fairies/Zeus/FSM gambits are inaccurate, unworthy and unnecessary. Surely it is better to simply say you have examined all the arguments for and against and your conclusion is to disbelieve? (And recognise that I and others have done the same, but come to a different conclusion.)

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lukeprog May 10, 2009 at 3:01 pm

unkleE,

What I’m saying is that a rebuttal of the positive arguments for the existence of God is enough to justify my disbelief in him, just like a rebuttal of positive arguments given for the existence of psychic powers is enough to justify disbelief in them. Positive arguments against the existence of God is just overkill, but of course I have them if you’ll give me time to present them. :)

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Lorkas May 10, 2009 at 7:22 pm

unkleE: So my simple point is that the fairies/Zeus/FSM gambits are inaccurate, unworthy and unnecessary.

A lot of the trouble here is that the best arguments for a deistic entity (cosmological, ontological, anthropic) work just as well for FSM, Allah, or Zeus mythologies as they do for any other. The Kalam, which was recently highlighted on this blog, was originally an argument for Islam! The only arguments that support Christianity over anything else are historical, and they are from notoriously bad sources–uneducated, biased, second-hand sources are our primary sources for the events that support the truth of Christianity.

Doesn’t it trouble you that the only good arguments support any religion just as well as they support your own?

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unkleE May 11, 2009 at 5:28 am

lukeprog: What I’m saying is that a rebuttal of the positive arguments for the existence of God is enough to justify my disbelief in him

Yeah, I have no problems with that (though of course I disagree). My problem was the drawing a parallel between God and fairies, as if that demonstrated anything. Much simpler and more accurate to say what you say here. Of course, actually producing the rebuttal is something different – I haven’t seen it done to my satisfaction yet, but doubtless we’d disagree there too. But saying “I don’t know” to Curtis doesn’t sound like much of a rebuttal, which is where we came in.

Best wishes.

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unkleE May 11, 2009 at 5:37 am

Lorkas: A lot of the trouble here is that the best arguments for a deistic entity (cosmological, ontological, anthropic) work just as well for FSM, Allah, or Zeus mythologies as they do for any other.

I’d sure like to see you put the FSM or Zeus into any of those arguments and make them work!  : )

Lorkas: Doesn’t it trouble you that the only good arguments support any religion just as well as they support your own?

I don’t think the philosophical arguments support ANY religion – they support the existence of a God with the qualities required by each argument. Put them all together and you get something like a powerful, creative, ethical, non-temporal being. Any religion which has such a God could be considered consistent with the philosophical arguments – I think about six or seven religions I’ve heard of qualify. Once I believe such a God exists, I can check out the religions which qualify to see which has the best credentials, which is a matter of history, etc.

Thanks for this response. Are you willing to respond to my questions, to see if we can find some common ground? Thanks.

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lukeprog May 11, 2009 at 6:16 am

I don’t think I’ve “rebutted” anything Curtis has said yet, because Curtis hasn’t made any positive claims or given any reasons to support them, yet.

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Lorkas May 11, 2009 at 4:01 pm

unkleE: I’d sure like to see you put the FSM or Zeus into any of those arguments and make them work! : )

It’s not difficult, unkleE. Those arguments, taken to their conclusion, only suggest that some kind of creative entity (or multiple entities) exists. That entity could be the Flying Spaghetti Monster just as easily as it could be Allah or Yahweh. The fact that we know the FSM to be made up doesn’t make it less logically possible than other entities that we just suspect of being made up.

The Zeus case would not be exactly parallel to these arguments, since Zeus was not the creator in Greek mythology, but that mythology does offer an explanation for the creation of the universe which would satisfy the Kalam or any other cosmological argument (I doubt it would satisfy the ontological argument, but that’s shit anyway).

Depending on how you mean “make them work,” it may be impossible, though. See, I don’t really think that they work anyway, so it would be dishonest for me to claim that they work for any diety other than Yahweh. I will say that they work exactly as well for these other entities as for Yahweh, though (not at all).

unkleE: Put them all together and you get something like a powerful, creative, ethical, non-temporal being.

The argument from evil is strong evidence against the ethical point you make here, and the other characteristics are sufficiently vague that almost any deity would fit them with only as much (or less) mental gymnastics as are required to contort the tribal god of the Hebrews into a timeless being outside of all rules of logic. Even the cosmic nerd postulated earlier by lukeprog (whose name I’ve forgotten, but I think I’ll look up for reference purposes) would fit these characteristics!

I hate for you to think that I’m dodging any questions, so if there’s something you think I’ve missed, let me know and I’ll be glad to discuss it.

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Lorkas May 11, 2009 at 4:07 pm

Mrignoc is the cosmic nerd I referred to. If you want to read the original reference, it’s in the comments of this post, about 1/3 of the way down (in a comment by lukeprog).

For an entertaining look at this topic, check out The Great Debate, by NonStampCollector of YouTube. Actually, I would recommend NonStampCollector’s videos to anyone–they’re entertaining and insightful.

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Curtis May 11, 2009 at 7:56 pm

Luke, you asked what I believe.  I am an orthodox Christian who believes in the two book model of revelation.  To quote Sir Francis Bacon, originator of the Scientific Method and a Christian (1605)  “Let no man think upon a weak conceit of sobriety or an ill-applied moderation think or maintain, that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or the book of God’s works, divinity or philosophy: but rather let men endeavor an endless progress or proficience in both; only let men beware … that they do not unwisely mingle or confound these learnings together.”  The Book of Nature (general revelation) and the Bible need to be consistent and illuminate the Creator God.

I’d like to reiterate P1 in a more formal way, expanding on the valid point that I need to provide some substantiation for a belief in Christianity.  The stps are: (1) show the question makes sense; (2) show that Christianity has a model that explains some aspects of reality; and (3) show that a belief in this model is reasonable.

STEP 1:  Show that the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is a valid question.  This has several supports.  The goal here is to show that the question is coherent and non-contradictory.  It needs to be shown that ‘nothingness’ is an understandable concept.  It does not need to be shown that ‘nothingness’ actually has occurred because that is not what is being asserted.  For this discussion, nothingness is defined as: time, space, matter, and energy not existing.

1a.  The question makes sense because we understand what it it asking and are discussing it. 
1b.  There is an inductive proof that can be followed to show that nothingness is a valid concept:
P1.  A world of at least 4 dimensions exists.
P2.  A world of 4 dimensions includes a world of 3 dimensions simply by excluding 1 dimension.
P3.  A world of 3 dimensions includes a world of 2 dimensions simply by excluding 1 dimension.
P4.  A world of 2 dimensions includes a world of 1 dimensions simply by excluding 1 dimension.
P5.  A world of 1 dimensions includes a world of 0 dimensions simply by excluding 1 dimension.
P6.  A world of 0 dimensions is nothingness.
P7.  Therefor it is possible that a world of 0 dimensions, a world of nothingness exists.
1c.  Scientists talk about nothingness and have theories that include it.  If scientists can include the concept of nothingness in theories then it is understandable.
1d.  The request to empirically show that nothingness can exist is invalid because it is requesting that something (us) discover the presence of nothingness. It is possible that nothingness is a state of existence but we are incapable of discovering it because our presence for discovery would disrupt the quest.  So, this request is a contradiction because our very presence precludes us discovering nothingness, even when nothingness happens.  Note that the question is not a contradiction but this request is self-refuting because the request inherently has a contradiction.

Now, here are four lines of support that this question is coherent.  Luke, if you assert that the question is still meaningless you *must* show that each of these lines of support is logically invalid.  Please do not assert your opinion because that is not an argument.

STEP 2:  Show that it is reasonable to believe in the Christian God.  This approach uses what is called “inference to the best explanation.”  Its intent is to find the best explanation for a given set of evidence.  Reasonable does not mean perfect but it means that it explains more than other explanations.  Since there is no explanation coming from the Atheist, the bar id very low. This needs to show that Christians have a model that corresponds with reality and is self-consistent; to show that Christianity makes sense for the things it explains in the context in which it explains them.  

The model that I choose to use is “Over 35 Reasons Why Christianity Makes Sense” where the presentation can be reached at http://www.sincereanswer.com/eternity/files/doc/Over20Evidences.ppt.   If you want to see the web video you can look here (it’s only an hour) http://www.sincereanswer.com/eternity/files/doc/media/TotalOver35ReasonsWhyChristianityMakesSense-090108.SWF.html. 

The purpose that the model asserts:

God exists (Genesis 1:1; Hebrews 11:6)
That He offers eternal life (Titus 1:2; 1 John 5:11)
That he is the source of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7; 2:6; 9:10)
That He is the standard of morality (Psalm 89:14; 111:7; 1 Peter 1:15-16)
That men have been created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27; 9:6; James 3:9)
Though men have sinned against Him (Romans 3:23).
That God has provided a way of salvation (Romans 10:9-10)

It lists 36 lines of support for four premises for the model.  They are:

1. God is possible
– It is impossible to disprove His non-existence
– A logical proof of His existence
– Different levels of being
– The real existence of abstract things
– Post-death experiences (no slide)
– The mind is separate from the body
– Argument from truth
– The existence of non-physical pain (no slide)

2. Any theistic God explains
– The existence of the Universe
– Why the Universe is rational
– The apparent design of the Universe
– Confidence in the mind / reality Connection
– Anthropic inequality
– The existence and perception of beauty

3. The Christian God explains
– The desire for God
– Our sense of freedom
– Forward moral law
– Reverse moral law
– Existence of evil
– The weak possibility of Science
– The strong possibility of Science
– Over design of man
– Information content of the universe
– Our need for love (no slide)
– Our hidden fear of death (no slide)

4. Jesus the Messiah explains
– Life, death, and resurrection of Jesus
– Existence of Christianity
– Religious experience
– Supernatural revelation
– Miracles
– Answered prayer
– Nation of Israel
– The experience of Jesus’ claims
– Scriptural prophecy
– Man’s depravity and need for a savior
– It works

STEP 3:  Showing it is reasonable to believe in the model

For the argument to be valid, one of the lines of evidence of each level needs to be true.  That means that at a minimum 4 of the premises need to be true.  In the hope of simplifying the discussion, I am willing to assume that each of these suppositions has a 10% probability of being true and that they are independent, identically distributed.  I personally believe that some of these suporting evidences have a very high probability near 100% but I am willing, for the sake of this discussion to use a low probability.

Now, I am a little rusty with my statistics but I think this follows a Binomial Distribution, which estimates the probability of getting exactly k successes in n trials.  I may need correcting here.

Let p be the probability a supposition is true and q (1-p) is the probability it is false.  Then we can calculate the probability that at least 4 of the suppositions are true as:  1 – Probability of failure( 0 right, 36 wrong ) – Probability of failure( 1 right, 35 wrong ) – Probability of failure( 2 right, 34 wrong ) – Probability of failure( 3 right, 33 wrong )

Probability of failure( 0 right, 36 wrong ) = Binomial(0 successes in 36 tries)
Probability of failure( 1 right, 35 wrong ) = Binomial(1 successes in 36 tries)
Probability of failure( 2 right, 34 wrong ) = Binomial(2 successes in 36 tries)
Probability of failure( 3 right, 33 wrong ) = Binomial(3 successes in 36 tries)

I used Excel’s BINOMDIST function to estimate the cumulative distribution that we are looking for, where at least 4 of the suppositions are true.  I calculate the table below that at least 4 of the suppositions are true. 

p is true    Prob at least 4 are true
10%               49%
11%               57%
12%               64%
13%               71%
14%               76%
15%               81%
16%               85%
17%               88%
18%               91%
19%               93%
20%               95%

DISCLAIMER: I am probably wrong with some of these calculations but the general trend would still be the same.

With a probability that each supposition is true of 10% (which is a very low, conservative estimate) and requiring that at least 4 of the suppositions are true, the resulting probability is 49%.  If you increase that probability per supposition to 11%, then the probability is 57%.  Notice that as each supposition marginally increases by 1%, the overall probability for the model being true increases significantly.

So, with a low probability estimate of 10% for the truthfulness of each supposition, the overall probability of the model being true is 49%.  Clearly, the Christian has significant warrant for believing the model to be true.  That concludes the argument.

Now, at this point, to disprove the argument, one of the steps above needs to be refuted. At the current time, the Christian gets a point for P1.

===========================

Now I’ll respond to some of your other comments.

If you want an example of special pleading, here is one:  “we have hardly any evidence at all about cosmogony, so it would be wise to reserve judgment.”  So, if the Universe is considered to be eternal this is evidence for Atheism, but when the Universe has a beginning then it is not considered evidence for Theism and we need to reserve judgment?  Should we do the same thing for Naturalistic Evolution, suspend judgment?

The straw-man you are putting up is that I am saying:  “Zues explains lightning” when I don’t see how this relates, “Pastafarian gets the same exact point” when I don’t see how this relates, that “a-fairy-ism” is similar to this discussion when I don’t see how this relates.   I’m being a stickler here because most of these arguements from analogy are logically invalid since they deal with caricatures or straw-men. However, they do make good reading which is why they usually slip through the logic filter.  For example, are you saying that “Greeks saying Zues explains lightning” is analogous to “Curtis saying God explains everything.”?  Well, I don’t plan on basing the case for Christianity on the knowledge of the Greeks so how does this relate?  Similarly, when mentioning the a-fairy-ism I need some more context because this argument from analogy isn’t clear.  I think you  are trying to say that “arguments against a-fairy-ism” is similar to “arguments against God”?  Is that the point?  It isn’t clear what the argument is:
1. There is no evidence for fairies.  God is like a fairy.  Therefore God doesn’t exist.
2. A belief in fairies is like a belief in God. Fairies don’t exist.  Therefore God doesn’t exist.
3. Fairies can never be disproved.  God is like a fairy.  God cannot be disproved.  [leap] God doesn’t exist.
4. Other?
Please spell out what the actual arguement is and I will respond but, at the moment, I don’t know what the argument is.

You say “The Big Bang says nothing about there being nothingness before the Big Bang. You might want to read this:
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/astronomy/bigbang.html“  Read it.  I’m not impressed.  The article is clearly biased.  It doesn’t even mention the word ‘singularity’, or that there is the concept that ‘time began’ which is rather startling.  I would put that site on my propaganda list — I usually go to the actual articles myself to avoid this sort of bias and I would suggest you follow the same. 

I await your response to P2, “What is the positive arguments for atheism?”

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unkleE May 11, 2009 at 11:32 pm

Luke, mate, let me reiterate my main/only point since I rejoined this discussion.

1. You have a firm view (atheism) but you still want to know the truth (e.g about the Kalam). I too have a firm view (theism) and I too want to know the truth. We ought to be allies. Even though we disagree, we ought to be able to learn from each other. The same applies to me learning from other atheists and you learning from other theists (you have for example spoken favourably of the skills of WL Craig).

2. It is hard to learn from someone you disrespect. You would be somewhat pissed off if a theist said something to you like: “You’re an intellectual fraud. You only hold the illogical views you do because you’re rebelling against God.” And I wouldn’t blame you – how can anyone else know what your motives are? But this is pretty much what many atheists say about theists, including about me – we’re delusional, we rely on faith which is the antithesis of logic, we are deceived and deceiving, there are actually no good arguments at all for the existence of God, we have no intellectual basis for anything we believe, etc.

3. Drawing crazy parallels between belief in God and belief in fairies, FSM, Zeus, flying teapots, etc *(as you have done), inferring that theists are as crazy as anyone who’d believe in any of those hypothetical entities, is just one example of that disrespect  - there are many others (I have a mental list of atheist dogma-myths). I have pointed out why the parallel is inapt, and you haven’t offered any argument against that, for I believe you know the parallel is inapt.

4. So I feel somewhat pissed off about your disrespect just as you would at that hypothetical theist’s comment above. Now my feelings are no big deal, but building barriers between people who should be allies is counter-productive, and creating divisions is exactly what this world doesn’t need. And such behaviour doesn’t sit well with desire utilitarianism.

5. So I’m actually asking (I guess challenging) you (and Lorcas too) to agree to this rather benign proposition:

Thoughtful theists have reasons for their beliefs (even though you disagree with them), there are some arguments which theists use which have merit (even though you think they can be rebutted), and denigrating those arguments by drawing parallels to beliefs which don’t have significant reason and arguments is detrimental to both truth and good relations.

Do you think you could come to that? Is it really too difficult to swallow? I feel quite able to make the reverse statement – and you wouldn’t want a christian to be more tolerant and open-minded than you, surely? : )

Best wishes

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unkleE May 11, 2009 at 11:54 pm

Lorkas: Those arguments, taken to their conclusion, only suggest that some kind of creative entity (or multiple entities) exists. That entity could be the Flying Spaghetti Monster just as easily as it could be Allah or Yahweh.

While you just use words, like “Flying Spaghetti Monster”, it is possible to say that, but as soon as you define the words, you can’t. Take the FSM as an example – how would you define it? I don’t know, because it is generally mentioned with a snigger but never defined. But let’s say it can be defined as a hypothetical creature which no-one actually believes exists and for which there is no evidence and no reason to believe exists, made of spaghetti, and it, um, flies and, um, well it flies. Such a creature has no power to design and create a universe, and is in fact a creature within the universe.

The only way out is to postulate a creative, powerful, non-temporal, non physical entity called the flying spaghetti monster, and then the argument would work. But then I’d say the thing you call the flying spaghetti monster is what I call God. Which just illustrates that only a God-like entity can fulfil those arguments, if they are successful.

Can you agree with that?

Lorkas: the other characteristics are sufficiently vague that almost any deity would fit them with only as much (or less) mental gymnastics as are required to contort the tribal god of the Hebrews into a timeless being outside of all rules of logic

I wonder how many gods you can name which fit the requirements? The gods of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Baha’i, Zorastrianism and a very few of the pagan/polytheistic religions is all I have come up with (and I did a bit of research on polytheism to check that). And that is as much as I expect the arguments to do – define the characteristics of a being.

Lorkas: The argument from evil is strong evidence against the ethical point you make here

The argument from evil is a separate point. I have already agreed that it counts against belief in God. What I’m asking you to recognise is that the cosmo and teleological arguments count for God if you can’t give any answer to Curtis’s question. Then one has to balance out these and other pros and cons.

But I’m still wanting to build bridges, so I’m still interested to hear you answer “yes” or “no” to my questions – I don’t think there’s any tricks there – or perhaps just see if you can agree with my final proposition in my previous post to Luke. My goals in this discussion are really quite modest.

Thanks again.

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lukeprog May 12, 2009 at 7:37 am

unkleE: You have a firm view (atheism) but you still want to know the truth (e.g about the Kalam). I too have a firm view (theism) and I too want to know the truth. We ought to be allies.

Oh, I have indeed though of us as allies in exactly this way! You have much to teach me and I have, I hope, something to teach you.

unkleE: It is hard to learn from someone you disrespect. You would be somewhat pissed off if a theist said something to you like: “You’re an intellectual fraud. You only hold the illogical views you do because you’re rebelling against God.” And I wouldn’t blame you – how can anyone else know what your motives are? But this is pretty much what many atheists say about theists, including about me – we’re delusional, we rely on faith which is the antithesis of logic, we are deceived and deceiving, there are actually no good arguments at all for the existence of God, we have no intellectual basis for anything we believe, etc.

I understand the issue. It’s often hard for me to keep track of people’s feelings because of the way my own psychological makeup works. I don’t take offense or feel insulted at hardly anything. It’s just not how I work. Because of this, it’s hard for me to remember how most people will feel about the things that I say. This makes me come off as insensitive because, well, I am insensitive – in a literal sense.

The fact is, I would not be pissed if someone told me, “You’re an intellectual fraud. You only hold the illogical views you do because you’re rebelling against God.” I would simply process what they have said, see if I can assess its truth contents quickly or if it requires more research, and then respond. In this case, my response would not be something like “Shut up!” or “YOU, sir, are the fraud!” but instead “I certainly don’t feel like I’m rebelling. How can I rebel against someone I don’t believe exists? And I certainly don’t feel like I’m a fraud – I’ve examined my motivations very closely and I really do hold these views because they seem the most plausible to me right now. If I’ve made mistakes in arguments, it’s not because I’m lying but because I got bad information or didn’t think through the logic clearly enough, and I will rejoice when someone proves my mistakes to me.”

unkleE: Drawing crazy parallels between belief in God and belief in fairies, FSM, Zeus, flying teapots, etc *(as you have done), inferring that theists are as crazy as anyone who’d believe in any of those hypothetical entities, is just one example of that disrespect

I have not said that belief in God is as crazy as belief in fairies, FSM, or Zeus. And even if you have inferred that meaning, I have not implied it. Indeed, I think you know that I spend more time on this blog talking about the surprising (apparent) strength of theistic arguments, and many atheist’s inability to refute them.

When I make reference to fairies or Zeus, it is never in the broad context of “Believing in God is just as crazy as believing in Zeus.” No, when I make these comparisons, I make these comparisons about specific, explicit parallels, as I have repeatedly pointed out.

For example, I often point out that arguments from ignorance fail because they are like the ancient greek saying, “You atheists can’t explain lightning yet, so therefore Zeus is a plausible answer.” I am not saying God and Zeus are equally ridiculous, here. I am pointing out that neither answer gets any plausibility simply by ignorance of other causes. This is a simple and true parallel. If I point out that both George Bush and Han Solo have brown hair (though I don’t know how this point could be useful), I am not intending to show that they have anything else in common. I am only showing a specific similarity.

It is not disrespectful to make specific, true parallels between things.

But perhaps there is a deeper issue here. What would you if the world was dominated by people who still believed in Zeus? Hundreds of brilliant philosophers use their intellectual might to defend the plausibility of a (heavily modified) idea of Zeus, and millions of common believers more enact public policies that reflect the doctrines of ancient Greek ideals.

Now, what would you do? If, in debunking the unfounded claims of the Zeus believers, is it your problem that this might hurt the feelings of the Zeus believers? Or is it their problem for having unfounded beliefs in a magical, invisible god that arose from a superstitious polytheistic stew?

Now, I have said that believing in God is not as crazy as believing in Zeus, and I really believe that. The modern “philosopher’s God” really IS a bit more plausible than a fully personified, limited god like Yahweh of the Jewish Bible or Zeus of ancient Greek mythology. But you DO believe in a magical, invisible god that originally arose from a superstitious, polytheistic stew. So, is it my fault that I hurt some feelings by debunking such a notion? Or is it your fault for being intellectually tricked into actually believing that?

Well, I suspect that was very disrespectful – but can you see the situation I’m in? Imagine switching places (always a good tactic). You stick to evidence and reason, and you see none of it supporting theism, and lots of it supporting atheism. If you decided to engage the debate at all, how would you avoid being seen as “disrespectful” in the course of debunking all the ancient, superstitious, unfounded, magical beliefs of the people around you?

Now, I would also like to imagine myself in YOUR place, so please explain to me what THAT is like, in this kind of situation. It sounds like you feel disrespected that I keep talking about God in the same sentence as Zeus and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, disrespected when I say you have no evidence or good reasons for belief, etc. Can you say a little more?

unkleE: I have a mental list of atheist dogma-myths

Please, do share. I love attacking atheist dogma-myths. :)

unkleE: Thoughtful theists have reasons for their beliefs (even though you disagree with them), there are some arguments which theists use which have merit (even though you think they can be rebutted), and denigrating those arguments by drawing parallels to beliefs which don’t have significant reason and arguments is detrimental to both truth and good relations.

Sorry, I don’t think I can quite agree with that. Why? Because one of the best ways for me to show why theistic arguments don’t work is by showing what happens when the same logic is applied to something we all know doesn’t exist, like Zeus or fairies. This is precisely how I rebut (or “denigrate”) theistic arguments. I know you don’t like it when I point out that arguments from ignorance can work just as much in Zeus’ favor as in Yahweh’s favor (that is, not at all), but that is a very important tactic in showing why these arguments fail.

Again, never in all of this do I mean to imply that belief in the philosopher’s God is as crazy as belief in Zeus or fairies, but I do mean to show a very specific and explicit parallel between them, because it is useful to seeing where theistic arguments fail. Above, I have given the example of arguments from ignorance (cosmological argument, teleological argument, argument from consciousness, etc.).

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Lorkas May 12, 2009 at 3:14 pm

unkleE,

You seem to think that there is no difference between attacking an argument and attacking a person (ad hominem). The claim you refer to:

unkleE: “You’re an intellectual fraud. You only hold the illogical views you do because you’re rebelling against God.”

is an attack on the person giving an argument, not on the argument itself. This is, of course, a childish and fallacious debate tactic, as I’m sure you know.

Comparing a position (like theism) to another position (like Greek polytheism or pastafarianism) to help demonstrate how faulty logic is being used is a perfectly valid form of argument (reductio ad absurdum), so long as one is careful not to mistakenly construct a strawman (which is a fine line to tread when constructing a reductio ad absurdum argument).

I encourage you to point it out when you think I, or anyone else, contructs a strawman when we make comparisons between Christian theism and other mythologies. I try to avoid mischaracterizing the positions of others, but I can never be sure that I completely succeed, so it can only improve the conversation if you help me out by keeping me honest :)

I won’t stop making the comparisons simply because you take offense, though. Sometimes, if your feelings are getting hurt by a logically valid argument that contradicts your position (without attacking you as a person), it is because you have personalized the issue rather than evaluating it objectively, which we have all stated as our primary consideration in this conversation. In other words,  it may mean that you should consider revising your position.

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lukeprog May 12, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Curtis: Luke, you asked what I believe. I am an orthodox Christian who believes in the two book model of revelation.

Mmm… well, that’s not much to go on. How ’bout this? I’ll just talk to you as if you hold to mainstream Protestant Christian doctrine as I understand it, and then you can correct me where you differ. Just don’t think I’m erecting straw men on purpose… I just haven’t been told what it is you DO believe, so I can only guess.

But I won’t give a long list of the incoherent parts of mainstream doctrine… I’ll just wait to see if we come to them in our discussion.

Curtis: It needs to be shown that ‘nothingness’ is an understandable concept. It does not need to be shown that ‘nothingness’ actually has occurred because that is not what is being asserted.

Curtis, I never meant to say that asking “Why is there something rather than nothing?” was like asking “Where is the nearest square circle?” Your question isn’t internally contradictory. I just wanted to show that it may assume too much for the plausibility of “nothingness,” since we have no evidence that such a state has ever been instantiated, and TONS of evidence for its opposite.

P5 of your argument may be false. I’m not sure what it means for a 1-dimensional spacetime to “include” a 0-dimensional spacetime. But it doesn’t matter. As I said, I didn’t mean that nothingness was a literally contradictory idea.

Curtis: Its intent is to find the best explanation for a given set of evidence. Reasonable does not mean perfect but it means that it explains more than other explanations. Since there is no explanation coming from the Atheist, the bar id very low.

*sigh* Once again, I ask you to respond to my Zeus example. If the ancient Greek atheist has no explanation for lightning, does this mean that “Zeus did it” is a plausible explanation as long as it is not explicitly self-contradictory?

Curtis, I am bewildered by your statistical approach. You seem to think that a sheer NUMBER of reasons given somehow implies that at least a few  of them must be good, therefore God’s existence is probable. But remember, Carpenter gave 100 Reason Why the Earth is Not a Globe… does this somehow make it likely that some of his reasons are good, and therefore it’s plausible the earth is flat?

This is what i mean by “common sense.” In any other context, you would know this kind of reasoning is absurd… but you let it pass if it’s going to defend YOUR religion.

Curtis: So, if the Universe is considered to be eternal this is evidence for Atheism, but when the Universe has a beginning then it is not considered evidence for Theism and we need to reserve judgment?

Umm… no. An eternal universe is not evidence for atheism. Nor is a universe with a beginning. What are you talking about? I want to say “You confuse me”, but I should probably say instead, “I am confused by you.” :)

Curtis: Should we do the same thing for Naturalistic Evolution, suspend judgment?

Well, there’s tons of evidence for evolution – much more than there is for, say, the existence of the Roman Empire. So we can always keep an open mind, but that’s a pretty shut case.

Curtis: 1. There is no evidence for fairies. God is like a fairy. Therefore God doesn’t exist. 2. A belief in fairies is like a belief in God. Fairies don’t exist. Therefore God doesn’t exist. 3. Fairies can never be disproved. God is like a fairy. God cannot be disproved. [leap] God doesn’t exist. 4. Other?

*facepalm* Am I really this unclear? Half a dozen times now I have made SPECIFIC analogies to Zeus or fairies, and Christians think I am saying something like “God is just as ridiculous as Zeus, therefore God doesn’t exist” or “God is like Zeus, and Zeus doesn’t exist, therefore God doesn’t exist.”

I have NEVER said those things. What I do is make SPECIFIC analogies about SPECIFIC points – for example to show why an argument from ignorance does not work.

I think before we move on to P2 we need to get clear on some things where we are still confusing each other.

Here’s what I can see so far: We agree that “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is a coherent question. I just think it assumes way too much for the plausibility of “nothingness”, since we have no evidence that “nothingness” is physically possible.

You think that the Christian offering an explanation for something the atheist cannot explain somehow wins a point for the Christian. I strongly disagree. The crazed lunatic can offer a hair-brained explanation for many things that the atheist scientist cannot explain… but that alone doesn’t win the crazed lunatic any points. No, both the Christian and the crazed lunatic have to offer good reasons to think their explanation is plausible before the atheist scientist needs to give their explanation any credence.

(Again, pay attention to what I am saying there. I did not say anything like “Christianity is like the ravings of a crazed lunatic.”)

Finally, in the lead-up to P2, I’d like to know… do you have positive evidence or arguments for the non-existence of Vahiguru? For the non-existence of “quantum vibrations” ala The Secret? For the non-existence of unicorns? And do you feel justified in disbelieving in Vahiguru, quantum vibrations, and unicorns?

(Again, I am not comparing God to Vahiguru, quantum vibrations, or unicorns whole cloth. I am making a specific analogy about a specific point. All I’m saying here is that we don’t need positive arguments to disbelieve something. We just need a failure of positive arguments to BELIEVE that something.)

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unkleE May 12, 2009 at 11:53 pm

lukeprog: Oh, I have indeed though of us as allies in exactly this way! You have much to teach me and I have, I hope, something to teach you.

Luke, thanks for your long, and at least partly conciliatory post. I know you don’t wish to spend too much time on this, so I appreciate your effort. I’m also trying to reach a conclusion without taking too much time, so I will try to address only the essentials. And yes, I have learnt from you, about desire utilitarianism and about an atheist who seems to me to be more honest than most people, but I’m trying to improve that! : )

lukeprog: I understand the issue. It’s often hard for me to keep track of people’s feelings because of the way my own psychological makeup works. I don’t take offense or feel insulted at hardly anything.

I guess I expressed myself poorly here. I too am not easily offended, and I wasn’t emotionally upset here. (If I was to be upset emotionally, I’d better quit such discussions!) It was what I still believe is lack of reason that is upsetting me. As I’ll try to explain one more time …..

lukeprog: I make these comparisons about specific, explicit parallels, as I have repeatedly pointed out.

lukeprog: I am only showing a specific similarity.

So what are these specific parallels and similarities? I cannot see them and I cannot recall you demonstrating any, except the untested allegation that they are all equally non-existent, which is the point you are supposed to be demonstrating.

lukeprog: But you DO believe in a magical, invisible god that originally arose from a superstitious, polytheistic stew.

Magical is an emotive word, and shouldn’t be used in discussion like this without definition, as it appears to be derogatory. If you mean supernatural, then of course; if you mean silly and childlike then of course not. It is an unworthy and not very meaningful word.

And how you suppose my belief originally arose is neither here nor there, another unworthy phrase. Human beings, love, ethics, democracy, etc, all allegedly arose from the same chaotic sources, but what does that tell us? An atheist who believes in evolution should be the last person to use pejorative language like this. What matters is what I believe now, and how I present it to you.

lukeprog: You stick to evidence and reason, and you see none of it supporting theism, and lots of it supporting atheism.

This is the guts of my objection. None of it supporting theism??? After your words of praise of WL Craig elsewhere on this website, you can say “none”, not anything at all, not even the slightest shred of an argument that might possibly cause you to think a bit about a possible rebuttal? Not even the Kalam argument, where you say “Hundreds of supporting arguments and counter-arguments have been offered, making the Kalam one of the most complex arguments in the philosophy of religion. ….. Does the argument succeed? Anyone who claims to know has probably not considered all the relevant arguments.” ???

I think the only way your statement can be true is because you say “you see”, and I can only think that somehow you “see” some theist arguments as worth arguing against, but somehow can’t bring yourself to “see” that this makes them some sort of evidence, even if not (for you) compelling evidence. So it may be a true statement about what you see, but not a factual statement.

As an aid to your fairer evaluation of theist arguents (as I see it), can I recommend this paper which I have just come across, and which surely will give you something to think about, and thus surely give you some reason to think, yes, that is some evidence (even if small) and not “none”.

lukeprog: Sorry, I don’t think I can quite agree with that. Why? Because one of the best ways for me to show why theistic arguments don’t work is by showing what happens when the same logic is applied to something we all know doesn’t exist, like Zeus or fairies. This is precisely how I rebut (or “denigrate”) theistic arguments.

I have argued this with Lorcas (see above). Where have you shown how the same arguments and logic are applied to something we all agree doesn’t exist?

I don’t believe the same arguments can be applied to Zeus or fairies. As I said to Lorcas, a cosmological argument tries to prove a powerful, creative, non-material, non-temporal being – and none of that description applies to fairies, and precious little applies to Zeus. Yes it applies to Allah and a few other hypothetical entities, including the God I believe in, but that is all it is designed to do. So the theistic arguments simply don’t apply to most entities and beings, even most gods.

So, my challenge is, instead of simply asserting that the same arguments can be applied, please demonstrate how they can be. I believe you cannot do it without redefining Zeus or fairies or the FSM to be what I and most people would call God.

So that is my complaint and my challenge. To recognise that (1) until and if the theistic arguments are all totally rebutted in an objective fashion (it hasn’t happened in 2 millennia), it is not truthful to say there is no evidence for God, only to say that the evidence hasn’t persuaded you, and (2) to either demonstrate the validity of drawing parallels between God and other pretty powerless and mythical beings, or stop using the comparisons.

Thanks and best wishes.

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unkleE May 13, 2009 at 12:30 am

lukeprog: Please, do share. I love attacking atheist dogma-myths.

I thought it best to keep this separate. Here’s unkleE’s guide to how to be a good atheist without having to think too much. (I don’t expect you to agree with them all, but you may agree with some and hopefully you may find some humour as well.)

Faith is believing things without any evidence, or things you know aren’t true. Ignore that christians define it quite differently, it helps in demonising the opposition.

If anyone suggests that considering the existence of God is an important question, simply mention “Pascal’s Wager” as if that somehow disposes of the issue.

Philosophy is a useless pursuit that leads nowhere. This is clever because it allows one to do bad philosophy and get away with erroneous thinking.

The only way to know anything is via empirical evidence. Just ignore that we can’t know that by empirical evidence so the statement is self contradictory – that’s just philosophy, which we can ignore (see above).

There is no more evidence or reason to believe in God than in the FSM (giggle), Zeus (guffaw), the Midgard Serpent, etc. But don’t let the discussion get serious, because it is obvious that there are no arguments for these creatures comparable to the Cosmological, teleological, moral, etc, arguments. Just keep mocking.

If someone presents an argument for God that is even vaguely plausible, say triumphantly: “Yes but which God?”, as if that disposes of the argument. But don’t apply this reasoning in other parts of life, or you may find yourself ignoring a truck bearing down on you because you can’t identify its brand!

If someone quotes an expert in a particular field saying something you don’t like, simply say “Argument from Authority. Fallacy.” It sounds like you know something, but the risk is that the other person may actually know something.

Jesus probably didn’t exist. Never mind that the scholars, in toto, don’t say that, just believe the one or two who do say that. All the rest are christian stooges. And don’t forget to criticise theists for ignoring evidence.

The church has opposed science down through the ages. Again, don’t worry that the consensus of historians is quite contrary to this, just stick with a few non-expert opinions that have been repeated around the internet until they can be believed as fact. And again, don’t forget to criticise theists for ignoring evidence.

Express your anti-God opinions strongly, but if challenged to demonstrate reasons for your views, say you are a “weak atheist” or “strong agnostic” and therefore the burden of proof’s on the theist, not you. Then, as soon as the argument changes go back to making strong atheist statements again without bothering about any burden of proof. Works a treat!

Use ethically based arguments like the problem of evil, but when presented with the moral argument, say that morality is evolutionary based and not objective. Just make sure that you don’t make these two arguments in the one place, or someone may notice. Heck, if you’re honest, you may even notice yourself.

Make sure you attack the worst expressions of theism, don’t waste time addressing good arguments or thoughtful theists, go for the jugular. All in the name of reason of course.

And don’t forget to use some ridicule, as recently advocated by Saint Richard, and pretend this doesn’t make you as evil as the people you are criticising. All in the name of reason of course.

Well, that’s enough lessons for now. Hope you get the drift. Please note, I’m not accusing you or anyone else of most of these (though I think you are guilty of one or two), but I have come across these many times on forums.

Best wishes. : )

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unkleE May 13, 2009 at 12:47 am

Lorkas: You seem to think that there is no difference between attacking an argument and attacking a person (ad hominem). The claim you refer to:

unkleE: “You’re an intellectual fraud. You only hold the illogical views you do because you’re rebelling against God.”

is an attack on the person giving an argument, not on the argument itself. This is, of course, a childish and fallacious debate tactic, as I’m sure you know.

Sorry Lorcas, but you have misread my statement. I did not make that statement to attack anyone, but as an illustration of a statement I was not making, but which Luke would be offended by. I did this to illustrate how I felt about some things he was saying. Please also note that he interpreted it as I intended and not as being offensive (although he said he wouldn’t even be offended by it if I had made it). Please re-read my post and see that is all the facts of the matter.

Lorkas: Comparing a position (like theism) to another position (like Greek polytheism or pastafarianism) to help demonstrate how faulty logic is being used is a perfectly valid form of argument (reductio ad absurdum), so long as one is careful not to mistakenly construct a strawman (which is a fine line to tread when constructing a reductio ad absurdum argument).

I understand. But the comparison is only useful if you can demonstrate the similarity in the area of interest. You and Luke and other atheists haven’t done that (yet).

Lorkas: I encourage you to point it out when you think I, or anyone else, contructs a strawman when we make comparisons between Christian theism and other mythologies. I try to avoid mischaracterizing the positions of others, but I can never be sure that I completely succeed, so it can only improve the conversation if you help me out by keeping me honest 

I appreciate your intentions. But I presented some reasons last post why the comparisons were invalid. I have done the same to Luke. I haven’t yet seen any argument that makes the comparisons valid.

Lorkas: I won’t stop making the comparisons simply because you take offense, though. Sometimes, if your feelings are getting hurt by a logically valid argument that contradicts your position (without attacking you as a person), it is because you have personalized the issue rather than evaluating it objectively, which we have all stated as our primary consideration in this conversation. In other words,  it may mean that you should consider revising your position.

As I said to Luke, I am not offended personally or emotionally, and if I sounded that way, I’m sorry – it was inexact language. But I am unhappy with the lack of reason and reasons.

Let me make it clear again. I’m not trying to present a full argument for theism or christianity – Curtis is doing a reasonable job there. I am simply indicating that I believe both you and Luke use denigrating and straw man arguments when you (1) make unsubstantiated comparisons between God and FSM, Zeus, fairies, etc, then say theism is false based on those unsubstantiated statements, and (2) you overstate the case when you say there are no arguments, no evidence, no reason at all standing on the side of theism (even though you have no answer to Curtis’ question about why there is something rather than nothing). And on those matters, neither of you have given me any reason yet that I can recognise that would lead me to change my view that these “tactics” are invalid. I don’t want to be argumentative or nasty, but I’m still waiting.

Best wishes.

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Lorkas May 13, 2009 at 2:48 pm

I understood perfectly that you were only giving an example of an assertion that would be considered offensive to an atheist, unkleE. I was pointing out that it is not a parallel case, since it is an ad hominem, while comparing specific aspects of Christian theism with pastafarianism is not. In other words, your example is fallacious, while the comparison we have made is a legitimate form of argument.

You and I must be reading different threads, unkleE, because you assert that your arguments have been made without counterpoint, but the arguments themselves aren’t there. I consider this to be a pointless discussion at this point, since one of us has clearly lost the thread of the argument.

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unkleE May 13, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Lorkas: I consider this to be a pointless discussion at this point, since one of us has clearly lost the thread of the argument.

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unkleE May 13, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Sorry about the above aborted post – I pressed the wrong button.

Lorkas: I understood perfectly that you were only giving an example of an assertion that would be considered offensive to an atheist, unkleE. I was pointing out that it is not a parallel case

OK, fair enough. But I wasn’t trying to suggest they were parallel in being ad hominems, but parallel in not presenting any argument, just being insulting. And until either of you set out the argument for a useful parallel between FSM et al and God, that remains true.

Lorkas: I consider this to be a pointless discussion at this point, since one of us has clearly lost the thread of the argument.

I had come to the same conclusion, but for a different reason. I don’t feel the thread has been lost.

(1) I asked you a series of questions to try to clarify your position, which you haven’t answered;

(2) I have asked you several times to actually present an argument which includes the FSM, to parallel an argument fro God, and you haven’t done so. I have given reasons why I don’t believe you can, and you haven’t responded.

(3) I have “tabled” a paper which argues the theist case about why there is something rather than nothing, a question which you have said you do not have an answer to.

Those are the threads of the argument I have been trying to discuss, and they seem to me to be quite clear, don’t you agree? My problem lies deeper. We seem not to be speaking the same language, not to be using the same rules of logic. You accuse theists of having no argument, yet you will not respond to my questions. You will doubtless feel I haven’t understood you, whereas I feel you are avoiding questions you find difficult.

So yes, let us stop before things deteriorate. Best wishes.

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lukeprog May 13, 2009 at 6:55 pm

unkleE: Magical is an emotive word, and shouldn’t be used in discussion like this without definition, as it appears to be derogatory. If you mean supernatural, then of course;

The first place I checked was answers.com. Guess what I saw. Everybody knows what magic means, and Jesus and Yahweh are clearly magical, along with lots of other mythical figures.

Now the question of whether magic is real is an open one, I just don’t see any good evidence for it yet. But it is well-agreed that Jesus is supposedly magical. That’s core Christian doctrine. Materialist Christians are the heretics.

unkleE: So what are these specific parallels and similarities? I cannot see them and I cannot recall you demonstrating any, except the untested allegation that they are all equally non-existent, which is the point you are supposed to be demonstrating.

Really? You don’t see it? Specific comparisons is all I have been making! But I want to write a whole post on this so gimme a little time and I’ll try to make myself clear.

unkleE: What matters is what I believe now, and how I present it to you.

Couldn’t agree more.

unkleE: I think the only way your statement can be true is because you say “you see”, and I can only think that somehow you “see” some theist arguments as worth arguing against, but somehow can’t bring yourself to “see” that this makes them some sort of evidence, even if not (for you) compelling evidence. So it may be a true statement about what you see, but not a factual statement.

Oh, yeah, let me clarify. Every single time I have been able to look very closely at an argument, it is fundamentally flawed such that it IS evidence for something, but not at all good evidence for what Christians want it to be evidence for. That’s what I mean. Now, I haven’t looked at all the arguments in every detail yet, but I’m getting there, and it would be a little surprising if argument version #1,264 was compelling after 1,263 that failed very badly.

unkleE: can I recommend this paper which I have just come across, and which surely will give you something to think about

Cool. I’ve got the SecWeb RSS, so I put that on my reading list when it was published, but haven’t gotten to it yet.

unkleE: Where have you shown how the same arguments and logic are applied to something we all agree doesn’t exist?

Yes, I must write a carefully prepared post about this, as I am obviously not getting through clearly. I’ve done this half a dozen times, and you don’t even realize what I’m trying to say, I guess. I will try to make myself clearer.

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lukeprog May 13, 2009 at 7:23 pm

unkleE: Faith is believing things without any evidence, or things you know aren’t true. Ignore that christians define it quite differently, it helps in demonising the opposition.

I’m sure many Christians define faith differently, but it’s hard to blame the atheist for interpreting them that way when we constantly have conversations like this:

ME: “So, do you have any evidence for that?”

CHRISTIAN: “Well, no, but I believe it to be true on faith. I know it through faith.”

That sounds to me a lot like knowingly believing something without evidence.

unkleE: If anyone suggests that considering the existence of God is an important question, simply mention “Pascal’s Wager” as if that somehow disposes of the issue.

Hmmm… I’ve never encountered that one in atheists…

unkleE: Philosophy is a useless pursuit that leads nowhere. This is clever because it allows one to do bad philosophy and get away with erroneous thinking.

Also something I’ve never heard before.

unkleE: If someone presents an argument for God that is even vaguely plausible, say triumphantly: “Yes but which God?”, as if that disposes of the argument. But don’t apply this reasoning in other parts of life, or you may find yourself ignoring a truck bearing down on you because you can’t identify its brand!

This analogy doesn’t work for me. In the case of the truck, the brand doesn’t matter because (1) you only have a split second to make your decision, and (2) apparently, all possible brands of truck in this scenario are bearing down on you in the same way. But in the case of gods, you (usually) have a lifetime to figure it out, and all possible brands of gods are NOT bearing down on your in the same way. Which god it is matters immensely as to how you should live your life. Not so with the brand of truck that is careening toward you. They’re all going to run you over.

unkleE: Jesus probably didn’t exist. Never mind that the scholars, in toto, don’t say that, just believe the one or two who do say that.

Argument from Authority. Fallacy.

No, just kidding. ;)

Scholars can be a useful guide, but in the end you’ve got to really tackle the data themselves.

unkleE: The church has opposed science down through the ages. Again, don’t worry that the consensus of historians is quite contrary to this

Really? Historians don’t think the church has opposed science throughout the ages?

unkleE: Express your anti-God opinions strongly, but if challenged to demonstrate reasons for your views, say you are a “weak atheist” or “strong agnostic” and therefore the burden of proof’s on the theist, not you. Then, as soon as the argument changes go back to making strong atheist statements again without bothering about any burden of proof. Works a treat!

Yup, agree with this one. I addressed this specifically in my burden of proof post

unkleE: Use ethically based arguments like the problem of evil, but when presented with the moral argument, say that morality is evolutionary based and not objective. Just make sure that you don’t make these two arguments in the one place, or someone may notice.

Well, you know I have always been extremely critical of most atheistic theories of moral realism, so yeah, I agree with this one. But the problem of suffering should be formulated as an internal problem for theism. Whether morality exists or does not exist given atheism is irrelevant.

unkleE: Make sure you attack the worst expressions of theism, don’t waste time addressing good arguments or thoughtful theists, go for the jugular.

Well, you know I’m focusing on the arguments from the most thoughtful of theists, for example the authors of The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.

unkleE: And don’t forget to use some ridicule, as recently advocated by Saint Richard, and pretend this doesn’t make you as evil as the people you are criticising.

Ridicule is a powerful tool. It’s what finally got me to realize how ridiculous my beliefs were. And yeah, ridicule does not make me as evil as religious people who are causing all kinds of damage, moderates and extremists alike.

Those are a few of my responses, but I know you weren’t specifically accusing me of these things, though some of them surely fit me.

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Curtis May 13, 2009 at 7:44 pm

Luke, something is wrong because I can’t reply.  Also, when I view this blog with IE, it cuts off.  I think we need a new page.  Please email me the new link if you create one.

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lukeprog May 13, 2009 at 7:54 pm

Curtis, does it work now?

Note to all: This comments software does not like it if you put two angle brackets in a row.

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Lorkas May 13, 2009 at 7:56 pm

unkleE: (1) I asked you a series of questions to try to clarify your position, which you haven’t answered; (2) I have asked you several times to actually present an argument which includes the FSM, to parallel an argument fro God, and you haven’t done so. I have given reasons why I don’t believe you can, and you haven’t responded. (3) I have “tabled” a paper which argues the theist case about why there is something rather than nothing, a question which you have said you do not have an answer to.

1) Which questions did you ask that I didn’t answer? Perhaps you didn’t read the post that I made where I answered 3 questions and asked you if you had any more. I never saw any more, but you keep referring to these questions you asked without saying which ones. Just fucking say what questions I haven’t answered, and I will be happy to address them.

2) You also failed to read the post I made in immediate response to this challenge, apparently. You clearly don’t understand the honest extent to which the arguments we were discussing (ontological, cosmological). They get as far as a first cause–no farther. That first cause could be FSM, Allah, or Yahweh. To claim otherwise is to make ridiculous leaps in argument. If you don’t understand this, perhaps you should try an exercise: read any cosmological argument with Allah or Mrignoc in mind rather than Yahweh, and then explain to the world why your pet God is better supported than others by these arguments. Do so, and you will outdo every philosopher in history, as none of them have advanced the position you are successfully.

3) I don’t deny this third point, but both lukeprog and I have extensively explained why this isn’t a problem. The theist explanation isn’t an explanation, any more than “magic” is an explanation for the beginning of the universe. It is better to call a mystery a mystery than to insult the collective intelligence of the human race by calling it magic.

unkleE, I have done my best to be patient with you. I give up. I leave the readers to be the judge of who has lost the thread of the argument and failed to respond to the other’s points. Feel free to make final points, but I won’t repeat the arguments you have failed to understand again. Unless you have any genuinely new arguments (I doubt this, since you haven’t for the past three exchanges), I consider my side of the argument to be done, and encourage others to read the arguments for themselves.

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Lorkas May 13, 2009 at 7:57 pm

The comments are working again!

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Curtis May 14, 2009 at 3:22 am

Luke, I do want to say that you are being a good sport.
Luke says “I just wanted to show that it may assume too much for the plausibility of “nothingness,” since we have no evidence that such a state has ever been instantiated, and TONS of evidence for its opposite.” Now, there is an assertion that there is “TONS of evidence for its opposite.” Either:
(1) you are much better read than I am and are holding back here;
(2) you are reading material that assert there is TONS of evidence but they don’t really have evidence (otherwise you would state it so we could scrutinize it),
(3) you think you have something you consider evidence but which really isn’t evidence. Now, because it is self-refuting to ask for an experience of nothingness, your experience is not evidence.
(4) Your gonna slam me with a bunch of evidence in the next response J .
Which is it? Luke, the reason I’m harping on this is that I often hear you make very broad statements that I know cannot be true and this is one of them.
Anyway, you’ve conceded that the question is a valid question.
 
Luke says “Curtis, I am bewildered by your statistical approach. You seem to think that a sheer NUMBER of reasons given somehow implies that at least a few  of them must be good, therefore God’s existence is probable.” Let me give you some background here about this type of argument. The Kalam argument (as far as I know) has withstood every criticism. Now, I would not assign a 100% probability that it the Kalam is absolutely valid because it is possible that someone might find a weakness that severely weakens the argument. But it has withstood a huge amount of scrutiny for the last 30 years so I have a high confidence that it will continue to withstand more scrutiny. Therefore, I would ascribe a high probability (i.e., high confidence) that it is valid, say 90%. That 90% figure means that in similar situations, 9 out of 10 times, the argument is valid. This still leaves open the possibility that it is not true but it also expresses my strong confidence BECAUSE it has withstood such scrutiny. Should it continue to withstand scrutiny for the next twenty years, I may ascribe a higher confidence of 97%.
What I have just presented you with is a list of evidence for the Christian worldview in toto, much like would be presented in a court case. Just like in a court case, you can argue the truth or falsity of some of these points of evidence, but some of them you need to address as a probability of being true. I have purposely chosen a low probability for each point of evidence to show you that the sum of the individual points can lead to a high probability of truthfulness. You had asked me for a Christian model of reality which is defensible and I have just delivered it. Now we can assign individual probabilities to each of these, but I don’t think that is necessary since what was needed was “evidence that Christian belief is rational.” The probability value provides this measure to show it is rational, even when one starts with ridiculously low probabilities for each point of evidence.
If you do not concede that the probability is reasonable as presented so ti does not show that a belief in Christianity is rational, you must:
(1) Show that all items of one category have a probability of zero; or
(2) Show that the succession of categories is invalid (i.e., the series of premises is flawed).
The burden of proof would then be on you.
 
Luke says “But remember, Carpenter gave 100 Reason Why the Earth is Not a Globe… does this somehow make it likely that some of his reasons are good, and therefore it’s plausible the earth is flat?” This is an interesting statement because it is an argument by analogy, a notoriously hard thing to get right. A valid argument by analogy must consider all the things that are the same, all the things that are different, and then gauge the strength of both in a relative manner. When I examine the first 10 arguments in your suggestion I see logical errors. For example, “8. If the Earth were a globe, a small model globe would be the very best – because the truest – thing for the. navigator to take to sea with him. But such a thing as that is not known: with such a toy as a guide, the mariner would wreck his ship, of a certainty!, This is a proof that Earth is not a globe.” When you compare the list I have given you, there will be no such logical errors (e.g., the ontological argument). There may be differing strengths of each point of evidence. Some of the evidential point has withstood 1,000 years of scrutiny which cannot be said about Carpenter’s work. The list I provided has been developed and examined by many well educated minds of the last several hundred years; not so for Carpenter. So, it is not only quantity that is relevant but quality of line of evidence. For these reasons, I do not believe the analogy is valid.

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Curtis May 14, 2009 at 3:27 am



(090514 – Part2 of 2)
Luke says, “Umm… no. An eternal universe is not evidence for atheism. Nor is a universe with a beginning. What are you talking about?” Interesting. Atheists, in the past, have asserted that the Universe was eternal so there was no need for God. Have you not read this?
 
Luke says, “Well, there’s tons of evidence for evolution – much more than there is for, say, the existence of the Roman Empire. So we can always keep an open mind, but that’s a pretty shut case.” You again say there is “tons of evidence” which makes me wonder if you reading list is balanced or current. For example, recent (non-Christian) scientific research is challenging the foundations of evolution. See:
(seeing if links are the reason I can’t post)

 
Luke says, “Am I really this unclear? Half a dozen times now I have made SPECIFIC analogies to Zeus or fairies” Actually, you are being unclear because I am looking for the argument, by analogy, induction, or deduction. I just don’t see one. I spent last night scouring the atheist web sites looking for such an argument and there isn’t one. The only thing I can think is that this is hyperbole that people assume it is an argument, or that So-and-so said something like this so it must be an argument. I’m being nit-picky here because rhetoric and propaganda can seem logical, until you list the hidden premises (induction/deduction) or the differences in the analogy. I really just don’t see the argument and there doesn’t seem to be one listed on the atheistic web sites. Now, that’s not to say that such an argument can’t be made – I just can’t cross that chasm because I don’t see the logic. Do you have a book or reference I could look up that has such a presentation (truly, I’d like to refute this one as soon as possible but I can’t find what the argument is)?
 
Luke says “to show why an argument from ignorance does not work.” Ahhh. Thank you. Wikipedia says “The argument from ignorance is a logical fallacy in which it is claimed that a premise is true only because it has not been proven false, or is false only because it has not been proven true.” So, are you saying that
(a) “Christians claim God exists because they cannot prove He doesn’t exist.”
(b) “Christians claim God exists because they cannot explain the behavior of Nature.”
(c) “Christians claim God exists based on information that will be shown in the future to be invalid.”
(d) “Christians claim God exists because it is the explanation of last resort, a catch-all explanation.” This sounds like the Zues analogy.
(e) Some other derivative? If so, please explain.
Note that this is a caricature that people tend to portray about Christianity that is false. I will admit that there are some Christians who don’t know why they believe Christianity and shame on them. However, there are very smart Christians who know what they believe, why the believe it, and can defend it. BTW, a similar claim can be made against Atheism: there are atheists who don’t know why they believe Atheism is true.
Now, each of the logical fallacy points above is simply not true:
(a) There is positive philosophical evidence for the claim God exists: teleological, ontological, cosmological (several instances), and moral are the more well known arguments;
(b) This is partly true but it has much more than that. For example, the cosmological explains how Nature became Nature; the argument from consciousness explains why humans are conscious and what that means; it explains why Science works; and others.
(c) Based on the last 1,000 years, I think that the evidence is getting stronger. True, with Hume and Kant, we took a bit of a hit for a while, but I think we’ve shaken that off. Now, when you look at the teleological argument we see that it is becoming stronger as Science learns more about the complexities and inter-dependencies of Nature, so I think this is the opposite;
(d) I think the lines of evidence above, for the Christian worldview, is enough to point out that Christianity does have strong explanatory power so the claim of ignorance is invalid.
If I haven’t addressed your ‘Zeus’ or ‘fairy’ analogy, then please give a try to write out the actual argument because I can’t see the argument (perhaps there isn’t an argument there?).
 
Luke says “You think that the Christian offering an explanation for something the atheist cannot explain somehow wins a point for the Christian. I strongly disagree. The crazed lunatic can offer a hair-brained explanation for many things that the atheist scientist cannot explain.”
First, I have shown that: (1) the question makes sense (you agree); (2) that Christianity has a model that explains some aspects of reality (the lines of evidence); and (3) show that a belief in this model is reasonable (using probability, Bayesianism).
Secondly, when things of this nature are discussed, as well as in Science, there is the notion of explanatory power: what hypothesis explains the most about the World around us. We usually go for the hypothesis that is the best explanation. For the question, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” we find that Christianity does provide an explanation for this question, as well as other things. Christianity explains more than Atheism, if this question is included, because Atheism has no answer to this question. So, Christianity simply has more explanatory power and does get the point if Atheism has no explanation. You may disagree but that is your opinion and it is not being honest either.
Third, here we go again with the “off the wall” analogy. Hopefully by now, I’ve been able to articulate a logical, philosophical defense of Christianity. So why would an analogy of a “crazed lunatic” even be raised? We are not addressing any question a lunatic raises, but a question that you’ve admitted is valid so this analogy doesn’t hold (unless you are willing to accept that both you and I are lunatics).
 
Luke says “Finally, in the lead-up to P2, I’d like to know… do you have positive evidence or arguments for the non-existence of Vahiguru? … All I’m saying here is that we don’t need positive arguments to disbelieve something. We just need a failure of positive arguments to BELIEVE that something.”
I think I hear the echo of Dawkins here so it shouldn’t be too hard to break this apart.
I think I can agree with some of this. For example, if I see a dead body and a knife, I can’t accuse anyone of being the murderer because they don’t have an alibi for the time of the murder.
However, we do need positive evidence to choose something. Using the same analogy, if I find someone with blood on their hands and the DNA matches the victim, I can choose that person as the murderer or at least an accomplice. Without this positive evidence, the choice cannot be made.
So, (P2) “What is the positive evidence for choosing Atheism over some other belief system?”
If you say, “I selected Atheism because all other belief systems have no evidence” then shouldn’t this just be a stalemate if there is no positive evidence for any belief system. Perhaps the proper thing to do is to accept them all, or allocate a year of belief to each one, or something like that. In such a stalemate, isn’t something else needed to move you to Atheism, some sort of positive evidence?
So, I await your answer to P2.

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Curtis May 14, 2009 at 3:36 am

I tried to post the links about recent scientific thoughts on why Naturalistic Evolution has some issues but failed.   Can’t figure out how to make the software happy with the links.

Luke, I sent you the links.

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lukeprog May 14, 2009 at 5:17 am

Curtis, I checked the spam filter but didn’t see your post. Could you try that one again?

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lukeprog May 14, 2009 at 6:11 am

Curtis: Now, there is an assertion that there is “TONS of evidence for its opposite.” Eithe…

By “opposite of nothingness” I just mean “somethingness.” Are you going to argue we aren’t surrounded by vast quantities of evidence for the existence of something?

Curtis: The Kalam argument (as far as I know) has withstood every criticism… Therefore, I would ascribe a high probability (i.e., high confidence) that it is valid, say 90%.

Of course I disagree that the Kalam is so strong, but the best way to show this is my mapping of the Kalam, which will take some time. And perhaps it will lead to a conclusion I do not expect!

Curtis: That 90% figure means that in similar situations, 9 out of 10 times, the argument is valid.

Maybe this has nothing to do with our discussion, but I don’t know what this sentence means.

There are (at least) two kinds of probability theory: frequentist theories and “degree of belief” theories. Your confidence in the Kalam is clearly the latter theory, but here you’re trying to shoehorn it in to the frequentist type. What does it mean to say that the argument is valid in 90% of “similar situations”? This is kind of like thinking about the probability of the resurrection in frequentist terms: “If Jesus came to earth in 1,000 possible worlds, I believe he would have been resurrected in 990 of them.” That makes no sense to me… why not just make it a “degree of belief” percentage (ala Bayes)?

Curtis: I have purposely chosen a low probability for each point of evidence to show you that the sum of the individual points can lead to a high probability of truthfulness.

If you follow such a calculation through, you can make anything “probable” simply by adding more and more low-probability arguments until they tip-toe their way up past 50% in sum.

Curtis: The probability value provides this measure to show it is rational, even when one starts with ridiculously low probabilities for each point of evidence.

No. Fifty bad reasons do not equal one good reason. This is true of flat-earth theories, and it is true for theism.

Curtis: If you do not concede that the probability is reasonable as presented so ti does not show that a belief in Christianity is rational, you must: (1) Show that all items of one category have a probability of zero; or (2) Show that the succession of categories is invalid (i.e., the series of premises is flawed).

I object to your entire method. Five bad arguments do not make one good one, and neither do 50 of them. You know this to be true with regard to everything else (flat earth theory, Holocaust denial theories, etc.). Why do you think logic should work any different when applied to theism?

Curtis: When you compare the list I have given you, there will be no such logical errors (e.g., the ontological argument). There may be differing strengths of each point of evidence. Some of the evidential point has withstood 1,000 years of scrutiny which cannot be said about Carpenter’s work. The list I provided has been developed and examined by many well educated minds of the last several hundred years; not so for Carpenter. So, it is not only quantity that is relevant but quality of line of evidence. For these reasons, I do not believe the analogy is valid.

My analogy is valid. My analogy does not seek to show that theism is improbable like flat-earth theory is improbable. It only seeks to show that 50 bad arguments do not “sum up” to one good argument. You responded not by defending this method (because you can’t), but by saying that theism’s arguments are better than Carpenters. I agree, but that is not the point. If theism’s arguments, though developed by smarter mind’s than Carpenter’s, are in the end deeply flawed, then 50 of them do not equal one good one. If, however, some of theism’s arguments are sound, and their strength outweighs the strength of arguments for atheism, then theism does indeed succeed. Not because there are lots of arguments which might be good or bad, but because there are a few good arguments (the bad ones are irrelevant). So the argument must focus on whether or not there are good arguments for theism, not on how many arguments have been proposed for theism.

So my analogy stands. And, a major purpose of this blog is to examine the arguments for theism and see if there are any sound ones among them.

Curtis: Interesting. Atheists, in the past, have asserted that the Universe was eternal so there was no need for God. Have you not read this?

I think I’ve read this but I do not agree with it. I feel no loyalty at all to popular atheist logic if it is simply wrong.

Curtis: You again say there is “tons of evidence” [for evolution] which makes me wonder if you reading list is balanced or current.

Curtis. Dude. Seriously. Please read up on the evidence for evolution. It is overwhelming, and FAR better than the evidence for the existence of the Roman Empire. The argument over evolution is over. You’re going to embarrass yourself if you pretend evolution doesn’t, and hasn’t, happened.

Curtis: Actually, you are being unclear because I am looking for the argument

Okay, well, watch for my upcoming post on Yahweh, Zeus, fairies, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Curtis: Note that this is a caricature that people tend to portray about Christianity that is false.

No. Arguments from ignorance are made by some of the foremost Christian philosophers, as well as almost every Christian I have ever met. They are pervasive. And in fact, you made one, which is why I responded to it by showing how silly arguments from ignorance are, precisely because they can be used as “evidence” for anything, including Zeus and fairies. You showed that atheists can’t explain the origins of the universe, and said that therefore God is a good explanation, because it is better than no explanation at all. This is precisely an argument from ignorance; a paradigm case of it.

Curtis: BTW, a similar claim can be made against Atheism: there are atheists who don’t know why they believe Atheism is true.

Oh, I certainly assert that.

Curtis: There is positive philosophical evidence for the claim God exists: teleological, ontological, cosmological (several instances), and moral are the more well known arguments;

I disagree, and it is a major purpose of this blog to show why these arguments fail. And I am tackling them at the highest possible level, for example I’m going to be examining all of the arguments as they appear in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. (But you’ll have to be patient; it’ll take a long time!)

Curtis: I think the lines of evidence above, for the Christian worldview, is enough to point out that Christianity does have strong explanatory power so the claim of ignorance is invalid.

But none of the arguments you gave are evidence for Christianity! At most, they are evidence for deism!

And I simply disagree that these arguments provide strong or plausible explanations for natural phenomena. My upcoming interview with Gregory Dawes will start to explain why, but I will talk much more about this in the future.

Curtis: I have shown… that Christianity has a model that explains some aspects of reality (the lines of evidence);

No. “Goddidit” explains reality very, very poorly.

Curtis: show that a belief in this model is reasonable (using probability, Bayesianism)

I didn’t see Bayesian reasoning in any of this. What I saw was “50 arguments, even if they’re all bad, somehow add up to a strong case.”

Curtis: We usually go for the hypothesis that is the best explanation. For the question, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” we find that Christianity does provide an explanation for this question, as well as other things.

How? How is Christianity the “best explanation” for the existence of something rather than nothing? What criteria for a best explanation are you proposing, and how does Christianity fit that better than alternatives? And why do you think there is anything to be explained in the first place? As I keep saying, we have tons of evidence for “somethingness” but NO evidence for “nothingness”, so what reason do we have to say that somethingness is what must be explained?

You say that it’s unreasonable to expect evidence of something that cannot be experienced. Well, fine, but then we have no evidence of it! It’s a very common Christian trick to define what they believe exists as increasingly undetectable, and then shift the burden of proof on us. It’s like saying that the lack of evidence for invisible unicorns isn’t a problem because they’re invisible and we wouldn’t expect to have evidence of it. Well no we wouldn’t, but then you realize we have no evidence for it! So why would you believe it? We have no evidence for millions of proposed invisible and undetectable things.

Curtis: Hopefully by now, I’ve been able to articulate a logical, philosophical defense of Christianity. So why would an analogy of a “crazed lunatic” even be raised?

I’m not comparing you whole cloth to a crazed lunatic. I made a very specific comparison, one you keep missing. At this point I must assume you are willfully ignoring my analogies because you don’t like them, but I could be wrong. I will try to be clearer in my promised upcoming post on the topic.

Curtis: We are not addressing any question a lunatic raises, but a question that you’ve admitted is valid so this analogy doesn’t hold (unless you are willing to accept that both you and I are lunatics).

The lunatic asks many questions that are logically valid, too, but they are no less plausible or compelling for it.

Curtis: I think I can agree with some of this. For example, if I see a dead body and a knife, I can’t accuse anyone of being the murderer because they don’t have an alibi for the time of the murder. However, we do need positive evidence to choose something. Using the same analogy, if I find someone with blood on their hands and the DNA matches the victim, I can choose that person as the murderer or at least an accomplice. Without this positive evidence, the choice cannot be made.

No. In your analogy – the court of law – if there’s no evidence that somebody is guilty then we do decide that, as far as we can tell, they are not guilty.

If there are no good reasons to believe in something, then, well, there are no good reasons to believe it. I don’t need positive reasons pushing the other way (although, as it turns out, I have them in this case). So I ask again, “do you have positive evidence or arguments for the non-existence of Vahiguru?”

Curtis: If you say, “I selected Atheism because all other belief systems have no evidence” then shouldn’t this just be a stalemate if there is no positive evidence for any belief system.

No. Atheism is not a positive position. It just means NON belief in certain things that (we think) have no evidence going for them. I suspect you don’t believe in any astrological systems. You are an a-astrologist. Is this a stalemate? Does the lack of evidence for your negative position make a-astrology only just as plausible as all the astrological theories out there?

Curtis: isn’t something else needed to move you to Atheism, some sort of positive evidence?

No, in the same way that you need no positive evidence for a-astrology in order to be “moved” to a-astrology.

Are we clear on this part yet?

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unkleE May 14, 2009 at 3:04 pm

lukeprog: Really? Historians don’t think the church has opposed science throughout the ages?

Luke, I read your comments on my dogmas & myths with interest, and I know you don’t say many of those things, but I assure you I’ve come across all of them several if not many times on internet forums (yes I know, not always the most erudite of sources). I’m not going to respond to anything, because I wrote it for fun and to answer your invitation, except I will answer this.

I follow a blog written by two historians, one who has completed a PhD and written a book on the medieval history of science and religion. Both are christians, though one was an agnostic until recently. There is a forum associate with the blog, and there they are joined by another historian who is an atheist. All three agree, as I understand it, that the consensus of expert historians is that many of the popular stories about the conflict between science and religion are myths or inaccuracies, many of them traceable to a couple of books written a century or two ago, which used (at best) shoddy historical scholarship, and (as far as can be seen) often based on no sources at all (i.e. invented).

They say that the church was more a supporter of science than an opponent, though there were cases of persecution of scientists, and that many of the apparent conflicts either never occurred, or occurred for other reasons. I think it is only with Darwin that the conflict becomes greater, and even then there are some myths (some eminent evolutionary researchers have been christians and many christians embraced darwinism from the beginning), and the main conflict has been with US Protestantism. I could dig out references if you want them.

lukeprog: But I want to write a whole post on this so gimme a little time and I’ll try to make myself clear.

I will forego any further discussion on the more substantial matters in your other post – this four-way discussion is getting too complicated. I am surprised that you are unable to answer several simple questions, but I guess I will just have to wait. But perhaps you may be able to answer the question I will pose Lorcas in what will be my next, and possibly final, post to him (I am assuming gender here). Best wishes.

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unkleE May 14, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Lorkas: You clearly don’t understand the honest extent to which the arguments we were discussing (ontological, cosmological). They get as far as a first cause–no farther. That first cause could be FSM, Allah, or Yahweh. To claim otherwise is to make ridiculous leaps in argument.

Lorcas, I’m truly sorry you feel frustrated. I feel the same. Accordingly I will forego discussion on most of these matters, but I really want to try to reach resolution on this one matter.

1. The question under discussion is, if the cosmological argument succeeds at all, what beings does it point to.

2. You describe the being as “first cause”. Others say “prime mover” or “creator”. i.e. the being was willing and able to cause the space-time universe as we see it.

3. If follows logically that such a being must have certain characteristics to enable it to be the first cause. At the very least it must (a) have existed before the universe and outside it, so that it could cause it, and (b) to have the power to be able to cause it. Any being which meets these requirements is a possible first cause; any being which doesn’t meet these requirements cannot be a possible first cause.

4. Several postulated gods meet these requirements – the christian god, Allah, etc. But many postulated or real beings do not – not you nor I, not bacteria, not dogs. And most importantly, the FSM does not meet any of the above requirements, and fairies, Zeus and most other “gods” fail some of them. Depending on definition, Mrignoc may pass them all (though Daniel Dennett has, I understand, suggested a clever means of refuting that whole computer simulation, brain in a vat idea); if so, then he can stay on the list for now.

Therefore my simple question to you (and Luke too):

Are you saying that the FSM has those characteristics and therefore could be the first cause or prime mover?

Thank you.

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Lorkas May 14, 2009 at 5:00 pm

As postulated, the FSM does have those characteristics, unkleE. We can also assert other beings to have those characteristics, like the primordial chaos of Greek mythology (Zeus was not, as I mentioned earlier, a creator god, but the the gods were born out of chaos, and interestingly, one of the first immortals, Kronos, had dominion over time), or, of course, Mrignoc.

Remember that there is just as much empirical evidence that Mrignoc and the FSM are uncaused and eternal that there is for Yahweh being uncaused and eternal (none at all).

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lukeprog May 14, 2009 at 5:39 pm

unkleE,

I will certainly agree that the conflict has been greatly exaggerated. But it is very easy to name examples where religion has opposed scientific advance: Astronomy (Kepler, etc.), Biology (Darwin, etc.), Neuroscience (the demise of free will myths, the demise of the soul, the demise of dualism, etc.), and on and on. Basically, if science contradicts an entrenched doctrine, there will be some resistance, at least for a while.

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unkleE May 15, 2009 at 4:02 am

Lorkas: As postulated, the FSM does have those characteristics, unkleE.

Well now I’ve heard everything! A monster made of pasta existed before matter existed.

In fact your FSM has exactly the same characteristics as God, only the name is different. Which indicates that a God by any other name would create a universe just as well (with apologies to the bard). So we are left with the Cosmo argument  (if successful) doing what it always did all along.

Thanks for answering. I think this is an appropriate time to conclude this discussion. As you said, we can truly allow “others to read the arguments for themselves”. Including this wonderful conclusion.  Best wishes.

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unkleE May 15, 2009 at 4:03 am

lukeprog: I will certainly agree that the conflict has been greatly exaggerated.

Yep, and that was what I was saying.

Can I take it that your answer to my question is the same as Lorca’s?

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Lorkas May 15, 2009 at 5:35 am

The FSM merely has the form of pasta, unkleE–he is not literally made of pasta. </snark>

I’m glad you finally agree, though, that the cosmological argument works just as well for the FSM as for Yahweh, but they are not identical, as you assert. For one thing, the give different commands to their followers. There is a big difference between the ten commandments and the eight I’d-really-rather-you-didn’ts.

The thing that distinguishes the nebulous Yahweh hypothesis from the Allah hypothesis or the FSM hypothesis is not the basic characteristics of the deity (self-existent, willing to create, capable of creating)–it is the arbitrary rules that we are told we must follow (since the deity told us to). In other words, it makes a big fucking difference whether Yahweh, Allah, or the FSM is the real creator, and none of the arguments we’re discussing distinguish between them.

Those arguments go only as far as a deistic God (which is what I was saying all along), and don’t say anything about whether that God even knows that we exist, much less wants us to worship him in some particular way or treat our genitalia to some particular form of mutilation.

So: the philosophical arguments equally support Yahweh, FSM, Allah, Greek primordial chaos, and any other conceivable entity with the capacity and will to create, and there is no empirical evidence that distinguishes between them either. I guess that means that comparing belief in Yahweh to belief in FSM is valid.

I agree with you on your final point–you showing yourself to be a pompous ass who doesn’t even understand the implications of what he is saying is an appropriate ending to this conversation.

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lukeprog May 15, 2009 at 6:07 am

unkleE: Can I take it that your answer to my question is the same as Lorca’s?

Which question, specifically?

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unkleE May 15, 2009 at 8:09 pm

lukeprog: Which question, specifically?

Luke, in the words of “Gibbo” in an obscure piece of Aussie comedy: “Never mind!” I think it is best I retire at this point. Best wishes and farewell!

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Curtis May 20, 2009 at 6:46 pm

Now, let’s get back to discussing P1. The steps are: (1) show the question makes sense; (2) show that Christianity has a model that explains some aspects of reality; and (3) show that a belief in this model is reasonable.
STEP 1: Show that the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is a valid question. I believe you have conceded this.
STEP 2: Show that it is reasonable to believe in the Christian Gospel, not just the existence of God as I originally mentioned. The claim here is that “The Christian lines of support below give credence to believing the Christian Gospel within the context of a Christian worldview.”
I think you would agree that a belief is irrational if there is no evidence for this belief. Then, we need to show that there is some support (i.e., evidence and interpretation) for the belief in the Christian model. So, the form of the argument is:
Pa: The Christian Gospel centers on the concept that Jesus Christ was the Jewish messiah, within the context of a Christian worldview
Pb: God is possible (i.e., not a priori impossible)
Pc: There is some support to believe a Deistic God exists
Pd: There is some support to believe a Christian God exists
Pe: There is some support to believe that Christ was the Jewish messiah
Pf: There is some support to believe the Christian Gospel
Conclusion: It is appropriate to believe the Christian Gospel because there is support for the Christian Gospel.
What this argument is saying is that “some evidence” is needed for the Christian model if the Christian belief is rational: If this conclusion can be reached then the Christian model does explain the question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” and the point goes to the Christian, since the Atheist has not yet put forward an alternative.
This approach uses what is generally called “inference to the best explanation” and we are looking for an explanation that best explains reality, which includes the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
What needs to be shown here is that Orthodox Christianity includes a description of reality (let’s call it a model) that needs to: (i) be internally consistent with itself; (2) has predictive power so that it will allow us to expect certain things to occur that do indeed occur; (3) it does not needlessly multiply explanations without need; (4) it fits our background knowledge (but this does not need to be complete fit) adequately; (5) it has explanatory power to explain things better than a rival theory. Please note that these same criteria are used in the defense of most scientific theories and I can’t think of a counter example in Science either.
Now here is the key point: the model is developed within a worldview and it cannot be considered invalid if a different worldview is applied. It is not claimed that the model is consistent with all worldviews but that the model is consistent for the worldview of the Christian. What is being claimed is weaker (consistent and coherent in a Christian worldview) than the stronger claim of “soundness with all worldviews” or “even most worldviews.” That is, the model needs to be compatible and consistent with the Christian worldview; it does not have to be compatible with the Atheist worldview. Said another way, the Christian model does not need to be compatible with Atheistic assumptions because the primary need is to show that the Christian model is consistent and coherent with its basic assumptions (i.e., its worldview). For example, the Christian worldview believes that miracles are a possibility but a Naturalistic Atheist would deny the possibility of a miracle on the basis of their worldview; the Christian worldview says that it is possible that God exists but the Naturalistic Atheist would say that “God does not exist.” It would not be that the Naturalistic Atheist can a priori know that miracles are impossible or that God is impossible; the Naturalistic Atheist declares he believes miracles and God are impossible because that is what his assumption are.
The reason I bring this up is that you said “You seem to think that a sheer NUMBER of reasons given somehow implies that at least a few of them must be good, therefore God’s existence is probable.” This is not what the claim is. The claim is that the 35 reasons given, which move from general observations to more detailed observations, provide support for the Christian model within the Christian worldview (i.e., the model is coherent and consistent). The claim is not that the 35 reasons provide support for the Christian model within the Atheistic worldview which, I think, is what you are thinking. The difference here is how one interprets a fact given the worldview assumptions: from a naturalistic atheistic perspective, I’m sure that some of these lines of evidence seem dubious but that would be judging with the wrong set of rules.
Now, I claim that the Christian model; does not needlessly multiply explanations since what is claimed is the minimal set; it fits our background knowledge, within the Christian worldview, because each item addresses a facet of reality; lastly, it has great explanatory power because it explains “Why there is something rather than nothing?”
I reiterate the lines of support below. Luke, for you to defeat this step 2, you cannot claim that the lines of support are invalid from an atheistic perspective without any evidence except your worldview; you need to show that the lines of support are invalid with respect to the Christian worldview. I doubt very much that you will be able to do this.
The model that I choose to use is “Over 35 Reasons Why Christianity Makes Sense” where the presentation can be reached at http://www.sincereanswer.com/eternity/files/doc/Over20Evidences.ppt. If you want to see the web video you can look here (it’s only an hour) http://www.sincereanswer.com/eternity/files/doc/media/TotalOver35ReasonsWhyChristianityMakesSense-090108.SWF.html.
It lists 36 lines of support for four premises for the model.  They are:
1. God is possible
– It is impossible to disprove His non-existence
– A logical proof of His existence
– Different levels of being
– The real existence of abstract things
– Post-death experiences (no slide)
– The mind is separate from the body
– Argument from truth
– The existence of non-physical pain (no slide)
2. Any theistic God explains
– The existence of the Universe
– Why the Universe is rational
– The apparent design of the Universe
– Confidence in the mind / reality Connection
– Anthropic inequality
– The existence and perception of beauty
3. The Christian God explains
– The desire for God
– Our sense of freedom
– Forward moral law
– Reverse moral law
– Existence of evil
– The weak possibility of Science
– The strong possibility of Science
– Over design of man
– Information content of the universe
– Our need for love (no slide)
– Our hidden fear of death (no slide)
4. Jesus the Messiah explains
– Life, death, and resurrection of Jesus
– Existence of Christianity
– Religious experience
– Supernatural revelation
– Miracles
– Answered prayer
– Nation of Israel
– The experience of Jesus’ claims
– Scriptural prophecy
– Man’s depravity and need for a savior
– It works
Now, if you try to apply the Carpenter’s “100 Reasons Why the Earth is not a Globe”, the burden is on you to show how that analogy applies and how it doesn’t apply. Just stating it applies because of common sense is not a logical argument but your opinion. Just stating a story is not enough – you need to show the connections between your story and the argument above.
Now this line of reasoning is not absurd but follows the rules of logic: I have asserted a claim and I have defended it. You cannot just say this claim is illogical because of common sense because your common sense is bringing in a whole lot of hidden assumptions. You need to state where this argument is wrong which requires you to state your hidden assumptions. I suspect these hidden assumptions are within your Atheistic worldview and we need to tease them out.
 

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lukeprog May 20, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Curtis: The claim is that the 35 reasons given, which move from general observations to more detailed observations, provide support for the Christian model within the Christian worldview (i.e., the model is coherent and consistent). The claim is not that the 35 reasons provide support for the Christian model within the Atheistic worldview which, I think, is what you are thinking

No, definitely not what I was thinking. I make no a priori assumptions against the existence of magic or gods or anything. What I’m saying is that your 35 reasons are all bad reasons, even without making any assumptions about the existence of the supernatural or whatever.

I generally agree with your ‘inference to the best explanation’ approach, but I do not agree that the God hypothesis is a very good explanation for what we see in the universe.

Perhaps we could focus on one of your 35 items. Which ones would you like to present as evidence for God? Please pick one and make your case and I will tell you why I do not think it provides any good evidence for the existence of God.

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Curtis May 21, 2009 at 2:09 am

Luke, good to hear that you say you are open.  You made the claim that “What I’m saying is that your 35 reasons are all bad reasons, even without making any assumptions about the existence of the supernatural or whatever.”  Just to be clear, it is not that these are bad reasons (i.e., unpersuasive, not consistent with a non-Christian worldview) but that these are logically incoherent reasons so they are logically invalid.  You need to be mindful of the strength of the claim.

We will start digging into these reasons but I first want to finish the conversation about P1 and P2.  I’m not backing down, I just want to finish what we started. 

More to come on step 3. 

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Curtis May 25, 2009 at 6:26 am

Here is the last post with formatting. 

STEP 3:  The claim of the last step is that it is reasonable
to believe in the model.

STRATEGY
Let me make the strategy clear because there seems to be
some confusion.  What needs to be done is to show that,
within the Christian context, utilizing the 35 lines of
support given, that there is some justification for belief.
There are arguments which can be assessed true or false but
there are also arguments that are grey.  Some arguments
appear to be finished but come roaring back.  Other
arguments are not clear cut and a probability may be
assessed as to their truthfulness, based on what evidence
can be mustered.  So, the way this is approached is to
estimate the probability that there is a line of support for
each premise Pb, Pc, Pd, Pe.
There are two phases here.  The first phase is to estimate
the probability of a single line of support.  The second
phase is to estimate the probability, using all of the lines
of support, such that there is a supporting item for each
premise.  This is a sound way to show that the claim of step
3 is valid because it follows from probability theory.  If
you do not agree then you need to explain what is being
violated around probability theory.

PHASE 1
For the first phase, I picked a low probability of a
supporting item being true, to be conservative.  So, what I
meant by “That 90% figure means that in similar situations,
9 out of 10 times, the argument is valid.” is that when a
large sample of these style of arguments is examined, all
with similar evidence, then historically  9 out of 10 stand
up to scrutiny.  Similarly for 10%:  1 out of 10 arguments
will stand up to scrutiny based on prior experience.
Remember, this is also within the Christian frame of
reference since it is the Christian that must show it is a
reasonable belief.  Although you may not find some of these
lines of support persuasive, or some may be invalidated by
assumptions of your worldview, that is not what is being
discussed.  What is being discussed is that the lines of
support, within the Christian frame of reference, provide at
least one line of support for each premise. To nullify this
approach, you need to show that all of the lines of support
for a single premise are false or they are self-
contradictory.  I would suggest that you go back and reread
that list because several of them are undecideable and would
fall into the probability model, while some of them have
strong evidential support.  Again, I think the arguments are
much stronger but I chose 10% as a low figure.
It should also be mentioned that the lines of support grow
as the investigation into humanness (internal reality), the
Universe (external reality), and their intersection are
investigated.  The rate of growth is about one new line of
support per month.  This strengthens the Christian model.

PHASE 2
I am not going to spend much time on Phase 2 because it is a
straightforward application of probability theory.  I must
admit that I did take some short cuts but that would not
invalidate the result.  To quote myself:  “With a
probability that each supposition is true of 10% (which is a
very low, conservative estimate) and requiring that at least
4 of the suppositions are true, the resulting probability is
49%.  If you increase that probability per supposition to
11%, then the probability is 57%.  Notice that as each
supposition marginally increases by 1%, the overall
probability for the model being true increases
significantly.
So, with a low probability estimate of 10% for the
truthfulness of each supposition, the overall probability of
the model being true is 49%.  Clearly, the Christian has
significant warrant for believing the model to be true.
That concludes the argument.”
This result makes sense intuitively, because a 10%
probability of being valid means that 1 out of 10 lines of
support will be valid.  Since there is more than 5 lines of
support for each premise, then the probability that each
premise is true will be > 50%.

IS ANYTHING PROBABLE
It is not true that you can make anything probable in this
fashion.  What we are doing is very similar to the way that
court cases are made based on circumstantial evidence:  one
item added to another item, added to a set of items,
provides a basis for a belief.  Now it is simply not true
that each DA can establish a case by adding more items to
their case.  The reason for this is that each line of
support needs:
(i)  to be independent
(ii) relevant
(iii)     no double counting
(iv) have some correspondence to reality (i.e., not made up)
(v)  be consistent with the other lines of support (i.e.,
not self-contradictory)
Lines of support which are shown to be false are removed.
This is simply following probability theory, as well as the
terms for the model which were discussed in the last post.
It should also be pointed out that we are applying
“inference to the best explanation” so that is it not just
this explanation that is selected but it would be the best
explanation.  For example, in a court case, there may be
several explanations that the legal defense may suggest and
it is up to the judge to pick the best explanation.  That is
what is being done here, except that Atheism has no
competing explanation so the Christian one only needs to be
examined.

COMPARING WITH ZEUS
So, could this approach be applied to Zeus, assuming Zeus is
not another name for the Christian God?  Well, we need to
muster up some circumstantial evidence.  The fact that we
can’t see God or Zeus is not evidence for or against either
because there are things we cannot see that we believe exist
(e.g., magnetic fields).  What lines of support are there
for Zeus perhaps, that are similar to the Gospel model:
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeus, we find:
1.   In Greek mythology, Zeus is the king of the gods, the
ruler of Mount Olympus and the god of the sky and thunder.
2.   Zeus was the child of Cronus and Rhea.  Greeks were
unanimous in recognizing the birthplace of Zeus as Crete.
3.   To the Greeks and Romans, the god of the sky was also
the supreme god
4.   Zeus Olympios emphasized Zeus’s kingship over both the
gods in addition to his specific presence at the Panhellenic
festival at Olympia.
5.   As Zeus Xenios, Zeus was the patron of hospitality and
guests, ready to avenge any wrong done to a stranger.
6.   As Zeus Horkios, he was the keeper of oaths. Exposed
liars were made to dedicate a statue to Zeus, often at the
sanctuary of Olympia.
7.   As Zeus Agoraeus, Zeus watched over business at the
agora and punished dishonest traders.
8.   As Zeus Aegiduchos or Aegiochos he was the bearer of
the Aegis with which he strikes terror into the impious and
his enemies.
9.   Zeus was raised by one, or more of the following: Gaia,
a goat named Amalthea, a nymph named Adamanthea, a nymph
named Cynosura, Melissa, or a shepherd family.
10.  Zeus grew from a baby to a man.
Looking through the lines of support for the Christian
model, I only see two common points: (i) It is impossible to
disprove His non-existence and (ii) Different levels of
being,  What we find is that Zeus is finite, is material,
changes (grows up), is not eternally existent, does not
bring the Universe into existence from nothing, is not
moral, etc. which disqualifies all the other lines of
support from applying to Zeus.
Are there other lines of support available to Zeus in the
Zeus frame of reference?  Thunder and lightning would be one
possibility but this is disqualified since there is a
strictly natural explanation.  I can’t think of any other
lines of support.  Can you?
To summarize,
ú    The Zeus model has 2 lines of support which only exist
at the Pb level;
ú    The Christian model has 35 lines of support for Pb, Pc,
Pd, and Pe.
Clearly the Christian model is the best explanation because
it explains more.  To show that this conclusion is false,
you need to increase the lines of support for Zeus model
and/or decrease the lines of support for the Christian
model.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS
Consideration 1) Luke said:  “No. Fifty bad reasons do not
equal one good reason. This is true of flat-earth theories,
and it is true for theism.”  This analogy is wrong.  How
many lines of support does a  flat earth theory have?  I can
think of only one and that is when viewing the distance, the
Earth looks flat.  Now this has been discredited based on
our observations.
I would also like to address that the “flat earth” theory is
merely a propaganda piece.  You may want to look at
http://www.christiananswers.net/q-aig/aig-c034.html.  Let me
quote:
“The idea that the earth is flat is a modern concoction
that reached its peak only after Darwinists tried to
discredit the Bible, an American history professor
says.
Jeffrey Burton Russell is a professor of history at the
University of California in Santa Barbara. He says in
his book Inventing the Flat Earth (written for the
500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s journey to
America in 1492) that through antiquity and up to the
time of Columbus, “nearly unanimous scholarly opinion
pronounced the earth spherical.”
Please don’t use this piece of propaganda because I could
just as well make up similar ridiculous distortions against
Atheism.

Consideration 2) Luke said:  “I object to your entire
method. Five bad arguments do not make one good one, and
neither do 50 of them. You know this to be true with regard
to everything else (flat earth theory, Holocaust denial
theories, etc.). Why do you think logic should work any
different when applied to theism?”
I do agree that five bad arguments do not make one good one
but that is not the approach here.  What is being done is
called “accumulation of evidence,” similar to what is done
in a court of law, and using the “inference to the best
explanation” as the choice method.  This is similar to what
Science does when it is dealing with things that it cannot
physically manipulate (e.g., black holes, dark matter,
electrical fields, muons, etc.).  An analogy is that of a
rope:  10 strands by themselves will not support a heavy
weight except if they are woven together into a rope.
Now it is not clear to me what you mean by a “bad argument”
or “good argument”.  I believe a bad argument is:  either
plainly false, self-refuting, does not correspond to
reality, is irrelevant, etc.  We’ve gone over these things.
A “bad argument” is not one that:  you do not agree with or
find compelling, others do not agree with or find
compelling.  You are entitled to your opinion but that is
not what is being discussed since we are looking to logic to
help us out.  Also, a “bad argument” is not one that is
undecideable (it cannot be determined if it is true or not)
since a probability can be estimated for its truth.
I’ve also given you two examples (Zues and flat earth) about
how this approach can be applied and it arrived at the
correct conclusion.  This is why I think the approach should
work – because it does work.

Consideration 3) Luke says:  “So the argument must focus on
whether or not there are good arguments for theism, not on
how many arguments have been proposed for theism.”
Yes, you are correct here.  But I wasn’t clear enough about
the good argument.  The steps are: (1) show the question
makes sense; (2) show that Christianity has a model that
explains some aspects of reality; and (3) show that a belief
in this model is reasonable.
Here is the argument in entirety:

STEP 1: Show that the question “Why is there something
rather than nothing?” is a valid question.
1a The question makes sense because we understand
what it asking and are discussing it.
1b There is an inductive proof that can be
followed to show that nothingness is a valid
concept.
P1.  A world of at least 4 dimensions exists.
P2.  A world of 4 dimensions includes a world
of 3 dimensions simply by excluding 1
dimension.
P3.  A world of 3 dimensions includes a world
of 2 dimensions simply by excluding 1
dimension.
P4.  A world of 2 dimensions includes a world
of 1 dimensions simply by excluding 1
dimension.
P5.  A world of 1 dimensions includes a world
of 0 dimensions simply by excluding 1
dimension.
P6.  A world of 0 dimensions is nothingness.
P7.  Therefore it is possible that a world of 0
dimensions, a world of nothingness exists.
If you agree with steps P1 to P4 but disagree
with step P5, a logical reason for denying P5
needs to be given.
1c.  Scientists talk about nothingness and have
theories that include it.  If scientists can
include the concept of nothingness in theories
then it is understandable.
1d.  The request to empirically show that
nothingness can exist is invalid because it is
requesting that something (us) discover the
presence of nothingness. This is self-refuting and
is an invalid request.

STEP 2: Show that it is reasonable to believe in the
Christian Gospel, not just the existence of God as I
originally mentioned. The claim here is that “The
Christian lines of support below give credence to
believing the Christian Gospel within the context of a
Christian worldview.”
2a: The Christian Gospel centers on the concept
that Jesus Christ was the Jewish messiah, within
the context of a Christian worldview
2b: God is possible (i.e., not a priori
impossible) [8 lines of support]
2c: There is some support to believe a Deistic God
exists [6 lines of support]
2d: There is some support to believe a Christian
God exists [11 lines of support]
2e: There is some support to believe that Christ
was the Jewish messiah [11 lines of support]
2f: There is some support to believe the Christian
Gospel

STEP 3:  The claim of the last step is that it is
reasonable to believe in the model.
3a:  The probability of a line of support for
Premises 2b-2e being sound is very conservatively
estimated at 10%
3b.  The probability of all the Premises being
having at least one valid line of support is 49%.
3c.  If the probability of a line of support being
sound is 11% then the probability rises to 57%
3d.  More lines of support are being added at a
rate of one per month
3e.  Existing lines of support are being found to
be invalid at a rate less than one per month.
3f.  The accumulation of evidence will continue to
outweigh the rejection of evidence (from 3d and
3e).
3g.  The Christian has strong warrant to believe
the Christian model is correct.

Consideration 4) Luke said “You [Curtis] think that the
Christian offering an explanation for something the atheist
cannot explain somehow wins a point for the Christian. I
strongly disagree. The crazed lunatic can offer a hair-
brained explanation for many things that the atheist
scientist cannot explain. but that alone doesn’t win the
crazed lunatic any points. No, both the Christian and the
crazed lunatic have to offer good reasons to think their
explanation is plausible before the atheist scientist needs
to give their explanation any credence.”
I address why this question is important below, in the
“FINAL SUMMARY”.
If you have followed the strategies above and looked at the
presented data, the explanation that is being offered is
logical, consistent, sound, and corresponds with reality.
It does offer good reasons for the Christian answer to P1.
If you don’t think so then you need to provide a logical
counter-argument to show were the logic is wrong.  Your
opinion is not a counter argument.  Your feeling that I’m
doing some slight-of-hand is not a counter argument.
To address your point directly, it commits the genetic
fallacy.  Even a crazed lunatic could produce a valid
argument and it is the argument that needs to be addressed.
The crazed lunatic could agree with the Atheist but would
that invalidate the Atheist’s position.
I do want to address your comment abut the “atheist
scientist”.  First, I myself am a scientist and have all the
credentials every good scientist should have; I am also a
Christian.  Does that invalidate what I’ve said?  The
“atheist scientist” vs. “theistic scientist” is irrelevant.
Secondly, this seems to suggest that you will only accept
arguments from an “atheist scientist” but I don’t think you
mean that.  Third, an “atheist scientist” could be even more
biased than a “Christian scientist” since the Christian is
always supposed to tell the truth.  Fourth, scientists are
notoriously bad at logical arguments; personal experience
and the history of science are replete with this.  Fifth,
the scientific method is good but it can only apply to
things that are material and many of the questions that are
addressed by the lines of support are not physical in
nature.  So, the scientific method is not appropriate for
use in this arena – this doesn’t make the discussion bad it
just means that the right tools need to be applied.  To
summarize, this point is a logical fallacy and the notion
that Science leads to meta-physical truth is unjustified.

FINAL SUMMARY OF P1
An argument has been presented in support of a Christian
model which answers P1.  Atheism has produced no such
argument in support of Atheism.  All current objections have
been addressed and the approach appears to be logically
sound.
From this we can determine:
1)   Christianity explains more than Atheism since it
addresses a question that Atheism has no answer for:  “Why
is there something rather than nothing?”
2)   There is positive evidence for a warranted belief in
the Christian model.  Thirty-five lines of support have been
presented, although not in depth.
3)   The Atheist claim that a belief in Christianity is
unwarranted because it has no lines of support is wrong.
This is not to say that the Atheist cannot disagree but that
disagreement is not because Christianity is illogical.
There must be another reason for disagreeing that Christian
belief is warranted, such as:  personal preference (e.g.,
don’t want to follow Christian morality), emotional reasons
(e.g., people claiming to be Christian’s hurt me), etc.
4)   The Atheist claim that Christianity is similar to
Zues’ism is logically invalid but it is good propaganda for
those who don’t think on such things.
5)   The Atheist claim that Christianity is similar to flat-
earthism is logically invalid and it is old Naturalistic
Evolution propaganda.
6)   Christianity is a better model of reality than Atheism
because it explains more.  Atheism may say this is not true
but Atheism would have to provide a better explanation for
the question P1

I will address your point about positive evidence not being
needed for P2 next.

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lukeprog May 25, 2009 at 7:58 am

Curtis,

Your post is so long that I disagreed with about 50 different things in it, and it would take me hours to respond to all of them. I don’t know if this is going to work. Would you like to pick just a few of your statements above and ask if I disagree with them, and why?

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Lorkas May 25, 2009 at 10:34 am

Curtis: First, I myself am a scientist

What’s your field?

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Lorkas May 25, 2009 at 10:45 am

Curtis: I would also like to address that the “flat earth” theory is merely a propaganda piece.

The only problem with this hypothesis is that we have flat-earth maps from long before Darwin. It’s true that a lot of people have misconceptions about the history of flat-earth/round-earth hypotheses (especially regarding the Columbus story), but it’s absurd to assert that the flat earth theory is “merely a propaganda piece” invented by zealous naturalists after the time of Darwin.

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Curtis May 25, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Lorkas, you are right it is absurd to say that people didn’t believe in a flat earth.  What I am referring to is the assertion that Christianity is equivalent to a belief in flat earth.

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Lorkas May 25, 2009 at 7:06 pm

I guess I assumed you agreed with the website you referenced. Oh, well.

I’d still be interested to hear what you’re researching. I finished a bachelor’s in Biology last spring, and I’m considering going into research, but I’m still unsure about how I want to live my life (as is my prerogative as a 23-year-old) ;)

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Lorkas May 27, 2009 at 4:05 pm

I guess Curtis doesn’t have time for a mere fledgling scientist :(

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Curtis May 29, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Hi Lorkas.  I did my Ph.D. in “Systems and Computer Engineering” and wound up touching on four different research areas, and a lot of math.

I currently work at a real job earning enough money to feed my family, as opposed to research where you get paid very little.  My hobbies are my research.  I am interested in many areas.  My current philisophical interest is arguments for and against miracles.  My current scientific interest is genetics and information theory.

More to come on pre-P2

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Lorkas May 29, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Ah, an engineer. :)

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Lorkas May 29, 2009 at 3:48 pm

I now have to go jump off a building for ending three posts in a row with emoticons…

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Curtis May 29, 2009 at 7:15 pm

For those who may have forgotten, P2 is “P2) If theism had never existed, what is the positive evidence for a belief that Atheism is true? If I were a native in a jungle, what positive evidence could you muster that Atheism is worthy of belief?”
But there is a discussion that needs to be before tackling this question and it revolves around the question “Is P2 sensible or reasonable?” The claim that is being defended here is: “CLAIM: P2 is a sensible or reasonable question.”
First, let’s define:
(1) ‘positive evidence’ as being facts grounded in reality that support an assertion, whereas
(2) ‘negative evidence’ are facts, grounded in reality, that are the contradictory of an assertion
I think this is clear.
So, I think there are three questions to explaining why P2 is sensible:
(Q1) Is positive evidence needed to believe in Atheism?
(Q2) Is it sufficient to have negative evidence against all religions to have faith in Atheism?.
(Q3) Is Atheism the default position if all religions have negative evidence?
I will not use a generalization of a all religions but just argue for Christianity.
Here are three quotes from our previous discussion that, I think, reflect aspects of the questions Q1-Q3.
Luke1) “Finally, in the lead-up to P2, I’d like to know… do you have positive evidence or arguments for the non-existence of Vahiguru? For the non-existence of “quantum vibrations” ala The Secret? For the non-existence of unicorns? And do you feel justified in disbelieving in Vahiguru, quantum vibrations, and unicorns?”
Luke2) “All I’m saying here is that we don’t need positive arguments to disbelieve something. We just need a failure of positive arguments to [DIS]BELIEVE that something.”
Luke3) “No. Atheism is not a positive position. It just means NON belief in certain things that (we think) have no evidence going for them.”
So, I’m going to try to formulate this in some sort of argument. Please correct me if I get it wrong because it isn’t clear to me. Here is my try, using Christianity as the foil:
P1) Beliefs should have evidence to be credible and reasonable
P2) Christianity has some meta-physical beliefs (beliefs in things that cannot be seen)
P3) Christianity needs to support its meta-physical beliefs with evidence
P4) Atheism does not believe that Christianity’s meta-physical beliefs have any positive evidence
P5) Atheism believes there is overwhelming negative evidence against Christianity’s meta-physical beliefs
P6) Atheism does not have meta-physical beliefs
P7) Atheism has no beliefs
P8) Atheism does not require evidence since it does not have any beliefs
P9) Atheism is the default position to hold because it does not require evidence
I’ve read books and blogs that hold to this form of argument.
I would think that P4 and P5 are wrong because their claims are too strong. P4 and P5 could be true if there are (i) contradictory beliefs in Christianity so it is self-refuting, (ii) extremely well verified historical evidence against Christianity that cannot be refuted, or (iii) a priori impossibility that something cannot happen but Christianity says it has happened. If someone were to assert (i), (ii), or (iii) then they need to support that claim with an argument and evidence. As stated, I do not think this is possible because the claims are too strong. I do think that weakening P4 and P5 would help.
I do not think that P7 can hold either. To say that Atheism has “no beliefs” is to say that it has no content. If there is no content then we cannot discuss anything about Atheism. However we are discussing it so there must be content for Atheism to be identifiable. After all, how can “Democrats are silly” be understood or challenged if a Democrat can never be identified? Something must make a Democrat identifiable. Does it really make sense to say “An Atheist is someone who has the belief that they should have no beliefs?”
Now, does P6 hold because it is a weaker form of P7? Here is a dilemma because P1 is a meta-physical belief. If Atheism does not hold to P1 then there is no problem since the Christian does not need to justify their beliefs because P1 doesn’t hold. But if Atheism does hold to P1 then it does hold to a meta-physical belief and needs to justify that belief (see P1). I am using P1 here just to prove the point but there are other points that could be brought up which are not as intuitive but would still need justification. So, P6 is not true as stated.
But if P6 and P7 are false because Atheism does have meta-physical beliefs, then P8 is false because of P1 combined with the falsity of P6/P7. Then if P8 is false, P9 does not follow and it is false too. There is a way around this dilemma by denying P1 but then this would let the Christian off the hook as well.
Here is an argument that seems more plausible because it has weakened some points (P4′, P5′, and P6′), removed false premises (P7 and P9), and added an additional premise P5.1. Notice the quote mark added to the modified premise numbers.
P1) Beliefs should have evidence to be credible and reasonable
P2) Christianity has some meta-physical beliefs
P3) Christianity needs to support its meta-physical beliefs with evidence
P4′) Atheism does not believe that Christianity’s meta-physical beliefs have acceptable positive evidence
P5′) Atheism believes there is strong negative evidence against Christianity’s meta-physical beliefs
P5.1) The negative evidence against Christianity outweighs the positive evidence for Christianity
P6′) Atheism does have meta-physical beliefs in things it cannot see (e.g., believes P1 is true)
P8′) Atheism does require evidence to support the beliefs it does hold
Of course, I do not agree with P4′ through P5.1. I am merely stating them here to support the claim using a weaker set of premises.
Now we can address the questions Q1 – Q3.
If P1 is taken to be true then positive evidence is needed to support P8′, answering Q1.
(Q2) asks “Is it sufficient to have negative evidence to against all religions to have faith in Atheism?” We have seen that P6 and P7 are strictly false so it would appear that some evidence is needed to select between Atheism and other systems with differing meta-physical views. Q2 also is more fully answered when we consider Q3 net.
(Q3) is “Is Atheism the default position if all religions have negative evidence?” This needs to be broken out into possibilities. They are:
Q3.1 Atheism has no evidence for or against it.
Q3.2 Atheism has no evidence for or against it and Christianity has more negative evidence than positive evidence
Q3.3 Atheism has more positive evidence than Christianity has.
Q3.5 Atheism has less negative evidence than Christianity has
Q3.5 Atheism has more positive than negative evidence for it.
If the reader agrees with Q3.3 through Q3.5 then the case has been made that the question P2 (top of session) is a sensible question, which is the claim at hand. Then the next step is to get that evidence on the table for examination.
Position Q3.1 violates P1 “Beliefs should have evidence to be credible and reasonable.”, in which case it is hypocritical for Atheism to demand positive evidence from Christianity when Atheism itself supplies no positive belief. This is a self-refuting position.
If Position Q3.2 is held, then some more probing is needed. Richard Dawkings says “Yet the living results of natural selection overwhelmingly impress us with the appearance of design as if by a master watchmaker, impress us with the illusion of design and planning.” If Atheism holds that there is no Designer so that it is an “illusion of design and planning”, how does Atheism justify this position if Atheism has no evidence for or against itself? Doesn’t Atheism have to explain why it holds to the assumption of appearance of design and not actual design? This is either: (i) a fact for which we need evidence (e.g., natural selection does not involve a Designer) and that evidence is supporting Atheism, showing that P2 is a sensible question; (ii) a personal opinion in which case evidence is needed and we are back at (i); or (iii) an interpretation of a fact but that interpretation would also have hidden assumptions that need to be examined (e.g. God does not exist), so evidence is still needed to support Atheism. In either case, some positive evidence is needed to support the appearance claim – a story is just not good enough.
So, in conclusion, I think a fairly good case has been made that P2 is a sensible question.
So what is your response to “P2) If theism had never existed, what is the positive evidence for a belief that Atheism is true? If I were a native in a jungle, what evidence could you muster that Atheism is worthy of belief?”

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lukeprog May 30, 2009 at 9:52 am

Curtis, your arguments are invalid. It might be possible to tweak them into validity, but you’ve worded them such that there are non-sequiters between the premises.

Atheism can be stated many ways, but as a mere disbelief of supernatural claims, it only requires a failure of backing for supernatural claims for atheism to be justified. In the same way, disbelief in claims about Vishnu only needs a failure of backing for Vishnu claims for disbelief in Vishnu to be justified. Do you really disagree with this simple analogy?

You raise the design argument. I will eventually write lots of posts explaining why the design argument fails to give backing to supernatural claims.

If you were a native in a jungle, what evidence could you muster that disbelief in fairies is worthy of belief?

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Curtis June 8, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Please show me where the non-sequiters are.  I would like to understand where they are wrong.

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Irrational_Bob July 11, 2009 at 6:20 am

The culture defines for a great part what people believe in. In Europe, or at least in the Netherlands, God is pretty much dead amongst the youth. That is the prevalent culture.
One of the main reasons a random person believes in Christianity, is decided by chance; if their parents and their family are Christian, and the Christians form a sizeable group, they’ll likley be Christian. If their born in your avarage family in Indonesia, they’ll be Muslims.

If religion were to be something personal that nobody shared with anyone else (e.g. you keep it to yourself and don’t talk about it), then children would notbe nudged towards theism. Then, if all religious people were “secret”, only those who have an intrinsic belief in a God would become religious. The factor of conditioning would dissapear.

People will typically be religious for 3 prevallent reasons:
1. They’re conditioned to be religious due to parents/family/culture, etc…
2. There is more pleasure and less pain to be attained by being religious (for example if there’s a state religion you’ll not benefit from being an atheist).
3. Those who have an inherent belief in god(s), whithout being influenced by conditioning/gain/etc… 

I think many the factor of conditioning weighs the heaviest of all to the majority of people. Therefore I believe most theistic arguments are psychologically motivated. It works like this:

People want to be consistent with who they believe they are/were conditioned to be. If you’re conditioned to be religious, you’ll not want to believe there is no god. The emotional penalty of having to formulate an entire new belief-system will be to great. In evolutionary terms: “You have survived until now acting the way you’ve acted (in this case religious). Therefore you can assume that you’ll survive by continuing this way of being. Changing your beliefs constitutes a great risk as it is unknown whether or not you’ll survive with a new set of beliefs. It seems evolutionary sound to remain the way you’ve been so far.”

From this perspective people will make up huge and impressive logical constructions to protect their emotionally/evolutionarily motivated beliefs. These are called rationalisations. You make up logical reasons that sound good to you to justify you beliefs. It is my belief that the theistic system of arguments is simply one huge rationalisation.

And obviously, rationalisations are not valid arguments.

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James Smith João Pessoa, Brazil April 21, 2010 at 3:19 am

Since I was 13, I have been unable to understand how any thinking human can believe in any religion. I finally came down to one thing. “There is no power equal to that of self-deception.” That explains how an otherwise rational person can profess to believe in the obviously untrue.

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Shnike April 26, 2010 at 5:50 pm

John Henry Newmann makes a compelling case that Christians are indeed rational, but have a hard time explaining their logic effectively. I think as atheists (and I am one) we have to get away from the idea that religion can be disproven because it is irrational. It is more compelling – in my humble opinion – to use logic against logic. Bring up the Problem of Evil or Guanilo’s Lost Island argument. This both prevents us from looking cocky and allows Christians to think about their faith from our perspective.

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John April 27, 2010 at 10:55 am

Allah is the same as God. It’s the same religion. The Quran and the Bible are the same. Different prophets and they didn’t translate “Allah” to “God” even though they translate every other word.

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Anon April 27, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Your bayesian probabilities are a perfect example of “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” For example the assertion “I expect a universe lacking a god to be chaotic and short-lived…” As there is only one universe, there can be absolutely no evidence to test this claim either way. To make any conclusions from here is irresponsible. “If there was no god, I wouldn’t expect us to have fine logic skills which do not appear to be required for survival.”

This is equivalent to saying “I don’t comprehend how fine logic can be required for survival, so I give that point to God.” For the few arguments you listed that aren’t weak on their own, why jump to God or even the supernatural? Even a strong refutation of one idea does not immediately verify another.

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Nick222 January 28, 2011 at 6:41 am

Well, I’m obviously very late for the party (I arrived via SumbleUpon) and I admit that I didn’t read all the comments, but in case someone read roughly as much as I did (or more) and was swayed by some of the arguments advanced by some of the theists, perhaps the following comments will be useful.

1. Similar to Stephen Unwin in his book “The Probability of God”, unkleE at 21 April 2009 at 7:12 PM has made irretrievable errors. Bayes’ method CAN’T be used in such cases!

Those who desire a simple (high-school level) introduction to Bayes’ method might want to read pp.1-29 of what I wrote for my teenage granddaughter and posted at http://zenofzero.net/docs/IhHypothesesandProbabilities.pdf . For those who desire to see how and why Bayes’ method fails when attempts are made (as done by Unwin and unkleE) to apply it to estimating the probability of the existence of “God”, then read the rest of that “letter” to my granddaughter (pp.29-39). In brief, what they’re doing is dividing by zero, which is a “no-no”!

By the way, those who would like to see how Bayes’ method is used correctly as a part of the scientific method, then see pp.1-12 of my letter to her at http://zenofzero.net/docs/T2_Truth_&_Understanding.pdf .

2. The question asked by Curtis at 6 May 2009 at 2:14 PM, namely,

p1) What is the atheistic answer to the question “Why is there something rather than nothing”?

plus most of the subsequent discussions of “nothingness” are all off base!

First (although it’s not easy to appreciate), in fact there’s nothing here! That is, in total in our universe, there is no electrical charge, no linear or angular momentum, and no energy. For details, see pp.4-14 of the “letter” to my granddaughter posted at http://zenofzero.net/docs/Awareness.pdf . Thus, Curtis’ question incorrectly begs the question: there isn’t something rather than nothing; there’s still nothing here!

In brief, what appears to have happened to create our universe is that the original “nothingness” split into positive and negative “somethings” (possibly because of a symmetry-breaking quantum-like fluctuation in the original total void), which then led to the Big Bang and eventually us. We have the distinct impression that something is here, because we normally detect only positive energy (such as mass), while all about us (in space) and even within us exists the normally undetectable negative energy of space or “the vacuum”. It’s as if existence, itself, split into positive and negative components.

Second, it seems to be incorrect (as stated in one of the comments) that we have no experience with “nothingness”: when a hole appears in the negative-energy background (i.e., in space or “the vacuum”), holes that we call “antiparticles”, then in fact that hole in the negative-energy background is “total nothingness” — and because such antiparticles apparently do abide by quantum mechanics, then it seems justified to assume that “total nothingness” is a quantum-mechanical “something” (and therefore would fluctuate, a fluctuation could “go amiss”, break a symmetry, lead to a Big Bang, etc.).

3. Putting the above two pieces together, then in fact, we can make crude estimates of the probability for the existence of any creator god. I’ve done that in the “letter” posted at http://zenofzero.net/docs/IiIndoctrinationinIgnorance.pdf and find that the probability is essentially certainly very much less than 1 part in 10^500. Stated differently, the most certain knowledge that humans have been able to gain, even more certain than the knowledge that we exist (for, with probability of about 1 part in 10^25, we may all be just simulations in a humongous computer game) is that a “creator god” doesn’t exist (and never did).

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Luke Muehlhauser January 28, 2011 at 9:19 am

Nick222,

Thanks for your comment!

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David April 2, 2011 at 1:45 am

Hello.
It seems to me, there is an error here:

Not much later, I thought: “Wait a minute. Why do we kidnap people who kidnap people to show them it’s wrong to kidnap people?” Surely this question doesn’t prove we should stop using prisons.

Kidnaping by definition implies illegality. So, when somebody is show guilty of some crime, and is sent to prison, he is not being kidnaped; since the procedure was legal.

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Michael April 4, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Hey Luke,
I’ve always found it more than slightly strange that someone as intelligent as yourself would make such use of such a foolish quote (namely the roberts quote).
My thoughts were summarised quote intelligently and succinctly here http://jwwartick.com/2011/04/04/all-atheists/

I’m glad to see you’ve now removed the silly quote from the top of the page, though unfortunately I’m pretty sure that nothing more than a practical move to make sure new visitors wouldn’t be turned off by the lack of PoR content on the website lol ;)

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jason nussbaum June 16, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Curtis:

The Christian Gospel centers on the concept
that Jesus Christ was the Jewish messiah, within the context of a Christian worldview

I’m unclear as to how this is validates Christianity. It raises more questions than it answer, imho:

#1. Does this mean you accept Judaism as 100% valid?

#2. The Judaic concept of mashiach (messiah) does not (ttbomk) suggest that the messiah would be the son of god. As my memory of my religious education goes, it points to the opposite – that Hashem is indivisible and would never appear in “human” form (I can’t cite a specific statement of that, though I will try to find and post later).

#3. I don’t understand how you can make an argument for the reality of Christianity from “within the context of a Christian worldview” – does that not imply that you’ve answered the question, and are now simply justifying the answer from within itself? With that rationale, couldn’t any religion argue that, from the worldview of [insert religion], [insert religion] could be correct? You can’t choose a perspective and then suggest that, from that perspective, the perspective is validated.

And, beyond that, if you are going to suggest that Christianity is valid, as the true realization of Judaism, you must also agree to Judaism’s validity (or truth, I suppose), and from within Judaism itself it could be argued that Christianity is invalid (as it’s tenets directly contradict those of Judaism, which implies a god that changes its omnipotent, omniscient, and incorporeal “mind” – which does not follow).

Late to the party, I am – as usual.

j.

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endargo November 13, 2011 at 6:03 am

Mistake behind your philosophy lies in the fact, that there is no common platform between reality you’re talking about and something called transcendence. End of story, no need to write more :)

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Wizzard November 28, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Shame.. poor people… i’d like to see your faces the day your common sense fails you.. lol..
idiots… truly you are..

answer this simple question… why does a man stop living, when his brain, his heart.. all his internal organs are in perfect condition.. or better yet.. why don’t you combine living breathing, organs.. and make a human of your own… can you do it.. why won’t it work..

If your common sense works.. then all working parts.. should give a fully functioning working human being.. but something is missing .. isn’t there… a soul, in which you don’t believe…

y do we die… answer these simple questions.. do you deny death even.. do you deny love.. or is it just a chemical imbalance in the brain…

your common sense.. makes absolutely no sense at all. and can’t explain even one percent of life’s mysteries.. its just a tool you use to console yourself.. until you die…

the you will face truth…

here’s a common sense theory for you..

If god does exist.. and heaven and hell… and you don’t believe in it.. then when you die.. you gonna be in big shit.. right… common sense..

but if god doesn’t exist… but you believe in him anyway… when you die.. what do you lose.. absolutely nothing.. nor do you lose in this life…

but on the other hand.. the other way.. you gonna be in big shit..

so common sense speaking what would you chose..

do you prefer to err on the side of total loss.. when on the opposite end is no loss at all..

there must be a reason for this.. for trying to convince people and yourselves that god doesn’t exist.. why go to all the trouble.. why interfere in others people’s lives..

if god is nothing to you.. why bother even trying to fight the argument…

do you argue with flies as well.. that they shouldn’t buzz around your ears.. or start a blog about it.. and try and convince others of supposedly trivial matters..

no.. the truth is… you hold a personal grudge against god.. or something.. you don’t like the world.. and its not meant to be liked.. or you had a bad experience.. and so now.. in the ultimate vengeance.. you decide to deny the existence of god…

lol..

well..

anyway..

whatever..

I can’t help you.. and nobody can.. you have common sense.. or so you think.. and little else.. lol..

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