An interesting thing about Agnostic Atheism

It occurred to me today that Agnostic Atheism (referred to simply as “Atheist” from here on) in the context of Theism brings about a very interesting set of phenomena.

Arguing for Atheism to a Theist can make an Atheist feel and appear smart, and can make a Theist look to be relatively unintelligent. The thing is that when this happens, the Atheist isn’t necessarily smart and the Theist isn’t necessarily unintelligent at all—the Theist could very well outperform the Atheist in every known measure of intelligence and cognitive ability, for all we know. But when a person chooses to defend an argument that is so indefensible, it is just a matter of course that most of time the person who does not adopt the indefensible stance (the Atheist) will end up faring far better in the discussion than the person defending the indefensible (the Theist).

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12 Responses to “An interesting thing about Agnostic Atheism”
  1. Colin says:

    What do you think is the most compelling argument FOR the existence of God?

  2. ronbrown says:

    Colin: To be honest, I haven’t really found any that I find to be particularly compelling. Had you asked me that question say 8 months ago I probably would’ve said something like “well, I’ve heard that there is supposedly a lot of accurate prophecies in the Bible but I don’t really know much about that and I’m skeptical but curious”. And I still am curious but am even more skeptical. The increased skepticality is a result of the prophetic statements that I have been either from OT to NT, and I view this as being very suspicious because of such factors as motivation of the writers to draw connections b/w OT and NT, or the prophecies were very vaguely stated. Plus, given that the Bible is around 900 dense pages long and says a whole lot of things, including things that don’t bare any real resemblance to reality or are simply incorrect if taken literally, one could presumably cherrypick the Bible for vague statements that could be interpreted in terms of known reality.

    I’m gonna get to your request to address the fine-tuning, morality, cosmological, and teleological arguments this weekend.

    PS: What do you think of the new blog layout?

  3. Colin says:

    I like the new layout.

    About the arguments…to tell you the truth, I am sympathetic to how you view prophecy. If you don’t find that convincing, I won’t consider it as evidence for you.

    There is some heavy reading (fine-tuning, morality etc) in there, and I admit I was being a bit of a smart-ass in that request. Sorry. A weekend won’t cut it.

    Some resources for you…

    Check out http://www.reasonablefaith.org. It is the website of Dr. William Lane Craig. I hope you have heard of him. He is one of the most articulate defenders of the Christian faith that I know of. From what I understand, you are the type of guy who will at least consider what he has to say. You may have to register with the site. I have registered with them and have never received anything that I didn’t ask for. If you don’t want to register, email me and I will give you my login info and you can log in under my name.

    Craig has also co-authoured a book called ‘God?’ with Walter Sinott-Armstrong, an athiest. It provides an excellent presentations of both sides of the debate in a fairly accessible format.

    Another good site is http://www.rzim.org/, the homepage of Ravi Zacharias. He was born in India, steeped in Hinduism and is now a Christian apologist and philosopher.

    A third site is http://www.str.org. The organization is called Stand to Reason, founded by a guy called Greg Koukl who figured he was too smart to become a Christian, now he has committed his life to defending Christianity in the public square.

    None of these organizations are smarmy like Pat Robertson. I trust them. They provide reasons for their beliefs…good reasons, grounded in good philosophy…I hope you will peruse their sites with an open mind.

    Take a week or two, read their articles, google their names to find their detractors. If you don’t find their arguments compelling and choose to reject them, then at least you know you have rejected the more compelling arguments instead of the straw men put up by Harris et al.

    I assume you have access to my email through my comments, if not, let me know here.

    Cheers,
    Colin

  4. ronbrown says:

    Colin:

    Thanks for the feedback on the layout.

    Yes, I think I do have access to your email.

    Regarding the arguments, what I’ll do for starters is respond to them based on my current thinking on the subjects. These arguments are not new to me and so I figure that I should be able to address them fairly well right now, and you can rebut my accounts as you see fit. If it seems that I’m missing out on somethings then I’ll take a look at the reasonable faith site.

    I’ll put the arguments up today or tomorrow–or Monday if for some reason I can’t tomorrow (it is the weekend….)

    Ron

  5. Jersey says:

    I once read on Teen Atheist’s beliefs page (http://teenatheist.wordpress.com/teen-atheists-personal-tenets/) that she quotes: “…atheists who condemn religious people for being “idiots” are just as bad as fundamentalists who condemn atheists for being “evil.” :mrgreen:

  6. Andrew says:

    I had a quick look at “Stand to Reason”, and I was definitely disappointed:

    “Did Morals Evolve?” http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5458

    “This explanation implicitly contains a remarkable claim. It suggests that there is something in us that is self-consciously aware of the process of evolution, that understands what the goal of evolution is–survival of our own species–and instructs us through our conscience to fulfill the optimal conditions for that survival. … Isn’t this a remarkable statement? Nobody even knew what genes were until Gregor Mendel in the latter part of the 19th century.”

    I would have thought that before writing an article on evolution, one would attempt at least a rudimentary understanding of natural selection and evolution. Clearly too much to ask here.. This article is so ridiculous as to barely warrant acknowledgement. It gets worse..

    “Do Animals Have Souls? Here’s Proof.” http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5206

    Much of the assertion in this article amounts to, “I can’t possibly imagine that my thoughts are caused by physical things happening in my brain, therefore souls exist.” This is obviously ignoring the sizable philosophical debate over “Mind-body dualism” or “Cartesian dualism”, which is what Mr. Koukl seems to be so clumsily gesturing towards. But if mind (or “soul”) is entirely non-physical, and body is entirely physical, how do the two interact? This is called “the mind-body problem” and is one without a solution aside from dissolution, to my knowledge. See Gilbert Ryle’s “Concept of Mind” (1949) and his idea of a “Category Mistake”.

    After reading a butchered approach to what is commonly known as the problem of “Theseus’ ship” [http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5712] which is bursting at the seams with rhetoric and silliness, I was ready to stop looking at the site for good.. then I made the mistake of looking at their articles on “the Problem of Evil” [http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5145 , they have a few others as well].. again, full of rhetoric and silliness, again characterized by messy thinking and a failure to address the issues without resorting to huge elisions in an attempt to make his thinking sound like it actually works. Poor writing, poor thinking, poor arguments, and a poor excuse for philosophy.

    I’ve already wasted more than enough of my own time here, but please feel free to check out the articles yourself if you don’t believe me.

  7. ronbrown says:

    I believe you. I’ve read some of the depictions of these arguments before. The unbelievable one-sidedness of presentation and the obviousness of the oversights would often be an embarrassment for a freshman–or worse. The fine-tuning argument has go to be among the most desparately wanting. The notion that there has to be a God because the chances of the universe being just perfect for life—so much so that even minor tuning adjustments would have thwarted all life—is as amazingly stupefying as the person who says that their must be a god because they won the lottery and the odds of that were too poor for the individual to have won by fluke. What’s the term used when people make the reasoning error of assuming that this configuration of the universe is special and not just one of an infinite number of possible outcomes? It blows my mind that so many people–including millions of adults–never think to reconsider things the other way around–that maybe the universe didn’t accomodate to life, but that life evolved in the universe and thus took the form it did because it worked and not another form because the other forms weren’t stable–they didn’t work. And moreover, that there is no need to assume some life-imperative—that life had to happen, or was supposed to happen. That it could very well have never happened in the first place. And it doesn’t occur to them to consider that of the known universe, only a tiny spec is known to support life as we know it. And it doesn’t occur to them that assemblies analogous to life could have taken form in an alternative universes–which may, for all we know, exist in parallel with ours. Such analogous configurations could even life in the present universe for all we know. And it doesn’t occur to them that even given the improbability of this universe, is there any reason to believe that a God is a more reasonable thing to believe in, let alone a particular God?

    Regarding the mind-body problem, see https://theframeproblem.wordpress.com/2007/12/20/my-views-on-materialism-and-dualism/. In this entry I argue my position: a higher-order monism that I think accounts well for holes in dualism and materialism, as it seems to be commonly presented.

  8. the forester says:

    The thing is that when this happens, the Atheist isn’t necessarily smart and the Theist isn’t necessarily unintelligent at all—the Theist could very well outperform the Atheist in every known measure of intelligence and cognitive ability, for all we know.

    A fair and welcome acknowledgment! It’s simply not credible to write off all theists as unintelligent — though many on the internet do so. This point from you (granted, in the middle of a larger argument) was well taken.

  9. Colin says:

    Andrew,

    It is pretty easy to make someone’s work look foolish when you clearly misunderstand and misrepresent their views, which you are guilty of here. I suppose if Harris, Dawkins and Hutchens can get away with it and sell millions of books, then Andrew can do it too.

    In the same way that people read the Bible and understand it the way they want to understand it, people read anything and understand it the way they want to, regardless of the authour’s intent.

  10. ronbrown says:

    Colin: Perhaps you can provide summarized views of the different arguments and we can address your depictions. That way, everything is on the table and people can point to specific misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and so on.

    As it stands, I can say that I’ve been unimpressed by the different arguments for God–e.g., arguments from morality, fine-tuning, teleology, etc. If you lay them out in what you view as a fair depiction, we can have a very open consideration.

  11. Colin says:

    First a suggestion…how about hosting a discussion board or forum, that would be much easier for tracking threads…

    Some foundational thoughts to give you some context.

    1. Science is philosophy’s handmaiden. Good philosophy precedes good science. There are some things that we know without needing science to back us up.
    I know that my mind exists, I have first-hand access to my mind and it is properly basic for me to believe that my mind exists. It is not a significant jump from there to the fact that other minds exist. (Otherwise, why would I bother engaging this discussion?) Philosophers have called this ‘a priori’ knowledge or intuitive knowledge. If we can’t know anything intuitively, we can’t know anything at all.

    2. The only things about which we can have apodictic certainty are those things which we know a priori or those conclusions that we arrive at through deductive reasoning (valid logical syllogisms). Inductive reasoning (the scientific method) is ALWAYS tentative.

    3. Given points (1) and (2), it follows that science cannot supply all the answers to all the questions. There are some questions that science simply cannot answer.
    To demand ‘scientific’ evidence for God is like asking to weigh the colour red. It is a category error. Lack of scientific evidence for God does not mean there is no evidence for God. In fact it leaves us with only deductive evidence for (or against) God, which is more reliable than scientific evidence.

  12. Colin says:

    The Cosmological Argument

    1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its
    existence.

    2. The universe began to exist.

    2.1 Argument based on the impossibility of an
    actual infinite.

    2.11 An actual infinite cannot exist.
    2.12 An infinite temporal regress of
    events is an actual infinite.
    2.13 Therefore, an infinite temporal
    regress of events cannot exist.

    2.2 Argument based on the impossibility of
    the formation of an actual infinite by
    successive addition.

    2.21 A collection formed by successive
    addition cannot be actually infinite.
    2.22 The temporal series of past events
    is a collection formed by successive
    addition.
    2.23 Therefore, the temporal series of
    past events cannot be actually
    infinite.

    3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its
    existence.

    You may simplify it further to:

    1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its
    existence.
    2. The universe began to exist.
    3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its
    existence.

    To prove a syllogism to be false you must show that either of the first or second premisses are false or that the conclusion does not follow from the premisses.

    Again, I recognize the limitations of this particular formulation in terms of the nature of the cause so we can leave that out of it for now.

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