Thinking Is Hard. Therefore … ?

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Sign Reading "Religion: Because Thinking Is Hard"
Source: www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/the-best-signs-at-the-reason-rally

Thinking is hard. That’s exactly right.

This sign from the Reason Rally came to mind this morning when I read d’s recent comment on skepticism:

The skeptic case doesn’t rely on demonstrating that some alternative possibility is true, just that there are some which can’t be shown to be false.

The case for the resurrection depends on demonstrating every alternative possibility is false, or less probable than the resurrection.

I’ll explain the connection in a moment. First I want to mention a couple other things that came to mind once I got started down that trail of thought.

One of them is atheists’ constantly insisting that atheism is not a belief (here’s one source among thousands). The other is my own observation, which I’ve put forth in several locations (especially True Reason), that the most characteristic New Atheist definition of “reason” is the refusal to believe anything that cannot be demonstrated empirically.

These three share something in common: they endorse limited thinking.

To Treat One Another As Humans

Now I know as I write this that it is an incendiary thing to say. I know what it feels like to have a message aimed at you like the one in the sign pictured here. It is both dogmatic and dehumanizing about it, as was the case with many other signs and speeches at the Reason Rally: an unquestioned but clear message that people of faith are lesser humans than the enlightened skeptics.

I don’t want to make that same dehumanizing mistake. At the same time I want to open the door to exploring a possible interpretation of these observations. I believe people of reason will be willing to think these things through; and if they want to challenge them, they will do so on the basis of evidence and logic, not prejudice or stereotype.[1. I get frequent comments here to the effect that “‘Thinking Christian’ is an oxymoron.” These comments never come with any supporting reasoning, and they don’t seem to involve any investigation into whether the Christians on this blog actually think. This is prejudice, it is stereotyping, it is treating a large number of people as less human.]

Easy Dis-believism

Atheism is, by atheists’ common definition, a matter of not believing. It is an easy thing to not believe. It takes no work at all, really.[2. Correction/clarification added April 11: this is not about all atheists. There are some to whom the description I make here applies, and others to whom it doesn’t. See the comment here, as well as the preceding one.]

If I am right about atheists’ view of reason,[3. I invite rebuttals to that observation, but I have to warn you that the argument I make in its favor is not quick and easy. It involves—you guessed it!—thinking.] it is mostly about limiting one’s sphere of attention so as to limit one’s sphere of belief. The less you pay attention to, the less you have to think.

And d’s skeptical protocol is easy, too. For any explanation x for any phenomena or data y, it’s always possible to come up with other explanations z1, z2, z3, … . Whatever y might be, the skeptic can say, “You haven’t proved that every possible z is false.” You could put it on an index card and quote it. You could write it phonetically in a dozen languages. No matter how or when you say it, it’s guaranteed to work every time. Meanwhile the skeptic need not think about what he or she considers actually to be the best explanation.

So it seems to me that with its truncated and limiting view of “reason,” and a general willingness to settle on “my system is not a belief,” it takes very little hard thinking at all to be an atheist.

The Expected Rebuttal

I expect the first rebuttal to this will go like this: “It takes even less thought to believe fairy tales. Credulity takes less effort than scientific rigor.”

That challenge does not stand, for reasons I could go into here, except this post is already long enough. I’ll let you make that rebuttal, and I’m sure I won’t be the only responding to it. Just be aware that we see it coming.

Be aware, too, that I’m putting this forth as an idea to be discussed, not a settled doctrine to be fought with anti-religious dogma. Some readers will disagree quite vehemently, I’m sure. That’s expected. In our disagreement I expect also to be treated as a fellow human being, just as I plan to treat you.

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44 Responses to “ Thinking Is Hard. Therefore … ? ”

  1. “Atheism is, by atheists’ common definition, a matter of not believing.”

    This is sophistry. If you phrase atheist beliefs in other terms (e.g. Atheism is the belief that the universe is purely materialistic) you can reverse the burden of proof. With the above as the controlling statement, I can say theism is simply not beleving the universe is purely materialistic. Both are foolish.

    Theism and atheism are competing worldviews and are both affirmative statements about the state of the universe in which we live. Theism and atheism are also both positions of religious belief. This eliminates the nonsense that one side or the other should produce “proof” their position is correct. There is no “proof”. There is only the search for the best possible inference that can be drawn from the evidences.

  2. @Tom Gilson:

    The case for the resurrection depends on demonstrating every alternative possibility is false, or less probable than the resurrection.

    Why single out the resurrection as special? There is no non-question begging reason to do it, so let us extend this principle to: the case for P depends on demonstrating every alternative possibility P_i is false, or less probable than P. Let us consider S = “the case for some P depends on demonstrating every other alternative P_i is false, or less probable than P”. Why does d accept S? Has he shown that every alternative S_i is false or less probable? Maybe d would like to share with us this marvelous accomplishment. If not, why should the skeptic, that is d, accept S?

    But let us apply this principle to the resurrection itself. Let us consider each alternative P_i one at a time. Has d demonstrated that the alternatives P_j different from P_i and P are false or less probable? Maybe d would like to share with us this marvelous accomplishment. If not, and according to the skeptic’s principle S, we arrive at the conclusion that every alternative P_i is in no better shape than P itself, so d himself *must* accept P, that is, the resurrection, as equally reasonable as all the other alternatives P_i.

    But aside from these complications, the obvious lesson is that nobody lives by this standard. The epistemic bar is set unreasonably high for everything that the skeptic has already personally deemed as false. It is a double standard and a rationalization of their own particularly choosy brand of skepticism.

    Per the post title, thinking is hard, and methinks these skeptics (probably wearing tin-foil hats as we speak) have some difficulties with it.

  3. I have very little emotional capital or time to invest in a detailed discussion at this time (I’m sure you’ve missed me), but this was a very interesting post to me and one I’ve found myself thinking about.

    Some people invest very little thought into what they believe (or don’t believe). Some people do. I don’t see either atheists or theists overwhelmingly belong to one camp or the other – lack of intellectual rigor is a personal trait, not a trait of supernatural belief or disbelief.

    I mean, I see plenty of Christians simply bobbing their head when someone tells them that “life couldn’t have just happened by accident“, and on the other hand I’ve seen massive amounts of energy and time spent on apologetics defending some of the claims that theists make (e.g. the earth being only 6k years old, Jesus’ resurrection). So some Christians think plenty.

    I don’t see d’s argument (exhaust all other options first) very often, and it’s one that I’m surprised d took. It is rather Sherlockian (“when you eliminate all other possibilities” etc), but not very practical in discussions like these, when so much is conjecture anyways.

    It’s kinda sad that you dog on atheists for rejecting supernaturalism when you just as adamantly reject naturalism.

    Anyways, you aren’t making your case as a theist, you are making your case as a Christian. There is a significant difference between the two. In other words:

    “You can’t explain the world without appealing to the supernatural!”
    vs
    “You can’t explain the world without appealing to [my personal belief that there is] only one true God named Yahweh!”

    Once you start making these types of specific claims, then the burden of proof is absolutely upon you. To take G’s statement above, you have the onus of showing that P (“one god named Yahweh”) is more probable than P_1 (“one god named Flying Spaghetti Monster”) and P_3 (“a pantheon of Grecian gods”) etc.

    I get frequent comments here to the effect that “‘Thinking Christian’ is an oxymoron.” […] This is prejudice, it is stereotyping, it is treating a large number of people as less human.

    People are on average not very intelligent. Large quantities of Americans are Christian. Therefore, people are more likely to know unintelligent Christians than they are any other flavor of religion. It’s similar to what I noted above – lack of intellectual rigor is a personal trait (and often a matter of personal choice).

    “It takes even less thought to believe fairy tales. Credulity takes less effort than scientific rigor.”

    Wellll….

    “Loop quantum gravity postulates that space can be viewed as an extremely fine fabric or network “woven” of finite quantised loops of excited gravitational fields called spin networks. Loop quantum gravity may explain the existence of a singularity that ‘exploded’ to form time, space, matter, and the universe as we know it.”
    vs
    “God did it”.

  4. Sault, you say,

    I don’t see either atheists or theists overwhelmingly belong to one camp or the other – lack of intellectual rigor is a personal trait, not a trait of supernatural belief or disbelief.

    I agree completely.

    It’s kinda sad that you dog on atheists for rejecting supernaturalism when you just as adamantly reject naturalism.

    blockquote>

    I wouldn’t dog on a principled rejection of supernaturalism if I saw a good reason for it. I reject naturalism because I think it’s impossible for it to be true, as I have explained in several ways and in several places. I don’t know what could make supernaturalism impossible in principle. Maybe I’ve missed it.

    Once you start making these types of specific claims, then the burden of proof is absolutely upon you. To take G’s statement above, you have the onus of showing that P (“one god named Yahweh”) is more probable than P_1 (“one god named Flying Spaghetti Monster”) and P_3 (“a pantheon of Grecian gods”) etc.

    Again, I agree completely.

    But where you go next is the most interesting:

    “Loop quantum gravity postulates that space can be viewed as an extremely fine fabric or network “woven” of finite quantised loops of excited gravitational fields called spin networks. Loop quantum gravity may explain the existence of a singularity that ‘exploded’ to form time, space, matter, and the universe as we know it.”
    vs
    “God did it”.

    There are Christians who resort to “God did it.” I accept that. What I don’t know is that it is Christianity that takes them there. I think it is just an expression of the variation you’ve acknowledged in intellectual curiosity. Some people say, “God did it.” Some people say, “I don’t care.” The second is the non-theistic version of the first.

    I know plenty of Christian physicists, though, who don’t say “God did it.” They’re searching for explanations of reality just as hard as any of the Christians who founded modern science searched, or as hard as any other non-Christian science searches.

    There is a rumor afoot that being able to say, “God did it” interferes with scientific curiosity. But that’s a theory that’s testable sociologically, and until it’s tested, it’s just a theory. A theory, by the way, that is false on the face of it, considering the rich tradition of Christian believers in the history of science.

  5. @Sault:

    It’s kinda sad that you dog on atheists for rejecting supernaturalism when you just as adamantly reject naturalism.

    The problem is not rejecting or accepting this or that, but having no rational grounds for doing so. That is what Tom’s post is about.

    To take G’s statement above, you have the onus of showing that P (“one god named Yahweh”) is more probable than P_1 (“one god named Flying Spaghetti Monster”) and P_3 (“a pantheon of Grecian gods”) etc.

    And we are supposed to take you seriously when you put on par Yahweh (I AM WHO I AM) with the Flying Spaghetti Monster or even with the Greek pantheon? Is this what passes for informed thinking on your head?

    And did you understood what I said about d’s stance? Is there any mistake in my reasoning?

    People are on average not very intelligent.

    I do not know if this is true or not, and frankly, I don’t give a hoot, but just out of curiosity on what contingent of the intelligence divide you put yourself in? In the minority one?

    “Loop quantum gravity postulates that space can be viewed as an extremely fine fabric or network “woven” of finite quantised loops of excited gravitational fields called spin networks. Loop quantum gravity may explain the existence of a singularity that ‘exploded’ to form time, space, matter, and the universe as we know it.”

    vs.

    “God did it”.

    Sault, do you know Loop Quantum Gravity (LQG for short)? Do you know what it can explain or what it cannot explain? On what grounds do you accept the statements you quoted? And just in case you missed, there is a “may” somewhere in there. And why did you mentioned LQG, and say not String theory, which has a much wider community and makes even more outlandish boasts? To show off that you know some new buzzwords?

    Now, let me tell you a thing or two about showing off — I can play this game too, you know. I am no expert on LQG neither have I published anything on the matter (although at various points in my life I intended to do some work on it, but then got sidetracked, and now it is probably too late to do anything significant in it as my interests have shifted somewhat and I have not kept up with the advances) but my phd co-supervisor was L. Crane of the Barrett-Crane model fame; talked, as in face to face, with people who work(ed) on the field and in fact, I know several people who worked or works in LQG; have actually studied several papers and attended lectures by several of the experts (Ashtekhar, Lewandowski, Thiemann, Barrett, Baez, Smolin, etc.). Now that my boasting is over and done with, let me tell you that the “may” in there is entirely appropriate.

    But this is not even the most important thing. Even if LQG succeeds, the case for (classical) theism is hardly scratched.

  6. Well, I was doing some reading, and I have realized there is more controversy over the nature of abduction (inferences to the best explanation – IBE) and Bayesian reasoning than I had known. There’s controversy over how and if the two are related, and what it means if each technique results in conflicting explanations, and more.

    One view is that IBE’s are, more or less, informal Bayesian arguments. If that’s the case, then what I said correct, for the most part, since by claiming a “best explanation”, one is claiming that a particular explanation more likely than other possibilities. To know that an explanation is the best, one need to demonstrate that other possibilities are less likely, or false.

    But if they are not related so closely, an IBE might not necessarily be related to likelihood. One attempt to pin it down suggests that best explanations would be those that confer the most understanding, but aren’t necessarily the most likely.

    So my comments quoted for this article make some sense, if we’re talking about likelihood – and that’s really what I was talking about. But that might not be what most are thinking of when they say “best explanation”.

    I disagree that skepticism is easy. It too, is hard. A proper skeptic does not short circuit thinking, and will ask the same kinds tough questions about his own valued ideas. Sometimes that means letting those valued beliefs go, and that can be incredibly difficult. Perhaps it even means reinventing a major portion of ones identity. Its not the lazy-thinker’s dream ride, as its somewhat portrayed.

  7. The whole “atheism is not a belief” has always struck me as odd. It’s not because of the concept. It’s because of the actions of those who claim to “simply lack belief.” They turn around an call their “lack of belief” a position, perspective, view, opinion, and so on. They avoid the word belief because it’s a dirty word to them. They recognize that when they have a belief and choose to engage in a conversation connected to that belief then they’ll have to actually support that belief. That’s something they don’t want to do.

    Hence, it’s nothing more than a cop out.

  8. d,

    I hope I did not communicate that all skepticism is easy. There is a completely appropriate mental attitude of skepticism, which one might call curiosity-skepticism, that leads to further and better and more accurate knowledge. It involves challenging one’s established ways of thinking, unlearning old things, learning new things.

    The skepticism of which I was writing here (or was intending to write, if I did not make the distinction clear enough) is of a different sort. It is what one might call dogmatic-skepticism, for it stakes a dogmatic position of never taking a position other than skepticism. It stifles curiosity and learning. It says, “no matter what you tell me, you won’t ever be able to jump my skeptical barriers and convince me;” which is far too closely related to, “My mind’s made up; don’t confuse me with facts.”

    The kind of skepticism you were alluding to in the last paragraph of your comment just now is very different from the kind you were talking about when you said it was up to someone else (me, or other Christians) to disprove every other possible alternative before you would believe in the Resurrection. That latter form of it is just a way of saying, “You do all the work while I relax in my preconceived opinion.”

  9. Chip,

    The whole “atheism is not a belief” has always struck me as odd. It’s not because of the concept. It’s because of the actions of those who claim to “simply lack belief.”

    Indeed. In fact, the “atheism is not a belief” position is being forfeited by the New Atheist Movement. You don’t get thousands of people together to rally about everyone not having a belief. On the contrary, the Gnus believe religion should be publicly mocked and ridiculed. That’s just one thing they believe.

  10. @ Tom

    What I don’t know is that it is Christianity that takes them there.

    It’s easier for a Christian to say “God did it” than it is for an atheist to rattle off a scientific theory. I’m not saying that all Christians do it, just that it’s easier to say that God did it vs not having that “easy way out”. It is easier, in that sense, to believe than to not believe.

    There is a rumor afoot that being able to say, “God did it” interferes with scientific curiosity. But that’s a theory that’s testable sociologically, and until it’s tested, it’s just a theory.

    I came across a very interesting video clip from Neil Tyson deGrasse. This is the link… It’s 11 minutes long, but I implore you to watch it, as he voices it better than I can. The sum? Religion interferes with scientific breakthrough, historical references included.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDAT98eEN5Q

    @ G

    And we are supposed to take you seriously when you put on par Yahweh (I AM WHO I AM) with the Flying Spaghetti Monster or even with the Greek pantheon? Is this what passes for informed thinking on your head?

    And the point of what I said is that it is up to you to show (provide evidence, make arguments for) that Yahweh is more probable than the alternatives. Until this is done, all are equally probable. That speaks to the point of why a Christian has the burden of proof… what makes Yahweh more probable than FSM? <– aka burden of proof

    Sault, do you know Loop Quantum Gravity (LQG for short)?

    Nope. While I think that what I said makes sense, and roughly approximates a current scientific theory, I have basically zero personal knowledge about how it works or what it means. I used it to illustrate the point that while Christians have the option of taking the easy way out (not saying they all do, of course not), non-believers don’t. In that sense it is easier to be a believer than it is to be a non-believer. “God did it” covers a LOT of ground.

    Even if LQG succeeds, the case for (classical) theism is hardly scratched.

    Never said it did. The converse of your statement is also true, though, too…

    @ Chip

    They avoid the word belief because it’s a dirty word to them.

    Everyone believes something. However, it depends on how you define “believe”. This is one example of someone who uses the word sloppily and equivocates non-supernatural beliefs with supernatural beliefs (faith). Either I try to explain the difference and end up getting nowhere, or I don’t use the word at all. Guess which is easier?

  11. Tom,

    “My mind’s made up; don’t confuse me with facts.”

    this is perhaps the best description of WLC’s views on reason and faith, where reason has ministerial role and the Holy Spirit has a magisterial role, thus trumping any and all arguments, evidence, including reason itself, in case faith and reason collide.

    here’s some more Craig: “even if given no good reason to believe and many good reasons to disbelieve, a person still has no excuse for his unbelief”(quoting from memory)

    now, what do we call somebody who’s made a career presenting arguments, and what he claims is good evidence for god, when he actually holds the conclusion of those arguments (e.g. “God exists”), not because of the premises but because the testimony of the Holy Spirit assures him God exists, and would continue to be a believer no matter what the evidence or the “facts”?
    or a person who would say things like “if Mr. Hitchens is a man of good will, he’d follow the evidence where it leads, and tonight all evidence’s been on the side of Christianity”, or “In one sense, you have to feel sorry for the atheist, he can’t follow the evidence where it leads!”, when he had made it perfectly clear that he won’t follow the evidence where it leads, because “it doesn’t controvert the witness of the Holy Spirit”? I’m sure you don’t need a hint. I mean this guy is unbelievable! I’m becoming more and more convinced that Craig’s real contribution won’t be to the field of philosophy, but perhaps to a sub-field of medical science. you know, like psychiatry. Seriously, few things can do a better job at revealing the bankruptcy of Christian theism than hailing such a person to be its foremost defender

    btw, does any of this violate the discussion policy? :]

  12. No violation of the discussion policy. Just an incomplete understanding of the coherent belief that he is defending. But I have to help my wife get a car to the shop, and I have a long meeting today, so I may not get back to this and explain it very soon. Tomorrow at latest, I hope.

  13. AgeOfReasonXXI,

    “My mind’s made up; don’t confuse me with facts.”

    this is perhaps the best description of WLC’s views on reason and faith, where reason has ministerial role and the Holy Spirit has a magisterial role, thus trumping any and all arguments, evidence, including reason itself, in case faith and reason collide.

    Is that a quote from Craig?

    here’s some more Craig: “even if given no good reason to believe and many good reasons to disbelieve, a person still has no excuse for his unbelief”(quoting from memory)

    With everything Craig has provided for free online this is the best someone who goes by the name AgeOfReasonXXI can do? Why don’t you provide a real link to a real quote from Craig in context.

  14. it is easier to be a believer than it is to be a non-believer.

    Cake and eat it, too, much?
    On the one hand, atheists would like us to believe (without evidence, I might add), that atheism is “default”, that it is “how rocks ‘believe'”, that it is simply a ‘lack of belief’.
    On the other hand, the same atheists would like us to believe (with no more evidence), that atheism requires more ‘work’ to handle.
    Which is it, really?

  15. How did WLC become part of this thread? I mean outside of AORs obsession with Dr. Craig. What is it AOR? Do you think your obsession with criticising Dr. Craig somehow translates to showing how reasonable you are or how unreasonablw we are. You do know your criticism is showing much more about what you don’t understand than anything about Dr. Craig.

  16. Anyway, AOR21, it would make my job and yours a lot easier if you could supply the context for those quotes. Anyone can be made to look idiotic out of context, but that’s nothing better than mere irresponsibility. I will of course start a new thread for that discussion.

  17. And the point of what I said is that it is up to you to show (provide evidence, make arguments for) that Yahweh is more probable than the alternatives. Until this is done, all are equally probable. That speaks to the point of why a Christian has the burden of proof… what makes Yahweh more probable than FSM?

    Christians have the option of taking the easy way out (not saying they all do, of course not), non-believers don’t. In that sense it is easier to be a believer than it is to be a non-believer. “God did it” covers a LOT of ground.

    Sault,

    Aren’t you more or less suggesting that science will someday be able to explain everything so God does not really exist?

  18. @Sault:

    And the point of what I said is that it is up to you to show (provide evidence, make arguments for) that Yahweh is more probable than the alternatives. Until this is done, all are equally probable. That speaks to the point of why a Christian has the burden of proof… what makes Yahweh more probable than FSM?

    For how long have you been commenting here, Sault? If by this time, you still think that Yahweh is on par with the FSM as being “equally probable”, e.g. equally reasonable, then nothing I can tell you will change your mind; you are beyond rational, reasoned discourse and I am afraid there is nothing I can personally do about it.

    While I think that what I said makes sense, and roughly approximates a current scientific theory, I have basically zero personal knowledge about how it works or what it means.

    I suspected that much. But then your talk below about “taking the easy way out” is meaningless, because what you are doing is picking a theory you know anything about, heck you do not even know what it *means*, and propose it as an explanation. How is that better than “God did it”?

    And to pick up on JAD’s post, science is not, and can *never* be, the exaustive sum total of human knowledge. There are questions, probably the most important ones, that are not in the purview of science, and it is *these* questions that most directly concern theism and Christianity.

    I used it to illustrate the point that while Christians have the option of taking the easy way out (not saying they all do, of course not), non-believers don’t. In that sense it is easier to be a believer than it is to be a non-believer.

    Since I am not one of those believers, and neither is any of the regular Christian commenters in this blog one of those believers, why bring this up? Besides, “easy” is in the eye of the beholder. There are a lot of hard-to-swallow pills in wait for a Christian. And anyway, what exactly is the relevance of all this talk about how so much easier it is to be a believer? I do not know about you, but personally, I am interested in what is the true way not the easier one.

    Even if LQG succeeds, the case for (classical) theism is hardly scratched.

    Never said it did. The converse of your statement is also true, though, too…

    Now, now, you *do* try to imply something in the neighborhood. And about the converse, sure, but have you ever heard me bringing up LQG to boost the theistic case? No, so your point has exactly zero relevance.

  19. “…what makes Yahweh more probable than FSM?”

    Is this a serious question? Comparing the God of the Bible to some fictional being invented as theoretical example to be used in argumentation. The people who invented the FSM didn’t think that it represented an actually deity or an actual anything.

    That on top of the well known fallacy of all the FSM type hypotheticals. The existence or nonexistence of the FSM or flying teapot makes no difference to the universe, our existence, our consciousness or anything else that exists. The existence or nonexistence of God matters very much to all of these things.

    And again this raises the question of why anyone who wants to be taken seriously would raise such an obviously irrational question. I mean we get why Dawkins uses this. He’s utterly clueless about any philosophical or theological question. But you Sault? This is where you make your stand.

  20. what makes Yahweh more probable than FSM?

    The FSM is invoked by those who don’t want to engage with metaphysical reality (i.e., their fundamentally irrational pretense is that the FSM is representative of metaphysics).

  21. …what you are doing is picking a theory you know anything about, heck you do not even know what it *means*, and propose it as an explanation. How is that better than “God did it”?

    Amen, brother!

  22. Sault @ 11,

    I came across a very interesting video clip from Neil Tyson deGrasse. This is the link… It’s 11 minutes long, but I implore you to watch it, as he voices it better than I can. The sum? Religion interferes with scientific breakthrough, historical references included.

    I don’t know if Tom has the time but I took a look at deGrasse’s video clip. I found the first half to be fairly accurate and interesting. Indeed, Arabic scholars, mathematicians and natural philosophers (“scientists”) not only preserved Greek science, but actually made some original contributions of their own in astronomy, alchemy (chemistry) optics and mathematics… Were all these Arab scholars atheists?

    Unfortunately deGrasse completely leaves out the contributions made by medieval Christian scholars and natural philosophers.

    For example, in 1085, Alfonso VI of Castile conquered Toledo, Spain which had been under Muslim rule since the 8th century. In the decades following the Christian conquest, educated monks from all over Europe began making pilgrimages to Toledo. Some would stay there the rest of their lives. Do you why they came to Toledo? Do you know what they were looking for? One of the scholars names was Gerard of Cremona. Have you ever heard of him? Do you know why he was important? (If you don’t you can always google his name.)

    Why does deGrasse skip over this period of time as if nothing significant happened from 1100 to 1600 AD?

  23. @Sault,

    My statement was isolated from its context, and as a result lost its intended meaning. Hence, the provided response makes no sense. Allow me to restate my point.

    Atheism is defined as a “mere lack of belief” because a “mere lack of belief” makes no claims. It also means atheism is not a position. It is not a perspective. It has no view. It has no opinion. For this reason, atheism has no burden of proof. That’s great news for atheists because they have no burden of proof. Yet, there’s a problem.

    “Mere lack of belief” cannot engage in a discussion on God’s existence because it has no ideas to exchange on the topic. Yet, we routinely see atheists engaged in conversations about the topic. We see them refer to atheism as a position, perspective, opinion, and so on. They are operating in an inconsistent manner. Why?

    I believe they are either ignorant or dishonest. They have taken on the “mere lack of belief” definition without thinking out its consequences, or they have taken on the “mere lack of belief” to shield themselves from a burden of proof. It is in the latter context that belief becomes a “dirty word” because it is seen as requiring a burden of proof. It is also in the latter context which I believe most atheists fall because while they reject the word belief they continue to describe themselves as have a perspective, position, opinion, and so on.

  24. @ Doug

    On the one hand, atheists would like us to believe (without evidence, I might add), that atheism is “default”. On the other hand, the same atheists would like us to believe (with no more evidence), that atheism requires more ‘work’ to handle. Which is it, really?

    I’ve been thinking lately that there is an evolutionary advantage, at some level, to believing in God. Religion makes for great crowd control: establishing mores, creating a social structure, etc. Early man needed this, and many of us still do.

    Of course atheism requires more “work”. Religion (as I just mentioned) comes stock with its own explanations, its own social structures, its own divinely mandated moral codes. Even when they are vague and need interpretation, your average believer doesn’t have to work to develop their own moral code, their own understanding, if they don’t want to.

    Atheism doesn’t have that option.

    @ JAD

    Aren’t you more or less suggesting that science will someday be able to explain everything so God does not really exist?

    Not at all. What I am saying is that, per G’s reasoning, that Christians have the obligation to show that God (Yahweh) is more probable than other possible deities. That is the burden of proof that Christians have.

    @ G

    If by this time, you still think that Yahweh is on par with the FSM as being “equally probable”, e.g. equally reasonable, then nothing I can tell you will change your mind;

    From a neutral standpoint, I am simply stating what must happen. If using FSM offends you, then substitute the name of any classically-accepted deity (e.g. Odin, Thor, Amen-Ra, Dionysius, Coyote etc etc).

    You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t buy into your histrionics. From my point of view, it isn’t unreasonable to postulate that the Supreme Being has a sense of humor (even though it isn’t one of the emotions attributed to Him in the Bible). You argue within your worldview, and I accept that, but I do not have to accept the primacy of your personal interpretation of God.

    what you are doing is picking a theory you know anything about, heck you do not even know what it *means*, and propose it as an explanation. How is that better than “God did it”?

    I stated a hypothetical case, and it made sense to you. How many man-years did it take to get to the point where we could even begin to formulate that theory? Okay, now how many minutes does it take to formulate the explanation that “God did it”? That is the point that I was trying to make. I don’t fully understand it, but that’s irrelevant – as I said, it made sense to you, and that was what was important.

    Since I am not one of those believers, and neither is any of the regular Christian commenters in this blog one of those believers, why bring this up?

    Because if *you* talk about atheists in general, then *I* can talk about Christians in general. No double standards, please.

    No, so your point has exactly zero relevance.

    My point was that your point had zero relevance. The two aren’t related. After all… God could have done it, and maybe this was the way He did it. I have no idea why you said it.

    @ BillT

    “…what makes Yahweh more probable than FSM?”

    Is this a serious question?

    Once again, it was an off-the-cuff illustration of why Christians do indeed have the burden of proof. Substitute the name of any other deity if you prefer.

    @ JAD

    Were all these Arab scholars atheists?

    No. I would be surprised if any of them were, actually. I don’t know all of the nuances, but it seems that at least within Islam, at some point fundamentalism gained hold and suppressed scientific discovery. I think that the same has held true at some points in the history of Christianity as well. I don’t think of theism or religion in general as an enemy of science… but fundamentalism? Oh, yes.

    I’ll get to Chip in a few minutes…

  25. Of course atheism requires more “work”.

    Ever thought that that might be because atheism is fundamentally in conflict with reality??

  26. Sault,

    Once again, it was an off-the-cuff illustration of why Christians do indeed have the burden of proof. Substitute the name of any other deity if you prefer.

    Use your mind, Sault. What makes God more probable than a non-God, in this case the FSM? The answer seems obvious. I hope nobody will take the time to work up a proof to convince you of the obvious fact that the FSM is fiction.

    Let’s look at other non-Gods such as Thor the god of thunder. Thor doesn’t explain the created order, morality, the human condition, or much of anything beyond thunder, so God is the better explanation. There’s not much of a burden with many of these.

  27. @Sault:

    par with the FSM as being “equally probable”, e.g. equally reasonable, then nothing I can tell you will change your mind;

    From a neutral standpoint, I am simply stating what must happen. If using FSM offends you, then substitute the name of any classically-accepted deity (e.g. Odin, Thor, Amen-Ra, Dionysius, Coyote etc etc).

    You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t buy into your histrionics. From my point of view, it isn’t unreasonable to postulate that the Supreme Being has a sense of humor (even though it isn’t one of the emotions attributed to Him in the Bible). You argue within your worldview, and I accept that, but I do not have to accept the primacy of your personal interpretation of God.

    Changing the FSM for Thor, Odin, etc. changes nothing in my statement, as in fact I clearly stated in my post #6 (the reference to the Greek pantheon). I, and many others, have already explained to you several times, in several ways, the several reasons why Yaweh is not on par with the examples of gods you mention. Nothing has sunk in and you continue to trot out the same nonsense. You can bluff as much as you want, complain about my histrionics, place yourself in the company of all the Brights, etc. As far as I am concerned, it is a sad fact to contend with that all those explanations were in vain and that personally, there is little I can do to change that.

    If you want to refute theism in general, and Christianity in particular, you have to tackle it at its best, in much the same way as we Christians have to confront any opposing philosophies (e.g. metaphysical naturalism) at their strongest. This particular type of objections does not even pass the laugh test and is a true testament to your willful ignorance.

    what you are doing is picking a theory you know anything about, heck you do not even know what it *means*, and propose it as an explanation. How is that better than “God did it”?

    I stated a hypothetical case, and it made sense to you. How many man-years did it take to get to the point where we could even begin to formulate that theory? Okay, now how many minutes does it take to formulate the explanation that “God did it”? That is the point that I was trying to make. I don’t fully understand it, but that’s irrelevant – as I said, it made sense to you, and that was what was important.

    Let us backtrack a little, shall we? You stated a hypothetical explanation for the origin of the universe which, on your own admission, you do not understand one iota of. The most important part of my reply was that even if successful, the case for theism is hardly scratched. Your excuse for putting the explanation forward, an explanation you yourself do not understand, is 1. that *I* understand it so it makes no difference whether you understand it or not 2. that “God did it” takes a few minutes to formulate in contrast to 3. the theory took several man-years to formulate. The first bullet tells us that you will buy anything, with even the remotest chances of success, as long as it does not have the least tincture of the supernatural in it. Maybe you think that that is a rational approach to judge explanations; hey, whatever rocks your boat. As to your excuses, my reply is:

    1. You surely understand “God did it” do you not?

    2. How many minutes did it take you to copy-paste the quoted paragraph about a theory, LQG, which I repeat, you do not have one iota of understanding?

    3. Christianity has a 2000 year-old tradition behind it and some of the brightest minds the world has seen, several orders of magnitude more than any scientific theory you care to name.

    So by your criteria, “God did it” is just as respectable as an explanation as copy-pasting a blurb about LQG, so once again, why exactly are you complaining?

    Since I am not one of those believers, and neither is any of the regular Christian commenters in this blog one of those believers, why bring this up?

    Because if *you* talk about atheists in general, then *I* can talk about Christians in general. No double standards, please.

    I talk about atheists in general? Never realized I did, but maybe you are right and I do it unknowingly. No double standards, then, oh companion of Stalin, Mao, Pol-Pot and many other merry atheists.

    After all… God could have done it, and maybe this was the way He did it. I have no idea why you said it.

    My bad then, I misunderstood you. Apologies.

  28. I note with some amusement that the picture accompanying this post comes from “…the best signs at the reason rally”. If that’s an example of the best to be found at that august gathering, it confirms (yet again) what so many of us have come to believe about the New Atheist movement.

    Continuing on…

    “Loop quantum gravity postulates that space can be viewed as an extremely fine fabric or network “woven” of finite quantised loops of excited gravitational fields called spin networks. Loop quantum gravity may explain the existence of a singularity that ‘exploded’ to form time, space, matter, and the universe as we know it.”
    vs
    “God did it”.

    This is one of the cheapest of the many cheap cop-outs to be found in internet atheist land. While from a Christian POV everything good falls under the heading of “God did it”, exactly how and why He did it can be explored and understood, at least on a basic level, by even the meanest believer. In fact, this is the case more often than not. I don’t know a single Christian who looks at everything in their lives that they don’t understand and says “God did it”, and neither do you. I know quite a few Christian females that don’t know how their car runs, but none of them believe that Divine Intervention is the direct cause when they turn the key; they all do understand that gasoline and spark plugs are involved. I know quite a few Christian men who understand nothing about how their computer works, but none of them believe that the Holy Spirit is busily painting behind the glass of the monitor; they do understand that electricity and microprocessors are at work. I know an excellent engineer at church who most definitely does not believe that it is the literal Hand of God that holds up whatever feat of engineering he happens to be designing and building. When I’m in the back of my ambulance, I don’t sit back after administering various medications and say “Wow. Look how God did this.” And when my children dropped the Mentos into the Diet Mountain Dew, they didn’t dance around the spewing bottle squealing “God did it! God did it!”I don’t know a single Christian who doesn’t understand that science and engineering are behind these things, and unless you live in some remarkably backwards part of the world you don’t either. It’s simpy that we believe there is a Reason behind the physical laws through which science and engineering work.

    “Nope. While I think that what I said makes sense, and roughly approximates a current scientific theory, I have basically zero personal knowledge about how it works or what it means.”

    Unless you can tell us, to some extent, why it makes sense (other than the fact that someone you believe in said it) or why it might be a credible scientific theory, you are absolutely no different than the “God did it” believer of your caricature. You are simply regurgitating what someone else said because a) you respect their expertise and b) it conforms to what you want to believe.

    “I used it to illustrate the point that while Christians have the option of taking the easy way out (not saying they all do, of course not), non-believers don’t.”

    Then you have failed in your illustration.

    “In that sense it is easier to be a believer than it is to be a non-believer.”

    For some, maybe. From what you’ve shown us here, not so for you. Unless you mean the tiny bit of extra effort it took you to type out someone else’s description of Loop Quantum Gravity theory (that you don’t have the slightest understanding of) versus a Christian who might type out “God did it”. In that case, yes, I concede that you did do a small amount of extra work.

    “I came across a very interesting video clip from Neil Tyson deGrasse.”

    I didn’t watch your 11 minute video. I’d not be at all surprised if it is exactly as reviewed by JAD; I’ve seen similar sorts of “arguments” all over YouTube. There is ample evidence to disprove the notion that religion by itself is a threat to scientific inquiry. And no, I’m not going to find it for you. It’s easy enough to find. It’s discussed often enough on this blog alone, and you seem to believe that we should all know who you are, so you’ve apparently spent some time here.

  29. “I don’t think of theism or religion in general as an enemy of science… but fundamentalism? Oh, yes.”

    Ahem…

    “The sum? Religion interferes with scientific breakthrough, historical references included.”

    Hmm. Further concessions on my part may be necessary. Watching you tap-dance around posting a scientific theory you have no understanding of, coupled with moving the “religion stifles science” goalpost, I’m starting to believe that it’s a great deal of work to be an athiest!

  30. Here, again is Dr. Craig on the issue AoR is bringing up.
    It seems like the atheist community recently discovered this. As though either they have a website they are gathering at and someone brought it up, or the same guys are going from blog to blog under different names.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-fDyPU3wlQ

  31. “Once again, it was an off-the-cuff illustration of why Christians do indeed have the burden of proof. Substitute the name of any other deity if you prefer.”

    Avoiding the substance of my post Sault? What, no reply do my rebuttal. Just an “off-the-cuff” misdirection so you don’t have to explain the nonsense you wrote. The burden of proof has been met many times. You just keep trying to change the subject so you don’t have to face it.

  32. Just remember, guys, that you are talking to Christians with advanced degrees in the hard sciences, here 🙂
    The false dilemma you are trying to get away with will not work with us

  33. I note with some amusement that the picture accompanying this post comes from “…the best signs at the reason rally”.

    Yes, it is amusing how Gnus constantly brag about how smart they are, yet they rarely are able to back up such chest-thumping with impressive displays of reason. On the contrary, consider this typical example of GnuThink:

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/a-reader-describes-what-will-make-him-accept-evolution/#comments

    Although Coyne likes to crow about how he relies only on evidence and reason, he never pauses for a moment to wonder if this “Blas” is legit and not some Gnu troll posing as a hyper-ignorant creationist. And he never offers any evidence that “Blas” is sincere. And it’s not just Coyne, as dozens of his acolytes lap all this up without the slightest whiff of skepticism. They wallow in their stereotypes and confirmation bias.

    Perhaps Gnuism is a gullibility test that only the gullible pass.

  34. Sault, you said concerning the video clip,

    The sum? Religion interferes with scientific breakthrough, historical references included.

    This is not a summable scientific conclusion. I mean that not just rhetorically but almost literally. You have made a scientific and statistical error. If you believe in science you need to reverse your statement. If you don’t reverse your statement you are denying any belief in science.

    Here’s what I mean. Every scientist knows that you cannot draw an accurate inference concerning a population from a small unrepresentative sample. Every social scientist knows the importance of precisely defined operational definitions. Every social scientist knows that correlation does not indicate causation, except that in the presence of robust theory it can certainly support an inference of causation.

    Islam is but one religion out of many. It is a small sample of world religions. Is it representative of world religions? What could that possibly mean? Here an operational definition becomes crucial. Religions differ on many, many dimensions. Are all those dimensions relevant to the scientific enterprise? If you say so, then you will run into an unmanageable variety of variables and you won’t be able to draw any conclusions from the data whatever.

    So then are some dimensions of religious variance relevant to the scientific enterprise? Probably. What are they? How can you fit them into some robust theory?

    And what about the rest of the data. What about what happened after 1100? What about the hundreds of Christian natural philosophers through the Middle Ages and the modern period? Do they get included in the data set? Why not? What scientifically responsible inference can you draw without including them?

    Could it be that some of the variance specifically between Islam and Christianity needs to be entered into the theory?

    What I’m saying here, and I want to shout it loud enough for everyone on the Internet to hear it, is that every scientist who claims Christianity has on the whole been a hindrance to science is hindering science by saying so.

    They are hindering science by making unscientific claims about science.

    They are hindering science by representing themselves as authorities on that which concerning which they have no scientific knowledge.

    They are hindering science by making false claims about the history of science.

    They are hindering science by making false claims about the current relationship between religion and science.

    In fact, I think I will go ahead and shout it. I mean this to have the effect the typography indicates. I cannot imagine why this is not obvious. I cannot imagine why it hasn’t been shouted by thousands of scientists. I just don’t get it. So I will do my part at least, and shout:

    EVERY SCIENTIST WHO CLAIMS CHRISTIANITY HAS ON THE WHOLE BEEN A HINDRANCE TO SCIENCE IS HINDERING SCIENCE!

    And Sault, if you don’t retract the conclusion you presented earlier, you are denying and hindering science.

    The challenge is before you. Do you believe in science or not? Show your stuff.

  35. That (the above) will be a new blog post very soon.

    I’d be happy to proceed with the blog post I promised AOR21, too, but I’m not going to do it unless he provides the source of the alleged Craig sayings. I’m not going to try to talk about something so poorly defined as his quotations currently are.

  36. I am completely overwhelmed by the volume of responses… until I can muddle through them, I’ll keep my response very brief.

    @ Tom

    The sum? Religion interferes with scientific breakthrough, historical references included.

    This is not a summable scientific conclusion. I mean that not just rhetorically but almost literally. You have made a scientific and statistical error. If you believe in science you need to reverse your statement. If you don’t reverse your statement you are denying any belief in science.

    In the instances where some people claim that religion is interfering with science, I have seen evidence that indicates that it is not religion itself, but fundamentalist and conservatist elements within that religion instead. That is my viewpoint, and I really wish that I wouldn’t have tried to express anything about the point that Neil was trying to make.

    Probably half of what has been typed above is because of your impression that I was making that argument. I’m not. Some people use their faith and their religion as a tool to further their own ends – and sometimes that means squashing innovation and scientific discovery.

    So Tom… before you blog about it, please understand what I was trying to say. I thought that I differentiated between the two, but obviously not enough…

    …this is exactly the same thing as what happened earlier with the scientific theory vs “God did it” statement I made above. My statement about someone else’s argument was interpreted as my own. It wasn’t. I’m not sure what I need to do in the future to properly make that differentiation, obviously I’m doing something wrong here…

  37. It’s also probably worth mentioning that NDT is an astronomer, and he focused a lot on Arabic astronomical discoveries. If he didn’t focus on Christian scientists from the Middle Ages, maybe there wasn’t a significant amount of astronomical discovery made during that time… or maybe the example with Islam was the most striking example that he could speak authoritatively on.

    @ Tom

    Islam is but one religion out of many. It is a small sample of world religions.

    20% of the world population is hardly a small or “unrepresentative” sample.

  38. You’re saying (let me get this right) that Islam is representative of all religions???

    Seriously???!!!

    I needed a laugh. Thank you for trying. it didn’t work though; if Islam really were representative, the world would be a lot scarier place.

  39. Sault,

    Some people use their faith and their religion as a tool to further their own ends – and sometimes that means squashing innovation and scientific discovery.

    Absolutely correct and others use science to further their own ends and to squash philosophical enquiry. Both bring disrepute on themselves and is detrimental to their respective fields.

  40. Sault,

    In the instances where some people claim that religion is interfering with science, I have seen evidence that indicates that it is not religion itself, but fundamentalist and conservatist elements within that religion instead.

    Scientifically responsible evidence?

  41. @Sault

    20% of the world population is hardly a small or “unrepresentative” sample.

    But Tom was referring to samples of religions, not people. There are countless religions, and 22 commonly considered to be “major” world religions (determined by # adherents, I believe). So one extracted from a population of 22++ *is* arguably “small” and “unrepresentative”.
    I don’t mean to join in, just to clarify. Carry on.

  42. @Tom

    it takes very little hard thinking at all to be an atheist

    I think this statement suffers some similar flaws as that in the pictured sign, in that it certainly *can* be true, but is by no means necessarily always true. One can put a lot of hard thought into becoming an atheist or into becoming a theist. One can also put little or next to no thought into becoming either as well. It all depends on their mental context.

    And of course the actual content and soundness of any (hard) thought put into selecting an atheistic or theistic view is an entirely different matter.

    At any rate, I think it is clear that those like the man pictured aim to dehumanize, as you say, rather than put forth arguments for their standpoint that have any hard thought put in them. Ironic, I suppose.

  43. I agree there is some real thinking among some atheists. I was careless here in not specifying that this post is entirely about the version of atheism that fits the description I gave (the truncated, limiting view of reason, and “atheism is not a belief”). I should have made it clear that I don’t think those two descriptors fit all atheists. Thank you for the correction. I will add it into the main post.