Natalie Haynes on Agnosticism

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 24, 2010 in General Atheism

Comedian Natalie Haynes had this to say about agnosticism (about minute 21):

I am agnostic, because I think it’s the smartest, most rational position you can choose. It seems to me that ‘atheism’ is a very definite [position]: “I know that there isn’t a god.” Well I don’t know that.

When I was [young] I read Protagoras [who said], “On the subject of the gods, I am unable to say whether they exist or not. There are many obstacles to such knowledge, including the brevity of human life and the obscurity of the subject.” And I went: Yeah, that’s me. That’s how I feel.

…I’m agnostic because I think it’s unknowable. I don’t have the resources required…

I understand the appeal of this position, but I disagree. It may be that my disagreement with Haynes is merely verbal. Perhaps we use words like “know” to mean slightly different things. But let me explain my disagreement.

First, atheism need not be a definite position. Atheism is about belief, not knowledge. So one can be agnostic atheist, meaning one doesn’t claim to know whether or not gods exist, but one doesn’t believe gods exist.

But also, let us consider how we commonly use the word “know.”

Do you know that fairies don’t exist?

Do you know that unicorns don’t exist?

Do you know that genies don’t exist?

One could be tempted to say “there are many obstacles to such knowledge, including the brevity of human life and the obscurity of the subject.” And that is true. And yet I think we feel comfortable using the word “know” in these cases, because we understand that to “know” that genies don’t exist is not to claim you can prove genies don’t exist. Nor is it to claim you are 100% certain that genies don’t exist. Rather, to “know” that genies don’t exist is, in the common use of the term, “to be fairly certain, on good grounds, that genies don’t exist.”

And what are these good grounds? A combination of factors. If genies existed, we would expect some evidence of their existence, for they are by definition the kind of thing that intentionally interacts with humans. And yet we have no evidence of genies, so that gives us some reason to think they don’t exist.

We have plausible stories about the origins of stories about genies. We understand what happens to the human mind when lost in the desert. We understand that humans tend to interpret events as the acts of persons – and if those persons cannot be seen, then we interpret events as the acts of invisible persons. Moreover, we long for someone who will hear our prayers and wishes and make them come true. We have powerful imaginations, and tend to see in the world what we want to see in it. So it’s not surprising we would have stories about genies even though they don’t exist.

We have a long, long history of utter failure for magical explanations and continuous success for natural explanations. Thousands of things we thought were magical turned out to be not magic when we looked closely enough. So it seems likely that when we look closely enough at other things we don’t yet understand, they will turn out to be explained by natural processes, not by genies in the desert.

Moreover, the genie theory doesn’t make much sense as far as we can tell. Why would spirits hang about in the desert and respond to human wishes or cause mischief? Where do their magical powers come from, and how do they work? What does it mean to be non-physical, and how could something non-physical have causal effects upon physical things? The idea of a genie raises a huge number of paradoxes. Genies don’t fit very well with everything we know about how things work.

These are the kinds of reasons we can talk about “knowing” that genies don’t exist. This doesn’t mean we are 100% certain they don’t exist, nor that we can prove they don’t exist. It just means that we’re pretty damn sure genies don’t exist, and we have good reasons for thinking so.

And so it is with gods.

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{ 102 comments… read them below or add one }

Leah June 24, 2010 at 6:30 am

This can’t be said often enough. Another helpful metric for ‘knowing’ seems to be the impact that this knowledge has on one’s life. A truly committed agnostic on the question of God’s existence should be likely to take Pascal’s wager. However, most people who are eager to proclaim their uncertainly live their life exactly as if they ‘knew’ to be atheists.

This discussion of epistemological uncertainty seems close to the position of philosophers who maintain they cannot ‘know’ that the material world exists. The proposition may be philosophically undecidable, but we decide its answer every time we step around an open manhole. Except for certain university professors, we don’t feel the need to constantly qualify our engagement with the physical world as fundamentally uncertain.

There is no reason we should not apply this same standard to agnosticism about God.

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Márcio June 24, 2010 at 6:48 am

That idea that Atheism is about belief (faith), i don’t think most atheists would agree with that, but i’m not sure. This puts atheism in the same realm as any other religion i think.

I think the problem with this is that unlikely theists or particulary christians, atheists don’t have arguments to back up their faith or belief. Christian at least have the arguments William Lane Craig and friends defends in their works.

Maybe i’m wrong, but for most atheists, the lack of prof about God is what back up their belief in the non existance of God?

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Reginald Selkirk June 24, 2010 at 6:56 am

I am agnostic, because I think it’s the smartest, most rational position you can choose.

Wow, what a bold statement. A real agnostic would say, “I think I’m agnostic, but I don’t know if it’s a good idea or not, because after all we can’t really know anything.”

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Reginald Selkirk June 24, 2010 at 6:58 am

A truly committed agnostic on the question of God’s existence should be likely to take Pascal’s wager.

NO, because there are so many gods to choose from, the agnostic couldn’t be sure which one she was unsure about.

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Márcio June 24, 2010 at 7:02 am

Reginald,

I think a real agnostic would say, “I’m agnostic because i don’t want to use faith to decide”.

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Rich Griese June 24, 2010 at 7:05 am

Luke,

Per your idea of “know”, I have always submitted that all theists are agnostics. Since there is no knowledge about gods. Every thing is believe. Meanings, nobody has “knowledge” about gods, they only have believe that gods exists.

Cheers!
RichGriese.NET

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Leah June 24, 2010 at 7:08 am

@Reginald

A truly committed agnostic on the question of God’s existence should be likely to take Pascal’s wager.
NO, because there are so many gods to choose from, the agnostic couldn’t be sure which one she was unsure about.

Surely this hypothetical agnostic should sign up for the most exclusionary, picayune religion available then? Since all the univeralists will ok them anyway? ;)

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Ajay June 24, 2010 at 7:14 am

I agree Luke. I haven’t yet heard a convincing explanation for the distinction between gods and any other type of supernatural being – unicorns, fairies, etc. This is not so say that questions of their existence are equally important to people (no one ever claimed that a unicorn ‘died for our sins’ after all), but at base they are both supernatural beings.

If we are agnostic about gods, for the reasons Natalie states, we must be agnostic about all supernatural entities.

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Rich Griese June 24, 2010 at 7:15 am

Luke,

I am sorry I pushed that off without first being more clear. People make a mistake, and think of the set;

{theist, atheist, agnostic}

This is incorrect

There are two sets;

{theist, atheist}, {gnostic, agnostic}

the first set has to do with belief, the second set has to do with knowledge.

My point was that all people have an attribute setting for both. and [gnostic, agnostic} is a flag for many things. For example, I am agnostic about if Israel has nukes. I point that out to clarrify that while {theist, atheist} is a set based on gods, {agnostic, gnostic} is not. So I can be agnostic about liking donuts.

Ok... so my point was that you interviewee is a atheistic, agnostic. She probably does not BELIEVE that gods exist. That deals with the first set. But she believes she cannot know, so her second set value is agnostic.

OK... so my BIG point was that NOBODY has god knowledge, so even Pat Robertson is a theist, agnostic.

Theists will hate hearing this, but until someone can demonstrate that gods exist, they may believe, but they do not know. So in the second set [agnostic, gnostic] EVERY SINGLE PERSON is an agnostic.

This is something that people don’t understand. Most don’t understand sets. There are simply two binary sets. It was an error for society to have become comfortable with incorrectly mixing these two sets into a incorrectly formed set of three items.

It’s a good thing to point out to all those NICE people that call themselves agnostics trying to be nice and not make waves. If when natalie said she was agnostic you said, ok, but are you a theist or an atheist? she would have gone…. what? then you could have explained that she told you her stance on the knowledge set, but you want to know her stance on the belief set.

It makes for good conversation starters about the concept of god belief.

Cheers!
RichGriese.NET

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Márcio June 24, 2010 at 7:18 am

Rich,

I agree with you, but for theists, God was always a matter of faith, not knowledge. So this is not an argument that is bad for theists.

I think the difference is that theists have more reason to try to defend their faith in God, because if God doesn’t exists, that is a big problem for theists.

Even if an atheist can prof that God doesn’t exists, that would make no difference for him/her at all.

That is why i think an atheist don’t have a good reason to try to disprove God. And that is why we often see atheists that say that the burden of proof is fully on the theists.

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Rich Griese June 24, 2010 at 7:25 am

Márcio,

As you say, it is about faith not knowledge.

And until anyone can demonstrate gods exist, nobody KNOWS, therefore all theists (1st set) are agnostics (2nd set). It’s just that not all are not that honest.

For example, have you ever heard a person “I know God exists”.

Well, they don’t. Nobody KNOWS gods exist. They only believe gods exist. So in the second set {agnostic, gnostic} that deals with KNOWLEDGE, ALL people are agnostic.

I can be gnostic of whole won the last stanley cup (chicago blackhawks), but NOBODY is gnostic with regards to gods.

Remember “gnosis” means “to know” or “to have knowledge”. Nobody has knowledge of gods, they only have beliefs.

Cheers!
RichGriese.NET

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lukeprog June 24, 2010 at 7:28 am

Leah,

I don’t think a “truly committed” agnostic would take Pascal’s Wager, because Pascal’s Wager is dumb. :)

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lukeprog June 24, 2010 at 7:30 am

Rich,

Agnosticism and gnosticism aren’t about knowing or not knowing. They’re about claiming to know or not know.

Gnostic Christians didn’t “know” their stuff either, but they’re call gnostics because they claimed to have special, secret knowledge.

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Rich Griese June 24, 2010 at 7:32 am

Luke,

Pascal’s wager is childishly ridicules. It limits the options too two. There are not two options, there are many. For example, what if we add this third option

3) there are gods and they punish you IF you believe in them

wow… that causes problems

what about this

4) there are two gods and each will punish you for believing in the other

the options are virtually unlimited.

The fact that Pascal’s wager has been consider valuable in philosophy…. shows just what shit philosophy is.

Cheers!
RichGriese.NET

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lukeprog June 24, 2010 at 7:32 am

Marcio,

‘Faith’ usually has a distinct meaning from ‘belief.’ In fact, you’re the first person I’ve encountered who seems to have used the words interchangeably.

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Rich Griese June 24, 2010 at 7:34 am

Luke,

re; Agnosticism and gnosticism aren’t about knowing or not knowing. They’re about claiming to know or not know.

This is not actually true. The meaning of the word gnostic is “one who has knowledge”, not one who believes they have knowledge. I am agnostic as to where the stock market will close next friday. I am gnostic (if I looked it up) where the stock market closed last friday.

You care confusing the BELIEF {theist, atheist} set with the KNOW {gnostic, agnostic} set.

Cheers!
RichGriese.NET

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Rich Griese June 24, 2010 at 7:41 am

Gnosis (from one of the Greek words for knowledge, γνῶσις)

Granted the terms has almost always been associated with spiritual knowledge. And the group known as “Gnostics” claimed special knowledge. But that is not its core. It simply means to have knowledge.

I will have to sit down and write an essay on why I believe this is am important distinction to make.

I believe that agnostic is a term that has krept into the vocabulary badly. For example, many people who are actually atheists (BTW, I use the term naturalist, not atheist, cause I want to emphasis that I am NOT a supernaturalist) For me it is all about focusing on and explaining to people why supernaturalism is wrong, and potentially dangerous.

But… my point is that many people in our theistic society don’t want to admit they don’t believe in gods. So they will say they are agnostic.

Let’s put it this way…. the followup question to be asked it “ok, but do you think it is more likely that gods exist or not? or… but which way to you lean”.

Anyone that does not come out and say “I believe 100% with all my heart that gods exist” is an atheist. Theism is a positive statement. “I believe the Devils will win the stanley cup” any other position is atheism. Remember it is a binary set, the light is either on or off.

Cheers!
RichGriese.NET

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Márcio June 24, 2010 at 7:44 am

Rich,

I agree with you, but for christians, knowing that God exists and having prof of His existance are two different things.

Christians say they know that God exists because of the “immediate experience” that God gives to them of His existance. An argument that William Lane Craig an friends often defends. But no Christian can demonstrate that, even if they know that it is true.

If this argument of “immediate experience” of God is true, Christians can say that they know for sure that God exists, despite the fact that they can’t demonstrate it.

But atheists don’t have any “immediate experience” of the non existance of God. And that is why i think that for atheism, knowing that God doesn’t exists and demonstrating it aren’t separete things.

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Rich Griese June 24, 2010 at 7:47 am

Márcio,

Some christians say a lot of stupid shit. Your quote is a perfect example. They are talking complete shit.

Cheers!
RichGriese.NET

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Rich Griese June 24, 2010 at 7:52 am

I will drop off now, cause I don’t think I am getting through. I will try to write it up in an essay in the near future. I’ll leave you with this. Try doing some word substitution on many statements Christians say to realize how crazy they sound from a reality stand point.

So… you talking to this person and they say; “I am so happy that Darth Vader came into my life. I really love having a personal relationship with Darth Vader”.

Cheers!
RichGriese.NET

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Martin June 24, 2010 at 7:52 am

Oh not this again.

This makes no sense to me at all. In the debate over determinism and free will, some are compatibilists and some are incompatiblists. Each offers arguments to support their side, and arguments to show why the other side is wrong. The proposition is true/false binary (in addition, of course, to not knowing and not being able to know).

I don’t see how this is any different.

Knowledge = Justified True Belief (disregarding Gettier, for the moment). If say you have belief in something but not knowledge, then aren’t you saying that your belief is not true or justified? Then why believe it? You have a belief because you think it’s true and justified, and therefore you can claim that it constitutes knowledge.

No?

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Márcio June 24, 2010 at 7:54 am

Rich,

Maybe bullshit, but that is an argument that needs to be refuted.

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Bill Maher June 24, 2010 at 8:17 am

“Oh, you’re agnostic? You think there could be a Batman, you’re just not sure?” —Doug Stanhope

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Lee A.P. June 24, 2010 at 9:29 am

Definitions of “agnosticism” almost always read “We will NEVER have enough knowledge to know”, which I think is dogmatic and presumptuous about what we will be able to know in the future.

Its odd in that this is the sort of dogmatism that people who call themselves “agnostic” are attempting to avoid.

Still, the word “atheism” suffers from such a misunderstanding, that colloquially I choose “agnostic” on social networking sites. Agnostic is the word that is less likely to make your mother cry.

It gets annoying, this agnostic “open minded” chest thumping, when in practice they are really atheists if they disbelief in a God given the current evidence. As if “atheists” are not open to good, new evidence.

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Lorkas June 24, 2010 at 10:02 am

“Knowledge = Justified True Belief (disregarding Gettier, for the moment). If say you have belief in something but not knowledge, then aren’t you saying that your belief is not true or justified? Then why believe it? You have a belief because you think it’s true and justified, and therefore you can claim that it constitutes knowledge.”

I guess it comes down to whether or not you are able to distinguish between things that you believe which are actually true and things you believe which may or may not be true.

For example, suppose that I roll a 10,000-sided die, and keep my hand over the die so that no one can see the outcome. I then ask you if you believe that I rolled a 4,372. You’re justified in believing that I did not, in fact, roll a 4,372, because the odds are that I didn’t. But you can’t be certain of that fact (it might be false), so you can’t say that you have knowledge that I did not roll a 4,372. You can be justified in believing it, but you can’t say that it’s a true belief without checking.

Unfortunately, the question of whether or not gods exist is like this. We can’t really look under the hand, so to speak. All we can do is make an assessment of the probability that a god or gods exist, and form our belief based on our assessment of that probability. That’s why you can’t ever “know” that gods exist or don’t exist in the “justified true belief” sense, but you can “know” that gods don’t exist in the same sense that you “know” the tooth fairy doesn’t exist.

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Martin June 24, 2010 at 10:36 am

“Oh, you’re agnostic? You think there could be a Batman, you’re just not sure?” —Doug Stanhope

But what if there were really, really smart people seriously proposing the existence of Batman? In scholarly literature at Harvard? And what if, when looking at their proposal, you could see premises that were controversial but not obviously wrong?

And the people disputing the literal existence of Batman were mired in immaturity and socked in under a thick layer of smug? And seemingly completely uninterested in showing why or how the Batmanists are wrong? What then?

I would say, to paraphrase Thomas Nagel, that it makes me uneasy. It’s enough to give me pause.

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Reuben June 24, 2010 at 11:35 am

I know that you read exapologist’s blog, Luke. Did you happen to read his link to the paper on the purportedly fallacious analogy between suspending judgment upon belief about God and about Russell’s teapot? Very relevant stuff. I’m still considering it.

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Reuben June 24, 2010 at 11:35 am
Bill Maher June 24, 2010 at 11:37 am

Martin,

I don’t know how someone arguing the existence of Batman could give anyone pause, regardless of where it is published.

Usually because these smart people are close to being scientifically illiterate on many issues involving evolution and cosmology. Also, the popular people pro-Batman people write incredibly awful books, like the Shack and Purpose Driven Life that even the most mundane anti-Batman literature is vastly superior to.

:)

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lukeprog June 24, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Rich,

That’s not what those words means when I looked them up in the dictionary just now, and it’s not how I hear them used in the real world. The entymology of a word is different from its actual meaning in use by human beings today.

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lukeprog June 24, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Reuben,

I think I remember reading it. Thanks for the link.

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Martin June 24, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Bill Maher,

Isn’t it kinda cramped in that box with Dawkins, where all Christians are anti-science morons? I assure you, there is fresh air out here. It isn’t scary. Take a peek.

You can start with Reuben’s excellent link.

Which, in my view, is a pretty damn strong case for dead-center-agnosticism. See what you think.

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Lorkas June 24, 2010 at 1:34 pm

“But what if there were really, really smart people seriously proposing the existence of Batman? In scholarly literature at Harvard? And what if, when looking at their proposal, you could see premises that were controversial but not obviously wrong?”

The fact is that the Batmanists can’t provide any empirical evidence of the existence of Batman, even where such evidence would be expected to exist. So-called “Batman sightings” are far more easily explained as optical illusions, not unlike UFO sightings or religious pareidolia than as sightings of an actual Caped Crusader.

Furthermore, Batman is defined in such vague terms that it can refer to nearly anything. If by Batman you mean “a person who stops criminals from committing crimes”, then of course I believe in Batman (I just don’t tend to call it “Batman”). Most arguments for Batman, even if sound, only go so far as to demonstrate a very generalized idea of a crime-fighting entity, not to a very specific concept of the Dynamic Duo as found in Batmanity.

In short, the arguments for Batman fail to meet the standard of evidence that we expect to establish the existence of other entities, so if we are going to be consistent, we should reject the Batman hypothesis until evidence appears confirming the existence of Batman, just like we reject hypotheses about aliens, tooth fairies, and water nymphs even though we can’t prove that those things don’t exist.

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Reginald Selkirk June 24, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Maybe bullshit, but that is an argument that needs to be refuted.

As someone who has spent time on a farm, I’d like to say that bullshit doesn’t need to be refuted, it needs to be shoveled.

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Daniel June 24, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Luke,

An interesting entry. It struck me though, as I read it, that Ms. Haynes, in saying, “…I’m agnostic because I think it’s unknowable. I don’t have the resources required…” is merely offering a sort of everyday formulation of Kant’s position (without of course making Kant’s practical assumptions vis a vis God’s existence and immortality).

Considered as such, I find your reply lacking. You are merely pleading for a thin account of knowledge, where ‘to know’ means a lot less than it did for either Plato or Kant, and it doesn’t support your case or, rather, does so only by watering down the notion of knowledge (as opposed to belief or faith), and blurring the distinction between the two.

I don’t follow this blog closely, so perhaps you’ve dealt with this more in detail elsewhere and I’ve missed it — if so, excuse me.

Although perhaps Ms. Haynes wouldn’t put it quite this way, I think it’s clear that ‘to know’ in this case (the question of the existence of gods) means to know with certitude, i.e., as the conclusion of an argument which is necessary.

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Rubena8 June 24, 2010 at 2:03 pm

To my understanding, Atheism is not a belief, rather it is the rejection of a specific belief: Theism. The problem we are encountering in this universal discussion, is perhaps the definition of Atheism. First, I agree with Sam Harris who says that this word should not exist, let alone connect it to a worldview. It is in the same way we don’t have a word for someone that doesn’t consider the existence of (insert any past god, fairytale, or mythological character here)i.e. AZeusist, AHumptydumpteist, etc. You don’t describe a person by what they are not.

Having said this, many a person’s definition of the common term “Atheism” is incorrect, rather they seem to conflate Theism with Deism. In order to fit the Atheist description, one only needs to reject the concept of an intervening supernatural entity, such as the Christian or Muslim gods. This doesn’t however rule out the position of a deist, where a supernatural entity ONLY creates the universe. To negate the deist position would make you an ADeist.

Personally, I agree with Luke, that there are superbly reasonable grounds to be an Atheist. However, about Deism, we can only say that most probably there is a natural, not a supernatural explanation for the big bang or whatever event may or may not have preceded it. But I can not be certain, and neither can anyone else be certain. Those that are certain that they know for sure one way or the other, in Hitchen’s words “should not be trusted”.

Now breifly about linking a specific worldview to a person simply by using the criteria of what they are not, is ridiculous. What can you say about a person’s preference for politics, humanitarian issues, food, sexual partners, etc, based on their rejection of theism? You can generalize all you want here, but in reality you can’t positively say anything given such little information. On the ohter hand, the same might be said of religious people in general, but if you notice, the more specific the brand of theism, the better your odds become of correctly guessing at such things. For example,in reverse, what brand of theism would you belong to if you thought it not only permissible, but obligatory, to stone a woman to death for having sex before marriage?

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Mark June 24, 2010 at 3:04 pm

And the people disputing the literal existence of Batman were mired in immaturity and socked in under a thick layer of smug? And seemingly completely uninterested in showing why or how the Batmanists are wrong? What then?

I would say, to paraphrase Thomas Nagel, that it makes me uneasy. It’s enough to give me pause.

The fact that some or many anti-Batmanists are shrill and intellectually lazy wouldn’t give me any pause provided there were plenty of polite and thoughtful anti-Batmanists around. After all, if this is to be a totally analogous situation, there are orders of magnitude more shrill and intellectually lazy Batmanists out there.

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Zeb June 24, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Luke has argued why agnostic should be atheists, not why they actually are atheists. If Ms Haynes made all the equivalent statements about god that Luke did about genes, and made no statements supporting belief in god, then sure, tell she should call herself an atheist. But often agnostics don’t find the case against belief in god so strong and one sided. Since theism and atheism are supposed to be about belief, and agnosticism is supposed to be about knowledge, why not allow agnosticism for people who don’t know what they should believe?

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Bill Maher June 24, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Martin,

Moreland, Craig, Plantinga, and the others are I.D. advocates. Either they are illiterate, misinformed, or dishonest when it comes to science.

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Mark June 24, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Where does Plantinga advocate ID?

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lukeprog June 24, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Daniel,

Yes, I’m arguing about what we mean by “to know” in everyday speech, not about a particular philosophical view about knowledge. But I said that explicitly in my article, already.

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Martin June 24, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Bill Maher,

Sure, people can be idiots in one area and smart in another. Witness Dawkins’ illiterate attempts at philosophy.

You won’t find creationist or ID articles in reputable peer-reviewed journals. But you will find arguments for and against the existence of God in reputable peer-reviewed philosophy journals.

One example, from Mind. That would be Oxford University.

Or how about one of the top philosophy journals in the world, the Australasian Journal of Philosophy.

Not that appeal to authority is a perfect guide, but if the Christian God is being seriously discussed by scholars in peer-review, then its enough to make me, as I said, uneasy.

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Bill Maher June 24, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Martin,

If you are scientifically illiterate on evolution and cosmology, there is no way you could make informed philosophical theories. How am I supposed to take someone’s philosophy of mind or their cosmological arguments seriously when they don’t know psychology or cosmology?

Part of the reason that there is such discussions in reputable journals is because philosophy does not work like science does. It took philosophy hundreds and hundreds of years to get “I think. Therefore, I am.”

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Atheist.pig June 24, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Martin is still on the road to Damascus, he’s hoping and praying for the blinding light and the voice from above. But he just can’t bring himself to believe what he so desperately wants to believe.

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Lorkas June 24, 2010 at 7:07 pm

I found the trip away from Damascus much more pleasant than the trip there.

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Mark June 24, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Way to prove Martin’s point. :\

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Lorkas June 24, 2010 at 8:56 pm

“Not that appeal to authority is a perfect guide, but if the Christian God is being seriously discussed by scholars in peer-review, then its enough to make me, as I said, uneasy.”

Does it make you uneasy when the Islamic God is being seriously discussed by scholars in peer-review? It’s not as though Yahweh is the only God any scholar ever believed in.

Many Greeks believed in Zeus, and they laid the groundwork for nearly every modern academic field. Does that make you uneasy about whether or not you should believe in Zeus? Many scholars in Iceland believe in elves. Does that make you uneasy about whether or not you should believe in elves?

In any case, it’s interesting that you bring up the opinion of scholars as a guide (though you admit it is a weak guide) for how to think about issues, since scholars in nearly every field are disproportionately irreligious compared to the general population. Shouldn’t that shift your uneasy feelings a bit more toward disbelief in gods, if we’re going to be consistent with our standards for how scholars’ beliefs should help guide our own beliefs?

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Martin June 24, 2010 at 9:38 pm

It took philosophy hundreds and hundreds of years to get “I think. Therefore, I am.”

Hey now. You’re treading on Luke’s territory.

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scootwes June 24, 2010 at 9:39 pm

I’m not a philosopher or deep thinker, and I didn’t read all these comments in detail, but this thought came up often enough that I just have to say my bit: that a truly agnostic position about “god” would also have to admit agnosticism about fairies and batman and unicorns.

I think that is a mis-representation of what “god” is, or could be. Certainly I think this Natalie Haynes and myself would agree that we are atheists concerning deities defined by religion, but agnostic regarding the possibility, however slight, of something supernatural or spiritual that pervades the universe, maybe even down to the molecular level. Again, it’s not likely, but if it did exist, it would not be subject to observation, unlike fairies or batman or unicorns.

And so it also follows that such agnosticism as defined above is not subject in the slightest to Pascal’s Wager,as that wager is all about a deity that has the ability or need to punish humans, the existence of which I categorically deny.

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Rich Griese June 24, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Martin

It took philosophy hundreds and hundreds of years to get “I think. Therefore, I am.”

As TK pointed out earlier this week Descarte was a total failure.

Cheers!
RichGriese.NET

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TaiChi June 24, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Funny, I was just musing this yesterday. I used to divide the positions up in the way that Rich Griese does: begin with the idea of Theism as belief in God, note that the prefix “a-” negates, so that Atheism must be the lack of belief in God, distinguish between knowledge and belief, explaining that “agnostic” means “those who do not know, etc.. But while this may be technically correct, few understand the terms in this way, and so there is a strong counter-argument that Agnosticism should be thought as intermediary on the belief scale between Theism and Atheism – the meaning of words is conventional, after all. My own revisionary proposal is that it might be best to think about the terms like so:

Theism: the belief that “God exists”.
Atheism: the lack of belief that “God exists”.
Agnosticism: the lack of knowledge about one’s beliefs, in the context of religion, not knowing whether one has the belief “God exists” or not.

These definitions would be in harmony with both the technical distinctions and common usage. Further, Agnosticism could be a respectable position – sometimes we just don’t know what we believe about some matter, and on that account, it seems perfectly reasonable to refrain from committing to one side or the other. It would not be a voluntary position, however – both the theist and atheist could point out various aspects of the proclaimed agnostic’s conduct in order to show that the person really does belong to one camp or the other. Learning of one’s own beliefs in this way would be comparable to learning of one’s own character traits by reflecting on one’s conduct.
Unfortunately, nobody’s going to take up this compromise just because I find it sensible. I expect unclarity will continue to be the rule.

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Atheist.pig June 25, 2010 at 5:24 am

Way to prove Martin’s point. :\

What point is that Mark?

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Haukur June 25, 2010 at 5:58 am

What point is that Mark?

He was probably thinking of the “mired in immaturity and socked in under a thick layer of smug” part.

But it is of course possible that Martin will have a numinous experience. Maybe a libation to Zeus will do the trick.

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Jacopo June 25, 2010 at 6:31 am

[grammar fascism]
In another comment you said you don’t mind nit-picking. So, in that spirit, it’s ‘etymology’, not ‘entymology’.

[/grammar fascism]

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Black Jeezus June 25, 2010 at 6:34 am

The only ideas we can claim to “know” with a high degree of certainty are those supported with objective empirical evidence. In other words, those things revealed as true through the scientific method. For everything else–unicorns, fairies, chi, Bigfoot, ghosts, chakras, and the like–we can’t prove they DON’T exist, but we can reasonably assume non-existence until evidence is shown for their existence. Otherwise, we’d be intellectually obligated to assume a strict agnostic position about any claim, even those that are clearly made-up. There is such a thing as a reasonable assumption.

I really don’t get what’s so hard about that. Some people…

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Martin June 25, 2010 at 7:04 am

Lorkas,

Does that make you uneasy about whether or not you should believe in Zeus? Many scholars in Iceland believe in elves. Does that make you uneasy about whether or not you should believe in elves?

It’s of no consequence that scholars in Iceland believe in elves. If, however, they regularly published literature (not just a one time oversight) seriously proposing the existence of elves in one of the most prestigious scholarly journals in the world, then, yes, I might have to put elves on the table at least. It would at least elevate them above Santa and Zeus.

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Martin June 25, 2010 at 7:36 am

Black Jeezus,

we can’t prove they DON’T exist, but we can reasonably assume non-existence until evidence is shown for their existence.

You can’t reasonably assume non-existence. You have to have justification (i.e., “proof”) before you can take the position that they don’t exist. It’s just that you come to the table with arguments against them already in place and so you don’t consciously think about it.

There is no large warehouse at the North Pole, reindeer don’t fly, etc.

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Zeb June 25, 2010 at 8:17 am

TaiChi, I’m right with you, though I would expand Agnostic to mean “don’t know what they believe, or don’t know what they should believe.”

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Haukur June 25, 2010 at 9:13 am

It would at least elevate them above Santa and Zeus.

If you find natural theology—originally a pagan enterprise—persuasive, then what’s wrong with Zeus?

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Lorkas June 25, 2010 at 9:33 am

“You can’t reasonably assume non-existence. You have to have justification (i.e., “proof”) before you can take the position that they don’t exist.”

In fact, we nearly always consider the null hypothesis to be the default position until evidence demonstrates we should accept an alternative hypothesis instead. This is how science works, and it’s the reason why modern medicine is more effective at saving lives and extending life expectancy than any system of medicine ever achieved in the past. How is that? Because companies are forbidden by law to claim that their product can do something until it’s demonstrated evidentially that it can do it. We assume by default that their drug does nothing, and carry that assumption until it’s demonstrated otherwise.

If I told you that the sun is powered by elves on bicycles pedaling away in the sun’s core, you are reasonable to take the position that those elves don’t exist, even though you can offer no evidence against the existence of the elves. That’s the kind of claim that requires a person to present positive evidence in favor of the claim before others should consider it a reasonable position. It doesn’t matter how much time I spend describing the magnificent bicycles they ride, or the awe-inspiring leg muscles they’ve developed from so much bicycling, or how they came to Earth in the past to give bicycles to humanity. If I don’t have evidence for it, you shouldn’t believe me (no matter how detailed my bullshit story is).

It’s the same with religion, obviously. We have no reason to suppose that the writers of the Bible had access to any supernatural source of information, so we should reject that hypothesis and read the Bible as a human work instead. If you consider your own position on every other religion, you’ll see that the same reasons you use to reject the divine inspiration of the Quran, the Vedas, and any other religious book, apply the Bible as well. Consistency pl0x.

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Hermes June 25, 2010 at 9:50 am

I do not argue self-described agnostics are by necessity atheists. Any random self-described agnostic is probably an atheist as well as an agnostic, yet any individual agnostic may be a theist even if they are not specifically religious. For that matter, they could be religious agnostics and still be atheists. The divisions between the groups are distinct and direct, but many people give undue weight to prejudices and discard the value of a word. The same happens with the word woman at times. The prejudice and connotative meanings include lesser than a man. Yet, people remember the deficits. They remember the negatives — all before they remember the simple meanings of words and the good things that are associated with them.

The main problem with self-described agnostics is that they bend to readily towards the negatives and tend to dodge the simple issue of if they believe deities exist or not, and in the process they flop back on claims of knowledge. Yet, knowledge is not the question in regards to theistic beliefs. It is belief. If they would be forthright and not avoid their beliefs while not embracing the prejudices they feel (both rightly and wrong), the matter would be unambiguously resolved and we could move on to a more robust and realistic discussion.

In short, if they don’t like the category of theist or atheist, it is that they are saying they do not like the company. Well, as an atheist I like plenty of theists as well as dislike plenty of atheists just as I like many men and many women — but admittedly not all of them. I may judge their positions but the people are who they are and to hold such a strong bias against whole categories of people is quite prejudicial.

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lukeprog June 25, 2010 at 10:00 am

Jacopo,

Lol, thanks. You’re right, I did not mean the study of insects, but the study of the history of the meanings of words. :)

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Martin June 25, 2010 at 11:04 am

If I told you that the sun is powered by elves on bicycles pedaling away in the sun’s core, you are reasonable to take the position that those elves don’t exist, even though you can offer no evidence against the existence of the elves.

Start from scratch. Pretend you know nothing about the universe. You don’t know if the earth is flat, round, or square. You don’t know what that big ball of light is in the sky. You don’t know anything.

If someone made an elf-on-bicycle-in-the-sun proposition, you would have no way of knowing if it was true or not. You would not be able to assume its false unless proven otherwise, and you would not be able to assume its true unless proven otherwise. You just would not know until someone provided justification for thinking it was true or false.

Learning that the sun is a huge ball of plasma at millions of degrees. Learning the mechanics of star heat generation. That elves do not fit into the evolutionary nested hierarchy. Etc. All these are arguments against the elves, so then at that point you would be justified in thinking “no.”

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al friedlander June 25, 2010 at 11:10 am

“In fact, we nearly always consider the null hypothesis to be the default position until evidence demonstrates we should accept an alternative hypothesis instead.”

“If you consider your own position on every other religion, you’ll see that the same reasons you use to reject the divine inspiration of the Quran, the Vedas, and any other religious book”

Well said. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t recall this, especially since I’ve taking psych-stats

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Mark June 25, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Learning that the sun is a huge ball of plasma at millions of degrees. Learning the mechanics of star heat generation. That elves do not fit into the evolutionary nested hierarchy. Etc. All these are arguments against the elves, so then at that point you would be justified in thinking “no.”

I agree with the point you’re making here, but I’m not sure it has to be that devastating. Just change “we ought to disbelieve in things without evidence for them” to “we ought to disbelieve in things that don’t fit comfortably with our widely agreed-upon scientific picture without evidence for them.” I think it’d be easy to argue that God doesn’t fit more comfortably with that picture than elves, Venusian teapots, Santa, etc.

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Lorkas June 25, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Martin,
On the contrary, you shouldn’t believe positive claims made by people who provide no evidence for those claims.

There are a lot more false claims in the world than there are true ones. Any given claim, all evidence aside, is more likely to be false than to be true. Another way to put that is that the null hypothesis is true alot more often than any alternative hypothesis is. So, without even knowing anything aside from that, we should assume that any given claim someone makes is false from a purely probabilistic point of view (though this is different from assuming all claims are false, just like it’s fair to assume that any given ticket won’t win the lottery, but not to assume that no tickets will win the lottery).

Perhaps it’s true that you shouldn’t assume I’m lying if I tell you the elf-on-bicycle hypothesis of the sun, but that doesn’t mean you should believe the claim. You should not believe my claim, even if you don’t necessarily adopt a belief in the negation of my claim. You should approach the claim with skepticism, and only adopt a belief in the claim after evidence comes in.

Unless you’re proposing that we should believe people who make wild claims on no evidence, I think we’re saying the same thing when it comes down to it. You’re just emphasizing the fact that we shouldn’t reject all claims out of hand and I’m emphasizing the fact that we shouldn’t accept all claims out of hand. We need evidence to mediate between them, so we shouldn’t take claims very seriously unless they’re being offered with empirical evidence of their truth.

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Mark June 25, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Any given claim, all evidence aside, is more likely to be false than to be true.

I have no idea how you could possibly justify this assertion.

Another way to put that is that the null hypothesis is true alot more often than any alternative hypothesis is.

“The null hypothesis” does not pick out a well-defined class of statements.

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Martin June 25, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Ultimately what I’m saying is that there need to be arguments for the truth of a proposition before thinking that it’s true, and arguments for the falsity of a proposition before thinking that its false. Either can be strong or weak arguments. It isn’t always clear which side is correct.

Read up about the problem of universals. Do Plato’s Forms actually exist, or not? Arguing for the truth of that proposition is realism, and arguing for the falsity of it is nominalism. Both have arguments to support their side. It isn’t clear which is correct and it may never be.

I just don’t see the God question as being any different from that. It too is a live debate.

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Hermes June 25, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Neither nominalism nor Plato’s forms exist. Both are too abstract, but can be useful as tools.

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Hermes June 25, 2010 at 8:10 pm

I just don’t see the God question as being any different from that. It too is a live debate.

That strictly depends on the set of deities being claimed by the theist. Some can be definitively addressed, others are not coherent and can’t be, others are coherent yet can not be verified, while some actually exist as they are claimed but aren’t what people normally think of when they speak about deities.

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lukeprog June 25, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Hermes,

What does it mean to say that nominalism does not exist?

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Haukur June 26, 2010 at 1:53 am

Any given claim, all evidence aside, is more likely to be false than to be true.

That doesn’t square well with my experience – in fact I think it would make my life completely dysfunctional to believe that. Examples from this morning:

My wife: “I’ve still got a sore throat.”

Hypothetical Haukur: Hmm, her throat is probably fine.

My wife: “Your telephone? I think I saw it in the living room.”

Hypothetical Haukur: More likely false than true. I’ll search the kitchen first.

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Martin June 26, 2010 at 5:57 am

That strictly depends on the set of deities being claimed by the theist.

The “live debate” of which I speak is over the traditional Judeo-Christian God: omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent, etc.

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Atheist.pig June 26, 2010 at 6:05 am

What point is that Mark?

He was probably thinking of the “mired in immaturity and socked in under a thick layer of smug” part.

Yeah I got that Haukur, I just wanted to hear it from Mark himself. Martin waxes on about how neutral he is while I see him as being far from neutral. His comment from a previous thread:

I’ve noticed atheism begin to slip and I’ve attempted to tell them so in various online forums.

Nothing but poisonous venom results. They do not want to hear that Dawkin’s book is making them stupid.

Atheism beginning to slip? What does this even mean? Non belief in Yahweh, Allah, and Vishnu is beginning to slip? In numbers? Lucky for me I havn’t read Dawkins book but for anyone who has, Its making you stupid.

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Mark June 26, 2010 at 7:36 am

Martin waxes on about how neutral he is while I see him as being far from neutral.

No, he claims to be agnostic about God’s existence. That doesn’t mean he can’t have strong opinions about the arguments and people involved in the debate. And some of his opinions I have to agree with. The online atheist community really is filled with a lot of dogmatic people who feel their regurgitations of Dawkins settles the debate. In fact, the debate is still live in the highest intellectual echelons, and regurgitating bad arguments does not produce better ones. We’d do much better to accept that theism has more going on for it than our most visible spokespeople give it credit for. That doesn’t mean conceding atheism to be in error.

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Martin June 26, 2010 at 7:46 am

Atheist.peeg,

A comment a few months ago from JustFineThanks sums up my thoughts perfectly, so rather than reiterate:

I think the really poisoinous factor that keeps making atheists so poorly prepared (in both argumentation and debate strategy) is arrogance. They equate God belief with yokels who crowd churches every Sunday and think, “Sure, I’ll study up on on modern theology, right after after I complete my research on imaginary fabrics!! Boo -ya!” And so they stroll into debates with a little “But who made God?” and a “People just believe God because they were raised to,” and quite justly get creamed.

If I was in a conspiracy theory mood, I might even suggest that Christians invented creationism for the sole purpose of making atheists weak.

And might I be so bold as to say that Luke agrees with me in that same post: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8314

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Haukur June 26, 2010 at 8:09 am

The “live debate” of which I speak is over the traditional Judeo-Christian God: omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent, etc.

Nothing in the tea-port article assumes a culturally specific view of divinity (YHWH rather than Zeus or the like). It just assumes that the divine has something to do with the ultimate nature of reality.

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Atheist.pig June 26, 2010 at 10:10 am

No, he claims to be agnostic about God’s existence. That doesn’t mean he can’t have strong opinions about the arguments and people involved in the debate. And some of his opinions I have to agree with. The online atheist community really is filled with a lot of dogmatic people who feel their regurgitations of Dawkins settles the debate. In fact, the debate is still live in the highest intellectual echelons, and regurgitating bad arguments does not produce better ones. We’d do much better to accept that theism has more going on for it than our most visible spokespeople give it credit for. That doesn’t mean conceding atheism to be in error.

I don’t care about what other dogmatic atheists are saying, Martin claimed neutrality in a previous thread and I was challenging his neutrality since in most of the threads lately he keeps bringing something irrelevant into it like how stupid Dawkins’ book is. We get the picture on how he feels about TGD and how some other atheist commenter’s have bad arguments or are dogmatic, we could talk forever about dogmatic theism but why bother. Its not relevant to this thread. Move on and get over it.

And as to your point that the debate is still live in the “highest intellectual echelons”. Thats your opinion but I beg to differ, the only serious intellectual discussion on “theistic belief” thats going on is in the Cognitive Science of Religion.

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Martin June 26, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Thats your opinion but I beg to differ, the only serious intellectual discussion on “theistic belief” thats going on is in the Cognitive Science of Religion.

It’s not an opinion. It’s demonstrable. There is live debate on the actual existence of the Judeo-Christian God in the most reputable philosophy journals in the world. As I said ealier, Oxford, Duke, Notre Dame, etc. Not Bob Jones University or the Bible Institute of Los Angeles.

It’s philosophy, the study of things that are less (or not at all) directly accessible to the empirical sciences, so take that how you will, but it is a live debate.

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Atheist.pig June 27, 2010 at 9:52 am

There is live debate on the actual existence of the Judeo-Christian God

Hahaha, the actual existence eh? Like the actual existence of Allah? Your bias toward Yahweh is intriguing and pretty sad.

These religious philosophers are conjuring up mysticism and clinging to ever more obscure fantasies of the great Yahweh while in the same universities down the hall in the Cognitive Science of Religion departments their discovering why these mystics believe such primitive drivel.

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Atheist.pig June 27, 2010 at 9:57 am

Maybe you can have all the goodies without having to believe the unbelievable like Don Cupitt does.

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Martin June 27, 2010 at 10:03 am

…in the Cognitive Science of Religion departments their discovering why these mystics believe such primitive drivel.

See genetic fallacy.

Then see chronological snobbery.

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Atheist.pig June 27, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Bravo Martin, you really got me there. Use the GF to protect a particular myth. Its un-philosophical of me to suppose a bronze age god of war is fiction just because bronze age tribes created him.

Ever notice how in these “highest intellectual echelons” and philosophical papers your talking about the name Yahweh isn’t used that often. Guess it would look rather childish eh.

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Mark June 27, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Ever notice how in these “highest intellectual echelons” and philosophical papers your talking about the name Yahweh isn’t used that often. Guess it would look rather childish eh.

By “Judeo-Christian god” I think he really means the god of classical theism, i.e., an omniscient, omnipotent, morally perfect deity who created the universe. Can you accept that the debate is still live on the existence of that?

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Atheist.pig June 27, 2010 at 8:23 pm

By “Judeo-Christian god” I think he really means the god of classical theism, i.e., an omniscient, omnipotent, morally perfect deity who created the universe.

Which is Yahweh or Jehovah dressed up in philosophical and theological rhetoric right? In my opinion you grant the theist much more than s/he deserves even philosophically. Unless your a believer already why on earth should this not be dismissed as any other myth without hesitation? (Of course, it is dismissed in every other serious field of inquiry except in philosophy of religion)

Can you accept that the debate is still live on the existence of that?

In philosophy of religion it surely is. I just don’t consider this to be in the highest intellectual echelons or in any way taken seriously outside of it. Why should anyone take it seriously unless their a believer. Its all based on a ancient god like any other, the rest comes from rather imaginative theologians who metamorphize Yahweh to make it seem more compatible with reason and science.

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Mark June 27, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Which is Yahweh or Jehovah dressed up in philosophical and theological rhetoric right? In my opinion you grant the theist much more than s/he deserves even philosophically. Unless your a believer already why on earth should this not be dismissed as any other myth without hesitation? (Of course, it is dismissed in every other serious field of inquiry except in philosophy of religion)

Because there are highly intelligent people advancing highly sophisticated philosophical arguments in its favor within highly respected academic journals. And because people who casually dismiss these arguments tend to be highly unsophisticated – at least in regards to philosophy of religion. Why should their opinions be taken seriously?

Open your mind just a little, please.

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Anonymous June 27, 2010 at 10:23 pm

It is absolutely absurd to lump belief in a classical god in the same category as belief in teapots, fairies, djinn, and invisible, intangible unicorns.

It’s also the case that many people have evidence that god exists. Now if god doesn’t exist (as I believe–I’m a card carrying atheist), this evidence is misleading. But people do have evidence. For example, many people have testimonial evidence that favors god’s existence. It’s also obviously true that the testimonial evidence in favor of god’s existence vastly outweighs the testimonial evidence in favor of the existence of djinn.

Finally, it’s also false that (i) no “god explanation” makes much sense, and (ii) the existence of god doesn’t fit well with what we know. I’m not a big fan of this post. Much more careful treatment of this topic is required.

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Anonymous June 27, 2010 at 10:39 pm

The claim that “nominalism doesn’t exist” is akin to the claim that “colorless green ideas sleep furiously”. It makes no sense.

Nominalism is, roughly, the doctrine that there are no abstract objects. Alternatively, and again roughly, that all objects are concrete objects. In practice, a philosopher is counted as a nominalist, and again roughly, if they deny the existence of universals, Forms, properties, relations, states of affairs, possible worlds, or propositions.

However, most so-called “nominalists” believe in sets and numbers, and so admit into their ontology some non-concrete objects. (Almost no philosophers are strict nominalists.) Some of these philosophers will reduce properties or propositions or relations, etc… to sets of concrete objects (and so also count as believing in properties, propositions or relations).

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lukeprog June 28, 2010 at 6:42 am

Anonymous,

I’ve written in more depth about these topics in other posts, especially about god as an explanation. In what sense is “God did it” a good explanation? What criteria for explanations are you using if you say that God is a good explanation for something?

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Martin June 28, 2010 at 7:36 am

Luke,

Don’t kalam and fine-tuning go a bit beyond god-of-the-gaps?

Kalam argues that the cause of the singularity must by definition be external to the laws of physics. While it might still be wrong, it just seems to me that this is the one place in human experience where it would actually be logical to place a supernatural explanation.

And fine-tuning seems to be fairly tightly argued as well.

I mean, these arguments may be controversial and ultimately incorrect, but god-of-the-gaps they are not.

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Atheist.pig June 28, 2010 at 9:40 am

Why should their opinions be taken seriously?

Open your mind just a little, please.

They shouldn’t Mark, your quite right, I’m just making friendly conversation here. Can you just admit that these highly sophisticated philosophical arguments come from mythological narratives and there’s good reasons why other academic fields don’t take them seriously?

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Martin June 28, 2010 at 10:30 am

Can you just admit that these highly sophisticated philosophical arguments come from mythological narratives and there’s good reasons why other academic fields don’t take them seriously?

You can’t possibly be serious. An argument stands or falls on the truth of its premises and its logical structure, not on where the idea came from or on how many people accept or don’t accept it.

1. X implies Y
2. However, that comes from a mythological narrative
3. Therefore, X does not imply Y

“A Genetic Fallacy is a line of ‘reasoning’ in which a perceived defect in the origin of a claim or thing is taken to be evidence that discredits the claim or thing itself.”

1. X implies Y
2. However, there are lots of people who don’t take that seriously
3. Therefore, X does not imply Y

“It is clearly fallacious to accept the approval of the majority as evidence for a claim.”

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lukeprog June 28, 2010 at 10:38 am

Martin,

By lay people, these arguments are often presented as ‘God of the gaps.’ By philosophers, the preferred approach is ‘inference to the best explanation.’ I explain my problems with that approach here.

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Atheist.pig June 28, 2010 at 11:05 am

An argument stands or falls on the truth of its premises and its logical structure, not on where the idea came from or on how many people accept or don’t accept it.

So why aren’t these arguments taken seriously in cosmology, origins science, anthropology, psychological sciences, because their utterly useless, thats why. I’m not appealing to the majority in the least or at least I wasn’t trying to.

As you said already, these arguments aren’t in your view amenable to science so why should any scientific discipline or any skeptic take it seriously? I was asking Mark to take his philosophy of religion hat off for a moment. If thats possible.

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Hermes June 28, 2010 at 1:44 pm

lukeprog: What does it mean to say that nominalism does not exist?

I was wrong.

My only thin excuse is that I was sloppy and read descriptions of nominalism that did not describe fully how abstractions were handled. I should have looked at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy first.

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Mark June 28, 2010 at 4:22 pm

They shouldn’t Mark, your quite right, I’m just making friendly conversation here. Can you just admit that these highly sophisticated philosophical arguments come from mythological narratives and there’s good reasons why other academic fields don’t take them seriously?

I admit they come from mythological narratives. I can’t admit there are great reasons other fields don’t take them seriously, except perhaps from the standpoint of someone who hasn’t received a lot of exposure to them or philosophy in general.

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Atheist.pig June 28, 2010 at 6:22 pm

I admit they come from mythological narratives.

So I guess this is where we part ways on the strength of philosophical arguments no matter how sophisticated they are and no matter how intelligent the proponents of these arguments are. I think plenty of extremely intelligent people can construct a completely valid philosophical argument thats completely compatible with science and yet be totally gratuitous (and meaningless, to me) and immune from empirical/scientific scrutiny unless you believe in the mythological premise in the first place.

I mean, does the evidence demand or even lead us to posit an omniscient, omnipotent, morally perfect deity who created the universe? How many hoops do you have to jump through Mark?

except perhaps from the standpoint of someone who hasn’t received a lot of exposure to them or philosophy in general.

Maybe I’m wrong Mark but isn’t it the case that the majority of philosophers don’t take these arguments seriously anymore?

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Mark June 28, 2010 at 7:02 pm

So I guess this is where we part ways on the strength of philosophical arguments no matter how sophisticated they are and no matter how intelligent the proponents of these arguments are. I think plenty of extremely intelligent people can construct a completely valid philosophical argument thats completely compatible with science and yet be totally gratuitous (and meaningless, to me) and immune from empirical/scientific scrutiny unless you believe in the mythological premise in the first place.

I don’t know why you’re bringing in this “scientific scrutiny” stuff. What does that have to do with it?

Maybe I’m wrong Mark but isn’t it the case that the majority of philosophers don’t take these arguments seriously anymore?

The majority of philosophers don’t take the classic, historical versions of the arguments very seriously. I don’t think the majority of philosophers are all that intimately familiar with the (best) modern formulations. I think you’ll find that atheist professional philosophers who go into philosophy of religion as an area of competence end up respecting the arguments a lot more than when they began, even without being convinced by them. Several of Luke’s interviews attest to that!

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Atheist.pig June 28, 2010 at 7:30 pm

I don’t know why you’re bringing in this “scientific scrutiny” stuff. What does that have to do with it?

Forget I added that, must be my scientism getting the better of me!

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Atheist.pig June 29, 2010 at 2:19 pm

I’ll just end this by saying my point still stands. The evidence doesn’t demand or lead us to posit an omniscient, omnipotent, morally perfect deity who created the universe. The majority of professional philosophers don’t take these arguments seriously and the why the hell would other scientific disciplines take them seriously anyway. They kinda link reasons and evidence for positing such a gratuitous entity.

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Mark June 29, 2010 at 3:32 pm

The evidence doesn’t demand or lead us to posit an omniscient, omnipotent, morally perfect deity who created the universe.

No one is arguing for theism here. AFAIK no one even believes in theism here.

The majority of professional philosophers don’t take these arguments seriously and the why the hell would other scientific disciplines take them seriously anyway.

The majority of professional may be just not all that familiar with the modern arguments, in which case their apathy isn’t evidence of anything. Doubly so for scientists.

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Gruesome_hound September 26, 2011 at 12:14 pm

I am agnostic about the existence of genies and unicorns because I think there are are good grounds for believing there exists an infinity of parallel universes.

Now, it depends on the definitions of genies : with quantum theory, it is not far fetched to conceive beings having the power to manipulate space and time, to appear and disappear in a strange way.

And if there are really an infinite number of universes , things like Boltzmann’s brains could pop up out of existence without even having evolved.
And if one considers all the incredible possibilities life could have emerged and evolved on other planets of other universes, there may well be strange things like unicorns or genies somewhere in the multiverse.

I agree with you we can know beyond any reasonable doubt that there exist neither unicorns, genies or gods interacting on earth with humans: if they existed, we would see lots of evidences which are not there.

Likewise, I know with almost certainty that there is no God caring for human and lifeforms on earth because we have overwhelming evidences of bad design in biological systems which PROVE THEISM IS WRONG.

I am an atheist concerning the gods of all religions because I believe there are positive arguments militating against their existence.

However I am agnostic about the existence of super beings in some parallel universe which completely transcend our human understanding.

In fact, Richard Dawkins completely agrees on this point with me.

I believe that our current knowledge is infinitely small in comparison with all that exists, saying there exists no unicorn in all universes is completely groundless.

By the way, I consider myself as a rational person.

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