Atheism and Evidence: Self-Defense Against Belief?

I’m in a Facebook dialogue today (visible to friends) with an atheist, Spencer Hawkins, who says,

The methods of science and history are not able to verify supernatural causation…. It is possible that these historical claims are all true, yet some other God exists, leaving the metaphysical claims of Christianity false…. the central problem that I have is an epistemological one: there is no reliable procedure to either confirm or disconfirm claims of supernatural causation.

Demanding Incontrovertible Evidence

Here’s what I think I see going on there. My discussion with Spencer is still underway, and I don’t know if my conclusions here will have anything to do with him, even though he’s the one who got me thinking along these lines. I’m pretty sure I see it in other atheists, at any rate. It looks like this:

  1. “There is no reliable procedure to confirm or disconfirm,” therefore Spencer chooses not to believe.
  2. Again, “It is possible” that some other cause could explain miracles, even if they happened, according to Spencer.
  3. Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, and Peter Boghossian have said they would not consider it conclusive evidence for God if the stars all realigned themselves to say in everyone’s own language, “I am God, believe in me.” Boghossian says, “It could be a delusion.”
  4. Dawkins and Boghossian have also said the same thing about the return of Christ, if it happened: not enough evidence.
  5. The common watchword among atheists is skepticism, an attitude of withholding belief where there is any possibility of other explanations.
  6. Finally and perhaps most significantly, atheism is “not a belief,” according to many atheists. It’s a lack of belief in God or gods.

Atheism, then, is (often) an intentional withholding of belief because of a perceived insufficiency of evidence. It’s a version  of W. K. Clifford’s dictum: “It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”*

My question is whether this is a form of self-defense against belief in God. I’ll get to that question presently; first I have to put some more pieces in place.

Not Caring Much At All About Incontrovertible Evidence

Clifford’s claim is hard to take seriously, and as it turns out, atheists apply it very selectively. Consider these other claims, none of which has sufficient evidence to prove it true:

  1. A pre-born human is not a person, at least not to the degree that killing it amounts to a moral fault.
  2. Gay marriage is right and good for all.
  3. The children of same-sex couples experience lifelong life outcomes that are as socially and emotionally healthy as children of man-woman marriages.
  4. Governmental policies are an effective vehicle for expressing compassion.

It’s possible that arguments for God are wrong, so atheists typically say they don’t believe in God. It’s possible that arguments for abortion are wrong, and atheists commonly support abortion. How does this make sense? So what’s going on with this selective insistence on sufficient evidence?

Clues To the Inconsistency

Let’s see if a pair of prominent atheists can give us some clue. First, Thomas Nagel, who wrote in The Last Word:

In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

Nagel concedes many of the chief arguments for God, yet he won’t believe. Aldous Huxley wrote,

I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics. He is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. The supporters of this system claimed that it embodied the meaning – the Christian meaning, they insisted – of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and justifying ourselves in our erotic revolt: we would deny that the world had any meaning whatever.

This is remarkably consistent with what Paul the Apostle wrote in Romans 1:18 about “ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” Whether Nagel and Huxley actively suppress the truth may be open to debate. What’s not debatable is that their approach to truth is strongly influenced by their anti-God preferences. They’ve decided not to believe in God, not primarily for rational reasons, but perhaps first of all because they prefer that there be no God.

Atheism and Evidence: Self-Defense Against Belief?

Finally I reach the part where I’m ready to move toward the question in the title of this post. It’s based one the picture this seems to be adding up to. Atheists’ insist on applying Clifford’s dictum to God. This fits perfectly with their commonly expressed moral preferences. They don’t apply it to the moral questions I gave as examples above. This supports the same end: it allows them to continue to hold on to the same moral preferences. There’s no consistency in the use of Clifford’s dictum.

Based on the above we have a whole series of pieces before us. Lt’s try to put them in place.

  1. Atheists apply Clifford’s dictum to God, but not to other questions where it seems like it should also apply.
  2. Apparently, then, Clifford’s dictum isn’t a universal principle, even for those who claim to live by it.
  3. Still there may be some principle that explains why atheists would give honor to Clifford’s dictum, as if it were one of their criteria for choosing what to believe or not to believer.
  4. One possible version of #3 might be this:
    Clifford’s Dictum could, in principle, act as a form of quasi-logical/psychological self-defense against belief in God. That could explain why atheists claim to honor it as a principle, even though the claim is demonstrably false.

The evidence seems to support that conclusion. I’m sure atheists would agree, so I’m inviting them to let us know there’s a better explanation. What would that explanation be? What principle tells you when to insist on nearly incontrovertible evidence for one thing, but not to worry much about it for others?

*Not every atheist would put it in those words, and they’re welcome to explain to me their preferred way of looking at evidence. I’ll be talking in terms of Clifford’s dictum for now, though, for convenience’s sake if nothing else.

Note: I re-wrote the final section and edited the headline a few hours after publishing the first version of this post.

Comments

  1. Nigel

    At first glance I see a number of problems with Clifford’s dictum
    What is meant by “wrong”? Morally wrong? (whose standards?) incorrect? inappropriate?
    What is meant by “believe”? Accepting something to be true without first going through a detailed process of critically examining the claims and evidence? or perhaps deliberately drawing a conclusion based off where the evidence seem to be leading?
    How does one define “Insufficient evidence”? And is the criteria always the same or does it change depending on the nature of the situation?
    And to what extent does Clifford’s Dictum apply to itself? is there sufficient evidence to believe that “It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”?

    Depending on how these terms are defined would affect on how it is applied. Also depending on how these terms are defined it is hard to see how anyone could consistently follow Clifford’s Dictum. For example we don’t spend hours critically examining everything we see, hear, read etc. before believing it. We often believe things based on the authority/trustworthiness of the source without demanding that we always receive sufficient evidence to justify the belief.

    Also what is the default “non-belief” position? This may not always be obvious or at least it may depend on your point of view and how you come across the evidence. For example many atheists may take the position there is insufficient evidence to believe that a pre-born human is a person therefore they don’t believe a pre-born human is a person there fore abortion is ok? Or there is insufficient evidence that Gay marriage is wrong.

  2. John Moore

    You say atheists apply Clifford’s dictum very selectively, and you give as examples the atheists’ supposed belief that a fetus is not a person, that gay marriage is good etc. But you are assuming that atheists really believe those things. I wonder if they do.

    Maybe atheists simply don’t know whether a fetus is a person. In their ignorance, the atheists choose to support a woman’s right to decide whether to have an abortion. It’s a balancing act between the rights of the fetus and the rights of the woman. Atheists know the woman is a person, but they don’t know the fetus is. So they support the woman.

    Maybe atheists don’t really know whether gay marriage is good. In their ignorance, they see no harm in allowing gay people to get married. Gay people are clamoring and complaining, so why not give them what they want?

    I hope you’ll really check whether these atheists are claiming knowledge. If they are not, and if they are maintaining their agnosticism about these two issues of abortion and gay marriage, then it seems they are applying Clifford’s dictum consistently.

  3. DougJC

    Tom,

    “There is no reliable procedure to confirm or disconfirm,” therefore Spencer chooses not to believe.

    I’d reject this line of reasoning. Beliefs derived (mainly) from history should proportionately match the quality of evidence. The historical evidence for supernatural causation is extremely sketchy so I would proportionately hold little confidence in such a belief. Say something like a 5% chance of it being true for example. A belief in the low-probability of supernatural causation is not properly characterized as choosing not to believe, it’s a belief derived from the uncertainty of historical data.

    It’s a version of W. K. Clifford’s dictum: “It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”*

    Again, belief proportionate to quality of evidence should be what is meant here.

    A pre-born human is not a person, at least not to the degree that killing it amounts to a moral fault.

    The evidence that a fertilized egg is a person is not of high quality. On the other hand, that evidence that personhood is a function of a developed and functioning brain is of much better quality. Therefore, my abortion views follow degree of brain development, and abortions late in the 2nd trimester I would agree should be strongly discouraged except in special cases.

    Gay marriage is right and good for all.

    This proposition is a bit confusing because clearly gay marriage is not right or good for all, specifically those who reject it and find it immoral. However, I do believe the moral intuition of fairness is better for society than any harm resulting from legalizing gay marriage. I base that mainly on the fact that I haven’t seen or heard evidence for how society will suffer from gay marriage.

    The children of same-sex couples experience lifelong life outcomes that are as socially and emotionally healthy as children of man-woman marriages.

    The only negative study I’ve seen so far failed to take into account that children of same-sex couples often experience divorce and divorce is a factor in negative emotional development. So I find it a reasonable belief that children of same-sex couples will experience positive life outcomes.

    Governmental policies are an effective vehicle for expressing compassion.

    They are one vehicle and an effective one but not necessarily a substitute for expressing compassion.

    What principle tells you when to insist on nearly incontrovertible evidence for one thing, but not to worry much about it for others?

    I don’t insist on “nearly incontrovertible evidence” for supernatural causation, only evidence that permits a proportionately justified belief in the same. The Biblical account I regard as generally poor evidence to support supernatural causation. Evidence from areas such as the existence of reason, free will, rights, morality, consciousness are much better evidence, but also tend to be areas that are complex, poorly understood and controversial. Individually, each as positive evidence for God suffer flaws in my view.

  4. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    John Moore,

    Atheists typically say gay marriage is good. Your “maybe” is not the case. I’ve already done the research on that.

    On your theory, atheists are saying they consider it true that if it’s unknown whether the fetus is a person, then the mother’s preferences rule. This is a belief (something they consider true) based on inadequate evidence. All you’ve done has been to push it back a frame or two, where the same problem obtains anyway.

    If these atheists aren’t claiming knowledge, then they’re claiming that women have a certain moral right, and that they don’t know whether women have that right. This is unlikely, to say the least.

  5. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    DougJC,

    The evidence that a fertilized egg is a person is not of high quality. On the other hand, that evidence that personhood is a function of a developed and functioning brain is of much better quality. Therefore, my abortion views follow degree of brain development, and abortions late in the 2nd trimester I would agree should be strongly discouraged except in special cases.

    Which evidence are you referring to?

    So I find it a reasonable belief that children of same-sex couples will experience positive life outcomes.

    Lifelong? You don’t have the evidence. You’ve taken a shot at one negative study. Do you have any idea how weak the positive evidence is? You’re not proportioning belief to evidence there at all!

    They are one vehicle and an effective one but not necessarily a substitute for expressing compassion.

    That’s an opinion, no doubt about that! (I wasn’t looking for opinions here, actually. These examples were intended to demonstrate some persons’ willingness to come to conclusions without sufficient evidence. Maybe you have that evidence?)

    Your standard for supernatural explanations isn’t as high as Boghossian’s, Krauss’s, or Dawkins’s. I commend you for that.

  6. BillT

    The evidence that a fertilized egg is a person is not of high quality.

    The typical tactic of misstating the question to get the desired answer. Life begins at conception. This is an incontrovertible scientific fact. The kind of life that begins when a human egg is fertilized is human life. This is also incontrovertible. Thus, human life begins at conception. The intentional taking of a human life by another is murder. There is no legal requirement that the human life be definable as a “person” or demonstrate “personhood”. (Whatever that is.) In fact and as an example of that, the taking of a human life that is (and even always has been) in a total vegetative state is still murder.

  7. TFBW

    Whether Nagel and Huxley actively suppress the truth may be open to debate.

    Whether or not they suppress the truth can’t really be answered without begging the question of what is true. Whether or not they actively suppress belief, on the other hand, is a matter of unusual candour in both their cases. They disbelieve because they do not want to believe, and they can adequately rationalise that disbelief. I tip my hat to Nagel for his self-awareness in that regard. The horsemen of New Atheism are oblivious nincompoops in comparison.

  8. David Bolin

    Here’s what I see going on here:

    First, you choose a few atheists who demand absolute, ultimately conclusive evidence for God or religion before they believe.

    But of course there are believers who do the same thing, demanding absolute, ultimately conclusive evidence against their belief before they stop believing, or even say they would not stop believing even if such evidence were provided. As an example to match your extreme examples, here is Kurt Wise:

    “Although there are scientific reasons for accepting a young earth, I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand.”

    Second, you find a few atheists who are willing to admit that their atheism has motives besides seeking the truth.

    But of course believers also have motives besides seeking the truth. For example, eternal life is presented explicitly in Scripture as such a motive, so it would be quite surprising if believers were unwilling to admit having such ulterior motives.

    In other words, there is little indication here that you have made any helpful distinction between belief and unbelief. Everyone has their own motivations, and people who are actually interested in the truth will need to consider those motivations and what to do about them.

  9. JAD

    1.

    Atheists apply Clifford’s dictum to God, but not to other questions where it seems like it should also apply.

    Here is a list of several other questions where atheists choose to selectively ignore Clifford’s dictum:

    1. The origin of life (a singular and, as far as we know, a non-repeating occurrence.)

    2. The existence of life on other planets (NASA’s support of astro-biology.

    3. The existence of extra-terrestrial intelligent life (SETI.)

    4. The existence of other universes (the so-called multi-verse hypothesis.)

    5. The belief in an infinite regress of natural causes.

    Using Clifford’s dictum I would argue there is insufficient evidence to have any kind of belief (except of course for non-belief) for any of the above. Nevertheless, I can give examples of atheists who do have beliefs about these questions.

  10. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Thanks for the comment, David.

    I agree that believers and atheists can both make unreasonable demands. I’ve never heard any theist make any that sound like Clifford’s Dictum, though. Maybe you have.

    I suppose, at any rate, you’re right that in this post I “haven’t made any helpful distinction between belief and unbelief.” Guilty as charged.

    But then, that wasn’t my purpose. My purpose was to ask the question whether some atheists’ inconsistency in their demand for evidence might indicate that they’re allowing it to serve as a form of self-defense against belief.

  11. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I should not fail to add as well that I agree with and appreciate your closing statement: “Everyone has their own motivations, and people who are actually interested in the truth will need to consider those motivations and what to do about them.”

  12. Philmonomer

    Ok. I’ll throw in my 2 cents. (Although I don’t consider myself any sort of “thinker” about these things. But I do consider myself an atheist. So maybe my thinking will be sharpened. And it’s possible that this blog post is about Atheists other than me.)

    6.Finally and perhaps most significantly, atheism is “not a belief,” according to atheists. It’s a lack of belief in God or gods.

    This sounds right to me: I lack a belief in God (as traditionally understood by orthodox Christianity).

    Atheism, then, is an intentional withholding of belief because of a perceived insufficiency of evidence.

    I don’t see it as an intentional withholding. I don’t see me “intentionally” doing anything. Put another way, I don’t think I could choose to believe. I simply don’t believe. I don’t think I could believe, even if wanted to. (Actually, I’d say I do want to believe. Who wouldn’t want Heaven and all that great stuff?)

    It’s a version of W. K. Clifford’s dictum: “It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”

    I don’t really understand this. It all hinges on what “insufficient evidence” means. For those who have had a conversion experience, they certainly believe they have sufficient evidence. (And, if I saw all the stars line up in the sky spelling out God, and it was a worldwide event, etc., I’d almost certainly call that sufficient evidence.)

  13. BruceA

    My first comment is in regards to your “discussion policies”, specifically article 5 requesting that the word god, a general term for a supreme or higher status being be capitalized.

    God | Definition of god by Merriam-Webster
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/god
    Merriam‑Webster
    Full Definition of GOD. 1. capitalized : the supreme or ultimate reality: as. a : the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe. b Christian Science : the incorporeal divine Principle ruling over all as eternal.

    Why would you want a non Christian to use the term as you wish which puts them in the position of acknowledging a supreme being? Your presumption that the word should be used as a proper noun is a Christian one.

    Are you aware why Christians use God as the proper name of their god?

    While I do not expect or even want this to get published on your page, I would like to discuss it with you.

  14. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    This is off topic, but using “God” as a proper noun doesn’t put non-Christians in the position of acknowledging a supreme being any more than using “Allah” as a proper noun puts non-Muslims in the position of believing in Islam, or using “Nirvana” as a proper noun puts anyone into the position of believing in Buddhist eschatology, or using some science-fiction governmental title as a proper noun puts anyone into the position of believing that world exists.

    I do know why Christians use God as a name of our God. It’s not correct to say we use it as the name.

    ’nuff said on that, okay?

  15. BillT

    This sounds right to me: I lack a belief in God (as traditionally understood by orthodox Christianity).

    Philmonomer have you really thought this through? Saying you “lack a belief in God” is the same as saying you believe that there is no God. How could it not be? Do you lack a belief in God and believe there is a God? That’s impossible. And since you believe that there is no God you have a belief (a position you hold that falls short of having proof) about a religious subject (the existence of God). Thus, a religious belief.

  16. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    No, BillT, he simply lacks belief in God.

    You see, in each person’s mind there is a belief-place regarding God or gods. Some people fill it with “There is a God.” Some people fill it with “There are many gods.” Some people fill it with “There is no God or gods.”

    Philmonomer’s belief-place regarding God has nothing in it. It’s a blank, empty, one might even say virgin space, unless perhaps it was once filled and was subsequently emptied out clean. There’s nothing there.

    At least, that’s my best way of understanding claims like his.

  17. BillT

    Tom,

    Just not buying it. If you lack belief in God you must believe he doesn’t exist. You certainly can’t believe he does exist. There isn’t another option. There is no “blank space”. That’s a fiction. It’s an affirmative statement regarding God’s existence. The implications of his existence or non-existence are central to everyone’s worldview. The universe must exist either with a God or without. It has to be acknowledged or denied. There is no middle ground.

  18. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Right. You know that, and I know that, but does Philmonomer know that?

    You see, I’m wondering if he’ll agree with my spacial metaphor, or if he’ll have a better explanation for how we ought to conceive of his disbelieving in God without having beliefs about God.

  19. DougJC

    Tom,

    Which evidence are you referring to?

    From my atheist perspective, the evidence that a fertilized egg is a person seems to me to come primarily second-hand from a religious philosophy of reality. The evidence that person hood is no more than brain function is from the ability to map all features of person hood to brain function and inability to find features of person hood that can not be mapped to brain function. At the point at which person hood and brain function seem to closely match (which seems to be the current consensus) it becomes a simpler hypothesis to assume they’re one and the same until demonstrated otherwise.

    Lifelong? You don’t have the evidence. You’ve taken a shot at one negative study. Do you have any idea how weak the positive evidence is? You’re not proportioning belief to evidence there at all!

    In the absence of good evidence that children of same-sex couples will experience life outcomes positive or negative, I think the default position would be one of assuming quality of parenting and parenting relationships is the primary indicator of outcome, not sex of parents.

    However, the general consensus as summarized at Wikipedia does not identify any serious problems and this is where I would expect red flags to have appeared decades ago if there was something deeply problematic with same-sex parenting.

  20. DougJC

    BillT,

    Life begins at conception. This is an incontrovertible scientific fact. The kind of life that begins when a human egg is fertilized is human life. This is also incontrovertible. Thus, human life begins at conception. The intentional taking of a human life by another is murder.

    From my atheist point of view, I think “human life” is too vague, since it doesn’t account for those permanently in a vegetative state or even human organs grown in a lab. Human DNA alone is not a substance that should itself have rights even if it has the potential (as all DNA does) to create a fully functioning human being. Rather I think sentience–the capacity for conscious awareness, beliefs, desires, intentions, interests– is the key to laws against murder.

  21. Billy Squibs

    Doug,

    Please tell me exactly what type of brain function are are you talking about. Then you can tell me the precise moment at which a human being transitions from a non-person to a person. Is this at 3 weeks, 3 months or 10 months (i.e. 1 month after birth)? Is a down syndrome person somehow less of a person than an individual who falls within an average intelligence range?

    Also, what are these features of personhood that you speak of?

  22. Billy Squibs

    “Rather I think sentience–the capacity for conscious awareness, beliefs, desires, intentions, interests– is the key to laws against murder.”

    There are huge problems here. And they are obvious ones. Who defines sentience? At what point does a human non-person become a sentient human person? Is a newborn sentient? If not do you think infanticide is a legitimate and a ethical option. When you are asleep are you sentient in the same way as when you are awake? What about when you are unconscious or in a coma?

    (I realise that I’ve fired out a concatenation of questions in my two comments. However, some of these are variations on a theme.)

    Also, I don’t think I am familiar with anyone arguing for the sanctity of human life from the point of conception because of DNA and its potential – at least that’s not (or shouldn’t be) the nub of their argument. Rather, in my experience pro-lifers argue that from the moment of conception the foetus is a distinct human being. The difference between you and this foetus is the level of development. If you want to argue that level of development is key then see my questions above.

  23. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Actually, DougJC@19, I agree. The evidence that a fertilized egg is a person comes from a theistic view of reality. The view that you and I are persons comes from the same place. Materialistic/naturalistic atheism can’t get you there without hopping a taxicab ride on the theistic highway.

    If you could recognize that truth about yourself, you’d be less dismissive about it for a newly conceived human life.

    Rather I think sentience–the capacity for conscious awareness, beliefs, desires, intentions, interests– is the key to laws against murder.

    You know, don’t you, that there is no consciousness, intentionality, purpose, or free will, on atheistic naturalism? There is only the illusion thereof, or so say the more consistent atheistic philosophers like Nagel, Rosenberg, the Churchlands, even Dennett. They’re right.

    So on atheistic materialism and your view spoken here, there is no key to our laws against murder.

    There is convenience, of course. It’s terribly inconvenient when an already-born child’s life gets mercilessly ripped away from its loving family. It’s terribly inconvenient for a woman who chose to have sex to have to live nine months with the consequence of her choice. So there’s your key: do what bothers people the least. Kill the little boy or girl, as long as his or her mom doesn’t care. There’s no other key to the decision but that.

    Not unless you’re willing to see reality more clearly than that.

  24. BillT

    From my atheist point of view, I think “human life” is too vague,

    DougJC,

    Too bad the law doesn’t and never has agreed with you. But, I guess, that’s of no consequence to someone so enlightened as you. You alone should be the arbiter of life and death.

  25. Post
    Author
  26. Philmonomer

    You see, I’m wondering if he’ll agree with my spacial metaphor, or if he’ll have a better explanation for how we ought to conceive of his disbelieving in God without having beliefs about God.

    So, I see there is a ton on the web about positive/negative atheism, strong/weak atheism, etc., which seem relevant to the discussion. I guess I am a weak athiest.

    Otherwise, I see my “lack of belief in God” to be the same as “I don’t believe in God.” As to whether or not that is the same as “I believe there is no God,” that seems like a harder question. Maybe it is the same thing. It “feels” somehow different. I guess I don’t know.

    I’d say: I think it is most likely that there is no God.

  27. Kevin

    I find it amusing that atheists are always going on about how they use science and reason to form their beliefs, but when the subject becomes abortion, they throw both out the window.

    Biologically (scientifically), a human life begins with the first cell of the new human organism’s body. Take any one of us and rewind, and we can see that we exist all the way up to the point that the sperm and egg reappear, at which point we cease to exist as an organism (simplified, but still essentially the case). There is no other scientific point to describe when a human life begins. The first reproducing cell with unique DNA is when life begins.

    What seemingly most atheists and liberals do is discard the scientific definition of life and scurry to the nebulous “person” definition. A person can be whatever you want it to be. Maybe society could say that a black man is only, say, 3/5 of a person. Maybe a society could declare that a Jew, for example, is not a person.

    Personhood, in otherwords, is useless nonsense when it comes to defining human life. It is completely dependent on opinion and emotion. There is nothing fact-based about it, nothing scientific about it. It is a fantasy way of thinking in which a human magically appears from a non-human. Spontaneous generation? Frog turning into a prince?

    Let’s put it this way. If life does not scientifically begin at conception, point out the exact moment that a non-human becomes a human. Or, demonstrate scientifically when a human life magically becomes a “person”, with person being a biologically measurable entity.

  28. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Philmonomer,

    “Otherwise, I see my “lack of belief in God” to be the same as “I don’t believe in God.” As to whether or not that is the same as “I believe there is no God,” that seems like a harder question. Maybe it is the same thing. It “feels” somehow different. I guess I don’t know.”

    It is different. Now we’ve never conversed before. Do you believe I own a dog? The answer should be ‘No.’ because you have no evidence on which to base that belief. But I’m sure you can see that not believing I own a dog is quite different to believing I don’t own a dog. You have no evidence to base that belief on either. Now while it’s true that I must either own a dog or not own a dog, you are quite within your rights to not believe either of those statements … because you don’t have sufficient evidence.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  29. TFBW

    @Philmonomer:

    Otherwise, I see my “lack of belief in God” to be the same as “I don’t believe in God.” As to whether or not that is the same as “I believe there is no God,” that seems like a harder question. Maybe it is the same thing. It “feels” somehow different. I guess I don’t know.

    Think of it this way: if you consider the statement, “there is a God” (a not-too-specific affirmation of monotheism), then you might lack belief in its affirmation, but what is your relative disposition to its contradiction? A lot of New Atheists that I have encountered seem to use their “lack of belief” stance as a way to avoid the need to substantiate any kind of positive assertion on their part, and refuse to even recognise that one must also have a disposition towards its contradiction. For my money, if you lack belief in both the affirmation and the contradiction of the statement in equal measure, then you are an agnostic. If you incline more towards the affirmation, then you are a theist; if you incline more towards the contradiction, then you are an atheist. If, on the other hand, you declare lack of belief in the affirmation but avoid the subject of the contradiction, then you are in error at best, and intellectually dishonest at worst.

    I’d say: I think it is most likely that there is no God.

    Then I applaud your candour — really! You appear to be the kind of atheist with whom it may be possible to have a constructive argument — a trait that is all too rare in this day and age. An open and honest inclination towards the contradiction at least recognises that “true” and “false” are the axis on which the answer to such a question lies (glossing over some of the complications which can arise).

    Of course, the question then arises as to why you consider that to be the most likely situation. In the context of this current discussion, perhaps you should consider what kind and quantity of evidence it would take to make you change your mind, and whether that barrier is ultimately constructed so as to avoid the possibility of such a challenge arising.

  30. Philmonomerq

    It is different. Now we’ve never conversed before. Do you believe I own a dog? The answer should be ‘No.’ because you have no evidence on which to base that belief. But I’m sure you can see that not believing I own a dog is quite different to believing I don’t own a dog. You have no evidence to base that belief on either. Now while it’s true that I must either own a dog or not own a dog, you are quite within your rights to not believe either of those statements … because you don’t have sufficient evidence.

    So we have:
    1) I believe “There is a God” (is a true statement about the world)
    2) I don’t believe “There is a God” (is a true statement about the world)
    3) I believe “There is no God” (is a true statement about the world).
    4) I don’t believe “There is no God” (is a true statement about the world)
    [5) I lack a belief “There is a God” (is a true statement about the world)]

    1) I believe “Shane owns a dog”(is a true statement about the world)
    2) I don’t believe “Shane owns a dog.” (is a true statement about the world)
    3) I believe “Shane doesn’t own a dog”(is a true statement about the world)
    4) I don’t believe “Shane doesn’t own a dog”(is a true statement about the world)
    [5) I lack a belief “Shane owns a dog” (is a true statement about the word).]

    With regard to the Shane statements 1)-4), I simply don’t have enough information to form a belief. They all seem wrong. I lack an opinion (a belief?) as to whether or not any of them are true statements about the world. (Mostly because I see the odds as being pretty much 50/50, or close enough.) However, I believe “Shane doesn’t own a zebra” is a true statement about the world. (Of course, I might be wrong.)

    I think you are saying 2) and 3) are fundamentally different from each other (is that right?). I’m not sure yet, or that I see it.

  31. Philmonomer

    A lot of New Atheists that I have encountered seem to use their “lack of belief” stance as a way to avoid the need to substantiate any kind of positive assertion on their part, and refuse to even recognise that one must also have a disposition towards its contradiction.

    I cannot say much about the New Athiests, as I haven’t read any of their books. I’ve listened to a couple Hitchens debates, as podcasts on my commute. It does seem right to me that Theists are the ones who carry the burden of proof.

    For my money, if you lack belief in both the affirmation and the contradiction of the statement in equal measure, then you are an agnostic. If you incline more towards the affirmation, then you are a theist; if you incline more towards the contradiction, then you are an atheist.

    I find the whole “agnostic” label puzzling, as I suspect nearly everyone in our culture has a belief as to whether God (the orthodox Christian God) exists. I suppose some hem and haw, and say they don’t really know, but I don’t see atheism as about knowing. Rather I think it is about believing. There isn’t any evidence that needs to be examined, or more research that needs to be done, if you are asked about your own belief. All you need to do is examine yourself, and state honestly what you believe to be the case at that time. (Now, it’s possible your beliefs might change with more evidence or research or argument).

    I can see how one might be agnostic as to whether Shane owns a dog. I have no belief one or the other, and I see each as more or less equally likely. That might be true of most anything to which I don’t have any reason to believe one or the other. The belief in the Christian God doesn’t strike me that way. (Maybe deism?).

    Then I applaud your candour — really! You appear to be the kind of atheist with whom it may be possible to have a constructive argument — a trait that is all too rare in this day and age.

    I suspect it is exceedingly difficult to have a “constructive argument.” As I commented a week or two back, I think many (most?) arguments devolve into accusations that the other person is being “intellectually dishonest.”

    Of course, the question then arises as to why you consider that to be the most likely situation.

    Divine hiddenness. Naturalistic explanations that seem to work better.

    In the context of this current discussion, perhaps you should consider what kind and quantity of evidence it would take to make you change your mind, and whether that barrier is ultimately constructed so as to avoid the possibility of such a challenge arising.

    I think my barrier is probably pretty low. A personal conversion experience. Stars lined up in the sky. Probably lots of things.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  32. DougJC

    Tom,

    I’m not sure if you’re making an argument or summarizing the differences in our points of view. Assuming you’re summarizing, it is not my view that naturalism/atheism must borrow theistic philosophy nor do I think that consciousness, intentionality, purpose, or free will are properly considered illusions; the views of the Churchlands and Dennett are considerably more nuanced than what you describe here and I don’t agree with Rosenberg’s oversimplified “Guide to Reality” while still appreciating the more carefulness of his other academic writing. There is of course plenty of reason to care about murder, consequences of sex, life, etc under atheism in view.

    BillT,

    But, I guess, that’s of no consequence to someone so enlightened as you. You alone should be the arbiter of life and death.

    My view is informed by philosophers, scientists, thinkers, seekers, etc., just like your view. The act of expressing a view, outlining premises and conclusions, isn’t arrogant.

    Your implication that I claim to be enlightened or that I claim to be arbiter of life and death is an unfair accusation. It’s a particularly unkind and unfair thing to do.

  33. DougJC

    Billy Squibs,

    Please tell me exactly what type of brain function are are you talking about. Then you can tell me the precise moment at which a human being transitions from a non-person to a person. Is this at 3 weeks, 3 months or 10 months (i.e. 1 month after birth)?

    In the naturalistic view, there is no sharp point at which a non-person transitions to personhood much like there’s no exact point at which yellow transitions to green on the rainbow. However, at some distance from the transition, making the distinction is much easier. As I mentioned, fetal brain function seems to develop the capacity for pain somewhere late in the 2nd trimester and that is where I believe the cut-off should be for unrestricted abortion.

    Is a down syndrome person somehow less of a person than an individual who falls within an average intelligence range?

    Intelligence is only part of capacity of sentience. Perhaps the most important is the ability to experience. That defines personhood more than anything else under a naturalistic view.

    Also, what are these features of personhood that you speak of?

    Conscious experience.

    Who defines sentience?

    It’s an objective term related to conscious experience.

    Is a newborn sentient?

    Yes.

    When you are asleep are you sentient in the same way as when you are awake? What about when you are unconscious or in a coma?

    Conscious experience can be turned off by sleep, drugs, coma, brain damage, etc. The key to whether continued personhood is possible is whether the conscious experience can be restored.

    Also, I don’t think I am familiar with anyone arguing for the sanctity of human life from the point of conception because of DNA and its potential – at least that’s not (or shouldn’t be) the nub of their argument. Rather, in my experience pro-lifers argue that from the moment of conception the foetus is a distinct human being. The difference between you and this foetus is the level of development. If you want to argue that level of development is key then see my questions above.

    My reason for focus on DNA is basically Dolly the Sheep. Conceptually, an egg does not need sperm to develop into a human being, all it needs is an electric shock. Thus, there is no need to think of human life as requiring sperm and egg or starting at sperm and egg. This throws a lot of pro-life assumptions into turmoil as you might imagine.

  34. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Philmonomer,

    “With regard to the Shane statements 1)-4), I simply don’t have enough information to form a belief.”

    Yes. This is
    why you don’t believe either. You have no information/evidence.

    “I think you are saying 2) and 3) are fundamentally different from each other (is that right?). I’m not sure yet, or that I see it.”

    Yes. Not believing one thing does not mean you must believe the opposite. Do you believe I like Cajun food? Do you believe I hate Cajun food?

    I see no evidence that God is necessary to explain anything I see in the world. I therefore don’t believe in a god. However I see no evidence that can disprove a god exists so it I cannot believe there is no god.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  35. scbrownlhrm

    Sloppy metaphysical lines account for the straw man of eggs and sperms and so on being levied against the Theist. As if Dolly the Sheep and/or Artificial Intelligence means anything at all to a system of ethics housed atop a system of metaphysical seamlessness “through and through”. Teleology’s void cannot be so easily “pretended / make-believed” into existence merely be pushing molecules around. Of course, as adeptly spelled out elsewhere, “Human Nature” is a metaphysical non-entity – pure illusion – within Naturalism and hence arbitrary question begging in a bizarre form of Functionalism is all that the Naturalist has left. Perhaps “Anesthesia” and “Consciousness” and an odd and Sloppy Non-Theistic “Potentiality” can all work together to allow the Naturalist to feel like he’s actually found coherence. Well, of course not – but the Naturalist can hope. On all fronts it seems that all available data sets and philosophical truth claims lead us to the unavoidable conclusion that when the Materialist speaks of Artificial Intelligence, or of bodiless heads, or what have you, what he is actually speaking about something more akin to zombies. The semantics in all of that brings us to what is presently a semantic equivocation – a metaphysical conflation – on the part of the Materialist as he must instill in Material all his claims of intentionality, of a Self persisting through time despite changing physical parts, of….. and of…… and of…. and so on. The annihilation of the Self at e-v-e-r-y level just is inevitable given the Naturalist’s limited toolbox. With said annihilation comes – should we be surprised by logical consistency in the Naturalist’s own premise/conclusion set – the annihilation of the very thing the Naturalist was hoping to maintain in the first place.

  36. scbrownlhrm

    Atheism finds itself to be mere therapy, the Opiate of Unbelief.

    As such, it has no choice but to persistently fail at grasping the point.

    This is the case on all philosophical questions. Being and Physicality – Being and the Cosmos – and so on – is but one, tiny little line in the Matrix that comprises such questions. But, even on that one, tiny little line – never mind the rest of the show, we find Atheism’s opiate of unbelief ever in the throws of equivocation, of conflation, that is to say, ever in the throws of failing to grasp the point.

    From David Bentley Hart’s “The Experience of God”:

    “Perhaps, however, it is a mistake to presume good will here. It may be the case that not every party in these debates is especially willing to acknowledge the qualitative difference between ontological and cosmological questions. A devout physicalist is likely to find it not merely convenient but absolutely necessary to believe that the mystery of existence is really just a question about the physical history of the universe, and specifically about how the universe may have arisen at a particular moment, as a transition from a simpler to a more complex state within a physical system. At least, it often seems pointless to try to convince such persons that none of the great religions or metaphysical traditions — absolutely none of them — thinks of the “creation of the universe” simply in terms of a cosmogonic process, and that the question of creation has never simply concerned some event that may have happened “back then,” at the beginning of time, or some change between distinct physical states, or any kind of change at all (since change occurs only within things that already exist), but has always concerned the eternal relation between logical possibility and logical necessity, the contingent and the absolute, the conditioned and the unconditioned. And I suspect this is not simply because they are incapable of understanding the distinction (though many are) but also because they have no desire to do so. The question of being is not one that physics can shed any light upon at all, and so the physicalist has no choice but persistently — even sedulously — to fail to grasp its point. To allow the full force of the question to break through his or her intellectual defenses would be, all at once, to abandon the physicalist creed.

    Here, however, I suppose one has to exercise a degree of sympathetic tact. Materialism is a conviction based not upon evidence or logic but upon what Carl Sagan (speaking of another kind of faith) called a “deep-seated need to believe.” Considered purely as a rational philosophy, it has little to recommend it; but as an emotional sedative, what Czeslaw Milosz liked to call the opiate of unbelief, it offers a refuge from so many elaborate perplexities, so many arduous spiritual exertions, so many trying intellectual and moral problems, so many exhausting expressions of hope or fear, charity or remorse. In this sense, it should be classified as one of those religions of consolation whose purpose is not to engage the mind or will with the mysteries of being but merely to provide a palliative for existential grievances and private disappointments. Popular atheism is not a philosophy but a therapy. Perhaps, then, it should not be condemned for its philosophical deficiencies, or even treated as an intellectual posture of any kind, but recognized as a form of simple devotion, all the more endearing for its mixture of tender awkwardness and charming pomposity. Even the stridency, bigotry, childishness, and ignorance with which the current atheist vogue typically expresses itself should perhaps be excused as no more than an effervescence of primitive fervor on the part of those who, finding themselves poised upon a precipice overlooking the abyss of ultimate absurdity, have made a madly valiant leap of faith. That said, any religion of consolation that evangelically strives to supplant other creeds, as popular atheism now does, has a certain burden of moral proof to bear: it must show that the opiates it offers are at least as powerful as those it would replace. To proclaim triumphally that there is no God, no eternal gaze that beholds our cruelties and betrayals, no final beatitude for the soul after death, may seem bold and admirable to a comfortable bourgeois academic who rarely if ever has to descend into the misery of those whose lives are at best a state of constant anxiety or at worst the indelible memory of the death of a child. For a man safely sheltered from life’s harder edges, a gentle soporific may suffice to ease whatever fleeting moments of distress or resentment afflict him. For those genuinely acquainted with grief, however— despair, poverty, calamity, disease, oppression, or bereavement — but who have no ivory tower to which to retreat, no material advantages to distract them from their suffering, and no hope for anything better in this world, something far stronger may be needed. If there is no God, then the universe (astonishing accident that it is) is a brute event of boundless magnificence and abysmal anguish, which only illusion and myth may have the power to make tolerable. Only extraordinary callousness or fatuous sanctimony could make one insensible to this. Moreover, if there is no God, truth is not an ultimate good— there is no such thing as an ultimate good— and the more merciful course might well be not to preach unbelief but to tell “noble lies” and fabricate “pious frauds” and conjure up ever more enchanting illusions for the solace of those in torment.

    No need to argue over the point, however. Religions of consolation belong principally to the realm of psychology rather than that of theology or contemplative faith. At that level, all personal creeds— whether theist or atheist— stand beyond any judgments of truth or falsehood, morality or immorality, rationality or irrationality. One cannot quarrel with sentiment, or with private cures for private complaints. It probably makes no better sense to contest popular atheism on logical grounds than it does to take a principled stand against the saccharine pieties of greeting cards with “religious” themes. In either case, what is at issue is neither belief nor unbelief (at least not in any intellectually important sense) but only the pardonable platitudes of those trying to cope with their own disaffections and regrets. What makes today’s popular atheism so depressing is neither its conceptual boorishness nor its self-righteousness but simply its cultural inevitability. It is the final, predictable, and unsurprisingly vulgar expression of an ideological tradition that has, after many centuries, become so pervasive and habitual that most of us have no idea how to doubt its premises, or how to avert its consequences. This is a fairly sad state of affairs, moreover, because those consequences have at times proved quite terrible.”

  37. TFBW

    In #31, Philmonomer said:

    It does seem right to me that Theists are the ones who carry the burden of proof.

    And it seems right to me that if you put the burden of proof on others, in this way, then you must clearly specify what that burden entails, as there is no widespread agreement on the form of such a proof. Indeed, many proofs have been offered throughout history. Why are those proofs unacceptable?

    I find the whole “agnostic” label puzzling, as I suspect nearly everyone in our culture has a belief as to whether God (the orthodox Christian God) exists.

    Technically, agnosticism is a stance on knowledge (the lack thereof), rather than belief. The lack of knowledge doesn’t have to imply a lack of belief: I can profess to believe in God without going so far as to say that I know He exists. On the other hand, if someone professes a complete lack of belief, then they are also professing a lack of knowledge (given the common philosophical formulation of knowledge as justified, true belief).

    I suppose some hem and haw, and say they don’t really know, but I don’t see atheism as about knowing. Rather I think it is about believing.

    I agree, but you differ from a significant subset of atheists who claim that atheism is characterised entirely by a lack of belief. It’s a breath of fresh air to hear you say otherwise.

    Divine hiddenness. Naturalistic explanations that seem to work better.

    I’m a little perplexed by the “divine hiddenness” thing. I don’t know what your take on the matter is, but I’m fairly familiar with Richard Dawkins, who suggests that if God exists, he’s taken “great pains to conceal himself from us.” He is also quite frank that life looks designed, but adamant that it isn’t, because Darwin. What does Dawkins want, exactly? He’s already got a universe which, by his own admission, looks designed. It seems to me that the major advantage of Dawkins’ precious Darwinian explanations is that they allow the appearance of design without a designer, and Dawkins really really wants intellectual justification to not believe in God. It’s Darwin as self-defence against belief, not “divine hiddenness”.

    I think my barrier is probably pretty low. A personal conversion experience. Stars lined up in the sky.

    Well, I can’t provide you with a religious experience or a miracle, so it’s too high a barrier for me to clear.

  38. Philmonomer

    And it seems right to me that if you put the burden of proof on others, in this way, then you must clearly specify what that burden entails, as there is no widespread agreement on the form of such a proof.

    See, now I’m already out of my philosophical depths, being neither an academic philosopher (nor even an armchair one). I just meant to say that “I see very little evidence for the proposition that ‘There is a God,’ such that I think the most likely state of affairs is that God does not exist. If you claim that ‘There is a God,’ why do you think that?” That makes sense to me.

    Indeed, many proofs have been offered throughout history. Why are those proofs unacceptable?

    My wife has been trying to get me to read “36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction” for months. Maybe it’s time to read it? At any rate, I suspect you are much more knowledgeable about the literature in this regard. What should I read? What are the best proofs out there (from the pro-God crowd?) What are the best responses (from the anti-God crowd)?

    Technically, agnosticism is a stance on knowledge (the lack thereof), rather than belief. The lack of knowledge doesn’t have to imply a lack of belief: I can profess to believe in God without going so far as to say that I know He exists. On the other hand, if someone professes a complete lack of belief, then they are also professing a lack of knowledge (given the common philosophical formulation of knowledge as justified, true belief).

    Makes sense.

    I agree, but you differ from a significant subset of atheists who claim that atheism is characterised entirely by a lack of belief. It’s a breath of fresh air to hear you say otherwise.

    Glad to be a breath of fresh air. 🙂 It sounds like I have a lot more reading to do to see if I agree or disagree with that subset of atheists.

    I’m a little perplexed by the “divine hiddenness” thing. I don’t know what your take on the matter is, but I’m fairly familiar with Richard Dawkins, who suggests that if God exists, he’s taken “great pains to conceal himself from us.” He is also quite frank that life looks designed, but adamant that it isn’t, because Darwin. What does Dawkins want, exactly? He’s already got a universe which, by his own admission, looks designed. It seems to me that the major advantage of Dawkins’ precious Darwinian explanations is that they allow the appearance of design without a designer, and Dawkins really really wants intellectual justification to not believe in God. It’s Darwin as self-defence against belief, not “divine hiddenness”.

    I meant that God seems 1) hidden in my life and 2) hidden in the world I see around me.

    I’ve read nothing by Dawkins, so all I can respond to is what you wrote here. You ask What does Dawkins want? Presumably, a universe in which there isn’t an alternate explanation (other than God) for the design. If there is an alternate explanation (assuming God exists, then God has provided the alternate explanation), then God has taken steps to “remain hidden.”

    I don’t know how you can conclude that “Dawkins really, really wants an intellectual justification to not believe in God.” This seems to me to be one step removed from accusing him of “intellectual dishonesty.” (And just the flip side of the atheist accusation that “Christians just really, really want an intellectual justification to believe in God”–presumably by believing in bad arguments for the existence of God.)

    Well, I can’t provide you with a religious experience or a miracle, so it’s too high a barrier for me to clear.

    Fair enough. I was thinking (as you are probably aware), that it was a pretty low barrier for God.

    Thanks again for your thoughts. If anything here came across as snarky, that was not my intent.

  39. scbrownlhrm

    Sound “Evidence for X” being refused by some, or not being embraced by everyone, and so on in various permutations, is *not* “evidence against said evidence”, as it were. This gets far more evident when this or that alternative of absurdity is quickly, even eagerly, embraced.

    Tom reminds us:

    “Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, and Peter Boghossian have said they would not consider it conclusive evidence for God if the stars all realigned themselves to say in everyone’s own language, “I am God, believe in me.” Boghossian says, “It could be a delusion.” Dawkins and Boghossian have also said the same thing about the return of Christ, if it happened: not enough evidence.”

    Dr. Michael Augros asks:

    “……But if any of these arguments is truly a proof, then why has none been universally accepted? Why do so many smart people continue to reject them all? Before I answer that question, it is only fair to note that since the time of Aquinas, if not since the time of Aristotle, there has always been a significant number of philosophers in the world who have accepted arguments like those in my book as successful proofs. That is roughly twenty-three centuries of measurable success. Somehow such reasonings persist down through the ages, convincing thousands of great minds in every generation along the way, some of whom were originally atheists. It is simply a matter of fact, in other words, that the arguments do convince many smart people and have done so since they first saw the light of day. That still leaves us with the unconvinced philosophers to account for, of course……”

    Dr. Augrous explores a bit of the question Is a Proof Bad If It Fails to Convince Everyone? and also references his book, Who Designed the Designer?: A Rediscovered Path to God’s Existence.

  40. TFBW

    In #38, Philmonomer said:

    I just meant to say that “I see very little evidence for the proposition that ‘There is a God,’ such that I think the most likely state of affairs is that God does not exist. If you claim that ‘There is a God,’ why do you think that?”

    And the problem with “I see very little evidence” is, “what is the missing evidence supposed to look like?” That is, if God existed, you would expect the universe to be different how, exactly? Whatever your answer is to that, it’s clearly vastly different from mine, and so I can’t even guess at it — you really will have to spell it out for me. I see evidence of God everywhere: if God didn’t exist, I would expect nothing at all to exist, you see.

    My wife has been trying to get me to read “36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction” for months. Maybe it’s time to read it?

    Not if what you’re looking for is a serious philosophical discussion. If it’s book recommendations you’re after, I suggest that you ask our host, Tom, since he keeps in touch with that sort of thing way more than I do.

    I meant that God seems 1) hidden in my life and 2) hidden in the world I see around me.

    This comes back to the “what were you expecting to see” question. Equally importantly, why were you expecting to see those things? You must have some sort of theory as to how God would behave if he existed in order to have such expectations. What is this theory, and how did you come by it?

    You ask What does Dawkins want? Presumably, a universe in which there isn’t an alternate explanation (other than God) for the design.

    A universe in which it isn’t possible to say, “it happened all by itself?” I can imagine a universe in which everybody accepts that the design is the product of a designer, but I can’t imagine one in which it’s impossible for a determined sceptic to deny the existence of the designer and claim it happened all by itself.

    I don’t know how you can conclude that “Dawkins really, really wants an intellectual justification to not believe in God.”

    Well, just about everything Dawkins says and does makes it clear that he considers atheism to be superior in just about every possible way to every sort of religion, so the desire to “not believe in God” shouldn’t be controversial. As for the “intellectual justification” part, I refer to his 1986 book, The Blind Watchmaker, early on in which he says, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” He says it again in this 2012 CNN “Red Chair” interview, so it’s not like he’s changed his tune. He praises Darwin non-stop for that particular boon.

    I don’t claim that Dawkins would appreciate the way I put it, but I’m working from stuff that he’s actually said and still stands by. If anyone thinks I have outright misrepresented him, then by all means call me out on it, but show your working: I want my position to be based on fair comment, not misrepresentation.

    Fair enough. I was thinking (as you are probably aware), that it was a pretty low barrier for God.

    Sure, but if we are talking about barriers for God, then there would be no need for evidence at all, since he could just poke indubitable knowledge straight into our minds, and it would never even occur to us to seriously doubt his existence. As such, your evidential requirements seem a little detached from the subject: I can’t reach them, and God could safely ignore them if his goal were to simply make you believe.

  41. Philmonomer

    And the problem with “I see very little evidence” is, “what is the missing evidence supposed to look like?” That is, if God existed, you would expect the universe to be different how, exactly?

    Well, I guess this would turn on what you think God is like/who God is/God’s attributes/etc. If you think God is merely the Guy Who Got it All Started (and Walked Away), I suppose the universe could be exactly like it is now. But I also see no need to worship that God (or acknowledge it at all), as it would be irrelevant to our lives.

    If there is a God who interacts with us, then I’d expect to see evidence of that (say, prayer studies that show prayer to be effective, examples of miracles that are widely agreed upon, that sort of thing.)

    Whatever your answer is to that, it’s clearly vastly different from mine, and so I can’t even guess at it — you really will have to spell it out for me.

    You “can’t even guess at it?” That feels a little disingenuous to me. Am I wrong about that?

    I see evidence of God everywhere: if God didn’t exist, I would expect nothing at all to exist, you see.

    How do you figure that nothing would likely exist, rather than something, if God doesn’t exist?

    In any case, given the fact that “There is something.” I don’t find the explanation “God Did it” to be particularly satisfying. Granted I don’t know where the Something came from (and I’m not even sure “Why is there something rather than nothing” is a meaningful question.) But I find “God did it” to not be particularly helpful.

    This comes back to the “what were you expecting to see” question. Equally importantly, why were you expecting to see those things? You must have some sort of theory as to how God would behave if he existed in order to have such expectations. What is this theory, and how did you come by it?

    Again, this turns on your concept of God. If the Christian God were acting in the world, I’d expect to evidence of those actions.

    If Christianity were true, and Christians were following the one true God, then I’d expect a number of things: Christian prayers would be answered (in a way that was observable/statistically significant); Christians would behave better than the rest of the world; I’d expect a more miraculous foundation story that was better attested to. That type of thing.

    That is just what comes to the top of my head. I’d probably have better answers if I thought about it for a while. It’s a good question.

    A universe in which it isn’t possible to say, “it happened all by itself?” I can imagine a universe in which everybody accepts that the design is the product of a designer, but I can’t imagine one in which it’s impossible for a determined sceptic to deny the existence of the designer and claim it happened all by itself

    ? We were talking about evolution, I thought.

    I thought the original point of the Dawkins quote was that, by setting up the world in such a manner that evolution is a viable explanation for the design we see, God has, in at least some manner, hidden himself. That makes sense to me.

    Well, just about everything Dawkins says and does makes it clear that he considers atheism to be superior in just about every possible way to every sort of religion, so the desire to “not believe in God” shouldn’t be controversial. As for the “intellectual justification” part, I refer to his 1986 book, The Blind Watchmaker, early on in which he says, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” He says it again in this 2012 CNN “Red Chair” interview, so it’s not like he’s changed his tune. He praises Darwin non-stop for that particular boon.

    I don’t claim that Dawkins would appreciate the way I put it, but I’m working from stuff that he’s actually said and still stands by. If anyone thinks I have outright misrepresented him, then by all means call me out on it, but show your working: I want my position to be based on fair comment, not misrepresentation.

    I don’t have any particular interest in Dawkins. I suppose I should read his stuff some time.

    As an aside, I think most of us work in “motivated reasoning.” We have, I think, at some gut level, an understanding of how the world works (that understanding comes from our physical chemistry/evolution combined with the environment in which we grew up). We then just look for rationalizations as to why that understanding of the world is true.

    Sure, but if we are talking about barriers for God, then there would be no need for evidence at all, since he could just poke indubitable knowledge straight into our minds, and it would never even occur to us to seriously doubt his existence. As such, your evidential requirements seem a little detached from the subject: I can’t reach them, and God could safely ignore them if his goal were to simply make you believe.

    Good point. The original question was “what sort of evidence would it take to change my mind.” The answer was a personal conversion experience, stars in the sky, that sort of thing. God knows. 😉

  42. Philmonomer

    Tom,

    TFBW sent me to you.

    What are the best books out there that argues “God Exists”? What are the best books that would find those books to be mistaken?

    Thank you.

  43. scbrownlhrm

    Philmonomer,

    You’re contradicting yourself. You first affirm chemistry and culture as your means and then ask that the Christian bring you a book by which you may find the ends called sight. Unfortunately the former annihilates the later in the eliminative fumes of useful fictions – your contradiction thus failing to go through unnoticed.

    You ask for a book through which to see God more clearly and yet reality itself vis-à-vis the eyes of logic and love persistently carry all of Naturalism’s own (your own, it seems) truth predicates to absurdity – and then reality’s eyes – logic and love – replace those same absurdities with an uncanny and perhaps unnerving affinity for the unavoidable contours of the Christian God. Or, if not that, then, instead……. it is up to you after the song and dance is over…… your own absurdities buried within all of your own truth predicates will gouge out the only eyes by which you can ever see anything at all – that is to say – they will carry reality’s eyes of logic and love to absolute and total elimination leaving you to subsist on nothing more than the squalid hunger of question-begging wrapped up inside of the vacuities of conflations and equivocations.

    As you haven’t the tools it takes for you to find the intellectual right to claim that you value one’s own eyes then we can take the advice of David Hart from earlier and repeat that it probably makes no better sense to contest popular atheism on logical grounds than it does to take a principled stand against the saccharine pieties of greeting cards with “religious” themes. In either case, what is at issue is neither belief nor unbelief – at least not in any intellectually important sense – but only the self-negating platitudes of those such as yourself.

    You cannot foist this commitment to chemistry and culture:

    “……understanding comes from our physical chemistry/evolution combined with the environment in which we grew up….. We then just look for rationalizations as to why that understanding of the world is true…..”

    And then follow it with its express contradiction:

    “What are the best books out there that argues “God Exists”?”

    Why?

    Because, simply, those sorts of contradictions are a non-starter from the ground up given that without eyes you need not even bother looking for God – your own a priori of chemistry and culture can only grant you an absurdity which is herself unable to comprehend reality’s constitutional datum into which both logic and love manifestly carry us. Surrender logic or love at any point – and you must surrender both at some “ontic seam” somewhere – and all your truth claims upon reality will painfully – themselves – collapse. You can forget the book as it cannot help. Why? Because one must proceed with reality’s eyes – logic and love – wide open in the real world – if one seeks God. Only there in love’s acquiescence of one’s own self will one’s very self be – then – filled by the unbounded vision imbued by logic’s relentless demand for lucidity singularly combined with love’s timeless reciprocity herself justifiably demanding reason’s conformity. Books are fine, only, they aren’t enough given your declared a priori, as it is not books, but is instead the eyes which transpose necessity’s beautiful terrain.

    Given that your volition is involved, you’ve clearly made your choice already – your own a priori of chemistry and culture already declared. Though you feign an attempt at curiosity you are, quite obviously, already committed to aborting – at some ontological seam somewhere – reality’s eyes of logic and love.

  44. Shane Fletcher

    Hi scb,

    Atheists convert to Christianity all the time, after making a choice based in naturalism. People read books to learn, get a new perspective on things, and possibly change their mind. Have Christians who write books to illustrate that God exists, like Tom, been wasting their time? Not to mention that you truncated his quote to eliminate the parts where he said “I think” twice, meaning he isn’t sure. He’s here asking questions after all. To shut him down as though he’s already made his mind up is wide of the mark.

    Respectfully
    Shane

  45. scbrownlhrm

    Shane,

    Shutting down?

    So Philmonomer is unable to read those words and gain insight on a possible intellectual posture that might prove helpful, even necessary, in his search?

    I think far more of Philmonomer than you seem to.

  46. Shane Fletcher

    Hi scb,

    “I think far more of P. then you seem to.”

    I believe it’s on “your ability to provide insight” where our thinking differs.

    You couldn’t just recommend a couple of book titles or even links to some online articles?

    Sincerely
    Shane

  47. scbrownlhrm

    Shane,

    You’re far too one dimensional in your approach to knowledge.

    Books cannot help us if certain internal barriers are left unchallenged.

    Forcing the issue on one’s a priori regarding the only two eyes there are – logic and love – is the best way to set someone up for success. Whether that a priori is solid or tenuous makes no difference on that fact of the matter.

    In other words, there are things about us, and, then, there are things about the books we read. Jumping to the latter and ignoring the former isn’t “helpful”. It’s just avoiding challenging someone perhaps because that makes one uncomfortable, or perhaps because one isn’t aware that the things about us actually play a critical part right alongside of the things about the books we read.

  48. Philmonomer

    TFBW

    A universe in which it isn’t possible to say, “it happened all by itself?” I can imagine a universe in which everybody accepts that the design is the product of a designer, but I can’t imagine one in which it’s impossible for a determined sceptic to deny the existence of the designer and claim it happened all by itself.

    In reading back through what I wrote, I realized I misunderstood you. I’m not saying that there has to be a universe in which it is impossible for a determined skeptic to deny the designer and claim it happened by itself. Rather, I can imagine a universe where there isn’t a coherent theory that explains the apparent design we see. Indeed, in our world, evolution isn’t the theory of some lone determined skeptic, but rather the scientific consensus that it is true fact of how the world is ordered.

    Since we have a coherent theory that explains the apparent design we see, God has, in a sense, hidden himself.

  49. TFBW

    In #41, Philmonomer said:

    If there is a God who interacts with us, then I’d expect to see evidence of that (say, prayer studies that show prayer to be effective, examples of miracles that are widely agreed upon, that sort of thing.)

    That seems to assume a fairly passive sort of God — one over which we are the primary influence, and who performs miracles somewhat casually. So yeah, if God were a sort of cosmic Santa Claus, I’d expect the evidence to manifest in that general way. And I agree that evidence for that sort of God is, shall we say, uncompelling.

    You “can’t even guess at it?” That feels a little disingenuous to me. Am I wrong about that?

    Well of course I could take a wild guess, and I might even guess correctly (there are a limited number of common choices), but I prefer not to guess unless I have a strong suspicion as to what the correct answer is.

    How do you figure that nothing would likely exist, rather than something, if God doesn’t exist?

    There’s good reason to think that the universe as we know it can’t be eternal. (It used to be a mainstream scientific view that the universe is eternal, but that theory has been more or less flushed down the memory hole now that the Big Bang is established dogma.) As such, I concur with the mainstream view that the universe had a beginning. Thus, either (1) it arose spontaneously from absolutely nothing, or (2) its existence was caused by something else which really is eternal.

    Assume I’m not a fan of option #1 and join the dots. If you need a hint, start with absolutely nothing and apply the rule, “nothing can begin unless something causes it to begin.” See what you get.

    But I find “God did it” to not be particularly helpful.

    It takes book-length treatment to do the argument real justice. As such, I don’t expect you to be impressed by my precis. The point wasn’t to persuade you, but to show you how vastly my perception of evidence differs from yours thanks to our differing background beliefs. I don’t really know what your background beliefs are, so I don’t know what “evidence” looks like to you. That’s why I ask.

    That is just what comes to the top of my head. I’d probably have better answers if I thought about it for a while. It’s a good question.

    By all means, think about it further. In each case, also ask yourself, “what is the background belief which renders this particular thing significant as evidence?” So, for example, complete the sentence, “if Christianity were true, Christians would behave better than the rest of the world because …” Also, what does “behave better” actually entail? What are your background beliefs about goodness of behaviour, and why would you expect it to align with Christianity?

    (Diverting to your clarifications in #48)

    I’m not saying that there has to be a universe in which it is impossible for a determined skeptic to deny the designer and claim it happened by itself. Rather, I can imagine a universe where there isn’t a coherent theory that explains the apparent design we see. Indeed, in our world, evolution isn’t the theory of some lone determined skeptic, but rather the scientific consensus that it is true fact of how the world is ordered.

    I don’t dispute that it is the mainstream view, and if scientific mainstream views were renowned for standing the test of time, then you would have a powerful argument. But even geocentricism qualified as “the scientific consensus that it is true fact of how the world is ordered” back in its day, and it’s far from alone in that. Science undergoes revolutions, and it’s still possible that posterity will look back on Darwinism the same way we look back on geocentricism, no matter how adamantly Richard Dawkins proclaims the certainty of its truth in our day and age. In fact, if it were possible to collect on such a wager posthumously, I’d gladly offer Dawkins a bet on that eventual outcome. I’d expect good odds.

    But let’s have a closer look at your clarification. If it’s possible for a determined sceptic to deny the designer and claim it happened by itself, then isn’t it possible that the sceptic might support that scepticism with a modestly plausible and eloquently phrased story, persuading others who were also sceptically inclined to join him? And might not that result, for a time at least, in a majority being persuaded to that view, particularly if the theory didn’t so much preclude
    the designer as render Him optional?

    In other words, if the whole thing isn’t nipped in the bud, what prevents it from coming to bloom?

    There’s also the question of the theory’s coherence. Do you know it to be coherent, or are you just assuming that it must be because it’s so widely accepted? It’s been argued (C. S. Lewis’ Dangerous Idea, Victor Reppert — possible reading material) that the entire naturalistic account of origins is fundamentally at odds with the idea that we are rational beings capable of reaching such a conclusion — a very severe form of incoherence. Or, if you prefer to get your scepticism from an atheist, there’s Thomas Nagel’s “Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False”. I haven’t read that one yet, but it sounds like it’s issuing the right kind of challenges.

    I’d draw a distinction between “hidden” and “deniable, given sufficient effort” here, and I’m not really feeling the force of the objection when it’s the latter. It’s not that the universe readily lends itself to an evolutionary explanation — it doesn’t, or else Darwin wouldn’t have achieved anything of significance. Rather, it’s that we live in a time where science (especially as it relates to origins) is more or less defined by its efforts to close the gaps in theories which grant God any latitude. Even the theistically non-committal Intelligent Design folks get shouted down by the Darwinists because their unspecified “designer” leaves far too much room for God to not only exist, but also act.

    In some sense, though, all this discussion about science and its murky relationship with motivated reasoning is tangential to the key point, which — if I’m interpreting you correctly — is that scepticism ought to be much harder than it is if God exists. And again, I’m going to have to question what background beliefs bring you to this expectation. It seems that you’re expecting a very particular kind of God: an in-your-face kind of God who not only makes his hand obvious, but doubles down by ensuring that there are no viable paths to denial, even accounting for the flexibility in “viable” that motivated reasoning might afford.

    What if God just isn’t like that? It’s not how the Bible portrays him.

    The original question was “what sort of evidence would it take to change my mind.” The answer was a personal conversion experience, stars in the sky, that sort of thing.

    Are you sure you want a “conversion experience” in any case? Do you really want to be that guy who says, “I used to be an atheist, but I had a conversion experience?” I mean, it’s your call, but that’s the kind of stereotype that the less-polite atheists use when they want to portray Christians as irrational. Just saying.

  50. Philmonomer

    That seems to assume a fairly passive sort of God — one over which we are the primary influence, and who performs miracles somewhat casually. So yeah, if God were a sort of cosmic Santa Claus, I’d expect the evidence to manifest in that general way. And I agree that evidence for that sort of God is, shall we say, uncompelling.

    Ok. So I’m going to try to be careful here (I may not succeed). The question was what sort of evidence would I expect for God. I laid out the type of evidence I’d expect (responds to prayers, performs miracles, etc.). [Just to be clear–I’m not talking about a God that is a jukebox, where you put in a coin, and out comes your Request. Rather, I’m talking about evidence that I would find to be pretty good that there is Personal, Outside force, that is aware of who we are/what we want/responds accordingly/has an impact on our life. Again, it doesn’t have to be Santa Clause, granting every wish.] If there were studies showing that, in a statistically significant way, people who are prayed for get better/that prayers are answered (not every prayer, not every time), but that we are witnessing something other than random chance, I’d find that to be good evidence.

    So it seems that you agree, and believe that there isn’t evidence for that kind of God–the kind that responds to prayers. (If that isn’t your position, please correct me.) More likely, I suspect you believe that I have a mistaken understanding of God, and thus I am looking for the wrong kind of evidence.

    If that’s the case, what kind of evidence should I look for? (And I shouldn’t look for evidence that prayers are answered?) What constitutes good evidence for you? Why do you believe in God?

    There’s good reason to think that the universe as we know it can’t be eternal. (It used to be a mainstream scientific view that the universe is eternal, but that theory has been more or less flushed down the memory hole now that the Big Bang is established dogma.) As such, I concur with the mainstream view that the universe had a beginning. Thus, either (1) it arose spontaneously from absolutely nothing, or (2) its existence was caused by something else which really is eternal.

    Assume I’m not a fan of option #1 and join the dots. If you need a hint, start with absolutely nothing and apply the rule, “nothing can begin unless something causes it to begin.” See what you get.

    I don’t find this line of argument particularly compelling. The only thing we know is that there was an expansion event a long time ago. We know nothing about what happened “before” that event. “Before the event” probably isn’t even a meaningful phrase. If there is one thing we’ve learned about cosmology over the last couple hundred years, it’s that it isn’t intuitive. In addition, I don’t see any particular reason to think that our concepts of causality (which exists inside our universe) has to apply to the universe as a whole.

    At any rate, I’m not a cosmologist. When they proclaim “God must have done it,” then I’ll definitely take notice.

    I don’t dispute that it is the mainstream view, and if scientific mainstream views were renowned for standing the test of time, then you would have a powerful argument. But even geocentricism qualified as “the scientific consensus that it is true fact of how the world is ordered” back in its day, and it’s far from alone in that. Science undergoes revolutions, and it’s still possible that posterity will look back on Darwinism the same way we look back on geocentricism, no matter how adamantly Richard Dawkins proclaims the certainty of its truth in our day and age. In fact, if it were possible to collect on such a wager posthumously, I’d gladly offer Dawkins a bet on that eventual outcome. I’d expect good odds.

    Is it possible that “posterity will look back on Darwinism the same way we look back on geocentricism?” I suppose it’s possible, but I also suspect its extraordinarily unlikely. Science has gotten a lot better since then. In this regard, there isn’t any sort of realistic “minority” view (now) that evolution isn’t the way. I suppose a minority view could pop up, and grow, and eventually evolution could be left in tatters. But it strikes me as not likely.

    At any rate, we are talking (in general) about my reasons for why I don’t believe in God (divine hiddenness). I see evolution as reasonably good evidence (now) for why there isn’t a God (we don’t need God to explain the design we see around us). Maybe evolution won’t be some day. I doubt it.

    But let’s have a closer look at your clarification. If it’s possible for a determined sceptic to deny the designer and claim it happened by itself, then isn’t it possible that the sceptic might support that scepticism with a modestly plausible and eloquently phrased story, persuading others who were also sceptically inclined to join him? And might not that result, for a time at least, in a majority being persuaded to that view, particularly if the theory didn’t so much preclude the designer as render Him optional?

    In other words, if the whole thing isn’t nipped in the bud, what prevents it from coming to bloom?

    Are you saying evolution is “modestly plausible” and an “eloquently phrased story?” If that’s what you’re saying, that doesn’t make sense to me.

    I don’t mean to be flippant, but it seems like there is a one word answer to your question as to would prevent it from coming to bloom: science. If you are saying that it has grown now, beyond anywhere it should have because it’s a fiction, that seems a little bit like conspiracy territory.

    [A massive aside: then isn’t it possible that the [believer] sceptic might support that [belief] scepticism with a modestly plausible and eloquently phrased story, persuading others who were also [religiously] sceptically inclined to join him? And might not that result, for a time at least, in a majority being persuaded to that view, ] Wait. What are we talking about? At any rate, with regard to the scientist, we can have reason to believe that science will self-correct. What self-corrects for the believer?]

    There’s also the question of the theory’s coherence. Do you know it to be coherent, or are you just assuming that it must be because it’s so widely accepted? It’s been argued (C. S. Lewis’ Dangerous Idea, Victor Reppert — possible reading material) that the entire naturalistic account of origins is fundamentally at odds with the idea that we are rational beings capable of reaching such a conclusion — a very severe form of incoherence. Or, if you prefer to get your scepticism from an atheist, there’s Thomas Nagel’s “Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False”. I haven’t read that one yet, but it sounds like it’s issuing the right kind of challenges.

    I’m not an evolutionary biologist, so I’m trusting the experts who say it’s coherent. I think that’s a reasonable thing to do.

    As I said above, I’m not a philosopher (even an armchair one). I don’t have a whole lot of patience for them. In this regard, I always liked Kierkegaard’s quote: “What the philosophers say about Reality is often as disappointing as a sign you see in a shop window which reads: Pressing Done Here. If you brought your clothes to be pressed, you would be fooled; for only the sign is for sale.”

    I plan on reading Nagel’s book as well (sometime?!)

    Your next couple paragraphs are interesting. Thanks.

    In some sense, though, all this discussion about science and its murky relationship with motivated reasoning is tangential to the key point, which — if I’m interpreting you correctly — is that scepticism ought to be much harder than it is if God exists. And again, I’m going to have to question what background beliefs bring you to this expectation. It seems that you’re expecting a very particular kind of God: an in-your-face kind of God who not only makes his hand obvious, but doubles down by ensuring that there are no viable paths to denial, even accounting for the flexibility in “viable” that motivated reasoning might afford.

    I feel like this misses the mark. I’ll try to explain why (if I can). I’m not particularly asking for a God that is in your face, nor a God that makes his hand obvious, nor ensures that there are no viable paths to denial. Rather, I look around at the world and try to make sense of what I see. I see lots of different religions, with lots of different understandings of God (many of which are mutually exclusive). If there really is a God, why is the world this way? I can guess that 1) he has some reasons for this or 2) there isn’t a God. I also see lots of suffering. Why is there suffering? I can guess that 1) he has some reason for this or 2) there isn’t a God. I also see naturalistic explanations for where people came from (we have tails in the womb!). Why is this? 1) he has some reason for this or 2) there isn’t a God. (I could probably think of more–but this is too long already).

    So, I don’t think I’m looking for the kind of God you are describing. Instead, I’m looking at the world, asking what’s really going on here?

    What if God just isn’t like that? It’s not how the Bible portrays him.

    Well, the atheist/cynic/skeptic in me says, of course, the Bible doesn’t portray God as the “in your face” God. No one would buy it (because everyone can see that God isn’t real.)

    [Just to be absolutely clear–I don’t think the Bible is a conspiracy to “sell” a certain type of God. I think they “invented” (for lack of a better term) a God out of their own experiences. And those experience included prayers not being answered (for example)]

    Are you sure you want a “conversion experience” in any case? Do you really want to be that guy who says, “I used to be an atheist, but I had a conversion experience?” I mean, it’s your call, but that’s the kind of stereotype that the less-polite atheists use when they want to portray Christians as irrational. Just saying.

    Huh? I’m not tied into any sort of atheist community that is gong to shun me.

    I think conversion stories are a perfectly acceptable (rational) reason for a person to believe in God. Now, I don’t think your conversion story is a reason for me to believe in God. But I hear if you have one, they are convincing.

  51. scbrownlhrm

    Shane,

    Philmonomer makes the point after all.

    This thread is a nice example of why your proposed one-dimensional approach to knowledge just can’t be helpful.

    As you can see, not only has P. mischaracterized the nature of the question and thereby missed point, but, we find quite intact his commitment to ontological lines which must finally sacrifice all constitutional datum transposed through the eyes of logic and love. Books are not enough as the person reading the books is, in the real world, equally weighted.

    This is why the issue here is neither belief nor unbelief – at least not in any intellectually important sense – but rather the issue is an a priori rejection of traveling with reality’s eyes – logic and love – wide open in the real world – as one seeks the Christian God. Only there in love’s acquiescence of one’s own self will one’s very self be – then – filled by the unbounded vision imbued by logic’s relentless demand for lucidity singularly combined with love’s timeless reciprocity herself justifiably demanding reason’s conformity.

    Books are fine, only, they aren’t enough given the obviously intact, present, a priori of surrendering all things logic, all things love in the fumes of what painfully sums to what just does qualify as the metaphysics of this or that flavor of eliminative materialism. It is not books which transpose, but rather it is the eyes reading said books which transpose necessity’s beautiful terrain, volition making her presence felt. Indeed, all the stars may align and still it will not be enough for those so eager to sacrifice the contours of actuality’s datum which logic and love necessarily open within consciousness as one spies the Christian God. It is unavoidable – given that volition is involved one simply cannot claim thirst for what one simply cannot see without eyes – as one simply cannot spy God given such intentional motion towards aborting – at some ontological seam somewhere – reality’s eyes of logic and love.

  52. TFBW

    In #50, Philmonomer said:

    If there were studies showing that, in a statistically significant way, people who are prayed for get better/that prayers are answered (not every prayer, not every time), but that we are witnessing something other than random chance, I’d find that to be good evidence.

    I suspect that what you want is not logically possible, and I’m fairly sure that it’s not logistically feasible. The ease with which a correlation of this sort can be measured is proportional to its regularity and our ability to control for confounding factors. Given that we’re not expecting a wish-granting machine, we’re starting with less than ideal conditions. And then how do you control for confounding factors? How do you even know what counts as a confounding factor unless you have a very specific theory of when and why God answers prayers?

    You make it sound like we could just “do some science” and get a result. It’s not that simple. Do you have any solid basis for the belief that such an experiment is even capable of producing a meaningful result, or are you just assuming that it shouldn’t be that hard in principle?

    More likely, I suspect you believe that I have a mistaken understanding of God, and thus I am looking for the wrong kind of evidence.

    Well, your understanding of both God and science seems a little cartoonish. As I’ve said, you need to have some quite specific theories about God, prayer, and the relationship between the two in order to design a well-controlled experiment in the first place. If your specific theories are going to be biblically based, then the problem gets worse, because a straightforward reading of the Bible indicates that God dislikes being put to the test. You simply won’t have a cooperative test subject for such an experiment, as far as I can tell. (See the bit about “not putting the Lord to the test” in the Gospel accounts of Satan tempting Jesus, and work back through the references.)

    If that’s the case, what kind of evidence should I look for? (And I shouldn’t look for evidence that prayers are answered?) What constitutes good evidence for you? Why do you believe in God?

    I’m really not sure what to tell you. I’ve already mentioned in passing some of the reasons why I believe, and you’ve responded with “meh” in so many words. I’m pretty sure I’d get more “meh” if I supplied you with more reasons, and these messages are really time-consuming to write, so the return on investment doesn’t look good.

    I’m also not even sure what your angle is in all this. What are you seeking, and why? Is this idle curiosity? Are you just validating your plausible deniability (i.e. checking to see if anyone can seriously threaten your “divine hiddenness” defence)? You don’t strike me as the kind who perceives himself as a fallen wretch in need of God’s love and forgiveness. Do you actually care whether God exists?

    At any rate, I’m not a cosmologist. When they proclaim “God must have done it,” then I’ll definitely take notice.

    Science really is the new priesthood, isn’t it?

    I don’t mean to be flippant, but it seems like there is a one word answer to your question as to would prevent it from coming to bloom: science.

    And the new religion.

    If you are saying that it has grown now, beyond anywhere it should have because it’s a fiction, that seems a little bit like conspiracy territory.

    Nothing so cloak-and-dagger, really. I just have far less faith than you do in science to keep us all on the straight and narrow, especially when ideologies are at stake. Science is a very human activity.

    At any rate, with regard to the scientist, we can have reason to believe that science will self-correct.

    The more I hear that, the more doubtful I become that it is true. The more people think that science is somehow “self-correcting” rather than containing the means to limit its own incorrectness, the less they will apply the checks and rigours which actually limit the potential error. And there’s plenty of reason to think that parts of mainstream, peer-reviewed science are up to their eyeballs in complete garbage right about now.

    Don’t get me wrong — I put a lot of stock in science, but I work on the basis that 90% of everything is crap. As such, the label “science” doesn’t impress me in and of itself: I check for signs of quality first.

    As I said above, I’m not a philosopher (even an armchair one). I don’t have a whole lot of patience for them.

    You defer to the pronouncements of scientists on matters of philosophy, then. Clearly, I’m not the right kind of authority figure to be telling you anything, and I keep stupidly suggesting books written by philosophers to boot.

    If there really is a God, why is the world this way? I can guess that 1) he has some reasons for this or 2) there isn’t a God.

    Option two always seems like the easy one until you start investigating its full implications and realising what kind of absurdities follow. But that’s philosophy, so I won’t bore you with it.

    Just to be absolutely clear–I don’t think the Bible is a conspiracy to “sell” a certain type of God. I think they “invented” (for lack of a better term) a God out of their own experiences.

    Is that an opinion you have reached on the basis of something that a literary expert has said, or does it come from the comfort of your armchair?

  53. GrahamH

    I think Tom’s interlocutor has good point – where is the evidence for the supernatural causation? That’s what I would like to know. Very reasonable question. You can’t use the supernatural to explain things unless you can show there is such a thing or provide good reasons to demonstrate it.

    The critique that atheists have a diversity of evidential standard for other things is a red herring. Who cares. Atheism is not a creed where they all have the same position on some notion. Atheism is a denial of a claim. If a claim of supernatural is made, it can be denied if it can’t be demonstrated. Simple as that. If you can demonstrate it, that would be very impressive.

  54. TFBW

    @GrahamH:

    If a claim of supernatural is made, it can be denied if it can’t be demonstrated.

    Yes, but if we offer arguments or evidence in support of the claim, you might also deny the validity of those offerings. If you are going to demand a demonstration, then you must also commit to the terms that would satisfy that requirement, otherwise you are playing a game called “hiding the goalposts”.

    Let’s put it this way. You make a claim that you’d be impressed by a demonstration. I am going to deny that claim: I deny that you would ever be impressed by any demonstration. According to the rules you have used above (“if a claim … is made, it can be denied if it can’t be demonstrated”), I am justified in making such a denial unless you can demonstrate otherwise, so go ahead and demonstrate.

  55. Philmonomer

    TFBW,

    I’ve been out of commission the last couple of days, and will almost certainly be so for the next couple of days as well. Thanks for your response.

    It’s unclear if I will get back to it. Our conversation may have run its course. I’m still mulling it over.

  56. Philmonomer

    TFBW,

    In rereading my/your comments, it seems like we were on a downward trajectory that wasn’t going anywhere good. (I know that I have to fight hard to keep my snark in check.) So I’m letting it go.

    —————

    On a completely unrelated note, I (randomly) came across this yesterday:

    http://thefailedatheist.com/book-resources/

    It seems to answer my request (more or less) in #38 and #42.

  57. Shane Fletcher

    Hi scb,

    “Philmonomer makes the point after all.”

    Yeah, I’m going to have to stick with my earlier conclusion on your (in)ability to provide insight.

    You say that reading words is not enough. And then you post a whole bunch of words to be read. What are you trying to accomplish with words in a blog post that apparently no book of words could achieve? What answers or insight can you provide that no published author has been able to manage?

    “but rather the issue is an a priori rejection of traveling with reality’s eyes – logic and love – wide open in the real world – as one seeks the Christian God.”

    What from reality’s eyes has been rejected?

    “Only there in love’s acquiescence of one’s own self will one’s very self be – then – filled by the unbounded vision imbued by logic’s relentless demand for lucidity singularly combined with love’s timeless reciprocity herself justifiably demanding reason’s conformity.”

    I don’t even begin to grasp what you just said there.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  58. scbrownlhrm

    Shane,

    Since you deny that Logic and Love and the Self are metaphysical necessities, you’re left with something which unavoidably eliminates all such means, all such ontologies. There’s no truth claim anyone can coherently build for you atop Logic, nor atop Love, for you will do as you’ve consistently done in these threads: appeal to that which your metaphysics cannot *actually* grant you, and simply equivocate and hedge until all (actual metaphysical) distinctions melt away.

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