If Atheism Is the Belief That There’s No Evidence For God…

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A short while ago on this blog I quoted a few leading atheists who said atheism is (among other things, of course) “the belief that there’s no evidence for God.” By way of reminder,

 1. Dan Barker defines atheism as “the lack of theism, the lack of belief in god(s). I am an atheist because there is no reason to believe.”

 2. Richard Carrier, writing his definitions on “What is Atheism Really All About?” says, Christians find no reason to believe that Zeus exists, so they do not believe in him. For the same reason, I do not believe in Jehova.”

 3. rationalwiki’s “Atheism” page says,

At the root of the worldview of most atheists is evidence, and atheists point out that sufficient evidence for the existence of gods is currently very lacking, and thus there is no reason to believe in them. Evidential arguments are less ambitious than logical arguments because, rather than proving that there is reason not to believe in a god, they prove that there is no reason to believe in a god.

 4. Argumentsforatheism.com, on its “What Is Atheism?” page, says, “Atheists believe that there is no proof or evidence for the existence of gods, and they see no need for, or use for, gods.”

I asked atheist commenters for their opinions on this, and got a mixed result. I expected that response, because I don’t think Barker, Carrier, or the other two websites speak for all atheists. For purposes of this blog post, I will be focusing in on those atheists who do agree with the four sources I cited. I don’t know how many that would include, though probably David P and Michael would be among them.

Clarifying Terms

So I need to specify just who I am talking about. I am speaking specifically of naturalistic atheists, not (for example) Buddhist atheists; and only those who could be described as atheists-naturalists-who-believe-that-atheism-means-there’s-no-evidence-for-God every time. That’s pretty cumbersome, so instead I’ll use ANR for this form of atheism and ANRs for the persons who hold to ANR instead; the initials hinting at atheists/atheism that includes naturalism and no reason to believe in God.

Also, previously I included the note that atheism (for those atheists) means that “among other things:” this is true of atheism for those who hold to this belief, but of course it’s not the whole story of what is true of atheism for anyone. That’s how I mean to be understood throughout this post, though for the sake of brevity I won’t repeat it every time.

I needed to say that because atheists are a very diverse category of individuals, and they get understandably touchy when theists try to tell them what they believe. This is not telling anyone what he or she believes; this is speaking to those who do believe ANR. Also on those lines, the rest of this post is not telling ANRists what else they believe, but rather what they ought to believe if they’re going to hold to their ANR rationally and logically.

Some ANRists also hold that atheism is defined by “a lack of belief in God or gods,” and that therefore atheism is not a positive belief but a lack of belief. I find this position held by many atheists, ANRist or not. This post is directed specifically toward ANRs who hold that this is definitional of atheism, which I will call ANRL. I think this would be true of Dan Barker, argumentsforatheism.com, and rationalwiki, along with a host of less well-known sources. I do not think that Richard Carrier holds to ANRL.

Continuing with being appropriately careful with terms, Dan Barker’s statement is ambiguous: it’s not clear whether he means that “no reason to believe” is part of the definition of atheism, or part of the explanation of his definition of atheism; but it seems to fit in there somewhere, at any rate. Carrier is more clear: “no reason to believe” is part of his definition. The same goes for rationalwiki and argumentsforatheism.com (and Michael, too): “no reason to believe” is definitional either of atheism as a worldview or of atheists themselves.

Finally, “evidence.” Evidence is not equivalent to proof. Neither is it (as some have told me it was) restricted to empirical sorts of evidences. Evidence is just that which causes us to consider some conclusion more likely than that conclusion would be lacking that evidence. A fingerprint at a crime scene is proof that the person was there. It’s also evidence that the person might have committed the crime, and in itself, apart from other information, it makes it more likely that the person did it. It’s not proof in itself, but it’s still evidence.

Stated more formally, some information N is evidence for some conclusion C just in case the knowledge of N causes some rational observer S to consider C more likely to be true than if N was absent or not known by S.

The Question

My question is whether it’s rationally possible to hold that atheism means holding that there is no evidence for God while also believing that atheism is not a positive belief, but rather a lack of belief. Is ANRL a rational position to hold? I think not.

Here’s why. ANRLs say there is no evidence for God. David P put it nicely. The first quote here is from me, the answer is his:

The terminology of “no evidence” is far too absolute to be rational, but atheists use it all the time. The existence of life is evidence for God. The existence of the universe, when considered against the question of how it came to be is evidence for God. The historical record of the Bible is evidence for God.

None of these is evidence for the existence of God. That is a huge mental leap.

Here we have one positive belief, at least, expressed in two forms:

  • The existence of life is not evidence for God
  • The existence of the universe is not evidence for God

The Bible’s historical record is controversial and unnecessary to include in this argument so I will set it aside. In fact I can make my point just by concentrating on the existence of the universe.

What does the existence of the universe mean with respect to evidences, if it is not evidence for God? It seems to me it means either:

  1. It is evidence for naturalism, or
  2. It is evidence for nothing at all in the grand scheme of things, or
  3. It is unknown whether it is evidence for anything at all.

It seems difficult also to see how (2) could be true. Doesn’t the universe’s existence mean something? Doesn’t it tell us anything about reality in the big picture?

It seems to me that (3) is a cop-out. It’s an intellectually lazy way to go. One could say, “we don’t know what it is that the universe’s existence is providing evidence for.” That’s different from saying, “We don’t know whether the universe’s existence is evidence for anything at all.”

So it seems to me that the rational, intellectually active ANRL must believe that the existence of the universe is evidence for naturalism. Now, I’ve never heard that case argued, and it’s hard to see how the case could be made, but then I could have missed it in my reading and blogging.

Putting the Question To You

Of course I could be wrong about all my conclusions concering ANRLism here, so it’s time to put the question to people who would know better. Are there any ANRLs reading here? Do you hold to 1, 2, or 3? If so, could you explain your position and your reasons for it? The floor is yours.

41 Responses

  1. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Tom Gilson:

    My question is whether it’s rationally possible to hold that atheism means holding that there is no evidence for God while also believing that atheism is not a positive belief, but rather a lack of belief. Is ANRL a rational position to hold?

    The claim that atheism is “not a positive belief, but rather a lack of belief” is simply absurd and inane, a rhetorical ploy to avoid the burden of proof. Starting here, I had already posted some arguments; at Victor Reppert’s Dangerous Idea blog I posted a more systematic account of them, so I will just copy-paste it here:

    Premise: Atheism is essentially, that is, by real definition, the lack of belief in the existence of God or Gods.

    Argument 1:

    (1) There is no possible rational discourse about a lack or absence of belief.

    (2) Atheism is a specific lack of belief.

    (3) There is no possible rational discourse about Atheism.

    Argument 2:

    (1) asylum lunatics, mental retards, people in a coma, etc. are incapable of forming beliefs.

    (2) asylum lunatics, mental retards, people in a coma, etc. lack the belief in the existence of God or Gods.

    (3) asylum lunatics, mental retards, people in a coma, etc. are atheists.

    note: this has the side-effect of bolstering the number of atheists and at the same time dramatically dropping the average IQ of the group…

    Argument 3:

    (1) Person x believes that God or Gods do not exist.

    (2) It is not true of x that x lacks belief in the existence of God or Gods.

    (3) Therefore x is not an Atheist.

    The weak link seems to be (2). In order to deny it, one has to maintain that whenever x believes that God or Gods do not exist, then it is also true that x lacks belief in the existence of God or Gods. But this cannot be right. For if x believes that God or Gods do not exist, then x believes that the proposition P = “God exists” *is false*, rather than *lacking* a belief that P is true. The two are obviously different, inequivalent and logically incomparable. And if one wishes to maintain that they are indeed equivalent, say, just different paraphrases, then that would be conceding the point anyway.

    A possible response is to alter the definition to a disjunctive one, e.g. Atheism is *either* the lack of belief in the existence of God or Gods *or* the belief that God or Gods do not exist. But then:

    (1) Person x at time t_0 lacks the belief that God or Gods exist (e.g. a newborn baby).

    (2) Person x at time t_0 is an atheist.

    (3) Person x at time t_1 > t_0 believes that God or Gods do not exist (e.g. a newborn baby “matured” into a pimpled teenager).

    (4) Person x at time t_1 is an atheist.

    (5) It is is true of x at time t_0 that x lacks the belief that God or Gods exist. It is false of x at time t_1 that x lacks the belief that God or Gods exist.

    (6) If it is true of x at t_0 that P and true of x at t_1 that not-P then P is not essential but only accidental to x.

    (7) Therefore it is not essential, but accidental, to atheism the lacking of belief that God or Gods exist.

    Later edit: grrr, I cannot seem to get this last note exactly right. So I will stick to: we do not even need the extra conjunction you add in the quoted sentence to show the absurdity of the claim.

  2. G. Rodrigues says:

    Allow me to take a different tack than the one you have taken in this post.

    Part 1: I will start with the following quoted potion in the post:

    The terminology of “no evidence” is far too absolute to be rational, but atheists use it all the time. The existence of life is evidence for God. The existence of the universe, when considered against the question of how it came to be is evidence for God. The historical record of the Bible is evidence for God.

    None of these is evidence for the existence of God. That is a huge mental leap.

    With anticipated apologies, but I am going to put on my pedant hat to scalpelize this. First I need to introduce some notation: let G denote the proposition “God exists” (working at the level of the barest of bare theism) and E the evidence that the theist purports it proves G, that is, a theist says that the inference E |- G holds. An atheist like David P. explicitly denies this, he says:

    (A) E |- G does not obtain

    note: proof or entailment does not need to be construed in the strict deductive sense; inductive or abductive inferences also count.

    First, note that (A) is a *positive* belief: belief is a certain relation between a person and a proposition. To say that person x lacks belief in proposition P is to say that this relation does *not* obtain for person x and proposition P. But here we have the first incongruity: David P. *cannot* say that he lacks belief in God *because* of (A). A belief in some proposition P can lead to belief in Q, because given P, Q is more likely than not-Q; but what is completely incoherent is to say that some belief leads to an absence of belief. And it is quite obvious what is the conclusion that is drawn from (A): that G is *false*, not that the relation of belief between the atheist and G fails to obtain. Nothing about beliefs can ever be entailed by (A), because (A) is not about beliefs but about certain propositions and the relations between them.

    Part 2: but we can say something more. First, the fact that every purported entailment E |- G fails does *not* imply that G is false. Someone willing to deny the existence of God could mount the following argument:

    (1) All the purported proofs of the existence of God fail.

    (2) If until now all the purported proofs of the existence of God have failed, it is reasonable to hold that there are no proofs of the existence of God.

    (3) If there are no proofs of the existence of God, it is reasonable to conclude that this is because there is no God.

    (4) Therefore not-G, that is, God does not exist.

    The first point in formalizing the argument is that, contrary to the assertions, the atheist does have a *positive* belief, which is just atheism as traditionally conceived: God does not exist. And what supports the positive belief is (at the very least) the inductive reasonability argument as typed out above. Is it cogent? Not really. We can point out that unless the atheist gives some *positive* argument for not-G, *exactly* the same argument works for not-G and thus, at best, such a reasonability argument can only land us in agnosticism, for there is no reason to prefer G to not-G.

    But even if we granted the cogency of the argument, it still hinges on (A) being true, which is the real matter of dispute, not the inane absurdity of “lacking belief”. If only we can get atheists (or a subset of them) to man up and start having a real dialogue, instead of having recourse to blatant stupidities…

  3. Tony Lloyd says:

    “Are there any ANRLs reading here? Do you hold to 1, 2, or 3? If so, could you explain your position and your reasons for it? The floor is yours.”

    I don’t accept your trichotomy

    “Doesn’t the universe’s existence mean something? Doesn’t it tell us anything about reality in the big picture?”

    What is the universe evidence for? You will say that it is evidence for God (“not-A”, to follow C. Rodrigues’ scheme). The ANRL proponent may well disagree. Let’s take it that the ANRL proponent does. Now you may think that a ridiculous position to take, but that’s not the accusation in your post. The accusation in your post is that accepting that they hold A the ANRL proponent either draws unwarranted conclusions from A or mis-describes her reasoning from A.

    Now as she holds A, that E does not entail G, we can ask again what does the existence of the universe supply evidence for? There are an infinite number of hypotheses that the universe could be evidence for. Say that it is evidence for X, and rule out 2. If you find something that simply has to be evidence but you don’t know what it is evidence for, are you being irrational? If you accept that it is not evidence for one out of an infinite number of possibilities are you thereby claiming it as evidence for another one of those infinite number of possibilities?

    Say you and a friend find an ancient column with Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs on. It’s clearly evidence of something but as you can’t read hieroglyphs you don’t know what. Your friend (who knows as much about hieroglyphs as you) says it’s evidence that the Ancient Egyptians produced whisky. Your friend’s claim is obvious nonsense.

    Is the column:
    1. Evidence for an absence of whisky production
    2. Evidence for nothing or
    3. It is unknown whether it is evidence for anything at all?

    Clearly there is a fourth option:
    4. We do not know what it is evidence for

    And this fourth option is perfectly compatible with a fifth:
    5. It is not evidence for whisky production in ancient Egypt.

    And so it is if the universe is (only) evidence for X where X is unknown:

    A The existence of the universe is not evidence for God and
    B We do not know what the universe is evidence for

    And what conclusions is she entitled to draw from that? If you are not convinced that there is (adequate) evidence for P (say P = “the Ancient Egyptians produced whisky”) are you not entitled to withhold belief from P? And if your friend asks you why you don’t believe P are you not fairly describing your reasoning to say that you have no evidence for P?

    If only we can get atheists (or a subset of them) to man up and start having a real dialogue, instead of having recourse to blatant stupidities…

    It strikes me that you both think that there is evidence for God , that this is where you, reasonably, disagree with atheists and that this is where you could have a productive dialogue. I would suggest, though, that the dialogue might be more productive were you to avoid mis-characterising reasonable clarifications of reasonable positions by reasonable, thoughtful, people as “blatant stupidities”.

  4. Tony Lloyd says:

    Of course, having written all that, it’s going to turm out that you’re a secret expert on heiroglyphs!

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    Tony, thanks for that. I agree there’s an additional logical option which you have described here.

    Some further questions. First, I take it you hold that the existence of the universe is not evidence for God. If not, then I’ve misread you and you can correct me. In that light:

    Do you agree with my definition for evidence?

    If so, could you explain how it’s possible that the universe not be evidence for the existence of God, according to the definition given?

    If not, then how would you define evidence?

  6. BillT says:

    Both Michael and David P put forth the proposition that atheism wasn’t a belief in the “It’s Easy to Disprove the Existence of God” thread. Neither had the courtesy (nor probably the wherewithal) to reply to my answers to them which I repost here.

    Michael believes that non-belief in God is the logical and justifiable starting place for a discussion on the existence of God and that he’s justified in not believing if God isn’t “proven” to his satisfaction.

    My excerpted replies:

    It’s a problem because it’s intellectually/philosophically inaccurate. For non-belief in God to be the logical and justifiable starting place for the discussion of the existence or non-existence of God you would have to show that belief is “properly basic”…. The non-belief in God isn’t properly basic and thus you have no grounds to assume it’s validity and use it a a starting point for your position.

    I pointed out to you that your position that there is no God is not an valid starting point for the discussion. Think about it this way Michael. The discussion we are having is whether or not there is s God. You can’t use your position that there is no God as the starting point for that discussion because you haven’t established that a a true statement. After all, that’s what we are discussing. In my opening post I stated that neither position is a valid starting point for the discussion. We both must provide reasons and reasoning to establish the validity of our positions.

    David P said,“Non-belief is not a belief. (By definition!) So unfortunately this line of reasoning does not apply to atheism.”

    I replied;

    You have a worldview. Your worldview does not include God. My worldview does. Having either of these worldviews is an affirmative understanding of a possible state of the universe (whether you can explain it all or not).

    Think about it this way maybe. How does one hold a non-belief? As you said “What does this even mean?” How do you hold something, if I understand your claim, that’s a nothing. How would you have a belief in something that’s you claim is not a belief (a non-belief).

  7. Tony Lloyd says:

    “Do you agree with my definition for evidence?”

    Probably not. Not because of any metaphysical difference but because I am a nut-job Popperian: no such thing as inductive logic, the epistemological probability of any hypothesis is zero and other lunatic fringe stuff.

    We should, though, be able to agree on some things, notably the need for discomfiting a rival hypothesis to “confirm” a hypothesis. In probabilistic terms the probability of a hypothesis or its negation must always be 1. So for the hypothesis to be confirmed some of the hypotheses that form its negation must be discomfited. That much we should be able to agree on.

    Now I would say that the only way a hypothesis can be discomfited is for it to make a prediction the negation of which materializes. It’s not enough that the evidence is predicted by the hypothesis, its rivals must predict different evidence for that evidence to count as evidence for the hypothesis.

    I would go on to say that the existence of the universe does not discomfit hypotheses that do not posit God and, so, does not confirm God.

    But what does this have to do with the post? If not believing that the existence of the universe is evidence for God is barking mad then, surely, the post to write is “not believing that the existence of the universe is evidence for God is barking mad” not attacking the quite reasonable positions held given not believing that the existence of the universe is evidence for God.

    We are finite beings and there are an infinite number of possible hypotheses, we cannot have a basis for not believing in all of them: there are an infinite number of hypotheses we do not belief in without that non-belief being a “positive” non-belief.

    Do you believe in Phi? No (I have’t told you what is yet!). Is it rational for you not to believe in Phi? Yes, you have no evidence for Phi, why on earth should you believe in Phi? Surely for you to believe in Phi, I would have to tell you what Phi was and give you some reason to believe in Phi.

    “Phi” is the proposition that emeralds will be blue from next Thursday on. The evidence is an orange.

    Do you believe Phi now? Of course not, the orange is no evidence at all for Phi. You dismiss Phi and can dismiss it because I have given no good evidence for it. It’s not part of your Weltanschauung, there is no “properly basic” belief about it (and contra Billt there is nothing “philosophically inaccurate” about not subscribing to Plantinga’s epistemology or discourteous or somehow suspect in not critiquing “Warrant: the current debate”) and you certainly don’t think that an orange is evidence that emeralds will not be blue from next Thursday on.

  8. BillT says:

    And further on the subject, just what are people like Barker and Carrier above trying to convince us about atheism? Atheism is great for people with an unsophisticated and shallow understanding and grasp of basic intellectual concepts. Barker can’t grasp that the basic affirmative nature of his belief and the manifold implications of that belief. Carrier can’t understand the difference between belief in Zeus and belief in God. Wow, that’s pretty convincing stuff is you are operating somewhere below a 5th grade level.

  9. BillT says:

    Tony,

    I said nothing about believing or not believing in Plantinga’s epistemology (if I’m correct in understanding that as your point) . In fact, I said quite specifically that ” In my opening post I stated that neither position is a valid starting point (i.e., properly basic) for the discussion. We both must provide reasons and reasoning to establish the validity of our positions.”

  10. JAD says:

    @ BillT,

    Maybe Tony conflated your comments with what I wrote on the “it’s-easy-to-disprove-the-existence-of-god” thread (#142), where I do make use of Plantinga’s concept of properly basic beliefs to reject some other non-theistic world views. Here’s what I said:

    [I]f one accepts one’s world view without proof (or on faith), doesn’t that make all the world views that I have listed above equally likely?

    For example, what is logically impossible about solipsism? (Many philosophers would say nothing.) But, if it’s not logically impossible, why aren’t there more solipsists? I think most people like me don’t believe in solipsism because there are good reasons to disbelieve it. For example, I would argue that solipsism is unlikely to be true because I have a compelling, properly basic belief that other minds really do exist. It also doesn’t seems logical that if I was the only mind that existed that I would have so little control over the direction of my life… There seems to be something or someone who is holding me back.

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2013/08/its-easy-to-disprove-the-existence-of-god/#comment-69255

    My point was that most people have reasons for rejecting the world views that they don’t believe; and reasons for accepting the world view that they do believe.

    Why do so many atheists have so much difficulty stepping up to the plate here?

  11. Tony Lloyd says:

    Billt9 #9:

    ”In my opening post I stated that neither position is a valid starting point (i.e., properly basic) for the discussion. We both must provide reasons and reasoning to establish the validity of our positions.”

    That is foundationalist, as is the very concept of a “properly basic” belief. I mentioned Plantinga as prominent philosopher whose epistemology is foundationalist and who uses this concept of “properly basic”.

    You seem to take foundationalism itself as so…er… fundamental that you not only accept it without realising that you do but also seem to think that others, deep down, accept it and any deviation from it is :
    – “intellectually/philosophically inaccurate”,
    – “5th grade level”,
    – “unsophisticated and shallow”, or
    – evidence of either discourtesy or intellectual incapacity (first paragraph of comment 6)

    For what it’s worth I not only do not hold to foundationalism but consider it intellectually pernicious. It is a crock: there is no way to found the foundations (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCnchhausen_trilemma). The quest for foundations then leads to some irrational commitment (http://amzn.to/154Ce93) which we can see in the (non-exclusive) approaches of:
    – Presuppositionalism
    – Relativism
    – Kuhnian community standards
    – Dependence on an “authority”
    – Dogmatism
    – Etc

    The problem of a “valid starting point” is moot: we start from where we are “valid” or not (in philosophy “valid” does not mean what I think you think it means). We can then proceed by criticising the ideas (the ideas themselves, not their so-called “basis”) and coming up with new ideas that avoid the shortcomings exposed by criticism (“refutations” and “conjectures” http://amzn.to/154CchA).

    Neither the starting point, conjectures nor refutations require any foundations (I wrote a piece on pre-suppositionalism http://bit.ly/IXaPeD which contains a demonstration that this style of enquiry dispenses with the need for foundations)

  12. bigbird says:

    What I find interesting about many atheists is that their lack of belief is so motivating. Possibly more correctly, they are motivated to oppose those who believe in something they do not.

    Why is this? Why do atheists waste so much time and effort opposing people who have different beliefs to them?

    I can only suppose that it is because they think that these beliefs result in a net negative for society (enlighten me if there’s another reason, please!).

    But this is where irrationality seems to rule. I’ve never seen a comprehensive study that makes a genuine attempt to weigh up the benefits of religious belief against the disadvantages. You’d think this would be quite important if you were going to spend a considerable amount of time opposing a system of thought held by a large number of people.

    So essentially, atheists who oppose religious belief seem to be acting on an emotional rather than a rational basis (i.e. on the basis of evidence).

  13. Tom Gilson says:

    Amen to that.

    I’ve seen some pretty hysterical anti-theist screeds, Attack of the Theocrats being one of them. An atheist vlogger named Aron-Ra says that wherever religion has gone it has always produced oppression. Even well-educated non-believers can have a strangely simple view of reality.

    If their view were accurate it would be good reason to fight religion. But you’re right: it hasn’t even been tested. Not unless you count; disagreements over moral issues (abortion, marriage, …), and assume that your side is right, and not take anything else at all into account.

    One famous version of this is “Christianity is sexist!” That’s based on certain denominations’ not placing women in certain leadership positions, or else on a certain interpretation of the marriage-headship teaching in the Bible. What it ignores is the entire long flow of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years of history, during which women’s dignity, stature, and standing in society have been advanced far, far more thoroughly through Christianity than by any other influence.

    But enough; I could get on a soapbox, and I have, and now I’ll step down.

  14. BillT says:

    Tony,

    Thanks for your explanation if what you wrote actually qualifies as that.

    As JAD wrote:

    “My point was that most people have reasons for rejecting the world views that they don’t believe; and reasons for accepting the world view that they do believe.

    Why do so many atheists have so much difficulty stepping up to the plate here?”

    I believe it’s a bit more germane.

    And perhaps:

    “…I am a nut-job Popperian: no such thing as inductive logic, the epistemological probability of any hypothesis is zero and other lunatic fringe stuff.”

    is germane as well.

  15. TFBW says:

    Can those Popperian tenets be falsified by observed exceptions?

    What is the epistemological probability of the hypothesis, “the epistemological probability of any hypothesis is zero?”

    I know, I know — I see a barrel full of fish, and suddenly I lose all self-control.

  16. Tony Lloyd says:

    “Can those Popperian tenets be falsified by observed exceptions?”

    No.

    What is the epistemological probability of the hypothesis, “the epistemological probability of any hypothesis is zero?”

    Zero.

    And your point is?

  17. TFBW says:

    Based on your answers, I would say that not only do you not hold to foundationalism, but you repudiate coherentism as well. Do you have any actual grounds for your claims, or are they pure dogma? I’m sorry if that question seems rude, but when a claim repudiates foundations, and effectively repudiates itself as well, I can’t help but wonder.

  18. JAD says:

    Notice Tony’s strategy here it is not to engage with arguments and reason, it’s to insulate himself from them. All he has done so far is to assert that he doesn’t like foundationalism, presuppositionalism, abduction etc. He has offered nothing that actually repudiates any of these approaches… His main argument appears to be: “we don’t need them.” Again, this appears to be just an assertion or statement of belief, which he holds for what reason?

  19. Tony Lloyd says:

    JAD:

    “Notice Tony’s strategy here it is not to engage with arguments and reason”

    Except to identify where I disagreed with the arguments:
    – the trichotomy in the article,
    – foundationalism)

    and offer counter arguments

    – a counter-example to the trichotomy and
    – what I see as the main problem with foundationalism (and link to further detail on that)
    – a brief sketch of a non-foundationalist methodology

    “All he has done so far is to assert that he doesn’t like foundationalism, presuppositionalism, abduction etc.”

    Like has nothing to do with a philosophical position. I disagree with foundationalism and presuppositionalism (abduction I cannot find any fault with).

    The article:
    If so, could you explain your position and your reasons for it? The floor is yours.

    I do not like trying to engage in a discussion after I have been invited to do so only for my words to be misrepresented and mis-reported.

  20. JAD says:

    I hope you realize that just because someone has presuppositions that doesn’t make him a presuppositionalist. I would would argue that every person starts with a basic set of presuppositions even if he doesn’t believe that he has any. As I understand presuppositionalism, a presuppositionalist simply assumes that his presuppositions are true. A rationalist, on the other hand, tries to justify his presuppositions.

  21. TFBW says:

    @Tony Lloyd:
    Re your rejection of the trichotomy, the third alternative in the trichotomy was, “it is unknown whether it is evidence for anything at all,” and your fourth alternative is, “we do not know what it is evidence for.”

    It seems to me that “it is unknown whether it is evidence for anything at all” implies “we do not know what it is evidence for.” Thus your fourth alternative overlaps the existing alternatives. To avoid overlap with the existing alternatives, your fourth option would need to be, “we do not know what it is evidence for, but we do know that it is evidence for something.”

    Would you agree with this refinement? If not, why not?

    I note that you chose not to respond to my question about whether your adherence to a Popperian framework was sheer dogma or not. I’d like to challenge you again on that point, in slightly different terms. You object to Foundationalism because it can’t demonstrate the veracity of its own foundations, yet it seems that you accept your Popperian framework despite the fact that it self-refuting. Why is that?

  22. Tony Lloyd says:

    I initially responded to a question asked by Tom and, later, to an interesting follow up question by Tom (drawing attention to some of BillT’s snark in the process).

    Now I’m asking myself a lot of questions.
    Does JAD want me to discuss presuppositions and rationality? Or, is he just telling me how it is? How has he blithely passed over his mendacious accusations?

    TFBW asked some silly questions that make simple errors. There’s nothing wrong with asking silly questions that make simple errors. A C Grayling (http://bit.ly/182IpIK) makes a similar error to TFBW’s about self-refutation in his book “Scepticism” (http://bit.ly/1d4oobV), so TFBW is in good company to that extent. TFBW, though, is neither asking for clarification of my position nor (merely) putting forward his own. TFBW takes his misunderstandings and errors as a “gotcha” and not only a “gotcha” but and easy “gotcha”, a “barrel full of fish”.

    TFBW mentions that I “chose not to respond” to an earlier question. The question I ask myself is “what on earth does TFBW expect?

    I ask myself what JAD, TFBW and BillT are “about”. Are they trying to engage in a discussion? Are they trying to understand and critique other views? Are they trying to use other views to critique and, thus, improve their own? Or are they playing some debating-society, point-scoring, ego-massaging game?

    Then I have to ask myself whether I am bothered. Interesting though it is, does the question in the post and Tom’s follow up outweigh this rather tiresome behaviour?

    And there I reach a question that I can answer:

    No.

  23. Tony Lloyd says:

    I should emphasise that I find BillT’s snark and TFBW’s fish-in-a-barrel stuff tiresome but, hey, it’s the internet and you have to put up with some of that.

    JAD’s comment at #18 though has infuriated me.

  24. Tom Gilson says:

    FWIW, Tony, I’m sorry I’ve had to back down on my participation here some, because I do find you to be engaging in the argument. Your perspectives and positions are quite different from mine, but you state them articulately, and I am pretty sure there’s a lot I could learn from you. (I agree: JAD got it wrong in #18.)

  25. bigbird says:

    Tony I’m curious what form your epistemology actually takes.

    You’re very dismissive of foundationalism, probably the most commonly held view on justification of beliefs. It seems unlikely that you are a coherentist from what I’ve read.

    So what is it? Pragmatism? Or do you reject justification for beliefs entirely?

  26. TFBW says:

    @Tony Lloyd:
    You chose to respond to my initial post despite my snark about fish in a barrel. At that point, my expectation was that you might actually engage some questions on the subject of your views. Based on that direct response, I then asked you some direct questions which you have chosen not to engage. Instead you handwavingly dismiss them as “silly questions that make simple errors.” What do you expect me to conclude?

    Look, I’m sorry if you’re offended by my characterisation of your position being self-refuting, but given the information you’ve provided about it, I don’t see how it can possibly avoid that fate. I don’t know what you mean by “epistemological probability” unless you mean “the probability that beliefs or inferences are correct,” and if that’s so, the expression, “the epistemological probability of any hypothesis is zero,” is just a sesquipedalian transformation of the liar paradox (so long as the statement itself is properly classified as a hypothesis, which, to my surprise, you did not dispute).

    You can judge me silly if you so desire, and of course you don’t owe me any kind of answer, but I’d wager that nine out of ten (or more) professors of philosophy (including Grayling, apparently) would join me in saying that your position seems to entail a contradiction. Can you at least provide a handy link to an already-written essay on why it ain’t so? That’s got to be an FAQ, right?

  27. BillT says:

    So sorry you find my comments too snarky for your elevated taste. This from the same person who said of himself “…I am a nut-job Popperian: no such thing as inductive logic, the epistemological probability of any hypothesis is zero and other lunatic fringe stuff.” There are just so many reasonable ways to respond to the above.

  28. Tony Lloyd says:

    I don’t know what you mean by “epistemological probability”

    You think that merely asking what the epistemological probability of a statement is serves as a knockdown argument, but you don’t know what it means? Really? Do you not see that might be just a tad irritating? Not offensive, just a little irritating. Maybe worthy of no more that a one word answer? At least until a reasonable question is asked or point made?

    But unfortunately I saw your reasonable follow up at the same time as JAD’s comment.

    I’m sorry if you’re offended by my characterisation of your position being self-refuting

    I am not, at all, offended by your characterisation of my position as self-refuting. I’m mildly irritated by your fish-barrel post, but it’s the fish-barrel-even-if-I-don’t-understand-it snark rather than the underlying, reasonable, question (“Ooh, that sounds self-refuting. Is it?) that irritates.

    It’s JAD’s comment that offends.

    What do you expect me to conclude?
    That a combination of irritation at snark and JAD’s enraging accusations has left me with no desire to discuss philosophical topics with you lot.

    (PS Bigbird, some of what you are interested in will be here: http://bit.ly/IXaPeD )

  29. JAD says:

    Tony,
    I apologize for being infuriating. Indeed, I was guilty of piling on. And to you credit you did start out addressing the topic of the O.P. and I stand corrected on that point. However, after that you began to make, in what my opinion, are baseless assertions and ignoring questions others have raised. For example, are we just suppose to reject foundationalism because you “consider it intellectually pernicious [and]a crock: there is no way to found the foundations” ? What do you mean by foundationalism? Obviously as a theist I believe there is a foundation for knowing and believing. I would like to hear an argument as to why that is wrong. Simply criticizing foundationalism with unwarranted opinions I find to be unpersuasive.

  30. TFBW says:

    @Tony Lloyd:

    You think that merely asking what the epistemological probability of a statement is serves as a knockdown argument, but you don’t know what it means?

    No, I said that I don’t know what you mean by it unless — and I quote — unless you mean “the probability that beliefs or inferences are correct,” which is a definition I found in a philosophy paper. Did you stop reading my sentence where you stopped quoting it? If so, you missed the rather important bit that I’ve highlighted in bold. Please read my words more carefully next time. Another philosophy paper calls it “the degree of confidence in an expected outcome.”

    So, as near as I can translate, using the definitions of terms one finds in the relevant literature, “the epistemological probability of any hypothesis is zero,” means, “the degree of confidence produced by any hypothesis (in terms of what it predicts or expects) is zero.” In probability, of course, degree zero means certain failure — not just “no confidence”, but rather a maximum expectation of a negative outcome. So, to paraphrase further, you’re saying that we can certainly expect every hypothesis to make false predictions. And, if that happens to be a hypothesis itself, then it is the rough equivalent of the old “this statement is false” liar paradox.

    Now, to be fair, that interpretation strikes me as so obviously paradoxical that I expect you mean something else by “epistemic probability” or the value zero as it relates to that subject. That’s why I said, “I don’t know what you mean by it.” On the other hand, I don’t want to make assumptions — for all I know, maybe you think a paradox like that makes a good ingredient in a philosophical framework.

  31. JAD says:

    I think any coherent world view is based on a foundational set of assumptions and beliefs that are metaphysical in nature. However, this is also true of the physical sciences. To do science you have to make certain basic assumptions and these assumptions, it turns out, are also metaphysical in nature. For example, you have to assume: (1) that world really exists (that reality is really real); (2) that universe is intelligible and knowable; and (3) that it’s governed by a set of natural laws etc. I would say that these assumptions are themselves unprovable but they are also foundational. Is this what we mean by “foundationalism”? If it is I guess I would have to describe myself as a foundationalist.

  32. To my mind, atheism is the positive assertion there exists no God as posited by theism.
    As such, it does have a burden of proof.
    I don’t simply reject Zeus (according to a literal interpretation of Greek mythology) because I’ve no evidence for his existence, but because the whole concept of a seemingly advanced being acting in such a petty way is absurd.
    Of course, the same could be said about Yahweh in the Bible.

    But if you consider Zeus and Yahweh as a supreme being various authors have tried to describe based on their human thoughts and experiences, I’m an Agnostic.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  33. BillT says:

    Lothars,

    But as an agnostic what is it that you are asserting? It seems to me that the problem with agnosticism is that you are asserting that you believe that you can’t believe. In other words, your belief that you can’t know whether there is or isn’t a God requires the same amount of belief of either a theist or a atheist. Where the theist or atheist believes in ether the existence of God or the nonexistence of God you believe you can’t believe in either. Thus you, in essence, believe that you can’t believe. Seems a bit self contradictory.

  34. Mr. X says:

    Bill @ 33:

    Thus you, in essence, believe that you can’t believe. Seems a bit self contradictory.

    He believes that he can’t have a belief about the existence of God, not that he can’t have beliefs in general. So there’s actually no contradiction.

  35. BillT says:

    Mr X,

    I don’t think his ability to believe in general is the issue. When it comes to belief in God, Lothars claims there isn’t enough evidence for him to believe one way or another. His belief though is of the same kind and with the same certainty that those of the theist and the atheist. Thus, on the subject of belief in God, Lothars holds the belief that belief isn’t possible. I don’t see how the fact that he may hold other beliefs on other subjects changes this basic contradiction. Actually, wouldn’t fact that he holds other beliefs mitigate against him. Does he have other subjects where he believes that belief isn’t possible? If not, why does he as it relates to God.

  36. Ray Ingles says:

    BillT – As I’ve noted before on this site, while I don’t think we have confirmed life on Mars, neither do I think we’ve eliminated the possibility. So I believe that belief in life on Mars is unwarranted. Is that a contradiction?

  37. BillT says:

    No Ray. There are plenty of situations where the evidence is inadequate to form conclusions one way or the other (and your example is illustrative of that). That has nothing to do with subjects where the evidence is adequate for formation of an understanding.

  38. Derek says:

    Brilliantly put! You’ll also enjoy, I think, the article ‘The Scandinavian Skeptic (Why Atheism is a Belief System)’ by RZIM’s Andy Bannister — at http://bit.ly/is_atheism_a_belief

  39. Raul says:

    Instead of playing word games such as, this don’t really mean this, it means that. Why not give atheists evidence for the belief in a God?

  40. Tom Gilson says:

    Ummm…. how many posts do you think this blog has on it, Raul? How many libraries full of books are there, on historical, philosophical, existential, archaeological, and naturally-based evidence for God? We give evidence and you say we haven’t given evidence. It’s not evidence for you unless it’s 100% apodictic proof; and even then someone like Peter Boghossian would say it might be a worldwide delusion. Why not call evidence evidence when you see it?