The short-comings of every theist argument that I have ever heard, and the one type of case that gives me some pause

 I am an agnostic atheist. An agnostic atheist is one who does not make the assertive statement “There is no God”, but simply lacks a belief in any God. I do not know for certain that there is no God, so I won’t claim such knowledge. In my experience, though, I have had no experiences and have heard no arguments that seem to justify an intellectually honest and rational belief in God. So not only do I lack a belief in God, I also tend to view such belief as being untenable. In this post I will go through a list of pitfalls that every theistic argument that I have ever heard have fallen into. Most if not all the arguments that I have heard have managed to avoid some of them, but none have ever made it through the rational gauntlet without falling at least once. At the end of this post I will discuss one type of argument that gives me some pause: the profound personal religious experience which invokes a highly improbable event.

In my experience arguments for God tend to fall into one or more of the following categories of fallacious reasoning. In order for me personally to give a theistic argument the time of day, it has to stand outside of these pitfalls.

1. Arguments from ignorance (“I don’t know how this could have happened without someone deliberately designing it”, or claims that “this could not have happened without a designer”—just because it appears impossible doesn’t necessarily mean that it is and moreover, on what grounds would we say that the existence of an omnipotent and omniscient being that exists outside of time and space is more possible, or is the best alternative explanation?; This reasoning error is often intertwined with misunderstandings of evolutionary biology, cosmology, or other sciences)

2. Arguments from consensus (if all these people believe in it, it has got to be a good idea).

3. Arguments from authority (e.g., The Bible/Priest/Pope/Imam says; Scientist X is a Christian and she’s a scientist!…; This often overlaps with arguments from consensus; popularity and authority are not substitutes for good argumentation)

4. Arguments from the need for morality (“we need an objective morality”, or “where else would morals come from?”; There is no evidence for there being an objective morality that transcends humanity; there have been perfectly reasonable accounts for moral cognition from the cognitive sciences and evolutionary biology; a big set of factors include mirror neurons, kin selection, and the finding of apparent moral cognition in a variety of species ranging from mice to primates)

5. Arguments from cherry-picked scripture (Religious texts contain hundreds of densely packed pages with many statements that are sufficiently vague to be interpreted in terms of things we know happened. Further, if they were not divinely inspired, then they were written by humans—humans who probably had a fairly good understanding of how humans and tribes interact. Humans also have a confirmation bias—they recognize and remember things that confirm their beliefs far more readily than things that are neutral or contrary to their beliefs. It is hardly surprising, then, that one will detect a modest collection of statements in their religious text that seem to map onto the world. But how many lines of scripture do they have to wiz by in order to find these gems? And how often are these gems quite vague and multiply interpretable? And how many of the supposed predictions could have reasonably been put forth given what people at the time knew? And, importantly, were the supposed prophecies even intended as prophecies, versus cautionary tales of what sorts of things could/would happen if something else were to happen?)

6. Arguments from personal religious experience (Problems with this include: People of all religious traditions have these experiences; they can’t all be correct. Now one may say that there could very well be a God, and each religion presents a path to that God. And what about the numerous tribes around the world that have and continue to believe that the success of their crops, their personal good and bad luck, and so on is guided by benevolent and demonic local spirits? Not all supernatural belief systems invoke gods. And then there are the cases of users of psychedelic drugs reporting religious experiences, and subjects of Laurentian University professor Michael Persinger’s research using the “God Helmet”, which have been led to feel a sort of external agentive presence as a function of having their brain waves altered. Moreover, secular meditators have also experienced significantly altered states of consciousness which have many of the qualities often described in religious experiences–e.g., decreased sense of separation of self from other people and from the universe, decreased self-consciousness, insight, etc.. Humans *do* have profound experiences. I myself have been experiencing qualitatively different states of consciousness of late through meditation.  But humans also tend to anthropomorphize (e.g., imparting human-like mindedness onto animals, insects, organizations and countries, etc), to anthropomorphize on a grand scale in the form of attributing major things like weather, luck, the universe, etc. to Gods and spirits that are remarkably different from one group to the next, to be very receptive to information presented to them by their parents, peers and societies, and to attach great personal and social importance to their religious beliefs which can make it very difficult to truly challenge these beliefs)

7. Misunderstandings of evolutionary biology or other sciences

8. Mischaracterization of atheism as a religion in and of itself, containing its own dogmatism. (Firstly, while it would be dogmatic and intellectually unjustified for one to refuse the possibility that there could be a God (any God), the position of agnostic atheism (my position) involves no dogmatism or faith. It’s simply a lack of belief in a God until presented with compelling evidence. There is no claim that a God doesn’t exist, just that at present it seems unreasonable to believe that one does exist. I should also say that even if atheism were just another dogmatism, it wouldn’t make any other religion any more true)

The one type of religious argument that gives me some pause is when someone tells me of a religious experience that invokes a highly improbable event. A few weeks ago while attending a very slanted set of religious debates in Whitby, Ontario, I encountered one of these arguments. I spoke to a gentleman who told me of an experience he had while attending a Benny Hinn “faith healing” event. This man told me that he personally had no interest in attending a Benny Hinn event as he personally viewed the man as a quack. However, he had a sick friend who wanted to go and requested his company. The man, as it happened, had long suffered from significant shoulder pain. While at the event all of a sudden his shoulder felt fine. I think he might have told me that just before and as this was happening he was thinking of and perhaps attempting to communicate with Jesus. Very shortly after this, Hinn pointed over to his direction and declared that someone in this vicinity just began to feel relief–I think the man may have said that Benny referred to the shoulder in particular, but am not sure of this. The man stayed quiet. Then a very brief period later Hinn referred again to his area of the audience and made the same claim. At this point the man stood up and declared that it was he who was experiencing relief in his shoulder. What is more is that he claims that since that day, his shoulder has continued to feel fine despite having been in pain consistently for years.

Now clearly this is a very improbable event. However, the existence of the Christian God has been poorly argued for and thus, does not exactly seem at all probable in and of itself. So how to consider this situation? Well, firstly, there is the possibility that the man was simply lying to me. This is a possibility. He presented as very genuine, but nevertheless the lie is a possibility. Indeed, I have met a few people in my life who made it a semi-regular practice of telling lies with an appearance of sincerity. Moreover, this possibility seems no less improbable than the man’s omniscient omnipotent omnibenevolent God of choice being true. Perhaps the story was not completely made up, but there was some embellishment. In this case though, even with a bit of embellishment here and there, the true facets of the story would likely still be mindboggling. Then there is the possibility of this having just been a random chance encounter. There are over 6 billion people on the planet, and many billions more have lived throughout time. The average life span across human history have probably been something like 30-40 years. If I very loosely *estimate* that 20 billion people have ever lived for an average of 35 years, and that this particular instance took 1 minute to occur, then there have been 3,681,772,000,000,000,000 chances for an event of these (or analogous) qualities to have occurred. Nevertheless, the coincidence of Benny Hinn calling on his section of the audience twice and him suddenly feeling lasting relief from an ailment that had plagued him for years is still very stunning to me.

But if we take this man’s story seriously, some questions pop up. Firstly, why has God given him this type of evidence and not the majority of the rest of us? Does God like him more than most of the rest of us? And what if people of other religions (especially from outside of the three big monotheisms) come forward with similar stories? This would presumably mean that each of the religions is probably wrong about a lot of things. Which things? The story of Jesus, Mohammed, and/or Moses? Various moral prescriptions? Creation stories?

The assertion of a God – and a particular God in particular – is an extraordinary assertion. It is a claim of knowledge regarding the origins and nature of the universe, morality, justice, what happens after death, the meaning of life, and how individuals and societies should conduct themselves. Assertions of God are also not uncontested. Each religionist is challenged by a host of religionists of different faiths, by nonreligious people, and by contradictions offered by science and armchair reasoning. Given the magnitude of the claims and the opposition, religious apologetics has quite the mountain to climb. In order for the summit to be reached, it seems that God might have to do something very dramatic. Perhaps showing himself to the world by appearing in the sky and producing lasting changes on the nature of the world – e.g., saying he’s going to cause a mild earthquake and then doing it right then and there, with the mild damages still available for observation the next day; or offering to replace the missing body parts of the world’s amputees and then doing it; or appearing in the dreams of all of the world’s people on a given Saturday night. Of course, this is exactly the sort of thing that the religious scriptures conveniently excuse God of, often under the cover of claims of testing our faith or preserving our freewill. Be that as it may. But until argumentation or events suggestive of God are able to escape the pitfalls outlined in this post as these dramatic examples would accomplish, I will most probably continue to be uncharitable to religious apologetics.

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125 Responses to “The short-comings of every theist argument that I have ever heard, and the one type of case that gives me some pause”
  1. Pleco says:

    I couldn’t agree more.

    As to your story about the man:

    Perhaps the man “healed” himself under intense emotional experience? A psychosomatic pain?

    Or, and I think this is probably most accurate, it seems to me as an ex-christian that the will to believe supersedes all, including (definitely) objectivity. As George Costanza once said: “It is not a lie if you believe it.”

  2. Mark says:

    Ron – are you willing to be agnostic about a flying spaghetti monster, or unicorns, or lepricons? I think you are willing to say with almost certainty that “there are no unicorns”. In the same way, I’m willing to say with almost certainty that “there is no God” – given that you define “God” in the traditional sense.

    For example, if you define “God” as being omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent – then I will assert that there is no such God. I have plenty of evidence for this… for example:
    http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20080302/Hamilton_fire_080302/20080302?hub=TopStories
    “Several witnesses said they heard children crying inside the house and a woman pleading for help, suggesting the mother ran back inside the house to try to save her kids.”

    Likewise, there is no good reason to believe that any intelligent being created us, the universe, or anything around us and is somehow involved with what is happening. Everything that happens that we can observe happens and behaves in a way that is consistent with exactly what we would expect if there was no God.

    If you say that God is just an ultra-powerful being out there somewhere, then I will be agnostic.

    But even all the (lame) arguments for the existence of a God do nothing to justify why they assert there is ‘one’ god…

    Cheers,
    Mark

    • Akinade says:

      Hi learned friend, had any device existed without a designer? even very simple machines points to someone who toiled selflessly, a man and a robot which of the two is more likely to come about by chance, you will agree with me that it is the humanoid that will be chosen compared to man, if life on earth were to come about by chance, why isnt the robot created in the same manner. God loves you.

  3. Derek says:

    Just a few comments on the “healing” story:

    In many instances of pain, the mind can have greater control over the “feeling” of pain than any real physical injury. Many studies have shown that people can be told they’re taking pain medication, but in actuality they are given sugar pills or “placentas”, and still feel an improvement because they have convinced themselves that positive effects will occur.

    In times of dire pain or illness, people will convince themselves of many things in order to avoid facing their reality.

  4. Colin says:

    Derek,

    You may want to look up the word ‘placenta’ before you use it again.

  5. Nimravid says:

    I think most people would feel worse if given a placenta. ;-) “Placebo” is the thing.

  6. Matt says:

    Placebo, dammit. It’s placebo.

    I know I wouldn’t want to be administered a placenta any time soon! Gah!

  7. Actually, placenta is apparently quite nutritious. Cow’s are known to each the placenta after giving birth and some humans apparently follow suit as well.

    http://www.mothers35plus.co.uk/placenta.htm

    Who knows, a little placenta once in a while might just cure what ails you.

  8. Two friends have experienced in their lives recently what is termed “a dark night of the soul.” Have any of you experienced this in your lives? I discuss this more on my post tonight at peoplepowergranny.blogsport.com. And don’t forget to vote in my poll about this.

  9. Stoobs says:

    Chinese traditional medicine makes use of placenta as a healing ingredient. The question remains, however, of whether placenta is a placebo.

  10. skepbitch says:

    Pascal’s Wager – it is a good ‘bet’ and doesn’t ‘hurt’ to believe…

    Benny Hinn heals my need for faith…

  11. That depends; do you tell the patient that placenta has curative powers which it doesn’t? If so, it’s a placenta placebo.

    Benny Hinn on the other hand is certainly a placebo. Mass hysteria has been known to draw in all kinds of people to all kinds of ridiculous beliefs.

  12. Colin says:

    I agree with y’all about Benny Hinn…he’s an embarrassment.

  13. Colin says:

    For what its worth…my own story that defies natural explanation.

    I was driving west from Calgary to Golden, BC back in the mid-90s after staying up all night and while in the beginning stages of strep throat.

    The last 14 km into Golden are through the Kicking Horse Canyon and the speed limit is 40 km/h. The road is extremely windy with cliffs going up on the right side and down to the Kicking Horse River on the left.

    All I remember of that 14 km is a brief moment of lucidity when I realized that I was in the path of an oncoming truck, and then I remember waking up and realizing that I was in Golden. I didn’t really realize what had happened until the next time I drove through Golden going the other way and I realized how ridiculous it is that I got through that stretch of highway without killing anyone.

    I was not consciously aware of driving that stretch of road. I am confident in saying that I could not have driven that stretch of road in my sleep without an accident.

  14. lichanos says:

    David Hume addressed the issue of miracles, I believe. He wasn’t very convinced.

    I used to wonder what I would think if I saw something miraculous happen, but I never have. What does this have to do with God?

    Assuming that the descriptions of events are plausible and credible – a VERY tall order which, in my experience, is never met – why not just make the obvious conclusion? “Gee, we don’t know what’s happening here?” Why bring in God? What does that prove or illuminate?

  15. The “miracle” which led to the beatification of Mother Theresa is an excellent example of miracles in general. A woman who had been going to the hospital and receiving treatment prays to MT, gets better, and claims her recovery is 100% due to a miracle. The church accepts it, despite the fact that even her husband claims she’s full of it. How gullible are Christians anyways. Do the really believe this, or do they just not care?

    All this irritates Monica’s husband Seiku. “It is much ado about nothing,” he says. “My wife was cured by the doctors and not by any miracle.” He is peeved at his wife’s fame, in part because the press is constantly at his doorstep. “I want to stop this jamboree, people coming with cameras every few hours or so.” He concedes that the locket is part of the story of Monica’s ordeal but says no one should suppose there was a cause-and-effect relationship between it and the cure. “My wife did feel less pain one night when she used the locket, but her pain had been coming and going. Then she went to the doctors, and they cured her.” Monica still believes in the miracle but admits that she did go to see doctors at the state-run Balurghat Hospital. “I took the medicines they gave me, but,” she insists, “the locket gave me complete relief from the pain.”

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,501021021-364433,00,00.html

  16. Derek says:

    haha yeah my bad :)

  17. Stoobs says:

    I see pretty miraculous things all the time, actually. I see men fly through the air at incredible speeds, I see and hear things occuring in distant times and places, I communicate instantly over massive distances, watch people travel tirelessly for hours, lift weights many hundred times their own…

    Of course, all of these miracles are wrought by science, rather than any god. Even if that woman was saved by god, science still leads god in lives preserved by a factor of millions.

    Science demands no faith whatsoever, and pays back a thousand times the miracles of any religion.

  18. lichanos says:

    Stoobs:

    I imagine that the appeal of miracles has more to do with the desire to cheat death and disease than a fascination with the wondrous. Similarly, perhaps the appeal of the afterlife isn’t so much a deire to live forever (and do what, after all..? David Byrne sang that nothing happens in Heaven) but a need to heal the terrific hurt that comes with the loss of loved ones – we will meet again, all that. Darwin was very sensitive to this as his own atheism took hold. Harder to understand these days when science has lowered the mortality rate of children so much.

  19. Mark says:

    Colin,

    Regarding your story… please read “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts (Hardcover)”

    Or read some books on wacky brain things, like “Barmaid’s Brain and Other Strange Tales from Science”.

    Instead of just beleiving that your experience justifies your own religion, try looking at what science would have to say about it.

    Furthermore, such an experience does nothing to justify the God of the Bible. It does however, go to justify what science does know about the brain.

    Cheers,
    Mark

  20. Paul says:

    Colin:

    I would suggest that instead of looking into an authority extraneous to you; like another person, I think you can find the answer within your own heart. Try thinking of the things you do in terms of love or fear/hate; then allow your heart to lead you where it will. It has the power to lead you to the truth.

    Fear is a powerful motivator, and a good reason not to try, I guess! Our ego’s (the ego within each of us) is, in my experience, one of the best wedges between us and the truth that is contained within our hearts. Logic can lead us to those places that we know, and it can also prevent us from going to the places that we do not know.

    Ron:

    I have, as you might be expecting, a response planned for your arguments above; however it must wait until after I have enjoyed some of the snow storm we are currently experiencing. Yah!

  21. L. Ron Brown says:

    Mark:

    A long-delayed reply:

    Technically I am agnostic about leprechauns, unicorns and so on. I can’t know that they do not exist. I can’t even know of the probability of their existence. However, I also take the stance that there is no good reason to believe or act as if they do exist. Same for the Gods that people believe in. We can’t know for certain that they don’t exist, but there isn’t sufficient reason to believe that they do.

  22. Colin:

    It’s a bit strong to say that your story “defies natural explanation”. All kinds of illness or drug induced mental states result in periods of amnesia, which is really what your story relates.

    You were sick, tired, managed to drive through a stressful situation and don’t remember it. Are you really saying that a mental lapse is prove of supernatural intervention in your life?

  23. Colin says:

    I realize that my experience doesn’t prove anything. I realize that I do not have proof that there was anything supernatural involved, but I cannot discount the possibility, given the circumstances.

  24. Paul says:

    Mark:

    A couple of things I don’t understand?

    1) “Likewise, there is no good reason to believe that any intelligent being created us, the universe, or anything around us and is somehow involved with what is happening. Everything that happens that we can observe happens and behaves in a way that is consistent with exactly what we would expect if there was no God.”=== This is circular reasoning. Like if I were to say “I think the world is an evil place. Everywhere I look I see evil; on the t.v., in the newspaper, on the radio. Therefore, the world is an evil place.” Would you accept that reasoning? If I were to ask you “What happens when you bump into a wall?” I suspect you would reply “It would hurt.” You did not come up with that response by using reason, you had to experience it first. Then after experiencing it a couple of times you realised that it hurts when you walk into a wall. So if you really want to ‘find God’ you can not expect to do it by reasoning; especially when you are as cosmically unintelligent as we all are (notice how I include myself in that assesment). Only after knowing can it be said with certainty. I can say with certainty that I have met ‘John Williams’, but if you have not meet him then the most you can say is “I have not meet John Williams yet.” It would be a stretch to say that you therefore know he does not exist because you have never meet him.

    2)”For example, if you define “God” as being omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent – then I will assert that there is no such God. I have plenty of evidence for this…” =====’Are you being serious when you say this? Has it been your experience so far that God makes a habit of interfering with what goes on down here? Is this the real problem?… Something happened in your life that pissed you off so much that you now hate God? I know that regardless of what I say, you will believe what makes you the most comfortable; namely that which you already believe. But here goes anyway. I once had an experience that is difficult to put into words; so the best way I could say this was that I was given the opportunity to ‘occupy all points in time and space’. It was, and still is, the one experience that will not allow any of the arguments here to affect me. I wish I could really impress upon you what it feels like to be everywhere all at once. It wasn’t only being everywhere, there was also the best feeling I have ever had attached with it, like the first time I feel in love. It was intense. It is important that I speak the truth that I know; what you do with it is up to you. It also begs the question for me: Do you not accept that things are free to happen here as we choose and as ‘nature’ chooses? I understand that ‘all’ is free to act as it will. So that means that things are going to occur freely w/o restraint; otherwise there can be no choice. If there is choice, we are free to make the wrong one; the only way to ensure a free and open system is that ‘all’ is free to act. So diseases, etc. occur due to the make up of what else is happening, not because God willed it. All of our choices are interrellated like an immesnse spider web; it is almost impossible to extricate yourself from it. So after all this, do you think you can convince me (this is only the beginning, even if combined with all I have said here in previous posting, I have barely scratched the surface.) that somehow I was everywhere, but it still was not an omniscient, omnipotent being that was able to do that? Or maybe I am simply not smart enough to understand what has happened to me and I need someone wiser to guide me? You do realise that when I say everywhere, I am also including the past as well, as the experience was not limited to geography by also included time. Just because ‘shit happens’ in the realm we currently inhabit; does not negate the possibility that there is a God who is omnipotent and omniscient. We would not be able to have free will if God was to stop accidents from happening. It is a direct result of our ‘freedom’ to act as we please that allows us to forget to put batteries in the fire alarm, or drink too much and fall asleep with a cigarette in your mouth,etc. (I am not speaking on the particular case you linked). Also it begs the question: “Do you think God only deserves to get the assholes?” All the good people get to stay on earth, all the bad get to die? Does this describe the world you know? In a world with choice bad stuff will happen.

    3) “But even all the (lame) arguments for the existence of a God do nothing to justify why they assert there is ‘one’ god.” =====How much room does each point in time and space hold? Probably as much as needed, so I guess there is room for more. I have only ever felt the presence of one, maybe there are more hiding out? If I am being deceived I am sure something bad will have to happen; otherwise it is as I have experienced and we all have the choice to increase the amount of love/good in the world or increase the amount of fear/hate that we all have to live with. So if you analyse your behaviour and was to classify it under either love or fear, which would you choose? Do you feel love when you are trying to convince people to live without God? If perchance you do convince someone, do they become happier as a result? Does that happiness spread from them as love or are they happy that they are now free to do as they please (I live in a world where we are all free to do exactly whatever we want.), so their happiness becomes another’s pain? When you convince someone is it a pleasant feeling that accompanies it, or are you more satisfied like taking a drag off of your first smoke after landing from an 6 hour smoke free flight?

    4)” “there is no God” – given that you define “God” in the traditional sense.” ==== You have admitted that you do not know God, or at the very least that God does not exist. Would it not be wiser to experience God first, like the wall, then to decide how you want to define God. I have always found it interesting the amount of imformation that people have or us to negate the existance of God. Are you the final authority on this topic? You got to be an authority because of what again? I know of no other field of inquiry where people with an admitted lack of information have such strong opinions, and express them so forcefully? We all are limited (and bound) by our experiences, and we also have a choice as to what we want to do about it. So when trying to understand another I try and keep in mind the steps it took for them to get to this point; otherwise called ‘reading between the lines.’ You really seem to have a vested interest in making sure that others also ‘make the same choice’ you did?

    5) I know that it must seem so unfair, but it is true that only with information/experience can one be so adamant in their stance. It is only because I have fallen off of my bicycle that I can explain to another what it is like. If I had never fallen off of a bicycle, how could I explain to another what it is like? We need experience, which is probably one of the reasons we had to endure adolescence. Just like here, my words are not sufficient for you to understand; only once you have experience will it make sense to you. I always failed to see the logic in how one could take such a stong position on a topic that they don’t even believe is possible, like the existance of God. Then it dawned on me that perhaps it is not logic that is motivating the behaviour, but good old emotion, a.k.a. the human ego.

    Everything I say I always say w/o prejudice.

  25. Stoobs says:

    1) There are many ways to empirically test the impermeability of walls. I can push on them, throw things at them, climb up them, roll balls into them… The list goes on. There is, by contrast, no way to test the existence of god. If there were, the question would have been settled by scientists, and we would not be having this disagreement. That is why I am an agnostic – there is no reason whatsoever to believe in god, but since there is no definite proof that there is no god, I abstain from judgment.

    2) An omnipotent, omniscient being is fully capable (by definition) of intervening without compromising free will. I have a 1 year old nephew. By and large, he has free will – he is able to make his own decisions about which toys to play with, where to go, what to put in his mouth, and so forth. On the other hand, if I saw him, for example, pulling a cat’s tail, I would stop him. If I saw him beating up and stealing from another kid, I would stop him. If I saw him about to climb onto a hot stove, I would stop him. Do those interventions compromise his free will?

    Obviously not – he is still free to make the decision he chooses, and I am then free to intervene in a way which will hopefully guide him to become a better person, to learn to care about others, and to prevent him from being harmed. So, either I am more capable than god or god is fully capable of intervening in terrestrial affairs, but chooses not to do so.

    If the first, he is not omnipotent (hell, he’s less potent than me) and if the second he is not omnibenevolent. God is NOT omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. The existence of even the tiniest amount of evil in the world renders that possibility absolutely null. Either god is not capable of intervening, or he does not care. In either case, christianity is a bunch of unmitigated crap.

    3) The less people believe in god, the more they turn to actual, effective ways of improving the world, rather than simply praying for a better world. Countries that are more atheistic enjoy lower levels of infant mortality, murder, drug addiction, alcoholism, spousal abuse, teen pregnancy, suicide… The list goes on. Spreading agnosticism and rationalism is an entirely worthwhile project, which makes the world a better place. Plus, you get to be right in a world where so many people are so obviously wrong. If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, there’s something wrong with you.

    4) There are many things I have not experienced, but feel qualified to comment on. I have not smoked crack, or injected heroin. I have not run face first into a wall, or cut off my own arm with a circular saw. I have neither jumped from cliffs, nor into fires. I have not robbed a bank, gone swimming in the sewers, or practiced canibalism. Despite this, I feel fully qualified to determine that these are not good ideas.

    I HAVE experienced the feeling of having my consciousness expand beyond my body, or being one with the universe and completely at peace. Of course, I achieved that state through the use of psychoactive drugs, rather than prayer, so I guess it doesn’t count. Some moderately wise guy once asked “Why is it that we call holy a man who eats little and sees god, but scorn a man who drinks much and sees snakes?”

    5) By your argument, my failure to experience flying purple lobsters, glow in the dark wombats, and infinite numbers of Shakespeare typing monkeys, is sufficient to support their existence as well. No. If something is logically impossible (as in the case of the Christian god) we can safely assume it does not exist. If something is possible, but we have never experienced either it, or anything that could be reasonably interpreted as a sign of it, then the correct position is agnosticism – which is my position with regard theism. If you do experience something, then the correct response is cautious acceptance, with an eye to further testing. There is NO situation in which faith is warranted.

  26. Paul:

    1) Reasoning works just fine. If you experience a little pain when you walk into a wall, the next time you slip near the top of the stairs you are likely to think, “I’m glad I didn’t fall, that could have hurt really badly!” even though you have never fallen down the stairs before. That is in fact how science works, by making generalizations based on lots of individual observations. Given observations about the world, the rational conclusion is that there is no god involved.

    2) On another thread, you had god being responsible for hooking you up on craiglist, now god doesn’t meddle. What’s the real story?

    2&3) Delusional statements not connected to any verifiable reality.
    “A delusion is commonly defined as a fixed false belief and is used in everyday language to describe a belief that is either false, fanciful or derived from deception.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delusion

    4) Mark was arguing that he *had* experienced god *not existing*. Why should your unsubstantiated delusional beliefs trump his rational statements based one verifiable patterns of observation?

    5) More abuse of the notion of reason not being applicable to predict experience.

    Your claim to know god personally is pretty much the equivalent of the teenage claim of having a girlfriend, but she lives in the next state and doesn’t have a phone so your friends can’t meet her or talk to her, but she really exists, really, why would you lie about that?

    Appeal to mystical experiences and rampant coincidences are not a proof of god.

  27. lichanos says:

    I cannot in any way see why God is a necessary concept. That is, it adds nothing to my understanding of the origin and the fate of the universe. I can explain everything I want to explain without recourse to God, and if there is something that eludes my explanation, I am comfortable saying, “I don’t know…now…yet…perhaps ever.” In this sense, God is, paraphrasing John Lennon, “A concept by which we measure our own ignorance.”

    If a person feels the desire to integrate an extraneous concept into his or her world-view, that’s their choice. It proves nothing but the existence of their preference. As I have said before, I am a strong-atheist, but I don’t think that means I have to disprove the God concept. It is logically impossible to do so given the nature – the fluid nature – of the concepts proposed by theists. I just see absolutely no reason to believe in God, though I am willing to be convinced should someone out there have a killer argument. Let fly!

    Consider: suppose nobody in the world believed in God. Suppose they just didn’t give a damn about the concept – didn’t get upset by it, but just regarded it as on a plane with belief in little green men and the four humours theory of physiology. What consequences would be for this Godless world? You can say that they will all burn in hell, but, you can’t prove that, and they would laugh at you. You can say that you KNOW it to be so, but then we’re back where we started…

  28. William Chase says:

    Fantasies serve a purpose at a certain stage of cognitive development. The concept of God can be seen as a fantasy that helps you through confusion, pain, loneliness, selfishness, etc. As a fantasy, it also has strong down side, as it is used to justify murder, predjudice, ignorance, avoidance, etc. Our minds have a capacity for expanding conciousness, as we see as the conciousness of children develops and expands. How ‘far’ or ‘deep’ can conciousness go? Does the God concept help us in that exploration? Does it allow us to suspend our need to ‘get evidence’ at times? I see the God concept as one way to the real experience of freedom of conciousness and thought. It is so freeing that it can lead you down compelling pathways to a mighty prison. Maybe not worth the risk.

    At the very least it seems to have a basis in our instincts, like morality (see Pinker’s article The Moral Instinct). It is too common in our species to say that belief in God is simply a learned and conditioned fallacy. If belief in GOd does have basis in instinct that it must have survival value. Disbelief in God must also have survival value. I have an instinct to eat, but I also have an instinct to stop eating – both are essential to my survival.

    Are we all so above these instincts that we think we can choose a side on the belief/disbelief in God argument and be sure that we are really objective?

    I think we shouldn’t be so concerned about the yes god/noGod debate and take more interest in where belief and disbelief take us as individuals, communities and societies. What if we could do both, alternately adopt different stances of belief toward God, and make it a way of approaching ourselves and each other.

    Are we not wired that way? Is it impossibel. Would it be a ‘miracle’ to pull it off, or would such a person just be crazy?

    WC

  29. L. Ron Brown says:

    William:

    A few responses:

    Firstly, religiosity probably does not correspond to some specifically evolved cognitive predisposition. It is more likely an incidental outcome of various other evolutionary products (e.g., an overblown tendency to infer agency, social learning, declarative causal reasoning). These are all processes that evolved and collectively can account for a lot of the leg-work of religious belief. Evolution works with what it has before building up entire new complex structures from scratch.

    As for concern about yes/no God debate, I think that a bigger concern for our society is what is directly linked to religious tensions: ideological self-identification (e.g., being so committed to one’s beliefs that it is distressing to consider changing them; it is very risky that people self-identify with their beliefs, as this is powerful incentive toward dogmatism and social division) and us-them-ism.

  30. lichanos says:

    Yes, L. Ron is right. If predisposition towards theism is somehow a selected trait that has value, I would look at the value of structuring our world-view in a way that everything has an immediate cause, immediate agent, etc. The God/Religion part is just a secondary effect.

  31. michellespagefornonni says:

    To determine how we humans are psychologically disposed to accept certain belief systems, we simply need to ask ourselves, what if the opposite to what I believe is the actual truth. What would that mean to me? How would I feel about it then? Humans have a proclivity for believing what they want to believe, and then defending it with very elaborate philosophies, often so wordy that it gives the less “wordy” of us a headache.

    It is necessary for every person who is honest with himself to objectively review the evidence and accept where it leads, not where he, for psychological reasons wants it to lead. Where in nature have we ever seen an addition to the DNA of a species just randomly happen? Only in extra chromosomes, which always results in birth defects, some incompatible with life. More often a mutation involves loss of genes, not the other way around. That mutation may persist where it has value to the organism, as in antibiotic resistance, but its not an improvement per se, it is a loss.
    Where in nature have we seen improvement in a species? Why, in animal husbandry of course, and it is being directed by the farmer and/or scientist. Intelligent management! Yet even then, human managers can’t increase the number of genes, just improve the combinations.
    You need to ask yourself, what if there is a God? How would my life have to change? How would I feel about that?

  32. Stoobs says:

    Your argument there amounts to “I have not seen it happen, so it must happen by magic.”

    Genetic information is traded between species by retroviruses on a fairly regular basis. Usually, that results in a defect, just as when you take a bucket of sand and scatter it on the floor, the most likely result is a random mess of sand. Occasionally, though, the sand will fall to look like a boat. Similarly, occasionally the genes will result in an improvement in the genome.

    Also note that random changes are far more likely to produce a beneficial result in a primitive, low functioning machine than in a more advanced, complex one. Most life on Earth these days has been around, undergoing slow but constant refinement for millenia. This makes beneficial adaptations far less likely to occur, simply because there are far more things that can go wrong, and far less ways to improve things. Indeed, if we had been practicing eugenics on ourselves for as long as we have on farm animals, we would be much more advanced (or at least much meatier and tastier) than we are now. The fact that improvement slows as the species gets stronger is what you would expect from cumulative random changes, but not at all what you’d expect from a directed process.

    Not that god would need any kind of evolution. If god is real, we could just as easily be sentient scarecrows, or talking bowls of raspberry jelly. Science demands that things make some kind of sense. Magic can do whatever it wants. And make no mistake, when you talk about god, you’re talking about magic.

  33. Colin says:

    ‘Science demands that things make some kind of sense. ‘

    What scientific experiment told you that science demands that things make sense? What law requires that the universe be ordered?

    Science relies on the fact that things already make sense.

    ‘Creatio ex nihilo’ without cause is worse than magic. At least a magician has a hat from which to pull the rabbit.

  34. Science demands that explanations are sensible. The universe is only sensible because we impose our cause and effect explanations on it. At various times in our history, we have been more or less sensible in our attempts to explain the universe (wacky religious explanations being the low point).

    Scientists have to accept that they may never get it exactly right, but that at least when faced with contradiction, they have to re-examine their explanations and improve them.

    Whether the order we seek in the universe is actually out there may never be answered, but at least in our little corner, it appears to have some order and we have been moderately successful in understanding and exploiting that order.

    As far as magicians and hats, get over yourself. If you can accept a god that has always existed then you can accept the same for a lifeless mechanical universe. The fact that you need a fairy tale to make yourself feel better about the world and your place in it is all that holds you back.

  35. Colin says:

    Science is only possible if the universe is intelligible. Why search for order when there is none? Why claim we can know anything when science can’t predict anything as would be the case with an unintelligible, random universe?

    What scientific experiment told you that science demands sensible explanations?

    What law requires the universe to be ordered?

    A lifeless mechanical universe is impossible. It denies the second law of thermodynamics. It is logically impossible because an eternal regress of cause and effect is impossible. There is no fairy tale in that.

  36. Science is a human explanation of a set of events which we are in the middle of. While there is order on the level of our observation, that doesn’t imply anything fundamental about the universe. This whole mess could be an accident where our corner of the universe acts as if there is some order for a period of time, and then stops. We’ll never know. We can only explain our day to day life in sensible terms, and god doesn’t need to be part of that. Everything works without a god.

    Experiments are how science tests explanations to see if they make sense, so no experiment ever tells you anything about the nature of science. There is no law of the universe that requires it to be ordered. We perceive order and predictability, theorize and test. Every now and then we realize a theory is wrong and discard it in favour of a better one. A theory is only as good as it’s predictive capacity and usefulness.

    A lifeless mechanical universe all that is possible, until life emerges from it (as has happened here). Once we fuck it up and there is no more life, it’s back to lifelessness (at least in this corner). One of the things that life has brought about is an attempt to understand, and with that a lot of silly superstition which is eventually replaced by reason and observation.

    The second law of thermodynamics only says overall entropy is increasing, but doesn’t rule out localized and spontaneous decreases in entropy. On the whole, entropy increases over time. Bid deal. Not understanding the second law of thermodynamics is not a proof of gods existence. Not being able to understand the universe is not proof of gods existence. Not being able to sleep at night without believing in fairy tales is not proof of gods existence.

    All you are left with is the same old argument when it comes to god, “I think so.”

  37. Stoobs says:

    It is true that science makes an unwarranted assumption that the universe is coherent, and can be described using logic and reason. The only reason to make this assumption is that science is very useful. It allows us to accomplish all sorts of things, from curing diseases to building robots to flying to the moon. It has done all of this in some 400 years.

    By contrast, what does religion have to show for its thousands of years? Wars, imperialistic conquest, justification of oppression wherever it occurs, and convincing most of the smartest people for some two millennia to take vows of celibacy.

    If stupidity, pointless violence, and complacent masses under the thumb of oppressive leaders are your goal, religion is certainly the way to go. If, by contrast, you like plentiful food, instant communication over vast distances, modern medicine, warm houses, and a thousand other miracles of technology, then science is the way to go.

  38. Colin says:

    TBM,

    The Second Law of Thermodynamics is all but certain. If the universe has existed from eternity in the past, the universe would have reached maximum entropy or heat death by now.

    A universe that exists eternally in the past is impossible.

    Therefore the universe had a beginning in the finite past.

    Therefore the universe had a cause that was necessarily immaterial, timeless, personal and enormously powerful.

    I suppose you could deny the Second law to get around the problem. Or you could deny the expansion of the universe…

    You certainly don’t want to get into metaphysics so multiple (infinite) parallel universes are out of the question.

  39. This Busy Monster says:

    Once again,

    The second law is a generalization of locally observed phenomena. No matter how poorly you understand that, it still doesn’t prove some god created the world.

    All your silly attempts at proving there must be a first cause of this universe don’t get you out of some BS “God just exists, he is beyond time, I think so” argument. If the universe needs god, then god needs a meta-god who created god and so on and so on. If you are prepared to accept that anything just exists, then the universe can be that thing. If our current understanding of physics can’t tell the whole story yet, it doesn’t matter. What we do know has ruled out the need for fairy tales.

    The fact that science theories bring up more unanswered questions that can be researched through science just means science works like it’s supposed to. Ignorance is not proof that god exists. All you’ve shown here is that neither you or I know the true nature of the universe and probably never will. We can, however, rule out the biblical version. It doesn’t hold water and never will.

  40. Rosemary Lyndall Wemm says:

    The “unexplained” healing is a magician’s trick. Take a look at Darren Brown’s “Mind Control” series and his books. Nothing is quite what it seems.

    Setting up an apparent miracle can take up to a year of careful preparation by the magician/faith healer and his/her team. To begin with, audiences and volunteers do not consist of random individuals. Unbeknown to themselves, they are often very carefully screened for gullibility and susceptability to suggestion. This may be done by an apparently unrelated event some time far enough in the past so that they do not associate it with their presence in the audience.

    People who have profiles which suggest that they have illnesses with a strong psychological component are seated in selected sections of the audience, again, apparently by chance as far as they themselves are aware. The magician/faith healer can then “find” these people in that section or row of the theatre. The power of suggestion takes over.

    The environment in the theatre and often outside and prior to the performance, is carefully organized to bring about the intended effect. Emotional reactions in the susceptible person are heightened by music and rythm. Social situations are engineered which elicit automatic responses conducive to trance, conformity or uncritical acceptance. The target ideas are subtly seeded via multiple inputs.

    There is a technique called “cold reading” which supplies people with ambigous “facts” and then bases the next question, suggestion or act on their reactions. Several vague or even contradictory possibilities may be offered (the spirits don’t give clear pictures, you know), letting the susceptible person latch onto one which has meaning for them. The target will then supply the rest of the context and the magician/faith healer will confirm it.

    A person with a largely psychosomatic illness can be “cured” by these means. Even cancers can respond (at least temporarily) to such an emotional context.

    There are, however, some things which do not respond to these tricks and techniques. There has never been a case in recorded history where an amputee has had a limb grow back in full view of an audience. The brain just cannot manage to engineer a realistic evocation of this type of phenomena.

    If someone appears to grow a new limb in your presence then you are probably looking at a stooge used by David Copperfield. Any other “miracle” is almost certainly a trick which you do not yet understand or know how to perform.

  41. Rosemary Lyndall Wemm says:

    Colin,

    You could drive that stretch of road in a semi-sleep state which was sufficient to enable you to process and react to information for up to three minutes at a time but not sufficient for the information to be stored in long term memory.

    Such states are far more common than you might imagine.

    The phenomenon of sleep walking is one of them. In this state a person can get up, walk, eat, talk and engage in complicated behaviour – and not recall a thing about it in the morning.

    Another such state is the three minute period prior to a major head injury. Although the person behaves normally the information will never be available for recall because the 3 minutes that it takes to process the information was interrupted. Events many years prior to this may also be unavailable for retrieval. As the person recovers, this retrograde amnesia shortens and the lucky survivor may eventually recall everything but the final three minutes.

    This is due to a natural phenomenon which is well understood by those who work with head injured people. A god-of-the-gaps explanation is used by those who are unaware of their ignorance.

  42. Stoobs says:

    Multiple universes are not out of the question. They are at least as plausible as theism, probably more so, since they only require positing something similar to other observable things, rather than requiring something entirely new and sui generis. That doesn’t mean that they’re highly plausible, mind… Theism is about the worst theory available, falling slightly behind solipsism – it requires that you posit an entity that has nothing in common with anything else, is logically incoherent under most descriptions, is totally impossible to provide any evidence for or against, and is absolutely useless in terms of advancing the frontiers of human knowledge.

    Basically, theism is the position that one would be forced to if every other possible theory was proven incorrect. Even then, you would still have a very wide array of theistic religions to choose between, and no principled methodology for determining which was correct.

  43. You make theism sound so rebellious and sexy. I’m tempted to by a motorcycle and a cross and and go out and stir up trouble.

  44. Stoobs says:

    The other day, I really needed it not to rain, so I could finish my work. The sky was clouding over, and a downpour seemed assured, so I decided “What the hell?” I prayed, and to my surprise, the clouds went away, and the sun came shining through.

    So, I guess either it was a coincidence, or there’s more to this great spaghetti monster thing than first meets the eye.

  45. lichanos says:

    You might be interested in my post on Spinoza, who, to my knowledge, was the first to dissect the God-conspiracy theory mode of thinking.

    http://iamyouasheisme.wordpress.com/2006/09/11/spinoza-on-the-essence-of-conspiracies/

  46. Sirius says:

    Um, it sounds like you’re blowing smoke here*, so allow me to ask a clarifying question:

    Do you or do you not believe there is a God?

    I really don’t care about your reasons at this point. Just answer the question.

    be honest,
    Sirius Knott

    * You’ve combined 2 terms [agnostic and atheist] which traditionally mean separate things. Agnostics either doubt God’s existence or think there’s no way to know. Atheists don’t believe God exists period. You can look it up in a dictionary or a philosophy textbook. The definitions ain’t changing just because you want them to.

  47. Stoobs says:

    The term agnostic atheist has been explained in other threads. Basically, it refers to someone who accepts that it is a theoretical possibility that a god exists – it is not completely impossible – but assigns it a vanishingly low probability, or generally considers it a very poor explanation. The typical example is that of a teapot orbiting Mars. I do not know that there is no teapot orbiting Mars, so agnosticism is the correct position to take with regard to it, but the fact remains that a teapot orbiting Mars is highly improbable. An agnostic atheist considers the existence of god to be on par with said teapot (in fact, the term ‘teapot agnostic’ is sometimes used to refer to agnostic atheists.)

    With regard to the conspiracy post, it is true that some things are simply coincidences. When one sees a pattern, however, one is obligated to investigate it, not simply to dismiss it as coincidence without investigation. All too often ‘conspiracy theories’ are simply dismissed out of hand, when in fact massive evidence exists in support of them. Coincidence theorists are every bit as wacky as conspiracy theorists, if not more so.

    If god exists, then since he is omniscient and omnipotent, anything that occurs occurs only by his leave, and therefore there is no coincidence, ever – if it happens, it happens because god chose to have it happen, and he is just as culpable as a man who sees his car rolling towards a pedestrian, but chooses not to put on his brakes and stop it. Saying “Well, I didn’t drive the car over him, I just sat there” is not a defense. If god has the power to prevent evil, and chooses not to do so, he is complicit in that evil. If he doesn’t have the power to prevent evil, he’s not much of a god, and does not deserve to be worshiped.

  48. lichanos says:

    I don’t thing most self-described agnostics accept Stoob’s definition of it. I think they are more vague and general. To say, “technically, I’m an agnostic…” is contrary to the spirit of what most agnostics think. They aren’t the least bit “technical.” They simply reserve judgement – feel inadequate to make a decision on the question.

    For a scientific person to say he or she is “agnostic” on the question of leprechauns as some have said, makes no sense, I think. It contradicts the program of science. The point is NOT to achieve absolute, mathematical certainty. The point is to accumulate knowledge in the best way we have, with all of its limitations and contingincies. On that basis, I feel no hesitation saying that I reject the notion of God. Not being able to PROVE the negative is irrelevant.

    Regarding conspiracy and coincidence – Stoob, I don’t get your point. Coincidence is just the occurrence of two events close in time or at the same time that appear to have no causal relationship but which WE see together as meaningful. There’s no theory to it at all.

    There are no coincidence theorists. It may be stupid to dismiss a pattern as “simply coincidence” because the person doing so may be too lazy or dull to find the cause, but that’s all it amounts to.

    I’m interested to hear what conspiracy theories you believe are valid and not to be dismissed out of hand because “massive evidence” for them exists. Most I know of do deserve to be ignored. A few I have heard and dismiss:

    - the CIA arranged JFK’s assassination
    - the moon landing was faked
    - the US government was behind the 9/11 atrocities
    - the US government introduced AIDS to American ghettoes

  49. Stoobs says:

    The US government was CERTAINLY complicit in the events of 9/11. The evidence there is overwhelming. The evidence for the moon landing being faked is good enough that I moved from finding the idea laughable to finding it plausible. In both cases, I have heard no refutation of any of the evidence for conspiracy – all I’ve heard is “That’s silly, of course it’s not a conspiracy!” Maybe the moon landing was real – I’d like to believe it was – but I’ve seen evidence presented to support the claim that it was faked, and the only response I’ve seen to that evidence is hand waving and blanket denial.

    To deny that the US government was complicit in 9/11 is just arrant stupidity, unless you have access to a whole ton of information which has somehow failed to make it to the rest of the general public. It is doubtful that they actually planned it, but given that it was planned by a close family friend of the president, that members of his administration had said in advance that an event of this nature would be required for their agenda to go ahead, that it is known with certainty that the administration were warned over a year in advance about the attack, that the Israeli secret service were on hand to film the event… The list of evidence goes on.

    The definition of agnostic atheist I gave was paraphrased directly from a speech by Richard Dawkins, so I have to assume that I’m not unique in accepting it. Of course, you don’t even disagree with my claim – I define the term agnostic atheist, and you respond by telling me that I’ve failed to define agnostic.

    A coincidence theorist is someone who puts forward the theory that a confluence of events is the result of coincidence. Coincidences certainly occur, but when an alternative theory with greater explanatory power is put forward (ie, that there is a conspiracy at work) the onus is on the coincidence theorist to show that the argument for the alternative theory is baseless. Coincidence is the answer you fall back on when you have examined the evidence for conspiracy and found it lacking.

    As for JFK’s assassination, he was in the process of nationalizing the federal reserve, an action which would have destroyed the power of capital to control the destiny of America, and steered it massively in the direction of becoming an actual democracy, rather than a hollow sham of one. I don’t know whether the CIA was involved in killing him, but since they appear to exist solely for the purpose of defending the prerogatives of wealthy right wing Americans, it seems to be a plausible theory, worthy of examination.

  50. lichanos says:

    As far as agnostics go, I simply stated that I didn’t think most self-described agnostics would subscribe to that definition, Dawkins or not. Agreeing or disapgreeing with your definition wasn’t really the point.

    Once in a while I take the time to read what ‘evidence’ is available for the conspiracies discuss here. Usually it is factually wrong, hearsay, quotes of quotes of quotes, or some amalgam of such. An example is the voluminous pseudo-scientific commentary on the impossibiliity of the WTC collapse unlease aided by pre-planted explosives. (Perhaps you don’t accept that theory…) My daughter – she was only 13 or 14, accepted the idea of the fake moon landing for a while. She regaled me with long lists of exhibits that proved the case – she got them from the Web. I knew each one to be downright wrong, or simply logically incoherent.

    Such is my experience with conspiracy theories. Once again, I must point out that God is the ultimate conspiracy theory…there IS a reason for everything. Have you ever considered the energy and resources that would be required to make these conspiracies come off? Hard to see a valid cost-benefit ratio there for the perpetrators.

  51. Stoobs says:

    I don’t know if explosives were used in the twin towers, but I tend to think not – it would be a gratuitous and probably pointless risk, unless there were some need to cover up an even bigger crime, and why speculate? The other, smaller building that was destroyed, however, was almost certainly demolished intentionally, and the very fact that they were ready to do so at the right time is sufficient reason to believe they knew it would happen in advance, and chose to allow it – particularly in combination with the many other pieces of inductive evidence available for the same position (airline stocks sold short before the event, rumors of gold removed from the building to undisclosed locations directly in advance of the attack, the well documented fact that an attack being planned for September was known to the government at least a month in advance, the fact that members of the administration had publicly expressed the desire for this kind of event, the strong financial ties between the Bush and Bin Laden families… the list goes on.)

    When one has that much evidence a person, and no move is made to demonstrate their innocence, one is pretty much forced to conclude their guilt.

    The problem with the god conspiracy theory is that it is transparently nonsensical. Given the pattern of events we see, the gods proposed by all three of the big monotheistic faiths are very poor answers. Now, a polytheistic religion with warring factions in chaotic, ever shifting relationships, or possibly a dissinterested scientist god who views us as nothing more than ants… Hell, even a Lovecraftian mindless nightmare god makes more sense as an explanation for the world we live in than the big three.

    No, theism can not be completely discounted, but christianity certainly can.

    As for the agnostic atheism thing, you yet again completely ignore my point, and beat ceaselessly on a poor old straw man. You asked what an agnostic atheist was, because someone claimed to be one. I gave you the definition of agnostic atheist given by the man who first coined the term. You tell me that I have given you the wrong definition of agnostic. BUT THAT’S HARDLY THE FUCKING POINT! I’m defining agnostic atheist, the term you asked about, not agnostic. I am telling you, with 100% certainty, exactly what the person who used the term intended it to mean. That people who do not call themselves agnostic atheists, but instead call themselves agnostics, would not describe themselves in that manner is completely irrelevant.

    Your failure to comprehend this simple fact leads me to believe that you are either a troll or a moron.

  52. lichanos says:

    The nature of your response leads me to the conclusion that you are an extremely rude, and not very thoughtful person.

  53. english220 says:

    Wow, all of this zeal for science is touching. I wonder if anyone who writes here has read anything in quantum physics. At its very base, nothing in the universe can really be explained. We are guessing about everything. Still, it’s a fun ride!

  54. Stoobs says:

    No. At its base, nothing in the universe can be explained YET. There is a critical difference. It may turn out that the universe is in fact inexplicable in principle, but we are hardly sufficiently advanced for that to be the first assumption we make.

    Besides, some surfer in Hawaii who does physics in his spare time has apparently made a pretty good start on a grand unified theory – he’s just waiting for the big new particle accelerator in Europe to be finished so they can see if the new types of particle he predicts show up.

    Now, I’m not saying he’s solved everything. I’m just saying that apparently intractable problems do end up getting solved.

    The difference between science and religion is nowhere more apparent thgan with quantum mechanics. When science can’t explain something, it says “We can’t explain this yet.” and people look for explanations. When religion can’t explain something, they make something up, and then murder anyone who disagrees with their arbitrary conjecture.

  55. Colin says:

    All sciences begin with first principles that are self-evident. These principles cannot be proven, nor can they be disproven, through scientific methods. But without them, we can go nowhere in our search for truth.

    An example is the law of non-contradiction. ‘A’ cannot be ‘Not A’ in the same sense and at the same time. Try to prove it and you have to use it. Try to disprove it and you have to use it. But we all know that it is true. Without it we would not be able to tell if something is true or false.

    Some things are explicable, otherwise, we could not know anything at all.

  56. lichanos says:

    English220:

    At its very base, nothing in the universe can really be explained. We are guessing about everything.

    You are mixing up very many different meanings here and concluding on the basis of this confusion.

    A guess is a sort of explanation. If things are unexplained “at [their] base,” then they are so all the way up. Do we never explain anything, even the most trivial thing? What IS an explanation after all – you have to…explain…your concept.

    The fact is, science is simply a set of practices with very high, rigorous, and transparent standards for what constitutes an explanation, i.e., ones that we shall recognize as being superior to guess, hunch, myth, superstition, and the like.

    The fact that physics has butted up against some things that it cannot explain does not invalidate all the explanations that it has created, even if they have to be revised at some time. We certainly are NOT just guessing.

    The fact that some concepts in quantum physics (I hate discussing this, it really is so irrelevant, and most likely none of us can even do the math…) seem deeply puzzling simply means that we are still puzzled – not that we must always be.

  57. Complete skepticism is the final refuge of all kinds of cowards who find the world not to their liking. Rather than accept the world as it is, they just shrug it off and say, “No one can really know anything anyways, so I will keep believing in fairy tales because I don’t have enough courage to face reality.”

    Logical systems have limitations. The law of non-contradiction is one of them. It clearly applies in an everyday, common sense kind of way. It is useful until we find a situation where it is not useful, then we find another tool.

    Time is another such concept. It applies to the majority of experiences we will ever have, until we try to measure something on the Planck scale, then time doesn’t work very well. Oh well. That doesn’t invalidate all knowledge, just shows us the limitations of our conceptual structure. When our conceptual structure doesn’t work, we extend it or revise it.

    Theists and other cowards who don’t like the world the way it is need to get over this idea that they can appeal to radical skepticism to dismiss common sense and science. What we know and can prove with common sense and science, we know very well. One of those things that we know is that organized religion is a load of sh*t. The Bible is fiction and Abraham, Jesus and Moses probably didn’t exist. The limits of our conception of time or the law of non-contradiction don’t have any effect on that.

  58. Colin says:

    TBM,

    Were you thinking that I was appealing to radical skepticism?

  59. Colin,

    Between you and english220 above, you have opened the door to skepticism. I’m sure you don’t want to admit that claim, but you appear to be using the “unfounded assumption” of the law of non-contradiction to justify the “unfounded assumption” that god exists and all the nonsense that follows. That is no different than simply stating “no one can actually know anything, so I’ll make up whatever I like.”

    The law of non-contradiction is more akin to the law of gravity. We can’t explain gravity, but we observe it’s actions everywhere. We can explain how it behaves, but not why.

    Non-contradiction is similar, we can look at the world and see examples of the law of non-contradiction everywhere. We can adopt it as a “law” of reasoning and follow where it leads. If we get good results, we have inductive proof that it is a good rule. In circumstances where it doesn’t work, we find another rule. Perhaps some bright scientist or philosopher will come up with a better rule at some point that supersedes non-contradiction and explains all those strange quantum behaviours.

    It’s not fair to call non-contradiction, which has been tested over and over by the successful results it yields in the application of math and science that depend on it, the same thing as Behe’s nonsensical irreducible complexity or any other “I think so” argument theists and skeptics like to make.

    So, In short, I think you were opening the door to skepticism as a means of trying to defend your theism against critics. Non-contradiction is not the same kind of belief at all as theism. Specifically, if someone comes up with something that gives better results, the law of non-contradiction would be scrapped unceremoniously. Theists, on the other hand, have clung to their nonsense for thousands of years, even though philosophers and scientists through the ages have come up with much better explanations of the world.

  60. Stoobs says:

    The law of non-contradiction is a game rule of logic, not a claim about noumenal reality. This does not change the fact that if you want to make any use of logic whatsoever, you must accept the law of non-contradiction in order to do so. Now, it’s true that noting “Assuming the basic rules of logic hold true…” could prefix every scientific argument, but since thought is pretty much impossible without making that assumption, it’s easier to skip it. It could be that the law of non-contradiction is arbitrary and doesn’t really apply, but if so all human thought is pointless.

    Contrast that with the existence of god, without which human thought is in fact substantially more useful (science got basically nowhere for thousands of years, until god was basically kicked out of science, removed from the field of conjecture, at which point science immediately began advancing at an unprecedented rate.) Quite clearly, thought that discounts god is far more fruitful.

    God is a weight around peoples necks, holding them back. The law of non-contradiction is a basic, completely unavoidable assumption of all human thought and language. Not really comparable cases.

  61. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ternary_logic

    Also, check out the link above. You will note that there are already applications of systems of logic where the law of non-contradiction (the law of the excluded middle) has been dropped.

  62. Colin says:

    My original post about the law of non-contradiction was intended to be a comment about science *contra* english220, whose comment ‘nothing in the universe can really be explained’ is obviously false. We have explained a great many things through the scientific method.

    I was not making any statements about theism or Behe or Christianity.

    I think we largely agree about the law of n-c based on what TBM and Stoobs have written these last couple posts.

    The law obviously applies, just like gravity.

    Stoobs said… “The law of non-contradiction is a basic, completely unavoidable assumption of all human thought and language.” and I agree 100%.

    My point was that despite what english220 said, we do know things for sure.

  63. Emily says:

    (this post is going to be badly worded, I have to go back to writing an essay and shouldn’t be on here in the first place…so I apologize in advance)

    Rosemary Lyndall Wemm: THANK YOU. You saved me from the agonizing task of writing that out myself. I can’t believe it took THAT long for someone on here to point out what you did about the tricks that these asshole “faith healers” pull. Maybe everyone else just thought it was so obvious that it didn’t need to be said…but I disagree if that is the case. Good job.

    Ron….if you still have ANY thoughts buzzing around in your brain about this story being even POSSIBLY kosher look this stuff up, boy! Watch the movie Marjoe if you don’t want to read books or articles right now, just please remember that it is always more likely that this was a lie or a partial lie (very, VERY likely), or that it was coincidence than possible proof of some sort of religious miracle. Frak.

  64. Colin,

    Apologies are in order, although we still don’t entirely agree. You seem to be proposing some kind of theory of absolute truth. I don’t believe we will ever find an absolute truth. Our knowledge is based on induction, which is a valid method of reasoning, but the best we can hope for is verisimilitude, not absolute truth.

  65. Stoobs says:

    The reason that the law of non-contradiction is indubitable is precisely that it is a law governing human thought and language. The law of gravity, by contrast, is far less certain – as is any claim about the world. The only truths that can be known without doubt are those generated by our mode of thought – categorical truths. Such truths are inevitably completely uninteresting (that there are no married bachelors, that 1+1=2, and that squares are never circular, for example.)

    The next level down is claims about human experience – phenomenal claims. These are never amenable of confirmation – only disconfirmation. Science deals in phenomenal claims – it talks about the world as experienced by human beings, through human senses and human language. The law of gravity is a phenomenal claim – it could be proven wrong at any time, but can never be proved right – it approaches certainty in an asymptotic progression.

    The third level is noumenal claims – claims about the fundamental nature of reality, such as the claim that there is a god. Such claims are impossible to confirm or disconfirm – they can not be tested in any way. As such, they are completely pointless to make, and largely pointless to respond to. The only time it’s worth even paying attention to such claims (except for entertainment purposes, for those who enjoy arguing) is when they prompt irrational behavior.

  66. But we can dismiss the law of non-contradiction and still have useful thoughts. It was believed by the Greeks that parallel lines never crossed. It was never proved, however. When a reductio ad absurdum was tried (assume theY do cross and prove it leads to a contradiction) polar coordinates were discovered. They are very useful.

    Non-contradiction is useful in the same way as assuming parallel lines never cross (Euclidean Geometry). When we give up the assumption, we find new ways of reasoning that lead to valid useful conclusions. Then is becomes a matter of deciding which reasoning applies best to which situations.

  67. Stoobs says:

    You can not dismiss the law of non-contradiction and have useful thoughts. It is absolutely impossible to do so. Your thoughts are, in effect, incoherent when you dismiss the law of non-contradiction. Even the decision to dismiss the law of non-contradiction is impossible to meaningfully take, since in taking that decision you collapse the distinction between contradiction and non-contradiction – they become effectively identical. Words mean nothing without the law of non-contradiction, because everything becomes identical with its contradiction.

  68. That is a very Western perspective on reality. It’s a claim that likely can’t be defended though. In “The Geography of Thought”, Nisbett apparently makes the point that eastern thought doesn’t have a problem accepting contradictions as just being part of the world. (I bought it, but haven’t had time to read more than a few reviews yet)

    Moreover, there are different systems of logic that do away with the excluded middle which is certainly on the road to accepting contradictions in logic an still drawing useful conclusions. Work on paraconsistent logical systems also attempts to come up with systems of reasoning that allow for contradiction.

    It is simply not true to say that you can’t dismiss non-contradiction and have useful thoughts. Western scientific types just have an emotional attachment to the idea.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-valued_logic
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ternary_logic
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraconsistent_logic

  69. Stoobs says:

    I’m aware that there are abstract logical systems that do away with the law of non-contradiction. The fact remains, however, that you can not actually think or talk meaningfully without accepting it. Such logical systems may occasionally be useful tools, but they belong in the same realm as math using imaginary numbers. We can perform mathematical operations using I, but you can’t think or talk coherently about what I actually represents – you just use it as a symbol, to fill the gap, so that you can reach a solution.

    In Eastern philosophies, the primary function of paradox is precisely that it does defy human reason – it is used like a club, with the purpose of stunning the rational mind into incoherent sputtering, leaving the person free to experience pure being without the intrusion of thought.

    It is even true that the world appears to contain concrete cases of contradiction – wave/partical duality, for example. Even this, however, does not change the limitations of human cognition, which is precisely why people have so much trouble with such ideas. You can talk about them only by breaking the rules of language, and think about them only by treating them as constantly changing, rather than actually possessing multiple inconsistent properties at one time.

  70. Imaginary numbers describe the behaviour of real physical phenomena that are part of the everyday world. Without using imaginary numbers we couldn’t understand key features of AC current, radio signals, and lot’s of other useful stuff that makes life so fun.

    Imaginary numbers is another good example of you the common sense system of reason breaks down, but is extended to fit new circumstances. Engineers all over the world think and act coherently while working with imaginary numbers.

    If you had read the Wikipedia article, you’d see there are everyday applications of paraconsistent logic systems as well. It seems to me that people deal with contradictions and inconsistencies in what they experience and do just fine. While useful, the formal system of logic founded on the law of non-contradiction that is a caricature of every day experience. Like imaginary numbers, there are times when it breaks down and new rules of reasoning must be applied.

  71. Colin says:

    TBM,

    You are talking about eastern ideas that contradict western ideas, thereby demonstrating the fact that you cannot avoid the law of non-contradiction.

  72. Colin,

    I am talking about eastern ways of thinking which allow people to “think or talk meaningfully” without being concerned about the law of non-contradiction. Moreover, western scientists who are not hung up on it seem to do ok too.

    The law of non-contradiction is an extremely valuable thinking tool, until it isn’t any more. Then, other ways of thinking can guide us to meaningful outcomes.

    I concede that the law of non-contradiction has been proven to be useful in the overwhelming majority of cases, but the fact remains that there are other ways of thinking. I’d wager that you can’t find many people in the world who don’t have at least some contradictory beliefs and manage to get through their day just fine.

  73. Stoobs says:

    You’re not disagreeing with me! Imaginary numbers and paraconsistent logics are useful tools for dealing with things that we can’t otherwise understand. Paraconsistent logics follow two forms – crippled versions of standard logics, and logics which use an additional truth value, which is generally given some vague, arbitrary label that is clearly just a placeholder because it deals with something we can’t conceive.

    I is the square root of minus one, sure… But what exactly is the square root of minus one. To the human mind, those are just words – they do not refer to anything that we can really comprehend. The ability to use symbol systems to formalize complex, abstract ideas is perhaps the greatest advantage humans enjoy over the other species.

    But hell, even standard logic is wildly counterintuitive in its approach – true and false don’t really mean what they do in natural language. They too are just labels to be applied in an arbitrary manner. They could just as easily be replaced by strawberry and rhubarb, and logic would be harmed not a bit.

    When it comes right down to it, most people have trouble conceptualizing even relatively simple concepts like a billion. Negative numbers are already pretty abstract.

    I guess it’s possible that I’m just not smart enough, or possibly not enlightened enough, or not self aware enough, or something. Maybe everyone else has no problem with these things, and I’m making a faulty generalization. I sure as hell know I means nothing to me beyond its definition. Theres no mental picture, no sense of what ‘I’ might be.

  74. If you were an electrical engineer trying to design signal processing equipment or working with electromagnetic fields, you would encounter real concrete features of reality that could not be described without the square root of -1. In the realm of every day algebra, it’s a theoretical construct. In the realm of electrical engineering it describes the behaviour of concrete observable phenomena.

    The naive picture of language as mirroring reality, doesn’t hold up. What we are actually working with is an ad hoc set of symbols which work when the work and are replaced when they don’t. This is the whole problem of absolute truth claims. Meaning is rooted in context and use.

  75. Stoobs says:

    Heh… That’s what I said. Of course the square root of -1 refers to things in the world. My claim is that it refers to nothing in our heads – it is a symbol, a bridge, that allows us to talk about something we can’t conceive. It is a useful tool. When I say the word “green” I am referring to a particular experience of the world, a quality that I actually encounter, and can visualize. When I talk about space-time, or I, I am simply dropping a symbol in as a placeholder for something which my mind is not capable of otherwise grasping. In my experience, I am a being in three dimensional space. I happen to have good reason to believe that I am in fact a being in four dimensional space-time, but that knowledge doesn’t change my experience of reality as three dimensional, or my inability to conceive a four dimensional manifold.

    We talk about a lot of things we don’t understand. But the words don’t really mean anything to us, beyond being placeholders that allow us to formalize ideas beyond our comprehension, and thus make use of them. These ideas are retained because they are fruitful, not because they make any kind of sense to us.

  76. This seems like some strange attempt to dredge up the picture theory of language.

    There is only one kind of word and the meaning of a word is determined by the people who use it. While there may be words that you don’t fully understand, other people can find them quite real.

    Billion and Trillion are just normal extensions of everyday counting. You might have trouble conceptualizing them, but an economist who works with those ideas every day would find them commonplace.

    It might bother you that the square root of -1 has no home on the Cartesian plane, but a mathematician or engineer would recognize that the Cartesian plane is a limited artificial concept in itself and to describe actual physical phenomena requires more sophisticated ideas. Your lack of familiarity doesn’t make these concepts less real.

    Space-time might be an unusual concept, but it has real concrete implications for how we design satellites, our ability to observe sub-atomic particles in particle accelerators, etc.

    All words are just labels. If you are the type of person who has a need to divide things into two groups then you are stuck with “things you are familiar with” and “things you are not familiar with” which is not a particularly remarkable distinction.

  77. Colin says:

    Lewis Carroll’s words in Through the Looking-Glass:

    “There’s glory for you!”

    “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’” Alice said.

    “I meant, ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”

    “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,’” Alice objected.

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

  78. Colin,

    There are circumstances when that is exactly what happens, but not many. Often in academic papers authors will “coin a term” as shorthand for a complex idea. Heidegger also did this with “DaSein” in Being and Time. The difference is that they explicitly define their new term before using it.

    In common everyday uses, words acquire their meaning through consensus usage. This is also why we see words acquire new meanings over time. Meaning is use, but agreed upon use.

  79. Stoobs says:

    A person is free to mean whatever they wish when they use a word, of course. That said, unless you mean the same as everyone else when you use a word, you are not communicating. Since the purpose of speech is generally to communicate, that kind of defeats the purpose.

    You can mitigate this problem by defining all of your terms explicitly before you speak, of course. There are two problems with this solution – one is that it is slow, and the other is that you tend to define your terms by reference to other terms, which then require definition as well.

    If I use ‘dog’ to mean what everyone else calls ‘cat’ then I will leave pet shops disappointed. This doesn’t make me wrong, but it does make any conversation about cats a waste of time.

  80. Nimravid says:

    “Therefore the universe had a beginning in the finite past.

    Therefore the universe had a cause that was necessarily immaterial, timeless, personal and enormously powerful.”

    This conclusion does not follow.

  81. Leann says:

    Hi all,
    I have been spending the afternoon randomly searching about evolution/creation stuff, and stumbled somehow upon this blog and this post. As a Christian, I appreciate your candidness Mr. Brown. It’s easy for chiristians to fight straw men and you make some valid points I think.

    Here is an argument for the existence of God that might be a little more worth your time however: Presuppositionalism. It’s a topic that requires some real thought, and rests on philosophical reasoning.
    I will not even try to explain it in my own words, but I will offer Professor Van Til’s summary, which I found on Wikipedia,

    “(T)he only proof for the existence of God is that without God you couldn’t prove anything.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presuppositional_apologetics

    Since you seem to me to be someone who likes to use your brain, I hope this offers some genuine food for thought from the Christian perspective.

  82. Matt says:

    That seems like classic circular reasoning to me.

  83. Stoobs says:

    I don’t see anything there worth much consideration. It looks very much like “If god didn’t exist, you wouldn’t be there to disagree with me, so he must exist! Haha, eat that Mr Atheist!”

    It’s a completely useless position for argument, since unless a person already believes in god, they will accept none of your premises.

  84. thisbusymonster says:

    Seems like a fair deal and logically sound.

    a) I am right and you are wrong
    b) any argument you care to make
    therefore
    c) I am right and you are wrong

    It’s about as good as any argument I’ve heard for god or creation.

  85. xanthippa says:

    1. Placenta is used in anti-wrinke creams

    2. Just because something is ‘unexplainable’, by our current scientific understanding, does not mean that it is ‘supernatural’. By this reasoning, germs – 300 years ago – would have been proof of God’s wrath.

    3. Agnosticism is a dogmatic belief system: it is the belief that it is ‘UNKNOWABLE’ if there is God(s) or not. As such, it is ludicrous: you can claim that divinity is ‘UNKNOWABLE’ (and unsupportable statement in itself), but aside from it, you can CHOOSE to BELIEVE or NOT.

    4. The term ‘ATHEIST’ was coined specifically to refer to people who ‘DISBELIEVE’ in ANY claims on God. It is unfortunate that it has been hijacked by anti-theists (term invented to describe people who believe in the non-existence of god), who hide behind it. It erks me to no end…its meaning in vulgar use has been hijacked by these ‘believers’. Yet, the term itself – among those who are educated in this field – attains it proper meaning: DIS-believer, NON-believer, someone who refuses to believe in dogma.

    5. Good for you! You’re on the right road!

  86. Mutile says:

    If God is responsible for miracles then also for the death and suffering of all the innocents, who would want to worship such a being?

    Thankfully there is no evidence to support the existence of such a contemptable being.

  87. xanthippa says:

    Mutile: I agree with you.

    I call this my ‘Epidurean’ (as opposed to the ‘Epicurean’) reasoning: Any god that would invent ‘childbirth pains’ before inventing ‘the epidural’ does not deserve to be worshipped!!!

  88. wordsseldomsaid says:

    “Firstly, why has God given him this type of evidence and not the majority of the rest of us? Does God like him more than most of the rest of us?”

    lolol…

    “1. Arguments from ignorance (”I don’t know how this could have happened …”

  89. Stoobs says:

    An argument from ignorance is clearly invalid – it follows the form “I don’t know how X could be caused, therefore Y is the cause of X.” (eg. I don’t know how the universe could come to exist, therefore god must have created it.)

    To argue from ignorance to skepticism is perfectly acceptable – such an argument follows the form “I don’t know how X could be caused, therefore it makes little sense to assert anything about the cause of X.” (eg. I don’t know how the universe could come to exist, therefore I should hold no strong beliefs on the subject.)

    There should be no difficulty seeing that the first of these arguments is utterly idiotic, while the second is perfectly sensible.

    The argument you cite is not an argument from ignorance at all. It is an argument from internal inconsistency. Given the characteristics assigned to god by christians – particularly omnibenevolence – it makes little sense for him to arbitrarily reveal his existence to some while hiding it from others, and then punish the ones he hid it from with an eternity of torture.

    If god exists, he is responsible for my agnosticism – he chose to create a person with a skeptical character, he chose to put him in a world that appears to follow naturalistic principles, and he chose to deny that person any evidence for his existence. How can you square such decisions on his part with a claim that he is all loving? If he really loved me, he’d give me an indisputable miracle so I could know he was real, and he would be saved having to condemn me to eternal torment, something which I know I wouldn’t want to visit on a beloved creation.

  90. Stoobs says:

    It doesn’t need to be a selfish miracle, either. If tomorrow morning, I wake up and god has cured every sick person in the world, I promise I will dedicate the rest of my life to his service. Hell, I’ll even forgo curing of my chronic wrist pain, and he can just cure everyone except me. Really, I just want some kind of overwhelmingly strong evidence that god is real, and I’ll be happy to believe in him.

  91. sam wight says:

    The faith healing story is an example of #1, an argument from ignorance.

    It is amazing that someone as thoughtful as this blogger can be so easily duped by a magician’s faith healing trick. Examples of anecdotal faith healing are a dime-a-dozen. In spite of many challenges and substantial incentive, no one has ever been able to demonstrate reproducible, objectively testable, paranormal phenomenon. And the claims of paranormal acts can easily be duplicated by magicians.

    I don’t need to understand how a trick works — whether it’s fraud or placebo or sleight-of-hand — to resist invoking God as an explanation, but the specifics of this story are not at all impressive. People who attend faith healing demonstrations are susceptible to the placebo effect. Many really want to believe, and if you select a sufficiently large group of such people, someone in the group is likely to have felt a vague sort of relief, and is only too willing to attribute it to the healer (and even to quietly exaggerate it, even to himself). If no one speaks up, the audience will assume the person may be too shy, and not hold it against the charlatan, but if someone does speak up, it’s a big win.

    If the healer has such great powers, why can’t he identify the healed? Why “someone in this section”? Why is it some vague condition that is improved, like “shoulder pain”, and not mended bones, or disappearance of malignant tumors? Why is faith-healing turned into show business? Surely God can reveal himself unambiguously to each of us (with a burning bush e.g.) if that is His intention. Or is He trying to economize on miracles by “healing” a few people in an arena? This sort of mass hypnosis only benefits the showman, as far as I can see.

  92. Clint says:

    Interesting. I pretty much agree with that — though I really don’t like the mixing of “agnostic” and “atheist” in one term, though, because atheism is Just Another Religion(tm) to me… Whereas agnostic is like being “undeclared”.

  93. xanthippa says:

    @Clint:

    While I agree with you that the terms ‘agnostic’ and ‘atheist’ should not be confused, your use of them is incorrect.

    ‘Agnostic’ simply means that a person does not have KNOWLEDGE if a God esists or not. It does not make any statement on your ‘beliefs’. You can admit that you do not know if God truly exists, because you cannot provide an objective proof, but also CHOOSE TO BELIEVE that God exists.

    Similarly, you can acknowledge that you do not KNOW that God exists, but choose to BELIEVE that God does NOT exist. That would make you an anti-theist – someone who believes in the non-existence of God. These are both BELIEFS, and therefore qualify as religions – but you can also be an agnostic while holding them.

    Atheist was a term specifically invented to describe people who DISBELIEVE in the existence of God. As in, DO NOT BELIEVE. You can indeed NOT believe in the existence of God, and hold no opinion on the subject. That would make you an atheist.

    Some atheists, who do not believe in the existence of God, ALSO hold a belief in the non-existence of God. That means they are BOTH atheists AND anti-theists.

    Therefore, you can be an atheist while not holding any beliefs on the existence of God(s). (please, through my statement, consider the term ‘God’ to include belief in one or many deities…sorry for the sloppiness…)

    To sum up:

    AGNOSTICS acknowledge the absence of absolute proof, while they may or may not believe.

    ATHEISTS disbelieve the existence of God.

    ANTI-THEISTS believe in the non-existence of God. Typically, this also includes the belief that all organized religions are a power grab.

    Yes, I know the terms are not used correctly in daily speech, but that does not make their misuse right. And if you’re going to be patronizing about it, at least don’t misuse the terms you are being patronizing about.

  94. L. Ron Brown says:

    To continue from xan:

    There is nothing at all religious about agnostic atheism. An agnostic atheism is simply one who lacks a belief in God.

    To be an agnostic atheist is to take a stronger stance against theism than to call oneself an agnostic – though in many cases, people who call themselves agnostics actually are agnostic atheists. An agnostic will often just say that they do not know if there is a God or not. An agnostic atheist will also say that they do not know if there is a God or not. But both agnostics and agnostic atheists would say that they do not know if human cognition is the product of invisible martians living 440 feet below the surface of Stockholm. Both, furthermore, would say that just because we cannot know this not to be true – that is, we can’t disprove it – does not mean that it is at all reasonable or founded to believe in this nonsensical idea. The agnostic atheist tends to group religious theisms alongside this group of invisible martians. Heck, Scientology practically is a religion (but is actually a cult) based in part on an alien story. As to whether there is a God at all – i.e., in a deistic sense – we dunno. But it has no implications for our life at all, because this unspecified God is unspecified – so any meaning it would have for ourlives is unspecified.

  95. xanthippa says:

    @ L. Ron Brown:

    YES!!!

    Usually, I describe myself as an ignostic….because I don’t think we are capable of ever actually agreeing on (or conceptualizing)a plausible definition of a deity….which makes any further debate irrelevant at best!

  96. Hmm… What’s the label for this stance?

    We can look at a desktop and not see any items on it. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that the desk has no apples on it.

    By excactly the same token, we can look at the universe and not see anything supernatural in it. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that the universe has no God(s) in it.

    What’s the word for that?

  97. Sirius says:

    What’s the word for that? There’s two, to be accurate: Willful ignorance.

    i.e. — Since you a priori do not allow for the supernatural, you are not surprised when you do not see the supernatural, since anything that might be supernatural is simply an anamoly that will eventually be explained naturally.

    This would be all well and good if we knew only the natural existed.

    If, on the other hand, the supernatural exists, it does so despite our biases and attempts to disinclude it from consideration. Sadly, our presuppositions would also malign our methodology [as noted in the first paragraph], making it so we never found the truth because we would not allow it as an answer. I’d call this a fatal error in the search for truth. Of course, you guys can’t just follow the evidence where it leads without tainting the search with that presuppositional bias that shrilling demands that “There is no science but naturalism and Darwin is its prophet!”

    –Sirius Knott

  98. i.e. — Since you a priori do not allow for the supernatural

    No. It’s not a priori at all.

    We can look at the world as hard as we like, and we can’t find anything supernatural.

    We can find vanishingly small particles that are so ephermereal that they can barely be said to exist – but we can find them… But the supernatural, however, we cannot find no matter how hard we look. This is the exact opposite of an a priori assumption.

    The universe really does look like it has nothing supernatural in it.

    Of course, you guys can’t just follow the evidence where it leads without tainting the search with that presuppositional bias that shrilling demands that “There is no science but naturalism and Darwin is its prophet!”

    What are you talking about? There is a total lack of hard evidence for the supernatural. The supernatural has only ever been able to exist within the wiggle-room of human ignorance. And as our knowledge increases and the gaps in our ingornace shrink, the supernatural has less and less room.

  99. * ephemeral… My kingdom for an edit function.

  100. Mick Turner says:

    I am a Theist with a capital T….however, I wouldn’t expect anyone to be convinced of God’s existence through rational argument. Trying to prove the existence of God through logic and reason is like trying to eat a bowl of soup with a fork. It’s the wrong tool. Belief in God requires belief in the sanctity of paradox and paradox by its very nature defies reason. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a paradox. I believe God arranged things so that his existence couldn’t be proved other than by faith through experience. Arguing about whether or not God exists using one’s reason is a waste of time…amounting to little more than mental masturbation. But then, there are those who enjoy such things. But watch out, you just might get blisters on your frontal lobe.

    As for science and the scientific method….nothing more than a lie agreed upon.

  101. Stacy K says:

    Mick,

    Pretty slippery, your god. But how convenient for you–you don’t have to evaluate the evidence. You just claim “faith through experience” (whatever that means), and dismiss the scientific method.

    I prefer Pastafarianism, myself. You can’t prove the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster using reason. But those of us who’ve been touched by his noodly appendage, KNOW.

    Besides, our heaven has strippers and a beer volcano.

  102. REVROSWELL says:

    You should come and visit me at Nightly .com I would educate you of God VIA arguments that rely in logic and reason as well as empirical evidences. I am know there as REVROSWELL. ; {>
    Its a mostly secular site and I have silenced most of the anti-Christian people from the R&P room. I look forward to destroying your anti god arguments as well. Them that REVROSWELL sent you I might get a free premium membership….I’m waiting for your secular whining, and trust me by the time I am through with you you will be humming amazing grace by the time you leave! ; }>

  103. REVROSWELL says:

    I forgot to edit my post. Some corrections . “I am know there as REVROSWELL. ; {>” Should read I am known there as …..
    And “Them that REVROSWELL sent you I might get a free premium membership…..”
    Should be; “Tell them that REVROSWELL sent you, I might get a free premium membership.”

    That wasn’t a good way to come off with a superior attitude, was it? See God already dished out some humble pie karma. It tastes like sh*t.

  104. KID says:

    I suggest to all to read this sort of Theistic approach…

    Open theism is characterized in several ways:

    God’s greatest attribute is love. God’s love so overshadows His other characteristics that He could never allow or condone evil or suffering to befall mankind.
    Man has libertarian free will. Man’s will has not been so effected by the Fall that he is unable to make a choice to follow God. God respects man’s freedom of choice and would not infringe upon it.
    God does not have exhaustive knowledge of the future. Indeed, He cannot know certain future events because the future exists only as possibility. God is unable to see what depends on the choices of free will agents simply because this future does not yet exist, so it unknowable. In this way open theists attempt to reconcile this doctrine with God’s ominiscience.
    God takes risks. Because God cannot know the future, He takes risks in many ways – creating people, giving them gifts and abilities, and so on. Where possibilities exist, so does risk.
    God learns. Because God does not know the future exhaustively, He learns, just as we do.
    God is reactive. Because He is learning, God is constantly reacting to the decisions we make.
    God makes mistakes. Because He is learning and reacting, always dealing with limited information, God can and does make errors in judgment which later require re-evaluation.
    God can change His mind. When God realizes He has made an error in judgment or that things did not unfold as He supposed, He can change His mind.

    Above all we should not forget that God is not an evil. We, humans are only trying to impose the existence of it. The nature of human is to develop his identity and to manage the free will but not to become more confusing to others.

  105. Revroswell says:

    I would like to say that neither response (above) was authored by myself, the original Revroswell of Nightly.net. I am an open theist Christian apologist but did not make the abrasive remarks above. The nightly site may of been hacked and I intend to notify management of that fact. While I am here I might as well say that I adhere to the cosmological argument known as the KCA, which is a logical and reasonable argument for the existence of God, and other ontological arguments for the existence of God as well as other evidences that support my claim that God exists, particularity the Christian God.. Hey, the bung holes even lifted my icon >>>>>
    ; {>

  106. I am an agnostic atheist

    That is a contradiction.

    The lack of certainty in the first word cancels out what is commonly held to be the assertive denial in the second, as commonly understood.

  107. I understand what you are trying to say, in that if something is of low probability in your opinion then for all practical purposes you disregard the likelihood–like winning the Powerball lottery.

    However, be that as it may, the problem here is that the two terms don’t really complement one another. Atheists may claim to say that there might be some God behind it all akin to Newton’s clockmaker God, but that His existence is either obscure or not manifest in the products of Creation. However, we still have the problem that if this is the distinction of modern athiests, then the difference of this and true agnosticism is largely irrelevent, and therefore the two terms should be virtually interchangable.

    For some people who live their lives and order their lives AS IF there is no God, that case could be made that what we might have here is what is called (practically) “a distinction without a difference.”

    Just an observation–not a judgement necessarily on your personal take on things. :)

  108. RB says:

    Wakefield Tolbert:

    I’m not gonna reply to your whole message – in fact, to be honest, I haven’t read it all. I just no longer have the interest/motivation to have these debates anymore. Apologies if you spent a lot of time on your messages.

    But I do wish to address one thing that caught my eye – that “agnostic atheism” is a contradiction in concepts. It’s not. *atheism” does not necessarily mean that one feels certain that there is no God. In fact, I can tell you that I have met A LOT of atheists and not one of them whom I discussed the matter with had claimed to be certain that there is no God. The belief that there is surely no God – often termed “positive atheism” or “strong atheism” – appears to be a minority position among atheists.

    What appears to be more common among atheists than the outright assertive belief “there is no God” is the position of simply not believing in a God. I don’t know for a fact martians are controlling my thoughts but I surely do not believe this to be the case. So herein, we see a good chunk of what it is to be an agnostic atheist – acknowledging that one does not know one way or the other that there is a God, and not believing in a God. But it goes further than this – it would pretty much have to as what I just said was fairly redundant.

    In addition to not believing that martians are controlling my thoughts, I don’t believe it to be a remotely reasonable speculation. This is a crucial add-on. Not only do I lack a belief in God, but I do not view particular religious positions on theism to be especially plausible hypotheses. And while I cannot dismiss their truth value full-stop, I view them as deeply unreasonable belief positions.

    A nickname of agnostic atheism is “teapot atheism”, in reference to Bertrand Russell’s analogy to a hypothetical teapot revolving around Saturn (or some other planet). While neither he nor we really know whether such a teapot is in such an orbit, none of us view it as a sensible speculation or worthy of any consideration. Rather, we view it as baseless nonsense.

    Religions make extraordinary claims. Until some extraordinary evidence is put forth, agnostic atheists will be placing this and that God next to Russell’s teapot.

  109. lichanos says:

    …not one of them whom I discussed the matter with had claimed to be certain that there is no God,

    Of course not! Religious people have the lock on certainty of this type. Reasonable people know you should never say never, even if the proposition is ridiculous. This is the old problem of “proving a negative.”

    People who call themselves “strong” or “positive” atheists are just making a rhetorical point, i.e., that the assertion is groundless and not worth considering. If they truly believe that they can conclusively prove this negative – there is no God – then they are not worth talking with about this. They just are emotionally invested in the position.

  110. greentangerine says:

    “Atheist agnostic” is an oxymoron- the difference between atheism (and theism for that matter) and agnosticism is so great that those two cant function together. Agnostics are skeptics, they dont claim to know whether god does or doesn’t exist. But you certainly have a preference regarding this matter and are more determined than you wish to admit. it doesnt matter really, we could all be equally wrong. it is most difficult to admit that no matter what you think you know, or what seems most logical, true or real- it could still very well be an illusion. peace

  111. Anonymous says:

    It seems to me (and I may be way off base) that most of the arguments for a belief in God that you have heard or read about are from the more conservative side of Christianity. I would encourage you to look at the more liberal denominations that are out there and read some of their theologians understandings about faith and God. In particular Process theology is very compelling to many that struggle with believing in an all powerful God that can do literally anything at anytime to anyone.
    Just a suggestion.
    There are many other theologies out there that stay away from the ridiculous thought that God is some divine being that started the world and rules it now from just far enough away that ‘he’ doesn’t have to deal with everything all the time. As long as we read ‘his’ word, which was obviously written by the hand of God ;)

  112. JustaTheist says:

    Amazing how much interest there is to gather amongst ourselves and expound repeatedly and with great fervor on a subject we claim not to believe in. I don’t see forums addressing the lack of belief in unicorns or flying spaghetti monsters, but I see a growing need for the self proclaimed anti-theist/God denying atheist to group together and congratulate each other on their superior
    logic resulting in the only conclusion possible ……But …. what if God chose the foolish things in the world to confound the wise ? What if God chose weak things and base things, and things that are despised to confuse the self proclaimed wise men of the world? …… Then those of you who think you have it all figured out are in a pickle i would say. Don’t blame God, humble yourself before Him and Jesus will reveal Himself, just ask him to.

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  1. [...] Short-comings of theist arguments. [...]

  2. [...] Because of how emotionally and existentially loaded even liberal religious beliefs can become, even liberal religionists can be dogmatically committed to their beliefs; they’ve got so much riding on them! They may not have any interest of imposing their beliefs on others, but no amount of rational argumentation will move many of them to seriously call their beliefs into questions. Because of their deep personal commitment to their beliefs, they are often very displeased when their beliefs are called into question and are displeased all the more when, upon not being able to defend their beliefs on rational grounds, they do not nevertheless receive respect for their beliefs. Not only have their core beliefs been threatened on epistemological grounds, but their sense of entitlement to epistemological respect has been violated. [Note: I have produced a list of pitfalls that every religious argument that I have ever heard has fallen into, here] [...]



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